"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

28 July 2010


Napoli, Donna. Hush: An Irish Princess Tale. New York: Atheneum, 2007.

Melkorka, an Irish princess, is kidnapped by slavers. She has to survive a harrowing journey through the open seas, knowing the end result will be slavery. Should she attempt to escape or should she accept her enslavement?

I thoroughly enjoyed the first sixteen chapters of this story. My enjoyment was shaken when Melkorka was purchased by a man who needed a concubine to keep him company in the months until his return to his wife. My appreciation of this story was shattered when Melkorka discovers she is carrying her owner's child and chooses to stay with him, in the hope that the birth of her son will mellow her master and grant her the freedom she craves. That's how the book ends.

I was disappointed. At least I did enjoy the first sixteen chapters, and I know this isn't the last book in my stack. Sorry, folks, but you shouldn't bother with this one.

The Miles Between

Pearson, Mary. The Miles Between. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009.

Destiny wants a perfectly fair day, a day when the good guys win and all is well in the world. And she gets it - Destiny and her three friends escape their boarding school and begin a journey across the state. Throughout their journey, Destiny learns secrets about each of her friends, but will she be willing to share her secret with them?

Those of you familiar with the story I Am the Cheese will recognize the surprise ending technique in this story. No, Destiny is not locked in a mental hospital, but what she does reveal will surprise you.

This book is a good read. It was enjoyable, it was entertaining, and I am almost convinced I need to purchase a lambadoodle. Almost.

27 July 2010

Princess Ben

Murdock, Catherine. Princess Ben. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

I will have to admit that I was a bit nervous about this book when I glanced at the title. After all, I do live in a city where a person who names him/herself "Princess Ben" would be warmly accepted. I felt much better once I discovered that the nickname Ben was short for Benevolent. An unusual name, perhaps, but the princess protagonist is decidedly female.

All that to say, I really, really liked this book. The princess has some definite poor habits, habits which do her a great disservice once she is thrust into the position of heir to the throne. Her kingdom stands on the brink of being swallowed by another larger kingdom. Ben has to choose whether she will continue in her old ways or embrace the royal persona which has been handed to her.

This book is filled with all sorts of traditional fairy-tale elements: secret rooms, dragons, disguises, mistaken identity, magic beans traded for a cow - yet none of it seems forced, fake, or hokey. This book is well-written, the protagonist is believeable and entertaining, and I would gladly place this book on my classroom shelf, should I ever again have a classroom or a shelf.

26 July 2010


Anhalt, Ariela. Freefall. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2010.

What does a follower do once the leader has been removed? Luke has spent his entire high school career following his friend Hayden. He is friends with Hayden's friends, he takes the same classes as Hayden takes, and he agrees with Hayden's opinions. But when a tragic accident lands Hayden in jail, Luke is the only eyewitness, and he has to decide what he is going to say. Did Hayden's actions cause another student's death? Or was this tragic accident truly an accident?

I appreciated hearing this story from Luke's point of view; people from both sides of the story approached him, questioned him, attempted to influence him. Luke sunk into depression as he attempted to reconcile what he thought he knew with what was true and what was right. In the end, I was proud of Luke's decision.

Although this book presents some interesting ideas and would be great for a classroom discussion, I do not recommend it for classroom use due to the profusion of profanity from the teenage characters. For those of you who have read A Separate Peace, though, this is an interestingly similar story.


Klass, David. Timelock. New York: Francis Foster Books, 2009.

I have serious doubts concerning the efficacy of "save the planet" fiction. It seems to me that many a good story has been ruined when the author chooses to beat the reader over the head with an environmentalist theme. I enjoyed James Patterson's Maximum Ride series until they joined this trend and began saving rainforests, ecosystems, the spotted owl, you name it.

Sadly, David Klass seems to have jumped on to the environmentalist bandwagon. Timelock, the third book in a series, was great until page 200 or so when the eco-babble started in. The main character has traveled back in time to save the planet from sure destruction at the hands of evil men. Unfortunately, we discover too late, 200 pages too late, that the evil men actually did not need to do anything - humankind was destroying the earth due to - wait for it - global warming.

Seriously, folks. If you strongly believe in global warming's destruction of the earth, why not host a 5K to raise money? Don't pollute the literary waters with your garbage.

25 July 2010

Resurrection in May

Samson, Lisa. Resurrection in May. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

Claudius, a farmer in Kentucky, picks up a stray girl on the side of the road one day. Her name is May, and she chooses to spend time helping him out on his farm until her trip to Rwanda. While May is in Rwanda, the hostilities between the Hutus and the Tutsis escalate and she faces horrors she never could have imagined before. She returns the United States, scarred physically and emotionally.

May finds a home on Claudius's farm once again, and begins a correspondence with an old friend, a friend who is now on death row and has refused to appeal his case. While May encourages Eli to reconsider appealing his case, Eli encourages May to embrace life and to stop hiding on the farm.

This book had a rather slow start, and I was concerned that I would not be able to finish it. I tell my students to give books a "100-page test," so I continued to read. This book passed the 100-page test. I became very interested in the story once May returned to the United States and began to deal with her traumas. Although I have never experienced anything as traumatic as what May went through, I can understand her desire to hide and forget. I appreciated her eventual embrace of life, as she said that, "You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you."

May does eventually face her demons and also finds a way to help Eli face his. This book was worth the time spent reading it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

23 July 2010

Life, In Spite of Me

Anderson, Kristen. Life, In Spite of Me. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2010.

Kristen was in high school, living the American dream, when her life fell apart. Three of her friends died, she lost a family member, and she was raped. She rapidly sank into depression and decided to end her life. God intervened, and Kristen lived to learn of His love for her and His plan for her life.

I appreciated Kristen's honesty in describing the difficulties she faced. I admire her courage in telling her story, not just to those who knew her, but to complete strangers. I am glad that God has saved her and is using her story to help others. God doesn't waste pain.

If you work with teens, this book should be on your shelf.

22 July 2010

The Looking-Glass Wars

Beddor, Frank. The Looking-Glass Wars. New York: Penguin Group, 2006.

This is an interesting twist on Carroll's Alice in Wonderland story. Alyss, princess of Wonderland, watches her aunt murder her mother and take the throne for herself, after which Alyss is plunged through a portal into England. Now she must choose either to return to her realm and reclaim her throne, or pretend that it was all some strange dream and assume the role of a young lady in England.

I can understand why my students enjoyed this story. It is fun, it is imaginative, and it is easy to read. A good clean book - if I had a classroom, this book would be on my shelf.

20 July 2010

Things That Keep Us Here

Buckley, Carla. Things That Keep Us Here. New York: Delacorte, 2010.

This novel explores the possibility of a pandemic, similar to the influenza pandemic of 1918, sweeping across the world. A virulent form of avian flu has combined with the influenza virus, and this virus is spreading across the globe, killing 50% of the people who are infected. States impose quarantines, airlines are shut down, people run through the streets looting stores and houses. All of this begins in November as a record-breaking snowfall hits the midwest and the east coast.

I finished reading this book sitting in a living room that is boasting the balmy temperature of 60 degrees. I am not certain if reading of people trying to survive through a winter with no electricity and nowhere to go caused me to be greatful for the blanket on my lap or simply intensified the cold I felt, but this was, nonetheless, a good and interesting book. I was disappointed only when I discovered that my local library does not carry any other books by this author.

19 July 2010

Weekend Reads

I read four books this weekend, and none of them stood out to me, so rather than dedicating an entire post to each, I will give you my thoughts, however brief, here:

1. Caveney, Philip. Sebastian Darke: Prince of Explorers. New York: Random House, 2009.

This book is an adventure-type store for teens. It is, apparently, the third book in the series, and it was fairly entertaining and harmless, although I didn't enjoy it that much.

2. Sturtevant, Katherine. The Brothers Story. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010.

This historical fiction novel follows a boy who travels to London during the Great Frost of 1683. In the style of Judy Blume, this is truly a coming-of-age story, and I don't think it has merit. The historical information is interesting enough, but there are other, better sources of that same information. Don't bother.

3. Le Guin, Ursula. Voices. New York: Harcourt, 2006.

This is the second book in a trilogy. It was fairly interesting, for a fantasy novel, but the ending was rather slow.

4. Bass, Jefferson. The Bone Thief. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

This fifth fiction work about the body farm was interesting, but only because I had read the previous four books. The main character spends more time in this book working undercover for the FBI than he does discovering causes of death using forensic science. I was not that thrilled, and I chose to skim the last two chapters. Sigh.

I do have a few more books in my stack from the library. Hopefully those books will produce better results than these did. I do love having a library nearby, though. Even a disappointing stack is okay, because it gives me an excuse to return to the library for a different stack.

11 July 2010


Kephart, Beth. Undercover. New York: Harper Collins, 2007.

At school, Elisa ghostwrites love notes, Cyrano-style, for the boys in her school. After school, Elisa discovers her love for ice skating on a neglected pond in the middle of the woods. At home, Elisa is desperately hoping that her father will return and make things right again.

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed reading Elisa's poetry - not the love-garbage that she wrote for the boys at school, but her real poetry. I love Elisa's English teacher, who replies to the inevitable, "How long does it have to be" question with "The right length: long enough to tell a story. Short enough to persuade me it's true." I also liked the teacher's choice to introduce the class to different types of poetry, and when asked if the students had to write poems like the ones they've studied, she answered, "Of course we are. This is Honors English."

This is a good book. A nice story. I was not uber-satisfied with the ending, but it is, nonetheless, a good read, well worth being placed on a classroom shelf.

09 July 2010

Dark Angel

Klass, David. Dark Angel. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2005.

Jeff's small town life has been just about perfect. He's on the soccer team, he has a girlfriend, and he has best friends to spend time with. And no one knows about his brother.

Then his brother is released from prison on a technicality and comes home. His parents are thrilled to have Troy home, but Jeff is skeptical. He has seen the darkness in Troy's eyes and isn't sure he can be trusted. When the captain of the soccer team disappears, the police are not sure whether his disappearance is drug-related or something that can be blamed on Troy.

This was a quick read - I finished this book in less than three hours. I appreciated the character of the science teacher in this story, and it was interesting to watch the relationship between the two brothers, as well as the differences that Troy's appearance makes in Jeff's life. Not necessarily a book I will add to my personal collection, but a good library book nonetheless.

08 July 2010

Pictures in the Dark

McCord, Patricia. Pictures in the Dark. New York: Bloomsbury, 2004.

Carlie (15) and Sarah (13) are the two unwanted daughters of a mentally unstable mother and an uninvolved father. Their mother resents their presence and requires them to spend the majority of their time in their attic room. They are not allowed to use the bathroom without permission, and their mother frequently chooses not to feed them. Their father is enamored of their mother and doesn't realize, or chooses not to realize, that anything is wrong.

Carlie has realized that this is not normal and she is eagerly counting down the days until she is old enough to move away and begin a life of her own. Sarah is beginning to understand that other people don't live like this. Her first and only friend, Kim, is allowed to do amazing things like wander about her house freely and make popcorn to share with the family. Kim is not punished when the bathroom floor is wet or their is a dirty spot on a washcloth.

This difficult situation comes to a head when Carlie decides to run away. Carlie's drastic decision causes Sarah to be brave and tell the truth and forces their father to face the truth he has been ignoring for so many years.

This was not a particularly easy book to read. It is not violently graphic, but it is intense at times. It was a good reminder to me, as a teacher, that some of my students are facing abuse that is not so obvious to the naked eye. Those students need an environment where they feel safe to talk about their fears and to be accepted. I also appreciated this book because, even though it has a dark theme, it ends well. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Hurricanes in Paradise

Hildreth, Denise. Hurricanes in Paradise. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2010.

A hurricane is approaching the Bahamian resort Atlantis, and Riley, the director of guest relations at the resort, is dealing with some storms among her VIP guests. There's Tamyra, a former beauty pageant queen who is terrified of the water and mourning the loss of something she isn't willing to talk about. And Winnie, whose children sent her on this vacation as a way for her to relax and hopefully break out of the grief she's feeling after the death of her husband years ago. And Laine, the famous author who is making Riley's life miserable with her diva-like demands.

The four women come together and learn to face their demons as they weather the storm that approaches the island.

Similar to the book I reviewed yesterday, I appreciated that this was a book written from a Christian worldview but without the obvious cheesiness of so many Christian fiction novels. The characters in this story were very realistic. I enjoyed "watching" them interact with each other. I appreciated the theme that everyone has a backstory, and that knowing another person's story brings understanding.

This book would be a great beach read. Although not destined to become a classic in literature, it was worth the time I spent reading it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

07 July 2010

Same Kind of Different As Me

Hall, Ron and Denver Moore. Same Kind of Different As Me. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.

This book is the story of two men from two very different backgrounds. Denver grew up as a sharecropper on a plantation. He ran away from the plantation and drifted from the South to the West and back to Texas. He never went to school, didn't know how to read, and didn't have a birth certificate or any family to speak of. Ron, on the other hand, worked his way up from a lower-middle class background to become an art dealer. He lived in a world that most of us can only dream of, selling paintings for multiple millions of dollars and living what he thought was the good life.

Ron and his wife, both nominally religious, begin attending group discussions on Sunday evenings and soon both accept Christ. Ron's wife, Deborah, decides that it is her mission to reach out to the homeless through a Union Gospel Mission. She and Ron begin by serving dinner there, and soon are very actively involved in the work. This is where they meet Denver, an ex-con who is given plenty of personal space by everyone he meets. Their lives become intertwined as they enter each other's worlds and learn lessons they might not have learned otherwise.

I enjoyed this story very much; in fact, I read the entire book in less than three hours. I liked that it was a story told from a Christian worldview without being a stereotypical Christian fiction story. The people in this story are very real, and their problems don't magically disappear at the end of each chapter. I was impressed that the author could create such a heart-warming and realistic-sounding story.

Then I looked at the cover and discovered that this book is non-fiction. This story is real. The people are real. The story is told by Ron and Denver themselves, and there are a few pages of pictures in the back of the book. These events were not created in the mind of an aspiring author; they were real events in the lives of two men and the people they came in contact with. These two men from very different worlds formed a lasting but unlikely friendship.

This is a great story. I would easily label this story a good "beach read," for those of you who prefer to bake in the sand as you flip through the pages, but this could also easily be a read-aloud in a classroom or a book to reference when discussing racial tension in the South. I appreciate the book's versitility and its appeal to a wide audience. In short, this book is worth it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

05 July 2010


Maguire, Gregory. Wicked. New York: Harper Collins, 1995.

I recently was able to attend a showing of the musical Wicked. I loved the musical, simply loved it. The soundtrack is now on my iPod as my exercise music, and I do plan to go back and see the musical again before it closes. The plot is neat, the connections between this story and the original Wizard of Oz story are fun, the music is wonderful, etc. I was even more excited when I remembered that this musical was based upon a book.

I usually recommend that a person reads the book before viewing the movie or musical, but in this case, I am glad I saw the musical first before I read the book. I thought that this experience would be similar to reading and viewing The Princess Bride: the book contains much more information than can possibly be contained in a movie and almost enhances the experience of watching the movie.

Unfortunately, in this case, I was sadly disappointed by the book. The plot is similar to that of the musical; it is different enough to be noticeable, but not irritatingly so. I read some reviews on Amazon where other readers complained of more subtle differences: in the musical, Nessa is in a wheelchair; in the book, she has no arms. Those mildly irritating differences I can easily explain away by the simple fact that anyone who can act and sing can do so from a wheelchair, whereas it would be slightly more difficult to simulate an armless person.

The small differences didn't bother me nearly as much as the plethora of objectionable content and inuendo throughout this book. Unlike a movie or TV show, where you can change the channel or hit the "next" button to skip past objectionable scenes, it is difficult to discern where they start and stop in a book. And this wasn't just one scene or two scenes - the book was filled with such scenes and references.

My other difficulty with this book was the overall moral tone. In the musical, both Elphaba and G(a)linda are strong characters who make good choices and in the end choose to do the right thing even if it isn't the easy thing. In the book, however, the characters are all riddled with so many flaws and corruptions that I can't even root for the hero in the story. Elphaba and Glinda simply did not have the strong character in the novel that they displayed in the musical.

If you are a friend of mine or a former student, please do not waste your time with this novel. It simply is not worth it. This is one of the few times when you will hear me say it, but don't buy this book.

Magic Street

Card, Orson Scott. Magic Street. New York: Ballantine Books, 2005.

Magic Street is one of Card's few fantasy novels. If you are a fan of Card's Ender series, this will not necessarily guarantee that you will like this novel. It definitely has a different feeling to it. The plot is so odd that I feel that explaining it here will make it sound weirder than it actually is. If you like books that are odd or unusual, then this is definitely a book for you. But it is strange. Very strange.