Sunday, December 26, 2010

Life, Death, War, and Delivering the Mail

Sarah Blake's somber novel The Postmistress is a gentle exploration of all these painful topics...And from the ashes left in the wake of World War II rise three (broken) women who are strong and capable. Most of all, though, I find I am haunted by the question "What does it take to make people understand?"

More to read...I know the blogs get shorter and shorter, but I need to finish a book a day (and, a few days, two books) in order to reach my goal of 100 books for 2010!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Two for the Road (or the Air, as the case may be)

I finished at least one book between finishing Hold Still and starting Beastly the night before we flew across the country to spend Christmas with my parents. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember what it was! So that blog will have to wait until I'm back home and can see which book is laying next to my bed.

In the meantime, my travel companions were Beastly by Alex Flinn and Entice by Carrie Jones. Beastly is a modern re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, and while it's a story that's familiar, the 21st century touches were pretty neat. Like the chat room for the recently transformed, led by Mr. Anderson...The film will be released in March 2011, so I'm glad I got my hands on the book and read it now!

Entice is the continuation of the story that began with Need, and I am happy to report that it was much, much better than Captivate. Since I don't like to give too much away for those who have not yet begun to read the series, I'll leave it at that--and get back to reading!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Still Holding

Last night I started and finished Nina LaCour's Hold Still, the story of how Caitlin came to terms with her best friend Ingrid's suicide. It was a (sometimes painfully) honest and realistic look at how people left in the wake of suicide come to terms with what they've endured--and all that they've lost.

Next spring, I will participate in the Out of the Darkness Overnight--an 18 mile walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention--to honor the memory of my friend and former (favorite) babysitter, Suzie. I'll be walking with my friend Danielle, who is walking to honor the memory of her father. I wish that I did not know how difficult it is to recover from the suicide of someone who is so well-loved. Nina LaCour clearly knows even better than I do, and describes it insightfully and well.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Double Dip

Two books that made me cry this time: Guardian by Julius Lester and Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.

I am not sure how to discuss Guardian without giving away too much of the story. What I knew about it before I began reading was that it had to do with lynching. What I can tell you without discussing the book is that it is, to the best of my memory, the most honest, true, and horrific fictional accounts of segregation, lynching, and "Southern justice" that I have ever read. It is a must-read for all Americans...yet sadly, I'm sure it will remain largely unacknowledged. Too many people prefer to ignore (or worse, sugarcoat) the past than learn from it.

Love That Dog was a re-read, but it gets me every time. I have three dogs and I'm not sure that I love all of them together as much as Jack loves Sky (and I do love them a lot). I also love poetry, which makes this novel in verse a home run. And every time I see a blue car splattered with mud, I want to kick it!

Back to reading...The goal is in sight!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Slow Progress

I've read two books since my last post: The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola and Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson.

But first, let me take this opportunity to tell you that I once met Tomie dePaola. And really, that could be the entire content of my blog tonight, because even two years later that is just super-exciting. But I will try not to gloat about my encounter with the best author of all time and continue with the purpose of this blog, which is to tell you lovely readers about the books I have read.

So, The Legend of the Poinsettia was quite informative, especially in light of the fact that I always just assumed that poinsettias were considered "Christmas flowers" because they are red and green. But there is a Mexican legend behind their popularity--and it's retold by Tomie dePaola in the way that only he can tell a story. Did I mention the illustrations? I know, I know, I'm gushing. But I really like that guy! When we were little girls, my sister and I fought over Strega Nona every week when we went to the library. When I say fought, I mean there might have been blood and tears. Weekly. And don't even get me started on The Clown of God. Best. Book. Ever. Followed only by every other book Tomie dePaola has ever written. And I met him!!!

I also just finished Forge, the sequel to Chains, both by Laurie Halse Anderson. Let me just tell you first that my students love these books. As in, skip lunch to keep reading because they can't get enough, love these books. And I am so happy that such a quality author has done such a quality job in writing historical fiction that is interesting and accurate. And I am even happier that kids love what she's written. Really, I am! But I just don't connect with Isabel and Curzón the way I feel like I should. Wait, that's not completely true. I do feel invested in their story. But I think that I am old and jaded and I know that Laurie has done a great job focusing on the story she's trying to tell and while she refers to the horrors that slavery entailed, she does not get too caught up in describing every detail...and as I read, all I can think is "it was so much worse than the horrible that she is describing here," and that just makes me sad. Just plain sad. And consequently, these well-written, important books become hard for me to read. Which I suppose is a a weird way.

I am trying not to get too caught up in counting how many books I need to read to make my goal of 100. This is all about the joys of reading, right? I'm hoping I go up to bed and find a really, really good that I can't put down until it's done. Procrastinators of the world, unite! Tomorrow!

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Miss Drew, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Boone"

I didn't know what to expect when I opened John Grisham's Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover a very enjoyable book! It was highly recommended by a student, and I was not disappointed. It had all the excitement of my beloved Nancy Drew series, along with all the wit of Encyclopedia Brown...not to mention courtroom scenes that would have Jem and Scout hiding in the rafters to see the action!

What I liked best, though, was the clear description of what happens in a criminal courtroom. I plan to use the opening chapters as a read-aloud with my students so they can develop a sense of what a "real" courtroom experience might be.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

For the million and a half...

I've owned a copy of Sid Fleischman's The Entertainer and the Dybbuk for longer than I should admit, because that is how long it's taken for me to sit down and read it. Worse, my dear friend Banna is the narrator of the Full Cast Audio edition of the book. Oy. I'm listening to her talented narration as I type.

This spare and powerful little novel should be a must-read for every child as they are introduced to the horrors of the Holocaust. Why? Because it presents the horrible truth of what happened to one-and-a-half-million Jewish children with wit and charm, but it does not trivialize the truth by crossing the line to comedy. Fleischman somehow transforms the stuff of nightmares into an eminently readable tome by--in his own words--allowing in "the occasional shaft of sunlight--the tough Jewish sense of humor."

Is it a story of justice, or a story of revenge? Perhaps the two are not so least not in the case of those responsible for such atrocities as the murder of children.

Procrastination Rears Its Ugly Head

After many years of rushing to meet deadlines, I thought I had put that nasty habit of procrastination to bed a long time ago. Then November 30 rolled around and I realized that I had read only 74 of the 100 books I pledged to finish in 2010. YIKES!

So I've been racing the calendar in an effort to read 26 books in the month of December. I'm off to a decent start, with three books done in the first four days: Crescendo by Becca Fitzgerald, The Ball by Tod Whitaker, and Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris.What follows is a two-sentence reflection on each book, because I need to spend my time today reading, not writing!

Crescendo is the sequel to Fitzgerald's Hush, Hush (which I loved), but it fell short because it didn't have the depth of its predecessor. It was much more brain candy than a real exploration of human (and angelic) emotion, and it strayed even further from any religious tradition I've ever known.

The Ball was a short parable about the need to for teachers (and small business owners) to stay focused on what's important in our classrooms: to keep our eyes on the ball. It was a good and valuable read so long as I did not remind myself that Whitaker is also the author of the less uplifting Dealing with Difficult Parents and Dealing with Difficult Teachers.

If I have a guilty reading pleasure, anything by Charlaine Harris is it! It was a pleasure to tear through Grave Secret and once again enter the (almost ridiculously unrealistic) world of Harper Connelly and Tolliver Lang. I'm just sad that the conclusion of the novel leads me to believe it's also the conclusion of the series.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

All Good Things Must Come to an End

I just realized as I was typing the title for this blog that it's rather an ironic choice: I was thinking that at the end of his wonderfully clever Bartimeus Trilogy, Jonathan Stroud should have bid adieu to our favorite djinni and been done with him. However, the title might suggest that the recent addition to the series, The Ring of Solomon: A Bartimeus Novel, was good. And that would not be completely true.

Oh, it was not terrible, but it just didn't have the spunk and charm of the original trilogy. So much so that it took me f.o.r.e.v.e.r. to finish reading it. I normally finish a 400-page book in a matter of days...this one took two weeks! I kept falling asleep while reading it, or finding other things to do instead of read.

So next I will choose a book (or two) that I know I won't be able to set down once I begin. I'm thinking Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick, because my students can't stop talking about it! Oh, it won't be high literature, but I'll settle for something that keeps me turning the page.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

At turns campy, hopeful, silly, and redemptive, David Levithan and John Green's collaboration resulted in a book that could easily be a (better-written) Glee episode. Will Grayson is surprised to meet Will Grayson, and everyone is surprised to find out how much they love Tiny Cooper. Will Grayson (well, one of them) describes Tiny as “Tiny Cooper is not the world’s gayest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large.” And that also kind of gives you the flavor of the book.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Another Day, Another Sequel

This time it was Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. This paranormal romance series is more like Harry Potter meets Twilight than the typical "Twilight remake" (a term coined by one of my 8th graders.) But what else can I say?

Perhaps no book that followed Hate List was going to make me happy. Hate List was just that good.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Book You Have to Read

Last fall, there was a lot of buzz about a new book: Hate List by Jennifer Brown. I finally ordered it when it was released in paperback, and I am kicking myself for not following everyone's advice and reading it sooner.

I could tell you that it's a book about a school shooting, but that is really not what the book is about. Oh, there is a horrific school shooting, and it is a big part of the book. But it's really a book about moving on after living through a tragedy. It's about living through bullying, and it's about being a survivor. Most of all, I think, it's a book about forgiveness.

If I could, I would put a copy of this book in the hands of every kid in America. And then I would make them talk to each other about it. Sometimes, I think, it is so much easier to talk about a book than it is to talk about our own lives. Thanks to Jennifer Brown for writing a book that will start the conversation so many kids (and parents, and teachers) need to have.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Captivated by Yet Another Series

This one begins with Need by Carrie Jones, and continues with Captivate, both of which I finished this week. What a great series--unlike so many supernatural romances, this one is smart, and focuses on Norse mythology, which is a welcome twist away from the usual (stereotypical) Celtic Fae.

Oh, it's still a supernatural romance and it's still full of teen angst. But this one, this one I could hand to an adult (a smart, literate adult) and expect that they will enjoy it. Which is a nice change.

And without giving too much away (which I try so hard not to do), I would just like to add how much I appreciate and respect any author who makes it a point to have the main character say something like, "It's not that I can't live without him, it's just that it will really suck." Which might seem small, but really, it's huge, because it suggests to all the teenage girls reading the book that they are absolutely strong and smart enough to live through even the really crappy stuff that life is bound to hand them. (Unlike the female protagonist of another series who shall remain nameless who completely stops functioning if she does not have a boyfriend to help her exist. Ahem.)

Need was so compelling that I finished it in about 18 hours--with a good night's sleep sharing that time. Captivate was less compelling, but still I've finished them both in five days...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tormented by Sequels

One of the things I have learned from this blogging experience: it is almost ridiculously difficult to blog about sequels.

The other day, I finished Torment, the sequel to Lauren Kate's Fallen. I am not even sure which characters I should mention, because I don't want to spoil anything for those who have not yet finished (or even started) Fallen! So, a generic reaction: I liked Torment better than Fallen, but it dragged at the end. As with so many YA series, this probably could have been condensed to half the length and still been just as good. I find this very frustrating! But my students' love it, so maybe that's just my life experience coming into play. Who knows?

I'm now reading Need by Carrie Jones. Weird, creepy, and good--so far!

Just for kicks, here are my 2010 reads-to-date:

  1. Notes from the Midnight Driver
  2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  3. Beautiful Creatures
  4. Ballad
  5. Her Fearful Symmetry
  6. Going Bovine
  7. The Lightning Theif
  8. The Girl Who Played with Fire
  9. Nurtureshock
  10. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  11. Marcelo in the Real World
  12. The Lost Symbol
  13. Murder Takes the Cake
  14. Cador
  15. The Hollow
  16. The Adoration of JEnna Fox
  17. Whose Body
  18. The Great Gatsby
  19. Unwind
  20. An Expert in Murder
  21. Wondrous Strange
  22. Darklight
  23. The Chosen One
  24. Food Rules
  25. Little Brother
  26. Stopping Time
  27. The Hole We're In
  28. Garden Spells
  29. Henry's Sisters
  30. Tales from Outer Suburbia
  31. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
  32. Rubber Houses
  33. Angelology
  34. If I Stay
  35. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
  36. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
  37. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner
  38. Three Witches
  39. The Solitude of Prime Numbers
  40. Fallen
  41. Dead in the Family
  42. Night
  43. Tinkers
  44. The Lace Reader
  45. Spooky Little Girl
  46. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
  47. What Was Lost
  48. Little Bee
  49. Hush, Hush
  50. Teach Like a Champion
  51. Heroes
  52. The Map of True Places
  53. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
  54. The Sugar Queen
  55. Mockingjay
  56. Holding onto Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones
  57. Liar
  58. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Tenth Grade
  59. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Eleventh Grade
  60. Beautiful Lies
  61. Later, at the Bar...
  62. Sharp Teeth
  63. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Twelfth Grade
  64. The GRITS Guide to Life
  65. The World's Shortest Stories
  66. The Haunted
  67. The Penelopeiad
  68. Torment
My goal is to hit 100 books by the end of the year. I'd better get reading!

Monday, October 11, 2010

So Many Books (and Blogs), So Little Time

When I posted my book updates on Facebook at the end of September, I realized that I had missed blogging about a book--and one that I enjoyed, to boot! It was The Penelopeiad by Margaret Atwood. Perhaps because it was my duty to teach The Odyssey for so many years, I was delighted to read the story from Penelope's point of view. My goodness, but it made me mad every time I had to tell students that Odysseus has been hailed as a hero for millenia (and pitied because he just had to sleep with all those beautiful goddesses...then had the nerve to test Penelope's faithfulness!!!).

Then I read The Haunted by Jessica Verday, the sequel to The Hollow. And like The Hollow, I felt like this book could have packed all the action into half the text. Still, I enjoyed it. I love how Verday has taken the Sleepy Hollow legend (and locale!) and made it such a part of her "new" story. I do wish the whole story had been told in one volume rather than a(n unnecessary, IMHO) trilogy.

Finally, today I finished Troy High by Shana Norris. What a great re-telling of The Iliad! Very accessible, and very clever. My only real concern--if concern is even the word--is that it would be so much better after reading The Iliad, yet most students who can handle The Iliad are so far beyond this (very) young adult novel. Still, it's a stepping stone--and a well-written stepping stone at that. What would you do if Helen of Troy (a/k/a Elena Argos) went to your high school?! I promised my students I would hurry to finish this so they can begin borrowing it...I can't wait to hear their reviews!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The End of a Series...or Is It?

The final book in The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod was released, and of course I read it immediately. It was not disappointing. And since this is a series so many of my students read, I won't even tell you that obviously it is going to continue as he goes off to college, because even that might be giving too much away. My lips are sealed!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

Knowing someone isn't coming back
doesn't mean you ever stop waiting. (210)

I have to admit
I loved this book
but I also have to admit that
I was very relieved
as I read
to know that my dogs
were not
at the foot of my bed.

It has beautiful words
At night he lies down on the benches and contemplates
the deception of starlight, long dead suns making small lights
almost bright enough to guide the way. (220)

And it has profound observations
In the car, the rap song has every other word beeped out
as if the small words themselves were a dangerous thing, and not
the ideas of violence and waste and ridiculous luxury
that the songs clutch in their rough embrace.
Everyone is always looking in the wrong direction, 
we worry about our lovers while losing our jobs
we stress out about cancer while our children run away
we ponder the stars while burning the earth.
Lark used to say the bullet we're running from 
is almost never the one that hits us. (92)

But mostly it is full of
dogs and men and
one woman per pack
and a really good story that almost makes you
forget you are reading an epic poem.

(Hide it from the children
and possibly the dogs so
they don't realize we know too much.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Double Shot of Books for Grown-ups

It is so unusual for me to have time to read two books that I won't ever recommend to my students--let alone two in a row. And yet, that is what I've just done!

Friday morning, I finished Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger. If it hadn't been the first week of school, I would have been done sooner--but I kept falling asleep as I tried to read! (This had nothing to do with the book, by the way, and everything to do with my level of sheer exhaustion as I readjusted away from my summer schedule.) It was such a compelling book--quite well-written, and it raised as many questions as it answered. Ridley Jones saves a young boy's life, and the fall-out of this heroic act is not what anyone could have predicted. A few weeks later, she receives an envelope that contains an old photo of a young family with the terrible question, "Are you my daughter?" Her adventure--at times harrowing, at times heart-breaking--begins.  I am not often one for the crime/thriller genre, but this was a wonderful departure

The hardest thing to do upon finishing a really, really good book is to find another book that doesn't disappoint. But last night I picked up Rebecca Barry's brilliant Later, at the Bar and didn't put it down--well, except to sleep--until I was done. This "novel in stories" allowed me to enjoy years with old friends while here in the comfort of my living room. Set in upstate New York (an hour or so from here, I'd guess), this collection of short stories allows the reader to see the world through the eyes of various patrons of Lucy's Tavern. We laugh, we love, and we live with them in the pages of this book, which was perhaps the best book I have read this year. It was, quite simply, real. There is no judgment in its pages, just the true story of a group of regulars. When I reread this book (which I will), I will be sure to have a glass of whisky, neat, in my other hand.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Two for the Road

One August finish, and one for September: The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Tenth Grade Bleeds and Eleventh Grade Burns.

Since this is a series, I won't try to summarize: it is too easy to give too much away from the earlier books. If you haven't read this series, start now! It is just a good, easy read. One of my favorite things about is that is not predictable--at least not if you're following Joseph Campbell's hero's journey archetype. This is refreshing, because too often I can predict what will happen in all sequels after reading just the first book in a series.

Now, if I can just wait until September 21 when the final book is released...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Time for a Walk

Sometimes, I wake up early so I can take a long walk before I start my day. I mean early--before the sun comes up early. I knew there was a chance my uncle would come walk with me today, so I thought I'd read a little and sort of "hang around" to see if he appeared.

That was hours ago. It's now 7:03 a.m. and I still have not walked because I couldn't stop reading Justine Larbalestier's LIAR. It was just two days ago, as I was about a third of the way through the book, that I told someone I didn't know what all the hype was about. Wow, did that change. I wouldn't say it was a great book (sorry, Justine), but I would say that Micah is absolutely the best unreliable narrator I've ever encountered. And that is all that I'll say, because you really need to go get a copy of this book and read it yourself!

Interestingly, part of the hoohah surrounding this book has little to do with the story itself. Rather, when the book was published in the U.S., it was going to be published with a picture of a white teenage girl on the cover--despite the fact that the narrator is black. You can read Justine Larbalestier's version of the story (which, I think, is far more reliable than Micah's would be) here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Two Books for the Price of One

Ok, that's a lame title. I'm having a hard time coming up with clever blog titles. Must work on that.

In the last days of summer school, as I proctored a seemingly endless number of Regents exams, I read Thomas Newkirk's Holding onto Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For. I won't give a full review here, but the moral of the story is KIDS NEED TO READ! I didn't agree with all of what he said, but it was a thought-provoking read.

Today, I finished Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy. It was much less predictable than I expected, but also not as well-written (in my opinion) as the first two books in the series. Oh, I read it in two days...but if it had been as compelling as The Hunger Games, I would have finished it before I could go to sleep last night!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Meeting the Sugar Queen

I loved Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells, so I was excited to read The Sugar Queen. And while it was an entertaining read, it fell short; the characters never felt fully developed, so I never had that feeling of being a part of another world.

Still, it was a good book. And I'm sorry that someone nailed plywood over the secret "door" in the back of my closet, because that would be a handy place to keep a snack.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Finishing a Good Book

I just finished The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. In my mind, there is a genre called "Ordinary Magic"--those books that might be wildly fantastic, or might be taking place right next door to you and you'd never know.

Rose's mother makes her a lemon cake for her 9th birthday, and the first bite is delicious. Then it changes, and Rose realizes that she's feeling all her mother's emotions--and her mother may not be as happy as she seems. Rose spends the rest of her life eating carefully, because she absorbs the emotions of all the people who made her food as she eats it. (Oreos are her favorite--factory made, so there is very little emotion packed between those wafers. Doritos are also good.)

I loved this book; it looked honestly at the emotions and challenges we all face to some degree, and although it may be fantastic, it was also simple and straightforward and completely believable in all the ways that matter.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Re-visiting Salem

Last week I finished The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry. It took me forever to finish because mid-way through the book, my former foster daughter's son arrived to stay with us for a few weeks. Yikes! I'm not sure if it was my own level of distraction as I chased a busy toddler through the house or if it was the book itself, but I found myself struggling to get through it. I know, I know, don't compare one book to another...but I definitely enjoyed Barry's The Lace Reader more.

One thing did not change--Barry's ability to transport her readers to Salem. Wow! Above all else, I loved the feeling that I was there. And although I found the book tedious at times, I did enjoy the theme of history repeating itself.

So, the (belated) July summary:
  1. Spooky Little Girl by Laurie Notaro
  2. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoudrel Christ by Philip Pullman
  3. What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
  4. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  5. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
  6. The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
I also read Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov, which I won't review here because it's not of interest to anyone who is not a teacher (although I will say that I really liked it!), and I re-read Heroes by Robert Cormier with my summer school classes.

Friday, July 16, 2010

More angels among us

I just finished Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, and I have to say that it is the first book in a very long time that I was unable to put down. In fact, I read it from beginning to end in less than 24 hours!

Oh, the book was not perfect; the characterization was weak in places and there certainly could have been more depth to the plot. But Fitzpatrick has certainly mastered the art of holding her readers' attention! Wow!

The other thing I appreciated was the biblical...well, I suppose logic would be the correct word. I'm not suggesting that this was a novel that promoted Christianity, but for once it was a book about angels that did not directly contradict what I know (and believe) as a Catholic. That was refreshing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Once upon a time, in the the village of Understanding...

I just finished Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and while there are so many thoughts and ideas swirling about in my head, the back cover of the book says this:

Once you have have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.

To honor that wish, I will simply say that you must read this book! Do not let it become lost in the pile of books under your coffee table or next to your bed. Pick it up and read it. Then let's talk!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Lost and Found

I just finished What Was Lost, a novel by Catherine O'Flynn. It is billed as a book about a young girl who goes missing, and while the first part of the book is indeed about that, the rest of the book is really about what happens to everyone else as they try to carry on after someone simply vanishes into thin air.

It's a mystery, which makes it hard to discuss without giving too much away. So read the book--it is well-written, and includes some thought-provoking observations about consumerism, work ethic, family dynamics, and social class.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

I've always wondered (dare I admit this in writing?) which parts of the Gospel are absolutely true, and which parts might have been affected by the author's perspective or the subsequent years of translation. The story, it would seem, is generally correct, and although the expression "the devil's in the details" seems inappropriate in this case...well, you know.

I did know going in that Philip Pullman is an agnostic, and that he seems to have taken special umbrage toward the Catholic Church. I also knew that he is a masterful storyteller--arguably among the best of our generation. I read the book with the expectation that I would not agree, coupled with the belief that ignorance is not really bliss--it's just ignorance.

All that being said, the book did not offend me because it simply did not ring true. While parts of it were thought-provoking, the premise--that Mary gave birth to twins, one named Jesus and the other Christ--just struck me as fantastic to the point of being silly. Certainly history does not get everything right, but that would be an oversight more remarkable than even a skeptic can imagine. Well, with the obvious exception of Pullman himself, that is.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Less Spooky, More Funny

The other day I finished Spooky Little Girl by Laurie Notaro. I hadn't ready any of her books in a long time, and I had forgotten how funny she is!

Lucy Fisher comes home from vacation and finds everything she owns on the lawn of her (apparently ex-)fiance's house. She gets fired from her job. Then she gets hit by a bus and dies. And that's just in the first few pages! Needless to say, funny stuff follows; it's also a good story, and a very different take on what happens when we die.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Three Is a Magic Number

I finished the month of June with three wonderful books: Night by Elie Wiesel (a reread, and powerful every time), Tinkers by Paul Harding, and The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry.

Night hardly needs my summary here; if you have not read Elie Wiesel's memoir of the Holcaust, you simply must. Each time I read it again, I am moved not only by the elegance of his writing about such a terrible history, but also by the power of this tribute to his father.

Tinkers made its way to my Kindle after unexpectedly winning the Pulitzer Prize. Harding's prose is lovely; a true work of literary art. A simple, interesting story is uplifted by Harding's wonderfully artistic use of the English language. It is certainly a book I will reread, as much for the beauty of its prose as anything else.

The Lace Reader
was a surprisingly compelling novel! I started just more than 24 hours ago and found it hard to set down; Alice Hofmann meets Chuck Pahlaniuk, if you can even imagine that. I won't share a bit of the plot as it is simply a book that begs to be read--and anyway, I don't want to give anything away. (I will say that it is set in Salem, and I especially enjoyed the strong sense of place, having visited Salem more than once!)

Unrelated to the narrative itself, I found it interesting when the (self-confessed unreliable) narrator observed that during the time of the Salem witch hysteria, no "witch" was hanged if she confessed to witchcraft. While this does ring true, it also requires some research on my part to verify. I have spent some time this spring learning about my 8th great-grandfather's sister, Elizabeth Emerson, who was hung for infanticide and (I still can't believe this) whoredom. Elizabeth's notoriety grew when she supposedly made a confession to Cotton Mather in the days before her death. As Elizabeth appears to have been unable to read or write, I have always thought perhaps Mather "invented" her supposed confession; I wonder now if it was an attempt to avoid the gallows and return to her young daughter, about whom nothing is know after her mother's death.An intriguing possibility, and one that bears investigation.

So, books for the month of June:
  1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
  2. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
  3. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
  4. Three Witches by Paula Jolin
  5. The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
  6. Fallen by Lauren Kate
  7. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris
  8. Night by Elie Wiesel
  9. Tinkers by Paul Harding
  10. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
That's 44 books for 2010; I'd better keep reading if I'm to achieve my goal of 100!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Awwww, Sookie Sookie...

Sookie Stackhouse returns in Dead in the Family, the latest in Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series. Sookie sure has lost her inhibitions--she even cusses! I'm not sure I like this change, but I do still enjoy the series. It is just a light, fun read--perfect for the end of the school year. If you like the other books in the series, you'll like this one too. (And if you haven't read Charlaine Harris, I actually prefer her Aurora Teagarden mysteries and suggest you start there!) :-)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Angels, angels everywhere

Today I finished Fallen by Lauren Kate, another book about the Grigori angels...In fact, I'd describe this book as Twilight with fallen angels instead of vampires. I think that if this book had been released before Twilight, I might have liked it a lot more. Then again...I didn't like the portrayal of angels; it did not honor any religious traditions, and frankly, as a lifelong Catholic, this absence of any religious mythology left me confused. I kept trying to figure out which (fallen) angel was which, but the story was not rooted enough in biblical (or apocryphal) tradition to do so. The one word that best summarizes my feelings about this book? "Meh."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Paolo Giordano's book was so well-named that I borrowed his title for this post. I won't say this as eloquently as he does, but his imagery is so compelling. Mattia and Alice are prime numbers--unique and alone. They may be twin primes--two prime numbers separated only by an even number, like 41 and 43, but even twin primes cannot every get too close to each other.

Mattia is, in fact, a twin; a tragic twin, for his sister disappeared when they were children and has never been found. Alice has her own tragic story, although the causes of her eccentricities are not nearly so tangible. Remarkably, Alice and Mattia find each other...and their friendship, however tenuous, is formed.

It is a beautifully written book; the language alone makes it worth reading. Giordano's use of metaphor is compelling and beautiful; one of the best books I have read this year.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Three...Girls in High School

Three Witches by Paula Jolin is the typical high-school-girls-form-a-coven-and-think-they're-witches with a twist: the girls are Muslim, Trinidadian, and Japanese, and their "witchy" cultural traditions are reflected in the book.

That being said, it was another teenage witch book. Not really my cup of tea (I prefer true fantasy, not the "let's gather the materials to conjure the dead" kind). But I read it, and I promptly dedicated it to the public library. There are plenty of teenage girls who love this kind of thing.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The best things in life...

Choosing the next book to read is easy when you can read it free! (OK, I know, there's the library, which is free, but...this did not require leaving my armchair!) What book did I read for the low price of free, you wonder? The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer, available free for a limited time.

It was an entertaining read, like most Twilight books, but certainly not high literature. My daughter complained that she felt like Meyer only writes in one voice--the book felt like Bella was still narrating. I was not bothered by that (although I am awfully proud to have such a discerning reader); I just felt like it was "typical Twilight."

I finished at school and needed a book while giving a test this afternoon, so I grabbed Three Witches from a pile near my desk. Speaking of typical, it's a very interesting take on the high-school-girl-coven genre in that the first character we meet is a Muslim girl following her old aunt's advice to summon a jinn...

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Hornet's Nest and a Giantess

First things first: I never posted my May summary. This is extra-sad because it is such a short list; I spent most of May reading old journals and letters I found in the attic instead of "real" (i.e. published) books. Of course, I learned that my great-great-grandfather left his family after spending time in the penitentiary; that my grandmother's father died (according to his mother-in-law) because he ate so much he didn't leave any room for his heart; and that three Emerson women--Hannah, Elizabeth, and Martha--were quite infamous in the 1690s--for murder, whoredom, and witchcraft, respectively. But enough of that; here's my May list, which brought by 2010 total to 34:
  1. Rubber Houses by Ellen Yeomans
  2. Angelology by Danielle Trussoni
  3. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
This month, I have been so busy reading that I haven't had time to blog!

Last week I finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson. As ever, Larsson writes brilliantly, and Salander is fascinating. I did struggle with how easily Blomkvist falls into bed with...well, anyone who comes his way, and everyone seems to just accept this about him (including the other women who have shared his bed!). In all, though, it was a quite satisfying read, and a wonderful conclusion to the trilogy. I'm only sad that Larsson did not survive to write much more.

Late last night I finished reading The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker. It was a slow starter, but once I lost myself in Aberdeen it was sure hard to leave! Truly was such a big baby that her mother died in childbirth, but not before she murmured her last word--"truly"--which the doctor took to be the baby's name. Poor little Truly has a great big problem: her pituitary gland never tells her to stop growing, and grow she does! She faces all kinds of struggles, not just because of her size, but also because of her mother's death, her father's alcoholism (and death 12 years later), her contrast against her china doll-like sister, Serena Jane, and...well, nothing is ever easy for Truly Plaice. When her sister disappears and she moves in to care for her young nephew, Truly discovers a magical secret in an antique quilt...Oh, it was a book. Along with being a plain old good book, it's an interesting exploration of gender identity and stereotypes.

What to read next?! It's always hard to follow such a good book. I have a great big pile from which to pick, though, so it shouldn't be too hard!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I just finished If I Stay by Gayle Forman--another spare and powerful book. Mia, a senior in high school whose passions are playing the cello and her boyfriend Adam, is having a typical day with her family when they are victims of a fatal car accident. The book is narrated by Mia, who is physically in a coma throughout most of the book; as the title suggests, she must make a decision to go or stay. It is incredibly well-written; a book I look forward to sharing with students, in part so I can read it again (and again).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


There's no better title for this blog post than the title of the book I just read. Danielle Trussoni's book does indeed focus on the study of angels, with enough biblical (and apocryphal) references to be interesting. A fascinating idea! I kept reading in hopes that the fascinating parts of the book would begin on the next page...right up until the end of the book. It was a decent book--excellent at times--but never the compelling read that I kept thinking it was about to become.

Based on the ending, I expect there will be a sequel. I'm looking forward to it...I hope.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Love, Loss, and a good book

I was lucky to meet Ellen Yeomans at a party for our mutual (and wonderful) friend Suzanne last weekend, and was embarrassed that I wasn't familiar with her debut YA novel Rubber Houses--an ALAN pick, no less! So Monday, I asked the school librarian to track down a copy for me. Of course, I was distracted with my own family research, so I saved it until last night. That was a bad choice; I couldn't put it down. 

Allow me to digress for a moment. One year ago this week--last April 27, to be exact--our beautiful, strong, smart, amazing friend and neighbor Brandi was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the lining of heart and lungs. It is known to be caused by asbestos exposure, and takes 20-30 years from the time of exposure to be diagnosed. Brandi was 23 when she was diagnosed. We surrounded her with love and support and prayers and all the best wishes...but on September 24, Brandi died at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.I miss her everyday.

Now back to the book...I probably should have read the inside flap before I started reading. When Kit's little brother, Buddy, is diagnosed with cancer, I knew I was in trouble. I made it to page 59 before the tears began to flow. As Kit describes the drive to Boston, I sobbed. Oh, it was such a book. I won't give too much away, I hope, when I say that the end of the book was redemptive, and although it was hard to stop the tears, it was made easier by the hopefulness I felt that Kit was going to be OK. 

The review on TeenReads says, "The novel, told in free verse, sings with honesty and pain." Yes.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Physick Books and Family History

By the time I was 100 pages in to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, it had brought to mind that I have an ancestress, Elizabeth Emerson, who was hung on Boston Common around the time of the Salem Witch hysteria. You know, one of those, "Oh, I should really learn more about her" ancestors. It wasn't until I paid a visit to the Haverhill Historic Society last summer that I even learned of Elizabeth's existence--it's her sister, Hannah Emerson Duston, who is relatively famous, and it was the legend of Hannah that brought us to Haverhill in the first place.
Tuesday night, I set down Deliverance Dane and picked up an old copy of the Emerson genealogy. I verified Elizabeth's name and entered it into Google--not really expecting anything at all, but thinking that was a starting point. Was I wrong! Elizabeth is infamous! She was hung in June 1693, three days after Cotton Mather delivered a sermon about her...Although she was not hung for witchcraft, she was presumably held with all those women from Salem who were. Elizabeth's crime was allegedly infanticide, and--a crime I was unaware even existed--whoredom.
The best summary I've been able to find of Elizabeth's life is here:
Tonight I finished the book. I also discovered that Elizabeth's first cousin, Joseph, was married to a woman who was tried and hung as a witch in the Salem-area hysteria of 1692. Rest in peace, Elizabeth and Martha Emerson. The rest of you--read this great book!

April 2010 Summary:
  1. The Hole We're In (Gabrielle Zevin)
  2. An Expert in Murder (Nicola Upson)
  3. Garden Spells (Sarah Addison Allen)
  4. Henry's Sisters (Cathy Lamb)
  5. Tales from Outer Suburbia (Shaun Tan)
  6. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (Katherine Howe)

Tales from Outer Suburbia

What a book. Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia is deceptively simple; the metaphors are compelling and ring true while the text itself is surreal, almost bizarre. I will be giving it as a gift for graduating seniors this June.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Making up for lost time

I finished two books this week: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, and Henry's Sisters by Cathy Lamb.

I was hooked on Garden Spells almost immediately; after all, the main character lives in her grandmother's Queen Anne Victorian with a tulip tree in the front yard. How could I not relate?!? But instead of two crabapple trees in the back yard, Claire's house has a beautiful garden and a magical apple tree. When her sister arrives with her young daughter in tow, they take refuge in the family homestead as well. It was a little predictable, but it was such a good read that I didn't put it down until it was done--at 2:00 a.m.!

Then I read Henry's Sisters, loaned to me too long ago. Wow. It could have been a southern novel--dysfunctional family living in grandmother's house, check!--but that it's about a Catholic family in Oregon. Henry is a developmentally delayed man who loves everyone, and his sisters return to the family home (and business-a bakery) when their mother has open-heart surgery. Their grandmother believes she's Amelia Earhart, which adds a little comedy. That's all I'll say, but I'll follow it with a caveat: I spent most of yesterday afternoon sobbing through the last 100 or so pages of the book.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A quick read that took a loooong time

I just finished An Expert in Murder: A Josephine Tey Mystery by Nicola Upson. I am a Josephine Tey fan, and was thrilled when my friend (and fellow bibliophile) Banna recommended a book about a beloved author. This did not disappoint! Upson captures the language and complexity of Tey's best novels, and writes a compelling story to boot.

Now, the thing about a mystery is that any information is too much, so my lips are sealed!

The book took longer to finish than it should due to an extended visit from a very sweet 16-month-old boy. Thank goodness it's spring break and I have time to read some more!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Hole We're In

The title of the book I just finished seemed a reasonable title for its corresponding blog; don't we all spend our lives in (and out) of holes? (And, as Gabrielle Zevin wisely observes, we all end up in the ultimate hole at the end of our lives...)

I was so excited to read the newest book by the author of Elsewhere, which is easily my all-time favorite. This book was not nearly so beautifully crafted--in fact, each section seemed almost as though it could have been written by an entirely different author. But the questions it raises are certainly haunting, and it shines a much-needed light on the lifestyle we live and the choices we make.

I am not sure that I would have kept reading this book if it had not been written by a beloved author, but I am certainly glad that I did. In the end, it is one of the most personally affecting books I have read this year.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Time Marches On, REDUX

Have I used that title already in March? The best part about it being April is that I can stop using these corny blog titles. Anyway, a reference to TIME is a propos (how does one add accents, I wonder?), as the last book I finished in March was Stopping Time by Melissa Marr.

I know that series have to be released slowly as to allow the authors time to...well, write the books. But the downside of that, as a reader, is that I can't always remember which character (or even which series) is which. Melissa Marr wrote brilliantly, as always, but I was at least halfway through this novella before I remembered clearly who Leslie (the main character) was! Still, it was a good, quick read. And it was free on my Kindle! :-)

So, titles I finished in March:

  1. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
  2. Whose Body by Dorothy L. Sayers
  3. Wondrous Strange by Leslie Livingston
  4. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
  5. Darklight by Leslie Livingston
  6. The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
  7. Food Rules by Michael Pollan
  8. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
  9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  10. Stopping Time by Melissa Marr

Monday, March 29, 2010

A long time coming

I just finished The Great Gatsby. It's been on the list of books I should read for a long time, and I was pushed by a colleague on the English Companion Ning to just read it...which I finally did. My goal was to finish it by my birthday, but I finished early!

I did not love it, but I did not expect to love it. In fact, I was pushed to read it despite the fact that it did not appeal to me in the least. It was OK. I didn't hate it. Mostly I thought they were all pitiful. Even Nick--who was supposed to have some semblance of moral fiber (wasn't he?)--just rode around with his cousin's husband Tom and Tom's mistress. Really? He just accepted the fact of this adultery? Hmm. Not to mention the fact that he arranged for his cousin Daisy to secretly meet her former lover...Did he really not suspect why Gatsby wanted to see her again, or did he not care?

I did find myself frequently wondering how on earth it is taught in so may high school classrooms! What do students take away from the experience? What connection does it have to their lives? I am anxious to speak to students who have read this in class to see what they think.

Time Marches On

I finished Little Brother by Cory Doctorow last Wednesday and almost forgot to post a blog--whoops!

It was a fascinating look at what might happen as people allow their fear to overrule their desire for freedom (not to mention their common sense). It was smart and well-written, but I have a few grumbles.

First, there was an apparently gratuitous sex scene in the middle of the book. Worse than most, because there was an implication that these teenagers who have known each other for a few weeks somehow needed to have sex in order to cement their relationship. I would have a hard time sharing this book with students as a result...but I also felt like it undermined the main message of the story. This kid who runs ParanoidLinux and single-handedly pioneers a revolution would trust a near stranger so intimately? It just didn't ring true.

The other grumble I had was the oh-so-happy ending. I won't give it away, but it was much too neat and tidy at the end of an otherwise realistically complicated novel.

A smart, smart, smart book that many people will love, Little Brother certainly raises a number of issues that we should all be considering carefully.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Food Rules!

Tonight, rather than endure the torture of watching Inglorious Basterds (I made it through about 35 minutes), I read Food Rules by Michael Pollan. It was a quick read, lots of good information, guided by the mantra: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." If you forget that, just follow the advice your grandmother gave you, and eat the foods she ate--at least when she was a girl.

My favorite tip? Don't eat anything a third grader can't pronounce.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Not so funny this time

I just read The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams while I waited for the clothes in the dryer to dry. Well, I started reading it when I put the clothes in the the clothes are waiting for me, because I couldn't put the book down until I finished it.

I am a big fan of HBO's Big Love, so I was looking forward to this book. I didn't really expect it to be anything like an HBO series, but I also didn't expect what I got. I just couldn't stop reading until I was absolutely sure that 13 year old Kyra would escape the compound before she was forced to marry her 60 year old uncle. It was not unlike watching a train wreck--I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and as much as I wanted to look away, I just had to keep reading.

What's more upsetting than the violence and victimization in this book is the knowledge that this happens--perhaps not often, but it does happen. That is terrifying.

And with that in mind, I will need to start another book once I fold the clean clothes waiting for me in the dryer. Sadly, I'm afraid it will still be Kyra--and her mothers, and her sisters--waiting in my dreams tonight.

Marching Forward, 2 at a Time

I just can't seem to stop myself from using a cheesy play on "March" in the title of each blog this month. I wonder if that's symptomatic of a larger psychological issue...must inquire further.

Earlier this week, I finished reading Unwind by Neal Shusterman. It was...amazing. The premise? The second civil war, the one between the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice armies, has ended when all sides agreed to a new policy: abortion is illegal. All babies have a right to be born. Teenagers, however, can be "unwound." Parents can choose to have their children unwound for any number of reasons...100% of their bodies (well, legally, 99.4%) are "recycled."

Not only was Unwind well-written, it probes all kinds of issues. At what moment does a human being acquire a soul? If all the parts of a person are alive, is the person alive or dead? Does the fact that something is legal (or illegal) have anything to do with whether or not it is morally right (or wrong)?

There were, of course, things that I struggled with. There were churches mentioned, but no churches seemed "good." I definitely believe that there are "bad" churches (and, more often, people who do bad things in the name of religion) in the world, but I am not so hopeless as to think they are all bad. In the book, the only description of religion appears to be religious fanatics. This was hard for me.

Of course, I also struggled with the idea that either side of the abortion debate would settle on "unwinding" as a compromise. But that was a pre-existing premise of the book; I found I didn't have to think about it too much.

The other book I finished this week was Darklight, the sequel to Wondrous Strange. I liked it almost as well as I did the first book...almost. There appears to be a lot of promiscuity in the land of the fae, and while I very much appreciate that Lesley Livingston leaves it all to the imagination, it still makes it difficult for me to recommend these otherwise wonderful books to my 8th grade students. Since it's a sequel, I'll leave it at that--and encourage you (if you are over 14) to read this smart, wonderful series!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Marching On

On Saturday, I finished Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston. What a book! She incorporates Shakespeare into a tale of faerie, changelings, and the Unseelie Court. She clearly knows these areas quite well, and ties them together brilliantly. My only complaint is that I read this on my Kindle--now I have to order a paper copy for my classroom library!

I'm almost done with Unwind by Neal another blog soon!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March comes in like a...lamb?

Today is March 9, and I just--JUST--finished my first book of the month. I need to get reading!

The book was Whose Body, the first Lord Peter Wimsey book by Dorothy L. Sayers. I realized about halfway through that I really had read this before, but it was so many years ago it was worth finishing. What does one say about the quintessential murder mystery? At one point I found myself imagining MTV's Celebrity Death Match: Dorothy L. Sayers vs. Agatha Christie. I mean, it really doesn't get much better.

I also read one whole chapter of The Great Gatsby. My goal is to finish it before my birthday. We'll see. It's not one that draws me in--I have tried it before--but I am experiencing English teacher guilt at giving up on a book that everyone else seems to love.

So I will read a second chapter of Gatsby before I begin my next book--at this point, it looks like it will be Shusterman's Unwind.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Early Finish: 1:03 a.m. on 3/1

First, my February summary:

  1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  2. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
  3. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  4. Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent
  5. Candor by Pam Bachorz
  6. The Hollow by Jessica Verday

I was feeling a little sad about reading only six books in February. Goal for March: ten or more!

In the wee hours of the morning--so it was barely March--I finished reading The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. It was another book that was tough to read because it was all too possible: what parents wouldn't go to any length to save their child?

Jenna Fox was in an accident. She can't remember much, and she isn't sure about anything. This book is as much about Jenna and her need to figure out her past as it is an exploration of bio-ethics. Although it was written for teenagers, I'd suggest that the real "must read" audience is parents.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Two Books, One Snowday

I finished another book before I fell asleep last night: The Hollow by Jessica Verday. A note about the book itself: it is 500+ pages with huge margins, a big font, and extra space between lines. I'm sure there was some marketing strategy behind this decision. The fact is, it's not a very long book.

So, the's too bad they didn't wait until the second book was published and put it all together in one volume. Why, you ask? Because what started out as an awesome book just...ended. Abbey is dealing with the death of her best friend, Kristen. There is a mystery surrounding Kristen's death. It remains unsolved. Completely unsolved. Abbey meets a mysterious boy named Caspian. We do get a few answers about who Caspian is--in the last chapter of the book.

"The Hollow" refers to Sleepy Hollow, and Washington Irving's grave, and the stories he wrote, figure prominently into the book.

Instead of being a great book, it is a 500+ page introduction to whatever comes next. I guess I will have to wait for the next book in the series to be published to find the answers I want!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I just finished Candor by Pam Bachorz, and it is the first book of the year that I can't wait to read with students. What a book--what a story--what an idea. Wow. A perfect complement to Feed and The Giver, Candor adds an element that is terrifying: it could really happen.

Oscar Banks lives with his father in a perfect community--a community his father has created by controlling the thoughts of the people who live there. The parents in Candor, Florida all know what's going on: tired of fighting with their out-of-control teens, they have chosen to move to Candor, where subliminal messages transform their troubled children into model citizens.

Oscar knows what is happening, and he fights against it. But in the end, it's not a story of fighting or mind control or being the perfect citizen. It's a story about what we do for love. Will Oscar make the ultimate sacrifice?

I am still haunted by the looming questions that this book raises. How far will parents go to "protect" their children? How far will any of us go to believe what we wish could be true? We've all been indoctrinated with the idea that "it's our differences that make us special." But are there people who would work to stamp out those differences, and if there are, to what lengths will they go? Troubling stuff, and Bachorz explores it brilliantly in this book.

It's a snowday! Hooray! I'm in the middle of three other books...I'm sure I'll finish at least one of them by the end of the day. Maybe two? Or--dare I hope--all three?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Presidents' Day Two-fer

I finished The Lost Symbol, which is predictably Dan Brown-like. I love that he writes research in the context of fiction, but I have to admit that his ideas seem to be getting stranger and stranger. I have nothing really to say about this. It's a Dan Brown book. Ça suffit.

I also finished Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent. It was a finalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award contest. More important, it was free on my Kindle. First, I will say that I read the whole book. It frequently made me laugh out loud--maybe not always on purpose. Then I will say that today, I went online to see if it had ever been published on paper. Like, by a publisher. It has. I'll stop there.

I started a Jospehine Tey mystery by Nicola Upson last night, but I think I'm mysteried out for a while. I'm heading upstairs to being reading Candor by Pam Bachorz. My goal is to finish before I go to school on Friday. Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Real World Reading

After searching high and low for a copy of Marcelo in the Real World, I finally got my hands on a copy--thanks to my friend Banna of the (wonderful) River's End Bookstore. Both Banna and my friend Sharon--two women for whom I have tremedous respect--have raved about this book, which was rumored to be a contender for the Printz award to boot.

It was an easy start; I liked it at first, but at a certain point, I found myself wondering what was so special about it. It as a fine book, but I didn't think it was great. Until...I kept reading. And it got better. And better. And in the end, it was beautiful. Thoughful. Poetic.

And maybe not entirely believable? But it was certainly true, and for that, I can forgive a lot.

Now I'm more than halfway through The Lost Symbol; I started listening to it on a long car ride, although I should have known better. Dan Brown may not write the most literary novels, but they are certainly compelling. So, back to the hidden tunnels and mysteries of Washington...until next time!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

First February Finish

I slowed down and finished only one book this week: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. If Agatha Christie had written Harriet the Spy, the result would have been this book. I loved it!

No time to blog more; I need to get reading. I'm about to start a book I have been waiting since last fall to read: Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. I can't wait!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

One Down, 11 to go...

Today is January 31; to date, my books of 2010 are:

  1. Notes from the Midnight Driver
  2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  3. Beautiful Creatures
  4. Ballad
  5. Her Fearful Symmetry
  6. Going Bovine
  7. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
  8. The Girl Who Played with Fire
  9. Nurtureshock (still in progress)

I just finished the second Stieg Larsson book, The Girl Who Played with Fire. I couldn't put it down! My to-do list has been neglected. It was outstanding, as was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Two things are on my mind: first, great disappointment that Stieg Larsson died not long after turning over the manuscripts of his trilogy. I would have loved to read many more of his books. Second, Larsson was an outspoken humanitarian and activist. I suspect that his series is an attempt to draw attention to the sex trade that continues to exploit women and girls throughout the world. I hope it's a successful attempt; I would like to find a way to do my part.

One month into 2010 and so far I have tracked my reading...sort of. It occurred to me the other day that in addition to books, I read all sorts of things. I visit and interact at online professional networking sites in order to improve my work as a teacher everyday. I read magazines and journals everyday. I was accepted and received my first assignment as a reviewer for The ALAN Review, which is in progress right now. So much of my life focuses on the written word! I am so lucky that my personal and professional interests merge in this single focus.

It also occurs to me, though, that the writing I do on this blog is far more like journal writing than it is anything that anyone else might want to read. Of course, that was the purpose when I began this blog a month ago...So in addition to all the other reading I do, I'm beginning to read about blogging as a writing style, and how I can improve as a blogger. I'm hoping to learn this along with my students, as I explore the possibility of blogging as a form of academic writing. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Read the Book First!

Everyone--especially English teachers and mothers (of which I am both)--says that the book is always better than the movie, and that you should always read the book first. So when Hannah and I went to see The Lovely Bones last weekend (yes, I made her read the book first), and one of the coming attractions was Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, I did what any good English teacher (and mother) would do: I immediately read the book. It was good! Lots of action, lots of (accurate) allusion to Greek Mythology, and a solid story at its core. I can easily see why it is a tween favorite, and well it should be.

Of course, knowing that the movie is about to be released kept me thinking about the book as a movie. And I am absolutely aware, as I say this, that there are people in Hollywood who can destroy almost any story in any number of ways. Still, I must say, I had a bizarre thought as I was reading. This is one movie that has the potential to be just as good as the book.
Did I really just admit that in print? Yikes. I am definitely not predicting the film will live up to expectations! But so often, when I hear a book is being made into a film, I groan before production has even begun.Too many narratives don't survive the translation from screen to page. This time, I'm actually looking forward to seeing the film--I wonder if they will do the book justice.

Friday, January 22, 2010

And the Printz goes to...

The Printz Awards were announced at the ALA Midwinter conference on Monday, and the winner was Going Bovine by Libba Bray. The book had caught my eye last month, and as a big fan of Libba Bray, I bought it immediately; it has hovered near the top of my "to read" pile ever since.

(In Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy, the mythological Morrigan features prominently; it just so happens that my cousin's daughter is named Morrigan, so when she saw her name in a book, she wondered if I was reading about her. Morrigan also has a slight obsession with bacon, and she wondered if there was any bacon in the book. When I met Libba Bray at a book signing and relayed this little story, she laughed, then she signed a copy of A Great and Terrible Beauty: "To Morrigan--This book really IS about you and bacon!" I will be a fan forever.)

So I squealed with delight when Libba Bray won the Printz! And I immediately began reading. And it was...strange. Good. Odd. Interesting. Literary. I liked it. I finished it in four days! But I'm not entirely certain...that is...I don't softly) Idon'tknowifIwouldhavegivenitaPrintz. Ahem.

The thing is, there is a swearing in it. The F-bomb. And they smoke pot. And the main character is dying of mad cow disease, so he's delusional. And I'm not sure it's a book I can put out on the shelf in my 8th grade classroom, for all of those reasons.

On the up side, the book is based (perhaps loosely) on Don Quixote, and there are lots of literary references to that book and more. It is definitely a hero's journey--one of my favorite literary games is identifying the hero's journey in any story. Wow! This is a good one. As a full-fledged word nerd, I really liked it.

But I wonder, what will my students think? I have felt this way before. When The Wednesday Wars won awards a few years ago, I wondered how appealing this book that I loved would be to a young adult audience. I feel the same way now; it is a relatively new book, and I can't wait to know how other people (especially teenage people) feel when they read it.

Up next: Percy Jackson. The movie will be out soon, so I'd better get reading!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King!

Today I owe a larger-than-usual debt of gratitude to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Why, you may ask? The first part--the usual debt of gratitude--is owed because the sacrifices he made and the cause he led have allowed me to live a full, rich life with friends and family from every corner of the world; a beautiful daughter (flesh of my flesh!) whose coffee-colored skin is a beautiful contrast to my own shade of milky-white (read: pasty), and an extended family of loved ones who represent every color of our human rainbow. From the deepest recesses of my heart and my soul, I am grateful: for my daughter, my friends, my loved ones; for a president in the White House who reflects my own beautiful family in a way I never dreamed possible; for a world that is one step closer to the dream...Thank you, Dr. King.

The larger-than-usual, though, is purely selfish. This morning, thanks to the holiday, I laid in bed until I had finished a book: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. (More on that in a moment.) Then I came downstairs, plugged in my computer, and watched the webcast of this morning's ALA Midwinter Awards. I cried as Walter Dean Myers was awarded the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award. (Should I feel ashamed to admit that? Perhaps...but it's true.) I chose my next book to read--luckily it's been waiting patiently in the other room: Going Bovine by Libba Bray, winner of the 2010 Printz Award. I cheered as one of my favorite books of 2009--When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead--won the Newbery. It is now just noon, and already it is a wonderful day! Thank you, Dr. King. ;-)

By my count, Her Fearful Symmetry was the fifth book of 2010. I think. It is probably too early in the year for me to have lost track already, but there it is: I have. At any rate, I loved this book! I was intimidated by the mediocre reviews; I had so loved The Time-Traveler's Wife, and I was sorely afraid of being disappointed. Finally, I took a deep breath, I lowered my expectations, and I began to read.

It was wonderful. It was not The Time-Traveler's Wife, to be sure! There was no happy ending, either; just farewell...and isn't that how life really works? Oh, it was a fantasy: there was a ghost (or two, or three), there were two sets of twins, there were secrets and lies and all sorts of mysterious things, but at it's core, it was both intimate and true. And isn't that why we read? So we can be drawn into another life; so we can know strangers intimately and see the world through their eyes; and then we can go back to our own lives and think, "Hmmm. Maybe this real life I'm living is OK. Maybe I am not alone. Maybe there is more to me, too, than meets the eye. Or maybe not."

Perhaps this book will not take a place in my heart, and perhaps it will. As I said, it was not The Time-Traveler's Wife. But it did occupy my heart for a few hours, and if I learned nothing else from reading it, I learned that the shadow of a thing is sometimes as important as the thing itself.

Now, on to Going Bovine. But first a quote from the man of the day, coupled with the hope that I will help my students fulfill this goal in the year to come:

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically... Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Double digits by the end of January?!?

I hope so! I am one book closer: last night I finished Ballad by Maggie Steifvater. I loved it! I am a big fan of hers--and not just because we have the same name. (Did you know she changed her name to Maggie? Yup, she writes cool books AND she has great taste in names! But I digress...) She also wrote Shiver, which is getting a lot of attention and which people (including my students) really love. And I love it, too. But I love this series--first Lament, which I read last fall, and now Ballad--even more.

It is such a complicated story (in a good way) and I am so bad at talking about books without giving anything away, I can't even try. Here are some keywords: faeries, music, boarding school, friendship, loyalty, love.

Now, I am still reading Nurtureshock, and it is amazing! But it's not a story for before bed. So now I face a tough decision...should the next book be on paper, or on my Kindle? It's a tough choice I face...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Forgotten Book

I am in the middle of two books: Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater (almost done) and Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman (chapter 3, but I've reread the first two chapters at least three times each). But that's not what I'm writing about in this blog. No, tonight's topic is the book I forgot.

Over Christmas break, I indulged in my favorite habit: I tucked myself under a blanket and I read, and read, and read. I read on the couch, I read at the kitchen table, and I read in my bed. I read so much that it was hard for me to remember all that I read, which is possibly why I forgot to blog about the first book that I finished in 2010: Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick. I thought this was going to be just a silly book about a kid who does something dumb and spends the book trying to figure out how to fix it. In the opening chapter, he gets drunk for the first time and "kills" a lawn gnome. Silly, right? Only, this was not a silly book! It was great. I really, really liked it. And although it wasn't silly, it was very funny. And did I mention great? And even though it was funny, I also cried at the end, because in addition to being funny and great, it was also real and true and honest, and just the littlest bit sad.

Now, to be fair, I did not read the whole book in 2010, but I finished it on January 1, shortly after midnight. Yes, that's right, I brought in the new year with my family and my closest friends, then I excused myself to read as soon as I could politely leave them. I love them a lot! But after ringing in the new year with the people I love, I did the thing I love: I snuggled into my bed, under the covers, and I finished my book. Wahooooo!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Two down, 198 to go...

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but the Julian calendar does give us a nice tidy way to keep track of a year. I think I read about 200 books a year; this year, I'm counting.

Today was a good day to lie in bed and read. I had a rotten sinus headache, so anything that involved movement or noise was not ideal. I must say, as much as I hate to have a headache, it is awfully hard to be too upset at spending a day under the blanket with a book: today's was Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

The book came highly recommended, and for the first half or so, I believed it had earned well-earned praise from all those who recommended it to me. But as it progressed, it stopped being a literary creme brulee and turned into a literary pudding--still sweet and delicious, but not nearly so rich and decadent. Still, a good read, and a great adventure for a snowy, headachey Sunday in bed.

Now comes the confession. I started reading this book as a know, two hard covers with real paper pages in between them, and a dustjacket that doubles as a bookmark...the kind of book I waxed nostalgic about reading just a few short days ago. Then I got a Kindle for Christmas, and I discovered how wonderful it is to snuggle down in bed with the blankets pulled up to my neck and only one hand poking out from under the covers to hold the Kindle. No propping up pillows, nor begging Hannah to borrow her Snuggie; I can lie on my side, tucked in (almost) completely, and read. So despite owning the book, despite being careful with money...I purchased Beautiful Creatures on my Kindle early this morning, and finished the book electronically. It was worth every penny.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Books and Blankets--flashlight optional

I was one of those kids who loved to read. A lot. I was lucky to be what's now called a "spontaneous reader"--somewhere in my second year, my brain magically decoded the written word, and I have been reading voraciously ever since.

In second grade, I began a borderline obsession with Nancy Drew mysteries, which are notoriously difficult to put down--right? My bedtime was 8:00, and I was allowed to read until 8:30. Sadly, Nancy Drew did not follow this strict timeline. I could not possibly stop reading just because my mother said it was time to turn my light out! How would I ever know if Nancy solved the secret of the old clock? or the mystery at Lilac Inn? No, it was impossible to stop reading...and so, tucked under the covers with my book and a flashlight, I defied my mother's well-intentioned rule and kept reading as late as I wanted. Or until I got caught. Whichever came first.

By high school, my mother had given up. She reluctantly accepted that she could not stop me from reading, and I no longer faced "lights out." Oh, I still had a bedtime, but I was allowed to read until I fell asleep, which was often when the book was done.

As an adult, things have not changed too much. Last night I finished the first book of 2010: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. (It was also the first book I've read on my new Kindle, but that is another blog entirely.) I didn't realize, when I began reading, that it was a mystery; how could I stop for something like sleep? I didn't. At 4 a.m., I finished the book, and that's when I turned out my light.

So I'm a little tired today. Oh well. Staying up all night with a good book is totally worth it. And reading a book under a blanket is just about the best thing in the whole world, which is why I'm putting this laptop down and picking up Beautiful Creatures, the second book of 2010. I'm looking forward to spending the day on the couch, under a blanket, with a good book in my hands. Bliss.