Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

I’ve read this before but this time listened to the audiobook. We started it as a family but ended with just me and Tabby listening as the boys didn’t like it that much. I enjoyed that this was read by Jack Gantos himself. I think that overall it’s a terrific story, but does take a bit of time to get into. The ending is certainly more exciting than the beginning, but a lot of that might have been the downside of listening to an audiobook–you only go as fast as the person reads. No skimming or racing to get to a good part!

I still think the bizarre history of the town is fascinating and loved the details about the old woman’s hands and “cooking” them and all the people dying.

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Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

I was very excited to read this because I thought Fish in a Tree was very good and this seemed like it would be equally good, i.e. great to recommend to my students.  And yes, it was good, though it suffered through no fault of its own from me starting to read it and then stopping to read several other books and then finally just quickly finishing it the other day. So I didn’t really give it the reading it deserved, though on the other hand perhaps it wasn’t compelling enough for me to feel the need to finish it right away??

Some things I liked: this is set on Cape Cod and the main character is a year round local, i.e. not rich. She has a summer friend and this year things are different. Her friend has changed, made a new friend, and it has not worked out well. She’s downright mean, leaving our character (whose name I forgot already) sad, out of sorts, etc. On top of that she lives with her grandma because her mom was a drug addict who left her. So there’s a bit of a misfit cast in the street where she lives. There’s a new boy who also has parental abandonment.

I liked all those things, but never felt like there was one big story pulling me through the book. The friendship and family themes were strong, though, and I liked those.

The Orphan and the Mouse by Martha Freeman

What a delightful story hidden away on our shelves! The other night, needing something to read for just 20 minutes in the bath, I turned to Tabby’s bookshelves, where I easily found ever so many books I wanted to read. But, rather than dipping into familiar old Gone Away Lake, I thought I’d give this book a try. My friend had given it to her a few years ago and we hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Well-I ended up in the bath for so long because I couldn’t put this down! It reminded me of A Little Princess (orphanage), Stuart Little (directly and frequently referenced), The Borrowers (tiny creatures in walls) and all kinds of wonderful children’s stories. Stealing and selling babies is a pretty intense plot point, but there you have it. Other dark elements, such as death by cat, are also not shied away from. Carolyn is an orphan and something is going on at her orphanage. Meanwhile in the mouse colony behind the walls there are political machinations and a fascinating art theft scene.

A brisk pace and short chapters keep this moving along quite quickly and I really enjoyed the storytelling. Would be a wonderful read aloud for a family or class.

The Strangers (Greystone Secrets #1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Oh my goodness this was so good and fast and readable-I basically read it in a day! The funny thing is, I think when I got this I thought I was getting another book that I keep forgetting the title of and it has a similar cover. This cover does NOT go with the usual Haddix type books and while it had a slightly different style than her usual clone alien strange etc.mystery type books, it had all of her fast paced readability.

Three children find out that three other children with the same exact names and birthdays have gone missing and their mom “suddenly” has to go on a trip. Bizarre clues appear pretty quickly and the kids know something is going on. I loved how they dove into it and also accept the possibility of alternate worlds. I look forward to the next book and finding out more about it! (and yes, I’m ok with this being a series because this book alone was very satisfying and because I want to know more about the alternate world.)

My Life as a Meme by Janet Tashjian

Ms. Tashjian was the author visit at school this year and I was pretty excited to get her. I loved The Gospel According to Larry way back when it came out and I was a YA library. Well now she’s a popular author of the My Life as a series and that’s what we focused on at school (and Sticker Girl.) My Life as a Meme had just come out so although it wasn’t widely read at school I was able to pick up a copy at the bookstore and read it a few days before she came.  I haven’t read all of them so I can’t say if it was the best in the series, but I really, really liked it. I think what I most liked I don’t know if kids would most like–Derek finds himself in a digital citizenship predicament just like I teach my students about and I loved that. And even more that he recognized that and thought about what he’d learned. One can only hope real life would play out like that. But other than that, I thought it was a solid story. I liked the aspect of the Malibu wildfires and putting a story to that. Here on the east coast that something that we just see in headlines and it’s hard to really comprehend. Derek is a funny likable character and I especially liked the relationships he has in his family.  A good read I would recommend to my students.

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid by Jeff Kinney

Obviously all the kids at school were super excited for this release and I figured I could quickly read it before putting it on the shelf. Indeed, I could. Like the Wimpy Kid books it’s a fast read with ample illustrations.  This is the same format and the premise is that Rowley is going to write his own diary and end up writing all about Greg because he’s such a good friend. I doubt anyone is picking this up who hasn’t read the Wimpy Kid books so everyone knows going in that Rowley is Greg’s friend that Greg is pretty much a jerk to. And although I like the Wimpy Kid books and have found several of them hilarious, I’ve always thought that Greg is not someone you’d want to be friends with.So here’s my big takeaway for this book–Greg is even worse than I’d thought before and I ended up just really disliking him and not even finding it funny because he’s so awful to Rowley and Rowley? Is anyone possibly that dumb? I think it was the scene where he’s “trapped” in a room with Greg and has to go to the bathroom. What kind of person doesn’t just say “oh shut it, Greg, I’m going to the bathroom.” So I was torn between pitying Rowley for being such a gullible dope who might be very stupid and being annoyed with him.

The Portal (Tangled in Time) by Kathryn Lasky

I was pretty bummed to get to the end of this and realize that it’s but the first in a series and everything was not resolved.  There are a lot of threads in this story, sometimes successfully woven together, other times less so. Rose is recently orphaned and lives with her grandmother, who she doesn’t really know. Girls at her school have taken bullying to extreme levels and everything stinks. An aspect of Rose that I liked was her interest in fashion. Her grandmother seems to have some dementia but is mostly lucid when they work together in her elaborate greenhouse. And that’s where the time slippage happens, sending rose back to the 1500s where she starts work for Princess Elizabeth. I loved Rose’s 21st century perspective on the behaviors and customs of the 16th century (especially her outrage over dwarfs as entertainment and clothing laws.)

There’s a mysterious locket, a mystery about her father, and of course the terrible history of Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and King Henry killing his wives.

Decent time travel fiction, but again I wish it wasn’t a series.