Friday, November 11, 2011

No Moon by Irene Watts

No Moon

Irene N. Watts

When she was just five years old, Louisa Gardener and her sister Kathleen were told to watch over their baby brother while they were on a visit by the sea. But they were both little girls and they let him get out of their sight. His body was found later, drowned in the ocean. Louisa has been deathly afraid of the ocean ever since.

Now Louisa is a nursemaid for a wealthy London family. She loves her new job. It’s hard work and the Nanny Mackintosh is difficult to work for but she knows she is fortunate to have such a good position when she’s only fourteen. Now, because Nanny Mackintosh has broken her ankle and her wrist, Louisa has been told that she will be in charge of Lord and Lady Milton’s two daughters as they sail across the Atlantic on the Titanic. She doesn’t want to go but she doesn’t want to lose her job either so one fateful day she and the Milton family set sail on the most famous and tragic ship of all times.

I’m doing a series of booktalks on the Titanic on Monday, so my weekend will be spent read a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction, about the ship. I really enjoyed this one. Irene Watts must be a fan of Upstairs, Downstairs because she does an excellent job of portraying the lives of both the servants and those they serve and there were several parts of the novel that reminded me of that series.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Watch that Ends the Night

The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

Allan Wolf

Like many people, there was a time in which I was fascinated by the Titanic. Between the movie, the books, and all of television documentaries, there was a lot to feed my obsession. I did eventually become over-saturated with Titanic facts and was ready to move on to other things. 2012, however, marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the sinking and I’m sure there will be a lot of books and new tv specials about it. The Watch that Ends the Night is the first book I’ve read about Titanic in a long time, and it was a treat.

Told in verse form, this book tells the story of the sinking from many different viewpoints, including a ship’s rat and the iceberg. I love the inevitability of the disaster as spoken by the iceberg (“I’ll have my heart. I have my part to play/The ice will have his pick of human hearts/as soon as fair Titanic plays her part.”). Each voice in the book is different and each adds richness to the total tale. Wolf’s research is evident throughout the story – I learned much from reading it. I highly recommend The Watch that Ends the Night.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011



Lauren Myracle

Cat has had a miserable three years. Because of a traumatizing event when she was 13, she has basically shut herself off from all her friends, even her best friend Patrick. Now it may be too late to make things right. Patrick has been found at the convenience shore where he works, horribly beaten and in a coma. Worse yet, it looks like the attack is because Patrick is gay, and in the small, backwoods town they live in, being gay is simply unacceptable. Cat knows is attacker is most likely one of the local boys she grew up with, and she is determined to find out who it is and if the attack was truly a matter of homophobia. As she delves into the mystery, she discovers how many of the town are addicted to meth, and that their addiction will drive them to any lengths to get what they need.

I was fortunate to attend on of Lauren Myracle’s sessions at the North Carolina School Library Media Association Conference in November where I got an ARC to Shine. My daughter has read the book twice but I haven’t had a chance to read it until last night. I absolutely fell in love with it.

First, the language and the setting. It’s spot-on. I knew Myracle had the language correct with this sentence: “What with the new Wal-Mart in Asheville, almost all the stores in town went on and closed.” Not an important sentence in the story by any means, but the “went on and closed” is rural NC and it enabled me to settle down and engross myself in the language of my cousins. The setting is a small mountain town and I could see it, feel it, as I read the book. Myracle spent time in the mountains when she was younger and it shows.

I also loved the characters. While it might be argued that the adults are somewhat one-dimensional, they are truly part of the background so that Cat and her contemporaries are allowed to be the story, warts and all. Cat is damaged – that is evident from the beginning – but she is able to overcome her past to find the answers she craves. I do anticipate some criticisms to the character of Robert, an eleven-year-old fetal alcohol victim whose impulsive hyperactivity tends to get him in trouble. To those who don’t think his character is realistic, I would say that I’ve taught several Roberts in my 22 years as a middle school teacher.

There are serious problems in Black Creek – homophobia, meth addiction, alcoholism – and they are not at all trivialized. In fact, one of the many reasons Shine should be a mandatory read is to deter people from trying meth. This is not an easy, pleasant read, but I found myself hiding in my office to finish it this morning.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

School Library Journal's Battle of the Books

Last March I followed SLJ’s Battle of the Books with interest, even though I hadn’t read any of the books. This year I decided to read all 16 books before the battle began and I’m so glad I did. Although a few of the books were on my radar before SLJ chose them, most were not. Out of the 16 there were only two that I didn’t really care for, and there were several that I loved but would have never read had it not been for the list.

Which were my favorites? I loved The Ring of Solomon and would have never thought to have read it. I also loved Sugar Changed the World, They Called Themselves the KKK, The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie, A Tale Dark and Grimm and Dreamer. I really think One Crazy Summer will win and it is a superb book, but The Ring of Solomon has my heart and I would love to be surprised.

It will be interesting to see how the judges vote. The actual competition begins on March 14 – and I can’t wait to see who will win each round.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dirty Little Secrets

Dirty Little Secrets

C.J. Omololu

Lucy guesses she loved her mom, at least mom she used not have – not the mom who has verbally abused her over the years and whose hoarding has made Lucy’s home a place of shame and embarrassment where at her old school the kids call Lucy Garbage Girl. But Lucy has been able to start over at the public high school where she has a best friend and nobody knows her secret. Now Lucy has found her mom dead in the midst of all the junk she has hoarded over the years. She doesn’t call for help. Afterall, “the paramedics couldn’t help someone who’d had their head cut off or had been shot straight through the heart – or had died under a six-foot-tall stack of National Geographics.” (p. 32) And that’s exactly what has happened. Nadine has had an asthma attack and literally died under the piles. The natural thing is to call 911, but if Lucy does that there’s no way her secret won’t get in the news for all to see. So Lucy decides the only way to fix everything is to solve the problem herself – and her solution is drastic, to say the least.

For the most part I enjoyed this one. I must admit there were times that I had to just put the book down because Lucy's pain as she is dealing with a situation that seems insurmountable was just too much. I think this will be a hit with my older girls.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

They Call Themselves the KKK

They Call Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group
Susan Campbell Bartoletti

I read this because it was part of School Library Journal's Battle of the Books. It covers the K.K.K. from its birth around the end of the Civil War until the end of Reconstruction, when (at least outwardly) Klan activities diminished, only to return in the early 20th century.

Bartoletti does an excellent job of showing the horrors of the early Klan and explaining how both the whites and the blacks felt intimidated by each other. Complete social change is difficult, and Reconstruction's effort to create equality for all ultimately fails.

I found this book to be fascinating. It is difficult to read in some spots, because Bartoletti doesn't pull any punches when it comes to relating the horrors of the acts committed by the Klan. I really appreciated her use of primary source accounts of both African-Americans and Klansmen.

Is this a book for everyone? Probably not. It is definitely of interest to those of us who live in the South, but I"m not sure how much relevance it would have to people from other regions of the United States (I'd love to know other's opinions about that)

Sunday, January 2, 2011



Jonathan Friesen

There are two things that make Jake King feel alive: his next-door neighbor Salome and the dangerous stunts he pulls to get an adrenaline rush. He’s managed to get kicked out of high school because of one of his stunts and now his father (who owns the mill in the small California town) has pulled some strings to get him a place on the team of firefighters who rappel from helicopters in the midst of forest fires. It’s the best rush of all, but Jake soon realizes that the leader of the group, Mox, is dangerous. Mox has created a secret club called the Immortals and in order to be a member you must pass an initiation rite, stunts that can easily get you killed, and that has killed many of the young firefighters who have attempted the rite before Jake.

I’m not real sure what to say about this one. I picked it up because I always need more “boy books” in my booktalking repertoire and this certainly qualified. I found it jumpy in places – Friesen doesn’t always explain things as well as I would like. I cannot help but wonder if that’s because it is a book geared towards guys and I’m fonder of the descriptive style used more commonly with girl books. I’d like to hand this one to some of my 8th graders and see if they found the beginning as confusing as I did and if they liked Friesen’s writing style.

The copy of Rush that I used from this review came from my school library.