Monday, October 31, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why

I was reading this book and was carrying it around while I was substitute teaching in a high school class today.  Several of the girls saw the book and recognized it and told me that they thought it was a great book. I agree. 
At the beginning of the book, Clay, a high school student receives a package in the mail.  It contains audio tapes.  He finds a tape recorder and begins to listen.  The tapes are of a classmate who recently committed suicide.  She says that if he is listening to the tape, then he is one of the reasons why she is dead.  He spends the night following her map through the town listening to her tapes that explain why she committed suicide.  Through her eyes we see how each little incident added up to big problems in her mind.  It is intended to make people think about how they treat one another, which is something that high school students need to think about. 
I like the dual narration style of the book and found it to be very suspenseful.  As I read it, I felt like I was Clay, looking around to see if other people realized what I was reading.  I had to stop reading and take breaks from the book a few times because it is just so sad. 
I am glad that some of the high school girls told me how much they enjoyed the book.  I think that it is something they can relate to.  I hope it makes high school students think.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up in Polygamy by Dorothy Allred Solomon

Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up in Polygamy

In this revealing memoir, the author tells her story of growing up in polygamy.  She describes her family's history in the Mormon religion and polygamy, how polygamy was outlawed in the US, and yet, through studying the Mormon scriptures, her father decided that living according to the Principal of polygamy was what their religion dictates.  When she was growing up, her father had 7 wives (there was one more prior to those - his first wife, but she took her kids and left him when he started marrying more women) and they had to move often due to religious persecution.  Her father and some of her mothers were put in jail for polygamy and she learned to lie about her family life to protect them all.
This beautifully written, heartbreaking tale decribes the abject poverty that her family lived in due to the fact that they had to move and hide to avoid being arrested.  She describes her father as a loving, kind man, a healer and a doctor, who was eventually shot dead on the orders of a madman who wanted to take over his family and group of mormons.  She also describes the darker side of polygamy, which she did not often see, but which many of her family members suffered including physical and sexual abuse.  She tells about their many moves around the country and to Mexico to avoid being found out.  Her father became a leader of their polygamous group and after she was an adult, he was pressured to marry more women because the other men in his group could not have more wives than he did.  He eventually had 16 wives. 
Although the author opted out of polygamy, she remained in the Mormon religion and formed a group to help others. This is an intriguing story about a very large family.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

This is a wonderfully creepy book!  Jacob's grandfather had shown him photographs of the peculiar children that he lived with in a children's home during WWII.  He told Jacob that the children had unusual abilities - such as the ability to levitate or be invisible, and that they had lived on a beautiful island protected by a hawk who smoked a pipe.  When Jacob grew older, he no longer believed his grandfather's stories about the peculiar children and the horrible monsters that were after him.  Until, when he was 16 years old, his grandfather died and Jacob saw the monster who killed him. 
     After going through therapy, and after finding a mysterious letter that had belonged to his grandfather, and with the encouragement of his therapist, Jacob goes to the island off of Wales where his grandfather had lived in the children's home.  His father goes with him to observe and write about the birds that live on the island.  There, Jacob learns who and what he is, travels in time and fights the monsters as well. 
     This story is illustrated with authentic vintage photographs, which is an unusual and fascinating way to write a story.  The story is a fantasy with mystery, suspense and intrigue. 
I totally enjoyed it, and highly recommend it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens
OMG, this book is so hilarious!  I have not laughed so much while reading a book in a long time.  "An airplane full of beauty queens crashes on a deserted island."  The bad guys - The Corporation - have a hide out in the volcano.  The Stashe-off beauty cream and hair remover is apparantly explosive and will be sold as weapons of mass destruction.  Miss Texas goes insane and the survivor beauty queen girls learn that they can do anything they want to do - even if they have to eat grub worms.  When the reality show pirates' ship crashes on the island, the trans-gender contestant finds herself a happy pirate friend and Miss New Hampshire, wild girl, falls in love with one of the displaced indiginous natives.  Punctuated by commercial breaks for Corporation TV shows and beauty products, this book definitely wins "breast in show". 

You Will Call Me Drog by Sue Cowing

You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda)
This is a cute book for children in grades 4-6 or so.  Parker, a 6th grader picks up a hand puppet that he finds at the dump and puts it on and it talks to him and tells him that it's name is Drog and it will not let him remove it.
So, Parker spends several months with the puppet on his hand, which causes some problems and he is sent to counseling and starts attending aikido lessons. 
He starts to work out some of the problems that he has with his father, who had divorced his mom and moved out several years before. 
Parker learns some lessons from Drog and from his aikido Sensei. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiGamillo

Because of Winn-Dixie
My 9 year old daughter is currently reading some dog books and I saw this one and thought she might like it.
I think she will.  In this book, 10 year old Opal is being raised by her dad, the preacher, since her mother left when she was 3. They have just moved to a new town where she does not yet have any friends.  She goes to the Winn-Dixie grocery store and there is a dog there who is enjoying himself and causing chaos in the store.  She brings him home and names him Winn-Dixie.  Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal makes friends with several interesting people including the libraian, the man who runs the pet store, an old woman who lives alone, and several children.  Because of Winn-Dixie, she is able to talk to her dad about her mom and learn more about her.  Because of Winn-Dixie, all of her new friends get to know one another and become friends too. Everything happens because of Winn-Dixie.  This is a terrific story and I really enjoyed it.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I found this book in a high school ESL class that I was subbing in this week.  It is a good book for middle school and high school age.  In this book, Leo falls in love with Stargirl, a new girl at his high school.  She is totally different, a free spirit who is not afraid to be herself.  Stargirl plays the banjo, sings happy birthday to everyone on their birthdays,  cheers for whoever make a basket at ball games and meditates in the desert.  Her schoolmates go from not liking her to loving her to shunning her and Leo is along for the ride.  I enjoyed Stargirl's character and individuality and found it to be a well-written, fun book.

A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler

A Year Without Autumn

This book reminded me a little bit of some of the old Twilight Zone shows that I used to watch when I was a kid. 
A vacation resort.
A broken old elevator that gets fixed. 
And when 12 year old Jenni rides up a floor on the elevator, she goes a year into the future.
In this future, her best friend Autumn is very different.  Autumn's brother is in a coma and her family is devastated.  Jenni finds that she can go back to the present but the accident that put Autumn's brother into a coma has happened anyway.  She finds that for each floor that she rides on the elevator, another year passes.  Is there any way that she can go back and change the past/present/whenever it is? 
This is a fantastic, riveting tale of friendship and creepy time travel.  You won't be able to put it down until you find out what happens!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Blindness (Harvest Book)
After pg 109 or so, I gave up due to the totally horrible punctuation and just skimmed through the rest of the book.  The concept of story itself is interesting - an entire country is struck by an epidemic of blindness and the story follows some of the first people to be struck blind - a doctor, and his wife, who never does go blind, and some of his patients.  There are no question marks or quotation marks in the book and most of it is written in run-on sentences punctuated by commas with an occasional period thrown in here and there.  Apparantly that was done on purpose, but I really don't know why and I think it makes the book very difficult to follow and for me it was so annoying that it just was not worth the effort. Anyway, the people who go blind are dehumanized and quarrantined and they act like animals and steal food from one another and rape the women and live in filth.
If you don't care that the story is horribly punctuated and also has some words misspelled, is that done on purpose too, and if it does not bother you that I did not put a question mark after the word too, then you might want to read the book, otherwise, you may want to just skip it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Grace of Silence: A Family Memoir by Michele Norris

The Grace of Silence

Michelle Norris tells two stories in this book.  One is the story of her family. The tale of how her father had been shot by a Birmingham policeman and her investigation to learn more about that incident forms the backbone of much of the story.  The other story is that of segregation in the south and what life was for black people - at least for her family and others like them, and what it was like for white people living in the south during that time. 
I found it very interesting and I learned things that I did not know.
I got this book free as a goodreads review book and I highly recommend it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ida B: . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan

Ida B: . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World (Bank Street College of Education Josette Frank Award (Awards))
Wow.  Just wow.  Katherine tells a rich, touching story about Ida B, who is a creative happy, free spirited girl who enjoys being homeschooled by her parents and communing with nature.  When her mother gets cancer, Ida must go to public school, which she decides that she will hate and she sets her heart to be unhappy.  Ida struggles with anger, unhappiness and sorrow and shares her feelings in a way that readers can enter into and understand.  The story is told in a beautifully descriptive way bringing Ida and her emotions to life and drawing the reader in as well.  This is an incredibly well told story for children in grades 4-6 and beyond.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

True (...sort of) by Katherine Hannigan

True... Sort of by Katherine Hannigan
Oh so sad.  But, a very well written story.  Delly was a happy girl who just could not seem to keep out of trouble.  By the time she was 11, she had begun to believe what other people said about her - that she was bad.  She stopped being happy and just kept on being trouble.  Until she knew a surpresent was coming.  Instead of getting a surpresent, she met Ferris Boyd, a girl who looks like a boy, and does not talk and runs away if she is touched.  Delly, her brother RB, and a boy named Brud, all become friends with Ferris.  But why would a child not talk and fear touch?  Delly turns out to be a good friend and helps Ferris to get help. 
This book is a well-written, excellent book.  It says it is for ages 8-12, but child abuse is a sensitive topic, so parents should be aware of the topic of this book so that they can talk to their children about it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Crossing by Serita Jakes

The Crossing by Serita Ann Jakes

10 years ago, Claudia, daughter of a prominent pastor, witnessed the murder of her best friend and teacher,BJ, on a bus full of high school students after a football game. She had gone on with her life until she suffered a miscarriage two years ago and is now suffering panic attacks related to the murder. Her husband, an assitant District Attorney re-opens the 10 year old case when new evidence is brought to his attention. We follow the struggles of Claudia, and Casio, who had been a football player and was shot on the bus during the same incident and is now a police officer who occasionally beats his girlfriend. I was drawn into the story and followed it, interested to find out who the murderer was. I thought some of the foreshadowing was too overt and there were too many connections between people. The bad guys were too evil and the good guys were too good and all of the sinners suffered due to their sins. I found it a bit too neat and tidy, but it is an interesting story and I did enjoy reading it.
I received this book free to review from Goodreads.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Culture Shift: The Battle for the Moral Heart of America by R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Culture Shift: The Battle for the Moral Heart of America

This book contains 25 short essays on different topics on which the author shares his view of how that topic relates to Christian morals.
I found some articles very interesting and others not so interesting. The chapters that I enjoyed were "Needed: An Exit Strategy from Public Schools" in which the author discusses the changes in public schools over the years.  I also liked the articles titled: "Are We Raising A Nation of Wimps?", "The Challenge of Islam", and "The New American Family."
I received this book free to review from Goodreads

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
I decided to read this book because I was substitute teaching in a high school recently and ate lunch with the English teachers and they were discussing whether they had to teach using exerpts from this book or not.  It is apparantly included in their curriculum, but some of the teachers feel uncomfortable teaching it in class because then they feel that means that they are recommending and condoning the book.
One teacher said that they are allowed to use alternate materials sometimes and that is what she wants to do.
So, I wanted to read it and find out what was so controversial.

Now I know. 

I would not want to teach this as a novel in high school classes because of the sexual content.  I would not be comfortable teaching it to a class full of adolescent boys and girls. They would get too silly about it.  However, I would not mind teaching exerpts from it if those exerpts did not include the sexual content.  And I don't mind recommending the book to high school students to read on their own.

I thought the book was realistic and raw and well written. 
It addresses a lot of tough issues especially that of alcoholism in the Native American Indian population.  I think it addresses all of the issues well in an interesting and thoughtful way in a realistic story.

In this story, told with cartoons similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid genre, Junior is a 14 year old cartoonist who lives on an indian reservation.  Sensing the dead endness of the rez, he decides to go to the white kids' school in a nearby town.  That leads to problems with his friends on the reservation.
I read this book in less than a day.  I really liked it and I think that teenagers would like it and relate to and understand it too.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

Rarely, if ever, has a book made me this angry.  I had no idea that today, here in the USA, in Florida, people are being held against their wills as slaves, beaten, subjected to cancer causing and birth defect causing caustic chemicals, living in horribly disgusting substandard conditions, sometimes locked up and killed, and we have all eaten tomatos that they picked.  Our country, the land of the free, is not adequately protecting migrant farm workers from horrific abuse and working conditions and substandard pay. 

This book brings these issues to light and they are issues that we all need to be aware of.  Migrant farm workers who come to this country illegally are not trying to steal jobs from Americans.  They are just trying to earn a living and are willing to work hard in conditions that legal Americans would not put up with and that we should not allow to exist in our country.  Even though it is legally not supposed to happen, tomato pickers are routinely forced to work in fields where pesticide is being sprayed causing them to have respiritory problems and skin rashes and to have babies born with no arms and legs and other, often life-threatening and deadly birth defects.  One man walked through what he thought was water as he worked and when he went home and showered, all of his toenails fell off. 

Not only are we eating tomatoes that have been grown in and routinely sprayed with these poisons that we may be ingesting, but the workers who plant and pick those tomatos are getting all kinds of horrible illnesses from the pesticides that our country allows to be sprayed on our food. Is it worth that cost to eat tasteless tomatoes? 

This book also chronicles the different types of tomatoes that are grown and shows that it is possible to grow tasty tomatoes organically and in safer conditions for the workers.  The author tells about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which is assisting the migrant farm workers to earn at least minimum wage and to prosecute those tomato farmers and field bosses who are engaged in human trafficking.
Here is their website:

I personally won't buy tomatoes from Florida any more.  I realize, however, that the Florida tomato fields are not the only part of our agricultural industry that incorporates slave labor.  We all need to become aware of the injustices and horrible abuses of human rights that are going on in our country and we need to do something about it.  This book was a real eye-opener for me and I hope that others read it and are touched by it and moved to action against these abuses as well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vanishing Acts by Phillip Margolin and Ami Margolin Rome

Vanishing Acts

As Madison Kincaid starts 7th grade, her best friend is nowhere to be found and her father, a busy attorney is working on a murder case that is missing the body. Madison struggles with mean girls on the soccer team, while missing her best friend, and makes a new friend who is a boy! Together they investigate the mysteries of her missing friend and the murder case that her father is working on. This is a fun children's mystery book recommended for ages 9-12 and I highly recommend it.
I got this book as a goodreads first read to review.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace by William Lobdell

Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace

In this open and honest memoir, Billy, a newspaper reporter, explains how he became a born again Christian and grew in his faith and prayed that he could get a job reporting on religion.  He got the job and believed it was an answer to years of prayer.  He enjoyed learning about religion through the stories that he reported.  As he grew in his faith, he moved on from the evangelical church he met with to a Presbyterian church and then began attending a Catholic church going through a one year catechism class in order to convert and join his wife in her faith.  Then, he was assigned to report on the Catholic church priest sex scandals.  He was one of the first reporters to learn about it as the first stories came out.  He continued in his faith, believing that the problems he was reporting on were confined to that one parish.  As time went on, he went to meetings w/ the survivors of the priests' sexual abuses (which were disgusting and horrifying), and he interviewed priests and biships and he learned just how corrupt the Catholic church really is.  At the end of the year, he could not join the Catholic church.  He then was given more investigative religion stories and met Ole Anthony and interviewed Benny Hinn.
After all that, it is no wonder that he lost his religion. 
Sadly, he lost his faith in God as well, believing that what religion teaches and what he saw of the religious institutions was what God is all about. 
This book is well-written and very interesting and thought provoking.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Has God Spoken?: Proof of the Bible's Divine Inspiration by Hank Hanegraff - Host of Bible Answer Man

Has God Spoken?: Proof of the Bible’s Divine Inspiration

I had such high hopes for this book.  The title sounds so promising.  Especially the subtitle - "Proof of the Bible's Divine Inspiration".  I was excited to read it and find out what the proof was.
Instead, I found the book to be SAD.
It is a
S upercilious
A rrogant
D iatribe

If you like acronyms, then this is the book for you.  It has 9 acronyms and subacronyms in which Hank gives his "proof of the Bible's divine inspiration."  He also rants against Bart Ehrman, President Obama, Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others.  Even when I agree with some of Hank's statements, I am appalled at how rude, unkind and judgemental his language is. When he attacks the people that he disagrees with, he also attacks their beliefs, most of which are shared by many other people.  Hank is basically calling anyone who disagrees with his understanding of scripture "benighted" (p. 151) - which means " in a state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance, typically owing to a lack of opportunity."  Basically, if we don't see things the way he does, we are stupid and wrong and possibly heretically dangerous. 

Hank especially hates Ehrman whom he accuses of "spiritual terrorism", misinterpretation, attempting to "make the language of scripture"walk on all fours" ", (I still have no idea what that is supposed to mean), setting up a "rigged game", "regurgitated sophistry, selling sensationalism and an unhealthy dose of Scriptortutre" and a lot more.

I did learn a few new things from Hank's book that I had not heard before that I found interesting, such as his deliniation between "predictive prophesy" and "typelogical prophesy".  I understood the difference but had not seen them defined so nicely.  I wish that Hank had explained where his understandings of prophesy and typology came from rather than just saying that "the student of Scripture well knows" these things.  Hank documents thouroughly the words of those who he sees as his opposors which include an episode of the TV show "West Wing", but he does not document all of his Biblical "facts", rather saying that anyone who is a Biblical scholar should just know these things - intimating that if we don't just know that stuff, we are uneducated and stupid. 

I liked Hank's MEALS acronym, but for the most part, I was disappointed by Hank's openly hostile attitude towards Bart Ehrman and anyone else who has views about the Bible that differ from his own views.

I received this book free to review from Booksneeze.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

a stolen life by jaycee dugard

A Stolen Life: A Memoir

This is a heartbreaking tale told by Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped at age 11 and was held hostage for 18 years.
She shares openly about the abuse that she suffered - sexual, physical and mental.  She tells about depending entirely on her kidnapper for everything and how he assisted her as she gave birth to their two daughters.  Philip, the man who kidnapped her and his wife, Nancy, were drug addicts and total nutcases.  He heard voices and blamed things that he did on what the angels told him. 
Jaycee and her daughters are survivors and they are learning to live in the real world and are trying to help others who are in difficult situations as well.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Alcatraz versus The Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz #3: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Alcatraz Smedry is awesome.  Really.  And you should buy this book.  In fact, you should buy multiple copies of this book.  If you read it, you will find out why.
In this third book of the series about Alcatraz, he once again battles the evil Librarians and their thugs and uses his awesome Smedry powers to do awesome things.  His father ignores him, he finds out that his mother really does not hate him, and he goes to Nalhalla and meets his cousin Folsom, whose Smedry talent is to dance badly and he learns that he is royalty - sort of and a popular hero - sort of.
Things explode, heros fight, and Alcatraz, of course, saves the day.  Sort of.
Fantastic book for all those who support the battle against the Evil Librarians worldwide. :)