Sunday, December 26, 2010

What I Read in 2010

I feel like quite the slacker - less than 100 books this year. Here they are with the number of stars I gave them.

Five stars means flawless.

Here they are:

 One star means complete waste of time, but I had to find out what happened.

* Green Angel Hoffman May
* Scars Rainfield May   
  Two stars means it has some value, but a big flaw like good storytelling with crap writing, too dark a story with no emotional payoff, great writing but not very compelling story or a fun read but awfully embarrassing for a grown woman to be seen with.
** Wintergirls Anderson February       
** Scratch Beginnings Shephard February
** A Reliable Wife Goolrick March
** When Irish Guys Are Smiling Supplee March
** A Match Made in High School Walker March
** The Grift Ginsberg April
** Paul and Me Hotchner April
** The Dead Tossed Waves Ryan April
** Is It Night or Day Chapman June
** Rose Sees Red Castelucci September
** No Compromise: The Story of Harvey Milk Aretha November
** Sir Charlie Chaplin Fleischman November
** Yummy:the Last Days of a Southside Shorty Neri December

Three stars means I liked it a lot.
*** Princess of the Midnight Ball George January
*** The Frog Scientist Turner January
*** Girl Overboard Headley February
*** Panic in Level Four Preston February
*** Geekspeak Tattersall February
*** Spellbinder Lalicki March
*** The Trouble Begins at Eight Fleischman April
*** I am Not Myself These Days Kilmer-Purcess April
*** Chasing Lincoln's Killer Swanson April
*** Karma For Beginners Blank May
*** A Brief History of Montmaray Cooper May
*** My Invisible Boyfriend Day May
*** Three Junes Glass May
*** Savvy Law May
*** Gimme a Call Mlynowski May
*** The Irresistable Henry House Grunwald June
*** Sophomore Switch McDonald June
*** Extra Lives Bissell July
*** Prairie Tale Gilbert July
*** Bad News for Outlaws Nelson July
*** Fireboat Kalman August
*** Girl Who Played With Fire Larsson August
*** Rapture of the Deep Meyer September
*** Three Rivers Rising Richards September
*** The Replacement Yovanoff October
*** Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood Cook November
*** Annexed Dogar November
*** Painted Ladies Parker December

Four stars means I loved it.
**** Britten and Brulightly Berry January
**** Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art Elleman January
**** Liar Larbalestier January
**** Flygirl Smith January
**** I'm Down Wolff January
**** The Knife of Never Letting Go Ness February
**** Ghosts of War Smithson February
**** Somebody Everybody Listens To Supplee February
**** Knights of the Hill Country Tharp February
**** The Postmistress Blake March
**** A Girl From Yamhill Cleary March
**** Forest of Hands and Teeth Ryan March
**** My Own Two Feet Cleary April
**** The Lonely Hearts Club Eulberg April
**** My Enemy's Cradle Young April
**** Birthmarked O'Brien May
**** The Bedwetter Silverman May
**** Major Pettigrew's Last Stand Simonson May
**** American Wife Sittenfield May
**** The Passage Cronin June
**** Sisters Red Jackson June
**** The Clearing Davis July
**** God is in the Pancakes Epstein July
**** Backseat Saints Jackson July
**** Commuters Tedrowe July
**** Confessions of a Prairie Bitch Angrim August
**** The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo Larsson August
**** My Bonnie Lighthorseman Meyer August
**** The Wake of the Lorelai Lee Meyer September
**** Girl Stolen Henry October
**** Zombies VS Unicorns Black and Larbalestier November
**** The Nobodies Album Parkhurst November
**** Secret Subway Sandler November
**** Numbers Ward November
**** The Mockingbirds Whitney December

Five stars means flawless.
***** Someone Knows My Name Hill January
***** Evolution of Calpurnia Tate Kelly January
***** Day of Tears Lester January
***** The Help Stockett February
***** Fortune's Folly Fagan March
***** Nurture Shock Bronson May
***** The Leisure Seeker Zadoorian June
***** Gods in Alabama Jackson July
***** One Day Nicholls July
***** The Invisible Bridge Orringer July
***** Sorta Like a Rock Star Quick July
***** Free Range Kids Skenazy July
***** Lucy Gonzales August
***** Room Donoghue September
***** Revolutionary Road Yates October
***** How I Live Now Rosoff November
***** Incarceron Fisher December
***** Moonlight Mile Lehane December

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thank you American College Testing...

Here are some brief reviews of books I did not finish. How can this possibly be useful to anyone but me?
Here is the first set -
THE THINGS A BROTHER KNOWS by Dana Reinhart. She is a favorite since HARMLESS and I loved her HOW TO BUILD A HOUSE. This one is about a high school kid who has a big brother who comes home from the war a changed man. I didn't expect it to be so rich. I only read the first few chapters, but so far great secondary characters and no preachy tone. Well played, Reinhart.

BRAIN JACK by Brian Falkner was quite fun, the bit I read. I will certainly be looking at this one for summer reading next year. If for no other reason than he wrote this on his website - "The first copy of The Project (previously titled "The Most Boring Book in the World") arrived yesterday." Bwahaha... I think I love you Mr. Falkner. This kid shuts down the internet and a bunch of other bad things happen when we play to many videogames. Or maybe the exact opposit. I can't tell yet.

HALF BROTHER by Kenneth Oppel seems more middle school appropriate, but I love the idea! Two scientists adopt an orangutan and his human brother narrates the story. I have heard people rave about Oppel for quite some time and have never gotten around to readin him. My loss.

 Ignore that picture of HALF BROTHER, I already mentioned it. Move along...

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson has such a beautiful start I haven't been able to bring myself to return it to the library until my copy comes from Amazon. (Sorry independent bookstores, but you don't exist in my town anymore!) It is the story of a girl whose older sister dies suddenly and she is left with a gaping hole in her life. So sad and lovely. And there are some boys. Of course this is her first novel so I am going to have to wait forever for her to write something else. Grrr...

THE MOCKINGBIRDS by Daisy Whitney is another one that I can't bear to return. The premise is this girl finds herself the victim of a date rape and the way Whitney describes it is not too detailed, but packs a punch. And the main character Alex has such a realistic teenage response. It isn't "Oh my God what happened to me," it is more "Oh my God, what will people think if they find out and how can I do damage control?"
 WICKED GIRLS by Stephanie Hemphill is in interesting take on the Salem Witch Trial. I don't know if it is proximity or what but I have never been that interested in reading about the trials. I just can't get past the horror of what happened and I find it sad that these girls are somehow made immortal through it. That being said, the writing is fantastic and I can't wait to get my hands on YOUR OWN SYLVIA which is a topic that fascinates me!

HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick is one that I could say goodbye to and not look back. While I appreciate Fitzpatrick's use of punctuation in her title - she hardly needs me to read this one. Girls who loved TWILIGHT (ever heard of it?) will love this love story of a girl and a fallen angel. It is a great idea and the writing is clear, just not my cup of blood? Human tears? Angst? Whatever it is that fallen angels drink...
Okay the last three are:

HAPPYFACE by Stephen Emond - it is written as a journal with drawings. It was funny and there is a mysterious mystery but I didn't fall into it like some of the others.

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi is fascinating. In the future Nailer works as a scavenger on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and just manages to keep body and soul together. When he is exploring a ship he finds a young girl who may be his ticket to a new life. I haven't returned this one either and am looking forward to finishing it.

IMMORTAL BELOVED by Kate Tiernan was one that I took on student recommendation and felt very superior to if just from reading the jacket copy. Well shut my mouth, Kate Tiernan, I was hooked and danged if I am not going to finish this one too.

Once again, an embarassment of riches.

Next post will have the summer reading list possibilities!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An addendum and what I read last summer

So yesterday I talked about ZOMBIES VS UNICORNS and I kind of called Alaya Dawn Johnson a pottymouth perv. Well, I still went back to finish the story she wrote "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and it was AMAZING! I might even go read her series (even though in my equation of what interests me in YA magic+the Pacific Ocean=snore) because her writing is great. One of the things that I don't like in non-realistic fiction is that sometimes the background details are shoddy. This story was tight. And her characters were so fascinating. And she made a very unsympathetic (zombie) protagonist very sympathetic.

Okay, and now I am on to what I read this summer. A surprising amount of it was not YA, but what can I say. Sometimes a middle aged matron must read like a middle aged matron. (Don't you love the word matron? It brings together a delightful combination of Mrs. Oleson from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE -the show, not the books- and Queen Latifah in CHICAGO leavened with Donna Reed and Harriet Nelson. If you are under the age of 40, just keep reading and don't look back...)

But I digress -  so here is the list with mini-blurbs.

The Leisure Seeker: A NovelTHE LEISURE SEEKER by Michael Zadoorian is about two old people, one with terminal cancer, one with Alzheimer's who drive Route 66 to Disneyland in a last ditch effort to enjoy life. I laughed, I cried. Thanks, Mom, for recommending it!
Sophomore SwitchSOPHOMORE SWITCH by Abby McDonald is about two girls, one a soCal blond, the other an English intellectual who do a college exchange. I am sure you will be surprised to find out that their expectations are entirely different from what they end up with! Hilarity ensues, and just because you pretty much see every plot point before it hits, doesn't mean that this isn't a fun ride.
Sisters RedIf Jackson Pearce would write faster, I would really appreciate it. SISTERS RED is, I believe, her second book and it is a great, non-cliched werewolf story that will certainly be short-listed for BHS summer reading as soon as she deigns to get it out in paperback!
Is It Night or Day?In IS IT NIGHT OR DAY, Fran Schumer Chapman tells a fictionalized version of her mother's story of escaping Germany at the beginning of the holocaust and her painful story of her first years in the United States. You won't find any "America is great country!" immigrant story, but rather the moving story of a young girl having to navigate a new world alone.
Sorta Like a Rock StarMatthew Quick's SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR is wonderful, funny, touching and sure to be on summer reading next year. Amber Appleton has a life that any normal person would consider a poop sandwich, but her amazing positivity is her salvation as she navigates her life bringing joy to others. Until she doesn't. AMAZING book.
The PassageTHE PASSAGE is Brendan Cronin's beast of a doorstop. It just kept going and going and I just kept reading and reading. There is a military experiment that results in a race of zombie/vampire/scary creatures that terrify everyone. Me included. It jumps 100 years and races from place to place deliciously. I believe that it is the first in an intended trilogy. I hope I don't forget everything before the next one comes out!

Prairie Tale: A MemoirConfessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being HatedYou can't read one without the other! Melissa Gilbert's PRAIRIE TALE and Alison Angrim's CONFESSIONS OF A PRAIRIE BITCH are both fun reads. The former is a little more delicate but still honest and fun. The latter is far deeper than I expected. Both were well written and both made me feel like I could be besties with either of these prairie icons of my childhood.
Extra Lives: Why Video Games MatterI ripped through EXTRA LIVES: WHY VIDEOGAMES MATTER by Tom Bissell. Trying to understand why my children were such huge fans. I finished with a pretty good idea. This would be an excellent summer reading book, except the author is recalcitrant in his unrepentant attitude towards his recreational drug use. But he has a fascinating perspective.

Okay, that takes me through July 12. I'll finish up later!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again...

So summer was nice. I read a lot. Some books for grown-ups even! At some point I will share what they were. I finally read THE GIRL WITH THE HORNET DRAGON KICKING FIRE NEST KICKING. It was interesting but made me feel like I should have been paying more attention to Sweden.

So we are back in school. It was a great fall. This year's summer reading was splendid. Ms Woznick and I put up an art show at the public library that was spectacularly attended. Nancy Werlin came to the discussion of her book IMPOSSIBLE and had lunch with some students (and teachers). She was lovely and so willing to share her experience and encourage others in their writing.

It is my favorite time of year when standardized testing allows me to  start cranking through some of the things I have been meaning to read. I hit nine titles today and really liked all but one of them!

Funny and clever - FAT VAMPIRE by Adam Rex is about a pudgy, lonely, hungry vampire looking for a girl to call his own. The first 3 chapters had me shaking with laughter. There is also a parallel story about an exchange student from India who seems to be destined to be his pal.

I hate the cover and I am slightly put off by the America-first tone (don't get me wrong, I love America, but it isn't nice to brag...) but I am dying to find out what the heck is going on in THE LAST THING I REMEMBER by Andrew Klavan. This page turner that had me reading way to fast through the flashback sections to get to the part where they are going to finally explain it to me. Eighty-six pages in 20 minutes - a new personal record! And I still don't know where Charlie West is and why people seem determined to kill him and neither does he!

Not much is happening yet in ROSE SEES RED by Cecil Castelucci, but it appears to be taking place during the cold war and our heroine is attending the New York High School for the Performing Arts. So am I going to finish it? Does Coco want to live forever???

The titular GIRL STOLEN by April Henry, is not just an heiress, with a bad case of pneumonia - she is also blind! And spunky as all get-out. I love her, but I am also kind of feeling a pang for the poor misunderstood son-of-a-bastard who accidentally kidnapped her and is now in way over his head. The closest thing to a summer reading sure thing I have seen in awhile!

STOP ME IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE by David Yoo made me so happy in the first 30 pages that I could just spit! It has several of my favorite YA conventions - summer jobs, uneven love affairs (fat girl + jock, rich girl + poor boy, in this case Asian outcast + high school princess) and according to the jacket flap, it is going to be a "handsome young boy with cancer" book too! Oh happy day. I was laughing out loud and annoying my test takers. I hope it stays this painfully good.

I only read the first story in BEFORE YOU SUFFOCATE YOUR OWN FOOL SELF by Danielle Evans, but it has started breaking my heart. It is a collection of short stories, not usually my favorite. But the first one, about two black high school girls who sneak into the city to go clubbing, was so vivid and beautifully written, I am not going to be able to stop there. It is the kind of book that both makes me want to write and convinces me that there are very few people who CAN actually write like that. 

This is my second time taking NUMBERS by Rachel Ward out of the library. The first time I returned it uncracked. The creepy red eyeball just gave me the wiggins. But this time I started it and wow, I am hooked! Our (anti?)heroine is an orphan who can see everyone's numbers - the date of their death. So far, a sad backstory and a bunch of ripping foreshadowing has me unable to put it in the return pile.

ZOMBIES VS UNICORNS is a collection of stories edited by the amazing Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black (who may very well be amazing as well, although I don't really know at this juncture).  The idea is that they are trying to determine who is better - zombies or unicorns. (Unicorns, obviously. Oh...spoiler.)  I like the conciet and I loved the first story by Garth Nix. Thankfully Alaya Dawn Johnson is proving to be something of a pottymouth perv (or at least her undead protagonist is) and so I don't feel the need to keep reading for summer reading purposes. (Not going to get fired for this, no matter how much he wants things to his macaroni and cheese.) But I am looking forward to picking up her MOONSHINE, which looks splendid. And also, I shall be reading "The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn" by Diana Peterfreund, because the title is thirty-one-derful flavors of awesome!

The last book I picked at today was A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS by Dave Eggars, which annoyed me to no end. I think if I had read it when it first came out and it was all barrier breaking, I would have loved it. The story is moving, the writing is beautiful, but I have slogged through 10 years of self-referential navel gazing wrought by this book and I am no longer impressed. I am going to have to invoke the Elvis rule for this one. My beloved husband hates Elvis, but has been forced to admit that he is, in fact, the King because he brought country-western, church music and black traditional music together to create whatever the heck became rock and roll. So congratulations, Dave Eggars, you are the father of the annoyingly twisty, slightly-mocking memoir. (That being said, ZEITOUN? Beautiful, stunning, huzzah!)

So there you have it - another bunch of winners that I don't currently have the time to read. I am going to have to give up something. And I have already gotten rid of house cleaning! Dang...

Next week the ACTs!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Big Trouble at the SATs

What I usually do when proctoring the SATs is bring a big old stack of books to flip through as I watch the test takers. Sure, I walk the rows and look up frequently, but it is a nice cloistered environment where I can give each book a 20 minute test drive. I ditch the ones that are lame and keep the good ones to finish later. Usually it is about a 50/50 split.

Well today the unthinkable happened. I liked every book! Not only that, but every single one of them has me wondering what is going to happen next! I am very ticked off. I don't have time to read 10 titles in the next 2 weeks. I have a life! I have a family! I have a job! (Although I can justify the reading as part of my job, which is excellent...)

Furthermore, of these 10 books, 7 of them have the makings of excellent summer reading picks for next year. So here are my don't-take-my-word-for-it-because-I-haven't-finished-them-yet-but-I-have-a-really-good-feeling-about-these mini-reviews.

Golden Web by Barbara Quick. Allesandra wants to be a scientist, but since she is a girl in 14th century Italy, it seems like an unlikely dream. The first 19 pages have a smart, resourceful heroine, a dashing older brother, an evil stepmother and a medical experiment on a lecherous priest. What's not to like?

Sources of Light by Margaret McMullan. Sam is a freshman when she and her recently-widowed mother move from Pittsburgh to Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. She sees the Civil Rights Movements through an outsider's eyes. Her mother's new boyfriend gives her a camera and she uses that to express her emotions.The story may not be immediately accessible, but the writing is beautiful.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. The hilarious account of Miss Penelope Lumly, a 15 year-old recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, and her work as the governess for 3 feral children who were found in the woods of a very grand estate. I predict a Series of Unfortunate Events-like success for this series.

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield. This one is a bit of a rough read, but very suspenseful.Slowly, memories of Kendra's childhood abuse have been coming back to her. She can remember the emotions and some aspects, but not her abuser. He had threatened to kill her if she ever told, and she is convinced that, whoever he is, he knows that she is not ready to keep this secret anymore. I totally skipped to the part where she remembers who it is and as soon as I finish this post, I am going to find out what happens to him.

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander. I am a complete sucker for small-town stories and this is a good one. Set in East Texas, it is the story of Austin Gray who gets involved in the Future Farmers of America in hopes of being elected Sweetheart and getting to ride in the (no Jesus) Christmas parade. I know, it sounds pretty slight, but it is quite funny so far.

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams. Stephen King calls him "My favorite American Suspense novelist" and so far, I have to admit I am pretty hooked. Cody and Clea are two teenagers in love. When Clea's overbearing father sends her to boarding school in Vermont, Cody is heartbroken. When she disappears, he takes off across the country determined to find her. Of course, I am not up to that part yet. But so far, the characters are realistic and the story is gripping.

Princess for Hire by Lindsay Leavitt. This was supposed to be the guilty pleasure read that I told no one about, but it is so dang cute, I have to give it credit! Desi is a high school girl looking for a job that does not require her to dress up like a giant badger. When she is offered a job as a substitute princess she jumps at the changs. Hilarity ensues.

Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman. I didn't expect to like this as well as I do! The story is about a boy who finds that he is not only indestructible, but that he can pass this power along. Carman jumps right out of the gate with an action scene that hooks the reader hard. He also has a clever way of presenting a "bad boy" character in a safe-for-the-classroom (so far) manner.

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Jamilah is the daughter of a tradition Lebanese Muslim family, but at school she goes by Jamie and her dyed blond hair and blue contacts keep her background a secret. Important issues of assimilation and racism are cleverly woven into what seems like a lighthearted book about being true to yourself.

Birth Marked by Caragh M. O'Brien. This one is the big winner for me. It is the story of a dystopian future What can I say? I am a sucker for dystopian futures! (In a "nice place to visit, wouldn't want to live there kind of way.) Gaia is the daughter of a midwife who has just delivered her first baby without her mothers help. She delivers the baby, against it's mother's wished, to "The Enclave" as the law demands. When she returns home, she finds that her parents have been arrested and she is the new midwife. Thirty-four pages in and I am HOOKED. As a matter of fact, I am out of here. I have too much to read!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Some Books I Read Recently!

My pal Pam emailed to ask me for some fresh reads. And I have continued to read stuff and NOT blog them. What am I thinking of??? Also, Saturday is SATs day and I will have a whole new pile on my desk. So I bring you the reads of the spring!

The Grift by Debra Ginsberg is about a girl who works as a psychic but has no psychic powers. Or DOES she? I didn't need to be psychic to see some of the "twists" in this book, but Ginsberg is a good writer and I did enjoy the ride.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield
was a fantastic read! It is a thinly veiled roman a clef about Laura Bush. I really loved this book. I was expecting to be titillated and amused, but I was really touched by the story.

My Enemy’s Cradle by Sara Young was a fascinating look at the Lebensborn program in Nazi Germany. A Dutch girl, pregnant by her Jewish boyfriend ends up in a home for unwed Jungfrau having babies for the fuhrer. It was a nail biter!

Karma For Beginners by Jessica Blank
is the story of a girl in the '80s whose mom keeps dragging her from bad boyfriend to bad boyfriend. They end up in an ashram in the Catskills where she finds a place for herself. I put it to the side three quarters of the way through and it occurs to me that I didn't finish it! Better go dig it up again.

Lonely Heart’s Club by Elizabeth Eulberg was so much better than I thought it would be! It is the story of Penny Lane Bloom (I know, but her parents were obsessed with the Beatles) and how the club she creates of girls who have sworn off boys threatens the status quo of her high school. Standard girl power fantasy with a lot of cute music references and strong writing.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan freaked me the hell out! This is a zombie book, a genre that I usually ignore like a whining teenager, but I accidentally started it and couldn't put it down! So creepy, so good. The sequel, The Dead Tossed Waves, was something of a disappointment to me, but the person who recommended it to me in the first place liked it more than the first! She may be more of a zombie-girl than I am.

Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski was a great concept and deftly written. Brokenhearted at 18 Devi accidentally drops her cell phone in a wishing well and that causes it to only dial one number - her 14 year old self who might be able to undo all the mistakes Deva feels she has made.

The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman is not at all for family viewing, but is an interesting (and funny) look at how Silverman became the comic she is today.

Three Junes by Julia Glass
was written for grown-ups, but has themes that anyone could relate to. Three interconnecting stories deal with a widower on a trip to Greece, his expat gay son in New York and the woman who befriends them both. Just a lovely book.

Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
presents the differences between parenting instinct and child development research. Fascinating stuff that made me retire the phrase, "Good job!" forever.

My Invisible Boyfriend by Susie Day
is an English YA novel about a girl at a boarding school who invents a long distance romance to keep up with her paired-up friends. It was loaded with British-isms and practically begs for a sequel.

Savvy by Ingrid Law is the story of Mibs, who on her 13th birthday will receive her "savvy" - a strange power. Her oldest brother manipulates electricity, her middle brother causes storms when he is upset. When her father is in a serious accident just before the big day, Mibs hopes that her savvy will be able to help him recover.

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper has been compared to one of my all time favorites - I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - and it is not quite that good. But this story of a young girl growing up on an isolated island kingdom just before World War Two is a suspenseful and marvelously detailed story.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
was a beautiful book about a reticent English gentleman who falls in love with the widow of the Pakistani grocer in his small town as he is trying to keep his money-grubbing relatives from selling a precious family heirloom.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake tells the parallel stories of a female war correspondent in Europe, the young wife of an American doctor who has gone to help victims of the Blitz and the postmistress in a sleepy Cape Cod town who holds a devastating secret as America edges closer to war.

And these three are the big summer reads I am most looking forward to:

Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, wherein CeeCee has to face the consequences of a rash decision she made years ago to raise the daughter of a murdered girl.

The Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald is the story of Henry who was a "practice baby" at a women's college just after WWII and went on to find himself in the center of the zeitgeist of the second half of the 20th century.

The Passage by Justin Cronin is the talk of the book world this summer. A cross between Stephen King's The Stand (one of my all time favorites) and Cormac McCarthy's The Road (I made it 10 pages before I had to put it down and take deep calming breaths) this doorstop of a book chronicles the carnage that occurs when a government plan to create super soldiers goes horribly, horribly wrong. If you hear screaming in the night, it is probably me ruing the day I got hooked on this one.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The fun begins!

I have been booktalking the summer reading titles all week and I have to say that I like doing the presentations to the high school kids before the Briscoe kids. I feel bad that in the past I kind of do my "warm up" material at Briscoe and then have more polished presentations at the high school. Well, because of the MCAS schedule I will have spoken to nearly all the high school kids before "taking my show on the road". Briscoe - the big time!

A couple of things that have stuck out to me. First, I talk a LOT. A kid said today, "Mrs. Fecteau appears to be hogging the talking stick." You know it kid! I can talk all day. But I am doing a good job this year of just trying to hit the high points.

Speaking of which, I am having a horrible time trying to find an "angle" for HEAVEN TO BETSY. I love this book so much, and I just can't find a way of making it sound interesting to teens! I suppose I could talk about how it is based on her real diaries, how high school was different 100 years ago. But I want to tell stories. But I need to find a good one!

Must go teach 9th graders how to find books on WWII. There is not much to this post, but at least now I don't have to feel guilty for not having posted since MARCH!

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Unlikely!

I spent February break reading all the summer reading books that I didn't intend to like and much to my surprise, they were wonderful!

First some sad news, THE FULL BURN didn't make the cut. It was full of really bad language. And while I am not necessarily opposed to the occasional swear (just ask anyone who has seen me drive in traffic) this really was not good enough to warrant it. And it was pretty boring. And I know from boring. I read a book about MATH this week for heaven's sake! (Just kidding, math teachers. Math is awesome! Yay math!)

GEEKSPEAK: A GUIDE TO ANSWERING THE UNANSWEREABLE, MAKING SENSE OF THE NONSENSICAL, AND SOLVING THE UNSOLVABLE by Dr. Graham Tattersall is the math book in question. It was quite funny in some parts. I tended to skip over the parts with actual numbers, but I liked the formulas. I learned how to figure out how bi my vocabulary is, how to weigh my house, how to find out how long it would take to send my body to Mars. (Please do NOT beam me up, Scotty!) The book wasn't as accessible as I thought it was going to be, but any math minded kid who likes philosophy and problem solving is going to love it. And even math-phobics like me will find it interesting. Who knew math was so useful? (I will now go hide while Ms MacDonald and Mr. Novello chase me with graphing calculators.)

PANIC IN LEVEL 4 by Richard Preston is the science-y book this year and it was AWESOME! I expected to be a little interested, but I loved it. And it even had gross stuff in it, but I pressed on. It is a bunch of essays by Preston (who writes a lot of books about diseases that freak me out) that for the most part appeared in THE NEW YORKER. The topics range from ebola to pi to dying trees to the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters to a really creepy genetic disease that makes your hands attach you and you attack your hands. Blech!! And yet, I had a hard time putting it down. Don't get me wrong, I am still a huge wimp, but good writing can make me keep reading in spite of almost certainly being freaked out when I think about things later!

GHOSTS OF WAR by Ryan Smithson was amazing. Smithson joined the Army Reserves after graduating high school shortly after 9/11. He was deployed soon after and tells the story of his year as an army engineer. He has a clean, clear writing style and tells his story in a heartfelt way that shows the humanity and high ideals of the average soldier. He has a respect for those he served with and served under, combined with an understanding of the humanity of all the players in the current conflict.

SCRATCH BEGINNINGS: ME $25, AND THE SEARCH FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM by Adam Shepard. This Merrimack graduate decided to go to a strange city and start out in a homeless shelter with $25, a tarp and the clothes on his back to see if he could work his way out of homelessness in a year. At first I had a hard time getting beyond his somewhat clunky writing, but his attitude and experience really won me over. I highly recommend this book to anyone trying to make sense of poverty and class issues.

KNIGHTS OF THE HILL COUNTRY by Tim Tharp is "the football book". I try to have one every year. Last year it was 12 MIGHTY ORPHANS which very few people liked. Hopefully the Knights will be more of a crowd pleaser. I really liked it because it got in to the head of Hampton, a linebacker on an undefeated football team in the Ozarks. At first, Hamp's voice was kind of annoying because he "speaks" in something of an Okie dialect, but once I got used to it, the story really kept my interest. (I tried to skip over the football parts, but they were so intrinsic to the story that I had to keep going back and reading them.) The story is about how Hamp deals with his own issues while his best friend Blake (a giant tool) is spinning out of control.

Now I have read all the books I have felt obligated to read and can concentrate on the ones I want to! Ms Woznik and I are going to the school committee at the beginning of April to get them approved. By then I will have read everything. I am so excited about this year's list!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thank you for playing...

And now the first set of titles to be cut based on circumstances and numbers alone.

Becoming Billie Holiday by Carol Boston Weatherford- This beautiful book of poems that tell of the early years of Lady Day, perhaps the greatest jazz singer of all time, will not be out in paperback soon enough for summer reading. Maybe next year!

The Big Necessity by Rose George - Apparently the lure of reading about sanitation was not enough to get students over the fact that I couldn't help but refer to this funny and informative book as "the poo book". Still an interesting read!

City of Thieves by David Benioff - I love this book and students liked the sound of it. However it was far more violent than I remembered. Or as Anna Langstaff at the Beverly Public Library put it, "Do you want to get fired?" Heh...

Estrella's Quinceanera by Malin Alegria - This one may be my fault - I just didn't know how to book talk it. It is a good book and worth reading, but it just didn't get the votes.

Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve - Stories of teenagers interest in the exploits of King Arthur are greatly exaggerated, even with the addition of awesome Monty Python impressions. Or perhaps because of the Monty Python impressions.

How To Live On Mars by Robert Zubin - It got to the point where I would skip over this slide and say - "This just didn't do it for me." - when I was running over. Bad librarian, bad...

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin - This is a fantastic books and the kids were very interested in reading it, but it won't be in paperback in time. This one and 13 Reasons Why are making me mad! Paperback them, already. publishers!

We'll Always Have Paris by Ray Bradbury - Yes, it's Ray Bradbury and he can write like nobody's business, but the idea behind having a short story collection on the list is that kids who for whatever reason need differentiated amounts of reading can just read a few of the stories. And these stories were not at a reading level where that really would have been an option. Other than that, having short stories is kind of a pain. Also, the cover was crap.

So now we are down to 35 titles. We will be cutting between 10 and 15 more.

I can't tell you all the books that will be on, but here are the top 10 vote-getters as chosen by the BHS students currently studying for their English exam!
  1. Unwind by Neal Schusterman
  2. Sarah's Key by Tatiana deRosnay
  3. Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson
  4. Impossible by Nancy Werlin
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  6. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
  7. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  8. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  9. How To Build a House by Dana Reinhart
  10. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Of the daily doubles, Unwind by Neal Schusterman handily beat The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson and Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithsonspanked Joker One by Donovan Campbell. But The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han only beat How to Build a House by Dana Reinhart by a mere 7 votes, so they might both be on the list. We shall see...

The Big List!

Here is the list of all the books that were in the running for summer reading books this year. I book talked them to the students taking English fall semester and their votes are in. Stay tuned to see what the results are!

Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford
Big Necessity by Rose George
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks byE. Lockhart
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Estrella’s Quinceanera by Malin Alegria
Full Burn by Kevin Conley
Geekspeak by Graham Tattersall
Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson
Girl Overboard by Justone Chen Hedley
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Heaven to Betsy by Maud Hart Lovelace
Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve
Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
How to Build a House by Dana Reinhart
How to Live on Mars by Robert Zubin
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Impossible by Nancy Werlin
Joker One by Donovan Campbell
King of the Screwups by KL Going
Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp
Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
Nation by Terry Pratchett
No Choirboy by Susan Kulkin
Panic in Level 4 by Richard Preston
Paper Towns by John Green
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana DeRosnay
Scratch Beginnings by Adam W. Shepherd
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Ucci
Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
Summoning by Kelly Armstrong
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
We’ll Always Have Paris by Ray Bradbury
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson