Monday, March 29, 2010

A Touch of Dead

A Touch of Dead
By: Charlaine Harris

Did I say I was done with the Sookie books? Yeah...I was wrong. Of course I had to go grab the complete stories. That's why it's called an addiction, you can't stop yourself. Now I have to be content to sit and wait for that box from Barnes and Nobles to come with Dead in the Family sometime in early May!

At any rate, this collection holds five short stories. For the most part they were pretty good. I wouldn't say they were awesome, they read as almost out takes from the full series, but they did provide a few extra moments with the charecters.

The 5 included stories are "Fairy Dust", "Dracula Night", "One Word Answer", "Lucky" and "Gift Wrap".

"Fairy Dust" finds Sookie summoned by Claudine to help figure out who killed her sister Claudette. While the plot, and the outcome, were pretty standard fare, I liked this story beacuse you found out a little more about Claudine, her family and their business. I was happy to see where and how Sookie first got introduced to Claude as that was something I actually thought about when reading the series.

"Dracula Night" brings us a story about Fangtasia and Eric's fan-boy obsession with having Count Dracula attend his Dracula Night party. Sookie is invited to the party and ends up helping Eric as an imposter is discovered in their midst. This was another cute story, and frankly, any story that has more Eric in it is okay by me. Plus we got more Pam, which I always enjoy.

"One Word Answer" told the story of when and how Sookie heard about Hadley's death. What I liked most about this story was that it brigged the gap in the series, filling in more detail about Sookie's first encounter with the Queen of Louisiana.

"Lucky" was probably my least favorite of the five stories. I liked it as I read it, but just now I had to go look up whatit was about. It got kind of overshadowed by the other stories- at least in my mind. This story found Sookie and Amelia looking to help out Sookie's insurance agent as he tries to find out who broke into his office and if his magical abilities might be part of the problem

Lastly was "Gift Wrap"- this book brought no major revelations to the overall plot of the series. Instead we Sookie looking to help out a wounded were, and get a little extra christmas gift on the side in the process. I've seen that a lot of people like this story, but I'll admit that Naill's part in the evening left me a little skeezed out.

One thing I did appreciate was that in the intro we were told where each story fit into the over all Sookie Series, so if you wanted to you could re-read the whole series, inserting the short stories as you went along. Overall it was a good rainy Saturday read. much longer until Dead in the Family is released?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Brian McClure Children's Books

I recently got three books from the Cadence Group by author Brian McClure. All three books are Universal Flag books (which I will get to after I talk about the books). All the books were great stories, with excellent messages and the illustations made the books even better. One thing I'd like to point out is that all three books are written in verse. I found that I had trouble reading them to myself, as I got hung up on finding the rhymes. However, when I read the book aloud to my daughter, the writing flowed off the page. These books are great for reading aloud, and their message of oneness, is one that is wonderful to share.


The Sun & The Moon
By: Brian McClure
Illustrated by: Buddy Plumlee

It happened one day right out of the blue, the Sun told the Moon he was tired and through. "What do you mean?" the Moon asked the Sun, "That would be the end of everything, and that wouldn't be fun!" The Sun and the Moon soon allow their fears to turn into anger. In that very instant, they walk out on their responsibilities, and cause unseen harm to the Earth and all who inhabit it.

Eventually, the Sun and the Moon remember their interconnection with all, and quickly work together to restore balance. The Sun and the Moon is an entertaining story that reveals the unseen effects of fear and anger on others. It encourages children and adults to take a closer look at their behavior when they are overcome by anger. (from


I enjoyed this book probably the most of the three. This story starts with the Sun deciding that he was tired and no longer wanted to work at lighting and heating the earth. The moon was taken aback and was scared of what would happen if the Sun simply quit. The fear turned to anger and pretty soon the Sun and Moon were fighting, and in their anger they ignored the plight of the earth, which was suffering due to their anger. What is essentially a simple story about the Sun and the Moon and how their fight affects the earth, is quickly connected to how people's anger can affect the people around them. As the Sun and the Moon fight, the earth begins to freeze and the humans and animals suffer. We also see how people, motivated by fear can give into their anger, which can cause relationships to become cold.

Eventually the Sun and the Moon's anger turns to sadness as they realize their fight is hurting both of them. They see that they need eachother, and beyond that, the earth needs them, that everything is connected. They apoligize and agree to start over and get to work healing the planet.

The lesson to be learned is a simple one. We are all connected and our actions (especially those motivated by fear and anger) reach far and wide.


The Birds and the Frogs
By: Brian McClure
Illustrated by: Buddy Plumlee

"I'm smarter then you, because your just a frog, why in the hierarchy of animals, you're really a clog!"

"I'm sorry," the frog said in reply "I'm sure I'd be smarter, if only I could fly."

The conversation continued on in the very same way...unfortunately, it was always the same in each new day. After a time, and who could say how long, all frogs believed that they didn't belong. First there was one, and then a dozen more, and before you knew it... it became part of the core. Their thoughts of less had reached critical mass, causing all frogs to believe, they were lesser a class. (from the back cover)

This book was adorable, and packed a wollup of a message as well. The book begins with the birds picking on the frogs, in typical bully fashion. They tell the frogs they are nothing but clogs, that they are not smart and that they don't belong. After awhile the frogs begin to believe what they birds say and resign themselves to being something less-then, something not worthy. It's not until a new generation of frogs, a group of tadpoles, see what is going on and intercede. They stand up to the birds and remind everyone that just because you are different (as birds and frogs are) doesn't mean that one is better then the other.
Again, there are asides to the main story that focus on how the plight of the birds and the frogs relate to they way humans treat eachother. Bully's often pick on those who are different, they might be motivated by fear, or self-consciousness, but there is usually more to their actions then meets the eye. The story of the birds and the frogs remind us that we are all different from eachother, but it doesn't give anyone the right to bully anyone else.
Again, the message is clear and concise, our differences are what make us great, not what make us less-then or not worthy. We have to recognize the differences and embrace them, instead of being afraid of them and using them as a reason to put people down.

The Raindrop
By: Brian D. McClure
Illustrated by: Buddy Plumlee

"I am just a raindrop, I am smaller than small. What am I doing here? I have no use at all..."

So begins the story of The Raindrop. In this adventurous journey, many Truths are uncovered which help the Raindrop remember the higher purpose of his life. This simple and heartfelt story, allows children and adults of all ages to remember the Truth of who they are.

The Raindrop was the last of the three books that I picked up, and it's message varied slightly from the other two books, but still enbraced the greater message of interconnectedness.
In this story the little raindrop thinks he is to small to be of any use, he doesn't understand where he fits in, or what he is good for. The cloud can only watch as the raindrop leaves and heads to earth to be part of the water cycle that the raindrop doesn't fully understand. As the raindrop travels through the air, into the ground, down a river, out a hose and helps to nourish the crops, he comes to realize that no matter his size he does have a place in the cycle. By being a part of that process he helps grow crops and nourish the world. He eventually travels back up to the clouds, where he encounters a cloud who believes much the same as the raindrop used to. The raindrop can only stand by as the cloud begins his own journey to see his place in the greater world.
This is another story that relates back to the way people feel. It's easy to sometimes feel out of place and insignificant like the raindrop did. You find it hard to see your place in the world around you, and that can be depressing. Like the raindrop, sometimes you just have to look around and see all the people whose lives you touch and who are better for having known you. We are all connected.
The idea of interconnectedness is a big one in these books, and it's a theme and idea that can be seen in the Universal Flag, which represents our interconnection and oneness with all. It's a great message that reminds us that we are all connected to eachother and everything, and that if you look past differences to see how we are alike, you can eliminate the fear and anger that arises, and create a difference in the world around you. Learn more about Brian McClure's books and get other information about the Universal Flag here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Host Contest

Eve's Fan Garden is hosting a giveaway for Stephenie Meyer's book The Host! Click here for more information.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sookie Stackhouse Series

By: Charlaine Harris

So normally I start my post with a description of the book, but since this is an entire series, and I've yet to come across a desription of the entire series, I'm just going to dive right in.

I really did obsessively read the entire 9 book series in about a week. In fact I picked up the last book (so far), Dead & Gone, yesterday around 5 and finished around 10, with a nice dinner break in the middle.

These book center around Sookie Stackhouse, a barmaid at Merlotte's, in Bon Temps, LA. Sookie is telepathic and has always beena bit on the outside. When Vampire's announce their existance to the world, and Sookie takes up with local Vamp Bill Compton, she is dragged into a world she never knew existed. Throughout the series Sookie is involved in the lives and issue of not only the vampire community, but also the Werewolves, Shifters, Witches, Faeries and the all to real prejudices that abound in normal life. On top of that are her various romances with Bill, Eric (Bill's vampire boss), Alcide the Werewolf, Quinn the Weretiger and others. There is lot's of action, both in an out of the bedroom. These books are definitely for the more mature reader!

What I love about these books is that they are written for the adult. Not that I don't love the YA that is out there (because I most certainly do), but it is fun to read stuff with a little more "adult content"! I also appreciate the overall campiness of the series. It kind of has an "everything but the kitchen sink" feel to it, which is excellent, because you're never quite sure what's going to happen to Sookie next, or who she might meet, because Harris has created an everything goes world that exists side by side with the real world.

The next book of the series, Dead in the Family, comes out May 4th and I can't wait. Based on how the series has gone so far I hope that Harris continue's to crank out the hilarious (and scary) adventures for Sookie for more books!

Harris has a fabulous website which has a community forum, that if you like the books are worth checking out.

The series has also inspired the HBO series True Blood (which I'm also loving, although, love the books more). HBO is currently running season 2 reruns on Sundays @ 8:00 with the new season starting June 13th.

Here are the books (in order) for the series so far:

Dead Until Dark
Living Dead in Dallas
Club Dead
Dead to the World
Dead as a Doornail
Definitely Dead
All Together Dead
From Dead to Worse
Dead and Gone

Monday, March 22, 2010

An update

So I've been fairly well MIA for over a week now- thats not to say I haven't been reading though, it's just that I have been sucked into the world of Sookie Stackhouse. I almost wish I didn't pick the books up, because once I started, well, it became a quest to read them all (and read them all now!). These are some of the funniest, quirkiest books I've stumbled across. I like the HBO series True Blood, but I'm loving these books and as soon as I finish the last one, Dead and Gone, which I'm getting from the library tonight, I will be back to do a huge mass post on my newfound love of Charlaine Harris' series. Then like any good book addict I will move on to other books, even while I'm totally counting down the days until book 10 of the series, Dead in the Family, is released during the first week of May.

On a slightly off note- it was just about one year ago that I picked up another Vampire series that I had been attempting to ignore, Twilight (and the rest of the series), which I also immediately become addicted to. Apparently March Madness does exist and for me in comes in the form of awesome, slightly cheesy, vampire novels.

Feel free to wander over to Eve's Fan Garden and check out the Author Appreciation blog posts that went up last week (here's mine: Author Appreciation Week )

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Young Adult Books and their Influence on Young Readers

YA Lit Chat Banner 250

It's a little last minute, but is hosting a chat tonight on their site about Young Adult Lit and it's influence on young readers. It looks to be a really good chat, so please come out and join in!

Monday, March 8, 2010

How to Ruin my Teenage Life & How to Ruin Your Boyfriend's Reputation

I just finished this series up this weekend. I picked it up on the recommendation of a fellow BOTM moderator and I really enjoyed it. I'd be lying if I said I was all gung-ho to read the series at the get go, it seemed like it might be a little formulaic, but I was proved wrong. As I stated in my review for book one of the series How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, the plot follows a familiar pattern, but Elkeles writing and her ability to really let you inside the charecters, flaws and all, really made it an enjoyable series to read.

In this sequel to How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, EVERYTHING in sixteen-year-old Amy Nelson Barak's life is going wrong! Her mom got married and moved to the suburbs, and now they are going to have a baby. Amy moves in with her dad in Chicago and signs him up for an online dating service. His first four dates are that night . . .
What else? Her dog Mutt impregnated her grumpy neighbor's prized poodle, so Amy will actually have to get a part-time job to pay for half the veterinary bill. And there's this totally annoying boy, Nathan Rubin, who just moved into her apartbuilding. Luckily, Amy has a cute boyfriend named Avi. Only he's more like a non-boyfriend considering Avi is in the Israeli army for the next three years.

What's a girl to do when everyone is conspiring to ruin her life? (from

This was a great follow up to How To Ruin my Teenage Life. Here Amy finds herself back in Chicago and trying to pair her old life as a bit of a teenage diva, with all the stuff she learned over the summer in Israel. It was a great look at all the social wrangling that comes along with being in high school, especially those moments when you feel like absolutely nothing in your life is going right. It was fun to see Amy try to figure it all out, how to live with her Dad, how to deal with a long distance relationship with Avi, how to handle her Mom's marraige and pregnancy. I really enjoyed it.

Guess who's jetting to the Holy Land this summer!

Remember me, Amy Barak-Nelson—a.k.a the queen of disaster? In case you forgot, my boyfriend Avi is in the Israeli army. A visit is definitely in order.

Somehow my grandmother convinced me to sign up for two weeks of pure hell in a military training base. Getting up before dawn, peeing in a hole, and playing war games in the desert isn't my idea of fun. But what's worse? Our team leader turns out to be Avi! (From

In this last book of the series, Amy decides to go with some friends to a boot-camp in the Israeli desert, in hopes that she will get to spend some time with Avi. Again Elkeles handles all the drama that comes with being a teen with humor. Thinking this will be a piece of cake (with some time with Avi as the bonus), Amy quickly realizes it will be anything but, especially when she realizes that her being there will compromise Avi's reputation. I loved how the series worked out. It showed that not everything, or everyone, is perfect, but that if you are better with someone then you ever are without then it's worth putting the effort in to see if it can be forever.
I'd love to read more about Avi and Amy (and all the friends and family that surround them), but if this is the last book I'm happy with the resolution. Everyone's not having their happy ever after yet, but you can tell that they are on the right path.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ghost of Spirit Bear

By: Ben Mikaelsen

Cole Mathews used to be a violent kid, but a year in exile on a remote Alaskan island has a way of changing your perspective. After being mauled by a Spirit Bear and eating mice, worms, and even his own vomit to survive, Cole started to heal. He even invited his victim, Peter Driscal, to join him on the island and they became friends.

But now their time in exile is over, and Cole and Peter are heading back to the one place they're not sure they can handle: high school. Gangs and violence haunt the hallways, and Peter's limp and speech impediment make him a natural target. In a school where hate and tension are getting close to the boiling point, the monster of rage hibernating inside Cole begins to stir.

Ben Mikaelsen's riveting saga of survival and self-awareness continues in the sequel to his gripping Touching Spirit Bear. This time he weaves a tale of urban survival where every day is a struggle to stay sane. As the problems in his school grow worse, Cole realizes that it's not enough just to change himself. He has to change his world. (from


This book, the sequel to Touching Spirit Bear, was another wonderful book by Ben Mikaelsen. Home from the island, Cole and Peter must find their in the same school and community that had left them broken and angry. They must try to preserve the changes they had made while in isolation, while still functioning in the school setting. Mikaelsen does a phenomenal job at showing the struggles that kids face, not only Cole and Peter, but all students. At this school, fear and bullying rule the day, threatening to suck Cole back into his anger, and leaving Peter once again a victim of violence. Instead of falling back into thier old patterns, Cole and Peter step up and help to bring around change for the entire school and by extension the whole community.

I loved this book. I think the message, that you have to grab hold of your future and make the changes for yourself, is a great one that all kids (and adults) should embrace. I think this book also serves as a window for adult as to what kids really face each day as they walk the halls. It's not enough to just be a teacher, you have to be a leader.

Overall, I'd say that just about everybody should read this book, and Touching Spirit Bear. They really are absolutely fabulous books.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kids Corner

We're Going on a Bear Hunt
By: Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury

A father and his four children--a toddler, a preschool boy and two older girls--go on the traditional bear hunt based on the old camp chant: "We're going to catch a big one. / What a beautiful day! / We're not scared. / Oh-oh! Grass! / Long, wavy grass. / We can't go over it. / We can't go under it. / Oh, no! / We've got to go through it!" The family skids down a grassy slope, swishes across a river, sludges through mud and, of course, finally sees the bear, who chases them all back to their home. It's a fantastic journey--was it real or imagined?--with the family's actions (and interaction) adding to the trip a goodnatured, jolly mood. The design of the oversized volume alternates black-and-white drawings with gorgeous full-color watercolor paintings, which Oxenbury uses to wonderful effect. Readers accustomed to her board books will find a different style here, of puddled colors and sweeps of light and shadow. The scale of the pictures and the ease with which the text can be shouted aloud make this ideal for families or groups to share. Ages 4-9. (from

This is one of those classic picture books that I think is a must have in any home library, especially one that will be frequented by kids. This story is one that I think everybody has recited at one time or another and this beautifully illustrated edition really brings the chant to life. For me, it also expands on the story. My memory only recalled the first two verses (so, not a very long adventure) and it was wonderful to take what I recalled and see it bigger, longer and better!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Touching Spirit Bear

By: Ben Mikaelsen

Within Cole Matthews lies anger, rage and hate. Cole has been stealing and fighting for years. This time he caught Peter Driscal in the parking lot and smashed his head against the sidewalk. Now, Peter may have permanent brain damage and Cole is in the biggest trouble of his life.

Cole is offered Circle Justice: a system based on Native American traditions that attempts to provide healing for the criminal offender, the victim, and the community. With prison as his only alternative, Cole plays along. He says he wants to repent, but in his heart, Cole blames his alcoholic mom, his abusive dad, wimpy Peter (everyone but himself) for his situation.

Cole receives a one-year banishment to a remote Alaskan island. There, he is mauled by a mysterious white bear of Native American legend. Hideously injured, Cole waits for death. His thoughts shift from anger to humility. To survive, he must stop blaming others and take responsibility for his life. Rescuers arrive to save Cole's body, but it is the attack of the Spirit Bear that may save his soul.

Ben Mikaelsen paints a vivid picture of a juvenile offender, examining the roots of his anger without absolving him of responsibility for his actions, and questioning a society in which angry people make victims of their peers and communities. TOUCHING SPIRIT BEAR is a poignant testimonial to the power of a pain that can destroy, or lead to healing. (from
I really loved this book. This is another one that I can't believe I hadn't read yet, and probably would never have stumbled upon if not for an upcoming book festival in Rochester, NY where the author will be speaking. In an attempt to read at least one book from each author, I picked this one first, and I'm glad I did.

Mikaelsen really looks at alot of painful topics in this book and does so with grace and style. Cole Matthews is angry and violent and lashes out at whoever he can and in one moment he goes from being a bully, to being arrested for nearly beating a classmate to death. As is he leaves Peter broken both physically and emotionally. In an attempt to avoid jail he accepts Circle Justice, a native american concept in which all members of the community come together to figure out the best plan to heal the hurt and pain for all involved, both victim and attacker. Cole's punishment is a one year banishment to a remote island where he is to come to grips with who he is and what he has become. On the island Cole encounters a spirit bear, who when attacked by Cole, attacks right back leaving Cole battered physically and emotionally. Cole learns more on this island, then in any of the counselors offices and detention centers he ever had been in.

Mikaelsen looks at the cycle of violence and the cycle of healing. In the same way violence can lead to more violence, a good act and a helping hand can lead to more charity. I think this book is one that really sheds light on why kids sometimes act the way they do, and how a community can come together to help these misdirected kids find their way again.

There is a second book in this series that I am waiting for Ghost of Spirit Bear, and I look forward to seeing how Cole copes with ebing back in the environment that created his anger in the first place.

On a side note- Ben Mikaelsen has a great website that provides all sorts of lesson plans and activities to be used in conjunction with his books.

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation

By: Simone Elkeles

How does a fashionista teen end up on a farm in the middle of Israel with her estranged father? Oy, vey doesn't even come close to describing it.

Moshav? What’s a moshav? Is it “shopping mall” in Hebrew? I mean, from what Jessica was telling me, Israeli stores have the latest fashions from Europe. That black dress Jessica has is really awesome. I know I’d be selling out if I go with the Sperm Donor to a mall, but I keep thinking about all the great stuff I could bring back home.

Unfortunately for 16-year-old Amy Nelson, “moshav” is not Hebrew for “shopping mall.” Not even close. Think goats, not Gucci.

Going to Israel with her estranged Israeli father is the last thing Amy wants to do this summer. She’s got a serious grudge against her dad, a.k.a. “Sperm Donor,” for showing up so rarely in her life. Now he’s dragging her to a war zone to meet a family she’s never known, where she’ll probably be drafted into the army. At the very least, she’ll be stuck in a house with no AC and only one bathroom for seven people all summer—no best friend, no boyfriend, no shopping, no cell phone…

Goodbye pride—hello Israel. (from

This was a pretty great little book. On a recommendation from a fellow moderator on the Book of the Month club (thanks Maryanne!) I picked this book up and it definitly did not dissapoint. A fairly easy read, this book follows a familiar pattern, but Elkeles writing takes it above and beyond standard fare. Like many books that fit this genre- our main charecter must leave the city she loves and travel to Israel with the father she barely knows to live with a family who just found out she existed. Beyond the main coming of age story is the story about the world she finds herself in. Elkeles does a masterful job at showing how kids differ in Israel from the the way Amy was raised and lives. At her age both boys and girls are drafted into the army, they serve their time and if they survive they rejoin the community, in Amy's family's case, they mostly become sheep farmers. This is a far cry form the reality that Amy lives in back home, where her biggest concerns are school and shopping. Beyond learning about herself, Amy learns about the world and how she fits into it.

This book is the first in a series (I'm waiting for the next two to come into the library). It will definitly be interesting to see where Amy goes from here, now that she has close ties in Israel. I'm really looking forward to reading both How to Ruin my Teenage Life and How to Ruin Your Boyfriends Reputation.


By: Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. (from

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this book. I'm not a huge fan of giving a bad review to books because I think that alot of it is personal opinion and that every book out there has value to someone. This book in particular I'd imagine has a great value to alot of young girls. There were just some glaring issues for me. I'll start with what killed this book for me and then give the good parts (we can at least end on a positive note).

This book was set in Syracuse, NY circa 1999(ish)- I happen to be a born and raised Syracuse native, who was a high schooler circa 1999. Immediately I'm thinking this should be pretty good. Anderson made up a high school, which I'm okay with, but as the book goes on I realize that almost every landmark in the book is also made up. This for me was a huge distraction and literally ruined this book. Every few pages I'd be trying to place the bakery or store mentioned, trying to figure out where exactly this person lives because it certainely doesn't sound like Syracuse. Perhaps a suburb, but then she wouldn't live in Syracuse- She travels west to get to the big she must be an east-sider. East Syracuse maybe, Dewitt? But wait, the prom is at the Route 11 Holiday in- Route 11 is in North Syracuse, but there's no Holiday in on Route 11 in the Syracuse area. These are the little things that went through my mind the entire time I read the book. I literally had to google just about eery landmark trying to figure this book out- what did I find? Nothing. No Fayette's bakery (could she mean Harrison's, Columbus'?), no Holiday in on Route 11, no Efferts Department store and no fountains at any of the area malls. I realize that this would not be an issue for the vast majority of the readers on Speak, but for those of us who live in this area, it is a glaring issue, and in this instance, pretty much killed this book for me.

Now on to the good stuff. Barring the Syracuse issues- this book was awesome. Her charecter of Melinda was spot on, as were the dynamics of high school. She showed the cliques and how it feels to be an outsider excellently. She also really dealt with Melinda's trauma and how she tried to live with the aftermath in a way that was relatable. The relationships in the book were well written, especially the deterioration of the relationship with her parents, who are so wrapped up in their own worlds, to realize that Melinda's is falling apart. I also loved the teachers in the book- they were spot on, especially the Art teacher, who offers a little guidance and alot of freedom to Melinda as she tries to work through her problems.

Overall, I would recommend this book to just about everyone. The issues I had with it are certainly not ones that would effect 99% of the readers out there and it would be a shame for them to miss out on a great book.