Sunday, May 31, 2009

Looking for J.J. by Anne Cassidy

Six years ago, the unthinkable happened to Alice Tully. While she has paid the price for her mistake and has turned her life around, things are very difficult for her right now. Alice is trying to live a good life and be happy, but this turns out to be a very big challenge for Alice.

This is an interesting book that looks at the aftermath of a violent crime and how the person responsible for committing the crime may not necessarily be at fault. You could certainly have some interesting debates about some of the topics raised in this book.

The Blue Helmet by William Bell

William Bell is like Eric Walters- any book he writes, I must buy it and read it. Ann at Titles suggested this one when it came out, and boy was I glad she did.

Lee is a tough kid who deals with his mother's death and father's indifference by joining a gang. But, when something goes wrong, Lee is given one last chance to lead a good life.

When Lee meets a new friend, he discovers close-up what mental illness can do to a person. This is an excellent read! I think it would make a great read aloud too.

Splintering by Eireann Corrigan

This book, told through poetry, describes the aftermath of a family tragedy. The family members each deal with this event in a variety of different ways. Eventually though they need to come back together as a family in order to move on.
This book does have some sexual content that might not be appropriate for all readers.

A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson

I loved this book!
This story is about the Bell family. A family who is dealing in different ways with their mother's death three years ago. Mr. Bell is dealing with it by withdrawing into his work and leaving the six children to fend for themselves. Sebastian is the oldest boy at 15 and he is dealing with his pain by involving himself in playacting the Knights of the Round Table. This game, while loved by all the children is starting to cause conflict between them. Roz, the eldest sister has decided that she is too old for playing and her desertion is hard for the rest of the kids to understand. The other children are just trying to survive by setting their own rules and trying to survive without a parent.

11 year old Corrie is caught in the middle. While she loves the Knights of the Round Table, she too is starting to grown up and realizes that it is just a game, something Sebastian doesn't seem to understand.

I loved the whole concept of the family being held together by playacting the Knights game, their imagination is something to be admired. I think kids might find the children and other families a bit old-fashion as the story is set in 1955. Some of the descriptions of what Corrie does with her friends seem a bit immature for a grade 6 girl today. All in all though, this book was fabulous!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Paradise by Joan Elizabeth Goodman

16 year old Marguerite is chosen to travel to the New World to begin a settlement in what will be known as Canada. She convinces her boyfriend Pierre to go with her into this scary new adventure. When the two are caught alone together, they are banished to Demon Island off the coast of Quebec with only the clothes on their back. Here they must survive with only their wits to help them.

This is another great historical novel. I am not sure the kids would really like it, but I found it fascinating.

Under a War-Torn Sky by L.M. Elliott

Henry Forester is just 19 years old during World War 2. He is one of the best fliers around. But, when his plane is shot down behind enemy lines, he discovers a whole other side to the war. Henry not only has to rely on other people for his life, he must also start to rely on his own abilities.

A great historical read!

The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup

A very interesting read about the power of the written word. When Oscar, a 14 year old boy writes in a journal titled "The Book of Story Beginnings"strange things start to happen to him. His family believes he has disappeared. Almost a century later, Lucy discovers this mysterious journal as well. After writing in the journal, Lily and Oscar are sent on a journey to save Lily's dad.

I think this novel would make an interesting read aloud for junior students.

The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo

I was introduced to Michael Morpurgo many years ago by some great friends and I now read everything he publishes.

Adolphus Tips is another great book. This novel first starts in the present day when Michael reads a mysterious letter from his grandmother. What accompanies this letter is his grandmother's journal from 1943.

This journal tells the story of Lily and her family who are forced to move from their farm so that the American soldiers can practice for the D-day invasion. When Lily's cat Tips moves back into the forbidden area, Lily has no choice but to go on a rescue mission. When Lily enters this dangerous area, she is led through the adventure of her lifetime.

Cut by Patricia McCormick

Callie is a cutter. By cutting herself, Callie is able to feel that she has control over her own life. When Callie is discovered, she is sent into treatment. At at residential treatment centre, Callie is silent- she won't talk to anyone. But, in order for her to get better she is going to have to open herself up and start talking to people.

A quick, simple read with a powerful message.

Specials by Scott Westerfeld

In the 3rd installment of the Uglies series, Tally has become part of the dreaded Specials. She is stronger, tougher and more superior than anyone 'normal'. Yet once again she finds herself questioning her life. Determined to save Zane, Tally embarks on another adventure that may cost her her life and her mind. A wonderfully exciting book!

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

In the 2nd book of the Uglies series, Tally has now become a Pretty. She has everything she ever dreamed of- great parties, cool friends and nothing to do but play all day. Yet Tally realizes that something is wrong. Together with her new friend Zane, they start questioning what the people in power are telling them.

Once again, Tally is forced to think for herself and decide on her own fate.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

The first in a new trilogy in a book that is a cross between The Giver and Among the Hidden.

In the first book, Tally Youngblood is anxiously waiting for her 16th birthday. On this day, she will have an operation to make her "Pretty". She will have the life she has always dreamed of having- a life of partying and being with all the right people. But, when Tally meets Shay- she is suddenly presented with a whole new way of looking at life. Tally starts questioning what she has always believed and finds herself fighting back against the established way of things with very interesting results.

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

This whole premise of this story started when Ridley Pearson's daughter asked how Peter Pan met Captain Hook. The author's Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson actually played in a band together for years and would write music together, but they had never thought of doing any writing together. This is the first of four books they have since written for the Disney Editions series.

In this first book, they tell the story of how Peter came to Neverland and how he and Captain Hook became enemies. I found the book to be very exciting, and very much like Airborn by Kenneth Opal.

Names will Never Hurt Me by James Adoff

Rockville high school is your average high school- with the jocks, geeks and kids just trying to fit in and get through the day. One day at Rockville though everything changes. This story is told through four voices, the reader gets to live a day at the high school through the eyes of four very different characters. We get to see what it is like to be the jock, the loser, the girl and the 'hero'.

A great gritty story!

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones

I haven't always been a real fan of Tim Wynne-Jones, but this book has totally won me over. I am planning on ordering a few of his other books and giving him another chance. This book is more appropriate for a slightly older reader than I usually write about.

Mimi Shapiro is a young woman from New York who is running away from her life. She has found herself in a bit of a mess at home and wants to get away and figure out what she is going to do next. So, she packs up all of her gear into her Mini-Cooper car and heads into the Canadian north. When she arrives at her father's cottage she is captivated by the beauty and isolation of the area. However, the cottage isn't quite as isolated as she had hoped. The cottage is occupied by a young man Jay who immediately accuses Mimi of leaving him strange things. Once the two realize that it couldn't possibly be Mimi who left these items, the two find themselves realizing that someone is watching them. What could he/she possibly want?

At times, I found this story to be pretty spooky, but it was so appropriate to the story that it seemed very real. The mystery and drama presented in this book really pulled me through and I found I couldn't put down the book at the end. I am definitely going to be reading some of Wynne-Jones older books now!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

In true Peterson-Haddix fashion, she writes another strange twisted tale where young adults are faced with some bizarre events in their life. For Jonah, being adopted was never a big deal. He has known about it his whole life. But his new friend Chip, just learned that his parents aren't his birth parents. The boys realize this odd connection when they start receiving mysterious notes hinting that their adoption was less than ideal. Jonah would leave it all alone except for the promise he made to help Chip discover who he is. When the boys start trying to unravel the mystery of who they are, they quickly find themselves involved with a situation that the FBI will do anything to keep quiet. Much of what they learn is something out of a sci-fi movie. They need to discover who to trust in order to discover who they are. This is the first in a series of books that have the promise as being as good as the Among the Hidden series.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson

This book was lent to me by my friend Steven after we were discussing Chocolate River Rescue. I had a hard time getting into the book and believing the first few events, but once I got through about half of it, I found the adventure to be quite compelling. Thomas is an 11 year old boy who has lived beside Leepike Ridge his entire life. His dad passed away a few years ago and his mother is involved with a man that Thomas doesn't like. After a fight with his mom, Thomas runs away and finds himself floating down the Leepike river on a slab of refrigerator packing. When he wakes up, he finds himself under the Ridge and the rest of the story is about his journey to get out from under the Ridge. He meets some interesting characters under the mountain and through it all, he is on a quest to return home.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wounded by Eric Walters

One of my favourite things in life is to come home after work to a message on my answering machine from Titles Bookstore ( Last week, Ann called to say she had put away the newest Eric Walter's book because she thought I might just want it. She was right, Ann knows me so well, she often puts books in my file that she thinks I might like and I honestly don't think she has ever been wrong!

Eric Walter's newest book deals with an issue that I haven't really given much thought to- the reality of having a parent fighting in Afghanistan. Lately, the ramp ceremonies I see in the newspaper and on TV bring me to tears. Walter's new book does this as well.

At the start of this book, we meet Marcus and his family. Marcus is the head of the family at the moment because his father is fighting in Afghanistan. His father has one of the most dangerous jobs in the Canadian Army and he is often 'outside the wire', which makes communication back home impossible for weeks on end. Marcus, his mom and his sister are counting the days until he returns. But when that day finally comes, there are times when his dad is not the same person he was when he left. Although on the outside, he isn't injured, on the inside, he is a totally different man. Marcus needs to deal with what his dad's return means to the family and fight to get the help his dad most needs, even when the person he needs to fight is his dad. As with most of Walter's books, I am amazed at the depth of understanding he has for the characters he writes about. I believe this is a book everyone should read, it gives me a whole new perspective on not only the men and women fighting for Canada, but also the family they have left behind.

Friday, May 15, 2009

3 Willows by Ann Brashares

3 Willows is the newest book by the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants author. I love the Sisterhood books and movies and was really excited about reading this story. Set in the same town as the Travelling Pants, this story is about 3 girls who have been friends forever. Polly, who yearns to be a model, Jo who is trying to figure out boys and Ama who is forced to go on a wilderness trip and is way out of her element. These girls use to do everything together and all of a sudden they are not only apart, but growing up and growing away from each other.

This is a pretty simple story of 3 friends who are facing the challenge of growing up. I found the reference to the girls from the Travelling Pants a bit forced and not really necessary. However, I did enjoy this story.

Searching for Yesterday by Valerie Sherrard

I have read several Valerie Sherrard books and I have enjoyed them all. She is a Canadian writer- from New Brunswick and all of her books are set in Canada. While I have read other books by her, the ones I like best are the Shelby Belgarden Mysteries. Valerie has created a very believable character in 16 year old Shelby. She has good friends, a boy friend and parents who are involved in her life.

When her best friend Betts starts shutting her out, Shelby starts spending more time with Annie Berkley- someone she has known her whole life, but hasn't spent much time with. Annie has had a very troubled childhood, her mother disappeared and she has no idea who her dad is. Once Shelby gets a hold of a mystery, there is no stopping her. She is determined to find out what happened to Annie's mother and who is her father. At times, Shelby gets herself in trouble with her meddling, but she doesn't let that stop her. Another part of the story sees Betts involved with a boy who is asking Betts to do things that are not safe.

I really like how Sherrard had both stories happening at the same time, even though they didn't intertwine at all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Finished May 3, 2009
Elaine and Najmah are two very different young women. Elaine, an American who has moved to Pershawar Pakistan to be with her husband finds herself alone after he has gone to give medical support in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Najmah is an girl from Afghanistan who suddenly finds herself alone after losing all her family in the war. While Najmah wanders the country looking for her father and brother, Elaine is teaching refugee children and waiting and wondering what is happening with her husband. When they finally meet, Najmah and Elaine find that they give each other strength to make it through this very difficult time.
I think mature readers would enjoy this book, at times I found the names a bit hard to keep track of, but it was worth the struggle.

The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamar with Susan McClelland

Finished on May 14, 2009
This is the true story of Mariatu, a young girl from Africa who lived through some horrific times and has managed to come out on top. Mariatu had a normal childhood in a small village in Sierra Leone. She lived with her aunt and uncle and many cousins and friends. She was happy collecting water, helping her family and playing with her friends. She heard rumours of the rebels attacking other villages, but she didn't really worry about it ever happening to her village. But one day, the rebels attacked the village- she was only 12 years old- and was attacked by children younger than she was. Although she didn't think so at the time, Mariatu was very lucky to survive. Among other horrors, Mariatu had her hands cut off. Now, left without family and without any means to support herself, Mariatu has to find the will to not only live, but to survive as well. This story, while hard to read at times, really shows what children around the world are exposed to.
Mariatu writes this story with the Globe and Mail writer Susan McClelland and while it isn't always smooth reading, it is a very interesting story.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton

A few years ago, some former students and I decided to do an 'online' book club. We decided we would read a book and just chat about it through email. This was the first book we chose.

Chanda's Secrets is set in Africa and deals with the AIDS epidemic happening there. Many people in Africa are in denial about the severity of AIDS. Familes live in shame and hope that nobody ever finds out that they have had AIDS in the family. This story is simlar to The Breadwinner, although much more graphic.

16 year old Chanda remembers when she lived with her mom and dad, but her life has taken a turn for the worst. She is abused by one of her step-father's and is confronted with the horrible stigma attached to people with the AIDS virus through another step-father. Chanda is forced to give up her education in order to look after her younger brothers and sisters when her mom abandons the family. Chanda must face the harsh reality that not only does her mom have AIDS, but she may have AIDS as well.

I thought this book was incredibly powerful, but would need lots of conversation for many kids to understand the issues this book raises. There is some strong language as well.
A great picture book to go along with this is: The Remarkable Maria by Patti McIntosh.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks

I just finished this one last night, and while it took a while for me to get into the book, at the end I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to finish. My nephew Bryor suggested this one to me and he LOVED it.

Growing up, Pete had his 4 closest friends and they did everything together. One of their favourite things to do was build 'dens' in the woods out of found material. In these hide outs, the 5 of them experimented with all sorts of things. But that was years ago, now, Peter is only friends with Raymond. While most people think Raymond is strange, Peter accepts him for who his is and feels it is his responsibility to look out for him. When Nicole calls Peter one summer night before they all head off to university she suggests all 5 of them get together again, Peter is curious about her motives. Lacking anything better to do, Peter and Raymond head to their favourite den to drink and talk before heading to the fairgrounds. As the friends get to know each other again the situation quickly spins out of control because of the drinking, drugs and tension between the kids. The next day, they discover that a young girl is missing as well as Raymond. Things get very strange for Peter and the rest of the kids, they don't know who to trust, who to believe or what is the truth. Peter finds it hard to believe that one of his friends could have anything to do with the missing girl, but all evidence points to the fact that something strange went on after they left their den. This book becomes a real page turner!

The author, Kevin Brooks is English. I find his writing style different from many of the other books I've read, but the story is well worth the struggle.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Unique by Alison Allen Gray

When Dominic finds some photographs in his grandfather's attic, he is very confused. The boy in the pictures look like him, but he doesn't recognize the events or surroundings. Suddenly, Dominic's whole world has shifted, he doesn't know who to trust or where to turn. He needs to find out about the history of his family- and very soon. This story is much like Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Sun Signs by Shelley Hrdlitschka

Kayleigh is fighting cancer. Because of this, she isn't able to attend high school and is trying to work towards her diploma by correspondence. This is the coolest book to read because it is told through a series of emails. As Kayleigh struggles to figure out what is real and what isn't real on the web. A very unique story about growing up.

Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce

2 boys- brothers from England find a million dollars in a bag. They decide to keep the money a secret from their dad- but still buy things to make him happy. Damian wants to 'be good' to please his father and wants to give the money to poor people. Anthony is determined to buy everything he needs and to protect his family. This story examines the dilemma of being faced with a moral choice and is full of very interesting events throughout the story.

We All Fall Down by Eric Walters

Have I mentioned how much I love Eric Walter's books??? This novel starts on September 10, 2001. Will is a grade 9 boy who will be spending the next day with his father at work. He dad works in the south building of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan. What starts out as a boring day at Dad's office turns in to a day the whole world will never forget. Told as only Eric Walters can- this story examines the horror of that terrible day in a way that is appropriate for young adults to understand.

Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge

Ben is a 16 year old boy who has Cerebral Palsy. When he meets a girl who is a known drug user his life changes dramatically. He has always been a loner, who would rather watch movies than experience real life. Colleen, would rather party than have to live up to her own life. With the help of Colleen, Ben learns that he needs to put himself out into the mix to make friends. With the help of Ben, Colleen is forced to decide if she can 'go straight'. A good book, but might be a bit risky for some kids- a mature reader is needed.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

This is the journal of Cassandra- a young girl trying to figure out her life. There is her sister Rose who wants to escape her boring life, her stepmother Topaz- who longs to be important to her husband. There is Stephen, a friend of the family who is crazy about Cassandra. When new neighbours move in, life gets very interesting for Cassandra and her family. I am not totally sure many kids would stick with this book, but I REALLY enjoyed it. As an interesting aside, Dodie Smith only wrote one other piece- the movie One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

Petey by Ben Mikaelsen

In the 1920's, children who were different were often thought to be idiots. This is the case with Petey. Born with cerebral palsy, but with an active mind- he is shut off in a mental institution for his whole life. As workers move through his life, they come to realize what a treasure Petey is. When Trevor protects Petey from the local bullies, it is the start of an amazing friendship that helps Trevor reconnect with his family. I think this would make an interesting read aloud with some great discussions.

The Grave by James Heneghan

Tom Mullen has been passed around from foster home to foster home. He doesn't know what a true family is. Close to his current home, there is a mysterious construction sight.

Tom finds himself drawn to this hole, and then suddenly he is pulled through time to 1847 in Ireland. Here he finds love in a family struggling to survive. How can Tom bring the love and comfort he feels in the past back to the future?

Target by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson

THIS STORY HAS SOME EXPLICIT CONTENT- The reader would need to be very mature and be able to talk about some of the situations in the story.

16 year old Grady led a normal, happy life until one night when he was abducted and abused by two strange men. A year later, he has started a new school and is a totally different person from a year ago. He needs to learn to trust other people again, but more than that he needs to trust himself.

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Peterson Haddix is the author of Among the Hidden series. I love her stuff. She has such an imagination and twists real situations into a great story. Her books remind me of reading V.C. Andrews books when I was a teen- real different stuff.

Double Identify is no different. 13 year old Bethany has lived a very sheltered life. Her parents have loved and protected her, but Bethany wants more freedom. In a worst case of 'be careful what you wish for' Bethany is one day mysteriously dropped off at a strangers home. Things get very strange for Bethany. She quickly realizes that her whole life has been a lie and she has no idea who here parents are. This book will hold the reader all the way through, when one question is answered, another one quickly replaces it.

Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen

Rusty and Joey are best friends. When they are together there is no telling what will happen and what trouble they will get into. Joey is very afraid of his father's temper and mean spirit and will do anything to ensure that his father doesn't find out about the things the boys do. One day, one of their adventures will really test the friendship between these two boys. Joey makes Rusty "swear to howdy" not to tell and this secret makes staying friends very difficult.

A Crack In the Line by Michael Lawrence

Alaric and Naria are two teenagers living the exact same life- in the exact same house. Everything is the same except Alaric's mother is dead and Naia's mother survived the same train crash.

An interesting story that has some unusual twists and turns. This is the first in a trilogy called The Withern Rise Trilogy.

Tweaked by Katherine Holubitsky

I have always loved ORCA books- the people who write for this publishing company write real cutting edge stuff. These books are gritty and don't always have happy endings. I think kids like them because they reflect things that are going on around them everyday.

Tweaked tells the story of 16 year old Gordie Jessup. Gordie has good friends, does well in school, holds down a job and has the beginnings of a romance with a girl from work- everything is going great. Then, his older brother becomes addicted to crystal meth- a very dangerous drug. Suddenly Gordie's life is turned upside down. Home is no longer a safe place. There are visits from the police, the family is in financial trouble and they never know where Chase is. It isn't fair that Gordie's life has taken this turn, but he still needs to deal with the fall out of his brother's choices.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Bully Boys by Eric Walters

During the war of 1812, Tom Roberts finds himself in an uncomfortable position with American soliders. After saving Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon's life, Tom finds himself with a stolen horse, a rifle and in the scary position of being a scout for the army. This is another excellent historical novel by Eric Walters.

Elixir by Eric Walters

It is the summer of 1921 and Ruth is spending the summer waiting for her mother while she cleans one of the buildings at the University of Toronto.

While waiting, Ruth meets two interesting people: Dr. Banting- who is hoping to find a cure for diabetes and Melissa- a women fighting against medical testing on animals. Ruth finds herself torn between her two new friends and she must search her own heart to discover where her loyalties lie.

This is an interesting book that showcases not only Dr. Banting's discovery of insulin, but of the people who started fighting against using animals in medical research.

Author's website:

The Raintree Rebellion by Janet McNaughton

In this sequel to The Secret Under My Skin, Blake (Blay) is now working in Toronto- a very different Toronto from what we know. Blake is helping with the restorative justice for the community. Blake begins to learn more about her past, while she tries to deal with her own future and what role she will play. This is another great book with some challenging concepts.

The Secret Under My Skin by Janet McNaughton

Set in the future, things are very difficult for Blay Raintree. She is currently in a government work camp where her work takes her to the local dump to find anything usable. But when Blay is picked to tutor the 'bio-indicator' her life takes some unexpected changes. This is a great book for strong readers -they many need help dealing with the concept of the 'technocaust'- what happened when technology tried to take over the world.

Mama's Going to Buy You a Mockingbird by Jean Little

Mama's Going to Buy You a Mockingbird was first published in 1984 and was rerelease a few years ago. This book isn't dated one bit. In the story, Jeremy is 11 years old and is having a very difficult time. He dad has been diagnosed with cancer and Jeremy is trying to hold not only his family together, but also his own feelings.

This book showcases how brave kids need to be when faced with a terrible situation. It is a very sensitive book dealing with a very difficult topic. It isn't very often that I cry when reading young adult books, but this one moved me to tears.

side effects by Amy Goldman Koss

I have always liked how Goldman Koss tackles tough issues in her books and this one is no exception- it is small but mighty!

Izzy is a typical 8th grade girl. She is not impressed with her parents and school, she is boy crazy and loyal to her friends. When she mentions to her mom one morning that her glands are swollen, she is suddenly swept into a situation that she has no control over. Chemo, radiation, feeling terrible and losing her hair are just the beginning of her problems. What drives her most crazy is how everyone starts treating her differently. This story shows the horrors that some children are faced with and how there isn't always a sad ending when you hear the word cancer.