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Ma Bell's Books and stuff

Currently reading

Challenger Deep
Brendan Shusterman, Neal Shusterman
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
Teresa Toten
Bone Gap
Laura Ruby
Finding the Worm (Twerp Sequel)
Mark Goldblatt
Kirby Larson
Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace
Anne Lamott
Killer Instinct
Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Laura Hillenbrand
The Night Journal
Elizabeth Crook
Dead End in Norvelt
Jack Gantos

Book for Young Teens with A LOT going on

Tell Me - Joan Bauer

Trust Joan Bauer to write another delightful story with a spunky teen heroine. Throw in a cast of good-hearted characters who are doing their best to face life's challenges and you have a lot going on that is good for youngsters to consider. First there's parental conflict that highlights depression when Anna's dad loses his job and the family experiences the strain he feels. Then there's the mystery element when Anna is shipped off to her grandmother's over the summer while her folks try to sort things out. She sees a young girl about her age who appears to be in trouble, possibly being held against her will. Brave Anna tries to get the police involved but for too long they dismiss her story since she does not have enough details to validate what she saw and hey, she's just a kid. BUT thanks to a wise LIBRARIAN, a relative from Homeland Security, her wise grandmother and the support of all her other friends, Anna is finally able to get the girl's plight investigated. This sequence highlights the societal problem of human trafficking, far too often overlooked in our country. I knew when Bauer set the drama around a nail salon that there were likely multiple cases involving these businesses and modern day slavery. Sure enough, if you search for "nail salons" and "human trafficking" you will find that this is quite a widespread problem, especially for immigrants from Vietnam. If my daughter were still in her teens, I would read this book with her so that we could both benefit from the thought provoking issues therein, as well as an engaging story with a positive ending. After reading too many books about sociopaths, this was a breath of fresh air. There ARE a lot of good people out there!

Another quick read...Andre the Giant

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend - Box Brown

I just wrote about a book written entirely in haiku, and yesterday I finished Death Coming Up the Hill and also finished Andre the Giant. This time the format is graphic novel, or rather graphic nonfiction. Andre is remembered for his career as a wrestler and also his presence in movies including Princes Bride. It goes without saying that life was not easy for 7'4" Andre. This book provides insights about the man himself and also about his career. The recommended audience Grade 9 and up and I agree. The easy to read format is accessible to younger readers but there are some adult situations and content. Would I have let my daughter read it at a younger age? Yes! But I did not restrict her reading and would have known she could handle it. If you are not used to reading books presented in graphic style, this is a great starting point. It's another book you could pick from the library or bookstore shelf and read in one sitting. I would definitely want it in my high school library.

Death Coming Up the Hill

Death Coming Up the Hill - Chris Crowe

This book is very memorable and touching, especially if you remember 1968 and the all the turmoil in that one particular year. The format is unusual and makes it a very fast read, one or two settings. It is written in haiku with lots of white space on every page. At first this may seem strange but then you get into the rhythm. I found the format very effective. The main character, 17 year old Ashe, is caught up in turmoil in his home as well as in the rest of the world. His peace activist mom is at odds with his angry, dogmatic, racist dad. Beyond that, his girlfriend, also a peace activist, is dealing with the fact that her brother is missing in action. This book was personal to me because I graduated from college and began my teaching career in that year. My fiance was in Vietnam and, like Ashe, I closely followed the war, the mounting casualties, and the distressing other events of the year.

The book is very moving and I think I will remember it a long time. Go to your library or bookstore, settle down in a chair, and give it a read! It's billed for ages 14 up. I can also see it in the hands of the right 12 year olds. The format is interesting in and of itself. I am very glad Dr. Teri Lesesne recommended it to me and I highly recommend myself.

The Family Romanov--enlightening for all ages

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia - Candace Fleming

I picked this up because my knowledge of Russian history is far too limited. As I read, I had to wonder why this was not covered more thoroughly at some point in my schooling, especially since history was my minor. Why is it that our kids know next to nothing about any history other than American and, in my state, Texas history. Sure there are classes in World History but they seem to be marathons with little depth. I knew the basics of the story and was very interested in Rasputin's role. This book did not disappoint. Tsar Nicholas II had no desire, preparation, or ability to rule. His wife, Empress Alexandra was a bit more adept but increasingly obsessed with superstition and fanatic religiosity. The children were sheltered innocents. They royals were amazingly obtuse and stubborn in the face of growing unrest. They simply chose not to believe what their advisors urgently warned. So they all died and the Russian Revolution began with catastropic repercussions that still reverberate today. Even though the family was self indulgent and out of touch, author Candace Fleming casts them in a very human light and allows the reader to get to know their personalities. Clearly the children were innocent victims of the family's fate. I was left with mixed feelings of sympathy and disgust. The royal couple brought terrible pain and hard times on the entire country as well as upon themselves.


The book is billed for ages 12-up but I can say without reservation that is a great read for adults. If you're like me, you'll learn a lot.

Whew! Finished!!

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

I cannot remember when, if ever, I finished a book and thought...thank God it's over. Flynn tells a heck of a story. It's not possible to tell much without doing a spoiler. Well written but do I recommend it? Can't say. Yes and no. Except if you want a happy ending. In that event, then no.

Two YA Books With Interesting Similarities...Both for Older Teens and Adults as Well

Crash and Burn - Michael Hassan Breaking Butterflies - M. Anjelais

A couple of weeks ago I was pawing through all the great YA books in my colleague Karin Perry’s office. She wasn’t even there so I didn’t have her great tips to guide me. I decided to pick up two books that are very different but also have striking similarities: each deals with a main character who has a serious mental illness. Additionally, both books are about friendships that begin in early childhood and continue, with dramatic ups and downs, to conclusions where all are in their late teens. What’s more, both are debut novels for their authors.


Breaking Butterflies is about a girl and a boy whose mothers promote their close ties beginning when they are babies. Sphinx, the girl narrator, is sweet and unassuming, while the boy, Cadence, is a full out sociopath. As they enter their late teens, Cadence is diagnosed with leukemia and the story follows their relationship through the late stages of his life. The other book, Crash and Burn, is about two boys who met in elementary school. Easygoing Steven Crashinksy, aka. Crash, follows a new acquaintance, David Burns, and ends up being part of an attempt to burn down the school. Crash is plagued by ADD but in general a normal kid. Burns, as he is called after the incident, is bi-polar and also traumatized by the death of his father in the twin towers.


I’d like to comment on them together because I read them one after the other and because they are related in themes. I am positive that I could hold these up to a group of high schoolers, say a little about each, and get eager takers to check out one or both. I must say that I am ready for a book about “regular” people after these two forays into the minds of two kids who are terribly damaged. But almost everyone is a bubble or two off level at least sometimes. I recommend both books for older teens and adults.

Spencer Quinn Delights with Another Funny Furry Mystery...Not to be Missed!

The Sound and the Furry: A Chet and Bernie Mystery (Chet and Bernie Mysteries) - Spencer Quinn

If I pass you in my little Honda Fit, tooling down Hwy 290 this afternoon between Huntsville and San Marcos, you may see me laughing out loud. That's because I am listening to a Chet and Bernie Mystery. I am going to give this book five stars even though I am less than halfway through. That's because I read ALL Chet and Bernie mysteries and they never disappoint. I am already into this one and looking forward to hitting the road and hearing more. I am deviating from my recent spate of YA reading to enjoy some very light adult fare.


Why the excessive enthusiasm? Because the narrator, Chet, is a large dog of mixed parentage whose voice allows you inside the fuzzy infrastructure of the canine brain. How Spencer Quinn has been able to think like a dog is a marvel, and I as reader/listener am the better for it. I will be giving this book five stars and will blog again when I finish. Right now I gotta get ready to roll so I can get my funny bone tickled.


Is Your Mojo Workin'?

Mojo - Tim Tharp

This mystery for the 12 and up crowd is told by a boy who is a bit on the fringe of things at his school, not an outcast but not popular, obtuse and a bit selfish, who wishes for instant fame and glory aka mojo. Not a bad description of your average teenage kid. He literally falls into a mystery when he hides in a dumpster to outrun some older teen thugs, and discovers he's sharing the space with a dead classmate. After getting past the fact that he is initially a suspect, he gets embroiled in another mystery, the disappearance of a girl his age from a cushy prep school. Are these events connected? I read this book with my ears and found the plot engaging with a neat twist at the end. Because the rich kids in this book come off as terminally superficial and entitled, it would be interesting to get reactions from affluent suburban kids. Dylan, our sleuth, begins with values just as superficial as those of his rich counterparts, but in the course of the story he does grow and mature. I would put this book on my junior high library shelf and would gladly booktalk it to youngsters who like mysteries.

Ahoy! Swashbuckling Tale Saves Book!

Undertown - Melvin Jules Bukiet

I picked up this book at the San Marcos TX Public Library and knew from the blurb that I HAD to read it. Having explored my own hometown's storm sewers as a kid, I was immediately sucked into the idea of two youngsters navigating the NYC sewer system. I love sewers and I love New York City! What could be better? The plot flows along with a swift current (sorry, cannot resist) toward a super cool explosive climax. The vivid descriptions of the NYC system are icing on the cake. I could have a group of 7th graders salivating for this story in a matter of minutes. It is a heckuva yarn with a supporting cast of weird and amazing denizens of the underground world. Still there are some deficiencies, mostly having to do with the fact that this is Melvin Bukiet's first attempt to write a book for young readers. He keeps his tongue firmly in cheek with fun and humorous allusions and descriptions, which will be lost upon most youngsters. I did not check while reading it, but I kept telling myself this had to be a first such effort for the author because so often it sounds like an adult trying to write for kids but not quite hitting the mark. Yep, I was right. All the same it's such a fun story that I envision the right young reader racing through to see what happens next, less distracted than I was by phraseology. And wow! What a MOVIE this book would make! I also think it could be a fun read-aloud. I betcha I could tame a restless group of jazzed up middle-schoolers during last period on a Friday afternoon with the promise to read the next part of this story to them.

I Wish I Liked This One Better

Houston Homicide - Bill Crider, Clyde Wilson

I picked up this book at my local library because I have been a Bill Crider fan for years. Lots of Texans like to read his books because they are funny, smart, and the Texas settings are as important as the characters and plots. His Sheriff Dan Rhodes books are clever and fun, and Dan reminds me of my dad. Whenever a new one of these came out I would get it for dad and we'd both read, laugh, and talk about it. When I came across this title I saw he had a co-author and I could tell this book was not going to be as humorous, though there are some funny events along the way. I decided it would be a nice light read and was curious about how the team effort turned out. I'm not sure how Clyde Wilson collaborated because the writing sounded 100% like Crider's. I feel sure he contributed expertise. If you are from Houston or have lived there at any point (hasn't everybody?) you will enjoy all the details about H-town. And the fact that the story takes place in 1969 adds interest if you remember back that far. But the clever plot twists and folksy humor are missing. What is also missing is a compelling plot. That surprised me because in the past Crider has spun some good yarns. I hung in there to the end hoping for something amazing to happen but...nope. If you like mysteries and feel attracted to the Houston setting and 60's time period, you might like the book. Then again, like me, you might not. I really cannot muster any more enthusiasm than that.


CAVEAT...There was one line in the book I really loved and I feel sure this came from Crider. In describing one of the low-life characters, Detective Steve says, "He has the backbone of a caterpillar." Thanks for that, Bill.


To all my peeps who enjoy the San Marcos Public Library, or any library, don't avoid Bill Crider. Just pick up a Dan Rhodes book. Those are fun, quick reads.



It's About the Characters...

Living with Jackie Chan - Jo Knowles

I have said this before, but I have to like the characters to enjoy the book. Even if the book is for youngsters and that has to be taken into consideration, for me the characters must ring true. I did not read the preceding book Jumping Off Swings, but this story can stand alone. It is a good thing to have a book about teen parents that is told by the young dad instead of the teen mom. Josh is a good kid who made a bad mistake. And just like a good protagonist should, he grows as the story progresses. His Uncle Larry is both loveable and wise, and all the cast of characters rings true. It is a bit of an introspective book with lots of description of Josh's internal struggle, but I think older teens will appreciate this because that's a big part of making it through the teen years. I recommend this book highly YA fans of all ages.

HERE'S A Series I WILL Follow

Monument 14 - Emmy Laybourne

I am picky about books that are part of a series. Maybe I have a fear of commitment. In general I like books that stand alone. Since I am now reading primarily for myself and not for students, I am allowing myself to be choosy. THIS is the first book of a series that I DO want to follow. One reason I like Monument 14 is that I like the characters. The narrator is honest and self deprecating and you do see him grow through the story. The little kids are endearing even with their faults. The setting is as important as the plot in that it affects everything they are able to do and provides a self contained little world for the youngsters as they deal with the catastrophic events that follow a sudden major climate change. I will avoid divulging the ending, except to say it does tie up loose ends for a conclusion while also making me want to hear the next series of events. I did read with my ears and highly recommend the audio version.

Great Read for All Ages...Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

Titanic: Voices From the Disaster - Deborah Hopkinson

I just finished Titanic: Voices from the Disaster and found it very interesting and informative even though I have read other accounts of the event, including A Night to Remember. I even went to the Broadway musical version of the story which was pretty cool. The best thing about this book is, I think, the fact that it interweaves quotations from survivors along with the basic facts. The many illustrations, particularly the photographs of the ship and passengers, add to the book's appeal. I think it's an example of a book that may be classified as YA but is really of interest to readers of all ages.

Dystopian Noir Mysteries are a Ton of Fun!

The Last Policeman - Ben H. Winters Countdown City - Ben H. Winters


I picked up The Last Policeman because I love mysteries. My colleague Dr. Karin Perry mentioned that it was set in a dystopian USA of the near future and that intrigued me as well. Early on I picked up on the noir elements, which for me heightened reading enjoyment. I really like the earnest young cop who wants to help people who have been wronged, even as it appears a catastrophic event looms on the with only weeks of "normality" left for the world. A giant meteor is on collision course with Earth and there seems to be no avoiding the disaster. The impact will immediately destroy the area where it hits. It will also cause dire consequences to worldwide weather, bringing down earthquakes, tsunamis, and devastating climate changes. So....yikes! Why try to carry on? Our young hero deals with the state of affairs by doing just that with the new career he loves, that of a police investigator. In this first book he seeks to prove that a death that appears to be suicide is actually murder. With suicides increasingly common in view of impending doom, Henry Palace has little support from his fellows. Still he sticks with it and the reader is treated to the ensuing plot twists and turns. Unlike some series books, there is a definite conclusion to this story and it can stand alone as a fun read.


Because I liked the first story so much, I immediately went on to the next in the series, Countdown City. Predictably things are deteriorating more as time runs out for Earth's inhabitants. A childhood friend, his babysitter who is just a few years older, beseeches Henry to find her husband. People are disappearing all over the world for numerous reasons, and the infrastructure needed to do a missing person's search has long since unraveled. Still Henry agrees to take on the quest and he is a man of his word. Again there are complications that make for a fast and enjoyable read. Also, this book has plenty of structure and characterization to enable it to stand alone. The reason to reach for the next book in the series is simply that the reader likes the stories so much. That's me. I NEED the next book!


If you like mysteries with convoluted plots and find idea of a dystopian noir mystery to be enticing, these books will not disappoint.




The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutkoski

I borrowed the audio version of this book from the inimitable Dr. Karin Perry, YA guru. My intent was to stretch myself a little bit because I am not immediately attracted to books about imaginary past worlds. I like historical fiction better. But there have been notable exceptions, and I need to broaden my horizons, so I decided to give this story a chance. Early on it irritated me enough that I considered ditching it but I decided to soldier on and be a good sport. It did get a bit better but I am not recommending it unless you like the idea of a YA book that is romance lite. Maybe you want to raise your kid to read paperback romances. If so this is great training for her. I grew out of reading romance novels a long time ago but I remember enough about them to see the parallels. Selfish spoiled girl buys surly slave boy, then doesn't know what to do with him (duh, he's super hunky) and they then get sucked into a rather inevitable Romeo/Juliet fix.  Well, I thought I'd hang in till the end and was UNPLEASANTLY SURPRISED to find the story just cuts off abruptly and if I want to know how they work things out I gotta read another lite romance. No thanks. I don't like reviewers who treat a YA book like an adult book and criticize it for not meeting their standards for such, but geez. I wouldn't have liked this book as a kid. Smarmy. I know, I'm in the minority here because many folks seem to think the book is enthralling and are eagerly waiting for the next one. Not me...I'm out.


All that being said, a YA librarian should read at least this one, the first of the trilogy. It is getting a lot of hype and there are gonna be teen girl fans of the series. A movie could certainly be forthcoming, in fact that's probably a part of the book's raison d'etre. It just didn't win over this slightly out of step and curmudgeonly reader.

Boys of Blur - N.D. Wilson

At the time I read this, I was traveling in Florida. I finished the book in the very territory described in the story. Since the setting was so important, this was a big plus. This book has plenty of suspense and a healthy dose of the supernatural, and is spot on for young readers I used to teach, junior high age. It would be  super read-aloud and should be a must-read for kids in Florida and other swampy states, including East Texas.