Friday, March 28, 2008

Is That a Dead Dog in Your Locker?--Todd Strasser

Genre: Children's fiction/literature
Year Published: 2006
Rating: 3.5

My son recommended I read this book, stating it was funny and easy to read. So while he lay at the foot of my bed reading the next book in the series, I read it. A children's book, it was deliciously easy to read, and full of puns, plays on words, gross-out humor and other entertainment worthy of a nine-year old's amusement. Fun! Oddly enough, I had just read another book by the same author, which was about school shootings and wasn't funny at all. Who knew?

Challenge/s: None
Book a Week # 16

The Stone War--Madeline Robins

Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Year Published: 2000
Pages: 352
Rating: 3

This has been on my shelf for years, and wasn't what I had expected. I thought it would be a sci-fi/fantasy novel, but it fits more in with Stephen King or Dean Koontz. A furturistically dangerous NYC is destroyed by a series of inexplicable disasters--earthquakes, fires, floods--and the hordes of forgotten street people are somehow changed into monsters, bent upon revenge. The rest of the book reminded me heavily of King's The Stand--where everyday people are forced into an epic battle of good versus evil--except that the outcome hinges solely upon the mind of a young, parentless homeless kid.

Although somewhat choppy, and resounding with influences, this was an exciting and thought-provoking read. Its message of the importance of unconditional love is timely and useful in this day and age.

Challenge/s: TBR
Book a Week # 15

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Complete Persepolis--Marjane Satrapi

Another great read. I've never read a graphic novel before, but the author's account of her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution goes down smoothly in comic book form. It was tragic and heart-wrencing; enlightening and inspiring. Sometimes its good to be reminded of all we Americans are gifted with and take for granted.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fallen Angels--Walter Dean Myers

Another really good young adult novel. The protagonist joins the army after highschool because he can't afford to do much else, and begins his tour of duty in Vietnam. Told from his point of view, the story takes us through the fear, horror, and sadness the soldier's experience, as well as the bonds and comradeship. It also touches on the racial issues of the time period. Its a real eye-opener for those of us who have never had to be unsafe. A student recommended it to me, and I think its a great read for anyone.

Challenges: Young Adult, TBR

Give a Boy a Gun--Todd Strasser

This was a good, quick, albeit depressing read. A fictionalized account of a school shooting in middle American, the book is told through anecdotes from a wide variety of characters, including the shooters friends, enemies, and various classmates, teachers, parents, etc. Interspersed throughout the book are statistics about gun violence. The author has definate ideas, but no firm solutions, about the problem of school shootings. It is a provocative look at a disturbing and pertinent subject. I'm not sure if I should encourage my students to read it, or worry that it will give them ideas.

Challenges: Young Adult, TBR (alternate)

Water For Elephants--Sarah Gruen

An old man sits in a nursing home, watching himself deteriorate before his eyes, distant from his family, desperate to assert his dignity. As he does, we are treated to memories of his younger years, when he was a vet in a Depression-era circus. Both parts of the story are charming and inviting. The circus is filled with unsavory characters, including a money-hungry boss and a sadistic and psychotic animal trainer. It is also peppered with delightful--yet raw and real--characters, such as a dwarf, a good-hearted, crippled veteran, a beautiful and compassionate female performer, and a brilliant and mischievous elephant. It is captivating and suspenseful, colorful and invigorating. It is a glimpse into this fascinating time period without the bleakness associated with much depression-era literature.

This is my favorite read of the year so far--and the competition, for the most part, has been pretty tough. I highly recommend this book.

Challenges: TBR, Decades (1930's); States (IL)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Death Before Dishonor--Nikki Grimes

Worst. Book. Ever.

Not that I expected much. I bought it for 3.99 at Barnes and Noble, thinking it might interest my students. After reading the first line, which is too obscene to quote here, I realized that was out of the question. I don't even know why I bothered to read it, except that it was so bad it was kind of captivating. The characters are horribly stereotypical (straight out of a ghetto-rap song), the plot is ridiculous, the author contradicts herself constantly, as if she forgot what she had written about a character a page before. Misogyny and violence abound, of course. The writing is terrible--choppy, and peppered with the occasional sentence fragment. The dialogue is forced. And the similes! Again, most of them are too obscene to quote, but here's a sample of a tamer one: "She looked as big and meaty as the chicken wings." Or how about a metaphor? " one could figure out why she would waste $55 on a cute hairdo when she would still just be a gorilla with a cute hairdo." But the best is a little tidbit of "gangsta mathematics" written in a love note: "(L+T) x Lty2 = DBD", which translated means (of course): "Love plus Trust, multiplied by Loyalty (to the second power) Equals...Death Before Dishonor." I don't get it, myself, but I never took gangsta mathematics in school.

You may have to read this book in order to believe how bad it really is. But you may not be able to stomach it. My advice is to not bother.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Pact--Jodi Picoult

This was a good book. Yes, some of it was contrived. Yes, some of it was predictable. But Picoult is able to bring the characters to life in such a way that such minor setbacks are easy to ignore. A teen romance goes horribly awry when Emily is found dead of a gunshot wound in her boyfriend Chris' lap. Chris is accused of murder. His defense is that it was a suicide pact gone wrong. The rest of the book alternates between the present, moving toward the trial, and the past, leading to what actually happened that night--and why.

Heartbreaking, controversial and suspenseful, this book is worth reading. By the end I was practically jumping up and down because I was dying to find out what happens next. I have never read Picoult before, but I understand that many of her books deal with controversial topics. I am interested in reading more of her.