Thursday, June 30, 2016

June Reading Recap

How has your June been?
I've gotten a lot read this month, but not too much written. I feel like I'm a little behind in my reviews, but part of that is I'm deciding to not work a review so that I can read more.  I'm currently okay with this set up.  I'll take a few days out of the month to go on a writing frenzy and get as many drafts out as possible and then just need to go back and edit closer to publication time.  This is working well.

Books Read

Other Posts and Highlights

Favorite Links
So most of my links that I bookmarked have nothing to do with reading...just one!  But it's summer and I tend to be a bit less focused in my online wanderings. 

We all need something funny now and then.  If you haven't seen the T-Rex compete on American Ninja Warrior, you need to.  It'll make your day.

As if I needed another excuse to buy more books!  Epic Reads has a list of Winter YA cover reveals!

Anybody out there struggling with their summer fitness goals?  No?  Oh, yeah.  Me neither.  I liked this list of fitness tips for the reluctant exerciser.

For my teacher friends out there who started their summers off by heading to pinterest or google to research and find more interesting ideas for their classroom in the fall, here are a couple links that I found that I think will be helpful for me.

From  Do you notice all your students?  I mean really notice them?  Even the quiet ones?

From  Making connections with your students that are meaningful is difficult.  It's something I want to work on a lot more next year.  I feel like I didn't do a great job of that last year.
What's Coming Up in June
Although I'm never really sure what I'll be reading and when it'll be posted, here are some books on my TBR for the next month.

I am finally finishing this book.  I'm actually currently reading it, but it's taking a long time...

I just started The Mark of Athena and I am reminded of how much I love Rick Riordan!  This is the 3rd book in the Heroes of Olympus series.  I read the first two within the past year, but I just can't convince myself to spend so much concentrated time on the whole series.  So I'm spreading it out.

This is one from my classroom that I need/want to read.  It's been on my list for awhile now and really needs some attention.
There will, of course, be many more!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Book Review: The Secret Healer

The Secret Healer
Ellin Carsta
Terry Laster (Translator)
AmazonCrossing, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Amazon Lender Library
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

The Secret Healer is a historical fiction novel set in the 14th or 15th century--I honestly can't remember when.  The main character, Madlen, is a young girl training to be a midwife, but her mentor dies tragically before she can be trained and Madlen is devastated.  However she goes to help a rich woman whose pregnancy is in danger, but the baby has already been lost and Madlen must do what she can to save the mother.  It isn't long before she is charged, setting off a chain of events that causes Madlen to flee her home and seek shelter with an aunt she has never seen before. It isn't long before she's helping others who need help and the official Inquisitor is looking for her.  All Madlen wants is to help others, but instead she finds herself being hunted down by her society because she is a woman.

This story was incredibly difficult to believe in any way.  First of all, the characters are never fully developed--not even Madlen.  There is a lot of quick jumping over parts or skimming through a section, going in and out of points of view, and focusing on miniscule characters or events that you expect to come back but never do.  This could be in part because it's a translation, but I'm not sure because I feel like I should be able to see the characters develop and understand them more, but I don't.  They go from one idea and suddenly switch to the opposite with not explanation or development towards that change.

Also, Madlen and her aunt are given many liberties.  Her aunt lives alone, as a widow, and makes her own money.  This is perfectly acceptable, even though she has been a widow for many years and would most likely have been shunned or not allowed to work--even at being a seamstress--without her husband.  She has an awful lot of power for a woman at this time.  I would have guessed that this may have made more sense in the 1800s or early 1900s, except for the fact that Madlen is being persecuted for cohorting with the devil due to her knowledge of healing.

I did finish this book, but there was a lot of skimming towards the end.  It ends exactly as you would guess a fluffy read would.  If you're looking for a historical fiction, this one would probably be a bit disappointing because it isn't at all believable.  There is some romance, but it was rushed, just as the rest of the novel was. Maybe in German it would read differently, but I'm not sure.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Book Review: Goodbye Stranger

Goodbye Stranger
Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books, 2015
Genre: Middle School, Friendships, YA, Growing Up, Making Mistakes
Source: purchased for my classroom library
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Bridge, Emily, and Tabitha are starting middle school and everything is different, but they have made a pact to stay friends--and no fighting allowed.  Even though they're different and each has their own niche that they find at school, they still remain true to one another.  Sherm starts to get to know Bridge and knows she's super important to him, but what does that really mean?  And an unknown girl is struggling with what it means to be a friend on Valentine's Day as her world seems to crumble around her.  

I loved this book!  It's about friendship, love ( not the romantic kind), making mistakes, and acceptance.  Bridge is so incredibly lucky to have two best friends who are amazing (and they are lucky to have her as well).  Each of them has their own personality and goes about life in their own way.  When Bridge decides to start wearing cat ears all the time, Emily and Tabitha aren't really getting it, but they don't make her change.  They are honest with her and tell her that they don't really get it and ask when she'll stop wearing them, but it never really feels like they're trying to get her to change.  When she tells them she likes wearing her ears, the friends accept that.

Emily makes some mistakes in this book--some BIG mistakes.  They're in middle school now and boys are a much bigger deal and one keeps texting her.  In fact, he's the boy everybody is in love with.  They start by texting pictures back and forth, innocent pictures, until it's not so innocent anymore and suddenly Emily's world has been turned upside down.  Tabitha and Bridge are the best two friends to help her through this.  I honestly found myself wishing that every person out there--boy or girl--got to have friends as strong and true as this trio.

In middle school there are so many issues kids go through as they are learning how to grow up.  They're no longer little kids, but they're not in high school yet and it's really a confusing and rough time.  This book shows kids from different walks of life, with different family dynamics and skills and experiences who are all coming together.  It shows a positive view of a group of female friends.  No stereotypical bickering, fighting over boys, or being generally mean and demeaning towards each other or other girls.

I was a little confused for the first few sections because in addition to Bridge, Emily, and Tabitha, we also have another female voice who is unnamed until the end.  It was confusing as her story kind of linked up with the others, but it was written in second person.  I think it was supposed to put me in her place and help me enter the story, but it didn't.  I can see how it could really confuse someone who isn't as skilled a reader.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review: Masterminds

Gordon Korman
Balzer & Bray, 2015
Genre: Mystery, Middle Grade, Action
Source: Purchased for my classroom library
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Eli and his friends live in Serenity, New Mexico.  It's the best place to live, with only 30 other kids there, no crime, no homelessness, no lying.  They're reminded on a regular basis how lucky they are to live there, when outside of their town it's not so great.  When Eli's best friend is sent away to his grandparents, though, things get weird, and they all try to figure out what it is that makes their town so "great."  Now they have to sneak around their parents, the "Purple People Eater" guards, and break into the plasticworks where almost every adult is employed.  In a town as great as theirs, there's no way that all the adults could be lying--right?

This is a really fun mystery/adventure story.  Gordon Korman knows how to build a story and to get kids interested.  Although there are about 30 kids in Serenity, this story focuses on Eli and four of his friends, switching between points of view each chapter.  As soon as they get wind of something not being quite right, all five go through their own reservations before they realize that they have to uncover the truth.

This is definitely a mystery and we're given a few clues here and there to unlock the truth, but it does come out pretty quickly.  When they finally come discover what exactly is going on in their town, they have to decide on a plan of action and that's where things get interesting.  Lots of action and fast paced adventure for readers who enjoy The 39 Clues and other adventures.

There is a second book that came out in February, 2016 and a third one is possibly being worked on.  I can't vouch for the future existence of a third book, though.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

AudioBook Review: The Sin Eater's Daughter

The Sin Eater's Daughter
Melinda Salisbury
Performed by Amy Shiels
Scholastic, 2015
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Source: borrowed through SYNC--thank you!
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Twylla spends her days locked in a tower, surrounded by guards.  No one will touch her, not even her guards, because every moon she must drink a poison to prove to everyone that she has been chosen by the gods.  As such, it is her job to execute traitors to the throne by touching them and thus poisoning them.  Twylla is lonely.  Even the prince, who is immune to her touch and her betrothed, has not spent much time with her, or even there at the castle.  When a new guard comes to watch over her, Twylla begins to learn more about the world outside of her country, and thus more about the world within the palace.  At the same time, the prince is finally beginning to take notice of her, leaving Twylla with a choice: her country or her heart.

There was a lot going on here.  Twylla loves her guard who just doesn't seem to get that he has to play by some rules or he'll make things really messy for both himself and Twylla.  She's betrothed to the prince.  Although he is a spoiled young prince who speaks down to those around him, doesn't seem too terrible--next to his mother at least.  The queen is a horrible and awful woman and that is obvious within the first chapter or so.  She is evil.  Twylla tries to stay out of her way, but it's impossible because the queen seems to seek her out in order to make her miserable.  One day she will take her place.  

Oh yeah, and then there is all this information about the sin eater, Twylla's mother, who is paid to eat at a person's burial in order to ingest all of the deceased's sins.  We learn through many of Twylla's musings and flashbacks that certain foods are representative of certain sins and that there is an order to the eating.  If Twylla had not been discovered as the chosen one of the gods, she would be training to be the next sin eater.  The whole sin eater part didn't really have an importance to the story, except it helped to show the belief system of their people.  

I wasn't really that thrilled and kept waiting for this book to be over.   Both love interests were annoying, neither one really representing the true choice she should have gone with.  Twylla herself was somewhat annoying as well.  I was waiting for her to DO something.  Make a choice.  Say something.  Fight back.  Anything, but she felt very passive in all instances.  At one point I expected her to break out of her tower, but instead someone always comes for her and lets her out.  The only time she leaves on her own, she wanders back to the prince.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Character Spotlight: Shahrzad from The Wrath and the Dawn

I loved The Wrath and the Dawn when I read it last year, and then I loved it even more (if that's at all possible) when I read it again about a month ago.  After reading the sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, I keep thinking about this story.  The main character, Shahrzad is such a strong and powerful female character.

If you'd like to check out my reviews of the two books, please click on the books below.  Otherwise, scroll down for Shahrzad's character spotlight.


The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger
Renee Ahdieh

Shahrzad has a mission and she will be successful.  After her best friend died at the hand of the Caliph, along with hundreds of other young girls the morning following their wedding. Shahrzad volunteers to be the next wife of Caliph.  She plans on killing Khalid, the Caliph, before he can have her killed.

Shahrzad is a strong woman, who has been taking care of those she loves for awhile now.  Her mother died and her father sank into a deep depression, losing his job and Shahrzad took care of them.  She was unable to take care of her best friend, but she's determined to make it up to her.  Throughout both books, her mind is on her family and how she can make them proud as well as keep them safe.  She's especially concerned about her younger sister, and hovers over her, unable to accept that she is growing up and more capable than Shahrzad would like to admit.

In addition to her love and loyalty to her family, Shahrzad is loyal to her friends.  We see this as she tries to exact revenge on Khalid for the death of her friend.  By volunteering to be his next bride, she knows that she's volunteering to die.  Even if she's able to kill him, she'll be surrounded by his guards in moments, and die not long after.  We also see her loyalty to her friend/boyfriend Tariq when he arrives at the palace.  She is very careful not to give him away to Khalid because she fears for Tariq's safety, but she's also annoyed at him for even being there.

That's another thing I really like about Shahrzad--she gets super annoyed by men in her life trying to protect her when she can do something herself, if given the chance.  There are times when she definitely needs the guards around her, or someone with knowledge of swordplay, but Shahrzad is cunning.  She can find her way out of situations without the help of others, and she's really annoyed by people who assume that she cannot.

Also, she has a mouth on her!  It's not that she curses, but she just doesn't stop to think sometimes and is snarky and witty and can cut someone down with her words.  She's smart.  It's no wonder that Khalid doesn't kill her the morning after they are married.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

#SundayStatus: June 12

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.
I've been MIA in regards to #SundayStatus, but it's here again!

Hard Copy

A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy
Alexandra Bracken
Disney Lucasfilm Press, 2015
Genre: Science Fiction, Middle Grade, Star Wars, Retelling
Source: Borrowed from library

I am loving this! I'm still only a short way through, but I like how Alexandra Bracken has filled in Princess Leia's character and back story. I'm both excited to read the Han and Luke parts and sad that I know Leia's part will be finished then.

All the Birds in the Sky
Charlie Jane Anders
Tor Books, 2016
Source: Purchased

Just getting started here--finally! It's been on my immediate TBR for about three months now. I hope to have more stay soon!


Every Last Word
Tamra Island Stone
Disney-Hyperion, 2015
Genre: Realistic Fiction, YA, Mental Illness
Source: SYNC AudioFile free download

This is okay so far.  I am really annoyed by Sam's friends, but I'm supposed to be. They are truly horrible. I just haven't really connected to Sam yet--not really. I like her just fine, but I'm not like super concerned and I feel like I should be.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Book Review: After the Woods

After the Woods
Kim Savage
Farraor, Straus and Grioux, 2016
Genre: YA, Psychological Thriller, Mystery
Source: Borrowed from Library
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Julia and her best friend, Liv, are running through the woods when Liv gets ahead of her and is attacked.  What does Julia do?  She jumps in and saves her, putting herself in the hands of the attacker.  Now, a year later, Julia is safe, but suffering from PTSD and trying to get her life back.  When a young woman's body is found buried in the woods, not far from where Julia was rescued, she's pulled back into her nightmare as she searches for a connection between this other young woman and herself.  And Liv just keeps pulling further and further away from her, dating a complete loser, smoking, and doing drugs.

This is a YA psychological thriller for young adults, with a bit of a twist at the end meant to surprise the reader, but in reality, it's pretty obvious.  There are plenty of clues for the reader to follow, and if Julia would accept them as important clues, she may have figured it out as well.  However, despite Julia's need for facts and knowledge surrounding her abduction, she doesn't seem to take into account the clues that are right there in front of her.

Julia is suffering from PTSD and has found different ways of pushing people away from her.  One of those is how she is straight forward about anything having to do with her abduction.  She speaks about it candidly and enjoys pointing out any faux pas in conversation.  She jumps on the chance to see people squirm when they slip up and she calls them on it.  When Kellan MacDougall (the son of the detective who was in charge of her case) becomes involved in her life, things get really awkward.  In fact, the only person Julia truly wants to talk to about her abduction and the body of the woman is Liv, but Liv is adamant that they just move on with their lives and forget it.  So we don't really get to see her speaking honestly with someone about her experiences.

There is some romance between Julia and Kellan, but it isn't truly developed and feels fake.  It happens way too easily, despite all the ways she manages to push him out and insult him.  I would say this is true of a lot of the relationships as they mostly feel superficial.  And although Liv is a big part of Julia's story, she's pulled away from her so much that she's rarely actually in the story and so we don't get to see the two of them interacting very much.

For a YA psychological thriller, this was okay.  It's mostly plot driven, so relationships between characters are skimmed over as well as character development.  Julia is somewhat developed, but beyond that, the side characters are pretty flat.  So if you're okay with purely plot driven stories, you might enjoy figuring out the mystery (which isn't too difficult to discover), but you should still be prepared for the twist!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: George

Alex Gino
Scholastic Press, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade, LGBTQ, Realistic
Source: Borrowed from public library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

George feels like he's a girl, but all anyone sees is a boy.  They call her a boy, refer to how she'll be a man one day, and expect her to do things a boy would do--like use the boys' restroom.  It's hard and she has no one to confide in, to talk about how she feels.  So she hides the teen magazines in her closet and keeps her thoughts to herself.

When their teacher announces auditions for the class play of Charlotte's Web, George knows she has to have the part of Charlotte.  Her best friend Kelly helps her out, but how can George show everyone what she already knows--that she is a girl?

This is an important book about a transgender youth who is struggling.  You can see how miserable George is from the first pages when she's hiding magazines in the back of her closet, terrified that her brother or mom might find them.  She tries to make herself unseen by the bullies at school, but often fails at this.  She thinks that she's found the perfect solution to her problem--the play.

George has a great mom who works hard and does her best to make sure both of her children are happy, but she doesn't really see George for who she is.  Her older brother is a teenager who is more concerned with his life, but he's not a jerk.  He's actually pretty accepting.  Plus she has Kelly, her best friend.  WIthout Kelly, George would not have had the courage to do what she wanted.  I loved their relationship--especially because it wasn't a perfect friendship.  It was a real friendship.

I highly recommend this book, especially for middle schoolers.  It's a story about acceptance and understanding of someone who is different.  It may even be a book that helps someone feel more confident in being who they are, which is what George ultimately wants--to be who she is.  I also think this is a great book for anyone who works with youth.  It's a quick and easy read that can help remind you of your role in a child's life, even if it is for a short time.

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Summer Reading for Middle Schoolers 2016

Last year I posted a series about Summer Reading for Middle Schoolers.  Over four or five days I posted suggestions for fun summer reads.  If you missed it or just want to look at some of the suggestions from last year, you can find the first post here.  

This year I added a few that I've read over the school year.  I won't be posting about any of the ones I included last year, some of which are still on my 2016 Summer Reading Suggestions I give my students at the end of the school year.  

As a 6th grade Language Arts teacher, I am always trying to give my students new suggestions on really good books to read. Please keep in mind that I attempt to keep the list as clean as possible and I also try to stay away from really popular titles in hopes that you might discover little diamonds waiting for you!

The False Prince (Ascendance Trilogy) by Jennifer Nielsen—Fantasy

Sage has grown up an orphan, making his way by stealing what he needs.  One day a rich man buys him from the home he’s in, along with two other boys who look oddly like him.  Only when they arrive do they learn that they are look-alikes for the assumed dead prince and this man is training them to become his replacement.  Whoever can assume the role of Prince Jaron the best will be taken to the palace to rule.  The ones who can’t, won’t live to tell the tale.  Funny and full of adventure. Fast-paced and enjoyable.  All three books are enjoyable, but the first one is the best.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano—Fantasy
Pram can talk to ghosts, but she’s learned not to allow her aunts in on this knowledge.  When it’s decided that home-schooling won’t be enough for her anymore, she’s sent to school where she makes her first living friend.  It isn’t long before she’s helping Clarence in his search to speak one more time to his mother who just died.  In their search, Clarence and Pram encounter an evil force who realizes Pram’s power is something it could use and now Pram and Clarence are in danger, but are unaware of what lies ahead.

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty—Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Serafina has spent her life in the cellar rooms beneath the Vanderbilt mansion, hidden by her father from the world.  At night she prowls the grounds and explores the mansion, until one night she witnesses a little girl being captured by a man in a cloak.  She just disappears before Serafina’s eyes and now the man is after her.  For the first time she meets someone else, Braeden Vanderbilt, the owners’ nephew, and he helps her in the search for the man in the cloak as more and more children go missing.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley—Fantasy
If you have a Harry Potter fan, they’ll want to read this one.  Micah’s grandfather is dying and his great Aunt has come to stay, making Micah’s life difficult and limiting his time with his grandfather before the inevitable.  But Micah knows there is another way, that Circus Mirandus could change it all.  After hearing his grandfather’s stories of the magical circus, Micah on a search to find it in hopes that it will save his grandfather, and keep Micah from the awful fate of living with his great Aunt.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin—Realistic Fiction
After Suzy’s friend dies in a tragic drowning accident, she decides that she will not speak until she has a reason for the event.  It comes to her attention that jellyfish could have been the cause her friend’s death and she begins researching and looking for answers.  Told in both present time when Suzy is struggling to come to terms with such a great loss, and in flashbacks through the arc of her friendship, it is truly a heartbreaking story as Suzy tries to understand why something like this could happen.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland—Nonfiction, Memoir
Misty Copeland takes us through her life, beginning with the frequent moves during her young childhood, to living in a hotel with her family, discovering dance, finding a place for herself in the dance world, and her rise to soloist with the American Ballet Theater.  Just this past summer, Copeland was named a principal with the American Ballet Theater and she is the first female African American principal dancer for the ABT.  Her story is inspirational for both dancers and non dancers.

Don't forget to head back to last year's post for other books that I hope every child reads at some point before they become an adult.  

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Summer Reading Plans

I've been out of school now for a little over a week, but I haven't managed to get a summer reading list together.  I do have a crate that I brought from school of books I still need to read, but that's about it so far.

Here are my goals for summer:

1) Read the following books on my "Must Read in 2016" List:

Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
Masterminds by Gordon Korman,
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

This is half of the list. I think I can make that happen.  Maybe.

2) Read a bunch of the books from my crate.  

I'd like to say read them all, but I feel as if that's just too much.  I can try to focus on the crate, but reading them all might not be possible.  Good thing for me, four of the above are from that crate!

BTW Me Before You isn't part of my classroom collection--no worries!  I borrowed it from a colleague and so it ended up in the crate in order to make it home.  Better read that one soon so I can return it...

3) Purchase no more than 4 books this summer.

That includes audiobooks.  I will try and focus on the books I already have instead of buying more.  I already know that one of those books is A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir.  Which reminds me: I need to preorder that today. Three more book purchases available for the summer.

4) Re-read the following books:

 An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi
Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi

5) Finish at least 3 audiobooks.

I only listen to my audiobooks when I'm working out OR doing something that I don't really enjoy, so this is really a goal that encompasses much more than just reading.  Audiobooks allow me to exercise AND still read, which is what I'd rather be doing.

Those seem like pretty good goals.  A lot, but also not a lot, compared to the massive amounts of books I've compiled in summers past.  Last year I think my summer TBR ended up with 60 books on it.  Needless to say, that didn't happen.  I made it to 20.

Are you setting any summer goals?  Book totals or general goals?  Whatever your goals may be, good luck!