Friday, December 2, 2016

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Raina Telgemeier
Genre: Graphic novel, Paranormal, family, illness, middle grade
Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is my first Raina Telgemeier book!  My students have been reading Smile, Sisters, and Drama for a few years and they insisted that I read this one.  In it, Cat's family has just moved to Northern California due to her sister's illness.  Maya has cystic fibrosis, which affects her lungs and makes it difficult to breathe as her lungs slowly degenerate.  Their move is supposed to help Maya breathe easier and have a fuller life.  Cat isn't happy about the move, even though she loves her sister.  Upon arriving, they're introduced to the town's infatuation with Dia' de los Muertos and the celebration they throw to invite the ghosts back.  Cat is terrified, especially when an adventure to find the ghosts in early September leaves Maya in the hospital.  Maya, though, is as infatuated with the ghosts as they seem to be with her, even as Cat tries desperately to keep them all away.

I liked the idea that both Cat and Maya are coming to terms with the fact that Maya will die.  Cystic Fibrosis is a terminal illness and it means that Maya 's lung don't get better, they continue to get worse.  Maya is a little girl and she wants to talk with the ghosts so she can understand what will be coming for her in the future.  Cat wants them to stay away because she knows she can't protect her sister from death, try as she might.  Don't worry--this book ends on a happy note and the only death is the visiting ghosts on Dia' de los Muertos.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses

Throne of Glass
Sarah J. Mass
Bloomsbury, 2013
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I just finished reading two of Sarah J. Maas's books.  I have been meaning to give them a try and finally did.  My dad gave me the entire set of Throne of Glass to put in my classroom after he read them. It's been waiting for me to read it and determine its appropriateness--I have determined it is not so appropriate for a 6th grade audience.  Although it's the first in a series, I'm not really interested in reading more about Celaena.  I had an okay time reading the story, but there were lots of lagging moments for me and I only managed to get through it because we were on a long car ride over Thanksgiving.  The mystery wasn't really so mysterious and because I was aware that there are multiple books in the series, it was easy to surmise that she made it through the trials to become the King's Assassin.  So I won't be reading any more of the series and will most likely donate them to our public library.  I really have little interest in finding out about the love triangle that has formed between Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol.

A Court of Thorns and Roses 
Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury, 2015
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retelling
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Now, I've been interested in reading A Court of Thorns and Roses because I was really interested in how Sarah J. Maas formed this story as a Beauty and The Beast story.

The story was interesting and I wanted to see how things played out.  The Evil Fairie Queen was an good twist to the story.  However, I wasn't a fan of her relationship with Tamlin because I don't trust it.  Even now, after finishing it, I don't trust it (maybe there will be reason in the next book, but I'm not going there).  Tamlin is controlling and I did not like the scene that took place the night of the The Great Rite.  The violence that made to seem sensual and enticing made me not only distrust Tamlin for the rest of the book, but also question Feyre's feelings for him.  How manipulated has she become.

Then when they go Under the Mountain and she becomes Rhysand's toy, it was nauseating.  I finished it.  But I won't be reading on.  I hate triangles and the next book will become this struggle that Feyre must choose between two men and one is "good" and the other is "bad" and what can she do?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review: Star Wars Jedi Academy: A New Class

Star Wars Jedi Academy: A New Class

Jarrett J. Krosoczka


Scholastic, 2016

Genre: Sci Fi, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel, Star Wars

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Star Wars Jedi Academy is back with a new group of students. Jarrett J. Krosoczka introduces us to Victor Starspeeder, a padawan who has had some trouble at his current academy and is being transferred to another school where they can handle his...abilities. Luckily (?) his older sister is there to help (?) him out. But not only will Victor need to learn to control the Force, he'll also need to figure out how to handle his new classmates. If he can't hack it, he'll be kicked out of the Jedi Academy. 

Although we're with a new group of students, the story is similar to that of Roan's in the previous three books. Victor is a bit of a mess and makes mistakes pretty constantly when he first arrives on campus. It takes him awhile to figure everything out. He's also infatuated with one of his new classmates and tries endlessly to impress her--without much luck. 

This was a fun read and readers of the original three Jedi Academy books by Jeffery Brown will enjoy it. The story isn't as interesting, though, and I found myself wishing I could hear more about Roan. I missed him. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Book Review: Crenshaw

Katherine Applegate
Read by Kirby Heyborne
Listening Library, Audible, 2015
Genre: Children's, Realistic, Family
Stars: 3.5 out of 5

In this story about a family who has fallen on hard times, we meet Jackson. Jackson knows what it's like to move suddenly from your house and not be sure where you'll live next. He knows what it's like to live in a car, and he doesn't want to go back to that again. But when things start to go wrong for his family, he fears it's about to happen again. That's when Crenshaw reappears. Jackson met Crenshaw last when they were leaving their home the first time to live out of their van. And now he's back. Crenshaw is a cat who talks and prefers purple jelly beans. Jackson is mortified and just wants him to go away. But there are more important things on his mind right now and maybe, just maybe, this imaginary friend can help. 

Jackson is smart. He's incredibly smart and knows a lot about animals especially.  He's also observant and realizes what's going on before his parents realize he knows. Crenshaw is another source of anxiety for him as he worries whether people can see him or not. But the more he talks to Crenshaw, the more things become clear to him. 

This is a heartbreaking story. It's deals with a part of life that many kids struggle with on a regular basis and that adults have a hard time addressing. This story could allow readers to understand themselves, their friends, or their world better. Kids need to know they aren't alone in the world. Crenshaw (both the book itself and the imaginary cat) can help lead kids through a dark time. I hope every kid has his or own imaginary friend who will help them. 

It needs to be said that the audio book is wonderfully performed by Kirby Heyborne. He is particularly good when it comes to the voice of Crenshaw, bringing the cat to life for the reader. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Court of Fives

Court of Fives
Kate Elliott
Little, Brown and Company, 2015
Genre: dystopian
Source: purchased on Kindle
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

In Court of Fives the obstacles are intense. Jessamy has always wanted to run The Fives and found the perfect time to sneak out and secretly do it. Just once. Until her father returns home earlier than expand her chances may be ruined. Unless she can do it without anyone finding out. If the truth was revealed that she ran the Fives it could mean her father's job, her mother's semi-acceptance in society, and her sisters' livelihoods at stake. Yet Jessamy can't resist the pull of the Fives.

There is a lot of action and suspense in Court of Fives as Jessamy not only runs complex Ninja Warrior like obstacle courses, but navigates the Patron world in which she only halfway belongs.  Jessamy's father is a Patron, a member of the elite class and a commander in the army. Her mother is Efean born, a Commoner, and not allowed to marry her father. Yet after twenty years he has remained faithful to her, even after four girls were born and no male. Jessamy is caught between the two worlds, not really able to be a part of either.

Her love interest is only somewhat interesting. I mostly felt like Kal was a puppy dog following her around. He's a prince and a bit whiny about it, wanting to run The Fives instead.

There is a lot of world and history building to help explain customs. Maybe some of it becomes more important in the second book, but it seemed pretty heavy. Plus most of the names in the Patron class are complicated and similar. So when they're referred to later on it's hard to remember who that was. Is it important? Maybe, but not to the degree spent on it.

Despite all the building, I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the second one soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Letting My Own Child Choose Her Books

As a teacher I'm all about choice in reading and not limiting my students to levels or curriculum or genres.

Teacher Me: You love that one series that is horribly written and just makes no sense? I don't, but go ahead and read it! I'll cringe in my head as you happily pour through your beloved books, and feel happy that you've found something that you love reading. I'll work on a list of other books you might enjoy! 

As the mom, though, I'm finding it much more difficult. Is this because my daughter reading means me reading to her and I can't read that awful book about the goat one more time? Or because I want to read the story about Vasya Kandinsky? 

Mom Me: Thursday is Show and Tell. You get to bring your favorite book! Which book do you want to choose? 
Three year old: *names a random book you've only a few times and she complains about when you suggest it most of the time* 
Mom Me: Well, okay, but I didn't realize that was your favorite. * Secretly grateful she didn't choose any of the "bad" ones*
Three year old: It is my favorite. 
Mom Me: Okay. *desperately thinking of a way to sway her towards a "better" choice 
The following day
Three year old: I'm going to bring (fill in the blank) to school! 
Mom Me: What? Why? 
Three year old: It's my favorite. I love it. 
Mom Me: Are you sure? What about (fill in the blank)? 

And it goes on until I realize that I'm not allowing my daughter choice. And I'm keeping her from expressing her genuine excitement for this book because we have "better" books. 

And hours later I'm still thinking about all the books she loves and how this other one gets the status of favorite. Is it just the mom part, wanting the best for my child? But don't I want the best for my other kids? Or is it that as their teacher I can separate my emotions and understand that it's more important that they love their books than they read something that I have deemed good? Or I just want/need my daughter to be a reader and to be the kind of reader I want her to be? 

We still have all day tomorrow to make her choice. And she's three, so it's likely to change at least two more times. The biggest question is whether or not I'll be able to keep my mouth shut and myself out of her favorite book choice. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

An Argument for Staying Up Late to Read

Sure you're exhausted and you feel zombie-like the next day as you trip over your feet and shove your hair into a ponytail. So maybe you close your eyes for five minutes during your plan time and feel the need to set a timer so you're not awoken by the bell and 25 kids tumbling into your class. There is the possibility you will lose all ability to function by the time 3:00 rolls around and you remember that you have that meeting today after school and a dentist appointment after that.  Your dental hygienist won't mind if you take a quick nap while she cleans your teeth--right?  Because you're going to need that power nap when you arrive home to your beautiful and energetic three year old who wants to play and cuddle and play some more.  And by the time she goes to sleep, you'll cram in a few things that need grading, just in time to start a new book.  But you promise to go to bed on time (or at least close to it) because you're pretty sure you'll end up falling asleep anyway.

But here's the good part: You stayed up late to finish your book and no one interrupted you.  You were able to pace back and forth when you needed to do so and you could snack on those twizzlers you had stashed away for stress eating situations.

You found yourself short of breath several times and anxious for the characters you're now considering your friends.  And finally you found out what happened, how your friends survived (hopefully), and if they'll be okay.  Even though you crawled into bed at 3:00am in an attempt to catch 2 hours of sleep, you crawled into bed happy and content.  Your heart felt warm and glowing, like the words you read seeped from the pages of the book and into your veins.  Coursing through your, they filled you with nutrients you never knew you needed and when they finally reached your heart, it filled with warmth.

So enjoy your late night reading, but maybe don't do it every night.