Category Archives: reading

Free Reading Friday: Passionate Minds:Women Rewriting the World

Passionate MindsI was really excited to read Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World by Claudia Roth Pierpont. I found it in the discount section of Half Price Books. I’d read books by several of the writers featured in it and liked the idea of more insight into their works.

There is definitely some interesting analysis of their writings as well as some illuminating research into their lives. However, the author’s bias both for (and against) some of these women is glaring and in the few cases I am fairly familiar with, unwarranted. Of course every writer should look critically at their subjects. Of course they should not sugar coat the information or feature only the bright points of a subject’s life, but I felt a bit of her personal disdain for some of her subjects.

The writing is also more than a bit dull at times. I was a bit disappointed that after reading it I didn’t feel inspired to pick up that many works by these authors I had not already read. Mae West is the only author I hadn’t read anything by that I want to read something by. I am interested in reading additional works by Lessing and Welty, but that interest was there before this book.

I just feel this book could have been so much more inspiring and certainly a lot more passionate.

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Free Reading Friday: Ringer

ringer 2I definitely enjoyed Ringer, the sequel to Replica by Lauren Oliver. Just like Replica, this is a flipped book. This time, however, the reader starts with Gemma’s story. It’s probably no shock that despite his promises to reform, Gemma’s father is still the treacherous business man who’s willing to do anything to forward his agenda, including selling out Lyra and Caelum. It should also come as no surprise to anyone who read Replica that Gemma and Pete go off to find Lyra and Caelum to warn them about the danger they are in and as is characteristic for them, arrive just a bit too late.

This time around Gemma gets to experience the world of a Replica, the world she was technically born to. Taken out of her ivory tower and forced to live in an abandoned airport with hundreds of other Replicas, far too many of whom share her face, she gets a better understanding of Lyra’s life and what her life should have been. She also gets tangled up with the seemingly innocent Calliope.

On the flip side, Lyra finds herself once more running from the dreaded Suits. She finds what she thinks is a life line with her former doctor, but as is true of most things in this series, nothing is quite what it appears to be. Especially not for a girl who has grown up thinking she is a clone.

RingerLike many books that deal with human cloning, Oliver’s work brings up the ethical questions about how far science should be allowed to go. I particularly liked her portrayal of Doctor O’Donnell, a scientist who clearly believes everything she is doing is for the betterment of society. O’Donnell believes the ends justify the means and that the advance of science is worth the cost of human lives, especially because she is able to detach herself from the real humanity of those lives being taken.

This book also takes an interesting look at a problem I first really examined when I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks–should scientists be able to use biological components without permission from the people they are taken from, especially if they profit from them. Is it right for pieces of people to be licensed, replicated and sold off?

Personally I find these topics fascinating. And while answering these questions is not the central purpose of the novel, I like the fact that Oliver is introducing these questions to YA readers because the current generation of YA readers will no doubt have to make some of these very hard ethical calls in their lifetime.

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Free Reading Friday: The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleIt’s very hard to read memoirs of absolute deprivation, especially when they involve children. Even before I became a mother I found it hard not to cringe when reading stories of abused, neglected or forgotten children. Now that I am a mother, I find it even harder. I cannot imagine anything that could induce me to allow my children to suffer. I would give up everything I have in order to keep them from experience true hunger or pain. When parents are not willing to do the same, I find it hard to understand.

I knew nothing about Jeannette Walls’ life when I bought The Glass Castle. In fact, other than the fact that her memoir had been turned into a movie (which I have not yet seen), I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked her book off the shelf in the airport bookstore. However, I was getting ready to board a flight to South Carolina to spend a long weekend on the beach with friends and I knew I’d need something to read. I also knew that my Pop Sugar book challenge for 2017 included a book bought on a trip, so I purposely did not bring a book with me on the trip so I could buy one. Ok, I’ll admit I brought my Kindle, but I didn’t bring any paper bound books with me, so I would be more inclined to read whatever I picked up at the bookstore.

Since I am always on the lookout for interesting non-fiction books to bring back to my AP Language and Composition students and since I knew some of them might see this movie and want to read the story behind it, I picked this book over several other interesting looking fiction works.

I’m glad I did.

While stories of abuse and neglect are hard to read, I think they are important to read. I think it is vital that we read stories like Walls’ so that we develop better empathy for our fellow man. Stories like the ones Walls tells help to make it harder to dismiss the homeless woman we see digging through the dumpster, or the children who come to school dirty and without food. Stories like these remind us that small acts of kindness toward those who may be in need go a long way.

Of course, those lessons don’t make Walls’ stories any easier to read. Her tales of her parent’s complete abdication of their parental responsibilities are cringe worthy. Like Walls, my children were also very precocious, however, the thought of allowing either of my children at age three to operate the stove, let alone cook their own meals is appalling. The idea of allowing my children to sleep in cardboard beds under roofs that are caved in and allow rain and snow to fall into their bedrooms is hideous. The mere thought of taking my children into a bar to help me swindle people out of money at pool and then allowing grown men to take my teenage daughter upstairs is disgusting.

But there are parents who do these things and as a teacher I am thankful to memoirs like Walls’ because it makes me look harder and with more compassion toward many of my students. Because of books like these, I find myself listening more intently to students I think may be being neglected or abused. I check in with those I know have difficult home lives.

Although a great many tragic events happen in Walls’ life and in the book, she manages to keep her memoir from being too dark. She does fill it with lighter moments. And while she clearly sees the neglect and abuse her parents committed against her, she also shows a sort of understanding for them and a deep love for them.

How she managed to write so kind a memoir after finding out what her mother’s land in Texas was worth is beyond me.

This is an engaging and well-written account of Walls’ life that I am glad I read.

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Teaching Tuesday: Turnitin.com

One great thing about being on spring break is that I can do the grading and planning that have been piling up while wearing my jammies. Not that I actually do that much as I still have my own kids I have to keep entertained while on break. Still, I get to fit the grading and planning completely into my schedule and that’s nice at least!

Half of my department went 1:1 about a decade ago, so my students have been turning their papers in electronically quite a bit longer than some of their peers. After we got our initial five classrooms with computers, everyone in our department got to attend a national conference on digital education which was quite fascinating. It was at this conference that we discovered Turnitin.com.

Before the conference, we’d had plagiarism software, but it was old and didn’t always work very well. It was very tedious to go through as a teacher and while it did save us a bit of time, it still took a lot of work to figure out whether or not plagiarism had actually occurred. I liked it better than just plugging sentences into Google, but I knew there had to be something better out there.

And there was: Turnitin.com.

When we got back from the conference we talked our tech coordinator into getting everyone in the department licenses to use the program. Since not everyone had 1:1 classrooms, it was definitely under utilized those first few years. However, as teachers in other departments stated requiring students to turn in their essays digitally, they wanted the program too. Before long we bought a site license for the entire school.

Then, when the entire school went 1:1 three years ago, as department chair, I started getting requests from lots of non-English teachers for tips on how to use it.

I love Turnitin.com because not only does it do a pretty good job of checking for similarities, it also has some great peer editing software for students to use. About four years ago, I switched over to doing all of our peer edits using Turnitin.com and I love it.

I especially love the fact that I have an app for my iPad and I can easily grade my papers on the app while sitting in my especially comfy “marshmallow chair.” This way I don’t have to isolate myself from my family. While everyone is sitting around the living room reading, I can grab my iPad and read and grade student essays. It’s not quite as fun as reading a book by my favorite author, but it’s something I have to get done and the ease of grading with the app makes me not miss out on as much family time.

In fact, as soon as I wrap up this blog, I am going to grab my iPad, settle in to my chair and start working on my students’ final benchmark essays for the grading period. I have just over a week to finish up all my grading for this quarter, so I have to get on it!

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Free Reading Friday: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Slasher GirlsSlasher Girls & Monster Boys is a really fun collection of YA horror stories. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I’d only read novels by two of the authors (Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series and Cat Winters’ The Steep and Thorny Way). Still, since this is a Rosie nominee and Halloween was quickly approaching when I read it, I thought this would be a perfect choice.

As I started the first story by Nova Ren Suma, I got a strange twinge of familiarity. I found myself thinking of the Daphne du Maurier story “The Birds.” I’m sure it was just the mention of the creepy, creepy birds just sitting and watching the house. I definitely didn’t think of the story as a retelling, but it had a vibe to it that was so familiar. When I finished the story, I noticed that on the last page, upside down at the bottom was a little note that the story was inspired by two of Hitchcock’s movies, one of which was “The Birds.” I’ll be honest, I was a bit disappointed that, being a writer, Suma didn’t reference the short story, but still thought it was pretty cool.

The second story, “In the Forest Dark and Deep,” by Carrie Ryan (which is one of my favorites), was clearly inspired by Alice in Wonderland. I’d be amazed if anyone doesn’t figure it out in the first few pages. Just because the inspiration is obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t a great story in its own right. It’s twisted and creepy (way more so than Carroll’s original work). Since I teach Alice in Wonderland to my Film Lit class, I’m hoping I can find a way to add this story into my curriculum. Considering the fact that the purpose of the class is to see how literature is adapted into a new art form (film), I think this story would be a cool way to explore a different kind of adaptation as well.

As I read I found myself trying to guess which novels or movies had inspired each writer. Most of the stories are based on movies. A few are based partly on stories or novels, but even those also have a film inspirations. I was not correct nearly as often as I’d thought I’d be…mostly because horror is not my favorite genre. I have a feeling my best friend would be able to figure out the majority of them.

Other stories I found particularly note worthy include “On the I-5,” “Emmeline,” and “The Dark, Scary Parts and All.” It’s probably not a surprise that two of those are by the authors I was already familiar with and whose other works I enjoyed. Probably also didn’t hurt that I was able to guess the films associated with two of them!

There isn’t a single story in the collection I didn’t enjoy. I am actually quite excited to take this book back to school and suggest it to my juniors and seniors. I’ve already mentioned it to one of my students who bought a copy and loves it. I think many of her classmates will also thoroughly enjoy it…even after Halloween.

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Free Reading Friday: Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War

Soldier GirlsI knew nothing about Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe when I picked it up in the discount section of my local Half Price Books. However, both the title and the front cover intrigued me. I’m always looking for non-fiction books which might appeal to my AP Language and Comp students and while few of my AP students end up in the military, the school I teach at is located near a military base and I have several students each year who come from a military background. I thought this book might be one they could relate to.

However, the real reason I grabbed this book was because it is about female soldiers and the front cover reminded me greatly of one of my favorite AP students of all times, who applied and was accepted to West Point. Although it’s been 7 or 8 years since she graduated (I’ll admit that while I always remember my students, I rarely remember when they graduated), thanks to social media and email, we’ve kept in touch.

During her time at West Point, I received quite a few emails from her, including copies of essays, both for class and for her own personal benefit, she’d written about her experiences while at West Point. Since West Point, like most military academies, is predominantly male, she had a very different experience than the majority of her fellow classmates. I can still recall a haunting essay she wrote about the rampant sexual harassment and assault she and her fellow female cadets were subjected to. The essay was not written for class as she suspected she’d be in rather deep trouble had any of her professors read it. It was highly critical of the way sexual assault/harassment was handled at the school. She wrote it as a means to release her frustrations and anxiety over a situation she could not control but was a victim of.

Although Soldier Girls only briefly does not tackle the issue of sexual assault/harassment that goes on in the military in depth, since the book centers around the experiences of three female soldiers who served in combat zones, it does explore the issue.

The book also explores issues of military recruiting, especially among lower socioeconomic areas of the country. It examines the way the military technically went around established rules not to allow women to serve in combat, while clearly letting them serve in combat. It examines the inequalities and discrimination female soldiers experience both at home and on deployment. It examines how families cope with deployment and specifically looks at the deployment of single mothers.

The book also heavily examines PTSD. I found the honest exploration of the stigma involved with it, the reluctance to diagnose it, the lack of services provided to cope with it and the lasting effects of it fascinating.

In fact, while I found the stories of the women’s deployments fascinating, for me the most interesting part of the book covers their lives once they return home from those combat zones. Thorpe does a thorough job investigating how easy it is for our veterans to fall through the cracks as well as how devastating deployments can be, not just on soldiers but on everyone in their lives.

I think this is an important book for those not in the military to read. While it may have focused on the lives of three women in the military, it really helped me to have a better understanding of all our soldiers go through and the importance of providing good mental and physical support for them once they return home.

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Chocolate Monday: Cookie dough brownies

cookie dough browniesI’m baaaaaaaccccccccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk!

Thanks to the concussion I sustained in my recent car accident (not my fault, I was rear-ended while stopped), I had to take a bit of a hiatus from my blog. I tried to maintain my blog at first, but it turns out when my doctor tells me to limit my screen time, I should do a better job of listening.

I thought I was doing better. My headaches had mostly subsided, I no longer had to nap in the middle of every day and I wasn’t having as many strange emotional outbursts. I was on the mend, so I figured I’d better get caught up on all that grading I’d been neglecting.

Silly me! My headaches rushed back, I was exhausted and my emotions…CRAZY!

So, I did my best to cut out any screen I could, but now that I’m finally starting to feel mostly normal (only like two headaches last week), I’m gonna try this whole blogging thing again.

For my first chocolate blog back, I want to talk about a Pinterest recipe I tried out last week. I had to bake something to reward a few of my students for their reading achievements. I love baking and over the years I’ve built up quite a reputation at my school for my mad skillz in the kitchen. Sometimes I create my own recipes and sometimes I cheat a bit and use other people’s recipes. Not that it matters to my students (or my family). They love it either way.

I love Pinterest. I’m the person who saves all those amazing recipes and then actually makes them. I mean, not all of them. I have dozens of recipes on each of my different food boards (side dishes, main dishes, cookies/bars, desserts, breakfast, crock pot, appetizers, sandwiches, soups, popsicle/ice cream and candy) that I have not yet gotten around to try, but I make something off of Pinterest at least once a week. Usually 3 or 4 times.

I’ve had this recipe for cookie dough brownies saved on my cookies/bars board for quite some time. Last weekend was the perfect time to make them. I wanted something to really wow my students and these looked like they’d do the trick.

And boy did they! When I handed them out to the readers who’d reached their goal, they were ecstatic. More importantly, the rest of my students perked up and asked how many books they had to finish to get one. After I handed them out and my students raved about them, I saw a renewed enthusiasm for silent reading.

Although they took a little extra time and created double the dishes since I had to make brownie batter and cookie dough, they were worth it. The recipe calls for dark chocolate chips, but I knew the Penzy’s Dutch process cocoa powder I was using was going to be a bit stronger than the garden variety Hershey’s, and I don’t really like dark chocolate much, so I opted for semi-sweet chocolate chips, which I hoped would help keep these morsels from being too sweet. I think they did.

The brownies themselves are quite tasty. They aren’t overly dense, but they make a substantial bottom for the treat. They were moist and cooked to perfection. I don’t like when my brownies get crunchy. I am a center brownie girl. I usually dish out the edge brownies to my family members and students and save the amazingly delicious center ones for myself!  Thankfully even the edge brownies in this batch didn’t get crunchy.

The cookie dough topping was sweet and tasted pretty much like the delicious cookie batter I whip up for my regular chocolate chip cookies, but without the danger of raw eggs that I’ll admit I risk every time I make cookies.

Combined they are rich. I can only eat one and cannot imagine two in the same day, much less at the same sitting. My husband says he likes them, but that they are too rich for him–he’d rather have a brownie and a cookie than the two combined. Of course, he prefers his candy in the Skittle or gummy form, so I’m not sure his opinion counts for much in this case.

If you like to bake, I highly suggest giving these a try. They are a real crowd pleaser.

Overall:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 9/10 (pretty cheap to make)

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