Wednesday, August 25, 2010

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

* This review will not discuss any major spoiler plot points*


Have you had the experience with a book where...you get to the end and realize that you read the book so fast because you couldn't wait to find out what happens that you actually want to reread it so you can savor the story the second time? That is what reading MOCKINGJAY was like for me - it's just one of those books.  If you haven't yet read the first two books: The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, you must!  Now that I've seen where Katniss' journey was ultimately headed by the end, I'm so glad I went along with her!


From "The Ashes" to "The Assault" to "The Assasin" the plot of this story kept me on the edge of my seat flipping pages as fast as I could to find out what would happen to Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Finnick, and Prim next.  It was action-packed with twists and turns I wasn't expecting, although with one major one that I saw coming but was hoping for, that kept me guessing as to where the story would end up, but always hoping Katniss would find her way through. It was like uncovering the windows to see a view into the hidden worlds of Panem that I couldn't image in District 13 and the Capitol. It was honest, hopeful, gruesome, empowering, soul-searching, and heartbreaking all at the same time.  


It was truly Katniss' journey to hurt, heal, discover herself, and ultimately find hope in the world she lives in and the role she's been forced into. I really enjoyed the development and growth of the stories of the secondary characters in this final installment.  However, this story is all about Katniss and how she must move past the horrors she's seen in two Hunger Games and to discover who she is meant to be and what kind of person she wants to be and how to become that person, do what's right for her, and help the ones she loves. All of this while dealing with carrying the weight of the entire citizenry of this country at war (which in reality has been at war for 75 years) on her shoulders. Many people talk about Team Peeta or Team Gale, and there is a satisfying conclusion to that piece of the storyline, but really, this series is not about a love triangle at all. It's about growth for these characters, these children, who have to mature and work out a world they've been thrust into, growing up faster than they should ever have to, and the mistakes they make and the way they find their way through.


Suzanne Collins crafted a page-turning story throughout all three of the books in the series that constantly surprise the reader and leave a sense of hope and rooting for for those that survived. This third one was an emotional journey, but I would say this trilogy is one of the best YA series out there!
5 Stars for MOCKINGJAY

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

CITY OF BONES: THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS BOOK ONE by Cassandra Clare

After hearing as much as I have about The Mortal Instruments series, from students, authors, and bloggers, I finally got around to reading the first book, CITY OF BONES, for myself...and I can see what all the fuss it about.  I feel as if one of the strongest signs of a really good book is one that you carry with you everywhere you go, just in case you get a few minutes to read, one that you pick over watching tv, one that you stay up late reading - City of Bones met all of those criteria for me.


This book hooked me from the beginning when Clary meets Jace, Isabelle, and Alec in a club as they're killing a demon, and realizes that no one else can see them. There's a mystery as to how she got The Sight in order to see these Shadow Hunters and demons that is explored throughout the novel.  Shortly after she meets them, her mother is kidnapped, and the rest of the story follows her journey as she learns about the Downworld (where there are demons, warlocks, witches, faeries, vampires, and werewolves, oh my!) learns about her mother's past that she kept secret from Clary, and does what she can to find and save her mother. Along the way she is helped by her best friend Simon and of course Jace, Isabelle, and Alec.


There is a lot of action, suspense, and character in this book. The plot moves forward well and made me want to keep reading to find out what would happen next. There really weren't any slow parts to it at all. Everything is described so well that the fight scenes and all parts of the story were clearly pictured in my head as I read. I really liked the character of Clary, she's a strong girl who is going to stick up for what she knows to be right and for those she loves and cares about.  I also really enjoyed the secondary characters, as I did feel as if I got to know them. And, of course, there is a bit of a love triangle going on throughout the story, but with an interesting twist at the end, which makes me really want to read the next book in the series to find out what's going to happen.


Here's the thing about a book like this - it's the kind of book where you really have to pay attention to the parts of the story when everything about this unknown world is being explained. I even had to go back a chapter later when more information was given and reread the first explanation told - this is a good thing because it means that there is enough given in the book for me to make sense of this world. These parts of the story are so important because they give you the background to the world and help you understand the motivations for everything that happens in the story. Cassandra Clare does a really good job of creating and explaining the history of this world, you just need to pay attention to it. When Simon is first exposed to the truth about what's happening in this unknown to humans (or mundanes) world, Clary says the one thing that I think most readers need to remember when reading books in this genre: "I know it's weird, but you just have to go along with it. Trust me."  And trust me - if you do, you'll get the sucked into this story just like everyone else has.


One of my favorite things about this book is Cassandra Clare's writing style.  She writes beautiful descriptions along with some humorous interactions among the characters - a great balance to each other to create an intriguing writing style that keeps the plot moving forward but also pulls the reader into a beautifully crafted story. One of my favorite examples was this line that she wrote when describing Hodge: "When he smiled at Clary, a thousand small lines rayed out from around his eyes, like the cracks in an old painting."  Her use of similes and metaphors in her writing only enhances the story, and throughout, I was able to picture it and feel as if I was there and engaged in the story.


I will definitely be reading the rest of this series, and anything else Cassandra Clare writes!  Luckily, I waited long enough, that I know the other two books in The Mortal Instruments series, City of Ashes and City of Glass, are already out, so I won't have to wait to find out what happens to Clary, Jace, and everyone else. Also, she is writing another three books in the series to come out in spring 2011- City of Fallen Angels,  spring 2012 - City of Lost Souls,  and fall 2013 - City of Heavenly Fire and I know I'll be anxiously waiting to read those as well.  Cassandra Clare also has written a companion series, The Infernal Devices, which goes back in time to Victorian England as a prequel of sorts as it is one hundred years earlier than Clary's story, within the world of the Shadow Hunters. The first book, Clockwork Angel comes out August 31st, Clockwork Prince releases fall 2011, and Clockwork Princess in winter 2012.  Which all means we'll be getting two books from Cassandra Clare every year to read and stay with these characters and the world of the Shadow Hunters!
5 Stars for CITY OF BONES

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Summer Reading List (Really Quick Reviews)

I didn't have time to do lengthy reviews on each of the books I read this summer, but I wanted to be sure to mention and give quick opinions on all of them, so here goes...


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie 
I love Sherman Alexie's voice - I've loved his writing and movies for a long time, so I was excited to finally read this book.  It is a fabulous book - I can see why it won the awards it did - a must-read! Handles issues of race issues, adolescent boys, high-school, friendships, family, etc in a humorous and sensitive way. I will recommend this to all of my students to read with a caution of some mature concepts.  5 Stars


My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park  by Steve Kluger
For the more mature reader - great book told from multiple points-of-view with three high-school friends who are the main characters. They are almost seniors, and writing an English paper on their most excellent year - all three write about their freshman year and the flashback part of the story is told through their journal entries from freshman year English class.  I really like the voice and methods that the story was told in with letters and emails and instant message chats and journals. Deals with coming out of a gay character in a realistic and sensitive way. It's a book about relationships and discovering who we really are. Made my top books list for the year.  5 Stars


Gone by Michael Grant
I expected this to be a dystopian along the lines of Lord of the Flies; however it threw me off with the supernatural parts of it that I wasn't expecting. I enjoyed the basic storyline of a town where everyone over the age of 14 disappears one day, and how the kids survive, but didn't like the supernatural parts of it so much - they distracted me from the main plot. I will probably read the sequel though because I did get drawn in by some of the main and secondary characters. 3 Stars


NUM8ERS by Rachel Ward
I really, really wanted to like this book about a girl who sees a string of numbers every time she looks at a person's eyes. On the day her mother died, she learned that the numbers stand for the day that person is destined to die.  I knew going in that it was a book from England, so some of the words would be different. However, I wasn't quite expecting it to be such an on-the-run story, and I wasn't hooked into the love interest storyline, which became more of a focus at the story moved on.  Overall, I was disappointed in the twist at the end. Several times I wanted to abandon, but forced myself to finish it. Overall, it's an OK book for me. 2 Stars


Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham
I've like John Grisham's adult books, so I was really intrigued to read this one.  There's just something about series books that are obviously intended to be a series from the start so the ending feels a little incomplete that throws me off sometimes, and this is one of those.  Overall, the story was cute with Theo and all of his knowledge of the law and his ability to be in with the judges and other court workers when a big trial is starting. There is quite a bit of law speak in this book, but it is explained pretty well. The plot kept moving fairly well and kept me interested. Overall, I think this is a book for those students who like to watch the procedural shows on TV and would be interested in trial stories and a new series. 4 Stars


Lament and Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
I love, love, love Maggie Steifvater's writing!  I first discovered her when I heard her speak at a conference and got an advance copy of Linger, so of course I had to go buy Shiver and read it right away (stories with werewolves). As soon as I read them, I knew she was one of my favorite authors, and I recommended the series to all of my students and coworkers.  So, this summer I wanted to go back and read her first books (stories with faeries), Lament and Ballad.  I really enjoyed both of these books: the writing drew me in, I was invested in the characters and what would happen to them, the suspense in the plot and wondering how these human characters would deal with the faeries kept me reading, and I was eager to read the second once I had finished the first.  All of these things are what I want in a book. i enjoy reading books with paranormal/fantasy romance aspects, especially ones by Maggie Steifvater, and these didn't disappoint!  5 Stars


The Last Thing I Remember (The Homelanders) by Andrew Klavan
I picked this book up because I saw the cover in the bookstore and the back summary made me think this might be a good suspense/adventure series that would engage eighth grade boys. Mostly I think it will, but I was a little disappointed. I felt that the beginning, when Charlie wakes up in a room being held prisoner, all beat up, doesn't know what is going on, and doesn't remember how he got there was a great start especially as he's trying to escape and figure out what's happening. It flashes back to the last day he remembers in alternating chapters. The problem that I had was that after he escapes and is on the run it got very slow for me.  It wasn't until almost the end that the plot picked up again and we started to get answers on who these terrorists were. By the end I was a little disappointed because I didn't get as many answers as I would have like on how Charlie ended up there.  I will probably recommend it to boys looking for adventure books, but ask them to read the second one in the series and let me know how it is.  3 Stars


The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins 
Re-read these two for the second time in anticipation of Mockingjay's August release, and so glad I did.  It was nice to catch back up on the story of Katniss, Peeta, and Gale after one and two years since I read them, and reminded me of why this is one of my all-time favorite series! 


This series is one of the best dystopian stories I've read - a story taking a country similar to ours and putting it in a near future in which the world has changed in some way in which is is supposed to be better and is controlled by a different leading organization than our current governmental structure. 


In The Hunger Games, the country is run by The Capitol - the only area of the country in which they have enough money and food to live a good life. To remind the twelve districts of the failed rebellion from years ago and to make sure they don't rebel again, they hold the annual Hunger Games, a televised event that everyone in the country watches, in which one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12-18, from each of the districts, enters the game world and fights to the death. The winner is set for life and gets food for his or her entire district. When Katniss goes to the games, things change not only for her, but for the entire country of Panem. If you've been waiting to read these books, now that the third one will be out, it's time to read them all in a row.  5 Stars


Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles
I loved Perfect Chemistry so much that I definitely wanted to read the sequel and learn Carlos' story. Overall I liked it, it's a good romance escape novel, but was pretty similar in storyline to the first book. (See full review blog post)  4 Stars




The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
Enjoyed the new series with Egyptian mythology from the author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. (See full review blog post)  4 Stars

Monday, August 16, 2010

RULES OF ATTRACTION by Simone Elkeles

RULES OF ATTRACTION is the sequel to Perfect Chemistry (which was one of my favorite books I read last year - of course I'm a sucker for a good romance story), and continues with some of Alex and Brittany's story while showcasing Alex's younger brother, Carlos, who unwillingly moves from Mexico to Colorado where Alex is in college. Carlos is not happy about moving because he still feels like Alex betrayed him when they all had to move from Chicago; however, since Carlos got caught up in the gang's in Mexico, his mom sends him to live with his brother. Although he acts tough, he doesn't really do anything wrong, but still gets into some trouble and can't live with his brother anymore. Alex arranges for Carlos to move in with one of Alex's professors (who has his own reasons for wanting to help out), who has a daughter who Carlos met at his high school. Carlos was not impressed with her at first, but she seems to be the only one who can break through his tough exterior and see the decent person he is inside. As Carlos works through his issues and they get to know each other, they realize there is a deeper connection there.  As this develops, Carlos gets deeper into trouble and has to learn to rely on others to help him get out of a sticky situation.

It is again a good romance and coming-of-age story. The thing about this book, though, is that it does stick to the tried-and-true formula of the first book and as such at times seems a little familiar/too similar. It doesn't seem quite as new (although, of course, the first was essentially an updated Romeo and Juliet wrong side of the tracks type love story) in the second book because Carlos' story is similar to Alex's from the first book. However, it was still a really enjoyable escape to read. If you loved Perfect Chemistry, you will like reading Rules of Attraction and getting to spend more time in this world with these characters.

4 Stars for RULES OF ATTRACTION

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

THE RED PYRAMID by Rick Riordan

THE RED PYRAMID is the first book in The Kane Chronicles, a great new series for anyone who liked Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, here is a new one to keep you going on epic quests. Just like Percy, Sadie and Carter Kane are on a journey of self-discovery and learning about a world they didn't know existed hidden behind their own regular world, but this time it is the Egyptian gods and goddesses. As they didn't spend much time together growing up, they are building their brother/sister relationship throughout the book. They somewhat remind me of Dan and Amy from The 39 Clues series - a great brother/sister team who look out for each other.

Although The Red Pyramid book is longer, and takes a little longer to read due to being mostly unfamiliar with Egyptian mythology (unlike the Greek gods and goddesses who were familiar in Percy Jackson), it is still well worth your time to read. It is written at a level that is appropriate for middle school students, and has enough excitement and action to keep one interested, although you have to pay attention to the explanations of the mythology to follow along with what's happening in the story.



The story starts off when Carter and his dad, who have been traveling around the world for his dad's work as an expert, come back to London for one of their visits to Sadie, who lives with their grandparents after their mom died.  Dad takes Carter and Sadie with him to the history museum, and when they witness him unleashing gods from the Rosetta Stone, and he disappears, they don't know what to think. Luckily, the next day their Uncle Amos shows up to take them to the U.S. where they learn that they are actually descended from a line of pharaohs which makes them magicians. Along with this knowledge, and the dream visions they start having, they learn that some other magicians aren't too happy with them and that's when the attacks start.  Ultimately, they need to face Set, who is trying to unleash chaos, so they can bring the gods and magicians together to keep chaos from changing the whole world.

One thing that is important to note when reading this book is that it is told through the voices/points of view of both Carter and Sadie. Make sure to look at the chapter headings and the tops of each page to keep track of which character is the "I" in each chapter. Although, it is one of the things I like best about this book because you do get good insights into the whole story because you know things from both main characters, it can be confusing if you're not paying attention.

4 Stars for THE RED PYRAMID

The Start of the Blog

Hello everyone. Today starts the official "Teach 8 YA Book Blog" and I'm hoping to keep it regularly updated. As an eighth grade language arts teacher and voracious reader, I wanted to start sharing my thoughts about all of the books I read in a forum that can reach lots of people at once. Instead of telling one student in one class period about a book I recommend, now they can all see what I'm reading and what I think about the books while they're in my class and beyond. I'm planning to sprinkle in some of my students' own reviews as well throughout the school year. I hope everyone enjoys this as a resource to find good young adult books to read! The plan is to share thoughts about books that can help guide you toward what you might want to read. Enjoy!
 
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