Sunday, January 29, 2012

Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

This book is filled with short essays showing ways to incorporate mindfulness into every moment of your life. The author is a zen master who writes clearly about everyday situations. He addresses the interconnectedness of all things showing how even the paper on which the book is printed is connected to your life in a multitude of ways. Lots to think about here and even more to try to put into practice.

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

After Prue's baby brother is stolen by a murder of crows she knows she has to get him back. She follows the birds and sees them go into the Impassable Wilderness, an area right in the center of Portland where no one ever goes. Prue takes some provisions with her and sets off on her adventure but before she gets very far she realizes that she is being followed by Curtis, a boy from school. Together, the two find that the I.W. is not as abandoned as they had been told. They soon encounter a platoon of talking coyote soldiers and are separated when Curtis is captured. From there, Prue meets many of the strange denizens of the I.W. as she continues trying to retrieve her brother, while Curtis joins forces with a group of bandits fighting against an incredibly evil woman who is intent of destroying Wildwood once and for all. This fantasy contains all the elements of an epic adventure - a quest, good vs. evil, talking animals, a witch, and some previously unknown magical powers. Although the book has quite a bit of action the story was way too long for me and the characters didn't grab me much (except for Owl Rex, whom I loved). The language is advanced for most middle schoolers.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hooper Finds a Family by Jane Paley

Hooper is a puppy living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hits the city. He is left behind by his human family and soon finds himself struggling to survive as his home is flooded. Hooper manages to survive the rising waters, dehydration and encounters with dangerous wild animals. But even after he is rescued he finds there are more challenges ahead, including trying to win over his new "dad" in New York City. This book is based on the real experiences of many animals who were stranded after Katrina devastated New Orleans. It is told from Hooper's point of view which is cute but too simplistic for my tastes. It definitely seems better suited to elementary school audiences than middle school.

Dancing Home by Alma Flor Ada

After years of work Margie has finally convinced the kids at school that she is 100% American even though her parents are from Mexico. Much of the teasing she has managed to end comes back, however, when her cousin Lupe comes from Mexico to live with Margie's family. Margie is embarrassed by Lupe and tries to distance herself as much as possible. She's very relieved when Lupe is finally transferred into the ESL class. But as time goes on she comes to see that Lupe is not that different from herself. And a new friend makes Margie think twice about her rabid desire to divorce herself from her heritage. I was not impressed with this story. Although I believe that the feelings Margie has are realistic, the overall book seemed to be more about teaching a lesson about embracing your heritage rather than just telling a good story.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Flawless by Lara Chapman

Sara is beautiful in every way except for her exceptionally large nose. Her mother is constantly after Sara to get a nose job but she has been resisting that advice because she feels comfortable with herself as she is. When gorgeous new student Rock starts at school Sara finds herself as drawn to him as every other girl in school. What's more, Rock is smart and loves literature and journalism as much as Sara does. He seems perfect for Sara, until her best friend Kristen decides she's interested in Rock as well. Kristen has always stood up for Sara when she has been teased by others and Sara refuses to let a boy cause problems in their friendship. So when Kristen asks Sara to write Rock notes for her and to pretend to be her on Facebook when Rock wants to chat, Sara agrees to help out. Soon, she finds herself falling in love with Rock while he dates Kristen, never knowing that the words he loves are coming from Sara. This modern take on Cyrano is just right for a middle school audience. It's fun, but I got a little annoyed by all of Sara's back and forth about betraying her friend. It seemed that she had to re-decide to be loyal to Kristen in almost every chapter. Also, I was prepared to hate her mother since she is presented as pressuring Sara into rhinoplasty in the first chapter. But throughout the rest of the book she is shown to be concerned about Sara and it appears they have a close relationship. Still, this should appeal to teen girls looking for a "love conquers all" story.

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

At 16, Hazel has survived her cancer for two years longer than anyone thought possible with the help of an experimental drug. She knows that her time is limited but everything is going fairly well for her now. While at a support group one night she meets Augustus Waters. Augustus had a highly treatable form of cancer and is in remission after losing one of his legs. Augustus and Hazel are immediately drawn to each other but Hazel doesn't want to actually date because of her fear of being a "grenade" to Augustus - a guaranteed source of pain to him when she inevitably dies. They share many other things, however, including a love of a book that ends abruptly. Hazel has written to the author for years asking for answers to her questions about what happened to the characters after the book ends but has received no replies. A trip arranged by Augustus to meet the author in person doesn't go quite as expected and ends with another huge shock for Hazel. This is an incredibly powerful story that rings true to anyone who has dealt with cancer in his or her life. The quotable parts are too many to mention and the tears just kept coming for the last several chapters of the book. Although there is plenty of sadness, the tears for me were more about the reality of the situation and the way in which the author handled the subject. My only complaint would be that both Hazel and Augustus seemed too unbelievably articulate and clever in everything they said. However, this is a minor complaint given the overall impact of the book.

My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody

Brooklyn has a long history of making bad decisions starting with the time she fell down a well as a toddler. After her most recent plan ended with a house burning to the ground, it is clear to Brooklyn that she is decision-challenged. Facing months of community service, parental disappointment and life at school as an outcast after her best friend abandons her, Brooklyn starts a blog asking readers to make all her decisions for her. Whenever she is faced with a decision she posts it and has her followers vote on the best course of action. Soon she is trying out for rugby, joining the debate team and turning down dates with the new school hottie. This is a fast-paced, fun story. I really enjoyed it while I was reading it but found there were a couple of holes upon reflection. Still, it's obviously meant to be light and all ends well so I wasn't too bothered by the few problems. If you're looking for something light, this is a good choice.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Rory has just moved from Louisiana to an exclusive London boarding school. Within days of her arrival the city is on edge after two murders are committed that mimic the crimes of Jack the Ripper, even taking place on the same days. Even though the dates and approximate locations of the upcoming murders are known, no one is able to catch the new Ripper. Even the cameras located around London haven't been able to capture his image. When another murder takes place on school grounds it seems the Rory might be the only person in London who has actually seen the killer. But how can that be when her roommate was right next to her during the encounter? Something more than a copycat spree is happening and Rory's abilities have placed her squarely in the killer's path. This is an exciting and creepy mystery with a surprise twist at the very end. Thinking about a copycat Ripper was a bit disturbing for me which indicates that Johnson did a good job of capturing the atmosphere. Her description of the frenzy surrounding the killer seems like it would also be accurate, unfortunately.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

While looking out his window at 12:07 AM Conor sees the monster take shape out of the yew tree. Troubled by things much worse than this, Conor is not frightened. The monster tells Conor that he is actually an ancient force that comes to walk on the earth when he is called and feels that the cause is worthy. He says that he will tell Conor three stories and when he is done, Conor will have to tell him one in return. Conor's story has to be the truth, the one thing Conor is most frightened about. This is a deep tale simply told. There's lots here to absorb and it is beautifully written. The illustrations are also gorgeous and fit in well with the story. Although all of it is well done, I particularly liked the mythical qualities and the zen messages of the stories.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Legend by Marie Lu

Legend is another dystopian novel set in (what I assume) is the United States after something big has happened. The story is told by the two main characters in alternating chapters. June is a prodigy who received a perfect score on her Trial. She is part of the elite of the country who have money, food, electricity, and vaccinations against the plague that seems to constantly affect the rest of the country. After June's brother Metias is killed, his commander takes June out of school and fast tracks her to an upper level position in the military. Her first task is to track down Day, a boy who works for the resistance and is the person who is accused of murdering Metias. Working undercover, June spends several days on the streets with Day and is surprised to find that he is not the person she had imagined. And when she reads through Metias' journals, she finds even more secrets that make her question who she can trust. I think this title will be popular and it is definitely one I'd suggest for those who want more like The Hunger Games. But while it is fast-paced, I guess I'm feeling burned out on the dystopias because it only seemed so-so to me. However, it has some unique parts and it is well-written so if you like that type of story, give this one a try.