October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween! Books that Scare Me

Happy Halloween to all that celebrate! 
 I thought today I'd share a few books that scared me.  I will say that books really don't scare me that much.  Movies! Movies scare me, but not books.  I think it's because I can control what I see in my mind while reading, but I can't do that with movies. But there are a few books that scared me some.  

The Shining by Stephen King

I have a love/hate relationship with Stephen King.  Some of his books I just love (The Stand) and others not so much (The Tommyknockers)  The Shining is one I loved.  I read it several years ago after I found out that the movie  with Jack Nicholson did NOT follow the book very well.  At the time a TV version came out that did.  That movie made me read the book.  I loved it! It was so much more creepy than "jump out at you" scary.  I think I like psychological thrillers better because they get into my brain better.

The Devouring Series by Simon Holt

For this one I have to say the series as a whole because honestly I didn't find the first one that scary or creepy. BUT as the series went along the story got creepier.  The idea of the fearscape (being stuck in your worst fears amplified) just creeped me out!  And it just seemed like the Vours got worse and worse as the series went along.  Definitely worth the read.

Anything by John Saul!

When I was in high school (and I think also middle school) I read almost every book by John Saul - Comes the Blind Fury, Suffer the Children, Nathaniel, When the Wind Blows.  I loved them all! Now John Saul is the bloody yucky kind of scary and I soooooo loved them all! I'm actually surprised my mom let me read them!  Maybe they had something to do with me never wanting to be home alone growing up! If you want something creepy, odd, bloody and scary give him a try!

With that have a great Halloween! If you like to read books that scare you share them! I'd love to give them a try!  My students are always suggestion anything by Mary Downing Hahn :)

October 30, 2011

Picture Books Aren't Dead!!!

A few weeks back I arrived home to a large package at my door.  My 12 year old daughter was excited to see what was in it, so we opened it.  Inside was 6 picture books.  6 amazing wonderful picture books sent from Penguin Young Readers Group.

Along with the books was a note. It said:
If you think the picture book is dead, you probably have no reason to read further.As you may know, there has been a fair bit of chatter in the media about picture books - and most of it has not been positive.  From the perspective of Penguin Young Readers Group, the chatter couldn't be further off base.  

Keep reading and you'll see why.

These are the books:

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman
King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bentley
Otis and the Tornado by Loren Long
Mouserella by David Ezra Stein

They also included a card for each book with information about the artist and art work. Very cool! 

So of course my first thought was to show the books to my 4 year old since he's the right audience for picture books!  We started with Stuck.  He loved it!!!! We laughed and laughed and laughed! 

Then we read Blue Chicken and it was the same! Laughter.  

The best part was bedtime.  He wanted to take certain ones up to bed with him.  The next morning I found them all around him while he slept.  

Sleeping with the books!

So when this package questioned whether the picture book is dead I have only to point to my 4 year old who loves these books.  How can then be dead when he drags them over to me and begs me to read Blue Chicken yet again so he can giggle at the chickens???  
They aren't dead! They are alive in the heart of kids everywhere!

And let me tell you it's not just 4 year olds.  
Every year I bring in a ton of children's books, and I let my students pick from them to read on a reading day.  They love them.  They go nuts for them.  These books hold some many memories for them.  It is the one day I never have to tell them to get reading.  So really, picture books are dead in the hearts of 12 year olds either!

Thank you Penguin Young Readers Group for sharing these fantastic books with me.  Keep publishing them because really, we need them!

October 28, 2011

Review: The Death Cure by James Dashner

Title: The Death Cure (Maze Runner #3)
Author: James Dashner

Thomas knows that Wicked can't be trusted, but they say the time for lies is over, that they've collected all they can from the Trials and now must rely on the Gladers, with full memories restored, to help them with their ultimate mission. It's up to the Gladers to complete the blueprint for the cure to the Flare with a final voluntary test.

What Wicked doesn't know is that something's happened that no Trial or Variable could have foreseen. Thomas has remembered far more than they think. And he knows that he can't believe a word of what Wicked says.

The time for lies is over. But the truth is more dangerous than Thomas could ever imagine.
Will anyone survive the Death Cure?

My Review

Ok I'm going to warn for spoilers for the other two books because I'm not sure I can keep it spoiler free for them!

I have loved this series forever.  The characters are great especially Thomas the main character.  The plot is tense and complex. And the settings are each unique and interesting definitely adding to the plot.  So when I started The Death Cure I was scared! What if I didn't like it?  What if it didn't hold up to the rest of the books? What if I was disappointed?  I didn't need to worry! It was great!

Once again James Dashner added a new depth to the book by putting Thomas and the rest of the Gladers into a new setting and new situation.  I love how each book is in a new place that they have to learn to navigate and work through.  They never get to feel comfortable and settled.  This keeps the tension level high!  At one point during The Death Cure I so felt for Thomas just because he was never able to let his guard down for one second.  He always had to be paying attention and questioning all that he saw.  It made me tired!  But at the same time anytime Thomas trust someone or something I was kinda shouting at him not too! I kept thinking no no no don't trust anyone.  See how Dashner writing pulled me into the story too! 

Ok about the plot - This one is focused more on Thomas and the Gladers left figuring out how to fight WICKED.  Some don't want to - they just want to be done, but of course Thomas refuses to believe in anything they say.  We're told many times WICKED is good, but can that be trusted? This puts Thomas on the run.  And it's cool because finally he gets to "civilization" in Denver.  I loved seeing what our world was like now in the setting of the book.  Dashner did a great job creating a world that was afraid, broken and dark.  While on the run the tension fantastic right up to the end.  Never once did the story slow down to the point of boring me nor was it so intense it because almost unreal.  I just wanted to know what would happen next!

Did I like how the series ended? Yes! I thought the ended was great.  It wrapped up things, but at the same time left things open.  It was hopeful when a lot of this book hadn't been.  I felt that Dashner kind of brought the story full circle but didn't close it completely.  We know the Gladers and Thomas are still out there living, but happier now.

Sidenote: Theresa isn't in this book much, and I for one was happier about that.  She was my least favorite character!!

For the Guys? YES! How could it not be with a fantastic main character like Thomas and a plot that grabs you and never lets go?

Final Thought: Loved the series.  Loved how this book ended it.  Loved it all. 
Best stick-with-you image: When they saw the guy eating something while in Denver.  Yuck!
Best for readers who: Like action, tension and never knowing who to trust
Best for ages: 12+

October 27, 2011

Guest Review: All These Things I've Done

Title: All the Things I've Done
Author: Gabrielle Zevin

In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

Guest Review

My daughter, age 12, was super excited about this one, so I let her read it first if she promised to review it.  We ended up doing an interview review!  Here is what she had to say!

Why did you decided to read this book?
When we first got it, my mom said it was a book where chocolate and coffee was banned.  After I heard that I really wanted to read it.  Chocolate banned! I wanted to know about that.

So did you like the book???
Yes I did because it was set in the future.  But the cool thing was, that it wasn't what it was all about.  It was mostly all about the main problem in the story and how Anya had to deal with it.  And it was also fun to read what it would be like if chocolate and coffee really were banned!

Tell me what you thought about the main character Anya
I really liked her because she was strong and smart.  I also liked that she wasn't whining because she thought her life was so hard.  She just did what she had to.  That made me really like her.

What part did you like the best?
I liked when Anya met this girl Mouse.  I thought it was interesting because Mouse doesn't talk.  I think she couldn't talk, so instead she wrote everything down on a notepad.  I liked that part because of how Anya and Mouse had to talk.

Would you recommend this book to a friend and why?
Yes I would! It was fun and there was a lot of things happening, so that kept it interesting.  I liked the characters and what they did.  I just liked everything about the book. It was a really good book, so they should read it!

Thanks Miss Daughter for sharing your thoughts on the book.  As the mom I know that she loved the book because she tore through it.  She reads fast anyway, but this book was one she had done in one day.  Let me clarify - one SCHOOL day.  She started it when we got to school and finished it that night.  Yes she went to class too :)  I think that shows she enjoyed the book.  Now I've got to read it!

October 26, 2011

Destined (House of the Night #9) Trailer and GIVEAWAY!

Hey everyone I'm super excited for this one! I started reading the House of the Night novels awhile back, and they have become my most guilty reading pleasure. I love them! I know some people disagree, but I really like them when I want something to read just for plain fun!

Well today I'm happy because Zeitghost Media has allowed me to share the trailer for the latest book in the series Destined AND giveaway a copy of the book!  

Ok first the summary:
In Destined, the forces of Light and Dark collide as their epic struggle focuses on Tulsa's House of Night. Zoey is home where she belongs, safe with her Guardian Warrior, Stark, by her side and preparing to face off against Neferet. Kalona has released his hold on Rephaim, and, through Nyx's gift of a human form, he and Stevie Rae are finally able to be together if Rephaim can truly walk the path of the Goddess and stay free of his father's shadow.

But is Zoey really safe? Does she truly know those who are closest to her? And will love win when it is tested by the very soul of Darkness? Find out what s destined in the next thrilling chapter of the House of Night series.

Now the trailer:

Lastly the giveaway!
To enter:

Must be at least 13
Must be a resident of US or Canada
Must fill out THIS FORM!
Ends in Nov 1 at midnight CST

October 25, 2011

Book Review: Dear Bully 70 Authors Tell Their Stories

Title: Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Story
Authors: 70 of Today's YA authors
Edited By: Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones


You are not alone

Discover how Lauren Kate transformed the feeling of that one mean girl getting under her skin into her first novel, how Lauren Oliver learned to celebrate ambiguity in her classmates and in herself, and how R.L. Stine turned being the “funny guy” into the best defense against the bullies in his class.
Today’s top authors for teens come together to share their stories about bullying—as silent observers on the sidelines of high school, as victims, and as perpetrators—in a collection at turns moving and self-effacing, but always deeply personal.
My Review
As a teacher, when I saw this book I knew it was something I had to read and see if it was something I could share in my classroom.  Bullying is such a huge topic in schools these days, so I hoped this might give me some insight and ideas. And because it was by authors my students might know, I knew what was written may impact them a bit more.  It did that, but what it also did was make me face my own memories of bullying growing.  Before I talk about the book, I need to give you my background.  I went to a small school.  A very small school.  There were 32 kids in my class.  In 7th grade I was bullied.  Almost every person in my class was in on it.  Maybe they didn't say anything, but they also didn't stop it. Day in and day out it happened. Reading this book brought it all back.  I'm 41 years old, but in an instant I felt 12 again.  I hated feeling that way, but it was also good that the book brought me back there because it gave me an even stronger empathy for the victims in the book.  It made the book that much more powerful to me.

Now enough of my story.  Let's look at the stories in the book.  What I really liked was that it was broken into different parts of bullies and bullying.  The hardest part for me to read were the stories that focused on the victim.  In these stories, the authors shared their stories of how they were terrorized by children around them.  Their writing was so raw, so open that it hurt to read it.  It hurt because I remembered my pain, and it hurt because it made me know that there are students I see everyday dealing with this, but I don't even know it! My heart just broke for them.  But here's the cool part, it didn't stay stuck on those stories.  Instead it went  on to show how victims became strong and either turned around the situation or were just stronger now in spite of it.  Those were the uplifting stories.  Those were the stories for kids who are being bullied now - to show them they can get beyond this.  Those stories showed it might be hard and a fight, but they could and would get to the other side.

Beyond those two sides there also stories about times the authors realized they had been the bystandard. They had stood there and done nothing while someone else bullied a kid.  These stores need to be shared, becuase honestly that's where most student are.  These stories might help them because strong enough to change what they see - to show them how to do that.  And there were also a few stories about authors who realized they had bullied someone.  I liked these because I thought kids could hear them and maybe see themselves in it.  It might help them see they are bullying and that they need to stop.  

Dear Bully is about "victims" taking the power of the bully away but addressing the bully and showing that they had made it.  They had gotten beyond it.  What a powerful tool.  It was also a time to thank someone who helped them.  Doing this gave the power back to the "victim".  One story in particular struck home for me.  I don't remember the author, but it was thanking one fellow classmate that talked to her when no one else would.  Would be near her when no one else would.  This classmate was voice in an otherwise isolated life.  It hit home so hard I could barely read it because I had that one classmate who sat and talked to me when no one else would - when he could've been cut off like me.  For him I was eternally grateful.  And to you Shawn, I say thank you. Thank you for what you did for me.   

Final Thought:  Read it. Share it.  Be a force of change because of it.
Best for: Everyone who has ever been bullied, watched bullying or been the bully.

October 22, 2011

Dewey's Read-a-Thon Update Post

Hey all I have started the Read-a-Thon!!

I'll be using this post to update my progress.
  I won't be able to read for the next 24 hours straight, but I'm going to read as much as I can until noon tomorrow (yes I know that' s more than 24, but I just wnat to get a ton of reading done!)

Update 1: I am half way through We Are Not Eaten By Yaks.  Very cute book! There will be a ton of kids that I can recommend this one too!.

Update 2: I finished We Are Not Eaten.  Super cute and lots of twists and turns. After a break to take the kids to the pumpkin patch, I'm now reading Tempted (House of the Night).  This series is my ultimate guilty pleasure.  My pure non-thinking just for fun reading. I've got next book in the series as well, so if I need that later in the read-a-thon I can take it out.

Update 3: Ok I finished Tempted, and I'm onto The Secret Year.  Some day when I a do a read-a-thon I'm going to lock the doors and not let anyone near me because they always pull me away from reading!  Now I did say I was going until noon today, so I have about 3 hours left.  I know it's cheating and longer than 24 hours, but hey I'm okay with that.

Final Update:  I finished The Secret Year.  Good book! But frustrating too.  Ok I'm out of time.  I only read three books, but hey that's three books I didn't have read before I started ;)  I'd like to say I'll read some more this afternoon, but I have other things I need to get done, and I'd like to spend some time writing.

Thanks for the encouragement!!!

October 21, 2011

Friday is for the Guys: Author Interview: Scott Tracey - Witch Eyes

Friday is For the Guys is the time I step back and focus on books or authors that would be great for guys!  I have no problem finding books for the girls I teach, but it's not always true for the boys I teach.  I want to make sure I'm looking for and highlighting books for both!

Today I got the chance to interview Scott Tracey author of Witch Eyes.  I was excited because not only is it a possible book for guys, but it's writing by a guy! There are not enough guys that write young adult.  Middle grade yes.  YA not some much!

First about Witch Eyes
Braden was born with witch eyes: the ability to see the world as it truly is: a blinding explosion of memories, darkness, and magic. The power enables Braden to see through spells and lies, but at the cost of horrible pain.

After a terrifying vision reveals imminent danger for the uncle who raised and instructed him, Braden retreats to Belle Dam, an old city divided by two feuding witch dynasties. As rival family heads Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe desperately try to use Braden's powers to unlock Belle Dam's secrets, Braden vows never to become their sacrificial pawn. But everything changes when Braden learns that Jason is his father--and Trey, the enigmatic guy he's falling for, is Catherine's son.

To stop an insidious dark magic from consuming the town, Braden must master his gift—and risk losing the one he loves.

Now for the interview! Welcome to The O.W.L. Scott Tracey!

For Witch Eyes - what part/character/event are you most excited/proud about?One of my favorite parts of Witch Eyes is the visions themselves. Whenever Braden takes off his sunglasses, he sees the world as it truly is, full of memories and pain, magic and darkness. In describing what he sees, and how it all floods together, I ended up writing something that was very "stream of consciousness." One thought bleeds into the next. Example:

"Lavender air wafted down the path he shouldn’t have taken if he knew what’s good for him leaving me for that dark angry sun red hate working here everyone’s so rude with their cowboy hats and expensive jade ambivalence like anything really makes a difference anyway, you’re never getting out of the darkness."

Those are my favorite parts of the book. I'm incredibly proud of how they all turned out.

Tell about your writing process. How long did it take you to Witch Eyes from idea to finish? Please tell about revision is you can!The idea for Witch Eyes came in several parts. I knew I wanted to do something with a Romeo and Juliet in a small town situation. The actual 'power' that became Braden's curse of witch eyes, was something I randomly wondered about - if you were allergic to sunlight, and this was something that was supernatural, where would it have come from? The rest came from there.

From start to finish, it took about five months (September through January). I had several stops and starts, though, when I realized that something wasn't working. Originally when I started, the book was in third person. I got to about 60K words and it felt like something was off, so I went back and changed the first chapter to first person, just to see what the difference would look like. My critique partner looked at those five pages, and said "this is it, do this." Over the course of switching from third to first person, I ended up cutting about 25K words from the second half of the book, and going in a different direction altogether.

I did several rounds of revisions with different critique partners (doing some revisions, sending the new version to someone else, then repeating the process). Revising is hard, because you don't necessarily want to change EVERYTHING that someone points out (because sometimes, two different critique partners have opposite opinions about something), but you definitely want to consider all the points brought up, and then decide what YOU want to do.

Is the story and/or characters based on anything/anyone in your real life?Alas, I didn't spend any of my formative years growing up in a creepy, supernatural city filled with witches, so the story is definitely a work of fiction. There are parts of characters that are based on people I know, but only in the loosest sense. Riley, one of Braden's friends that he meets in Belle Dam, is very energetic and excitable and has a smidge of one of my own high school friends in her. Braden is sarcastic, just like I am, but he's a bit wittier about it (the joys of having several drafts to hone the perfect insult). Some of the family issues are based on things I've seen or knew about, and one of the parks that the kids run through is modeled after the park near my house growing up. But all little things.

THIS ONE IS FOR THE GUYS FOCUSED: You are a male YA writer. Tell a little what it's like to be a "minority" in the field and why you chose to write YA. When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by YA novels. Christopher Pike, Lois Duncan, R.L. Stine, I read everything they wrote, sometimes several times over. The stories were fun, the adventures were fascinating, and it seemed so glamorous. Which is probably why I wanted to write YA. It's also because there are so many different stories that can be told, because being a teenager means you've got so much stuff going on already.

It's weird, because I never actually ever think of myself as being some sort of "minority" in the YA field. I look at it as being one of a large number of authors. Many of them happen to be women, sure, but I don't think that makes either one of us any lesser. Men dominate LOTS of different genres of fiction, so to me this is a non-issue. But people ask me all the time about being a minority, so I guess I must be, haha.

I think it's been more of a minority to have a male-narrated novel up until recently. When I was looking for an agent for WITCH EYES (and later looking for an editor), many people said that books with a male protagonist wouldn't sell, or won't be read as much. So it was a risk for me to tell Braden's story the way I did, but it was the story I wanted to tell, so I kept to it.

FOR THE GUYS: I find getting boys to read as they get old is harder than getting the girls to read. What do you, as an author, think can help motivate boys and how does that come into your writing.
I think, on the one hand, it's about showing boys the books that will appeal to them. And that's going to depend on the boy, with no one "boy book" fitting all. It's about knowing that there are books out there ALREADY, and pairing the right book with the right boy. Some books might like the sports oriented books of Chris Crutcher, and some might like Holly Black's Curse Workers series.

I think marketing plays a big part in it. Books with iconic covers are more likely to be picked up by boys than covers that are clearly geared towards the female demographic. Look at The Hunger Games series - they have iconic covers and are equally loved by boys and girls. If the cover was Katniss and Peeta kissing, I don't think the same could be said. I definitely think that paranormal romance as a sub genre is skewed towards the females, which is why I say I write urban fantasy. (And don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with paranormal romance, but it's just not my cup of tea most of the time). Romances happen in my books, but they're only one element of a much larger story.

And I think ereaders are going to help a lot with this. Boys will be free to read what they want, without fear of being judged for a book's cover, when they're reading it on their ereader.

And because it's the owl my standard question always is: WHOOO do you admire when it comes to writing? Whoooo are your favorite authors now and when you were growing up?When I was growing up, I read a lot of Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine and L.J. Smith, all of whom were big influences on my writing in one way or another. My current favorites are probably Cassie Clare, Holly Black, Laini Taylor, and Stephanie Perkins. Each of them does something so different - Holly Black's Curse Workers series is one of my favorites because it takes two concepts: magic, and the mob, and makes a story that is totally magic, and totally mob at the same time. It's also got a male narrator, and I think is the perfect kind of 'boy book.'

The Mortal Instruments is one of my all-time favorite series (although I think the Infernal Devices might be taking the lead soon), and Cassie herself is so generous with her time and her fans. Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone is FANTASTIC, and one of my favorite books of the year. She has such a grasp of language that I sit back in awe when reading her books. And Stephanie Perkins writes the kind of stories that slip right under my jaded exterior and tug at my heartstrings.

Thank you so much Scott for joining us at The O.W.L. today and thank you for sharing your story and thought!!!!

AND! Scott just got some great news about Witch Eyes!  He now has a book deal to tell more of the story.  CONGRATS Scott!
Check out his post on the deal.

Go check out the book!  If you want to know about Scott, check out his website at:

October 20, 2011

So I'm Gonna Try Again: Dewey's Read-a-Thon

It seems like every time I commit to doing a read-a-thon something happens, and I don't get to read.  But I'm going to try once more!  Dewey's Read-a-Thon is set to start this Saturday, and I'll be participating.

Here's what I plan to read:

We Are Not Eaten by Yaks

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Tempted (House of the Night # 6)


The Pledge (from galley grab!)

Wish me luck and keep your fingers crossed that I: 
don't get a migraine 
don't get sick 
one of my kids don't get sick
don't break a limb
fall asleep :) 

Remember When - Book Review: Both Sides of Time

Remember When posts are when a take a look back at a book that came out awhile ago.  Yes we all want to hear about the latest and greatest, but sometimes it's good to step back and remember when some older books.

Today I have a book review!

Title: Both Sides of Time
Author: Caroline B. Cooney
Publisher: Laurel Leaf

Imagine changing centuries--and making things worse, not better, on both sides of time. 
Imagine being involved in two love triangles in two different centuries. What if, no matter which direction you travel in time, you must abandon someone you love? 
Meet 15-year-old Annie Lockwood, a romantic living in the wrong century. When she travels back a hundred years and lands in 1895--a time when privileged young ladies wear magnificent gowns, attend elegant parties, and are courted by handsome gentlemen--Annie at last finds romance. But she is a trespasser in time. Will she choose to stay in the past? Will she be allowed to?
My Review

I first read this book when I was much younger, and I remember soooooo loving it.  Rereading books is something I enjoy when I have the time.  And since I often thought my 7th grade girls would enjoy the book - from what I could remember about it - I thought I'd reread it and make sure.

Did I like it at my current age as much as I did before?  No I didn't.  But does that mean it's not a good book? NO!  I still think my girls would enjoy the book because it has what some of them enjoy - romance, time travel, some suspense and um pretty clothes (don't kick me for that one!).  I remember loving how Annie traveled back in time to an era where all she knew revolved around the pretty clothes they got to wear.  And I remember learning along with Annie that in a way those clothes were chains keeping the girls down.  It was still clear that part of the purpose for this book was to point out to the reader that in history women were not given the rights they have now, and we need to know that.  I picked up on that then, and it clubbed me over the head this time.  I did find that lesson a bit heavy handed this time around, but I think that's because I'm older.

The other part that made me giggle was the romance.  I remember thinking that romance was just perfect in the book, and I think at 12 I would still think that.  But you know how we complain now that girls fall in love so quickly in some books - without really knowing the boy at all.  That's not a product of this time.  Annie falls in love with Strat instantly!  And it's not just a little bit in love - it's a deep love that she sees as forever!  I found myself rolling my eyes a bit at it.

Over all it was a nice walk through memory lane, and I will recommend the book (and series) to my students.  It does fit with the more current books they read now - especially since time travel is getting big in YA/MG again.

For the Guys?  Oh no! Sorry but unless they like romance books, they won't like this one.

Final Thought: Sweet romance albeit to quick
Best stick-with-you image: Annie realize the pretty dress aren't that fun to wear
Best for readers who: Love romance
Best for ages: 11+

October 19, 2011

Blog Tour Review: Reasons to Be Happy

Title: Reasons to Be Happy
Author: Katrina Kittle


Let’s see, you could be a plain Jane daughter of two gorgeous famous people; move to a new school; have no real friends; your mom could get sick; and, oh yeah, you could have the most embarrassing secret in the world. Yep, that about does it.

Hannah is an eighth grader trying her hardest to cling to what she knows and loves while her world shatters around her.  Her parents are glamorous Hollywood royalty, and sometimes she feels like the ugly duckling in a family of swans. Faced with her mother’s death and her father’s withdrawal into grief, Hannah turns to the one thing she can control: her weight.
Hannah’s self-destructive secret takes over her life, but the new Beverly Hills clique she's befriended at school only reinforces her desire to be beautiful, and not even the quirky misfit Jasper—the only one who seems to notice or care—can help. It will take a journey unlike any other to remind Hannah of who she really is, and to begin to get that girl back.  Reasons to Be Happy is about standing up for all the things you love—including yourself.

My Review
I liked this book I really did.  I liked that it tackled a really tough topic - bulimia and how girls buy into the idea of having to be thin, perfect and wear the right clothes.  It's a topic that needs to be covered because it's out there.  I see it every day - not bulimia, but that struggle of wanting to fit it but yet be yourself.  I teach 12 year olds, and it's right there everyday in front of my face.  And then it comes home with me in the form of my 12 year old daughter.  

Here's what I liked:  I liked Hannah.  I felt for her.  My heart when out to her over and over. I just wanted to hug her and tell her that she was perfect just the way she was.  I just wanted to keep her there until she understood and believed that.  I really think that if it hadn't been for how much I liked Hannah and wanted to see her come out of this - I would not have liked the book.  I talk to my students about bringing a character to life and making them someone the reader cares about.  Katrina Kittle did that with Hannah for me.  She because a real girl that I could see in my classroom.

I had a hard time with Hannah's dad.  He angered me! Here he had a drinking problem, was acknowledging it but couldn't see that Hannah's problem was just like his.  I know that he was dealing with the loss of his wife, but boy did I just want to shake him.  

And what I really liked was watching all the characters in the story - the main character of Hannah but other characters as well - grow and change and become closer to who they should be.  What a strong model for girls reading this book to see.  Maybe if they see how Hannah grew, they'll see how they can grow and be ok with who and how they are.  

One issue I had with the book - At the start Katrina Kittle has an introduction that talks about why she wrote the book.  She wanted to help girls not give up who they were and become part of the crowd.  I loved that idea.  The issue I had was how this was carried out.  Hannah - in one day - gave up who she was.  Her first day of school a girl helped her find her way, and that one girl, in one day, changed Hannah.  I had a hard time with that.  It just seemed too sudden.  Then Hannah went to Africa as a way to get away from what was happening at home and try to over come her bulimia.  It was great for Hannah, but this isn't realistic for the everyday girl.  I would've liked to see Hannah become stronger in a place most girls would find themselves.  That wouldn't be Africa.  That disappointed me some because I worry that some girls won't be able to see how Hannah's story can be theirs simple because of where she went.  The story was still great, but I do worry that about that.  

For the Guys?  No. It's about girls dealing with very big girl issues.

Final thought:  Great book that shows a strong girl becoming stronger.  I just worry that some girls won't connect that dots.
Best stick-with-you image:  The goat in her room!
Best for readers who: Can handle a tough topic
Best for ages: 12+

Guest Post: Katrina Kittle of Reasons to Be Happy

Today I'm very excited to welcome Katrina Kittle to The O.W.L. author of Reasons to Be Happy - a book that looks at what happens when middle school girls lose who they are.  This is of course a topic very close to my heart. Katrina taught middle and high school English for 11 years and I like that because it shows she knows this age group!

Before the guest post you need to know a little about the book.  I will be reviewing it later today!


Let’s see, you could be a plain Jane daughter of two gorgeous famous people; move to a new school; have no real friends; your mom could get sick; and, oh yeah, you could have the most embarrassing secret in the world. Yep, that about does it.

Hannah is an eighth grader trying her hardest to cling to what she knows and loves while her world shatters around her.  Her parents are glamorous Hollywood royalty, and sometimes she feels like the ugly duckling in a family of swans. Faced with her mother’s death and her father’s withdrawal into grief, Hannah turns to the one thing she can control: her weight.
Hannah’s self-destructive secret takes over her life, but the new Beverly Hills clique she's befriended at school only reinforces her desire to be beautiful, and not even the quirky misfit Jasper—the only one who seems to notice or care—can help. It will take a journey unlike any other to remind Hannah of who she really is, and to begin to get that girl back.  Reasons to Be Happy is about standing up for all the things you love—including yourself.

Welcome Katrina! 
I'm so glad you are visiting The O.W.L. and sharing what you were like in middle school including what you read and how much you wrote.  
Since this book is about a middle school girl, I'm interested to hear if any of it influenced the story!

     In Reasons to Be Happy, Hannah is in eighth grade. When I think of myself in eighth grade, I shudder a little—mostly at my horrible fashion sense! I had giant geeky glasses, and Farrah Fawcett feathered hair…and I was especially fond of these mustard-gold Converse sneakers I wore with everything. What was that about?

     I was a good student, especially in English, art, and any of the social studies. I loved to be creative, and I loved to read. As a matter of fact, the reason I was a “good” student instead of “great” is that I was often reading novels in class instead of paying attention. Usually I didn't mean to ignore the teacher, but if I finished, say, a worksheet, and started reading while we waited for everyone to finish, I'd just get sucked into the story and become oblivious to everything else around me! I remember (oh so many times) hearing my name spoken sharply and looking up from my book to see the teacher and the entire class staring at me. Oops…I did it again.

     I especially loved to read mysteries then. I had devoured every single Nancy Drew book when I was younger, so had graduated to other detectives. I was a geek for Sherlock Holmes (and so I've been giddy about all the remakes and “rediscovery” of this great detective in recent years) and read every book and short story Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote about this eccentric, brilliant character (I became somewhat of a Sherlock Holmes expert. I swear, I could win a trivia show about this guy and his cases if such a thing existed). I was also a big horse lover, so was thrilled to discover the writer Dick Francis, a former horse jockey, who wrote a series of fantastic mysteries that all centered around the horse racing world. Another obsession of mine at the time was all things British (I loved books about the royal family and would sometimes obnoxiously talk in a British accent, fooling no one...but theatre was another of my big loves), so I also loved the author Martha Grimes who set all her mysteries in England, with the names of her books all being names of British pubs.

     I'm still a lover of vampires, zombies, and all things creepy. I adore a good ghost story, or a story that makes you unable to sleep! (I know, I know, that's kind of sick, but it's true for me. I love to get myself all worked up and scared, knowing deep down it's not “real,” and that started way back then). When we read Edgar Allen Poe in English class, I couldn't have been happier, and when I discovered the short stories and novels of Stephen King, I was in seventh heaven! I read King's Salem's Lot and became fascinated by vampires. I wanted to be a vampire, and even took the screen out of my bedroom window (unbeknownst to my poor parents, of course) in hopes that if a vampire showed up floating outside my window (like they did in Salem's Lot), I could invite them inside and get them to turn me into a vampire! Obviously, I hadn't thought this all the way through—I was attracted to the idea of getting to live forever, so I could do all the things I wanted to do (that I could never squeeze into one lifetime). I was failing to consider the whole drinking-blood-only-going-out-at-night-losing-everyone-I-loved thing...  Anyway, I'm not going to spoil anything here, but there's a story Hannah's mother tells in Reasons to Be Happy about wanting to be a vampire that is pretty much how it went down in my real life! (Like I said, my poor parents...)

     My days then were full of ballet (I was a fairly serious ballet student who ended up too tall for the “classical ballet profile” and I'd just like to add here that perhaps those Converse were because my feet always hurt from my pointe shoes? I'd like to believe there was a reason for leaving the house looking like that!), horses (I took lessons and worked weekends and summers at the magical Rocky Point Farm), basketball (hey, I made that height work for something), and track. I also read lots and lots of nonfiction, especially biographies, about famous ballerinas, horse jockeys (had a huge crush on the jockey Steve Cauthen, the youngest jockey to ever win the Kentucky Derby, complete with a poster in my bedroom), and Olympic Equestrian team riders.

     I remember I was very fond of theme parties, and for about three years in a row created an incredible (if I do say so myself) haunted house in my basement for Halloween parties. I freaked everyone out during a “seance” by having one of my sister's friends make an appearance in glow-in-the-dark makeup. One of my friends (who I will not name here) peed her pants!

      I kept journals and wrote a lot of lists—lists of books I'd read, with an elaborate scoring system, lists of movies I'd seen (movies remain a love of mine today), lists of places I wanted to travel to, lists of things I wanted to do in my life (when that list topped 100, you understand why I briefly thought vampirism might be a solution!). I wrote a lot of bad poetry and loved when we were assigned creative writing prompts in English class. Of course all of my stories went way over the length requirement. Fellow students even teased me: “Let me guess. Yours is about horses, right?”). My beloved English teacher, Ms. Andes would joke, “Maybe Katrina will surprise us this time with a topic we'd never expect.” Sadly, I never did surprise them then…but hopefully I am now.
Thank you Katrina! I will be sharing this with my students because they always want to know what authors were like at their age!

To learn more about Katrina and the book check out the links below:

Twitter:  @katrinakittle
http://katrinakittle.blogspot.com/  (Reasons to Be Happy Blog, lists a reason to be happy everyday)

There's a hash-tag—#reasonstobehappy—for your tweeting purposes. :-)

October 18, 2011

Tween Tuesday: Cosmic

Tween Tuesday was started over at GreenBeanTeenQueen.  Each Tuesday I highlight or review a book that is great for ages 9-12 or what is also known at the Tween Set.

Today I'm highlighting:

 Frank Cottrell Boyce

Why I think it sounds good:
The other day I asked my students what I could do in my life that they couldn't.  The first thing every hour said was drive! They also said earn money, have other adults listen to me, and go places without having to ask permission and for a ride.  

Well in this book the main character appears to be much older than he is.  He looks like an adult, and he gets to do some of the things tween wish they could do.  I think they'd completely relate to some of the things he does, because they'd do them too if they looked like him!  What kid wouldn't???  Beyond that idea - it just looks like a fun book.

Liam has always felt a bit like he's stuck between two worlds. This is primarily because he's a twelve-year-old kid who looks like he's about thirty. Sometimes it's not so bad, like when his new principal mistakes him for a teacher on the first day of school or when he convinces a car dealer to let him take a Porsche out on a test drive. But mostly it's just frustrating, being a kid trapped in an adult world. And so he decides to flip things around. Liam cons his way onto the first spaceship to take civilians into space, a special flight for a group of kids and an adult chaperone, and he is going as the adult chaperone. It's not long before Liam, along with his friends, is stuck between two worlds again only this time he's 239,000 miles from home.
Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of Millions and Framed, brings us a funny and touching story of the many ways in which grown-upness is truly wasted on grown-ups.

October 17, 2011

Cover Crush: Life is But a Dream

I love book covers.  Love, love, LOVE them.  I've been known to drag my sister across Barnes and Noble just to show her a book cover.  Or to find students before school starts just to do the same.  You could say that yes, I develop a cover crush!

This week I'm crushing on:

Life is But a Dream by Brian James

At first when you look at it you see just the general pretty colors, the blue sky and the leaves gently falling down the cover. It seems sweet and nice. BUT then you get to the girl.  She's almost scary looking! Such a contrast of her next to all the rest of the cover.  And then when I really look it seems like she's laying on a dry lake bed or something.  Why does she look like that?  What is it mixed with the "prettiness" of the rest of the cover?  Great great cover!

October 15, 2011

IMM The Book Order Edition! and Some Winners

In My Mailbox is a fun feature that shares what books I got this week in my mailbox, from the story or from the library. This week I'm got Scholastic book orders in.  

Wanna see MY haul??? 

Here's the books I got! Well with a few others from Paperback Swap and Won!

I won't list them all but some of the ones I'm excited for are:

This Dark Endeavor
The Eleventh Plague
A Tale Dark and Grimm
If I Stay
Dirty Little Secret

And not pictured:

Forever (Shiver #3)
Darth Paper Strikes Back
The Medusa Plot
Beautiful Darkness
To Die For

A Few Winners 

With a Name Like Love


My Life Undecided

Jamie L

Thanks all for entering!

October 14, 2011

For the Guys: Guest Post: Comic Book as a Gateway to Reading +Giveaway

On Fridays I like step back and make sure that I am addressing boy readers.  It's so easy to review and highlight books for girls, but I also teach boys, so I need to make sure to find books for them! 
Today I have guest post about comics being a great way to get boys reading. AND a giveaway too!

Visiting today is Kai from Fiction State of Mind.  Welcome Kai to The O.W.L.

Comics as a Gateway to Reading.
Comic Books have always been a part of my reading experience. My Father and I had a weekly Sunday tradition of visiting our local pharmacy and its spinning comic’s racks.

I was an avid reader already but comics offered a different experience. Bright colors, Superheroes and some of my favorite cartoon characters visually come to life. 

Boys naturally seem to be drawn to comics, even if they lack consistent reading skills in school or at home. Comic Books however have gotten a pretty bad reputation among some adults and teachers. I however feel that if parents are actively involved comics can be a great way to stimulate young readers. Here are some tips: 

1) Find a local comic shop in your community. It may take a few tries but find a shop that's well lit, and has a decent selection. Comics have really adapted into a market that caters to teens and adults so it's important to find a kid friendly environment. The advantage of a shop is the staff will be able to recommend kid friendly books.

2) Read with your children I took to books like a duck to water as a child. The foundation of that was my parents’ reading to me at bedtime. If your child gets 2 or 3 comics sit and read one with them, start a dialogue about the themes or the art.

3) Make it a Ritual
New comics come out every Wednesday. If you schedule doesn't allow a weekly visit pick one weekend a month and go as a family. Finding time together as a family is a challenge to a lot of families. Picking a day in advance and sticking to it is a great way to spend time together and encouraging reading. 

Hope you give this tips a try! Let me know how it turns out. 

Thanks so much Kai for that great post.  I know with my son, I have found comic books a great way to get him reading!

Today Kai has a great prize pack to get you started: 
Up for grabs:

A yen press Manga Sampler 

Baby Mouse 

Monster Mash G RIP Graphic Novel

To enter:
Fill out THIS FORM
Must be at least 13
Must be a US resident
Ends Oct 21