Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book Review: Awkward

Awkward (Awkward, #1)Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Awkward has been a favorite in my classroom all year and I'm just getting to it in preparation for book club next year. I'm so glad I read it. It has a cast of diverse characters as two clubs, Art Club and Science Club, battle it out for a spot at the school's club fair. Penelope (Peppi) is in Art Club and on her first day at school, she did the most terrible thing to this kid who tried to help her and she's trying to say she's sorry--still trying. As she finally begins to be friends with the boy, Jaime, she realizes he's in Science Club. How can they be friends if their friends hate one another?

Peppi isn't a flawless character, which I appreciate. She makes a lot of mistakes and her friends make a lot of mistakes. Luckily, they learn a lot from their mistakes and also how to save their club.

The teachers are also lovely. I loved the Science teacher. She's very strict, orderly, and possibly a ninja in a previous career? There are many rumors surrounding her and how terrifying she is--even though she isn't and helps out our main character multiple times.

A second book recently came out about another student in Art Club and it looks fabulous. I'd love to hear about all these characters eventually and hope this becomes a longer series.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't express how much I love Perry T. Cook! In All Rise For the Honorable Perry T. Cook, Perry is an eleven year old boy who has spent his entire life living in a prison. He was born there, and through the help of a progressive warden, has been allowed to stay with his mother who was incarcerated shortly before his birth. Perry goes to a regular school, has rules, completes chores, and has a family within the prison walls. When the DA discovers the set up at Blue River Prison, he doesn't like it and takes Perry out of there immediately--to live with him and his family. Although the DA, Tom, has promised to help Perry in any way he can, it doesn't take Perry long to figure out that if he wants to be back with his mom, he'll have to rely on himself.

The characters in this book are amazingly well written. Not only is Perry a thoughtful, inquisitive kid, but he's learning how to stand up for himself. He has many people who are on his side and willing to help. But he needs to learn how to speak out now, speak up for what is right.

We also get hear from his mother's perspective throughout. Her chapters are short and spread out. They allow us to see Blue River Prison from the inside, even when Perry isn't there anymore. We see the loving mother of a boy. A mother who does everything she possibly can to protect and fight for her boy.

One character who really intrigued me was the DA, Tom. Although he is painted as the villain, he's not truly one. He's a man who really believes that he is doing the right thing and trying to correct a wrong. Only he is very misguided in his attempts.

I strongly urge you to read this book. It has made its way onto my Book Club list for next year and will also be book talked!

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Monday Musings: Prequels, Novellas and Side Stories

You know that feeling when you've finished a series and you want another book.  You NEED another book.  You must have more information about these people and you have to remind yourself that they don't really exist. It takes time, but you move on and come to terms with how things ended (or you've invented something to help you get through the ending so that you know in your heart where it led your characters in the end).

There you are, sitting at home, minding your own business and WHAM!  You find out that the author has written another book.  A prequel, or a series of novellas about some of the side characters.  Or a whole other line of stories about a side character or characters that never even existed in the first series but are now connected.

Now you must decide if you allow yourself to trek down that slippery slope.  Can you take your emotions that are wrapped around the original series and unwind them gently and allow new information into your understanding of that world?  Do you really need to know about that minor character who you kind of like, but enjoy not knowing everything about them?  Maybe.

I don't read most books that are added onto a series.  I've learned that I'm usually disappointed.  Not necessarily because they're bad, but because I've moved on.  I've come to terms with the way the series ended and I don't feel the need to bring all that out again.  I don't want it ruined.

How do you feel about stories published about the side characters or prequels?  Do you clamber over other readers to get your hands on them, or do you keep a respectful distance?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is told from multiple perspectives throughout the book. The omniscient quality of the narrator allows us to know the "secrets" right away--there isn't a whole lot to unravel. However there is still a question of how things will unfold and if the characters themselves will understand the truth and what that will mean for them--and if they'll figure it out in time.

Luna is our main character, sacrificed as the youngest baby in the Protectorate, and now being raised by Xan (a witch), Glerk (a swamp monster), and Fyrian (a tiny dragon, who is more of a sibling than a guardian). Every year Xan rescues a baby left in the bog and flies him or her to a town and a loving family. Only when she rescues Luna, she falls in love with her and accidently feeds her too much moon, enmagicking her. But Luna's magic is so intense that it becomes dangerous and Xan must encase the magic deep within her. And now, as she nears thirteen, Luna's magic is slowly returning.

During this time we also see both heroes and villains from the Protectorate as they try to make sense of all the terrible suffering that happens in their village. Over the course of thirteen years we witness the lives of the people of the Protectorate through Antain's eyes. Antain begins as an elder in training, but we can see right away that this won't go very well for him because he questions the decisions and traditions of the elders that lead to the misery surrounding his town.

One of the issues I had with The Girl Who Drank the Moon was the constant change of perspective. The omniscience meant that we knew a lot, but we knew a lot because we saw the same moments in time from different perspectives--and sometimes not just two. It made the story seem to stretch out instead of move forward. It also made it more difficult for me to really relate to Luna. We don't even really get anything from her perspective until we're a good ways into the book because it takes awhile for her to grow up.

And that's when the story really started. I felt like a lot of it was background building and it was long and arduous building. It could have been shorter.

I would only recommend this to middle grade readers who are already comfortable with fantasy books. I feel like even good readers who don't have much basis in fantasy might be thrown off by it. Overall, it was an okay book and once the story gets going, it's compelling--it just might take a while for that to kick in.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Mid-Year Review 2017

It's halfway through 2017 already and I'm looking back at my reading goals and some of my favorites for this year.

I didn't get too ahead of myself this year with my book goals.  Sometimes I have three or four different types of reading challenges for myself.  I wasn't feeling that too much back in January.  I'm still not feeling it, so I'm glad I didn't do it.  I did however set myself a book total goal like I always did.

Book Total Goal for 2017: 70
This is more than my goal for last year, but I did surpass my goal last year.

Total for 2017 so far:  27
According to Goodreads, I'm six books behind schedule.  I am okay with this, though.

Diversity in Books:
I didn't really set a goal for this because I didn't really have any idea of where I was because I never kept track before.  So this year my goal is to keep track.  

I have a spreadsheet in which I'm checking off books as having either a main character or the author who is a POC, LGBTQ+, or a person with a disability (mental or physical). 

So far, I have 10 out of 27 books that count as diverse.  I'm setting the goal for myself to get to 20. 

A few of my favorite experiences this year have been re-reads.  So far, I have re-read the following titles:


I'm currently finishing up The Handmaid's Tale.  It's been years since I read it and although I remember it, I don't remember the details.  And I want to see the Hulu series, but need a refresher first.

Finally, my favorites so far!  I wanted to add The Dark Days Club and Red Queen, but I thought it was cheating because they were re-reads from just last year and they shouldn't be on my favorites list two years in a row--should they?

In no particular order:


How has your year gone so far?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review: A Madness So Discreet

A Madness So Discreet A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love historical fiction that doesn't put romance as a center plot line. LOVE IT.

Mindy McGinnis has put her main character Grace into a terrible situation: she's in a mental asylum, placed there by her family because of the fact that she's been found pregnant. No one can know that she's pregnant, it would be terrible for the family because it would uncover secrets that would ruin them all. And Grace hasn't spoken since. While there she meets a strange doctor who recognizes her intelligence and schemes to take her out of there by pretending he botched a procedure on her and they will need to hide that from her affluent and very powerful father. He takes her away to a new asylum, one that is run with dignity and care. Although Grace must continue to hide her voice, she accompanies the doctor as he visits crime scenes in an attempt to use the new science of criminal psychology. Very soon, they discover that there is a serial killer in their midst.

We meet a number of characters throughout the book who live in the asylum. Some truly do have mental health disorders, but others do not. Most are women who are put there by husbands or fathers simply to get them out of the way. Some are ill, but mentally ill, and so they are committed so their family members do not have to deal with them. The conditions at the first place Grace is living in are deplorable. There is a lack of food, lack of medical care, and patients would often be beaten or hit. Some of them were locked in cellars for long periods of time. Unfortunately, this is what many asylums were like. The one in which Grace travels to was much nicer. Patients were treated with respect and care. It is a comparison that Grace makes often during her time there.

A Madness So Discreet is about many things, but I believe it is very much about how women have been viewed in the past. Not only are we shown multiple women who have been sent to live in asylums not because they needed help, but because they were different, needed medical attention, or were defiant, but the serial killer is targeting young women--mostly prostitutes. As you read the Dr.'s and Grace's surmising about the killer and his or her motives, you can see this played out even more.

The best part, is that there is no romance. There is no love interest. It truly is about Grace. I loved this book and I'm looking forward to reading more of her books! I think I might try outThe Female of the Species.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Books for Your Reluctant Reader

It's summer, I know, but it's super important to keep your kids reading throughout the summer.  Don't let the summer slide happen!  I'm not saying that they need to read ALL the time, but find a little time each day when reading is required.  Join a summer reading program at your local library.  Our library is amazing and they've had really great interactive events for kids.  It'll get them there, surrounded by books--so why not check a few out?

But what if you have a kid who doesn't like to read during the school year?  Well, I would say that they just haven't found the right book or author.

So here are some suggestions for you Middle Grade Readers.  Think anywhere from 5th--8th grade, depending on the book and the maturity level of the reader.

 Graphic Novels
If you haven't checked out graphic novels, get some!  Go to the library and ask where they keep their graphic novels for children.  Now, don't you start griping and telling me that graphic novels are just comics and don't count as reading.  What else do you think you're doing when you read a comic or a graphic novel?  You're reading words and pictures at the same time, using inference as you fill in the spaces of the story that can't be included due to the lack of narration.  It's a different kind of reading, but it's reading!  The narration takes place with both words and pictures and that's fine.  Here are some suggestions, based on my students' interests this past year.

 I had a group of kids passing this series around.  I read the first one and then couldn't get my hands on the next ones because they were so popular!  It's about a girl and her family who move into an old house that used to belong to a long lost relative.  After the first night they're all sucked into a magical realm and she must work to save them all.
 Raina Telgemeier has a few books out.  Ghosts is about a girl whose little sister has cystic fibrosis and so they move someone that will help her--but Catrina doesn't like this place.  She's especially nervous about it when she hears about all the ghosts haunting it and the Day of the Dead celebration that is approaching.  It might not be the best place for any of her family.

And by the way, boys and girls both have been drawn to Raina Telgemeier books!
This probably looks familiar!  Raina Telgemeier (the same from above) has taken the classic and turned it into a graphic novel.  This is perfect!  I had a number of kids start on these books and then transition to the original novels.  And there are a ton of the original novels--only four of the graphic novels.

Oh and it's great fun for an adult to read who was super into the books as a kid--trust me, I know. :)

Books in Verse
Sometimes the idea of reading a book that is pages and pages filled with words is daunting.  So find a book where the pages are filled with so many words.  Books in verse are stories told in poetic form.  Here are a couple of authors that stood out in my class this year.

 This is the story of Ha' and her life in Vietnam that changes drastically when war arrives to Saigon and she and her family must flee to America.  She struggles to find a place in Alabama where she feels safe with her family.

If your reader enjoys this, then introduce them to Thanhha Lai's other book Listen, Slowly --not written in verse.  In this book, Mai was born and raised in California.  She's looking forward to a spectacular summer, when she finds out that she has to travel to Vietnam with her dad and grandma so she can help her grandma.  While her dad is off treating patients, she is to look after her grandmother--who speaks no English.  Mai speaks no Vietnamese.  It's going to be a long summer.

I have not read Crossover because I just can't get through sports books.  I've tried.  Many times.  I have very little interest in sports and so it's hard for me to focus on characters who are so devoted to it.  But my students LOVED this book!  It was a hit with many of my boys and girls.

Gordon Korman

I have found that Gordon Korman is an excellent introduction into literature for my students who really don't want to read anything.  If I can get them to start Ungifted, then I can get them interested in other books as well.  Here are two that I would start with offering.

 Ungifted is hilarious! Donovan is ALWAYS getting in trouble.  In fact, we meet him while he's in detention for some stunt or another. Donovan ends up making a very bad decision and it results in the destruction of the gym of his school--oops!  Before his parents are contacted, though, he receives an invitation to attend the Academy of Scholastic Distinction--a complete mistake.  But it might the only way Donovan escapes whatever punishment is about to come down on him.  No one will ever think of looking for him in a school for geniuses!  Only he'll have to figure out a way to make them all think he belongs there.  Hilarity ensues!
Masterminds takes place in the town of Serenity, where none of the kids have ever left.  It's the nicest place ever and there is nothing bad ever happens there.  But when Eli's best friend is sent away after an accident, he begins to suspect that something is up.  The more he snoops, the more he discovers and it's not as serene as all the adults are trying to make them think.

This is great because it's a mystery and the kids are in charge, trying to outwit the adults.  It's also a series.

Gordon Korman has many other books as well, so he's a great author to get kids hooked on reading!

What about you?  Any book suggestions that you've found to be winners for your more reluctant readers?