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December 19, 2010

Catching Fire

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Catching Fire (Hunger Games Series #2) by Suzanne Collins: Book Cover

Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins


Page Length: 391


Reading Level: 5.4


Genre: Fiction


Career Connection: Coal miner, political leader


PLOT SUMMARY: In this sequel to The Hunger Games, Katniss is at home but not able to enjoy her life in Victory Village because of the rumors of uprisings against the Capitol. She lives under the pretense that she loves Peeta, but she longs for her days in the meadow with Gale. Gale is working in the coal mines now, so she spends her days alone, hunting for food for Gale’s family. Her heroic moves at the end of The Hunger Games have made her the target for the president to help stop the rebellious behavior of the people in the neighboring districts.


When it is time to pick the tributes for the annual hunger games, the citizens learn that the rules for the “Quell” have been changed. The tributes can be picked only from previous participants. So, Peeta and Katniss are back in the arena. They face bigger challenges and Katniss discovers her conscious plays a bigger part in survival.


REVIEW: This is a good sequel to the first in the series, but is not as fast paced. More of the action takes place outside of the arena where Katniss must make decisions of personal issues. The book would be enjoyable for both boys and girls as the plot unveils violent and heroic events.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Theme, Cause/Effect, Setting


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None that aren’t age and content appropriate


RELATED BOOKS: The Hunger Games


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Hunger Games (to be released 2011)




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


September 23, 2008

Alex Rider Scorpia

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Alex Rider Scorpia

Author: Anthony Horowitz          

Page Length: 388

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: In the fifth book of the Alex Rider series, Alex is on vacation with his friend, Tom, in Italy.  Alex is trying to find out what “Scorpia” is and what it has to do with his life, as Yassen Gregorovich mentioned to him in his dying words.

Alex learns that his father was a member of Scorpia, the world’s leading terrorist organization, and was a hired assassin as Yassen was.  Mrs. Rothman, the head of Scorpia, invites Alex to become a part of the terrorist organization.  She has proof that Mrs. Jones of M16 shot and killed Alex’s father.  Alex joins the group and has his own personal vendetta to kill Mrs. Jones. 

As Alex attempts to kill Mrs. Jones, he is captured by M16 and learns the truth about Scorpia, his father, Yassen, and Mrs. Rothman.  He is then lured by M16 to help stop Mrs. Rothman’s latest project, Invisible Sword, which is a plan to kill all the middle school students of England, including Alex Rider.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this the most of the Alex Rider books I have read.  It has lots of action with many twists and turns.  It is hard to predict what the outcome will be for not only Scorpia, England, but Alex, too.  The characters are vividly developed and it is easy to form opinions about them and their personalities.

I thought this was the final book of the series, but discovered there are two more that have been published—Ark Angel and Snakehead. 

SUGGESTED TEACHING AREAS:  Leisure reading, Sequence of Events, Drawing Conclusions, Predicting Outcomes, and Making Generalizations, Descriptive Writing and Character

RELATED BOOKS: Point Blank, Stormbreaker, Skeleton Key, Scorpia, Ark Angel, and Snakehead

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006), “Mission Impossible l, ll, and lll”, “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2003), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Alex Rider Eagle Strike

Alex Rider Eagle Strike

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 322

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: In the fourth of the Alex Rider series, Alex begins another spy experience in the South of France where he is vacationing with Sabina Pleasure’s family.  Alex met Sabina in the last book, Skeleton Key, while working undercover at the Wimbledon Tennis Championship.

While relaxing on the beach, he sees Yassen Gregorovich, a hired assassin, who killed his uncle.  After a bomb goes off in the Pleasure’s dwelling, and injures Sabina’s father, Alex believes Yassen is clearly involved, and that he may be the intended target of the bombing.

Thus follows a series of action packed events including:  Alex in the arena fighting a bull, a discovery that Damian Cray, England’s most celebrated entertainer is involved, help denied by M16, nuclear missiles, a life-size video game, and the hijacking of Air Force One.   Alex is determined to stop Damian Cray and Yassen Gregorovich but comes close to losing his and Sabina’s lives.  As the book ends, Yassen Gregorovich is killed but in his last words tells Alex to go to Scorpia and find his destiny. . . 

REVIEW: As in the previous three books of the series, Anthony Horowitz pits Alex Rider in the middle of high-action, life threatening situations.  I like that Sabina has become a part of the series, and Alex is able to have a typical teen romance while in the throws of harm’s way. 

The book is filled with non-stop action.  I especially liked the detail written when Alex is going through the life size version of the video game.  Although there is a lot of background in the previous books, a reader could read and enjoy Eagle Strike without having read the others.

SUGGESTED TEACHING AREAS:  Leisure reading, Sequence of Events, Drawing Conclusions, Predicting Outcomes, and Making Generalizations, and Descriptive Writing

RELATED BOOKS: Point Blank, Stormbreaker, Skeleton Key, Scorpia

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006), “Mission Impossible l, ll, and lll”, “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2003), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Alex Rider Stormbreaker

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Alex Rider Stormbreaker

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 234

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction, Adventure           

PLOT SUMMARY: Alex Rider is a fourteen-year-old orphan who lives with his uncle, Ian Rider, a bank manager (or so Alex thinks).  Alex receives news at 3 o’clock in the morning that his uncle has been killed in a car accident.  The police reported he wasn’t wearing his seat belt.  Alex finds this hard to believe, because the one thing his uncle always insisted on was that Alex always wear his seat belt.

Alex became even more suspicious when five lawyers appeared at his house to go through his uncle’s study. Then, he saw a gun on one of the driver’s of a limo at the funeral, and upon his return from the funeral, all of his uncle’s papers and belongings had been removed from the study.

 Alex decided to do a little investigating on his own. He found the junkyard where his uncle’s car had been taken, but was discovered by employees just before he was almost crushed by the Lefort Shear, a metal smasher.  

From this point, Alex is taken to the “bank” to talk with the men who had appeared as lawyers for his uncle.  Alex learns that his uncle was never a banker but a spy for M16 (the English government’s equivalent to the CIA).  His uncle was killed by a Russian who works for a man developing a super computer to be given to all the students of schools in England.  The computer’s name is the “Stormbreaker”.

Alex next learns that the M16 people want him to follow in his uncles’ tracks and become a teen-age spy.

REVIEW: This is the first in a series of five action, spy novels about Alex Rider.  I found it comparable to adult spy novels I have read by Robert Ludlum as far as action and suspense are concerned.  It is an easy read and I think the most appealing book I have read for teen males, especially those who don’t think they want or like to read.   I would suggest it not for a teaching tool, but exclusively for leisure reading.  Because there are five books in the series, if a non-reader enjoyed the first, he would be set on a trail to read the next four as quickly as possible.  After getting through the series, we would now have a lifelong reader.

SUGGESTED TEACHING AREAS:  Leisure reading, Sequence of Events, Drawing Conclusions, Predicting Outcomes, and Making Generalizations

RELATED BOOKS: Point Blank, Skeleton Key, Eagle Strike, Scorpia

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006), “Mission Impossible l, ll, and lll”, “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2003), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Alex Rider Point Blank

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Alex Rider Point Blank

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 274

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction, Action/Adventure         

PLOT SUMMARY: As Alex Rider returns to school he feels like an outsider.  He longs for another adventure as he just experienced with the M16 of England’s government.  He soon discovers that things are different at school, and attributes that to Skoda, a former student at his school, who is now dealing drugs to his friends.

Alex takes it upon himself to sabotage Skoda’s drug ring, by lifting a barge with a crane and placing it next to the police station.  His plan goes foul, when the crane breaks and the barge lands in the center of the city conference center.  Although Alex does manage to break up the drug ring, he finds himself in jail.

It is Mr. Blunt and Ms. Jones from the M16 who rescue Alex, but only so that he can help them investigate two recent deaths of wealthy Englishmen.  Alex is sent as a spy (he is only 14 years-old) to a very exclusive boarding school for boys who have been in trouble, either with the law, school, or drugs.  The basic thing all of the boys have in common is that their parents are very, very wealthy. 

In recent weeks, two of the former student’s fathers have died.  The M16 want Alex to learn what, if anything, the boarding school might have to do with the deaths.

 REVIEW: This is the second book of the Alex Rider Series and I am “hooked”.  In this book, Alex, demonstrates even more daring spy moves with little defense or aid.  Because of the high action and adventure, it is hard to put the book down. 

It is an easy fast read which will keep the reader turning one page after another.  I would use this series to help those who think they do not like to read develop leisure reading skills.  If students like spy movies such as the Mission Impossible, Jason Bourne, or James Bond series, I think they would like this book.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect/, Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Stormbreaker, Skeleton Key, Eagle Strike, Scorpia

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006), “Mission Impossible l, ll, and lll”, “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2003), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

May 1, 2008

Alex Rider Eagle Strike #4

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Alex Rider Eagle Strike #4

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 322

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Alex Rider, a fourteen year old English young man, is on vacation with his girlfriend, Sabina, and her parents. Suddenly, he notices a man from his past. Driven by his desire for revenge and his instincts, he pursues the man (Yassen Gregorovich) whom he knows is a hired killer. Deciding that he has no business getting involved, Alex heads back to the family house only to discover that a terrible “accident” has taken place.

Before long, Alex becomes entangled in web of deceit and treachery. After being captured, he must fight for his life in a bull ring. M16, the English equivalent of an FBI unit, wants Alex’s help again. Sabina doesn’t believe anything Alex says; and Alex has discovered a secret that no one will believe. A wealthy, influential rock star appears to be involved. With no one to turn to but Jack, his guardian, Alex has no decision but to pursue Damian Cray (wealthy rock star) himself.

His adventures bring him face to face with danger. Realistic video games threaten his survival. Alex will have to rely on all of his training. Can he stop Damian Cray’s play for world domination?  Can he protect the ones he loves and save the world from despair?

A riveting conclusion aboard Air Force One and a confession from Yassen will have the reader yearning to discover even more about Alex Rider.

REVIEW: I really enjoyed reading this book! Horowitz delivers a well developed plot, characters that are easy to connect to, and enough suspense to keep the reader interested. The read is quick and the action excellent. This book would be an excellent classroom read; I think that the students would be keenly interested in the events and that reading it with audio accompaniment would only add to the experience.

A riveting conclusion aboard Air Force One and a confession from Yassen will have the reader yearning to discover even more about Alex Rider. Most kids will want to read another Alex Rider book. He’s James Bond for the teenage generation with more modern technological thrills! Highly recommended!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: summarization, compare and contrast, cause and effect, sequence of events, predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: violence – bombing, kidnapping, threats of bodily injury, death, assassins, lunatic madmen wreaking havoc on the world with no concern for others

RELATED BOOKS: Stormbreaker, Point Blank, Skeleton Key, Scorpia

RELATED MOVIES: Alex Rider Operation Stormbreaker


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 2, 2008

Flight #116 Is Down

Flight #116 is Down

Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Page Length: 201

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Realistic Fiction

REVIEW: This story is one of those that you should not read while on a plane or prior to boarding one. It is, however, a book I would recommend you pick up! In Flight #116 is Down, a tragic airplane crash (of which we never find out the cause) brings a small town together for the rescue.  

PLOT SUMMARY: This book is also about the lives of many of the passengers who board this doomed aircraft. Some die and some live. However, this is not where the interest lies. It is the background of these people and their loved ones that the heart of this story is revealed. There is major action (especially when the crash occurs on page 44), yet there are human elements of courage, selfishness, anger, sadness, and fear. Each character has a story to tell. Daniel and Tucker are dealing with their father’s impending marriage to a new wife. Teddie is a small child on her way home to mom and dad. Carly is a twin who is traveling to re-unite with her family after falling into a life of drugs and parties. Darienne is self-centered and refuses to help out the survivors of the crash. She is my favorite character for her colorful personality. Her sarcasm is a horrible character trait, but she is an interesting individual. Darienne is more worried about her looks, getting a connecting flight, and suing the airline than the safety and welfare of those dying around her. Pages 19-22 and page 87 provide some great insight and examples of Darienne’s character.  

Apart from the passengers on the plane, the two main characters are Heidi Landseth and Patrick Farquhar. These two teenagers live in the small community of Nearing River where all emergencies are handled by volunteers. It is in this town, in the backyard of Heidi’s estate, in which the crash occurs. Patrick naturally rises to the occasion, as an EMT, helping out the victims of the crash. Heidi on the other hand, grows from a girl who does not stand out in a crowd, to one that takes some great initiative. She surprises herself by orchestrating many of the rescue maneuvers.  

Besides the revelation that many of the passengers on the plane die, this book ends with Patrick and Heidi growing close (in the heat of emergency) and Tucker reconciling his ill feelings toward his father’s impending marriage.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book would be a great tool to expose students to the skills of characterization, internal dialogue, setting, and visualization. Some pages you should check out are 98-99, 147, and 166-167.  

MOVIE/RELATED BOOK CONNECTION: Students may make real-life connections to this book with the events of 9-11 in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. and the movies the various movies that followed. Another movie/book connection would be Lord of the Flies  

RELATED WEBSITES: (short quiz) (awesome powerpoint) 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

March 15, 2008

Among the Betrayed

Among the Betrayed

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Page Length: 156

Reading Level: 5/6

Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery, Suspense


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: State Rights! Women Rights! Civil Rights! Well…now there is an idea called Third-Child Rights and only in the world of fiction (for now) in a book titled, Among the Betrayed (book three in a series). In this futuristic story, the government has established a policy in which parents may only have two children due to the shortage of food after recent draughts and famine.


Nina Idi, whose real name is Elodie Luria, is an illegal third-child (shadow child) who has been in hiding from the Population Police all her young life. After she falls for a boy named Jason she unknowingly becomes involved in his profitable plan to expose “exnays” – illegal shadow children trying to pass themselves off as legitimate citizens. However, the Population Police discover that Jason is turning in citizens that are legitimate! Subsequently, they arrest Jason and all those involved – including Nina.


The book begins its plot twist after the arrest. Working for the Population Police in the prison where Nina is held is a double agent. The double agents mission is to discover whether or not Nina was knowingly involved in Jason’s plan. A trio of street smart children – Percy, Matthias, and Alia are placed in the prison to aid this double agents plan. An action-packed adventure then begins when Nina escapes with the other three children to hide out in the woods. Percy, Matthias, and Alia go through a series of tests to confirm Nina’s loyalty to them (as they are illegal shadow children themselves). 


It is at this point in the book, on pages 142-145 that many of the questions in the book are revealed to Nina. Betrayal is a major problem in their world, and this is why secret plans and tests are in place to ensure the safety and protection of many of the illegal shadow children. Among the Betrayed describes a world in which illegal shadow children and their supporters are at odds with the government and the Population Police. Major political figures are in power, secret meetings are held, and public rallies occur in a hopeful effort to establish equality for all.


As the book comes to a close, it gives the reader a hint that the story is not over. Jason is working with a faction of the Population Police, in which the Nina’s friends and colleagues do not support. There is a sequel to this book, Among the Barons.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Students may identify periods in history that contain similar themes of change and equality as reflected in this book. Page 55 gives the reader a great description of prison conditions during this time.


MOVIE, BOOK, & HISTORICAL CONNECTIONS: I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of the movie, Gattaca, and the book, The Last Book in the Universe. The idea of population control is really not a new concept – Ancient Greece practiced forms of it while current Chinese policy discourages families from having more than one child. One can only hope that the extreme actions that have occurred in this story, do not happen in our future lives.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


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