Monday, November 21, 2011

A Monster Calls

I'd been wanting to read this book for a long time, and I finally got it finished.  I really enjoyed the book a lot.  The book itself is beautiful.  The illustrations bring the story to life in a haunting way.  The book tells the story of a young boy named Connor who's dealing with his mother's illness.  He deals with enough every day, and then even more when a monster shows up to his bedroom one evening.  The monster is as old as the world itself and as wise.  But Connor isn't scared of the monster.  You should be.  This monster is strong, powerful, dangerous, and all-knowing.  But Connor doesn't flinch.  The monster has been called by Connor.  The monster says that he will tell Connor three stories and that then Connor will tell the fourth.  The fourth story will be the truth.  The truth is that the book is great.  I teach only seniors right now, so it might not be as good a fit for this age group.  But I really think this is an absolutely fabulous pick for middle grades and early high school.  A great story.  This book will mean lots to readers for years to come.  It's just perfect.  Very important.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola was so fun.  I am so excited to say that I was at Stephanie's release party for Anna and the French Kiss and the release event for Lola, and I am going to be there for Isla as well!  Three for three hopefully.

If you haven't read Anna, you must.  It's got France and old movies and kissing and boys and school.  It's good.

Lola didn't disappoint.

Lola and the Boy Next Door is about Lola Nolan, a girl with a very unique sense of style.  Lola wants never to wear the same outfit twice.  She dates an older guy, Max, who's in a band and completely cool.  To her at least, not to her dads.  But he's still Lola's boyfriend.  Lola's world is turned upside down, though, when her old neighbors, the Bells, move back in next door.  Lola and Cricket Bell have a history, and the last time Lola saw Cricket, she was heartbroken.  What is she supposed to do now that they are back?  Cricket's window is right across from hers.  And he looks good.  Even better than before if that's possible.  But she has Max, so that's all the matters, right?  Well, read the book and see.  Cool guys are great, but there's something about first loves that never leaves you.

This books was fun for many reasons.  One - it's set in San Francisco, so who wouldn't love to take some time to walk with Lola down the streets of the Castro?  The setting was a fun character in this book.  I also enjoyed Lola.  She was different.  She stood out, but not in a cool way.  I appreciated her style.  I was only annoyed with her a few times as I realized that I liked Cricket Bell better than Max.  I couldn't stand it and wanted to scream at her, "Go with Cricket NOW....can't you see...????" But of course, if only we all saw things clearly in the moment....But we usually don't.  I loved Cricket Bell.  He was the coolest dude ever.  Sweet and stylish and a bit awkward, he was the nicest boy.

What I love about both of Perkins' books is that she keeps you hanging on until the very last minute for things to work out, but it is so, so very very very worth it.  It sort of reminds me of You've Got Mail, you know, a good, well-planned story.  You are so on the side of the characters.  You so want them to get together.  You are hanging on the edge of your seat.  You know they like each other.  You know it.  They know it, but it just hasn't happened, but....when you get to that last frame, and you get that one kiss and you know that they will live happily ever's so perfect.  That's how I felt reading both of these books.  Sure there are twists and turns along the way, but I just sighed at the end of both and almost burst with happiness for the characters.  So, for those who like a fun YA love story, read these.  They are really cool.  And I feel great recommending both of these to my students, too, because these characters are good, responsible kids.  They are just going through life dealing with the same stuff that we all did:  school, boys, parents, freedom, love, you name it.  I absolutely can't wait until Isla.  I am so happy for Stephanie Perkins.  She is a super nice person and I love that her dreams have come true.  These books are so enjoyable.  Read one now! :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Monstrumologist: The Isle of Blood

Dude.  Awesome.  No words.  I can't really say much about the third installment in the Monstrumologist series except that it's thrilling.  I have enjoyed (well maybe enjoyed isn't the right word...this stuff is really gruesome....) every moment of these books.  If you haven't read them, you must.  I can't wait to see how the series concludes.  I'm so glad that Yancey will be writing the fourth book.  This is horror and mystery and suspense at it's best.  And what's more, I love Yancey's writing.  The voice of Will Henry is so honest, so real.  These books are amazing.  Read them now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sisterhood Everlasting

I read all the Traveling Pants books years ago and loved every moment of them.  Each girl had her unique personality and they all eventually ended up back together and back on the same page no matter what obstacles got in their way.  I guess I identified most with Carmen as I read the books.  I saw this new one on the shelves and had to pick it up.  The girls have grown up and are 30 now?  I'm 30 now.  What are these ladies up to?  I had to know.

I will say this.  I was shocked as I read the first few chapters.  I couldn't believe the girls had let themselves go.  No one had kids yet.  Each had a career.  But they'd lost touch.  So when Tibby reaches out from Australia to bridge the divide finally, I was just as excited as Bee, Lena, and Carmen to get a ticket to Greece for a reunion.  However, the reunion isn't what they imagined.  From early on Brashares throws you a curve ball with this book.  For the longest time I wasn't sure what to think, but I went with it and I finished the book.

I can't really say too much more, but I can say that you get a look into each girl's life, of course.  Each of these sisters has faced challenges that many of us young ladies face every day:  questions about life, marriage, children, career, balance, etc.  It's hard.  It's hard for the.  I appreciated what I saw each woman working through because I did think that their problems were real.

I did have a few issues with the characters, though.  When I first met back up with Carmen, she's a famous actress on a crime show and she doesn't eat and she's a size 2??  I seriously wondered if this really could have happened to her?  Carmen was proud of her curves.  She didn't let people bully her around, and now she's just a robotic actress mindless attending premiers and parties with her executive producer fiancee??  I didn't buy it.  Bee's store made sense to me, and Lena's too, as well as Tibby's, but I think I was most disappointed in Carmen when I saw where these girls were years later.

It was a fast read, and I did like it.  I wanted to get to the end and piece everything together.  And of course, like all the other books in the series, what matters here is friendship.  Life will bring us changes.  Life will disappoint us.  Life will shock us.  Life will lead us places we didn't imagine going.  But in the end, we have friends to help us on that journey.  These girls always end up back together and they pick up where they left off.  That's what real friends can do.  They can forgive and move on.  They can start over every day if they have too.  As a young mother, wife, teacher, friend, daughter, sister, everything - I know how it can feel like you are not meeting the needs of everyone in your life, but you just gotta do your best.  And you must find some people to lean on.  Real friends are hard to come by, so you must reach out and try again, even if it's been a while or even if life seems too busy.  It'll be worth it in the end and sharing life's moments with those you love is the most important thing of all.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

It took me a bit to get in to this one, but in the end it was definitely worth it.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is about a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell whose father was killed in the 9-11 terrorist attack.  When Oskar accidentally breaks a vase in his parents' bedroom, he finds a mysterious little key in a small envelope.  Determined to find out what the key meant to his father and what lock it opens, Oskar journeys all over New York city meeting people from all walks of life and asking questions about his dad and his feelings and life and the universe and so much more.

Oskar is a peculiar child to say the least.  Not a huge fan of child narrators, I was a bit annoyed with him at first.  He'd say things that, in my opinion, didn't sound like a nine-year-old at all...even a very strange one.  However, as I continued reading the book, I did get to know him as a character better, and I felt that perhaps some of his strange behavior was ok because of what he'd been through.  It was clear to me that he was a strange kid before his father's death.  I liked him in the end, and as you read the book, no matter what you think of the narration or feel for the kid.  He's been through a horrible tragedy and I think we'd all be allowed to do whatever it took in order to deal with those feelings.

The book has an interesting subplot involving the Oskar's grandparents.  I enjoyed this plot line but didn't feel that it really connected to Oskar's story in the end.  To me it just all seemed a bit much.  Unrealistic.

What I can say, though, is that there are some heartbreaking moments in the novel.  Oskar's mother struggles daily to understand and move on from her husband's death.  As a reader, it hurt so much to see how strained and awkward the relationship between Oskar and his mother was at times.  They are a new kind of family now that Thomas (the father) is gone, and it broke my heart to see them struggle with finding ways to feel and think and be without their dad.  It's been ten years since the tragedy, yet it seems like we are all still figuring it out.  Yes, people move on.  Yes, the smoke and dust settle, but lives are never the same.  After reading this book I was reminded of the importance of family.  Every day on the news we see that people have been hurt or killed.  By weather, storms, tornadoes, accidents, terrorists, gunmen who kill people in public doesn't really matter what gets you in the end.  Death comes for us all.  People are left behind by their loved ones every day, and it's never easy.  We do what we can to deal with the loss and hopefully we are surrounded by a few others who can help us through the days that follow.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of September 11 and as I digest this book, I feel like we need to simply remind ourselves how lucky we are to be here living and learning in this country.  Each day is a gift.  It's so easy to get swept up into the business that is life and school in America.  Yes, we must work hard.  Yes, we must do our jobs.  Yes, we must read books and complete assignments and write papers.  But let's always remember that people and relationships matter and that the books and papers and discussions help us to understand ourselves and our world better.  Let's remember that life can change in an instant and it won't matter what score you got on your last Calculus exam or English essay.  I count myself blessed that I am not Oskar, that I did not lose someone I know in the terrorist attack.  By reading his story, however, I am reminded of what I must do.  I must love my family as much as I can each moment because you never know what each day holds.  So, I do recommend this book.  It's different, but moving.  I am glad I read it and my heart goes out to all who lost loved ones ten years ago and those who lose loved ones at any time.  Life is never the same, but love is still here on earth for those who are left behind if we hold on to the people around us and make the most of every moment.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Beauty Queens

I started this book and got stuck moving to a new city in the middle of it, but I finally finished just the other day.  This book is just hilarious and I loved every moment.  Bray pokes fun at everything under the sun related to reality television, beauty products, girls' self-image, Victoria's Secret catalogs; you name it, she's got a witty remark about it.

If you haven't heard about the book yet, basically the contestants for Miss Teen Dream are on a plane and it crashes on a "deserted" island.  The girls hold out hope for a while, but realize eventually that no one is going to come save them.  Taylor Renee Krystal Hawkins, Miss Texas, takes over and insists that the girls continue practicing their pageant routines, but other girls aren't quite agreeable to that.  They make huts and figure out how to get fresh drinking water and learn about who they really all are.  What they don't know is that the island isn't deserted and just down the shore in an underground volcano lair, the Corporation has some business happening.

Part Lord of the Flies, part Miss Congeniality, part Austin Powers, this book is extreme fun.  I loved the unique personality of each girl.  Each young woman had her own "issues" she was working through, and what young woman doesn't?  These girls were smart, fit, and tough, but they weren't perfect.

What I do appreciate in the end, though, is that for all the silliness and obvious hits that Bray makes at the issues and messages bombarding young women today, what's underneath is a good message.  No these girls aren't perfect, but they are who they are.  They embrace themselves the good and the bad.  I really loved  every page and I think most girls will get a kick out of this book, but really appreciate that they can be who they want and take control of their own lives and self images.  Tons of fun, this one!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

State of Wonder

So I won't be teaching freshmen this upcoming school year.  What this means for me right now is that the "direction" of my reading will be shifting a bit.  I still will keep up with all the great YA books, but I will also be reading and posting about more literature and some adult reads as well.  Most of the adult book I will read/review will be related to the literature that I will be teaching in my senior English classes or just stuff that is on many "great books you must read now or before you die..."  You get the picture.

With that said, I just finished (finally....I've said it before, my reading has slowed significantly since my little girl was born, but it's ok :) Ann Patchett's State of Wonder.  I am a big fan of Heart of Darkness, so I was really interested to read this book.  I heard a review on NPR and picked it up.  I was immediately drawn in to the story.  Dr. Marina Singh works for a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota.  Her company funds the work of Dr. Annick Swenson who is in the Amazon researching a tribe and creating a drug, but no one has heard from her in years.  She's there but not really in communication with anyone.  The company sends Marina's coworker, Anders Eckman, there to find Dr. Swenson and check on the progress of the research and the drug that is in development.  Anders, an avid bird-watcher, is excited about the opportunity to see new life and experience all the forest has.  However, Marina finds out that Anders has died - in the Amazon and is buried there.  Burdened with the job of telling Anders' wife, Marina doesn't know what to think about her friend's death, her mentor's (Dr. Swenson's) work, her company's goals, or anything.  Encouraged by Anders' wife, Marina goes to the heart of the Amazon to finish what Anders started and find out about his death for his family.

The books starts off with "Anders is dead," and I really appreciated that.  While some background is given about Marina and Mr. Fox, her boss, this information unfolds throughout the novel in good time.  I liked that you got pieces along the way but were given the main conflict right upfront.  I felt compelled at each stage of the novel to know what would be happening next.  I felt that the overall flow of the book was great.

A fan of Heart of Darkness, as I said earlier, I enjoyed seeing the setting here.  The Amazon was rendered alive and breathing by Patchett.  There were bugs and snakes and fishes galore and you felt every single one of them.  The river's opaqueness is mystifying and terrifying and enchanting all at once.  I felt like I got to be on this "vacation" of sorts along with Marina.  I loved seeing how the Lakashi lived and seeing how the doctors at the research station lived in these new conditions.  I enjoyed all the characters.  I liked learning a lot about Dr. Swenson.  She's no Kurtz by any means, but it was interesting piecing together bits of her from Marina' memory and from the interesting things she shows readers about herself.  The medical part of this book was great and the mystery part was good too.  I would definitely recommend this read for anyone.  I didn't have a huge reaction to the end.  This wasn't one that I held to my heart and sighed with when it was over, but I was glad to have read it and experienced a new, wild place and way of life. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

How to Read Literature Like a Professor

I enjoyed this book.  I really got in to the chapters at the beginning, buying everything that Foster said.  Obviously, he's the professor, and I can say that I feel like I learned a lot.  But what I really left with wasn't having memorized all the topics of his chapters, but having understood that there's a lot more going on under the surface of "great" stories and novels and poems.  I was happy that at the end of the book, Foster tells you just to read to the best of your ability.  And he says throughout that practice makes better, so anyone can read the best books and think about them, though we will all do this on our own level.

Foster admits that the topics covered in this book are just the beginning.  He discusses rain and water in literature, for example, but not fire.  We all know that fire can be an extremely symbolic and powerful metaphor in a work, but it's not included in this book.  To include everything, Foster states, would make this work a gargantuan literary encyclopedia, and who wants to read all of that.  Instead, he shows the reader many of the patterns that readers can notice in literature and then sets you free.

My only concern about this book is how well a high school student would like it.  I enjoyed many of the chapters (though some better than others), but I also am a thirty-year-old-English-teacher-English-major-lady who was willing and interested to read this book.  I knew most of the stories, poems, and novels about which Foster wrote.  But how many of those works would even your best high school English student know.  Would it make the book harder to read if the reader didn't know the works being referred to?  I'm not sure.  I felt that way when reading.  If I knew the work he was talking about, then the chapter was definitely more interesting to me.  If I didn't know the work, I appreciated Foster's plot summary and explanation, but the chapter didn't mean as much.

Overall, I like the main idea of this book - look for patterns.  Literature works on many, many levels, and you can become a really good reader of literature if you read often, read great works, and think about the works you're reading.  I will be very interested to see what my students thought of the work.  I feel like English majors would love this book, but every student who signs up for AP Literature isn't necessarily going to be an English major, so well see what the kids think soon.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer and the City

Really fun.  This second book in the Carrie Diaries was a fun beginning to my summer reading.  The Carrie Diaries was set in Carrie's hometown, and this book picks up when Carrie arrives in the Big Apple for her summer writing classes at The New School.  She gets her wallet and purse stolen the minute she walks off the subway and has to get help from Donna LaDonna's cousin - the one, the only - Samantha Jones.  If you know anything about SATC, then you know, once Carrie meets Samantha - wild times are ahead.  I really enjoyed this second book.  It was fun.  I was a bit annoyed with Carrie for obsessing over boys, but you know, it is a Carrie book.  Anyway - I will say that this book definitely has "the sex" in it.  The first one wasn't too bad, but I'd consider the second book to have way more about relationships and sex than the first one.  A fun read but definitely for high school readers only.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Reading List

So I haven't read nearly as much as last year.  I don't want to blame it on the baby....but I'm going to blame it on the baby.  It's definitely harder to find time to read now that there's a little one in the house, but I think I've done pretty good.  Nine books in 2011 so far, and I'll have even more time during summer because I won't be planning lessons or grading papers.  With school ending and summer vacation beginning, I thought I'd set my summer reading goals.  This list is waaaaaay to long, but it's good to aim high, right?  Here's what I would like to read this summer:

Post Cards from No Man's Land
Jellicoe Road
Fixing Delilah
The Burn Journals
Desires of the Dead
Summer and the City
Beauty Queens
The Mockingbirds
Tender Morsels
Fins are Forever
The Truth About Forever
This Lullaby
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Going After Cacciato
Song of Solomon
The Help
Catch 22

Ambitious, yes.  Will I read them all, no.  I know I won't get through every single one of these, but it's my goal.  I have been reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor and was inspired to add more classics to my list than usual.  I've really read tons of YA, but I might be teaching only AP Lit and English IV next year, so I might need to take a break from YA this summer and beef up my literature reading for my AP classes.  Well, I have great hopes for my summer reading list, so we'll see....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Between Shades of Gray

“The full extent of Stalin's genocide will never truly be known, but it certainly had no boundaries. Ruta Sepetys stunningly portrays the devastation of Lithuania through the eyes of 15-year-old Lina and the story of her family's deportation to Siberia. The camp scenes not only accurately display the horror of the Great Terror but also show the courage and resilience of those who survived this colossal crime. Consider this the young adult version of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”
-- Bill Cusumano, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI

Between Shades of Gray is one of those books that you really want to read, but you really don't want to read at the same time.  Like Night or The Diary of Anne Frank, you know what you are in for before you even pick up the book.  It's going to be serious.  It's not going to be an easy read, but you know you will be better for having read the story.

Books like this remind us to be grateful for all we have and all the freedoms we enjoy.  Sepetys tells the story of a teenaged girl named Lina who, along with most of her family, is taken from her home and "shipped" by Stalin and the NKVD to Siberia to a work camp.  Her father is not with Lina, her mother, and her brother.  She wants desperately to find him.  She draws some clues on her handkerchief and sends it on with other people in hopes that it will find her father and that then he can find them.  The prisoners are labeled as "thieves and prostitutes" and forced to ride in cattle cars for days to Siberia.  They live in shacks and work their hands to the bone.  They face illness and despair.

It was so hard to read all that the people in this book faced, but it's really important to remember.  Many of us have read Night and know about the Holocaust.  But horror was happening in Russia and the surrounding countries, too.  I think it's great that Sepetys has researched and brought these stories to life for readers.  The writing in this book was great.  Short chapters helped keep the pace quick and move the story along.  I also really liked the way that the author included flashbacks in many chapters.  You could see what life was like for Lina and her family before they were in trouble.

What sticks with you most in this story is, of course, the power of the human spirit to endure.  We see the true strength in people when we read stories like this and remember these parts of our world's history.  I think this book is wonderful and is great for all audiences.  Lina's just a regular girl, but she becomes extraordinary and super-human as she faces horrible wrongs and suffering during her life's journey. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

I love Maureen Johnson.  I first read Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever and adored them both.  Witty, smart girl characters and super-fun supporting cast members also.  I also read her story in Let It Snow.  I finally picked up 13 Little Blue Envelopes.  I knew that the sequel was coming out, so I wanted to read these.

The book is about Ginny Blackstone.  Her crazy aunt, whom she loves, "disappeared" a few years back, and no one really knew where she was until they found out that she had cancer and died abroad.  Since she was so far away and had disappeared anyway, it was sad, but strange to Ginny.  Then one day she gets a letter from her aunt that sends her on a whirlwind trip to Europe.  Her aunt has written her 13 letters, each one including a different task that Ginny must complete before opening the next.  The rules are set out for her, too:  she can only take what will fit in her backpack, she may not use any guide books or write anything down, she cannot bring any extra money, and she cannot use technology - no cell phone, music, email or anything of the sort.

Sounds scary to me!  But Ginny takes her aunt up on the challenge and travels to England to begin her journey.  The book follows Ginny on this trip.

I liked the book a lot.  I did not love it as much as I love the Scarlett books, but it was fun.  I enjoyed getting to travel with Ginny and be in Europe.  It was really fun to see all that she saw.  The characters in the book are fun.  I will say that I didn't really root for Ginny much until closer to the end of the book, but when I did get to the end, I cared about what she had gone through and wanted to know where she ended up next in life.  All in all a fun read.  I will definitely be reading the sequel next and see how the story continues.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

I raced through this book so quickly and really liked it a lot.  I remember If I Stay - it was amazing!  I loved every moment of the first book.  Where She Went doesn't disappoint either.  I don't want to say too much about the book, since people might not have read the first one, but I can tell you that this book is from the point of view of Adam, Mia's boyfriend.  He fills the reader in on the aftermath of Mia's accident and what has been happening since then.  I raced through this book so quickly.  I really loved Adam's character and voice.  I enjoyed learning about the other characters from the first book and what had happened to them, too.  I also like reading about what Adam was feeling and going through, because while Mia and her immediate family were obviously most affected by the accident, tragedies impact everyone involved.  Adam was a part of what happened, too.  This book was great.  If you haven't read the first one, you should pick both up today.  Cover comment:  I hate that there is a girl on the front of this book.  It won't appeal to boys at all because of least not at first glance.  I get that it matches the new paperback, but I think guys would like this book and even the first one...wish more books came with covers that appealed to both genders.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Shine by Lauren Myracle

I had heard some good reviews of this book on Goodreads and Twitter, so when I got it, I was really excited to read.  I enjoyed this book a lot.  It's one of those like Speak or Wintergirls that you sort of don't want to read but you really want to.  It's not about an easy subject, but you are better after having read the story.

When I teach tragedy to my students, we discuss catharsis and how by experiencing the horrible things along with the character, we learn so much.  We go through the events without having really gone through them, and hopefully we are saved from those things in our own lives.  Maybe we are.  Maybe we aren't, but we definitely experience a lot during our journeys with those characters.

Cat, while written for a very specific place in the mountains of North Carolina, still reminds me a bit of Lia and Melinda.  Girls who were "normal" for lack of a better word, friends with everyone, but who withdrew for some reason and became loners.

In Cat's very small town (and I mean small, not just cute small, I mean poor, farming, out in the hills small) of Black Creek, NC, people get along just fine.  But a tragedy shakes the town when a young man, Patrick, is brutally attacked and tied to a gas pump, the nozzle taped to his throat and a hateful message scrawled on his chest.  It's a hate crime, and people are shaken.  Some feel that perhaps Patrick got what he deserved for being different while others, of course, really feel that no one deserves anything like that at all.  The cops are "working on it," but Cat knows this really means that they are going to "seem" like they are following leads, eventually just blame it on a truck load of out of town college boys, and let life resume.  But Cat knows that isn't the case.

She and Patrick used to be best friends.  They got eat other.  They had fun.  But when Cat got to high school, she dropped all her friends and just stayed in her own world with herself and her books.  She misses Patrick, and when this happens, even though she hasn't talked to him in forever, she has to help him.  She sets about trying to piece together what happened the night that Patrick got attacked.  She feels like she owes it to her friend to solve this crime.

Told from Cat's point of view, this book leads you along her journey of discovery as she figures out just what happened that night.  She finds out way more about her town and the people in it than she ever knew.  The cast of characters is great, and since you are with Cat, you sort of see everyone as a suspect at first.  It has a who dunnit feel to it.  But it's an important story.  I think it deals with the hate crime well.  It's honest about people's feelings.  While Cat is understanding and supportive of Patrick's homosexuality, most people in this town are not, and that is a reality that many gay teens face out in the world.

What matters is what kind of person you are and that you view the world in a positive way.  Patrick did, and Cat does in a way.  I think this book was great.  I am a southern girl myself, so I do sometimes cringe a bit when I read southern characters.  Sometimes I feel/felt like maybe there were too many colloquialisms crammed into one sentence or paragraph, but then at the same time, it didn't really bother me that much or take away from the flow of the story, so I was ok with it.  I think kids will like this book because it is a mystery of sorts, as Cat is solving this crime, but I think the greater messages and meanings about treating people well and the dangers of drugs and hate will resonate with readers as well.  I am really glad I got my hands on this one.  Not an easy read, but a good one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Curse of the Wendigo

I absolutely loved The Monstrumologist and the next book in the series The Curse of the Wendigo  was even better than the first.  I liked it better because not only was it full of horror and gore and terror, but I learned even more about Dr. Warthrop.  I got to know these two characters (Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop) even more.  The more I learn about them, the more I like them, even though they are in a really crazy business.

In this second volume, Will and the monstrumologist go out into the wild to search for one of the doctors friends from childhood, John.  What they find in the wilderness will make you shake in disgust and terror.  The "wendigo" is something that beats your standard vampire or werewolf out of the water, for it starves as it eats and then it eats more because it starves.  I thought the descriptions of the anthropophagi in the first book were horrifying, but this book doesn't fail to gross the reader out on almost every page.

Reading these books is like being in a haunted house, you don't want to know what's waiting in the next room, but you just can't help it.  You have to know.  When I read the book, I winced in disgust and closed my eyes.  The people around me did not want me to share any more descriptions with them because they were so disturbing.  But it's a good disturbing - classic horror and suspense.

I love the voice and the writing style in these books.  It's historically accurate but still easy to read.  I felt that the characters were developed more and I cannot wait for Rick Yancey to get his hands on some more of Will Henry's notebooks.

Across the Universe

Quick post on this one.  I finished it a few weeks ago, but haven't had a chance to post until now.

I had read reviews of this book online and just had to have this one.  It lived up to all the hype.  I'm usually not a huge fan of very sci-fy-y books, but this one was awesome.  I was hooked from the first chapter when I read about just how people got cryogenically (sp?) frozen.  It was crazy and creepy.

So the basic story is that Amy is a young girl whose parents are going to be frozen and put on a ship to travel through the universe for 300 years.  Along with many other people from all careers and jobs from military to science, they are going to find a new planet and see what natural resources this new land can have.  It's a risk, but really exciting. Amy decides to be frozen too, so she can stay with her parents.  It's a hard decision, but she wants to be with her family.

Elder is our other narrator and main character.  He is sort of a leader-in-training for the ship, Godspeed.  He takes lessons from Eldest, the current leader of the ship.

These two characters meet when Amy is unfrozen 50 years early.  Someone unplugged her and she is lucky she was found.  She could have died.  She can't be refrozen, and her parents can be unfrozen because they are so key to the now she'll be older than her parents when the ship finally lands.

She turns to Elder and tries to figure out what to do.  However, once she starts to see how people are living on the ship, she is concerned.  The ways of life on this ship are nothing at all like the life she led.

Think about how much our country changed in two hundred and fifty years....well, that's how long the ship has been on its mission, so needless to say, things have changed....but you will be shocked to see how these people live.  Eldest is quite a leader and has everything under his control.  Elder finds out that Eldest hasn't exactly been very honest, either, about how things on the ship work.  If Elder is going to be leader one day, he needs more information, but Eldest won't give it to him.

This book really drew me in.  I don't want to say too much because I don't want to give anything away, but I will tell you that this story twists and turns and really shocks you.  At first I couldn't believe some of the things I read, but then I almost started to understand why Eldest acted the way he did.

Anyway, I think if you like a good adventure or sci-fi story, this is definitely for you.  But it's not crazy science-fiction, it's very now and cool.  I highly recommend this read to guys and girls.  It's got something for everyone.  I was extremely disappointed to find out that it's the first book in a trilogy.  I already can't wait for the next book A Million Suns to arrive in 2012. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Half Brother

Ben Tomlin has to move with his parents all the way to the other side of  the county (his country - Canada) because of his father's job.  Ben's dad is a scientist who wants to be involved in the project of a lifetime.  Dr. Tomlin wants to teach language to a chimp in order to prove that chimps can master language.  Dr. Tomlin got a new university to sponsor his project.  So Ben's life was turned upside down.  Not only did he have to move, but he also got a new "brother" - Zan the chimpanzee.

At first Ben wasn't too fond of Zan, but as time goes by, Ben sees just how smart Zan is.  Once he gets past the poopy chimp diapers....Ben begins to love all the time he gets to spend with Zan.  Zan picks up the language (American Sign Language) quickly, and all seems to be going well.  But Zan is a chimp.  Is he really learning language or just imitating what he sees the humans do around him?  Will he be able to initiate conversation or will he only answer when spoken to?  What do you do when the baby chimp becomes a full grown male chimpanzee who is much stronger than any human?  These are all questions that come up in Kenneth Oppel's Half Brother.

Also in the background of all this is Ben's life.  Can you be a normal teenager if your dad is running this experiment.  He's got camera crews in his house.  People are talking about whether or not his dad should even be using an animal in this way.  All this complicates what is already a hard time of life for a teenage boy.

I loved this book.  I fell in love with Zan just as Ben and his mother did.  I felt like he was just as strong a character as the others who can talk and are like me.  This book is a great story about Zan learning language, but it's also about fitting in, dealing with family and relationship issues, and making tough decisions. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

I saw this book on the Printz list that just came out and thought it looked good.  I also read Reading Rants' review and then just had to get it.  I can say that while this book is pretty depressing in a lot of ways, I really liked it.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a book about Vera, who's gone through some pretty rough stuff in her life.  She's a good student, responsible young woman, and hard worker.  Her mother left her father and her.  The two (Ken and Vera) have been doing the best they know how.  Vera's best friend and next door neighbor, Charlie, has been her right-hand man for most of the two teens' lives.  Vera and Charlie have had their ups and downs but have kept their friendship going through the years, that is until these last few years of high school.  Charlie started hanging out with the "detentionheads" and the horrible Jenny Flick.  Vera doesn't fit in with this group, and Charlie starts to change and ignore her.  He's not himself.  He seems to turn as bad as the kids he hangs out with.  Vera still hopes he's not that bad, but she feels like she probably needs to just give up on their friendship, even though she really doesn't want to.  All of this weighs on Vera because Charlie dies.  Their history and all the things that happened during their time together haunt Vera.  The circumstances of Charlie's death are mysterious.  Vera also seems to know more about what happened the night Charlie died than she lets on to her Dad and to us, the readers.

The book is told mostly from Vera's point of view with "brief words" from others such as Charlie, Ken Dietz (Vera's dad), and the Pagoda (a run-down local landmark).  Vera also fills you in on the history of her and Charlie's friendship.  The back and forth helps you put the details of the story together.  I really liked Vera and most of the other characters, too.  Even though Charlie was strange and had issues, I still felt like he deserved a chance.  Same thing about Vera's dad.  He's doing his best, and while he may not always say the right thing or parent is the "correct" way, he does what he does for Vera, and he's a good person.

This book is dark and like I said before, sad.  But it was worth it.  I was happy with the ending and the understandings to which the characters came.  I definitely think it was a great read and deserving to be a Printz honor book.  Check it out!

Monday, January 31, 2011

New Year's Reading Resolutions

Many people make New Year's resolutions, and I am making my reading resolutions as I am heading back to the classroom tomorrow.  I've been out of school for six weeks since I had my daughter in December.  I will be meeting my new second semester students and starting a fresh instructional period at school.

I have a huge classroom library and really love to help students find great books.  I started understanding the importance of keeping up with the new young adult literature about four years ago, and keeping up with books has been my favorite hobby since that time.  I just truly love reading and being taken away by a great book.  Some of my proudest, most fond teaching memories are of students finally finding a good book and learning to love reading more because of the great choices they found in my classroom.

With that said, I always want to be a good model reader for my students, so of course, I want to share my 2011 reading goals.  I think that good readers and passionate readers always sort of know what they want to read next.  They look ahead and eagerly anticipate the next great read.  In "real life" people might not write about their reading choices and habits as much as an English or language arts teacher, but those readers probably do this thinking in their heads instead.

Here are my goals for 2011:
  1. Read 40 books - This number is less than what I read last year, but it's appropriate for my life right now.  Up until this year it's just been my husband and me here at my house, but now we have a little girl to take care of.  It's very realistic to say that I probably won't read as many books as I usually do.  I think 40 is an ambitious number and right on--not too many and not too few.  
  2. Read some/something each day for my own enjoyment - I will be reading class texts (Beowulf, Romeo and Juliet, etc.) all the time anyway, so I am not counting those.  Even if it's just a page, a poem, or a chapter, I want to make sure that each day no matter how busy, I take a moment for myself to read something for fun.
  3. Read more picture books - Since my little girl is going to be growing up fast, I want to also start keeping up with great picture books!  I have lots of fun board books already, and I can't wait to begin reading nightly to my little girl.  She's too young to really "get it" right now, but my husband and I still read to her anyway and let her see the pictures in her board books.  
  4. Continue blogging - I want to keep up with my blog this year.  I've done really well with this but do want to keep it a priority.
I have other goals for classroom reading, but these are my main ones for now that apply to my reading overall.  I hope my students will be excited to set their own goals this year.

Here are some of the new books I've purchased and can't wait to read.  Some are new and some are from years past. I really have, like, 200 or more books on my mental "to read" list, but these are on my shelf.  I can't wait to get to them!  I also just can't wait to see what amazing stories 2011 brings us!!

Click each book cover to read more about the book from Indie Bound.   Happy reading!!

and the rest of this series

Friday, January 21, 2011

Let It Snow (and my first post of 2011 and since having a baby!!!)

So, like the title of this post says - I finally finished a book!  I'm impressed that I got it done.  I had my little girl at the end of December, and needless to say, it's been a little different and busy at my house!  I won't be reading quite at the pace I was, I'm sure, but I will still be reading every chance I  get!

So I started Let It Snow (by YA powerhouses John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle) before Christmas, and then life changed!  I picked up the book after all the baby stuff, and have slowly but surely made it through.

The first thing I want to say about this book is that is awesome!  These three separate-yet-connected romances were a hoot - for  guys and girls.  Each one was fun and full of snow.  What made this book even cooler for me (and will make it cool for my students) is that it is set where I live!  The setting of the book, Gracetown, is near Asheville, NC.  Even better was that while I read - the ground here was pretty much covered in snow as we've had two big snow storms so far this winter!

Jubilee Express is about a girl whose parents get arrested on Christmas Eve for getting in a "riot" as they tried to buy the newest piece of there Christmas Village at the store.  Sent to her grandparents' on a train, Jubliee isn't too happy, but it gets worse when the train she's on gets stuck and isn't going anywhere!  This snag in the trip leads her to Waffle House which is ok until a bunch of also stranded cheerleaders show up, which then leads Jubilee away with a kid named Stuart (because who could stay in a Waffle House with a bunch of hyper-active, loud cheerleaders on Christmas Eve...).

The second story (which was my favorite....I'm a bit of a John Green fan!....ok a HUGE fan!) is more for the guys.  It follows Tobin, JP, and the Duke (a girl named Angie) on their epic journey to actually get to the Waffle House full of cheerleaders.  Really funny.

The last story was great as well and really brought all three stories  together.

This was just an all around fun read for the holidays.  I had been meaning to read this since it came out but never got around to it.  I highly recommend this read while it's still cold outside.