Book Review: Beatrice and Virgil

As excited as I was to read Yann Martel's newest novel, Beatrice and Virgil, I was equally scared. Life of Pi is still burning in my memory and I was simultaneously afraid and excited by the thought that this new title would be equally memorable.

And it was. I knew that the subject matter for this book was going to be the Holocaust. But, I am teaching a course on the Holocaust next fall and want to read as much material as possible to help shape my curriculum. Though I don't know that I could include this entire text, I do think that the text raises a few pretty interesting questions. The first question I thought of is: What is the place of fiction in Holocaust literature? The answer to this question is not easy. As I read Beatrice and Virgil, I think that I went back and forth about how I would lead this discussion with teenagers. Of course, preserving memory and fact and historical events is of the utmost importance when thinking about a history as gruesome as the Holocaust, but I can't help but wonder whether or not the discussion of this historical place in time will fade the further we move away from the 1940's.

I think that Beatrice and Virgil is a bit of a self-conscious exploration of this fact versus fiction debate on the part of the author. The main character, Henry, is a writer who is struggling to write and and promote an idea for a Holocaust fiction. He meets rejection along the way and abandons his project. One day, he is sent a cryptic message and highlighted short story from a local man. When Henry seeks out this man, he finds an odd old man, whose profession is taxidermy.

As their awkward relationship progresses, Henry is sucked into this man's allegorical story of a donkey named Beatrice and and howler monkey named Virgil. It quickly becomes clear that these characters are representative of those who suffered in the Holocaust. Henry proceeds in meeting with this strange man for a number of months, not understanding that this man may not be entirely able to recover from his past experiences.

I do not want to spoil this reading experience for any of you by divulging too much information here. Henry is a sympathetic character for me, and I feel like there's a lot of Martel in this novel. I don't know whether this is true or not, but I thoroughly enjoyed thinking so.

Book Review: The Eternal Smile

I finished The Eternal Smile: Three Stories by Gene Luen Yang, Derek Kirk Kim in one sitting, but I have required an extra few days to think about these seemingly simple and straightforward stories before writing this review. Though they seem innocent enough, these stories are filled with meaning and, in my case at least, are not easily forgotten.

Some may poo-poo graphic novels as inflated comic books, but I beg to differ. I think that the combination of language and artistry can reach a whole new level of meaning and significance than can a traditional prose novel. For instance, some of the most powerful panels in this book are ones with no words whatsoever. And, conversely, words become so important in a graphic novel because there are so few of them. There is not room for a lengthy descriptive paragraph, and the reader shouldn't be able to skim. It is like a great haiku in this sense. Everything matters. Nothing is extra.

I found The Eternal Smile to be a blend of great writing, excellent artistry, and dynamic storyline. As the title promises, there are three short stories contained in this book. Each story has its own message or commentary on society. I will not talk about all of them at length, because they are short and I don't want to give too much away.

What I will say is that each of the stories is completely different from the others. Each could stand alone and is important in its own right. My favorite of the three is the last. I could see it being turned into a movie.

I think that boys in particular gravitate toward this genre of writing, but there are several amazing graphic novels that are written for the ladies. This one, in my opinion, is a fairly gender-neutral collection. I've already passed it on to a male student. He read it in one sitting and had a different favorite story than I did. He said that he felt that the story would stay with him for a while. This is a good sign!

In My Mailbox (4)

This weekend, I had a special helper in creating my In My Mailbox post this weekend. This meme is hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren. My niece, Sophia, thought that this was an awesome idea, although she was at first quite perplexed as to why we would put books in the mailbox without stamps or envelopes. I explained that I'd put a picture on the internet to show off the books I'd received during the week. After this cursory explanation, she was sold!

Before heading off to my mailbox with the books, Sophia gave an explanation of what she thought each book was about, based on the cover. (She's a beginning reader and just finishing kindergarten, but in my eyes she's a budding genius.) Here's what she thought:

Morpheus Road: The Light by D. J. McHale. Won from Books By Their Cover!
Sophie says: "This book is about a boy witch. He's evil and scary. This book will give nightmares to people. But people should read it if they like to have scary nightmares."

I say: Absolutely. I love scary nightmares and evil characters. I guess that I'm going to love this one!

Beatirce and Virgil by Yann Martel. For review from Random House for Teachers.
Sophie says: "This book has a donkey like in Shrek. This donkey has a friend that's a monkey and they go on a trip through a desert that's like an ocean and it's hot like the inside of a volcano. At the end, they find their friends in a jungle. I like this one the best."

I say: I loved Martel's Life of Pi and have heard a lot of great reviews about this book. I hope that it ends as peacefully and happily as Sophie predicts, because Life of Pi was disturbing (in a good way), to say the least!

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. For review from Random House for Teachers.
Sophie says: "This one's about the future. And the past. Both. One side is happy and the other is sad."

I say: Didn't I say that she's a genius. Seriously! I've heard a lot, lot, lot about this book. One Wes Moore (the author) is born and raised near another Wes Moore. They live in the same area and have the same name, but their lives take drastically different paths. One is a wanted criminal and the other is a Rhodes Scholar. I can't wait to read it.

Sophie and Shady walking to the mailbox. An "aw-shucks" moment for sure.

Challenge: Read YALSA's Top Nominees

Tattooed Books (what a great blog name!) is offering up a summer reading challenge that promotes great books and fits in nicely with other challenges I'm participating in. There are prizes to be had, but really, I love participating in these challenges for the little communities that develop around them. I discover new blogs and bloggers and books whenever I become involved in a challenge. It's pretty exciting.

And, I'm committed to reading a gagillion books this summer. Well, maybe just billion. We'll see. But, I want to come back to school in September with my classroom's free reading shelves teeming with enticing new reads for my students. Many of my kiddos have plowed through my shelves this year and my shelves need to be freshened. This challenge should help!

There are three levels in this challenge. They are:

Solo: read 1-8 books
Duet: read 9-17 books
Three-Part Harmony: read 18-16 books

These are the books that are listed to be voted on for YALSA's Top Ten Awards. I have bolded the ones I've already read and linked the book titles to my book review posts, which Tattoed Books says still count toward this challenge.

Abbott, Ellen Jensen. Watersmeet

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Wintergirls

Brown, Jennifer. Hate List

Carter, Ally. Heist Society

Cashore, Kristin. Fire

Clare, Cassandra. City of Glass

Clayton, Emma. The Roar

Collins, Suzanne. Catching Fire

Dessen, Sarah. Along for the Ride

Fisher, Catherine. Incarceron

Fitzpatrick, Becca. hush, hush

Forman, Gayle. If I Stay

Garcia, Kami and Margaret Stohl. Beautiful Creatures

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd. Edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci.

Golding, Julia. Dragonfly

Jinks, Catherine. The Reformed Vampire Support Group

Lieb, Josh. I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President

Ockler, Sarah. Twenty Boy Summer

Patterson, James. Witch and Wizard

Peters, Julie Anne. By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead

Pierce, Tamora. Bloodhound

St. Crow, Lili. Strange Angels

Stiefvater, Maggie. Shiver

Tanigawa, Nagaru. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Westerfeld, Scott. Leviathan

Yep, Laurence. City of Fire

I have read six books on this list already. I know that many of you have read several of these titles already because I've seen your book reviews. There are several books on this list that are either on my To Be Read shelf or will be soon. Here are the other books that I plan to read for this challenge:

Abbott, Ellen Jensen. Watersmeet

Carter, Ally. Heist Society

Cashore, Kristin. Fire

Clare, Cassandra. City of Glass

Clayton, Emma. The Roar

Dessen, Sarah. Along for the Ride

Fitzpatrick, Becca. hush, hush

Garcia, Kami and Margaret Stohl. Beautiful Creatures

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd. Edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci.

Ockler, Sarah. Twenty Boy Summer

Pierce, Tamora
. Bloodhound

Westerfeld, Scott
. Leviathan

Looks like I have a lot of reading to do. This is going to be an awesome summer!

Armchair BEA: To Post or Not to Post

For today's Armchair BEA blog post, I'm going to talk about how I determine whether or not I should write a negative review of a book that I simply do not like. Now, I should state outright that this is a rare occurrence, because I truly do have a wide range of reading interests and am generally able to latch onto some character or plot element to make a dull read an interesting one.

When it happens that I do not like a book at all (no redeeming characteristics whatsoever), I will usually do one of two things: Put it down or decide as I'm reading what exactly it is about the book that is making it hard for me to read. By putting the book down and not reading, I have given up on a book. This has probably happened three times in the past year. Not too often.

My best plan of action is to figure out exactly what is unappealing in a book. This helps me to write about the flaws (as I see them) on my blog without being so general and emotional that I am not fair to the writer or the readers of my blog. I want to provide honest, but unemotional feedback when I write because I want to caution those who may agree with me against spending money needlessly and I'd like to potentially give the author (or future authors) feedback about what makes an unappealing read for me. (Because I spend most of my free time/ spending money on reading. This makes me somewhat worth listening to.)

And, I know from teaching that people like specific, unemotional feedback if it's going to be negative or critical in nature. If I love it, I gloat (hopefully still able to point out specifics of why I love a book) and if I'm not gushing, I try to draw back my emotions as not to hurt any feelings. I imagine that putting out one's writing in the form of a book is an extremely emotional and scary process; it's not helpful to bash an artist or bemoan ten dollars misspent.

I know that others may feel differently about this topic. But, I truly feel that even if I do not care for a particular book or character or plot, there is someone out there who does. And, if that one reader who will love your book just happens to be your mother, she doesn't need to read my angry critique of her child's "masterpiece".

Armchair BEA: My Dream-y Panel

Tonight, I am choosing an Armchair BEA topic close to my heart: My dream author panel. Before I explain which authors I'd choose to have on this dream-y panel, I would like to state that I am happily married and super in love with my husband, who is real and not imaginary.

Unlike this husband who is very real and is really watching some corny medical drama right now, I have a bit of a book crush on two YA authors. I don't even know much about these authors, but have kind of created them as characters in my head. And, they are super fantastic in my imaginary world, where this dream panel of authors exists and answers everything I've ever wanted to know and says all of the right things, things that fit with my imaginary vision of who they are.

Who are these mystery men? Why John Green and Markus Zusak, of course! Who do I crush on them so crazily? Because they have written the best books I've ever read, period. I mean, Shakespeare's great and everything, but is there a better screwball comedy than An Abundance of Katherines? Elie Wiesel is an amazing author and I love his Holocaust memoir, Night, but The Book Thief? Hello. It's only one of the most amazing books ever penned, anywhere. (Disclaimer: I know that Night is true and The Book Thief is fiction. I know that Wiesel is a genius/ prophet/ fighter for human rights.)(But, have you ever read The Book Thief? Enough said.)

My dream panel would consist of these two authors. And, in this dream, I could probably muster the courage to actually talk with them, maybe even share a casual laugh or two. In reality, I would never be able to utter an intelligent intelligible syllable in front of these two geniuses. So, I will continue to sit here and dream good dreams in the safety and comfort of my leather recliner, while my actual dream man sits and finishes watching prime time melodrama. Reality is not so bad.

Armchair BEA: Interview of Me for Me

I am work, work, working so hard this time of year to finish off the school year in a productive fashion that I cannot realistically give as much attention to the Armchair BEA assignments that I would like. So, rather than seek another blogger to interview, I'm going to interview myself. This will be much more time-effective for me and maybe some of you will stop by and leave off your blog addresses. I am giving final exams soon and would love to explore your writings about your readings!

Question 1: Why are you blogging, anyway?

Well. I've actually been blogging for about ten or eleven years in some capacity. I started an official blog for my classroom/ teaching a little over two years ago and have loved it. But, I outgrew my classroom blog because I did not want to clutter it up with all of the book reviews, thoughts, observations, and activities that I was participating in. So, DeRaps Reads was born and I love it!

Question 2: How much do you read?

I read daily. I guess my total time reading depends on the day, the weather, my mood, and how distracted I am. I have a touch of ADD, so that keeps me from getting as much done as I could. I probably read at least one hour a day. Most days I probably average 2 hours.

Question 3: What do you read?

In short--EVERYTHING! I love to read and always carry a book or magazine with me. Always. I belong to 5 book clubs and read tons of YA for my classroom. I also teach English (9-12th grade) and read all day in school. It's a pretty awesome gig. My loves are vast and wide. I'm not too picky about genres, though Westerns and romance novels are probably my least favorite.

Question 4: What else do you do?

I am involved in a lot of clubs and volunteer my time a lot. I love to garden, to cook, to run, kayak, bike, and to spend time with my uber-handsome husband and dog. I live on a mountain in the middle of the woods, so there are no fancy shopping adventures or city lights to distract me from lots of simple pleasures.

Question 5: Any random facts that you'd like to share?

I am weird. I have lots of crazy allergies, but tend to test the limits (like, I am allergic to shellfish, but eat clams every year to make sure that I still am. And, turns out every year that I am. Lots of grossness follows.) I have a favorite number and believe in astrology. My biggest pet peeve is people who chew on/ bite their nails. Drives me insane!

On My Wishlist: Captivate

So, this may be a little too early to call, but so far Carrie Jones's Need is one of the best books I've read in a while. Of course, I've only read like 30 or 40 pages, but I am already hooked. Jones's writing style is so appealing to me, and her choice of setting (Maine)(where I live) is easy for me to imagine.

I had never really heard of Carrie Jones until recently, and at first I did not feel any rush purchase her book. Then I found out that Jones was a Maine author and thought that my students might be interested in her books. (Maine people love Maine authors. We're proud to claim Stephen King and many other writers!) I did not anticipate, though, that I was going to love Need as much as I have so far.

It looks like I'm going to have to get a copy of Captivate soon so that I don't have to stop reading. This won't be on my wishlist for long!

Armchair BEA: My Signing Schedule

I am not attending the BEA this year, as I am a bit of a YA blogging newbie and had never heard of it, and I have to stay around to teach all of my awesome students. But, there is this awesome site called the Armchair BEA Central, where those of us left behind can imagine that we are there and participate (in some fashion) from the comfort of our couches.

To participate as an Armchair BEA attendee, all you need to do is subscribe to the posts in some way and blog about what you would do if you were there. Today, I'm going to list some of the authors that I'd want to meet/ have books signed by if I were at the actual event. Here the two top BEA participating authors that I'd want to meet:

Laurie Halse Anderson: I have been a huge fan of Anderson's work for many years. I've read pretty much all of her YA books and have taught Speak for a few years. I can't wait to read the next book in the Chains series, Forge. I bet that it'll be as moving and amazing as Chains was!

Teresa Giudice: Okay, this is going to seem like a weird choice for me because I mostly read YA books and I'm not looking to learn any new recipes, especially for Italian food. (I'm more of a spicy Asian/ Mexican food lover.) But, I am addicted to reality TV and Bravo's The Real Housewives shows in particular. I absolutely adore Teresa and think that she's like a cartoon character come to life. I would love to meet her in person, even if it meant buying her book, which I'm sure is just as fabulous as she it. It's called Skinny Italian: Eat It and Enjoy It—Live La Bella Vita and Look Great, Too! How could you not love that?

Cover Love (4)

This week's Cover Love (hosted by Linna at 21 Pages) is interesting for me. I've been trying to choose books with multiple covers from the books I'm actually reading. To choose my book each week, I go through all of their covers on Library Thing. Usually, I find a bunch of covers that I really don't like. So, it makes writing about the covers pretty easy.

This week is different. I love all of the cover options for Carrie Ryan's second book in the Forest of Hands and Teeth series, The Dead-Tossed Waves. And, if there were one that I thought was lacking, it's the one that I have. I am reading this book and loving it. I have an ARC copy. Here is my cover:
It's a good cover, and it definitely relates to the plot of the book. I just don't love the colors. But, I'm not saying that I don't like the cover. It's just my least favorite in a bunch of favorites.

Here are the other two covers, which I adore. I love the simplicity of the shell cover. And, the colors of the one with the blue background is just gorgeous. I have a total cover crush on these ones! Maybe I just need them ALL.

Book Review: Little Brother

Cory Doctorow's Little Brother is a modern dystopic tale that seems all too real at times. It takes place in modern day San Fransisco. It features a young hacker named Markus Yallow, who plays minor tech-pranks and engages in role playing. Not a threat to national security by any stretch of the imagination. Or, not until San Fransisco is bombed by an unknown terrorist. To say that Markus is in the wrong place at the wrong time is an understatement.

When the Department of Homeland Security picks up Markus and his friends and jails them for acts of terrorism, Markus realizes that even American citizens are not necessarily safe when the government and the country are turning their backs on the Constitution and are willing to sacrifice certain rights for the "safety" of the country.

While Markus's story may seem a little far-fetched at times, his story serves as a reminder and a prediction all at once. We may take our rights provided to us as American citizens for granted, but if we do not respect those rights and stop comprising them in times of fear, we may not have them when they are needed. I found this story to be absolutely riveting and was completely engrossed in it.

If you're around town this Wednesday, Devaney Doak and Garrett Booksellers is having a book club discussion over this book at 6pm. I love this YA book club. I'm not sure if the author, Cory Doctorow will be skyping in for this book club meeting, but it's a possibility. If so, I'll post an update after the meeting and let you all know how that went.

In My Mailbox (3)

The In My Mailbox meme is hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren. It's an awesome way to share the books and swag you've received in your mailbox with other bloggers and readers. If you want to participate, you can link your post to The Story Siren so that others can see your mailbox goodies!

This week, I received three books in my mailbox. This may confuse some, because I've only shown two of the three books. Well, as it turns out, one of the titles is for the last meeting of the (school) year for the Chick Lit Book Club. Every year, we have a special door prize. So, I can't quite divulge the title hear, lest it ruins the surprise for one the Chicks who happens to read my blog.

The two books in the this picture are not secret. They are:

Party by Tom Leveen. I have been full of nervous excitement to read this book. This is probably due to a book trailer that I watched before receiving it from Teens @ Random. I first saw the trailer posted on the La Femme Readers blog. I'm sorta scared to read it right now because I know that this is the time of year when a lot of my students, especially seniors, are going to parties and celebrating graduation. This book follows eleven characters, and I don't think that it's all about the good choices they're making at this party. But, I will read it. Maybe it will help me to caution some my students out of their recklessness?

Hurry Down Sunshine: A Father's Story of Love and Madness by Michael Greenberg. This is a title that I ordered online for an adult book club that I belong to. The title does not make the subject matter seem very chipper, but the blurb on the back compares it to Girl, Interrupted (which I loved). I don't remember who chose this book for our club to read, but I love the variety of books we select. Everyone brings titles that are on their radar and we select our titles for six months or so. This is a good way to divvy up choices so that people's suggestions are chosen and to enable members to purchase selections ahead of time. We've read a lot of books over the past six years!

I've decided that I'm going to include a picture of my dog, Shady, in this meme every week. He is my little man and is almost ten. I think that it'll be cool to be able to have a record of his participation in this meme as well. He escorts me up and down and all around our yard and driveway whenever I want to go. He is never bored by this and always wants to join in the fun.

Today, we had a big event while taking a picture for this post. A car came! This almost never happens because we live in the middle of nowhere on a dead end road. Here is Shady's (adorable) reaction:

Book To Book (1)

I've been wanting to write a post for this new feature, Book 2 Book, for some time. I have all sorts of book pairs that I'd like to talk about, but just have not had the time to get started. Now that school is almost out for the year(!), my workload has lightened a little and I can finally get down to blogging business.

Book 2 Book is an idea that I had based on some conversations with fellow educators. Most English teachers that I've talked to do not participate in the YA blogging world (and I'm fairly new to it myself). Because they are not as interested or well-versed in this world as some of the bloggers I've met in my travels around the blogosphere, they might not know about the abundance of great YA available. And, so much YA can be used in the classroom.

In this feature, I am going to connect a YA book to a classic. English teacher who seek to pair YA lit with a classic often call this a "bridge". Recently, I've come across more and more YA titles that could serve a bridge. I'm calling this feature "Book 2 Book," as a play on "back to back". I don't know about this name, but I like my little button thing-y that I made. Here is my first pairing.
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson and Frankenstein by Mary Percy Shelley

As anyone who has ever taught Frankenstein can tell you, it is not a super easy read. I'm not saying that it's not worth reading, but the language and the imagery are not for kiddies. I think that some students who are at first excited to read Frankenstein feel this way because they have seen so many pop culture recreations, adaptions, and allusions that they think it'll be an easy horror novel à la Stephen King. Not so much.

But, it is worth reading! The questions raised in this novel are timeless and the quality of writing is outstanding. The connection to The Adoration of Jenna Fox is not so much in exact plot correlations, but in the questions and themes that each book raises or deals with. Like:

What makes us human?

How much should science tamper with nature before scientists are "playing God"?

What is the responsibility of a creator/ inventor/ scientist for his or her creation?

Should laws restrict the science community when it comes to potential life-saving technologies?

Are we the sum of our parts?

And on and on. The more that I think about this connection, the more I want to teach this pair! They are not alike in reading level, so if you're interested in teaching this pair, you might want to think about using excerpts from one book or the other rather than teaching the entirety of each novel. (This may depend on the reading levels/ needs of your students.) And, I am sure that there are a ton of real-world connections to be made from this book pair, like issues in organ donation programs, cloning, and other attempts to meddle with mother nature.

Let me know what you think about this book pair and/or this feature!

The Bronte Sisters In Action

I first saw this video on the In Which A Girl Reads blog. I've seen it in other places since and thought I'd share it with anyone who has not yet had the pleasure of viewing this hilarious video.

Book Review: Dairy Queen

For our last Chick Lit Book Club ("like" us on facebook!) meeting of the year, I chose Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. I didn't exactly know what to expect from this one, but the review I read before choosing this book talked about summertime, football, and farming. Good combination for the girls involved in our rural Maine club!

What I did not expect from this book was to fall completely in love with the main character. Calling DJ a tomboy is a bit like calling Maria Carey a diva--Too obvious. Really, she's a girl who feels overwhelmed with the responsibilities placed on her after her father has an accident and can no longer maintain the family farm. To make a bad situation worse, the communication in DJ's family is less than open. No one talks about feelings openly or shares what's really going on in their lives.

When DJ is coerced into allowing the quarter back of her town's rival team to volunteer on the farm, she finds herself learning more about who she is than she's ever learned from any of her friends or family. Though she hates Brian, the star QB, at first, she becomes more and more comfortable talking with him and is ultimately more open with him than she's ever been with anyone else. And, the connection is mutual.

This book is slow moving, but it's not a bad slow. It's more like a long summer day, filled with sunshine and bittersweet lemonade. I absolutely loved every second of this novel and hope to read the sequel soon. A perfect read to end our school year. Have a great summer, Chicks!

On My Wishlist: An Off Year

At the end of the school year, I always make sure that I'm talking about and reading about journeys with my seniors. I think that adults tend to downplay how scary and crazy and jumbled that last year of high school can be. So, I like to address the fact that kids are making a huge transition and the fact that their lives are forever changing with books. Ah, books. They're so awesome!

I'm interested in gathering a whole collection of books with a central "journey" theme. An Off Year by Claire Zulkey seems to fit this goal. It's about a girl who decides to put off college for a year. I don't know much more about this book than that, but I think it's enough of a connection to the journey theme to have it available to seniors who are grappling with the tough decision of whether or not to head off to college or to work or explore for a year.

Plus, the cover feature fuzzy pink shag carpeting and bunny slippers. How cool is that?!

Mini Read-a-Thon Tally

Last night, I stayed up super late reading as part of the Mini Read-a-Thon hosted by 25 Hour Books. I didn't finish any books, but I read from four different titles. They are:

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix: I almost finished this book, but it is hard for me to read it straight through. I think that's because it's a middle grade read. It is an entertaining mystery, though, and is part of a series. I read about thirty pages of this title.

Ash by Melinda Lo: I read about 80 pages of this book. It's a retelling of Cinderella and is very, very good. I'm really getting swept away by it and highly recommend it.

This is What I Want To Tell You by Heather Duffy Stone: I actually chose this one to start fresh for the read-a-thon to see how far I could get. I thought that I might like this book, but I am absolutely loving it. It's narrated in alternating chapters by a pair of twins, Noelle and Nadio (a girl and a boy). It's about love and lust and friendship and hurt feelings and it's really well-written. I read about 150 pages of this book last night. I hope to finish it today or tomorrow!

Poetry Speaks Who I Am edited by Elise Paschen and Dominique Raccah: Every time I felt myself lagging or needing to switch books, I read a few poems from this amazing collection. I don't like to read collections of poetry too quickly, so this title has been sitting on my bedside table for about a week. I have read from it every day and have discovered and rediscovered some powerful poetry inside of its pages. It also comes with a CD, but I have not yet listened to it. I plan to put it in my car and listen to it there once I've finished my reading.

Total Pages Read: About 260. Pretty good for a few hours on a Tuesday night!


25 Hour Books is hosting a mini-readathon today! Read for at least 3 hours and you're eligible for prizes. I'm going to head to bed right now (I have a book to finish and one to start) and read until I crash! Happy readings, everyone!

Cover Love (3)

I just finished reading Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen this weekend. For this week's Cover Love (hosted by Linna at 21 Pages, I decided to check out the various covers for this book. The old hardcover and paperback covers are part of the reason why I waited to read this book for so long. But, when the time came to select our title for the May Chick Lit Book Club book, I thought that this would make a nice end-of-year choice. And, I was right. The Chicks have has great things to say about this book, and I feel the same way. (I'll review this title in a later post.)

Here is the hardcover version of this title. I didn't really think that it looked like a great read, and I don't really feel like this cover portrays the plot of the novel (or the personality of the main character) all that well.

This is the cover of the book that I read! I liked having a vision of the main character and her friend/love interest, because I was not sure that they were going to stay friends or make a relationship happen. I think that it connects to the plot and the main characters in this book.

Here is a wacky cover from Germany. I don't understand where this comes from and it almost makes the story seem silly. This is not a humorous read! It's a great story, but not because there are funny cow outfits in it!

Book Review: Fallen

I've been reading reviews of Fallen by Lauren Kate online for many, many months now. I had admired the cover and thought that this was going to be one of my all-time favorites. Well, my experience in reading this book did not exactly turn out as I had planned.

Which is not to say that I did not end up loving the book. It just took a whole lot longer than I had anticipated to care about the characters enough to be riveted to the page. It actually took me a good 250 to 300 pages before I really, truly was reading excitedly. But, once I was into it, I could not stop. The ending of this book actually has me wanting the next in the series, Torment. I hope that this next title doesn't drag as much as Fallen did!

A brief synopsis: Luce has just experienced some trouble. She has seen dark shadows all of her life, but when they cause a mysterious fire that kills her boyfriend, she is sent to a reform school for teenagers. Once there, she meets a whole host of distant, crazy-seeming rebels. She makes a couple of close friends right away, but isn't sure that she can trust anyone with the story of how she got there.

And, she can't get Daniel Grigori out of her head. Their first interaction? He looked at her and flipped her off. Even though he is sending very clear "stay away from me" messages, she feels a strange pull toward him. But, there's also another boy, who's much friendlier, and does not resist her efforts. Which one should she choose to pursue? And why does she feel like she knows Daniel?

I liked that there was a bit of a mystery included in this book. There was more action and suspense in the latter half of this book; Don't give up on it! And, take a chance. Some people have raved about this book. Maybe it's just me?

In My Mailbox (2)

The In My Mailbox Meme was created by The Story Siren. I've decided to join in because I've enjoyed looking at what other people are getting in their mailboxes every week. This week, I'm going to show off a that I received from Teens@Random (which has recently undergone construction and has emerged much cooler). I also won a book from the readergirlz site and--get this--it's signed! I loved seeing the author's handwriting gracing my name!

Here are the two titles I received in my mailbox this week:
The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott. I am super excited to read this one. I love the cover and the reviews for this book sound awesome. It looks like a classic sort of love triangle/ best friend betrayal story. I am going to read this one in short order! (And, I love looking at that little note that Elizabeth Scott wrote to me!)

Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner. One may not realize this just by looking at me, but I love Iceland. I am intrigued by this island nation that is one of the most literate, creative societies on the planet. When I heard that there was a YA title that took place in Iceland, I had to have. Thanks, Random House for obliging my interests and sending me an ARC of this book. I can't wait to learn some Icelandic folklore.

This week, I tried to get Shady to pose in front of the mailbox. He loved being on the blog last week (probably because I got all excited and showed off how cute he looked to my husband) and wanted to be on it this week, but could not handle actually looking at me for the picture. In fact, he looked everywhere but at me. Silly Shady. We'll try again next week.

The Book Habits Meme

I saw this meme on Amanda Makepeace's blog. She credits Walker of Worlds for it, so I will too.

I've been super busy reading for the past week or so and haven't felt like writing (interesting how this goes back and forth all of the time for me...). Now, I am emerging from a completed pile of books and want to talk. So, I've written a few book reviews in the past couple of days and have plans to write a whole bunch more soon. To tide me over, I think a little meme survey sort of thing will inspire those creative writing juices to flow.

Here's a little Q &A about my Book Habits

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

Sometimes. I almost always happen to have a book in my hand, and if dinner just so happens to be served, I don't stop reading. (If I'm alone, of course.) Plus, I am a teacher. Breakfast and lunch cannot take precedence over getting work done. I am a multi-tasker to the extreme!

What is your favorite drink while reading?

Again, reading and beverage consumption have to go together, so coffee on week day and weekend mornings, water if I'm in bed. This is pretty much all that I drink.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

Depends. If I'm reading it to teach or for a course, then yes. If it's for pleasure or for a classroom library, then absolutely not. I often will keep a teacher's copy of a book that I'm teaching with my notes and connections and ideas in it. It's helpful when I need to explain/ use it with students.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

Definitely bookmarks at home. At school, I tend to use late passes from students who come in during SSR time (Silent Sustained Reading), which happens every day in my classroom for the first 15 to 20 minutes. Some of my SSR books are filled with passes by the time I'm finished with them!

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?

Both! All the time, back and forth.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?

I can stop anywhere. Another habit of teaching. Can't always plan to for a perfect ending by the time the bell starts ringing!

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?

Gasp! I would never, ever throw a book. I can't even believe that this is a question. Do other people throw books? What's wrong with just putting it down?

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

Absolutely. Always. I love and respect words, and am always curious to learn new ones. Plus, I think that authors use words to create characters and scenes. What if I don't understand what the author is trying to capture or portray?

What are you currently reading?

I read about a dozen books all of the time. Right now, I have 3 book club books going, a book for a graduate course on literacy and technology, and about 6 or 7 other books. I'm almost finished with some and have just started others.

What is the last book you bought?

I bought 6 books from amazon yesterday. All are YA books. One if for a giveaway for the Chick Lit Book Club's last meeting of the year. I would say what it is, but some of the Chicks read this blog and I would hate to ruin the surprise! I am also thinking of offering a book giveaway on this blog, so one of the titles from this group of purchases will go to that.

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?

As I said earlier, at least 10 or 12 books at a time. I get bored otherwise.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?

All of the time! Everywhere and anywhere!

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?

I like both. Some series books are well-crafted and need to be a series, but others just seem to drag on for me. I like a series that's done after 3 or 4 titles. But, I also enjoy a well-written stand alone title.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?

The Hunger Games has appealed to almost every student, teacher, and friend that I've ever recommended or taught it to. There is no other book (series) that has had such a universal appeal.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)

At home, YA has its own five or six dedicated shelves. Adult titles are organized by genre. I'm always arranging and rearranging my titles. I love books!

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This was fun! Thanks, Amanda Makepeace for blogging about this meme.

Book Review: Return to Sender

Julia Alvarez is one of my favorite Latina writers. When I heard that she had a new book out, I immediately found a way to get it. I had read that her latest book, Return to Sender, was about immigration and took place in the Northeast. I thought it'd be perfect for my junior English class, where we read and talk about immigration issues and migrant labor extensively.

I knew all sorts about this book except that it was written as a middle grade or upper elementary read. This fact became evident within the first few pages. The main characters are all preteen and the issues presented in the book are done so very carefully, so as not to alarm or scare any middle school-aged children.

This will probably not work for my juniors, because it is so innocent and not at all gritty or mature in the writing style. It's hard to picture us talking about A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, where Beah becomes an AK-47 wielding boy soldier in Africa and then transitioning to the voice of an innocent eleven year-old boy on a Vermont farm.

Don't get me wrong--There are serious issues presented in this book. There is an immigration raid, an imprisoned uncle, and an mother who has gone missing for several months. The way that these topics and situations are addressed in this book is what makes it a middle grade read. I can see this book being used as a whole-class read. I bet that it would promote great discussion and interest in sixth grade students. Juniors, not so much.

Book Review: Dope Sick

I am a fan of Walter Dean Myers and have read several of his books. I also teach Monster, which is one of his best-known works. Myers tends to write about inner city characters who are struggling to find a way to live honestly, despite the temptations and realities they face on a daily basis.

Dope Sick is an interesting book because Myers uses magical realism, which I've never seen him do before. I enjoy magical realism in other books (like Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and thought that it was used in a tasteful, interesting way in Dope Sick. This literary technique is used when the main character, Lil J, stumbles into a vacant apartment. Lil J enters the abandoned building because he's running from the police. Apparently, Lil J is wanted for shooting a police officer, who is now in critical condition.

In the vacant apartment sits Kelly. Kelly is an older man, who seems completely unruffled by the fact that Lil J has a gun pointed at his head and threatens to use it if Kelly does not give directions to the roof. Kelly calmly invites Lil J to sit and watch his television, which is replaying the most pivotal events from Lil J's life. Quickly, Lil J is sucked back into his own life story, and is able to see the consequences of his actions and how his life would have been different if he had only made slightly different decisions.

This is a short, powerful read. It will probably appeal more to male readers than female, but I could see this used as a full-class teaching text, especially if it were paired with another Walter Dean Myers read or a book where a character has to make some difficult choices.

On My Wishlist: The Replacement

The cover of The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff reminds me of one of my favorite childhood flicks, Edward Scissorhands. I don't know what this book is about and I almost don't think that I need to. I just want it. The cover is awesome, and the fact that it looks so creepy and is being released on my mother's birthday (September 21st; Happy birthday, Mom!) has me really, really wanting this book.

I haven't found much of a synopsis about this book yet, so if you know of one feel free to share. Here's a tiny little teaser of a book trailer with kind words from Maggie Stiefvater and Lauren Kate:

Spring Cleaning Giveaway from La Femme Readers

It is now officially spring, even in the Western Mountains of Maine. So, what better way to celebrate than by getting rid of all sorts of stuff! I've been tearing through my closets and my school bookshelves (because I have to pack up and move my classroom--Uggh.)

Apparently, Eleni from La Femme Readers is also clearing out some of her books. And, we all get to enter her giveaway! Here are some of the titles that I'd love to have from this giveaway:

I feel like I'm one of the only people in the entire blogosphere to not have read Before I Fall at this point. I'm reading great reviews all over the place and would love to write one of my own. This sounds like a great read.

I just blogged about wanting this book last week for my On My Wishlist post. I really, really want to read this to preview it for our Chick Lit Book Club. We've read a lot of books and talked about a ton of heavy subjects in our four years together, but never suicide bombers. This would be perfect for us!

I just read about Exit Strategy last week. It sounds like a realistic and gritty read. (Both favorite qualities for me when reading YA lit!) It sounds like it might appeal to guy readers, and I think that a bunch of my students would want to check it out. I'd love to have a copy.

So, if you're interested in these titles (or of the several others included in this huge giveaway) join me in entering!

Cover Love (2)

Cover Love is a meme that I found on 21 Pages and decided that participate in because I, too, love looking at book covers. The past time Linna from 21 Pages ran this meme, she talked about a book that had multiple covers and which of the covers she preferred.

I also want to talk about a book with multiple, gorgeous covers. I'm choosing The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which is a great read. I'm going to review this book soon, even though I read it months ago. Apparently, I never wrote a review. Crazy!

I read this book when it came out in paperback. Here is the version I read from:

I like this cover because it is definitely related to the plot and subject matter of the book. I found myself looking back at it as I read and it actually helped me to predict where the book was going. I thought that the face on the front cover matched the character pretty well and I loved the puzzle pieces.

Here is the hardcover cover, which I love but have not read from:

I like this one because I love butterflies. I think it's related to the plot of the book, though less directly than the paperback cover. It seems to be a play on the Butterfly Effect that is the subject of the Ray Bradbury short story "The Sound of Thunder". I read that short story in high school and kept thinking about it while reading this book. Less of a direct connection to the text, but still interesting and beautiful to look at.

I like these covers less. They still seem related to the plot, but are not as beautiful or interesting to me. I like that the cool blue color has been maintained in each of the covers, but I just don't really care for these covers as much.

Book Review: Wherever Nina Lies

I read Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten very, very quickly. It was a suspenseful read that built and built so that I had a difficult time putting it down. I found myself getting more and more flustered, just wanting to find out what happened to Nina and what was going to happen to her sister Ellie.

The basic plot of the story is this: Ellie's sister, Nina, disappeared two years ago. Nina was a bit of a free spirit and had been sneaking out of the house for a long time. She was creative and funky and seemed to want to be free of rules and didn't seem too interested about having a little sister as a groupie.

Ellie desperately wants to know what happened to her sister. Ellie's mother seems to have written her eldest daughter off, but Ellie is not willing to let go of her sister. When she stumbles across a clue in the form of a drawing at a thrift shop, Ellie stumbles on a trail that leads her to find out the truth about what happened to her sister. And, the truth is not as free spirited or happy as Ellie had pictured.

For all of the suspense, this was not a super realistic read. I had to suspend my disbelief in more than a few spots, and the plot was a bit unrealistic. There were a lot of convenient coincidences and discoveries, but was this an entertaining read? Absolutely.

In My Mailbox (1)

I've long enjoyed reading posts from others who have contributed to the "In My Mailbox" meme. (See this post from IMM creator The Story Siren for details and suggestions.) I've thought about joining in the fray for some time, and have decided to add my mailbox contents this week.

This was a bit of a light week for books for me, so I guess this is a great time to start. I received two books in my home mailbox (school is another story, but those books are not as fun to talk about!). I woke up on this rainy morning and decided to lug my two books back down to my mailbox and snap a photo for this post. Here are the two books I received this week:

The Season
by Sarah MacLean. I won this paperback from Karin the Librarian as part of the Spring Break Reading Challenge. I won for the last activity (#10)(which was funny because I live in snow and ice most of the year, so I guess I should know about winter-inspired reads!) and still got to choose the book I wanted. That was just awesome. Why did I want this title? I love to read a historical fiction title every now and again. And, this kinda had a English high-society meets Gossip Girls feel to it. This is going to be a perfect rainy day read!

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray. I saved up Buzz Bucks (45,000 of them!) from Teens@Random to win a copy of this title. I loved the first book in the Gemma Doyle series, A Great and Terrible Beauty. So, I found the third on this site and now I just need to grab a copy of the second book in this series, Rebel Angels. I love Libba Bray's writing style and her characters. I can't wait to find out what happens to Gemma and Pippa! Another historical fiction read for a rainy day.

So, I'd just like to say that my dog, Shady, is a huge fan of my participation in this meme. He was so excited to get an extra walk this morning. He didn't exactly understand what we were doing at the mailbox, but he was totally supportive. Here he is, waiting for me to catch up to him:

Enter the Clear the Decks Giveaway

Monica at the Bibliophilic Book Blog is offering a huge amount of books to a lucky winner for her Clear the Decks Giveaway! And, I mean HUGE. I have heard of a few of the titles that she's giving away, but not all of them. There's certainly something for everyone in this huge pile o' books.

To enter this contest, complete the survey and check out the list of books (still being added to) by May 30th. Of the titles, I am most excited about these:

Book Review: 2gether 4ever: Notes of a Junior High School Heartthrob

I am just going to come right out and say it: I was disappointed in this book. When I read about it online and previewed it, I thought that this was going to be an inspiration to my current students to think about what they're writing and to maybe save some of their letters and notes and drawings for future reflection/ possible publication. In looking at it and reading it once it was in my hands, I was not so enamored with it.

There are some chuckles to be had, for sure, in reading the "love" letters that Dene Larson received as a middle schooler in the 1970's. There is not so much insight or even interest, really, to warrant a collection of these letters to be published. It's just not all that interesting or funny. It's kind of a boring read.

I will put this on the free reading shelf at the back of my classroom in hopes that an aspiring writer will read this with a discerning eye. Maybe they will see the potential of the IDEA of saving the bits of wisdom and silliness written by the average teenager on a daily basis. And, perhaps the enticement of future publication profits will keep students from texting in my room? It is after all, much more difficult to save those texts in any reliable fashion, I'm sure! Much better to have hard copy notes when thinking about a future book deal!

New Feature: Book 2 Book

I've been looking for around the blogosphere for some time, searching for a meme that fits a category of book pairings that I've been wanting to talk about. I haven't had any luck (maybe I'm not looking in the right places), so I've created my own little feature that I'm going to use on this blog. Feel free to alert me to a meme that fits what I'm looking to talk about if you know of one!

I'm calling it "Book 2 Book" for lack of a better, more creative name. Basically, I've noticed in lots of different teacher discussions that educators have some trouble creating bridges to classic texts using YA lit. I think that this is a shame, because there are so many great pairings out there, several of which I either use in my classroom or would love to use at some point.

Many of my colleagues do not read YA lit, which is a shame. I love YA lit and read more of it than adult lit at this point. In my teaching, I've recognized that students often need book that will serve as a bridge to a classic text in order to understand and be prepared for the classic text. I'm hoping to promote some great book pairings that I've seen and (hopefully) will continue to see as I read more and more and more!

I'll post my first book pair soon.

If You've Read The Help, Make Your Mark!

This is super cool. I just stumbled across a site for Kathryn Stockett's The Help (not exactly YA, but a great read!) where you can post a little flag to show the author where her books a being read. I read this book as part of a book club I belong to, and absolutely fell in love with it. It takes place in the South during the early 1960's and is a bit of an expose about what it was like to be a black servant waiting on white women. It is a realistic read and the characters absolutely come alive in it.

But, I think that more authors/ publishers should make interactive google maps like this one! You even get to choose the color of you little marker. Guess who chose a fuchsia marker for Western Maine?!

Book Review: The Secret Year

The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard is a spare, straightforward, intriguing read. From the first line, "Julia was killed on Labor Day on her way home from a party," the intensity of this book does not let up. But, its intensity is not drawn from a ton of unnecessary drama. In fact, the main character, Colt, is about as laid back and realistic teen-boy as I've ever read. His voice and persona make him feel and sound like a real person.

This book reminded me of Romeo and Juliet, even though Colt tells us that his story is not a Romeo and Juliet story in the very first chapter. Even though I heard what he was saying, I still could not help but draw connections between the two stories. For one, Colt and Julia (Juliet?) had a secret relationship. Unlike Romeo and Juliet who are kept apart because of their parent's feud, Colt and Julia needed to keep their relationship a secret because of a mountain. In their town, Black Mountain separates the rich from the poor. Colt is poor and Julia is rich. Social class in their town means everything, and Colt and Julia are not willing to challenge the norm by going public with their relationship.

And, Julia already has a boyfriend. It's not clear to Colt (or me) if Julia ever really intended to break up with her boyfriend before she died in a horrible drunken-driving car crash. All we know is that she maintained a relationship in public with one boy and in private with another. For a year. That's a long time.

Julia's untimely death leaves Colt in an awkward position. He wants to mourn Julia's death, but cannot publicly, because he never told anyone about his relationship, not even his best friends. So, he questions the value and the meaning of their connection through out the entire book. That is until Julia's brother hands off a secret diary of Julia's that he found hidden after she died. In this diary, Colt unlocks the true feelings and struggles Julia encountered during her "secret" year with him. But, how can Colt move on now that he knows that his relationship with Julia was more than a fling to her?

I truly recommend this read. I think that it'll appeal to guys and gals because of the style of the narrative. The writing is fluid and clear and the story will grab your attention. I literally picked it up and read it in one sitting. Two hours, tops. I can't wait to recommend this read to my Romeo and Juliet-obsessed freshmen!