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A fabulous blog of YA lit reviews, journal article reviews, and author highlights, written by a middle school teacher (who is also an aspiring librarian!).
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1. Three Times Lucky

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, Dial, 2012, 256 pp, ISBN: 0803736703

Recap:
As an infant who washed ashore in a hurricane, tied to a scrap from a billboard, Mo(ses) LeBeau surely does have luck on her side. (Even if all of that luck hasn't helped her find her Upstream Mother in the last eleven years)

But now Mo and her best friend Dale are going to need more than luck if they're going to solve a murder and bring Mo's adopted family home safe again!

Review:
Sheila Turnage's Three Times Lucky found it's way into my book bag via School Library Journal's Battle of the Books. The very first thing that grabbed my attention was Ms. Mo LeBeau herself. That girl is downright hilarious! I have a (bad?) habit of turning down pages when there's a line I want to remember, and I turned the first three corners down before realizing that Mo was going to make me laugh out loud, or at least crack a grin, on pretty near every page.

Everyone else in Tupelo Landing, NC is just as colorful a character, and the town itself reminded me of a more country-fied version of Stars Hollow -  everybody knows everybody else's business and, for the most part, they love each other just the same.

The plot of the story was where I got stuck. It was about a murder, but the writing was just so funny and cute that I never got that creepy murder feeling. In fact, for a long time I was sure that the murder was going to end up being a hoax. There's another serious plot line going on at the same time, regarding Dale's alcoholic, abusive father, but the reader never actually sees this firsthand until the very end, so again... I just wasn't getting the intense vibe that the story probably deserved. For me, the quick-witted, clever narration from 11-year-old Mo just never seemed to gel with the actual story she was telling.

But maybe that's part of the point? I mean, Mo was only 11, and she was 100% into solving the case with her Desperado Detective partner Dale, so maybe she was just telling the story as seriously as a 11-year-old is able to? Help me out here, book lovers! I know a number of you have read this one and loved it. What do you think I'm missing?

Recommendation:
Three Times Lucky would be perfect for middle grade readers (in this case, I'm picturing grades 4 - 6) who like to laugh and maybe even solve a mystery.

BOB Prediction:
Three Times Lucky goes up against Endangered in the first round, and if I were the judge... I would give it to Endangered, no question. 

Quotable Quotes:
- "Demons!" he gasped, pointing vaguely in my direction. I sighed. Dale's family is Baptist. - Mo

- I tried not to sound impressed. "You stole Mr. Jesse's boat?" He studied his fingernails. "I wouldn't say stole," he said. "But I did borrow it pretty strong." - Mo and Dale

2 Comments on Three Times Lucky, last added: 3/11/2013
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2. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012, 148 pp, ISBN: 0547443153

Recap:
Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1950, not even a decade after the term "autism" had been coined for the very first time. As the spectrum disorder was still so new, very few people had any understanding of what that diagnosis meant - including Temple's own father, who called her "retarded" and wanted to send her away to a mental institution.

But that didn't slow Temple down for a second. Through the support and encouragement of her mother, and some truly stellar teachers, Temple went on to become an inventor, an activist, a college professor, and a source of real life inspiration for thousands around the world.

Review:
Book lovers, I hope you're still with me, because you've got to hear this... Sy Montgomery's book was at the bottom of my BOB list. I already knew a fair amount of Temple's story because my 6th graders had studied her when we were still in Baltimore. And after just finishing Titanic, I was itching for a novel to immerse myself in. But for some reason this title just kept rising to the top of my library bag. So I picked it up. And polished it off in less than 24 hours. Y'all, this book is excellent.

Temple Grandin's life is nothing short of remarkable. She didn't even speak until years later than her peers. As a child, she spent hours twirling in circles. Just the sound of a fan could cause her physical pain. But guess what? As of today, Temple has gone on to be a wildly successful adult, known around the world for her inventions that advance the humane treatment of animals. She is literally the only person ever to be honored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame. Just think about that for a second. 

I read a lot of Temple's story in the car, and stopped at least every five minutes to feed my husband another fact about her incredible life. This is the kind of real life read that is just too good to keep to yourself - it needs to be shared.

And I will be the very first to admit that nonfiction can be a hard sell - especially to students! But the book designer, Cara Llewellyn, did a phenomenal job of creating a book that sells itself. Every single page features bright colors, contemporary fonts, and eye-catching illustrations and photographs. Temple Grandin is as much of a pleasure to look at as it is to actually read. 

Recommendation:
If you appreciate nonfiction and/or biographies, you're going to love this one. But even if you're a die-hard fiction fan, I would still whole-heartedly recommend that you give Temple Grandin a shot. 

BOB Prediction:
I'm one of Augustus and Hazel's biggest fans so it pains me a little to say this... but I can see Temple giving them a run for their money in the first round. There are few things more powerful than a story that is inspiring, engaging, and TRUE.

Quotable Quotes:
"That's right. I want you to count the moos." - Temple Grandin

"I must conquer my fears and not let them block my way." - Temple Grandin

1 Comments on Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, last added: 3/7/2013
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3. Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon

Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, Flash Point, 2012, 272 pp, ISBN: 1596434872

Recap:
In December of 1938, a German chemist named Otto Hahn made a discovery that stunned scientists around the world: he discovered that atoms could, in fact, be split in half.

And while that may not have meant much at the time to most of the world's population, Hahn's discovery eventually became the foundation for the deadliest weapon that our world has ever known.

Bomb is the story of three countries in a race against time - a race to solve the mysteries of physics, a race to make history, a race to kill or be killed.

Review:
Whew, I feel like I just ran a race myself! Book lovers, I am telling you, that Steve Sheinkin had me on the edge of my seat from page 1! Am I a history buff? No. A science scholar? Oh, no. On any given day I'm more likely to be reading People.com than really anything history related. But I could not put this book down.

Thanks to Sheinkin's narrative style and the heaps of (true!) dialogue, Bomb reads very much like a novel. There are pages and pages of photographs, and my favorites were the scrapbook style photos at the beginning of each new section, highlighting the "major players" that the reader was about to meet. The sheer amount of different names could have proven daunting for a reader, but Bomb is written so skillfully that I never once felt overwhelmed or confused. Rather, I couldn't wait to see what the next chapter would hold.

I think one of the marks of a truly great read is when you frequently find yourself talking about it with others. In the past few days, I've managed to turn a number of conversations around toward Soviet spies, particle physics, secret science labs in the desert, and weapons of mass destruction. Seriously, can you tell I'm hooked on this book?

Recommendation:

If you are at all interested in World War II or in Science, Bomb is a must-read. And for the record, I'm not particularly interested in either of those subjects, but I still found Bomb completely fascinating. In the mood to expand your reading horizons? Pick up Bomb today.
(PS: Did I mention that Bomb won the Sibert Medal for nonfiction + was selected as a Newbery Honor and National Book Award Finalist??)

BOB Prediction:
Honestly book lovers, this one is just too close for me to call. I have a sincere love for Wonder. It's one of the best books I've read this year. BUT... Bomb is one of the best, most engaging pieces of nonfiction that I've ever had the pleasure of reading. I do not envy judge Kenneth Oppel in this round!

Quotable Quotes:
- "When do we get as scared as we ought to?" - Leona Woods

- (on site at the Trinity test) "We were told to lie down on the sand, turn our faces away from the blast, and bury our heads in our arms. No one complied. We were determined to look the beast in the eye." - Edward Teller

- (in reference to the chill that settled over the jubilant crowd of physicists, following the successful test at Trinity) "It was the chill of knowing they had used something they loved - the study of physics - to build the deadliest weapon in human history." - Steve Sheinkin



3 Comments on Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon, last added: 3/8/2013
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4. When Was the Last Time...

...you forced yourself to expand your reading horizons?

As a teacher, I used to love coercing my students into reading a book that I just KNEW they would love. There were a few eager readers in every class, but for the most part, my kiddos were pretty resistant to independent reading time. Being the book lover I am, I refused to believe that it was possible for someone to actually not like reading - the unbeliever just hadn't been introduced to the right book yet! After they had been coaxed/compelled/bribed to expand their reading horizons a bit... I would venture to say that at least 95% of them became, at the very least, book likers. If you're a teacher or librarian, can you relate?

(awesome image here, text added via Ribbet)
BUT... what about US? You and me, the ones who already love to hunker down with a good book? How often are we willing to branch out and try a new genre? For me, the answer is not often. I'm pretty darn content with my often-dystopian-or-post-apocolyptic-sci-fi-fantasy-with-the-occasional-romance-thrown-in (did you know that was a genre?). And, lucky me, the YA book world has no shortage of novels that fit that description.

BUT... that also means I'm missing out on quite a lot of book loving goodness.

That's why every year I just can't wait for the excellence that is School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids Books. I know I've already talked about it here, but as I've been reading through this year's list of Contenders (have to finish before the 12th!) I've been struck over and over again by the amazing-ness that I would have missed had the BOB not forced me to try (many!) new things. Who would have thought I'd end up rather obsessed with a book about the atom bomb? Or bonobo apes? Or a woman who designs cow enclosures for a living?

So tell me book lovers, when was the last time you read out of your comfort zone? 

4 Comments on When Was the Last Time..., last added: 3/6/2013
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5. Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Hyperion Book CH, 2012, 352 pp, ISBN: 1423152190

Recap:
Imagine yourself a prisoner of war. Your plane was shot down in Nazi occupied France. All of your clothes have been taken away. An iron rod has been tied to your back. You are tortured on a daily basis. How long would it take you to break?

And when you started talking, what story would you tell?

Review:
It took me two attempts to read Code Name Verity. Not because I couldn't get into the first time - quite the opposite in fact. My first attempt was the audiobook, read by the immensely talented Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell (although I didn't quite make it to Gaskell's portion). Christie was the voice of "Verity" and her gorgeous Scottish brogue made the book for me. I can still hear her spitting out "mein Hauptsturmf├╝hrer von Linden," and goodness knows I would have completely muddled up that pronunciation had I been reading all on my own. Christie did an absolutely brilliant job of nailing down each nuance and innuendo of Verity's story, all through the power of her voice.

Now, when I started reading/listening to Code Name Verity, I didn't know a single thing about the story except that it was generating a ton of positive buzz in the book world. **Possible spoiler alert: When Verity's section abruptly ended and Maddie's began, I was so upset that I immediately ejected the CD and took it straight back to the library. Why was Elizabeth Wein taking Verity away??? Bring her back!!!

Well, about a week later, I was burning up to know how the book ended. So I checked out the print version from the library - hence, my second attempt. And I actually just started fresh from the very beginning. Seriously, this story does not get old. And I picked up on so many more things on the second read-through! So, I would consider the second attempt a big success. When I got to Maddie's story again, I was ready. And then Maddie had to go and blow my mind. Verity wasn't gone by a long shot, and her story just took a very dramatic twist when it picked up with her best friend. Elizabeth Wein, I take back what I said before. You are a genius.

Recommendation:
If you love a mystery, if you appreciate historical fiction, if you get into a girl power story, if you are simply a human being who loves to read... do not pass up Code Name Verity

BOB Prediction:
Code Name Verity is going straight to the Big Kahuna Round. I will be pretty shocked if it doesn't win the whole thing.

Quotable Quotes:
"I have told the truth." - Verity
(If you've read it, doesn't this line still just give you the chills??)

6 Comments on Code Name Verity, last added: 3/4/2013
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6. Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012, 320 pp, ISBN: 0375869026

Recap:
August Pullman doesn't look like anyone else. Born with a severe facial deformity that is still dramatic even after years of plastic surgery, Auggie tells readers "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."

At the beginning of August's 5th grade year, he starts attending public school for the first time in his life. Not surprisingly, the transition is anything but easy.

But August's life is like real life - nothing can be all good or all bad, people will always surprise you, there is always hope.

Review:
Book lovers, I am woefully late to the party that is Wonder. Admittedly, I skipped it on purpose. I knew the gist of the story, and just didn't feel like being depressed. But it's one of the Contenders for the 2013 BOB so off to the library I went. Two nights ago I posted on my sister's facebook wall "Please give me some encouragement to start Wonder..." Within 30 minutes there was a LIST of different people telling me to read it immediately, and they all used lots of exclamation points. I couldn't avoid it any longer.

And I am kicking myself for waiting so long. Wonder is 100% about one boy's face, and how it affects the people around him. But you know what? It's also not really about his face at all. Wonder is about all of us. It's about how we choose to treat each other - how much effort we are willing to make to reach out, to love, to empathize with one another, whether we know each other or not. Wonder is about living life courageously, and with a sense of humor. It is about doing the right thing, not because we will be applauded or appreciated - but doing the right thing, even when others may laugh or turn their backs, simply because it is right.

As I read, I couldn't help but think of my son, Lincoln. He has the sweetest spirit and the kindest heart, and I just pray that his dad and I can help him to nurture and guard those qualities as he grows up. I hope that Lincoln grows up to be like Auggie, or Via, or Jack, or Summer. I never buy books, but there is no doubt that I will be adding a copy of Wonder to Linc's bookshelf.

One note about the format: I've read some reviews where the reader really didn't care for the way the narrators switched around to include a variety of different people in August's life. While I thought some choices were surprising (his sister's boyfriend for one), the changing narrators never once pulled me out of the story. In fact, I felt like they added so much more dimension. Because of the multiple first-person perspectives, we were able to witness a variety of personal transformations on a very intimate level. I loved that. But I just really wished Mr. Browne had had his own chapters; his precepts were one of my favorite parts of the book!

Recommendation:
Read it. Read it to your children. Read it in your book club. Read it with your students, or your spouse, or your best friend. Wonder is literally a must-read.

BOB Prediction:
Oh man, this is a tough one. A huge part of me wants to predict that Wonder will go all the way to the Big Kahuna Round. However... it's up against Bomb in the first round. Potentially life-changing fiction vs. absolutely brilliant nonfiction. This one is too close for me to call; I'd be happy either way!

Quotable Quotes:
"Shall we make a new rule of life... always try to be a little kinder than necessary." - J.M. Barrie

"Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the world." - August Pullman

"If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than necessary - the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God." - Mr. Tushman

5 Comments on Wonder, last added: 3/5/2013
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7. Liar & Spy

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead, Wendy Lamb Books, 2012, 192 pp, ISBN: 0385737432

Recap:
Things aren't going so hot for Georges (the "s" is silent). His dad just lost his job, forcing their family to move out of their house and into an apartment. His mom is working at the hospital almost 24 hours a day. And Dallas Llewellyn is doing everything he can to make Georges' life a nightmare at school.

But when Georges joins the Spy Club, things start to look up for the first time in months...

Review:
Rebecca Stead, my hat is off to you. When You Reach Me was pure genius. I laughed, I cried, you shocked me in the end. Liar & Spy followed almost the same trajectory. (Sidenote: Are you friends in real life with Esme Raji Codell? Because I just have a feeling you would love each other.)

Liar & Spy is really a very simple story, that pretty much every 4th, 5th, or 6th grader in America could relate to a some point: struggles at home + bullies at school = a very lonely time in life. It actually started a bit slowly for me, but quickly picked up with the introduction of characters like Safer, Candy (love!), and Bob English Who Draws. Although Liar & Spy lacked the time traveling magic of Stead's first novel, the resiliency and quirkiness of the Blue Team added their own special brand of magic.

And Rebecca Stead truly has a gift for the surprise ending. There are few things I love more than a story that is not predictable!

Recommendation:
I've already started recommending Liar & Spy to anyone (teachers, parents, actual kids!) who work with kiddos in the 4th - 6th grade group. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a book I will read with my own son one day. 
**Just for the record, I listened to Liar & Spy via audiobook, and while I still clearly enjoyed it, I think the reader will gain more from the print version - Bob English Who Draws (and creatively spells) would agree.

BOB Prediction:
Liar & Spy is up against Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz in the first round. Now y'all know I am a big fan of Georges, but Splendors and Glooms just might be my most highly anticipated read of the remaining Contenders. I'm going to have to get back to you after I read it...

Quotable Quotes:
"Boredom is what happens to people who have no control over their minds." - Safer

6 Comments on Liar & Spy, last added: 3/1/2013
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8. Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson, Scholastic Press, 2012, 304 pp, ISBN: 0545116740

Recap:
We all know the story of the Titanic. The beauty of Deborah Hopkinson's new take is that the reader actually becomes acquainted with a number of "voices from the disaster."

Review:
I am generally not a reader of nonfiction. Except for that very special time once a year... Battle of the Books time! SLJ's BOB invariably features a number of the year's best nonfiction titles. Sometimes they knock my socks off (Amelia Lost, I'm looking at you) and other times, not so much. But I'm always grateful for the push to delve into a genre that I tend to neglect.

One of the strong selling points of Titanic: Voices from the Disaster was the first-person accounts woven throughout each chapter. I actually feel fairly well acquainted with Jack Thayer, who endured hours balancing on top of the slowly sinking "Collapsible B" with perhaps 20 other men. Violet Jessup was another favorite, the selfless stewardess who not only survived the sinking on the "unsinkable ship," but went on to survive the sinking of the Britannic, Titanic's sister ship, several years later.

The full page graphics throughout the book helped bring the story to life, and also made it a fairly quick read. I can picture students becoming immersed in the images as they research the disaster.

Recommendation:
While I wouldn't call Titanic a "must read," it is an impeccably researched account of one of the most well-known disasters in history. I would eagerly push Hopkinson's latest into the hands of any child who was researching the Titanic.

BOB Prediction:
Titanic is up against Code Name Verity in the first round. My apologies to the crew, but I'm pretty sure this ship is destined to sink again.

3 Comments on Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, last added: 3/1/2013
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9. SLJ's Battle of the Books

The Best Book Event of the Year is baaaaack!

For those of you who aren't familiar, each year a team from School Library Journal puts together an epic competition where many of the best Children's and YA books from the past year have to battle it out to determine an ultimate champion. Last year's Big Kahuna Round had Okay for Now and Between Shades of Gray as two of the top three; it doesn't get much better than that (although Daughter of Smoke and Bone should have made it to the end!).

And is that artwork not fantastic? Mark Tuchman is a genius.

But this is a whole new year! When I first saw the 2013 Contenders, I was dismayed to learn that I had only read ONE out of SIXTEEN. That is shameful, book lovers. But then I just hurried up and requested the rest from my lovely local library, and now I've got four down (with twelve to go... yikes!). Want to see a full list of Contenders without clicking over? Your wish is my command:


  • Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
  • Wonder by RJ Palacio
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • Titanic by Deborah Hopkinson
  • Endangered by Eliot Schrefer
  • Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
  • Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh
  • Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin
  • Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
  • Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
  • Moonbird by Philip Hoose
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  • No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheax Nelson
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

This might be a bit premature, seeing as how I still have twelve titles left to read... but I'm having a hard time envisioning a final three that doesn't include The Fault in Our Stars and Code Name Verity. What do you think, book lovers? Do you have any favorites on the list? Are as many new to you as they were to me?

6 Comments on SLJ's Battle of the Books, last added: 3/1/2013
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10. Better Late Than Never, Right?

Oh Book Lovers, has it really been a YEAR?

When I decided to play hooky for a week last year, I really had no idea that the week would turn into almost a full 12 months... whoops. What have we been up to in the meantime?

  • We lived at a YMCA camp for the summer and had the time of our lives.
  • Lincoln grew a year older and had a ridiculously fun 1st birthday party.



  • We've done lots of little projects around our farmhouse - especially my talented husband who has a way with Annie Sloan chalk paint!
  • Linc and I have been nannying 4 days a week for a sweet little baby girl.
  • I've started working toward getting my Michigan teaching license and library certificate in order - I miss being part of a school!
  • Of course, we've been reading lots and lots and lots of books. Life is good!


But I also realized over the past few months that I really missed blogging. At first, the break felt great. No pressure to whip up a review as soon as the last page had turned, and there was a lot more free time when I wasn't trying to keep up with 100 other book bloggers. But... I missed the community, the camaraderie, and all of the discussions about the best new books.

In the meantime, I accidentally let my domain name expire. Double whoops... I was able to buy it back after a tense domain name auction, but it's not officially "mine" again for another few days. Although clearly, I'm using it right now. Have any of you ever experienced this? Is there any chance that Book Love could just disappear?? 

Looooong story short, Book Love is back. Thank you so much for your sweet and thoughtful comments while I was away. You true book lovers are the whole reason I missed this world!

7 Comments on Better Late Than Never, Right?, last added: 2/25/2013
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11. Book Love Plays Hooky!

It's spring break in Michigan, and this particular Book Lover is taking the week off. See you in 7!



0 Comments on Book Love Plays Hooky! as of 3/31/2012 10:06:00 PM
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12. BOB: Round 2 - The Carnage

Oh, BOB Lovers... This Battle of the Kids' Books is just not good for my heart! After the first round's losses (I'm still grieving Doug Swieteck), Round 2 came back and dealt yet another blow.


What started out as better than I had dared to hope (Between Shades of Gray advances to Round 3!), quickly dissolved into more anguish over the dismissal of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Winning the other two matches were Drawing From Memory and Life: An Exploded Diagram. Both wins surprised me, but I wasn't too crazy about either of their opponents so... I chose to just keep dwelling on the carnage of DoSaB.


All of this means that the BOB Final Four comes down to:
Between Shades of Gray vs Chime (the winner of the round was actually just revealed this morning, but since this post is just about Round 2, here's a hint: Wahooooooooo!)
Drawing From Memory vs Life: An Exploded Diagram


But do you want to hear the really, really exciting part? We are only two days away from the reveal of (cue spooky music here)... The Winner of the Undead Poll. If you're not familiar with the BOB, the Peanut Gallery (that's all of us!) can vote on their favorite Contender prior to the first round. The book with the most votes comes back from the Dead for the final battle aka The Big Kahuna Round. I feel fairly confident that the Undead will arise in the form of a) Okay for Now or b) Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Then again... I've been wrong a lot lately, so I'll say a little book-prayer for them both, just in case!

3 Comments on BOB: Round 2 - The Carnage, last added: 3/31/2012
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13. Stupid Fast

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach, Sourcebooks Fire, 2011, 320 pp, ISBN: 1402256302


Recap:
Felton Reinstein is fast. Stupid fast. 


Unfortunately, his best friend just moved to South America for the summer. And he is sprouting hair all over. And his mom is going crazy. And his brother is a fire pirate.


But Felton is still so fast. And it turns out he can catch a football pretty easily. And a beautiful girl thinks he's funny. So, this summer might not be so bad after all. Or it might be even worse than expected.


Review:
Guess what? I did not like this book. For about the first 25 pages or so. I just didn't get it. Felton's odd inner monologue never shuts up, and there is more than a sprinkling of profanity. Plus, Felton isn't shy about going into detail regarding the puberty-propelled changes his body is going through.


But. After those first 25-ish pages, I got hooked on Felton's voice. Author Geoff Herbach created a completely original character in Felton - other characters in the book described him as both "retarded" and "innocent." I wondered if he might have fallen somewhere on the autism spectrum. Really, he defies a label. Seemingly incapable of lying or sugar-coating, no one ever has to wonder what's on Felton's mind.


As Felton began to transform from a bitter, self-conscious social outcast into a self-motivated, "D1 prospect," I realized that I could not put my book down. I finished the entire second half in one sitting because I just had to know how his story turned out.

Perhaps even more captivating than Felton's personal transformation was the unraveling of his family. He father committed suicide when Felton was only 5 years old - and he was the one who found the body. His mother, who is only referred to as "Jerri," sinks into a deep depression at the beginning of the summer, and completely stops caring for either of her sons. As Felton is completely preoccupied with football conditioning and his new girlfriend, his little brother Andrew is forced to fend for himself. And that does not turn out well. Andrew - the "fire pirate" - might have been my favorite character in the entire book. He was the only one who wanted to deal with the reality of their family - and I just wanted to bring him home and feed him.

Geoff Herbach isn't shy about tackling subjects like puberty, mental illness, and realistic teen romance - and he almost always does so with a sense of humor. It's no wonder that this book won the 2011 Cybils Award for YA Fiction.

Recomm

7 Comments on Stupid Fast, last added: 3/29/2012
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14. Delirium

Delirium by Lauren Oliver, HarperCollins, 2011, 448 pp, ISBN: 0061726826


Recap:
"Love, it will kill you and save you, both."


Hence, the reason why everyone eighteen and older has to submit to the cure. Once you've taken the cure, you can no longer be infected with the deliria, also known as falling in love.


Lena has been counting down the days until she gets to take the cure. Her own mother was immune, and ultimately took her own life because she was so plagued by the deliria. Lena will not let that same fate come to her.


But with only 95 days left to wait, Lena meets Alex. And realizes that  succumbing to the deliria isn't the worst thing that could happen.


Review:
I must regretfully report that I have not been infected with Amor Deliria Nervosa. I wanted to love this book. But I think someone slipped the Cure into my Diet Coke before I started reading, because I just feel pretty neutral.  


Before I go on, I should say that rather than reading the actual book, I listened to it via audio. And I think that really tainted my whole reading experience. 1) I could only "read" for as long as it took me to get to the grocery or the library and back. 20 minute snatches is not a huge amount of time to get immersed in a story. 2) The narrator was the same one who narrated Along for the Ride, the last YA book I listened to, and I spent at least the first 4 CDs trying not to think of her as Auden. And finally 3)  Scads of readers have soliloquized on Lauren Oliver's "enchanting" writing style. And yes, she is a lovely writer. But... listening to all of those flowery phrases read aloud just felt a little melodramatic sometimes.

But what of the actual story? Well, I am a HUGE fan of dystopians. As a reader, I love few things more than immersing myself in a life set in a very different future thinking, "What if... ?" But I could never actually imagine Lena's world becoming our future. A cure for love? I just don't buy it. I've had my heart broken, completely crushed even, but I would still never want to be "cured" of my ability to fall in love. And I don't think most people would either. So, I kept taking myself out of the story because of my own skepticism.

I also felt like Delirium was extremely simi

12 Comments on Delirium, last added: 3/27/2012
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15. Life: An Exploded Diagram

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet, Candlewick, 2011, 416 pp, ISBN: 076365227X


Recap:
- Several generations of loveless (or at least romance-less) marriages
- Star-crossed young lovers
- The Cuban Missile Crisis
- Our world on the brink of destruction
- A look at the role both politics and religion play in the end of the world
- Some pretty life-changing explosions


Review:
Oh, what to say about Life: An Exploded Diagram...
It has received all kinds of glowing reviews. 
It bested Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls in the first round of the BOB.
Author Mal Peet excelled in revealing a very specific world through the use of the characters' dialect. One example: "You put that ole coat on, if yer gorn out. There's a wind'd cut yer jacksy in half."
As I read, I was struck repeatedly with the thought, "Wow. This man can write." There are tons of writers who can tell a good story, but Mal Peet has a particularly affecting way with words.
All things considered, I can appreciate Life: An Exploded Diagram.

But did I really enjoy reading Life? That's a different story. My major issue is that I sincerely feel that this is an adult novel. The vast majority of the characters are adults. The narrator is an adult, reflecting back on  a certain period in his teen years. The issues and themes that many of the adults dealt with felt completely out of place in a YA novel. When the story focused in on Clem and Frankie's teenage forbidden love, it felt a little more YA, but then the ending wandered back into adult territory again.

And does the YA/Adult distinction matter so much? Perhaps not. But. It just won a round in the Battle of the Kids' Books. And this is not a book I would hand to most kids.

The overall mood of the story felt gloomy to me. Every scene I envisioned was brown, gray, and dreary. I found myself looking forward to the scenes with the different political leaders during the Cuban Missile Crisis because those were the only passages that hinted at any action. And because I thought Peet's sense of humor really came through as he described different conversations and reflections that were had by Kennedy, Castro, and Kruschhev.

And the end. What in the world happened there? Bizarre.

If you've read Life: An Exploded Diagram, I would love to talk to you about it. Please leave a comment and let me know!

Recommendation:
I would recommend Life to mature readers who appreciate adult, literary fiction or historical fiction.
5 Comments on Life: An Exploded Diagram, last added: 3/29/2012
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16. Top 10 Reasons to Love Today

1. Babe Lincoln has been sleeping in his crib for naps for an entire week now. Wow. (Yes, he's almost 6 months old, but I'm a snuggling enabler)

2. Between Shades of Gray won the first match of Round 2 of the BOB!

3. I may be late to the party, but I just discovered Bookfessions. Here are some of my favorites, which just so happen to all be true:

(click to make it bigger!) 
4. Spring Break starts Friday!

5. The weather has been ridiculously gorgeous all week. I love flinging the windows open and eating lunch out in the yard. And so does the Lincster.


6. Finally finished my "required reading" yesterday with Life: An Exploded Diagram. After my February challenge, completing all of the BOB contenders, and reading a slew of books to choose my favorites for a MG Guest Post, I'm feeling an immense amount of FREEDOM in that there's nothing I need to be reading right now. That being said...

7. I already have a "car bag" full of books set for SB. What am I most looking forward to reading? The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.


8. My parents have been visiting for the weekend and we have had so much fun. Right now I'm just waiting for the house to wake up so we can make waffles :)

9. On Thursday my sister a) met Ree Drummond and b) went to the midnight premiere of The Hunger Games. Sometimes I just have to live vicariously through her.


10. "You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments

11 Comments on Top 10 Reasons to Love Today, last added: 3/27/2012
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17. BOB: Round 1 - The Carnage

Well folks, the first round of the Battle of the Kids' Books is over, but not without a few heartbreakers. I admit it... I got a little bit cocky about my BoB predictions. After the first 5 battles, I was 5-5 - correctly predicting wins for:
- Amelia Lost
- Between Shades of Gray
- Chime
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone
- Drawing from Memory


But then karma came back with some pretty sharp teeth. And I am mourning the loss of both Heart and Soul and A Monster Calls. I was not too surprised by the loss of the former (that Thanhha Lai was going to be tough to beat), and can't claim too much emotional distress over the loss of the latter because I still haven't finished its opponent (I know, I know).


But the truly devastating loss was today. Wonderstruck vs Okay for Now.  A beautifully illustrated book that I would ultimately declare "pretty good," vs one of my top 3 books of the BoB - and really, one of the best books I've ever read. Guess who won? Not one of the best books I've ever read. I am really pretty shocked that Okay for Now will not be moving on to Round 2. At least Doug Swieteck has a real shot at making it back from the Undead Vault!

What do you think, book lovers? Are any of you following the BoB? And if you are, how are you doing on your predictions? Are your favorites coming out on top? Were any losses particularly heartbreaking for you?

6 Comments on BOB: Round 1 - The Carnage, last added: 3/25/2012
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18. Book Love Road Trips!

Guess what... Today is my first guest post ever! You can find me over at The OWL as a part of the March of Middle Grade. Hope you come say hi!

image from here

11 Comments on Book Love Road Trips!, last added: 3/21/2012
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19. Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011, 432 pp, ISBN: 0316134023


Recap:
Karou's past is a mystery - even to herself. She has no idea where the hamsas - devil's eye - tattoos on her palms came from. She has no memory of parents or siblings. The only home she has ever known is Brimstone's shop and her family of chimaera-monsters.


Now 17-years-old, Karou isn't a little girl anymore and she has had to make a home for herself in the human world. But it's almost impossible to make friends when half of your time is spent running through magical portals, collecting teeth for your otherworldly family.


Just when it seems that her life couldn't get any more complicated, Karou meets Akiva. An angel. An angel who almost kills her. And then she falls in love.


Review:
Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone opens with perhaps my favorite opening lines, ever. And that is saying a lot:
"Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."
Doesn't that just grab you? And really, that could have just been my entire recap. Because this book has a lot going on, but those two lines get at the crux of the whole thing. 


Backing up... I've been wanting to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone for a good, long while now. Especially since it was announced as one of the Contenders in SLJ's BoB. But, I was a little wary of the "angel/devil" aspect. I've never read an "angel book." And I actually do believe that angels and demons exist in real life. So, I just wasn't sure how I would react to these fictional forces of good and evil. But as I read Karou and Akiva's story, I quickly came to the conclusion that these angels and demons are, duh, fictional - and nothing like the forces that I believe exist in reality. Once I got past that, I could fully immerse myself in Laini Taylor's wildly imaginative world of "good" versus "evil." 


12 Comments on Daughter of Smoke and Bone, last added: 3/13/2012
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20. 'Twas the Night Before BOB: Predictions

'Twas the night before BOB
And all through my home
Fingers were crossed
(I bet I'm not alone)


Sending up prayers
That the judges won't fail
And by that I mean
That my favs will prevail


Between Shades of Gray,
Akiva, Karou,
And even Doug Swietck,
I'm looking at you


After all of the library
Books that I've borrowed
I'm just excited to say
That the BoB starts tomorrow!

Can you tell I'm a little enthused that the Battle of the Kids' Books has finally arrived? I had every intention of reading each of the Contenders before the Battle began, and I'm just one book away. I'm sorry Mal Peet, but Life: An Exploded Diagram will just have to be read another day (prior to March 21, of course!). And without further ado... here are my fail-proof predictions for the 2012 BoB.

ROUND 1:
Amelia Lost over Anya's Ghost
Between Shades of Gray over Bootleg
Chime over The Cheshire Cheese Cat
Daughter of Smoke and Bone over Dead End in Norvelt
Drawing from Memory over The Grand Plan to Fix Everything
Heart and Soul over Inside Out and Back Again
A Monster Calls over Life: An Exploded Diagram (still annoyed at myself for not having read this yet!)
Okay for Now over Wonderstruck

ROUND 2:
Between Shades of Gray over Amelia Lost
Daughter of Smoke and Bone over Chime
Heart and Soul over Drawing from Memory
Okay for Now over A Monster Calls


ROUND 3:
Between Shades of Gray over Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Okay for Now over Heart and Soul

BIG KAHUNA ROUND:
Between Shades of Gray vs Okay for Now vs Daughter of Smoke and Bone (back from the Undead Vault)

And the WINNER is...
I would honestly be thrilled if any of the above three won, but I have to go with my true-book-love and vote Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys for the win!

What do you think, book lovers? Will you be following the BoB? Share your predictions!

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21. Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal, Flash Point, 2011, 160 pp, ISBN: 159643449X


Recap:
Bootleg travels all the way back to the Pilgrims coming over on the Mayflower with their casks of beer and hard liquor. Then it works its way through the events leading to the 18th Amendment - aka Prohibition - and finally winds up with the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th.


All along the way, Bootleg is spiked with liquor-related trivia, and insight into the minds of those who fought so hard to free America from the grip of alcohol.


Review:
Oh BoB, I just never know what kind of book you're going to deliver. Graphic novels, fantasy, contemporary, NIVs... and always a few volumes of that divisive genre: nonfiction. Nonfiction can be so hit-or-miss for me. Some texts, like Amelia Lost, turn out to be surprisingly entertaining and revealing. Others, like Bootleg, not so much...


Bootleg covers a lot of ground - literally working its way from the Pilgrims up to MADD and Red Ribbon Week. But the vast majority of the text is focused on the 1920s, the era of Prohibition. Honestly, I learned a TON. Now I could tell you all about Al Capone, the bar smashing Carrie Nation (aka Mother Nation aka Carry A. Nation), and the role that mothers played in passing the 18th Amendment. I was especially interested in how the amendment completely backfired - rather than putting an end to the nation's widespread drinking problem, it did quite the opposite. Not only did "wets" get much more creative in their brewing, their children got in on the act too. Breaking the nation's highest law became a game for the whole family!


If Bootleg had just been edited a little further, I think I would be a big fan. But there were many chapters that just seemed redundant, and the passages that detailed the long, drawn-out political process quickly lost my attention. To be truthful, I really just skimmed the entire second half.


This book is going up against Between Shades of Gray tomorrow in the BOB. Do I really have to tell you that I'm cheering for BSoG? Lina for the WIN!


Recommendation:
1 Comments on Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition, last added: 3/13/2012
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22. The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, Peachtree Publishers, 2011, 256 pp, ISBN: 1561455954


Recap:
Skilley is a cat. Pip is a mouse. Both have a great big secret. 


This is a story of secrets revealed, unlikely friendships, and some really delicious cheese - with cameos by Charles Dickens.


Review:
Look at this cover. Does that make you want to read this book? No? Me neither. I had put off reading it for weeks, until the BOB was only a few days away and I knew I just couldn't procrastinate any longer.

Well guess what... The Cheshire Cheese Cat is actually pretty darn charming!

I'm always curious about books written by two authors: Did either take responsibility for a certain character? Who came up with the title? Who first said, "Let's write a book together!"? After reading, it's clear that Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright were a well-matched team. The voice is strong and consistent throughout. This PW interview gives some insight into their teamwork.

I don't particularly like animals, so I don't particularly care for animals as the main characters in my books either, but Skilley and Pip were almost like furry people. Pip is the more quick-witted of the two, always ready with a giant vocabulary word and an eager teacher. Skilley is accustomed to the life of an alley cat, so a warm cozy home at The Cheshire Cheese seems pretty much like heaven to him - especially with all of the yummy snacks he gets from the mice each night.

Charles Dickens was a fun addition to the plot, and he was even the first to discover Skilley's secret. "Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese" was actually one of his favorite haunts in London, and I loved imagining him there in the pub, writing away with a little cheese plate at his elbow.

Cheshire Cheese is going up against Chime in the Battle of the Kids' Books tomorrow. I didn't care for Chime at all, which is why you won't find a review for it here, but I have a feeling that Briony will win out over Skilley and Pip tomorrow.

Recommendation:
The Cheshire Cheese Cat is a fun "historical fantasy" for upper elementary students and beyond. Animal lovers or fans of Charles Dickens should absolutely give this one a shot.

Quotable Quotes:
7 Comments on The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, last added: 3/17/2012
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23. Dead End in Norvelt

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011, 352 pp, ISBN: 0374379939


Recap
Jack Gantos is grounded for the summer. The whole summer. The only way that he can get out of the house is to write obituaries for Miss Volker, because her arthritis is so bad she can't hold a pencil anymore. 


At first, this sounds like even worse torture than helping his dad dig the bomb shelter in their front yard, but once all of Norvelt's old ladies start dropping dead, things get downright interesting.

Review:
Initially, Dead End in Norvelt suffered because I read it immediately on the heels of Okay for Now - both "funny books" with strong male narrators. And in a direct heat between the two, Okay's Doug would win out over Dead End's Jack every time - not that the Newbery Committee seemed to notice. (And have you noticed that the two covers are strangely similar?)


But once I got about a third of the way through Jack's story, I warmed up to him. I think this had less to do with Jack himself, and more to do with the hilarious people in his life - particularly Miss Volker, his best friend Bunny, and the tricycle riding Mr. Spizz. Bunny was aggravated that Jack would rather spend his summer examining bodies and writing obits with Miss Volker than playing baseball with her, but I was just thankful. A summer with Miss Volker surely makes for better reading than a summer of baseball!


Dead End was even more appealing because it is partially a reflection of author Jack Gantos' real life. I mean... the main character is named Jack Gantos! All throughout I kept trying to figure out which pieces of the fiction might actually be fact. Here's one bit of trivia that happens to be true: Norvelt is a real town which was named after First Lady EleaNOR RooseVELT, the town's planner and supporter throughout the Great Depression. Evidently, Mrs. Roosevelt planted a string of these towns across the United States.


Dead End in Norvelt goes up against Daughter of Smoke and Bone in the BoB tomorrow. I am now officially a fan of Dead End, but I'm holding out hope that Laini Taylor wins the round!
4 Comments on Dead End in Norvelt, last added: 3/16/2012
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24. Mmmm... Not Lovin' It

I am on a mission. A mission to review everything I read this year. Well... all of the YA and MG that I read. (I'm sorry Sandra Boynton, Moo Baa La La La will not be seen here, even though we just read it 11 times this week.) But I've run into a little snag. And that snag is a sudden pile-up of books that I just don't especially care for. I hate writing negative reviews, but I also don't want to stop my review streak, so these are just going to be minis!

The Storm in the Barn
by Matt Phelan
I picked this one up because a) I'm trying to read more graphic novels and b) Matt Phelan was judging the first battle of the BoB and so I just felt like giving one of his books a go. Set in Kansas during the Dust Bowl, a young boy is feeling somewhat useless in the midst of his family's troubles. But then he discovers the storm in the barn, and a storm is just what his dust-filled world needs. I know that this is a graphic novel, so it's told in large part through pictures. But... I needed more words. It felt overly simplistic to me. And the personified storm was so creepy looking - that fantasy element felt out of place in the very realistic world of the Dust Bowl.

Glory Be
by Augusta Scattergood
I had heard good things about Glory Be, and planned to feature it in an upcoming MG guest post. But as I read this story about a little girl whose summer is turned upside-down over an influx of white "Freedom Workers" and the town council's efforts to fight integration, I was struck by the total lack of African American characters (with the one exception of Glory's maid). Glory was a tough little cookie, but her story would have had so much more oomph if she actually knew and interacted with some of the people who she was trying to stand up for. And maybe that's just what was realistic for a girl like Glory at that time, but it seemed like African Americans should have a voice in a story about racism and segregation. Emma (Glory's maid) was a good character, but we still very rarely got to hear her inner voice. It bugged me. The story felt incomplete.

The Way a Door Closes
by Hope Anita Smith
I'm on a NIV kick right now, and had heard fantastic things about this one. It is the story of a boy whose father loses his job and walks out on his family. Even though I knew that was coming, it was pretty shocking because the father seemed so close to his wife, children, and mother who lives with them. At one point the grandmother

11 Comments on Mmmm... Not Lovin' It, last added: 3/19/2012
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25. Okay for Now

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Clarion Books, 2011, 368 pp, ISBN: 0547152604


Recap:
When Doug's dad loses his job, their family is forced to pick up and move to stupid Marysville. And moving is never easy, but it's even more difficult when half the town thinks you're some kind of skinny thug and your big brother's just come back from Vietnam. His father is pretty abusive too, but that's nothing new.


When Doug finds his way into the public library - So what? So what? It's not like he's reading books - things start to shift. Not very quickly, not so's you would even notice at first. But a change is coming.

Review:
Who would have ever thought that a book about Audobon's bird paintings would become one of my favorites of the whole year? Not me, that's for sure. But Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now won me over almost immediately.


I am telling you right now. Do not be dissuaded by the weird/boring cover or all of the Audobon talk. Okay for Now is will not disappoint. And I think the #1 reason why is Voice. I can't remember the last time I read a book with such an incredibly strong voice. My parents visited over the weekend (Hi, Mom!) and I read aloud to my mom pretty much the entire way to church and back because every single paragraph was better than the one before. I can still hear Doug's voice in my head saying "So what? So what? I'm not a chump!" in my head.


ALL of the characters in Doug's life are so real you would swear they exist in real life. I would not be surprised to find stupid Marysville on a map, and you know Mr. Powell would have Okay for Now on the front desk at the library.


I really want to keep this review short because the main point is this: Okay for Now is one stellar read. It's up against Wonderstruck on Thursday in the BoB, and not only am I confident that Wonderstruck is toast, I wouldn't be surprised if Okay for Now won the whole shebang.


Recommendation:
Read this book. Boy or girl, young or old, sports fan or bird watcher - you're going to love Okay for Now.
9 Comments on Okay for Now, last added: 3/22/2012
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