Archive | January, 2014

Roomies: A Review

31 Jan

Title: Roomies

Authors: Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

Format: ARC from NCTE

Release Date: December 24, 2013

Summary (from Goodreads): It’s time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl’s summer — and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they’ve never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.

My number one question about this novel: Where was a book like this when I was getting ready to leave for college?  There were so many parts in both Elizabeth’s and Lauren’s stories that brought me back to the summer before my freshman year of college.  The feelings they have – excitement, apprehension, curiosity – are very realistic and honest.  I remember wondering what my roommate would be like and what would happen to my friendships from high school as we all traveled down different roads.  I smiled many times throughout reading Roomies as I felt very nostalgic for college.

I really liked the use of both Elizabeth’s and Lauren’s perspective.  They are two very different girls with very different views and experiences.  For example, Elizabeth is an only child; Lauren is the eldest of six children.  There differences become clear through the emails they send.  At times the girls feel a very strong connection, while at others they question if they will actually be able to live together.  Readers get to read both the emails and experience the twists and turns of each girl’s summer.  Both girls are well-developed, complex characters.  Readers will like both girls, yet also question some of their decisions.  Elizabeth and Lauren are interesting girls to get to know.  I could see some of my students in both girls.

Roomies is part of the emerging genre of “new adult.”  If other books in New Adult are similar to this, I can see the genre gaining momentum with college-aged readers.  The first class I plan to book talk this with is my seniors I have this trimester.  I think it can help them feel better about any fears or stress they have as college looms in the very near future and many are preparing to leave home for the first time.  That is one of the amazing powers of books – to realize you are never alone in how you feel.

3.5/5 stars

These Broken Stars: A Review

30 Jan

Title: These Broken Stars

Authors: Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Format: Hardcover, personal purchase

Release Date: December 10, 2013

Summary (from Goodreads): It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone. 

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help. 

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.

A timeless love story, THESE BROKEN STARS sets into motion a sweeping science fiction series of companion novels. The Starbound Trilogy: Three worlds. Three love stories. One enemy.

I will admit: I bought These Broken Stars kind of on a whim.  I had read a few reviews that all seemed positive so I took a chance.  While it broke my “don’t get into a series until it’s complete” rule (but really, will I ever follow that rule?), I gave it a shot.  I was looking for a new world to fall into and These Broken Stars gave me just what I was looking for.

I am becoming a bigger and bigger science-fiction fan.  Over the last couple of years, I have stepped out of my comfort zone and found a number of sci-fi titles I really love.  This book is making me appreciation sci-fi even more.  The futuristic setting and learning more about the time and world Lilac and Tarver live in pulls me in.  Not every aspect of that world is explained and readers have to infer a bit and not every question will be answered.  It is interesting to imagine being able to travel to so many different parts of the universe and the large number of planets to choose from.

The suspense in These Broken Stars builds throughout the whole book.  Wondering how Lilac and Tarver will survive kept me in the novel as they traveled across this strange and unusual planet.  Wanting to understand the “whispers” myself kept me turning pages for more answers.  There were times my eyes would widen with complete and total surprise at some twists the plot took.  Every time I thought I had figured something out, within a few pages I realized I knew nothing.  Yet the places the plot took me, while I never saw them coming, seemed to fit.

I do enjoy stories with duel perspectives.  It helped to get to know the dynamic aspects of both Lilac and Tarver.  Readers get to watch their relationship form as each character reveals more about herself and himself.  I will admit, I did really enjoy the love story aspect of the plot.  I hold a soft spot for two people who originally dislike each other finding love. Another interesting aspect of the book are the snippets of interview before each chapter.  I don’t want to give too much away about those, so I will just say they add another whole level to the story.

I am very excited to discover the other worlds in this Starbound series, meet the new characters, and connect their stories back to Lilac and Tarver.  This Shattered World  is slated for a December 2014 release.  I plan on getting my hands on it as soon as possible.

4/5 stars

The Impossible Knife of Memory: A Review

29 Jan

Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Format: Hardcover, personal purchase

Release Date: January 7, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads): For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

First of all, I knew this book was going to be one I just HAD to get because Laurie Halse Anderson is one of my favorite authors.  I fell in love with her work when I read Speak in college for my Teaching Literature class.  She has been a popular author in my classroom and one I have shared with students countless times.  So when my good friend Beth informed me that Laurie would be stopping in Michigan during her book tour, I knew I had to be there.  On January 13, I had to opportunity to hear Laurie speak and meet her.  The night was amazing!  This woman is just amazing.  She shared how she got into writing.  And how she never really liked English classes in school, though she loved to read.  She talked of the importance of revision.  The strongest thing she said that stayed with me was this: “Teens don’t want to read books that suck.”  The most touching part was hearing from actual teen readers tell her how the books have affected them and how much they liked them.  I remember a girl sharing how reading one of the historical fiction books was the first book to make her feel like she was not in fifth grade and could read something more.  And of course, the girls sharing how Wintergirls helped her sister with her own battle with an eating disorder was powerful.

I was so happy to meet her and get my copy signed by her.

photo (2)

Now, on to the book itself.  As I have come to expect from Laurie’s work, I was hooked from page one.  I love the voice of Hayley.  She is witty and sarcastic, like may characters Laurie is known for.  With that tough, sarcastic outside, we do see the struggles that Hayley goes through as well.  There were plenty of times I ached for her and just wanted to hug her as she shared the struggles she went through with her dad.  It was clear to see how much Hayley loves her father and why it was so hard for her to share with others what was really going on.  I really felt a strong connection to Hayley.

Laurie mentioned in her talk that this is really the first time she incorporated a love story in one of her novels.  She mentioned she herself fell in love with Finn while writing him.  I also feel in love with him as I read him.  Sweet, charming, and funny, Finn is a great character and person for Hayley to connect with.  There is a lot going on in The Impossible Knife of Memory, yet it is all balanced and I feel the relationship between Hayley and Finn grows and develops well.  I can also see Finn being a character male readers can like and relate to.

Another powerful piece in this one are the few chapters told from Hayley’s father, Andy’s, point-of-view.  These are glimpses inside Andy’s mind and his struggles.  The topic of PTSD, and caring for a parent who is struggling with PTSD, is one not talked about enough.  Laurie has also shared that her own father suffered from PTSD and I believe her experiences help build the story of this book.  The insights gained from Andy as well as the book as a whole could definitely help readers experiencing a situation very close to Hayley’s.  I also hope this book can help people talk about PTSD more and begin important conversations with people of all ages.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  There are still times to laugh as well as a few parts that made me tear up and reflect.  I plan on this one being popular in my classroom.

4.5/5 stars

Winter Break Reading

8 Jan

This year, winter break was extended by three days thanks to the “Polar Vortex” that pounded many areas across the country.  As the trimester had just started before break, I did not have too much to do work related.  Along with spending a lot of time with family and friends, I spent a good portion of break reading.   Here is a quick recap of what I read over my winter break, including over the extended days.

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney 

This has been on my to-read pile for a very long time.  It actually was part of one of my Donors Choose projects.  I finally started reading it just before school let out for break.  Alex’s story pulls you in immediately as she wakes up naked in a boy’s room with no memory of what happened.  As she starts to piece it together, Alex realizes she was date raped.  I love that Whitney tackles the issue that not saying “no” does not equate consent, especially when alcohol is involved.  It definitely opens up a lot of conversations that are important for teens to have.  I plan on book talking this one when we do finally get back to school and talking with the students who do read it.

4/5 stars

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini 

This is another book that has sat on my to-read pile for far too long.  I will admit that news of Vizzini’s tragic death lead to me to put it on the top.  What an amazing book!  It is so real and raw.  The fact that Vizzini wrote it a month after his own stay in a psychiatric hospital makes it that much more powerful.  I can see why so many people have turned to this book when they have dealt with their own battle with depression.  The characters will stay with me for a long time to come and I hope to share this title with many more students.

5/5 stars

The Selection (The Selection #1) by Kiera Cass

I remember seeing this book around not too long ago but I did not pay much attention to it.  Honestly, the cover turned me off and I thought it was just some love story with princesses and castles and I shrugged it off.  Then, my good friend Jacqueline started talking about it because she had accidentally read the second book first and loved it.  She went back and read The Selection.  I looked into it more – Huger Games meets The Bachelor?  Sign me up!  I was surprised how wrapped up in this world I became.  It is dystopian and I definitely have a soft sport for them.  I love America as a character and I was swept away into the world of the palace.  I really recommend this series to other readers.  There is more to it than you may initially think.

5/5 stars

The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner 

I really do not want to say too much about this one because it will not be released until March.  My full review will post in March, so be on the look out for that.  I will say it is beautiful, just as The Pull of Gravity was.  Keep this one on your radar for 2014!

4.5/5 stars

The Elite (The Selection #2) by Kiera Cass

So of course, I had to devour the second book in the series after loving The Selection so much.  Really, this is everything I love about the second book in a trilogy.  We learn so much more about the society and the problems within it.  America evolves more, as do so many of the other characters.  I do not want to give too much away since this is the second book in the series.  If you like The Selection, you will not be disappointed with this book.  The final book in the trilogy, The One is scheduled to be released on May 6th.  I will be there!

4/5 stars

My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi 

I heard of this book from my good friend Sarah over at YA Love Blog. I was intrigued by a book dealing with the issue of HIV.  There are amazing books out there dealing with many issues related to teens and decisions and consequences related to sex, but before this one, I had never heard of one dealing with HIV.  I think this is a pretty powerful issue that should be talked about.  There is a part in the novel where Lucy states that even in sex education classes, they never tell you about after.  You could contract HIV from having unprotected sex, but no one talks about what to do if you do.  Overall, I did like the book, but there were times I had a hard time with Lucy as a character.  I cannot imagine how I would react in Lucy’s situation, but I did have a hard time with some of her reactions and decisions throughout the book.  This is another book to start a conversation that could be very beneficial for students.

3.5/5 stars

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Why did I wait so long to start reading this one?  I picked it up not long after it was published but did not get into it until my little extended break this week.  Basically, Rainbow Rowell is now an author I will read no matter what!  I love Eleanor and Park so much and Fangirl did not disappoint at all!  I loved Cath and saw parts of myself in her.  Plus, I loved that this had to do with writing fanfiction.  (I will admit I used to write some myself about Harry Potter but I digress.)  This was a book I never wanted to put down.  I would maybe say it is more “New Adult” than “Young Adult” but I can think of some students who would love it.  Keep Rainbow on your radar – she is going to make some big strides in the coming years.

5/5 stars

What am I reading now?

My goal for 2014 is 100 books, so I am starting off strong.  Currently, I am reading These Broken Stars (Starbound #1) by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner. I read about it in one of the blogs I follow.  I picked it up with Christmas gift cards.  I think I chose it because it has a sci-fi element and I wanted to escape to a different world like Cath does in Fangirl.  I am just getting into it, about 70 or so pages it, and I am loving it.  I swore off getting into series too close to the start, but I couldn’t help myself.

What’s up next?

Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest book was released yesterday.  My friend Leanne picked me up a copy, but thanks to snow days, I do not have it in my possession yet.  However, I may even pause These Broken Stars when I do get my hands on The Impossible Knife of Memory.  I will actually be going to an author event with Anderson next Monday so I would love to have it read when I meet her.  I have been looking forward to this one for a few months now and have heard nothing but amazing things about it.  Look for a review in the very near future!

 

My Word for 2014: More

5 Jan

Happy 2014!  What a cold, snowy start to the new year!  As I type this, I am watching the snow fall and while it looks beautiful, it seems we are in for quite a few more inches of snow on top of what we have already had.  Hope everyone is snuggled in warm and safe during these next few days!

The start of the year brings up the talks of resolutions.  I always used to make resolutions: lose weight, work out, on and on and on.  I never really kept them.  I think I stopped a few years ago and just kept my thoughts of the new year sweet and simple: be a good person, friend, teacher, etc.  That works a bit better for me.

This year, I saw on Twitter (of course!) the talk of what is your word for 2014 (sorry I do not know where this started).  This got me thinking about what my word would be.  I had been playing with a resolution idea: read more, write more, laugh more, love more, happy more (with input from Laurie Halse Anderson!).  That fit into being a better person and being happy.  So I have decided my word is more for 2014.

Read More & Write More

Reading makes me very happy.  I love getting lost in a book and sharing my love of reading with my students and other readers.  The more I read, the better off we will all be.  Along with YA titles, I plan on reading more professional texts, too.

When it comes to writing, I know I just need to write.  When I do write, I become a better writer and a better teacher of writing.  I have been doing more than I have in a long time and just going with it.  I want to continue it.  In that, I want to write here more too so it all goes together.

Laugh More

The older I get, the more I realize that life is short, probably too short.  It is too short to focus on the negative.  I have made a decision to focus on the positive and to laugh.  Life is so much better that way.  I want to continue to do that.  It makes my days better and I think those around me better as well.

Love More

Life is love.  That is all there to it.  The older I get, the more I appreciate how blessed I am.  I have amazing family and friends in my life.  Family time this break was amazing!  So I want to remind those I love that I do love them and spend as much time as possible with them all.

Happy More

I think doing all these things will make me more happy and make life that much better.  So here is to 2014 and doing more. 

Happy New Year!