Thursday, 26 March 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Amazon Product Description:

Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into a new year and a new school where undersize weaklings share the corridors with kids who are taller, meaner and already shaving. Desperate to prove his new found maturity, which only going up a grade can bring, Greg is happy to have his not-quite-so-cool sidekick, Rowley, along for the ride. But when Rowley's star starts to rise, Greg tries to use his best friend's popularity to his own advantage. Recorded in his diary with comic pictures and his very own words, this test of Greg and Rowley's friendship unfolds with hilarious results.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a lot of fun. I pounced on it when I saw it on the shelf of a local bookstore and rushed off to the nearest coffee shop to read the first sixty pages. I'm sure the other customers thought I was a bit strange as I kept trying to stifle my laughter, but at times I just couldn't stop chuckling out loud. I was afraid to turn a page and sip my coffee at the same time just in case my coffee drinking and laughing came together in a page-splattering explosion.

Needless to say, I didn't put it down until I finished reading it. I found the comic art / diary style to be an interesting gimmick. The artwork is funny in its simplicity and it drives home a lot of the humour in the stories. The book is really just a collection of interesting thoughts and little stories about life in middle school. In fact, the book is fairly random that way. However, it is still a lot of fun and well worth reading.

I'm curious to see what you will think of it. The thing is, it represents a boy's North American school experience. I'm not sure if the humour will translate. Will it be just as funny for you as it was for me? It's funny to me because I can recognize a lot of what happens in this book as being similar to experiences I had when I was growing up. Please let me know what you think of it.

At the very least, you should read this book because it was in third place on the 2008 ALA chart just behind Eclipse and Harry Potter. It is worth checking it out just to see what all the fuss was about. You be the judge.

Have a look at the first few pages here at Amazon. By the way, Best Eastern just got a shipment in and the cost is $15.80. You can also get on the wait list for this one if you like by adding a comment or leaving a message on the shoutmix. Icklebooks is waiting for their copies and I asked Reader's Haven to order it. BTW, I enjoyed this book and I will probably read it again someday. Therefore, I probably won't be donating it to the reading room. Sorry, waitlisted students are the only ones who will get to read it (unless you buy a copy yourself).

4/5 Stars

Monday, 16 March 2009

Perils and Dangers of this Night by Stephen Gregory

A bleak mid-winter. An icy wind blows through the corridors of Foxwood Manor, a boys' prep-school deep in the woodlands of Dorset. The boys have gone home at the end of the Christmas term and the old house is left to the headmaster, Dr Kemp, his wife, and Alan Scott, a boy abandoned by his mother. As the snow falls heavily on the house and the surrounding woods, a story of revenge and retribution unfolds: a web of half-truths and innuendo's woven into a bizarre game of hide-and-seek through the corridors and dormitories of the school. "The Perils and Dangers of this Night" is a compelling story of unfolding horror as a small boy undergoes a rite of passage, seeking redemption from his haunted past.
If you like horror stories, you're going to love this. Even if you don't like horror stories, you're going to love this.
Mr Stephen Gregory's novel is the first horror story I've ever read cover to cover. I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I started reading it early one morning and I couldn't put it down. I read it page after page until I finished it with only the odd break here and there to attend to family matters.
I hadn't realized that something so terrible and disturbing could be written so beautifully. You can see that Gregory loves language. He plays with it. I enjoyed the way he developed the characters and described the setting. It created a vivid dream-like world that set me on edge.
This story is very interesting and it slowly sneeks up on you. It lulls you into a dream and carries you along though all the while you know that in the end it is going to get nasty. My favourite character was an old dog. Gregory manages to describe the mutt in a way that reminded me of so many old hounds I've known over the years. I became quite attached to him. You know how that goes, right?
The ending is good horror story nastiness. You'll hate it, but you'll find you just can't stop reading... kind of like when you can't help turning your head to see a traffic accident on the side of the road.
Anyway, I can't recommend it to young readers because of the adult content in it. However, for the mature young adult readers it should be fine. Stick with it. I think you might just enjoy this one.
BTW, I love the design of the book. For a paperback, it is incredible. I love the colours and the cool photo on the cover. I love the print design with the dominant title and the author's name sweeping across the bottom of the book. Great stuff! I'm sure Gregory was pleased with the publisher's treatment.
4.5/5 Stars

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson Review:

In A Walk in the Woods Bill Bryson tackles what is, for him, an entirely new subject: the American wilderness. Accompanied only by his old college buddy Stephen Katz, Bryson starts out one March morning in north Georgia, intending to walk the entire 2,100 miles to trail's end atop Maine's Mount Katahdin.

If nothing else, A Walk in the Woods is proof positive that the journey is the destination. As Bryson and Katz haul their out-of-shape, middle-aged butts over hill and dale, the reader is treated to both a very funny personal memoir and a delightful chronicle of the trail, the people who created it, and the places it passes through. Whether you plan to make a trip like this one yourself one day or only care to read about it, A Walk in the Woods is a great way to spend an afternoon.
I've been telling my students to try reading a book you wouldn't normally read. Try something a bit different. I'm doing that myself.
Right after I finished Bryson's Made In America I picked up this book. Once more, I thought, "There is no way I'm going to read this. How boring could this be?" And once again I read the first few pages and before I knew it I had read the whole book. It's so weird.
Anyway, the characters in this book are really funny. I've met crazy people like the ones described by Bryson and I've had weird experiences like he has. I've done a tiny bit of mountain hiking and a little hiking in the woods so I can kind of relate to what he is talking about.
Bill made me laugh. His hiking partner Katz had me rolling on the floor.
Once again, there are parts of the book that will put you to sleep. I probably won't make it hiking on the path he describes in the Eastern United States so some of the detail gets to be a bit too much. That said, I read about 75% of the book and I quite enjoyed it.
You may want to take a quick flick through this book and see if something interests you. Read the first chapter and see if Bryson can get your attention. He just might.
3/5 Stars

Made In America by Bill Bryson Review:

Readers from Toad Suck, Arkansas, to Idiotsville, Oregon--and everywhere in between--will love Made in America, Bill Bryson's Informal History of the English Language in the United States. It is, in a word, fascinating. After reading this tour de force, it's clear that a nation's language speaks volumes about its true character: you are what you speak. Bryson traces America's history through the language of the time, then goes on to discuss words culled from everyday activities: immigration, eating, shopping, advertising, going to the movies, and others.

Made in America will supply you with interesting facts and cocktail chatter for a year or more. Did you know, for example, that Teddy Roosevelt's "speak softly and carry a big stick" credo has its roots in a West African proverb? Or that actor Walter Matthau's given name is Walter Mattaschanskayasky? Made in America is an excellent discussion of American English, but what makes the book such a treasure is that it offers much, much more.

A few weeks ago one of the teachers at my school mentioned a book she had read by Bill Bryson and she told me he had found a way to make history interesting and easy to read. In particular, she said it was funny how he would describe people and places and you'd think, "Hey, I know what he means." Maybe you've met somebody just like the person he describes.

The next time I was in the reading room I picked up one of his books. It was called Made in America. I was thinking that I probably wouldn't like it much. Since Bush, I've found it really hard to like Americans and it was going to be a big stretch for me to like reading about American history.

Anyway, I thought I'd read just a few pages. But a few pages became a few chapters and before I knew it I had read the entire book. Weird. Actually, I'm lying. There were parts I skipped. Sometimes Bill gets just a little too excited about some topics I'm just not interested in. For example, he will get very involved in the origin of words, but even as a language teacher I find he gets just a bit too enthusiastic sometimes.

That said, there are a lot of interesting chapters and I generally enjoyed most of the book. I found myself laughing out loud sometimes. It is interesting to know how things came to be in America and if you can start from the beginning and get a good feel for what has happened over the years there, I think it gets increasingly difficult to dislike Americans.

If you get a chance, you may want to take a quick flip through this book. It won't all interest you, but stuff like how Hollywood began might catch your eye.

3/5 Stars

Sunday, 15 March 2009

2008 Books of the Year

In 2008, the ALA had 8,000 teens vote for their favourite books and the top 10 books are listed below. I'm curious to know how many people have read them. I'm also curious to know which ones are being sold in local bookstores.

  1. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  4. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
  5. Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson
  6. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  7. The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
  8. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
  9. Before I Die by Jenny Downham
  10. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Like most of you, I have read number one and two. Although, I think Harry Potter was better than Eclipse, don't you? I have read Westerfeld's Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, but I haven't bought the fourth book in the series which is Extras. The series was great so I guess I should finish it off.

Now, what about the others? Here is some info on the other books that maybe you haven't heard of. By the way, the new set of nominated books for the ALA awards will come out in about four weeks. Woohoo! The info is from the ALA website which can be found here:

3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Greg Heffley knows he’s not popular, but he tries hard to fit in. He records his
observations about life in middle school in his journal (NOT a diary, he says)
along with frequent drawings. Realistic and laugh out loud funny!

Comment: This book looks like a lot of fun. It has a lot of cartoons in it. I wonder if we can find it at a local bookstore. Please let me know if you have seen it.

4. Vampire Academy

Two best friends, one a pure vampire and one a half-blood vampire, are captured
and returned to the private school they escaped from two years ago. But things
have changed since they left and there is now danger to add to the drama that
resides in the halls of St. Vladimir’s Academy.

Comment: I'm not sure I can do another vampire series. Well, if anybody has read it, please let us know whether or not it is good. Is this a Twilight copycat?

5. Maximum Ride

Max and her flock of winged, genetically engineered teens have been literally
stamped with an expiration date. Additionally, they are split apart and spread
around the world, hiding or captive to their worst enemies. The whitecoats
(scientists) are at it again, tinkering with the usual way of things. How will the
flock manage to defeat a “re-evolution” plan to engineer a superior human race
and save the world?

Comment: This series sounds interesting. Teens that can fly? Genetic engineered teens? I'm in. Where can I buy a copy of this? :)

Amazon Link: