Thursday, April 25, 2013


First Read: August, 2012. I read this in line for the Toy Story Midway ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida. I am not even kidding. It was a long line and a really fun book. I read a bunch of stuff in line. Hey, it beats fiddling around with my phone.

The Story: Althea is a beautiful young girl who MUST marry well. Her family (widowed mother, little brother, awful stepsisters and assorted servants) are depending on her to keep the castle that her grandfather build standing and they are going to need a LOT of money to make that happen. Althea keeps driving off men with her common sense and honesty, so when she sets her cap for Lord Boring, the new rich boy in town, she dumbs it down a lot. But she still tells it like it is with Boring's pal Mr. Fredericks, who just makes her crazy. You might be able to see where this is going, but it is very fun getting there.

Re-Read: February vacation, at my sister's house. Sure, it had only been 8 months, but I didn't remember a lot of details and I am glad I reread it. It is charming and very funny and after a winter being obsessed with DOWNTON ABBEY it was fun to step into British nobility, or at least money, even though KEEPING THE CASTLE is in a much earlier era. It is just jolly good fun.

Summer Reading Tips:
  • Well, drink tea while reading it, of course. 
  • You know that guy you have had a crush on forever? Take a look at his friends, they may be the reason he is so charming.
  • For your project, you could make a castle out of popsicle sticks and compare it to Crawley Castle. And maybe film yourself tossing it into the sea.

GIRLS LIKE US by Rachel Lloyd

First Read: February 2013. I read this one at the end of February break. I was right in the middle of my annual nonfiction bender. I always end up reading a ton of nonfiction over break because it is the hardest for me to find for summer reading. This book was heartbreaking and changed my perspective on a lot of things regarding the way that girls are treated and even how they treat each other.

The Story: Rachel Lloyd was an exploited child. She ran away as a teenager and ended up in Germany where she was trafficked into sex work. After leaving the life, she became a missionary working with girls in similar circumstances. Here is the one thing that blew my mind. Do you know the average age that girls become prostitutes? It is 12. And once you are trafficked, everything in your life is designed by your exploiters to make sure you stay there. Lloyd knows what it is to live under these circumstances and what it takes to escape. She intertwines stories of her own experience with those of the girls she now works with for an excellent overview. It starts out harsh, gets harsher and eventually leaves you feeling that, in spite of what you have read, there is still hope for these girls. It was far less salacious and more moving than I expected.

Re-Read: I just read it recently so only the one time, but it stayed with me.

Summer Reading Tips:
  • Again, the kleenex! And it will make you rethink how you speak - I hear the words whore and pimp thrown around and this book will excise those from your vocabulary.
  • Talk about this book with your parents, this is a social issue that is affecting teenagers just like you.
  • For your project, look at how one of the girls got to where she is. Write a life for her that would have a happier narrative.

BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver

First Read: November 2011. I have been trying to get this on summer reading for the past 2 years, but it took forever to come out in paperback. I described it as MEAN GIRLS meets GROUNDHOG DAY and that is pretty apt. I forgot most of the details though, I just remembered the main themes. I read it fast, probably in a day, because the faster I read the less I remember!

The Story: Samantha is one of the 4 most popular girls at her high school. In the first chapter, she and her 3 best friends are in a horrible car crash on February 12 and she dies. But then then she wakes up and it is February 12 again and she has another chance to live that last day. Will she be able to finally do it right?

Re-Read: It is so easy to "sell" this book. The hook is irresistible. But in rereading (at my sister's house again over April vacation) I realized how much there is to the book. Sam is very popular, but she hasn't always been and she dishes out the details of her transformation a little at a time. Her three best friends, particularly the "Queen Bee' Lindsay, are given enough depth to make them as interesting as they are mean. The way Oliver deconstructs popularity and its polar opposite are very interesting. I was really moved by the book.

Summer Reading Tips:
  • Be nice! Seriously, people can be mean. It's not right.
  • Choose a day from your life and imagine you would have to live it over and over. What would you do differently from Sam? What would you do the same?
  • Don't read this in the car. reason.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


First Read: October, 2011. I don't remember where I was when I read it or why I liked it so much bit I do remember liking the story a lot. It made me rethink my stance on boxing (that it looks ouchy) and reminded me of the movie CINDERELLA MAN which I liked very much. But as they years went on, I began to wonder, "Did I really love it so much? Would anyone want to read historical fiction, no matter how sporty?" See the Re-Read section to find out! I do remember researching Max Schmeling after I read this. Even though this story is fiction, Schmeling was a real person - a champion boxer and a German national hero.

The Story: Karl is 14 when things start to get really bad with the Nazis. At first, he doesn't feel too much pressure. Sure, he's Jewish, but he is blond and Aryan looking so no one really knows it. But now he has been marked by a gang of bullies who beat him up in the stairwell at school. (If you are unfamiliar with the history of Germany, I assure you things get even worse.) It just so happens that the night he is all bruised and wretched looking, there is an art show at his father's gallery where Karl meets Max Schmeling, who offers to teach Karl how to box in exchange for a painting in the gallery.

Re-Read: I reread this at my sister's house in California over April vacation. I would get up extra early to read because I was so into the book. Short answer, I DID love it! It is really well written and the characters are strong. I had forgotten about the art subplot - Karl's parents run a gallery and he wants to be a cartoonist. I had forgotten about his little sister and what a great character she was. And I had forgotten about The Countess. Wow, good book.

Summer Reading Tips:
  • This is kind of a rainy day book. It is a heavy topic, but with an interesting hook. (Get it, hook? Like the punch?)
  • This book will make you want to box. Please find someone in your own weight class and make sure you are both wearing protective gear. You can tell your sparring partner all about the book as you pound them to bits.
  • For a project you could look up read information about Schmeling and compare it to the fictional Schmeling of the book.


First Read: January, 2013. And January is the perfect time for a summer book. I had enjoyed Matson's AMY & ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR which was on the list last year. Usually I picture books happening in places that are familiar to me. If it is a summer book, I picture a place I have been in the summer. This book, for some reason, made the Edward's lake house seem like a real place for me. And not someplace I had been before.

The Story: Taylor is going in to her senior year of high school. Up until she was 12, her family spent every summer at "the lake". Something happened that summer and Taylor never went back. Until now.  The one weakness of the book is that Matson really tries to sell that it was something SHOCKING that happened so I was all agog - What could it be? When will we find out???? But it ended up being fairly predictable. Now the sad part. The reason they are going back to the lake is that Taylor's dad is dying and he wants, for his last summer, to be surrounded by his family. Matson does a beautiful job of presenting this group of high achievers (her brother is a genius, her little sister a ballet prodigy) who never really connected as a family as they come to realize how very lucky they are to have each other. There is a very sweet love story and a bit about Taylor getting her "second chance" from her old friends from when she was younger, before she RUINED EVERYTHING. But the real joy of the story is how Taylor goes from someone who cuts herself off from everyone to a someone who is willing to take a chance on people.

Re-read: I didn't reread it because I read it only 4 months ago and shockingly still remember what I thought and why I loved it so much! And I remember crying like a snotty-faced baby a couple times. I may have had a cold.

Summer Reading Tips:
  • This is a great book to read at a lake or at the shore. 
  • Parts of this are hilarious, but parts are really sad, bring tissues!
  • For your project, write the story of what happens the following summer.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

BLINK & CAUTION by Tim Wynne-Jones

First Read - June 2011 - Is is any wonder I didn't remember anything about this book other than that I loved it? I do remember finishing it in a cemetery. Don't judge me, I like to read outside and cemeteries are very peacful and there isn't a lot of dog poop.

The Story: Blink is a runaway living on the streets who stumbles upon a kidnapping. At first he is just trying to help out, but if an opportunity to make some money comes up, who is he to avoid it? Caution is living with a very bad man and if her attempt to escape leads her to take advantage of Blink, how can you blame her? Will you be surprised to know they join forces? Probably not because it is in the jacket flap copy...

Re-Read:April 7-9, 2013 - At first I was a little worried. The chapters are split in two voices. The Caution chapters are in standard third person. But the Blink chapters are in the second person, which is frankly annoying. The narrator calls you "you" so you are you and Blink is you and it is just weird. But eventually, it begins to feel natural and doggoned if it doesn't draw you in a little bit. (See what I did there? Second person...hee...) I didn't remember for the first few chapters why I loved this book so much, but soon I was just as wrapped up as I was last time. It is a great ride and a very well written with an extremely satisfying payoff.
Summer Reading Tips:
  • Read this one in a graveyard. Ah, just kidding. Read it in Canada. Did I mention it takes place in Toronto? It is interesting that it is kind of a gritty urban setting and yet Canadian. It's not all hockey, beer and comedy there, you know... But do read it downtown where traffic sounds and crowds of people will put you in the mood for this. Then you can go somewhere quieter when the action moves to the country.
  • For your assignment, maybe you can work out different survival strategies for Blink and Caution than the ones they went with and show how your ideas might have worked better.
  • Investigate the street life of teens. Not first hand, please, but by researching what happens to runaways and maybe find a way you can help out.

Friday, April 05, 2013

JENNA & JONAH'S FAUXMANCE by Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin

First read: April 2012 - So it was a year ago that I read this and I don't remember reading it anywhere specific. I do remember laughing out loud and really enjoying the story. I don't know how long it took to read, but I do remember ripping through the last few chapters to see how it ended, as I do. As a consequence, the details were hazy when I was trying to remember how it all came together.

The Story: Jenna and Jonah star in a TV series called How to be a Rock Star or some such nonsense. They have been forced, for the sake of ratings, to fake a romance. But they really loathe each other. Or do they?  And then all hell breaks loose career-wise and they are forced to take a look at their relationship, their careers and what they want out of life. I make it sound serious, but it is pretty light and fluffy, but also tender and thoughtful.

Re-read April 3-5, 2013 - I love the behind the scenes in Hollywood feel as well as the misunderstanding the vagaries of love aspect. I still feel like the ending was a little confusing, even the second time around. I get what happened, but the last chapter is written in a way that makes you twist your brain a little bit. Go ahead and read it, you'll see what I mean. It's worth it!

Summer Reading Tips:
  • This is a beach read if there ever was one! It is pretty much pure romance with a dash of fame.
  • For a project you might write an episode synopsis for a reunion show of Jenna & Jonah.
  • Read this one during commercial breaks in Zoe 101 and get an appreciation for what the actors might be going through!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14 by Blaine Harden

First read: March 2013 - I started it in a hotel parking lot at the Massachusetts School Library Association Annual Convention. It occurs to me that I read in parking lots pretty often. Hmmm... weird... Anyway,  Matt Smith, special education teacher here at BHS, practically threw this book at my head and demanded I read it. And furthermore that I put it on summer reading. And since he did that back in September, and I finally deigned to read it in March,I started reading it waiting in a parking lot.
Duration: 3 days because it was too terrifying to read all at once!

The Story: It starts with two executions. The first one is when Shin is 4. It is the first of many he remembers. The second one is 10 years later and the people being put to death are his mother and brother. Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a North Korean prison camp and is the only person raised from birth in one of the camps who is known to have successfully escaped. His story is harrowing and fascinating. As North Korea is posturing in front of the world, this is an important story.

Re-read: I read it LAST MONTH! I am not rereading it any time soon.

Summer reading tips:
  • Compare the propaganda that Harden illustrates with what you see in the news about North Korea. 
  • Contact one of the human rights agencies who work with North Koreans who have escaped their country and find out what you can do to help.
  • Compare the way of life in the North Korean Camps as illustrated in this book to those of the Nazi concentration camps. I think you will be shocked.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

First read: May 2012 - I loved it so much that I was reading it in  Burlington mall instead of shopping. I loved it so much that I finally pulled into a church parking lot to just finish it! And I cried a LOT while reading it.
Duration: 1.5 days

The Story: Julie is a spy. Maddie is a pilot. They are best friends. It is October 1943 when Maddie drops Julie behind enemy lines and then crashes her plane. As Julie tells everything she knows to the Gestapo in order to save herself, Maddie emerges as the heroine of her story.

Reread: March 28, 2013
Upon rereading this I was surprised at how the way that the action is revealed a little at a time made me so hungry to finish the book. The way that Julie tells her story and then the way that her story is brought to light were just so perfectly put together it was fun to see it from the other side, knowing how everything turns out. But it did lack the emotional punch of the first time. However, just as I was finishing it, I ran into Kate Carpine, the children's librarian at the Beverly Public Library, and we ended up talking about this book for 20 minutes and I was completely reminded about how much I loved it. So read it with a friend!

Summer Reading Tips:
  • If you like history, espionage and war, you will love this. But it also has a big dollop of the mechanics of friendship and responsibility.
  • Read this on a trip where you won't have distractions. You will be very angry at the friends who call you when you are deep in the French Resistance. 
  • For a project, figure out what Julie was trying to say and explain it. I would appreciate it, I am still a little hazy.

Monday, April 01, 2013


Good grief, it has been a mere two months since I last posted! I feel like a WINNER!

So I have set a new challenge for myself. (Although it isn't much of a challenge.) During the month of April, I am going to write a post about each of the summer reading books. That way, if I should be hit by a bus, summer reading can still go on without me.

And the entire student body of BHS breathes a huge sigh of relief...

Now some of these books I read AGES ago, so I am going to have to reread or at least skim them to make sure I haven't made a horrible, horrible mistake in choosing them for summer reading. Wouldn't that be embarrassing? Others I have read quite recently so I will not have to reread them, but I will give a little background about the reading experience. Unless I forget.

Okay, brace yourselves - here I go!