Thursday, June 30, 2011
No surprises as far as the ending in this book. Yes, the Titanic still sinks. However, the voice of Margaret Ann Brady brings several weeks in April of 1912 to life in a way that grabbed my attention, and I'll admit, even brought a few tears to my eyes at the end.
A twist of fate caused Margaret to be aboard the Titanic for its fateful voyage. After her parents died, her brother left her to be raised by the nuns at an orphanage while he headed to America to find work and a future for the two of them. Margaret always knew that she would someday find a way to leave England to join her brother, but she didn't realize her chance would involve a famous ocean liner.
Margaret is introduced to Mrs. Carstairs, a rich woman from the United States. She is leaving England to return home and is looking for a travel companion. Margaret is perfect for the job, and the job is perfect for her plan to reunite with her brother. Plans are made and she soon finds herself in the first class quarters aboard the Titanic.
The job is easy. Margaret must be ready to help Mrs. Carstairs dress, dine with her, and walk her tiny dog. The rest of her time is spent exploring and enjoying the fabulous ship. Margaret is fascinated with the elegant dining rooms, the library and writing lounge, and just watching the goings on around her. An added benefit is a blossoming friendship with Robert, a cabin steward assigned to first class. It's all like a dream come true.
The dream turns into a nightmare when Robert wakes Margaret in the early hours of April 15. He urges her to put on her lifebelt and head to the lifeboats. He emphasizes that it is not a drill but rather a serious situation.
The events that follow have been recounted in books and movies, but Margaret's story will capture the hearts of young readers. Torn between her duty to Mrs. Carstairs, orders from the men to load up the lifeboats, and her fondness for Robert, she nearly becomes one of those lost in the tragic accident.
Author Ellen Emerson White makes her contribution to the Dear America series in this riveting account of one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century. She makes history come alive even for those who are less than fond of historical fiction.
Author Paul Volponi's real-life experience working with kids behind bars is the inspiration for RIKERS HIGH. His work teaching adolescent inmates to read and write help give this novel a realistic tone that will speak to teen as well as adult readers.
Martin is weeks away from being released from Rikers Island. He earned his time there for giving an undercover cop information about where to buy drugs. Even though he viewed it as an honest mistake, he was in handcuffs outside his front door before his mother had time to get out the door to ask questions.
As Martin tells his story, readers learn about life in the Rikers Island prison system. After spending some of his time in the adult population, Martin is moved to Sprung #3 which houses juvenile offenders. These young inmates attend school and hopefully spend their time in more productive activities than the older prisoners, but life is still rough and they face daily challenges from uncooperative fellow prisoners and corrupt corrections officers.
Martin describes the violence, the "business" some inmates conduct to profit from their fellow prisoners, the mistreatment at the hands of those in charge, and the homesickness and worry about family members on the outside. All this combines to create a tense, stressful environment where young men are still expected to learn in the classroom and maintain control of raging emotions.
Martin tries to keep his nose clean and focus on his release date, but he knows one wrong move or bad decision could end with a longer sentence and possibly a move back to the adult population. Trouble with his lawyer and a vicious attack that leaves him with a disfiguring facial scar make staying focused a real challenge. Martin's determination to return to his family and make the needed changes in his life makes his a truly inspiring story.
Paul Volponi has a real following among teen readers, and when they learn that RIKERS HIGH has a real-life connection to Volponi's own experience, it is sure to be a popular read.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I loved this book and can't wait to share it with girls during our summer reading program. I also look forward to getting my hands on other books by Kate Klise.
Daralynn was grounded for going fishing without permission. That's the only reason she wasn't with her father and her brother and sister when they were killed in the plane crash. Now it's just Daralynn and her mother struggling to move on with their lives.
Mourning the death of three family members is a difficult thing when your mother's only show of emotion is all-consuming anger and your grandmother's attention is fixated on the 237 dolls you received as condolence gifts. Daralynn, nicknamed Dolly, watches as her mother becomes involved in a new business opportunity doing hair and makeup on the dead bodies at the local funeral home. Her success at the funeral home turns into a thriving business when she buys the town's only beauty salon when the previous owner dies.
Inspired by her mother's work and her own need for closure, Dolly comes up with the idea of throwing Living Funerals. The small town embraces the idea creating a whole new clientele for the local funeral home. However, when a stranger arrives in town and opens a crematorium, an unfriendly competition begins brewing. Dolly also notices some odd behavior that has her wondering just exactly how this new business is operating.
GROUNDED is filled with lovable, quirky characters, and I immediately fell in love with Dolly. Her innocent, yet surprisingly mature approach to dealing with her irritable mother and senile grandmother while managing her own grief, make for an entertaining and inspiring read. Although, she is going through an incredibly challenging time, Dolly shows a strength well beyond that of many adults.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
I've never thought much about the life of a lighthouse keeper, and definitely not at all about the fact there were women lighthouse keepers. Thanks to A LIGHT IN THE STORM, I now know a bit about what that life involved.
Amelia Martin tells about life in the lighthouse on Fenwick Island off the coast of Delaware in 1861. Her father came to be assistant keeper there after a controversy that ended with his removal as captain of his own ship. She lives in the lighthouse with her father, mother, and Keeper Dunne who is in charge of the light.
Keeper Dunne has given Amelia her watch beginning at 4:00 each afternoon. Fenwick Light protects ships and other sea vessels from running ashore on a particularly treacherous stretch of coastline. Even with the well-maintained lighthouse, vessels still become victims of the storms that plague the area.
Amelia, along with her father and Keeper Dunne, watch the weather, light the lamps, and keep the lighthouse in tip-top shape. This requires continuous hard labor climbing the spiral staircase to polish the reflectors, clean the glass, fill the lamps, and then light them whenever darkness or weather dictates. During this year-long account, Amelia describes fog, storms, and wintery conditions that have the three of them risking their own health and on occasion, their own lives to rescue crews and passengers. Amelia describes wintertime as especially dangerous because they must brave freezing temperatures to remove ice from the windows high up around the light.
In addition to telling about life as a lighthouse keeper, Amelia recounts the rest of her days as she rows to the mainland each day to help teach at the local school and do chores for her grandmother before returning to her keeper duties each afternoon. Amelia's mother was not happy with the move to Fenwick Island causing a rift in her relationship with Amelia's father. Her mother suffers from many physical ailments which she blames on her damp surroundings, but depression is the real result. Amelia must often act as mediator between her parents.
Another reason her parents are often at odds involves the impending Civil War. Amelia's mother is a strong supporter of slavery, while her father is not. In fact helping runaway slaves played a part in the reason Amelia's father was dismissed from his duties as ship captain. Since Delaware is a border state between the North and the South, it becomes a controversial place to live once war officially begins.
Author Karen Hesse has written A LIGHT IN THE STORM for the Dear America series. Her easy storytelling style makes it a pleasure to read, and the history it reveals is fascinating. After getting to know Amelia, it is interesting to learn in the Epilogue and the historical notes that she remained a lighthouse keeper and was eventually given her own position in a lighthouse off the coast of Maine.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Life is good for Brendan. His basketball team is headed for the championship. He's planning on a basketball scholarship for college and maybe even a chance at a professional career. He has a hot girlfriend and a ton of friends. It's the perfect life until Brendan starts feeling like crap.
He has no energy and it's beginning to show in his game. Instead of being a star player, he finds himself riding the bench and trying to avoid angry glares from Coach. It has gotten so bad that when he mother again suggests a visit to the doctor, Brendan agrees.
Leukemia! You've got to be kidding. Brendan is shocked by the diagnosis. Before he knows it, he's in the hospital undergoing tests that will determine the severity of his illness and how much chemotherapy he will need.
Brendan's family is extremely supportive, but when he learns the extent of his treatment and the fact that he will miss the rest of the basketball season and probably not graduate with his friends, his anger explodes. He knows he is being a jerk, but the nausea from the chemo and the pitying looks from family and friends are more than he can take. Life simply can't get any worse.
Then Brenda meets Lark. She's gone through what he is suffering twice, and now she's waiting for a bone marrow transplant which means she reached the last resort level of treatment. Still, Lark remains positive, and she shares her upbeat attitude with Brendan. He can't believe her amazing outlook despite her very disturbing prognosis. Brendan begins to rely on Lark, and together they become each other's support team.
CELLULAR by Ellen Schwartz takes readers into the world of leukemia. She describes the fear, the anger, and the agonizing treatment which are all part of the disease. In just a little over 100 pages, readers will become one with Brendan and Lark as they experience the roller coaster ride of this potentially deadly condition.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
What if the hottest guy you could imagine walked into your life and swept you off your feet? Amazing, you would say. Without doubt, a dream come true.
Alex never believed it could happen, but Cole simply took her breath away. From the first moment she saw him, she knew he was special, and when he seemed to feel the same way about her, it made her often confusing life perfect.
For years Alex had struggled to understand what drove her mother to leave behind a husband and three little girls. Her sisters never seemed to waste much time thinking about their mother. They just went on with their lives leaving Alex to do all the wondering and questioning about why their mother left and then tragically died in a car crash. For years Alex watched as their father stumbled through his days working hard to feed and clothe his daughters but never showing the emotional connection Alex needed so badly.
Until she met Cole, Alex found emotional support from her two best friends, Bethany and Zack. The three inseparable friends had spent years planning a graduation trip to visit Colorado which was where Alex's mother was headed when she died. The trip was to provide needed closure for Alex, but meeting Cole derailed all their wonderful plans.
Cole was the perfect boyfriend. He brought flowers and other special gifts. He planned romantic moments and treated Alex like a princess. She knew he was truly special when he took one of her poems and set it to music and played his guitar and sang for her. What more could she ask for, and why weren't her friends being understanding when she wanted to spend less time with them and more time with this wonderful guy?
Alex couldn't believe how lucky she was to have Cole, although there were moments when she felt there might be something wrong. He seemed to have an unreasonable jealousy when it came to Zack and even Bethany. Cole went out of his way to keep Alex to himself. Because she was quickly falling in love, Alex found one excuse after another to rationalize Cole's behavior, but his jealousy was morphing into something more disturbing. Cole had angry outbursts that ended in attacks on Alex. One of the first ended with him grabbing and painfully twisting her wrist and leaving Alex with bruises that raised the eyebrows of her sister and a caring woman she worked with. That was only the beginning.
There were black eyes, bruises from vicious pinches, and an episode of shoving that ended with Alex skinned and bruised and with a broken front tooth. Each incident was followed by an apology and a promise that it would never happen again. Alex knew she was in trouble, and even though she was angry with herself, she didn't know where to turn.
BITTER END by Jennifer Brown explores domestic violence as it rears its ugliness in the world of dating. Brown states in an author's note that she was always confused by the idea that women could be in abusive relationships and not find some way to get out. She brings up the idea of love and its part in the relationship. Alex's situation reflects this issue of love and how it influences the good and bad choices made in abusive relationships. This book sends a powerful message and will hopefully help young adult readers understand and avoid situations similar to Alex's.
Monday, June 20, 2011
I always have fun reading Gary Paulsen books, and LIAR, LIAR didn't disappoint. We all know those little white lies and those times when the whole truth and nothing but the truth just doesn't suit our purposes. Well, Kevin is here to set everyone straight on the matter of lies.
Kevin considers himself somewhat of an expert on telling less than the truth. Falsehoods have always come easily to him, and they have served him well. This time he begins a series of whoppers when he attempts to get out of a partner project in one of his classes. With inspiration from his hypochondriac friend, he invents a nasty but not contagious illness to garner sympathy from his project partner, Katie. He's counting on the fact that she would rather work alone and that she is perfectly capable of doing so. The lie appears to be quite successful because she not only is an excellent organizer and researcher, but she is also fascinated by the mysterious disease that has supposedly stricken her classmate. She is eager to jump right in on the project and delegate only minor portions to the ailing Kevin.
From there Kevin's lies simply multiply. Soon he is easily skipping class to pursue the girl of his dreams, taking over the financial problems of his Auntie Buzz, and pitting one parent against the other to gain permission to attend a weekend-long concert featuring the Buket o' Puke 'n Snot alternative rock band. What Kevin didn't count on was his family life crumbling and his friends revolting. His lies are put to the test, and the final grade is an F.
Gary Paulsen combines his amazing humor with an equally amazing understanding of what goes on in the mind of the typical middle school adolescent. Kevin gets involved in all the difficulties of those struggling to make good choices and grow up, but at the same time have as much fun as is humanly possible. Through his experiences, Kevin learns a number of lessons about the cost of lies and freely shares them with those willing to listen.
BLINK & CAUTION is the tale of two streets kids. Brent (Blink) and Kitty (Caution) both have back stories that have them on the run. When their paths cross, they work together to overcome the odds against them.
Blink was simply looking for a free breakfast when he took the elevator to the sixteenth floor of the hotel. It looked like there would be easy pickings from the half-eaten remains left on trays set outside the rooms. When he actually enters a room to investigate some odd behavior displayed by the exiting guests, he realizes he has witnessed a possible kidnapping. Once inside the room, Blink discovers a wallet filled with cash and a cell phone that reveals the kidnapped may not be the victim he assumed.
Having some ready cash is a welcome surprise, but the more Blink learns about the situation the more nervous he becomes. His nerves prompt him to check out the cell phone more carefully. He actually contacts the "kidnap" victim's daughter in an attempt to reassure her that her father has not been harmed. That contact is one Blink soon comes to regret.
Caution has been living on the street and more recently with a drug dealer named Merlin. Attempting to run from a tragedy from her past, Caution is fully aware that she harbors a death wish, but at the same time she looks at death an easy escape from the much harsher punishment that her guilt insists she deserves.
Caution is on the run after a fight with Merlin that ended in her discovery of his drug money stash. She can't believe they've been practically starving to death when he has had thousands of dollars hidden away. Anger and fear motivate Caution to grab the money and run.
Fate works to bring Blink and Caution together in the train station. After a bumpy first meeting, the two join forces to help each other. Caution provides the street smarts lacking in the naive Blink, and he supplies the funds to sustain their cause. As time passes the two begin to trust one another with secrets as well as friendship.
Award winning author Tim Wynne-Jones takes readers on an adventure with two young people living by their wits as they try to survive, and at the same time right a wrong. It is a story with twists and turns and definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Marley is an expert on Star Trek - TSO (the Original Series), AV equipment, and bullying. He's a seventh grader who recognizes his place in the school social network - Geek with a capital G. He's not alone. Ramen, Troy, and Patrick are also fellow geeks and members of the AV Club. There's also a new member named Max who turns out to be quite a surprise.
Now that the AV Club has been awarded the status of an actual class at Rancho Rosetta Middle School, the group at least has a place to feel safe once a day. They have fun learning about AV equipment and being the minds behind the real workings of the school. Without their expertise, teachers would have malfunctioning computers, tangled film projectors, and DVD players with no sound. Marley feels comfortable with the equipment and happy arguing with his friends about which is best Star Trek or Star Wars.
Before and after school is a different story for Marley. He is the target for every bully in the school. He is so used to being punched, shoved in his locker, and chased home by the biggest jerks in the school, that he has come to expect nothing less. Reporting the harassment is not an option since the school principal doesn't even know his name and his parents have problems of their own.
Marley lives in an ancient movie theater called the Rialto. His father doesn't like going out in public and chooses to spend his time running the theater which is pretty much a losing proposition. Marley's mother is blind. Despite her challenging disability, she teaches piano lessons, cooks wonderful meals, and spends her free time playing golf. Marley knows his folks love him, but he doesn't feel he can share his troubles with them since they have so many of their own.
Seventh grade is proving to be more of the same as far as the bullying goes, but several new developments have Marley hoping this year might be different. First, there's Max the new member of the AV Club. Marley and his buddies are shocked to learn after several days in class with this Max character that Max is actually a girl. She's not a Star Trek or Star Wars fan; instead she's all about Batman, but they still welcome her into their group.
Then after the collapse of AV teacher Mr. Jiang, the group finds themselves stuck in Home Sciences class working on some crazy partner project involving garbage bags and fashion. Marley can't believe his bad luck when he is partnered up with Emily Ebers. She seems pretty bossy at first, but the more they work together the nicer she is to him. Maybe this is the year he will have some luck with girls.
Author Lisa Yee's WARP SPEED continues the stories she has created in MILLICENT MIN GIRL GENIUS, STANFORD WONG FLUNKS BIG-TIME, AND SO TOTALLY EMILY EBERS. Marley's character returns to share his own story. It is full of humor, crazy middle school antics, and family problems. The use of a bullying theme also gives it a current connection to what is happening in schools today. Middle grade readers won't let this one gather dust on the shelves.
Monday, June 13, 2011
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Cat and Patrick were inseparable friends until a few years ago. Things happened in Cat's life that resulted in her withdrawal from most of her friends and even some family members. She's been living in self-imposed isolation with secrets she isn't willing to share.
When Patrick is attacked and beaten outside the Come 'n' Go convenience store where he works, Cat is drawn back into his life. The attack is not due to your average robbery or smash and grab, but rather a malicious hate crime. His attacker left him tied to a gas pump with the gas nozzle shoved into his mouth. Everyone is speculating the attack was a reaction to Patrick being gay.
Cat's guilt threatens to consume her. If she had still been friends with Patrick, could she have protected him? She always acted as his protector in elementary and middle school, and then she simply left him alone. Her guilt and her continued feelings of friendship have her determined to find Patrick's attacker.
With her own secrets adding strength to her determination, Cat begins snooping around. She questions everyone from fellow classmates and neighbors to the local meth dealer. As she digs to find out the truth, she finds much more than she bargained for in Patrick's case, and at the same time she also begins to face some of her own demons.
Lauren Myracle's latest novel takes a somber look at a hate crime that grips a tiny community. She examines the varied reactions from those who demand justice to those who would prefer to sweep this sort of tragedy under the rug and move on. Readers will champion Cat and her insistence that Patrick deserves the same justice as everyone else.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Although there is a small lake nearby, the members of the Congregation are forced to seek water in the forest. Each one armed with simple tools, a spoon and a cup, they struggle in the oppressive heat to collect water drip by tiny drip. They are forced by the Overseers, lead by a tyrant named Darwin, to gather their daily quota. Failure to meet their quota earns them a beating.
Members of the Congregation are unique. Ruby, for instance, is two hundred years old, but she doesn't look a day older than seventeen. Blessed from birth with some special power in her blood, she is destined to be the group's leader, perhaps sooner than she even expects.
The Congregants follow a mysterious leader they call Otto. According to her mother, Otto is Ruby's father. He left before she was even born, and now the group works tirelessly and waits for his return and the hope that he will set them free. But the wait is taking its toll on the members. Some are losing faith and arguments between them threaten to weaken the group. Also, secrets known to only a few could either save them or cause a rebellion.
Most evenings Ruby visits the huge cisterns that store the gathered water until the Visitor comes to collect from the containers. The purpose of her nightly visits is to add drops of her own blood to the water creating a life-sustaining element to the liquid. Like her father, she possesses the power that has allowed her people to carry on for centuries.
During one visit to the cisterns, Ruby meets an Overseer named Ford. He treats her kindly, and a friendship begins to form. Soon Ruby finds herself thinking about Ford all the time and watching for him as she collects her quota every day. He may represent her chance for freedom, or her destruction if he reveals the mysterious power of her blood.
Pam Bachorz is the author of CANDOR, another unusual dystopian YA novel. DROUGHT presents the secret world of a group still living in the past but working to provide for the world of the future. Bachorz takes her readers into the life of Ruby and her people to illustrate the unreasonable and frightening control one group of people can hold over another.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
It was supposed to be a chance to get a taste of country life before she had to settle down to something more serious. Jill thought working in the mountains taking vacationers on horseback adventures would be a great summer job. Unfortunately, things were not working out on a number of different levels.
Her co-workers seemed to have more fun partying every night which left Jill to take up the slack every morning. If that wasn't bad enough, her boss James seemed to think it was his duty to make life even more miserable. He was demanding, and at the same time incredibly creepy. She was beginning to think this might be her last day on the job.
The day started out with a nearly impossible task - rounding up 60 horses and getting them saddled and ready for the scheduled trail rides. The work was exhausting and made more difficult by the fact that Jill knew her co-workers were probably still tucked in their beds sleeping off the fun times of the previous night. The only thing to brighten her day was the good looking guy she spotted hanging out around the corral.
After a morning trail ride, Jill expected to have a quick lunch and get a few minutes of rest, but the handsome tourist approached her and stated that he was her next scheduled appointment. He announced that he was interested in a wilderness adventure ride. The adventure rides were really for the experts, and Jill had never put herself in that category, however, James was right there to insist that she was the person for the job.
Once the ride began, Jill quickly assessed that her companion was not much of a horseman so she was able to slow things down and truly begin to enjoy the afternoon ride. They headed up to an area surrounding a deserted mill that always impressed the visitors.
Jill isn't prepared for what happens next. This ride may turn out to be the last one she ever takes.
Author Alex Van Tol takes readers on a terrifying adventure. The relaxing mountain ride becomes a life threatening experience when the handsome tourist turns out to be a psychotic killer. More than half of this short, fast-paced book is filled with deadly action. Readers won't be able to turn the pages fast enough to find out how everything ends.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Ruby is back with a whole new set of problems. I'll never get tired of E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver. She is a senior now and seems to have this boyfriend thing under control. Or does she?
Ruby is pretty sure Noel is "the one." He treats her just the way she thinks a real boyfriend should. Why is she worried then? Well, that's how Ruby is. She still sees a therapist on a regular basis, although she isn't completely convinced that it's working. Things become even more confusing when dreamy Gideon begins paying attention to her. It's complicated by the fact that Noel is visiting his brother in New York and not communicating as much as a real boyfriend should. Should she be satisfied with a few really nifty poems he has sent, or should be expecting more?
At the same time Ruby is dealing with Noel and Gideon issues, her grandmother dies. She's sad and knows she will miss her father's mother, but her father is taking the death of his mother a bit too far. He sleeps on the couch, rarely changes his clothes, and stumbles around eating nothing but orange snack items. She is left to eat the meals her mother fixes that suddenly include every meat product known to man. Why can't her mother acknowledge the fact that Ruby is a vegetarian?
Home life continues to deteriorate when her mother decides she has had enough and heads off to some women's retreat with a friend. Ruby is left behind to muddle along with her depressed father. She must try to think about college preparations, hang on to her remaining friends, and figure out why Noel has changed since his return from New York.
E. Lockhart has a unique talent for capturing the angst of being a teenager while at the same time including laugh-out-loud humor that allows anxiety ridden teens to find the humor in their own situations. I certainly hope readers will be able to follow Ruby a bit further as she begins college and continues her adventures with family, friends, and boyfriends.