Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Brooklyn NIne

The Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in Nine Innings

Alan Gratz

It first must be understood that I don’t like baseball. Never have. Football, on the other hand I could watch 7 days a week. So when a baseball book made the North Carolina Battle of the Books list, I wasn’t thrilled, and I saved it until the next to last book to read. But then I heard Alan Gratz speak at the North Carolina School Library Media Association conference and was a little intrigued. So I started the book this morning with a somewhat open mind.

And what did I think? Well, I don’t think I’ll ever like baseball, but I really liked this book. As the title indicated it’s divided into nine parts, all following a family from 1845 until 2002. Each “inning” reflects its time period – the 1864 inning is set during the Civil War in Virginia, for example and some of the innings detail serious societal problems, such as racism, the Cold War, and the numbers racket. Most tell the story of a male in the family, but two innings are devoted to girls, proving that females can love the sport as much as their male counterparts. I do think some of the stories were stronger than others, but overall they make a fun read, and a good way for me to spend my day.

The copy of The Brooklyn Nine that I read for this book was obtained from my school library.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Cassini Code

The Cassini Code

Dom Testa

The Galahad has gotten through two crises. Filled with teenagers escaping a deadly virus on Earth, it now must get through perhaps the most serious problem yet. As long as they could work together, the crew could problem solve and survive the challenges. But what happens when they encounter two challenges – one outside the ship and one inside the ship?

The third book in the Galahad series, The Cassini Code begins as the ship encounters the Kuiper Belt, an area of space covered with asteroids. The odds of the ship getting through the asteroids without being pulverized are roughly 12 to 1 but this is the only route out of the solar system and to the planet where they think they’ll be able to start a new life. To make matters worse, some members of the crew want to turn around and go back to Earth, even if it means inevitable death.

This was my favorite book of the series. First, you have a danger of the asteroids. On top of this is the threat of mutiny. There is absolutely no possibility of 250 teenagers being on board a ship and there not being conflict, and Testa is spot-on in his portrayal of mature, intelligent teenagers who are having to figure out how to get along with each other. As crew members begin to doubt their mission, they start wearing yellow armbands, and their leader, Merit, is quite charismatic -- the comparisons to Hitler are unavoidable. The only problem with The Cassini Code is that I’ll have to wait until March for the next installment.

I purchased the copy of The Cassini Code that I reviewed.

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Father's Son

My Father’s Son
Terri Fields

Kevin Windor is just a normal boy with divorced parents. He lives most of the times with his mom, but he goes over to his dad’s house on the weekends. He does well in school and has a crush on a girl in Spanish class. She seems to have feelings for him too – that is if the kiss they shared is any indication.

But then on one unforgettable day Kevin turns on the television to discover his father has been arrested as the notorious DB25 Monster, a man who has attacked at least 11 women, leaving most of them dead. Kevin is stunned. This is his daddy – a man who he had adored all of his life. How can he be a serial killer?

As time passes, the evidence against Kevin’s dad gets worse. Originally caught climbing out of the window of the eleventh victim, his father’s DNA has been found under the victim’s fingernails. Kevin has been so completely sure that his father is innocent but now he’s having some doubts. And things aren’t getting any easier for Kevin either He’s constantly getting strange looks at school, and most people won’t have anything to do with him. It’s like everyone thinks he is going to turn into a monster at any moment. How do you survive when your world falls apart and how do you prove your father is innocent when you’re not so sure yourself?

For the most part I thought this was really good. It was quite suspenseful, and I felt for Kevin. I think this will be a good book for my 8th graders.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Web of Titan

The Web of Titan

Dom Testa

One common trait people have carried through the years, with a few exceptions, is fear of the unknown. Humans need a comfort zone of the familiar, and when that’s shattered the automatic response is often dread, anxiety, or downright terror.

Take our good friends on the spacecraft called Galahad. Their entire mission is a voyage to the unknown, and it’s unfair to think that an ample dose of fear doesn’t ride along with them. Each day they move farther away from the warm embrace of Earth, and deeper into the infinite void of space. (p. 9, ARC)

Life on Galahad has calmed down considerably since the saboteur was defeated. As the teenagers settle in on their voyage, they quite naturally begin to think and talk about romance. But things are not destined to remain calm. Galahad is close to Saturn where they are asked to pick up a pod from a research station orbiting the planet. They have no idea about what’s in the pod, or about what happened to the people in the research station who mysteriously stopped transmitting to Earth at approximately the same time Galahad left the planet.

When they get the pod in the ship they discover an empty cryogenic chamber and a smaller chamber with a cat inside. They revive the cat, but can’t help but wonder what happened to the human who was obviously meant for the other chamber. In addition, strange things are beginning to happen on board Galahad. Some crewmembers are reporting excruciating headaches, eventually becoming unconscious and then waking up with glowing eyes. And systems aboard the ship are mysteriously malfunctioning, threatening the ship’s survival. Without help from Earth, the crew has to figure out what happened to the original research station in order to try and save their ship.

I really enjoyed the first book of this series, The Comet’s Curse, and I also enjoyed this installment. I especially like the characters – they are diverse both culturally and personality. It will be interesting to see how these characters develop as they progress on their journey. That said, this is a series book and it reads like one. It doesn’t stand alone and you are left waiting for the next installment. I know that the romances on board are important to the development of the characters but I hope that Testa will concentrate on the adventures they will have as they travel to their new home.

The copy of The Web of Titan that I used for this review was an Advanced Reading copy that I received from the author. The Web of Titan will be released on June 29, 2010 . Quotes are from the ARC and should be checked against the final printed copy of the book.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

What I Read in January

I have read 12 books during the month of January – pretty good for me. Almost all of the books are young adult or children’s books. I do need to read more adult books, but right now the pile of books at school is what is calling the loudest. I don’t review all the books I read, just the ones I liked or feel I have something substantive to talk about. Here’s what I got read this month (if I reviewed it, I linked to the review):

Young Adult and Children’s Fiction:

Perfect You by Elizabeth Scott – I liked this one but never got around to reviewing it.

Purge by Sarah Littman Darer

The Comet’s Curse by Dom Testa

After the Train by Gloria Whelan

The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail by Michael Spradlin

The Battle for Duncragglin by Andrew H. Vanderwal

Lost and Found by Andrew Clements

Fallen by Lauren Kate

Young Adult and Children’s Nonfiction

You Wouldn’t Want to Meet a Body Snatcher by Fiona MacDonald – this is a great series to booktalk

Getting to Know Your Toilet: The Disgusting Story behind Your Home’s Strangest Feature by Connie Colwell Miller – this one is going to fly off my shelves when I booktalk it – gross stuff is always popular

Graphic Novels

The Elsewhere Chronicles: The Shadow Door by Nykko

Adult Nonfiction

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle – Boy, do I want to go back to France now!



Lauren Kate

Luce has always seen these mysterious, threatening shadows and they have always frightened her. As a child she had to visit therapists and was put on anti-psychotic drugs for a time. Even so, she has managed to overcome her problems and excel in school until one horrible night when she was with a boy, a fire broke out, and the boy was killed. Luce cannot remember what happened or whether she was at fault and so she is sent by court order to a reform school. The school, located in her hometown of Savannah, is old and decrepit and many of the students there are strange. Even so, Luce manages to make a couple of friends and she meets someone who takes her breath away. It feels like she has met Daniel before but he denies it and wants to have nothing to do with her. But like a moth to a flame, she is drawn to Daniel, even going to the point of sneaking into the records room to see his school record. Making matters more confusing, another boy, Cam, is interested in her also and she cannot help but find him intriguing. Hanging over everything is a sense of danger and foreboding – something bad is going to happen.

I really enjoyed the characters in this novel. They had depth and were fun to read about. While it was easy to figure out the good vs. bad nature of some characters, others surprised me. The character I was least fond of was Luce – she just spent too much time being clueless and, like Bella with Edward, she was obsessed with Daniel to the point of absurdity. I hope that in the next book, she will be better informed and better able to take care of herself.

I do have some issues with the book. First of all, for a strict reform school, things were awfully lax. How many reform schools would have girls and guys living across the hall from each other? And how do students not show up for class without getting in all kinds of trouble? These things, among others, really bothered me throughout the book.

While the beginning of the book seemed slow to me, I felt the ending was rushed and therefore the author didn’t have time in the end to really explain what was happening and so I got confused and was left with a lot of questions – questions that hopefully will be answered in the next installment. Because so much went unanswered, I felt the book’s plot was choppy. Like most books of its kind, it had several moments of melodrama, some of which made me want to roll my eyes.

This is an obvious choice for students who loved Twilight and want something along those lines. I think it’s darker than Twilight and so might be more appropriate for an 8th grade to high school audience. Even though Fallen had its flaws, I will read the sequel when it comes out in the fall of 2010.

The copy of the book that I used for this review was borrowed from one of my students.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

POC Reading Challenge

I am late in joining the POC reading challenge but this has been a crazy month and I wanted to complete the comment challenge first. As a general rule, I don't do book challenges because I stink at them, but this was was too important to pass up.

I'm joining the POC challenge at Level 4, reading 10 - 12 books. Right now, these are the books I'm planning on choosing from:

Tyrell – Coe Booth

First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover – Matali Perkins

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Freedom – Phillip Hoose

The Rock and the River – Kekla Magoon

Sunrise over Fallujah – Walter Dean Myers

Rain is Not My Indian Name – Cynthia Leitich Smith

The Afterlife – Gary Soto

Jumped – Rita Williams-Garcia

After Tupac and D Foster – Jacqueline Woodson

Ten Things I Hate About Me – Randa Abdel-Fattah

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

Return to Sender – Julia Alvarez

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Youngest Templar

The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail

Michael P. Spradlin

Tristan has only known life in the monastery where he was found as an infant. Although he was raised by monks, he has never had the desire to become one, so when a group of Knights Templar stops there on their way to fight in the Third Crusade, he accepts the offer to become a squire to one of the leaders, Sir Thomas. Unfortunately he also makes an enemy of the other leader, Sir Hugh.

When they reach the Holy Land, Tristan soon discovers that fighting and killing are not much fun, and unfortunately there is plenty of both. When Acre is attacked and it is apparent that it will fall to the enemy, Sir Thomas entrusts Tristan with the greatest treasure of Christendom – the Holy Grail and tells him to take it to a church in Scotland. Tristan must make his way through the Saracens, past Sir Hugh and hope to get safely out of the Holy Land. He’ll find a couple of companions along the way, and encounter more trouble than he ever bargained for.

I didn’t find Keeper of the Grail to be great historical fiction, but it was fun to read and I think it will be popular to many of my boys. It reads like many of the Dan Brown like adult adventure novels, but without so much explanation about every facet of the story. While I was glad about this last part, I do wish there were a little more explanation about the Crusades, because I fear that many of the students who are going to attempt this novel will know nothing about them. I’m a big fan of authors’ notes either at the beginning or ending of a novel, explaining the historical setting of the novel.

I found the characters of Tristan, Robard, and Maryam to be likable but I thought Sir Thomas and Sir Hugh were fairly one-dimensional characters. This is the first book in a series, and the second book is already out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Comet's Curse

The Comet’s Curse

Dom Testa

At first it was just an interesting spectacle – a comet coming close enough to Earth to be seen clearly, its tail passing through Earth’s atmosphere. But then, mysteriously, adults on Earth begin to sicken and die. It’s soon determined that the tail contained a mysterious virus, a virus that only affected adults but that was deadly. It looked as though all of mankind was doomed. But then a scientist decides that the way to save the human race was to send 251 teenagers off to another planet where they can start fresh. A world-wide search was started and the teenagers chosen. After teary goodbyes they leave Earth forever on a five-year trip to Eos and a new life. Unfortunately, there are those who are opposed to the entire mission and they are willing to do anything to stop it, even if it means killing everyone aboard.

This was a truly enjoyable read for me. I’ve been rewatching the original Star Trek episodes recently and The Comet’s Curse fit right in with that. Yes, there are some predictable plot points, but it didn’t matter to me. This book was exciting and had really likable characters. I appreciated the fact that the crew of the ship was multicultural but that wasn’t thrown in your face; instead it was seamlessly integrated into the story.

Like all good science fiction, The Comet’s Curse also gave me an interesting moral issue to ponder. Was it morally right for so many scientists to devote literally their last moments alive to saving just a few people instead of working on a cure (even though it had been pretty well accepted that a cure wasn’t likely)? I think I would feel that the existence of the human species would warrant such drastic action as sending teenagers off into space, but it would make for interesting discussion.

The Comet’s Curse is the first installment in a projected six-part series.

The copy that I used for this review was acquired from my school library.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010



Sarah Darer Littman

What does it mean to be perfect? For Janie, perfection is her older sister, the sister that her father is always comparing her to. But now Janie’s life has spiraled out of control and she is now in an inpatient treatment facility. It has taken a traumatic event at her sister’s wedding for her parents to discover that she has had bulimia for two years, and although Janie recognizes that she has an eating disorder, she isn’t yet willing to discuss with her therapist or with the other patients in her group. She is, however, willing to explore her problems in the journal she is asked to keep and in it the reader discovers just how insecure she is. When asked to come up with ten words that describe how she sees herself, Janie’s answer is:




Screwed up.







Janie’s unsure if her family and friends will ever forgive her for screwing up so badly, even though they don’t know the whole story – they don’t know why she ruined her sister’s wedding. Until she’s willing to face her demons, she has no chance of being allowed to go home.

I have to confess that Purge and I didn’t start off well. Based on several reviews, I had purchased it for my middle school library (teen problem books are very popular with my students). The book did give me some issues with language and mature situations until I realized that, at least in my opinion, Purge would be better suited for grades 9 - 12. Once I accepted that, I was able to really appreciate what Littman was doing. Although I’ve never suffered from bulimia and so don’t have first-hand experience with it, I think she did an excellent job depicting how difficult it is to recover from an eating disorder (Littman did suffer from bulimia as a teenager). I really liked Janie and sympathized with her problems. I’m glad I read Purge and I look forward to reading more books by Littman.