Sunday, September 26, 2010

ARC Review: Jane by April Lindner

Synopsis:

Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance.

But there's a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane's much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing secret from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?

An irresistible romance interwoven with a darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers.


The Elliott Review:

As the summary above states, this is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre, one of my favorite literary classics. I read the book forever ago in middle school because I could understand it (and felt quite smug about that), but looking back I believe I missed some layers of meaning. What I may have missed out on in the original, I re-discovered and loved all the more in Jane. I was pleasantly reminded of some of my favorite plot elements - actually everything that my hazy memory holds was there, but the fact that this is all modern-day brought everything out in such a powerful way. It took me a few chapters to really get into the book, but after I was there... I was there. This is a story that is perfectly complete in its own right, not just as a copycat. There will be no confusion or dissatisfaction in readers who are not familiar with Jane Eyre.

Jane's character was sensible, practical, rational and hides her true emotions just under the surface, trying to stifle and deny them. But with Nico she just can't do that anymore and has to open up and actually do what she feels in her heart... But the heart is deceitful and flies in the face of ration sometimes, right? And this is what happens to Jane...

And Nico Rathburn, Mr. Rochester's counterpart, won my heart over totally and completely. His bad-boy image and desire to change and be a good father made me love him. The torment and regret that he has to live with on a daily basis make me just want to give his sexy hazy-eyed self an enormous hug. And of course the fact that he falls for a practical, no-fuss girl makes me appreciate him. And I'll admit I loved putting myself in Jane's place!!

This book is just - delicious. It's a work of genius. I will most definitely be pre-ordering this one!



Jane Trailer:





Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: Zinnia and Dot by Lisa Campbell Ernst

Synopsis:

Zinnia and Dot, self-satisfied hens who bicker constantly about who lays better eggs, put aside their differences to protect a prime specimen from a marauding weasel.

The Elliott Review:

This is a simple story about enemies becoming friends through helping each other and joining together to fight a common enemy. The situational comedy is great - even middle school students get a kick out of two big, fat hens trying to sit on an egg.

This book is wonderful as a mentor text for vivid writing. Unlike many children's books, this one doesn't contain a massive number of what I call "dead" words such as "said" and "went." I could literally type the text of this book and encourage my students to imitate it. The verb choices are very interesting and make great examples. The narrative also contains examples of simile, hyperbole, and onomatopoeia. The dialogue flows brilliantly. Although there is a lot of dialogue, it is still easy (and fun) to read aloud.


In my classroom, I use this book as a springboard to a writing prompt about helping others. I can also use this as a wonderful way to explain the fact that every story has some sort of problem and some sort of solution. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the story of Zinnia and Dot.

Monday, September 20, 2010

ARC Tour & Review: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Synopsis:

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.

In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl's struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone--especially yourself--you fight for it.


The Elliott Review:

What struck me first about this book and then again many times throughout was the interesting, strong voice of the main character, Alex. I'm a sucker for good characterization. From the start, even as Alex begins to realize the immensity of what has happened to her, she is not wilting in a sea of helplessness and woe. She meets what she faces with a measure of courage and even ration that are both admirable. I love her quirky sense of imagination and creativity that are somewhat understated but still strongly present.

Martin is an awesome character, as well. He's just a regular (nerdy!) guy who likes a girl and wants to be there for her. He really endears himself to my heart due to his spectacular nerdiness, and my opinion of Alex is, of course, exalted since she likes him back. I think their relationship is a strength of the book because it is very natural and healthy and normal - something that is not always found in young adult literature.

The plot also really engaged me. Everything was naturally and logically paced. Even though the subject of date rape is so emotionally charged, at no point do things become melodramatic and weepy. Alex has a strong support group filled with people who understand her and who will stand up for her, and she actually lets them help her, despite being reluctant to share her uncomfortable and painful memories. I loved finding out about the existence and structure of The Mockingbirds right along with Alex. The connection to To Kill a Mockingbird is so cool!

The book carries the wonderful message of self-empowerment and speaking out against the wrongs that have been done to self or others, yet it is organically done through the plot and characters and at no point becomes preachy.  

ARC Tour from: Good Golly Miss Holly

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Listen to me....

In support of Laurie Halse Anderson:




This book is so much bigger than the ignorance that would try to put it under.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Bit of Me(Me) (3): My Admiration



We all leave our “footprint” on the world, in one way or another. We each, individually, do something or are someone that makes the world a little better just by being here. There's a Book created this weekly meme to get to know the blogging community she loves just a bit better. To know what makes them tick, outside of books, that is. Each week she will post a question to be answered in the following week’s “A Bit of Me(Me).” Check back on her site each Saturday to get the info for next week’s post and link up your post.

Question: 
Who is a famous person (dead or alive) that you most admire? And why? 

I don't know that she's famous far and wide, but I really admire Beth Moore, author of women's Bible studies. She is one of the most passionate women that I have encountered (via her teaching videos, of course), and rather than seeming fake about her faith, she comes across to me as entirely genuine. She delves into the Bible to dig up truths that are applicable to all women, and she gets real about the lies that trip us up. She is open about her past and what it is like to go through difficult times, as well. A survivor of sexual abuse and her own poor choices, she offers a message of hope and healing - putting forth the idea that we can break free, walking in the freedom of the hope offered by Jesus. I'm in awe that she is being used in the powerful way that she is and wish that I was more like her in terms of her passion and impact.

What about you? Who do you admire?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Review: Alphabet Woof! by Sherrie Ann Madia; illus. Patrick Carlson

Synopsis:

Alphabet Woof! is the story of Moxy the dog who eats magic soup and his wish comes true: He can talk! This gift leads Moxy and his family to some exciting adventures, but in the end, he realizes his greatest gift is not his ability to talk but rather, his ability to talk with the people he loves, who love him back. The story is fun and whimsical, but carries an important underlying message-of family values and of understanding what really matters.

The Elliott Review:

The first thing that endeared me to this book was the rhyming - the infectious rhythm that follows the reader throughout the story. As we hear of Moxy the dog's interesting adventures as he talks, the rhyme flows wonderfully. This would be ideal for little kids and big kids alike.

The story is a simple one about Moxy suddenly speaking after eating some magic soup that will grant him his wish, which is to speak. Moxy loves talking to his family and even, in time, on his own talk show. Eventually he realizes the important reason for his voice is not for the fame he has achieved but to speak to those he loves.

The pictures in the book are bright and engaging with plenty of details that younger kids would like to point out. They are very bright and cartoon-ish, which is a major draw to some.

If I were to build a lesson around this book, I would probably focus on the concept of wishing for something that is important. I would have students brainstorm about some wishes they have and then choose one of the most important ones. The story could be fanciful - how was their wish granted? What was the result of the wish being fulfilled?

Since the kid-lit spectrum is full of interesting stories about dogs with special abilities, I would probably pair this or at least compare this with one of them to build background knowledge for the kids. I would suggest pairing it with: The Night I Followed the Dog by Nina Laden or Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle.


Alphabet Woof! is available for purchase through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review: Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna; illus. Loren Long

Synopsis:

Mr. Peabody's Apples takes place in 1949 in Happville, USA. One Saturday, Mr. Peabody, the beloved elementary school teacher and baseball coach, finds himself all alone on the baseball field. He wonders where everybody is until he sees the bat boy, Billy Little, walking toward him with a sad look on his face. Billy tells him that another student, Tommy Tittlebottom, spread a rumor that Mr. Peabody was a thief after Tommy saw Mr. Peabody taking apples twice from the local market.

Mr. Peabody then shows Tommy that what matters is the truth - not how things appear - and teaches him an unforgettable lesson about how we must choose our words carefully to avoid causing harm to others.

The Elliott Review:

This story is written very simply and clearly and is basically a modern-day parable about the power of our words - about jumping to conclusions and spreading rumors. The symbolism of the feathers of a pillow being like our words is very powerful.


My middle school students and I have a great time talking about plot conflict and resolution using what happens to these characters. There are several layers of meaning that the middle grades can learn from this, but it's simple enough to just be a good story for younger kids, too. The best part of discussing this is the fact that I can have a teaching moment to show an example of why it pays to be nice and find out the truth before spreading rumors.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Review: Mockingjay (Hunger Games 3) by Suzanne Collins

Synopsis:

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

The Elliott Review:

This book was not what I expected at all. I'm not really sure what I was expecting. What I found, though, was a book full of a lot of symbolic depth with a lot to say about what it means to be human, about sacrifice, about alliances, about loss, and about surviving.

The texture/format of the book felt drastically different from the first two. Where the first two were structured by the format of the Games, this one was - to me - very unstructured. In places, this frustrated me because my mind had no clear path to understand what was going on or to predict what would happen next. As I read on, however, I realized that this was either intentional or a by-product of the themes in the book. The whole point is showing the highly structured world of Panem and how it is literally reeling from the rebellion and existing in a state of utter chaos. Of course, there can't be the same format as before.

Not much can be said about the Peeta-Gale-Katniss love-triangle without ruining the surprise. By the middle of the book, I really stopped caring about the romance angle and just wanted to see what inner resolution Katniss was going to make and to see what a world without the icky-evil President Snow would be like. I did get to witness one of my favorite scenes - the girl of the love triangle listening in on a conversation between the objects of her affection. (Mwahaha!)

The end was so suspenseful, and I was shocked again and again. Let's just say that none of my predictions about the conflict between Panem and the rebels came to pass. The ending was more than I expected, and I really like the way Collins tied everything together. This is a work of genius.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Read-a-Long: The Books of Pellinor

Recently, I was fortunate enough to win a copy of the Books of Pellinor series from There's a Book. This giveaway came with the intent that whoever won would discuss and review the books, and there was a large response of those eager to discuss.


Danielle and I have been discussing way to make the discussion accessible to anyone who wants to participate, and this is what we've come up with:
  • Beginning on October 15th we will have our first discussion/review of the first book, The Naming, including a “Link-up” for anyone wishing to participate. The remainder of the books will follow this schedule:
    - Friday November 19th, The Riddle
    - Friday December 17th, The Crow
    - Friday January 14th, The Singing

  • On the Monday prior to the book review/discussion we will post questions you may want to include in your review/discussion post, though it’s not required.

  • One participant will be selected at random at the end of the discussion (After January 14, 2011) to win a book of their choosing, under $20 USD, and will be open to anyone in the World. So, anyone truly can participate!\
  •  
    So, what do you say? Interested in discussing a great series, meeting new friends and bookies, and possibly winning a free book? Then jump on board by signing up below!

    Remember, the books have been out a bit and will most likely be available through your local library. If they don’t have them, they may just order them if you ask!

    Thank you again to Candlewick Press for this fantastic opportunity!

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Review: SuperHero ABC by Bob McLeod

    Synopsis:

    Silly and zany, and armed with the most unusual skills, the cast of superheroes that fill these pages will make learning your ABC's an out-of-this-world experience.


    Meet Bubble-Man, who blows big bubbles at bullies; Laughing Lass, who laughs loudly at lawbreakers; and many more hilarious and irresistible characters from renowned comic-book illustrator Bob McLeod.


    The Elliott Review:

    Rather than following a specific plot structure, SuperHero ABC is a (for lack of a better word) portfolio of creative posters, each containing an inventive super-hero with an alliterative name and alliterative attributes. Each page is filled with bright, colorful illustrations with funny quips and details. It is a very natural way to introduce or re-enforce the concept of alliteration.

    This is great for use with my older students in preparation for writing. It has some hilariously gross and mild potty humor references that the middle-schooler naturally loves to death without being over-the-top. The pictures are the perfect lead-in for thinking about super heroes and creative wording, so I have my students emulate the format presented when creating their own super hero and then describe a day in that person's life.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Review: Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe

    Synopsis:

    No matter how many times Kyle rewrites the scene, he can't get it right. He tries it in the style of Hitchcock, Tarantino, Eastwood, all of his favorite directors—but regardless of the style, he can't remember what happened that day in the shed. The day Jason died. And until he can, there is one question that keeps haunting Kyle: Did he kill his best friend on purpose?

    The Elliott Review:

    I loved reading this book from start to finish. It was a good break from all the fantasy I've been reading. The realism stood out to me - the almost stream-of-consciousness the book hits on at times. This made it very moving and gripping to read. What also engaged me were the subtle metaphors using simple, everday objects as vehicles of greater meaning. They tie a lot of thematic elements together, conveying the emotions that Kyle can't feel. Also, Kyle's darkish, wry sense of humor in the face of his issues is notable.

    Kyle's character seems to be a very real fifteen-year-old boy which is pretty awesome when you stop to think that his perspective is written by a woman. He has deep emotions about what happened in the shed, though he can't recall everything. His brain is protecting him from what he doesn't want to think about, and one thing I love is that he doesn't just open up about his feelings to everyone around him. It's like he can't get the most important words out of his mouth. I think that's yet another part of what makes it so real, though it's heart-rending to see that he needs some source of comfort and direction but can't access it without the right words. As an educator, I see this a lot in students, and this serves as a good reminder.

    One favorite, favorite thing in this book is the character of Kyle's school librarian - Mr. Cordoba. He's suspected of being in the mafia or to have some other dark, hidden past. Kyle gets past being afraid of him as they sparsely discuss books with the greater subtext of what's going on in Kyle's mind in regards to what happened. I love seeing a librarian as a main character, especially one who's so well-written and important to the story!


    Also available by this author: Compromised, about a runaway teen