Good Books and the Random Movie

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29 May 2008

Death Mountain

Death Mountain by Sherry Shahan is a harrowing tale of survival in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Erin is a bit dismayed to find herself on a bus from her grandmother's house in the Sierras to So Cal to visit her mother - the woman she hasn't heard from in almost a year. When she gets off of the bus at a rest stop, her ticket is stolen. She has to decide whether to find a ride back to her grandmother's cabin or to L.A.

Mae and her brother Levi are on their way to an alpine lake for a swim. (Apparently they don't know about the temperature of alpine lakes!) They give Erin a ride and she joins them on their hike.

On the way to the lake a storm hits that separates Erin and Mae from the rest of the people on the trail - resulting in an adventure in wilderness survival. Will they make it back to safety before they run out of food or get hurt? The book is called Death Mountain - something must die in the telling...

Shahan, Sherry. (2005). Death Mountain. Atlanta: Peachtree.

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The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart is the story the beginning of one young woman's fight to change the world.

Frankie, named after her father, attends the prestigious boarding school Alabaster, in Massachusetts. Her freshman year she was fairly invisible. Her sister was a senior and showed her around, but Frankie didn't make too many friends of her own.

Now, the beginning of her sophomore year, she is more noticeable. She has blossomed. She catches the eye of Matthew, the senior she has had a crush on since beginning Alabaster.

Matthew is a member of a secret society - the Loyal Order of the Basset Hound - that has been a boys club on campus since the 1950s. But it is a secret society and only for boys.

Frankie will find a way to become the head of the Bassets - wreaking havoc all over the school. But when the Order gets caught - who will be punished?

This novel is filled with humor, fun with vocabulary, great pranks, and the coming of age of the heroine. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA fiction.

Lockhart, E. (2008). The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. New York: Hyperion.

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26 May 2008


Freak by Marcella Pixley is about the battle between staying true to yourself and giving in to peer pressure.

Miriam is in seventh grade - the worst grade there is. Her older sister is now in high school and doesn't talk to her. The popular girls make fun of her. Her parents are clueless. And she is about to reach the breaking point.

Will reaching the breaking point make her a different person? In a good or bad way? Will it cause the kids at school to taunt her more or less?

Pixley, and eighth grade teacher, explores the line between being yourself and trying to fit in. And the point at which you find something to believe in when you look in the mirror.

Pixley, Marcella. (2007). Freak. New York: Melanie Kroupa Books.

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Runaways, vol. 1

Runaways, volume 1, by Brian K. Vaughan is a graphic novel about teens making their own way - not following in their parents footsteps.

When Alex, Gertrude, Nico, Karolina, Chase and Molly spy on their parents annual "fundraising meeting" and see them sacrifice a young girl in an apparent ritual, they are a bit freaked out.

After running away for their own safety, the gang hides out in a cave in the Hollywood hills. They will never become evil like their parents. If the police will not help, they must find a way to stop the 'rents on their own.

Vaughan is a regular at Marvel and has combined all of the aspects of the comics he grew up with into one series. This is the first of many Runaways books.

Vaughan, Brian K. (2005?). Runaways. New York: Marvel.

*This edition also includes vol. 2: Teenage Wasteland and vol. 3: The Good Die Young.

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24 May 2008

A Northern Light

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly is a novel of historical fiction based on the murder of Grace Brown in the Adirondacks in 1906.

Unlike other novels and books about the murder of Grace Brown, this is the story on one of the workers at the hotel where the murder happened. Mattie Gokey (a mispronunciation of Gauthier) lives on her parents farm. Her mother just died and her father never wanted to be a farmer. Now that her older brother has run away, Mattie is in charge of raising her sisters.

What she really wants to do is focus on school, take her high school exams and go to college. She is a writer. But few of the people in the area recognize the importance of writing, or even words.

Donnelly, Jennifer. (2003). A Northern Light. New York: Harcourt.

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21 May 2008

Fresh Girl

Fresh Girl by Jaira Placide is the story illustrating how the coup in Haiti affected those living there.

Mardi was born in the US to Haitian parents. When she was four, she went to Haiti to live with her sister and grandmother. When rebels attempted to kill the president, her family fled to NYC to live with her parents.

Since Mardi has returned to the US she is not the same. She is angry and sad. No one knows why she has changed.

When her Uncle Perrin is found in a refugee camp in Cuba and reunited with the family, Mardi cannot keep her feelings hidden. With the help of her uncle, she is able to face what happened in Haiti.

Placide, Jaira. (2002). Fresh Girl. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.

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20 May 2008

Vampirates: Tide of Terror (Vampirates #2)

The Vampirates series by Justin Somper, continues with book two, Tide of Terror.

Twins Grace and Connor have been reunited on The Diablo. Connor is content to learn more about being a pirate. He has, in fact, signed the articles that promise him to the ship for life. Grace is not as content. She missed the vampirates.

When the opportunity to spend a week at the Pirate Academy - the elite training school for the children of famous pirates - Grace convinces Connor to check it out. Her hope is to keep him away from the sea to keep him safe.

While there, Grace begins having visions of the vampirate ship. All of her focus is on returning to the ship.

Will Connor agree to attend the Pirate Academy for the next two years? Will Grace ever see her beloved vampirates again? In the mean time, the vampirate that was kicked off of the main ship, is trying to form his own crew to seek revenge on the other vampirates.

Somper, Justin. (2006). Vampirates: Tide of Terror. New York: Little, Brown, and Co.

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19 May 2008

Polly and the Pirates (vol. #1)

Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh is a children's graphic novel.

Polly attends a boarding school in St. Helvetia. She is a student who never breaks the rules or gets into trouble. But one night, she is kidnapped - bed and all - right out the window and onto a pirate ship.

The crew tells her a story that she cannot believe. She is the daughter of the Pirate Queen Meg Malloy. She escapes the pirates and makes it back to school before the morning bell. But how does she explain her missing bed?

Soon she is caught up in a plot to find her mother's treasure, stepping into the role of Pirate Queen with little difficulty.

Naifeh, Ted. (2006). Polly and the Pirates. Portland, OR: Oni Press.

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17 May 2008

So B. It

So B. It by Sarah Weeks is the story of Heidi - a girl trying to figure out who she is.

Heidi and Mama live in an apartment. The apartment has a connecting door to the neighbor's apartment and the neighbor, Bernadette, takes care of them. She has ever since Heidi and Mama fell from the sky. Or at least that is as good an explanation as any other.

Mama, who told Bernie her name was So Be It, showed up one day with a week old baby in her arms. Bernie, who is agoraphobic, found her on the doorstep. Ever since that day they have been a family.

Now that Heidi is twelve, she has found an old camera in the bottom drawer. The film has given her clues to her mother's past. But how can a 12 year old girl travel from Reno to Liberty, NY by herself? And if she gets to NY, will she find the answers she thinks she needs?

Weeks, Sarah. (2004). So B. It. New York: Harper Collins.

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16 May 2008


Coraline by Neil Gaiman has been compared to Alice in Wonderland. Coraline steps through a door in their new house - a door that was blocked by a brick wall the last time she opened it - and steps into an alternate version of her house.

In the other house, she meets a beldam who claims to be Coraline's other mother. Then the other mother kidnaps Coraline's true parents in an attempt to make her stay.

Gaiman, Neil. (2002). Coraline. New York: Harper Collins.

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Tex by S. E. Hinton is a classic YA novel. Written in 1979, it is still a popular novel and often assigned by English teachers.

Tex and his brother Mason live on their own. Their father spends more and more time away each year on the rodeo circuit. Mason is convinced their father will eventually forget about them altogether.

When they run out of money and the electricity is turned off, Mason sells the horses. When Tex finds out, he feels like he has lost his best friend. Tex begins to spiral out of control, following a dangerous path that may end in death if he doesn't not wise up.

Hinton, S.E. (1979). Tex. New York: Laurel-Leaf Books.

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15 May 2008

The Host

Stephenie Meyer has done it again - The Host is a great science fiction novel. For a fairly new writer she has started at the top, first with the Twilight series and now this.

Earth has been invaded by a species who call themselves
"souls." To humans they are like shiny metallic centipedes - small enough to look harmless. But when they are inserted into the human brain stem, the souls take over the human bodies - forcing the existing personality away.

Melanie Stryder is one of the humans who has hidden out and avoided getting caught by the seekers. When she sees her cousin in a news clip about Chicago, she is compelled to find out if she is alright. But once she gets to Chicago she is caught by a seeker. Seekers are the only aliens who show any aggression - their job is to find the remaining native species - humans on Earth - and uses the bodies as hosts for the souls.

Wanderer is a soul who has lived on more planets than any other soul, hence the name. Now that she has come to Earth, her request to be placed in an adult female has landed her in Melanie's body. But Melanie refuses to leave.

Can two beings exist in one body? How will the influence of Melanie and her human memories affect Wanderer? Melanie will never give up trying to find her brother Jamie and the love of her life, Jared. Wanderer will have to face a species that even she is not completely prepared for. Writen from the first persons of Melanie and Wanderer, this internal struggle within the larger human struggle for survival is a thought provoking look at what makes us human and where the soul fits in that dynamic.

The Host is the best science fiction I have read in a while. It reminds me of the genius of Nicola Griffith or Kelley Eskridge (without the lesbian parts).

Meyer, Stephenie. (2008). The Host. New York: Little, Brown and Co.

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11 May 2008


America by E. R. Frank is the sad but realistic story of a boy who fell through the cracks.

America was born to a drug addict. He was adopted by a family, but when they didn't want him, went to live with the housekeeper Mrs. Harper. America was happy with Mrs. Harper, but then his mother set up a visit to her apartment in NYC. A one-day visit turned into two years - with no mother, just living with his two half-brothers, stealing food to survive.

Once the system found America again, due to an arrest, he was sent back to Mrs. Harper. But his experiences had changed him. He no thought of himself as bad. After years back with Mrs. Harper, America is doing better, almost up to grade level in school after missing the two years in NYC. But then circumstances change again and the home he thought was safe isn't so safe anymore. America runs away rather than stay. Will his life ever be safe or carefree?

Told in flashbacks from America's current place in a group home, this is a powerful and haunting story of life in the system - foster, criminal, etc... - and one boy who might just get out of it sane, if he tries hard enough. Though not a fun book to read, America is a moving story.

Frank, E.R. (2002). America. New York: Simon Pulse.

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10 May 2008

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande is a great book. It is one I never would have picked up on my own (it is on the reading list for my YA Lit class) and I would have been missing out.

Mena Reece has been looking forward to high school for a long time. Now that she has finally arrived, it is not quite what she expected. None of her friends are speaking to her. She followed her conscience and others were implicated. Now she has been kicked out of her church and no one is speaking to her.

When she is partnered with Casey in her science class, her outlook on life will begin to change. Though she has never had much contact with people outside of her church, Casey decides it is his job to get her caught up on the important things in life - like seeing the Lord of the Rings movies.

Through a science project, Mena is introduced to Casey's family and a new way of life. She still believes in God, but is starting to see that there is more than one way to be a good person.

When her ex-friends stage a protest in science class - by turning their chairs backwards at the first mention of evolution - Mena has a chance to examine her own thoughts about life, science, religion and friendship.

Brande, Robin. (2007). Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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Spy Goddess, Book Two: To Hawaii, With Love

Michael Spradlin's second book in the Spy Goddess series - To Hawaii, With Love continues the story of Rachel Buchanan.

Rachel has now been at the Blacktorn Academy for three months. In that time she has improved in her study of Tae Kwon Do and is starting to feel at home.

But when the second clue about the evil plans of Mithras come to light, Rachel and friends are off to Hawaii to find the ancient statue of Mithras - before the bad guy can find it.

The Spy Goddess is a light and fun read full of humor and great fight scenes.

Spradlin, Michael P. (2005). Spy Goddess: To Hawaii, With Love. New York: Harper Collins.

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09 May 2008


Poison by Chris Wooding is a dark phaerie tale.

Poison, a stubborn girl who lives with her father, her step-mother and her half-sister Azalea in the Black Marsh, wakes one morning to discover that the Scarecrow has stolen her sister and replaced her with a changeling.

Though none who live in Gull travel, she finds a way to the nearest city, on the trail of anyone who can help her get her sister back. Along the way she collects a strange group of friends and helpers. But will they be able to save her sister from the phaeries? Will Poison and her friends survive the tests they have to pass to set Azalea and themselves free of the other realms?

Wooding, Chris. (2003). Poison. New York: Orchard Books.

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08 May 2008

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean (Vampirates #1)

Demons of the Ocean is the first book in the Vampirates trilogy by Justin Somper.

Grace and Connor Tempest are twins who were raised by their father, the lighthouse keeper. When they were small he always sang them the same shanty, a song about vampirates.

Now they are fourteen and there father has died. The lighthouse will be taken over by another keeper and the twins are soon to be homeless. Instead of going to the orphanage, Grace and Connor steal their dad's boat and make an escape. When their boat is capsized in a storm each twin is saved by a different ship - neither knows for sure if the other is alive.

Connor is saved by Cheng Li - second in command to Pirate Captain Molucco Wrathe. The Diablo is a pirate ship that is known and feared throughout the seas. Connor will be taught to be a pirate, but how will he deal with the loss of his sister so soon after losing his father?

Grace is saved by Lorcan Furey, Midshipman to the Vampirate Captain on the strangest ship to sail the seven seas - a ship where the crew sleeps by day and only comes out at night. Will Grace become a vampirate or a blood donor?

Somper, Justin. (2005). Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean. New York: Little, Brown and Co.

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07 May 2008

Eyes of the Emperor

Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury is the story of Japanese American soldiers in WWII.

Okubo and his friends are Japanese American living in Hawaii. Eddy Okubo joins the army even though he is only 16. He alters his birth certificate so he can enlist. His goal is to join his two best friends who have been drafted.

When Japan attacks Hawaii, however, Okubo and his friends (along with all other Japanese American soldiers) are isolated and guarded with machine guns. Once the guns are taken away, officers say what a mistake it was - but it is really a hint of what is to come.

Soon Okubo's group is off to Mississippi for training. But it is not the soldiers who are being trained. Some man has come up with the theory that Japanese people smell different than others and has set up a training program for attack dogs. Okubo is the bait.

Although this is an important story to tell - the repeated attack on groups of Americans when we are at war with their ancestral lands - Salisbury's treatment of the group is spoiled by an attempt to use dialect, which comes across making the Japanese American characters sound stupid. (All he did was leave words out of each sentence.) Hopefully, anyone picking up this book will be led to better accounts of the US treatment of Japanese American during WWII.

Salisbury, Graham. (2007). Eyes of the Emperor. New York: Random House.

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Fables: Legends in Exile

Fables: Legends in Exile is the first installment in the 10 volume Fables series by Bill Willingham, illustrated by Lan Medina, is about the characters from fairy tales being exiled to New York City.

Snow White is the mayor of Fabletown, the Big Bad Wolf (now Bigsy Wolf) is a detective, etc... Any character who can maintain a human appearance can stay in NYC, others are sent upstate to live on farms.

When Snow's sister Rose Red is murdered, an investigation ensues. Filled with chiche and bad noir, this graphic novel takes an interesting idea - the exile - and does little with it.

Willingham, Bill. (2002). Fables: Legends in Exile. New York: DC Comics.

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06 May 2008

Spy Goddess, Book one: Live and Let Shop

Spy Goddess book one: Live and Let Shop by Michael Spradlin is the first in the Spy Goddess series.

Rachel Buchanan is a spoiled but ignored teen in Beverly Hills. When she gets caught joy riding in a stolen car, the judge gives her the option of either juvenile detention or boarding school. The Blackthorn Academy in Pennsylvania is the choice her parents choose for her.

But when Rachel gets to the school things are not the same as the typical high school. Classes include topics such as forensics, computer code, and Tae Kwon Do.

Spradlin, Michael. (2005). Spy Goddess Book One: Live and Let Shop. New York: Harper Collins.

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04 May 2008

Boy Meets Boy

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan is a fantasy novel! Okay, not really, it just takes place in a town that is filled with open-minded people where gay kids do not have to fight to fit in. It is a nice fantasy and hopefully a near future reality.

Paul has known he was gay since he read his Kindergarten report card. His teacher wrote, "Paul is definitely gay and has very good sense of self." He didn't know what it meant at the time.

Now Paul is in high school - a school where the quarterback of the football team is a drag queen, there are quite a few gay and lesbian couples, and Paul is about to meet the boy of his dreams.

Levithan, David. (2003). Boy Meets Boy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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02 May 2008

American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is the first graphic novel to win the Printz Award - the American Library Association's Young Adult Literature Award.

This look at stereotypes and learning to be who you are meant to be is a powerful and beautiful novel.
Parallelling the stories of a monkey king and Jin Wang, a young Chinese American boy in San Fransisco, Yang examines the ability to love yourself as you are versus the stereotypes thrown at you. Interwoven with these two stories is a third, the story of Danny, an American boy whose Chinese cousin visits each year in the US. Danny is greatly embarrassed by this cousin who resembles all of the stereotypes about Chinese people.

Beautifully illustrated by Lark Pien, American Born Chinese is a must read for everyone. This novel, along with Maus and Fun Home, have led me to the discovery that I actually enjoy graphic novels.

Yang, Gene Luen. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York: First Second.

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The Chocolate War

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.

It is not often you read a book where two of the main characters grow in such a way that they were better off at the beginning of the book. But that is my take on what happens in The Chocolate War.

Trinity High School is not really run by the monks who teach there, though they do have control over the students. Trinity is run by a group of student - juniors and seniors - know as The Vigil. The Vigil assigns students to tasks and pranks during the school year. No one would dare refuse the order to do something, no matter how crazy.

One student, Goubert, is told to remove all of the screws from the furniture in one classroom. Another, Renault, is told to refuse to sell chocolate for ten days. Once the ten days are over, he is supposed to sell his quota of chocolate like all other students. But he refuses to sell chocolate after the ten days. Now The Vigil must do something or others will begin to refuse their influence.

What started out as one student standing up for himself, with only a single friend to support him, turned into a war. Renault is attacked, taunted, and made an outcast. Goubert is so disgusted by the actions at his school that he quits football and any other voluntary activity. Renault ends up in an ambulance.

The interesting thing about this book is that the bullies don't seem to receive any punishment for their actions. Two students are broken and will never be the same, but nothing is done about it. If Cormier's intent is to make readers think about how this is wrong, then he has succeeded with this reader. The book left an unfinished, disappointed feeling in me. Any book where the revenge on someone it to tease him and call him queer is not my idea of progressing social ideas.

Cormier, Robert. (1974). The Chocolate War. New York: Random House.

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01 May 2008

Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska by John Green.

I am not sure what to say about this book. It has a great message, but I felt I had to suffer through most of the book to get that message. If it hadn't been assigned for class I don't think I would have finished it. Of course, different readers will see other things in the story.

Miles, a geek who has never really had any friends, begins attending a private school where he finds friends. His roommate, Colonel, and their neighbor, Alaska, are the other main characters. All of the kids who live at the school are not rich, but the feel that comes across is spoiled, maladjusted teens who have too much time on their hand (for drinking and smoking) and not enough supervision.

The book is divided into to parts - before and after. Before is spent with Miles learning to fit into his new surrounding. After is Miles and Colonel trying to figure out why the dividing line - the event that causes the before and after - occurred. An answer they will never find to their satisfaction.

I guess I just think that the book didn't need so many vices for all of the kids. Though I certainly did not grow up without breaking rules, my childhood was not so desperate in everyday action - even when it was in thought.

Well, it did win the Printz Award, so maybe it is worth reading and deciding for yourself.

Green, John. (2005). Looking for Alaska. New York: Dutton Books.

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