Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 Books of 2012

Wow.  A whole year in blogging has passed.  I can still remember last New Year, looking at the 101 books I had read in 2011 and longing for some way to connect even more with other readers.  A way to share what I think and help out the other teachers/parents out there who want to make informed decisions on books for their teens.  A short while later, Reading Between Classes was born.  Since then, I have read an additional 115 (ish) books, and written reviews of many of those.  I joined an adult book club (and watched it die) and started a bookclub with my students which continues to make me happier than I ever imagined.  I have become one of those people who will chat you up in a bookstore who will harass you recommend books for the teens in your life and continue to pray that I find some real life YA readers who are a little more Adult and a little less Young.  Thank you to all of you who have visited and read and maybe even commented to let me know that you stopped by.  I have loved this year's journey and can't wait to see what 2013 will bring.

And now, without further ado, my top 10 books of 2012

10:  Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina features a world in which dragons can take human form and racism colors much of the human interaction with them.  Seraphina straddles this dividing line.  She is one of the most well written characters that I have encountered this year against the backdrop of one of the most encompassing worlds I have seen created. 

9: Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

Oh how I adore twisted fairy tales.  Sarah Cross takes the well known (and not so well known) stories down a dark and dangerous path.  In this world, characters must fight fate and choices can have alarming consequences. 

8: Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Saving Francesca was my first foray into the world of Melina Marchetta.  Damn that girl can write some characters.  I wanted to go back to being a teenager, move to Australia and become part of that group. 

7: Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

Suicide Notes delves into the world of mental illness.  It features strong, wonderfully flawed characters and a self-deprecating sense of humor that will bring a smile to any readers face.  Unfortunately - too much swearing and sexual content for my classroom library.

6: A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

A Vintage Affair is the only adult novel that made its way on to my list.  It is a wonderful story of loss and love that pulls the reader into the past and examines the history that can be held in a garment.

5: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Are you surprised to see a Maggie Stiefvater book on here?  ME TOO!  After the disaster that was Shiver, I never thought I would read another one of her books.  BUT, Scholastic knew better.  They sent me an ARC of The Raven Boys and I was proven wrong once again.  The world building drew me in and wouldn't let me escape if I wanted to.  Also - just look at that cover - it is even more beautiful in person. 

4: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Pushing the Limits features two very realistic teen characters and their relationship.  The cover alone would never have brought me on board - but the rave reviews made me give it a shot.  This novel is about relationships - and not just the obvious one.  It dives into the teen world in a way that is raw and emotional.  The only downside - far too much vulgar language and sexual content for my classroom library.

3: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

In Sage, Jennifer Nielsen has created a character that I wanted to hug, strangle and slap - ALL AT THE SAME TIME.  He is one of the best developed characters that I have encountered this year, with a wonderful wit that made me laugh out loud.  The False Prince stands apart as a book that is appropriate for even younger YA readers while still having a level of intrigue and action that will appeal to older readers. 

2: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

A no brainer here.  I am sure TFIOS is going to be on a lot of lists.  This one has ALL THE FEELS.  I was trepidacious about reading it the first time (Cancer books have not been high on my list since I stopped reading Lurlene McDaniel books as a teenager) and I have never been happier to be wrong.  TFIOS features characters that any reader cannot help but fall in love with.  I have chosen this as the next book for my Jr High Book Club and cannot wait to talk about it in the new year.  In the words of one of my students "If it actually managed to make Ms._______ cry, it has GOT to be good"

1: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

I am not sure how many "End of Year" lists this book may end up on as it was just released on Dec 18th.  I got an ARC and have been raving about it ever since.  I have recommended it to parents in bookstores.  I have given it a special place on my Teacher Recommends bulletin board.  I even went out and snagged a copy for my classroom and one for a very special student.  The characters are wonderfully complex, the plot is exciting and the issues brought forth invite the reader to question our own society.  I am in awe of this book and will be the first one in the stores when the second in this series is released.  (Dec, 2013 - I must go cry now)


First Lines: December 2012

The first words you read can often set the tone for the entire story.  I thought it would be fun to keep track of the first lines of the books I read each month and share them with you.  Below are the first lines for all the books I read in December. 

 Teeth by Hanna Moskowitz
"At night the ocean is so loud and so close that I lie awake, sure it's going to beat against the house's supports until we all crumble onto the rocks and break into pieces."

The Dead and Buried by Kim Harrington
"Colby had a secret"

Looking for Alaska by John Green
"The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party."

The Diviners by Libba Bray
"In a town house at a fashionable address on Manhattan's Upper East Side, every lamp blazes."

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
"The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke's house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to evesedrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches."

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
"I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid."

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh
"Edgar opened one eye to a slit."

Sort of slim pickings this month.  There weren't any first lines that grabbed me but I guess if I had to pick a favorite it would be from Teeth:

"At night the ocean is so loud and so close that I lie awake, sure it's going to beat against the house's supports until we all crumble onto the rocks and break into pieces."

My least favorite is definitely from The Dead and Buried:
"Colby had a secret"

It wasn't the least bit interesting or unique.
Here's hoping 2013 will be filled with great first lines!

Monday, December 24, 2012

ARC Book Review: The Dead and Buried by Kim Harrington

Title: The Dead and Buried
Author: Kim Harrington
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: Jan 1, 2013

Cover Impressions:
This is the second cover for The Dead and Buried.  The first showed a shadowy figure descending a staircase.  It fit well with the storyline and added an extra creep factor.  This cover, however, is less impressive.  The cover model looks like she is sleeping, not dead, and it doesn't stand out from the other YA books on the shelf.

The Gist:
Jade has finally gotten her wish.  She has moved to a new house, in a bigger town and with a better school.  Shortly after moving in, however, Jade starts to feel odd cold sensations throughout the house and her little brother, Colby, describes a glimmering girl that visits him in his room.  Jade discovers that the teen queen of her high school, Kayla, had lived in her house and that she had died there under mysterious circumstances.  When Kayla threatens Jade's brother, Jade must worm her way into the inner circle in order to try and find a killer.

This is my second foray into the world Kim Harrington.  I read Clarity, which I enjoyed, but not enough for me to rush out and buy the sequel.  I feel much the same about The Dead and Buried.  I was really excited for it when I saw the original cover.  I love ghost stories (see my reviews the Dead Girls Don't Die series) and TDAB fits that bill.  However, there were some aspects where it was lacking.

The premise is one we have all seen before, teenager moves into new house, weird stuff starts happening, he/she discovers the house is haunted and endeavors to find the killer and set the soul to rest.  There wasn't really any new ground broken in this book.  I was hoping Kayla would possess Jade and try to win back her old life - but no.  I never really felt like Jade was in any danger.  Yes, Kayla possessed her brother, and yes, those moments were a little tense, but I don't think we saw enough of a relationship with him in the beginning to make these moments really hit home for me.  Even throughout the novel, it seemed like Colby was always out of the picture, and when he did appear, he had very little personality. 

The rest of the interactions between Jade and her family seemed a little too unreal.  She never fights with her father and her arguments with her stepmother are pretty tame.  I did enjoy Jade's friendship with Alexa.  She was quirky and it made me happy whenever Jade chose her over the popular kids - putting substance ahead of flash.  I was disappointed when Alexa basically disappeared in the second half of the book.  As soon as Jade begins to develop a relationship with the boys (Donovan and Kane) her interactions with Alexa seem to fall off.  I found both the boys to be rather boring and didn't really see the appeal of either of them.

Had The Dead and Buried ended with some huge twist that I never saw coming, I probably would have enjoyed it a great deal more.  It was a pretty quick read and it was well paced.  Unfortunately, the minute a particular character was introduced, I had a strong feeling that they were the killer and my suspicions were confirmed with one of the least exciting reveal moments that I have ever read. 

Overall, The Dead and Buried was underwhelming.  It is fine as a quick read, but didn't have a whole lot of substance.  

Teaching/Parental Notes:

12 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Murder by pushing down stairs
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Thursday, December 20, 2012

ARC Book Review: Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz

Title: Teeth
Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: Jan 1, 2013
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions:
I really like the cover of this one.  I received an EARC, but I really wish I could see the physical copy.  I am rooting for shiny and textured scales. 

The Gist:
Rudy's brother suffers from Cystic Fibrosis.  In an attempt to save his life, the family moves to a remote island that is famed for a special type of fish that can heal and prolong life.  Without the excitement of friends and frivolity, Rudy finds himself longing for a companion - and then he finds Teeth, and begins to discover the dark secrets of the island and its inhabitants.


I requested Teeth because I had heard great things about Gone Gone Gone and it has been sitting on my TBR pile for quiet a while.  Those who love Hannah Moskowitz seem to RAVE about her.  However, if Teeth is indicative of her writing style, perhaps I best stay away.
I loved the premise for Teeth.  The mysterious island with magic fish that could heal and prolong life in otherwise terminal cases, was fascinating.  I longed to find out what made the fish so special and what secrets were being hidden by the inhabitants of the island.  Unfortunately, much like Rudy, once I began to receive my answers, I wished I had never asked the questions.  The setting was interesting, the morality issue that made up much of the first half of the book was thought- provoking.  Had the novel continued in this frame of mind, I would have been left much more satisified.

To be honest, I am finding it difficult to write about what bothered me, and that is a testament to how much it bothered me.  SPOILERS AHEAD:  Teeth involves numerous incidences of rape.  We see both a woman raped by a fish, and a mermaid/fishboy raped by men - over and over again.  Once this plot point was revealed, I could no longer enjoy the story.  Even now, it leaves a sick taste in my mouth to recall the details. 

Moskowitz is certainly a writer who can evoke strong emotions in the reader.  She is skilled at writing in a way that is raw and heart-wrenching.  I do believe that most readers will recognize the beauty that can be found in this story.  Teeth is well written, and I can recognize the genius in it - I just didn't like it.  I felt like I was watching a car crash - I knew that continuing would result in seeing things that I could never forget but I just could not look away.  In the end, I could not get past the pain.  I ached for Teeth.  I wanted so badly to rescue him and by the last page, I was left feeling sad and empty. 

Due to the nature of the rape in this book, as well as the frequent swearing, I would not recommend it for my teenage students.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

AT LEAST 16 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing, talk of masturbation
Violence: Rape, Physical fighting/abuse, gunplay, murder
Inappropriate Language: LOTS! Fuck, Shit, Slut, Bastard, Bitch, Asshole
Substance Use/Abuse: Smoking

Monday, December 17, 2012

ARC Book Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard

Title: Splintered
Author:  A.G. Howard
Publisher: Amulet Books (Abrams)
Release Date: Jan 1, 2013
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions:
The cover is breathtaking.  This is one of those covers that when it was revealed, I immediately added it to my TBR list.  The colors are gorgeous and the imagery is so interesting.  I love that the connection to Alice in Wonderland does not smack you in the face but is hinted at in the flowers and bugs entwined in her hair. 

The Gist:
Alyssa is a direct descendent of Alice Liddell, the real life Alice in Wonderland.  Every since Alice returned from that fateful trip into Wonderland, the women of her line have been cursed.  They are unable to block out the calls of insects and flowers and are haunted by a mysterious moth that inspires them to unspeakable acts.  With her mom in a psychiatric hospital and facing more and more dangerous treatments, Alyssa follows in her ancestor's footsteps in an attempt to set things right and free her family from this crippling curse. 


If you have been following my blog, you may remember that I am a sucker for books that either re-tell or are influenced by the classics.  Splintered first grabbed my attention with it's stunning color, then made it on to my OH MY GOD I WANT IT NOW! list, when I read the synopsis and discovered it was a continuation of the Alice in Wonderland story.  Splintered is very true to Carroll's whimsical style but with enough of a twist to stand on its own.  The characters are considerably more frightening and the story often dips into darkness which serves to create a more grown up Wonderland while reminding readers that there was real horror in some moments of the original (non-Disneyfied) version.

Alyssa was a strong enough character to carry the story, although I would have liked to see a little more character development.  She seemed like a damaged little girl who was playing at being a rebel.  At times, she was a little too trusting and took a bit too long to catch on to the obvious.  I would have preferred if she had taken a more active role in success, but she seemed to simply stumble upon the answer, rather than work towards it.  Her love interest, Jeb, was not my favorite person.  He treated Alyssa like a child and was always running to her rescue (whether she needed/wanted it or not).  I was pleased when he was conveniently removed from the storyline so that we could see Alyssa grow into her new place in Wonderland and meet her challenges on her own.  I did, however, love Morpheous.  He was very Mad Hatter-esque in that he had character and motivation.  He was multidimensional in a way that most of the other characters were not and I kept wishing for him to pop up whenever the Alyssa/Jeb story started to get a little boring.

The plot of Splintered moved quickly as Alyssa was dragged from one challenge to the next.  Morpehous' manipulations made for exciting situations and were the catalyst for an eventful race through Wonderland.  Even though I did figure out the BIG plot twist earlier than Alyssa did, it still added a special element to the story and left me to re-examine earlier events in a new light.

Splintered is a very fun read.  While it is violent and dark, it is not inappropriate for a teen audience and has enough romance to keep young girls interested.  It is a definite must read for anyone who loved Alice in Wonderland or is a fan of whimsical stories with a little bite to them. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing, Allusion to sex/rape
Violence: Swordplay,
Other Issues: Discussion of mental issues/images in a psychiatric hospital
Inappropriate Language: Ass
Substance Use/Abuse:  Underage drinking

Thursday, December 13, 2012

ARC Book Review: Crimson Frost by Jennifer Estep

Title: Crimson Frost
Author: Jennifer Estep
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: December 24, 2012
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions:
This cover is kind of boring.  We have Gwen's often mentioned violet eyes as a focal point but I am not a fan of the dragon? Griffin? in the background.  I am also annoyed by the portrayal of her snowflake necklace.  The description in the book is of a delicate diamond tipped snowflake - yet the one in the cover image looks like it was picked up at the dollar store. 

The Gist: 
Still reeling from the escape of Loki and Gwen's brush with death at the hands of his reapers, her safe haven at Mythos Academy is shattered by the appearance of the Protectorate.  Suddenly Gwen is being accused of the unthinkable and she must defend herself or face execution. 


I read Crimson Frost right on the heels of finishing the first three books in this series.  In the beginning, I cut Gwen quite a bit of slack.  In series like these you often find a deeply flawed (and often annoying) main character whose experiences force her to grow as a person and gain some confidence in her abilities.  However, Gwen just seemed to get more irritating as the books continued.  I kept wanting her to grow up a little, but she never does.  She is unable to piece together even the most obvious of clues and spends a lot of the book whining about her circumstances.  She never stands up for her self and is incredibly self-centered.  The other characters serve only to rescue Gwen, or to listen to her moan.  Despite including several interesting mythologies, the only characters we really get to see in action are Spartans, Valkyries and, occasionally, Amazons.  Why even bother mentioning the other types of warriors if you never plan to use them?

The plot itself is very predictable - partly because Gwen has to be beaten over the head with multiple clues before she will clue in to what is going on.  I often found myself skimming pages because I had already figured out the plot twists and was waiting for Gwen to catch up.  The action also ground to a halt every time that we came into contact with one of the villains.  They seemed to all be suffering from some strange compulsion to spend pages explaining plans and facts that the reader has already figured out.  It is almost like a satire of every action movie where the villain takes an inordinate amount of time to reveal every detail of his nefarious plot - except in the Mythos Academy novels, it isn't funny.  

The first half of this book was dull and frustrating.  Jennifer Estep is the queen of the re-cap.  She feels the need to repeat (often in a very close to copy - paste fashion) nearly every detail from every book.  I know what you are saying: but recapping is great for those who don't read the series back to back and yes, I agree.  However, the repetition that bothers me is of innocuous points that do nothing to further the storyline.  For example, in every single book she feels the need to remind me that the library is more hangout that place of work and that students go there to hook up, even going so far as to remind the reader that Gwen regularly finds condoms in the stacks.  I DID NOT NEED TO READ THAT FOUR TIMES!

All of that being said, I think that I am mostly upset by this book because it has so much potential.  The world that Estep has created is unique and interesting.  I love novels that re-work and combine different mythologies.  I enjoyed the side characters whenever they got a (brief) moment in the spotlight and sometimes found myself longing for the series to follow Daphne instead of Gwen.  I also keep getting the feeling that this series is being stretched too thin.  It could have been well developed and wrapped up within three or four books but, based on the plot progression thus far, is more likely to take nine or ten.  Unfortunately, I think I will be getting off on this stop - that is, unless the next book promises more Logan and Daphne, less Gwen and some closure on a few underlying issues.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing, talk of hooking up/sex
Violence: Swordplay, lots of death
Inappropriate Language: Whore, Slut, Bitch, Pissed, Ass
Substance Use/Abuse: underage drinking, talk of marijuana use.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: Mythos Academy Series, Books 1-3 by Jennifer Estep

Title: Touch of Frost, Kiss of Frost, Dark Frost
Author: Jennifer Estep
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: Aug 1 2011, Nov 29 2011, May 29 2012
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions: I like the repeated elements in these covers.  The similar colors and font, the use of the sword for the letter T and the architecture featured in the background.  Kiss of Frost does seem a little odd, as it appears that they used a different model and chose to change up the "straight to camera" gaze that is featured in the other two.

The Gist:  Gwen Frost is a has always known that her family are Gypsies.  She has the gift of "touch magic".  In touching a person or an object, she sees their past laid out before her.  As the lone Gypsy at Mythos Academy, a school for warriors of all breeds, she stands out as weak and powerless.  In Touch of Frost, Gwen investigates the murder of a classmate, even though no one else seems to see anything suspicious.  In Kiss of Frost, she finds herself at the center of a plot for revenge and in Dark Frost a dangerous quest sends her searching the past in order to save the future.

Review: This series has been on my TBR list for a while now.  When I received an EARC of the next book, Crimson Frost, I figured it was time to jump in.  Once I started reading, I didn't really want to stop and write a review after each book, so I decided to lump them all in together.  WARNING: this approach will probably result in spoilers for books 2 and 3 being revealed.  Sorry.

I always love books that feature a twist on traditional mythology and Mythos Academy has plenty of that.  Gods and Goddesses abound, as do warriors (though the author seems to stick to just three types - Amazons, Valkyries and Spartans - why not throw out a ninja once in a while?!)  The plot moves at a decent pace, with some exciting action scenes in each book.  The love story does not take over the plot, but adds an extra element to it and I was rather fond of the one or two spicy scenes that featured Logan and Gwen.  The storylines of all three books were rather predictable.  The clues were laid out fairly early and the twists were pretty obvious.

The writing in this series is fairly solid, however, I have NEVER seen this amount of recapping in any other series.  I got so annoyed in the second book that I started jotting down some of the re-capped info:

- About Mythos academy
- about statues (staring)
- about sneaking off campus
- Mom's death
- Vision that led to mom's death
- Battle from last book
- How library is hangout
- finding condoms in the stacks
- Why the Mythos kids are spoiled
- How her powers work
- Each character and what powers they have
- What the library looks like/contains

These are just a FEW examples, and when I say re-cap, I mean that some of the sentences/paragraphs seemed like they were IDENTICAL to the previous book.  The hell?  Can an author plagiarize herself?

One of the things I also had a problem with was characterization.  As I mentioned, the author sticks to three main types of warriors (besides Gwen).  While she mentions several others that attend the school, they are not utilized at all.  The side characters were not developed enough to make me care about them and they did not get any real moments to shine in the spotlight.  They seemed to pop up only when Gwen needed to talk to someone and then vanished just as quickly.  Speaking of Gwen, she was INFURIATING.  I am used to being annoyed at my main characters, but she takes it to a whole new level.  Gwen refuses to ask for help, claiming that she wants to be worthy of being called a warrior, and jumps into some ridiculously stupid situations that left me screaming at her to stop being such a moron.  Though the clues in each story were fairly obvious, Gwen refuses to put two and two together until the bad guy nearly slaps her in the face - and sometimes, they LITERALLY slap her in the face before she figures it out.

There is a lot of talk of sex in these books.  I don't really feel that it was necessary.  I was also disturbed by the easy and frequent use of the word slut.  I would not be able to recommend this series to my students.  Since I recieved an EARC, I will be continuing this series, but I sincerely hope that Gwen smartens up and that the plot is less predictable. 

Unanswered Questions:
 - I understand why Mom and Grandma didn't want to spoil Gwen like the other Mythos kids, but why didn't they at least get her some freaking self defense classes?
- How does Gwen manage to survive on cookies, cakes and an odd salad here and there? 
- Why do these kids never think to use their cellphones to call for backup?

Age: 16 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing, Talk of sex - sometimes vulgar
Violence: Swordplay, death by car accident, knifplay
Inappropriate Language: Lots: Bitch, Slut, Shit, Dick, Whore
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking, Marijuana use

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (13)

Stacking The Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews.  It is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

EARCS I Got This Week:


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Audio Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Recorded Books
Release Date: January 1st, 2008
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions:
Yuck.  The colors are horrid.  The image is bland. 

The Gist:
Chronicles a year in the life of Arnold Spirit as he attempts to reconcile his life as the only Indian in a white school and the only traitor on his reservation. 

Books like this are particularly difficult to review.  These are the books that tend to get glowing 5 star reviews and are frequently listed as one of the Top YA books of ALLLLLLL time.  I tend to find myself disappointed in these books.  While I enjoyed this book I did have some issues that would stop me from either recommending it to my students or using it in my classroom.  It was certainly well written and I can see the raw nature appealing to young readers.  The character of Arnold was amusingly self-deprecating and honest.  He did not shy away from embarrassing topics and was very frank on some touchy issues.  His relationships were flawed, but felt very real.  A great deal of the plot centered around basketball - which I will admit, bored me a little simply because I do not like sports.  At all.  But, I can see how this would appeal to (particularly male) students.  

I did feel uncomfortable at times with what I couldn't help but think of as Indian bashing (though I am sure some other readers will wholeheartedly disagree with me).  It seemed that Arnold painted nearly all the Native Americans on his reservation as drunken and violent.  It bothered me that he was so easily accepted and loved by the white students at his new school, while he was still seen as an outcast on the reservation.  The deaths in the story came very abruptly and, as we had spent very little time with those characters, did not have the emotional impact that they could have. 

From a teaching standpoint, I had a problem with the very casual use of some very strong language, particularly, of homophobic slurs in every day speech.  I realize that this happens, I realize that it is a realistic portrayal of the way that many teens speak.  However, I do not feel that this is something that should be treated as mainstream.  If we continue to treat this behavior as "normal" how can we ever expect it to stop? 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing, Talk of Masturbation
Violence: Fist-Fighting, Death by Car Accident, Death by Gunfire, Death by Fire
Inappropriate Language: LOTS!!!
Substance Use/Abuse: Alcohol Abuse

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

First Lines: November 2012

The first words you read can often set the tone for the entire story.  I thought it would be fun to keep track of the first lines of the books I read each month and share them with you.  Below are the first lines for all the books I read in November. 

Ungifted by Gordon Korman
"I want a refund from"

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
"When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
"In the beginning there were nine of us."

 The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
"Grace Somerfield was the first to die."

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
"I was born with water on the brain."

 Touch of Frost by Jennifer Estep
"'I know your secret'"

 Kiss of Frost by Jennifer Estep
"Logan Quinn was trying to kill me."

Dark Frost by Jennifer Estep
" 'If you guys don't stop making out, I'm going to be sick.' "

 Crimson Frost by Jennifer Estep
" 'I have a confession to make' "

 Splintered by A.G. Howard
"I've been collecting bugs since I was ten; it's the only way I can stop their whispers."

My favorite first line this month was Splintered, followed closely by Ungifted.  They were unique, and they grabbed me right away.  My least favorite was every Jennifer Estep line, especially "I know your secret", overdone and lame!

I would love to hear your favorite first lines for November!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Title: I Am Number Four
Author: Pittacus Lore
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: Aug 3, 2010
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions:
I got the movie tie-in edition on sale.  The cover is decent.  It will definitely appeal to boys and the cute guy on the cover will grab the girl's attention.  I like the sparks and embers but would have like a little more indication of flame and a clearer image of the symbol in the background.

The Gist:
9 children escaped the doomed planet of Lorien in the middle of an attack by the Mogdorians.  (Unsure of the spelling here - don't care enough to go back and check).  They have been placed under a "protection" spell that requires them to be killed in order (wonder how they chose who would be number one?).  Three have died already and we meet John Smith, number four. 

I was pretty exited to read this book.  Not because of the movie (didn't know about that) or the plot, but because it was the first book chosen by my new Junior High Book Club.  The kids made suggestions and I chose the final pick (mostly based on availability).  A lot of my students claimed to have loved this book, so I couldn't wait to see what interested them so much.

By the end, I had begun to doubt their taste.  First, the good things.  This book has quite a bit of action (mostly at the end).  It has a love interest and a main character with super special powers.  The plot was interesting enough at the beginning but began to fall apart by the end.  Perhaps the problem is that I question while I am reading and many students have not yet learned to do that or do not have a varied repitoire from which to compare writing.  Either way, I did have some issues here.

First of all, I liked the premise behind the book but found some plot-holes frustrating.  It was never explained WHY the Mogdorians are spending so much time chasing these kids around Earth.  They have already gotten what they wanted from Lorien - slaughtering (hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands?) full grown Loriens with developed powers, so why would they be worried about a handful of kids rather than using their resources for a full scale invasion of Earth?  I understand that in a series like this, these type of secrets are often saved for further books but it seemed like no-one but me even questioned why John was being hunted.  I was also frustrated at the lack of revelations by the end of the novel.  I do not need to know EVERYTHING at the end of the first book, but it would have been nice to learn SOMETHING - John could have opened the letter at the very least!  The plot itself was fairly predictable and the big shocking moments were things that I had assumed would happen after only the first couple chapters.

The characters were mostly bland and annoying.  John refuses to face his situation, seems cocky for no reason and makes selfish decisions that puts everyone else in danger.  He has an amazing ability to ignore what is going on around him and seems to be more interested in making out with his girlfriend than training to save his world.  Sarah was boring beyond belief - so boring in fact that I just had to go look up her name because I couldn't remember it.  She does not appear to have a single flaw and is beloved by everyone, despite her having recently turned her back on her boyfriend and the cheerleading squad - one would think those people might be bitter but, no, they still love her.  The side characters mostly blend together, particularly the football players, or are mildly interesting, like Sam, but don't get any real development.

The action scenes in this novel seemed to be missing something.  At the end, they were prolonged with attack after attack but still didn't have a real sense of urgency.  The tickle trunk Lorien Chest, made problems a little to easy to solve and I couldn't help thinking "There's an App for that!" every time they opened it.  The only characters that I really cared about were Henri and the dog.  This left me bored for most of the action. 

I can understand why my students would have liked this book (many of them liked Twilight after all) but I did not have any desire to read the teaser for the next book, let alone actually continue the series.   

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and Up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Bullying, Hand to Hand combat, Knifeplay, Gunplay, Violence to animals
Inappropriate Language: Shit, Bitch, Damn, Dick
Substance Use/Abuse:  Underage Drinking