Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten YA Books That I Would Use for Book Club

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish.  Each week a new Top Ten list topic is posted and book bloggers fill in their own choices.  I'm a list girl (as in, I don't function without them), so I thought this would be a good choice for me!  This week is a freebie week where we can make any top ten list we want.  I think this week's topic falls in line with my freebie topic last week, Top Ten Books I Think Should Be Read and Discussed in EVERY High School.  Discussion is discussion, whether it's in the classroom or living room...  I will stand by the selections from last week for this list as well, but will add ten more.  I don't know if these would necessarily be my TOP ten, but they are the first ten that came to mind...

Top Ten YA Books That I Would Use for Book Club
*In no particular order.*

1.  The Fault In Our Stars by John Green~ Okay, so really, I think ANY of John Green's books would make great book club picks, but this one is about kids with cancer, so it wins the prize for the one I am featuring.  This book will slay you one moment, and have you cracking up the next.  It takes true talent to tastefully find humor in cancer, and John Green nails it (read my review HERE).  Other books by John that would make great book club picks?  Paper Towns, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Looking for Alaska.

2.  If I Stay by Gayle Foreman~ A truly amazing story that will touch your soul.  I could not put this book down.  The same goes for its sequel, Where She Went, so you might as well read it the following month...

3.  Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley~ Much like John Green, John Corey Whaley understands the human spirit.  I am so thrilled that he won both the Morris Award and the Printz Award this past week.  I said last year that I thought this book was the most underrated debut of 2011; I guess I was wrong!  I'm so happy more people are finding out about this book because it would make for amazing discussion.  Read my review HERE.

4.  The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis~ Everyone's read Narnia, but how many people have read C.S. Lewis's other books?  A lot, but as I talk to people, I realize that not enough have.  This book is amazing, and it's one that I think could really generate some great discussion.

5.  Beauty Queens by Libba Bray~ Every time I have a discussion with someone about this book, we laugh and laugh and laugh, so I imagine a group discussing this book would be awesome (especially with a bunch of wine)!  I love Libba Bray and wish I could convince everyone, everywhere to read her books.  Read my review HERE.

6.  The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins~ This isn't YA, but the characters in it are teens, so I'm including it because parents and teens alike could stand to read it.  I'm a private school mom with above average kids, as are most of the people I am in book clubs with, so this book is VERY relevant.  I'm not a pushy mom, but I know plenty who are and this book is eye-opening (actually, I wonder if I'm not pushy because I read this before my kids were in school. Hmmm..).  

7.  Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer~ This book makes you think.  A lot.  I've read it a few times and it always makes me grateful for all I have (and makes me want to start stockpiling things like food, water, propane, antibiotics, and vodka).  This, and it's two successors would make great picks for book club.  Read my review of the series HERE.

8.  Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin~ I've had some great one-on-one discussions with people about this book.  It seems to really touch the hearts of those who read it.  I think it would provoke a lot of discussion, and I always loving hearing other people's thoughts on it.

9.  Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher~ Honestly, this should have been on my list last week.  It is an amazing book book that puts the dangers of bullying and hurtful words and actions right in your face, but then highlights how hurtful it is when nothing is said at all, and should have been.   A GREAT discussion book for teens AND adults.

10.  The Pact by Jodi Piccoult~ Is Jodi Piccoult considered YA?  I usually can't stomach her books; they rip me to shreds, but the ones I have read all would have made great group reads.  I've read six or seven of her books and they would all work for this list, but this one jumped out at me first, so here it is.

I can't wait to see your lists!  I'm sure I forgot loads of books that ya'll will remind me of!  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Audiobook Review: Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: June 7th, 2011

Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she's a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Blood Red Road has a searing pace, a poetically minimal writing style, violent action, and an epic love story. Moira Young is one of the most promising and startling new voices in teen fiction.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I've made several attempts to read the print version of this book to no avail.  The main character, Saba, has a strange manner of speaking, using odd variations of English words, almost like a different dialect, that I had a hard time staying with.  It isn't like reading a book where the characters are speaking proper English or using Brit or Irish slang; I don't usually find them difficult to follow because I've become fairly used to it over the years.  Saba's manner is almost like a version of uneducated Southern US English with a touch of made-up slang.  I often had to re-read words to get what their meaning and I often grew frustrated with the way things were spelled.  At any rate, I started this book several times and couldn't make it further in than the first 100 pages, but I really wanted to experience this book that I had heard so many great things about, so I got the audio version.  I was absolutely blown away!  This book is everything fans say it is.  It's exciting, well-written, action-packed, thought-provoking, tender, and unpredictable.  I'm so glad I didn't give up on it, because I would have been missing out.  So, what was the difference?  The narrator, Heather Lind.  She did a fabulous job breathing life and reality into this story.  She has a Southern accent, and she manages to read the odd words and their different contexts in ways that I couldn't in my head.  She took the one element of this book that turned me off, and made it not only work really well, but made it relevant and crucial to the story.  She gave Saba a voice that I couldn't give her, making me enjoy Saba's character like I could never manage to do when reading it.  The audio version of this book reads like a movie.  Honestly, if you haven't read Blood Red Road yet, give the audio a try because it so amazingly done.  It is probably one of the best audio versions of a book that I have ever read.

As for the story itself...  It was so well plotted and paced.  Moira Young did a fantastic job answering every question and adding the right elements of surprise and action at the right times.  The writing was so flawless that I have to believe she had this outlined to the very last detail before she wrote the first word.  If she didn't, then my awe of her talent goes even further.  She built a desolate and oppressive world that I cannot even fathom being a part of.  I'm am so intrigued by it and can't wait to continue the series, where I will hopefully find out more about how it came to be so.  The characters were awesome as well.  Saba is a smart (but uneducated), kick-ass, determined, fight-to-the-death female heroine.  She is up there on my list with the likes of Katsa from Graceling and Katniss from The Hunger Games.  Jack was also great, and I was glad that his relationship with Saba wasn't insta-love.  I also liked Saba's annoying little sister, Emmi.  She was surprisingly intuitive for a girl so young.  I loved the Free Hawks and the fact that they were a strong bunch of girls, much like Saba, who stuck by each other.  With so many bestselling YA books out there glorifying mean-girl behavior, I love that Moira Young chose to go in the other direction.

Overall, I consider this book a must-listen.  I can't bring myself to recommend you read it, though.  This is the type of story that is so much better when you let someone else tell it to you.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book is very violent, but otherwise pretty clean.  I would liken it to The Hunger Games as far as grade level recommendation, which for me is 5th grade and up (ages 10+).

Sunday, January 29, 2012

In My Mailbox (23)

In My Mailbox (IMM) was started by The Story Siren a few years back, and is a great way for bloggers to give the books they are reading (or are planning to read) a quick mention.

Beneath a Meth Moon
By Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2012
Source: ARC
Goodreads Synopsis
Jacqueline Woodson is a great writer of issues. I loved Feathers and If You Come Softly, and I think this book will be amazingly heartbreaking. Stay tuned!

The Dead of Winter
By Chris Priestley
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: January 31st, 2012
Source: ARC
Goodreads Synopsis
I requested this from NetGalley awhile back and was denied, so imagine my surprise when I got a copy in the mail. I'm pretty excited to read this one!

By Kavita Daswani
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: January 17th, 2012
Source: Library
Goodreads Synopsis
My daughter used to go to a private school that was heavily Indian and I befriended several moms who were in arranged marriages, and some who even expected their American-born daughter to follow suit. I've always been intrigued by the whole idea, especially when girls are raised here.
The Wood Queen
By Karen Mahoney
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: February 8th, 2012
Source: Library
Goodreads Synopsis
I'm not sure if I'll read this yet. I didn't love The Iron Witch, but I liked it enough to consider reading the second book. We'll see if I get time...

There Is No Dog
By Meg Rosoff
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: January 24th, 2012
Source: Purchase
Goodreads Synopsis
I HAD to get this book because it was the subject of much controversy in the UK when it came out over there last fall. Apparently, a lot of Christian schools had a problem with Meg portraying God as a girl-crazy, slovenly, teenage boy. Anyhow, I was intrigued even before all that, but now, I have to read it.
Getting Over Garrett Delaney
By Abby McDonald
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: January 24th, 2012
Source: Library
Goodreads Synopsis
This looks really cute, and since one of my New Year's resolutions was to read more Contemporary, I picked this up. Stay tuned!

Try Not to Breathe
By Jennifer Hubbard
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: January 19th, 2012
Source: Purchase
Goodreads Synopsis
I've been waiting for this to come out. The advance buzz has been really great and it addresses a very important topic that isn't addressed much in YA.

By Amanda Hocking
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: January 3rd, 2012
Source: Purchase
Goodreads Synopsis
Okay, so I had to see for myself what all the hype was about. Amanda Hocking: Self-pub Star! From what I've heard, this is an amazing book, so I'm giving it shot! I will let you know what I think...

Wonder Show
By Hannah Barnaby
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: March 20th, 2012
Source: ARC/NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis
Is it a The Night Circus for kids? I don't know, but the cover is fabulous, and I am just drawn to this book. I think it will be a great read-aloud for my kids. Stay tuned!

This Is Not a Test
By Courtney Summers
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: June 19th, 2012
Source: ARC/NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis
Zombies mashed up with Contemporary YA? Yes, please! This book look amazing. Also, the cover give it the perfect amount of creep-factor. I'm feeling really fortunate to have gotten a copy since I've heard they stopped approving them quite quickly. Yay, Me!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: New Girl by Paige Harbison

Publisher:  HarlequinTeen
Publication Date:  January 31st, 2012

They call me 'New Girl'...

Ever since I arrived at exclusive, prestigious Manderly Academy, that’s who I am. New girl. Unknown. But not unnoticed—because of her.

Becca Normandy—that’s the name on everyone’s lips. The girl whose picture I see everywhere. The girl I can’t compare to. I mean, her going missing is the only reason a spot opened up for me at the academy. And everyone stares at me like it’s my fault.

Except for Max Holloway—the boy whose name shouldn’t be spoken. At least, not by me. Everyone thinks of him as Becca’s boyfriend but she’s gone, and here I am, replacing her. I wish it were that easy. Sometimes, when I think of Max, I can imagine how Becca’s life was so much better than mine could ever be.

And maybe she’s still out there, waiting to take it back.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I'm a sucker for a good retelling.  Jackson Pearce is a favorite author of mine, as are Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine.  When I heard Paige Harbison was doing a modern retelling of Daphne du Maurier's brilliant Rebecca, I was really excited to read it.  I read Rebecca in college and always thought it was a perfect Psychological Thriller; a 5-star read. I think in writing New Girl, Paige Harbison had some really big shoes to fill, and sadly, I think it fell a little short.  That said, I think if I hadn't read Rebecca first, I would have liked New Girl much better, but having done so, I spent most of the book making comparisons...

I'm going to try not to spend this entire review comparing the two books, but it will be difficult.  I liked that Harbison stuck to the original format, right down to the names she used and withholding the protagonist's name until the end; Rebecca, Manderley, Dana (Mrs. Danvers), Max- she worked the names and places in well.  I also really liked her take on the characters.  Rebecca Normandy was a total sociopath, manipulative to her very core, and I enjoyed reading her side of the story, which was told in alternating POVs (hers and New Girl's).  She was a total train wreck and you know how it is witnessing one of those- you just can't stop watching, as horrifying as it may be.  Some of the things the girl said and did were so disgusting and wrong, I wanted to be sick, but in the end, her antics were really what made this book so interesting.  Reading New Girl's character, or "Me", as her chapters were titled, was a bit different of an experience.  She was the quintessential nice girl who happened to be in an impossible situation, but she handled it as well as could be expected.  Where it got really interesting is when the romance between Max and New Girl began to blossom- it was beyond complicated because Becca had been the supposed love of his life.  The mystery surrounding Becca was intense and, as the reader, I never knew what to expect.  I liked that part a lot, and it was the book's saving grace for me.  I was happy with the way it ended too.  As I read the book, I couldn't help thinking that it was just a mediocre retelling of a book I love, but in writing this review, I see that if you take the amazingly done original (that is a long-standing classic for a reason) out of the equation, you have a pretty good book here.  Paige Harbison is a very good writer, and I will certainly keep my eye out for other books by her (I have Here Lies Bridget, but haven't read it yet).   I think anyone would be ambitious to tackle Rebecca and truly make it their own.  

Overall, I would recommend this book to people who like a good Mystery and/or Psychological Thriller.  If you've read Rebecca and loved it as much as I did, I would caution you that while it tries hard, it doesn't measure up.  If you've read it, but it's not a favorite, you may like this version better- it is definitely sexier and more modern.  Those who haven't read Rebecca are probably in the best position to read this because it won't be in the back of your mind, biasing your opinion, as it did mine.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is DEFINITELY a High School read.  There is loads of sex, and not just sex between couples who are in love, but sex used as a tool of manipulation.  There is also lots of teen drinking and drug use.  The kids at Manderley go to the boathouse on campus regularly to party and get absolutely wasted, with no consequence.  These parties are described in detail, and play a huge role in the story.  Aside from that, there is a part where a girl is drugged by a friend and date raped, and another part where a girl describes being sexually assaulted by a friend's older family friend.  Another inappropriate theme is that Becca is loved and admired because of the manipulative things she does.  A less mature reader might misconstrue that and try to emulate her behaviors in hopes that she would gain the type of popularity Becca had.  I would say this book is for 10th grade and up (ages 15+).

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Publisher: Little, Brown BFYR
Publication Date: September 27th, 2012

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

WHY did I wait as long as I did to read this amazing book?  Seriously.  The reviews have been fabulous- everyone who has read this has raved about it- so why did it take me more than three months to get around to reading it?  Two words.  The cover.  I know a lot of people loved the cover of this one, but I didn't.  It looks cheap to me, and being the cover whore that I am, I just couldn't bring myself to put this ahead of prettier books.  Yes, I know what they say, and I know it sounds shallow, but it is what it is.  I totally regret my judgement, because I LOVED this book.  I want more. NOW.

If you're looking for something completely fresh and beyond beautifully written, look no further.  Laini Taylor's writing takes individual threads and weaves them into a tapestry that takes your breath away when you see the final product.  She creates a fantastic world, with characters so bizarre and gorgeous, that they will invade your dreams.  This was one of those books that I wanted to read quickly to know what would happen next, but at the same time, I wanted to slow-read it to savor the exquisiteness of her writing.  It's a gift to be able to create art with words, and Laini Taylor has that gift in spades, but writing alone doesn't make a book.  A book needs a story...

This story grabbed me from the beginning.  I was instantly intrigued and enamored by Karou.  She is such a great character and I only grew to like her and respect her more as her story unfolded.  I found myself becoming fond of Brimstone and Issa despite the fact that they were "monsters".  I was utterly absorbed in the mystery of why the teeth were so important, and completely taken aback when I found out the reason.  Then there was Akiva.  Good?  Bad?  Can angels even be bad?  Is it ever that black and white?  There were so many facets to this story that I cannot even begin to unravel it here.  What I can tell you is that they come together beautifully in ways that are both unpredictable and sensible.  You will come out of this story satisfied, but wanting more, if that makes any sense.

If I had gotten around to reading this book in 2011, it would have, no doubt, made my Top Ten list.  I will be all over book #2, Days of Blood and Starlight, when it releases in September.  If you haven't read this book yet, get on it.  You won't be disappointed.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★+++

Grade Level Recommendation:  There are a couple of tastefully done, non-graphic sexual encounters, and there's so violence, including a beheading, but otherwise this book is pretty clean.  I would recommend it for grades 7 and up (ages 12+).

Review: Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: January 24th, 2012

Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath, where immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans. Now she's returned- to her old life, her family, her friends- before being banished back to the underworld... this time forever.

She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these months reconnecting with her boyfriend, Jack, the one person she loves more than anything. But there's a problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who first enticed her to the Everneath, has followed Nikki to the mortal world. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back- this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time grows short and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she's forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's...
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I had really high hopes for this book when I first heard of it, then I saw the cover, and I was in love!  An new take on the Underworld, Hades, Persephone?  Yes, please!  Once the reviews started rolling in, I went from high hopes to high expectations.  Everyone seemed to love this book; it was rave review after rave review.  I wanted to love this book too!  I guess maybe my expectations were too high because I expected A LOT more than I got.   I was expecting "epic" and got "good book"...

These Are the Things I LIKED About Everneath:
  • The story was definitely unique.  I thought there was a limit to retelling mythology, but Brodi Ashton has proven that you can make it your own.  I have't read anything else like this.
  • The main characters evoked the emotions that they were supposed to evoke.  Cole made my skin crawl, he was so smarmy.  Jack was your imperfect dream guy that you have to love.  Nikki was pathetic, but you could tell she had a spark left in her; I wanted her to win in the end.
  • The ending made reading the book worth it.  It doesn't leave you hanging in a way that pisses you off, but it does leave you wanting to read the next book.  The final 25% was 5-star material, and what redeemed this book.
  • The cover is fabulous, which could be a bad thing, actually... I mean, what book could live up to that cover?
These Are the Things I DID NOT LIKE About Everneath:
  • The pacing was very erratic.  There were times when I have to make myself read this book, and then there were times (mostly toward the end) when I couldn't put it down.  I didn't like the way it went back and forth between present and past.  I don't always feel that way when books do this, but it didn't work for me here.
  • There were too many questions that if answered just didn't make sense to me, and then there we the questions that never got answers.  I won't list them all here, but I found myself scratching my head a lot or just saying, "What?!?!".  I know it's the first in a series, and that some of the questions will be answered later, but I was confused a lot.
  • While I mostly liked the main characters, I thought the supporting characters were poorly done.  They had no depth, and I often wondered why they were even there.
Overall, I thought this good was pretty good.  It's not one of those debuts that made me say, "Wow!  I can't believe this is her first book!", because I think it is kind of obvious that this was a first book.  That said, I think Brodi Ashton has a beautiful style to her writing, and I think this story holds a lot of promise.  I will definitely read the next book, but I won't have such through-the-roof expectations...

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

Grade Level Recommendation:  These was only a brief suggestion of sex, no graphic violence, and offensive language.  As far as content, I would say this is pretty clean.  Ages 11+ (Grade 6 and up).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan by Seth Rudetsky

Publisher: Random House BYR
Publication Date:  January 24th, 2012

Justin has two goals for sophomore year: to date Chuck, the hottest boy in school, and to become the king of Cool U, the table in the cafeteria where the "in" crowd sits.

Unfortunately, he has the wrong look (short, plump, Brillo-pad curls), he has the wrong interests (Broadway, chorus violin), and he has the wrong friends (Spencer, into Eastern religions, and Mary Ann,  who doesn't shave her armpits). And Chuck? Well, he's not gay; he's dating Becky, a girl in chorus with whom Justin is friendly.

But Justin is determined.

In detention one day (because he saw Chuck get it first), Justin comes up with a perfect plan: to allow Becky to continue dating Chuck, whom Becky's dad hates. They will pretend that Becky is dating Justin, whom Becky's dad loves. And when Becky and Justin go out on a fake date, Chuck will meet up with them for a real date with Becky. Chuck's bound to find Justin irresistible, right? What could go wrong?

Seth Rudetsky's first novel for young adults is endearingly human, and laugh-out-loud funny, and any kid who ever aspired to Cool U will find Justin a welcome ally in the fight for popularity.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I'm always on the lookout for new books with solid LGBT characters in them because I don't think that there are enough of them out there.  In the past 15 years, the number of openly gay teens has skyrocketed, and I think that while it's getting better, they are not well enough represented in YA lit.  Yes, you have your token gay friends of straight main characters in a lot of books, but books with gay teens as the main characters are few an far between.  That said, I was excited when I got an advance copy of this book...

When I started this book, I immediately thought of the much-loved 80's classic movie, starring McDreamy himself, Can't Buy Me Love.  This movie was a favorite of mine back then, so I was really getting into the story.  Although Justin doesn't pay Becky to go out with him, like in the movie, he is doing it for popularity (and to gain favor with her secret boyfriend, Chuck); he's sick of being at the absolute bottom of the social hierarchy-and that's without coming out to his peers... At first I thought Justin was a shallow, self-absorbed jerk, but at the end, he grew enough as a person that I could like him.  My favorite characters were Becky and Spencer.  Both were kind and patient; unfortunately that left them open to be walked all over by those they loved.  The book was predictable, and Justin's gayness was a bit cliche (loves Broadway, lives to be on stage, fantasizes constantly about the hot, straight jock), but overall the story was very cute and believable, and more importantly, it had a positive message: Accept yourself for who you are, and those worth your time will accept you as well.
This book isn't going to be for everyone.  It's definitely funny a lot of the time, but it's not one of those books that is going to have mass appeal.  It would be a great choice for a gay MS or HS student who is coming to terms with being so, especially since it's quite clean as far as language and sexual content are concerned.  I enjoyed this book, but it wasn't really one I would go out of my way to tell people about.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is probably the cleanest LGBT book I've ever read as far as sexual content and language are concerned.  I think this book would be fine for grades 5 and up (ages 10+).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Think Should Be Read and Discussed in EVERY High School

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish.  Each week a new Top Ten list topic is posted and book bloggers fill in their own choices.  I'm a list girl (as in, I don't function without them), so I thought this would be a good choice for me!  This week is a freebie week where we can make any top ten list we want.  Considering the fact that I offer up grade level recommendations in all my reviews and am VERY open about the fact that I think a large percentage of HS Lit teachers are TOTALLY out of touch with what is important and relevant to teens.  I think it is extremely important for books to be as entertaining as they are educational, otherwise, they aren't being absorbed.  What's the point of reading something if it's not going to have an effect on you in some small way?  I thought I would make my list reflective of these things...

Top Ten Books I Think Should Be Read and Discussed In EVERY High School
*In no particular order.*

1.  Animal Farm by George Orwell~ A lot of schools do have this book as part of their curriculum at some point during the four years of high school, but I believe ALL students should read this.  Is there a book out there that breaks down the concept (and dangers) of Communism to a more basic level?  I did not read this in HS, but I wish I had; I would have understood Communism a whole lot better.  I think the books students are forced to read in HS should be entertaining AS WELL as educational, and this one definitely is.  Students will definitely see certain parallels to the world we live in today, especially when the society narrows its initial seven commandments down to one, "All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others". 

2.  The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins~ Okay, so technically this is three books, but since you really NEED to read all three, I'm counting it as one.  These books are so exciting, but they are so much more.  There is great social commentary in these books and it is so subtle; no teen likes to be preached at (God knows there's enough of that from parents!), so I think it's great when they can find a message in a book they will enjoy.  Yes, I know most will have read it, but will they have really dug into it?  These books are GREAT discussion books!

3.  Hiroshima by John Hersey~ I read this in 6th grade Honors English and it has stayed with me.  I had no grip on what an atomic bomb could do until I read this, and it made me understand so much more about war and about WWII in particular.  It also made me grateful for all that I had and it made me see that although people may be your enemies during war, they are still people- mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, husbands...  I will say that this book was much too graphic for most 6th graders; several of my classmates had nightmares after reading it and there were a few who had to have a study hall while we covered it, which is why I say this is a book to be read in HS.

4.  Shine by Lauren Myracle~ This book is so very relevant to teens today.  When I was in HS (Class of '94), most gay teens weren't out; they were there, but they weren't open about it.  Over the past 15 years, a lot has changed in that respect, but a lot of people's attitudes haven't, which to me is sad.  This book is very eye-opening and I think it could spark serious conversation about tolerance and acceptance of both self and others.  Read my review HERE if you would like to know more about my feelings on this book.

5.  Lord of the Flies by William Golding~ This book is amazing and I doubt most teens would ever read it if they were not made to by a teacher.  Like The Hunger Games, highly entertaining, with subtle social commentary.  This is a book that I have found that kids WANT to discuss, and frankly, how could you not?

6.  Dear Bully edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones~ This book is a must-read for everyone- parents, teachers, coaches, administrators, and most of all, students.  This book is a compilation of 70 letters/stories, written by well-known MG and YA authors, to their bullies.  It offers up an amazing opportunity for students to openly discuss this very important, and not often enough discussed topic.  Read my review HERE if you want to know more.

7.  Perfect by Ellen Hopkins (or ANY other book of Ellen's)~ Ellen Hopkins is by far and away the go-to author if you are looking for honest, discussion-worthy fiction that speaks to the issues that face today's teens.  Perfect would be my first choice because I think ANY teen can relate to it on some level, but really, any of her books would be great for classroom discussion.  Unfortunately, there will always be at least one parent who will complain about the raw, graphic nature of Ellen's books, so sadly, I doubt we'll see much of her in the classroom...  For more on Perfect, read my full review HERE.

8.  Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell~ I think there is something to be said for telling both sides of a story, and in school we get the story of how the North was right and the South was wrong, and that the Civil War was all about slavery and nothing else (the Civil War was mainly about State's Rights).  While I'm not condoning slavery of any kind, I do think that this book portrays the Confederacy's side of the story very well.  I think it would be a great, entertaining jumping off point. Also, it's my all-time favorite book, so I think EVERYONE should read it.

9.  Unwind by Neal Shusterman~ If you've read this book, you understand why I have it on this list.  Abortion is a hot-button issue that was a non-issue when most of the books currently covered in HS classrooms were written.  Not only is the story plausible, it is relevant, and it would really require students to dig deep and develop their own opinions on this issue instead of basing their feelings on what their parents think, either in agreement or rebellion.  Read my review and commentary on its banning HERE.

10.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee~ I read this in the same 6th Grade Honors English class where I read Hiroshima, and I think it was the perfect age, but as the parent of a 5th grader, and in talking to the parents of her friends, most would not want their 6th grader reading it, so I've put it on this list instead.  I think this book needs to be discussed, so a classroom setting for reading it is perfect.  Yes, there are some very disturbing themes in this book, but it is one of the most important works of fiction ever written.

11.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie~ Yes, I'm well aware that this makes number eleven, but I wanted it here, so it is...  Most people in the United States have no understanding whatsoever of how Native Americans live on their reservations.  Most Americans, if they've even stepped foot on one, have done so to go to the casinos or buy tax-free cigarettes, without a thought of the people who live there or how they got there.  I grew up less than 10 miles from one and had no idea what kind of poverty existed there.  This book gives a very eye-opening, honest account, and it's one I think should be a part of any study involving Native Americans.

Obviously, I could list 50, even 100 books that I think should be read and discussed by teens, but these are the first ten that come to mind.  What do you think?  Did I exclude a book important to you?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile/Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: January 10th, 2012

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This book was one of my most anticipated releases of 2012.  John Green is an amazing writer, who knows the intricacies and simplicities of the teen mind better than anyone I can think of.  When I heard about The Fault in Our Stars, my first thought was, "How is John Green going to pull off making cancer funny?".  It's not that I wanted him to make cancer funny, but I've grown to expect a certain amount of his particular brand of humor from all his books, and cancer or not, I was expecting it here.  Well, I'm pleased to say that John Green did it; he wrote about about kids with cancer that was not only humorous, but tastefully so.  It was full of the one-liners and observations that John Green is known for, but it also had it's share of very poignant statements, which he is also known for.  An example of one of the one-liners that made me laugh out loud was early on when, after support group, the kids were talking about how the moderator said that they were literally living in Jesus's heart, and Hazel responded, "Someone should tell Jesus. It's gotta be dangerous storing children with cancer in your heart."  I laughed so hard at that comment, but then later on, we get one of those statements that makes you cry, when someone (I won't say who or why because I don't want to give spoilers) says, "Grief does not change you, it reveals you."  How true is that?  I loved the characters and the story was both gut-wrenching and uplifting, often in the same sentence.  This book is a book that everyone should read; not just fans of John Green, not just teens or adult YA fans like myself, EVERYONE!  I think anyone could benefit from reading this book, and I dare anyone to say that it sucks.

This book is by far, John Green's best book yet, and I think the audio experience made it even better.  The narrator, Kate Rudd, was the perfect voice for Hazel and she did a great job of adding emotion and life to the story and characters.  The best part of the audio version though, had to be the pretty lengthy interview with John Green at the end of it.  I always enjoy hearing him speak and this case was no different; for such a young guy, he is very wise.  If you can get your hands on a copy, do yourself a favor and give it a listen.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ +++

Grade Level Recommendation:  Usually, with John Green's books, I say they are definite HS, minimum 8th grade+ reads because he so accurately portrays teens, and quite frankly, older tweens and young teens don't necessarily need exposure to the fact that a lot of behavior parents would never want to believe of their "good" kid would partake in is extremely typical of "good" kids.  They will find out soon enough... This book, though, is different.  First off, the characters, as much as they want to be, are NOT typical teens; they are teens with cancer and struggles that take away much of the joy of being a kid.  Also, this book is pretty tame content-wise, compared to his other books.  There is sex, but it is not at all graphic and is portrayed as a beautiful thing between two people who love each other and who know they don't have time to wait until they are married, or even "adults".  I think the benefits of a 6th or 7th grader reading this book well outweighs some content that some parents might find objectionable.  I would be more than willing to allow my 5th grader to read this, knowing that she would get a tremendous amount of the right kind of insight out of it.  Grades 6 and up (ages 11+). 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

WWW (24) and Waiting on Wednesday (January 18th, 2012): 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody

W. W. W. Wednesday is hosted by Should Be Reading a great blog that I subscribe to. Here's how it works... Each Wednesday I will answer the following questions:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you'll read next?

I'm late posting today because I've been trying to get a bunch of reading done, while staying on top of my reviews, but I figure, better late than never...

What are you currently reading?

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green~ You can never go wrong with a little John Green, and this book is no exception.  It takes a great talent to tastefully write humor into a book about cancer, and John Green makes it look easy.  I've just started this and already I can tell that this will be getting a 5-star plus rating.
Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor~ How did I wait so long to read this?  It's amazing!  It's one of those books I find myself slow-reading because I really don't want it end.  Laini Taylor has a way of writing that is so beautiful; a gift.

What did you recently finish reading?

Blood Red Road by Moira Young~ I've mentioned before that I could never get into the print version of this book, despite having tried several times.  Finally I got the audio, and it was PHENOMENAL!  Now I understand the hype.  I guess sometimes I just need the story in someone else's voice.
Stolen Away by Alyxandra Harvey~ This book was okay, but not a favorite.  I kind of expected a lot more, to be honest, having heard great things about her other books.  It does have a beautiful cover though, doesn't it?  Read my review HERE.
Fracture by Megan Miranda~ This book was great.  I read it because it was touted as a must-read for fans of If I Stay and Before I Fall but honestly, it was nothing like either of those books (both of which I loved).  That being true, I loved it just as much.  Read my review HERE.

What do you think you'll read next?

Everneath by Brodi Ashton~ This one comes out next week, and in keeping with my "stay on top of NetGalley books" New Year's resolution, I will be reading it next.  I've really been looking forward to this one for awhile, so I'm very excited!

My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan by Seth Rudesky~ I think I'm going to want a funny book and Seth Rudesky is funny.  Plus it releases on Tuesday, and in keeping with that New Year's resolution...

"Waiting On" Wednesday is another fun blog event. Hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, this event gives us a chance to talk about the books we anxiously await the release of. Since there is ALWAYS a looooooong list of books I'm waiting on (I actually keep a spreadsheet), I figured this is one that I MUST do.

I was thinking of doing a different book this week, but the cover hasn't been revealed, and I hate doing WoW posts without covers.  This book was supposed to be for next week, so hopefully this week's book will have a cover soon...

What's a girl gotta do to earn her dad's trust (fund)? 

Famous teen heiress, Lexington Larrabee, has never had to work a day in her life. But all of that changes on her eighteenth birthday when her ever-absent, mogul father decides to take a more proactive approach to her life. Every week for the next year, she will have to take on a different low-wage job if she ever wants to receive her beloved trust fund. But if there’s anything worse than working as a maid, a dishwasher, and a fast food restaurant employee, it’s the arrogant, albeit moderately attractive, college intern her father has assigned to keep tabs on her. Readers of all ages are sure to fall in love with Jessica Brody’s delightful riches to rags comedy.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Jessica Brody is great!  I'm not a huge fan of Contemporary YA, but her books always make me laugh because I love her characters.  I've always been a fan of riches-to-rags stories, and this one looks like it has the makings to be hilarious and unpredictable.  This will be a perfect vacation read and I can't wait!

Publisher:  Farrar, Straus, & Giroux BYR
Publication Date: July 3rd, 2012
My Expected Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

What are YOU Waiting On this week?