Tuesday, May 29, 2012

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy is one of those books that could easily be someone's favorite. It's cover is cute, entertaining and appealing to tweens (it's target audience) and its title is fantastic. It's insides are just as appealing, a speech and debater (seriously, first book I've read about one of my favorite extra-curriculars) who is Jewish must hide her identity to attend an all Christian speech and debate camp. It tackles the issues of race and religion and honesty...or does it?

And, that's were this book kind of leaves me, well, a little peeved. Ellie has been raised by her Jewish family and although she is raised Jewish, she doesn't question it, until being Jewish means losing a scholarship to a prestigious, definitely Christian, high school. From the very beginning we see Ellie as a strong-willed girl and then we see this girl become less willful and, well, less truthful as the Christian camp progresses. She begins to hide her Jewish grandmother's cross and is embarrassed by her very Jewish Zeydeh (her eccentric grandfather).

I sort of understand why her parents would allow her to lie about her religious affiliation, if they would have protested too much she would have done it anyway, but they don't really talk to her about what it means to be Jewish or about what it means to be Christian. In this respect they seem like good-natured hippies and I bought that. But, if they're so good-natured why must Ellie be anything at all? In fact, it seems that all the Christians in this book are in some ways the villains of the piece...because of an incident long ago, Doris hates all Jewish people, so much so that she wants to punish them horribly and Ellie's Lutheran grandparents seem to be those crazy Christians who feel that their son 'dun did 'em wrong' by raising Ellie Jewish only. Her father talks to her a little bit about how he doesn't go to church because he feels spiritual in the great outdoors gardening and such, but she doesn't say much about where she feels most spiritual. And, why is Ellie only Jewish, just because her father leans towards wanting no religion that doesn't mean they shouldn't teach her all they know, instead of just assuming she will be?

The story itself is adorable and the characters are developed and believable. Ellie has never been challenged before and there are speech and debaters there who are better than her. The speech she gives at the end is poignant and would truly convince any kid waffling on either side of the issue to chose one...Ellie is two cultures, yet she must give up one to be the other. As a person of mixed heritage I find that, well, sad.

Hmmm...maybe that's the true problem I have with this book...the fact that Ellie chooses a side. I like the novel Kissing Kate because it gives us all the information and definitely tells us were the main character is leaning, but allows us to see it for ourselves. Lissa is still learning and questioning, therefore so must we. I like that ending. Teaching kids to question is the best part of teaching. I'm not sure this book does that.

I suppose if Jewish kids are reading this it is important for them to identify with Ellie and her family and then understand that being Jewish is their heritage and their identity. And, that would have worked had Ellie not been  part Lutheran and if Ellie hadn't had family members (ie. her Lutheran grandparents) to talk to about their religion. She never does talk to them, by the way, she only goes to church once and the whole time she sees both she and Jesus as outsiders.

3 Stars
All of that being said, I think that OyMG is a great book for those middle grade kids who may see that Ellie is truly conflicted, to me that did come across very well.

Teacher Advisories
Sex 1/5 
There's a cute moment with some hand-holding and a little kiss at the end. Good times.
Language 0/5 
I think there's some words used to indicate being upset, but that's about it.
Substance Abuses 0/5
Um, yep, I got nothin'...
Violence 1/5
So, yeah, Dynamite Doris is pretty awful and her story about why she dislikes Jewish people is shallow and has to do with lost love...I mean really shallow, but I think that's what happens something silly totally jades us against someone or something forever.

Touchy Subjects
Ellie and her family are definitely Jewish. Her father is pretty much agnostic and communes with nature. Doris, the kids at camp and Devon is too. They go to church, Ellie talks about Jesus being Jewish.
Telling lies
Ellie lies to her family, her friends and, in the beginning, Devon encourages her because he sees it as easier than standing up to his grandmother. In the end, of course, the lies catch up to her and she has a lot of explaining to do.
Puppy Love
Ellie has a hard time being herself around Devon because she is so enamored with him.
Do we have free will? What happens when our friends question it?

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option (not for honors students...reading level is too darned easy, unless, of course, they read it for their independent summer read and for that I have a guide...a guide I should post on this website...hmmm...)

3 Stars
I love the story, love the characters, just wish Ellie would have more of a choice.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

Shhhhh, don't tell anyone, but I prefer to view my steampunk, rather than to read it (I love Wild Wild West, the show and movie, I love Treasure Planet, 9, The Golden Compass, those new Sherlock Holmes movies, The Prestige, Sucker Punch, Hugo, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing and so on). Of course, this comment excludes the original fathers of steampunk HG Wells and Jules Verne, I could read their novels all day and have taken reading challenges, just so I could do this very year. You see, modern (those styled after Wells and Verne) steampunk novels include affectations that drive me completely and utterly insane. It seems to me that these novels are more about the gadgets, the setting, the feel for an anachronistic Victorian England than they are about the characters and the plot...if I have to read one more time about some guy's cravat, I may just...ugh...

I know what you are thinking (or at least will be thinking soon), Stephanie, if you dislike steampunk so much than why do you read it. Hmmmm, I read it in the hopes that one day I will read a steampunk novel that comes closer to Wells and Verne than what I've read so far.

I think this book, The Girl in the Steel Corset, and its novellette companion, The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, may be the closest I've seen yet.

Finley Jayne has literally run away from her job...of course, she did this after clocking the living daylights out of the son whose hands were just a little too friendly. She runs right into millionaire and Duke, Griffin King. He takes her back to his mansion/castle via his velocycle were we meet a group of young castaways. Via the aether Griffin can see the future, read your thoughts, locate your whereabouts and communicate with the dead, Sam Morgan is a big tall hunk of metal, literally, as he was torn into pieces and put back together, who mopes around lamenting his real heart and his true love. His true love happens to be the beyond brilliant Emily Kingston, who can fix anything, as she can communicate with machinery. There's Jasper Renn, a cowboy from the wild west, who is running away from something and joins the crew and there's Jack Dandy, the villian who sports an unrealistic cockney accent on purpose. And, then there's Victorian England and Victoria herself both of which are in danger of being destroyed by a brilliant, but crazy mastermind.

This book is released by Harlequin Teen (didn't even know this division existed) and written by a former romance novelist and you can tell, most of the time in a good way as we get to read more in-depthly about the dresses, the city, the men and the clothes and the walls, seriously beautiful and breath-taking...when it comes to the portrayal of Finley Jayne it didn't work so much. Although, she can punch through walls and throw grown men and machinery across the room, she still light and fluffy and girly...gag.

Frankly, I like the novelette better, Finley seems less conflicted and I like how the story is set up, so we know she wasn't just kicked out of her former employers home. We know that Finley is passionate and strong. It segues nicely into the novel. Although it was released after the novel, I wish I would have read it first, as I would have found Finley less annoying.

Oh, and cravat is only mentioned nine times; how refreshing.

And, since Steampunk looks so pretty on the screen, I'd love to see this as a movie...it's too bad Jude Law is way to old *wimper for the sake of all humanity* to play any of the male characters.

I look forward to reading The Girl in the Clockwork Collar.

4 Stars   

The advisories below cover both the book and its novelette.

Teacher Advisories
Sex 1/5 
There are a couple of kisses and the sexy flirting. I'm not sure I'd count that as more than a one.
Language 2/5 
Phrases and words are used to mean cuss words. The word damn is used rather flagrantly.
Substance Abuses 1/5
There are some dinners with alcohol and some bars with some ale. Do the organites count as a substance?
Violence 4/5
Griff's friend Sam gets into a lot of brawls. Each of the girls gets knocked out at some point. There's fighting...um, Griff harnesses the aether and gets caught up in it...pretty deadly stuff.

Touchy Subjects
Contacting the dead
Griff uses the aether to talk to his parents who are dead. Some people may think that the aether is some sort of evil spirit.
Queen and country
Poor dear Queen Victoria gets turned into an automaton, some people may find this offensive. Queen Victoria is also kind of mean and secretive.
Machines taking over the world
Scary idea because it's so real...

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings by Helene Boudreau

Here is another book for my mermaid challenge.

Just in case you've forgotten it's lovely marvelous details or you want to play along you can find all the information you need by clicking on The 2012 MerBooks Mermaid Book Reading Challenge.

How could you not love a book that starts off with a girl getting her period while trying on swimsuits damaging the one she decides to buy and ends with a recipe for Chocolate Mug Cake (something I'm definitely going to try in the future)? The answer is that there is no possible way that you couldn't.

After Jade reaches puberty, things about her begin to change...a certain boy begins to notice her lovely wavy hair and curvy figure and one day in the bathtub she begins to notice that instead of feet she's sporting a shimmering blue-green tail.

I love the voice of Jade, she's sassy and quick-witted, just how I feel every middle grade school girl should be. She thinks she's too curvy (there's a whole scene with a tankini that is just too real and adorable), she thinks she's not beautiful (without wavy red hair, how could she be anything else?), and she is missing her mother, who drowned a year ago, more than anything.

But, is her mother really dead or is that her mother she hears calling her? Can she stand being part mermaid? Trying to find these answers means that she has to keep telling big lies to her best friend and it means that she could be putting herself into more danger than she realized.

The best part of this book is the fact that the mermaid stuff seems to be par for the course in Port Toulouse and the story isn't really about keeping the secret or finding her true love or identity, but in finding out what really happened to her mother.

What can I say? This book is cute and fun and light and fluffy. A perfect summer read for any girl age 9 to, um, 36.

Oh and book two just came out...yippers!

4 Stars   

Teacher Advisories
Sex 1/5 
I think there may be long look or two and a "kiss made of awesome"...seriously, I feel like a prude even giving this a one. A boy takes off his shoe to show a girl his webbed toes...Jade spends the first chapter talking about getting her period for the first time, no inappropriate words are used.
Language 0/5 
This book makes a point of making sure that 13 year old girls shouldn't even be saying the work "crap" and they really shouldn't should they.
Substance Abuses 0/5
Um, yep, I got nothin'...unless you count a crazy addiction to chocolate.
Violence 1/5
Jade's mother is kidnapped by some 'freshies' and forced to live in the area where the fresh and salt water mixes (what's that called? I can't remember from 4th grade geography...) everybody thinks she drowned. Jade rescues her and her captors chase them around, there's some fighting and some high-pitched merwords.

Touchy Subjects
Getting your period or as I like to call it "Special Monthly Time"
Some parents may not be comfortable having a girl who is part mermaid talk to their children about the embarrassment of getting your period. I found the scene in the book mortifying and realistic.
Telling lies
The twist on this book is that Jade's parents know she may be a mermaid. Jade lies to her best friend a lot. Eventually everyone ask for and gets forgiveness.
The First Kiss
I'm guessing most kids who are reading this book for the first time have never been kissed. That's a good thing and they should know that.

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option (not for honors students...reading level is too darned easy, unless, of course, they read it for their independent summer read and for that I have a guide...a guide I should post on this website...hmmm...)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Hmmm...since I'm reading Insurgent, I suppose it's time that I write a review for Divergent.

I feel that you can't talk about this book without first talking about it's author, as it's author is truly every aspect of this book. I began reading her blog a little before Divergent came out and fell in love with her voice, I liked it so much that I found myself wishing that she could have been in one of my classes so we could have spent time talking about books and the world. If you read her blog you will find that she is truly all of her 24 years humble, to the point of self-deprecation, witty, smart, funny and gosh darned brilliant.

All of these traits spill over into the characters in her debut novel, so much so that I found it really hard to dislike a single one, even those that are terrifying and horrible, like Eric.

This book is set in a dystopic Chicago (squee) were people been divided up into 5 factions (Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite), during your choosing ceremony you go through tests that determine the faction that best fits you. If that faction doesn't work or you don't fall in line you then become factionless and live in the wasteland (a place we know is probably better). Each faction then trains their initiates...and, by trains I mean brainwashes...into the ways of the faction. And, as with any dystopic universe this works only if there's tons of control, people who blindly believe whatever is put in front of them and people who naively believe that what is being done is right and just. Of course, they believe that because they don't know all the answers.

Both Tris and Four, in some way, fall into the latter category. As each begins to find out who they really are, they, of course, find one another. They must then learn to lean on one another when they find out that their perfect world of factions and exact rules is falling apart.

And, while Tris is the narrator, Four is the one to watch and Four, with his light eyes and dark hair and tattoos and muscles, teaches Tris about family and true selflessness.

I understand that there are people out there who have had their fill of all things dystopic. To those, I said add this to your list, I promise it will rejuvenate you and show you that there is hope for dystopia.  There are also many out there who compare this series to The Hunger Games. I don't disagree with them (and, in some ways I think this series is better...of course, this series is not for those in the middle grades) I do, however say "Who the flip cares?". In Divergent, Veronica Roth, has given us a strong female lead who is fiery and fierce and who knows that she is flawed, who makes mistakes, a girl who I imagine is a bit more like the author than most think and therefore a bit more real than the rest of the YA heroines out nowadays.

Once you finish the book, go find a copy of "Free Four: Tobias Tells The Story", it's a little short story of the initial meeting of the transfers and Eric and Four. I like that from that story we get a sense that Four is truly sensitive and compassionate. I also like how it subtly gives us background we need for Insurgent. Four really is my favorite character...

Oh and just in case you don't have time to read Ms. Roth's back catalog of awesome blog post, here are a few of my favorites:

Prince Charming, Meet Wal-Mart
Divergent Playlist
Likeable Schmikable
Writing Out of Order
The Mistakes Writers Make

Now, back to Insurgent, I'm right in the middle!

5 Stars
Four, Four, Four...oh, and there's a plot too! :D

Teacher Advisories 
Sex 3.5-4/5
There are some really steamy kisses that kind of made me wish I could leave the room or turn my head or something...but, I couldn't help reading them...pretty hot stuff. There's one kiss in a bedroom against a wall or bedpost or whatever that...whew...
Language 1/5
If there's any at all it's few and far between and in the heat of the moment.
Substance Abuses 2/5
Only because there's the initiation process and a truth serum and simulation...not really sure all of this should count, but...some people may not like it.
Violence 5/5
Um, there are fight scenes to advance to the next levels in Dauntless. A child falls to their death off of a train, although it's mentioned no one seems to care. A boy commits suicide. A boy attacks a girl. A boy pokes another boys eye out with a butter knife...um...a girl shoots a boy in the head at point blank range...er...parents die. A father abuses his son by whipping him with his belt. Pretty intense stuff.

Touchy Subjects
When its OK to stand up to your parents
One boy chooses a different faction just to stay away from his father and then must confront his father. Tris chooses a faction that goes against how she was raised.
See what that looks like if you are smart or brave or honest or caring or selfless...it comes in every package.
Family Secrets
No one really know who Four is and he tells no one. Tris's parents have their own secrets to hide.

Being True to Yourself
Even if others doubt you, even if you doubt yourself

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option
2] Book Club read

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

OK, so I'm sorry to admit it, but this book is my first ever horror novel. Yes, that's right folks I own, but have never read Amityville Horror, Psycho, The Woman in Black, The House on Haunted Hill...the closest I've ever come to reading any type of horror novel is reading those creepy little books Tales for the Midnight Hour and More Tales for the Midnight Hour.

I could not have picked a better book to begin this adventure.

Cas comes from a long line of ghost killers. He has a special weapon that propels ghosts back to the Nether Regions. Cas doesn't understand the true power behind this tool he just knows that he must use it to finally vanquish one of the most horrid ghosts of all, a girl properly named Anna Dressed in Blood as her body and the white dress she wears are dripping and soaked with her blood. He knows that killing her will bring him one step closer to vanquishing the evil spirit that killed his father.

But, it isn't that easy.

First, there's the fact that most humans who get near her are ripped into two pieces their spirits trapped within the house forever. Second, Anna isn't your ordinary spirit needing to cross over, she has her own ghostly problems. And, finally, there's the fact that Cas find Anna just plain mesmerizing. He doesn't want to kill her, he wants to save her.

This book is descriptive, fast-paced (seriously, you will be hooked two pages in to the first chapter) and ended in such a way that I wanted more without feeling annoyed that I had to wait for another book to come out.

And, while Cas is an wonderfully believable narrator, yes, I do know boys that cuss that much and yes, I would love to be his friend, he is not my favorite character. My favorite character is Anna and I can't wait for her return for the beyond.

And, to give credit where credit is due, I must thank Hayden at The Teen Book Worm for suggesting this book for my classroom library. His suggestion and wonderful review compelled me to read it. I can't wait for the second in the series. I hope the cat comes back.

5 StarsPhotobucket
Who knew that blood and gore could be so darned entertaining?!

Teacher Advisories 
Sex 1/5
I think there may be a kiss and some hand-holding...um, yep, there's just that.
Language 5/5
This book is chock full of the F-Word and shit and damn so much I lost track...lots and lots of cussing. Frankly, I was really taken aback by this, not because I care, but because of marketing...this tells me I may have lived in the Bible Belt a little too long.
Substance Abuses 2/5
There's references to drinking. Two boys get drunk and bully a girl and another boy. There's smoking, too.
Violence 5/5
Well, Anna is a ghost known for ripping people apart. This happens to one of the students and it is described in great, gross detail. Then said student's torn to bits body comes back to talk to Cas. Um, there's a basement full of such people...ghosts who are trapped in Anna's house. A nasty spirit eats a cat...horrible! Anna is such a scary ghost because she was murdered (again something that is given in great detail) and her guardian cast a spell on her spirit. Lots of blood and guts and gore.

Touchy Subjects
Life after Death
I assume that when you read a book about ghost you get pretty curious about the afterlife.
Cas has become a slayer of ghost in the hopes of finding the spirit who killed his father. He hopes to kill this spirit and in some ways is blinded by this fact.
Family Secrets
Anna is murdered by her mother, an evil controlling hag.

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

When I was younger my life's goal was to go to/live in London, England.

This goal was so prominent in my mind that during my Home-Ec class when other girls were making those big wedding plans (a project I'm soooooo glad has been deemed sexist and inappropriate) I planned my trip to London--no, really, I told my teacher I wasn't planning on getting married and that if I did I would do so in Vegas. She told me I should plan my honeymoon instead and my trip (not honeymoon) was a go.

My friends used to help me dream about my life in England.

I'd meet a boy named Nigel "Something"(I don't remember his last name)worth the Third and he'd be handsome and rich and have lovely gardens we'd stroll around. I'd meet the Queen (or is it The Queen?) and she'd be so taken with how polite I was that I'd be offered a job and a place in the palace. I'd own a dog. I'd go to pubs. I'd become an archaeologist and figure out what happened to those boys in the Tower. I'd eat lots of fish and chips. I wish I would have kept all the papers on which we doodled my life plan.

And, then it happened. Everything worked out so I could go to London, England...not just a week or a month, but a whole semester...sigh.

I became a part of the Missouri London Program.

I became an exchange student.

It was awesome.

I'd forgotten how much so until I read Anna and the French Kiss, a wonderfully written, light, but in no way breezy, young adult novel by Stephanie Perkins.

This book would just be another typical teen fish out of water tale if it wasn't for the amazing dialogue. I fell in love with Anna the first moment she was introduced. Actually, Perkins has quite a lovely grasp on dialogue and characters and I fell in love with and related to them all. Each character exhibited traits of people I know and cherish. There's the boy who everyone knows is in the wrong relationship, but he doesn't have the backbone to end it. There's the girl who has had a major crush on said boy, but understands that she is not the one. There's the jealous, over-the-top girlfriend. The boy, who is this case happens to be named Etienne (sigh), has his own wonderful set of quirky guy friends. And, there's all the romance of being in a foreign country sans adults. Something about the way these seniors acting seemed totally believable. This may be the first time I've read a book where a girl or two cries alone or accidentally in front of someone and I didn't want to bash my head, or hers, into a brick wall. I even had some of the same culture shock moments ("What the world I left went on without me while I was having a life overseas?"). This book was soooo good that I couldn't put it down and had to finish it, while my friends waited, sitting on a bed in a lovely Los Angeles hotel an amazing view of the Hollywood sign behind me.

So study abroad. If you're lucky you'll meet people half as cool as these people and you'll have wonderful adventures with or without all the romance. If you can't study abroad right away at least read this book and remember your first love, your first time away from home and live overseas vicariously through them.

Reading this book made me get out the 'ole scrapbooks. Memory lane never felt so good.

5 Stars
The only thing that would have made this book better is if it would have been set in London, no really, I mean that...maybe Stephanie Perkins will do that someday.

Teacher Advisories 
Sex 2/5
There's some kissing...OK, there's lots of kissing there for a minute, whew! A boy alludes to sleeping with a girl, although we never read about it. It is also alluded to the fact the Etienne and his girlfriend sleep together. Anna and Etienne spend a week spooning on a dorm room bed nightly.
Language 4/5
I don't remember there being any cussing in English or in French...gonna go look that up right now...ah, the power of the eReader...OK, so I lied BIG TIME...this book says the F-word like 5, literally, 5 times! Shit also gets thrown around a bit carelessly. I feel bad I have to give this book a 4 on this, but 5 times is a bit much for a teen romance novel!
Substance Abuses 2/5
Um, these are 18 year-old American students in a foreign country that allows you to drink at 18...totally believable situations and frankly, these kids don't act like typical American teens drunk, they act like college students.
Violence 1/5
Drinking and jealous never end up well.

Touchy Subjects
Social Class
Anna goes to school in France because her father has made it big as an author and he wants to impress people. Yeah, you read that right, Anna intially goes to go in France because her father thinks it will look good on his resume.
I love, love, love, love first love books. Be prepared for broken hearts, misunderstandings, lead-ons and the other things that come with it.

The Mores and Folkways of a Foreign Country
Students may want to talk about foreign customs, traditions, home life et cetera.

Couples who are separated
Etienne's parents are separated, but his father still controls much of their lives. For instance, he isn't allowed to see his mother, who has cancer and may be dying, until a scheduled break in the school year.

When it's OK to stand up to your parents
Etienne and his father have a huge fight in which Etienne says some pretty harsh things that further alienate his relationship with his father. When, if ever, is it OK to talk to your parents in this manner? I think that Perkins would have you believe that sometimes this kind of frankness must happen, especially when the parent is verbally, emotionally or physically abusive.

Parents living their lives vicariously through their children
Definitely some lessons to be learned here, as all these kids seem to be privileged in some manner... 

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option