Thursday, June 30, 2016

Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea is why I read historical fiction. Ruta Sepetys has taken a historical event I've never heard of, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, and connected me to it forever. After finishing the book, I searched out more information about the tragedy. This is exactly what teachers want readers to do-- be inspired to learn more.

Told from the perspectives of four teenagers, the novel gives various reasons why they are on the run from the Nazis and eager to board the ship. At first, it was a challenge to keep track of the back stories of each character, but then I was totally hooked and eager to find out their fates. Once I figured out that the fate of the Wilhelm Gustloff wasn't good, I decided not to look up the tragedy and learn about it in real time. I was horrified to learn that over 10,000 people were packed onto a ship built for 1,500. Even if it wasn't torpedoed, the conditions on the ship would have been unimaginable.

I was totally engrossed, but don't know if teenagers would choose to read this independently. It would be a great addition to a unit on WWII or as a book club selection. It should be read because the tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff should not be ignored.

Friday, June 24, 2016

An Ember in the Ashes

Have you ever wanted to read a book that's a combination of The Hunger Games, The Testing, The Lightning Thief, Game of Thrones, and about a hundred other (better) books that came before? Look no further.

There's a lot of buzz surrounding An Ember in the Ashes, which is touted as the next big dystopian series. Since these series are always a hit with my students, I wanted to check it out before they started asking me about it. I would love to be able to recommend it to them, but there are so many references to rape that it isn't suitable. If there was a drinking game for this book, sadly, that would be the word that sends somebody to the hospital.

There were things that I enjoyed about the novel. Laia, our female protagonist, isn't your typical dystopian heroine. She isn't overly skilled or confident or charismatic. She is truly an ordinary girl who is forced into unimaginable circumstances. I also loved the ancient Roman tinge to the story, since this time period fascinates me. Still, I can't get past all the discussion of rape, so I won't be sharing this book with anyone.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Wrath and The Dawn

Most Kindle owners have probably experienced the realization at 95% finished that there is no way the story can wrap up in time. That was how I realized The Wrath & The Dawn is the first in a series.

In an interesting retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, we learn of Shahrzad, who volunteers to marry a murderous Caliph who killed her best friend. She enters the relationship, bent on revenge, but ends up falling for Khalid. While her feelings have changed, everyone else still wants him dead. Now she must choose between her past with her family and her future with her love.

I was refreshed by reading a novel set in a time and place I haven't encountered much before. I enjoyed the rich details and characterization. Unfortunately, the novel kept diverting to the story of Shahrzad's father's strange quest for revenge, which was usually when I took a break. Still, I can't wait for the next book and hope that there is more romance in the sequel.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Orbiting Jupiter

I always know what I am getting into with a Gary D. Schmidt novel: kind teachers, abusive fathers, a Maine setting, and several instances that make me bawl my eyes out. Even though I know this, I started reading Orbiting Jupiter as I was going to bed, and then ended up reading the whole thing. That's the other thing I know I'm getting from this author: an amazing story of resilience.

Jack is twelve when his family changes forever by fostering Joseph, a fourteen-year-old who has had an unimaginably difficult life. For Joseph, the only bright spot is knowing he has an infant daughter named Jupiter. He is determined to love and care for her, despite the odds. This comes at great sacrifice and tragedy.

This is a fast, slim read, but should be categorized for young adults, as it is devastatingly sad. It would be a tough sell with my current students. I think Orbiting Jupiter might be a YA book that is really better for adults, as a reminder to be kind to teenagers. I loved it.

Monday, June 6, 2016

You Know Me Well

David Levithan loves writing novels with a co-author, alternating perspectives of two characters. I usually like books with this plot device and I always love books written by Levithan, so You Know Me Well was a perfect fit.

Mark is a gay baseball player who is in love with his best friend, and Kate is an artist who is soon to meet the girl of her dreams. They spent most of senior year sitting next to each other and never speaking, but during San Francisco's Pride Week, they become the most important person in each other's world.

I am so happy this book exists. The writing is gorgeous and nobody writes about being a gay teenager better than Levithan. I can imagine that his novels are a safe haven for many readers. Levithan writes so beautifully that reading the first few pages always catch me by surprise and when I finish the book, I am left wanting more. I love stories that are about growing apart from one's friends and realizing that it is normal to outgrow friends as you become who you really are.

This is definitely for a high school audience, so I won't be sharing it with my students, but I will recommend it to teens and adults who are looking for a wonderful book.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Revenge of the Witch

Happy Audiobook Month!

I loved The Ranger’s Apprentice and have been eager to read more by John Delancey. When I saw that a different series, The Last Apprentice, was available through the library’s Overdrive account, I was eager to enjoy the audiobook. What awaited me was the perfect level of horror for a middle grade reader.

The Revenge of the Witch follows Tom, the seventh son of a seventh son, who has very few options now that it is time for him to begin working. All of his older brothers have been placed in the desirable jobs, so Tom is left to become the Spook’s apprentice. In his training, he is to learn how to protect the local villages from boggarts, ghosts, and other evil spirits. Luckily, Tom has always found it easy to sense these things and his Mam tells him he was born for the job. But once the training begins and Tom gets on the bad side of an evil witch, he wonders if he should try to escape his destiny.

It’s challenging to write a scary book for middle grade readers. If it isn’t scary enough, they’ll complain that it’s for babies. If it’s too scary, they won’t finish it or they’ll have nightmares. Delancey manages to find the right balance. There is gore: flesh cakes and stories of skinning people; but the scares are more related to suspense: the sound of boots on the basement steps and walking through a graveyard where witches are buried. Christopher Evan Welch's narration of the audiobook is perfect, particularly the screeching witch's voice. He transported me to a gloomy British village, which is quite a feat since I listened to it on a Bahamian beach! 

I was happy to learn that there are many more books in this series. I'm eager to read them all and pass them along to my students who want to be scared, but not terrified. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

House Arrest

Adolescence is all about acting before thinking of the consequences. House Arrest's main character, Timothy, embodies this. Life has been difficult since his father left and his sick baby brother needs around the clock medical care, so when Timothy sees an unattended wallet, he takes it and runs. The result? A year of house and required journaling.

I love novels-in-verse and was excited to check this out. Author K.A. Holt captures the full range of emotions Timothy experiences, from anger to despair to hope. As much as he wants to lash out at the world, Timothy is always caring towards his brother.

It's nice to have a novel-in-verse that is appropriate for middle grade readers. They'll enjoy some of the surprises along the way and sympathize with Timothy's frustration with things he can't control. I'll be book-talking House Arrest when we begin our poetry unit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Summer Days and Summer Nights

I love short stories and was a huge fan of the first collection in this series, My True Love Gave To Me. When I saw the summer version available on Net Galley, I was so excited to dive into it. While I slightly preferred the winter version, Summer Days and Summer Nights was worth picking up.

My individual story rankings:

Head, Scales, Tongue, Tale by Leigh Bardugo – Why did Perkins choose to start the anthology with this story? It was too long and strange. I had to skip ahead. 

The End of Love by Nina Lacour – I loved this one about a girl who takes a summer school class and ends up with the girl she has been crushing on for year.  I want to read more Nina Lacour.

Last Night at the Cinegore by Libba Bray – Pulpy and fun horror with the requisite romance. 

Sick Pleasures: For A and U by Francesca Lia Block – The dud of the bunch. I grew up loving the L.A. pixie mania of Block's stories, but none of the magic is present here, just grim dreariness.

In Ninety Minutes, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins – The one I was waiting for! I feel so lucky to get to read more of Marigold and North's story. I hope this series continues with an autumn and spring collection so that I can continue to learn more about these characters. 

Souvenirs by Tim Federle – My first Tim Federle story, although I've been following him on Twitter for awhile. The same enthusiasm, humor, and love of drama abounds here. I need to read a full novel of his. 

Inertia by Veronica Roth – Some people weren't meant to write romances, and it seems that Veronica Roth is one of them. I wasn't a fan of this strange tale of future medical science and last goodbyes.

Love Is The Last Resort by Jon Skovron – What a strange story! Set in a modern country club, the story is told like it was written by Dickens, complete with asides to the audience. Still, the ending is fun and it's an enjoyable read.

Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert – What happens if you meet the perfect guy at a farewell party and you want to dislike him on principle? That's what this story is all about. It was a mellow story after the preceding one, but well-written and a nice introduction to the author.

Brand New Attraction by Cassandra Clare - Set in a circus that is run on the power of a demon, this one really wasn't for me. I think I am just not into Clare's writing style, as I couldn't get into City of Bones either. 

A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith - This one was really sweet and fun. It's all about a camp counselor who finds love with a guy who is a bit different. 

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman  - Perkins saved the best for last! Just like in the movie "Groundhog Day," the characters are caught in a time loop and need to figure out how to make it work for them. I love the strange science fiction of it all, mixed with the beautiful common moments. I've found a new author to explore. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

All the Answers

I've been enjoying Kate Messner's novels recently. Her first book that I read was Capture the Flag and it was not really for me. But then I loved Eye of the Storm and Wake Up Missing, so I was eager to check out All the Answers. Unfortunately, I think it will get grouped with Capture the Flag. The idea is great, but the execution was too drawn out for me.

Ava has always been a worrier, so when she discovers a pencil that answers the questions she has written, she might be able to take control of her life. For awhile, it works, until Ava gets answers that she really doesn't want, and doesn't know how to cope.

It was all a bit too much for me. Ava's father is constantly trying to find a gimmick to save his general store, her sister wants to be called by strange nicknames because too many kids in her class share her name, her best friend Sophie is fairly obnoxious and doesn't seem like she will stay her friend for much longer. It took me a long time to slog through something that should have been fun and exciting.

I'm not giving up on Kate Messner, but I definitely plan on sticking to her science fiction books.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


I stayed up way too late reading Marianna Baer's debut novel, Frost. Each chapter kept building a feeling of uneasiness until my eyes were stinging and I couldn't fight sleep anymore. It was worth it, though, as I will be thinking about Frost for a long time.

Leena's senior year was supposed to be perfect: she and her friends were awarded the small Frost House as part of their campus lottery, she is a leader of a student mentorship program, she is planning to apply to top colleges. But then Celeste Lazar was placed in Frost House and things start to go wrong. She may have a cute brother, but Celeste is strange and begins causing rifts between Leena and her friends. Then, things get even worse and Leena and the reader don't know what's Frost House haunted? Is Celeste's brother a darker character than he appears? Is Leena the one who is actually losing her mind, not Celeste?

This is a gloomy, creepy novel that had me guessing incorrectly about what was really going on. It had a surprising twist at the ending, which wasn't satisfying, but was a shock to me. I was completely caught up in Leena's descent into life at Frost House.

I've been trying to read Frost for four years. It was worth the wait; I really enjoyed being baffled and spooked by this book.