Wednesday, July 23, 2014

We Were Liars - E. Lockhart


Summary:
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.
Summary and cover image from http://www.emilylockhart.com/books/we-were-liars

My Review: Cadence Sinclair Eastman has lived a privileged life. She descends from a long line of well-to-do Sinclairs and spends her summers on a private island with her cousins. Life hasn't exactly been a cakewalk for these children who all come from divorced families but they long for nothing that money can buy. And when worse comes to worse they have each other. Or do they?

The summer Cadence turns fifteen a terrible accident takes place. This accident leaves her with debilitating migraine headaches and steals her memories of that particular summer. Cadence is determined to find out the truth behind the accident but her cousins aren't talking and the rest of the family tiptoes around her, careful not to arouse the painful monster lurking under the surface. Cadence may be alone in her quest but she is tenacious. Will the truth set her free or destroy life as she knows it?

This is a powerful novel. One that explores the influence of money and the destruction of greed. The author divulges Cadences tale with the use of fabulous metaphors throughout. The novel is poetic in a sense with its lyrical pose. It is a mysterious and eerie story, yet the images portrayed are beautiful, bold and bright. This is an extremely thought-provoking tale. It is a book you will want to linger in and savor. Yet it is short enough (just over 200 pages), and full of just the right amount of engaging thrill, that it can easily be consumed in a single sitting.

Rating: 5 Stars

To sum it up: A very well-written teen novel that explores many different sides to teenage life, including friendship, families, greed, lust, love, and secrets. This one will be big.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ten Great Chapter Book Read-Alouds

There's something magical that happens when a book is read aloud. I think back to those titles that were read to me as a child - Hatchet, Ramona Quimby age 8, The Borrowers, Freckle Juice, The Indian in the Cupboard, Charlotte's Web.  During these readings the characters seemed to jump out of the pages and, best of all, I was sharing the experience with others. And now years later these titles still hold a special place with me.

I love reading aloud to my children every night, and now that they have grown (ages 9 and 12) and we have moved from picture books to chapter books, the experience is only enhanced. I see their imagination grow as I read, I see the inquisitive nature in their eyes, and we get the opportunity to discuss very important details aloud within the context of a story.  Here is a short list of titles we have recently read that we would highly recommend to others.


image from http://rjpalacio.com
Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Summary: August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

Why I love it: While telling Auggie's story a variety of perspectives are introduced. Not only do readers get to hear how Auggie is feeling, but his sister explains life from her vantage point, as do his friends and even the sister's new boyfriend. This is a great book to read with children as it reinforces that differences on the outside do not necessarily equate to differences on the inside. It gives children an idea of what the other person is feeling, imploring empathy.

image from http://lieslshurtliff.com
Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

Summary: Rump has never known his full name—his mother died before she could tell him. So all his life he’s been teased and bullied for his half-a-name. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. For Rump discovers he can spin straw into gold. Magical gold.
His best friend Red Riding Hood warns him that magic is dangerous—and she’s right! That gold is worth its weight in trouble. And with each thread he spins, Rump weaves himself deeper into a curse.
There’s only one way to break the spell: Rump must go on a quest to find his true name, along the way defending himself against pixies, trolls, poison apples, and one beautiful but vile-mannered queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—Rump just might triumph in the end.
Why I love it: This is the story Rumpelstiltskin as you have never heard it before. It is funny but address serious issues of betrayal and bullying and making the right choice. A great imagitive tale.

image fron http://www.louissachar.com
Holes by Louis Sachar

Summary: Accused of a crime he did not commit, Stanley Yelnats is sentenced to Camp Green Lake for rehabilitation. Almost immediately Stanley realizes digging a large hole each day is not just punishment. The Warden is looking for something special.

While digging Stanley thinks about his family's history. Through these flashbacks, two additional stories are told. These plots weave together to form a complex and wonderful novel. Will all the plots fit together? Will the Warden find what she is looking for?

Why I love it: Stanley is a character to root for and it is always more fun to root for someone in the company of others. The mystery is also more fun to solve as a team. Read it and then watch the movie as both are great!




image from http://www.johnboyne.com
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Summary: Nine year-old Bruno knows nothing of the Final Solution or the Holocaust. He is oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country.
All he knows is that he has been moved from a comfortable home in Berlin to a house in a desolate area where there is nothing to do and no one to play with. Until he meets Shmuel, a boy who lives a strange parallel existence on the other side of the adjoining wire fence and who, like the other people there, wears a uniform of striped pyjamas.
Bruno’s friendship with Shmuel will take him from innocence to revelation. And in exploring what he is unwittingly a part of, he will inevitably become subsumed by the terrible process.

Why I love it: A poignant tale but one so powerful. This book shares the story of WWII from the view point of an innocent Nazi child. This title provides the opportunity to discuss the horrible injustices done to the Jews during World War II, as well as the importance of religious freedom.


image from http://brandonmull.com
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Summary: For centuries, mystical creatures of all description were gathered to a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic in a cynical world.  Enchanting?  Absolutely! Exciting? You bet.  Safe?  Well, actually, quite the opposite . . .
Kendra and her brother Seth have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven.  Inside the gated woods, ancient laws give relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies.  However, when the rules get broken, an arcane evil is unleashed, forcing Kendra and Seth to face the greatest challenge of their lives.  To save her family, Fablehaven, and perhaps the world, Kendra must find the courage to do what she fears most.

Why I love it: This is a fantastic fantasy series sure to appeal to Harry Potter fans. It is unpredictable and wonderfully imaginative. The reader is quickly drawn into the world of Fablehaven.

image from http://www.katedicamillo.com
 Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Summary: The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace. They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar. Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends, and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship-and forgiveness-can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.

Why I love it: This is just a sweet story about a tween girl finding herself in the midst of family dishevel. It just feels authentic and is one that my children will remember long into the future.


image from http://www.scholastic.com
 The BFG by Roald Dahl
Summary: "Well, first of all," said the BFG, "human beans is not really believing in giants, is they? Human beans is not thinking we exist." Sophie discovers that giants not only exist, but that there are a great many of them who like to guzzle and swallomp nice little chiddlers. But not the Big Friendly Giant. He and Sophie cook up an ingenious plot to free the world of troggle-humping — forever.
The BFG — Big Friendly Giant — is no ordinary bone-crushing giant: he is far too nice. How he and his tiny friend, Sophie, conspire to put an end to the loathsome activities of the other Giants is marvelously told by a writer and an artist who "are uncanny in their understanding of what children like to read and see".

Why I love it: I adore the Big Friendly Giant. He is just a good guy. Read the summary aloud and you'll discover on your own why this one is so fun to read aloud. It will be sure to win you laughs galore!

image from www.goodreads.com
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Summary: Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behavior through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.

Why I love it: An imaginative classic with a great message. Everyone should read this one at least once. So why not share it with your children?




imagine from http://gailcarsonlevine.com
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Summary: How can a fairy's blessing be such a curse?        
At her birth, Ella of Frell was the unfortunate recipient of a foolish fairy's gift—the "gift" of obedience. Ella must obey any order given to her, whether it's hopping on one foot for a day and a half, or chopping off her own head! But strong-willed Ella does not tamely accept her fate. Against a bold backdrop of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella goes on a quest to break the curse—once and for all.

Why I love it: A strong female protagonist stops at nothing to overcome obstacles leading to her happiness. Plus this is such a fun tale and the book is so much better than the movie.


image from http://www.neilgaiman.com
Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Summary: This is quite possibly the most exciting adventure ever to be written about milk since Tolstoy's epic novel War and Milk. Also it has aliens, pirates, dinosaurs and wumpires in it (but not the handsome, misunderstood kind), also a never-adequately-explained-bowl-of-piranhas, not to mention a Volcano God.

Why I love it: Seriously one clever book. You never know where the next page will take you, making reading aloud oh-so-fun!!


Friday, July 18, 2014

Just As Long As We're Together - Judy Blume

Summary:  Rachel is Stephanie's best friend. Since second grade, they've shared secrets, good and bad. Now in seventh grade, Alison moves into the neighborhood. Stephanie hopes all three of them can be best friends, because Stephanie really likes Alison. But it looks as if it's going to be a case of two's company and three's a crowd. Can the girls' friendship be saved? (Summary from Amazon.com and image from www.listennj.com)

My Review:  This was a reread for me. I remember reading this as a young adult, but the story was so vague it was like reading it for the first time again.  Judy Blume has a way of writing that is not bound by time.  What was real for teens 15-25 years ago is still the same angst and frustration that teens have now.  Her characters have such strong voice, distinct personalities, and have erratic enough actions that they truly feel real.  And for a teenage girl looking for validation and acceptance through a book, this is priceless. 

Stephanie is an interesting character.  She manages to be witty and bitingly funny, but at the same time lacks serious intra-personal skills.  She seems to understand those around her and their motives, but hardly her own.  Or maybe that's the reverse.  Maybe she understands herself perfectly, but cannot relate to those around her enough to function.  And her friend Rachel is a perfect complement to her dysfunctional relationship skills.  Both are so smart, both are so caring, but they can't seem to communicate with each other when they need it most.  And isn't this true to form for teens?  It seems when you need your friends the most, you're often in a heated conflict.  And this is how isolating and traumatizing teenage years unfold. 

Alison is an interesting twist to the story.  While she adds a layer of '3's a crowd' to the story, she is probably the least believable character in the book.  At least for someone who doesn't live in LA or near NY.  But what makes the story meld so well, is how these types of conflicts--both inner and with each other--are universal for teenage girls. 

This is definitely a book I wouldn't recommend to a 6th grader, but for those who have children or students struggling with divorce and tumultuous friendships, this may be the right fit.

For the sensitive reader:  There is a lot of talk about periods, it mentions divorce and cheating parents, hints at speculations of teenage promiscuity, and some swearing.  It is probably obvious, but there is also realistic teenage disdain for parents--meaning, there's lots of attitude.

Rating: 3 Stars

Sum it up:  A coming of age story for what seems is now a typical teenage girl.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What's In My Stack?

Because it's summer, I'm going share what's in my bedside stack. I hope I get through before the school year sneaks up and steals all my free time!

1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
(Image from Target.com)

2. Tender to the Bone by Ruth Reichl
(Image from Amazon.com)

3. Between Shades of Gray by Ruth Sepetys
  (Image from www.darientimes.com)
4. Mindset by Carol S. Dweck
5. Summer Reading - Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap by Richard Allington and Anne McGil-Franzen
(Image from Amazon.com)
5. Why Don't Students Like School?  by Daniel T. Willingham
(Image from Amazon.com)
6. Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
(Image from Amazon.com)
7. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
(Image from Amazon.com)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rules - Cynthia Lord

Summary:  This 2007 Newbery Honor Book is a humorous and heartwarming debut about feeling different and finding acceptance. Now in After Words paperback!

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She's spent years trying to teach David the rules from "a peach is not a funny-looking apple" to "keep your pants on in public"---in order to head off David's embarrassing behaviors.
But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a surprising, new sort-of friend, and Kristi, the next-door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?   (Summary and image from Amazon.com.)

My Review:  I'm loving these books that offer students that chance to jump in someone else's shoes.  It's truly awesome that not everything is Sweet Valley High or Baby Sitter's Club for YA (at least girls) any more.  (Not that I have a problem with either of those--I'm just glad it's not the only thing.)  There have been so many times I've been talking with my daughters and wanted to share with them how different life could be.  For my oldest, this is the only way I can truly get through to her: read a book that opens her eyes.  And isn't that what reading is all about?  I love it!

Catherine wants to love her brother, but it's hard when it feels like all he does is mess up her life and make things difficult. Her parents lean on her a lot for help.  As an older sibling, I can attest that it's frustrating to always be the back-up babysitter or help when you feel like it's technically not your responsibility.  And yet, it is.  There are times it's just hard not to get bitter about it, as everyone wants to be 'normal'.  But what is normal?

But through this process of helping her mother, she meets a new friend, Jason, who she accidentally befriends.  And then a neighbor moves in, the kind of friend she's always wanted to live next door.  What makes this book refreshing is Catherin's realization that normal is a farce we dream up--or maybe even better than that.  Normal is so broad it is all inclusive.  What's my normal and your normal are not the same, but they are both normal.  Wouldn't this be nice for everyone to come to terms with?

I highly recommend this book.  It's a must read for children and teens--heck, even adults! 

Rating:  4.5 stars

Sum it up:  A great YA book that grows perspective on what it's like to have a brother with Autism.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Universal Truth

This happens more than I'd like to admit.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Great Deals on E-Books

One thing about me - I love my Kindle and I love e-books. Not here to start a war. I would never give up print books in a billion years and my favorite books I buy in both formats, but I love the portability and convenience of e-books. And I also love the lower prices of them.

For any other e-book fans, I wanted to share the best ways to get free or deeply discounted e-books. With all of these sites, you subscribe to receive a daily email that shows you free or cheap books based solely on your preferences. You don't get spammed with genres you don't care for. It's awesome.

Bookbub

The Fussy Librarian

BookGorilla

Booktastik

eBookSoda

Bookbub is the largest of these types of sites. If you only subscribe to one, it should be Bookbub. The Fussy Librarian is cool because when you subscribe, you can control your level of sensitivity to language, sex, and violence, designating if you're okay with anything, okay with mild stuff, or want absolutely none of it at all. No more shocking surprises mid-book! All of these sites feature both best-selling authors and indie unknowns, but since each site rigorously screens what they recommend, you should never end up with one of those cringe-inducing indie books that should have never been published. It's a pretty sweet way to maximize your reading budget and introduce yourself to some really great books.

Remember - even if you don't have an e-reader, you can get an app for your smart phone, tablet, or computer so you have access to everything. The Kindle app was the first thing I downloaded when I got my phone.

The one GIANT drawback to these sites is that EVERY DAY I see a book I want to read. And when it's $0.99 or free, I can't pass it up. I just can't keep up with my to-read list. And if that's my biggest problem, life is pretty good.

Monday, July 7, 2014

On the Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta


Summary: I'm dreaming of the boy in the tree. I tell him stories. About the Jellicoe School and the Townies and the Cadets from a school in Sydney. I tell him about the war between us for territory. And I tell him about Hannah, who lives in the unfinished house by the river. Hannah, who is too young to be hiding away from the world. Hannah, who found me on the Jellicoe Road six years ago.

Taylor is the leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs - the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.

And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor's only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother - who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road.

The moving, joyous and brilliantly compelling new novel from the best-selling, multi-award-winning author of Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca. (Image and summary from goodreads.com)


My review: Taylor keeps people at arms length - probably because she was abandoned by her mother at a 7-11 on the Jellicoe Road as a child. A young woman named Hannah took Taylor in and Taylor's home ever since has been the boarding school on Jellicoe Road.

It's the beginning of her final year of school and Taylor is elected head of the house. She is responsible for all the younger girls. It's an honor she could see coming, but didn't want. And other students don't respect her authority in the rivalries with the Townies and Cadets (the local kids and the military school kids who also live nearby). 
Like many damaged children with a painful past, Taylor is mature for her age, highly-independent, needy, yet pushes people away. 

Then her mentor and parental figure Hannah goes missing. The principal assures Taylor that everything is fine, but Taylor knows Hannah would never leave without saying anything. In Hannah's home, she finds a clue - a manuscript that Hannah has been writing for years that Taylor was never allowed to read. As she reads the story, she realizes it isn't fiction - and it holds the secrets to more than Hannah's disappearance. This journey of self-discovery finds Taylor unravelling the secrets of Hannah, Taylor's mother, Taylor's father (whom she never knew), the hermit who killed himself in front of her, and a brigadier she suspects might be a serial killer. 

 In this shining coming-of-age story set in the wilds of Australia, Taylor is well aware of her broken past and her broken heart. It isn't until she no longer runs from them that she realizes she is more whole and more loved than she ever imagined. 

I sought out this book after reading some quotes from it on Goodreads (I'm a sucker for quotes). I started it and was confused and not very into it. I stopped reading. Then I started again and I was hooked. There are two stories being told - one is a manuscript written by a teacher named Hannah, presented in italic font, and the other is the main story told from the perspective of Taylor. It took me longer than it probably should have to figure this out. You instantly sympathize with Taylor. What mother abandons a ten-year-old kid at a gas station? It's no wonder Taylor has trust issues, even if you want to slap her a once or twice. The two stories are both artfully told and intersect beautifully. It's the type of story that the reader pieces together before the narrator tells us, upping the anticipation and the power of the convergence. It really is powerful and worthy of its awards. My eyes were wet for the last quarter of the book and it ended better than I ever imagined.

My rating: Five Stars. This is my favorite kind of book. Introspective, smart, hopeful, and real.

For the Sensitive Reader: Several swear words (no F-bombs); teen intimacy, though not graphic; some drug references though none of the main characters use drugs; some violent deaths via gunshots told through memory. If it were a movie, it would be a conservative PG-13.


To Sum It Up: A poignant coming-of-age story that is as timeless in its themes as it is the setting. Starts out slow, but as the mystery grows then unravels, you won't be able to put it down. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

Summary:  The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.  (Summary from Amazon.com and image from en.wikipedia.org)

My Review:  The Tipping Point is a compilation of all the reasons why something goes big, viral, becomes a fad or sensation.  This being Gladwell's first book, it's not surprising that this isn't his best writing.  I found Outliers much better writing and subsequently a better read--just wanted to give you fair warning.

I find I'm becoming a junkie for these nonfiction 'how the world works' books.  Just what does it take for something to take off and become mainstream?  If you've ever wondered what all those moving parts and integral pieces are, give this a shot.

Aspects to the book I found difficult to get through were how some of the stories seemed to go on and on without a clear connection to how they pertained to the message.  Other times it seemed Gladwell was tooting his own horn with those he interacted with (no one likes a braggart).  In the end, I found the book informative, but also written anecdotally, so it wasn't always clear how much was researched and how much was 'life experience'.  I won't knock qualitative data--I believe it in it wholeheartedly, especially for the soft sciences where art is necessary--but this seemed like such a mix between qualitative and quantitative research the lines are blurred.

I'd recommend this to those who like to know how the world works, avid reads, and people interested in nonfiction.  Otherwise, this might not be the book for you.

Rating: 3 stars

Sum it up: Want to know how to go from unknown to bestseller?  This is your book.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Red Madness - Gail Jarrow

Summary:  One hundred years ago, a mysterious and alarming illness spread across America's South, striking millions of victims.  No one knew what caused it or how to treat it.  People were left weak, disfigured, insane, and in some cases, dead.  Many were left to worry--would they be pellagra's next victim?

In this compelling book, award-winning science and history writer Gail Jarrow tracks this disease and highlights how doctors, scientists, and public health officials struggled to stop the epidemic, sometimes risking their own lives in the process.  Illustrated with 100 archival photographs, Red Madness also includes a glossary, timeline, further resources, author's note, bibliography, and index.  (Summary from back of the book and image from amazon.com)

My Review:  There is much controversy over the Common Core State Standards, and while I'll probably always mourn the loss of teaching fiction freely, there has been a boom of fantastic nonfiction because of it.  This is one of those books--it's fascinating!

Imagine every year you get a horrible diarrhea, drop weight, get weak, develop an embarrassing rash on your hands, feet, face and chest, and on top of it all know that if you start feeling crazy that you're probably close to death.  This is real.  This did happen.  And it took years for the U.S. to get a handle on it.  This book takes you through the process of finding answers, allowing you to feel the frustration, and slow unveiling process of discovering the truth. 

My criticism of this book is my fear that this will lose students in the drawn-out process to getting the answer.  There are lots of mixed messages, which the author intended because she wanted the reader to experience the frustration and process of finding the answers to the disease.  While I understand the process and why the author chose to do this, I don't know if middle school students will keep with it.  The ages recommended for this book are 10-14. 

All that said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to plenty of people. 
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Sum it up:  A fascinating throw-back to a time when nutrition and disease were still rather unknowns to us.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Out Of My Mind - Sharon Draper

Summary: Get ready to meet a girl whose voice you'll never, ever forget.

Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory.  Her head is like a video camera that is always recording.  Always.  And there's no delete button.  She's the smartest kid in her whole school--but NO ONE knows it.  Most people--her teachers and doctors included--don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again.  If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows...but she can't, because Melody can't talk.  She can't walk.  She can't write.  Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind--that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever.  At last Melody has a voice...but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.  (Summary from back of the book and image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  This has been on my to-read stack for an embarrassingly long time.  And I do wish I'd picked it up  sooner.  It seems the YA book-world has started to flesh out more options to show students another perspective, another world that revolves around those who aren't born with the 'normal' skills and abilities.  Wonder is another of these books and I'd highly recommend that one as well.

Melody is a likeable character and in some ways is older than her years.  What's interesting is the dicotomy of her personality.  There are times she's so much wiser than her peers, and then there are other times where she openly admits to losing it and throwing tantrums--understandably knowing how she's been cooped inside her mind for so long.  And I think that's an accurate depiction of the book.  There are aspects that are just marvelous--mind-opening and heartfelt.  And then there are other times where things feel a little forced and maybe a little preachy.  What makes the book feel right is that it doesn't follow a perfect 'happy ending' that many of the YA group would naturally expect or want, but it does leave you satisfied.

Overall, I'd still recommend this to my students, especially those in middle school.  If there was ever a time in someone's life to get outside of yourself and realize how lucky/blessed you really are for what you have, it's middle school. 

Rating:  4 stars

Sum it up:  A wonderful reminder that people are not their disabilities.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When I Grow Up I Want to Be ... A Firefighter! - Wigu Publishing

Summary:  Will was excited to go on his class field trip, until he learned they would be touring the local firehouse. Now, he is dreading the trip. For as long as he can remember, Will has been afraid of fire and, worse than that, firefighters! Though he knows firefighters are heroes who do dangerous work, to him they are giants in heavy coats and masks. As he journeys with his class through the fire station, Will and readers alike are introduced to the exciting world of firefighting. Can Will overcome his fears and maybe even learn something surprising about himself?  (Image and summary from goodreads.com.  I was given a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  Firefighters are awesome.  I've never met one who wasn't excited to talk to my kids and tell them what they do, and when we lived around the corner from the fire station, they would share recipes when we ran into them in the grocery store.  However, I admit that in full gear, and with sirens blazing, it's intimidating for some kids.

Those fears are directly addressed in When I Grow Up I Want to be a Firefighter.  Will, our main character, is terrified of fire and of firefighters.  He's afraid of them in their gear, and his field trip to the fire station has him worried sick.  Almost immediately, Will feels his fears soothed as Captain Kirby mentions that many kids are afraid of the same thing.  At the end of the book, Captain Kirby tells Will's class that in order to be a good firefighter, he feels like yes, he needs to be afraid of fire.

This is an easy book to read, but I loved the additions of charts showing the different components of a firefighter's gear, the different fire trucks, and best, a safety checklist and a guide to creating a fire plan in the home.  They create a balance of a story that's easy to read but that doesn't insult the intelligence of the child reading. 

My Rating:  Four and a half stars

Monday, June 23, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014

Goodnight June - Sarah Jio

Summary: Goodnight Moon is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the "great green room" might have come to be.

June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature. (Picture and description from goodreads.com)


My Review: I’m one of those people who likes to tell other people (especially women, because I am crabby like that) that I don't really like, or even read chic lit. I’m way too cool for that.

Apparently not.

To be honest, I’ve actually enjoyed many chic lit books I've read (though admittedly, I don't live on a diet of pure chic lit; I do try to keep it to a minimum). Happily, this one is no exception.  You will notice that I carefully scheduled this book review in June. It's a great summer read (and I enjoyed the fun June/June thing cause I'm a cheeseball despite my best efforts).

First off, I think the premise is super cute. A bookstore in dire need of saving and a deep secret with the potential to change everything? Cute. I liked it. It totally reminded me of "You've Got Mail," and I couldn't help thinking of Meg Ryan raising her hands triumphantly after saying "Can we save the Shop Around the Corner!?" This book wasn't a rip-off of that (although if you liked the movie, you should certainly read this), but it did evoke similar emotions. You want the bookstore to survive, you want the boy and girl to get together, you want the insurmountable odds to be beaten, and in the end…well. You'll just have to read it.

The book has a nice voice to it. No one is overly evil or mean (and indeed, even the "bad guys" are not really bad guys), and I liked that. I get tired of reading books where there's one angelic person and the rest are obviously trying to tear them down in heartless and evil ways. This is about (real-ish) people trying to do (real-ish) things.

As with many books in chic lit, there were some incredible cameos (hello, Bill Gates!) that make it a little bit cheesy, but it's not like it's so over the top that you want to gag and put the book down and then continue your rah-rah campaign of why you hate chic lit. It's enough glam to make it fun while still being palatable.

If you are a lover of the classic Goodnight Moon, then you should certainly read this book. If you are a lover of chic lit, you should certainly read this book. If you're looking for a fast, fun read with good characters, this is for you. It's perfect for summer reading as its light and fun (though not necessarily too fluffy) with some good twists and turns.

My rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is a little bit of light language.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

22 Books You Should Read Now Based On Your Childhood Favorites



I don't know about you, but there are many books that I read when I was a kid that when I go back, they're just not what I remember. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad. For instance--I remember loving Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. It really inspired me. I couldn't necessarily remember what it was about, but I would tell everyone I loved it. Just a few years ago I read it again and, I have to be honest here, it was okay. In fact, I'd say it was a little confusing. I'll be the first to admit that my favorite genre is not sci-fi, but seriously? What the heck was going on? And it's all about love? All this weird stuff happens and it's about love? I dunno ya'll. I think I missed something.

So you can see what I'm saying. My tastes may have changed over the years.

On the other hand, I also remember reading and loving The Giver. A few years ago in preparation for Lois Lowry's release of Son I went to hear her speak at my local library. She was incredible and I reread the entire series and loved it, probably even more than I did when I was a kid.


Here's the great thing about books—they're there for you when you need them. At different times in your life you get different things out of the same book. Your life experiences color what you read. So this summer, you should check out not only some fun books from your past, but also maybe find some possible new favorites.  Here is a fun list to help get you started. 

22 Books You Should Read Now Based On Your Childhood Favorites

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Minnie in Paris GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED

Thank you all for entering our Summer Kickoff Minnie in Paris giveaway!  Out of 80 entries, we've randomly chosen a winner via rafflecopter.

Congratulations, Kelly Delrosso Saver!

We'll be in touch soon!  Let us know how you like your awesome Disney bundle!

Monday, June 16, 2014

That Night - Chevy Stevens

Summary: As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn't relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren't easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.

But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all. (Picture and description from goodreads.com)


My Review: Have you ever known anyone who's been in prison for a crime they haven't committed? Yeah, me neither. But it's a scary thought, right? Being blamed for something serious—like murder—and having to actually serve the time as a convicted murderer and then carry that stigma around with you for forever. And what about being in prison itself? Not good. Not good at all.

And so this book is frightening. We're talking people paying for crimes, both committed and not, but more frighteningly, we’re talking about bullying that’s on a whole new level. Forget everything you've heard in your kids' elementary school training about bullying and what to do. This is bullying that is scary and abusive and ruins lives. And people die. Whoah.

One of the things I really enjoyed about “That Night” is the character development. The author doesn't create characters that are completely unbelievably good or unbelievably bad (although you'll hate the protagonist!), and therefore it gives the story a very authentic feel. To be sure, there are some seriously antisocial people in this book, but I felt like that added to the fear inherent in the story itself, as well as opening up a world in prison that, until now, I had only really imagined in "Prison Break." (And let's not even bring up season 2 and the Mexican prison!)

I have read many books in this genre, and although I wouldn't say that this one has exceptional literary-type writing, it is certainly on par with almost everything else I've read like it. The thing I loved about the writing was it was accessible—you're reading along and it's not like you're even reading, you're just living along with the characters, which I think is the sign of a good book. It's easy to get caught up in the fear of the situation (and ooh, its deelish) and lose yourself in the story.

I can't even commit to saying whether or not there is a twist at the end because I don't want to ruin it for you. Suffice it to say, if you're looking for a fast-paced, quick read (perfect to take your mind off summer stresses or even better, a vacay read), then this is your book. It's got just the right amount of suspense and reality to make it one of those fun summer reads.

My rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is similar to others in its genre in that there is language and violence (part of it takes place in prison…so…) and there is mention of sex. None of these are seriously hard-core like some of the Scandinavian authors in this genre, but it is certainly not completely clean.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fire & Flood - Victoria Scott

Summary:  Time is slipping away....

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place? (from goodreads.com)


My Review: Okay. We need to get this straight right now. This book is a complete rip-off of The Hunger Games.  A group of unsuspecting "contenders" selected for a race to save the life of a loved one.  Animals that have been created and mutated for this specific race.  An unsuspecting heroine. A dashing male counterpart.  Innocents dying.  Betrayal. Factions. An evil creator of the game with mal intentions in mind. It was, without a doubt, written as a piggyback to get some of that fame and capture the readers that were mourning the end of the Suzanne Collins series.

But.

That doesn't mean I don't think it was a decent read. Sure, there's a "been there done that" kind of feel coupled with that impossible-not-to-compare-it attitude, but I still liked it. The narrator is grittier, a little more sarcastic, and I liked that about her. I think she has a fun sense of irony and humor, and although sometimes I did get bogged down with the woe-is-me and the annoying martyrdom that she pulls, I think that teenage girls are sometimes that way and so I let it slide. There is, as with all books of this genre, a love story that is a little over the top, but again, I think that that's probably realistic with the age group. (And it disturbs me that I just said "with that age group," fully meaning I'm old and out of touch and so I'm willing to let the teens get away with silly romantic notions. See?  I'm old.)

I read this book really quickly. Once it gets going, it's exciting—there's a lot going on, there's a lot at stake, and despite the fact that I've read the Hunger Games and watched the movies, this book still had things to offer in the excitement-in-a-death-race-genre. If nothing else, it was one of those books that you just get into and read really quickly and are disappointed when it's over, especially because there is a great cliffhanger. I am looking forward to the next one for sure.

And in the end, I think it's worth the read.  Because I admit it. I'm missing The Hunger Games.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is comparable to others in the genre in that it has language, violence, and romance scenes that are written for the YA audience.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

More Reasons to Read. As If We Need Them.

It's no secret that I love to read. I mean, I write for a reading blog, right? And the fact that you're reading this on a reading blog means that you probably love to read as well.

In case you needed more reasons to read (I'm always looking for a new excuse!), here is a great article with more reasons why reading is not only really fun, but also really healthy as well.

Enjoy! And then go read some more!

7 Unconventional Reasons Why You Absolutely Should Be Reading Books

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