Review and Bridge: These Broken Stars

These Broken Stars
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get to this book even though I had heard buzz about it for almost a year. I also have a hard time ignoring a striking cover and this one is gorgeous.

Tarver and Lilac’s story is somewhat cliche: the poor little rich girl gets stranded with the self-made war hero. Tarver does the expected survival skills smorgasboard and Lilac has the appropriate “girlie” reactions as her expected inner strength and adaptability develop. While the dialogue is appropriately filled with snarky banter, there were a few times it felt stilted. It smooths out as the story progresses and even though readers might expect to have a hard time connecting with archetypes they’ve seen a hundred times before, the connection between Tarver and Lilac seems genuine in the end. Kaufman and Spooner did a good job keeping the story moving when there are only two speaking characters for the majority of the action. In the end, readers will be invested in both the characters’ relationship and the outcome of their situation.

Just when it seems trite, the setting and premise of the book quickly kick it out of the cliche category. Reminiscent of Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan or Across the Universe by Beth Revis, this space opera does not disappoint. The existence of space colonization and cross-galaxy travel make for rich world-building. The idea of terra-forming strange planets to make them habitable opens up so many possibilities for this series. That’s one of the things I like most about the first two books. Different worlds with different climates and different assimilation struggles make for an endless store of possible spinoffs.

I was disappointed that the second book, This Shattered World, seemed to be about a completely different set of characters. But as the story progressed, realized that the story arcs crossed paths and it’s made me highly anticipate the third book in the Starbound trilogy. The plot of the second book was more original and puts a twist on the surprise element from the first book. I’m interested to see how the authors bring everything to a close with the third book, Their Fractured Light.

Overall a good choice for sci-fi and romance fans.

BRIDGE BOOKS: This book could easily be paired with some more traditional titles to address the archetypes and plot schema used.
Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

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Review: Scarlett Undercover

Scarlett Undercover
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m torn with my rating. Basically, I gave it two stars because there were too many times during my reading when I thought Oh, C’mon! Really? The really crappy thing is that the book has a female Muslim main character and introduces several characters of color. I had such high hopes, but the diversity and the atypical mythology were not enough to overcome the issues with the writing and the plot.

I was really confused at the beginning of the book. I thought maybe I was reading a second or third book in a series because Scarlett, as narrator, seems to be working on the assumption that readers know about her history as a private detecive. Farther into the story, missing pieces are provided about Scarlett’s age and how she is running this “business”, but I wanted that information earlier.

Perhaps Latham is going for a bit of a “film noir” feel, providing the backstory in catchy asides as the initial action develops, but it didn’t come fast enough to feel organic. The other bit that fits the “film noir” piece are the truly cringe-worthy metaphors and similes Scarlett uses during narration. A grungy, middle-aged man with a cigar in his mouth MIGHT be able to get away with “her comment was as blunt as a billy club” but a barely 18 year-old black Muslim girl? No. It was not believable that this type of girl would speak or think that way. Another unbelievable element is Scarlett’s client: a nine year-old girl (Gemma) who find Scarlett’s business card in her private school bathroom. Gemma comes to Scarlett’s office alone to retain her services, and while the wad of cash she pulls out of her backpack for Scarlett’s fee rings true to how a nine year-old would attempt to pay, I kept wondering How the hell did she get there all by herself?

Finally, there are the truly incredible coincidences that pile up from page one. The “villain” happens to have body markings that match a pattern on a mysterious flask that belonged to Scarlett’s father. Scarlett’s love interest happens to have a tattoo of the same markings. Love Interest’s dad just happens to show up (they thought he was dead) and seems to be involved in this secret plot. Scarlett’s dad’s murder from years past seems to be connected to this completely random case brought to her by Gemma. Adults seem to wilt and follow Scarlett’s orders despite basic common sense: the whole scene with Delilah recanting her earlier safety admonitions to Scarlett rings false.

Having said all that, I would DEFINITELY recommend it to readers of color who are looking for themselves as narrators. The black, famale Muslim perspective is unique and the theology/mythology surrounding King Solomon provides a nice change from the white Anglo-Saxon, Christian female heroine. Overall, I was really rooting for this book, but in the end there is just too much coincidence and contrivance to overcome.

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6 Read Alouds for Engaging Reluctant High School Readers

By the time students get to high school, pleasure reading has become, for many of them, nonexistent. I remember watching sophomores and juniors walk into my classroom and ask, “Why do you have all these books in here? I never read anymore.” As many of us have learned, somewhere between “Circle Time” read alouds in elementary school and when they walk in our doors in high school, we have managed to kill the love of reading in our students. As I’ve mentioned before in my 5 Best Read Alouds for Middle School, I think students are never to old to be read to. And more than ever, when books are dissected and analyzed and cited and thematically essayed to death in high school, we need to reintroduce our students to the LOVE OF STORY. Please keep in mind that these are merely suggestions and books that I have had success with in multiple districts. You, of course, are the best judge of whether a book and its content are appropriate for your students.

1. The Haunting of Gabriel Ashe by Dan Poblocki – Has Gabriel created a monster?

Something sinister lurks in the woods outside of Slade.

Gabe has seen it, or he thinks he has – a shadow standing at the tree line, watching Gabe’s house with faintly glowing eyes.

Despite Gabe’s misgivings, his new friend, Seth, relishes the creepy atmosphere of the forest. It’s the perfect setting for his imaginary struggle against the Hunter, a deformed child-eating creature said to leave the bones of his victims in his wake. It’s just a game, but it’s all a bit much for Gabe, who quickly loses interest as summer ends and the days grow shorter.

But then strange things start to happen. Frightening things. And Gabe knows it has to do with the dark figure watching him from the edge of the woods.

Is Seth out to teach Gabe a lesson? Or is the Hunter more than just a myth? Gabe isn’t sure which option is more horrifying, but he’s determined to learn the truth before someone gets hurt . . . or worse.

2. Blank Confession by Pete Hautman – Shayne Blank is the new kid in town–but that doesn’t stop him from getting into a lot of trouble very quickly. The other kids don’t understand him. He’s not afraid of anything. He seems too smart. And his background doesn’t add up. But when he walks into the police department to confess to a murder, it quickly becomes apparent that nothing is as it seems. There’s more to Shayne–and his story–than meets the eye. As the details begin to fill in, the only thing that becomes clear is that nothing about Shayne’s story is clear at all.

3. Shattering Glass by Gail Giles* – “Simon Glass was easy to hate….I guess, really we each hated him for a different reason, but we didn’t realize it until the day we killed him.”

Fat, clumsy Simon Glass is a nerd, a loser who occupies the lowest rung on the high school social ladder. Everyone picks on him — until Rob Haynes shows up. Rob, a transfer student with charisma to spare, immediately becomes the undisputed leader of the senior class. And he has plans for Simon.
Rob enlists the help of his crew — wealthy, intellectual Young, ladies’ man Bob, and sweet, athletic Coop — in a mission: Turn sniveling Simon from total freak to would-be prom king.
But as Simon rises to the top of the social ranks, he shows a new confidence and a devious side that power-hungry Rob did not anticipate. And when Simon uncovers a dangerous secret, events darken. The result is disquieting, bone-chilling…and brutal.  *some profanity and sexual content

4. Killing Mr. Griffin – Lois Duncan – High school can be tough. But with teachers like Mr. Griffin it can seem impossible.

They only planned to scare him. But sometimes even the best-laid plans go wrong.

5. The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom – Eddie is a grizzled war veteran who feels trapped in a meaningless life of fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. His days are a dull routine of work, loneliness, and regret.

On his 83rd birthday, Eddie dies in a tragic accident, trying to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakens in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a lush Garden of Eden, but a place where your earthly life is explained to you by five people. These people may have been loved ones or distant strangers. Yet each of them changed your path forever.

One by one, Eddie’s five people illuminate the unseen connections of his earthly life. As the story builds to its stunning conclusion, Eddie desperately seeks redemption in the still-unknown last act of his life: Was it a heroic success or a devastating failure? The answer, which comes from the most unlikely of sources, is as inspirational as a glimpse of heaven itself.

6. “A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle” by John Green from Let It Snow with Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle – A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s bestselling teen authors the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.

Using these titles ans springboards, it is possible to get high school students interested in reading again. I’ve seen it. Good luck, and happy reading!

Review: All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finch is the kind of guy all teens are simultaneously hopeful and fearful they will fall in love with. He is unique, bordering on strange. He is the “bad boy” with good intentions. He is the cliche of the overlooked, misunderstood smart kid who manages to NOT be a cliche. Violet LONGS to be the cliche she was before her sister’s death: cheerleader, popular, snobbish, privileged. A death-wish brings them together and neither one will ever be the same, for better or worse, because of their meeting.

Violet and Finch’s story is full of humor and heartache. Niven has created a fractured kid in Finch who longs to be whole again. Violet is struggling to find a new normal and feel whole after losing her best friend-sister. In Finch, Violet finds the shove she needs to “get back on the camel”. He asks the questions everyone else is afraid to ask and won’t let her squirm out of answering. Violet gives Finch the beauty and acceptance he’s been looking for since long before his father left. The two of them find in each other that conditional but engulfing acceptance of first, true love that will leave them changed for the rest of their lives.

I spent the two and a half days reading this marveling over the quotable lines and humor provided by Finch. He has a wisdom that seems to always come with a skewed perspective on life. People who live as bright and hot and immediate as Finch seem to light up the dark corners that those of us at normal speed seem to miss. Much like Pudge looking for the Great Perhaps, Finch and Violet are looking for All the Bright Places that will remind them that they’re alive and young and infinite. The world in which Finch lives is one that I want to create for myself and my children and my students.

Ultimately heartbreaking (I did the ugly cry), Finch and Violet’s story spirals with the “impending, weightless doom” of the Blue Flash. Through the split narration, readers see both sides of their journey and the ways in which we lie to one another and to ourselves. But it leaves readers with the sense that wandering, experiencing, and loving are the keys to truly finding your path.

SIMILAR TITLES: Looking for Alaska by John Green, Papertowns by John Green, Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Review: Something Strange and Deadly

Something Strange and Deadly
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this new take on the zombie book, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. After the initial zombie attack, it drags a little, but the last third of the book is action packed. I thought the revelation about Elijah at the end was somewhat predictable, but Dennard threw in a twist I wasn’t expecting. Eleanor is a fiesty, rebellious narrator. She is brash and it is somewhat unbelievable that she would behave as she does, but then again, how did women earn the vote or equal pay without unbelievably brash and rebellious individuals.

I always enjoy this time period and the accurate historical details about the Exhibition are a nice added touch. Blending the zombie and steam punk genres has given some new life to the zombie genre. I realize the book was originally published in 2012, but it is a new path in the well-traveled genre for fans of zombie books.

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Review: Press Play

Press Play
Press Play by Eric Devine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hazing is a real thing and as much as I didn’t want to believe it happened when I was warned of it in college, it is something of which all teachers and parents should be aware. Devine’s novel throws into harsh light the realities of hazing and bullying as well as the culture that protects and promotes such behavior. Greg is fighting an uphill battle with his weight and the bullying he must endure. It doesn’t get any easier when he tries to change himself as well as battle the jock royalty in his school. Devine tackles several difficult issues in this book with a directness that doesn’t attempt to soften the brutality of their affects on teens. Competitive parenting strategies, body-shaming, sport as religion, hierarchy of extracurricular interests (sport over film or band or drama), and multiple types of peer pressure that may not be at the forefront of such conversations are just some of the many reasons to read this book and look for anything else Devine writes.

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29 December 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YAIt’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…who knows, you might discover that next “must read” book!
The lovelies at thought this would be a fun meme to start up with a kidlit focus: anyone reading and reviewing books in children’s literature. It can be picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels – you name it in the world of kidlit and it’s in! I love being a part of this meme and hope you do, too! I encourage everyone participating to go and visit the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and to comment on as many posts as you can. We love talking books and believe in sharing and discussing what we’re reading. We hope you join us! Read more here:
In the last week I’ve finished
This week, I’m reading and listening to