Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Musing: Places I Read

Monday Musings is a weekly post in which I talk about whatever I would like to talk about.  Often it's book related.  Sometimes it's not.

This week I'll talk about the places I read.  There aren't many.

Most of the time I read on my couch in the living room.  I sit with my feet on the table, of I lay down.  Because I've waited for everyone else to go to bed so that I can get some quiet reading in.

I also do a fair amount of reading in my classroom.  I try to model reading with my students during their silent reading.  They see me reading something and actively interacting with a book.  I cry when it makes me cry, I laugh out loud, I gasp.  I very pointedly get up every so often to look up a new word (or one I sometimes pretend is new) and then share it with everyone.   I sit in different spots so some of my friends get a really good reminder of what's expected during silent reading time (silence and reading).  :)

Those are my spots.  They aren't really particularly special or cozy.  I wish I had a little nook.  I would totally make that my own.  Actually.  Maybe I'll work on making one.  I have the perfect spot--except for Christmas time.  It's where our tree goes.  Hmmmm. Lots to think on!

What about you?  Do you have a dedicated reading spot?  A cozy little nook?  I'd love to see your cozy little nooks if you have some to share.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Graphic Novel: Amulet: The Stonekeeper

Amulet: The Stonekeeper
Kazu Kibuishi
Genre: graphic novel, family, adventure, supernatural
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Emily and her mother and brother have moved into the old family house in the middle of nowhere and discover Emily's great-grandfather's workshop.  When she picks up and puts on a amulet, she begins to hear voices--from the amulet--telling her to keep her family safe.  Unfortunately, when her mother is separated from her, Emily and her brother must search for her great-grandfather in a mysterious world.  Only he can help her figure out a way to save her mother.

I never quite know how to review a graphic novel.  Do I talk about the quality of the artwork?  Only if it is pertinent to the story's development?  I don't know.  So I'll talk about what I do know:  Characters.

Emily is a strong character, but she also goes with her gut--not always thinking things through and not exactly the most cautious.  When she finds the amulet, her brother tells her it's creepy and she shouldn't do anything with it, but she shrugs and puts it on anyway.  Even though she's sometimes rash in her decisions, she's making them with one thing in mind: bringing her mother back.

There are lots of monsters and creepy crawly creatures that Emily and her brother are fleeing from during the story, but the one is a tall, white haired, elfin boy.  He watches Emily and her family when they are in the house, and then as they chase after their mother and try to rescue her.  When she confronts him in the end, I was disappointed.  I felt like more would be revealed about him than we got.  Maybe this is something that's covered in the next book, but I don't know.

Amulet is a mysterious read filled with monsters and supernatural elements that come alive.  Emily is just a kid who wishes they could move back home and as quickly as possible.  She's just a kid who loves her family and knows that they need their mom and it's up to her to save them all.

Have you read Amulet? What do you think?  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Audiobook Discussion: The Program by Suzanne Young

The Program
Suzanne Young
Narrated by Joy Osmanski
Simon & Schuster Audio
Genre: science fiction, YA, dystopian
Rating: ???

***TRIGGER ALERT:  There is discussion of teen suicide within this book and therefore within this discussion of the book.

After an epidemic has swept the teenage population, everyone 13--18 is under the watchful eye of "handlers" who look for signs of sadness.  If you're flagged, you're taken away to the Program and your memories are erased.  Not all of them, just the ones who make you who you are.  Sloane lives in fear of this after her brother, Brady, killed himself and she is working so hard on not getting "sick" (as they are taught to refer to depression) and not letting her emotions show.  When her close friends and her boyfriend start to show signs and are taken away to the Program, Sloan swears she will remember them, she'll make sure she leaves a clue--something to help her, before they take her away too.  But things are confusing.  There is a lot of medication in the Program that makes it difficult for Sloane to remember who she really is and what it is she's fighting for.


I'm struggling with this book.  I'm struggling with a few things.

1) The use of suicide as a means to create more conflict for the characters.  So the idea is that there is an epidemic of teen suicides and in order to keep teens safe from themselves, if a teen shows signs of suicide, they are immediately put into the Program.  So kids are scared.  They live in terror of being flagged.  Parents are encouraged to report their children--for their own safety.  Teens are encouraged to report their friends--for their own safety.  But everyone knows that it's not safe.  That memories are erased.  So I guess my issue is that suicide is being used here as not only the conflict, but as the only way for kids to truly escape the conflict inflicted by the government and adults.  At least two characters within the book successfully complete suicide because they feel the symptoms and refuse to be put in the program.  Multiple others try.  They're choosing death instead of the Program and the way it's handled makes it seem almost like it is a valid choice.  I have a problem with that.

2) The creepiness of the "handlers."  Now, granted they aren't all supposed to be creepy, but they are.  The handlers are power hungry orderlies stationed in schools to keep an eye out for anyone they deem could harm themselves.  For over half of the book there is one in particular who keeps watching Sloan and even ends up being at her facility when she's taken in to the Program.  He's bad.  He uses girls in the Program and the only one who seems concerned is Realm.  Even her handler after she's left the Program and can't remember anything isn't trustworthy--in my opinion.  He helps her, but is he really helping her?

3) The fact that it's not only Realm who is a plant (which was pretty obvious early on) but so is everyone else she has contact with who in the Program.  That was a shock and it was one that I didn't like.  I'm not sure why it sits so badly for me, but it does.

4) The Epic Romance of the Century.  James is controlling.  I don't like him.  I prefer Realm--even though I know he's a plant and supposed to be nice to her and help her along her road to recovery or whatever.  I still like him more than James.  James is cocky and controlling.  I like Sloan a whole lot better when she has to step it up because she sees James is losing it and she's working really hard to keep him under the radar.  I also like her a lot more when she's in the program and talking back and calling people out on their B.S.  I don't like her all dopey over James--either before or after the program.


So in the end, I'm unsure of how to rate this.  The writing itself was fine and so was the performance of the story.  And I finished it.  I did want to know what was happening to Sloan and if she would in fact be okay or if she would be sent back to the Program again.  But this other things keep nagging me about it.  Things that seem problematic--not on a story telling level, but another level.

I realize it's fictional and set in dystopic world.  I also realize that maybe my discomfort is okay.  But I'm not sure.  So I can't really rate this one.  It's either a 2 or a 4  Might not seem that big of a difference, but that seems like a big difference to me.

Are there any books that you've struggled to come up with a good rating?  Are there parts of the book that make you question it, even though the writing itself is fine? 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Monday Musings: Audiobooks

Today musing is focused on my recently discovered love of audiobooks.

Up until about 7 months ago or so, I had only ever listened to one or two audiobooks.  I've always had a tough time with listening to something and taking it all in unless I was pretty focused.  Plus, I need to write or at least doodle.  In high school and college I took tons of notes, the margins usually filled with random drawings and patterns and shapes and designs.  I didn't take all of these notes so that I could study them (well some of them I did), but because I found out that it was just easier for me absorb what was being said orally if I was writing--even if the writing was nonsense.

Let me tell you how difficult it was to sit through author visits and readings in college.  If I didn't bring a notebook and start doodling, I would loose my focus in about five minutes and my mind would wander onto different topics--usually anxieties--and then suddenly we would all be clapping for the famous author or the star writing student presenting his or her work.

So jump to about 10 years later and I just hadn't really tried to listen to a book in a long time.  I was however listening to NPR a lot.  For the past 5-6 years, I've been a proud NPR listener (and yes I'm a member too!), rarely turning to popular music stations.  So I realized that I had been training myself to listen to programs and comprehend them.  So I tried a book, only listening to it when I worked out (because when else do I have time to listen to something).  I actually started working out more in order to finish my book. Bonus!

Since April of 2015, I have become an audiobook fan.  They take me longer to get through because I don't have tons of time to listen, but I love that I can listen to them while I'm doing something else.  Who doesn't love multi-tasking!?   I find ways to listen to them now.  Working out, doing the dishes, cleaning, getting ready in the morning.  I'm also looking into getting a blue tooth shower speaker so I can listen while showering.  Is that a thing?

What about you?  What are you feelings on audiobooks?  Love them, hate them?  Don't really care either way?

Friday, January 6, 2017

7 Books About the End of the World

Do you like books about the end of the world?  Apparently I do.  I tend to read a lot of post-apocalyptic/dystopian stories in which there is a future world that isn't doing too great.  I feel like this has also lead to a lot of anxiety in the past few months as I go through the many scenarios our current world could ease into.  My imagination is a little rampant, but some of these hit a little too close to home!

So read and be wary.  And then encourage everyone you know to read these so they can learn a little more about the consequences of our actions.

***By the way, I review a lot of middle grade books on this site.  In my opinion, none of these books are middle grade appropriate (MAYBE 5th Wave, but it would depend on the kid).  I would suggest them for upper high school and up.  If you have a pretty mature freshman or sophomore, maybe.

If you like your end of the world books hitting a little too close to home, then you should start here.  Taking place in the Southwestern United States, water in such a short supply that states are hording it and if you're rich, then great.  If not, too bad.  The Water Knife's job is to make sure his company has the rights to the water that they want, even if means cutting off water to an entire state full of people.

This is dirty and tough and violent.  Definitely not for kids!

In this story, a young girl has returned home years after she was taken away by her father.  During that time, they lived in a wooded area, far from civilization.  He told her when she was young and they left that the world was ending and they must go into hiding so they could survive.  But she's been found.

Not completely an end of the world story because it's obvious at the beginning that she's been returned to a world that was not destroyed, but she believes it has been.

Aliens send five waves of blights to wipe out humanity.  We start the story with Cassie during the 5th wave as she struggles to keep control of her humanity and find her little brother.

*Upper middle school appropriate.

For the literary fiction lover.  Set in a future American society where classes of people are kept together as laborers or the elites.  We follow one woman who goes in search of the man she loves, leaving all behind that knows and enters the unknown.

One of my favorites this year and actually a bit alarming when taken in context of our current political climate.  Vivian wakes up one morning and her very religious parents are missing and there are two holes in the roof of their bedroom.  The prophecy has come true and now Vivian is left alone to figure out the truth.  With her best friend, and a new ally she isn't sure she should trust, Vivian sets off on a cross country drive to discover the truth about her parents.

This book is beautiful and takes place right before the end of the world, and then jumps ahead about 15 years to the aftermath.  This post-apocalyptic world is terrifying, but there are moments of hope embedded.  It's told from multiple perspectives and jumps time and settings to help tell this story.

In a future where technology, science, and anything unnatural, has been outlawed, Elliot North struggles to keep her family's plantation together.  She feels responsible for the lives of her servants, especially those who are Reduced--members of society whose mental capacity has been diminished due to genetic experiments conducted generations ago.

What other books do you recommend about the end of the world?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

TBR for 2017

Now I don't really go crazy anymore and set exactly what I'm going to read during a month or year because we all know it's not going to stick.  However, I do go through and make sure that I have some "must reads" and I try to read them.  Try.  Other things come up!

Here are some of my MUST READS for 2017.

Audiobooks That I Own

Middle Grade Books (some of which I own)

Books I've Been Meaning to Read

Books I Have Preordered and Can't Wait to Read!

I am very much waiting for both The Dark Days Pact and King's Cage.  Especially King's Cage.  I think I might be reading the first two over before it comes out.

What's on your TBR for this year?  Are there any MUST READS that you're looking forward to?  Anything I need to put on my list?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review: The War that Saved My Life

The War that Saved My Life
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Read by: Jayne Entwistle
Listening Library, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Family,
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ada lives in London with her mother and younger brother Jamie.  She isn't allowed to leave her apartment because her mother is too ashamed for people to see Ada and her twisted foot.  Ada must sit at the window and watch her brother play.  When Jamie comes home from school and announces that all the children are going to the school the next day and the teachers are taking them out of the city because of the coming war, Ada's mother laughs and tells them they aren't going--especially not Ada.  But Ada makes sure that she and Jamie go, traveling out of London to the country where families await to take in children until the threat of war and bombs has passed.  Jamie and Ada end up Susan, who has no interest in children and doesn't have any idea what to do with them.  Grieving for a lost friend, Susan does her best for Ada and Jamie, taking Ada to a doctor for the first time and giving both her and Jamie a safe place.  For the first time, Ada realizes that she might have more to give back than she ever knew before, but what will happen when their mother comes to collect them? If she comes to collect them.

This was a wonderful performance by Jayne Entwistle that really brought all the characters to life.   Ada is strong and smart and although she has never been to school before, she can figure things out pretty quickly and read people.  She understands how the world works even though her first ten years were spent away from the rest of the world.  It doesn't take her very long to realize that her mother's claims that she was stupid and unable to attend school were wrong.  It also doesn't take her very long to realize that although Susan is being nice to them, she doesn't have to be nice to them and can change her mind at any minute.

A major part of this story is Ada's discovery of horses and riding.  Susan owns a pony, left there by her recently departed friend and Ada teaches herself how to ride the horse, making friends with neighbors who give her more help and advice in caring for her new horse.  It's this relationship that allows Ada to grow the most.

I loved that Ada, someone who is physically disabled, shows how strong and capable she is.  She isn't completely aware of this at first, but when she makes up her mind to leave and to learn to ride the horse, it comes through.  This is a point the author is making and Ada is never seen as someone is weak (even at the beginning when she isn't allowed to leave her apartment).

Susan's character is a bit difficult to figure out.  When we first meet her, she is being forced to take in Ada and Jamie.  It reminded me a bit of Bedknobs and Broomsticks when Angela Lansbury is indignant about taking in Carrie and Paul.  She does it, but doesn't like and is somewhat vocal about it. Susan is not magical, of course, but it reminded me of this.  Perhaps because it has the same setting where children were evacuated from cities during World War II but I continued to picture Susan as Angela Lansbury.

Susan seems to battle with bouts of depression that she sinks into less and less as the story progresses and her relationship with Ada and Jamie grows.  It's difficult to understand why she seems like such an outsider in her town when we first meet her--whether it's her own choice after Becky, her friend and roommate, died, or if there was more to it.  Becky was so often referred to, but we never really found out more about her.  Neighbors referred to her as the "other one" or the "nice one," making it seem like they were outsiders even before.  I assumed they were partners and their relationship was quietly looked down upon, leaving Susan to feel ostracized by her community.  It's never explained, though, and I wanted to know more about Becky.  I wanted Susan to tell Ada and Jamie stories about her--whatever their relationship to one another was--and to feel that she had come to terms with Becky's death.  That never happened, though.

This is a great book for middle school reader and adults alike.  It's about family--not the family you're born with, but the family you find along the way.  It's about becoming yourself and accepting who you are.  I highly recommend it!