March 28, 2013

Review: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality

From the moment ‘Lonely Hearts Club’ hit the shelves, I have been a Eulberg fan. I absolutely love her writing. 

She is a “girlfriend” writer, and by that I mean that every time I read one of her books I want to be BFF with her.

This one is no exception.

Title: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality
Author: Elizabeth Eulberg
ISBN: 9780545476997
Pages: 272 pages
Publisher: Point
Available: NOW at your local bookstore or library
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Don't mess with a girl with a great personality!

Everybody loves Lexi. She's smart, funny...but she's never been one of those girls, the pretty ones who get all the attention from guys.

On top of that, her seven-year-old sister, Mackenzie, is a terror in a tiara, and part of a pageant scene where she gets praised for her beauty (with the help of fake hair and tons of makeup).

Lexi's sick of it. She's sick of being the girl who hears about kisses instead of getting them. She's sick of being ignored by her longtime crush, Logan. She's sick of being taken for granted by her pageant-obsessed mom. And she's sick of having all her family's money wasted on a phony pursuit of perfection.

The time has come for Lexi to step out from the sidelines. Girls without great personalities aren't going to know what hit them. Because Lexi's going to play the beauty game - and she's in it to win it.

My Thoughts:

Eulberg had me from page one. I was surprised to find myself thrust into the world of child beauty pageants. I was expecting the typical high school drama, but this was a breath of fresh air.

Who cares that the family is at a financial stalemate? Who cares that Mackenzie can be a terror and say the most hateful comments? Who cares that throughout the novel I was thinking, “This is absolute child abuse on so many levels”? You know who cares—Lexi.

This is where we see her character grow, mature and come into her own. Lexi’s character development does not come at the hands of her high school classmates, in a hallway, a classroom, a school dance. Her growth comes as the result of her mother’s obsession with the pageant world.

This obsession takes Lexi down a spiral staircase of crazy. Everything revolves around Mackenzie and the pageants, from Lexi’s work schedule to her money. Nothing is ever enough for her mom, and Lexi has had enough.

This is the real life of many teens—minus the beauty pageant element—because for many of them their time is not their own. They are in a constant fight with their parent(s) for freedom and independence. Eulberg uses the pageants as a hyperbole, but it serves its purpose. Parents, let your children be themselves…and do not let your selfish interests control their lives.

This is what makes Eulberg a master storyteller. She gets it—what it’s like to have siblings and parents who don’t listen and financial strain that does affect more than just the parents. She shows us throughout the novel that not only does she get it she understands the importance of this age.

Instead, Lexi deals with a nightmare of a mother who is so focused on Mackenzie that Lexi does not matter. At all. Throughout the novel, when that mom appeared on the page, my blood would boil. I wanted to step on the page, grab the mom by the shoulders and smack her. It could be because I teach high school and I see what happens when parents neglect their children in such a selfish way, but mainly I think it’s because the mom was that heinous. It has been a long time since I’ve hated a parent on the page that much, but Eulberg brought it out in me.

Now that’s good writing.

Lexi is what makes me love this novel. From start to finish this girl puts up with it all, sacrifices it all, all for her little sister. Finally, it is time for Lexi to find her inner girly-girl and step up her game—but only after a bet. After all, everyone describes her as the girl with the great personality.

This one day deal turns into more, and Lexi realizes that she likes feeling beautiful and being noticed. What’s wrong with that? With the help of Mackenzie’s make-up artist, Lexi steps into her own. But can she balance the “new” Lexi and keep being her old self?  

And I must not forget Logan, Lexi’s crush and the one who has a girlfriend (of course) because the road to love is never paved smoothly. Instead, she is tortured at every pageant because he is there, with his girlfriend, who competes in the pageants as well. How can Lexi compete with that?

Lexi and Logan (great alliteration) make great friends, but would they make more than that? This has surprising results, and yet not. If you’ve read Eulberg novels before, you can guess where this goes.

Finally, the two best friends. How can we have a great tale without great friends to go with it? They are there to support Lexi through it all, to cheer her on, and to be there to help pick up the pieces when it all falls apart. After all, this is a realistic teen novel, and realistically teens lives fall apart, a lot.

A tale of familial love and sacrifice, friendship, crushes, and dating, this novel has it all for readers.

This book will especially appeal to readers of Stephanie Perkins—their writing has the same feel to it, but while Perkins is the queen of teen romance, Eulberg is the queen of John Hughes on paper.

What’s the best realistic fiction novel you’ve read lately?

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

March 27, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (2)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

This week my choice is the third installment of the Razorland series. I have read the first two via audio, and I am anxiously awaiting to see where Aguirre takes me next.

Title: 'Horde'
Author: Ann Aguirre
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2013
Summary (from Goodreads):

The horde is coming.

Salvation is surrounded, monsters at the gates, and this time, they're not going away. When Deuce, Fade, Stalker and Tegan set out, the odds are against them. But the odds have been stacked against Deuce from the moment she was born. She might not be a Huntress anymore, but she doesn't run. With her knives in hand and her companions at her side, she will not falter, whether fighting for her life or Fade's love.

Ahead, the battle of a lifetime awaits. Freaks are everywhere, attacking settlements, setting up scouts, perimeters, and patrols. There hasn't been a war like this in centuries, and humans have forgotten how to stand and fight. Unless Deuce can lead them.

This time, however, more than the fate of a single enclave or outpost hangs in the balance. This time, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of all humanity.

What are you waiting for this week?

Happy Reading!

     - The Hodgenator

March 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books I Recommend the Most

This is my first time participating, and I am excited to have my first time be on the books I recommend the most.

The key to helping someone find the “right” read is to know a little about them, so I went off what I know about my kids. I teach high school juniors, and many of them hate to read. My goal is to always try to help them find “their book,” the one that is going to hook them and never let them go. I hope.

While I know this says Top Ten, I’ve taken the liberty to do a Top Fifteen. Here are the fifteen books I recommend the most to my students. The list is in alphabetical order by author.


1.   ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’(Sherman Alexie)

Summary (from Goodreads): In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Why I recommend it: I recommend this to both male and female readers. It is funny, it is heart-breaking, it speaks their language. There are also graphics that go along with the storytelling, which many teens enjoy.

2.   ‘Zombies vs. Unicorns’(Holly Black)

Summary (from Goodreads): It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths--for good and evil--of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

Why I recommend it: It doesn’t matter if they are Team Zombie or Team Unicorn, this book has something for all of them. With the zombie YA lit craze, many teens enjoy the fact that they don’t have to read this book cover-to-cover. They can pick and choose which stories to read—and which team is worthy of their support.

3.   ‘Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature’(Robin Brande)

Summary (from Goodreads): Your best friend hates you. The guy you liked hates you. Your entire group of friends hates you. All because you did the right thing. Welcome to life for Mena, whose year is starting off in the worst way possible. She's been kicked out of her church group and no one will talk to her—not even her own parents. No one except for Casey, her supersmart lab partner in science class, who's pretty funny for the most brilliant guy on earth. And when Ms. Shepherd begins the unit on evolution, school becomes more dramatic than Mena could ever imagine . . . and her own life is about to evolve in some amazing and unexpected ways.

Why I recommend it: I did this book as an audio years ago, and it really spoke to me. I have many students who take AP Biology, and I always recommend this book to them because it brings up really good, and pertinent, questions on how we view science as a country as well as how religion affects those views.

4.   ‘All-American Girl’(Meg Cabot)

Summary (from Goodreads): Samantha Madison is an average, cool Washington, D.C., teen: She loves Gwen Stefani (who doesn't?), can draw like nobody's business, and enjoys being opposite to her sister's annoying ultra-social personality. But when she ditches art class one day, she doesn't expect to be jumping on the back of a wannabe presidential assassin. Soon the young hero is receiving worldwide acclaim for her bravery, having dinner with her family at the White House, and is even being named teen ambassador to the UN. As if this weren't enough, she and David, the president's son, strike up a friendship that everyone wants the dirt on, which starts to give her romantic "frisson" feelings. Unfortunately, Sam thinks her sister's boyfriend, Jack, is the true love of her life, and she makes a few wrong turns that could screw up what she's developing with David. Will she ever stop following what she knows and start following what she sees?

Why I recommend it: Another audio, this book is always a “go-to” for the reluctant female reader. It is witty. It made my husband ask me to drive around the block a few more times so he could know how it ended. When I tell my kids that, they usually take it. They want to see what it was that kept him enthralled until the very end.

5.   ‘The Hunger Games’(Suzanne Collins)

Summary (from Goodreads): Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning? In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. If she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Why I recommend it: The writing is fast-paced, which is great for the teens who live fast-paced lives. They don’t seem to have a lot of time devoted to “reading” because their plates are full, but usually once they start they cannot put this down.

6.   ‘The Lonely Hearts Club’(Elizabeth Eulberg)

Summary (from Goodreads): Love is all you need... or is it? Penny's about to find out in this wonderful debut. Penny is sick of boys and sick of dating. So she vows: no more. It's a personal choice. . .and, of course, soon everyone wants to know about it. And a few other girls are inspired. A movement is born: The Lonely Hearts Club (named after the band from Sgt. Pepper). Penny is suddenly known for her nondating ways . . . which is too bad, because there's this certain boy she can't help but like. . .

Why I recommend it: This is great for that sweet, girly-girl in my class. Eulberg is such a great “girlfriend” writer because her novels are true realistic fiction. There are no suppositions within her plots. Her plots are about as realistic as it comes, and once I put one Eulberg book in the hands of my girls, I end up putting her other as well.

7.   ‘Hush, Hush’ series (Becca Fitzpatrick)

Summary (from Goodreads): Romance was not part of Nora Grey's plan. She's never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how hard her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch comes along. With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Patch draws Nora to him against her better judgment. But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora's not sure whom to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is and seems to know more about her than her closest friends. She can't decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel. For she is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen - and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost Nora her life.

Why I recommend it: Not just girls are into paranormal romance (thank you Twilight), and I have more males asking for suggestions than girls. I always hand this one to them because I love Patch and Nora. They are one of my favorite paranormal couples.

8.   ‘The Graveyard Book’(Neil Gaiman)

Summary (from Goodreads): After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own. Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family . . . Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, The Graveyard Book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.

Why I recommend it: It’s Gaiman. That is all. No—really, this is aimed at children but my teens love it too. Something about the opening pics of a murderer going up stairs to murder a baby, a graveyard embracing that baby, and the child growing up within a graveyard intrigues my kids. They also feel accomplished because they can read it in just two to three hours. FYI: do it as an audio as well; Gaiman is the reader and...swoon!

9.   ‘The Fault in Our Stars’(John Green)

Summary (from Goodreads): Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now. Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

Why I recommend it: I have a handful of students that are obsessed with Green, for the win, and I don’t usually have to hand his books off because he is the one they always recommend. This is many of their favorites for many reasons, and one of mine as well.

10.‘Hex Hall’ series (Rachel Hawkins)

Summary (from Goodreads): Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters. By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire student on campus.Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect. As a series of blood-curdling mysteries start to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.

Why I recommend it: Hawkins, a former teacher, really understands the language of teens. Her witty dialogue draws them in—a chuckle here, laughter there—and they enjoy her fast-paced plots.

11.‘The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer’ series (Michelle Hodkin)

Summary (from Goodreads): Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. It can. She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed. There is. She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love. She’s wrong.

Why I recommend it: One of the creepiest series I have read, so I love to share it with my kids. Once I start talking about this novel, I can usually hand it off immediately…and create a bit of a waiting list.

12.‘The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks’ (E. Lockhart)

Summary (from Goodreads):  Frankie Laundau-Banks. No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer. Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society. Not when her ex boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places. Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them. When she knows Matthew’s lying to her. And when there are so many, many pranks to be done. Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16: Possibly a criminal mastermind. This is the story of how she got that way.

Why I recommend it: Girl power all the way! One of my favorite reads. I usually recommend this book to my girls that invoke the idea of “girl power.” Every now and again a girly-girl will pick this up and enjoy it as well.

13.‘Anna and the French Kiss’ (Stephanie Perkins)

Summary (from Goodreads): Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris--until she meets √Čtienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, √Čtienne has it all...including a serious girlfriend. But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?

Why I recommend it: Perkins, the queen of teen romance. I handed this book off to a girl who told me she never reads. The next day, she had three chapters left. WIN! Perkins appeals to a wide variety, and I always tell my male students that Perkins is great to teach them the idea of true romance.

14.‘The Raven Boys’(Maggie Stievfater)

Summary (from Goodreads): Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her. His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Why I recommend it: For every reader, but especially those looking for something fresh and new. I recently had another teacher’s student visit my room for reading material, and I discussed this book with him. He was sold, and he now wants to read all of her books.

15.‘Spanking Shakespeare’ (Jake Wizner)

Summary (from Goodreads): SHAKESPEARE SHAPIRO HAS ALWAYS hated his name. His parents bestowed it on him as some kind of sick joke when he was born, and his life has gone downhill from there, one embarrassing incident after another. Entering his senior year of high school, Shakespeare has never had a girlfriend, his younger brother is cooler than he is, and his best friend's favorite topic of conversation is his bowel movements. But Shakespeare will have the last laugh. He is chronicling every mortifying detail in his memoir, the writing project each senior at Shakespeare's high school must complete. And he is doing it brilliantly. And, just maybe, a prize-winning memoir will bring him respect, admiration, and a girlfriend . . . or at least a prom date

Why I recommend it: Years ago I was challenged by a male student to “find him a book” that he would love and that would deal with teen male relationships with females. Enter this book—years later I still recommend it. I simply need to share chapter titles with students to get this in the hands. One year, every single student in one of my classes read this book. It was off my shelf for the entire semester while they read and discussed the truths behind it. For my female students, I tell them to read this if they really want to know what males are thinking. Score!
What's on your Top Ten list?

Happy Reading!

          - The Hodgenator