The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010


Filed under: I — thebookreviews @ 9:34 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Impact by James C. Dekker: Book Cover


Author: James C. Dekker

Page Length: 94

Reading Level: 3.8

Genre: Fiction

Career Connection: Police officer, pathologist, lawyer, detective

PLOT SUMMARY: As Jordan’s dad speaks to the court about his son who was murdered, Jordan recalls the events that led to his older brother, Mark’s, death. Jordan’s mind wanders as the judge listens to the impact each of the boy’s had on Mark’s death.

Mark was the dream guy – good looking, athletic, intelligent, and outgoing. Jordan was more on the shy, introverted side. Jordan had seen a girl, Shannon, at school and wanted to ask her out. When he talked to Mark about asking a girl out, Mark encouraged him. However, he did not get the nerve up when he saw her in the hall. When he arrived at the football game, he saw his older brother Mark, arm in arm with Shannon. It hit a nerve. There was no way that Mark knew Shannon was the girl Jordan had wanted to ask to the game, but he was with her.

Shannon’s boyfriend, Tony was jealous and wanted to get Mark to stay away from her. Kyle, a neighbor of Jordan’s, saw Jordan on the street and showed Tony who he was. When Kyle approached Jordan and asked him where Mark worked, Jordan knew it was to gain information for Tony. Jordan told him where Mark worked.

At the end of the trial, Jordan wonders what impact he may have had on his brother’s death.

REVIEW: Impact is an easy, independent read and would be good for the reluctant reader to try as a first book. The interest level is high with the action in the courtroom and the details Jordan remembers that lead up to Mark’s murder.


TEACHING AREAS: Compare/Contrast, Sequence of Events, Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Scum, Spiral, First Time, Learning to Fly



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 17, 2009

Call Waiting

Filed under: C — thebookreviews @ 10:24 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Call Waiting

Author: R. L. Stine

Page Length: 167

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction-Horror         

PLOT SUMMARY: As the book begins, Karen is stalking her boyfriend, Ethan, because he broke a date with her and told her he had to work.  Karen is suspicious that Ethan is hanging out with Wendy, another girl in their class.   Throughout the book, Karen is obsessed with Wendy’s relationship with Ethan.  When Wendy has an accident and falls down a flight of stairs, some of Karen’s classmates blame her.  Karen even begins to question herself.

Ethan, however, gives Karen his attention after Micah, Karen’s best friend, calls her mother and says Karen may need some psychological help.  Karen questions her actions, too, when her older brother plays practical jokes on her and when she begins getting mysterious phone calls.  In a strange turn of events, Karen learns that friends are not always what they seem to be.

REVIEW: R. L. Stine has written a fast reading mystery, filled with enough suspicious actions to keep the reader enthralled.  I read the book in one tense sitting.  For students who like romance, mystery, and suspense this is a good book to read.  Because of the drama between the characters, I believe this book would be enjoyed more by girls than boys.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Conflict, Character, Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: The Boyfriend, The Beach House, Hit and Run

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: I Saw What You Did (1965)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 3, 2008

Battle of the Bands

Filed under: B — thebookreviews @ 2:05 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Battle of the Bands

Author: K. L. Denman

Page Length: 97

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jay, Kelvin, and Cia make up a garage band, The Lunar Ticks.  Although they have won several competitions, they have never one the Battle of the Bands, where the first prize is a day in a recording studio.  Jay is the songwriter, but he is struggling to come up with new lyrics for a song.  The three leave school during lunch to go hear their biggest competition, Indigo Daze, play at their home school.  Jay finds himself falling for Rowan, the lead singer of Indigo daze.  However, right before the competition begins at the Battle of the Bands, Rowan’s guitar is destroyed.  Jay is the prime suspect.

REVIEW: This is an easy to read book  that younger teens would enjoy. There is romance, competition, and suspense to keep the reader’s attention.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Imagery, Conflict, and Theme

RELATED BOOKS: Flying Low, Rain Dogs, Papercut

RELATED WEBSITES:,…/TeachersGuides/Orca Soundings/BattleTG.pdf,,+K.L.+Battle+of+the+bands-a0158210925,

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 21, 2008

Jacob Have I Loved

Filed under: J — thebookreviews @ 5:08 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Jacob Have I Loved

Author: Katherine Patterson

Page Length: 244

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story opens in Chesapeake Bay in the 1940s. Sarah Louise and Caroline are twin sisters; yet, they couldn’t be more unlike each other. Sarah Louise is strong and independent while Caroline is small, frail, and beautiful. Caroline commands everyone’s attention and Louise has begun to feel anger at her fate. She longs for recognition and is tired of constantly sacrificing for Caroline. To make matters worse, her elderly grandmother lives with them. She knows how Louise feels and does nothing but taunts her with cruel and inappropriate remarks. Louise longs to break free from the hold Rass Island has on her; yet, it is Caroline who gets a scholarship to Juliard while Louise stays behind to run the family business. Will  Louise ever be able to find peace and her own happiness or will she be forever bound to the family she longs desperately to have freedom from?

REVIEW: The historical and rural aspects of the novel are well presented. The reader gets a feel for what it was like to grow up  with a “perfect” twin and bound by the societal norms of the 1940s. Readers can understand Louise’s need to break free and find her own way. This book is a Newberry Medal Winner and a good book for teaching perseverance, self-reliance, and for leading students to recognize their own strengths and gifts rather than lamenting that they do not have the talents of another. The book would likely appeal more to females – especially those who have a sister.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical context, narrative effect, predictions, inferences, compare and contrast, figurative language, author’s purpose

RELATED BOOKS: The King’s Equal, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Jip: His Story, Bridge to Terabithia


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 10, 2008

All Alone in the Universe

Filed under: A — thebookreviews @ 9:40 pm
Tags: , , , ,

All Alone in the Universe

Author: Lynne Rae Perkins        

Page Length: 143

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY:  The story opens as Debbie and Maureen, best friends, begin the summer.  Debbie narrates the story in first person and she shares her feelings and thoughts as the summer progresses.  Debbie cherishes her friendship with Maureen, and doesn’t exactly understand why Glenna has started occupying some of their time.

On page 38, Debbie explains some of the problems that she sees arising in the triangular friendship because there are problems with the number three. The summer continues with the Glenna and Debbie inadvertently vying for Maureen’s time.  As July drifts into August, Debbie learns that Maureen is going on vacation with Glenna.  On page 49, Debbie lists some ways to fight the boredom of summer.  In addition to these activities, she spends some afternoons with Fran, an older neighbor who suggests some advice to Debbie on page 60.

In the continuing days, Maureen does not call Debbie and on page 62 Debbie expresses she is all alone.  She visits some acquaintances of Debbie’s and Maureen’s and they advise her that she will not ever know what happened to their friendship, but that she will have friendship again.

The days pass into fall and the beginning of school and although Debbie feels “All Alone in the Universe”, she realizes she is not as she begins new relationships and rekindles old ones.

REVIEW:  This was a great book for girls to read.  Almost every girl can relate to a friendship she suffered during those trying years from 12-16.  Girls are going through so many changes and feelings it is hard to grasp if the changes are caused by someone else or one’s own inner being.

Ms. Perkins drew some cute, humorous illustrations for the book.  The descriptions of feelings, people and the setting are very good.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Cause/Effect, Character, Compare and Contrast, Inferences, Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions


RELATED WEBSITES:…/All_Alone_in_the_Universe/index.aspx  

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 6, 2008



Author: A. LaFaye

Page Length: 144

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The time period is the 1800’s. Nathaniel Peale and his mother and father have moved from the city to the country life of Nebraska. Nathaniel’s father farms while his mother repairs clocks and other various objects. After a lightening storm spooks some of the animals on the farm, Nathaniel falls and crushes his leg under a wagon wheel. As a result, Nathaniel is unable to help his father on the farm anymore. This is a significant turning point in the lives of the Peale family. Nathaniel’s father, out of guilt, avoids his son at all costs. Then in an effort to replace his son on the farm, Mr. Peale obtains an orphan named John Worth through “The Orphan Train”. Mrs. Peale is furious at her husband for bringing an orphan into their home to work. As a result, their husband and wife relationship becomes strained.

The relationship between Nathaniel and John is also a strained one. Nathaniel tries his hardest to hate the boy, and is very much jealous that John gets to spend so much time with Nathaniel’s father. However, upon discovering that John’s parents died in a fire, Nathaniel slowly begins to warm up to his new family member. Nathaniel can understand about losing a loved one because his sister died. Nathaniel and John further bond because John is good at math, and Nathaniel is not. And Nathaniel, with the assistance of regular schooling, helps John at reading.

Beyond the storms at home, dark clouds are forming in the community. There is a land feud between “farmers” and “ranchers”. The ranchers aggravate the farmers by cutting their fences and allowing the cattle to graze on the farm land. With the teamwork of Nathaniel and John, both boys solve the case of who exactly has been cutting the fences. Nathaniel’s father discovers this teamwork and subsequently begins to mend his distant relationship with his real son. In the end, the unconventional family structure of the Peale’s turns out to be a very good one.

REVIEW: The issue of adoption is addressed in a very real manner in this book. John Worth was obtained from an orphan train. During the late 1800’s, adults would actually obtain children from these trains to live and work on farms. The author, through the use of real dialogue and powerful description, forces the reader into this family’s tense life. I enjoyed this book, not because it was easy to read, but because it seemed very authentic. Writing from the point-of-view of a teenager who feels that his father has disowned him because of his disability, I could almost feel the boy’s pain. And to feel that an adopted boy is allowed into the Peale home to replace their real son, was even more emotional to read. However, great writing comes when emotions are stirred within the reader.

Also, the mental state of someone who has just become disabled is explored in this story – not only in the context of family and community but of school as well.

On another note, the author does a beautiful job intertwining mythology into Nathaniel and John’s characters as they are off on an adventure to capture the fence cutting culprits.

For convenience, a “Reading Guide” with questions and activities is found at the back of the book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (pages 21 & 32), theme, characterization, conflict, & predictions

RELATED BOOKS: A Family Apart (The Orphan Train Adventure series), McGuffrey Reader, books about Greek mythology

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:Orphan Train” (1979)

RELATED WEBSITES: (historical website about the Nebraska Orphan Trains) (Literature Circle with questions/answers & activities) (excellent site that addresses pre-reading strategies, predictions, and cross-curriculum activities)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

July 21, 2008

Missing Since Monday

Missing Since Monday

Author: Ann M. Martin

Page Length: 167

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Mystery, Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Maggie Ellis and her brother Matt have been given the responsibility of taking care of their step-sister Courtenay while their parents travel on their long-awaited honeymoon. Leigh, their step-mother, is not too comfortable with giving up her parental responsibilities for a week, but she finally agrees.

Maggie feels that Leigh does not view her as a responsible young adult. Even though their relationship has been amicable ever since Leigh became Maggie and Matt’s “new mom”, Maggie feels that there has always been a lack of trust.

On Monday morning, a few days after her parents depart, Maggie puts Courtenay on the bus for school. However, Courtenay does not make it into the school building! Someone abducts her! Maggie does not realize this until she calls the school in the afternoon because Courtenay obviously does not show up back home.

Neighbors, police, the media, and other agencies all become involved in the search for this missing child. Maggie’s parents quickly return home once they are notified. Leigh is even colder and more disapproving than before while Maggie feels guilty.

In the midst of the emotional trauma, a massive search party of the town is organized as well as several fundraising projects. Thousands of posters are also created and distributed in an attempt to publicize the situation.

A few people are labeled suspects – Leigh’s ex-husband and Maggie’s mother, Jessica Ellis. Leigh’s ex-husband is found to have a strong alibi, therefore the focus shifts to Maggie’s mother. No one has physically seen Jessica Ellis for years, and Jessica Ellis only communicates with her children through postcards. Unfortunately Maggie’s father finally reveals the truth to his kids. When they were young, Jessica was charged with emotional abuse and therefore lost all custody rights to Maggie and Matt. Maggie has a hard time believing this and sets out to prove that her long-lost mother is innocent of any wrong-doing.

Towards the end of the book, Jessica Ellis contacts Maggie and asks to meet her and Matt. Upon arrival to a shady diner, Maggie and Matt discover their mother “found Courtenay” and is going to return her to their family. However, this is not the truth. The police discover that Jessica Ellis abducted Courtenay as a means of revenge against her ex-husband and was planning on returning Courtenay to Maggie and Matt as a gift for all the she has not given her children in the past. Jessica Ellis is subsequently transferred to a psychiatric hospital. 

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and emotionally charged! I didn’t want to put it down. The dialogue and characterization added to the excitement of the story line. Child abduction is a very real issue that continues to be a problem in our society. This book highlights the emotions attached to such an incident. My only criticism of this book is that I felt the ending was rushed. However, the suspense building throughout the story was great. Whenever the “green station wagon” entered the scene, my attention was totally focused. Students should have no trouble reading this book as the readability level is easy.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: foreshadowing, predictions, characterization, compare/contrast (Maggie vs. Leigh)

TOUCHY AREAS: The subject matter is about the abduction of a child.

RELATED BOOKS: Journey (both mothers have an issue with parental responsibility and are nomadic), The Ransom of Red Chief

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:Scream” (1996) & “Kindergarten Cop” (1990)

RELATED WEBSITES: (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) (highlights disappearance of two famous men, mentioned in the book) (rules to teach children about strangers) (online copy of the book)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

April 29, 2008

Chasing Redbird

Chasing Redbird

Author: Sharon Creech

Page Length: 5

Reading Level: 261

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In the country-side of Kentucky resides Zinny Taylor, sister to too many siblings to count on one hand. She has a problem. Zinny has not found her voice. She has yet to discover the person she is. In a large family, including her Uncle Nate and Aunt Jessie, Zinny sets out on a trail to find herself.

Zinny is the oddball of the family. She collects countless items, is as quiet as a mouse, and always seems to be passed over by the boys. Even more depressing, Zinny feels responsible for the deaths of not only her cousin Rose, but Roses’ mother, Zinny’s Aunt Jessie. Beyond all of this, Zinny wants to be known for something more significant (page 52).

After Aunt Jessie passes away, Uncle Nate begins his own quest to chase his “redbird” sweetheart (Aunt Jessie had red hair). To put it less colorfully, Uncle Nate is so devastated by his wife’s death that he has delusions of her flying through the fields. He in turn chases after “her”.

One day, at the library, Zinny discovers a map detailing an old 20 mile Indian trail that leads from her house to the next town over, Chocton. The map fascinates her, and Zinny makes a decision to clear away all the brush in her backyard field. Zinny’s parents allow her to camp out in the field as she does her work for 10 days at a time. She is excited as this project gives her the opportunity to do something on her own away from the chaos of her family. On the trail, Zinny gets confronted by strange men, chased up a tree by a bear, and even pursued by her friend Jake (who is attracted to her). Zinny even discovers, on the trail, the reason for Uncle Nate’s strange behavior – Uncle Nate has been hiding all of Rose and Aunt Jessie’s possessions in a cabin nearby. The cabin symbolizes his locked up emotions and his grief.

Towards the end of the novel, Uncle Nate expresses to Zinny that she is not at fault for the deaths of Rose and Aunt Jessie. In addition, Zinny completes her trail project and is recognized for it. We also see a glimmer of hope that she will have her first boyfriend (Jake).

REVIEW: This was a simple tale about the search for self and one’s individuality (Zinny). Also, it is a story about how people grieve differently (ie. Zinny vs. Uncle Nate). The map at the beginning of the book was helpful as I read. Students that come from families with several brothers and sisters might relate well to this story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: symbolism (trail, discovery, & chase, spaghetti & life), simile (page 16), figurative language (page 156), foreshadowing (page 27)

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by Don Raye & Hughie Prince

RELATED WEBSITES: (if you scroll down, you’ll see links for Chasing Redbird)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

March 1, 2008

Dead-End Job

Filed under: *AWESOME BOOKS!!!,D — thebookreviews @ 10:54 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dead-End Job

Author: Vicki Grant

Page Length: 104

Reading Level: 3.6

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Mystery


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Frances works at a local convenience store. When the traffic becomes slow, she turns to a sheet of paper and draws. She loves the art of drawing. One day, a stranger, named Devin, walks into the store and notices Frances drawing. He uses this to his advantage. After taking a look at Frances’ drawing, Devin makes up a long drawn out story that he is related to Tom Orser, a rich artist in the town. Devin goes on to say that he has made a lot of money by recently signing a recording contract and wants to impress his father. Frances has a hard time believing that Tom Orser is Devin’s father at first. However Frances finds the new boy charming. Even though Frances has a boy-friend, Devin appears to be a “breath of fresh air” to her. They begin to talk at times in the store, the library, and other places that Devin happens to show up. 


Now there are moments that make Frances think twice about this boy, especially when he calls her by her first name, when Frances never told him who she was initially. Frances finds this strange, yet shakes it off. Later on Devin begins to shower Frances with gifts, including a pastel set. Frances hides many of the events that happen between herself and Devin from her boyfriend Leo. They are harmless acts but Frances knows that Leo is quite a jealous person. Later on, Frances comes up with a plan to set her best friend up with Devin in part to steer Devin’s interest away from her. Frances thinks it will work out great until she realizes that Devin does not want to date Frances’ best-friend or any other friend – Devin wants to date Frances!


On page 45, Frances begins to realize that Devin is stalking her. In an argument between the two of them, Devin mentions the name of a movie Leo and Frances rented together recently and talks about how he is so different than Leo. Furthermore, a picture of Frances from Devin on her locker with “XOXO Devin” furthers Frances’ suspicions that Devin is infatuated with her.


While Frances is working, Tom Orser walks in. As he comes up to pay, Frances questions him about Devin. Tom Orser says he does not know anything about a boy named Devin. Tom Orser does not have a son. This sends up a major red flag to Frances that Devin is up to something. Questions race through Frances’ mind: how does Devin know my street address, how does he know my e-mail address, how does he get pictures taken of me at all these different places?


One night while Frances is working, Devin manages to sneak in the back of the store and set up a dinner scene with a candle, chicken, a carving knife, and wine. Frances asks that he leave. A violent altercation occurs and the climax of the story occurs on page 96 with Devin about to kill Frances for her lack of commitment to him. When Devin says to Frances, that “I need to have you”, this illustrates the pinnacle of Devin’s obsession with Frances. As Frances is about to be murdered, she comes up with an idea that she could draw a portrait of Devin for the police to see as a remembrance so this would not just be another murder. Devin agrees to this. And as he is sitting still as she draws, Frances takes the pencil and rams it up his right nostril. As Frances runs away, Leo is seen pulling up to the convenience store. The Epilogue notes that Devin was indeed lying about many of the things he claimed to be true. He goes to court for stalking, kidnapping, and attempted murder with the idea that he and Frances will be together again soon.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: I thought that the ending was very eerie, yet satisfying. The story had great internal and external dialogue. Teachers could have a discussion on why authors choose certain titles for books Also, teachers could use this book to address the skill of voice, making predictions, and use of narration. I highly recommend this book!




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


January 2, 2008

Freeze Tag

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 1:50 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Freeze Tag

Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Page Length: 166

Reading Level: 4th

Genre: Fiction


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The cover of this book is awesome. It truly depicts the main character, Lannie, and the feeling of being frozen. The action in this story happens quickly. It did not take long for me to get “hooked”. This book is about a girl, Lannie, who has been deprived of a loving upbringing. This story is also about a pair of love-struck teenagers, Meghan and West.


In the Prologue we see the kids of Dark Fern Lane playing a harm-less game of Freeze Tag. However, we discover that the game is not harm-less after all. Lannie has the power to actually freeze people in their place. This realization frightens the children of the neighborhood who end up avoiding the game from then on. However, Lannie’s power to freeze, remains.


On page 8, we see a good description of childhood jealously. Lannie is jealous of West’s family because they are nothing like her own. Lannie’s personality becomes even more layered as the story progresses with the added emotion of hatred. Lannie hates Meghan because Meghan is allowed to hang out with West’s family. On top of all this, Lannie is jealous of the relationship that West and Meghan have. Lannie wants West in every sense of the word, and she hates Meghan because she has West as a boyfriend.


Lannie is the product of a family that has divorced and re-married. She has not adjusted well at all to this change. Lannie’s step-father doesn’t even hug her, but rather shows his affection towards a new dog. This infuriates Lannie. Meghan makes a clear realization on page 51, that no one loves Lannie and no one ever has. Lannie’s feeling of parental neglect transforms itself into a violent act as we find out that Lannie froze her own mother as she was driving a car. Her mother subsequently died. On page 63, West’s mother paints a vivid description of the type of emotional neglect that Lannie has suffered in her early life.


Lannie’s retaliations on others are in the form of freezing them. Lannie yearns for affection and love. She yearns for it from West – the boyfriend of Meghan, the son of the family Lannie admires. Eventually Lannie persuades West to go out with her. West only agrees because Lannie has threatened to freeze his loved ones if he disobeys. Meghan cannot believe West is actually going to date Lannie and drop her as a girlfriend. Yet, Meghan understands the very real threat that is Lannie and her freezing-fingers. What is ironic is that just as Lannie is jealous of West’s family, Meghan is jealous of his family too. Both Lannie and Meghan do not regard their families as comforting ones. The difference is Lannie has been emotionally neglected, while Meghan has not.


The story progresses with Lannie freezing and unfreezing people. Lannie is only persuaded to unfreeze people because of opportunities to visit with West, have sleep-overs with his sister, and just be part of a loving family environment.


As West’s siblings become more and more annoyed, they begin to plot, along with West, a way to “end” Lannie. Meghan, even though she cannot stand Lannie, does not feel that any human should be “ended”. Meghan holds fast to the idea that good triumphs over evil, and if they plot to kill Lannie, then they are no better than she is.


Eventually, West and his siblings carry out a plan where Lannie becomes trapped in his truck (one with no handles on the inside). Lannie is stuck in this truck out in the freezing cold. Meghan realizes “the plan” and tries hard not to think about it. She ultimately cannot bear to think of someone dying in the cold and rescues Lannie from her “end”. The ending of this story is more of a beginning for both Meghan and Lannie as we can only infer what may happen next. Good did triumph evil, however it appears that some of the characters who were initially “good” have turned “evil”.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: A compare/contrast lesson on the themes of good and evil would be most appropriate to touch upon with this book. Discussions on different types of family life would also be beneficial.


I would highly recommend this book to students!




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


Blog at