Category Archives: books

Free Reading Friday: Inherit Midnight

Inherit MidnightYet another Rosie nominee is checked off my list! Only 3 more to go…so I’ll finish the 2107-2018 list off in just enough time for the 2018-2019 list to be revealed. That’s only slightly disheartening as it means: more books!

I really enjoyed Inherit Midnight by Kate Kae Myers. Granted, I thought the love story was a bit too immediately perfect and even the main character of Avery seemed a bit one-dimensional at times, but it was still a fun book to read and I think teenagers will especially enjoy this YA mystery novel.

The story centers around Avery, the black sheep of the family who has spent her entire life being spurned by her very wealthy, very haughty extended family for being the product of her father’s affair with the nanny. Since her mother died in childbirth and her father is an alcoholic, she is raised by her slightly cold grandmother who has unrealistic expectations of both family honor and duty. She does not allow Avery any freedom and when Avery sneaks out to go to a perfectly innocent party with her friends, she is shipped off to a truly horrible boarding school.

However, the story does not center around her misadventures at boarding school, but her grandmother’s inheritance contest. Her grandmother, who no one has seen lately, has taken ill. In an attempt to find the most worthy heir, she sets up a contest, which she is constantly monitoring, that everyone who wants to be the heir must compete in. The rules are strict and the contests all center around knowing the family’s long and prestigious ancestry, something Avery’s grandmother has been trying to instill in her family members her entire life. It seems that only Avery paid much attention though.

As Avery agrees to compete in the competition not for the money, but to find out more about her past. With the help of Riley, the 19-year-old son of her grandmother’s lawyer, Avery is whisked away on adventures across the globe in a race to solve puzzles and survive her family members, because someone is sending her threatening notes and texts.

Although it is a bit predictable, I found myself wanting to find out how Avery was going to solve each task and which of her family members would be eliminated after each task. Conveniently, Avery’s grandmother, who is very stuffy and obsessed with her prestigious family is also a big fan of reality TV. So Avery’s journey is part Survivor and part Amazing Race.

For anyone who likes a mystery, especially one geared at a YA audience, this is a great book.

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Free Reading Fridays: The Good Braider

The good braiderNovels in verse have become one of my latest joys. Before this year I’d only read a few of them and although I’d enjoyed them, I hadn’t thought too much about them.

However, in the last six months, I have read four of them and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. While my favorite of them was probably One by Sarah Crossan, they have all been beautiful and heartbreaking in their own rights.

My latest find, Farish’s The Good Braider, is definitely both lovely and heartbreaking. It amazes me the depth of character and plot Farish is able to accomplish when she strips away the extraneous adjectives and sentences and tells the story of Viola in poignant and striking verse. In many ways, the verse, which is stripped of the usual finery of a novel, is able to tell the story in an even more striking way. The harsh brutalities of Viola’s life in Southern Sudan as well as her flight to America are even more haunting and powerful because they make Viola seem stripped down and more vulnerable. The lack of flowery prose, makes the story seem more stark and naked, just as Viola is, both physically and emotionally throughout the story.

Farish weaves an excellent story through her lines of verse. Nothing is lost by the loss of sentences and paragraphs. If anything, Viola’s story is more powerful in verse.

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Free Reading Friday: Secretariat

SecretariantSecretariat by William Nack was an obligation book for me. I read it because one of my students asked me to so that she could use it for her non-fiction book project. Since I’d read Seabiscuit the year before for a similar reason, I figured this would be similar. I’d already exposed myself to the world of racing, so this book would be easy to get through, right?

WRONG! At least not for me. Now, I am not a racing fan of any sort, so I’m sure that was part of my problem with the book. Actually, it was like 90% of my problem with the book. Since I am not a fan of horse racing and do not follow it in any way, my only real knowledge of racing comes from Seabiscuit and the one time I went to the race track with my family because my aunt had won some sort competition which entitled her to a party at the racetrack. I was 15 and wasn’t even allowed to bet, so my memories of it are hazy at best.

I was prepared for an underdog race horse story with lots of descriptions of the people surrounding the horses and the races themselves. And I got that. What I was not prepared for was page upon page upon page (seriously, like 1/4 of this book) devoted to begets. It was like reading Genesis in the Bible, only for horses. This horse beget this horse beget this horse ad nauseum. I was also not expecting very detailed descriptions of horse insemination. Seabiscuit was all about one horse and his racing career. Secretariat is all about those thoroughbreds that came before him, his amazing performance and those who trained him. It made the book awfully long.

I was also not a huge fan of Nack’s storytelling. I think part of the reason I enjoyed Seabiscuit so much was because of Hillenbrand’s storytelling. I actually liked her narrative so much that I went on to read Unbroken, which was a book that appealed to me even more and I found myself engrossed in. Nack’s narrative seemed broken up by all the begets and race times. It felt more like a list than a story at times.

I was also not a huge fan of Penny Tweedy. I thought her behavior spoiled and superior throughout most of the book. If Nack was trying to paint her as a heroine in the world of racing, it is not how she came across to me. She threw too many tantrums and was far too nasty to too many people for me to like her or even sympathize with her.

For true horse racing fans I’m sure this is an interesting read. It was just not the book for me. I felt each one of the 455 pages I read and I hate when that happens.

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Free Reading Friday: Unbound

I pickedUnbound up Unbound by Ann E. Burg in part because I liked the cover and in part because it is a novel in verse. I’ve read several novels in verse over the last few months and I have really developed an appreciation for them. I love the fact that authors are able to not only articulate brilliant plots, but also create characters with amazing depth without the long rambling sentences and paragraphs of most novels.

Books like Unbound remind me that Shakespeare was right, “brevity is the soul of wit.”

The journey that Grace goes on to obtain her freedom is one of bravery and inspiration. Although fictional, Burg does a great job of making the reader feel the true peril of the lives of runaway slaves.

Although I have read several fictional and true slave narratives, Burg still managed to introduce me to new information. I knew about slaves escaping North with and without the help of the Underground Railroad, but I’d never heard about people escaping by going even deeper into the South. I had no idea there were runaway slaves who escaped by living in the Dismal Swamp. This is a fascinating bit of history I now want to know more about.

I wish Burg would have given the reader a bit more of a look into Grace’s life of freedom in the swamp, but the narrative is still complete without it. The point is that Grace and her family will still have to endure hardships, but at least they will be able to get through them together and on their own terms. Though they may not follow that famous North Star, they still find their freedom and their home.

Great read for young adults. I actually plan to recommend it to my students, but only after my son, who is 10, finishes it.

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Free Reading Friday: All the Crooked Saints

All the Crooked SaintsI am a big Maggie Stiefvater fan. I was really excited about the release of this book in part because it is the first book she’s written since finishing up the Raven Boys series, which I adored, and in part because this book helped me cross one more book off of my Pop Sugar reading list: a book recommended by an author you like. It just so happens that when I saw John Green speak on his Turtles All the Way Down tour, he mentioned Stiefvater’s book and suggested we all go out and read it. Since I’d pre-ordered an autographed copy of All the Crooked Saints with a nifty bookplate designed by the author, as I heard Green make the suggestion, I knew I’d be easily able to check that book off my list.

With the pile of books I had waiting for me to read, it actually took me quite awhile to get to this book. So long that instead of being the last book I finished in 2017, it was the the first one I finished in 2018. Yes, it meant I fell a little shy of my Pop Sugar goal, but since it wasn’t the only book keeping me from finishing the reading list, I accepted my defeat gracefully.

I did, however, stay up until 1 am on New Year’s Day finishing All the Crooked Saints. I had to know how it ended before I could allow myself to drift off to sleep.
Crooked Saints owlI was especially excited to read this particular book because I had not one, but two copies of it. The first was my pre-order, which came with a cool owl postcard signed by Stiefvater and the super cute owl bookplate. When I got my copy in the mail, I thought it was pretty nifty looking.
Unbeknownst to me, one of my best friends went to a library conference where Stiefvater was a keynote speaker and not only did she get to meet her and take pictures with her–which she sent me–but when I begged her to get me a signed copy of The Raven Boys, she did. However, she didn’t know I’d pre-ordered All the Crooked Saints, so she also got me a personalized signed copy of it. So now instead of one autographed copy, I have two. One personalized to me and one that isn’t personalized but has a cool bookplate. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with the “extra” copy. My guess is I’ll hold on to it and give it to one of my kids. They are both huge readers and really it’ll only be another few years before my son is ready for this book. He’ll love that it is signed and has the bookplate.

book plateAlthough this book is in many ways very different than the Raven series or her Shiver series, it still shares that wonderful sense of magical realism so prominent in all of her books. In fact, I think she may be at her best as far as magical realism goes in this book. Unlike the Shiver series or The Scorpio Races, she’s not depending on already established mythos to center this book around. Also, unlike the Raven series, she manages to keep this book a bit more in the realm of reality, which I think enhances the magical realism in it. This book is the one that reminds me most of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s work, although it is definitely not quite in that league.

But I don’t mean that as an insult to Stiefvater. Her book isn’t truly comparable to Marquez because she has a very different intended audience and she is very in touch with that audience. She writes for YA readers and those who love YA fiction and she brings magical realism to them in a way that I think is more accessible. And, in a way that I feel might lead them to Marquez.

Her prose in this this book is warm and rich. I love the way she introduces characters by telling the reader one thing they wanted and one thing they feared. For example, on page 4, she introduces Joaquin Soria by saying, “here was a thing Joaquin Soria wanted: to be famous. Here was a thing he feared: dying alone in the parched dust outside Bicho Raro.” She does this again on page 8 as a way to further introduce Beatriz Soria. “Here was a thing Beatriz wanted: to devote time to understanding how a butterfly was similar to a galaxy. Here was a thing she feared: being asked to do anything else.” These small moments of brilliance add great depths to the characters and allow the reader insights into them that they might not otherwise get.

I thoroughly enjoyed the miracles performed in this book. They were, of course, not at all what I thought of as miracles. How anyone could imagine someone who just wants to escape his life of fame and recognition receiving a miracle that turns him into a giant, is beyond me. And yet, it makes perfect sense. Tony’s fame made him a giant in his world and in order to truly find peace and happiness, he had to learn to deal with his problem in full force. The miracles themselves add those moments of magic–twins who want to be separate people but are too afraid to be are twined together by a snake that threatens to devour them if they get too far apart–a woman who cannot find a way to speak for herself who can only echo everyone else’s words–these are the perfect miracles for them because those miracles teach them to finally face their problems and overcome them.

The book has wonderful message that there are no miracles that can just fix lives. Problems need to be worked at and struggled through. And most importantly, they need the help of others. There are problems that we cannot fix on our own. It’s not only ok to ask for help, it is important to. We must reach out and try to solve our problems, but we must ask for and accept help from those who want to help us. Our problems are not insurmountable, but there are no real miraculous cures for them. We have to work through them, with those who love us to find solutions and a sense of peace.

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Free Reading Friday: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost)

Never weird on internetI feel the need to be perfectly candid about something upfront in this review: I love Felicia Day. Although not a “gamer girl” myself, I have been immersed in geek culture my entire life, so I relate to her in so many ways. It probably also doesn’t hurt that she was on one of my all time favorite TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, AND in my favorite web min-series Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, AND my favorite web series, The Guild. Although I was not overly enamored of her awkward character Vi in Buffy, I simply adored her as Penny and Codex/Syd. I’ve also loved seeing her on Supernatural.

So when I saw her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) in the display window of my school library, I texted our librarian (school was over at the time) and told her I wanted it first thing the next morning. By the time I’d hit my car though, I was searching the online public library to see if maybe, just maybe, there was an audiobook.

There was. And even better, Day reads the audiobook! I LOVE when author’s read their own works. You get so much more than their stories when they do. You get the emotions that go along with those stories. In a way, it’s like listening to a good friend tell their personal stories. Because the author gets to relive the experience, so does the listener. Not that voice actors can’t do amazing jobs reading audiobooks. I’ve hears some spectacular performances, but an author reading their own work always excites me.

Hearing Day’s stories in her own voice was brilliant. She made me feel just as awkward and quirky and uncomfortable as she felt in so many of her childhood stories. And that was perfect, because I could relate. While I was not home schooled, I grew up in a very strange household myself and I found myself connecting on a very real level with her tales of social anxiety and awkwardness. It probably helps that Day and I are almost the same age, so many of her childhood and teen obsessions were also mine.

I still remember my step-dad bringing home our first computer when I was in 5th grade and the hours and hours and hours I spent playing video games on it. It was so much easier to play those games than it was to deal with real people sometimes. Especially when I was getting ready to start my 5th school in 6 years. Computers were far kinder to new kids than the other students were. Especially when those new kids were a bit chubby, had glasses and were insanely good at school (and serious, serious teacher pleasers to boot).

As an avid attendee of events like Comic Con, I loved Day’s stories of meeting other celebrities because they are so relatable. It’s lovely to see someone I look up to and know I would get a little tongue-tied to meet have the same problems. Her story about going out of her way to buy donuts so she could offer one to Matt Smith (of Dr. Who fame) was hysterical. Considering that until I was in my late 20’s I was the only Dr. Who fan (aside from my dad) I knew, I could see myself doing something similar. Heck, when I met John Barrowman I almost lost my mind. I loved hearing that Day did the same.

I also truly enjoyed reading about Day’s process of staying true to her inner geek by creating her own web series and then her own geek company. I particularly found her message to young, geeky girls inspiring. I wish I’d had someone like her to look up to when I was the only one in my 7th grade homeroom who had seen every episode of Dr. Who and could name all of his companions in order of their appearance on the show. It would have been nice to be able to feel proud of that instead of worried someone would find out just how odd I was. It also would have been lovely to know someone else was writing Fan Fic before there was a word for it. Yep, that’s right, I had notebooks full of Dr. Who Fan Fic back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s!

One of the most interesting and important parts of the book is Day’s account of her experiences during Gamer Gate. After hearing stories like Day’s it is hard to believe anyone could possibly still believe Gamer Gate was not sexism at its ugliest.

I am so glad I read this book and have already recommended it to several of my students, added it to my AP non-fiction list and look forward to talking to students about it.

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Free Reading Friday: Call Me By My Name

Call me by my nameI am not generally the kinda person to pick up a book about football. Scratch that, I’m not the kinda person to pick up any book about sports. It’s nothing against sports or the people who like them, but sports have never been my thing. I don’t like to watch them or talk about them. And I certainly don’t like to read about them.

However, Call Me By My Name┬áby John Ed Bradley is on the Eliot Rosewater nominee list for 2017, so it means it’s also on my must read list. It’s actually one of the last books I had to finish off the list and I might have left it at the end of my list because it’s a sports book.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for all things sporty, I did enjoy this book. Bradley manages to make a topic I find uninteresting, actually interesting to me through his character driven narrative. I liked the characters of Angie, Tater and Rodney, and because I liked them, I wanted to read about what they went through, even if that was football practice or football games. Bradley manages to create believable, empathetic characters whose literary lives mattered to me and made a real impact on me.

I’ll admit it, when I read about the final football game in the book, my eyes started to well up. Since I was in the middle of class (it was silent reading time), I knew I couldn’t cry. My seniors would NEVER let me hear the end of it, but I wanted to and I was in serious danger of letting it happen.

Although I thought a few of the character’s had pretty sudden “epiphanies” about their former notions on race and race relations, I’m glad that Bradley didn’t let every character be completely won over by Tater as it would have made the story unrealistic given the time period. However, I will admit that despite what I consider a pretty decent grasp on American history, I couldn’t help but be repeatedly shocked at the amount of overt racism found in the town Bradely created. Not because I didn’t realize such overt racism existed, but because the book takes place in 1970/1971, only five years before I was born. I’m sure it came as such a shock to me since the book is set in Louisianna and most of my childhood was spent in Southern California, which is quite a different atmosphere. Still, it is so insane to me to believe that so much still had to be fought for by Tater and Angie. It broke my heart and was very sobering.

Not long before I finished this book, one of the teachers in my department commented that she needed more book suggestions to give to her male students who were struggling to find good books to read. She was a bit disappointed that John Green’s latest protagonist was female as she admires Green and was hoping for a male narrator. Even before I finished Call Me by My Name, I added it to a list I created of quality books for teens, especially boys who are struggling to find male protagonists to relate to. While I believe this book is a good read for any teenager, I think it may have a bigger impact on teenage boys who often struggle to find their voices in the books they read.

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