Title:  Gregor the Overlander

Author: Suzanne Collins

ISBN: 9780439648131

Publisher:  Scholastic

Date of Publication:  August 2004

Reading Level: 7th grade and up

Keywords:

Books in Print:

JUVENILE FICTION / Action & Adventure / General

JUVENILE FICTION / General

CHILDREN'S FICTION

ADVENTURE AND ADVENTURERS - FICTION

My additions:

Family Relationships

Death and Dying

Sibling Relationships

Fantasy

Synopsis:  (from Books in Print)

When Gregor falls through a grate in his apartment building, he's hurtled into the dark Underland, a world that is on the brink of war. But his arrival is no accident--a prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland's uncertain future.
When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor's arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland's uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it -- until he realizes it's the only way to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.
When eleven-year-old Gregor follows his little sister through a grate in the laundry room of their New York apartment, he hurtles into the dark Underland beneath the city. There, humans live uneasily beside giant spiders, bats, cockroaches, and rats--but the fragile peace is about to fall apart. Gregor wants no part of a conflict between these creepy creatures. He just wants to find his way home. But when he discovers that a strange prophecy foretells a role for him in the Underland's uncertain future, he realizes it might be the only way to solve the biggest mystery of his life. Little does he know his quest will change him and the Underland forever. Rich in suspense and brimming with adventure, Suzanne Collin's debut marked a thrilling new talent, and introduced a character no young reader will ever forget.

Awards: (from Books in Print) –

Beehive Children's Fictional Book Award (NOMINATED) 2005

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award (NOMINATED) 2005

Nutmeg Children's Book Award (NOMINATED) 2006

Sunshine State Young Reader's Book Award (NOMINATED) 2006

Sasquatch Reading Award (NOMINATED) 2006

Great Stone Face Children's Book Award (NOMINATED) 2005

Massachusetts Children's Book Award (NOMINATED) 2006

Garden State Children's Book Awards (NOMINATED) 2006

Bluebonnet Award (NOMINATED) 2006

Rhode Island Children's Book Award (NOMINATED) 2006

Young Reader's Choice Award (NOMINATED) 2006

Virginia Reader's Choice Awards (NOMINATED) 2006

Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award (WON) 2006

Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award (NOMINATED) 2007

Young Hoosier Book Award (NOMINATED) 2007

William Allen White Children's Book Award (NOMINATED) 2006

Flicker Tale Children's Book Award (NOMINATED) 2007

Sequoyah Book Award (NOMINATED) 2006

Nene Award (NOMINATED) 2007

Maud Hart Lovelace Award (NOMINATED) 2007

Volunteer State Book Award (NOMINATED) 2007

SCASL Book Award (South Carolina) (NOMINATED) 2007

Comments: This was a good enough book – typical kiddie-fantasy-quest fare.  It’s the first of a larger series that seems to follow the formula set forth in books like “Fablehaven” (or maybe “Fablehaven” copies “Gregor"?)  Basically, Gregor and his two-year-old sister, Boots, wind up falling down below the streets of New York into the Underland where humans live alongside gigantic cockroaches, bats, spiders and rats and they have done so for years.  Oh – and Gregor’s father mysteriously disappeared two years ago and Gregor has to be the “Man of the House.”  When Gregor and Boots find themselves in the Underland, Gregor is named as a great warrior put forth in a prophecy to fight off the rats that threaten the unsteady peace in the Underland.

I actually lost interest partway through the book.  This is another book I might not have finished if I wasn’t planning on writing a review of it.  The plot is so formulaic and trite – just the names and places change.  Eleven-year-old Gregor could be any number of pre-teen hero in any sort of young adult adventure novel – Percy Jackson, Kendra and Seth from “Fablehaven,” Meggie from “Inkheart,” Jared, Mallory and Simon from “The Spiderwick Chronicles.”  Those are the ones that I thought of initially, but I’m sure there are others.  The pre-teen fantasy/adventure genre has been around for a long time and the formula’s hardly changed much.  The main difference is probably that Collins includes Gregor’s little sister in the story.  Boots is easily the best character here.  She is unafraid of the giant creatures and even befriends two of the cockroaches (they call her their “princess”).  I think she saves this story from being a completely mechanical plot.  In fact, I would much rather have had the story told from Boots’ point of view than Gregor’s.

Having read “The Hunger Games ,” I sort of expected more from Suzanne Collins.  I do understand that this was her first foray into YA literature, so this could be a case of an author’s talent getting better with time.  Or maybe I just expect more from the books I take the time to select and read.

Up Next: “Something Happened” by Greg Logsted

On Deck: "Pretties" by Scott Westerfield, "The Truth About Forever" by Sarah Dessen

Title: Except the Queen

Author:
Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder

ISBN:
9780451462732

Publisher:
 Roc

Date of Publication:
 February 2010

Reading Level:
 age 16 and up

Keywords:

Salt Lake County Library –

Sisters -- Fiction
Fairies -- Fiction
Young adult fiction
Fantasy fiction

My additions –

Urban fantasy
Aging

Synopsis:
(from Salt Lake County Library catalog) - Cast from the high court of the Fairy Queen, sisters Serana and Meteora must find a way to survive in the mortal realm of Earth. But when signs point to a rising power that threatens to tear asunder both fairy and human worlds, they realize that they were chosen to fight the menace because they were the only ones who could do what must be done.

Comments:
This book is interesting.  It’s written from the points of view of many different characters, but it’s not hard to follow (it helps that each chapter includes the name of the character this is speaking or that the narrator is following).  Because this was written by two authors, the styles and changes are very jarring and it was hard for me to follow what was going on until the last few chapters explained everything in detail.

There is something that bothers me about this story.  I don’t know if this is prevalent in stories about faeries or what, but there is an awful lot of attention towards physical beauty and what makes a person beautiful.  When Serana and Meteora are first banished by the queen, their bodies age and they become old.  They both constantly talk about how ugly they feel and how fat and bulky their bodies have become.  Sometimes they will encounter young and beautiful characters and they always make a point to say how jealous they are of young people because of their physical beauty.  I personally thought that got in the way of the story and it was very distracting.  I kept thinking what if someone is reading this book who’s had struggles with self-image and eating disorders – how would that person feel to read about two main characters who bemoan how old and fat and ugly they are?  Plus, it made it harder for me to sympathize with Meteora and Serana.  I almost felt as though they deserved what they got.

There’s also a lot of graphic language and descriptions of sex in this book (in fact, the whole story starts with the two faeries Meteora and Serana accidentally catching the Fairy Queen having sex with a mortal and they’re banished for it).  Sometimes, it seems like the story is secondary to the depictions of sex and that took me out of the story.

I like fantasy stories because the fantasy worlds would be a place I would like to visit.  The faery world of “Except the Queen” is not a place I would enjoy living.  I wouldn’t even like to live in Baba Yaga’s tenement.  I don’t care much for the dark and gritty aspect of the story.  Of course, this could be speaking purely to differing tastes and this just isn’t something I enjoyed.

Up Next:
“Gregor the Overlander” by Suzanne Collins

On Deck:
“Something Happened” by Greg Logsted; “Pretties” by Scott Westerfeld

It's fitting that I post this review today, considering the news that hit yesterday.

Title: The Graveyard Book

Author: Neil Gaiman

ISBN: 9780060530945

Publisher:  HarperCollins Publishers

Date of Publication:  October 1st 2008

Reading Level: 7th grade and up

Keywords:

Salt Lake County Library –

Dead -- Juvenile fiction.              

Supernatural -- Juvenile fiction.

Cemeteries -- Juvenile fiction.

 

My additions –

Growing-up

Death and dying

Family relationships

Adventure

Synopsis:  (from Goodreads) –

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Awards: Lots! (from Goodreads) -

Hugo Award for Best Novel (2009)

Newbery Medal (2009)

Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel (2009)

British Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009)

World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009)

World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009)

Cybils Award for Middle Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction (2008)

Audie Award Nominee for Thriller/Suspense (2009)

An ALA Notable Children's Book for Middle Readers (2009)

ALA Teens' Top Ten (2009)

Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award Nominee (2009)

Indies Choice Book Award for Best Indie Young Adult Buzz Book (Fiction): (2009)

Carnegie Medal (2009)

Comments: I’ve been told for a long time that I ought to pick up Neil Gaiman because I would enjoy it.  Sadly, other things came up for me to read, so poor Neil got put on the backburner.  However, when the news came that Neil Gaiman would be writing an episode of the upcoming season of “Doctor Who," I knew I had to pick up something of his and read it.  The February Scholastic catalog came to my desk at school and it had “The Graveyard Book” listed for sale, I saw that this had won the Newbery Award, so I ordered it for the library and read the book.  And yes, I found that I do enjoy Neil Gaiman.

Nobody “Bod” Owens is a young boy whose family’s was killed when he was a baby.  He somehow wanders into a graveyard and is more or less adopted by the ghosts that live in the graveyard.  He is raised in the ghosts’ culture and is very at home there.  It’s the world of the living that presents the most perils to him.  What I found the most interesting is that this is a story where ghosts and ghouls are no threat to the living protagonist.  The ghosts are very much Bod’s family and he is the most comfortable there.  My favorite is the conversation of whether or not to send Bod to a regular school in the world of the living – it’s just like a conversation that any child’s parents would have over which school to send their child to.  I had to remind myself constantly that these people are ghosts and it added a whole new dimension of humor to the story.  I also think that a boy like Bod wouldn’t be so afraid of death and I wonder if that is a theme of the story as well – that there is nothing to be scared of in death or dying.  Depending on the personality of a child and how their parents feel about it, this could be a good story to read in a time of death.

It took me a while to realize how the format of the book worked – this book is written much like “The Jungle Book” in that each chapter is a short story about Bod and his adventures in the graveyard.  The ghosts are so much fun to read – they each have their own personalities that reflect how they were in life and they aren’t the old recycled ghost tropes that have been used in the past.  Gaiman writes his characters so vividly – Mrs. Owens is such a lovely mother figure and Mr. Pennyworth is his kindly, if a little doddering, teacher.  I love all the little ghostly details in the narrative like the parentheticals that mention the epitaphs on the gravestones of the different characters (Example, Bod’s grammar and composition teacher has the epitaph - “Miss Letitia Borrows, Who Did No harm to No Man all the Dais of Her Life. Reader, Can You Say Lykewise?”)

I’m really glad I came across this book and I’ll be looking for other works by Neil Gaiman in the future.

Up Next: “Except the Queen” by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder;

On Deck: “Gregor the Overlander” by Suzanne Collins; “Something Happened” by Greg Logsted

(I know I said I was going to do "The Graveyard Book" this week, but I goofed up and did this review instead.  Enjoy this and I'll be back with Neil Gaiman next week).

Title:
Pure

Author: Terra Elan McVoy

ISBN: 978-1-4169-6748-4

Publisher:  Simon Pulse

Date of Publication:  2009

Reading Level: Ages 14 and up

Keywords:

WorldCat –

Best friends -- Fiction.

Friendship -- Fiction.

Purity (Ethics) -- Fiction.

Christian life -- Fiction.

Dating (Social customs) -- Fiction.

First person narratives.

Realistic fiction.

Teenagers -- Fiction.

Celibacy -- Fiction.

Virginity -- Fiction.

Betrayal -- Fiction.

Sexuality -- Fiction.

Teenage girls -- Fiction.

Best friends -- Juvenile fiction.

Friendship -- Juvenile fiction.

Purity (Ethics) -- Juvenile fiction.

Christian life -- Juvenile fiction.

Dating (Social customs) -- Juvenile fiction.

My additions (WorldCat covers it pretty thoroughly, so I don’t have a whole lot to add) –

Religion in School

Moral Values

Romance

Synopsis:  (from Goodreads) –

Tabitha and her four best friends all wear purity rings, symbols of the virginity-until-marriage pledge they made years ago. Now Tab is fifteen, and her ring has come to mean so much more. It's a symbol of who she is and what she believes—a reminder of her promises to herself, and her bond to her friends. But when Tab meets a boy whose kisses make her knees go weak, everything suddenly seems a lot more complicated. Tab's best friend, Morgan, is far from supportive, and for the first time, Tabitha is forced to keep secrets from the one person with whom she's always shared everything. When one of those secrets breaks to the surface, Tab finds herself at the center of an unthinkable betrayal that splits her friends apart. As Tab's entire world comes crashing down around her, she's forced to re-examine her friendships, her faith, and what exactly it means to be pure.

Comments: This was a very interesting read.  I’m not a real fan of Christian fiction in general because the authors are sometimes a bit heavy-handed about the point they’re trying to make.  Even though I consider myself a religious person, I sometimes feel like the characters and the stories in religious fiction are often blown out of proportion.  The genre is not how I would want religious people to be portrayed, but that’s what the stereotype has become.  I sort of feel like Christian fiction makes us look bad.  So, I was a little nervous about reading this book, but it turned out not to be the typical Christian fiction (in fact, the author gave an interview where she said this book was not meant to be categorized as a Christian book).

 When they were twelve, Tabitha, Cara, Morgan, Naeomi and Priah all made promises to themselves and to God to keep themselves pure and abstain from sex until marriage.  They all wear purity rings to symbolize this promise.  Three years after making that promise, things have changed in each girl’s life, but they are still committed to their promise.  However, when Cara breaks her promise and has sex with her boyfriend, Michael, that’s when things spiral out of control.

Tabitha is the narrator of the book and she is easily my favorite character.  Tabitha finds great strength in her faith and loves going to church, even though her parents are overly religious, though they still support her.  Her relationship with God is a very personal one and she doesn’t like to make a big deal about her faith in public.  When Cara tells Tabitha that she broke her promise, Tabitha is the one that’s the most supportive and caring toward Cara.  Morgan and Naeomi completely shun Cara for her actions to the point where Morgan (whom Tabitha describes as her very best friend) even shuns Tabitha for still being friends with Cara.  In the meantime, Tabitha meets Jake at a church function and they start dating and their relationship starts getting really serious.  It makes her take a look at her own promise and what she’s going to do about it.

There is a lot to love about this book and I could probably gush about it on and on, but I want to focus on one scene in particular – after Morgan finds out about what Cara's done, she starts protesting outside the school and calling for prayer circles in defense of moral purity.  Tabitha is completely embarrassed for Morgan because Morgan’s display is very over-the-top and people start laughing at her.  Other groups start to protest for various reasons (some for a joke, but some are actually serious) and it gets so out of hand that the principal has to ban all protesting in front of the school because it disrupts regular school activities.  Later, Tabitha’s dad starts ranting about how there’s no place for conservative Christian views in public school, which Tabitha does not take kindly to.  She gives one of the best lines in the book when she says:

 “…[T]hey made her [Morgan] stop.  Made everybody stop.  And besides, it didn’t work.  You don’t have to worry.  The world is still safe from too many stupid Jesus freaks.  There are still plenty of nonbelievers out there.  Your ability to have an intelligent conversation with someone is still intact… I know what you think, Dad.  That people who believe in God are just idiot brainwashed zombies.  But to some of us, it actually does mean something: Something really special and important we can’t talk about except in certain places and with certain people, because otherwise everyone thinks we’re freaks who’re all out to recruit more zombies into our coven.  So go ahead and call the school… but when you do, thank them.  Because in spite of what Morgan tried to do, she got stopped.  She can’t do it anymore.  And neither, for that matter, can anybody else, whether they believe in Allah or the Purple Donkey from Kathmandu… Now nobody can talk about religion at school at all.”

I love Tabitha’s response because it is so realistic in that she stands up to her dad when he starts insulting her faith.  Tabitha is a great representation of how most Christian teens really are.  She struggles with her own faith, the choices her friends make, how other people (including her parents) react to her faith and she does it in a very non-preachy way.  In fact, religion in this story is treated as just one more aspect of Tabitha’s life – it’s not the only thing that she does.  God is referred to in a very matter-of-fact way – without the subject being overblown.  The story makes it quite clear that being judgmental of other people because of their choices is not right, but that it is good to stand up for your own beliefs.  Tabitha continues to love Cara and Morgan even though she doesn’t agree with what they’ve done.  In the course of the story, Tabitha grows in her relationship with God and learns a great deal about herself and what she wants in her own life.

This is a fantastic book for any Christian teen no matter the denomination.  Tabitha especially sticks up for her beliefs, but she is not the caricature of the prudish and holier-than-thou Christian teen that gets mocked in popular culture.  The story takes a realistic look at what it’s like to be a person of faith and hold on to those beliefs when people around you aren’t and, especially, how to get along with everyone no matter what their convictions are.  This is a very refreshing take on the subject and it’s something I think many teens would benefit from reading.

Up Next: “The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman

On Deck: "Except the Queen” by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder; “Gregor the Overlander” by Suzanne Collins; “Running Out of Time” by Margaret Peterson Haddix; “You Don’t Know Me” by David Klass; “Guys Write for Guys Read” edited by Jon Scieska; “Something Happened” by Greg Logsted; Beautiful by “Amy Reed; “Midnighters: The Secret Hour” by Scott Westerfield

Title: Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson 

Author: Louise Rennison

ISBN: 0-06-447227-2

Publisher:  HarperCollins Publishers

Date of Publication:  April 2001

Reading Level: 7th grade and up

Keywords:

Books in Print –

 JUVENILE FICTION / General

JUVENILE FICTION / Humorous Stories

JUVENILE FICTION / People & Places / Europe

CHILDREN'S FICTION

DIARIES FICTION

HUMOROUS STORIES

ENGLAND FICTION

From me –

Teen life, family relationships, social relationships, school stories

Synopsis:  (from Books in Print)

Angus:
My mixed-breed cat, half domestic tabby, half Scottish wildcat. The size of a small Labrador, only mad.

Thongs:
Stupid underwear. What's the point of them, anyway? They just go up your bum, as far as I can tell.

Full-Frontal Snogging:
Kissing with all the trimmings, lip to lip, open mouth, tongues ... everything.

Her dad's got the mentality of a Teletubby (only not so developed). Her cat, Angus, is trying to eat the poodle next door. And her best friend thinks she looks like an alien -- just because she accidentally shaved off her eyebrows. Ergghhhlack. Still, add a little boy-stalking, teacher-baiting, and full-frontal snogging with a Sex God, and Georgia's year just might turn out to be the most fabbitty fab fab ever!

Awards:

Nestlé Children's Book Prize (NOMINATED) 1999
Bluegrass Award (NOMINATED) 2002
Book Sense Book of the Year (NOMINATED) 2002
Evergreen Young Adult Book Award (NOMINATED) 2003
Garden State Teen Book Award (NOMINATED) 2003
Virginia Reader's Choice Awards (WON) 2003

Comments: I read this book per recommendations from my students.  I was a little wary because of the title (and other titles in the series), but I gave it a shot and I’m glad that I did (to be truthful, the title’s probably just for shock value - there is very little in the actual story for parents to be concerned about).  This is a perfectly hilarious book poking fun at a typical teenage girl’s hopes and fears and all the drama that she gets pulled into (as teenage girls are wont to do).  The book is written as Georgia’s diary and she’s as honest as any girl would be if she knew nobody would ever read what she wrote.  There are so many funny parts, but I think my favorite is when she’s spying on a classmate and how horrified she is when she finds out what a thong really is.  Plus, I adore the wonderful “Britishisms” that pepper the narrative (there is a glossary at the back of the book – which is funny in its own right – for readers who don’t quite know what Georgia is referring to in some instances).

The only complaint I could really have is that it’s a little far-fetched to believe that a girl would have her diary on hand to detail every little stray thought every five minutes as though Georgia were on Twitter (some of the entries do that) – but it ultimately adds to the humor.  Since it’s written as Georgia’s diary, there isn’t much of a “plotline” other than following her through a school year, but that didn’t bother me.  It was nice to have a light and fluffy read after some of the heavier stuff I’ve been reading and I’d like to tackle the rest of the series.

Up Next: “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

On Deck: “Pure” by Terra Elan McVoy; “Except the Queen” by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder; “Gregor the Overlander” by Suzanne Collins; “Running Out of Time” by Margaret Peterson Haddix; “You Don’t Know Me” by David Klass

I have a book I'm reading for my YAL blog, but I'm just not getting into it.  I've been finishing books and writing reviews for this project so fast that I have a bunch of reviews stockpiled so I can post one a week, but this book is so... ergh...  It's called "Except the Queen" and it's one of those gothic-faery-dark-fantasy-type things.  I thought it would be good... but I am bored as all get out by it.  It's like pulling teeth getting myself to read this thing.  Usually I would not finish it at all, but I feel like I have to get through it for my class.  To not finish would be unethical as a librarian or something weird like that.  :/
I'm just now realizing how few weeks I have left to do this for my class.  But I think I might keep it up afterward because I am really having a great time with it.  And it's a fun way to keep track of the YA books I've read.  I'll explore that later, though.

Title: The Bar Code Tattoo

Author: Suzanne Weyn

ISBN: 978-0-439-39562-5

Publisher:  Scholastic

Date of Publication:  September 1, 2004

Reading Level: Elementary and junior high school

Keywords:
From WorldCat (This wasn’t listed on Books in Print) –
    * Identity -- Fiction.
    * Conformity -- Fiction.
    * High schools -- Fiction.
    * Science fiction.
    * Identity (Philosophical concept) -- Juvenile fiction.
    * Individuality -- Juvenile fiction.
    * Bar coding -- Juvenile fiction.

Synopsis:  (from Goodreads)
Individuality vs. Conformity
Identity vs. Access
Freedom vs. Control
The bar code tattoo. Everybody's getting it. It will make your life easier, they say. It will hook you in. It will become your identity.
But what if you say no? What if you don't want to become a code? For Kayla, this one choice changes everything. She becomes an outcast in her high school. Dangerous things happen to her family. There's no option but to run...for her life.

Comments: As a dystopian novel, this book had so much potential.  Everyone is forced to get a bar code tattooed on their wrist that contains all their financial, health and personal information.  That has to be a pretty interesting story, right?
                Unfortunately, this story falls woefully flat.  The plot is little more than Character A moves to Plot Point 2 and must fall in love with Character B who is really working for Villain Gamma.   Character C is forced to move across country with her family and has little bearing on the actual plot, but Character A needs a best friend in this formula.  Weyn probably needed three times as many pages to tell the story she was aiming to tell in a short story format (the author’s note at the end says that she originally began this as a short story).  None of the important scenes get the development they need in order to bring the reader into the story.  It’s almost like everything is just background noise.  Plus, the ending is very contrived - having the bar code somehow frustrates evolution so much that people without the bar codes start developing psychic powers.  Even for a science-fiction story, that is too far-fetched.
                This book obviously has an agenda to push and while many authors’ beliefs seep into their stories in subtle ways, Weyn’s beliefs don’t “seep” as much as they flood the plotline, overshadow any semblance of a story and the whole thing comes across as preachy and arrogant (doesn’t help that there’s the obligatory love-triangle thrown in there just as an afterthought).
                This could have been a very well-crafted story of how people get so caught up in the new trends and technology of society and even follow big corporations and big government policies blindly to their downfall, but it just doesn’t work here.  There’s not enough background on the characters to make the reader care about them.  If I were a teen reading this book, I would be insulted that I was expected to take this premise seriously (evidently there’s a sequel.  I don’t know why).

At the end of the day, this is what this book does to me:

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

No more of that.

Up Next: “Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging” by Louise Rennison

On Deck: “Pure” by Terra Elan McVoy; “Except the Queen” by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder; “Gregor the Overlander” by Suzanne Collins; “Running Out of Time” by Margaret Peterson Haddix; “You Don’t Know Me” by David Klass; “Guys Write for Guys Read” edited by Jon Scieska; “Something Happened” by Greg Logsted

A sports book requires I use my sports icon :)


Title:
Dairy Queen

Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

ISBN: 0-618-86335-4

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin

Date of Publication: June 2007

Reading Level: ages 12-17

Keywords:

From Books in Print –

JUVENILE FICTION / General

JUVENILE FICTION / Lifestyles / Farm & Ranch Life

JUVENILE FICTION / Sports & Recreation / Football

CHILDREN'S FICTION

FOOTBALL-FICTION

FARM LIFE-FICTION

Awards and Recognition:

Original Voices Award (NOMINATED) 2006

Great Lakes Book Awards (WON) 2007

Beehive Young Adults' Book Award (NOMINATED) 2007

Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award (WON) 2007

Young Reader's Choice Award (NOMINATED) 2009

Maine Student Book Award (NOMINATED) 2007

Volunteer State Book Award (NOMINATED) 2007

Teen Buckeye Book Award (NOMINATED) 2008

Nutmeg Children's Book Award (NOMINATED) 2009

Iowa Teen Award (NOMINATED) 2008

Synopsis: When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D. J. can't help admitting, maybe he's right. When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Stuff like why her best friend, Amber, isn't so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret. Why her college-football-star brothers won't even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league. When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.

Comments: I enjoyed this book a lot.  The story is told from DJ’s first-person POV and her voice radiates through the whole narrative.  Murdock doesn’t shy away from sarcasm or snark – but the story has a down-to-earth tone that seems more genuine than some YA books that are supposed to be about real-life teens.

                DJ Schwenk is basically running her family’s dairy farm in Red Bend, Wisconsin by herself after her two older brothers get in a fight with her dad.  Her younger brother, Curtis, is busy with little league baseball and her mother is about to get a position as the principal of the school where she’s been teaching sixth grade.  Jimmy Ott, a family friend who coaches football at Red Bend’s rival school, Hawley, suggests that the Schwenks have Brian Nelson, a second-string quarterback for Hawley, work on their farm during the summer to train up for football season so he can be the starter.  In the course of this, DJ ends up being Brian’s athletic trainer (her brothers always had her run after their passes and she became a pretty good player just from practice).  Along the way, she decides to go out for Red Bend’s football team because it’s something nobody would expect her to do.  And, of course, she develops a crush on Brian.

                This book is nothing like the usual high school, Romeo-and-Juliet-esque YA romance.  First off all, the romance plot is secondary – the main crux of the story is DJ dealing with work on the farm, issues with her family, issues with her friends and keeping people from finding out about her plan to try out for the football team (until tryouts actually begin, that is).  It’s an authentic look at a strong female character who is truly a tomboy and doesn’t even dawn on her that she would like boys (it’s the revelation that her best friend, Amber, is a lesbian and has a crush on DJ that gets DJ to start thinking that she does like boys).  The unspoken conflict between DJ and her father is so believable and real.  I loved the contrast between the Schwenks, who never bring any kind of family conflict out in the open until it becomes a big blowup, and the Nelsons, who talk about everything (DJ often refers to Brian’s mother as Oprah Winfrey and she sometimes imagines the Schwenks going on Oprah to talk about their problems.  The scenarios DJ imagines bring a tone of levity to an otherwise emotionally burdensome situation).

                The small-town dynamics are wonderful, especially the wrench of the Red Bend vs. Hawley rivalry (I speak from experience when I say that small-town high school rivalries are SERIOUS BUSINESS – nothing about this rivalry is exaggerated).  DJ’s older brothers played football for Red Bend and they lost a big game to Hawley, so the fact that DJ would even consider being friends with Brian (never mind dating him) is a major factor in her self-discovery.  She feels a great loyalty to her family and her team, but she also wants to be friends with Brian (after he quits being a whiny brat about working on the farm).

                There are two other follow-up books after “Dairy Queen” – “The Off Season” and “Front and Center,” both of which are very good and I recommend them.

Up Next: “The Bar Code Tattoo” by Suzanne Weyn

I'm so glad I stockpiled a bunch of these reviews beforehand.


Titles:
Evermore and Blue Moon

Author: Alyson Noel

ISBNs: 0-312-53275-X (Evermore); 0-312-53276-8 (Blue Moon)

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of Publication: February 2009 (Evermore); July 2009 (Blue Moon)

Reading Level: ages 12-17

Keywords:

From Books in Print –

JUVENILE FICTION / Fantasy & Magic

JUVENILE FICTION / General

CHILDREN'S FICTION

SUPERNATURAL FICTION

Awards and Recognition:

New York Times Bestseller; Publishers Weekly Bestseller

Synopsis: (Evermore) - Since the car accident that claimed the lives of her family, sixteen-year-old Ever can see auras and hear people's thoughts, and she goes out of her way to hide from other people until she meets Damen, another psychic teenager who is hiding even more mysteries.

(Blue Moon) - Eager to learn everything she can about her new abilities as an Immortal, Ever turns to her beloved Damen to show her the way. But just as her powers are increasing, Damen's are waning. In an attempt to save him, Ever travels to the magical dimension of Summerland, where she learns the secrets of Damen's tortured past; a past which he has always kept hidden from her. But in her quest to cure Damen, Ever discovers an ancient text that details the workings of time. Now Ever must choose between turning back the past and saving her family from the accident that claimed their lives--or staying in the present and saving Damen, who grows sicker every day...

Comments: I’m reviewing these together because they’re the first two books in the series.  “Evermore” was boring, but “Blue Moon” was a bit more exciting, so I thought that a combined review would give a more rounded perspective on the Immortals series.

                The Immortals series is basically a successor to Twilight.  Young adults looking for something comparable may enjoy this, but I think it promises more than it can deliver.  I was initially drawn to it because the synopsis said that the main characters, Damen and Ever, had been in love for many lifetimes because of their status as Immortals.  I expected a detailed backstory of their history at some point (which is something I enjoy in thing I read), but it never came.  The characters are flat, with the exception of Riley, the ghost of Ever’s little sister, who refuses to cross over to the afterlife in “Evermore” and haunts Ever wherever she goes.  Riley is funny and sarcastic and a wonderful shift from the cardboard cut-outs of the stereotypical high school characters (Ever’s two best friends are the “I’m-goth-but-only-because-it’s-cool” Haven and Miles, the token gay guy that shows up in these stories just so the main character isn’t the only one that gets picked on).  But then Riley finally does cross over and the reader is left with Ever’s constant angst and the “been there, done that” style of supernatural romance and the typical high school teen movie characters.  “Blue Moon” is slightly better, only because Ever spends more time on her own in the mystical Summerland studying how to harness her powers as an Immortal, but then she’s right back to reality and fighting for her “One True Love That She Can’t Live Without” and the story really falls apart.

                It could be that I am just not a fan of “Twilight” and other stories like it, but I was not impressed by this series.  Some of my students (and one of my co-workers) said they liked it, so maybe it’s just a matter of differing tastes.  I imagine there would be some patrons who would enjoy this, but the story feels so formulaic and the characters are so stereotyped (the one that irritates me the most is Miles because there’s potential for him to be a well-rounded person, but Noel never gets farther than the fact that he’s gay.  I think there should have been more to him than that).  This series ought to come with a warning label – “Caution: Shallow – No Diving.”

Up Next: “Dairy Queen” by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Last post of the day and I'll stop spamming your flists - I PROMISE!

Title: Pirates: Scourge of the Seas

Author: John Reeve Carpenter

ISBN: 0-7607-8695-X

Publisher: Sterling Publishing

Date of Publication: August 2008

Reading Level: 13 and up

Keywords:

From WorldCat (Books in Print didn’t have this book listed) –

Pirates - History

Keywords I Thought of:

Pirates – Non-Fiction

Colonization of Americas

Naval History

Awards and Recognition:

None (that I could find)

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) -You won't need a bottle of rum to enjoy the exploits of these famous and fearsome swashbucklers. There's a galleon's worth of action in this awesome exploration of pirates—their weapons, adventures, legends, language, and lost treasures.
See what life was really like aboard a pirate ship. Meet Blackbeard, Calico Jack, and a host of other villainous adventurers as they sail through the high seas in search of plunder. Learn about their ships, flags, and weaponry, from cutlasses to blunderbusses, sangrenels to musketoons
If you are looking for exotic desert islands and sword-wielding desperadoes, they are here, but you will also learn what life was really like for the scourge of the seas: what motivated them, what kept them together, the hardships they had to endure, and the adventures they sought

Comments: This is a good non-fiction book for anyone interested in pirate lore and history.  After reading “Powder Monkey” a few weeks back, this was a good book to follow-up with for more information on seafaring history in the 18th and 19th centuries.  There was lots of good information on pirate life and dispelling popular myths (for instance - pirates really didn’t go around with parrots on their shoulders unless they were looking to sell them as exotic pets) and some nice illustrations of ships and weapons used at the time.

I’ll admit, I’m not really one to read non-fiction books from cover-to-cover, so I don’t know how to comment on whether or not it was well-written.  Plus, this seemed to be a cross between an encyclopedia and a regular historical narrative (I think I’m getting my genres right) and it's sort of difficult for me to get engaged in that sort of thing.  However, Carpenter did cover a good amount of history and presented it in a way that teens would get something out of it.  This might just be a good book to thumb through the pictures or to find isolated facts and stories about pirates.

Up Next: Evermore and Blue Moon by Alyson Noel (I’m reviewing them both together and I’ll explain why in my post next week)

Title: Living Dead Girl

Author:
Elizabeth Scott

ISBN:
1-4169-6060-0

Publisher:
Simon Pulse

Date of Publication:
September 2009

Reading Level:
16 and older

Keywords:

Books in Print:
JUVENILE FICTION / General
JUVENILE FICTION / Law & Crime
CHILDREN'S FICTION
KIDNAPPING – FICTION

Awards and Recognition:
2009 ALA Best Book for Young Adults
2009 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
2009 ALA Teens’ Top Ten Nominee
2009 Amelia Bloomer Project YA Fiction Pick
2009 NYPL Stuff for the Teen Age Selection
2008 VOYA Editor’s Choice for Teens
A 2008 ABC Best Book for Children-Teen Selection
A TeenReads.com Best Book of 2008
I’m not sure if this should go under “Awards,” but “Living Dead Girl” was listed in the ALA List of Banned Books in 2009-10 (source: http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/free_downloads/2010banned.pdf)

Synopsis: (from Books in Print) - Once upon a time, I was a little girl who disappeared. Once upon a time, my name was not Alice. Once upon a time, I didn't know how lucky I was. When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends -- her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over. Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her. This is Alice's story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget.

Comments: “Living Dead Girl” is a book that you want to put down and never read again, yet you have to keep reading until the end. The content is highly disturbing in its description of rape and abuse of a young girl – it is definitely something for older teens, but even age may not be a good enough indicator of whether a teen would be able to handle reading this book. One of my 12th grade students started to read it and said she couldn’t finish it because it was so disturbing.
As far as being a thriller, the book lives up to that description in spades. I felt compelled to keep reading to see if “Alice” would ever escape from her captor, in spite of the graphic content. Scott writes from “Alice’s” first-person POV and uses present tense (much the way “The Hunger Games” is written), so that is likely a contributing factor to the sense of urgency. This is probably the closest a writer could get in terms of getting inside the mind of a victim of kidnap and rape – understanding what goes through their minds. “Alice” even notes that the stories she sees on daytime talk TV are very much like hers. When people ask why these people couldn’t just get out of abusive situation, she tries to explain to herself (and to the reader) that there is simply nothing left of her to want to leave. She has many opportunities to run away or to call for help, but her captor has her enslaved mentally just as much as physically.
Without even looking at others’ reviews, I can already say that people will have wide and varying opinions about this book. Some will love it because of its intense, fast-paced and realistic storytelling and others will hate it because of how intense it is (not to mention the graphic content). Even my own students are split in whether they like it or not (As an aside, this was a book that was requested for purchase from the students). But it’s definitely an attention-grabbing story. I’m personally glad I read it, though I don’t know if I will ever read it again.

Title: Powder Monkey: Adventures of a Young Sailor   

Author: Paul Dowswell

ISBN: 1-58234-675-5

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children

Date of Publication: October 2005

Reading Level: Books in Print lists it at grades 4-7, but I would put it at grades 7 and up for more mature content

Genre: Historical Fiction

Keywords:

- Books in Print listed these:

   JUVENILE FICTION / Animals / Apes, Monkeys, etc.
   JUVENILE FICTION / General
   CHILDREN'S FICTION
   MONKEYS - FICTION

- These are what I came up with:

   British Navy
   Naval Warfare
   Seafaring
   Napoleonic Wars
   18th Century European History
   Maritime Battles
   Rankings in British Navy

Plot Summary: Sam Witchall is a 13-year-old boy who wishes to be a sailor.  He starts off on a British merchant ship, but is later pressed into the British Royal Navy as a "powder monkey" where his job is to load gunpowder into the cannons in the event of a battle.  The book tells his adventures on the frigate Miranda, detailing the every day life of a sailor as well as intense battles.

Comments: The bio on Dowswell says that this book is his first work of fiction, though he has written historical YA non-fiction before.  Dowswell's background in non-fiction is evident in this book, as much of it reads like a factual book on British Naval history.  As a narrator, Sam does not mince words when it comes to describing the cramped and often unsanitary conditions of his voyage on the Miranda.  The battle sequences are also very graphic and violent, which makes me question Books in Print listing it as suitable for grades 4-7 (or maybe I'm just being overly cautious).  The story gets more interesting later as aspects of the characters' lives outside of the Navy are explored (the family they left behind, reasons that they're in the Navy, etc.) and also during a very graphic and intense battle when many of Sam's friends are killed or captured by a Spanish fleet.

This book was recommended to me by one of my freshmen students who had actually done a PowerPoint project for his English class on the British Navy because he had read this book.  He also used the sources listed at the back of the book for his research project, so if someone has an interest in British Naval history, then this would be a good fiction book for them to read.

Next Up: Pirates: Scourge of the Sea by John Reeve Carpenter (non-fiction)

Remember that lovely blog post I posted about Mockingjay?  The one for my YA lit class?  Yeah, somebody else read that book too...

Imma go cry now...

It's not really a bad thing that someone else read it.  While we are discouraged from reading the same book as someone else, it's not against the rules or anything (we're supposed to note what book we're going to read next, but I guess somewhere either me or the other lady missed the signals.  Probably me).  I just don't like feeling like an idiot ('specially since the other MJ blog post had this Big Bold Notice proclaiming "Didn't see nothin'!!!!" before she started her review).

headflop

Guess I'll just have to pay better attention next time :/
(I've wanted to review these books for so long.  And I'll probably add more here since it's a less-formal venue than the blog for my class).

Title -
Mockingjay

Author -
Suzanne Collins

ISBN:
0439023513

Publisher -
Scholastic

Date of Publication -
August 2010

Reading Level -
13 and up

Genre -
Science Fiction

Keywords -
Science-Fiction, Action/Adventure, Dystopian Future, War, Government, Entertainment, Family, Interpersonal Relationships, Mental Health

Spoilery Comments Here )
Next Up: "Powder Monkey" by Paul Dowswell
(Here comes the fun of seeing whether Blackboard content will mesh well with LJ)

Title: Golden: A Retelling of "Rapunzel"

Author: Cameron Dokey

ISBN: 1-4169-3926-1

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing (Imprint: Simon Pulse)

Date of Publication: June 2007

Reading Level: 12+

Genre: Fantasy/Romance

Keywords:

Books in Print suggested these: [Books in Print is a library cataloging database]

JUVENILE FICTION / Fantasy & Magic
JUVENILE FICTION / General
CHILDREN'S FICTION
MAGIC - FICTION
WIZARDS - FICTION

These are the ones I thought of before I looked at BiP:

Folklore, Fairy Tales, Heroes, Fantasy, Family Relationships, Romance, Adoption

Plot Summary: Before Rapunzel was born, her parents make a deal with the sorceress, Melisande, when she catches Rapunzel's father in her garden.  If Rapunzel's mother cannot love the child when she is first born, the baby will go to Melisande.  When Rapunzel is born without any hair, her mother declares that she does not love her child and Rapunzel is raised by the kind sorceress.  When Rapunzel turns 16, Melisande tells her adopted daughter of Rue, Melisande's biological daughter, who was locked in a tower by an evil wizard.  Rapunzel must help Rue break the enchantment keeping Rue in tower in two days or they'll both be cursed.

Comments: This is a very solid retelling of "Rapunzel" with some surprisingly modern themes.  The idea that the sorceress in this story is actually Rapunzel's adopted mother may appeal to young adults who have been adopted or who are in foster homes.  In fact, adoption comes up again with the introduction of Harry, a boy whose parents have died and he has been raised by a traveling tinker names Mr. Jones.  Melisande's reasoning for taking Rapunzel from her parents is explained (whether or not it's to the satisfaction of the reader) is given in the fact that Melisande's power is that she can see into the hearts of others and see what people really treasure and cherish.  Rapunzel, though not Melisande's biological daughter, inherits this gift which helps her save Rue from the tower.

I quite liked the twist of making Rapunzel completely bald.  It makes for some nice character development in the story.  The townspeople don't trust Melisande and it only gets worse when Rapunzel's kerchief falls off and everyone sees she is bald and only assume that she was cursed by the sorceress.  This makes the friendship of Mr. Jones and Harry that much more important when they are finally introduced.

I did get a little lost in the middle where Melisande and Rapunzel travel to the tower where Rue has been locked away (Rue is the one with the long golden hair in this story).  Some of the mechanics of Rue's curse were a little fuzzy, so I didn't quite get what Rapunzel was trying to do when... well, I don't want to spoil the ending.

Overall, a very good read with some wonderful characterization.  This book is part of the larger "Once Upon a Time" series, so if you're looking for other classic fairy tale retellings, there are at least twenty other titles in the series (many are also written by Cameron Dokey, if you are a fan of her style).

This semester, I am taking a Young Adult Library Services class.  Unlike my other classes this one is completely online, so there are some attributes quite unique to this course.  One of my assignments is to read one YA novel a week and post a review about it on our class Young Adult Literature (YAL) blogs.  This is to help us all become acquainted with many different YA titles, though I can already tell you that it will be rare to see me without my nose in some book (whether it be a textbook or novel) or typing on my computer.

I'm actually quite excited about this assignment because I like YA literature and this is basically reading fun books for school credit!  Plus, every Wednesday, the English PolyCom class has set aside 30 minutes for the kids to do some silent reading.  The main teacher also has a book to read and he's told me I could do the same, so I could read while I'm at work and write my review when I get home (one more reason why working at the high school is such fun).

Also, since I have been less-than motivated (or inspired) to blog with any kind of regularity, I have decided I am going to cross-post my book reviews from my school blog to this blog.  I think this will make it more fun for me and also give my loyal readers (all five of you) something enjoyable to read from me.  Just as a heads-up, there is a certain format I need to follow for my class, but I don't think any of you fine literate folks will have any trouble following my train of thought.

In other news, I regret to inform you all that I have turned to the dark side.  Yes, it's true - I have a Twitter account.  I have several reasons for this: (1) - Some of the blogs I follow haven't updated lately, but they have posted new things on their Twitter feeds, so I figure if I want their updates, I should have a place to do that.  (2) - I have been anything but positive toward Twitter, but without actually trying it out.  I came to the conclusion that I should at least try it out before I throw it completely out the window.  If, after a month or so, I decide I have no real use for it, I will delete my account and will need never deal with the Twitter-sphere again.  But who knows - maybe I'll actually come to like it (I can hear Twitter junkies all around the world laughing maniacally).  In any case, if you're interested in following me, my username (handle, tag, thing, whatever) is @wildcat_media.

There goes the phone again - I swear, it's rang about five times since I began this post.

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