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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


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


December 7, 2008


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Author: Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Page Length: 108

Reading Level: 3.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: After a house party turns into a scene of a brutal murder, the teenagers who attended are questioned. In this small town of 5,000, these teens do all they can to either cover-up what happened or invent vivid fantasies of what occurred. The main character, Jen, is a local reporter for the schools TV news program. Ironically, she was also one of the teens who was at the party. Though she didn’t see the actual murder occur, Jen does hold many facts as to what happened which she keeps from the police and her father.

Ultimately three suspects are focused on. 1 – Ross has been in trouble before, has a temper problem, and is addicted to steroids. 2 – Nate is Ross’ friend and was at the party along with Ross. 3 – Jerome is the boyfriend of Jen, the main character, and was also at the party.

Jen begins to go crazy as she contemplates that her boyfriend may actually be a murderer. All three male suspects have recently been evasive to their friends at school, prompting major suspicion. Later on, it is witnessed that Ross and Nate have threatened to silence the teen who lived at the house of the party. After secret statements are gathered, a boot is found, and odd behavioral observations are made known, the truth finally comes out. It is with Jen’s reporting skills and the help of her camera man, that the story unfolds.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book very much. It was a quick read, yet kept my attention throughout. The dialogue was fresh and seemed appropriate for a character in her teens.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: genre of mystery, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: references to bars, steroids, and pills – steroids affecting one of the main characters behavior

RELATED BOOK & MOVIE: Macbeth by William Shakespeare, “Macbeth” (several movie versions available)

RELATED WEBSITES: (teacher’s guide to the book)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

September 30, 2008

The World’s Dumbest Criminals

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The World’s Dumbest Criminals

Author: Daniel Butler and Alan Ray

Page Length: 183

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Non-Fiction           

PLOT SUMMARY: This book is 76 crime stories compiled by Daniel Butler and Alan Ray that have occurred around the world.  They are based on true stories from law enforcement officers, but the real names of the criminals and victims are not used.  

REVIEW: Although the cover of this book indicates the crime reports might be humorous, I did not find anything about them funny.  Not only were they not funny, they were not interesting or all that bizarre. The stories I found a little bit humorous or rare were The Stooges Go North, Eh? (p. 21), The World’s Fastest Cop (p. 51), The Great Train Robbery (p. 52), Grind This, Pal (p. 61), That’s a Spiceeeeey “Meatball”! (p. 79), and Right is Right (p. 52).

While reading this book, I found myself annoyed that I was wasting my time and trying to decide who would enjoy this type of writing.  I feel like the authors worked hard in their descriptions of the localities where the crimes took place but wasted their time in the attempt to create interest at the cost of others stupidity.

I would not recommend this book for anyone, but some “redneck” males may enjoy it.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Main Idea, Supporting Details

RELATED BOOKS: America’s Dumbest Criminals, Wanted! Dumb or Alive

TELEVISION CONNECTIONS: Syndicated Show-America’s Dumbest Criminals


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 21, 2008

LeRoy and the Old Man

LeRoy and the Old Man

Author: W. E. Butterworth

Page Length: 168

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: LeRoy Chambers is the sole witness to a murder by a local Chicago gang called the “Wolves”. To escape police questioning as well as the rath of the gang who does not want LeRoy to sqeal on them, LeRoy is sent by his mother to Pass Christian, Mississippi. It is here that LeRoy is to live with his grandfather. Upon arrival in a New Orleans bus station, LeRoy meets his grandfather for the first time. However, this is one of many firsts in LeRoy’s new adventure.

Living with his grandfather, LeRoy learns how to sleep on a boat, how to catch shrimp and crabs, how to saw lumber, how to buy and sell goods, and even how to drive a truck. LeRoy also learns about the Cajun culture of which is a part of his heritage. However, one thing that LeRoy is not able to learn much about is his father. His father ran away from he and his mother many years ago. LeRoy’s grandfather will not talk about LeRoy’s father because of this.

When the Chicago police come looking for LeRoy in Mississippi to testify as a material witness to the murder he saw, LeRoy has serious reservations. LeRoy understands that he is the only person who saw the Wolves murder an old woman in his housing development. However, LeRoy is scared that if the Wolves see him in court, he may not get out of Chicago alive. LeRoy’s grandfather as well as the local Mississipi sheriff agree that LeRoy must go to Chicago. However, LeRoy’s father (who arranges to surprise LeRoy in a New Orleans restaurant) thinks that LeRoy should steal away to New York with him. LeRoy, even though he is angered to see his father after so long, is tempted to accompany his dad. However, in the end, the respect LeRoy has for his grandfather and the new life he has started to build in Pass Christian, Mississippi trumps his father’s wishes as well as the fear he has to testify in court (page 165).

REVIEW: Despite the boring title and the less than appealing book cover, LeRoy and the Old Man was a great story. It was suspenseful, humorous, mysterious and gut wrenching. I loved the character of the grandfather. His dialogue kept me reading on and on. I was intrigued by the southern Cajun setting. The elements of Mississippi / Louisiana culture, food, dialect, and community pride are beautifully interwoven in this story. Also, the stark contrasts between life in Chicago and life in New Orleans is effective.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause/effect, comparison/contrast (grandfather, father, son)

RELATED WEBSITES: (culture referred to in the story) (official site of Pass Christian, Mississippi)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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