Friday, October 30, 2015

5 Books I'm Looking Forward to Reading by the end of 2015

So there are a few books in my TBR pile that I'm really really looking forward to reading soon!  Some I own, some I want to own, and some I'm just waiting to be released.  Here they are:


First and foremost, I have to talk about Winter, the fourth book in Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.  It's being delivered to school so that I have it as soon as possible and drop whatever I'm reading right away and join in with my kids during Silent Reading Time!!

 

Next is Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty.  I have this one sitting on our dining room table (which we only use when we have company) and I see it taunting me every day to finish the book I'm on so I can get to it.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalup sounds incredibly good and it's been on my list for a few months.  It's one I'd like to have finished before the year is up.  Also, it sounds terrifying and will probably make me more anxious than I already am.  Maybe I should stop reading so much dystopian/post-apocalyptic books... Or whatever.

I recently put 1984 by George Orwell on my list because I've never read it.  Can you believe that?  This is another must be read by the end of the year.

I saw the movie version of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro on accident.  I didn't realize it was a book when I started to just watch it on TV.  I didn't pay attention to the name and by the time I looked at the title, I thought, isn't this a book?  It was too late.  I was sucked in.  However, that was a few years ago and although it's vaguely familiar to me, I believe it's time that I can read it without thinking too much of the movie.

I have plenty of other books that I'll be reading around these books, but my plan to hopefully finish reading these five by the new year.  Fingers crossed!!

Are there any books you can't wait to read?  Did mine surprise you?

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review: Our Endless Numbered Days

Our Endless Numbered Days
Claire Fuller
Tin House Books, 2015
Source: purchased
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

In Our Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller presents a beautiful landscape where young Peggy grows up in an isolated cabin with her father.  They left from their London home and traveled to this far away destination when she was only eight and she believes the rest of the world was destroyed. Peggy grows up knowing only what her father tells her, believing they are the only ones left in this world, until she sees evidence of someone else alive in their lonely little world. Coupled with chapters from the present where Peggy is back home in London with her mother, it is evident right away that there is something very wrong.

I had a difficult time with this book because the descriptions of the scenery went on and on.  Although they were beautiful, I found myself skipping over some of those and getting to the sections where something was happening.  Anything.  The beginning of the book was also hard to get through.  It describes her time at home with her father before they left London for the cabin in the woods, but there was an awful lot of background being built in.  From the beginning I knew there was something very very wrong--even more than what is revealed from the blurb on the back.

It wasn't until about halfway through that I even felt the need to get to the end.  I did have an idea of what the "surprise reveal" was pretty early on in the story.  So although I needed to understand how things went down, I was hoping the entire time that I was wrong.  The reveal wasn't even much of a reveal by the time I got to those last two pages.  That's right folks.  You get two pages to deal with this.  And it's intense enough that more than two pages is needed to process everything.  This is coming from someone who guessed it pretty early on.  The ending just soured the entire story for me and what would have been an okay book, became a not great book.  It felt like a desperate attempt at shocking me, even when it didn't (although the reveal is shocking in itself, I wasn't surprised because I had been worried about it from early on).  I felt like someone was trying to trick me, only not very well.

As for the characters, Peggy is stuck in her eight year old understanding of life.  She questions her father, but not quite in the way a 17 year old would.  She still thinks of her best friend from childhood as an eight year old girl and her feelings for her best friend are very childish.  Yet she's living in the body of a seventeen year old girl and not quite understanding everything that she should.  There is a lot that I'm still not sure about with Peggy.

Despite her father being a major catalyst for so much and being the only character Peggy has interactions with for most of the novel, he was almost a side character--but not quite.  He seems to be suffering from bipolar disorder, but if it's truly that or if these manic and depressive episodes are brought on more by their situation I'm not sure.  He did seem to get obsessed with ideas even before he took Peggy out to the wilderness, though.  Nonetheless, he just seemed to be there, something she had to deal with and figure out in order to survive.

Our Endless Numbered Days, although written beautiful, has some pretty big flaws that all come at you in the end.  This one might be finding its way into the donate pile.

Image Source: Goodreads


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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Character Spotlight: Jo Montfort from These Shallow Graves

In honor of publication day for These Shallow Graves, I am doing a Character Spotlight on the main character Jo Montfort. I absolutely loved this book and if you'd like to read my review, check it out here.



Josephine "Jo" Montfort
These Shallow Graves
Jennifer Donnelly

Josephine Montfort lives in New York in the late 1800s, a member of the elite upper class.  Her life has been planned out for her--a life of ease, married to the most eligible bachelor, and having babies.  When Jo's father dies unexpectedly in an accident, she isn't able to accept that it was a freak accident and decides to challenge what she's been told.  With the help of Eddie, a young reporter who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, Jo begins to peel away the layers of her perfect life and discover the truth behind her father's death.


Jo is torn throughout most of the novel.  She's independent, interested in journalism, and wants to change the world.  When we first meet her she has written an article exposing the life of the girls who work in a factory close to her school and is planning a way to publish it in her school paper.  She has read Nellie Bly's expose of the treatment of the mentally ill and Jo has taken this to heart.  Despite Jo’s upbringing in an elitist society that focuses on where a person’s money comes from and who their ancestors are, Jo understands that there are injustices in her world that people should know about.  She knows that everyone has a story and she wants to tell the stories of girls working in factories, orphans who are dependent on a life of crime, and girls who are sold to madames to work in brothels. This is what she wants to do, but it's also something that is impossible for her to do.


Ladies of her station do not write for papers, and she is meant to marry into one of the richest and most prestigious families, a mirror of her own.  It's what's expected and despite what Jo wants, she wants her family to be happy as well. Because Jo cares deeply for her family.  We see this struggle throughout the story.  Right away, when Jo's father is dead, she knows it wasn't an accident.  There is no way her father would have accidently shot himself while cleaning his gun, however she can't voice this opinion because she should not have an opinion.  She has to look for the truth in secret and with the help of Eddie, a reporter for the paper her family owns. With her father dead, Jo can’t bring any more hardship on her mother.  She’s concerned about her uncle who was so close to her father and must figure out the best way to reveal to him what she’s learned.  


As Jo embarks on her journey, her world and the part of New York she is not supposed to know are set up against one another.  She sneaks out at night to visit Eddie.  They go to houses of ill repute, break into buildings, sneak around the wharf in the dead of night, befriend criminals.  When she comes home, she attends teas and church and other events that are befitting of a young girl in mourning while her mother plans out how they will ensure Bram Aldrich asks for her hand in marriage. Jo longs for the excitement of Eddie's world, and even more the freedom to make her own choices and make a real difference.  To do that means breaking her family's hearts, and she's not sure if she has that in her.

Jo is clueless at times and this is what makes her so annoying.  She has good intentions, but she’s still very focuses on herself and how all of this will affect her--not others who aren’t a part of her inner circle.  Eddie is often snapping at her for saying something rude and demeaning before Jo realizes how awful it is that she said it.  She tries to give advice to a girl her age who is about to be sold to a madame, but she has no idea what kind of life this girl lives.  This is where I found myself rolling my eyes at her and screaming, “You idiot!” Jo is in no way perfect, but she’s trying.  She just has to make a choice between finding out the truth and keeping herself and her family out of the spotlight.

Image Source: Goodreads

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Halloween Board Book: Room on the Broom

Room on the Broom
by Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler
Puffin Books, 2003
Source: Purchased
Rating: 5 out of 5

We bought this last fall when my daughter was one and read it to her at night while we rocked her before bedtime. Although it stayed out year round, we only picked it up a few times since Halloween. Until this past month when I started pushing it again.

"How about Room on the Broom? The one about the witch?"

"Hmmmm okay!"

It's the book I pick every other night before bed and the book I sneak into her back pack when we go out to eat. My daughter is fickle--she's two so it's to be expected--but she takes this book and opens it and points to the witch and how she loses her hat, then her bow, and finally her wand.

I realize that this book is over 10 years old, but for us, it relatively new. Next year I'm sure it will seem new to my daughter again, but eventually she'll start to recognize it each Fall as a staple to our reading repertoire.

The pictures are fun and engaging, the story itself is a poem with a great rhythm for young book lovers. I absolutely love it and so does my daughter!

Image Source: Goodreads





Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves
Jennifer Donnelly
Random House Delacorte, 2015
Source: ARC through Netgalley
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

*I'd like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book to read in exchange for an honest and fair review.


Josephine Montfort lives in New York in the late 1800s, a member of the elite upper class.  Her life has been planned out for her--a life of ease, married to the most eligible bachelor, and having babies.  When Jo's father dies unexpectedly in an accident, she isn't able to accept that it was a freak accident and decides to challenge what she's been told.  With the help of Eddie, a young reporter who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, Jo begins to peel away the layers of her perfect life and discover the truth behind her father's death.


Jo is torn throughout most of the novel.  She's independent, interested in journalism, and wants to change the world.  She has read Nellie Bly's expose of the treatment of the mentally ill and Jo has taken this to heart.  This is what she wants to do, but it's also something that is impossible for her to do. Ladies of her station do not write for papers, and marrying Abraham Aldrich means she is marrying into one of the richest and most prestigious families, a mirror of her own.  It's what's expected and despite what Jo wants, she wants her family to be happy as well.


We see this struggle throughout the story.  Right away, when Jo's father is dead, she knows it wasn't an accident.  There is no way her father would have accidently shot himself while cleaning his gun, however she can't voice this opinion because she should not have an opinion.  She has to look for the truth in secret and with the help of Eddie, a reporter for the paper her family owns.


Eddie is set up as the opposite to Bram.  He's brash, outspoken, and unknown.  He is annoyed by Jo's helplessness at times (which only spurns her on to make more decisions that may not be in her best interest).  I like Eddie, but he still angered me, and sometimes more than Bram.  Maybe it's because I was able to get to know Eddie more than Bram, but it's also because even though he's supposed to represent some form of freedom for Jo, Eddie still treats her like she can't do anything.  He tells her again and again and again that she can't come along with him on any investigative trips because they're too dangerous for her.  He won't let her.  It's true that it's dangerous, but mostly because she's so clueless that she'll get herself in trouble by saying the wrong thing.


These Shallow Graves is a little slow at the beginning. Jo sneaks out with Eddie, they learn something new, Jo is shocked and contemplates what this means for her family and her life and it starts over again.  But don’t let that stop you. Suddenly you're realizing what Jo hasn't yet and you must find out immediately how it all turns out and what other information will be revealed.  I figured some things out pretty quickly--I don't think it was too difficult t--but this mystery is more intricate than what you expect at first and as more and more is revealed you'll be tweaking your assumptions until you find out the truth.


I really enjoyed These Shallow Graves.  Books that are written in the Victorian age and explore women's roles and the repression of women--no matter what their class--are interesting to me.  I thought that Jennifer Donnelly's exploration of this was well done as she attempted to balance it between not only girls in Jo's social world, but those of criminals, and poor working girls.  There is a definite connection being made between the social classes.  At times it highlights the similarities and at other times how utterly different their worlds could be.  I also appreciated how clueless Jo was, and even more so her friends and family were, about the realities of the opposite side of life.


These Shallow Graves is available on October 27th.  Preorder it today and you can get all cozy with a great mystery this Halloween weekend!

Check back on the 27th for a more detailed look at Jo in my Character Spotlight!

Image Source: Goodreads 

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Status: Our Endless Numbered Days


Sunday Status is a weekly (ish) post where I let you know what I'm reading and what I'm thinking about it as I go along.


Our Endless Numbered Days
Claire Fuller
Tin House Books, 2015
Source: Purchased

"'How will we get home, Papa, without a tent?' I said to his back.  He turned around looked at me, confused for a second, but then understanding.
'We are home, Punzel,' he said (144)."

I'm still working on this one from last week.  It's a slow read.  It's going back and forth between the present time and what she's remembering from her past.  Each time we're in the present something new is revealed--something terrifying.  This isn't a scary book (at least not yet) but even from the description you know that something not good happened.  As I read, it becomes more and more apparent that it's probably going to be worse than I had thought.  I need to know what happened to Peggy, but I also don't want to know.


So here's the description from Goodreads:
Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons.

When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly begins to unravel the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she’d lost.

After Peggy's return to civilization, her mother learns the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.


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Friday, October 16, 2015

Children's Book Review: When Santa Was a Baby

When Santa Was a Baby
by Linda Bailey
Illustrations by Genevieve Godbout
Tundra Books, 2015
Source: Netgalley in return for an honest review
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I realize it seems early for a Christmas book, but we're getting close to November!  That means that Christmas is just around the corner and somebody better get a move on her Holiday shopping.  Or I'll wait until after Thanksgiving and order as much as possible online. :)

Here's a bit about this book:
How did Santa become Santa?  Well you'll find out in this story about how Santa grew up.  With his need to wear red and his big belly laugh, his parents knew he was something special right away.  We watch as he grows up and gives away toys, instead of asking for his own birthday gifts.  His parents dote on him, and love him, and are extremely proud of him as they watch him from the time he is a baby, until he's an adult.

The pictures are beautiful and bright and fun, filled with rosy cheeked people and bright toys.  There isn't too much going on on each page, but enough for kids to find interesting images throughout.

My daughter has a box of Christmas books that we wrap up (most are borrowed and passed down) and open each day leading up to Christmas.  We'll use the same books each Christmas, but add one or two each year to it.  She only has 20 right now and I'd like to have 24.  This might be a great addition to our Christmas book round up.

Image Source: Goodreads

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Teaching Moment: Erin Condren Teacher Planner



Every so often I like to talk about teaching because I'm a teacher and I have ideas or excitement or a soapbox to stand on. This is one of those moments.


Erin Condren Teacher Planner

So in May I splurged and bought an Erin Condren Teacher Planner.  I had seen so many people writing about them, they looked so pretty, and I love notebooks and planners.  I was nervous, though, because I hadn't really seen anyone use it at the middle school or high school level that would work for me.  I did find this great blog post from 180 Days to Happy about how a middle school teacher set hers up, but I knew I just needed to get my hands on it and figure it out.

Before school started, I played around with it and came up with this blog post.  I was incredibly overwhelmed.  How would I set this up?

This has been my progression:

Overwhelmed
I used post-it notes to figure out how to set everything up.


Mock up of my schedule to see how it would work

The beginning of the year:
I use Washi Tape like crazy!!! It's my friend.  

Planning Sheets

 I teach 4 hours of 6th Grade Literature, 1 hour of 6th Grade Honors Literature and 1 hour of 6th Grade Study Skills.  Since study skills is a specials course, I see those kids once a week and do the same thing with each group before I have a new lesson.  Also, most of our class is a study hall/time to clean out lockers/time to finish tests or homework or whatever else might be needed.  So I didn't need much room.

Also, at the beginning of the year, my Honors class does pretty much the same thing as my other classes because 6th grade is a big jump for our kiddos and they all need to be walked through the "how to be a sixth grader" things.  

I also print out my plans on post-it notes.  Weird, I know.  But it works for me.  And it looks so much neater.  Also, I have much more detailed unit plans that address the topics/activities/notes/etc in more detail.  

Charts and graphs pages

I wasn't sure how to use this as a middle school teacher, but I decided to use it for my groups.  Since every 5-6 weeks I change groups up completely, I decided to use these pages.  Then I'm not searching through all my papers when someone says they can't remember what group they were in.


The charts pages were troubling to me at first.  With 140-ish students there just weren't enough of these pages, plus I hate when students move in and out and my grade books don't match that when I enter grades online.  Instead, I decided to use them to keep track of different goals.  The first is our book totals goal.  I challenge all my students to read 30 books in a school year.  Some make it, some don't, but they're all reading.  About once a month they bring up their book logs and I write them down in my book too (someone will inevitably lose theirs).


I am also using them to keep all of my benchmark scores.  I used to keep them in a file folder for each class and then would need to bring those all to my meetings with me... Now I have it with me no matter what!  The only problem was that I didn't want to write down all 140 students' names.  Sound lazy?  That's a lot of writing.  Plus, I have to enter my scores into a google doc and email them to our RTI coordinator as it is, so I just printed that out and glued it in.  I'll just cut out the Winter scores and match them up in January.


Monthly pages

My monthly calendars are used for major events--both school related and personal.  This helps me when I'm doing my planning and I can see what I have going on in my personal life as well.  


Final Changes:
So.... in our 8th week of school I had to change things up completely.  I have two classes who need more support...mostly due to not completing their work.  The problem is that it's hurting the students who are doing their work.   So I had to figure out how to squeeze in four different plans into these pages.  I decided on squeezing in three different preps.  My study skills doesn't need a column.  This week's study skills plan was "clean out lockers."  



I kept the first column for my daily activities that will stay the same for each class, like Status of the Class, Book Buzzers, and Read a louds.  Then I have two columns for 1st and 4th, two for Honors, and 2 for my 7th and 8th.  I'm trying it, but it's only been two week.



Overall, I'm satisfied with my Erin Condren Teacher Planner for now, but I'm not sure if I'll spend the money on one next year.  I love how it's put together, but  I feel as if I'm not using it as much as I could.  So I might be looking for something else similar, but more useful for me.  Possibly something smaller, although then I'm not sure how I would fit my post-it notes in there!

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Monday, October 12, 2015

These Shallow Graves--Book Rave

These Shallow Graves
Jennifer Donnelly
Random House Delacorte, 2015
Source: Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I just finished reading These Shallow Graves and my heart is still beating wildly.  Despite the fact that it's 11:30 and I have to be by 6:00am tomorrow, I cannot calm myself and go to bed.  In an attempt to do so, I must immediately share some thoughts/feelings about my experience.

I could not believe the last 100 pages.  So much! So much building, so much happening, so much revealed.  Jennifer Donnelly has built a mystery that explores the ideas of women and girls being trapped by the expectations Victorian society built for them.  It's a mystery that forces characters to look outside of their world into another, very different world, to discover the truth.  I feared for the women in this book--and not just the main character, Jo, but all of them.

I feel as if I'm blabbering.  I am.  A real review, with complete sentences that are thought out and hopefully make more sense than this will follow within the coming week.

I'm still concentrating on breathing slowly.

Image Source: Goodreads.com

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Book Review: Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus
Cassie Beasley
Dial Books, 2015
Source: purchased
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Micah Tuttle has grown up hearing his grandfather's stories about the magical Circus Mirandus, but now that Grandpa Ephraim is very sick, Micah is relying on those stories to get him through.  With his unbelieving Great Aunt Gertrudis trying her best to squash out any thoughts of magic and preparing to take Micah in when Ephraim passes, he just needs to find Circus Mirandus and The Lightbender to set everything right.  He has to.  He owes Grandpa Ephraim a miracle.  Micah is determined to make sure he gets it.

There were many parallels to Harry Potter, with Aunt Gertrudis stomping around, trying to ruin Micah and Grandpa's fun.  She reminded me of the Dursleys and their distaste for the magical world.  She keeps Micah from seeing Ephraim because she doesn't want to upset Ephraim, but she also wants to start ridding Micah of all the fantastical and magical stories of Circus Mirandus.  Also, Micah makes a friend at school, Jenny, who is very much like Hermione.  She's regimented and precise and very intelligent.  The difference is that she's so logical that she cannot accept that magic is real and has a reason for every part of Grandpa Ephraim's story.  Even when Jenny sees and hears a magical, talking bird, she explains it away because it must be very well trained.  She is a good friend to Micah, though.  An extremely good friend.

I loved Grandpa Ephraim and Micah's relationship.  He has raised Micah since his parents died in a car accident when Micah was very little.  They have an understanding that allows for honesty between the two of them, but Grandpa Ephraim's illness is breaking Micah.  He's rarely allowed to see his grandpa and Micah is having a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that his grandpa is sick enough that he might die, very soon.  This is why he is so determined to find The Lightbender and make him give Grandpa Ephraim the miracle promised to him years before.

I also liked the jumps between Grandpa Ephraim's childhood and the present.  The two stories and time frames melded together well and helped add to the magic.

Despite the parallels to Harry Potter, Circus Mirandus is very much its own story, with very distinct characters.  It's a story that asks you to believe in magic.  To always believe. I definitely recommend it for the times when you need to add that element back into your life.

My favorite quote from the book came towards the end, but it doesn't really give anything away, so I'll share it with you.  I love it and I'll leave you with it.

 "Because it was a ridiculous, amazing thing to do, and once in a while, it's good to be ridiculous and amazing."

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Status: These Shallow Graves and Our Endless Numbered Days

Sunday Status is a weekly (ish) post where I let you know what I'm reading and what I'm thinking about it as I go along.

These Shallow Graves
Jennifer Donnelly
Random House Delacorte, October 27th, 2015
Source: ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

"For the first time that night, Jo was not just nervous or anxious, but genuinely afraid (178)."

Josephine Monfort's privileged life among the New York aristocrats is shaken up when her father died from an accidental gunshot wound.  Jo knows things don't add up, but for a young girl to ask questions isn't becoming.  She's supposed to mourn her father for six months, accept the proposal from New York's finest bachelor, marry, and settle into a life of having babies and following rules.  Jo has other ideas, instead.  Inspired by Nellie Bly, she is determined to discover the truth behind her father's death--even if it means learning things she might not have wanted to know.

I'm enjoying this look at 1890s young girls and their desires to be more than is expected form them--or more than is accepted from them.  Jo has big ideas, but she also understands how her world works and what she loses just because of her station in life.  She comments on the injustice of it and how her mere presence in certain places leads men to believe she must be a prostitute.  She sighs about how she is expected to become a wife and mother as quickly as possible.  Despite this, when she finds herself in precarious situations where she could be discovered, Jo is frantic to protect her reputation so she doesn't ruin her chances for marriage.  Although I understand why she is so concerned about this--a woman at that time (no matter what her station) had to protect her name and reputation if she wanted to survive.  I still hope to see her break through this and stand up to her family and friend's expectations.


Our Endless Numbered Days
Claire Fuller
Tin House Books, 2015
Source: Purchased

I only just started this at school yesterday.  I haven't too much to say except that it already has a somewhat.... sinister (?) feel to it.  Maybe it's just a wariness because I know the premise and therefore I'm waiting for something to happen.  I don't know.  I'm only about 25 pages in.

So here's the description from Goodreads:
Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons.

When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly begins to unravel the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she’d lost.

After Peggy's return to civilization, her mother learns the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.


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Friday, October 9, 2015

Book Review: The Hired Girl

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz
Candlewick Press, 2015
Source: e-galley from Netgalley
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Set in 1911, Joan's father has taken the fourteen year old girl out of school and burned her books so that she will work harder on the farm for him.  Joan has other ideas, though, and runs away to become a hired girl in Baltimore.  She's pretty clueless about the world, but has good intentions, despite her many mistakes as a parlor maid in the Rosenbach's house.  Told in the form of a diary, Joan chronicles her struggles to better herself in a world she is just beginning to understand.

Joan's story is heartbreaking during the first section as you see the way her father treats her and how much she loves and adores her teacher because of the attention she bestows on her.  It's probably the only positive attention she has received since her mother died and her father passed all the work on to her.  Even after he pulls her out of school, Joan tries to stay positive and figure out a way to make herself better and to find time to read her books.  When it becomes obvious that her father will never allow her to grow and learn, she realizes that she must leave and runs away.

At this point, the story picks up a bit, but it also becomes apparent how very naive Joan is.  Working for a Jewish family in the big city, Joan is exposed to new ideas and customs.  I love how open-minded she is, despite the fact that the priest of her local church attempts to get her to leave the family with whom she is working.  Unfortunately, Joan's naivety becomes more and more annoying and it almost seems as if she fails to grow up sometimes.

Overall, the story moved a bit slowly for me.  Sometimes, the fact that it was written as a diary tended to make it seem slower because I was learning all this after the fact.  I prefer stories in which events are happening, rather than a recap of them.  The end does pick up as it seems that Joan starts making one bad decision after another and you want to make sure that she's okay.  The problem is that those bad decisions are very aggravating for the reader because Joan is so naive and everyone around her, even younger characters, are more aware than she is.

I think that if you enjoy historical fiction, you would like this look into the life a girl who just wanted to escape her father's tyrannical rule at the family farm and become a teacher.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What's Up Next? October 2015 Version


Things are slowing down a bit for me in the reading and posting realm.  As my work load increases, I'm not only struggling to stay up to date with posts, I'm behind.  So the following plans are only that--plans.  I'm hoping to actually finish these books.



At Home

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Goldfinch by Donna Tart (whenever my husband finishes it!)


All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven




At School
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller



Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman



The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan


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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Character Spotlight: Colleen Rowley from Conversion

Colleen Rowley
Conversion
by Katherine Howe

Colleen Rowley is your average high school senior--except she has everything riding on being valedictorian in an elite all girls high school, St. Joan's Academy.  Her life is centered on her grades.  She obsesses over her GPA and is constantly judging where she thinks the others girls in her class are in regards to their GPA and college acceptances.  She's so hung up on this, she makes snide comments about her friends as well--but it's always centered around her perception of their seriousness of getting into college and how good their GPA is.  She also never voices this out loud to anyone.  However, she's somewhat judgmental and very self-absorbed.

Although it's obvious to everyone (even the reader), Colleen completely misses the fact that her "best friend" is going through some serious issues.  She's so wrapped up in her own world of getting into an ivy league school that she's clueless to what's going on.  In fact, she seems pretty clueless to a lot of things and comes off as naive--despite her intelligence.

Despite these negative qualities, Colleen isn't a bad person.  She's a flawed character and one who is easy to like.  You genuinely want her to well and get the grade she's desperately trying to achieve as well as get into her school and also help her friends in this crazy drama that's unfolding at her school.  She does care about them, but she has a lot of growing up to do, too.

Check out my review of Conversion here.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunday Status: Circus Mirandus

Sunday Status is a weekly (ish) post where I let you know what I'm reading.  I'll usually share a quote from the page I'm currently on and let you know how it's going. 


Well, I have definitely NOT been productive in the reading realm this week.  I had tests and responses that have kept me pretty busy since Wednesday.  Add in relatives visiting this weekend and I'm still not finished grading and it's 10:00 pm on a Sunday night.  

Therefore, I'm still reading Circus Mirandus because my time at school to read has been filled with student conferences and grading.  I hated grading during our reading time (see why here!), but it was the only way to keep myself afloat this past week.  Next week I'll do better!


Circus Mirandus 
Cassie Beasley
Dial Books, 2015
Source: purchased

"But, he hadn't though the Lightbender would be the sort of person who fidgeted (175)."

The Lightbender is a mysterious character so far and I'm eager to find out more about who he is and exactly what he does.

As I said last week, Circus Mirandus reminds a bit of Harry Potter, however the resemblance is fading somewhat.  I'm definitely interested in seeing where this story leads us because I think it will be different.  There's already some mystery tied up in Micah's family history and a little danger present.




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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Book Review: See You At Harry's

See You At Harry's

Jo Knowles
Candlewick Press, 2012
Source: Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Let's start this off by saying that I had NO idea what I was getting into with this book.  I saw it on a book list and it was one that I hadn't read and our school library happened to have a copy.  So I checked it out.  On the back it mentioned a terrible accident.  Well a terrible accident could be anything.  I was not at all prepared for what it was.  As this was a book I was reading at school, I ended up crying through at least three different class periods' silent reading time.  The good news is that my toughest class thought something was wrong with me and they were really really good that day.  I didn't tell them the truth because I was just happy to get through a lesson that day!

What it's all about:

Fern's family is a mess!  Her older sister, Sarah, is "taking a year off" before college (or she just didn't get into any colleges and doesn't know what to do with her life now). Her older brother, Holden, is starting high school and dating an older guy (oh yeah and he hasn't told their parents he's gay, much less that he's dating someone 4 years older than he is).  Her younger brother Charlie is the baby, and he's a mess and everyone lets him be that way.  Fern's mother retreats into the office at the family restaurant to meditate more and more, and her father is always embarrassing them all with crazy ideas to get more customers in to eat.  And Fern?  Fern is starting middle school and just kind of invisible.

So needless to say there is a lot going on in Fern's life.  She and Holden have always been close, but he's pulling further away from them all.  Her mom is always busy with Charlie or off meditating and leaving Fern to watch over Charlie instead.

I can't even really talk about this without giving the huge event away, so if you don't want to know, then don't read on, but you may want to at least prepare yourself.    Here it is: Charlie dies.  He runs away from Fern while she is watching him, he bumps his head, they all make a big fuss about him, Fern does her homework, they all go to bed, and then he doesn't wake up the next morning.  WHAT?!  That's what I said as I choked back sobs from behind my desk.  I may have gasped out loud.  I know I felt sick to my stomach an angry--just like Fern--and I desperately wanted to see my daughter.  I hugged her extra tight, and woke up three times to check on her.

Now Fern is not only dealing with her family who is a mess, she's dealing with a big whole in her family as well.  Her mom retreats to her room, Holden disappears to spend time with his boyfriend, and Sarah and Fern's father are trying to keep it all together.  Fern is angry.

I really liked this book, but at the same I was so angry as soon as Charlie died.  I felt like no one had warned me at all and that I should have been given that warning.  But no one gave Fern warning.  Or Fern's mother, who literally becomes another person within the span of the book (can you blame her?).  I'm even crying as I write this review because I am so very angry at the loss of a little boy--even a fictionalized one.

Read the book.  It's good.  But it's also heart wrenching.  If you're not prepared to ugly cry in front of others, then find a nice quiet place where you feel safe to sob away.  And if you happen to be a teacher with a particularly tough group, choose this to read during your SSR time, or DEAR time, or whatever you call it at your school.  They might be good for you that day.

Image Source: Goodreads

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