Wednesday, October 30, 2013

REVIEW: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Title: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein Website Twitter
Publisher: Egmont Press
Release Date: February 6, 2012
Pages: 447
Buy It! amazon
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmf├╝hrer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team.

First Thoughts: A somewhat slow start but a GREAT finish! This book made me stop in awe, it made me gasp in shock, and it made me cry in heartbreak. What a story!

As the book says, “careless talk costs lives” and in that sense, I don’t want to ruin anything for future readers (and you all should be future readers of this book). I don’t want to give away spoilers and ruin the reading experience because there are multiple BIG twists throughout this story. Many times I found myself sitting and staring at the book in disbelief. So, needless to say, this review will be brief, but only because I want all of you to read this book!

Even though this book is historical fiction, it feels real - really real. The interrogation scenes, even though they aren’t extremely descriptive, gave me goosebumps. To think that soldiers went through that? Ugh! The way Wein describes the planes? I felt like I went to flight school right alongside Maddie. The best part of this story, though, isn’t any of the historical references - it’s the friendship between Maddie and Queenie. So often in young adult literature, the storyline centers on some love interest; in Code Name Verity, it’s all about the friendship. The love these girls feel for each other is so real, it’s almost palpable. Honestly, within this war story full of death, violence, and destruction there is beauty in the girls’ friendship.

This book definitely starts as a slow read, and maybe that’s purposeful. This is not a fluff story to breeze through, the reader needs to work, but it is so worth it in the end. I’ll admit I had a hard time getting into the story; I questioned all of the raving reviews I read. But, as soon as Wein revealed the first twist, I was officially hooked.

Final Thoughts: This book is a classic (ignore what its published date says). It should, and probably will, be read, shared, and talked about for years to come. Again, what a story!

Who Should Read It? If you enjoy historical fiction, particularly WWII literature, definitely add this to your TBR list. I think the appeal goes beyond historical fiction readers though. It is not an easy book to read, for many reasons, but the mark it leaves on you is well worth the emotional investment. Read this book!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books for Halloween

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This week's topic is: Top Ten Books to Read for Halloween

In all honesty, I usually avoid scary and creepy books. I scare myself often enough, I don’t need books to add to my paranoia. I am trying to branch out as a reader this year, though, so creepy books have, well, crept into my TBR pile. Below is a list of five books I highly recommend for Halloween season and five books I’m still working up the courage to read.

Also, here's a picture of my "Spooktacular Stories" bulletin board in my classroom, and yes, I am a fan of lame puns.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine, #1)  

                     The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer, #1)   I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent, #1)   Born of Illusion (Born of Illusion, #1)

1. In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters - love, love, love this debut novel! Creepy cover and creepy story. This should be on the top of your Halloween TBR list!

2. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - the creepy cover will suck you in and the story will keep a hold on you. Seriously, how do you walk away from this cover without giving the book a try?

3. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin - mental institution creepy! I felt Mara’s fear right alongside her. Noises in the basement while reading this book? Yep, my knife-wielding husband had to go check them out.

4. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga - Loved this book! It’s not creepy in a monster and ghost way, but it’s creepy in a murder way...even worse, in my opinion. Lots of lock checking after this one.

5. Born of Illusion by Teri Brown - I love a good 1920s fictional story, and this one features magic, which is quickly becoming a guilty reading pleasure of mine. Speaking to spirits definitely makes my creepy things list.

                         The Coldest Girl in Coldtown   The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)   A Monster Calls
                                               Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna, #1)   This is Not a Test

6. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black - I’ve heard this is a non-Twilight vampire book. Vampires have always intrigued me, but Twilight just didn’t do it. This might just be the book I’ve been waiting for.

7. The Diviners by Libba Bray - The 1920s? The occult? Supernatural powers? Yes! This might actually move up to the top of my TBR list.

8. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - I’ve yet to read a Patrick Ness book, but this might just be the book that does it. Plus, I’m intrigued by the creepy cover.

9. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake - I’ve heard nothing but great reviews of this book. And the! Might be too bloody for me, but wow nonetheless.

10. This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers - apocalypse stories are quite popular right now, but for some reason this one sounds extra creepy. Count me in (but only when it’s light outside).

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Something a little different on the blog today. This year a committee of teachers, including myself, brought a new reading initiative to our school: One Book One School. This took A LOT of planning and work, but wow was it worth it. Below are my thoughts and reflections on our program, as well as a link to our local paper's coverage.

“Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters – the saints and the sinners, real or imagined – reading shows you how to be a better human being.”

I am a reader. I grew up reading under the covers with my digital alarm clock lighting up the pages. I carry a book with me everywhere I go and sneak a few pages in whenever I get the chance. I can’t wait to come to school to tell my students about what I read the night before. I firmly believe you can never own (or borrow from the library) too many books...just ask my husband. Being a reader defines who I am. Unfortunately, for many of our students, reading isn’t a part of who they are. Although reading can be a very personal and individual experience, it is made so much better when it can be shared with others. That’s where the inspiration for our inaugural One Book One School came from: making reading an engaging shared experience.

One Book One School (OBOS) is an all school reading initiative. Basically, we chose one book - Neal Shusterman’sUnwind - and everyone involved in the school – students, staff, coaches, teachers, etc – received a copy and read that book. With One Book One School, the hope is that we spread the desire to read for fun and enjoyment. Too often, in the high school, we commit readicide; we kill the love of reading through assigning books to read and analyze. Don’t get me wrong, this analysis is an important skill for students to develop. However, we do a disservice to students if we don’t introduce them to reading for pleasure. Reading for enjoyment can broaden a student’s horizons and spark an interest in learning. The overall goal is that we share a reading experience that will result in the following outcomes:
1. Students will enjoy reading a book for fun
2. Students’ reading test scores will improve (currently, 58% of students meet standards)
3. The entire school will have a positive shared experience

As I reflect on our inaugural year of OBOS, I can’t help but smile. Whether or not we achieved our goals is yet to be seen, but did we make a difference? Most definitely! I saw kids sitting in the hallways before school reading Unwind. I heard students in the hallways joking about being “unwound” (maybe not something to joke about, but hey, at least they were talking about the book). I had teachers, many many teachers, tell me about the positive impact it had on their students. Our attendance queen, Mrs. Shea, who helped make all of this possible, shared stories of often absent or truant students who came to her office eager to talk about the book and see the author.

And as for the author visit, what a great experience for our students! We were privileged to be one of the few schools on Neal Shusterman’s book tour, thanks to the planning and hard work of our fantastic librarian, Mr. Pearson. Our students asked thoughtful questions - actually, Neal shared that he was blown away by the insight in the questions our students posed - which led to two great presentations. Goosebumps ran up my arms watching students run up to the stage to ask more questions or to snap pictures. My favorite moment of the day was when a student asked where Shusterman got the inspiration for the clappers. Students who read the book turned to some of their confused classmates and excitedly explained who and what the clappers are. That excitement and passion came from a book - amazing!

Of course the question now is “What about next year?” Well, our committee definitely hopes there is a next year and a year after that and so on. We plan on surveying the school to find out the actual impact of the program. From there, we’ll decide what next year’s One Book One School looks like. We need to pick a book and we need to find funding (always the biggest hurdle in anything a school does). We also want to expand the outreach of our committee to students, parents, and community members.

As Donalyn Miller - reading guru extraordinaire -so beautifully stated, reading can change your life, it can unlock worlds you didn’t know existed, and it can make you a better human being. If we’ve accomplished this, even a little bit, for just one student, then what we’ve done this year at McHenry West is a huge success!

If anyone has any suggestions or wants to be a part of next year’s reading, planning, and fundraising please let us know. Until then, Happy Reading!

Here's a link to our local newspaper's coverage of the event:

Friday, October 25, 2013

REVIEW: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

The Testing (The Testing, #1)
Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau Website Twitter Facebook
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Pages: 336
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one in the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies--trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

First Thoughts: After a self-imposed dystopian hiatus, this was just the book I needed to get me going again!

Let me start by saying I am a HUGE fan of dystopians! So much so, that for awhile it was all I read - I was stuck in a rut. Over the summer, I made myself take a break. I read realistic fiction, verse novels, historical fiction, paranormals - everything but dystopians. I’m glad I took that break for two reasons. One, I read some AMAZING books that might have taken a backseat otherwise. Two, when I ended my hiatus, it made The Testing that much better.

As always, I loved the strong female protagonist. Cia knows what’s right and she’ll do anything to fight for it, even if it makes her look weak or too trusting. There were points I wanted to put the book down and yell at her for some of her decisions. There were points I thought she was crazy for trusting certain people (even when her dad told her “trust no one”...come on Cia!!).  But, after I turned the final page, I realized Cia was Cia; she, unlike many characters, stayed true to herself through the entire testing process. And that, more than anything, is what I loved about her.

As a reader, I really enjoyed the “trust no one” premise. I constantly found myself questioning every characters’ motives. I, along with Cia, never knew who was good or who was bad. That tension kept me on the edge of my seat up until the very last page.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I almost could have done without the romance in the novel altogether. I liked Cia on her own, and I didn’t want her to rely on Tomas for survival. Plus, the love between Cia and Tomas is not entirely believable at first. I needed more of a build-up: tension-filled moments, stolen glances, questioning feelings. It jumped from kind of liking to in love too fast for me.

At times, I did feel that The Testing featured some extreme parallels to The Hunger Games. Now, this is true for almost every dystopian (they are all based on the same broken-down, corrupt government storyline after all), but there were moments I wished Charbonneau pushed the story further off the well-worn path. The biggest sticking point, for me, was the premise of teens killing each other to win a competition, in this case The Test. Overall though, The Testing features enough unique differences that is does stand on its own.

Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book, and I’m just as excited for its sequel - Independent Study. This is going to be a top recommendation for all of my dystopian readers - a great series for them to continue on with!

Who Should Read It? Dystopian fans, this is a must-read for you! If you tore through The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Legend then you will fly through this one as well. It has action, intrigue, just a bit of romance, and it will leave you hanging at the end of every chapter. And, added bonus for my students, Joelle Charbonneau is a local author - how cool!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

REVIEW: I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder

I Heart You, You Haunt Me
Title: I Heart You, You Haunt Me
Author: Lisa Schroeder Website Twitter Facebook
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: January 8, 2008
Pages: 227
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads:
Girl meets boy.
Girl loses boy.
Girl gets boy back...
..sort of.

Ava can't see him or touch him,
unless she's dreaming.
She can't hear his voice,
except for the faint whispers in her mind.
Most would think she's crazy, but she knows he's here.

The boy Ava thought she'd spend the rest of her life with.
He's back from the dead,
as proof that love truly knows no bounds.

First Thoughts: After stealing this book away before another student grabbed it (sorry girls), I completely understand why this book is spreading like wildfire through my classroom. A beautiful, grief-filled story sure to make any reader feel.

Everytime I read a verse novel, I’m reminded of how much I enjoy them. Why don’t I make an effort to read more of them? Maybe this will be a challenge for myself in the coming year (that along with scary books, which even thinking about gives me the heebie-jeebies).

I came to read this book in a very random way, at least compared to my usual reading habits. I was first introduced to the title during an online summer PD reading experience - YA Lit 101. I didn’t read the book then, instead I read October Mourning. But, this title stuck in the back of my mind. On a recent Half-Price Books visit, I stumbled across a copy of the book. Of course I bought it, book-talked it the next day in class, and since then I Heart You, You Haunt Me has been passed from reader to reader, finally landing on my desk before a long weekend.

This is a quick, intense story all about a teenage girl learning to deal with unfathomable grief. As my female students read, they openly cried in the middle of class. I mean, serious tears flowing as they choked out, “this book is just. so. sad.” Talk about some visceral reading! Admittedly there were no tears for me, but I still felt the raw emotions along with Ava as she experienced them. I have to say, I was shocked when I found out Jackson actually haunts her - real cold air, goosebumps, face in the mirror haunting. For some reason I assumed the “haunting” meant she just couldn’t forget him. I liked the actual ghost aspect though, especially since fall is in the air, pumpkins adorn doorsteps, and the darkness creeps in at night just a bit quicker.

And, telling this story in verse is perfect! The story moves quickly and the poetic nature of the words makes Ava’s grief, fear, and on-edge-sanity almost palpable. Although readers sometimes judge verse novels as too difficult (ah, the polarizing effect of poetry), I think this novel is actually easier to read, which makes it that much more popular amongst teen readers.

Final Thoughts: Although it didn’t move me to tears quite like some of my student readers, I completely understand the appeal of this story. Coping with grief is something no one wants to go through, and reading Ava’s story really hits home. I can see why this book is quickly becoming one of the most popular reads in our classroom!

Who Should Read It? Based on my classroom experience, this book connects the most with girls. Really, any girls. My fans of horror, realistic fiction, fantasy, romance, etc - they’ve all read this book and loved it. Like I said, it might make you cry, but isn’t that just deep reading?