unRequired Reading Blog

07/22/2015 - 3:34pm

Banished from their small village, three small, bald cousins aimlessly wander in the desert. The one with a star on his shirt is greedy and sneaky. The tallest one is jolly but dim-witted. The quietest one is a hero in the making, though he doesn’t know that yet. They quickly become separated and when they reunite they are wrapped up in the beginnings of a brutal war involving humans, dragons, and a frightening race of giant rat-creatures…stupid stupid rat creatures.

Jeff Smith’s graphic novel series Bone manages to combine the look and humor of Disney cartoons while tackling the sort of epic adventure that one might find in J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis.

Fone Bone, our hero, and his cousins owe their looks to early Disney characters, particularly the work of Carl Barks, who created Scrooge McDuck comics and revolutionized the drawing style of Donald Duck for the company. Recognizing Barks’ influence baffled me at first. Donald was not someone’s subject to be reformed and retooled. Similar to Athena, he sprung forth from Walt Disney’s head, already wearing his sailor suit…without the pants. Right?
 
Apparently not. Just like those famous ducks, the Bone cousins have large heads, round bellies, low centers of gravity, and the same aversion to pants. All of this might make it hard for a reader to take their epic quest seriously, but Smith valiantly strikes at the importance of their mission.
12/20/2010 - 9:13am

"Beneath heaven is hell.  Beneath hell is furnace."  That is the description by 14-year-old Alex of Furnace, a prison one mile below the surface of the earth.  When you are sentenced to Furnace you are sentenced for life.  This gripping tale is Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith.  In this story we meet Alex, who is arrested after he and a friend are caught during a burglary.  However, the police are not your typical law-enforcement officers, as they are clothed all in black.  Without any of the requisite procedures, during the arrest they shoot Alex's friend dead in front of him.  Alex is taken to court and found guilty of murder.  Despite his and his parents' pleas for an appeal he is sentenced to life in prison with no parole.  Not just any prison but Furnace, where there are no visitors and no chance of ever getting out.

Alex arrives to find a tough world where survival is a daily concern.  He quickly learns that friendships are not part of the Furnace world, and it is every man for himself.  Gangs abound, the food is disgusting,  and guard dogs tear the inmates apart.  Alex quickly learns from his street-smart roommate to keep a low profile and not to draw attention to himself.  This is especially the case when, during the night, evil guards manuever through the prison and randomly select the next victim.  The victims are taken away and return as killing machines.  Alex decides he wants out.  So he and his roommate devise a clever escape plan.  But it is very risky.

12/13/2010 - 8:50am

What would YOUR life be like if you suddenly lost the past 4 years?

Imagine falling down the stairs of your high school with a heavy camera in your hands. If that isn't embarrassing enough, what if you lost the last four years of your life? For 16-year-old Naomi, falling down the stairs of her high school with a heavy camera in her hands causes some very interesting things to happen: like realizing that your best friend in the world just might be in love with you and that you and your mom haven’t spoken since she left your dad three years ago AND that you have a half- sister that you haven’t even met yet!   In Naomi's case, she was able to use this event to decide who she really wants to be, dealing with the difficult issues of her life with a whole new perspective, with grace, humor and intelligence.

12/06/2010 - 10:44am

 What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star? This is what happens in April Lindner’s Jane, a modernization of Charlotte Brontë’s classic work. The result is a hot retelling that teens will relate to in a heartbeat. Rock star with a wild past? Check. Teen girl with a family who doesn’t understand her? Check. Passionate, roller coaster love story? All right!

When author Lindner first saw a Pride and Prejudice remake, she thought, “Not bad, but couldn’t they have chosen a better book?” Looking at her favorite classic authors, she realized that Brontë’s Jane Eyre would make for a good challenge. That challenge would prove to be steep, however. She wanted to remain as faithful as possible to the original work but make it inviting and understandable to the average young adult reader. The first difficulty was finding a modern reason for the class differences between Jane and Mr. Rochester. Then she thought, “What bigger chasm exists than between a poor orphan and the rich and famous?” (Not direct quotes).
07/22/2015 - 3:32pm

For most of us, peanuts don’t usually conjure up thoughts of sickness and death, but for Ambrose Bukowski that’s all they have to offer. The main character of Susin Neilsen’s Word Nerd has a serious allergy, but his real problem is the fact that he’s so awkward. His classmates tease him nonstop for the way he acts, the way he dresses, and the things he says. When they hide a peanut in his sandwich at lunch, the hospital visit afterwards convinces his overprotective mother to homeschool Ambrose.

One day Ambrose meets his landlord’s son Cosmo, who just got out of prison. You might not think that a nerdy kid and a twenty-something ex-con would have anything in common, but the game of Scrabble works in mysterious ways.
 
Ambrose hates Cosmo’s smoking habit and tattoos, and Cosmo doesn’t want to be seen with Ambrose when he’s wearing his lucky purple pants. Still, these two unlikely friends try to make things better for themselves, the only way they know how. But how can they play together when Ambrose’s mom won’t let him near Cosmo? And why does a scary-looking guy named Silvio keep showing up in front of their house, asking for Cosmo?
07/22/2015 - 3:32pm

Sammy Bojar plays guitar in Tragedy of Wisdom with a frightening and talentless lead singer (guess which member chose the name). Most of their practices end in a ragin' tantrum. It looks like a dead-end situation for Sammy and his crew, until a battle of the bands competition gives them a possible chance to record a song for radio play. As Sammy struggles to gain control of his songwriting career, he is helped by his paranoid jazz pianist grandfather and his old best friend/new girlfriend, Jen5. 

Jon Skovron’s debut novel Struts & Frets manages to be authentic in its language and characterization every step of the way. The book is littered with the sort of phrases and people that I can swear I heard and met in high school and at local concerts when I was a teen, right down to the friend who can play video game theme songs with his sweaty, sweaty hand-farts.
11/23/2010 - 9:08am

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. A revolution is unfolding, and it is up to Katniss to accept her role as the eponymous Mockingjay in Suzanne Collins' third and final installation of the series. In the first book, The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta manage to survive. In book two, Catching Fire, they are sent back in to the arena. Mockingjay picks up the action with the rebels advancing on the Capital and races to a violent conclusion.

In an interview with School Library Journal, author Suzanne Collins explained her obsession with war. She’s the daughter of an Air Force and Vietnam veteran who taught her from an early age about history and war. Inspired by her combination of combat knowledge and reality TV, The Hunger Games is a dystopian country in chaos, in which teenagers are forced to compete to the death as punishment for an earlier rebellion. Mockingjay examines the necessity of war and answers the question: Will Katniss take on the responsibility for countless lives and change the course of the future of Panem?

If you’ve read the first two books in the trilogy, then you must find out how this gripping story ends. If you’re still a newbie to the Hunger Games phenomenon, you’ll want to get on board. The books deliver action, romance, and depth of characters all in a brilliantly visualized future.

11/15/2010 - 3:30am

In Lauren Kate’s Fallen, Luce starts life at her new boarding school with a secret. Well, to be honest, most kids there have secrets. The Sword & Cross school is hardly a swanky prep school, with doors open to anyone with enough cash. Rather, it’s a reform school for the hardboiled repeat offenders who really have no where else to go, except behind bars. Luce has been court-ordered to attend The Sword & Cross after the mysterious death of her boyfriend in a fire, where she was the only other person present.

Luce already has a tarnished past, having complained of seeing dark shapes since early childhood, which lead to years of psychiatrist appointments and anti-psychotic medication. She has always seen the shadows: “No one knew about the murky shapes she sometimes saw in the darkness. They’d always come to her.” However, Luce learns early on that no one else can see them, and so tries to keep her fear to herself. Unfortunately, the shadows make things happen, things that can hurt other people, like her doomed boyfriend Trevor.

11/08/2010 - 7:49am

It's hard not to notice Terra Cooper. She's tall, blond, and has an enviable body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakably "flawed" face. In Justina Chen Headley's North of Beautiful, Terra secretly plans to leave her stifling small town in the Northwest and escape to an East Coast college but she gets pushed off course by her controlling father. When a handsome, quirky Goth boy sees her for who she really is Terra is forced in yet another direction.

The red-stained birthmark on Terra’s right cheek isn’t the only challenge she has to overcome. She’s with her insensitive boyfriend for all the wrong reasons. Her malicious father, a mapmaker with a humiliating secret, is critical to the point of verbal abuse. And her family is falling apart. But Terra is a likable girl, who desperately wants to be accepted for who she is – flaws and all. A cast of well-developed characters also make this a fun and touching story.

11/01/2010 - 10:21am

Jem stays away from people.  She is a loner and she likes it that way.  Then she meets Spider one day under a bridge in London.  As much as she tries, he won't leave her alone.  She rarely makes eye contact with people and for good reason.  When Jem looks into people's eyes she can see the day they are going to die.  She looks into Spider's eyes.  This is the basis for the story Numbers by Rachel Ward (audiobook version).

Despite Jem's efforts, she and Spider form a friendship, which eventually evolves into something more when they decide to run away together.  This happens after a trip to the London Eye.  Jem looks into the eyes of the people waiting in line to board the attraction and she realizes that they all have the same  death date...that very day.  Jem suddenly realizes that something catastrophic is going to happen and that she and Spider have to get away immediately.  While they are running away a tragic event occurs.  Jem and Spider are safe...but are they? The surveillance cameras capture their escape and suddenly they are wanted by authorities for questioning.  Jem and Spider steal a car and head west across England.   As they continue to outrun the authorities, their relationship grows. 

Fast paced and gritty ...this audio will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The reader is adept at the various accents found throughout England.  The story is touching and engaging.  Jem and Spider provide such compelling characters that you can't help rooting for them. 

The ending was stunning and completey unexpected...at least by me!!!

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