Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Death, Ugly Dresses and Fat Girls a-Go-Go

Even though I have proctored no tests recently, I have still found some time to read bits of promising looking books and I have found some gems!

THE FETCH by Laura Whitcomb. I adored A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT and all I can say about the first chapter of Whitcomb's newest books is beautiful, beautiful, BEAUTIFUL! Calder is a fetch, a guide to brings newly-dead souls to the afterlife. The reader jumps into the story with a dreamily wonderful look at his job and a woman who may distract him from his duties. I will be reading this whole book because is a wonder.

by Malin Alegria. This was recommended by a student and I didn't read much, but what I read was cherce. Star wants her 15th birthday celebration (a HUGE deal in her culture) to be a quiet dinner in a chic restaurant. But her family has their collective heart set on a traditional party with a mariachi band and a hideous dress. Very cute, and definitely on tap for next year.

by Marissa Walsh. (Who is from Lynn! And needs to get a website!) These short stories about body image look great. So far I only read Coe Booth's story - HOW TO TAME A WILD BOOTY - and it was great. I loved her TYRELL and I haven't been able to read KENDRA because kids keep taking it out! I look forward to the rest of the collection featuring favorite writers like Carolyn Mackler, Barry Lyga and Margo Rabb who needs to write more and faster right now! (CURES FOR HEARTBREAK is one of my all time favorites.)

And finally, my new best friend Julie Halpern's book GET WELL SOON is about a large girl in a psych ward and I will go into this in greater detail in the forthcoming post - Dear My New Best Friend Julie Halpern, I Love You So and I Hope You Are Not At All Creeped Out By My Fervent Devotion. Coming soon in a blog near you...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rabbit Season!

Here are the second set of books I perused during the SATs yesterday.

THE MISSING GIRL by Norma Fox Mazer. Ever since UP IN SETH'S ROOM, which I was obsessed with in high school (oh, to have a smokin' hot, older boyfriend know...a ROOM!) I have loved Norma Fox Mazer. She recently passed away and her last book is a good one. So good, in fact, that it is kind of freaking me out, and I am a little scared to keep reading! I will, of course, because I have to know what happens when one of the five Herbert sisters goes missing. And the creepy guy who is going to take her (which one is he going to take???) is gearing up for something icky. Pins and needles, my friends, that is what I am on.

GOOD GIRLS by Laura Ruby. Oh dear, Audrey gets her picture taken in an indelicate position without her knowledge. It gets passed around school and all hell breaks loose. I am irritated by the cover of this book (which is inaccurate and creepy) and the jacket copy (too breezy) which make it look like less than it is. (Although I understand the need to market it, blah blah blah... Harper usually does SO much better with their covers.) But the book itself is fantastic. Audrey is likable and usually level-headed. Except when it comes to Luke, a (barely) friend-with-benefits. This book depicts the dark side of technology (Damn you - cell phone cameras!) and the upside of friends who will stick by you. Am I going to finish it? Oh, you know me so well... Put it on the pile!

by Lisa Schroeder. I am just going to put it out there - painful title. However, the book is sweet and sad and lovely. (And the cover is beautiful. And the jacket copy is just the right amount of clever.) This novel in poems about a girl who loses her boyfriend in an accident is slight, but moving. I read this in less than 30 minutes, I should get a free pizza or something. (I am, however a very fast reader.) I should have read it more slowly to enjoy the language, but I really wanted to get the story. There is a nice bit of mystery and a whole lot of romance. I think this might just be a summer reading book this summer.

by Christine Schutt. I will admit it, I am a big wimp. I just can't bear to read a book about a parent losing a child. This book came highly recommended. When I was flipping through, I found a near perfect scene describing a teen dad on the subway that nearly broke my wee little heart when I thought of the rest of the story. (Affluent girl, dying slowly, everyone freaking out.) Did you ever read TAFT by Ann Patchett? That one snuck up on me... Anyway - so I barely read this one. But I will someday. Wow, this is a non-review - go read SLJ's. They loved it!

by Adam Shepard. After graduating from Merrimack College, Shepard hit the road to see if he could go from homeless guy to contributing member of the work force by using his wits and the safety net available to anyone. He did it as a response to Barbara Erihrich's slightly snotty, but well intentioned NICKLED AND DIMED. I only got as far as page 27, and while the writing is kind of workmanlike, the story has really got me hooked! This might be a summer reading pick.

Huzzah! Time for more coffee.

It's Rabbit Season!

Okay, it may not be rabbit season, but I am feeling daffy - and testing season is now over until the spring. So sad that my book smorgasbord-ing will be drawing to a close and I am going to have to actually finish something now.

But yesterday was the small SAT and I got to take a look at 10 new titles. But before I get to them, I want to mention the comments. I have received 2 comments from writers of books which I gave less than glowing reviews. So I imagine that they get pinged when they get mentioned online. (And Francie Nolan is out of a job... - And if you get that reference, leave me a comment and I will take you out for lunch, because we are kindred souls!) Anyway - the people about whose books I say nice things never comment. So I am thinking of just saying everything stinks so that EVERYONE will comment and I can just say, "Oh just kidding!" after.

Many of this post's books came recommend by Theresa Maturevich, reference librarian from the Beverly Public Library. (Let's see if she has one of those little blog gremlins who tells her when she is mentioned...) So thanks Theresa - it must be great to have a job where you get to sit and read books all day!

And now, the books:

by Brad Gooch. This is well written, the cover is beautiful and Flannery O'Connor is one of the classic writers who can draw me in like nobody's business. I loved the beginning with the chicken who can walk backward. But the truth is, I am just not much for biographies nowadays. I lack the intellectual curiosity and the attention span. But this one was a nice one.

INTO THE WILD NERD YONDER by my new best friend Julie Halpern. I was going to devote a whole post to this book because it is absolutely delicious. And you know what? I think I shall. Stay tuned for that one!

by Lawrence Hill. Oh my. Oh my. I never buy books for myself, because I just buy them for the library and act like they are mine. But I put this one on my Christmas list. I will be reading it for me. It is about a girl taken into slavery who eventually travels the world. And I started crying on page two where she matter of fact-ly says, "I never had the privilege of holding on to my children, living with them, raising them the way my own parents raised me for ten or eleven years, until all our lives were torn asunder." Well go ahead and grab me by the throat and shake me, Lawrence Hill, because you are KILLING ME! It got great reviews and I am going to wait until I have time to just leap into it.

GETTING THE GIRL: A GUIDE TO PRIVATE INVESTIGATION, SURVEILLANCE AND COOKERY by Susan Juby. Why is it that I just love books that are a tiny bit too explicit for summer reading? This one is so good and so far it has nothing that will get me fired, but I am nervous because the story is that girls are getting"Defiled" at his high school and Sherman Mack, short, awkward and mildly clueless is on the case. There are so many sweet details in this book, the best friend who tries to talk "street" to cover up his voice that sounds like a 6 year old girl, the burlesque-dancing mom who is still rebelling from her straight laced parents, the wry heavy-set gal pal, and of course the dull pretty inamorata. (And she may get more interesting, I am only on page 50). Am I going to finish this? Hell yes! I need to know how it ends. Am I going to put it on summer reading? If everyone is able to keep the graphic details to themselves (I am talking to you, Juby!) perhaps. Of course, maybe I could get the scholastic version. Grrr... But I digress.

by Susan Kuklin. Come for the titillation, stay for the politics. This looks like it is going to be one of those "true crime" stories that are practically salacious in their fetishization of the crime, but it ends up being a really moving, sad and educational book about how juvenile offenders are defined by their worst moment. The story of Roy Burgess, Jr. broke my heart. I browsed through the rest o the chapters and it certainly looks like summer reading to me, if it ever comes out in paperback. Um, kind of sad, summer reading. But it will interest kids, I think.

Okay, I have to do some laundry and drink some coffee. I will put out the other five later. This is an embarrassment of riches, right here!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

And Finally - The A-C-T-s!

Today was the last of my read-a-pa-loo-za test proctoring days. I had ten books and read a few chapters of all of them. Only one really annoyed me and most of them were wonderful.

THE COMPOUND by S. A Bodeen - This was interesting. Most of the family of a billionaire escapes death (so far) in an underground shelter during a nuclear war. But then Mama feeds Dadddy some BAD bread. I don't know for sure, but I think mold spores start to eat his brain. This is an interesting story, well written and paranoid.

JUMPED by Rita Williams-Garcia - This is a quick read about three girls one of whom is gearing up to beat down another one, who is unaware of the plan. The third knows what is going to happen, but doesn't want to get involved. The characters jump off the page and the build up is really nice. I look forward to finishing it!

VAST FIELDS OF ORDINARY by Nick Burd is a funny coming of age book about a gay teen who is hooking up with a "popular boy" who is deeply in the closet. The cover looks all dreamy and kind of lame (sorry cover designer) but the book is HYSTERICAL and strangely moving. I am loving it.

FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN'T HAVE by Allen Sadoff. Fantastic title - pretty good book. I love a fat kid book, and this hits all the right notes. But I had high expectations that so far haven't been met. It really rings true, though and I will probably stick it out at some point.

THE ORANGE HOUSES by Paul Griffin - I put this in my stack because I felt obligated. A hearing impaired girl in the projects, a young odd discharged soldier/street poet and a recent immigrant all come together for what looks to be something that ends very badly. The writing is great and I am desperate to find out what happens. Griffin does a huge amount with very few words.

RAPTURE OF THE DEEP by L.A. Meyer - Oh how I love Jackie Faber! I only read a few pages because I realized that it would be cheating if I didn't read MY BONNY LIGHT HORSEMAN first. So I shall.

LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld - World War One is starting. The Darwinists and the Clankers are going at it big time! Oh yeah - England and France are Darwinists - they live in a society where hybrid animals are the newest in technology, Octopi become hot air balloons, whales become airships and man-made Kraaken are extremely handy in naval battles. They are battling the giant machines of Germany and Austria-Hungary. It is totally cool when the son of Archduke Ferdinand meets up with Deryn/Dylan a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. Tremendous fun from Westerfeld, who rarely disappoints when he creates a new world.

THE REAL REAL by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus - This book is like a bag of chips - little if any nutrition and yet I find myself wanting to curl up and devour the whole thing! A MTV-like entity decides to film a reality show in the glamorous Hamptons and the no B.S. daughter of a cleaning lady and a restaurant manager gets cast along with the rich and entitled. So much naughty, delicious fun!

OVER THE END LINE by Alfred C. Martino - This started promisingly enough. A soccer star witnesses a rape and is to drunk to stop it. He then watches the aftermath which involves his best friend and the girl he is interested in. The sports writing was great and the main character was suitably tortured. But the ending was out of control. I skipped to the end to see how it turned out, because I wasn't in love with it enough to ever finish it. I was relieved that I didn't put the time in. However, kids who like action and revenge and are not as jaded as I am will love it!

AFTER by Amy Efaw - I really didn't want to like this book at all. It is the story of a girl who denies that she is pregnant and then gives birth and puts her baby in the garbage. It could have been a train-wreck, but so far, Efaw has barely missed a step. It is sad and scary without being over the top. And Devon feels so much like a real girl. Only her mother is a caricature, and I am curious to see how she is portrayed later in the book.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The PSATs!

Once again I glutted on books as I was proctoring. Since the PSATs are disappointingly short, I didn't have time to read as much as I liked, but there were a few standouts -

GHOSTS OF WAR by Ryan Smithson - This is the true story of a 19 year old GI who enlisted as a result of 9/11. He was planning on being a writer before he signed up and it shows. A great read so far and practically a shoe-in for summer reading. Thanks, Ms Woznick for the recommendation!

AS YOU WISH by Jackson Pierce - A girl breaks up with her boyfriend under slightly humiliating circumstances and is given three wishes by a Jinn, sent to help her rebuild her life. Funny and sweet with a serious undertone. I feel hopeful for summer reading.

NIGHTS OF THE HILL COUNTRY by Tim Tharp - A kid plays football, his homelife is a drag and his best friend is a jerk-face. There is nothing in this book that I should particularly like, but the main character is so appealing that I want to keep reading.

LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES by Laini Taylor - This was just nominated for the National Book Award and I had never heard of it! It is three supernatural stories all centered around the idea of a kiss. The first story was great and I will be keeping this one in mind for next year.

SISTERS OF MISERY by Megan Kelley Hall - This is set locally in a fictional town described as being next to Salem, but probably based on Marblehead. The story annoyed my with it's new-agey-ness (as I am sure I annoy by making up words like new-agey-ness) but it wasn't bad. You can meet the writer at Cornerstone Books tonight if you are so inclinded. Probably not going to make the cut for me.

Four out of five isn't bad and now I am off to do some work!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The SATs!

I love the SATs! I know that any seventeen-year-old who is reading this has a strange urge to chase me with a torch and pitchfork after reading this, but they are my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning.

Did I mention that I don't actually take the test? Oh, that would be a blood bath! I can barely read the math problems, much less solve them. But the verbal parts are fun. (Put down those torches, children! Someone could get hurt!) I proctor. And as a proctor I get to wander around the room and keep an eye on people. I also get the chance to preview books. I bring a stack of 9 0r 10 books and peruse them as I watch the room and see if I have an interest in buying them for the library, reading them for myself and putting them on the preliminary summer reading list. I am surprised at how few I write off completely and how quickly I can tell if I like them.

So here is a quick rundown of yesterday's books.

THE HATE LIST - Jennifer Brown - This book is spectacular. The girlfriend of a school shooter deals with the guilt of knowing that her boyfriend used her "Hate List" to choose his victims. I hate putting it down. [93.2% likely to be on summer reading]

ANDROMEDA KLEIN - Frank Portman - This was such a disappointment. I found it to be virtually unreadable. I adored KING DORK, Portman's first book and was predisposed to like this. And I just couldn't stand it. Too much Juno-esque invented teen-speak, too much of Andromeda's thoughts and not enough of the world around her. I was 8 pages in and done, I flipped ahead and read pages at random to see if there was any kind of hook for me and there was nothing. [Sadly, I already bought it for the library on his reputation]

SOVAY - Celia Reese - This is a very readable Robin Hood type of story about a girl in pre-regency England who is forced to clear her father's name when he is accused of sedition. It was fast moving, but not grippy. [I'll probably buy it for the library]

MARCELO AND THE REAL WORLD - Francisco Stork - I only read a few pages, but I was intrigued and impressed. I will finish this eventually and enjoy it, I am sure. [I already bought it and it looks like a good shot for SR.]

INTERTWINED - Gina Showalter - I love BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and Zombies as much as the next middle aged librarian (okay, perhaps more) but I just couldn't get into this story about a teenager who is not only posessed by 4 souls, or beings or what have you, but can also unintentionally raise the dead and is then responsible for fighting them off. It was too much hacking for me, but I imagine that that will appeal to some as well as the drawn-to-each-other-like-moths-to-a-flame love story. [Look for it in the library, but not on the list.]

GOING BOVINE - Libba Bray - Holy smokes! I loved Libba Bray's GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY and the two follow-ups. I liked her style and her use of place and her fast paced story telling. I had NO IDEA that she is screamingly funny. This book had me snorting coffee out of my nose. And it is the story of a kid dying of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (mad cow disease). If you can make that funny, you are doing God's work. I love this book! [Here is the rub, I really want this on SR, but he smokes a lot of pot and so far, nothing bad has happened. Well, he is dying, but nothing that the put caused. I am only a third of the way through, so if he finds out that some bad weed caused his disease, that would be good. Or if he at some point blames the drugs for something bad, I can probably justify it. But I probably can't promote a book on SR that gives the impression that pot is fun (regardless of what some high schooler's opinion may be). But I am certainly buying it for the library!

SARAH'S KEY - Tatiana de Rosnay - There is a little boy locked in a cabinet in an apartment in Nazi-occupied Paris and his parents and sister were just taken away buy the police for deportation! I don't know what is going to happen to the little guy, and I am kind of afraid to find out! [This was recomended by a couple teachers and it is teriffic, practically a no-brainer for SR.]

GIRL OVERBOARD - Justina Chen Headley - I love a good poor-little-rich-girl story and this one, so far, is lovely. Syrah (named after a WINE, poor thing...) just wants to snow board, and her family wants her to be their perfect little princess. She is also obviously in love with her best friend, and she was in an accident that has made her knee a real problem. I can't wait to find out how this whole thing ends up! [Bought it, certainly putting it on the preliminary list.]

LET SLEEPING DOG'S LIE - Mirjam Pressler - I wanted to love this. It was originally published in Germany and is the story of a girl who finds out that her Grandpa was a Nazi and stole the family business from two Jewish families who were trying to escape. It isn't bad, but I thought it would be much better. The heroine is kind of wooden. It could be the translation, but I just didn't get sucked in. [I already bought it, and will promote it to FACING HISTORY kids when they come in for their book reports, but it won't be on SR.]

And that, as they say, is that! See you next week for the PSATs!

Sunday, September 06, 2009


Don't worry (or rejoice) I am not actually leaving anywhere. I am simply writing about a wonderful book I am reading. I found out about it in the books section of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. EW, in addition to having all my movie and TV news, has a surprisingly good book section. You just can't beat SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL for finding books for teens, but when I do read the occasional adult book (and make no mistake, this is an adult book!) I usually hear about it in EW.

Jonathan Tropper wrote the hilarious HOW TO TALK TO A WIDOWER and he reminds me a lot of Tom Perrotta, my other favorite non-dead white male writer. I really seem to read more books by women, but if Haven Kimmel, Augustin Burroughs and Jane Greene* are willing to write jacket blurb for this guy, you can trust that he will be good.

This is not a book that kids will probably enjoy. It is very talky and full of complaints about getting older. But to parents and adult chidren of, well, humans, it is a real treat.

* for some reason I got Jane Greene, of whose books I am not overly fond, confused with Jennifer Weiner, who writes tremendously funny chick lit. But then I read Jane Greene's blog and it was very entertaining - so maybe I will give her a second chance...
The story is about a very disfunctional family (the kids are in their 20s and 30s) who are sitting shiva for their recently deceased father. The narrator is Judd, whose wife has just left him for his boss and to add insult to injury, informed him that she is pregnanty. Needless to say, his pain is epic. And in this book it is patently hilarious.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Briscoe Blogs!

Ms Woznick, the librarian at Briscoe, has started a blog of her own. You can find it here. I look forward to reading it! And someday I will begin keeping up with this blog! If I could only remember to just post what I have recently read. And yet, I don't. Let's see...

I am nearly done with Ten Cents a Dance, by Christine Fletcher. It is a book about a teenage girl working as a taxi dancer at the start of world war two . Taxi dancers worked in dance halls and would dance with anyone who would provide a 10 cent ticket. In the strict Roman Catholic neighborhood where Ruby, the protagonist, lives this is about a half a step up from being a prostitute. It is a teriffic book, but pretty consistantly sad. Fascinating though.

I just finished I'll Have What She's Having by Daniel M. Kimmel, a book about romantic comedy films. It had the stories behind When Harry Met Sally, Love Actually, It Happened One Night and other films I love. The writing is a little stiff, but the background stories are really interesting. I plan to be watching rom-coms all weekend in a frenzy inspired by the book. First up: Trouble in Paradise - which I had not heard of before.

Next up book-wise are North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley and My Most Excellent Year, by Steve Kluger who wrote Last Days of Summer which I adored! They are both sitting on my dining room table looking nearly irresistable. Must go stop resisting now...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When You Reach Me

I am not entirely sure that I have the words to say how much I loved this book!

First off, note to self - take this blog off the summer reading paperwork. I am now just going to write about books that are not specifically geared towards high school summer reading. And while I think there are high school students who would love this book, I will be passing it along immediately to Ms Woznick for the the middle school list.

I am trying to read more middle grade books in preparation for a class I am teaching in the fall. So I started with this one. Is that what I was writing about? I suppose I should go on!

Here is where I fell in love, on page 10: "'Nice tights,' I snorted. Or I tried to snort, anyway. I'm not exactly sure how, though people in books are always doing it." She is like me! I was forever trying things that people did in books with mixed results. And then THIS: "The truth is that I hate to think of other people reading my book. It's like watching someone go through the box of private stuff that I keep under my bed." Hey, I hate it when people read books I love (unless they unequivocally adore it too). and I have a box of private stuff under my bed too!

There were so many things to love about this book. The setting is New York City and while it is very clearly set there, it is written so familiarly that I feel like I grew up there too. And the mother, and the dentist, and the school secretary are beautifully drawn grown-ups who are real. And the kids are perfect. Not perfect people, just perfectly realized. I am dying to read a book about Julia, about Alice Evans, even Colin.

I can say no more about this book, because I read too much about it before I read it and I think that it made me more able to see where it was going. I think it would be amazing to read it and be taken completely by surprise. I have to go find a 12 year old girl to give this too right now.

Man, I loved this book.

Friday, June 05, 2009

A LONG WAY GONE by Ishmael Beah

Please excuse the long hiatus! I am determined to get this year's list all splatted before our exciting choose-your-book-a-palooza advisory block on June 15.

A LONG WAY GONE is a wonderful memoir that will take your heart, rip it out of your chest, squish if 45 ways to Sunday, drag it in the dirt and then rinse it off and re-position it in your chest. I know, a lot of work for one thing book.

It is the story of how Ishmael was conscripted into the rebel army in Sierra Leone at 13 years old, given amphetamines and other drugs and told to kill or be killed. According to the book he lived this life for nearly 3 years before being rescued by UNICEF and eventually coming to America where he is now a graduate student and a speaker on human rights.

The book doesn't spend a lot of time on the overall political picture, but focuses more on the life of a child soldier and his long road back to humanity.

I am not a big memoir reader, nor do I read a lot about military conflict - but I was gripped by this book. My favorite memoir is A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY by Haven Kimmel which is unlike this book in every way - but tremendously funny. As far as children in peril go, you can't beat SOLD by Patricia McKormack - which was on summer reading last year.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin wrote ELSEWHERE, which was on summer reading two years ago. She follows it up with this story of a girl who comes out of a coma after hitting her head to find that she remembers nothing of the last two years. I was surprised at how serious this book was. It is an interesting look at a girl who is given the opportunity to have a do-over and choose to make changes in relationships and situations that normally people would feel that they had no choice but to continue on with.

I like books about starting over. I don't know any other amnesia books, but HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR by Jennifer Ziegler is about a girl who is constantly moving to new towns because her parents are constantly starting over. She decides not to even try to make friends in her new home because she is tired of having to leave them behind.

KEEPING THE MOON is about a girl who leaves her demanding mother to go live with her laid back aunt and finds that other people's opinions of her don't really matter.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

HERO by Perry Moore

To liven up the book blogging experience I chose a random picture from by "books to blog" file and it happens to be the one I am re-reading!

I read HERO last spring and I really liked it. I remember being surprised that I was so caught up in a superhero story. I was also surprised that the the "coming out story" part of the book was handled so delicately. I was hazy on the details of the book since I read it more than a year ago and I am pleased that I am enjoying it just as much as I did the first time. It is funny and sensative and full of action. Quite the combo-plate!

This is the story of Thom Creed who is the teenaged son of disgraced superhero "Major Might". His father, who has no powers, but fought crime out of a strong sense of justice, hates people with powers. When Thom realizes that he has powers (and they are gooooooood powers) and when he is invited to try out for the League of Justice, the same people who booted his father, he knows that he is going to have to lie to his father about more than his growing belief that he is gay.

I like superhero comics, but haven't been a huge reader of superhero books. There is a new title out that looks good to me, and that I just ordered called SUPERPOWERS by David J. Schwartz that looks pretty good. If it is the gay angle that interests you, there is a fantastic book called FREAK SHOW by James St. James that was the first runner up for the "gay-friendly" summer reading title. I just loved it. It is almost the opposit of HERO in that our hero is a urban drag-princess who is moved to the Bible belt and has to deal with people who don't understand the magnitude of his powers. It is sweet and hysterically funny and really much tamer than it sounds!

The World Without Us

This book is the story of a bad break up. The players in the relationship are Humanity and Earth. Humanity had been mistreating Earth for awhile, and all Earth's friends are like, "You need to break up with Humanity, Humanity's no good for you! Humanity takes you for granted, you could do so much better!" And Earth was like, "Humanity has been here for so long and I just know Humanity is going to change! You don't know Humanity like I do." And Earth's friends were like, "Little Planet, you need to just think about what your life would be like without Humanity. Would you be better off?" And then we have Weisman's book.

If you have watched any of those discovery channel shows you have seen the science in this book. The writing is interesting and the different illustrations of how scientists have come to these conclusions are illuminating.

I have grown fond of science fiction, but I am not a big reader of science non-fiction. A couple of science books that have slipped through my pleasure reading radar are STIFF by Mary Roach, the story of what happens to our bodies when we die, and FLU: THE STORY OF THE GREAT INFLUENZA PANDEMIC by Gina Kolata. It occurs to me that all of these books involve humanity expiring, and I just want to point out that I do like humans and I don't want them to cease to be! It is just interesting to read about!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

Sherman Alexie has joined the number of literary writers who have penned a Young Adult novel to great acclaim. The author of short story collection, THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN (part of which was turned into one of my favorite movies - SMOKE SIGNALS) writes a somewhat autobiographical novel about Junior - a kid growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. He leaves the rez to go to an all-white school in a farm town. He illustrates his story with cartoons. It is funny, sad, funny, hilarious and funny.

I haven't read a lot about reservation life in our time. As far as indian books, Sharon Creech is a favorite, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME looks good (although I haven't read it yet) and PIGS IN HEAVEN (and it prequal, THE BEAN TREES) by Barbara Kingsolver is amazing.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Why I am the best/worst mother in the world.

I am paying my teenage son $25 to read Stephen King's THE STAND this summer. Am I a crazy person? The book is enormous, but is the only end-of-the-world, "Oh-my-God-we're-all-going-to-die!!!" book that I have ever read and re-read. And re-read it I have! About 15 or so summers I spent a week or so freaking myself out on purpose with this book. Planning my own plague scenario. Where would I live? What would I do? How would I get to Boulder? (Because I'd have to get to Boulder!) Would I be brave like Dana? Would I be able to go through the tunnel? Would I bring a backup flashlight for the love of all things holy???

I love this book and I want my son to read it now that he is old enough. And if it costs me a double sawbuck and a fin - oh well...

Now if I could negotiate a price with my 11 year old to get him to cut his hair... Do you think I could fake a mouse incident like Pa in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE?

The answers to these questions and the long awaited (and much procrastinated) Summer Reading Book Reviews coming soon!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

My Apology...

Here is my apology to science fiction and fantasy. In the past I was one of those people who would say, "I love to read everything except science fiction and fantasy." (And I would say science fiction and fantasy in a tone of voice that implied that I found them about as appealing as a bucket of vomit.)

But now that I have matured and had my comfort zone forcibly expanded by librarianship, I find that my four favorite books of the last 12 months are ALL science fiction or fantasy! Shocking, I know!

I am 152 pages into THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness and it is blowing my mind! It is the story of a boy who is the youngest person in his town at nearly 13 years old. At the age of 13, every boy in town goes through something horrible (I don't know what it is yet, and I can not WAIT to find out. I bet it is grisly!) There are no women or girls in the town because they were all killed by a virus that made everyone's thoughts audible to everyone else. Which seems like it would be handy, but is actually horrible. This book is amazing and I can't believe I am wasting time finally blogging when I could be reading it!

The next book I adored was UNWOUND by Neal Schusterman - the story of a future where we parents are finally able to get rid of teenagers who aren't living up to expectations. It seems like a brilliant idea in theory, but I am sure you will not be surprised that it goes horribly, horribly wrong. I desperately wanted this on summer reading this summer, but it won't be in paperback for awhile. Next year, for sure!

by Suzanne Collins (who wrote the GREGOR books for middle schoolers which I may or may not read on my own for fun because they are great) shows a different future of expendable teenagers. (Are you sensing a theme here? Horrible things happen to teenagers in these books! It makes me not even care that I am getting old and wrinkly and my body is falling apart. I am safe by virtue of being over 18. Whew!) In this case - in a future America, two kids from each district (regions like New England, Appalacia and the rust belt are now numbered 1-12 and it is no fun to live there) are sent to district one - the happiest, richest and most powerful district (the former California - figures...) from which they are sent to the Survivor-type "Hunger Games" where they go up against the 23 other contestants in a battle to the death. This is probably the most violent book I have ever liked. It isn't graphic (well a little) but they aren't kidding about the last man standing thing. Yikes. But it is so good and I can't wait for the sequal to come out (on September 1 which is circled on my calendar!). Look at all the parentheses in this paragraph. See what this book has reduced me to? It is brilliant.

And finally TENDER MORSELS by Margot Lanagan which was brilliant and weird and disturbing and a little painful, but also the most original thing I have read in ages. It is a fairy tale with its boots in the muck. It tells the story of Snow White and Rose Red, but in such a strange way that I didn't even recognize it until I had finished it and read a review and went, "Oh yeah - of course!" The basic plot is a young girl who is horribly abused by her father is allowed to live in heaven before her time. But a nasty little thief begins to break down the membrane between her world and the real world with massive consequences. And bears.

I swear I will start the summer reading reviews soon.

Monday, March 02, 2009

We may have a list!

It looks as if the books for this year have been chosen! The students who had English in the fall semester voted on them, the faculty is currently vetting them and I am wholeheartedly hoping that no more nasty surprises come up.

What kind of nasty surprises you may ask? Well, three books I had high hopes for are not going to be on the list this summer!

The first is THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. It is the story of a kid who realized that he is one of the reasons a classmate committed suicide. He finds out because she made a set of tapes before she died telling her story. The narrative switches back and forth between her story and the story of the night the boy listens to the tape. It is fantastic. But it isn't going to be out in paperback until October.

The same thing happened with UNWIND by Neal Schusterman. I LOVE this book. It is a science fiction novel about a future where teenagers are found to be somewhat expendable and quite useful for organ transplants. It is full of action and asks some great ethical questions. But alas, it will not be out in paperback until August. Rats! Look for it on next year's list, without fail.

And finally, I just put down ROCK AND ROLL CAGE MATCH, which is a great concept - music critics match up pairs of corresponding bands, singers, concepts or producers and choose a "winner" - but those music critics are a real potty-mouthed lot and many of them have unresolved issues about their adolescence which I am uncomfortable reading about. I laughed out loud a lot, and I still like the idea - and you can feel free to check it out at the library, but I think the summer reading list is going to have to be without it.

I will start reviewing the books here soon. For now we have a list that may or may not be complete! And I am going to try to write a six word synopsis because that is the sort of thing librarians like to do on snow days.

Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Funny geek fears he betrays heritage.

Airhead by Meg Cabot
Super model brain transplant - enough said?

Before the Legend by Christopher Farley
Bob Marley was young once too.

Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits by David Ortiz
Baseball player is super nice guy.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Death observes girl in Hitler's Germany.

Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox
Entertainment is weird in alternative world.

The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Calletti
Teenage waitress gets million dollar tip.

Harmless by Dana Reinhart
Girls regret lying to avoid trouble.

Hero by Perry Moore
Saving the world is hard work.

Hypochondriac’s Guide To Horrible Diseases You Probably Already Have by Dennis DiClaudio
Man, you can catch gross stuff.

A Long Way Gone by Ismael Beah
Boy soldier in Africa writes memoir.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
Memory loss allows for new life.

My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay
Teen missionaries caught in violent uprising.

Plato and a Platypus Walk in to a Bar by Thomas Cathcart
Philosophy explained through really bad jokes.

Right Behind You by Gail Giles
Accidental murderer tries to redeem himself.

Runaways: Pride and Joy by Brian K Vaughn
Parents are super villains, children rebel.

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner
Girl translates Salem witch trial diary.

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
New enlistee recounts life in Iraq.

Twelve Mighty Orphans
by Jim Dent
Football playing orphans kick Texas butt.

What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know by Sondra Sones
She's way out of his league.

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
Girl disappears, repercussions felt years later.

The White Darkness
by Geraldine McCaughrean
Crazy uncle lures girl to Antarctica.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
Humans are extinct. Earth responds well.

I will write longer reviews as the books get vetted by the faculty.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Happy New Year!

I have a bunch of friends who keep track of everything they read in a year and then send out their stats and I always envy their organizational skills.

This year I am nearly able to do that thanks to the Beverly Library's habit of sending me an email whenever I have an inter-library loan in! Since I get almost everything I read through ILL, I have gone through all my ILL mail from this year to find that I have read 63 books of the ones they have sent!

I don't keep track of books I didn't finish. I am allowed to stop at 20 pages if it isn't going to grab me and I seem to read one book for every two I cavalierly cast aside... Also, I didn't keep track of picture books and books that I have to read for assignments. I only go back as far as May with the ILLs and I don't have everything I read that I may have borrowed from the high school library or that I borrowed from friends or bought. But still it is an interesting list.

A quick note about those well organized friends - they all belong to GoodReads, which I have just joined. I am sure that another time-suck is just what I need!

So here is my New Year's book report. Enjoy!

These are the books that got 5 asterisks in my excel spread sheet of reading. That means I loved them and I found them to be nearly flawless. They are fiction unless noted otherwise.
City of Thieves -- Benioff, David -- Russia during WWII, two young men search for eggs. Funny, harrowing and brilliant.
Hunger Games -- Collins, Susan -- YA -- Kids are forced to kill one another by their government for entertainment. So much better than it sounds.
Jim the Boy -- Early, Tony -- Sweet story of a boy being raised by his mother and uncles during the depression.
What Was Lost -- Flynn, Catherine -- A little girl who is an amazing real-life Harriet the Spy goes missing and 20 years later it still affects people.Not at all what you would expect.
The White Darkness -- McCreaghen, Geraldine - YA -- A young girl and her mysterious Uncle go to Antartica. Gripping!
Ahab's Wife -- Naslund, Sena -- What happened to her before, during and after he was hunting Moby Dick. A door stop of a thing that still feels too short.
Run -- Patchett, Ann - Politics and race and family in Boston. It is Ann Patchett, just read it!
The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society -- Shaffer, Mary Ann -- A group of friends new and old dealing with the aftermath of WWII and how love of literature helped them survive the German occupation of the Channel Islands. Lovely, simply perfect epistolary novel.
East of Eden -- Steinbeck, John -- Seriously, you haven't heard of it? It is a classic! California, lettuce, whores, wars, fathers and sons.

(notice the lack of exclamation point)
These are books I loved, but for some reason, they just didn't get that last star.
Life Sucks -- Abel, Jessica - Graphic novel about Vampires working in convenience stores.
The Penderwicks -- Birdsall, Jeanne -- Four wonderful little girls on vacation.
What I Saw and How I Lied -- Blundell, Judy -- YA -- Post WWII teen-noir.
Airhead -- Cabot, Meg -- Supermodel brain transplant - need I say more?
Freddie and Me -- Dawson, Mike -- Graphic novel about how the music of QUEEN influenced an English boy's life.
The Hypocondriac's Pocket Guide to Diseases That You Probably Already Have -- DiClaudio, Dennis -- The title says it all. FUNNY!
The Blue Star -- Early, Tony -- Only slightly less-perfect sequal to Jim the Boy.
The Trouble Begins at 8 -- Fleischman, Sid -- Children's non-fiction - Biography of Mark Twain's early life.
We Are On Our Own -- Katin, Miriam -- Graphic novel about a young woman and her daughter living through the Holocaust in Poland.
Dreamhunter -- Knox, Elizabth -- YA -- New Zeland set fantasy about Betsy Tacy era entertainment through dreams. Weird and beautiful.
Into Thin Air -- Krakauer, Jon -- Non-fiction account of an Everest climb gone horribly wrong.
Tender Morsels -- Lanagan, Margo -- YA -- Bizarre, brilliant, dark fairy tale about a girl who is allowed to raise her babies in heaven. With bears.
Keturah and Lord Death -- Leavitt, Martine -- YA -- Katurah can see Death - and he has a big old crush on her...
The Shape of Mercy -- Meissner, Susan -- A rich girl gets a job transcribing a journal written during the Salem witch hysteria.
Hero -- Moore, Perry -- YA -- A boy has to come to grips with being gay and also having super powers.
The House at Riverton -- Morton, Kate - England's wealthy between the wars. Gosford Park-ian wonderfulness.
Harlem Summer -- Myers, Walter Dean - YA -- Mobsters, bootlegging, jazz, girls and fun.
Unwind -- Schusterman, Neal -- YA -- In a world where the abortion wars are over, all life is precious. But parents can choose to have their teenagers "unwound" if they fail to meet their expectations. Scary and thought provoking.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames -- Sedatis, David -- David Sedaris being his hysterical, wonderful self.
Black and White -- Shapiro, Dani -- A woman has to deal with the photographer mother who made her famous by taking pictures of her as a child and who she hasn't seen since she was a teenager.
Freak Show -- St. James, James -- YA -- a sweet teenaged drag queen goes to live with his father in a very conservative part of Florida. Hilarity and tragedy ensue.
Becoming Billie Holiday -- Weatherford, Carol Boston -- YA -- This is a biography in the form of poems titled after Billie Holiday songs.

I had a million three-star books - meaning I liked them just fine. And I only had five two-star books because usually I will stop reading a book if it is only 2 star worthy, but I kept thinking the two-stars were about to get better. Sadly, I was wrong.

An I had one one-star - I was proctoring the SATs and there was nothing else to read so I kept going. The book was A STEP FROM HEAVEN by An Na and it was really annoying. It won the Printz and I was expecting to love it, but I was just bothered.