Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Book Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

S. Jae-Jones
St. Martin's Press, 2017
Genre: YA/NA, Fantasy
Rating 3 out of 5

*Thank you to St. Martin's Press and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Liesl has spent her life in the shadow of her beautiful sister and talented brother, listening to the reveling in the stories her grandmother tells her of the Goblin King.  Now, at 19, she has left that fantasy world behind and resigned herself to the life of a spinster--until her beautiful sister is taken by the Goblin King.  Now Liesl must go to the Underworld and return her sister to the world above, but her Goblin King won't make that task easy for her.  In her quest, Liesl, who has spent most of her life believing she is less than, begins to discover who she is and what talents she possesses.  She also begins to see the Goblin King as more than just her Goblin King--which could be detrimental if she plans to return to the world above.

Some spoilers are included below.

I struggled with Wintersong.  Most of it I really enjoyed--especially the first half.  Liesl spends much of the first half of the book looking for her sister Kathe, finding her in the Underworld, and then figuring out a way to escape with her.  The Goblin King is constantly making this difficult for her, but Liesl is determined to rescue her sister--she must do so.  The pace of the first half of the book was fairly quick.

I had a hard time really liking Liesl in the beginning.  She never chose herself.  She was always looking at herself as less-than and therefore her needs and desire were less-than. Her entire focus is on taking care of others--but not herself.  In order to make sure others are taken care of, she must deny herself.  But by the second half of the book, she embraces her desires, her wants, her needs.  Unfortunately, I still didn't like her that much.  But I was still rooting for her.

The writing itself is beautiful.  Despite the fact that you're in a fantasy world, it's easy to picture yourself there and to see what Liesl sees.  You can understand much of what she's feeling and the pain.  SPOILER ALERT!:  When the Goblin King refuses Liesl's advances, I felt for her so much that I thought I was going to cry.  Liesl doesn't understand--and neither did I completely--and she is hurt in so many ways that this is just one more thing he has done to her.  Every time he refuses her, I felt her hurt.

One thing I wasn't a huge fan of was the romance between Liesl and the Goblin King.  It was haphazard, confusing, and off and on.  Her desire for him was intense within romance scenes, but then it would fade out and I couldn't tell if she wanted him because she wanted him, or if she wanted him because he broke her down--which she spoke of often.  That's what really pulled me out of the romance.  Every time they had intense romantic scenes, they were described in very rough and animalistic ways, which isn't a big deal to me.  It was the afterward that brought me out of the story. Liesl spoke about how he broke her down.  There were many references to his breaking her.  In most cases I would not be okay with it, but knowing the rest of the story, maybe I can accept this?  But can I?

The pacing is where I really wasn't happy.  Like I said at the beginning, the first half of the book was well-paced.  We're with Liesl and her sister when the Goblin King first appears in their fringes, we're with her as she tries to come to terms with the fact that her sister has been taken, when she has to fight her way to the Underworld.  We're with her when she finally arrives and must navigate the confusing parties and goblin lore as she tries desperately to save her sister.  Then she becomes the Goblin QUeen and everything just slows down.  Not much happens besides the romance scene and playing music.  I'm also not much of a musical person so a lot of what Liesl talks about in the way of composing sonatas was lost on me.  It something I had to get through in order to get to the next part of the story where something else happened.

Overall, I enjoyed Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones.  It could have been paced a little quicker in the second half, but it was still good.  If you're looking at this for younger readers, there is some pretty heavy sex scenes, a lot of talk about death (he is the king of the Underworld after all), and other themes that don't sit very well for younger audiences.  I would say readers should be at the very least in high school--not a middle grade book.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Musings: How I Arrange my Goodreads Shelves

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

So I might go a little crazy with my Goodreads Shelves.  I have a ton of genre-based shelves.

Then I have shelves for TBR for different years.  Sometimes I'm really ambitious and I have a "Spring TBR" shelf, but I mostly gave that up.  I do usually keep a general TBR per year and a "Must-Read-In ____" shelf.

Oh and I have shelves where I puts books that I heard about at conferences/workshops, and books I might want to look at for our books clubs at school.

It's a bit of a disaster.

The one good thing about my Goodreads Shelves is that I recently went through and cleaned out my TBR list.  There were books on there I didn't even remember hearing about.  I narrowed it down to 140 from 369.  Be impressed people!  It was difficult in some cases, and required honest assessments of my reading goals and personality.  Do I have to read it?  No.  Do I want to read it?  No.   Even if I really *should* read it?  No!  Get rid of it!!!

Digital cleaning is a must. And my Goodreads Shelves get pretty messy.

How do you organize your shelves?  Do you organize them?  Do you clean them out ever?

Next week's musing: My Three Wishes

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A-Z Reading List: N-Z

The A-Z Reading list is an alphabetical list of books, characters, events, places, etc that all relate to books.  Each letter gets a listing.

This second half of the alphabet was more difficult.  I had to really think about words that connected to reading.  I think I did a pretty good job, if you ignore X and Z.  Those shouldn't count, though, right?
**If you missed yesterday's post, check it out here!

N-- New books are my addiction.  I assume that many of you reading this know what I'm talking about here.  :)

O--Recently, I've discovered Overdrive which is amazing!  Seriously.  You can connect to your publish library if they participate, or you can get it through other sources.  I started using SYNC this summer as they offer free YA audiobooks during the summer only.  Then I discovered my library also used this.  Great way to have digital access to books and save some money.  (Is my husband reading this? I am saving money on books sometimes!)

P--Mrs. P-- was my high school English teacher who made me believe that I might actually be good at reading and writing.  I didn't just WANT to be good, but someone believed I was. When I said I was going to major in creative writing in college, she was on of the few people who didn't question if that was a valid major. Confidence was not exactly my strong suit in high school, but I felt like I knew what I was doing in her classroom.

Q-- Queen Levana:  She's as evil as they come.  She terrifies me.  Marissa Meyer did an amazing job of making her truly scary--especially after reading Fairest!  When you read a novel from the villain's point of view, you expect for them have a little redemption, some understanding for how or why they chose to do this.  Yeah...evil.   Here's my review of Fairest.

R--Raymie Nightingale--Both the book and the character are new favorites of mine.  Raymie has such determination, but so much to learn.  Here's my review of Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo.

S-- Star Wars isn't exactly a reading word.  It has more connection to movies and to the characters.  But I remember being a kid and so into Star Wars that I found a series of books that continued the story.  Yes!  And then I thought, if they could write their own sequels, why can't I?  So I started writing (a very terrible) Episode VII.  I believe it has been lost  and it's probably a good thing now. :)  

T-- Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir-- So I know that the first book, An Ember in the Ashes, was in the first section for E; however I just can't not list this book right now.  It was a perfect sequel! My review for An Ember in the Ashes.

U-- Unhappy is how I feel when I can't seem to fit in time to read on a regular basis.  Not reading truly affects the way I feel. I'm grumpy and irritable until I find time to just relax and sink into a book.  That's why I sometimes stay up too late to read--because being tired the next day is way better than being a crabby and unfulfilled person in life.

V-- Vivian Apple--I love her!  I started listening to Vivian Apple at the End of the World without any expectations and completely fell in love with it!  I haven't read or listened to the second one, but it'll be up next on my audible list.  Here is my review of Vivian Apple.

W-- The Weasleys in Harry Potter are awesome--except for Percy, he's annoying.  Who doesn't want to be adopted into their family and allow Molly Weasley to dote on them?  

X--Xtra reading time at school! (It's a stretch, I know).  I love it when I surprise my students with extra reading time.  They love it, I love it.  Who doesn't love a few minutes more of reading?

Y-- Young Adult books are my weakness.  I love them.  I should be reading more middle grade books since I teach that age group, but I love love love YA!  I am an adult, but I remember what it was like to be a young adult and at times I feel like one too.  Can't convince me that I'm truly an adult--even at 35. 

Z--One of my guilty pleasures is reading zombie books.  I haven't read one in awhile, but one that sticks out to me is Warm Bodies--the book, not the movie.  I also enjoy zombie movies.  I'm pretty certain that if there was a zombie apocalypse, I wouldn't survive, but who knows.  Maybe I've read and watched enough to make sure that I outrun and outsmart those zombies!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A-Z Reading List: A-M

The A-Z Reading list is an alphabetical list of books, characters, events, places, etc that all relate to books.  Each letter gets a listing.

This was difficult.  This first half of the alphabet was much easier than the second half, though.  Some needed multiple entries because I couldn't choose.  So be it.

A--Anne Shirley: I'm so happy I could start out with her.  Anne has been my mentor character since I was a little girl--even before I know it.  I love her imagination and her love of words.  She's so dramatic and so adamant in her current ideas, but as she grows, she learns.  She's flawed, but willing to learn and to try to be better.  If you've never met Anne, try reading Anne of Green Gables.  You won't regret it!
Check out my character spotlights on Anne and Gilbert.

**I also NEEDED to say Are You There God?  It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume was a life changer for me.  I read that multiple times growing up.  

B-- I could just say "books" and make this easy, but I feel like that might be cheating.  So instead I will say Ali Benjamin, the author of The Thing About Jellyfish. I fell in love with this book and its beautiful characters. 
Here's my review of The Thing About Jellyfish.

C-- Cress: One of my favorite characters in the Lunar Chronicles was Cress.  
Check out my other Lunar Chronicle reviews:

Winter spotlight

D--  The Dark Days Club:  I can't wait until the sequel comes out!  Just a few more days and I can dive in!
The Dark Days Club review

E-- An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir  and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  I know this is two different books, but I couldn't choose one.  An Ember in the Ashes is the first book in the series about Laia and Elias and their fight against the Empire and I loved it!  
My reviews for An Ember in the Ashes and Eleanor & Park.

F-- I read mostly fiction.  Sometimes I feel guilty about this, but then I read a non-fiction book and I struggle through it.  I'm not going to feel guilty about it.  I'm going to enjoy my reading.  I prefer fiction.

G-- Goodreads:  I have no idea how long I've been using Goodreads.  I know there is a date of when I joined, but I didn't use it very much.  Then a few years ago I committed.  I love using it for organizing my books and planning out upcoming reads.

*And can I also add Gilbert Blythe?  I can't resist!  I used to imagine that Gilbert Blythe showed up at my door and asked if I wanted to go for a walk.  On a regular basis.  Oh Gilbert.  
Check out my character spotlights on Anne and Gilbert.

H-- Harry Potter:  One of my favorite series.  Will probably always be up there.  I absolutely love the way the stories grow with Harry.  They start out simpler, without too many scary moments.  But as Harry grows up, he can deal with more and so can the reader.  Oh to have been a kid growing up with the HP books!  I was in high school when they started becoming popular, so my formative years had passed.  But I have fond memories of them all!

I-- I'm struggling here so I'm going to the internet.  Mostly because if we didn't have the internet it would be difficult to have a blog and share my love of reading.  I also wouldn't be able to speak to others about blogging and reading and writing. (That was lame--I know.)

J--Jedi Academy books by Jeffrey Brown are some of the best middle grade graphic novels out there.  Now, I am a bit biased as I love Star Wars, but I have students who have read it and enjoyed it but weren't super into Star Wars.  The ones who were, loved it!  
Here are the reviews for Return of the Padawan and The Phantom Bully.

K-- King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard.  I cannot wait for this to arrive on my doorstep in just a few weeks! I've been anxiously awaiting the next part of the story and busy re-reading the first two!!
Here are the reviews for Red Queen and Glass Sword.

L-- Legend by Marie Lu:  Probably the best trilogy I've read.  The arc of the story throughout all three books is amazing.  You don't get lost in the third book and go on some wild and confusing ride.  It brings everything to where it should, but it's still not predictable.  It's just....right.

M--Middle Grade Books--I used to gravitate more towards YA, but as of late I've been finding myself reading more and more middle grade books.  Or maybe it's just that I've discovered this as a genre instead of lumping them in with the YA?  

Check back in tomorrow for the 2nd half of my alphabetical list. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Musing: Raising a Reader

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

I have a three and a half year old.  She likes a lot of things--including books.  Now, she's still three and has a lot of energy and there are plenty of times when I suggest a book and she very adamantly says, "NO!"  We're working on those manners.

Despite her very rambunctious personality and her strong will, we manage to get reading into our lives on a daily basis.  We have made sure to emphasize that reading is a part of our lives every day and we make time to read.  She sees Mommy and Daddy reading (more often Mommy because I sneak it in constantly throughout the day).  Books are gifts for every gift giving holiday.  We even have a "25 Days of Christmas Books Box" that we do every December.  I wrote about it last year and you can check out that link here.

We have books everywhere.  Every room in our house has at least one bookshelf.  There are books piled up on my nightstand.  There are books in her bedroom--more books than toys actually.  We have books in the kitchen, in the TV room, in the living room, and even in the bathroom for her.  She can't get away from them.

One way we make sure that we get some reading in is reading at night.  My husband and I do bedtime together.  This is possible for us because of our schedules and the fact that we have only one child.  I know not everyone can have both parents there for bedtime routines, but you could incorporate the bedtime reading together so it's a family ritual.  We read two books each night, or one long one.  My daughter picks one and then we pick one.  So after she's brushed teeth and changed into her jammies, we cuddled up together and read. So in case we had a super busy day and just didn't find time to read, we still have this.  Our family time with books.

We also visit our library on a weekly basis.  Now, this is due to my mom because she's amazing and watches our daughter.  So once a week they go to the library for story time and my daughter spends an hour with other pre-school aged children enjoying books.  Then they play and get library books.  I'm always really excited to get to do this during the summer with her.  I'm not sure how we'll incorporate this into our routine once she starts school 5 days a week because our library is a bit out of our way.  It may end up being a weekend trip.

Will this instill a love of reading in my daughter?  Will she still enjoy reading when she's 10, 11, 12, 15?  I can't be certain.  Believe me, I have flashes of fear where I see her rebelling against me through  a ban on reading.  There is no way to make sure a child does anything.  I just hope that by surrounding her with books in as many ways as possible, she'll find her own love for it that lasts and lasts.  All we can do is try.

How do you foster reading in your children?  Do you have ideas for older children?  What has worked for you?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Character Spotlight: Ada Smith from The War That Saved My Life

Character:  Ada Smith
Book: The War That Saved My Life
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ada Smith is a young girl living in London right before WWII begins.  She spends her days trapped in her apartment because she was born with a "twisted" foot and her mother says she's too simple to go out.  Ada's mother is ashamed of her and angry with her.  She's not too much nicer to Ada's brother, Jamie, but he is allowed out of the apartment.

Right away we see the longing that Ada has to be with others.  We understand that she is smart.  She watches people from the window, notably the neighborhood kids and then later her brother when he's old enough to go out on his own.  Her deep caring and love her brother are seen in the ways she makes sure he gets some extra of her food--even with their mother leaves barely enough for one of them.  When Jamie won't listen to her, she tries doing what her mother has done to her, essentially: she ties him to his bed so he can't get away.  Well it doesn't take her long to understand what this means and that by doing this she has become her mother.  Very quickly she apologizes and sets him loose and explains she wanted to make sure he was safe.

Ada is so strong!  Mentally, physically, and some might say emotionally.  Since her mother has kept her locked up in their flat, Ada has never learned to walk.  Putting any weight on her foot is painful and so she has been crawling or dragging herself around the house, but never walking.  She has no crutches.  Yet she still manages to take care of Jamie.  And then she teaches herself to walk--on her twisted foot, without shoes.  It's painful and she ends up bleeding every time, but she's determined and she learns.

When Jamie tells Ada that all the school children are to report to school the next day and they will be taken to the country, safe from bombs, Ada is ecstatic!  Of course their mother scoffs at both of them and tells them it won't happen because no one wants them.  Ada makes sure it happens.  She plans for it and gets them to the country with the rest of the children.

Now all this is just what she does in the first chapters of the book.  Even though she's never been to school and hasn't learned to read (her mother said she wouldn't be able to learn) Ada is so smart!  She understands people and she knows how to get things done.  She teaches herself to ride, then finds people who will help her learn more.  She learns how to be a friend.  She begins to understand what family means and who she can be.

I really loved Ada.  Throughout the story, Ada's defenses come down and her anger and terror begin to come out.  When she starts to feel safe, she allows that part of herself to open up and it's heartbreaking, but also satisfying to see her railing against what she's finally discovering.  Her mother never loved them and she lied to Ada her entire life.  She's discovering who she can be when allowed to flourish and grow.

Check out my Review of The War That Saved My Life to find out more about this book and other characters.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Book Review and a Pairing: Mindset by Carol S. Dweck

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Carol S. Dweck
Random House, 2006
Genre: Nonfiction, professional/personal development, psychology,
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Ada Twist, Scientist
Andrea Beatty
Illustrations: David Roberts
Harry N. Abrams, 2016
Genre: children's, picture, growth-mindset,
Rating: 5 out of 5

I thought I would try something new today in my review of Mindset by Carol S. Dweck where I connect this to a completely different genre of book.  It's pretty common now to do this is middle and high schools, pairing nonfiction texts with fiction texts, but why not pair this with a picture book?  We'll see how it goes!

Mindset explains the differences in psychological mindsets and how they affect a person's chance at success.  This book was chosen as our school's book discussion for our professional learning community (PLC).  It's not necessarily a "teaching book" but it's very applicable to teachers, coaches, and parents because it lays out the difference between a fixed-mindset and a growth-mindset.  Dweck also discusses the strengths of the growth-mindset and how a person might find himself or herself in the fixed-mindset early on in life.

For much of the book, Dweck gives anecdotes to illustrate her point, using celebrities, sports stars, politicians, heads of famous companies, etc. as her examples.  I will admit this was sometimes annoying.  I understood what she said when she explained it, but then I had to read through multiple little stories and examples of people who exemplified that idea.  I skimmed through some of these.  The parts that I found most compelling were the chapters on teaching and the development of children and young adults into one mindset or the other.  It kept me questioning my methods and ways of speaking to my students and my own child.  I just finished this book last week and I'm already very conscientious of the words I'm using with both.  I've added in a new way for my students to question their own growth throughout the year and I'm devoting more class time to looking at our personal growth.

What I was disappointed in, was the lack of direction in how to teach growth-mindset to students.  There was much talk about how teaching students the growth-mindset is doable--even if they are in a fixed mindset--but there wasn't any real suggestion as to HOW to do this.  The best was suggestions on the words to use when dealing with a student or your child one-on-one.  I wanted something more concrete that I could incorporate into my classroom.

It was through this frustration that I started thinking of Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beatty.  My daughter got this book for Christmas and we love it already.  In this story, Ada questions EVERYTHING!  She makes messes and tries to figure out the answer to all the questions.  Each question brings on new questions.  Her teachers don't know what to do with her and her parents are supportive, until she ruins dinner, tries to put the cat in the dryer, and makes everything smell bad. But Ada starts thinking and thinks some more and more and more and more.  And the questions keep coming.  She's learning, she's not stuck.  She's not a bad kid, but one who just wants to know and has a love of learning.  It is a truly adorable book written in rhyme that emphasizes the need to question and to learn on one's own and how it's okay not to be perfect.  It's okay to make mistakes.  That's a lesson that we all need every once in awhile--especially a kid.

So I thought that it would be applicable to meld these two books together--as different as they are.  Adults:  go read Mindset by Carol S. Dweck and look at yourself, how you think of your abilities.  Consider what you expect of your children or the children in your life.  Then go read Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beatty and share it with those children in your life.  Talk about Ada and how she continues to question and even if she's wrong--it's okay.  She just needs to think a little more, question a little different.  Encourage the mistakes, encourage the thinking, encourage the growth!

Are there any "strange" book pairings you can think of?  What do you think of your mindset?  Are you stuck thinking of your inability to do something, or do you need to reconsider what it truly takes to improve oneself? 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Musing: Places I Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Graphic Novel: Amulet: The Stonekeeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you read Amulet? What do you think?  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Audiobook Discussion: The Program by Suzanne Young

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Monday Musings: Audiobooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 6, 2017

7 Books About the End of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Upper middle school appropriate.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

TBR for 2017

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

Here are some of my MUST READS for 2017.

Audiobooks That I Own

Middle Grade Books (some of which I own)

Books I've Been Meaning to Read

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review: The War that Saved My Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 2, 2017

Monday Thoughts: Goals for 2017

I'm spending today anxiously awaiting the start of school again tomorrow.  I'm excited to be back and into a routine, but wishing that my routine included sleeping in and only working about 5 hours a day.  Alas, the life of a teacher isn't so.

I have been trying to find ways to make my teaching life balance out with my family and personal life.  In the past year or so I have lost track of finding time to do things that are for myself and for my family.  Teaching takes up such a large part of my life that it's difficult to separate school work from family time, reading, writing, and taking care of myself.

Here are a few of my plans to make things easier on myself in 2017.

1) Start a new workout program.  
I know this sounds like I'm adding in something else to my schedule--and it is.  But I started off the school year working out every day with 21 Day Fit and I felt amazing.  I felt like I had energy to do everything I wanted to do.  Of course, this trickled off around October when everything began to pick up at school.  I'm making a plan to stick to it.  I'm also breaking my health goals up into months.  So for January, my goal is to complete 21 Day Fit, then finish off the month with T25.  I know that it will make me feel so much better overall.

2) Giving kids more work time in class.
I don't assign a lot of homework, so I don't really give worktime in class that often.  However, I think I'll start doing this so I can use that time to grade or plan.  I've always been a "teach bell to bell" teacher.  Kids start with 15 minutes of silent reading, during which I'm meeting with kids, checking in work (not grading, just checking), having one-on-one conferences, or modeling reading.  So I don't get anything done in that 15 minutes that helps me have less work at home.  At least every two weeks I'll have a work day/catch up day in which I can grade or plan.  I'm not crazy about this idea, because I feel like it's a waste of class time, but I'm tired of spending every weekend up at school and putting in an hour or two each evening of grading.

3) Not worrying too much about the blog.
That's not really a big surprise after the 2nd half of last year, I know.  But I'm going to give myself permission to not worry about it too much.  Last year I just felt incredibly guilty during the 2.5 months where I didn't post anything.  I still feel a little guilty about it, but I'm trying not to do so.

4) Organize my TBR on Goodreads.
It's out of control.  I just need to go and take some of those things off.  The ones I'm not going to read--ever!

5) Take Facebook off my phone.
It's a time sucker and I need to remove myself from it.  I just haven't worked up the courage to do so.  I did for about two weeks around the election, but added it back on so I would have something to check.  Instead I'm reading a book.  I can get more reading time in that way.  Check in with me next week and ask if I actually did this or not!

There we go.  Not goals so much as plans to make myself better in 2017.

What are you planning on doing to make 2017 your year?  Are you looking forward to a big event?  Share you goals or plans below!