June 29, 2010

Tween Tuesday: The Secret Zoo

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to hightlight awesome books for the 9-12 year old set. AKA Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday does count for the In the Middle Reading Challenge.

This week's book is:
The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick

I keep seeing this book at the book store, and I think it just looks cute and fun.  The idea of a zoo within a zoo is unique.  And really, who hasn't thought about being able to do more with the animals at the zoo? Plus finding secret passages - even more fun! I think it might be a hidden gem in tween books.

Be sure to look closely at the cover.  There are a lot of almost hidden things in it.  Love it!

From Goodreads
When three friends link a girl's disappearance to unusual activity at their local zoo, they discover that each exhibit holds a hidden passage to a secret zoo kingdom. To rescue their friend, the children must band with the animals, enter this mysterious world, and embark on an exciting adventure in the first book of an epic series for middle-grade readers.

If you want to learn a bit about the author and the book, here is a video of Bryan Chick answering questions about himself and the book.

June 28, 2010

Book Review: Firespell by Chloe Neill

Title: Firespell (Dark Elite #1)
Author: Chloe Neill

From Goodreads
As the new girl at the elite St. Sophia’s boarding school, Lily Parker thinks her classmates are the most monstrous things she’ll have to face…
When Lily’s guardians decided to send her away to a fancy boarding school in Chicago, she was shocked. So was St. Sophia’s. Lily’s ultra-rich brat pack classmates think Lily should be the punchline to every joke, and on top of that, she’s hearing strange noises and seeing bizarre things in the shadows of the creepy building.

The only thing keeping her sane is her roommate, Scout, but even Scout’s a little weird—she keeps disappearing late at night and won’t tell Lily where she’s been. But when a prank leaves Lily trapped in the catacombs beneath the school, Lily finds Scout running from a real monster.

Scout’s a member of a splinter group of rebel teens with unique magical talents, who’ve sworn to protect the city against demons, vampires, and Reapers, magic users who’ve been corrupted by their power. And when Lily finds herself in the line of a firespell, Scout tells her the truth about her secret life, even though Lily has no powers of her own—at least none that she’s discovered yet…

My Review
After reading several reviews for this book I was super interested in reading it.  I wasn't disappointed.  The story started out pretty quickly with Lily getting shipped off to boarding school because of her parents' job.  I remember growing up secretly wishing I could go to boarding school.  I thought it would be cool to live there without my parents and so on.  This book would've made me want to go to a boarding school even more! But Lily didn't feel the same way. She did not want to be there! I worried at first that one of two things would happen - she'd get overly whiney about the whole thing and drive me nuts or get so picked on my the other girls that it would get hard to read.  To my suprise neither happened! I was happy to see that Lily pushed past her crabbiness about being there.  She sucked it up and delt with it.  I liked that about her.  It was nice to have a main character that did that.  I don't think I could've stuck with the book if Lily had lacked a backbone and self determination.

What I also liked was that even though some popular girls did pick on her, she stood up to them.  I loved that she didn't curl up and let them win!  On top of standing up to the bullies, she wasn't afraid to step up and make sure a new friend was safe and ok.  She went above what most people would do for a friend by putting herself in danger. It may have seemed a bit unrealistic how far she went for a girl she hardly knew, but her (ok I'll say it) spunkiness was fun to read!  Lily's strong, smart personality is what really made me like the book.

As for the plot, it was suspenseful with a good mix of mystery.  I had a few things figured out, but much was a suprise.  At the end some questions were answered, but it's clear if you want to know the full story, you're gonna need to read the next book.  A few more answers might've been nice, but I understand why they weren't there. Who I'm really interested in is Sebastian.  He's plays a big role in this book, but you don't learn a lot about him at all.  He does one big thing that makes me want to know more about him! Definitely a question I want answered :)

Few other thoughts - I liked Scout, Lily's roommate and new friend.  She was brave and smart, and I think we have more to learn about her.  I also liked the bit of romance between Lily and Jason.  It wasn't so overly done, and it didn't have Lily falling all over herself and playing helpless girl.  She was prepared to act with or without his help! The romance didn't take over the story and that was a nice change.

Final thought: Fun read with a good dash of mystery and suspense.
Best stick-with-you image: The second firespell
Best for ages: 12+ I think it's intended to be YA but I didn't find much that would concern me to have a bit younger audience read it.

June 27, 2010

Sunday Shelves

For today's Sunday Shelves I searched the internet for some cool home libraries (except for the lower left.  I just liked that one.)  I found these to be drool worthy!

Aren't they amazing! My favorite is the top middle. 

pictures from:
Remodeling Center.com
Design Home and Inspiration and Resource

June 26, 2010

Summer Break Reading Challenge Activity #2 Wordle

The instructions were to make a Wordle from the book description of a book I liked.
I did The Maze Runner by James Dashner.  Loved this book :)
(and I too couldn't get it to save, so I took a screen shot!)

Winners for Road to Middle Grade!

Sorry this took me so long! I've got the four winners.  Just a reminder, the 1st winner gets four books, 2nd gets three, 3rd gets two and 4th gets one.  To make this easy I will contact you after the person in front of you has chosen their books, so it may take a bit to hear from me. 

Here is the link for the original post with the list of books to pick from.

Ok here are the winners!

First: Michelle from See Michelle Read
Third: Kirthi from Pages
Fourth: Natalie from Mindful Musings

I'll be contacting Michelle today!

Thanks everyone for playing.

June 24, 2010

Review: CSN Stores - Netbook Bag

A few weeks back CSN asked me to do a review of one of they many, many, many products.  I mean really where can you buy a sleeper sofa, shoes and a carseat all in one spot?? I finally settled on a bag for my netbook.  I'd been needing one for awhile since everytime I carried it anywhere I worried about dropping it.  I also figured that some of you fellow bloggers might use a netbook and also be looking for a bag.  Even after narrowing it down to that, I still had some deciding to do! There were so many cute bags to pick from.  I finally settled in the Hadaki Small Messenger Bag.  I placed my order - super simple there! - and waited.  Well I didn' thave to wait long.  Within 4 days I had my bag! It was well packaged and the box was in great shape.  I've gotten things in the mail before where I've wondered how the box made it! 

Here's a picture of it fresh out of the box.

Here it is unwrapped.

I will have to say it was even cuter in person that on the internet.  The size was a big bigger than I thought it would be, but I was really ok with that.  I had hoped for some extra room to include some write materials.  Well look at what it all holds!

Here's all the stuff out of the bag. That's a regular size notebook, a netbook, my manuscript and a smaller notebook. Plus it has two small inner pockets for things like pens/pencils or SD Cards/Flashdrives. Not to mention the two outside pockets for my ever necessary cell phone! 

To top that off the construction of the bag is fanastic.  It's very well made with all the seams tight and, the inside pockets are sewn in securely. Since it's made to be carried around, they made the strap wide and comfortable. 

I'm am completely 100% satisfied with how well done this bag is.  And I'm 100% happy with my experience with CSN.  I will definately be turning to them for future purchases.

June 23, 2010

Summer Break Reading Challenge - Wanna Play Along?

Summer Break Reading Challenge
 Hey all with summer here it's time to crank up the AC and our reading.  KarinLibrarian, who has hosted some fun challenges in the past, is hosting a Summer Break Reading Challenge.  Check out the details at the Summer Break Reading Challenge Blog.  Oh and if you join make sure to add the button to your blog.

I'll be playing along.  Will you???????

Waiting on Wedenesday: Hexbound

This is inspired by a meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine. In this post I talk about books yet to be released that I'm excited about OR already published book's I've seen that I'm really wanting to read. I also like to try and find books other bloggers aren't sharing so that more books are shared!

This week I'm waiting on:
Hexbound (Dark Elite #2) by Chloe Neill
Release Date: January 20th, 2011
I just finished Firespell and really enjoyed it (review soon!).  It was the first book I read entirely on my Nook (review of my Nook coming soon too!).  Now I can't wait for the next books.  It's not middle grade BUT there really isn't anything in it that would be inappropriate for a younger reader. 
From Goodread
Lily Parker is new to St. Sophia’s School for Girls, but she’s already learned that magic can be your best friend…or your worst enemy.

They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. Turns out, even a little magic can turn you to the dark side. That’s why Lily has to learn how to control her newly discovered paranormal abilities, on top of avoiding the snobs who think they run her school, nursing a crush on a cute sophomore with a big, werewolf-y secret, and fighting the good fight with her best friend Scout as they take on Chicago’s nastiest nightlife—including the tainted magic users known as Reapers.

Then Lily’s invited to a private meeting with Sebastian. He’s hot, powerful, and offering to help her harness the magic flowing in her veins in a way no one else can. He’s also a Reaper. Lily can’t hide her suspicions. But she’ll soon find out that the line between good and evil isn’t always clear…

June 22, 2010

Tween Tuesday: The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to hightlight awesome books for the 9-12 year old set. AKA Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday does count for the In the Middle Reading Challenge.

This week's book is:   

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner

I haven't read this book but I will FOR SURE.  It's sounds peferct for 7th graders especially since the 7th graders at my school do a leaf project as well :) I know my science teachers would be interested in it for that reason too.  Beyond that Gianna just sounds like a great girl that I want to get to know. Oh and isn't the cover pretty? Love it!

From Goodreads
Gianna Z has less than one week to collect, identify, and creatively display 25 leaves for her science project—or else she won’t be able to compete in the upcoming cross-country race. As the deadline for her leaf project draws near, life keeps getting in the way. Some things are within Gee’s control, like her own procrastination, but others aren’t, like Biana Rinaldi’s attempts at sabotage and Nonna’s declining health. If it weren’t for her best friend Zig, Gee wouldn’t have a chance at finishing. His knowledge of trees and leaves in their rural Vermont town comes in very handy, as does his loyalty to Gee. But when Nonna disappears one afternoon, things like leaves and cross-country meets suddenly seem less important.

Check out Kate Messner's website.  It's pretty cool!

June 21, 2010

Review: The Pack by LM Preston

Title: The Pack
Author: LM Preston
Publisher: Phenomenal One Press

From Goodreads
Shamira is considered an outcast by most, but little do they know that Shamira is on a mission. Kids on Mars are disappearing, but Shamira decides to use the criminals most unlikely weapons against them, the very kids of which they have captured. In order to succeed, she is forced to trust another, something she is afraid to do. However, Valens her connection to the underworld of her enemy, proves to be a useful ally. Time is slipping, and so is her control on the power that resides within her. Yet, in order to save her brother's life she is willing to risk it all.

My Review
I was very pleasantly suprised by this book! Within a few pages I was taken with the main character Shamira and her personality.  Sure at the start she had quite an attitude, but she was working to do the right thing, so I cut her some slack.  I loved that she was blind because it was nice to see someone have a "handicap" that wasn't really a handicap.  Because of that I was a bit disappointed that she was given her eye sight back so early on. The interesting thing about that though - getting her eye sight back made her more humble and likeable.  Usually a loss of eye sight is used to humble a character, but it was the opposite here.  It took a girl that bordered on the edge of being overbearing and caused her to step back and reach out to others.  That was a  nice change from what you might normally see in a character.  Her growth continued as the book progressed.  Sharima at the end fo the book was one that grew in the right ways. 

I found the setting, Mars, pretty realistic.  Sometimes when I read science fiction I have a real hard time relating to the world it's set it, but I didn't find that a problem here.  The author did a good job explaining Mars without going over descriptive or changing so much that the reader is left feeling lost.  There was enough Earth-like parts of Mars that I easily followed along.  This was the same for the inclusion of advanced technology.  Some fun advanced techonology was used but not to a degree that it seemed overdone or even cheesy.  A few times I found myself wishing I had that technology or lived on Mars!

As for the plot - it was engaging, fast paced and well crafted.  The pieces seemed to fit together well without huge holes or unrealistic events.  It all seemed plausable.  Well after I set aside the idea that these were kids! But even with that, it was fine.  Things could've felt rushed, but the pace was kept even all of the way through the story.  There were very few lags, so I didn't have myself getting bored.   The ending didn't feel rushed, and it wrapped up nicely.  There could be more books to follow, or just this one would work too! 

One other note - I really liked Valens the boy working with Shamira.  He played off of her character nicely.  I also liked how their relationship progressed.  It was fun to watch it grow.

Final thought: Fast paced suspenseful story that was fun to read
Best stick-with-you image: The color of her eyes
Best for ages: 12+ Definately more upper MG/younger YA

The author has offered a copy of the book up for grabs.  If you'd like to enter, please fill out the form below!


June 19, 2010

Winner of Countdown

The winner of a copy of Countdown and a cool tote bag is:

Mrs. DeRaps of DeRaps Reads

I'll be emailing you in the next few days to get your addy.  If you see this first feel free to email me at foltzsfantasticbooks at gmail.com

June 18, 2010

Review: The Maze Runner

Every Friday I highlight books and authors that are ones boys might really enjoy. I'm not saying girls wouldn't read these books, but they are clearly "guy" books.

This week my highligh is a review of:

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

From Goodreads
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents, his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is black. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade, a large expanse enclosed by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning, for as long as they could remember, the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night, they’ve closed tight. Every thirty days a new boy is delivered in the lift. And no one wants to be stuck in the maze after dark.

The Gladers were expecting Thomas’s arrival. But the next day, a girl springs up—the first girl ever to arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. The Gladers have always been convinced that if they can solve the maze that surrounds the Glade, they might be able to find their way home . . . wherever that may be. But it’s looking more and more as if the maze is unsolvable.

And something about the girl’s arrival is starting to make Thomas feel different. Something is telling him that he just might have some answers—if he can only find a way to retrieve the dark secrets locked within his own mind.
My Thoughts
I really really enjoyed this book. It had just the right amount of mystery and action to keep me fully focused on the story.  Thomas was a good main character - although sometimes I did want to tell him to knock it off when he got angry for people not answering his questions.  But that was minor.  I loved how his mind worked as he tried to figure out the maze, the glade and the girl showing up. Even with waking up without any memory he was able to focus and take on the task at hand. He was smart and confident without being cocky.  I think he's someone 7th grade boys could relate to even though he was older. 
As for the story, I will say that throughout the book what I thought was going to happen didn't.  This really hooked me in because I never got bored. One character I didn't trust at all was not what I expected!  He completely did the opposite of what I thought.  And events or clues I thought I had figured out were completely wrong.  All this was why the ending was a complete shock to me! I did not see it coming at all, and I couldn't believe how far off base I was.  It was ok that I was that wrong because it just made the ending even stronger for me.  If it had all ended the way I thought I would've been ho-hum about the book.  After finishing the last page, right away I looked up when the sequel, The Scorch Trials, was coming out (for the record it's October!)
A minor thing, but what I really understood was the attitude of some of the Gladers (boys that also lived there). They didn't want to mess with how things were. Yes they wanted to go home, but they also knew that life in the Glade right now was ok. They were fed, clothed and surviving. Changing anything might force them out of that comfort zone. I think that feeling is something we can all relate to - is the grass really greener? This allowed me to feel more what these boys might be feeling.
Final thought: My mind went through as big of a maze as the one in the book! Many twists and turns!
Best stick-with-you image: The first time Thomas sees the Grievers.
Best for ages: 11+ More higher age middle grade
For more fun check out the website! The Maze Runner

June 17, 2010

Taking Books for Review - Why I'm Taking a Break

Why I’ve Decided to Put Taking Review Copies on Hiatus

When I first got into blogging I was really surprised to see that publishers/authors/publicists sent you books to review. I thought wow that’s cool! And it was even cooler when I got contacted for some. I’ve enjoyed receiving/reading/reviewing books, but I’ve decided to stop accepting them. Here’s why:

1. I am not getting to read all the amazing books I’ve bought. And all the amazing books my students are reading. Instead I’m trying to get through all my review books.

2. I’m starting to avoid reading because I have to read a certain book. It's not that the books for review are bad – they aren’t (NOT AT ALL) BUT I want to read what I want to read when I want to read it.

3. I don’t need review books to have a TBR pile. My current TBR pile of books I own is HUGE! And new books are added every day when I talk to my students and other bloggers.

4. I hate the guilty feeling I have for taking so long to review books.

5. I’m horrible at saying no! That means I end up saying yes to more books for review than I should.

What This DOESN’T Mean for the Blog

1.  I’m still going to stay middle grade focus, and I’m still going to highlight authors with guest posts and interviews, but it will be more on my schedule when I can connect with an author.

2.  I will read books I want to read and if I love them I’ll showcase them more with giveaways etc. I use to do a month Who’s that Author. For this I picked a book/author to highlight and giveaway. I want to do that again.

3.  For authors/publisher/publicists I’ve already said yes to I WILL get those books read and reviewed. After that you can check with me, but know that I will probably say no unless it’s a book I’ve highlighted on a Wish List post. I love working with you, and I will continue to promote middle grade books, but I need to do it out of passion not necessity.

When I decide to take review copies again (I don't know when that will be) I plan on having a much clearer review policy that I make sure people wanting me to review have read and understanding.  I've been reading review policy at several other blogs and found some great points to use in mine. 

June 16, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - The Scorch Trials

This is a meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine. In this post we talk about books yet to be released that we are excited about. I do that, but sometimes I also like to talk about great books I have, but are waiting to read.

This week I'm waiting on:

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Release Date: October 12, 2010

I just finished reading The Maze Runner, and I can't wait for The Scorch Trials! I mean, the way some people are looking forward to Mockingjay - that's how I'm feeling about The Scorch Trials (and for the record I'm excited for Mockingjay too!) The Maze Runner took such a turn at the end that I need to know what happens.  I'll expand on that more Friday when my review is posted.  So for now I'll just have to wait for October :( Does anyone know if they'll be ARC's for this one??

I'd like to share a great summary from Barnes and Noble, Goodreads or Amazon with you, but none of them have one!

For now watch the trailer for The Maze Runner again - it's a good one!

June 14, 2010

Summer Reading Update and Owl of the Week

This summer I am tracking my summer reading in three ways:

Number of books read
Number of minutes read
Number of pages read

I've decided that on Monday I'll give a quick update at where I'm at, so here's my first update  :

Number of books: 2
Number of minutes: 6 hours 23 minutes
Number of pages: 644

On my way :) I just finished The Maze Runner, and I'll be reviewing it for Friday's for the Guys this Friday.

Now for the Owl of the Week

My sweet daughter found this kit at the craft store and made it for me.  I fits my Ipod Touch perfectly!

June 11, 2010

Friday's for the Guys - Crackback by John Coy

Every Friday I highlight books and authors that are ones boys might really enjoy. I'm not saying girls wouldn't read these books, but they are clearly "guy" books.

This week I'm highlighting:

Crackback by John Coy

I haven't read this book, but I have a ton of boys who have.  When my students did their sidewalk chalk recommendations several picked this book.  And for their book promotion projects a couple different boys did a book trailer for it.  Any book that hooks boys this much has my attention.  The main reason they tell me they like it because it deals with a football player that has to decide if he's going to do steroids like others on his football team or whether he's going to turn them in.  It may not be a decision all boys will have to face, but it is something they hear a lot about whether in connection to pro, college or Olypmic athletes.  The book gives them tools to make the right decision if they should ever find themselves there.

A few years back they author visited our school.  The boys were super interested to hear what he had to say.  I appriciate any author that can get the boys to sit up and take notice. 

If you don't know the story, here's the summary from Goodreads
When Miles Manning, a successful high school football player, discovers his teammates are using steroids--and one of them is his best friend--he's faced with a tough decision: Is he willing to do what it takes to win? Football is his life, and his family, especially his dad, is pinning its hopes on him. It's a lot of pressure for a high school junior to bear. This gripping look into the world of high school boys and athletes--and their struggle to be the best--is provocative and searingly honest.

June 10, 2010

Review- A Place for Delta by Melissa Walker

Title: A Place for Delta
Author: Melissa Walker
Publisher: Whale Tale Press

From Goodreads
Joseph can hardly believe what he has been asked to do. His Aunt Kate, a wildlife biologist, is waiting for him at a research station and needs his help taking care of an orphaned polar bear cub only a few months old. He will leave his friends and family and venture to the farthest northern town in the United States. As the adventure unfolds, Joseph and his newfound Eskimo friend Ada find mysteries wherever they look. The bear cub, Delta, remains in danger. Who would want a polar bear dead? Joseph will have to look to the North Georgia woods to save Delta. When his parents were kids, they too embarked on an excursion into the unknown. Their encounters with the wilderness beyond their backyard have shaped the future for Joseph and Delta. A Place for Delta is about one family's journey—a passage born in the Appalachian Mountains and leading to the Arctic.

My Review
As a whole I liked this story.  It was a sweet story that made you go awwwwwwww.  I also like that it addressed (althought briefly) the ideas of global warming, being environmentally aware and being respectful of other people's backgrounds and cultures. Big topics that could've seen more play, but I liked that they didn't get preachy.  The young main character, Joseph was a nice sweet kid, but I really like the girl he met in Alaska, Ada.  She was smart girl, and I liked that about her. Whenever they needed a plan, Ada had one and a good one! The adults in the story were good people that treated the kids with tons of respect - something I know kids reading the book will love! The story of Delta, the polar bear cub they found was interesting because it gave readers a bit of an insight into the lives of polar bears.  The mystery surrounding Delta and her mother will keep younger readers interested and curious - although I pretty much saw what was coming. Over-all it was just a nice sweet read.

With all that I liked about the book, there were some elements that I didn't like.  As much as I liked Joseph I found his character a bit unrealistic.  I know many kids his age, and his actions and seriousness are not something I see a lot of.  I also found the whole curcumstances surrounding his going to Alaska a bit far fetched - or maybe just too easy.  One email and his mom packs him up and sends him to Alaska. Yes he's going to stay with his aunt, but it still seemed a little too easy.  I will say that I don't think the intended audience for this book would have an issue with it.  That also goes for the way the "mystery" about Delta's mother was solved.  It also seemed a bit too simple for the adult side of me. I can over look that because it did fit with the sweetness of the story. The one part that really did bother me was how easy it was to find a new place for Delta to live.  And I didn't really like where they found because it seemed pretty unrealistic to me.  Maybe a lot of my feelings towards this part of the book was more because of how quickly it all happened.  I couldn't buy into it.  I don't know how kids will look at these events, but they might not be bothered by them. 

I do have to give a brief thought on the ending.  Although I saw what was coming, I think kids will love what happens. They'll wish they lived on a big lot of land with history!

Final thought: At it's core, a sweet story with heart.

Best stick-with-you image: Delta eating the fish.

Best for ages 8-11 It really is best for the younger crowd.

June 9, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - Scumble by Ingrid Law

This is inspired by a meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine. In this post I talk about books yet to be released that I'm excited about OR already published book's I've seen that I'm really wanting to read. I also like to try and find books other bloggers aren't sharing so that more books are shared!

This week I'm waiting on:

Scumble by Ingrid Law
Due out Aug 24th

I absolutely LOVED Savvy, so when I saw this book I was super super excited! I want it. I want it. I want it! I can't wait to read more about this famly and their savvys and maybe a bit what happened to Mib.

I'd say August can't get here fast enough, but I would like summer to stick around some :)

From Ingrid Law's Website
(which you should check out!)

The enchanting companion to Newbery Honor

Nine years after Mibs’s Savvy journey, her cousin Ledge has just turned thirteen...
Ledger Kale’s savvy is a total dud—all he does is make little things fall apart. So his parents decide it’s safe to head to Wyoming for a family wedding, where it’s soon revealed that Ledge’s savvy is much more powerful than anyone thought. Worse, his savvy disaster has an outside witness: Sarah Jane Cabot, reporter wannabe and daughter of a local business man. Just like that, Ledge’s beloved normal life is over. Now, he has to keep Sarah from turning family secrets into headlines, stop her father from foreclosing on Uncle Autry’s ranch, and scumble his savvy into control so that, someday, he can go home.

Starring a cast both fresh and familiar, Scumble melds heart and humor with the legendary Wild West.

June 7, 2010

Coming Soon: A Review of CSN Stores

I'm sure you've seen CSN Stores on at least one other blog and heard great things about them and their stores.  I was super excited when I was asked to review one of their products.  My only problem - what to pick!  They have over 200 stores that carry great products.  Our current sofa is getting worn and we could use a place for guests, so I looked at what they had in the sleeper sofa department.  Then I looked at houseware because I've always wanted some really nice cookware. And with it being summer the firepits caught my eye!  See why I had a problem?!? I could spend hours and probably never see it all!

Wanna know what, from their massive amount of products I chose? Stay tuned to find out and for my review!

June 6, 2010

The Road to Middle Grade Giveaway

As most of you know, this summer I will really be making the transition from a young adult focus to a middle grade focus.  I've been doing this more in my Waiting on Wednesday etc posts already, but I've got plans for more.  Some of the changes I'll be making this summer are:
  • creating a page for all the great MG focues blogs
  • creating a page for all the great MG authors
  • althought you won't see it right away - setting up interviews and features of MG authors and books
  • continuing the In the Middle reading challenge
  • creating a weekly YA post.  I still love YA too and I want to make sure to highlight some great YA books that I think are great for my 7th graders
And today the first step - a contest clearing off my wonderful YA books that need to find better homes! The books I'm giving away are:

Kissing the Rain by Kevin Brooks
The Comeback Season by Jennifer E. Smith
Struts & Frets (hardcover) by Jon Skovron
Happyface (hardcover) by Stephen Emond
Blue Bloods by Melissa De La Cruz
She's So Dead to Us by Kieran Scott (I will warn - there is a cut across the cover)
Intertwined (hardcover) by Gena Showalter
Flash Burnout (ARC) by L.K. Madigan
The House of Tomorrow (ARC) by Peter Bonganni
Wherever Nina Lies (because I have two copies) by Lynn Weingarten
Paper Towns by John Green
The Tear Collector (ARC) by Patrick Jones
Darklight (two copies ARCs - ONE LEFT!
Looking for Alaska by John Green

Here's how it'll work
First you'll be filling out THIS form.
ON THE FORM you'll be able to earn extra entries for:
Linking somewhere (can only get +1)
Telling me a MG author that tweets OR a MG focused blog (it's ok to share yourself or your blog!!!)
Telling  me your favorite MG book or author

Only entries on the FORM count.  Comments are loved but they won't count!

Ends Sunday June 20th at 11:59 CST
US Residents only - sorry!

There will be 4 winners
Winner 1 wins 4 books
Winner 2 wins 3 books
Winner 3 wins 2 books
Winner 4 wins 1 book

Good luck and enjoy!
Oh and stick around because I may have another smaller giveaway in August for YA I read over the summer.

June 4, 2010

Friday's for the Guys - Toad Rage

Every Friday I highlight books and authors that are ones boys might really enjoy. I'm not saying girls wouldn't read these books, but they are clearly "guy" books.

This week I'm highlighting:

Toad Rage by Morris Gleitzman

I found this book several years ago and knew it would appeal to 7th grade boys.  I read it aloud to my students, and they loved it. Why? It's funny! and not high brow funny.  I mean (ok stop reading if you think middle grade humor is yucky) eat worms and race to see who can poop them out first funny! Oh they are cane toads, so this is pretty much natural for them. 

Beyond the middle grade humor there is a book with a lesson on not giving up.  Limpy wants to know why humans hate them and help them understand that cane toads are wonderful creatures. He refuses to give up even tho he travels in harsh conditions, has to evade people that would do him harm and a country that would rather seem him made into a purse.  I cheered for him the whole way.  And my students did too!

Sidenote - it teaches about invasive species! Loved it because it connected with our science curriculum.

From Goodreads
Limpy’s family reckons humans don’t hate cane toads, but Limpy knows otherwise. He’s spotted the signs: the cross looks, the unkind comments, the way they squash cane toads with their cars. Limpy is desperate to save his species from ending up as pancakes. Somehow he must make humans see how fabulous cane toads really are. Risking everything, he sets off on a wart-tinglingly dangerous and daring journey to . . . the Olympics?
This is the epic story of a slightly squashed young cane toad’s quest for the truth.

There are two other books staring Limpy: Toad Away and Toad Heaven

June 3, 2010

7's Up - Sidewalk Recommendations

Last week was my school's last full week of school. I decided it was too beatiful to stay inside, so I took my 7th graders and a bucket full of sidewalk chalk outside.  I had each student pick a square of the sidewalk and write a book recommendation in it.  These were books they really enjoyed and thought someone else might too.  Students out for lunch later could see them and hopefully find a new book to read.  Below are pictures of their creations.

Some books recommended were:
The Dark Divine
I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President
Vladimir Tod
Percy Jackson
Boy at War
Beautiful Creatures
MANY Sarah Desson books
Because of Winn Dixie
Boy in the Striped Pajammas
39 Clues
Diary of a Wimpy Kid

And so many many more!

June 2, 2010

Review: Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Title: Countdown
Author: Deborah Wiles
Publisher: Scholastic Press

From Goodreads
It's 1962, and it seems everyone is living in fear. Twelve-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family in Washington, DC, during the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amidst the pervasive threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits in with her family, and look beyond outward appearances. For Franny, as for all Americans, it's going to be a formative year.

My Review
As a teacher I'm always on the lookout for good historical fiction.  It can be hard to get it right - balancing a interesting story with good historical knowledge.  When I saw the concept behind Countdown - intermixing real historical documents, songs and information of important people of the time within the story - I was immediately interested.  I thought it might be a great way to tell a story but also tell history.

First let's look a the story in Countdown.  The main character is Franny a 12 year old girl.  I found Franny very charming and realistic.  She's caught between an older sister that is growing up and starting to become independent and a little brother she sees as pefect.  I think many kids would be able to relate to her frustrations about being the middle child.  She feels singled out and made to do "everything" around the house while she siblings do nothing - what child hasn't felt that way?! To top if off, her Uncle Otts lives with them.  He seems to be suffereing from some sort of post tramatic stress that comes out in ways that often embarrass Franny.  Right at the start of the story he stops her and all the neighborhood kids on their way home from school.  He yells at them as if they are soldiers.  Franny is so embarrassed she hides behind a bush until everyone leaves.  At age 12 who could blame her - she has no clue how to handle the situation any other way.  To top all that - she is fighting with best friend who is now almost ignoring her, and when she'd not ignoring Franny she seems to be making fun of her. With all this I really felt for her and developed a soft spot for her.

As the story progresses we watch Franny grow and learn to look beyond her own life. She comes to realize that not everything is the way she believes it to be. This all happens within the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  After Franny and her family listen to President Kennedy's speech telling them about Russian missiles in Cuba everything in Franny's life changes.  Her brother becomes withdrawn, her dad, who is in the military, is put on alert, her sisters seemingly disappears and Franny truly wonders if she'll ever grown old. She's left to try to work it all out while watching others around her do the same. Through several difficult situations Franny starts to learn that "not being afraid is to understand what scares you" (pg 346).  By the end she is beginning to understand what scared her and how to not let it run her life.  It was a beautiful transition to see and one that I found very realistic and plausable.

Now for the real footage scattered throughout the book. Between some chapters there were pictures of political figures of the time, song lyrics, speeches, small biographies etc- I liked it because I understood it.  But I worry that it could be difficult for middle school readers.  They may not know as much about the Cuban Missile Crisis, so the extra information may be confusing.  If they don't have some understanding of what was happening between the US and Russia and the real fear of a nuclear attack, they may not get all the references to "tuck and cover" or the song lyrics. They also may not understand why information about Harry S Truman and Pete Seeger were included.  They may not understand the hysteria of fallout shelters and the hints about the Civil Rights Movement. Do I think these are all things they should learn about - 100% yes! But I'm worried they aren't explained well enough in the story to help a kid understand.  It isn't until Kennedy's speech half way through the book that the fear of this time was really shown.  If I were to recommend this book to a student - I would help them understand why the extra stuff is included or they might skip over it thinking it's not important. That would make them lose a huge chunk of what this book is trying to accomplish. Even with these concerns I do think that if all a student learns is what Franny learns - then the time reading the book was well spent!

I can completely see this book used in a classroom in conjunction to the teaching of American history! I think it would be an amazing way to show how people during this time were affected.  Franny's family would be a realistic example that students would be able to relate it.  I will be suggesting the book to the history teachers in my building! Also, I understand this is the first book in a trilogy.  I'm very curious to see what the others are about.

Final thought: I loved Franny, and through her story I understand this time in history better.

Best stick-with-you image: Uncle Otis yelling at the kids like they were soldiers.  I wanted to cringe with Franny.

Best for ages: 11+ but I'd help them a bit with an understanding of what the Cuban Missile Crisis was.

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a copy of the book and a tote bag.  Go HERE to enter!