Friday, November 29, 2013

REVIEW: Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTitle: Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt Website Facebook Twitter
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Pages: 335
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: 1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

First Thoughts: I’m not usually one for comparisons, but as I read this novel I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Harper Lee’s powerful classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. This story is a poignant, modern take on Lee’s coming-of-age story.

Let me start with why this is a 4 star, not 5 star book for me - it took me a little while to get into it. Once I was into the book? Wow! This is not an action-packed book. It’s not a conflict-driven plot. It’s simply a beautiful book about life told through incredibly real characters. It doesn’t have a happy heart-warming ending, necessarily; it’s just real life.

These complex characters are beyond real; this easily could be read as a memoir or piece of nonfiction. Because they are so real, they are extremely relatable. I found pieces of myself in June, and even in Greta, although I strongly disliked her for the majority of the novel. In June, I saw my strong sense of family and tradition. I don’t do well with change, and change sends June’s life into a tailspin. Although I hated (yes, hated) Greta for most of the story, I ended up completely understanding her. Growing up isn’t easy, especially when you’re the oldest. She wants to be older, she wants to be mature, and yet, she still wants to play invisible mermaids with her younger sister. I completely get that.

The characters, as individuals, are complex, but the relationships are really what make this story so poignant and powerful. As in life, there is a twisted web of relationships built on love, hate, secrets, and expectations. Although the sisters’ relationship drives the book, I found the most intrigue in the dynamics between Danni (the mother), Finn (the uncle), and Toby (the uncle’s boyfriend). The further the story went, the more layers that appeared. Even by the end of the book, I wasn’t sure how to feel about certain characters, but they definitely made me feel.

Obviously, this story is about the characters and their relationships, but it’s also a snapshot of our history - 1987 in NYC. I found it surreal to think about the panic AIDS caused. I was too young to experience the hysteria, anxiousness, and panic that the outbreak and publicizing of the disease caused, but it came through loud and clear in this novel. When you think about it 1987 isn’t that long ago, and yet, in reading this book, it seems like lifetimes ago. But has much changed? There’s still panic and misinformation. There’s still judgment and intolerance. There’s still sickness and death. As a country and as people, we’ve come a long way, but when you look at our current society, I strongly believe that we still have a long way to go.

Final Thoughts: This is a book you can’t help but feel. Whatever the feeling is - grief, love, loss, happiness - you  will feel something as you read this book.

Who Should Read It? Although the book is told from a fourteen year-old’s perspective, I think this book is written for a more mature, older audience (it’s in the adult fiction section at the library). I think some young adult readers are ready for the book, but I would recommend it more to upperclassmen and adults. I actually think we should teach this book in place of, or alongside, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

REVIEW: Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

Ghost HawkTitle: Ghost Hawk
Author: Susan Cooper Website Facebook
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Pages: 336
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: From Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper, a story of adventure and friendship between a young Native American and a colonial New England settler.

On the winter day Little Hawk is sent into the woods alone, he can take only a bow and arrows, his handcrafted tomahawk, and the amazing metal knife his father traded for with the new white settlers. If Little Hawk survives three moons by himself, he will be a man.

John Wakely is only ten when his father dies, but he has already experienced the warmth and friendship of the nearby tribes. Yet his fellow colonists aren’t as accepting of the native people. When he is apprenticed to a barrel-maker, John sees how quickly the relationships between settlers and natives are deteriorating. His friendship with Little Hawk will put both boys in grave danger.

The intertwining stories of Little Hawk and John Wakely are a fascinating tale of friendship and an eye-opening look at the history of our nation. Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper also includes a timeline and an author’s note that discusses the historical context of this important and moving novel.

First Thoughts: After seriously considering abandoning this book, ultimately, I’m glad I stuck with it. My advice? Get to the BIG twist (you’ll know what I mean), and you’ll get hooked.

After finishing this book, I’m left with some conflicted feelings. I went from not liking this book at all (almost abandoning it), to getting really engaged in it, to learning that it’s not really an accurate portrayal of Native Americans of the time period.

I had a really, really hard time getting into this book. Everyday my students commented on my lack of reading progress. They kept telling me it must not be the right book for me (think they hear that often?), and I agree that this is definitely not my kind of book at all. However, it came recommended by some trusted sources so I read on. I’m glad I did, because at the halfway point or so, I finally got engaged. There is a SHOCKING turning point that really changes the path of the story. For as much as I was stuck in the beginning, I flew through the second half of the book.

Even though this is a young adult book (even promoted for tweens), I don’t really feel it’s for a young adult crowd, or at least not a broad crowd. Its pacing is extremely slow (the reason I almost abandoned it) and there’s a lot of descriptive detail. I found the prose, in some places, beautiful, but that’s not always a huge draw to my student readers.

In doing some research after finishing the book, apparently, there are many issues about the portrayal of Native Americans. They are in no way represented in a poor light, but nonetheless, everything in the book is not historically accurate. Even though this novel is labeled historical fantasy, it’s hard to separate from the historical piece. I’m really disappointed in this, because I felt like the novel provided a lot of information. Admittedly, I don’t know enough about Native American culture, beyond what I learned in school. However, if you’d like to know more about the discrepancies and criticism of the book check out Debbie Reese’s blog here.

Final Thoughts: I’m not sure how to feel, even weeks after finishing this book. It was a REALLY slow start for me, but I ended up finishing the second half in one night. I think it’s worth a read for fans of this genre, but it’s not worth a trip outside your reading comfort zone.

Who Should Read It? I think this book has an audience in survival and wilderness readers. I also think readers of this time period of historical fiction will enjoy this story (remember it’s not factual). I know a few students I will recommend this to, but I don’t think I would do a whole-group book talk with it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I'm Thankful For

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

This week's topic is: Top Ten Books I’m Thankful For

As books are a huge part of my life (duh), I am thankful for each and every one I read. I am thankful for the wonderful, talented authors who write them. I am thankful for the publishers who get them into our hands. I am thankful for the teachers, students, family, friends, and bloggers who recommend them. I am thankful.

Below are the ten books I am most thankful for this year - some because their messages are life-changing, beautiful, and oh-so-necessary; others because they possess the power to reach some of my most stubborn reluctant readers.

For Their Message:

Wonder Reality Boy    Eleanor & Park
                                          Winger    Every Day (Every Day, #1)

1. Wonder by R.J. Palacio - Choose Kind...simple as that! But seriously, this book will move you to tears - both happy and sad - and change the way you look at life. It needs to be a One Book One WORLD read!

2. Reality Boy by A.S. King - Wow! A book that shows the real, devastating side of teenage anger. Gerald’s story is funny and tragic at the same time. King shows her readers the realness of anger and the downward spiral it can send one on.

3. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell - I know, I know, you’ve all heard me gush about this book all year, but I promise it’s for good reason. Months after finishing this book, I still can’t get Eleanor and Park out of my head (or my heart).

4. Winger by Andrew Smith - Not only is Ryan Dean one of my all-time favorite narrators, but this ending? Devastating! I can’t tell you what the message of the book is, because it will ruin the ending, but trust me, you need to read this one.

5. Every Day by David Levithan - This book isn’t widely read in my classroom, but those who read it are forever changed. It’s one of those books that makes you question the way you look at the world, the way you look at other people. Really, I could say the same about all of Levithan’s books.

For Their Must-Readability:

Looking for Alaska  Unwind (Unwind, #1)    Perfect Chemistry (Perfect Chemistry, #1)
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer, #1)    Divergent (Divergent, #1)

6. Looking for Alaska by John Green - Honestly, I’m thankful for all of John Green’s books, but for some reason this one is my go-to recommendation. It’s not quite as mainstream as The Fault in Our Stars, but there’s just something about it.

7. Unwind by Neal Shusterman - We used this as our One Book One School, which should tell you something about its mass appeal. I’m always amazed, year after year, by the diverse crowd this story reaches.

8. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles - This book is gold! For hooking reluctant readers, it doesn’t get much better than Simone Elkeles, and this book is the king of them all!

9. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin - This book! Oh, this book! Is it wrong if I say I’m thankful for Noah Shaw? The girls, myself included, can’t help but swoon over Noah. Plus, the story is phenomenal, and Mara, herself, is a pretty kick-butt, if not entirely sane, main character.

10. Divergent by Veronica Roth - No book, in the last few years, has had quite the impact in my classroom that this book has had. Now with the movie coming out, I can’t keep my three copies on the shelf. I’m using it as a read-aloud for my lowest readers and they would read all day every day if I let them. (I could still say the same for the Hunger Games, too)

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's Monday! What are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? (#IMWAYR) is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys with a kid/YA-lit spin hosted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts.

Past Reads: It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted my Monday reading...crazy time at school lately. Even though I haven’t posted, I’ve done some AMAZING reading (not quantity, but quality). I finished two life-changing books! I know that sounds over-the-top and cheesy, but in reality these books have changed my outlook on life and how I look at other people. If you haven’t already done so, you need to immediately drop everything and read Reality Boy by A.S. King and Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I cannot say enough about these two books...seriously, read them!

Reality Boy Wonder Ghost Hawk Tell the Wolves I'm Home

I also finished Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper; this one was seriously slow-moving for me. I got into the last third of the book, but I came so close to abandoning this one, and I never abandon books. It’s not my kind of book at all, which isn’t to say others won’t enjoy it. Too bad, too, because I was really excited about trying something different.

Another book I picked up based on recommendations was Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. I really enjoyed this book; it actually reminded me of a more modern To Kill a Mockingbird. I know this sounds sacrilegious, but I think we should look into teaching this instead of Mockingbird.

Current Reads: I’m just starting The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. I’ve read some AMAZING reviews, so I’m really excited to start it. I’m not normally a vampire-story reader (Twilight was not my thing at all), but I think this book might be my kind of thing. This is also my first young adult Holly Black read, which I’m super-stoked about (read her middle grade Doll Bones earlier this year).

Here’s the goodreads summary of the book:
The Coldest Girl in ColdtownTana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

I’m also slowly working my way through The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I’m reading it alongside an APLAC student for a nonfiction reading project she’s working on. It was slow going at first, but I’m really starting to get into it. I LOVE the Holmes serial-killer chapters, and I’ve actually started getting into the World’s Fair chapters as well - admittedly, I skimmed those to get to the Holmes chapters early on in the reading process. We’ll be done next week, and I’m glad I can finally cross this off my reading bucket list.

Future Reads: Based on my library checkouts, here’s what’s next: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, Mind Games by Kiersten White, Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff, and Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles. I am SO looking forward to Thanksgiving break for some reading-filled couch-time. Nothing better than being curled up with a bowl of Thanksgiving leftovers and a good book!

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock Mind Games (Mind Games, #1)    Picture Me Gone    Wild Cards (Wild Cards, #1)

What are you reading? What have you just finished? What are your top recommendations? Leave me a comment as I'm always looking for books to add to my To-Be-Read list!

Friday, November 22, 2013

REVIEW:The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

The Chaos of Stars
Title: The Chaos of Stars
Author: Kiersten White Website Twitter Facebook
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Pages: 288
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: Isadora’s family is seriously screwed up.

Of course, as the human daughter of Egyptian gods, that pretty much comes with the territory. She’s also stuck with parents who barely notice her, and a house full of relatives who can’t be bothered to remember her name. After all, they are going to be around forever—and she’s a mere mortal.

Isadora’s sick of living a life where she’s only worthy of a passing glance, and when she has the chance to move to San Diego with her brother, she jumps on it. But Isadora’s quickly finding that a “normal” life comes with plenty of its own epic complications—and that there’s no such thing as a clean break when it comes to family. Much as she wants to leave her past behind, she can’t shake the ominous dreams that foretell destruction for her entire family. When it turns out there may be truth in her nightmares, Isadora has to decide whether she can abandon her divine heritage after all.

First Thoughts: Took me a little bit to get into the story (I have NO background knowledge when it comes to Egyptian mythology), but when I did, I couldn’t put it down. A fun read, in which I *gasp* learned a bit as well!

I was drawn to this book for two reasons: I really liked Kiersten White’s Paranormalcy series, and I heard it featured mythology. Other than that, I went into this book blind, really knowing nothing about it. When I started reading, I realized my assumptions were incorrect; yes, it’s about mythology, but it’s Egyptian mythology, not Greek, as I wrongly assumed. This made the book somewhat difficult at first because I know NOTHING about Egyptian mythology. I found myself rereading, flipping back to remember who a god or goddess was, and only reading for short chunks at a time (instead of my usual “finish the book in one day” reading), but once I got going, I really enjoyed it (and ended up finishing it during one curled-up-on-the-couch afternoon)!

I am a nerd; I love learning. This book quenched my desire for knowledge in a fun way. I learned so much about the Egyptian gods through the story alone, plus, it actually made me look up some myths and do some mini-research just because I wanted to know more. Why do we only teach the Greeks? I mean, I love the Greeks, but the Egyptians seem to have some crazy incestual family stories just like the gods on Mount Olympus. Although, not to give anything away, but I loved the bits of Greek mythology White wove into the story as well.

As for the characters, I started with mixed emotions but soon came to love and appreciate them. Isadora could be somewhat annoying at times, but isn’t that true for most teenage girls (I know, I was one). She is stubborn, hard-headed, and fueled by emotions (even when she’s trying to cut them off) - basically your typical teenage girl. Also, White’s representation of teenagers’ relationships with their parents is spot on - teenagers think parents are ALWAYS wrong, but then realize, that maybe they are actually right. Sound familiar? And as for the male lead, Ry (Orion)? So swoon-worthy - something every fun read needs. Seriously, those blue eyes? Dreamy!

I did feel like the end of the story felt somewhat rushed. There was foreshadowing throughout, and then it all just seemed to end in the last 20 pages or so. I wish White drew out the end a bit more, because once I got into the story, I was really into the story.

Final Thoughts: The further I got into the story, the more and more I liked it. Not a “must-read”, but definitely a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon curled up under a blanket.

Who Should Read It? This is a great twist on ancient Egyptian mythology. I think fans of mythology in general and fans of the Percy Jackson series should give this a try. It’s a fun read and yet it’s extremely informative when it comes to the Egyptian gods and goddesses, particularly Osiris and Isis...I learned A TON!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

REVIEW: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Just One Day (Just One Day, #1)Title: Just One Day
Author: Gayle Forman Website Twitter Facebook
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Pages: 368
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: A breathtaking journey toward self-discovery and true love, from the author of If I Stay.

When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

First Thoughts: I read Just One Day in, well, just one day!

In typical Gayle Forman fashion...what a book!?! A book that can make you love a character, hate a character, and then just be absolutely confused about that same character...errrr! She sure does like to send her readers on emotional rollercoasters; thank you for that Gayle! And, there’s Shakespeare! Does it get any better than that? (Nope, the answer is nope!).

As a reader, I got so swept up in their love story; I mean, come one, it’s Paris! I fell in love with Willem right alongside Allyson; I really think it’s impossible not to. Everything he said just felt so real. I love his comparison of love to a stain - it’s not always pretty, but you’re permanently marked. It’s just so true. Once you’ve fallen in love, you are forever changed; the love might not last forever, but you will never be the person you were before experiencing it. I’ve never thought of love in quite that way, but it makes complete sense. Love is a stain. And their love - Willem and Allyson’s - it had to be real, right? He can’t be that big of a jerk, right? Because if it wasn’t real, then everything he said is just a lie, and if it’s all just a lie...ugh! See? I told you - emotional rollercoaster.

Although it’s definitely a romance, Just One Day is ultimately a story of self-discovery (cheesy, but true). Allyson needed to find who she is, not who everyone else tells her she is. Don’t we all go through that, even if just a little bit? We get so caught up in trying to please everyone else that we sometimes forget what we’re truly passionate about. I’m thankful I’ve always been surrounded by those who encourage rather than stifle. I felt Allyson’s struggle, her pain, her rock bottom. Some of the story may seem a little unbelievable or implausible, but through it all I rooted for Allyson’s happiness.

As I sit here and rehash the emotional rollercoaster of this book, I know I NEED Just One Year. I need to know Willem’s side of the story. I need to know they’ll both be happy (together or apart, I just want them at peace). I just need to know what happens! Come on library hold; get here faster!

Final Thoughts: This is a book that readers will absolutely love or feel completely let down by; either way, it’s definitely not just a so-so book! It’s an emotional book that’s sure to create an emotional prepared!

Who Should Read It? If you don’t like love stories, this is definitely not the book for you! It has romance, travel, self-doubt, self-discovery...again emotional rollercoaster. It’s a book that’s going to make you feel. Personally, I think it’s more suited towards female readers, but as the second book is told from Willem’s perspective, who am I to say it doesn’t have more universal appeal.

On a sidenote, this may be more appropriate for older teens. The main character just graduated high school, she’s traveling Europe alone (well, without her parents), and she falls in love. There’s one sexual scene, but nothing too descriptive or explicit. I think mature young teens can handle it, but ultimately, it’s up to parental choice.