Friday, October 28, 2011

A Grim Wait

I can't say anything about Gina Damico's debut novel Croak until I say this: I hope the sequel is available SOON.

OK, OK, I'm not actually certain there will be a sequel. But I am certain that I hope so.

Lex has a practically perfect family, but that hasn't stopped her from becoming a juvenile delinquent. She rages out of control until her nearly-forgotten Uncle Mort insists he spend the summer on his "farm." Only, it's not a farm. Uncle Mort is the Mayor of Croak, a small town full of grim reapers, and he's recruited Lex to be a Junior grim.

Excitement ensues when a serial killer--erm, this is going to get confusing. Suffice it to say, there are a series of mysterious deaths. Also, love. But don't worry, it's not too mushy. And there are a lot of funny parts. And dead presidents. (No, not money. Actual dead presidents.) And Edgar Allan Poe. (Also dead.)

I'm not sure that I'll put this book in my 8th grade library, but I will surely be giving a copy to my 16-year-old daughter. Like her, the book is smart and snarky all in one. I think she'll really CROAK for it. Heheh.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


My great-grandmother, who was later the original owner of my home, left our small village of Oxford to attend the New York Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Manhattan. Her great-aunt, Charlotte Lewis Currier, was the wife of Enoch Henry Currier, the school's principal and a "prominent and progressive man" of the late 19th and early 20th century. The Curriers provided my great-grandmother with a sense of stability she did not have at home, and she was the seeing and hearing companion of...well, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Brian Selznick left me Wonderstruck with his latest novel of the same name. Rose (who was a girl in 1927, by which point my great-grandmother had long been a mother raising her children in what is now my home) is a girl who escapes her father's strict rules in Hoboken and finds her way to her brother Walter in New York City. Ben (who is a boy in 1977 and has recently become both deaf and orphaned in unrelated accidents near his home on Gunflint Lake) is a boy who escapes his family and finds his way to--he hopes--his father Daniel in New York City. Both stories come unforgettably together in this beautifully illustrated tale.

Oh, I have so much more to say about this wonderful book. But first I need to begin my cabinet of wonders. I'm starting with the 1964 New York World's Fair Salt and Pepper Set. I found them in the attic not long after I moved into this old home...they're meant to look like buildings...

A Double Day

Today I did something very unusual: I left school shortly after dismissal (OK, an hour after dismissal) rather than my usual 6:00 I could hurry home and read. I started Meg Cabot's Abandon, a sort of retelling of the myth of Persephone and Hades (with a sprinkle of The Inferno for luck), last night and couldn't wait to finish it! Which, of course, I did...and was so excited about it that I couldn't possibly go to right to sleep when I was done. (Oh please, Meg Cabot, hurry with the sequel! I can't wait!)

So rather than lie in bed imaging all that will come to pass between Pierce and John Hayden now that she's (sort of) safe from the Furies (which obviously won't last long), I decided to browse NetGalley for a little light reading.

Which was clearly a mistake, because that was three hours ago, and I've just finished Jenny Valentine's brilliant thriller Double. What a book! Imagine a dark and murderous retelling of The Prince and the Pauper. Creepy, frightening, and un-put-down-able. Yikes. A completely satisfying thriller, but I recommend beginning it (a) when you have a few hours to finish it in one go, because you really won't be able to stop, and (b) BEFORE 10:00 on a school night.

I don't suppose I'll be giving anything away if I say that I was surprised not to learn that Mr. Artemis and Mr. Hathaway were the same person. That's not a complaint, really, just an observation. (By the time you know who either of them is, you'll be assuming the same thing, I imagine.)

So two good books in one great evening. Now if only I can make it through tomorrow without falling asleep in class...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

This Is a Journey...

Blake Nelson's Recovery Road is nothing if not a journey. Although (theoretically) named for the street on which Spring Meadow, Maddie's rehab, is located, it is surely the story of Maddie's journey through recovery.

The story begins at Spring Meadow, where Maddie has been sent at age 16 to face her drug and alcohol addiction. When her best friend Trish is released, Maddie meets a new friend, Stewart. Then Maddie is released, too, and has to face her past as "Mad Dog Maddie" when she returns to high school.

Oh, this is such a powerful book. I picked it up because there was a lot of buzz that it could win the Printz award this year, and I hope it does. It is such an honest and important story, and one that is all too often true. There are a lot of Maddies in the world, and even more Trishes and Stewarts. They don't need this book--it is their story--but all the rest of us do. Empathy and understanding often begins in the pages of a book. This is a good place to start.

Don't Interrupt Me, I'm Reading a Good Book!

I have been so busy reading these past few days that I have not wanted to stop--not even to blog. (What a wonderful problem to have, is it not?!) So today, I'm going to catch you up on all these things I've read. (Get it? "all these things I've read" is an allusion to my last blog about Gabrielle Zevin's new book All These Things I've Done. Clever, right?)

I loved loved loved reading Tom Angleberger's The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back. I loved them so much that I have already book talked them at our latest professional development workshop, made a sign to hang over the display at the book fair that says "Ms. Dorsey LOVES Origami Yoda!" and even bought a copy for a lucky 5th grader. These books are about just exactly what you think they are about: Origami Yoda, who dispenses wise advice to students at McQuarrie Middle School. He's the twist: Origami Yoda was made by Dwight, who carries Origami Yoda around on his finger; unlike Origami Yoda, who is clearly a Jedi, Dwight So Tommy sets out to learn whether or not Origami Yoda is real. I need to stop right there, though, because I have a bad habit when I love a book: I want to tell you the whole story. And I don't want you to do that here. I want you to go buy these books right now and get reading! Oh, sure, you could find a copy at your local library. That's fine too. But as Origami Yoda might say, "Read it you must. Sorry you will not be."

Then, since I was on a middle grade reading kick, I also read Frankie Pickle and the Mathematical Menace. And I also liked it a lot, but sadly, it is probably not an 8th grade book. You see, Frankie Pickle appears to have a nasty case of test anxiety; lucky for Frankie, he also has a great teacher who sees this for what it is and tells him on Friday that he can retake his math test the following Monday. Frankie spends the weekend thinking about the math test, but not actually studying for it...or does he? Part traditional narrative, part graphic novel, this is a series that is sure to delight (I'd guess) 8-11 year olds. Once I finished, I immediately had a student deliver my copy to my favorite 6th grade team. I think they'll love it there.

Finally, I was super lucky (again) to read an advance copy of Cynthia Leitich Smith's latest installment in her series that began with (one of my favorites, BTW) Tantalize. Diabolical follows all the characters we have grown to love: Quincie, Kieran, Zachary, and Miranda; it will be released in February 2012. One of things publishers ask us to do when we are lucky enough to read advance copies of  a book is to keep it under our hats (metaphorically speaking) until closer to the release date: 30 days before release, to be exact. So I'm not really supposed to tell you that three of the four beloved characters are reunited in one location that is full of danger and adventure, while the fourth can watch but has little power to interfere. And I probably shouldn't tell you that this is the most exciting book in the series to date. So here is what I can tell you: I started reading it at about 3:00 yesterday afternoon and I was done by 10:00 last night. I was upset when our dinner plans interfered with my reading. It was that good. Here is something else I can tell you: I've already pre-ordered multiple copies so that I can get it into students' hands the day it is released, because I know they are going to love it. And here is a third thing I can tell you: if you haven't read the first three books in this series, what are you waiting for?! You're going to want to be ready for this one. It is GREAT.

Whew! Time for me to keep reading. Don't you want to do the same? Or perhaps I should say, "Keep reading I must. Try it you should. Like it you will."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Somewhere Else Entirely, Someone Has Done All These Things

Everyone has a book (or two) that could be said, in some ways, to define one's life. I have two. The first is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I keep a copy of the audiobook in my car and listen to it whenever our local NPR station is playing classical music or opera instead of, well, NPR. (Sadly, because I do love NPR, this is a lot.) The other is Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin.

I have read Elsewhere aloud to almost every class I have taught since its publication in 2005. I love Elsewhere. Although I have read it somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 times now (about 30 of those times aloud to a total of about 900 students), I am always delighted to revisit Liz and Owen and Betty and Sadie and Lucy and Aldous and Curtis Jest and Thandi and Alvy, and, I suppose it must be said, even Emily. I wanted to name our dogs Lucy and Sadie, but my daughter overruled me and named them Fiona and Hermione. (I secretly named them Fiona Sadie and Hermione Lucinda and sometimes call them by their middle names, but don't tell my daughter that. Luckily she is a teenager and therefore finds me hopelessly boring, so therefore she never reads this.) Former students message me on Facebook to ask the name of "that great book" because they want to reread it. One of my only reviews on RateMyTeacher includes something to the effect of "We all love the voices she uses when she reads aloud!" I know that student is referring to Elsewhere because it is the only book I read with a special voice for each character. (Although Curtis Jest, regrettably, has an Irish accent, because I just can't seem to manage a good British accent no matter how much BBC America I watch.)

What is it about Elsewhere that I love so much? I don't know. I discover something new each time I read it. And I suppose I like the idea that after we die, we get to see the people we love (maybe) and spend more time together and make things right and maybe even fall in love, and then we get a do-over and the whole cycle starts from beginning, like a circle and a line...

But I didn't intend to focus on Elsewhere in this blog...although it's hard for me to stop once I get started. I just love that book. And of course I have read all of Gabrielle Zevin's other books, too, and I have liked them all in their own way. (My second favorite of all is Margarettown, and not just because my real name is Margaret, but I have only read that twice. Or maybe three times. My daughter's favorite book is Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, and I have mostly forgiven her for that. Mostly.) Really, all that introduction was my way of telling you, dear reader, that I've just read Gabrielle Zevin's newest book, All These Things I've Done. (All that talk about one book when really I'm meant to be talking about another is sort of like asking someone to do the dishes, or practice parallel parking, when really you want to go on a date...oh...wait...I'm doing it again.)

All These Things I've Done is most certainly not Elsewhere. Not. At. All.

Anya Balanchine is the orphaned daughter of the head of an organized crime family whose specialty is chocolate, although they dabble in illegal coffee as well. And Win, the new kid, is also the son of the soon-to-be D.A., a man who clearly cannot allow his only son to fall in love with a girl who has so many ties to organized crime. Oh, did I mention that it is 2083, and chocolate and coffee are illegal? And Anya's older brother, Leo, was disabled and their mother was killed in a botched hit on their father when Anya was 6? It was years later when Anya's father was killed in their apartment as Anya and her little sister Natty watched from under his desk...Oh, and Central Park is barren and Little Egypt is a popular night club in a part of Manhattan known as the Museum Mile, though no one really remembers why...

There are no hints of Elsewhere in All These Things I've Done, and I had to wait a little while to write this while I worked on forgiving it for that. Oh sure, I picked it up and finished it in less than 24 hours, and I am still thinking about it even though I've already finished The Strange Case of Origami Yoda since then (which will get its own blog as soon as I'm done with the sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back). And it must be said that I like Anya, who (like me) is a (mostly) good Catholic girl, and I really like Leo, and I mostly like Win, even though he shares one of my weaknesses, which is being delusionally optimistic, and you know they say you can't like characters who showcase your own flaws...but...I did. Oh, I guess I have to admit it now: I really, really liked this book. And I will read it again, especially because it is the first book in a series, and although I wish the second book in the series would be released tomorrow, it won't, and I'll need to be reminded of who everyone is and how I feel about them before I read the next book...which I will read...probably the day it is released. If I can't get my hands on it sooner.

In the meantime, have you seen my copy of Elsewhere?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blood, Shadow, and Impatience

I was lucky to read a galley of Robin Wasserman's The Book of Blood and Shadow, but I don't think I'm supposed to really say much about it until closer to its publication date (which is January 2012). So here is my very generic review:

If you are intelligent, read  this book.
If you enjoy conspiracy theories (which may or may not turn out to be just theories), read this book.
If you enjoy plot twists and suspense, read this book.
If you want to learn from what you read, read this book.
If you are in the mood for a book that keeps you on your toes, read this book.
If you want to be intrigued, read this book.
If you are fascinated by science, read this book.
If you like cracking codes, read this book.
If you loved The DaVinci Code, read this book.
If you liked The DaVinci Code but wished it was just a should definitely read this book.

If you are looking for another sappy paranormal romance, do not read this book.
If you don't want to think too much about what you're reading, do not read this book.
If you loved the Twilight series, you might not want to read this book.
If you loved the Twilight series but never got into Harry Potter because "it's just too confusing" should definitely not read this book.

That about sums it up. 5 of 5 stars, even with the typos that always exist in galleys. ;-)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Practical Approach to Friendship

Perhaps it is important for everyone reading this to know that my family--spurred by my younger sister, but indeed shared by my whole family-- my family had a strange penchant for the movie Serial Mom. We had it on VHS. We watched it together. More than once. Hey, it was a good movie. And perhaps there was something vaguely familiar about the idea that a mother would kill people who she perceived hurt her children. Not that my mother (who was also our girl scout leader; who was involved in the creation of the Children's Board; who later became the school's Booster club president; who attended every concert, game, and performance faithfully and with a smile on her face)...NOT that my mother would ever kill anyone who hurt her family. But would she consider it, if we were well and truly hurt? Well, suffice it to say that our family loved Serial Mom.

I was reminded of this long-forgotten family favorite as I read Trevor Cole's brilliant Practical Jean. Jean, who may or may not have been practical, has recently been the devoted and full-time caretaker of her dying mother. The novel begins soon after the slow and agonizing death of Jean's mother. And Jean comes to the (practical) realization that a good friend would never allow her dearest friends to live a life that ends in that type of awful suffering. And so she does what any good friend would do. She becomes a serial killer. Hilarity ensues. (For the reader, that is...certainly not for Jean's ill-fated friends.)

While the book is never bogged down by heavy-handed prose or overly serious ruminations on the human condition, it certainly raises some interesting questions. When my 87-year-old grandmother (may she rest in peace) was a month into complications (and suffering) from an ultimately fatal prolapsed intestine, she bemoaned, "They give sodium pentathol to dogs! Why don't I deserve that mercy?" If, in those moments at the end of her life, she had been able to write a book...well, my grandmother didn't have Trevor Cole's cutting humor. But I can't help but imagine she would have appreciated it, as did I.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How to Save a Life

I feel like I need to start out saying that Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr is far and away one of the most popular books in my classroom library. One girl reads it at the beginning of the school year, and it passes from student to student and doesn't return to the shelf until I beg for it in June. So I hoped that perhaps How to Save a Life would measure up, because although I keep them reading when they come to me after reading Story of a Girl and ask, "Do you have any other books like that?"--I know that there is nothing that I give them that they will love as much. I know that because I loved Story of a Girl that way, too.

And I am happy to say that How to Save a Life measures up. In fact, (although Story of a Girl was signed out last week so I will not see it again for a while) I am looking forward to re-reading Story of a Girl because I might...MIGHT...just like How to Save a Life even more.

So the story...Mandy is pregnant, and Jill's mother wants to adopt her baby as a way of coping with the unexpected death of her husband. Jill is not happy about her mother's plan. That's how it begins. Mandy and Jill take turns narrating the chapters, and I loved getting to know each of them--and by the end of the book, I loved each of them despite all their flaws. What I love most about this book is that Mandy comes from a terrible family situation, and Jill (up to her father's death) comes from a wonderful family situation, they are both equally broken. The beauty of the book is that we get to see them both become whole.

I also read Small Persons with Wings (they hate to be called fairies) by Ellen Booraem. This wonderful book for younger readers combined every story I remember from my childhood, as well as my imaginary friend Ugly Dugly. (OK, it didn't actually include MY Ugly Dugly, but it did remind me of him...although after he disappeared, I was left with a little rubber doll of his likeness, not a china figurine.) My grandmother's stories of pixies, who made mischief while we weren't looking, and of brownies, who cleaned our messes while we slept, came vividly back to me in the pages of this book, although there were no pixies or brownies (specifically) within the story.  I don't read many books for younger readers, but this one came highly recommended, and I am so glad I picked it up.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Retelling an Epic

I've just finished a galley of Gil Marsh by A.C.E. Bauer, and I loved it. This YA retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh maintains the "feel" of an ancient epic but is written with references to time and place that will resonate with today's teenagers. Although it is written in third person, the reader will absolutely see the story through Gil's eyes, and what a story it is! The book did raise some questions for me, but as I can't ask them without giving away too much, so I will save them for the book's publication in February 2012.

I also recently finished The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman, which I started and read most of almost a year ago! One thing led to another and the book made it's way out of my reading pile, but I am glad I finished it. It's the perfect book for boys who are too cool to read books, and they might even learn something about friendship (accidentally, of course) if they read the whole thing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cutting to the Chase

I have been reading too much (is there any such thing?) and blogging too little. Time to make up for lost time.

I started 32 Candles, suggested my daughter also read it, told her never mind it wasn't that good after all (a lie), then finished it that very night. Great book, not for kids. I had forgotten how enjoyable it is to read a book written for adults!

Hate That Cat was not as good as Love That Dog, but it was pretty darn good. I will teach both books (sequentially) from now on!

I loved Okay for Now. Really, really loved it. But much like The Wednesday Wars, I wonder if kids will "get it" the way I did. After all, the closest they have come to having someone deliver their groceries is the Schwan's man!

Twenty Boy Summer made it to my summer reading list because of all the controversy recently surrounding it when a school district banned it. After reading the book, I have to say...I don't think it has a place as required reading, but it certainly belongs in a high school library. I don't make that assessment lightly; I generally believe that a classroom teacher should have the autonomy to decide what's best for her students. But in this case...well, there are too many moral issues raised in the book, and I would not be comfortable with the discussion happening in a way that excluded me as a parent, or my own religious and moral views. (I know, I could still read the book and have those discussions. But anyone who has teenagers knows that what they do in school every day is "nothing," so getting to a place where those discussions happen...well...easier said than done.)

I totally enjoyed The Department of Lost and Found by Allison Winn Scotch! Recently diagnosed with breast cancer, 30 year old overachiever Natalie decides to use the opportunity to figure out what went wrong in all of her failed relationships. Another book written for adults, not teens; maybe I enjoyed that as much as anything else. I do love young adult literature, but sometimes it is refreshing to follow a main character whose life looks a little more like mine.

I tried to read Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi again. It's a lost cause. It's just not the right book for me. I donated my copy to the public library, who didn't yet own it.

Finally, today I finished The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. Since their father is a Shakespearean scholar who prefers to communicate by quoting the Bard (or just photocopying pages from his copy of The Riverside Shakespeare and highlighting the relevant passage), I wanted to write about the book in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. Alas, it's more that I can quickly pen, and I do want to read another hour or two tonight...These three sisters (each named after one of Shakespeare's heroines), who once staged a production of Macbeth in which the three witches were the only characters, return home to care for their mother as she battles breast cancer. Rose (short for Rosalind) never left, and she must accept her sisters' help; Bianca is returning unemployed, having been caught embezzling from her Manhattan law firm; and Cordelia returns home from seven years of a gypsy lifestyle...pregnant. What was most wonderful about this book were the astute observations about relationships and forgiveness, but of course I did appreciate the oft-quoted Shakespeare as well!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Other Side of Life

I was lucky to read a galley copy of Lauren Oliver's forthcoming MG (middle grade) novel Liesl and Po. Since I seem hooked on mash-ups lately, I would say this book is The Graveyard Book meets The Little Princess with a dash of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. And since I loved all those books, I loved this one as well.

I am not sure how to summarize the book without giving too much away, so a description of the characters will have to suffice. Liesl is the beloved daughter of a man who died, now locked in the attic by her greedy step-mother. Po is a child from the Other Side who finds Liesl in her attic and asks her to draw him a picture. (Po has a pet named Bundle. Bundle is probably not really a main character its only dialogue is "mwark," but Bundle is adorable and brings comfort to children. I like Bundle very much.) And Will, who is an orphaned alchemist's apprentice and very much an important part of the story.

There are other characters, adults, and who cares about adults? (I do like Mo. He's an adult, but I care about him. You will, too.) The ending is vaguely predictable, but not in any way that detracts from the story. In fact, knowing what would inevitably happen, I found myself reading faster so I could see it unfold!

You'll have to wait until October to read this book, but it's worth the made me smile.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peculiarly Good

I've just read two more books: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, then Deviant by Adrian McKinty.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was brilliant. I had the completely wrong impression of it: I thought it would be written for middle-grade readers, and I thought it would be silly. After all, the pictures are rather circus-like...I expected the book to follow suit. (The pictures, of course, are the vintage "found" photos which inspired the story; there are 44 in all.) In fact, I read in an interview with Ransom Riggs that he imagined the book to be something like the Gashlycrumb Tinies, which is far more in line with what I expected. Oh, but it was so much more! I don't dare say what lest I give it away, but the book is wonderful--and although the main character is 16, it is hardly a young adult book.

The next book I read was a galley of Deviant by Adrian McKinty. Imagine that Arne Duncan described his dream school to Dean Koontz as Koontz was imagining Nancy Drew chasing a serial killer: this is perhaps the book that would result. Sound strange? Well, is rather, but also riveting! I couldn't put it down! A caveat: there is a rather graphic description of a cat being tortured in the opening chapter, and there are far less graphic descriptions of cats being disemboweled throughout the book. If you can make it through chapter one, you'll be fine. And a quirk: there are a number of contemporary references, including many mentions of the Obamas and a car that has a "McCain-Palin 2008" bumper sticker. I was surprised by this, as the book ends up being somewhat dated as a result. (Will my students want to borrow it in five years, or will they wonder who those people--especially McCain & Palin--are?!)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

As good a time as any

I have not blogged faithfully since the end of 2010, and it's time to change that. New month, two books read, and it's time for a blog.

I just watched Matt Damon speaking on behalf of teachers--including his own mother. It is a rotten time politically to try to make a difference in students' lives; too many people are interested in bubble test scores over creating well-rounded and competent citizens. I am fortunate to teach in a small, rural district where we have not lost sight of the humanity of our students--knock on wood--but even here we feel the pressure from the state and federal levels. Last week in summer school, one of my students told me it doesn't matter if he passes or not; his mother promised him a snowmobile if he "just shows up" every day. Meaning he can show up and take a nap, stare at the ceiling, get sent out...doesn't matter to him, or (apparently) to his mother. Attendance is everything, and he gets a shiny new snowmobile. I imagine his mother's intentions were good in establishing this reward--I wonder if his mother realizes she should have set the bar so much higher to get the result I suspect she wants. Although teachers are judged based on this student's performance on a bubble test, there is a whole lot more than just what is happening in any classroom at play here.

Which is exactly what I was reminded of--in a completely different context--when I just read I Am J by Cris Beam. J is a transgender high school senior--born Jenifer, known as J, and slowly becoming Jason. Seeing the world through J's eyes, it is impossible not to be drawn into this story...I finished the book feeling like I had become a better, more enlightened, and more compassionate person.

Without giving too much away, it also left me heartbroken for all the teenagers who have to endure the rejection of their parents--not only students who struggle with gender identity, but so many children who cannot live up to the impossible dreams their parents expect will be reality. In an ironic life-literature juxtaposition, just as my summer school student's well-intentioned mother has set the bar far too low, too many parents set goals that are unattainable by the real-life children they have. They want their average kid to pull straight As, rather than acknowledging the hard work and commitment it takes their child to score in the B-range. They want their uncoordinated (or uninterested) child to be a star athlete. Too many parents ignore the strengths and weaknesses of the wonderful child they do have in favor of the imaginary greatness of the child they have imagined, to the frustration (and too often, the heartbreak) of everyone involved. J's story is powerful, and similar circumstances for too many teenagers are almost insurmountable. I hope that when the time comes, I will always be one of the adults who inspire hope, faith, and the tenacity to endure.

On a lighter note--or at least, on a funnier note--I also finished Libba Bray's Beauty Queens. It is good that I do most of my reading at home; when I laugh so hard I snort, it is embarrassing to be sitting alone in Starbucks. I am not sure that Libba Bray meant to paint caricatures of Sarah Palin and a young George W. Bush, but they are precisely who I imagined when I pictured Ladybird Hope and Harris, respectively. If you love either of them, do not read this book. You will be angry. But for the rest of you (and I like to think there are a lot of us), this book is great and will make you laugh. Really hard. There was a lot of snorting as I read. That's a good thing.

Another good thing about Beauty Queens is the cover. I've arranged a spot for it near the toy chest in the family room so that kids will (hopefully) continue to make unintentionally hilarious comments about the cover even now that I've finished reading the book. Such as, "Are you reading a book about lipstick? That's so weird and cool!" And (asked very excitedly), "Oh, does lipstick fit in a Nerf gun?!" And my favorite, which requires some explanation: some years ago, I was fortunate to attend a book signing with Libba Bray and asked her to sign a book for my young cousin, whose name appeared in her book...which, to said young cousin's mind, clearly meant the book must also be about bacon. (Her favorite food, obviously.) Kind Ms. Bray signed the book, "This book really IS about you and bacon!" When this same young girl--now 10--saw the cover of Beauty Queens, she said, "Oh! Libba Bray! Does she love bacon and lipstick?! I can't wait to be old enough to read her books! I am so gonna love her!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 12, 2011: Goals and Resolutions

It is high time I recommit to this blog, and I'm doing that now. But first, here's my list of 2011 books-to-date:

1. The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
2. Switched by Amanda Hocking
3. Torn by Amanda Hocking
4. Ascend by Amanda Hocking
5. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
6. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

7. Matched by Allie Condie February
8. The Odyssey (graphic novelization) by Gareth Hinds
9. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
10. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
11. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
12. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
13. Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith
14. After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

15. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
16. Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
17. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
18. Across the Universe by Beth Revis

19. The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson #2) by Rick Riordan
20. The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson #3) by Rick Riordan
21. The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson #4) by Rick Riordan
22. The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson #5) by Rick Riordan

23. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
24. Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
25. Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
26. Where She Went by Gayle Forman
27. A Touch of Dead by Charlaine Harris

28. Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris
29. Death of a Trophy Wife by Laura Levine
30. Cat Calls by Cynthia Leitich Smith (short story)
31. Driven by Data by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo
32. Passion by Lauren Kate

I am planning to go back and blog about some of those titles--the best and the worst of them--as time allows.

Here are some other goals for the rest of 2011:
1. Blog about books I'm reading (here!) at least once each week.
2. Master Evernote, and introduce it to my students. (I'd also like to improve my understanding and use of GoogleDocs and ToolBoxPRO this summer while I have time!)
3. Figure out the best role for social networking (including the English Companion Ning, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+) in my classroom and in my professional life.
4. Improve my focus on individualized student instruction to encourage students toward a lifelong love of literature, language, and learning.
5. Collaborate with colleague using best practices and current research to identify and intervene with students at risk of becoming drop-outs.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

February 2011

February was a strange reading month; I enjoyed every book that I read, but not one of them was exceptional. Here's the list:


8. The Odyssey (graphic novelization) by Gareth Hinds

9. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

10. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

11. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

12. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

13. Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith

14. After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

Monday, January 31, 2011

January 2011

For the new year, I'm trying a new approach: blogging once a month. Here are my titles for January:

1. The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
2. Switched by Amanda Hocking
3. Torn by Amanda Hocking
4. Ascend by Amanda Hocking
5. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
6. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
7. Matched by Allie Condie

I loved The Hangman's Daughter! What a rare and fine translation of historical fiction. The Amanda Hocking series--recommended by my own daughter--was a pleasant surprise. The Imperfectionists and Before I Fall had terribly disappointing endings, although I loved all but the last 3 or 4 pages of both books. And Matched? Well, I'm on my way upstairs to finish it now. So far, it's outstanding.  Quite possibly the best of the month.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A goal not achieved, and a shot at redemption

I am sorry to say that I did not meet my goal of reading 100 books in 2010. Well, I suppose that if I had dropped my pretensions and counted the million-and-a-half picture books I read to my foster grandson this summer, I far exceeded my goal...but I did not read 100 books for my own personal enjoyment. *Sigh*

Still, I came close, and given the kind of year it was, I feel pretty good about that. And here is the good news: I'm attempting to read 111 books in 2011! Join the group on Facebook: The Centurions of 2011.

Here is my almost-but-not-quite-adequate list of 2010 titles:

  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. Candor
  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
  69. Need
  70. Captivate
  71. Hate List
  72. Beautiful Darkness
  73. Will Grayson, Will Grayson
  74. The Ring of Solomon
  75. Crescendo
  76. The Ball
  77. Grave Secret
  78. The Entertainer and the Dybbuk
  79. Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer
  80. The Legend of the Poinsettia
  81. Forge
  82. Love That Dog
  83. Guardian
  84. Hold Still
  85. Beastly
  86. Dead Is Just a Rumor by Marlene Perez
  87. Entice
  88. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
  89.  Tempestuous by Lesley Livingston
  90. Me Talk Pretty Someday by David Sedaris
  91. The Colorado Kid by Stephen King