Wednesday, September 4, 2013


In The Madman’s Daughter, debut novelist Megan Shepherd transforms H.G. Well’s classic Island of Dr. Moreau into a romantic horror story.  Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau is just a step away from homelessness after her father, the famous Dr. Moreau, fled Victorian London in disgrace and her mother died of tuberculosis.  Juliet is able to fend for herself by working as a janitress in the morgue of a medical school, a huge step down for a young woman brought up in high society.  Accused of conducting horrific experiments, Dr. Moreau abandoned his family to avoid arrest.  For ten years, Juliet thought her father died after leaving, but she discovers evidence that leads her to believe not only is Dr. Moreau alive but still living in London.  In a decrepit tavern, she does not find her father but instead encounters a ghost from her past. 

Montgomery and Juliet grew up together.  He was the son of her family’s maid.  Dr. Moreau treated Montgomery as his own child and when he left, he took the boy with him.  Juliet learns that her father is very much alive and Montgomery has been working as his assistant all this time.  The two live in a former Spanish fort on a remote Pacific island.  Montgomery returns to England just once a year to gather supplies for their research.  Dangerously close to being destitute and desperate to see her father, Juliet demands that Montgomery take her on the voyage back to the island.  No amount of arguing can dissuade Juliet, but when she arrives on Dr. Moreau’s island, she realizes living on the streets of London would have been safer than where she is now.  All the rumors about her father’s work are true, and the island’s strange inhabitants threaten everyone’s life.

This gruesome novel will appeal to fans of the Twilight series, though The Madman’s Daughter has more substance.  The themes of animal rights and genetic engineering are thoroughly explored.  Shepherd’s writing is tense and exciting.  The suspense builds through the novel and the ending is a surprise.  The only disappointment in book is the unnecessary love triangle.  Juliet seems more fixated at times with her raging hormones than her potential demise.  Her conflicting feelings for Montgomery and Edward, a castaway they discover on the voyage to the island, bog down the story.  Otherwise, The Madman’s Daughter is a gripping tale of scientist discovery taken a step too far.  Recommended for grades 8 and up. 

Four out of five stars.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


The Middle School Book Club will meet on October 2, 2013 at lunch to discuss Summer of the Gypsy Moths.  You can read my review of of Sara Pennypacker's wonderful novel here.  All students are welcome.  As always, pizza will be provided.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Book Review: ONE CAME HOME

Georgie Burkhardt refuses to accept that the body that the sheriff brought back to Placid is her sister. Sure, the corpse has red hair and is wearing the same dress that her sister owned, but the body is too decomposed to convince Georgie that her older sister Agatha is really gone. Even though her mother and grandfather accept that Agatha is dead, Georgie wants to retrace the steps that her sister took when she ran away weeks ago to find out what really happened. Putting her own life in danger, Georgie sets off on a journey that unveils her own role in her sister's disappearance.

Set in 1871 Wisconsin, Amy Timberlake's novel combines historical fiction with mystery. Though it takes a while to gain momentum, One Came Home is dark and intriguing novel that can appeal to a wide audience. Georgie is strong protagonist who is not completely likable, which might bother some readers. Those who can endure the slow start and don't mind Georgie's gritty demeanor will be rewarded with beautifully written story.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


When Mallory catches her boyfriend cheating on her with an online girl, she decides it is time to take a break from technology. The next day, while packing up her grandmother’s house, she finds a list, written by her grandmother, of things that she wanted to achieve during her junior year in high school. Seeing this list convinces Mallory that life in the 1960s was easier and she would like to live a simpler life herself. She decides to go vintage; if it did not exist in 1962, then it’s not part of her life. Mallory changes her wardrobe, tosses her phones, abandons her computer, and gives up the reality television shows she loves. She plans to keep this social experiment going until she accomplishes all the items on her grandmother’s list. She has to form a pep club and become its secretary, make a float for the homecoming parade, host a dinner party, sew her own homecoming dress, and find a steady. All of these tasks prove difficult as does being a high school student without the use of any technology. Who has a typewriter for class assignments? Luckily Mallory has a lot of patience and a wonderfully supportive sister, Ginny. During her project, Mallory learns about a lot about life in the 1960s, our dependence on technology, her own family’s secrets, and how to find happiness within herself.

Going Vintage is a refreshing, lighthearted novel that is perfect for fans of Meg Cabot. Leavitt stays away from sex, drugs, or heavy subject matter, and just offers a really funny, enjoyable story. Readers can relate to Mallory and enjoy her humorous exploits. They might even consider taking a break from their own gadgets for a while.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Middle School Bookclub Discusses LEGEND

Last week the Middle School Bookclub met during lunch to discuss Marie Lu's dystopian novel Legend.  This book was very popular with the 12 students between the ages of 10 and 14 who came to the meeting.  In Legend, the United States has broken apart and the western section of the continent is now know as the Republic.  To win its ongoing war against its neighbor, the Republic tests all children at the age of 13.  Those who do well go to military training schools; those who do not succeed are sent to government labor camps and never heard from again.  June was born into an elite military family and it is no surprise that she earns the highest score ever on the exam.  Day comes from a poor neighborhood with few opportunities to get ahead.  After he fails his exam, Day escapes his fate and becomes the most wanted criminal in the Republic.    When June's brother is murdered, Day is the prime suspect.  She goes undercover to find Day, but when she learns more about the government's role both their lives, June and Day form an important bond.

Here are our discussion questions:

1.  The events of Legend take place over a hundred years in the future. What do you imagine the United States will be like a century from now? Do you think it could resemble the fractured country in Legend?

2. What do their relationships with Tess and Thomas mean to Day and June? Why do you think Day continues to travel with Tess? What did you think of Thomas when he was first introduced? Why did June trust Thomas?

3. After learning the truth about Day, why do you think the government treated him the way they did?

4. How did you feel about the romance between June and Day?  Do you think there is too much romance in dystopian novels or does it work well with the genre?

5. Is there anything from Day’s memories of his childhood that hint at what John will ultimately do for his brother on the day of Day’s planned execution?  Were you surprised by the ending

6. What would Legend have been like if only Day or June narrated the book? If you had to pick a character other than Day or June to narrate Legend, who would it be and why?

7. What role does the plague have in Legend? How is it symbolic?

8. Near the end of Legend we learn that Day’s pendant is an American quarterfrom 1990. Why is this coin symbolic? What other symbols appear in Legend?

9. What do you think the book’s title means? Who or what does “legend” refer to?

10. Legend is the first installment of a trilogy. What do you think is in store for Day and June in the next book in the series?  If you have read Prodigy, did it live up to your expectations?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: TWERP

After returning from a weeklong suspension for a bullying incident, Julian Twerski is given the opportunity be exempt from writing a report on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by instead keeping a journal. His English teacher wants him to write about the event that led to his punishment. Julian has no problem writing about his daily struggles as a sixth grade boy, but he has no intention of writing about what he did to Stanley. Julian’s journal instead covers the exploits of his friend Lonnie, his first date, and his attempt to maintain his title of fast kid in school. He avoids the dreaded topic of bullying until the very last chapter where he finally describes participating in an act of cruelty on a mentally disabled boy.  

Twerp, is being marketed as an anti-bullying book, which is a topic much sought after by middle schools. Unfortunately, Twerp does very little to address that issue. Instead, the book is more of a coming-of-age story that reads like several episodes of the television show The Wonder Years mashed together until its dramatic climax at the end. Julian is ambivalent about his actions for months after the event until he is forced to write them. Only after he describes his attack on Stanley does he experience any remorse. For much of the novel, his bullying incident is barely mentioned.

As a coming-of-age story, Twerp is humorous; though, Julian’s narration is too mature for a sixth grade, even if he is gifted. His stories are charming, but I’m not sure they would appeal to sixth grade boys. Julian’s relationship with his friends, particularly Lonnie, is well developed and realistic. It is easy to see how Julian is lured into behavior he would not normally consider by charismatic Lonnie. The character of Eduardo is not realistic at all; his lines read like Javier Bardem trapped in a 13 year-old’s body. 

While I think Mark Goldblatt has a talent for writing humorous dialog, Twerp is another book that will interest adults more than children. I would recommend giving this book to readers who enjoy Gary D. Schmidt’s works.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 22, 2013


In 1950s New Orleans, smart and resourceful Josie is the daughter of an uncaring prostitute. Her mother Louise works in a high-end brothel run by Willie, a shrewd yet surprising thoughtful madam. Though Josie has been living on her own since she was twelve, Willie has always been looking out for her. Now that Josie is seventeen, she wants to leave the craziness of the Big Easy. She has her sights on enrolling at Smith College; however, the murder of a wealthy businessman in the Quarter threatens to destroy her plans. 

Out of the Easy takes a rich setting adds fascinating characters and drops in a little mystery to create a wonderful novel. It is very hard to put this book down. Josie’s almost Cinderella story will entice teen readers. The book suffers a bit through an unnecessary love-triangle, but thankfully romance plays only a small part in the story. Where the book really shines is in the relationship between Willie and Josie. Willie is based real-life New Orleans madam Norma Wallace, and she is hilarious. Though Out of the Easy contains mature themes, Septeys plays it safe with the descriptions and dialogue. This novel is appropriate for grades 8 and up.

4 out of 5 stars