Saturday, July 28, 2012

THE HUNCHBACK OF NEIMAN MARCUS: A NOVEL ABOUT MARRIAGE, MOTHERHOOD, AND MAYHEM by Sonya Sones

Sonya Sones's books are well likely by my students.  Her topics hit the mark and being written in verse appeals to reluctant readers making her stories a great stepping stone to other material.  When I saw she had written an adult book, I headed to the library immediately.

I found out I would have to get the book through the inter-loan process so I placed my request.  I got the book yesterday and finished it last night!  It was a fun read and once again - hit the mark!

Holly is turning fifty!  She isn't handling it well.  Her body image has been dealt a cruel blow which she describes in all too familiar detail, her only child is about to leave for college, and her mother is hospitalized more than halfway across the country.  While juggling all this, Holly is also struggling with the book she is writing.  She is overdue on her deadline and her editor is pestering her nonstop.  Everything conspires to interrupt her writing. 

Her husband, who is an artist and also works at home, has a knack for disturbing her peace and quiet.  He seems to be trying not to annoy her but manages to aggravate her with his mere presence more and more.  One minute she is freaking out because he obviously is having an affair with one the mother of one of their daughter's classmates or the slippers he never puts away conspire to trip her in the dark.  Just as she imagines "spending his insurance money," he steps up and helps her through another crisis.

In THE HUNCHBACK OF NEIMAN MARCUS Sonya Sones includes all the frightening moments of growing older as well as the joys of watching our children succeed, the appeal of pleasant memories, and the comfort we find from those who know us best.  I am thrilled to know that teens who read and love her as an author now will be able to continue enjoying her work as they too grow up and grow old.

Friday, July 27, 2012

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

I'm ashamed to say I saw the movie first and then read the book.  I don't usually do that, but when THE HELP first came out, I shrugged it off as just another "grown-up" book I didn't have time to read. 

The movie was fantastic!  I laughed and cried my way through it, probably embarrassing myself, but fortunately went with some understanding friends and my daughter who expects me to become too emotionally involved.  With that said, I decided I should take the time to read the book. 

If you haven't heard about it or seen the movie, here is a brief summary.

It's the early 1960's.  A young Mississippi white woman returns home from college and gets a job writing a household hints column for the local newspaper.  Since Skeeter was raised in a white household with a black maid, she doesn't have a clue about cooking and cleaning.  She approaches the maid of one of her friends and asks for advice. 

Each time she talks with Aibileen she discovers more and more reasons to admire the thankless work these black women do for totally ungrateful white women.  For Skeeter the newspaper column is just temporary.  Her dream is to become a full-fledged journalist and some day write a book.  That day seems to be coming sooner than she thinks as she contemplates the idea of telling the stories of the these hardworking, dedicated family servants.

Aibileen reluctantly agrees to share her stories with Skeeter and over time convinces other maids to share their experiences.  This simple idea seems harmless, but Skeeter recognizes that the more these women share the good and the bad of working for white families, the more danger there is.  If they are discovered they could not only lose their jobs but risk the safety of themselves and their families.

Author Kathryn Stockett alters voices as Skeeter, Aibileen and another maid named Minny share their stories.  Set in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, there are shocking moments, disgusting behaviors, heart-wrenching events, and laugh-out-loud antics that reveal the life and times of Jackson, Mississippi during the early 60's and before.  Now, having read the book, I can say I believe the movie did the work justice.  With each scene I could visualize the events unfolding just as they did on the big screen.  My compliments to the director and screenwriter.

As a last comment I will include the fact that I will be teaching 9th grade English for the first time in my 34 year teaching career, and I am thrilled to say that I will be including THE HELP in my curriculum.  I've decided it will be a perfect follow-up to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and will provide another take on an important part of U.S. history.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

TWO BOOKS BY TRACI L. JONES...

I've now read all three of the books by author Traci L. Jones.  They are perfect for middle grade girls.  Each features a strong female protagonist determined to reach her goal.

In STANDING AGAINST THE WIND Patrice Williams must leave her grandmother's home in Georgia and move to Chicago with her mother.  After only eight short weeks, Patrice's mother ends up in prison leaving Patrice with an aunt she barely knows. 

Patrice hates Chicago.  It is cold and windy.  She spends her days working hard to earn straight A's in school, keeping her aunt's apartment clean, cooking meals on time, and taking care of her two younger cousins.  When the principal suggests that Patrice apply for a scholarship contest to an African-American boarding school in the South, Patrice believes it may be her only chance to make something of her life.  She is determined to complete the application on time and win one of the coveted scholarships.

It is 1975 in FINDING MY PLACE.  Tiphanie Baker's father receives a promotion which requires the family move from the heart of Denver, Colorado, to the suburbs.  Tiphanie is one of only two black students attending ninth grade at Brent Hills High.  She misses her old life.  Her parents insist that given time she will be just as comfortable here as she was in Denver. 

Tiphanie struggles as she attempts to fit in to her new surroundings.  Not only does she have to make a place for herself in Brent Hills, but she also finds that on visits back to her old neighborhood, she no longer fits in there.  Through it all, she is determined to "find her place."

Author Traci L. Jones's last book is SILHOUETTED BY THE BLUE.  You can read my review of that book here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

BETWEEN THE LINES by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer

Author Jodi Picoult and her teenage daughter Samantha Van Leer have written a book together.  Based on an idea Samantha pitched to her mother, BETWEEN THE LINES is a great way to introduce YA readers to Picoult.

Delilah would love to spend all her time reading and avoid the disappointing real world as much as possible.  Recently, she has been hooked on what most people would say she is too old to be reading.  She has been reading a fairy tale called Between the Lines.  In fact she has been reading and re-reading it so much she has it memorized. 

One day while reading page 43 where the hero of the story, Prince Oliver, is scaling a rocky cliff, Delilah is startled to see the words "help me" scratched onto the page where there hasn't been anything before.  Beginning with that message, she finds herself able to communicate with Oliver.  He speaks with her from the pages of his story, and she is able to chat with him from wherever she is reading the book.

Delilah quickly learns that Oliver's "help me" is an appeal to be released from the pages of the book.  He wants more than anything to be able to leave those pages and live a real life.  Delilah finds Oliver extremely attractive and just the answer to her own loneliness.  Together, the two try to figure out how a fictional character might be released from the printed page.

BETWEEN THE LINES takes readers into both worlds - Delilah's reality and Oliver's fictional story of dragons and damsels in distress.  The magical idea that characters in a book are meant to playact their story when the pages are open but go back to their own interesting activities when the book is closed, offers a fascinating concept for readers to consider.  I may never look at characters the same way again.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

LIES, KNIVES, AND GIRLS IN RED DRESSES by Ron Koertge




Beware!  This is not your normal fairy tale collection. 

Author Ron Koertge recaps the action of some well-known tales, but he adds a twist...a dark, morbid twist.  Readers will be hooked with the Once Upon a Time beginning, but they shouldn't expect the old standby ending of Lived Happily Ever After.

Each tale represented in the anthology highlights what, according to Koertge, likely happened after the last page was turned.  Endings that include death, dismemberment, or lives continued but headed down the decidedly wrong path.

LIES, KNIVES, AND GIRLS IN RED DRESSES is 87 pages of free verse with intense black papercut illustrations.  It plays off society's penchant for tidying up those fairy tales of old and taking off some of the "edge" that really made them tales to remember.  Koertge's versions are not for the faint-of-heart or for those in search of the "politically correct."

THE OBSIDIAN BLADE by Pete Hautman

If you are looking for a great new sci-fi adventure, then check out THE OBSIDIAN BLADE by Pete Hautman.  It is Book #1 of what I'm going to guess will be a trilogy.

Tucker is living a fairly uneventful life in Hopewell.  His father is the pastor of a local church and his mother is...well a bit different, but he loves her anyway.

Then Tucker sees the disk.  It appears to be hovering above the roof as his father ascends a ladder to investigate some damaged shingles.  Suddenly, Tucker's father disappears!

A thorough search of the property and the town leave Tucker at a loss until the day his father mysteriously appears walking down the road beside a strange young girl.  Life isn't so uneventful anymore.

The girl is adopted by a neighboring family, and Tucker watches as his mother becomes more bizarre.  His father keeps preaching sermons every Sunday, but admits to his own family that he no longer believes. 

Then the day arrives when both of Tucker's parents vanish, leaving him behind.  He finds a note left on his pillow explaining that his Uncle Curtis will be coming soon to take him away.  When his Harley-riding uncle arrives, Tucker doesn't have much choice but to join him.

THE OBSIDIAN BLADE is filled with floating, shimmering disks that suck in unsuspecting folk and deposit them in another time and place.  Tucker is sure his parents are in one of these places, but he must learn more about this time-travel business before he can make his way to them, if he ever can.  Author Pete Hautman blends reality and fantasy into a masterful story with incredible twists and turns that will take readers back into great moments in history, but it's history with a frightening twist.

Friday, July 13, 2012

BUTTER by Erin Jade Lange

Review ARC eBook courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: 9-18-12

Weighing in at over 400 lbs. Butter has a weight problem, and he knows it.  His mother is concerned but continues to cook his favorites and slip little goodies into his lunch sack.  His father doesn't really say much unless the absence of comment is his attempt at making a statement.

School is filled with verbal attacks or pointed isolation.  Butter knows the over sized desk in each room is there for him and him alone.  He is also grateful for the bench-style seating available at a few tables in the cafeteria.  Using one of the flimsy plastic chairs would be a sure way to gain unwanted attention.

Friends?  There is Tucker who Butter meets every summer at fat camp, but the last time he saw Tucker, the dude had dropped at least 50 pounds.  The only other relationship Butter has is his online connection to a girl named Anna.  The catch is Anna actually goes to school with Butter but doesn't know her online "boyfriend" is the 400 pound kid she sees every day.

All the negatives are piling up for Butter.  After a particularly humiliating incident in a fast food parking lot, Butter starts his own webpage.  He announces to his online audience that on New Year's Eve he plans to eat himself to death.  He is amazed at the number of followers this generates, and suddenly he begins to gain an odd popularity at school.  Now the question is will he really do it or not?

BUTTER is Erin Jade Lange's first YA novel.  I can't wait to read her next.  Butter is an incredibly likable character facing a problem many teens can easily relate to on a personal level.  Butter's reality fits right into current hot topics like bullying and obesity so it strikes just the right cord to attract teen interest.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

MIDDLE SCHOOL: GET ME OUT OF HERE by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts

The sequel to MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE is here!

Rafe learned a few things the hard way when he set out to break the rules in book #1, and now he has a new plan.  After a freak fire destroys the diner where his mother works, they move from their small town to the big city so his mom can hopefully find a job.

All this means Rafe, his little sister, and his mom will be living in cramped quarters in his grandmother's over-stuffed house.  Rafe is also going to a new school.  He'll be able to exercise his artistic talents because it is an art school, but things are not exactly what he expected.  There are all sorts of requirements along with the art classes, and he faces something known as a "crit" in which his artwork is criticized by his new classmates and teachers.  The pressure is really on.

Rafe thinks he has found a new friend, Matty the Freak.  At first he seems crazy and fun, but Rafe soon begins to wonder just what kind of friend this new character truly is. 

Living in the city offers Rafe another unique opportunity.  It may be possible to discover information about his long absent father.  If he can make the right contacts and ask the right questions, he may be able to learn what his mother has never been willing to share.

Complete with great cartoon illustrations, Rafe's new adventure should be a hit with fans of his first adventure and earn him some new ones.  This is a winner for any middle grade collection.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

SILHOUETTED BY THE BLUE by Traci L. Jones

Seventh grader Serena Shaw is moving on.  Her mother died in a car accident eighteen months ago.  Serena made it through the school year last year being the girl whose mom died.  This year she's hoping to make her mark by earning the lead role in the school musical The Wiz.

Just when Serena thinks she is going to start living again, her father decides he's not.  Her mother always explained it as begin "blue."  Whatever it is, Serena's father hasn't taken a bath, gotten dressed, or left the house for days.  All the housework, food preparation, and care of her little brother Henry has fallen on Serena's shoulders.   

When Serena succeeds in landing the lead in the musical she knows after school practices will demand her time.  She needs to be able to count of her father to pick up Henry after school, start going to the grocery store, and begin fixing the meals.  In addition, he needs to get back to work as the great artist famous for his amazing book illustrations.  That's what Serena needs, but it is not what she is getting.  Her father is withdrawing farther every day.

SILHOUETTED BY THE BLUE by Traci L. Jones explores the world of depression and its effects on the family.  Readers will fall in love with the determined Serena on page one and will continuously root for her to succeed and hold her family together.


FREAKS LIKE US by Susan Vaught

ARC eBook courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: 9-4-12

Jason "Freak" Milwaukee and his friends ride the short bus.  They call themselves the Alphabets.  They've all been diagnosed with conditions like ADD, ADHD, OCD, ODD, or in Freak's case, schizophrenia.

Freak, Drip, and Sunshine have known each other since before elementary school.  They are now in high school and have learned to cope through behavior therapy and medication.  They put up with a lot in their daily lives, but at least they have each other.

On the way to their bus one afternoon, Freak and Drip once again witness a couple of bullies from their special ed classroom picking on Sunshine.  Sunshine is a selective mute so she suffers in silence as the two bullies attack her with taunts and suggestive slurs.  Freak and Drip hover over her protectively, and when they arrive at their drop off point, Freak considers walking her home, but she insists she's fine.

The next thing Freak knows Sunshine is gone!  Her mother calls asking if she is with Freak or if he has seen her because she never came home after school. 

The cops and soon the FBI are involved.  Freak's schizophrenia and Drip's ADHD complicate the questioning process, and it seems both are being considered suspects.  Freak tries to quiet the voices in his head so he can be helpful in the search, but he fears it might be too late to save his best friend.

Susan Vaught's FREAKS LIKE US give voice to those suffering from conditions most of us don't truly understand.  She takes readers into the mind of Jason "Freak" so they can sense his frustration as he tries to communicate what he knows but is afraid to reveal.  Presented in an hourly format of less than twenty-four hours, readers will be on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE by Laura Esquivel

Time for honesty once again.  I would not have considered reading this, but it looks like I'll be teaching 9th and 10th grade next year and it is part of the 10th grade curriculum. 

Two thoughts after finishing it - 1) It wasn't bad.  In fact, I can imagine some teen readers (girls) enjoying it.  2) Why is it on the recommended list for 10th graders?

LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE is an interesting combination of Mexican history and tradition, love story, and recipes.  Tita spends her childhood beside the cook in the family kitchen.  She gleans amazing family recipes and all the secrets involved in excellent cooking. 

Tita is the youngest girl in the family and grows up knowing her fate is to never marry but instead be the one to care for her mother until her eventual death.  It is an old custom Tita wishes had died with earlier generations.  Tita experiences a forbidden love when she falls for Pedro.  Her older sister is also smitten by Pedro, and she becomes the lucky bride instead of Tita.  Tita tries to put her energy into cooking for her family and even caring for her sister's child, but there is always a bitter pain lurking beneath her outer shell of contentment.

Author Laura Esquivel organized the novel in monthly installments suggesting the timeline would be a year in the life of Tita, however, the timeline actually takes readers from Tita's childhood to her eventual death and the heritage she passes on to future generations.  Tita's story will keep readers' attention with frequent surprising twists, vivid and sometimes disturbing depictions of life in turn of the 20th century Mexico, romance, and also a touch of Mexican folklore and fairy tale.  It should be an interesting book to teach.

Friday, July 6, 2012

THE STONE GIRL by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

ARC eBook courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: 8-28-12

In an author note at the beginning, Alyssa B. Sheinmel highlights her own struggle with an eating disorder as inspiration for THE STONE GIRL.  Although not exactly the same experience as her character Sethie, Sheinmel explains that her own struggle is reflected in Sethie, and she hopes it will help other girls battling with the same body image issues.

Sarah Beth "Sethie" hates having to explain her name to new acquaintances, but what she struggles with most is her body.  At her heaviest she weighed in at 132 lbs. and is now determined to maintain her semi-satisfying 111 lbs., but less would be even better.

Sethie is in love with Shaw.  Not exactly sure about his true feelings for her, she constantly evaluates their time together.  She would love to hold hands as they walk together, but she is pretty sure Shaw wouldn't approve.  She revels in his every touch but wishes he would touch her more.  Is he happy with her body?  Does he think she is too fat?  Sethie can't ask him these questions to learn the real answers; she just obsesses on the possibilities that the answers would be negative.

When Sethie meets Janey, she begins to gain confidence.  They shop together, and Janey encourages Sethie to buy clothes she never would have considered purchasing.  Janey also gives Sethie the confidence to wear them in public.  Janey's positive reinforcement offsets the negativity Sethie has always felt from her mother, and more importantly from looking at her own reflection.

THE STONE GIRL takes readers into the mind of a young girl struggling with a negative body image.  Her obsession with her weight and food consumption fill almost every waking moment and dictate every action or reaction she experiences.  Although, many anorexia cases are more extreme, Sethie's situation reveals the emotional unraveling caused by this devastating condition.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

BUMPED by Megan McCafferty

It's 2036 and "teenage girls are the most important people on the planet."  A mysterious virus has caused sterility in everyone over the age of eighteen.  The only hope to continue the human race is to impregnate girls between the ages of thirteen and eighteen.

Melody and Harmony are sixteen year old twins.  They were born to a drug-addicted woman who abandoned them immediately after their premature birth.  Because Harmony's survival was in question, the twins were separated and adopted by different parents.

Melody was raised by indulgent parents all the while knowing that when she reached the minimum age for conception, she would be marketed to the highest bidder.  So far the perfect match hasn't been found, and now Melody is nervous about being a virgin and on the verge of losing her ability to become pregnant.

Harmony did survive and was adopted by a family on the Goodside.  She was raised to dedicate her life to God.  When she discovers that she has a twin living on the Otherside, she is determined to find her and convince her to join God as well.

BUMPED by Megan McCafferty is a fascinating and at times creepy view into the future.  I understand the idea that we humans would want to insure our place on the planet, but to exploit teens to do so seems incomprehensible.  McCafferty presents a unique look into the future.  She develops characters who come to understand what is happening in their world and who make decisions about what parts they want to play in the future.

Monday, July 2, 2012

BURN by Heath Gibson

Review ARC courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: 8-8-12

William "Wee Wee" Tucker is a model teen.  He has a part-time job at the local grocery store, he does fine in school, and he is a volunteer firefighter, however there are a few things he would change about his life. 

Wee Wee is short, and it doesn't look like any kind of growth spurt is in his future.  He is the exact opposite of Steven, his tall, good-looking brother.  His father is the pastor of the local church, and his dedication to his congregation limits the amount of attention he gives his sons and his alcoholic wife. 

Things do change a bit for Wee Wee with the appearance of a new girl named Samantha.  She is tall, pretty, and sassy.  When she shows interest in Wee Wee, he begins to dream of the possibility of having his first ever girlfriend.  He enjoys Samantha's casual approach to life and appreciates her efforts to build his sometimes sagging confidence.  She is also supportive when his brother Steven makes the decision to "come out" at the school dance and also to their unsuspecting parents.

The only time Wee Wee feels in complete control is when he is fighting fires.  The adrenaline rush is intoxicating.  The Chief warns Wee Wee that some firefighters let that feeling take control and drive them to make dangerous choices.  Wee Wee is sure that, if channeled properly, the power of fire can help him change the direction of his life and others.

BURN by Heath Gibson takes readers into the mind of a young man desperate for praise and recognition.  His twisted idea of how to earn honor and respect could prove deadly.