18. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (225 pages)
19. Grimm's Grimmest Illustrated by Tracy Arah Dockray Introduction by Maria Tatar (142 pages)
20. Adaline Falling Star by Mary Pope Osbourne (169 pages)
21. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin (182 pages)
22. Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin (224 pages)
23. The Freedom Writer's Diary by the Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell (292 pages)
24. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (335 pages)
25. You Suck by Christopher Moore
Bold: read it now! It’s great
Italics: run away! It’s awful
Plain Text = various degrees of OK
18. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (225 pages) When his father gets a job as a guard and his sister is accepted at a special school, Moose's family moves to Alcatraz. Feeling like one of the prisoners, Moose finds himself trapped by his duties as an brother to a mentally challenged sister, unable to do the things that other kids his age are able to do. He also has to deal with his mother, who is obsessed with curing his sister, and Piper, the Warden's cute and trouble-making daughter. I admit that I picked up this young adult book based on its clever and catchy title (which actually has a surprising significance). It is a good, decently written young adult novel dealing with difficult family situations and dynamics. It could have been better, had it been more literary (such as drawing more direct parallels between Moose's life and his setting and the disconnected plot threads). A decent, rich read for grades 8 or 9. Grade: B+
19. Grimm's Grimmest Illustrated by Tracy Arah Dockray Introduction by Maria Tatar (142 pages) A fantastic collection with beautiful and horrific illustrations of little-known Grimm's fairy tales in their original, earliest, uncensored versions (for instance, revealing Rapunzel's pregnancy, Princess Furball's sexually abusive father, the true gore and violence of The Juniper Tree and Cinderella). A great collection for both adults and older children as the violence, darkness, and danger add not only a greater level of entertainment and imagination, but also of psychological importance in its deeper look into the depths of human psychology and experience. Grade: A
20. Adaline Falling Star by Mary Pope Osbourne (169 pages) (reread for teaching) I really enjoyed rereading this with my kids. The fictional story of Kit Carson's "wild" half-Native American daughter who runs after him after being left with her white cousins. She befriends a mongrel dog and has to face straddling two worlds and the battles between her head and her heart. Good, strong young adult novel about survival, love, finding one's place and identity.
21. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin (182 pages) Ged is discovered to possess extraordinary magic abilities and goes to a wizard school. His pride and desire for power, though, unleashes a great evil which he will have to face. Interesting fantasy elements can't save this book from flat characters (except for Ged), standard fantasy clichés, and just a boring, rambling plot. It might be a classic of the genre, but the characters were distant, the plot unoriginal and rambling, and just plain boring. There is so much better in the genre. Sorry. Grade: C
22. Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin (224 pages) For the past two years, I have lost 90 pounds. Now, when people ask me how I did it, I can recommend they read this book, for I feel as though I could have written it. (That is, if I were smarter). This book is a great "No shit!" guide to dieting that blatantly says what every diet book tiptoes around (that you're fat and want to be beautiful and skinny) and says what every diet book should say (get off your fat ass and stop eating shit). Of course, under that no-nonsense, common sense attitude is a deep affection and appreciation for health, physical and mental well-being. This book has great humor, great advice, great health information, and great motivators. Brilliant book that has to be the greatest dieting books and one of the best health books out there. It is one empowering, refreshing, clever book that, even I--a health nut--learned and was motivated by. Love this book. Couldn't put it down. Don't want to put it on the shelf. Grade: A+
23. The Freedom Writer's Diary by the Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell (292 pages) In the tradition of Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo, 150 American teenagers write about their lives in a war zone, a war zone of horrific violence, prejudice, poverty, drugs, gangs, racial intolerance. A war zone tragically ignored by most of America. The book allows us a window into their lives, but, more than that, it is an utter inspiration. These teenagers write about the lessons they learn from their inspiring and passionate teacher, from each other, and from within. They chose to change their lives and those around them for the better, to turn tragedy and hopelessness into power, hope, beauty, love, and success. A must read for teenagers, students, teachers, and every American. Grade: A+
"Thank heaven! I am going tomorrow where I shall find a man who has not one agreeable quality, who has neither manner nor sense to recommend him. Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing, after all."
"One has all the goodness, and the other al the appearance of it."
"I am quite sorry, Lizzy, that you should be forced to have that disagreeable man all to yourself."
24. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (335 pages) With the exception of the Harry Potter series, I have read this book more times than any other book. Needless to say, it is one of my most favorite, most beloved books ever. Even reading it for the eighth time, I laughed, I teared up, I thought, and I sighed. Jane Austen, who's every penned letter I adore and--in the words of EM Forster am "slightly imbecile about"--is never more ironic, more fun, more funny, more true, more insightful, more beautiful, more brilliant than in this, her masterpiece. I still bow before her amazing ability to take great themes of human character and psychology and turn them into brilliant, humorous, beautiful, clever, and deeply real and human romances. Romances of the mind, soul, and heart. Elizabeth's pride allows her only to love men that flatter and pay her attention. Darcy's pride makes him a snob without manners. This, of course, is ironic, as it causes Darcy to fall in love with Elizabeth, but not to win her. His pride (and prejudice against the world) wounds hers and makes her prejudiced. Would you ever think that two such human characteristics would be so entertaining, so fascinating, so enchanting? His goodness, though, eventually improves him and allows for the coming together of one of literature's greatest love stories. Darcy is Jane's most flawed, most complex, and most heroic heroes (not to mention, sexy). Elizabeth is her most modern, most spirited, wittiest, and cleverest heroines. P&P is by far her most hilarious novel, and it is one of the greatest works of the English language. I love and adore this book. Grade: A++++
"I believe it's disrespectful to refer to your soul mate in terms of finger food."
25. You Suck by Christopher Moore Christopher Moore is one of the greatest authors of all time. Absolutely hilarious and brilliantly imaginative, he is America's own Douglas Adams. His books are full of bawdy humor, perfect wit, clever twists on mythology, perfectly penned prose, charming and real human characters, and an enchanting, engaging sweetness under it all. That said, Bloodsucking Fiends was probably my least favorite of the six Moore novels I had read, so I was a bit reluctant to pick up the sequel, You Suck, as my annual Moore-read. Though the plot meanders and retreads much of the original, it is completely saved by the brilliant character of Abby Normal, ass-kicking Goth teenager who narrates a good portion of the book with absolute hilarity and OMG!teen angst and squeeage. Definitely the best parts of the book are from her point-of-view, highlighting the ridiculousness and comedic situations of the supposedly dark vampyre world. Moore is at his best in that juxtaposing tone. The rest is Tommy adapting to life as a vampire, a blue-painted hooker-turned-vampire chasing them, and some other characters just sort of hanging around. Grade: A-