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Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Night My Sister Went Missing - Carol Plum-Ucci

If you've read anything by Plum-Ucci before, I'll bet you're hooked on her; she's an amazing writer with an incredible gift for suspense and making the reader think through the possibilities. But she normally kind of still leaves you hanging at the end of her books. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but it does drive ya a little nuts. Knowing this, I was ready for the same kind of book, and in some respects it is like her others, the suspense is amazing, but in the end she solves the problem which I was pleasantly surprised by. This story takes place almost entirely in one night, when Kurt Carmody and his sister Casey are out on a pier in New Jersey with a bunch of friends (where none of them, of course, are supposed to be) and a gunshot rings out. Casey disappears into the water, and she never comes up. Kurt, of course, blames himself for even letting her go up there, let alone passing around the little gun like everyone else did instead of throwing it right off the pier.

Kurt spends this night in the police station because they won't let him go anywhere else ( his parents are out of town for the weekend) and while there he and a friend spy on the questioning of the other kids who were there, most of whom seem to be pointing a finger at Stacy Kearny, a rich girl who lives on the island who was, in fact, the owner of the now missing gun. No one seems to know why she bought the gun, and this is one of the mysteries that unfolds throughout the book, adding an interesting plot twist. Plum-Ucci has a way of using this topic of a missing person (she's done it in all of her novels I think) to write about how teens treat one another in a way that gets readers to really think about things like prejudice, loyalty and cruelty. I think she's hoping that maybe some kids who read her books won't make the same mistakes the characters in her novels do.

I don't think this is her best novel, for that you should try What Happened to Lani Garver, but it's definitely a good read and I'll be ordering it for our library to go with the rest of her novels very soon.

Amazing Grace - Megan Shull

I have never heard of this author before, although she does have a few other YA books - I picked this book by the cover. For one thing it has a girl holding a giant snowball in front of her head and I'm in a snow mood. And for another thing, it said, "A chick-lit grand slam" on the cover. I had to get it. Now imagine this....You're a teenage millionaire (you earned about 33.3 million last year), you're on the cover of Teen People and Sports Illustrated, you have a Kate Spade bag and your own cosmetics line, etc. Would you like to be in those shoes? Well Grace "Ace" Kincaid, is tired of those tennis shoes. The pressure of being a teen superstar tennis player has pushed her over the top, so she calls her mother sobbing and says the three words her mother told her she could say to end it anytime. But what now...

Now Grace has to disappear if she wants any peace at all, and this will not be easy because the paparazzi follow this beauty everywhere. With the help of a former FBI agent, her surgeon mother and her HUGE bodyguard T, she undergoes a transformation including a major haircut, a RED dye job and a nose ring (which she has always wanted) so she can make her escape. And escape she does, all the way up to Medicine Hat, Alaska, population 813 (+ a bunch of moose). There she changes her name (on the off chance that someone there might have heard of her, although it's not that likely) and actually manages to be a regular girl. Of course, not all regular girls have a bicycle accident involving a moose or live in a house with no indoor plumbing and only a cold water outdoor shower, but still.

And then there's Teague, adorable boy who rescues her from the whole moose incident and immediately falls head over heels in love with her, as she does with him. This is a funny, interesting, feel good story with enough depth to keep it interesting. If you like Chick-lit, you'll definitely like this one.

Side Effects - Amy Goldman Koss

This is a really great book by the author of The Girls about a 14 year old girl who is diagnosed with lymphoma (a kind of cancer) and everything she has to go through with treatment and school and how other people react to her now and just a whole lot of the not so wonderful stuff that happens to you when you get cancer. BUT, what's really great about this particular cancer story is that Izzy LIVES. Most books about kids with cancer the character dies, and that does happen to some kids who get cancer, but a whole lot of kids who get cancer go on to live really great, cancer-free lives, and I wish more authors would show that side. In fact, that's why Amy Goldman Koss actually wrote this book. Someone she knew had cancer, and in trying to find a book for this person, she could only find ones where the patient died, so she set out to write a different kind of story.

I also enjoyed this book because even though Izzy is going through a lot of horrible stuff, for the most part she maintains a wry sense of humor about things, and is very witty, so it isn't a really depressing read. I also enjoyed how she used art through a lot of the story to get her through the rough parts. Art is a really great outlet for stress - a nice little by-product lesson in the story.

Anyone who reads this book will learn a lot about cancer and a lot about how people with cancer feel about what's going on with them and about how they feel about the reactions of others. This book helps create empathy, and any book that does that is a winner for me. We don't have Side Effects in the WOMS library yet, but it is definitely going on my order list, so look for it soon!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

In the Belly of the Bloodhound - L.A. Meyer

I took a break from YA lit and read a few adult novels, but I really have been waiting for this 4th book in the Jacky Faber series, so I moved it to the top of my list, and it was quite a fun read, "being a particularly peculiar adventure in the life of Jacky Faber." And I for one am glad it is clearly not to be the last, based on the final line of the novel! Jacky Faber is a girl who has made a life as a sailor with all kinds of wild pirate adventures in her past, but who returns in this novel to Boston to the Lawson Peabody School for Girls intent on behaving herself and settling down (and since the British government wants her head, this is probably a wise choice). Difficult as it is for her adventuring soul, Jacky manages to actually follow her plan of behaving herself while in Boston, and the crazy predicament in which she and the other girls find themselves is, for once, no fault of her own. You see, the girls of Lawson Peabody are all kidnapped and thrown into the hold of the ship the Bloodhound, where they are bound for North Africa to be sold as slaves or worse!

It's quite a dramatic situation, and Jacky, being the only one who's really had any even remotely similar experience takes charge. She gets the girls organized and creates a dramatic plan for their escape which requires a lot of steps to be completed before it can become a reality. There is quite a lot of drama and suspense created during the course of the voyage, and all does not go smoothly, for what would be the fun in reading that? There is quite a lot of humor weaved into the story as well, so you can also relax at some times. There are lots of references to the previous stories, enough to fill you in if you haven't read them, but I think you will wonder about the details and want to read the others if you haven't already. A fun, fun series.

These books being about a young woman who's spent her fair share of time amongst pirates and sailors, does have some bad language in it, so you should make sure that's ok with your parents before you choose to read it.

We don't have this book in the WOMS library right now because it's so new, but you can get it at the Multnomah County Public Library.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Specials, Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, and Eagle Blue

Well, so far I've read three books over the break, at least one of which was not on my list...

Specials - this is the third book in the Scott Westerfeld trilogy which at one point I just wanted to throw out the window. I had had enough of Tally and her bubbly bad choices. She was NOT the character I wanted her to be, and I was getting tired of her. That sometimes happens to me when I read a bunch of books in a series in succession. BUT, I have to say, Tally was redeemed for me in the end, and I was so glad I stuck with it. Really glad. It didn't turn out like I expected, but it was good. I'm kind of thinking there might be a companion novel in the future, but well have to wait and see. I definitely recommend reading all three of these books. Scott Westerfeld really did a nice job tying them all together and up.

Next on my list was Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler which I bought for the library after reading about it in one of my reviewing journals. It's a great read. It's one of those books where one chapter is told from a girl's point of view (Calliope, or Cal) and the next is told from the boy's (Eliot). Both of these kids have a lot going on with their parents - Cal seems to be more of a grown-up than her mom a lot of the time and Eliot's parents are having difficulties in their marriage - and they find each other just at the time when they both really need a friend. Of course if you go around with green lips, which Eliot had when he first met Cal, it might explain WHY you need a friend...Most of the time Eliot seems WAY more mature than most high school guys, more mature than half the adult guys I know, actually, and Cal's mom's solution to their problems in the end is a bit unbelievable, but overall it's a story that deals with a lot of real issues in a not too heavy way, interspersing a lot of humor into the story. I liked this book a lot and I'd recommend it to 7th and 8th graders especially.

The third book I read is a fabulous non-fiction piece called Eagle Blue by Michael D'Orso. This is a sports story, but it's also a story of a culture, a land, a people. Michael D'Orso spent several months up in Fort Yukon, Alaska (a few hundred miles north of Fairbanks), following a high school basketball team from their opening practice of the season all the way through the state championship games. It's a fascinating look at a place most of us will never even visit, let alone live. A place where there are only 32 kids in the whole high school, and 21 of them play basketball. A place where the temperature is below freezing for months at a time and it's dark nearly all day in the winter. Spending so much time with this team, D'Orso was really able to capture this small community and does a remarkable job of making these people come alive. There are lots of cultural insights to the native way of life in this small community, both good and bad. And the writing about basketball is really exciting. He gives just enough play by play to keep it interesting but not enough so that you want to skip theses sections. Of course it helps that many of Fort Yukon's games are really exciting. Gregory Lum, the Jesuit High librarian recommended this book to me, and it is really excellent, so now I'm recommending it to you. This is non-fiction, so it's a more challenging reading level than many fiction books, but it is not yet lexiled. I'm planning to get this book for our library soon, but in the meantime you can find it at the Multnomah County Library.

Three down, three hundred to go...

Friday, December 15, 2006

My Vacation Reading List

So here are the books on my list...tell me what's on yours

Specials - Scott Westerfeld
Grab On To Me Tightly As If I Knew the Way - Bryan Charles (voted one of the 10 best novels by a new author)
A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl - Tanya Lee Stone
For King and Country - Kate Sedley
The Night My Sister Went Missing - Carol Plum-Ucci (the newest by one of my fave YA authors)
The Lizard's Bite - David Hewson
I'm Your Girl - J.J. Murray
13 Little Blue Envelopes - Johnson (I keep hearing about this one)
In the Belly of the Bloodhound - L.A. Meyer (I've been WAITING for this newest Bloody Jack book!)
Assassin - The Lady Grace Mysteries - Patricia Finney writing as Grace Cavendish
Ella Mental and the Good Sense Guide - Amber Deckers
Amazing Grace - Megan Shull
Side Effects - Amy Goldman Koss
Things Hoped For - Andrew Clements

Phew - Looks like I'll be busy. Make a guess as to how many I actually get through, and if you're right, you'll get a prize. Pick the actual titles I'm going to finish and you'll get two prizes.

Alphabet of Dreams - Susan Fletcher

We are SO lucky in Oregon to have many great authors in our midst, and one of my favorites is Susan Fletcher. Alphabet of Dreams, her most recent novel, is, I think, on of her most finely crafted. It is a beautifully written, rich story which re-tells in a new way, the New Testament tale of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. The story is told from the point of view of a teenage girl, Mitra, who, along with her brother, five-year-old Babak, is traveling with one, then two, then three of the Wise Men who are following the tale they see in the night sky (two bright stars, together, apart, together, apart, together, apart) to witness the birth of a king. Babak is a central figure in the plot as he has the gift of dreaming for people dreams that portend the future and the wise men use his gift to help guide them. But the dreams he gives them suck the life-force from him, and it is all Mitra can do some days to keep him alive.

As I have said over and over in my booktalks, every journey tale is filled with obstacles to overcome, and this story fits that exactly. The tale is full of adventure and suspense, often the result bad choices made by young people who let hopes and dreams instead of common sense guide them. Mitra and Babak come from royal lineage, but their father tried to overthrow the king, and so they have all been banished from his kingdom. Mitra and Babak have been separated from everyone else in their family, and it is Mitra's greatest wish to be reunited with them and she will do nearly anything to get that. In her coming-of-age through the story, she learns that perhaps she has given up more than it was worth in this quest.

This is a beautifully told tale, woven together with cultural insights, highly developed characters, lyrical language and a mythical story that has lasted for 2000 years. I listened to it read by a Middle Eastern woman, and I think that added an additional layer of enjoyment for me, but this is an extraordinary piece of writing I would definitely recommend on paper or in your ears.


Specials - Scott Westerfeld

I was so happy that Mrs. Volz bought me this book for my birthday, because by the end of Uglies I was going crazy to know what would happen next. That seems to be happening for almost everyone who's reading Uglies. MUST READ THE SEQUEL. Mrs. Schroeder even came down and pilfered it out of the holds box, and now Mr. O'Sullivan is hounding Ms. Johnston to hurry up and finish already so he can have it.

I could NOT figure out what was going to happen at the end of Uglies to lead to this sequel, Pretties, and I will say I was definitely surprised at how it came about, but if it had to happen, this was for all the right reasons. In theory. Unfortunately, as often is the case, the theory didn't quite pan out the way it was planned by Tally, David and the rest. It did lead to a LOT of suspense, though, and it was much harder to put down this installment of the trilogy than Uglies was for me. It was high tension all the way. What about pushed me over the edge was the bubbly speak in this book. Drive a person crazy. It's the Valley Girl phenomenon all over again. Very in character with the empty headed pretties, but very nuts-making (that's a little inside joke for you readers of the novel). Can't say too much about this story because I'm afraid I'd give it away.

I've actually moved on to Specials, book three in the trilogy, and I have to say, Tally is really not my favorite right now. She is making a LOT of bad choices and really isn't behaving like who I thought she was. Could it be new lesions???

Monday, December 11, 2006

Another Book Blog to Check Out

Cascade Middle School in Bend also has a blog about books. Their blog is all about YRCA books, so go take a look. You can also comment on those books. Let me know here if you do that!


Monday, December 04, 2006

Uglies - Scott Westerfeld (post #2)

OK, I cannot write much about this until book club is over, but let's just say there are a lot of people talking about what a fabulous story this is and who are dying to read Pretties, the next installment, including me! Mrs. Schroeder even came in and stole a copy right out of the hold box because she just can't wait! I have a feeling I'd better stock up on those when I go to the Scholastic sale this week. About 30 kids came to book club last week along with several teachers and even one parent! It's so fun to have people reading something together an spending time talking about it. I am really enjoying it. Next meeting is tomorrow - I am looking forward to hearing what people have to say about Peris, Tally, Shay, and so much more.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Scary Beautiful - Niki Burnham

I found a copy of one of Niki Burnham's books lying around school last year, Royally Jacked, so I read it, and I really liked her. Afterward I read Spin Control which was also good, although not as good as the first (have you noticed this theme running through my reviews?). Mostly I'd say these romantic comedies are girly books, so guys, you might just want to go to another post now. Sorry.

Scary Beautiful is another romantic comedy about Chloe, the girl described in the title by her ex-boyfriend. Now why would your boyfriend, of all people, say you were SCARY beautiful? I dunno, might have been a clue, do you think? Actually, though, he did seem like a pretty decent guy....right up until he dumped her at the airport that is. So now she's facing a year without a boyfriend, a situation she hasn't been in for a long time, and that's really much more scary. Chloe discovers that it seems like being really beautiful is strike against you, particularly for other girls. All the girls around her, even some of her best friends, become very insecure and, therefore, pretty nasty to her. But there's no reason for it on Chloe's side, she's the same person she's always been, and it's really hard for her to figure it all out.

It's also a little hard for her to figure out how she can be falling for WAY nerdy book-boy, taking physics OF HIS OWN FREE WILL Billy. OK, granted, he is really, really cute behind those glasses, but still. Now being someone who has fallen for a nerd herself (oh, it's true, and he even knows it), they have some things to recommend them. Like they can actually carry on a conversation. They think about other people. And, they can help you figure some stuff out. I'd highly recommend the nerdy ones.

I really liked how this book turned out - and I really should have started reading earlier last night because I had to stay up way too late to finish it. Maybe a nap is in order this afternoon?

This book does have some swearing in it, so before you read it, you need to be sure that your parents would be okay with that. If they're not, choose something else. There are lots of great books out there! This book is available at Multnomah County Library.