Panic: A Review

24 Jul

Title: Panic

Author: Lauren Oliver

Format: Hardcover personal purchase

Release Date: March 4, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads): Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

There is something about Lauren Oliver’s writing that I just love.  Her way with words always blows me away.  While the plot of Panic does have suspense and kept me at the edge of my seats at times, it is Oliver’s writing that keeps me glued to her stories. This is another beautifully written novel that I found very hard to put down.

I found the whole idea of this Panic competition fascinating.  I wondered what it would take for someone to want to do it.  Heather and Dodge were strong narrators to follow in their journeys because they are both in the competition for such different and personal reasons.  They view Panic differently and their views give readers multiple meanings of what Panic and living in Carp really mean.  I am usually a big fan of duel narration and I really enjoyed both narrators and how different they were.

One thing that did bother me about Panic was I kept asking, “Where are the adults?  They have to know about it by now.  Why does it keep happening?”  Maybe that is just a sign of my age now, but I I found myself asking that over and over.  Despite this, there is enough tension along with Oliver’s writing to keep readers intrigued and wanting to know what will happen next.  The tension at the end had me trying to rush through pages to see how it would all work out.  This was a stay up late to finish type of ending.

I know there has been some comparisons out there to The Hunger Games.  While I can see where some comparisons might be made with this type of competition, I think when I do share this book with students I am going to shy away from that comparison.  A book can be enjoyable on its own, not just because it is the next whatever.  I will focus on the tension and suspense that comes with this plot as opposed to it being another Hunger Games.

Overall, Panic was an enjoyable read and paced just fast enough to keep me reading and waning to know what will happen next.  I can see it being popular in the classroom.

4/5 stars

Rereading Harry Potter: Book 1

23 Jul

I few months ago, I talked about my love for the Harry Potter series.  I mentioned that this summer I wanted to reread the series.  As I am still battling a bit of a slump (I will have bursts of reading a lot for a couple weeks then find nothing to hold my interest), I decided there is no time like the present.  I am so happy that I did!

I finished book 1 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone the day after I started reading it again. I was immediately drawn right back into Harry’s world.  One great thing about reading these again is that there was so much I forgot about!  There are small parts of the plot that the movies left out and it was really felt like reading the book again for the very first time.  Plus, with the knowledge of the entire series, there are many little clues and hints I pick up on that meant nothing the first time around.  It really is an interesting feeling to feel both like reading for the first time and going through with a “expert eye,” if you will.

I think one of the parts that mean the most to me is the character of Snape.  He was always one of my favorites and I was full of theories about him from the very beginning.  In general, he is such a complex character, much like we are all complex people.  It is nice to look at one of my favorite characters again from the beginning to experience his development once again and being aware of those tiny nuisances that will mean so much.

I will drop shorts posts throughout the rest of my reread about what stood out to me or how my feelings have changed over time.  I am looking forward to see where this part of my reading journey takes me.

Are there any books or series you reread again and again?  Have you reread the Harry Potter Series before?  I’d love to hear some thoughts on your favorites you always go back to.

My Last Kiss: A Review

22 Jul

Title: My Last Kiss

Author: Bethany Neal

Format: Personal purchase hardcover

Release Date: June 10, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads): Cassidy Haines remembers her first kiss vividly. It was on the old covered bridge the summer before her freshman year with her boyfriend of three years, Ethan Keys. But her last kiss–the one she shared with someone at her seventeenth birthday party the night she died–is a blur. Cassidy is trapped in the living world, not only mourning the loss of her human body, but left with the grim suspicion that her untimely death wasn’t a suicide as everyone assumes. She can’t remember anything from the weeks leading up to her birthday and she’s worried that she may have betrayed her boyfriend.

If Cassidy is to uncover the truth about that fateful night and make amends with the only boy she’ll ever love, she must face her past and all the decisions she made–good and bad–that led to her last kiss.

Bethany Neal’s suspenseful debut novel is about the power of first love and the haunting lies that threaten to tear it apart.

I actually got to meet Bethany through a friend at an author event earlier this year that we had both attended. I was very bummed that due to a crazy schedule, I did not get to go to the release event for My Last Kiss. However, as soon as I had my birthday gift cards in hand, My Last Kiss was the first book I grabbed off the shelf at the bookstore.  I finished it in two days.

The very first page pulled me in Cassidy’s story.  My Last Kiss begins just as Cassidy realizes she has died – though it takes her some time to accept she is dead and learn what exactly that all means.  She has no memory of not only the night she died, but the weeks leading up to it as well.  She tries to figure things out by visiting her family and friends.  Through flashbacks that suck her into those memories and a connection with her boyfriend, Ethan, Cassidy is trying to piece it all together to find out what really happened, who her true friends are, and who is her killer.

I really was intrigued by the flashbacks Cassidy has.  What I found interesting is that they do not come in order.  They alternate between the night of her death and moments from those weeks leading up to her death.  It was an engaging reading experience to be right along with Cassidy as she tries to connect each event to the ones she had before and understand the bigger picture.  I also loved some curve balls thrown into the plot; there were times I thought I knew exactly what had happened only to find out I was pretty wrong.  While I was starting to piece it all together the end, I still was surprised by the whole reveal.

I appreciate how real the characters are, even when dealing with an after death plotline.  The characters are flawed, Cassidy especially.  A number of characters besides Cassidy make decisions that they later regret and have to live with the consequences.  I think there are situations that teens can relate to even with the suspense/mystery added to the characters’ lives.

There were just a few parts, mainly in the beginning, where the plot felt a little “jumpy” and I was confused about what was going on.  However, the suspense kept me in and I wanted to continue reading to know what would happen next. I am definitely looking forward to sharing this title with my students in the new school year.

4/5 stars  

We Were Liars: A Review

29 Jun

Title: We Were Liars

Author: E. Lockhart

Format: Personal purchase hardcover

Release Date: May 13, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads): A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
 
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 

Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

So I have been hearing about this one for months.  All I knew was that it was amazing and no one wanted to talk about what it was actually about.  I am so glad that no one did and I avoided as much as I could about this one.  This review will be a bit different so I can try to tell you about it without telling you about it.

One thing I can share is that Lockhart’s writing is beautiful.  Just beautiful.  Her descriptions and the language she uses blew me away.  I have not read narration like this in such a long time.  I found myself rereading parts to take it all in.  There are sentences that I can still remember even now after finishing it.

The story is strong, too.  Mystery.  Suspense.  Coming of Age.  There is a little bit of everything in here – but I cannot tell you what it all is.  I just can’t.  I want you to be able to enjoy it the same way I did.  I want you to have to chills and yell out in surprise.  I hope that is not giving too much.

This is one of the hardest reviews I have ever written.  I know there is not a lot here, but trust me, you want to read this book.  And once you do (or if you already have) please talk about it with me.  It is still running trough my mind a few days later.  Great read for this summer that I cannot wait to share with students in September.

4.5/5 stars

Why choice?

23 Jun

I know, I know…it has been far too long since I have given an update.  The end of the year was crazy, as I am sure many fellow teachers also faced.  It was also a little draining.  I am still in a little bit of a slump, but feeling re-energized with a little break and time to myself.  I hope to get some more thoughts and reviews going again this summer.

I did have some uplifting moments at the end of the year.  In my Lab class, students did a reflection on the class.  I am always looking for input in my classes to help me reflect and figure out what I can do to better support my students and reach my goals of creating readers and writers.  Students are so honest when you ask them for their thoughts and opinions.  It has helped me immensely in this class especially.

There is a particular reading question I ask this group of students: What were your opinions about reading when you started this class?  Have they changed?  Why or why not?

A few students in this group really surprised me with their answers.  They gave amazing reasons for why choice is important in reading.  More than one students admitted to not liking reading at all, and while they are not great lovers of reading now, they see there are books that interest them that they may want to read.  Other students stated that a positive in the class was the variety of books they had to choose from.  Two responses really stood out to me the most:

I always was a big fan of reading, but I thought we were going to have to read baby books. Instead Mrs.Crawford let us choose what we wanted which I thought was very cool.

Reading was boring and lame until I read Dope Sick. I’ll only read books like that because I connect with no problem.

This reminded me why I do what I do.  I am the “crazy reading teacher” because I truly believe in choice and the power of it.  This choice helps students change their expectations of a class.  It also helps students find those books.  The second student I had worked with for a good majority of the year.  He finished that book and was proud to have done so.  I am glad I could see that experience for him.

Choice changes students.  I am glad I was reminded that to help wrap up the year on a good note.

 

 

A Happy Thought

15 May

Things have been super crazy!  Prom was last week, the end of the year is approaching, and my to-do list gets longer and longer no matter how much I seem to check off it.  I am sure many teachers are in the same boat!  I have just been so caught up in everything, I have not taken much of a break lately.  But here I am now.

I wanted to share something pretty awesome that happened in my third hour today.  I have been having so much fun this trimester with this funny, insightful, hard working group.  While I strive to build up the reading community in all my classes, this one has really been thriving lately.  I book talk a book and it does not make it to the next class.  I have waiting lists for books.  When a student forgets the book he or she is reading at home, there is no fight and they browse for another.  We have just really been clicking.

One student has been reading The Fault in Our Stars since the start of the trimester.  A few other students, one girl in particular, have already read the book.  We have all talked about it a lot these last few weeks.  I have shared the trailers with this group and talked about the excitement for the movie.  I have checked in with the student who is reading it many times and she has just promoted this book weekly.

Well, she finished the book today.  She proudly told me and again reiterated how much she loved it.  I told her how happy I was that she liked it and asked her for the book.  Students were packing up and getting ready for the bell.  I raised the book up and said, “I just got The Fault in Our Stars back and does…”

Before I could even finish that statement, another student yelled, “ME!” and ran up to get it.  I handed it right off to her.  This girl giggled with glee, I am not even exaggerating in that statement.  I wish I had my camera on me to capture the pure joy on her face that she was going to be able to read it now.  It really made my day to see how happy and excited she felt.

I can feel very overwhelmed with the state of education right now.  There is a lot of pressure on teachers and our workload seems never ending.  But when moments like this happen, it makes it all worth it.  These moments are what carry me through and remind me that this is what I love to do.

World Book Night 2014

25 Apr

Wednesday, April 23rd marked one of my favorite days of the year: World Book Night. World Book Night is a non-profit campaign that empowers book givers to share 500,000 new books, all in one day, to light or non-readers. This Wednesday I was just one of 25,000 volunteer book givers.  This was my third year participating as a book giver.  Each year I love it more and more and enjoy sharing books with my students.

This year, we had five total teaches giving books to students: two English teachers, our ESL teacher, one of our music teachers, and one of our Special Education Co-Teachers.  We had a selection of four different books to give to students.

I gave away The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a book I truly enjoyed and feel many of my students could appreciate and enjoy.  As I gave books, students were surprised to be getting a book, for free no less.  They all expressed gratitude.  I told them a little about Charlie and the book.  Some students knew a little bit about if from having heard of the movie and were looking forward to reading it.  I was able to give the book to current as well as former students for them to enjoy.

He wanted a picture of me and the book.

He wanted a picture of me and the book.

Showing off her brand new book.

Showing off her brand new book.

I hope to follow up with the students soon to see what they think of the book.  All teachers that gave reported very excited and appreciative students.  We are all happy we did it.

Be sure to check out WBN for yourself here.  You can learn more about this amazing event and sign up for their email list to know when books are selected for 2015 and when you can apply to be a donor.

My fourth hour recipients.

My fourth hour recipients.

My co-teacher Kelli and me with our third hour recipients.

My co-teacher Kelli and me with our third hour recipients.

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