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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Take Me To The River by Will Hobbs


                Dylan has spent the past few years looking forward to his first trip to Texas to join his uncle and cousin, Rio, on a river trip down the Rio Grande on the border of the United States and Mexico. Practice at summer canoe camps has given him the skills he needs to make the trip – at least, that’s what he and his parents believe.  His trip gets off to a rocky start when no one is waiting to greet him at the bus station and a note from his cousin tells him to hitchhike the rest of the way. When he finally arrives in tiny Terlingua Ghost Town, he discovers that nothing is going according to plan; his uncle has gone to Alaska leaving only Rio to join him on the trip and a hurricane may be headed their way.  The two teens decide to take to the river anyway and find that Mother Nature isn’t the only thing working against them. Already pushed to their limits by the increasingly dangerous hurricane-fueled rapids, their trip takes an even more deadly turn when they find themselves at the mercy of a Mexican gangster on the run from authorities on both sides of the border.  Can the boys protect themselves and the gangster’s other victim, the kidnapped young son of a Mexican judge, from the dangers of both the river and a criminal on the run?

                Take Me to the River is an exciting adventure tale for students from upper elementary age and beyond.  Some students may have difficulty with some of the specific vocabulary within the book dealing with types of rapids and other river features such as eddy or class three, but context clues are provided through much of the text to support students unfamiliar with these terms. Although familiarity with river rafting will add to the reader’s understanding and enjoyment of the story, it is not necessary.  Fans of other wilderness adventures such as Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and Roland Smith’s Storm Runner, as well as Hobb’s other titles will enjoy the action and suspense in Take Me to the River.

Themes: Courage
Friendship
Survival

Age Appropriateness:
10 and up
Areas of concern (content):
Foul Language: mild
Nudity/Adult Content: none
Violence: moderate (shooting, blades)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick


Summary: Rodman Philbrick is one of my favorite YA/Children’s authors.  Freak the Mighty has been a can’t-miss go-to book for me when it comes to reluctant readers for years, so I was excited to see a Philbrick title on this year’s Sunshine State Young Readers list. It’s another winner. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg is definitely a must-read.
Twelve-year-old Homer and his older brother, Harold are orphans being raised by their mean uncle, Squinton Leach in a small town in Maine.  Squint gives them as little as possible while making them both work hard to keep his farm running.  When Homer gets caught eating from the pigs’ scraps, Harold stands up to Squint to protect him and finds himself sold into the army and sent away to fight in the Civil War.
Homer is determined to find Harold and save him from the war.  Harold’s enlistment wasn’t even legal – he isn’t old enough to sign up, and the draft hasn’t officially started yet.  So Homer steals away into the night and his adventures begin.  Along the way, Homer will meet up with bounty-hunters, a kindly abolitionist Quaker, a pair of con-men, and a travelling medicine show.  He goes from being an orphan on the run to “The Amazing Pig Boy” to a suspected spy. But along the way, he never forgets his brother and uses his wits and a lot of luck to keep moving on his quest.
Homer’s journey takes him to the Battle of Gettysburg, but will he be too late to save Harold? 
Themes:
Family
Choices
Freedom
Honesty
War

Age Appropriateness:
11 and up

Areas of concern (content):
Foul Language: none
Nudity/Adult Content: none
Violence: mild


Note:  I have created a novel guide for The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg. It is available on Amazon.com.  Information is below.
Novel Unit for The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg ISBN-13: 978-1478204985
This novel unit contains everything you need to teach the novel
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick.
Includes vocabulary, comprehension and discussion questions for each chapter, vocabulary practice exercises, pre, during, and post reading activities, and essay topics. Also contains tests, additional activity and research activities, a list of suggested further reading (both fiction & nonfiction), and a listing of the 6-12 Common Core Anchor Standards of Language Arts covered in the novel.



Wonderland by Joanna Nadin

Summary: Wonderland by Joanna Nadin left me feeling unsettled, listless, and full of “what if” wonderings. I haven’t read a book that had such an impact on me in a long time.  Although I figured out the twist in the story before it was revealed, it didn’t lessen the impact.  In fact, it was a relief to know I was right.
Jude wants nothing more than to escape the small town where she has grown up, the school where she doesn’t fit in, and the home that is haunted by the ghost of her mother and by her father’s misery. Her only chance is the Lab in London, a prestigious acting school.  But Jude isn’t confident enough to try. 
Until Stella returns.  Stella, Jude’s childhood best friend; the girl who can do and say anything, who is cooler than cool and a force of nature. Stella’s return pushes Jude to try for her goals. But Stella’s influence isn’t all positive.  Soon Jude and Stella are doing all the things that Jude never had the courage to do before; taking on the popular girls at school, flirting with the cutest boys, drinking, smoking,  and more drinking. 
Will Jude have the strength to walk away from Stella?  Is it even possible for Jude to exist without her?  Is Stella all that makes Jude truly alive?
From the prologue, which sets up the novel’s ending, I was hooked.  Why are she & Stella sitting in a car getting ready to roll it off a cliff and into the sea?  Jumping into the first chapter, set three months before the prologue, I was drawn into Jude’s world.  It is not a pretty place.  There are no fairy tales in this story – just a harsh reality that made me sad for Jude  but also hopeful that she can be more than she was, without Stella’s destructive guidance.

Themes:
Choices
Growing Up
Courage
Mental Illness

Age Appropriateness:
15 and up

Areas of concern (content):

Foul Language: moderate
Nudity/Adult Content: moderate
Violence: moderate





Monday, July 9, 2012

A Touch Mortal by Leah Clifford

Summary: A Touch Mortal by Leah Clifford takes paranormal romance in a new direction and I love it.  This is a book that I read and wished I had written myself because there is so much potential for continuing the story of these characters and the world they inhabit. And, to my great joy, it is a series!
Eden is a normal teenage girl, if being ignored by everyone and pondering suicide is normal.  Standing on the beach considering her options, she meets Az.  He sees her like no one else does, and she is immediately drawn into his world. 
Az is attracted to her from the moment he sees her; he is even more intrigued when she is unimpressed by his opening line. It takes almost no time at all until the pair become inseparable, shadowed by Az’s friend Gabe.
But Az & Gabe have a secret. A secret that truly is a matter of life or death for Leah.  And the only way for Eden & Az to truly be together will take Eden in a direction she was already headed.  But can she still love Az after he pushes her over the edge?  Can she trust anyone? And why, even in a world where some suicides have seemingly eternal life, is she different in a terrifying way?
Wow.  Really, wow.  It was so hard to write a good summery of this book without giving away the awesome twists and surprises within! My paragraphs do not do it justice – but I don’t want to ruin it.  I must get the next in the series!
Themes:
Death
Grief
Love
Courage
Betrayal

Age Appropriateness:

14 and up

Areas of concern (content):

Foul Language: mild
Nudity/Adult Content: mild
Violence: moderate





Dark Souls by Paula Morris

Summary: Dark Souls by Paula Morris (author of Ruined) is another great addition to my collection of mysterious and slightly creepy teen novels.
Miranda and her family, including her older brother Rob, are visiting York, England during winter break.  For their parents, it is a working vacation; their mother is conducting a musical performance at the local cathedral while their father is presenting at a historical conference.  But there is another motive for this family vacation; getting Rob & Miranda away from home and the bad memories of a fatal accident that loom over them there.
Miranda is glad for the chance to get away from the stares, the whispers, and the guilt.  Wandering the streets of York is new and exciting – and becomes even more so when she meets Nick, a boy about her age who knows all the secrets of the town.  Even better, Nick & Miranda have something in common – they can both see ghosts, and York is full of them.
One of these ghosts lives just across the street from where Miranda is staying.  She is fascinated with this handsome face that peers out to window and seems to reach out to her, trying to tell her a secret.
Rob also finds a distraction. Sally’s family owns a local pub.  She doesn’t know that Rob is still reeling from a tragedy.  He likes that she just sees him – no past baggage involved.  When somebody targets Sally’s family pub, he is determined to help at any cost.
Miranda and Rob have to overcome their individual issues to save Sally’s family business and themselves in this fast-moving and suspenseful novel.  I loved Ruined and I think Dark Souls  is just as good, possible better.  A worthy lazy summer read! (Or a great by-the-fire winter one!)
Themes:
Family
Death
Grief
Courage

Age Appropriateness:

12 and up

Areas of concern (content):

Foul Language: none
Nudity/Adult Content: mild
Violence: mild


Friday, June 29, 2012

The Siren Song by Anne Ursu

What do you get when you mix Rick Riordan with Lemony Snicket? Anne Ursu’s wonderful but sadly overlooked Cronus Chronicles Series! Mythology in the modern world with witty asides and laugh-out-loud wordplay makes this series fun and engaging, perfect for advanced readers.
Summary: The Siren Song is the second book in the Cronus Chronicles series by Anne Ursu.  In the first book, The Shadow Thieves, Charlotte & her cousin, Zee, find themselves travelling to the Underworld to save humanity from a demigod, Philonecron, who wants to rule the world and is building an army of shadows to accomplish his goal. 
In The Siren Song, the pair have returned safely home, but not to a heroes’ welcome.  After all, they can’t just tell everyone that the Greek gods are real.  So Charlotte is grounded – “ultramegagrounded,” actually, while Zee’s parents are treating him as if he might break. 
You would think that being under the constant watch of her parents would guarantee Charlotte some peace and quiet.  Unfortunately, Philonecron wants revenge on the mortal children who stopped his plans for world domination, and he has found the perfect way to get it – ask his grandfather, Poseidon, for help. 
And so, Charlotte finds herself fighting against the (second) most powerful god of the Greek pantheon on his own turf.  But she also finds allies, including a giant squid who used to be a British gentleman.  The one ally she needs most, Zee, is dealing with his own problems, including being kidnapped.  Can these two mere mortals defeat Poseidon and his minions, or are they and those they love doomed?
Themes:
Family
Friendship
Courage

Age Appropriateness:

10 and up

Areas of concern (content):

Foul Language: none
Nudity/Adult Content: none
Violence: mild


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Summary: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is one of the 2012-2013 Sunshine State Books in Florida.  I originally read it when it first came out in hardback, as I am a huge fan of Gaiman’s work.  I picked it up again to re-read after the Sunshine State book list came out, and loved it just as much the second time around.
On a dark misty night, a man moves soundlessly through a house leaving a trail of death behind him.  A man, a woman, a little girl; all left motionless in his wake.  But somehow, by some twist of fate, a baby escapes and ends up in a nearby graveyard, where the resident ghosts take on the task of raising him and keeping him safe.
Thus begins the story of Nobody Owens, an orphan raised within the safety of the graveyard by the deceased, with help from his guardian, Silas, who is neither living nor dead. Nobody’s education consists of more than reading and writing; he must also learn to Fade, disappearing from the sight of the living.  His friends range from colonial children to a young witch, and his teachers have centuries of knowledge to share.  Unfortunately, none of it is from the current century.
Despite their best efforts, his ghostly parents and protectors cannot keep him safe forever.  Nobody longs to see the world outside the graveyard, even if it means drawing the attention of the man who killed his family; the man who is still looking to kill him as well.
The Graveyard Book is full of action and introspection.  Nobody is a character that I quickly became attached to, even when he was acting childish (he is, after all, a child) and making the wrong choices.  The end of the book is satisfying, but also makes me wonder… the perfect combination for me as a reader.
Themes:
Family
Friendship
Coming-of-Age
Safety

Age Appropriateness:
12 and up

Areas of concern (content):

Foul Language: none
Nudity/Adult Content: none
Violence: moderate
Bloggers note:  I have created a novel guide for The Graveyard Book which includes comprehension and extension/discussion questions, vocabulary, test questions, essay prompts, and other activities.  It can be purchased on Amazon  or through CreateSpace.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Summary: The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson really struck a chord with me for a couple of reasons: I could truly see such a situation happening in the real world, and I have seen how quickly my students this past year got caught up in every passing cause du jour (Kony 2012, anyone?). That said, this is a book I would recommend to many of my students, because it has a great plot, a strong lead character, and a great message.


Asha Jamison and her best friend Carey want to raise money to pay for a trip to London when they graduate from high school. To make matters more complicated, they need to do it without their parents’ knowledge, because they know they’ll never be allowed to go and the money will go toward college instead. What are a couple of girls to do?

The pair gets an idea that mixes their love of coffee with their frustration at a society that forces them to check a single box to define who they are. How can a girl like Asha choose ONE box to sum up her family when she’s part Irish, part Hispanic, and part Indian? In that moment, the Latte Rebellion is born: T-shirts are a great way to make money, and there are lots of other people at their school who don’t fit into the either/or category. T-shirts to celebrate all the different shades of brown that come from the mixing of cultures – a quick and low effort money maker!

But their cause spreads faster than they had ever imagined! Latte Rebellion chapters spring up all over the nation, in high schools and colleges. More web sites pop up supporting the cause, and with the attention comes violence and backlash. Can friendship survive the fallout of a viral phenomenon? Can Asha’s grades survive the time that the Rebellion is sucking up? And will she be able to finish her senior year, or will the Latte Rebellion get her expelled?

A great story about what happens when a great idea gains a life of its own, and how one girl steps up to take her own life back in the aftermath. Asha is a great character who is stands up for what she believes in, even when the consequences could truly crush her dreams.

Themes:
Individuality
Choices
Friendship
Coming-of-Age

Age Appropriateness:
13 and up


Areas of concern (content):
Foul Language: mild
Nudity/Adult Content: mild
Violence: mild

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Storm Runners series by Roland Smith

Summary: Storm Runners by Roland Smith is a trilogy of books about a boy named Chase Masters who, along with his father, is a storm runner. They travel across the country to areas where natural disasters have hit (or are expected to) and help rebuild in the aftermath (for a fee, of course.)


Chase’s life changed when his mother & sister dies in an accident. Not too long after, his father was struck by lightning, giving him a new focus on life – storm running. But when they pull into the winter home of the Rossi Brothers Circus in Florida just ahead of Hurricane Emily, they have no idea the new challenges that they will face. Besides the usual high winds and flooding, there will be escaped exotic animals, a pregnant elephant, and a flirtatious news anchor.

The trilogy flows beautifully, with all three books forming a complete story that is broken nicely into each of the books. In each separate offering, Chase & his father face a big challenge that must be overcome (survived). In the process, they become part of a different sort of family, a family they are willing to risk everything for.

The series:
Storm Runners
Storm Runners: The Surge
Storm Runners: Eruption

Themes:
Courage
Survival
Friendship
Family

Age Appropriateness:
11 and up

Areas of concern (content):
Foul Language: none
Nudity/Adult Content: none
Violence: moderate

Monday, May 28, 2012

Delirium by Lauran Oliver

Dystopia – it’s what’s hot. There is so much YA dystopian lit out right now that it almost seems unavoidable. I know – I’ve read a lot of it. And I’ve loved much of it, but I’ve been a fan of dystopian lit since I read Brave New World in high school. So now the question when I read another entry into the genre is this: what makes this title different?


Summary: Delirium by Lauren Oliver asks the question: What if love were curable? Would you choose to live without it?

Lena has always lived in fear of it; love killed her mother and made her an orphan. If not for her aunt & uncle taking her in, she and her older sister would have ended up working in a state-run orphanage with no chance of ever making a good pair. Amor deliria nervosa is the most dangerous of diseases and all adults are surgically cured to prevent its spread.

Lena has looked forward to her procedure for years; looked forward to the time when the sadness of the past will fade away and she will lead a comfortable life, paired with an acceptable man to spend the rest of her life with. Living without love means living without pain and sadness, living in a safe, protected world where she can fit in.

With only days left until she will be forever free from fear of the disease, Lena meets Alex. He is different – he makes her feel things she has been warned against feeling. He has infected her with the delirium. Will she reject all she has been taught to keep the happiness she has found with Alex? Will she fall victim to love, the deadliest disease of all?

Although Delirium feels slightly like some of the other dystopian books I've read (the Uglies series was the first that popped into my mind), it is different enough to be intriguing and manages to stay unpredictable in its twists and turns.  I was rooting for Lena and Alex, even though I knew their story probably wouldn't end well. 

Themes:
Coming-of-Age
Being Yourself
Freedom
Love

Age Appropriateness:
14 and up

Areas of concern (content):
Foul Language: mild
Nudity/Adult Content: mild
Violence: moderate