The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

Maximum Ride The Angel Experiment

Maximum Ride The Angel Experiment

Author: James Patterson

Page Length: 440

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

PLOT SUMMARY: Maximum Ride got to name herself because she is a fourteen-year-old girl who is the result of genetic experimentation conducted in a lab.  She has wings as a result of avian genes injected into human embryos. She is 98% human and 2 % bird.

Maximum lives with five other kids who have her same genetic make-up.  They are called “bird children” and call themselves, “the flock”.  Fang is a boy, four months younger than Max.  The other members are: Iggy, another boy blinded by an experiment at the lab, Nudge, a girl who talks in excess, Gasman, an eight-year-old boy with stomach problems, and Angel, his six year old sister.

The group was raised at the lab in cages and subjected to many experiments.  Then, Jeb Batchelder, one of the lab scientists, took them to his home in the mountains and educated and nurtured them as a father would his own children.  When he suddenly disappeared, two years ago, Max, being the oldest, was put in charge of “the flock”. 

One day, Erasers (other experimental beings who can become wolf-like creatures) appear at the mountain home and kidnap Angel. Led by Max, “the flock” begins the journey to find Angel, discover their real parents’ identity, and get revenge on an unlikely traitor.

REVIEW: Full of adventure, mystery, and suspense this would be a good book to use as a class novel.  The characters, along with the action, provide good descriptive reading.  I believe young adults would identify with the loyalty the children exhibit for each other and enjoy the fantasy of what genetic experimentation may provide in the future.

This is an excellent book for boys, girls and adults to read.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Figurative Language, Simile and Metaphors, Compare/Contrast, Theme, Character, Sequence of Events, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Maximum Ride: School’s Out Forever, Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Maximum Ride (set to release in 2013)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


December 19, 2010

Catching Fire

Filed under: C — thebookreviews @ 3:59 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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 28, 2009

Haunted Schools

Filed under: H — thebookreviews @ 1:18 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Haunted Schools

Author: Allan Zullo

Page Length: 128  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a collection of nine stories of ghosts and spirits who are haunting schools.  The first begins with two teen-age boys, Troy and Cody, coming in contact with a former teacher of a school.  Next, a new girl on the playground turns out to be a former classmate of the current teacher.  When a boy dies from a heart condition, his football team goes undefeated with a little help from the twelfth man. After two girls break a school rule by bringing an Ouigi board into their room, students start getting mysterious kisses.  An unknown drama student and graduate appear in two of the stories and in almost every story there is an eeriness that the reader cannot fully comprehend.

REVIEW: It is hard to believe that all of these stories are true. The plots of each of the stories would make a good horror movie, because the events are unbelievable. This book could be used as a unit study during October.  Then, on Halloween the students could dress as their favorite “ghost”. I thought the stories were entertaining and would appeal to the reluctant reader because they are short and easy to read.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Character, Setting, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: The Haunted Kid Series: The Haunted Graveyard, The Haunted Shortstop, Haunted Kids, More Haunted Kids, Haunted Teachers, Haunted Animal, Haunted Campus, Totally Haunted Kids

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Haunted School (2007- Chinese)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 8, 2009



Author: Graham McNamee

Page Length: 210  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Duncan’s dad found him a summer job working at the Toronto Transit Lost and Found, with an older man, Jacob.  The job is boring and Duncan feels as though he lives in a coffin, far below the surface of the Earth.  As he whiles away the hours of tagging and sorting the items, Duncan comes across a leather bound journal.  He becomes enthralled with the book as the author describes his devastating childhood, trapped in a room by his grandmother.  Duncan reads on to learn that the man stalks young women and comes to the conclusion that the man’s future plans include killing the women. 

In the previous year, Duncan feels that he was responsible for a young girl’s drowning.  To avenge this guilt from that year, Duncan decides to track down the serial killer. He employs his two best friends, Vinny and Wayne to help him find “Roach”.  Vinny performs a lot of investigative work to find the type of personality the boys are tracking.  However, in vain attempts, the boys cannot come up with a suspect.

Then, a man comes to the transit station to ask about a lost journal.  When Duncan realizes this is “Roach”, he asks Wayne to help him break into Roach’s home to find clues.  When Roach returns home while Duncan is in the house, a fight and chase break out and Duncan realizes his life is in danger.

REVIEW: In the beginning, the story was a little slow.  However, when Duncan begins reading the journal and realizes that its author is a potential serial killer, the plot “accelerates”.  The story is very suspenseful and a very good read for the male reluctant reader.  It is fast paced and borders on being a book of horror. It is the best mystery I have read in the young adult novels.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Setting, Conflict, Plot, Point of View and Conclusion, Generalizations, and Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Pigman, 145th Street, The Boyfriend, The Girlfriend

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1998), Disturbing Behavior (1998), Final Destination (2000)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 17, 2009

Hit and Run

Filed under: H — thebookreviews @ 9:13 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Hit and Run

Author: R. L. Stine

Page Length: 164

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction-Horror         

PLOT SUMMARY: Cassie was best friends with three high school boys:  Scott, Eddie, and Winks.  The four are all very close to getting their driver’s license. One night they decide to go for a practice drive.  When it is Eddie’s turn to drive, Winks yells loudly, causing Eddie to swerve the car.  This embarrasses Eddie, but just a few nights later, he volunteers to take Cassie, Scott and Winks for a drive in his parent’s car. The driving goes pretty well, and Cassie was surprised that Eddie wasn’t still mad at Winks for his practical joke.  However, on the return home, they accidentally hit and kill a man who was crossing the road.  They agree to keep it a secret but before long weird things related to the accident begin to occur.  The corpse of the man killed is missing from the funeral home, and then the teens start getting strange phone calls. Is the victim really dead?  Has his ghost come back to haunt them? Cassie has trouble determining what is real and what she is dreaming.  

REVIEW: This is a suspenseful book that has unanswered questions at the end of each chapter.  Stine does a great job of keeping the reader engaged as to what is going to happen next.  Students who enjoy suspense and mystery would like this fast paced, easy to read, novel.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Human eyeball (p. 5), corpse (p. 150) – neither reference is too offensive if the reader is aware of the subject matter of the story.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Supporting Details, Plot, Conflict, and Characters

RELATED BOOKS: Call Waiting, Beach House, and The Boyfriend

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Girlfriend

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 9:12 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Girlfriend

Author: R. L. Stine

Page Length: 165

Reading Level: 5.5

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Scotty and Lora are the perfect high school couple. She is a cheerleader and he is the star quarterback. They are seniors and plan to attend Princeton after graduation.  When Lora leaves town for a week to visit Paris, Scotty is attracted to Shannon, a girl he gives a ride to after the game on Friday night. Shannon lures Scotty into her home after a secret date on Saturday night.

On Monday, Scotty realizes he doesn’t want to see Shannon anymore, and he certainly doesn’t want anyone to know about the date.  However, Shannon has other ideas.  She feels that Scotty is now “her baby”, and begins to stalk him not only at school but at his home, too.  She warns him not to leave her or her brothers will come after him.  In a series of tragic events, Scotty learns that a one-night stand is not worth the heartache and pain it causes to him and all of his friends and family.

REVIEW: R. L. Stine has written another suspenseful, intriguing book for young teens.  Although parts of the book are predictable, there is a surprise ending relating to Shannon’s past.  Readers who enjoy suspense and romance will enjoy this easy to read horror novel.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Cause and Effect, Making Predictions, and Compare and Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: The Boyfriend, Hit and Run, The Dead Girlfriend, Beach Party

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Play Misty For Me (1971)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 10, 2008

The Boys of San Joaquin

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 10:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Boys of San Joaquin

Author: D. James Smith

Page Length: 231

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: The setting of the story is in l951, in Orange Grove City, California.  Paolo is the twelve-year-old brother to ten siblings, cousin of Billy, who is deaf, and owner of Rufus, the dog. The story begins with Rufus appearing with a torn twenty-dollar bill hanging from his mouth.  Paolo figures there is probably more money where that came from and employs Billy (the deaf cousin) and Georgie (his younger brother) to help him locate the rest of the treasure. Billy is eager to find the money because he needs the wheel on his bike repaired.  Georgie just enjoys being included with the other boys.  The search ends up in the priest’s garden behind the Cathedral of San Joaguin. However, the boy’s quest involves much more suspense and adventure before the mystery is solved.  

REVIEW: Paolo narrates the story and is quite descriptive of each of the characters and events.  He gives an excellent description of a dog (p.8) and of tools (p. 44) that could be used in teaching descriptive writing.  The story is full of adventure and family situations that arise in Paolo’s life.  Although the book’s setting is in 1951, it has the same type of humor, description, and adventure that I found in reading Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Descriptive Writing (p. 8 and 44), Characters, Setting, Theme, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Probably the World’s Best Story about a Dog and the Girl Who Loved Me, Fast Company, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Outsiders


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 8, 2008

Zach’s Lie

Filed under: Z — thebookreviews @ 10:47 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Zach’s Lie

Author: Roland Smith

Page Length: 211

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jack has no idea why mask men break into his house, threaten his mom, sister and him and then totally ransack the place.  In just hours, he learns that his dad has been arrested for drug trafficking and the mask men were working for his dad’s drug czar boss.  The Witness Security Program force Jack, his sister, and mom to move to Nevada and assume new names and identities.  There, Jack, now Zach, meets the school custodian.  He gets in a fight the first day of school and meets a girl of interest, Catalin.  Zach is finally getting into his new life, but finds he has been discovered by the drug boss and not only his life, but all of those connected to him are in danger, again.

REVIEW: This book is action packed from the beginning.  The characters are well developed and the plot has several subplots that keep the reader’s interest.  This is a good suspense novel that boys would especially enjoy.  It would also be a good class novel to read. 

AREAS OF TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Theme, Character, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Jack’s Run, The Alex Rider Series: Scorpia, Eagle Strike, Point Blank, Skeleton Key, Stormbreaker


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 1, 2008


Twilight (Book 1 in the Twilight Series)

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Page Length: 498

Reading Level: 5.6

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Romance

PLOT SUMMARY: After Bella Swan moves away from her mother in Phoenix to live with her father in the gloomy city of Forks, she befriends a mysterious teenage boy named Edward Cullen. However, “befriends” is not exactly the most appropriate way to describe the evolution of Bella and Edward’s relationship. The two teenagers fall madly in love with each other! Bella is most attracted to how beautiful, odd, and different Edward is to all the other boys in Forks. Edward is attracted to the way Bella “smells” and her very “human” qualities.

Edward is different in that he is a vampire. Bella is different in that she is attracted to one. Many of the citizens of Forks view Edward and his family as different, however very few speak the word “vampire”. Edward explains to Bella that he and his “family” are vampires; the kind that abstain from feeding on human flesh. Edward goes on to say that he is greatly attracted to Bella in the primal sense and gives everything not to devour her in the literal sense. Oddly this does not seem to affect Bella who understands that even though Edward has a major craving to kill her, he also has an undying desire to love her. Edward is different in that he is battling two very opposing emotions.

Edward is a nearly 100 year old vampire in a teenage body that has discovered his first true love. Bella is a true teenager and has also discovered her first true love.

When outsider vampires arrive to Forks, they sniff out Bella as well as Edward’s attraction towards her. These new vampires begin their “hunt” for Bella. Edward’s family (good vampires) do all they can to protect Bella and evade these evil vampires. In the end, the evil vampires lose and Bella is saved. However, Bella has been bitten!!! Edward makes the decision to suck the venom out of Bella, thus saving her from becoming a vampire.

The novel ends with Edward taking Bella to their high school prom. At this event, Bella expresses her desire to become a vampire. Even though she knows why Edward sucked the blood from her, she wishes he hadn’t. Bella desires to become a vampire so she and Edward can live together for eternity in love. Edward does all he can to keep himself from giving in to her request. He kisses her ever so slightly on the neck as the first novel in the Twilight series closes.

REVIEW: I absolutely loved this book. I am not much for romance novels but setting a romance story within the backdrop of a gloomy town with vampires in it was brilliant. The nearly 500 pages went by quickly as I was consumed. Now, the first few chapters start out a little rough with over-usage of “big words” but this decreases as the story progresses. It did appear that Edward and Bella became attracted to each other rather quickly, but I believe the author was trying to portray an accurate depiction of true love. Much of the novel contains dialogue between Bella and Edward – Edward stating that he loves Bella deeply, but knows he could very easily kill her & Bella stating that she doesn’t care because she wants to be with him forever. This type of conservation occurs frequently – though a little repetitive (however I believe this is authentic dialogue when one considers that the characters are two teenagers in love).

The novel has created much buzz in the young adult literary world and has spawned the 2008 movie by the same name which, in it’s first weekend, made over $70 million. On the radio, web, and conversations with teachers, I have heard such things as, “my male students want to be Edward Cullen”, “I know someone who broke up with her boyfriend because of the book”, and “I have read this book 3 times in one week”. All three statements are pretty extreme, yet very real.

Books can have an amazing impact on readers, and Twilight is one (in a series) that I believe falls into such a category.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: good vs. evil, foreshadowing, characterization, & setting. Before you read: make sure you read the Genesis quote at the beginning as well as the Preface. After reading, go back and read both again. Both of these sections can create some good discussion topics.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Nothing of major concern is contained in this novel. Some may find that the topics of teenage love and vampires unfavorable, however there are no sexual acts contained in the book. Even though this book is more a romance novel than one about vampires, only mild kissing is present.

RELATED BOOKS: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, The Twilight Companion: The Unauthorized Guide to the Series by Lois Gresh, Twilight Saga: The Official Guide by Stephenie Meyer, other books in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer: New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, & Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

MOVIE CONNETIONS: “Twilight” (2008)


RELATED WEBSITES: (awesome lesson plans, rubrics, and activities for the classroom related to the novel) (Twilight Quiz – which character are you?) (official website of the author) (official movie website)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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 23, 2008

Alex Rider Scorpia

Filed under: *AWESOME BOOKS!!!,A — thebookreviews @ 1:59 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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 Skeleton Key

Filed under: *AWESOME BOOKS!!!,A — thebookreviews @ 1:51 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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 8, 2008

Inside Out

Filed under: I — thebookreviews @ 10:40 pm
Tags: , , ,

Inside Out

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 117

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Zach Wahhsted, 16, is waiting, as usual, in a coffee shop after school for his mom to pick him up. Two teenagers with guns show up to rob the coffee shop, but a witness calls the police and soon there is a tense hostage situation. The two gunmen, brothers who just want to help pay for their mom’s cancer treatment, don’t want to hurt anyone and they ask for quiet and promise safety for the hostages. When Zach, who suffers from schizophrenia, begins talking back to the voices in his head, they perceive him as being disrespectful and rude. Zach knows he has difficulty determining what is real and what is not, but he doesn’t have a lot of control over his disease. This makes a dangerous situation even more so especially when Zach is not able to take his medication.

REVIEW: Reading this book reminded me a bit of watching a Hitchcock film. I really felt for Zach, a bright kid dealing with a terrible illness. Two of the voices in his head, Dirtbag and Rat, tell him he is worthless and try to get him to kill himself. Zach knows that he has trouble knowing what is real and what is not and he knows he responds inappropriately in many situations. What he does not know is how to fix it. Trueman, one of my new favorite authors, gives us an insight into just what Zach is thinking and his daily struggles. Throughout the book a relationship develops between Zach and the two brothers who are trying to rob the coffee shop. He even helps them, by contacting his doctor, to make a deal with the police. The hostage situation ends peacefully, but we learn that a few months later Zach does take his own life as so often happens with this disease. The ending was a real blow after coming to care for and admire Zach.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  The book can provide an insight into dealing with mental illness as well as the lengths people can sometimes go to when they feel desperate. This book could also open a discussion for how stories we see on the evening news don’t always paint the whole behind the scenes picture.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The entire book is pretty intense. The final two pages reveal that Zach has committed suicide. Throughout the book when Dirtbag and Rat show up to taunt Zach the dialog is harsh.

RELATED BOOKS: Cut, A Corner of the Universe, Kissing Doorknobs


REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall


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

Shattering Glass

Filed under: S — thebookreviews @ 12:17 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Shattering Glass

Author: Gail Giles

Page Length: 215

Reading Level: 6.2


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The front cover of the book boasts the review “suspenseful, disturbing…” Disturbing is definitely a description I would use also. In a nutshell, the story centers around the popular crowd in a Texas high school. Rob is the ring leader who determines the actions of all the other members. He deems who is to be popular and who is not; his followers do as he asks without question. Stepping outside his usual realm, he deems it necessary to completely usurp and demean the former most popular guy in high school, Lance. He hatches this scheme by making the most ridiculed boy in school, Simon Glass, popular. With a makeover, new clothes, and lessons from Rob, Simon couldn’t be better received. Simon and all the male characters, suffer some parent issues – especially with their fathers. Simon steps outside the lines when he begins to think for himself. He discovers Rob’s untold secrets and perhaps the motivating factor behind is excessive need to control and dominate everything. Everything begins to unwind as the competition for class favorites concludes at the dance. Secrets are revealed and alliances shattered. How far will Rob go to keep his secrets? Who will pay the ultimate price?


AREAS FOR TEACHING: From a teaching perspective this book has some strong points. For example, it is a powerful example of how blindly following others can go wrong. The book completely illustrates how hurtful and inane cliques can be and how devastating the consequences of seemingly harmless actions can be. Giles also details how making a wrong turn (a bad decision) can quickly spiral out of control; one bad action leads to another and another. This book is great for teaching life lessons and for examining the consequences of actions – and for really discussing how often we should pause and consider the repercussions of our actions before making decisions. The letters that begin each chapter are beautiful examples of foreshadowing. Another huge discussion point is presented at the end of the book when justice is meted out unevenly.


TOUCHY AREAS: On the other hand, the book deals frankly with some touchy subjects – namely, molestation of boys by fathers and camp counselors. It also exposes the cruelty of cliques through negative comments and treatment of others.  This book is disturbing because it exposes the potential darkness within a hurting and damaged heart. The characters lose their sense of self and even of right and wrong. We witness one character breaking up with his girlfriend because it’s part of the master plan. Teenage sex and the disappointment characters had with their first time are also discussed— but decently. Be wary – this is loaded with issues – but on the other hand it’s certainly not the average read.



(consider the video book trailer as an assignment – this has a lot of potential ***)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


March 11, 2008



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.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


February 7, 2008

Something Upstairs

Filed under: S — thebookreviews @ 10:38 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Something Upstairs

Author: Avi

Page Length: 119

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Historical Fiction


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This book started off with an “author’s explanation” of how he came to write this story. It seems that Avi, the author, was inspired by a child’s real experience with a ghost-like being. The story is set during the present in Providence, Rhode Island. This choice of setting intrigued me as part of my family is from this area. I didn’t realize though that residents of Rhode Island continued to take part in the slave trade from Africa to the U.S. South long after the slave trade was declared illegal. This fact along with several others in the initial chapters showed me that this story is not only shrouded in ghost-like mysteries but a little bit of history as well.


The main character is a child named Kenny who moves to Providence with his family. Their new home is actually an old one built in 1789. Kenny’s room ends up being a tiny room in the attic. It is here that Kenny discovers strange noises coming from an interior room. The noises turn out to be a ghost reaching out from a stained (bloody) floor. Kenny cannot believe his eyes! He is able to talk to the ghost who identifies himself as Caleb. The ghost also identifies himself as a slave and that his last memories are from August 17, 1800. Kenny investigates this recent event in the local library and discovers that around August 17, 1800 a slave named Caleb appeared to take his own life in a locked room inside the very house Kenny now lives. Upon reading this, Kenny agrees to help Caleb find his murderer by walking with him outside of his house. When the two of them do this, they are transported back to the year 1800. During this time they witness several people talking about the slave trade. Some are against it for moral reasons, and others are for it for financial reasons. There are many clues and actions in the chapters that follow that lead all the way up to the point in which Caleb is supposed to have died. However there is a twist.


Mr. Willinghast, who haunts the present day but lives during the 1800s forces Kenny to choose whether or not to kill Caleb. If Kenny kills Caleb, Kenny can return back to his own time. If he does not kill the slave, Kenny will remain in the past forever. Willinghast has power over Kenny in the form of Kenny’s key chain (an article from the present).


It is implied, at the end, that Kenny kills Mr. Willinghast. Then, Kenny returns to his own time. In a newspaper article at the conclusion of this story, it is stated that it was not Caleb that took his own life in a locked room, but rather Willinghast. The roles of the dead have reversed.


I enjoyed this story because it was fast-paced. The blending of history and suspense kept me interested from beginning until end. The role of Mr. Willinghast was a little confusing at first but at the end I got the gist of his purpose.


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: One note of caution: there is one word that is repeated several times on pages 88 and 89 that may cause offense to some people. Please preview this section (in the context of the whole story) before allowing students to read this book.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Create a free website or blog at