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How They Croaked

May 28, 2013

How They CroakedHow The Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg, Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley

Walker Childrens (March 15, 2011)

Summary: Who would have believed that the end of some of history’s greatest figures are just as interesting as the lives they lived! In How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, Georgia Bragg explores the events that lead up to the deaths of history’s notables such as King Tut, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Dickens, and Albert Einstein (to name a few). Bragg dispels some death myths and shares some pretty gruesome (but mighty interesting) details about final moments of her famous subjects.

The Good: This is a very readable book with descriptions of the mortality of nineteen of history’s notables. Most interesting is how many of the figures had an afterlife in that being dead and buried didn’t necessarily mean going to his or her final resting place. That is one problem with being dead- you can’t really object when friends and fans decide to take a lock of hair, a bone, or even your brain as a souvenir. Yup- you read that right- brain. Read on to find out who lost his gray matter.

Most of the subjects of this book are so famous that most people will have at least some knowledge of who they are. Bragg gives a little bit of perspective on their lives so that we can understand how they came to meet their end. This book does not give in depth information but it is written in such a way that I wanted to know more- not only about the subjects’ deaths, but their lives as well.

The Bad: While a few of the subjects in this book died peacefully, most had a harder time taking their final exit. Let’s just say that eating and drinking lead is not a good idea-who knew? Did you know that Christopher Columbus’, Charles Darwin’s and Marie Curie’s jobs basically killed them? That’s it- I’m not going to work tomorrow! Also, have you ever heard the saying, “The cure is worse than the condition?” Several of these famous subjects endured treatments that probably had them begging for the end.

The Ugly: James A. Garfield was the twentieth president of the United States. Remember any of his great presidential achievements? No? That’s probably because he was only president for four months before he was shot. Well, it wasn’t the bullet that killed him, but the treatment of the medical professionals. Just to make matters worse, it Garfield did not come to a quick demise. I was about two and a half months from the time that he was shot until he died. This story is not as dramatic as some of the others, but oh, what Mr. Garfield endured!

The Awesome: This is not the book to use if you are doing in depth research on a historical figure. However, it is a quick read (I read it in one day) and whets your appetite for finding more information on the subjects in the book. The book is well researched and Bragg includes her sources as well as suggestions for further reading. Now, I’m off to learn more about James A. Garfield!

*Image from Georgia Bragg’s website, Check it out!



September 29, 2011

Bruiser by Neal Schusterman

HarperTeen; 1 edition (June 29, 2010)

Summary: Tennyson and Brontë, 15-year old twins, have a good life. Their parents are college professors, they live in a nice-enough house, they expect to get nice-enough cars when they turn 16, and they are popular enough in school. Really, they only have two problems in their “nice-enough” lives. Their first problems are each other- for two people who shared a womb, they can’t seem to be far enough away from each other. Second, the impending explosion of their parents marriage is infringing on the “nice-enoughness” of their household.

Brewster “Bruiser” Rawlins does not have a nice life at all. He and his brother Cody live with their Uncle Hoyt, who for all his talk of “family time” treats his nephews like scum he found on the bottom of his shoe. “The Bruiser’s” classmates have voted him “Most Likely to get the Death Penalty.”  No one really seems to care what happens to Brewster Rawlins which suits him just fine.  Strange things seem to happen whenever he cares about anyone.

Brewster has done a good job of keeping himself isolated from the outside world, that is, until Brontë comes into his life. He likes her, she likes him, but Tennyson doesn’t like any of it, for a while at least. When Brontë and eventually Tennyson start to care about Brewster, he can’t help but care about them. What will happen when Brontë and Tennyson learn about Brewster’s secret?

The Good: There are many Neal Schusterman books which I have not read, but of the ones that I have, they seem to fall into two catagories: 1) Quirky realistic fiction such as The Schwa was Here and Antsy Does Time, and 2) Creepy stories with a supernatural twist like Everlost or  Unwind. Bruiser walks the line between these two genres. The books starts out like a pretty normal story about a brother, a sister, and her boyfriend who eventually becomes his friend. Pretty average right. That is, until Brewster’s secret hits you right between the eyes (and no…I’m not going to tell you what it is). I was up way too late reading when I hit the “ah ha moment” part of the story. I had an instant “palm to forehead” moment (and then I had to make myself close the book because I knew that I wouldn’t stop reading if I kept going).

The Bad: If you are bothered by changing perspectives in books, this might be a problem, but I found it interesting to hear parts of the story from four different perspectives (Tennyson, Brontë, Brewster, and Cody). Every character has their own view so while the story is told from several different first person points of view, the reader gets an omniscient perspective.

The Ugly: Uncle Hoyt. He is awful. Uncle Hoyt is a completely despicable character. He is abusive and his character is responsible for a few really terrible scenes. Know going into the book that there are about three really disturbing scenes and several uncomfortable ones throughout the book. There is some violence and there were two scenes that made me cringe. That being said, this is a great book, just know going into it that you are going to be bothered by the way Uncle Hoyt behaves.

The Awesome: This is one of those books that you want there to be a sequel for, but you know there won’t be. On one hand, you want to know more about the characters, but on the other hand, you know that you have heard the end of their story and it is somehow okay. At the end of the book you don’t want to say good bye to the characters, but you know it is time.

*Image from Neal Schusterman’s website, Check it out!

Seven Realms Series- Update

September 25, 2011

The Exile Queen and The Gray Wolf Throne By Cinda Williams Chima

It’s been a couple of weeks since I updated, but I spent two weekends ago reading. I mean, as close as I can possibly come to literally spending the entire weekend reading, I did (I’m not sure whether to brag about that or be a little embarrassed). As you know, I had been holding onto the second half of The Exile Queen, the second book in the Seven Realms Series (Demon King). I finally got around to finishing it, and well, I could not stop there! I downloaded The Gray Wolf Throne to my Kindle and, well…I just kept reading.

I have to say that I am really happy with this series. With my love for fantasy, it is perfect. The alternating  plot lines and perspective and fantasy realm setting, reminds me a little of Lord of the Rings…okay…not that anyone can compete with J.R.R. Tolkien…but it does have some of the same qualities.

I am not going to do a full review on these two books, but I will say that the series is quite intriguing and I am both overjoyed and furious about this next part: there will be a fourth book in the series! Yay! There’s more to come. Boo! I have to wait a year for the final book to come out. Luckily I have a lot of great books on my list to read while I am waiting. If I happen to get through my list (or just decide to go wild and crazy and deviate from it) then I am going to try The Heir Series also by Cinda Williams Chima (of which she has just announced there will be two more books).


September 2, 2011


Matched by Ally Condie

Speak; Reprint edition (September 20, 2011)

Just so you know…I stayed up way too late two nights ago to finish this, and look, I’m already posting about it! I think I deserve extra credit for my promptness!

Summary: Imagine life where all your choices were made for you: what you eat, what you wear, how you spend your time…What? That sounds a lot like school to you? What if the government decided what job you would have, where you would live, who you would marry, and even when you would die?

Cassia lives in a future where most diseases have been eliminated and everyone leads fairly worry-free life. At 17, Cassia’s biggest concern is who the Society has chosen for her to marry in a few years. Cassia is thrilled when she is unexpectedly “matched” with her childhood friend, Xander. However, he may not be the only one the Society has in mind for her. Cassia will have to decide whether to do what is expected of her or to break some rules to find out what else her life could have in store for her.


The Good: I generally love post-apocalyptic* science fiction. As with other books along these lines,  like The Uglies series by Scott Westerfield or The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, the government has run amok and  is overly controlling of people’s lives. I am usually a rule follower, but I definitely have a rebellious side (I’m not a big fan of following pointless rules).  I love that Cassia, who starts off accepting the Society’s plan for her life, realizes that there is more beauty in the world than the government wants her to see.


The Bad: I am a little tired of “love triangle” books (and yes, this one has a major love triangle). I think this is exactly what a lot of my students will like about the book, but in my advanced age, I just was not in the mood for it. It took a while for Cassia to get through the “lovey-dovey” stage and start being more adventurous and that was when the book picked up for me. If you like a good love triangle, you will adore this book. If not, bear with it, the action does pick up (and this will not keep me from reading the sequel, Crossed…I have to see how this turns out!).


The Ugly: This is a pretty chaste book. Society would not allow any outpouring of strong emotion! There are a couple of kisses (and I think there are literally, a two…okay…maybe three). I don’t recall any swearing.  There is a little violence, but it is minimal.


The Awesome: As I alluded to in “The Good,” I love how Cassia starts to see the true beauty in the world when she looks beyond what the Society wants her to see. While this does not seem good on the surface, I was really bothered by the thought that there could be a future like the one described in Matched. I really did worry at times that society could evolve to such a state that individual choice was nonexistent. Any book that boarders between an outrageous view of the future and being just believable enough that it could come true will get my attention!

* That’s a great big term that means a war or something else really bad has happened and society has changed drastically because of it.

Hunt for the Seventh

August 26, 2011

Hunt for the Seventh by Christine Morton-Shaw

Katherine Tegen Books; Reprint edition (October 6, 2009)

*Okay, I have a confession: I finished this book well over a month ago. I was so excited to finish my summer reading and be able to get back to some other books I am reading that I neglected to post. This post is a little shorter because the book is not as fresh in my mind. Sorry guys! I’ll do better with the next book!

Summary: Strange happenings are afoot at Minerva Hall. When Jim’s father takes a job at the grand residence, Jim and his sister Sal accompany him. With vast gardens and hundreds of rooms to explore, their new home would be the perfect place if not for grouchy Lord Louis Minerva III. The owner of the hall has no love for children and does not want to be bothered by curious kids. So much so that he has sent his own son to boarding school.

Jim soon finds out that the children of Minerva hall have met an early demise. Things get stranger when Jim begins having visions of the children’s deaths when he finds memorial statues of each one. He also meets a strange boy who calls himself Einstein, speaks in riddles, and shows up at the strangest times. Is Einstein Lord Minerva’s son, escaped from the boredom of school? Will Jim figure out Einstein’s riddles before another child dies?

The Good: This book is a fun mystery mixed with ghost story. The author gives enough clues to keep the reader going back to the map to figure out where Jim should go next.  It was a fun, light read and I enjoyed solving the mystery.

The Bad: I enjoyed this book, but for me, I struggled with the pacing. I was always several steps ahead of Jim in figuring out the clues. Also, there were some real Scooby-doo moments- you know where the grown up complains about meddling kids ruining his plans.

The Ugly: Unless you are opposed to ghosts, there is really nothing objectionable in this book.

The Awesome: I am a huge fan of hidden object/ puzzle computer games. You know, the ones where you have to search through piles of random junk to find things and then you have to use one of those random objects to solve a puzzle or get to the next level of play. I found this book to be like a literary hidden object game.

Bull Rider

July 6, 2011

Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams

Margaret K. McElderry; 1 Reprint edition (May 4, 2010)

Summary: Cam O’Mara comes from a bull riding family but he does not plan to continue the tradition started by his grandfather and brother. He prefers the thrill of skateboarding to the danger of trying to stay on 1,500 pounds of bucking bull (and those are the small ones). Cam never thought he would get on a bull until his brother Ben comes home from Iraq with a Traumatic Brain Injury and a myriad of other injuries. Cam always looked up to his big brother and respected him even if they did not share the same hobby. When Ben comes home he is not the brother Cam remembered.

After taking a dare and getting on the back of a bucking beast, Cam realizes that the thrill of bull riding helps him forget his worries about Ben…for at least eight seconds. Unfortunately, Cam’s problems don’t  end with his new-found sport. First, his mother, worried about her youngest son’s safety (and what mother would not be), puts the kibosh on Cam’s riding. Also, Cam’s best friend and skateboarding buddy Mike is furious that his friend is more interested in bulls than boarding. Finally, instead of getting better, Ben seems to be getting worse- he has given up on ever recovering his memory or the use of his legs. Will a bet with his brother be enough to convince Cam to take on one big bull, fittingly named “Ugly?”

The Good: I think this book is a good depiction of what so many families deal with when injured soldiers return home. Cam has always looked up to Ben even with their differences and Ben has always been there to push Cam. When Ben comes home he is struggling with his injuries and the realization that his life will never be the same as he expected it to be. Cam’s family is preoccupied with taking care of Ben and in some ways Cam falls through the cracks. The family comes  together, each in their own way, to support Ben and help him heal. Through the process, they also learn how much they all need each other’s support.

The Bad: The description of this book is basically that a skateboarder becomes a bull rider. To be honest, I was not terribly intrigued, but as I started reading, I was quickly drawn into Cam’s story. Even if this book sounds like something you would not be interested in, give it a chance! (see my “The Awesome” section)

The Ugly: Okay, here’s the part of the review where I write like the adult that I am. Cam does some lying to his parents and he gets himself into some pretty dangerous situations (ahem…in my book, bulls are dangerous by definition). As with so many other great books, enjoy the book- don’t do stupid things because the characters in the book do! “Kids- listen to your parents! When mom tells you not to get on the back of a 1,500 pound, angry animal- Don’t Do It!” Okay…disclaimer over.

The Awesome: As I said before, I was not initially interested in this book but as I was reading it really got me thinking about rodeos in my life. I grew up in a beach town (more fishing than rodeo), but my family comes from a farming community. I remember going to small community rodeos as a kid and how close you are to the action. It is so different from big rodeos (like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo…which I also love) because there is dirt and dust everywhere and there is something so awe-inspiring about seeing the big animals up close . Also, long before I was born, my grandpa rode bulls…that is until grandma made him stop (seriously…I probably would make any husband of mine stop too). I always thought the drive to do something so dangerous was just stupid bravado, but the way bull riding is described in this book shows the thrill of it. I loved the imagery in “Bull Rider” but what I think I loved the most was the connections I felt to it. When I visited family in my mom’s and dad’s hometown, I always kind of felt like a skater in a rodeo town (figuratively speaking- I have ever been on a skateboard for more than five minutes at a stretch) so I was able to relate to how Cam felt. Even though I do not have any close family members who have sustained a major injury like Ben I could understand what he and his family were going through and through Cam’s description of bull riding, I was able draw connections to my family and my childhood.


July 2, 2011

Slob by Ellen Potter

Philomel (May 14, 2009)

Summary: Owen Birnbaum is smarter than the average 7th grader- I’m not saying he is a bona fide genius (but he is really, really close). He is also fatter than the average 7th grader. These are both reasons why someone might get picked on. It gets on his nerves, but Owen takes the teasing pretty well- that is until someone starts stealing his daily allotment of three Oreo cookies from his lunch. That is more than he can handle. Suspecting that the culprit is the school’s newest student- switchblade, buck knife carrying Mason Ragg- Owen begins setting traps to catch the cookie thief.

While Owen is trying to solve the case of the great Oreo-knapping, he also has other problems. What in the world is he going to do about his sadistic gym teacher, Mr. Wooly, who has definitely made it his mission to embarrass Owen at every opportunity? Also, Owen has another, even bigger problem that he needs to solve- the problem that may be the end of all his other problems. Will he succeed?

The Good: I love Owen’s voice. He is smart, a little sarcastic, and charming. Also, as smart as he is, Owen is naive in many ways. As a reader, I see things about him that he cannot see for himself. That innocence makes him incredibly lovable. I also like that throughout the story you get to see many angles to each of the characters. The book is filled with twists and turns that keep the story interesting. Halfway through the book I thought I had it figured out and then the roller coaster began!

The Bad: I really did like this book. It was a quick read for me and it was interesting. I honestly can’t think of anything that I would consider a negative. This was a fun and interesting book to read.

The Ugly: Like “Red Blazer Girls,” there really aren’t any major issues that  feel need to be disclosed in this book. Owen does get bullied by his classmates and by his gym teacher (ugh…Mr. Wooly is pretty darn awful), and that could be bothersome, but there is nothing that makes this inappropriate reading material.

The Awesome: As you read this book, you Owen unfolds (in the words of Shrek- like an onion). He is a much more complex character than he first appears. I love that Owen tries to take control of his own problems and I love that he learns not to judge people based on his first impression.