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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Written in Stone, Rosanne Parry

From the Publisher: Rosanne Parry author of Heart of a Shepherd, shines a light on Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s, a time of critical cultural upheaval.

Pearl has always dreamed of hunting whales, just like her father. Of taking to the sea in their eight-man canoe, standing at the prow with a harpoon, and waiting for a whale to lift its barnacle-speckled head as it offers its life for the life of the tribe. But now that can never be. Pearl's father was lost on the last hunt, and the whales hide from the great steam-powered ships carrying harpoon cannons, which harvest not one but dozens of whales from the ocean. With the whales gone, Pearl's people, the Makah, struggle to survive as Pearl searches for ways to preserve their stories and skills.

I read an e-ARC of this title

Strengths: Excellent cultural information about the Makah Indians, strong character development, good suspense, good action.  I really enjoyed this story and there is such a need for good Native American literature that I'm extremely pleased to ahve this book. The book also has a downloadable curriculum packet developed by the good folks at Random House.

Weaknesses: This is not a weakness of the book, but unfortunately students in my district study Native Americans a third grade and for most of those students this book will not work for them.  Perhaps as a read-aloud it could work, but even still I think it would be better at a fifth grade level or up.

Touch, Kim Firston

Touch by Kim Firston

From the Publisher: Ethan has the perfect plan to impress his dad -- a "white-hat" hacker who works in IT security. He'll hack into the high school's computer system and release a relatively harmless virus created from an old modified code of his dad's. Ethan knows his dad will recognize him as the mastermind when it hits the evening news. Unfortunately for Ethan, when the segment does air, Dad misses it -- all his attention is on troubled stepsister Haley.
Ethan launches a full out battle for attention, only to find out that the fight has been one-sided when Haley accuses his dad of molesting her. Ethan refuses to believe the allegations against his dad are true, until he hacks into an old computer of his dad's and makes a startling discovery. Ethan has strived his whole life to be just like his dad, but when this dark secret comes to light, he doesn't know what kind of person that makes him.

I read an e-ARC of this title.

Strengths: This is part of part of Lorimer's SideStreets collection written for older struggling readers, so the storylines are for older kids but the writing level is lower so they're more accessible.  This book had lots of action and plenty of suspense and I think it will appeal to the target group. The length is also good for struggling readers.  It's just 152 pages. The technology thread at the beginning of the story will definitely appeal to techy, gadget obsessed readers. The behavior of the Haley rang true for many girls in her situation.

Weaknesses: I felt this this story tried to do too many things and consequently, didn't do any of them real justice. I also felt many things that happened in the story were implausible. However, my thoughts as an adult may be markedly different than those of the target group. I also didn't feel that the reading level as quite as low as the publisher suggested, as some of the vocabulary was fairly high.

Recommended for mature but struggling middle school readers and struggling high school readers.

SYNC audiobook title #1 Of Poseidon

Seriously cool offer of free audiobooks being offered all summer!  Take advantage of this!!  There are so many great titles on the list.  You can sign up for text alerts or emails notifying you when the downloads are available, too.  Two books every week!!!!!! (Can you tell I'm a little excited about this?!)

I downloaded my first two books last week and already finished one of the books, Of Poseidon by Anna Banks

Notes: Galen, the prince of Syrnea, is sent to land to find a girl who communicate with fish. He finds Emma and after several encounters, including a deadly one with a shark, Galen becomes convinced Emma holds the key to his kingdom.

Strengths: FREE!  If you're not doing this free download thing, why the heck not?  It's awesome.  OK, now, about the strengths of the book. Good romance story, although predictable.  Hey, I'm not above a little predictability. Enough suspense to keep it moving.  It's about mermaids, or, excuse, me, Syrena.  Why I'm a big fan of mermaid stories I don't know, but I just am.  Also, it's funny, and I like funny stories. I also like paranormal that's not too dark. This fits.

Weaknesses: A little overwritten in the mermaid cliche sense. Too many mermaid metaphors and the like. Clearly set up for a sequel.  Does everything have to be a sequel these days?  Seriously.

Adult Book Club titles Wild, Cheryl Strayed and Gone Girl, Gilian Flynn

From the Publisher:
A Best Nonfiction Book of 2012: The Boston GlobeEntertainment WeeklyA Best Book of the Year: NPR, St. Louis Dispatch, Vogue

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Strengths: An utterly compelling story of a woman who was clearly struggling and managed to overcome some serious obstacles in life. I really enjoyed the story in this book. This was probably the best book club discussion we've had in our five or so years of meeting. It was fantastic.

Weaknesses: I wanted to bat her over the head many times during the reading for being such a ding-dong (again, that's me judging the character, not really the book). The writing was not particularly strong, but the storyline overcame it.

From the Publisher:
Marriage can be a real killer.
One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribuneproclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

Strengths: I repeatedly had no idea what was coming in this book and definitely was drawn into the story. Made a great book club discussion book!

Weaknesses: By the end, it had all become too unbelievable.  My suspension of disbelief snapped about 3/4 of the way in.  I still finished it, but I was over it.

How to Save a Life, Sara Zarr

Oh Sara Zarr, how I do love thee...

From the Publisher: Jill MacSweeny just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she's been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends--everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she's somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one. Mandy Kalinowski understands what it's like to grow up unwanted--to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she's sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It's harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too? As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy--or as difficult--as it seems. Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about the many roads that can lead us home.

Strengths:  Last summer I listened to Sara Zarr's Once was Lost and I was completely sucked in by that book.  So much so that I can still remember it a year later.  This is the same experience I had with How to Save a Life. I had to know what was going to happen next and I continually waned to get in the car to listen to the next installment.  Normally, I am not a big fan of the car.  And when you are responsible for 16 libraries, this can be a problem...I really liked the character development in this story.

Weaknesses: Not entirely a weakness, but I am sometimes frustrated with alternating voice stories because they can be jarring.  I'm rolling along with a character and then, bam! I've dropped one story line and am on to the other. Once I get into a groove with a story and become used to the alternating voices, I'm usually fine, as was the case with this story.  I wonder, however, if it might turn off some readers before they get into that groove. I was not a huge fan of the ending of this story, either.  It seemed a little too pat. It was certainly a best case scenario, but too unlikely I thought.

Recommended for 8th grade and up.

All You Could Ask For, Mike Greenberg

From the Publisher:
All You Could Ask For, debut novel by Mike Greenberg, cohost of ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning, is a tender and insightful story of friendship and love, heartbreak and renewal, played out in the lives of three unforgettable women.
Brooke has been happily married to her college sweetheart for fifteen years. Even after the C-section, the dog poop, the stomach viruses and the coffee breath, Scott always winks at her in just the right moments. That is why, for her beloved, romantic, successful husband's fortieth birthday, she is giving him pictures. Of herself. Naked.
Newlywed Samantha learns of her husband's cheating heart when she finds the goods on his computer.
High-powered career woman Katherine works with heartbreaker Phillip, the man who hurt her early on in her career.
Brooke, Samantha, and Katherine don't know each other, but their stories are about to intertwine in ways no one could have imagined.
And all three are about to discover the power of friendship to conquer adversity, the satisfaction of unexpected delights, the incredible difference one human being can have on other lives--and that they have all they could ask for, as long as they have each other.

I really enjoyed this book that begins with the stories of three disparate women and brings them together in a remarkable way. I thought it was really well done.  Funny and serious, heartbreaking and hopeful.

Strengths: The man who wrote this captured women's voices incredibly well.  The character development was strong, and I appreciated that we knew each of the characters well individually before they crossed paths. The author was able to infuse the story with humor even when discussing difficult situations, which is what real life is like often. The topic was very timely for me, as I've had several friends diagnosed with breast cancer in the last year.

**spoiler alert**

Weaknesses: I know that in the situations I've seen, my friends have relied heavily on their partner for strength, compassion, clarity, and courage over the course of their diagnosis and treatment, and that ultimately, that's brought them closer together.  I can't imagine how the one character in this story who did not ever tell her husband was able to hold it together, and I am unsure it's realistic.  How could you hold all that in?  It's so big. I also don't think it's a good idea. I am probably, however, being Pollyanna.  People hide things from their spouses all the time, although I'm not one of them and can't imagine even trying.  Even though I felt it was a weakness, I think it was more me being judgmental of the character than of the writing or the story itself.

Sweet Hereafter, Angela Johnson

From the Publisher: SHOOGY DOESN'T KNOW WHERE SHE belongs. Since she moved to Heaven, she can count on one hand the number of people she can depend on. Her family doesn't understand her, and school isn't working out. In Curtis she finds someone with a similar habit of wanting to be alone -- and so they spend time alone together. As their relationship matures, Curtis has to deal with the real demons of his experience in Iraq, and Shoogy must come to terms with what it means to truly care about -- and lose -- someone. Angela Johnson tackles her most difficult subject yet in this heartrending look at the far-reaching effects of war and the possibilities it destroys.

Strengths: Angela Johnson is a terrific writer who generally develops strong characters. This book finishes the trilogy that began with Heaven, and continued in The First Part Last, one of my favorite YA books of all time. This story deals with the Iraq war and its effects on young veterans. This is an important topic not addressed in many YA novels.

Weaknesses: I felt like I was unclear on what was happening during a lot of this story, and I worry that many kids will too.  This book is definitely for more mature readers with strong inference skills.

Second Impact by David Klass and Perri Klass

Second Impact is a novel coming out in August written by David Klass, a YA writer whose work I like very much and his physician sister, Perri Klass.

I read an electronic advanced reader copy of this novel.

From the publisher: Kendall is football town, and Jerry Downing is the high school's star quarterback, working to redeem himself after he nearly killed a girl in a drunk driving accident last year. Carla Jenson, lead reporter for the school newspaper's sports section, has recruited Jerry to co-author a blog chronicling the season from each of their perspectives. When Jerry's best friend on the team takes a hit too hard and gets hurt, Carla wonders publicly if injury in the game comes at too high a cost in a player's life—but not everyone in Kendall wants to hear it...

David Klass and Perri Klass's  Second Impact is an action-packed story will resonate with readers who have been following recent news stories are football injuries.

Strengths: I really enjoyed the use of creative formatting in this book.  Most of the story is told via emails and blog entries. I also appreciated that this book deals with an important and timely issue that more students should be made aware of.

Weaknesses: I didn't feel like some of the things that happened in the story were very realistic as far as the way schools deal with students. I also felt like the students were mature beyond their years and that some of the conversations they had were pretty unlikely.  However, since many high school students do know everything, it is unlikely to phase student readers.

An engaging story recommended for middle school and up.