Thursday, July 18, 2013

Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend by Louise Rozett

I received this book as a promo from my Vine review site. I am always actively, now, looking for tween books to read, and the description of this grabbed me. A sophomore, whose father died in Iraq, who had an apparently rough freshman year, just kind of telling us how she feels.

Unforunately (for me) this is a sequel, and I didn't realize it - I feel like I missed out on the first book, "Confessions of an Angry Girl" - which tells the story of her freshman year.

Rosie has a bully, an "almost-boyfriend", a best friend who has found her life's passion already, which makes Rosie feel a little inadequate, a friend boy who suddenly has a perfect girlfriend... And she strongly, beautifully, has a sense of what's right and wrong - which isn't always the thing that makes you popular in high school.

While I always hate to jump in the middle of a series (and I love series, really I do - the character development is always so fascinating), this book does stand alone. However, I do think that in giving the background for this one to make sense, it gives away much of the first book's plot. While some people wouldn't mind, I'd normally try to go back and read the first. In this case, though, I think I heard almost too much to now want to purchase the first novel - there won't be many surprises. I might try to find it at the library.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed this book itself. Rosie is messed up, no doubt, as are both her mom and her brother. The loss of her father is something I can't even begin to imagine dealing with, but I know it happens to high-schoolers, whether or not in a war setting. 

Rosie, though, is extremely likable and Ms. Rozett does a great job of making her sympathetic, even as you realize that some of her thoughts and actions aren't the best choices (at least, I realize that as an adult...)
This was a really well-written book. I felt that the characters were believable in words, thoughts, and actions. The plot made sense, and the things that happened seemed like they COULD happen. It's not all hearts and flowers, which is more believable. I was a smart kid in high school, but I went to a small, small school in the middle of nowhere where the students wore all sorts of hats. The cheerleaders were scholars, the band kids played football too... There does seem to be a bit of that mixture of cliques in the book, in fact, which maybe makes more sense to me than it would to other readers. Rosie is obviously smart, but her best friend is a cheerleader type, and her almost-boyfriend is somewhere between a jock and a drop-out, she becomes involved in the school musical...

I could understand Rosie, even as I can't really identify with her - thankfully. 

The writing itself was tight and well-polished. I'm an editor at heart, and nothing jumped out to me as being badly worded or confusing.

As a parent, I had to cringe when the first scene opens at a mostly freshman/sophomore drinking party, and there is definitely plenty of mention of desire and drugs. This is probably best for an actual teen reader than for the 5-6th grade kids that I tend to deal with.

I hope that we get to find out what happens next, and will eagerly await the next book.

Rating: PG-13 - minor love scenes, substance use

Monday, July 1, 2013

love & leftovers by Sarah Tregay

Oh my goodness. Oh MY goodness.

Go find this book right now.

This book is good.

As part of my goal to read "The United States of YA" as created by Epic Reads, I picked up love & leftovers by Sarah Tregay at my local library. Had I taken a closer look at the title (which is actually love & leftovers: a novel in verse) I might have put it back down. I don't read a lot of poetry, and I very much try to avoid teenage emo angst. However, I grabbed up the first four books from the Epic Reads list that I could find at the library with any remote connection to my life (like the states I've lived in or frequently visited because friends and family live there), and love & leftovers was one of them.

Thank goodness I didn't put this one back down.

Because it's that good.

Even though it's in verse.

Possible BECAUSE it's in verse.

Seriously, the whole story is told through the poems of Marcie Foster, teenager, daughter, best friend, girlfriend, and poet.

The poems clearly spell out that Marcie had a rough summer that turned into a rough school year. Her parents' marriage has crumbled because of a fairly typical scenario involving less than standard participants. Her mother packs up a suitcase and Marcie and heads to New Hampshire (hi, Chanin!) to a family summer house.

Here's how Marcie explains the situation.

An Explanation

My mother

took two weeks off

back in June.

I asked her

(in July)

what we were doing.

I think she meant to say, "Vacationing"

but she said, "Running away."

Which might have been okay;

even though I thought that

if I ever ran away,

I'd do it with

a certain emo-sensitive rocker boy

and not my mother.

And then Marcie and her mother overstay the summer. So now Marcie is away from her home, her friends, her boyfriend, and her father. Instead she has her absent-through-depression mother, a new school, and no friends except for a really cute boy who brings her breakfast. Marcie is lonely and mostly alone. The only thing, besides her poetry, that seems to help is talking to her best friend. Talking to her boyfriend just makes her sad because they can't seem to speak of anything except for how much it hurts to be apart.

So Marcie copes and she writes and she starts to fit into this new life in New Hampshire. She still misses her old life, but she's beginning to feel slightly less lonely, until her mother, who hasn't been paying attention to much of anything at all, decides that she doesn't like how much time Marcie spends with the cute boy.

And so Marcie goes back to Idaho to live with her Dad and to try and fit into her old life.

That doesn't go as easily as she hoped. In fact, Marcie realizes how lonely you can be even when your favorite people are geographically close to you, but she also learns how amazing it can be to have truly good friends. And maybe, despite the big mess her parents made and the smaller messes she made herself, she might finally figure out how it feels to be in love.

Goodness, this book is good. It is, however, definitely for an older YA crowd. The topics this book tackles either head-on or tangentially are infidelity, sexual orientation, teen sex, teen pregnancy, clinical depression, betrayal, contraception, love, and divorce.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

My summer reading program

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to travel the U.S. via YA novel.
The folks at Epic Reads were kind enough to put this together.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

My current obsession is Twitter.  It's not for everyone, but it provides me hours of entertainment and endless examples for class.  Seriously, Twitter? It rocks.

This guy will play Magnus Bane
in The Mortal Instruments movie
released in August.
ANYWAY, on Twitter, I follow author Maureen Johnson (@maureenjohnson) who is HILARIOUS.  She's also an amazingly talented author. Amy reviewed Maureen's 13 Little Blue Envelopes at The Family Addiction. (You can read it here.)  Earlier this year, Maureen was hinting at a major new project coming in in conjunction with Sarah Rees Brennan (@sarahreesbrenna) and Cassandra Clare (@cassieclare).  Finally, after many teasing tweets, the secret was revealed.  Cassandra, Sarah and Maureen would collaborate to write The Bane Chronicles, an e-serialization focused on Magnus Bane, a character from two other YA series written by Cassandra Clare.

I wanted to check out the new e-serial, but I'm a true book nerd, so I knew I needed to backtrack and read the first two series before I started The Bane Chronicles.  And that leads me Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.  It's the first series that mentions Magnus Bane.

Clockwork Angel is the story of Tessa Gray, a young woman who leaves the U.S. to meet her brother in Victorian England.  From the very moment she steps on the ship, nothing goes quite as planned.  Her brother is missing, and Tessa is held captive by two strange sisters who are convinced Tessa has the ability to "change".  Tessa is eventually rescued by the Shadowhunters, a group as unknown to her as her supposed ability.  The Shadowhunters  promise to help her find her brother.  That, too, doesn't go quite as planned.  The Shadowhunters' world and the trouble that Tessa's brother has discovered is enough to make any 16-year-old girl's head spin.

Tessa is brave, and she has new friends to help her adapt, but there is actual danger in this society of vampires, hunters, warlocks, demons, and Tessa--whatever she might really be.  There is also complicated romantic distraction because her new friends are two young men as dedicated to each other as they are to the Shadowhunter cause.  Jem and Will both see the brave, smart and beautiful woman that Tessa will become, but they both have their reasons for keeping her at arm's length.

There's a lot to absorb in Clockwork Angel, but it was a great read.  It wasn't always an easy read,  but that's fair because being a teenager never is--even without magic, danger and betrayal.  I highly recommend this Infernal Devices series (Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, Clockwork Princess) and I mean to read The Mortal Instruments series as well.   I would rate the series with a PG-13.  The characters are 16 and older with typical teenage hormonal distractions.  There is violence and death as well. The books all end with a resolution, but it wouldn't be confused with a shallow happily-ever-after.  If you can gear yourself up for the emotional roller coaster, you should read Clockwork Angel.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

While one of my twin boys is determinedly making his way through the Lord of the Rings series, the other has been devouring many diverse books since the holidays. He keeps recommending them to me, so I have a few new books in the pile for review!

First up is Ungifted by Gordon Korman. Korman is a prolific writer whose books my sons have enjoyed in the past. I hadn't read any of his novels except the volumes that he wrote for the 39 Clues series, which I enjoyed.

Donovan Curtis is an 8th grader with some, um, behavioral issues. He's not a bad kid, but he has a serious lack of impulse control. In one of his "I wonder what would happen if I..." moments, egged on by his friends, the Two Daniels, he causes a rather major incident at his school, and, sadly, more or less right in front of the superintendent of the district. He is hauled into the office, but Dr. Schulz has to go deal with the aftermath of the incident, and accidentally jots down Donovan's name onto a list of kids who'd passed a test to attend the town's Academy of Scholastic Distinction. 

Donovan realizes, eventually, what has happened, and knows that Dr. Schulz hasn't been able to find him again - so ASD is the perfect place to hide out, right? :)

He realizes pretty quickly that he's in way far over his head at ASD, and he doesn't have the greatest opinion of the "nerds" who inhabit the school. And, of course, they have pretty much no use for him. Except...

I don't want to spoil it, so we'll leave it there. Throw in Donovan's hugely pregnant sister, her soldier husband's dying dog, and Tin Man the robot, and you've got a really funny book.

Tin Man's area of expertise

The book is told from nearly every character's point of view, chapter by chapter. The chapter headings let you know who's talking, and while I sometimes find this device choppy, Korman did a really nice job with it. I thought he did a superior job of describing Donnie's impulses - as a substitute teacher, it made me think a bit more about those kids whom I sometimes wonder about. ;) The story is funny and entertaining, but also does a really nice job examining the true meaning of friendship, as well as maybe making you wonder what the word "gifted" should really mean.

I highly recommend this one!

Rated: PG, grades 5 and up. No language or romance issues, but the kids are, after all, in 8th grade and the situations and overall theme of the book might not relate well to a younger crowd. However, the vocab and such are not too hard for the younger middle school ages, and was a pretty quick read for both my son and I.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

Not the Cavendish Home, but probably close!

I chose The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls as one of my free books from's Vine program, because I was excited to have a new book to read and possibly recommend through the blog! 

The book is set in perfect Belleville, home of both the Impetus Academy, where our heroine Victoria, and her only friend, Lawrence, go to school, and the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, a rather secretive orphanage near Victoria's house. 

Victoria is 12, and perfect. Well, almost. The book opens with her getting her first B, ever, and plotting how she might be able to get it changed before her parents find out - more because of her attitude than her parents', from what we can tell. She feels panicked and shamed, which rang a bell with me, as I have a fairly perfectionist kid myself, who puts way more pressure on himself than I would ever dream of. Victoria craves perfection, both for herself and her best friend, but that desire certainly comes with a price - as she will come to learn. Lawrence, her friend, is untidy. A mess, really. This irritates her beyond reason - she may not even feel "friendship" for him so much as she sees him as a project to be fixed, until he disappears. She begins to realize that not all is right in her perfect little town. She starts to remember some other kids, in fuzzy memories, who seem to have gone away, and no one else acknowledges their existence. The teacher who gave her the B also seems to sense something amiss, and then in a very creepy episode, he, too, vanishes.

Victoria's trusty maid seems worried about her, and in her desire to find Lawrence - his parents act like nothing is wrong - she starts to research the Cavendish Home. The old, old newspapers seem to show the same Miss Cavendish as there is now, but that was 100 years ago... No one ever sees the kids who live there, which does, after all, seem odd. Victoria goes to see Miss Cavendish and gets a cryptic message from some of the kids she sees - "Help Us!"


My first thought was that this is "The Stepford Wives" for kids who wouldn't know what that means. Fit in, or else... And Victoria is, with her search, NOT fitting in...

The author does a great job with this book. The writing is crisp and clean, the plot (mostly) original and fast-moving, the characters as real as fantasy characters can be. There are several rather lovely pen-and-ink drawings as illustrations spread throughout the book, as well.

I will freely admit that "creepy" is not my favorite tween genre, but it was very, very well done. I know I'm kind of in the minority there - many of of the 25 classroom teachers in the school I work in will read aloud a Mary Downing Hahn or Peg Kehret book to their classes at least once a year, if not more often. The kids seem to like them fine, (though as a kid, I hated anything scary, but then, I wouldn't have said anything to my teachers, either) and I did find this author to do as well as, or better than, those other authors I mentioned as far as the quality of the writing and the originality of the plot. If you like creepy stories, this one is a great choice!

Rating: PG - no language, romance, blood, etc., but just scary enough to be PG rather than G. The vocab is appropriate for late 4th to 7th grade readers.