Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book Review: NYPD Red by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

Title: NYPD Red
Authors: James Patterson and Marshall Karp
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Hardcover: 400 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
It's the start of Hollywood on Hudson, and New York City is swept up in the glamour. Every night, the red carpet rolls out for movie stars arriving at premieres in limos; the most exclusive restaurants close for private parties for wealthy producers and preeminent directors; and thousands of fans gather with the paparazzi, hoping to catch a glimpse of the most famous and beautiful faces in the world. With this many celebrities in town, special task force NYPD Red is on high alert-and they can't afford to make a single mistake. Then a world-renowned producer fatally collapses at his power breakfast, and top NYPD Red Detective Zach Jordan is the first one on the scene. Zach works with his beautiful new partner, Detective Kylie MacDonald-who also happens to be his ex-girlfriend-to discover who the murderer might be. But this is only the beginning: the most brutal, public, and horrifyingly spectacular crimes they've ever encountered are about to send all of New York into chaos, putting NYPD Red on the ropes. Zach and Kylie know there's no way of telling what a killer this deranged will do next. With the whole world watching, they have to find a way to stop a psychopath who has scripted his finale down to the last explosive detail.
Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

As with all of James Patterson’s books, I eagerly awaited the arrival. I thought new fresh idea with a creative story line. The concept of New York City having an elite police group tasked with protecting A-list people who come to town, seemed very appealing to me. The problem was not with the concept, but more so the writing and lack of depth in some of the characters that were portrayed. The book had a definite division in its writing prose. It was as though the two authors wrote this book without meshing their style together. 

Right from the start, I was not able to connect with the main characters of the story. Police officer, Zach Jordon felt more like a love sick puppy, offering advice to a seasoned psychologist (woman he meets for coffee in the morning) than lead cop for NYPD Red. Zach’s newly assigned partner, ex-girlfriend and object of Zach’s love thoughts, Kylie MacDonald’s character, was so poorly written that I didn’t know if she was a seasoned cop who thought too highly of herself, or a woman out to prove she can make it in, what she thinks is, a man’s world.

The difference between the writing styles was evident in the fact that the Chameleon’s story line was fast paced, well thought of, and showed brilliance as the character unveiled layers of pain, anguish and the need for redemption. On the other hand, both Zach and Kylie’s characters showed clips of how they became attracted to each other, why Kylie went rogue but neither conveyed how the two most important characters, in terms of catching the Chameleon, managed to rise to the level of NYPD Red. Although Captain Cates, in NYPD Red, brought strength, control and a sense of humor to NYPD Red, her character was not enough to make me believe that NYPD Red was anything other than a group of one dimensional people thrown together for the purpose of writing a quick book.

I was also excited with the early revelation of the Chameleon’s name, believing that it would uncover more facets and perhaps introduce breaking points in the Chameleon’s persona, but true to the poor character writing in this book it did not. The revelation only led to a mental hospital where the police were allowed to roam freely, no real thought to patient privacy, and narrowed down, rather quickly, the plot and the players. 

The ending of the book was far worse than the beginning. The climax seemed to happen at such a quick pace that I jumped for joy when the book was over due to the unrealistic nature of the whole yacht scene.

In my opinion, this was a book that was rushed, not up to par for James Patterson and completely disappointing.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review: "You Gotta BE the Book": Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm

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Title: "You Gotta BE the Book": Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents
Author: Jeffrey D. Wilhelm
Publisher: Teachers College Press
Paperback: 208 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Over a decade ago, Jeffrey Wilhelm's groundbreaking book showed educators how to think of reading as a personally meaningful, pleasurable, and productive pursuit. In the 13 years since its publication, the author has experimented with and further developed all of the techniques he first explored in "You Gotta BE the Book," including visual techniques, drama and action strategies, think-aloud protocols, and symbolic story representation/reading manipulatives. In this expanded edition, Wilhelm adds a new commentary to each chapter in which he reflects on the research and insights he introduced in his now-classic text. 
Through textured case studies of engaged and reluctant readers, the Second Edition of "You Gotta BE the Book" once again addresses enduring issues, such as: What do highly engaged adolescent readers DO as they read? What is it about traditional schooling and reading instruction that deters engaged reading and serves to disenfranchise young readers? What types of interventions can be used in the classroom to help all students, especially reluctant ones, become successful readers?

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

For teachers or parents out there who are struggling to get their kid to read - get this book! Wilhelm has spent years researching the best methods for engaging struggling readers with books, and for helping engaged readers find even more meaningful ways of connecting with stories, novels, and other texts. "You Gotta BE the Book" gives a fairly good overview of why struggling readers don't like reading, what's preventing them from enjoying books, and how to fix it. It also presents some simple activities that are incredibly effective at helping kids enjoy and make meaning from what they read.

As teachers, it is our responsibility to help struggling students over obstacles. This book isn't just for English teachers, though it definitely has more relevance to them than to any other subject; however, if you teach reading at all in your classroom, Wilhelm's ideas about reading activities and the struggle of low-level readers are definitely worth checking out. I found this book accessible, enjoyable, and incredibly useful in understanding the problems that many students go through and the ways we can help them overcome those problems.

Some of the ideas seem very simple or common-sense, but it's nice to be reminded of what may help students. I especially liked Wilhelm's ideas of using drama and art to respond to a text, instead of the more common question-and-answer or essay approach. I think that all of the activities he presents are practical and easy to implement in the classroom. Read this one! It's worth it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Audiobook Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

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Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Narrator: August Ross
Publisher: AudioGo
Duration: 8 hours, 43 minutes
Edition: Unabridged
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story... 
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. 
So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay. 
When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. 
And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Anna Dressed in Blood is a fun ghost story about a guy who kills ghosts and a ghost who kills people. Strangely, they end up sort of liking each other. Cas is a ghost hunter, like his father before him. He is intent on gaining enough skill and expertise so that he can track down the ghost who killed his father and take revenge. He moves to a new town  with his mother, determined to find Anna and send her off to the afterlife. In the process, he makes friends, people get killed, and Cas realizes that Anna's situation isn't as straightforward as it seems -- and neither are the weird events that keep happening around him.

I haven't read a good ghost story in awhile, so I enjoyed this book. I like how Blake brings together ghost hunting and witch elements. She does this so well, that I kind of hope she brings more paranormal stuff into the sequel. There are also incredibly gory kill scenes that every good ghost story should have. The plot didn't drag, which I was really grateful for. Everything felt like it moved along fairly quickly and I wasn't bored for a second.

But there were definitely predictable moments. All of the side characters are worked from stereotypes and they don't have much complexity to them -- add that to the not-so-subtle clues that something weird is going with Cas, and it doesn't have to do with hunting for Anna, and you've got an ending that's pretty easy to figure out. With that said, I still think it's worth a read. I enjoyed the idea of the story and thought that Cas's background was interesting -- not to mention the whole cool ghost-hunting thing.

However, while the story is fun and enjoyable, I don't recommend the audiobook. The narration sounded very stilted to me -- it almost seemed as if words were taken from different clips and pieced together to form the story, because the expression and emphasis rarely matched what was going on in the story. Considering that this is also a first person narration, I expected a lot more energy and personality. I was frustrated by this and found it hard to connect with the characters and the story because of the narration. If you're going to read this at all, definitely go for print.

If you're into ghost stories, definitely pick this one up. It does have its gory moments, but it's an interesting look at ghost hunting and, while predictable, kept me interested the whole time. I can't wait to read the sequel!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau

Title: The Prophet of Yonwood
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Narrator: Becky Ann Baker
Publisher: Listening Library
Edition: Unabridged
Series: Ember, Book 3
Duration: 6 hours, 19 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
It’s 50 years before the settlement of the city of Ember, and the world is in crisis. War looms on the horizon as 11-year-old Nickie and her aunt travel to the small town of Yonwood, North Carolina. There, one of the town’s respected citizens has had a terrible vision of fire and destruction. Her garbled words are taken as prophetic instruction on how to avoid the coming disaster. If only they can be interpreted correctly. . . .  
 As the people of Yonwood scramble to make sense of the woman’s mysterious utterances, Nickie explores the oddities she finds around town—her great-grandfather’s peculiar journals and papers, a reclusive neighbor who studies the heavens, a strange boy who is fascinated with snakes—all while keeping an eye out for ways to help the world. Is this vision her chance? Or is it already too late to avoid a devastating war?

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5
I haven't been much of a fan of the other books in the Ember series; as far as children's books go, they're okay. However, even for children's books I find them too simplistic and the characters too stereotypical. The same holds true for The Prophet of Yonwood. I was able to get through this book, because it wasn't Nickie that bothered me; it was all the adults. I know that children's books often put adults in the background, which can seem strange, but I hate it when they make the adults look stupid and clueless. I couldn't believe that the village followed Brenda Beeson, when she was obviously discriminating against people and taking control of the town. To some extent, this would have been believable, but most everyone followed this lady's every word. To put it simply, it drove me crazy.

The Prophet of Yonwood is the prequel to the Ember series, before the City of Ember has been created. A woman named Althea sees the apocalyptic future and pretty much goes crazy. As she rants, the villagers take her words as what they need to do to prevent doomsday. This includes a bunch of restrictions such as no dancing and no music that eventually escalates into there being a restriction against having dogs. Nickie takes things into her own hands at that point and tries to both get her dog back and understand why the prophet Althea would forbid dogs.

Like I said, the characters were all stereotypical and the adults were simply stupid. They were sheep being herded around by Brenda's crazy proclamations. Nickie's aunt is clueless throughout the entire novel, to the point where she doesn't even realize that another person and a dog is living in her house for quite some time. I also thought the ending was a bit too glossed-over happy. It ends with Nickie being an old woman going down into the city of Ember. No mention of her kids, which I was curious about. And there's only one reason (and not a very good one, I think) that is mentioned for why she is allowed to go to the city. As an old woman, and since they have limited supplies and room, I wanted there to be some sort of special reason Nickie is allowed into the city -- some sort of area of expertise or something. But none of that information was given.

The narration was average. While I didn't hate the audiobook, I don't feel like Baker truly brought it to life. She did the normal things like change voices for each character, which I admit was well done, but other than that, there was nothing outstanding about the narration. Like the previous book, The People of Sparks, this one had sound effects, and I disliked them for the most part. At times they enhanced the story, but they were mostly distracting.

If you're reaching for books to get your kid to read, and they seem to like dystopias, I think this series would be appropriate. It's at an easy reading level, and kids might enjoy it a little bit more. However, I don't think that it's a timeless children classic or even a good children's series. It's okay. Adults might not get much enjoyment out of it, although I will admit that the previous two novels are much better than this book.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book Review: Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith Matthew Stover

Title: Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith
Author: Matthew Stover
Publisher: Del Rey
Series: The Dark Lord Trilogy, Book 2
Hardcover: 418 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The turning point for the entire Star Wars saga is at hand 
After years of civil war, the Separatists have battered the already faltering Republic nearly to the point of collapse. On Coruscant, the Senate watches anxiously as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine aggressively strips away more and more constitutional liberties in the name of safeguarding the Republic. Yoda, Mace Windu, and their fellow Masters grapple with the Chancellor’s disturbing move to assume control of the Jedi Council. And Anakin Skywalker, the prophesied Chosen One, destined to bring balance to the Force, is increasingly consumed by his fear that his secret love, Senator Padmé Amidala, will die.  
As the combat escalates across the galaxy, the stage is set for an explosive endgame: Obi-Wan undertakes a perilous mission to destroy the dreaded Separatist military leader General Grievous. Palpatine, eager to secure even greater control, subtly influences public opinion to turn against the Jedi. And a conflicted Anakin–tormented by unspeakable visions–edges dangerously closer to the brink of a galaxy-shaping decision. It remains only for Darth Sidious, whose shadow looms ever larger, to strike the final staggering blow against the Republic . . . and to ordain a fearsome new Sith Lord: Darth Vader. 

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

I am a second-generation Star Wars fan, so when my dad bought Revenge of the Sith, I definitely had to borrow it from him and read it. While I enjoyed getting to know the characters in a new way, I wasn't all that impressed with this book. However, that didn't surprise me, because I also wasn't impressed with the movie on which Stover based it.

You do get more from the book than in the movie -- especially in terms of character development. I think that Stover went a lot more into Yoda's feelings about the fall of the Republic and he did a great job in showing the friendship between Obi-Wan and Anakin. I loved that. For me, it brought entirely new elements into the story line that I had never thought of and made Luke's story a little more interesting, even. However, the same problems that were in the movie still persist. I get that Anakin was tempted to the Dark Side, and that clouds his judgment, but he truly loves these people. In the book, how he feels for Padme and Obi-Wan is way more obvious than it is in the movie. Yet, within a chapter he changes and is ready to turn is back on Obi-Wan, who is practically his brother at this point, and then he even becomes suspicious of Padme, the woman he used to trust absolutely. I think a lot more development and explanation was needed for this character shift, because otherwise, it simply seems too convenient.

Also, don't think that you can read this book without watching the movie. Stover relies heavily on the fact that the reader knows what he's talking about and what's going on. Not much description or explanation is given in terms of places, characters, and background information. This isn't a problem for those of us who have seen the movies (although it does make the writing feel less developed), but it would be a huge problem for someone who only wanted to pick up the book.

However, for a Star Wars fan, Revenge of the Sith is still an okay read. I wouldn't say that you should go out of your way to read it, but it's kind of cool to get a different perspective on all the characters and what they're feeling about all the chaos that's going on in this novel. Star Wars in general is a brilliant story about growing up, love, friendship, doing what's right, and making hard choices. No matter what format it's in, that holds true throughout all the stories.