Tuesday, May 29, 2012


From Goodreads.com:
Natasha Friend is a Judy Blume for today -- clearly evident in this remarkable new novel about a girl whose father is an alcoholic and how she and her family learn to deal with his condition. 
It's hard to be a 13-year-old girl. But it's even harder when your father's a drunk. It adds an extra layer to everything -- your family's reactions to things, the people you're willing to bring home, the way you see yourself and the world. For Samantha, it's something that's been going on for so long that she's almost used to it. Only, you never get used to it. Especially when it starts to get worse...”

Samantha (Sam) is a typical middle school girl, except for one thing, her dad is an alcoholic. Sam’s mom and grandmother (her dad’s mom) are willing if not eager to overlook or flat out deny or ignore what is happening in their lives. Sam decides to seek some advice from a stranger via a note left at the library.

The stranger helps her to learn about herself and her dad’s disease. When Sam meets the stranger, she is surprised to learn that the person has faced adversity as well. Together they work to help Sam learn to help herself as her dad spirals out of control. It isn’t until a regrettable incident involving Sam’s younger brother that her dad finally gets some help.

I love that Natasha Friend doesn’t hesitate to take on the difficult topic of alcoholism. She does an excellent job of describing the lengths to which a person will go to protect their disease. Dad hides bottles, drives drunk while pretending to be ok, screams and yells and then claims not to remember it and so much more. He isn’t a “bum” or a “bad guy”, in fact, he is a highly respected architect. Ms. Friend has chosen a “regular guy” as her alcoholic father. I so much appreciated that aspect of the book. Alcoholics are everywhere, all zip codes, all races, all tax brackets, and all education levels.

In Lush, Natasha Friend not only gives us with a heroine we can root for but also provides information at the end of the book. She includes websites, books, and phone numbers for teens that may have the same family situation.

This book is a great, short read with a good plot and a lot of information!

If you or someone you know is (or may be) an alcoholic here are some resources for help:

Alateen: for teens with a family member or friend who is an alcoholic (either active or in recovery)

Alcoholics Anonymous: for people who are or think they might be alcoholics. Great information about the disease for everyone.

Coping with an Alcoholic Parent: Great info

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book vs. Movie - Avalon High


Avalon High Movie vs Book

Let me begin by saying that Meg Cabot’s books are a guilty pleasure for me. I have read every book she has written. While I liked Avalon High, I didn’t think it was her best book. I read the first of the graphic novel series based on Avalon High and, well, if you read my review for that, you know that I hated it.

I thought it would be fun to compare the Disney movie Avalon High to the book. Let’s be real here, it is a Disney movie, not From Here to Eternity. I didn’t go in with high expectations of cinematic glory, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was cute, fun, and easy to watch. It stuck pretty close to the book except for one main fact, the Arthurian counterparts were wrong, wrong, wrong! In the book Ellie is Elaine, The Lady of the Lake and Will is King Arthur. In the movie they made Ellie Arthur and she “saved the day”.

If you just watch the movie, it is enjoyable on its own and they make a half-hearted attempt to make her being Arthur seem plausible. The book makes a much better explanation and better use of her parents (who are, by sheer coincidence) Arthurian experts.

All things considered, the movie alone is good, the book alone is good, the graphic novel still stinks!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book vs. Movie - The Hunger Games


Hunger Games Movie vs. Book

Like so many others, I wanted to compare The Hunger Games book versus the movie. I agree with a colleague who said that the movie is a much better accompaniment to the book than a stand alone. Having read the book made the movie much easier to understand.

I hated the shaky cinematography at the beginning of the movie and I don’t think it added at all to the feelings evoked in the movie. I was extremely disappointed by the lack of development of the relationship between Rue and Katniss. Rue’s death is such a big part of Katniss’ development and of her desire to seek revenge on the Capitol. With the lack of this definition we are left as the audience wondering why she went to such extremes to place the flowers on Rue and why District 11 broke out into rioting.

Overall, I thought the movie did a good job using Caesar Flickerman to explain the moves and motivations explained through exposition in the book. I think even more of that would have made the movie easier for those who have not read the book. My other major disappointment was the downplaying of the violence and emotions in the Arena. While I know that the producers had to get a PG-13 rating at most and violence can lead to an R rating, I wish they had stayed more true to the book in that manner.

You might surmise that I didn’t like this movie at all. You would be wrong. I actually thought, for a movie, it was excellent (other than the whole shaky camera technique which I hated). I thought it was captivating and engaging. I thought the casting was superb. But the goal was to compare the book to the movie.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

From Goodreads.com
“In the first major YA steampunk anthology, fourteen top storytellers push the genre's mix of sci-fi, fantasy, history, and adventure in fascinating new directions.
Imagine an alternate universe where romance and technology reign. Where tinkerers and dreamers craft and re-craft a world of automatons, clockworks, calculating machines, and other marvels that never were. Where scientists and schoolgirls, fair folk and Romans, intergalactic bandits, utopian revolutionaries, and intrepid orphans solve crimes, escape from monstrous predicaments, consult oracles, and hover over volcanoes in steam-powered airships. Here, fourteen masters of speculative fiction, including two graphic storytellers, embrace the genre's established themes and refashion them in surprising ways and settings as diverse as Appalachia, ancient Rome, future Australia, and alternate California. Visionaries Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have invited all-new explorations and expansions, taking a genre already rich, strange, and inventive in the extreme and challenging contributors to remake it from the ground up. The result is an anthology that defies its genre even as it defines it.”

Authors included are: 
Holly Black 
Libba Bray 
Shawn Cheng 
Cassandra Clare 
Cory Doctorow 
Dylan Horrocks 
Kathleen Jennings 
Elizabeth Knox 
Kelly Link 
Garth Nix 
Christopher Rowe 
Delia Sherman 
Ysabeau S. Wilce
M. T. Anderson 

From dictionary.com:
Steampunk: a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy featuring advanced machines and other technology based on steampower of the 19th century and taking place in a recognizable historical period or a fantasy world.

Each short story is a work by a noted YA author. Libba Bray, for example, writes a story about a gang of horse riding Wild West girls with a mechanism that slows/stops time long enough for them to rob a train and get out. Cory Doctrow writes about a Canadian workhouse for crippled orphans run by a horrible man. The orphans kill him, take over and build a clockwork version (like a robot) of the man so the nuns won’t realize that he is gone.
I didn’t enjoy all the stories. Hand in Glove by Ysabeau S. Wilce 2008 winner of the Andre Norton award for Young Adult Science Fiction and fantasy* was too "something" for me. I can’t put my finger on it (no pun intended). I found myself bogged down by the language of it all. On the other hand, Some Fortunate Future Day by Cassandra Clare was an enjoyable (if creepy) read about a girl whose dolls tell her what to do. I have always been creeped out by talking dolls and this was no exception, but the story was excellent.

 There are 2 graphic stories, stories which would appeal to girls, stories which would appeal to boys and stories which would appeal to all. It gives the reader a glimpse into the Steampunk genre and allows a taste of many different varieties.

*Wilce, Y. S. (n.d.). Retrieved May 5, 2012, from http://yswilce.com/index.html

Monday, May 14, 2012

Law & Order - Colonial Unit

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker
School Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ Gr 6–9— Walker takes readers on an archaeological investigation of human and material remains from 17th- and 18th-century Jamestown and colonial Maryland, while addressing relevant topics in forensic anthropology, history, and archaeology. The excavations encompass burial sites of colonists from various backgrounds, including a teenage indentured servant hastily buried in a trash pit, a grouping of prominent colonists laid to rest in lead coffins, and a woman of African heritage who likely toiled as a slave. Answers concerning the identity and fate of the uncovered remains are realized only after various specialists combine their findings to re-create relevant historical circumstances. In one instance, anthropologists provide anatomical details of a recovered skull to artists, who then use the data to produce the first sculpture of an American colonist of African ancestry. The text succinctly explains complex forensic concepts, such as determining the gender and age of a skeleton, or whether a skull represents a person originating from Europe or Africa. Captioned, full-color photographs of skeletal, dental, and artifactual remains shed light on colonial life. Historical documents, illustrated maps, and anatomical drawings complement images of various specialists at work in the field. Photographs of reenactors performing period tasks, such as grinding corn, provide insight into the daily life of the recovered individuals. Though other recent volumes discuss forensic anthropology, such as James M. Deem's Bodies from the Ice (Houghton, 2008), Written in Bone casts a magnifying glass on the hardships and realities of colonial life so often romanticized in American lore.—Jeff Meyer, Slater Public Library, IA --Jeff Meyer (Reviewed February 1, 2009) (School Library Journal, vol 55, issue 2, p127)
Sally M. Walker presents an exciting and informative look at forensics, archeology and anthropology in this fantastic non-fiction book. She works hard to give detailed scientific information at a level not above or below the heads of the average teenager.

Each step of the process includes historical atmosphere, maps, photos and descriptions. Her focus on the mysterious aspects of parts of the excavation (a possible murder, bodies buried together, etc.) grabbed my attention and held it.

Every chapter is like a separate vignette (or, if you are me, a new episode of Law and Order, Colonial Times). One is about a boy they found and how they tried to determine cause of death, his birth origin and more. Another chapter is titled “The Captain,” the name they gave to another body after an x-ray revealed an object associated with high ranking military of the time. Still another is “The Body in the Basement.”

Throughout the book teens will learn about the complex processes of excavating a site of historical importance. The care taken by scientists, forensic experts, archaeologists and others is highlighted and combined with a fun sense of mystery and intrigue (and some amazing photos!). I would recommend this to all teens.

This is one of the books for which I have created a video book trailer. I created these for my public library (where I am an intern in the YA department). I am including the trailer below.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Owls, Pancakes, Alligators and Mullet

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
“Carl Hiaasen, bestselling author of Basket Case and other hilarious Floridian capers, serves up a high-spirited fight for the environment in his first work aimed at younger audiences.The site of Coconut Cove's future Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House is experiencing a slight problem: survey stakes removed, alligators in the port-a-potties, and painted-over patrol cars. But who's behind the clever vandalism and pranks? New Florida resident Roy Eberhardt isn't aware of these goings-on, but he has often noticed a barefoot boy running down the street faster than anything. His curiosity piqued, Roy starts to inquire around and even follows the boy once, only to be told by Beatrice Leep, a.k.a. Beatrice the Bear, to mind his own business. Despite Beatrice's warning and plenty of bullying from the lunkheaded Dana Matherson, Roy follows the boy, whose name is Mullet Fingers, one day and winds up in the middle of an ecological mission to save a parliament of burrowing owls from being bulldozed.
Full of colorful, well-developed characters, Hoot is a quick-witted adventure that will keep readers hooked. With down-to-earth Roy, dumbfounded Officer Delinko, and construction site manager Curly -- along with other head-shaking morons and uplifting heroes -- the author delivers an appealing cast of characters that keep the plot twisting and turning until the highly charged ending. Another zany trip to the Sunshine State for Hiaasen fans, this rewarding ecological adventure should keep readers young and old hooting with laughter. Matt Warner”

I am reviewing the audio CD version of Hoot. I enjoyed listening to Chad Lowe read this engaging book. Carl Hiaasen has captured the “new kid” angle and the “smaller kid” angle with ease. Roy hates Florida. He just wants to go back to Montana until he sees the “running boy.” Once he sees the boy, he is determined to solve the mystery of whom he is and why he was running.

Roy gets involved in Mullet Fingers’ crusade to save the burrowing owls from the Mrs. Paula’s Pancake House crew. The unwavering resolution of Mullet Fingers inspires Roy to learn to love Florida, or at least accept that it isn’t a horrible place to live. As much as Roy, Mullet Fingers and Beatrice save the owls, they save Roy as well.

The adult characters are basically there to provide some comic relief. The brains of the mystery are provided by the Middle School kids. Officer Delinko and Curly are steps away from being their own new version of the Three Stooges (heck, one even has the name already!). Roy’s parents are loving and kind. Roy’s law-enforcement dad helps Roy locate some important missing information but for the most part the adults are not particularly involved.

This book would be a great read for Hi-Lo readers (high interest, low vocabulary), girls and boys. Boys will love the encounters with Dana Matherson and all the pranks pulled in order to save the owls. Girls and boys alike will enjoy the mystery aspect. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Raw Look at a Nearly Lost Life...

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

Publishers Weekly:
After penning a number of novels for preteens, including the Joey Pigza books and the Jack series, Gantos makes a smooth transition as he addresses an older audience. He uses the same bold honesty found in his fiction to offer a riveting autobiographical account of his teen years—and the events may well penetrate the comfort zone of even the most complacent young adults. The memoir begins with the dramatic image of the author as a young convict ("When I look at my face in the photo I see nothing but the pocked mask I was hiding behind"). The book then goes on to provide an in-depth examination of the sensitive and intelligent boy residing behind a tough facade. Inspired by the words and lives of some of his favorite American authors, Gantos sought adventure after leaving high school. He eagerly agreed to help smuggle a shipment of hashish from Florida to New York without giving thought of the possible consequences. Knowing that the narrator is destined to land in jail keeps suspense at a high pitch, but this book's remarkable achievement is the multiple points of view that emerge, as experiences force a fledgling writer to continually revise his perspective of himself and the world around him. The book requires a commitment, as it rambles a bit at times, but it provides much food for thought and fuel for debate. It will leave readers emotionally exhausted and a little wiser. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) --Staff (Reviewed February 25, 2002) (Publishers Weekly, vol 249, issue 8, p68)

When I knew I needed to read a biography (not my normal choice for reading) book for my class, I turned to a friend/librarian for some suggestions. She had but one: Hole in My Life IS the book you WILL read for this. I did what anyone who knows Geri would have done, I shut up and checked out the book!
At first I wondered why she wanted me to read this odd yellow covered book written way back in 2002 about a man I have never heard of. Now I know. Hole in My life is compelling and interesting. I felt as though I was with Newberry Award Winner Jack Gantos on his search for self. I crewed the ship from Florida to NY with him, and ran from the law. I felt the emotions: happiness, pain, sorrow, fear and so many more as he felt them.

This boy who always wanted to be a writer but felt as though he had nothing to write about, this smart kid with no self-esteem, this boy seeking to be a man but not understanding how; all of these things, these feelings, I understood. Here was a kid trying to find his place in the world. He didn’t know what to do with the jumble of feelings, so he sought respite in drugs and alcohol. I found myself screaming at the book “don’t you SEE what you are doing to yourself???”

I found the description of his time in prison (15 months in the federal pen for smuggling hash) fascinating. So many things conspired to keep him safe and out of relative harm during his stay. His sentence could have gone so much worse.

I have visited Jack Gantos’ website (http://www.jackgantos.com/) and read numerous articles about him. He speaks with amazing candor about his youth and the problems he created/encountered. One of my favorite things I read was an interview with him on NPR.  I have included the link below because I think it gives a sense of Jack Gantos’ personality and humor.