The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

The Rag and Bone Shop

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The Rag and Bone Shop

Author: Robert Cormier

Page Length: 154   

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In Part 1, Detective Trent of Vermont, has just been successful in obtaining two confessions for two separate murder cases.  However, he has lost his wife in a fatal car accident and must return home alone.  Since his wife died, he has experienced bouts of loneliness and depression.

As Part 2 begins, Jason Dorrant is enjoying the luxury of sleeping late on the first day of summer.  He decides to go over to Brad’s house for a swim or maybe just to help Brad’s younger sister, Alicia put a jigsaw puzzle together.  He actually likes Alicia better than Brad and has helped her with puzzles before, although she is the master at assembling the puzzles.

Tragedy hits as Jason learns the following day that Alicia was found not only dead, but murdered and left in the woods.  Jason is believed to be the last one to see Alicia alive and is questioned by the police about what he remembers.  Under pressure from a U. S. senator, whose granddaughter knew Alicia, Lieutenant Braxton seeks the services of Trent from Vermont to help solve the case.  With no substantial evidence, Jason appears to be the prime suspect.

As Trent sets up his interrogation, he reviews the scenario and deposition Jason has already submitted.  It doesn’t seem likely that Jason is the killer, but Trent is a specialist at getting confessions and he feels confident as he enters the small room which has been set up to make Jason feel intimidated by his size, position and voice.  Jason believes he is being interviewed only for additional help to the police’s investigation.   As the interrogation proceeds, Jason begins to feel inadequate in his answers, then threatened by Trent’s questions.  Both Trent and Jason believe they know the truth, but as both feel pressure, neither seems to know what the real truth is.

REVIEW: This is a fast-paced suspenseful book which creates tension within the reader from the first pages of the book.  As the plot develops, the reader will try to determine the outcome.  The characters of both Jason and Trent are well-developed and the chemistry and tension between them in their interview is realistic.

At the end of the book, a reader’s guide is included as well as an interview with the author.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Conflict, Theme, Conclusions, Predictions and Outcomes, Voice, Mood, Tone

RELATED BOOKS: Frenchtown Summer, Heroes

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.litplans.com/authors/Robert_Cormier.htm

www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Rag-and-BoneShop-by-Robert-Cormier-2-week-unit-plan

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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August 30, 2009

Juice

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Juice

Author: Eric Walters

Page Length: 101

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Michael “The Moose” is a rising star on his football team. After winning the Division 2 championship game, Michael is ecstatic. However his joy is overshadowed by the fact that his coach, Coach Reeves, has decided to retire. Reeve’s replacement is a hot-shot, smooth-talker named Coach Barnes. Coach Barnes has new plans for his team and high aspirations at success at the Division 1 level.

In a matter of months, the school’s football facilities are totally renovated and the boys are placed under personal fitness guidance from a trainer named Tony. However, Tony not only provides the boys suggestions on how to improve their workouts on the new equipment, he persuades many of them to begin taking steroids.

Michael eventually begins to notice the effects of his steroids use (ie. acne, mood-swings, violence at home). The steroid usage at the school comes to a peak when Coach Reeves suddenly appears to explain that Coach Barnes and Tony have been taken into custody for their role in steroid usage/sales. Coach Reeves re-assumes the role of head coach and begins to repair the physical and emotional damage of his football team. Michael regrets his involvement in the steroid usage, while Coach Reeves expresses his faith that Michael will get beyond this dark chapter in his life.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book. The comparisons between Coach Reeves and Coach Barnes are quite evident. The subject matter of steroids may be a little much for some, however there are several real world examples of sports players engaging in such illegal activity both at the professional level and amateur level. One such sport, Major League Baseball, has been in the news on countless occasions.  

I have found that many male students enjoy this book simply for the fact that it is about football. The addition of the steroids topic, brings the action and interest to another level. A discussion on the negative effects of steroids might prove beneficial. This book may even supplement a lesson in a health class.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, characterization, voice, dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The topic of steroid usage – especially in a high school setting may be inappropriate for some.

RELATED BOOKS: No Problem by Gaetz

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Any Given Sunday” (1999)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://orca.powerwebbook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/JuiceTG.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

November 3, 2008

Tell

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Tell

Author: Norah McClintock

Page Length: 100

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction, Mystery     

PLOT SUMMARY: David and his mother are awakened in the night by Detective Antonelli to learn that Phil, David’s stepfather has been killed.  David becomes a prime suspect with a weak alibi.  Cameras videoed him within a block of the scene of the accident minutes before the murder took place.  His mother finds his dead brother’s picture that Phil always carried in David’s jean pocket.  Even she begins to suspect David of the killing.  David faces the choice of telling the truth or lying to protect his mom’s feelings.

REVIEW: This is a fast, easy to read mystery that kept my attention throughout the book.  The reluctant reader would get a great introduction to mystery and suspense novels by reading this book.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Conflict, Sequence of Events, Foreshadowing, and Character

RELATED BOOKS: Bang, Over the Edge, Snitch

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.goodreads.com/author/show/498979.Norah_McClintock

 www.teensreadtoo.com/Tell.html

orca.powerwebbook.com/…/TeachersGuides/Orca Soundings/TellTG.pdf

 www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-155401634.html?refid=ssp_mags_808

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 2, 2008

Middle Row

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Middle Row

Author: Sylvia Olsen

Page Length: 100

Reading Level: 2.4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Raedawn (a Native American) and Vince (a white American) are dating in a town where racial tensions run high. Neither family totally embraces the couple’s bond.

When a fellow classmate, Dune, turns up missing from school, not many people are motivated to find out the truth about this boy’s disappearance. As Vince, Raedawn, and her Uncle Dave dig deeper into the disappearance of Dune, they stumble across a marijuana operation in the backwoods country. Upon their discovery, all three are chased out of the woods by gun shots and dogs. The “detectives” turn to the police to report what they have seen. As a result, Dune and his mother Ocean are forced from their hiding place in the woods to a farmhouse basement.

When Uncle Dave, who used to date Ocean, comes face to face with Ocean and Dune, it hits him that Dune is his son. Uncle Dave and Ocean make amends for their past actions, and the story closes with Uncle Dave accepting Dune into his “family”. A celebration of Dune commences at the Reservation.

REVIEW: This book was a simple story about how in the midst of racial tensions, family can transcend hatred and bigotry. The character of Dune is an outcast of mixed race, yet finally discovers his true family in his long-lost father. I enjoyed this book, however I wished that the character of Dune had some more dialogue. The lack of dialogue used by the author for Dune was probably for effect, but it would have been nice to know a little bit more about this character. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (page 41), characterization of Raedawn (page 71)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “beach bastards” (page 20), weed operation (page 55), marijuana mentioned (page 56), “damn racist” (page 79), racial tension throughout the book

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.orcabook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/MiddleRowTG.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_racism

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Bang

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Bang

Author: Norah McClintock

Page Length: 95

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Quentin and JD have been friends for a long time. They are school-mates and they also hang out with each other after school engaging in such activities as smoking marijuana. One day, Quentin and JD are smoking in the park, scaring off some kids, when a man approaches them and tells them to leave. The man threatens that he’ll call the cops on the boys for smoking marijuana. In response, both Quentin and JD become disrespectful to the man. As they leave, Quentin points his finger toward the man as if he is going to shoot him.

The next day after Quentin and JD are talking to some girls at the beach, they start to head home but become hungry. They spot a “canteen van” in an alley and decide to see if there is any food inside it. As they are robbing the vehicle, a man approaches – the same man JD and Quentin spoke with in the park the other day. The man grabs Quentin, JD spots this, JD pulls a gun on the man, and JD shoots!!!

The man dies, but the boys don’t stay around long to see it. They ride their bikes home and change out of their bloody clothes. The incident is on the local news the next day and the TV reports that the cops are looking for one suspect that fits the description of Quentin!!! After a meticulous investigation by the police – going through school yearbooks, meeting with students in an assembly, pulling students out to talk with one by one – they arrest Quentin.

Quentin finally realizes that JD went to the police first to free himself from the blame. JD betrayed Quentin! At this point, Quentin is confused and upset at JD. Quentin tries to tell the police that both he and JD were at the scene of the crime but that JD was the one who pulled the trigger. In the midst of all this – Quentin is sent to jail.

However, after the police begin to investigate the crime further, it is discovered that JD voluntarily gave the police his “clean clothes”, JD planted Quentin’s bloody clothes in Quentin’s own home, and JD burned & buried his own bloody clothes along with the gun in a ravine – all to frame Quentin. The one piece of evidence however that reversed this false trail of evidence was a picture that JD’s sister took of JD and Quentin on the day of the murder. It shows that JD was wearing a different shirt that day – the one he burned and buried. The police look for these clothes along with the gun and find them! In the end, JD is sent to jail and Quentin is released pending his consequence.

REVIEW: Despite the awful subject matter (murder) this book was engaging and kept my attention. I would not suggest this to just any student due to the “touchy areas”. As with any “Orca” book, it is written on a very low reading level but the content is adult level. Several lessons can be learned using this story – from drugs to theft to being disrespectful to adults. The book’s cover will definitely spark an interest to some, however the real issue is the consequence one faces when engaged in activity that is illegal.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: predictions (page 27), flashback, internal dialogue, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “smoked up” (page 22), Canadian pot / marijuana rules (page 26), topic of murder

RELATED BOOKS: Guns and Violence by Laura Egendorf

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Romeo + Juliet” (2006)

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: music by Eminem, Heavy D, Notorious B.I.G.,  & Dr. Dre

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://kids-toys.suite101.com/article.cfm/toy_guns_violence_and_parents (toy guns)

http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Music/9509/rap_and_guns/index.html (rappers, guns, reality)

http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/youthfa.pdf (statistics)

http://life.familyeducation.com/school-safety-month/violence/29712.html

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

September 23, 2008

Alex Rider Skeleton Key

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Alex Rider Skeleton Key

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 327

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: As the story opens, Sarov, a former General in the Russian army, has obtained a kilogram of weapons-grade uranium.  He intends to destroy the world with it and regain Russian power.   In the United States, 14-year-old Alex Rider is playing ball when Mr. Crawley, an employee of M16, a branch of the investigative department of England, approaches him.

It has just been a month since Alex Rider completed his second piece of spy work for the M16, and he is reluctant to talk with Crawley.  He says he does not want to be a spy, but a schoolboy.  Crawley assures him that he just wants Alex to help him find the reason the Wimbledon Tennis Courts have recently been burglarized.  Crawley believes Alex can do that, while he acts as a ball boy at the world famous Wimbledon Tennis Championship.  Hesitantly, Alex agrees to help. 

Alex does find there are advantages to working the tourney.  One, seeing the famous tennis players of the world compete, and the other, meeting Sabina Pleasure, another teen helping at the tourney.  Alex is surprised when two of the top ten players suffer losses to a not-so-well known Chinese player.  He becomes suspicious of a guard who he overhears talking on a cell phone. 

In his own investigative style, Alex discovers how the victories of the little known player are being made, but not without incident, where he is almost charged with attempted homicide. Once again, Mrs. Jones and Mr. Blunt of M16 rescue Alex from harm, but only to “loan” him out to the American CIA to do undercover work for them.  Although Alex feels he has been railroaded into another dangerous adventure, he agrees to be part of an undercover mission where he plays the role as son, to a couple vacationing in Cuba.

When the couple does not return from a scuba diving trip, Alex begins another adventurous, action packed investigation where he meets General Sarov and learns of his plan to destroy the world.

REVIEW: I found the third book of the Alex Rider series as intriguing as the first two.  Anthony Horowitz does a great job of creating suspense in his writing.  He also writes with vivid descriptions, which the reader can realistically imagine.  I think anyone who enjoys mystery, suspense, adventure and action would like this series of books.

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

RELATED BOOKS: Point Blank, Stormbreaker, 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)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.bookmooch.com/detail/0142401021

www.anthonyhorowitz.com/alexrider/books/skeletonkey.html

http://mplteens.blogspot.com/2008/04/skeletonkeybyanthonyhorowitz.html

http://turnpaige.com/2008/01/29/skeletonkeybyanthonyhorowitz

http://bookcrossing.com/journal/4313686

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)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.stormbreaker.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stormbreaker  (novel)

www.anthonyhorowitz.com/alexrider/books/stormbreaker.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

March 11, 2008

Fatality

Fatality

Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Page Length: 198

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Mystery 

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Fatality starts off with a bang! (great for a lesson on leads) Chapter 1 takes us from curiosity to action as Rose Lymond steals a police car in an attempt to take back her diary in which the police have confiscated while the reader is left unaware of the journal’s contents. Does the diary contain details of a brutal murder or a hit-and-run? Is there a list of love interests written down? Are there personal family secrets described in the journal? These are questions that the reader will ask oneself as they continue to read this action-packed book. In spite of these questions, what the reader does know in the beginning is that the police have re-opened a murder investigation, and Roses diary may provide some clues into this case. Could Roses diary provide information for this investigation or does her diary contain something entirely un-related?

 

Roses character is not the type to commit a crime such as stealing a police car unless there is a good reason. However, no one understands her thinking at this point in the story. Rose refuses to explain her actions, her diary, or her current state of mind. Her parents, the police, and some of her friends become worried and upset. Rose is concealing something very important! The police are certain that Rose is hiding vital information in regards to the brutal murder of Frannie Bailey that may have been committed by Milton Lofft, the father of Angelica, a school friend of Roses.

 

What the police don’t know is that there is no vital information in Roses journal about the murder of Frannie Bailey. However, her journal does contain information relating to a time when Mr. Lofft ran over an object in the road while Rose and Angelica were in the car. Rose cannot be sure that it was a person that Mr. Lofft ran over, yet she can’t rule it out. Newspapers did report a hit-and-run at about the time of Roses diary entry, yet even this incident is not what is tugging at Roses emotions. What could this event be? It is something even more personal and emotional to Rose than a brutal murder or a hit-and-run.

 

The emotional climax of the story happens around page 170 when the reader realizes what Rose has been hiding from us all. Her mother cheated on her father while he was away on business, and the result was the birth of Rose. Rose’s father is actually her step-father! When Rose found out about this incident, four years ago, she vowed to keep it hidden from everyone, especially her father.

 

The story does not end there. Verne, a former family friend of Roses, assumes that Rose has written about him in her diary – written about the time when he killed Frannie Bailey! This assumption causes Verne to attempt to kill Rose on the road in his SUV early on in the story, and it now drives him to kidnap her and possibly end her life! Verne however is caught by a police road block. It is at this time that Rose confesses everything to her supporters, especially her father. Roses father tells her that he already knew about the marital affair, yet still accepts Rose as his own daughter and always will.

 

This book may prove confusing for some students because it is layered with several plot twists and characters. It is a standard mystery that starts out well and wraps up nicely.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book provides good examples of flashback as well as conflict.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-cooney-caroline.asp

  

http://www.deadlyroads.com/

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diary 

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

 

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