Friday, July 3, 2015

Summer Reading Continued

Last night I met with my book club to discuss The Girl on the Train. We had a great discussion. I really like the women in our group. All have been teachers or are currently teaching. We all like to read, and can really discuss nuances in books. (It also helps that Janet Greedy was an English teacher extraordinaire!) Then there are so many different interests. This makes our book selections quite eclectic, but interesting.These choices make me read titles I'd probably never pick up, but I've really liked them all.

Enough of that...

I've read several titles since my last post. Here are my impressions.

I really liked Kenneth Oppel's The Boundless, another steampunk title. Will Everett's father works on the Canadian Pacific Railroad as it is being built across the continent of North America. Because Will's father saves the life a big executive of the railroad in an avalanche, he is given the cachet job of being the conductor on The Boundless, the largest train ever built. This train is so big that an entire circus is on board as well as a myriad of other things including the executive's funeral car that contains intriguing treasures. On a train stop, Will witnesses a murder, and the the rest of the story entails how he tries to escape from the murderer with the help of a circus performer.

There are a lot of overlaps in this title from Airborn, one of my "go-to" books. Both have an amazing machine (Boundless, a train; Airborn, an airship), there are fantastical animals that are integral to the stories, there's a hint of romance, and then ACTION, ACTION, ACTION. Both books would make terrific movies. This is another book on this year's Lone Star Reading List.

When I was in college I saw the movie "American Graffiti." This movie highlighted two characters Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between. I read the ARC from Edelweiss. Aiden and Clare decide to spend their last night together before leaving for college the next morning. Aiden is about to attend UCLA much to the disappointment of his father. Aiden plans to play lacrosse and is rather laid-back. While his father wanted him to attend Harvard, Aiden had different plans. Clare, on the other hand, is a very organized, structured young woman about to attend Dartmouth. As the evening begins, she's compiled a list of places that are important to the two of them as a remembrance because she feels the two should break up. Aiden, however, feels otherwise. Their friend Scotty, who is staying home, sums it up like this:

"It was always gonna be hard, right? Even if we were all in the same place next year, everything would still be different, and that sucks. But it's also kind of the point, I guess, New beginnings and all that..."
on the eve before leaving for college. This same theme was inherent in Jennifer E. Smith's book

A quiet falls over them, and Clare stares at the slats of the deck., knowing that he's right. It's time to move on, and the more time they spend wishing it were otherwise, the harder it will be to let go.

Later on Clare and Aiden discuss their situation again.

"Yeah, but what if it's true, what everyone's been saying?"

Aiden gives her a questioning look.

"That our lives are only just beginning," Clare explains. "What if one day we look back on this, and it's just a hazy memory? What if you and me -- all this -- what it it's not a big part of our story? What if it's just the prologue?"

"Oh, come on," Aiden says, "The prologue is the best part. Everyone knows that."

"I guess."

"And you and me? We must be at least up to chapter four by now. Tonight alone has to be a whole chapter."

"You think?"

"It is for me."

"Me, too," she says...

They wrestle with the question throughout the evening. In the end, they do decide to break up. I won't spoil the ending, but the book ends on a promising note.

I just finished listening to Saint Anything, Sarah Dessen's latest book. All of her fans should enjoy this book like they have her others.

Sydney lives the life of privilege, but she feels invisible. Her brother, Peyton, is the family's shining star, but has run into a string of problems such as thievery, drugs, and finally, a drunk driving accident that paralyzes a young man forever. For that, he is sent to a correctional facility and Sydney's parents (especially her mother) cannot come to grips with the situation. Because the cost of attorneys, etc., Sydney leaves her exclusive private school to attend public school where she meets Layla, who becomes a good friend. Layla's family, the Chathams, are the antithesis of Sydney's. They are loud, decidedly middle class, and face issues head on. They own a pizza shop where Sydney spends a great deal of time. She adores the pizza, and soon adores Layla's brother, Mac. When she defies her parents and allows Mac and his band to record in Peyton's recording studio and her mother finds her taking a sip of alcohol, there is hell to pay. It's only when one of Peyton's creeper friends attacks her, that her mother and father realize that she's also been dealing with Peyton's issues as well as a litany of changes in her own life.



June Reading continued

Okay, I was reading up a blue streak and then stopped when I got busy with other things. However, I've got to keep up with the latest before I forget what they are about.

I read Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism,and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman for my book club. It's definitely NOT a book that I'd recommend for middle schoolers nor would I probably recommend this to anyone unless there was a great interest in Asmat art or the Rockefellers.

One of the book club members has a degree in Art History and docents for the Dallas Museum of Art. She shared with us information about a totem in the museum and gave us background about the art. Had she not done that, I really would not have understood or cared much about the book at all. Not that it's poorly written or anything. I just don't care for the subject matter.

Carl Hoffman shifts from his present tense investigation in New Guinea to the events of 1961. The first chapter is very chilling and not for the faint of heart. When Michael Rockefeller went missing in 1961, the "official" cause of death was drowning, but rumors persisted that he had been killed and eaten by one of the Asmat tribes in a revenge ritual. Carl Hoffman spent a great deal of time in an area that is primitive, and he describes the setting in very clear images that still make me sick to think about. Although he spent a great deal of time and effort to get to know these people, each time he'd bring up the subject, the Asmat would clam up and swear they had no idea what he was talking about. It was only due to a fluke recording that he finally discovers the truth.

It was difficult for me to follow the narrative. The tribes' names confused me, I really needed a map to understand the locations, the photos were tiny, blurry and black and white, and I couldn't keep up with the Dutch missionaries either. While I realize that 1961 is over 50 years ago, I really wanted to know how the Asmat were converted to Catholicism and the cannibalism stopped. I also didn't understand who the "catechists" were.

I don't have much knowledge of that part of the world. This was really brought home to me during the reading of the book.

If you like descriptions of violence, primitive life, and cannibalism, this is the book for you. It just wasn't the book for me.

On the other hand, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood is my favorite read of the summer so far.
Set in Australia, freshman Dan's life can be summed up by his list of Six Impossible Things:

1. Kiss Estelle.
2. Get a job.
3. Cheer my mother up.
4. Try not to be a complete nerd/loser.
5. Talk to my father when he calls.
6. Figure out how to be good.

Dan's life is falling apart. His dad just lost the family fortune and has come out as gay. Dan doesn't know how to talk to his dad about the circumstance. Dan and his mother move to his great aunt's historic old home complete with an old dog, Howard. (Howard is my favorite character in the story.)The house isn't theirs, but they can live in it. To keep from starving, Dan't mother starts a wedding cake business, but sabotages the weddings of all of the brides who come to her by talking them out of marriage. Dan must start his freshman year at a new school where he is bullied by a group of boys, and he falls for the girl next door, Estelle, who is definitely out of his league. As you can see, Dan is the consummate nerd, but a lovable nerd nonetheless. While the reviews I read recommend this book for grades 9-12, I don't really see why a seventh or eighth grader would have any problems with it.

Fiona Wood has created some very memorable characters and a fun,quick read. In fact, I didn't want the book to end. In many ways, it reminds me of one of my "go-to" books, Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar. It comes out on August 11. I read the ARC on Edelweiss.

While on a plane, I read this year's Newbery winner, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.This book is also on the Texas Lone Star Reading List. Told in verse, the book is about twin boys, Josh and JB Bell. Both are outstanding basketball players supported by their father who was a pro basketball player in Europe. While the boys have always been BFFs, their rivalry on the court and with JB's new girlfriend causes a strain on their relationship. Additionally, their dad refuses to seek medical care which turns tragic for the brothers and their mother.

What I found the most interesting about the book was its accessibility and relevance. It was easy to associate with the boys and the contemporary setting. (In fact, I think some of the references in the book will date it soon.) So many of the Newbery books appeal to old, white women, but I think this one WILL actually appeal to kids.






Thursday, June 4, 2015

Latest Reads

Yes, I should be adding everything to my W drive because my computer crashes at least once a year, but I need to blog about the latest books I've read before I forget everything I can remember about them.

I was supposed to go to San Antonio during Memorial Day weekend. After looking at the weather forecast, I urged my husband to cancel the trip. When the floods came, even he had to say "I think you were right to cancel the trip." However, it gave me the opportunity to read some books.

The first two were ARCS I downloaded from Edelweiss.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa was a little disconcerting to read. It's written in three voices. Main character Jeremy lives with his gay dad and his partner and comes out as well. He's painfully shy and artistic. After a horrific incident at school, he's retreated into himself and encouraged to start an art club in order to use the school's facilities after hours. He writes in first person.

Mira (short for Miranda) had a nervous breakdown. She meets another one of the characters, Sebby (short for Sebastian), in the mental health institution where they become friends. She befriends Jeremy in the art club. Her voice is third person.

Sebby's voice is written in second person and "you" refers to Sebby, not the reader. I'm not quite sure why the author chose to handle the character in this manner, but she did. Sebby lives in a foster home, rarely attends, school, and is also gay. Sebby is a lost soul, but he comes to the art club with his BFF, Mira.

I wasn't enamored with Fans of the Impossible Life, but it kinda had the same tone (at least to me) of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Awhile back, I heard Teri Lesesne at a workshop. When she mentioned that Gary Schmidt has a new
book coming out, Orbiting Jupiter, I knew I had to read it. IMHO, Gary Schmidt is one of the finest writers around. I've never read one of his books that I didn't just love. This one didn't let me down either.

Jack lives with his family in the country. Jack milks cows, mucks out the barn, and lives a verysimple lifestyle. His parents decide to become a foster family for fourteen-year-old Joseph. Joseph has attacked a teacher and also became a father at age thirteen. All he wants is to find his daughter, Jupiter after the death of Jupiter's young mother.

This is a tear-jerker for sure. Beautifully written, sensitively told, the story is authentic and not sugar-coated. Joseph is a kid who just needs your love.



In my quest to read all twenty Lone Star Reading List books, I flew through Popular: A Memoir: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen. Maya was an eighth graders when she wrote the book. Her father found the book Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide at a thrift shop. A shy introvert, Maya decides to follow the advice in the book to see if the 50s information still applies today. Some of the advice is hilarious. Maya wears "Pilgrim" shoes, pearls, and even a girdle! She also writes her own advice updating some of Betty Cornell's original bits of wisdom. This is an entertaining read that I think some girls will really enjoy.






Last of all, I listened to David McCullough read his latest book,
The Wright Brothers. Having been to Kill Devil Hills and to Kitty Hawk, NC, and hoping to someday to be a North Carolinian, I found the book to be immensely interesting. How two young me who had never been to college created the first true flying machine was fascinating. Then, of course, it was read by the author himself. It just doesn't get better than that.

Last Day of the Year

It seems to me the longer you teach, the harder it gets. Maybe it's because you know more and want to address more or maybe when you are younger "ignorance IS bliss." Or it could be that I'm just plain ole' OLD! Anyway, I found this year to be incredibly CHALLENGING.

So, no, I'm not sad that the year is over. I'm not sad that I will be able to get away for awhile, spend some quality time with my husband and dog, read, go to movies, swim, and RELAX.

Usually, I get kinda revved up at the end of the year, starting to get ideas for the next year, but this isn't happening for me. I also usually tear up at Eighth Grade Recognition or after our last Eighth Grade Research class, but not this year. I'm just glad that it's over. I started the year with shingles. It didn't go up from there.

I just cleaned out my Inbox in email. I'm notorious for keeping everything as long as possible. What struck me about this exercise was the numerous emails I had from students asking from the innocuous, "Where are the database passwords?" On the LiveBinder, on the Portal to "The access code to the LiveBinder doesn't work." Yes, it does. You typed it in wrong. To my all time favorite, "I can't find anything on my topic." Really? Then why did you select it?

Yesterday, I  finished four hours of summative conferences with library staff. Then I got the pleasure of writing up everything we discussed in those four hours of meeting. Even though an hour with each staff member seems like a long time, we really never scratched the surface of the entire year's work. All of us are feeling the same frustrations: teachers who won't work with us, people that don't follow through, an outdated, decaying library infrastructure with no improvement in sight, and after all of our hard work and efforts, the feeling that absolutely no one really cares what we do anyway.


Yes, I'm tired. I'll be thrilled when it's all over. I'll be the one shoutin'!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Summer Reading 2015

Today Monica Bullock's sixth grade reading classes came to the library to get ideas for summer reading. As noted previously, I pulled the books and added QR Codes that linked to book trailers or authors discussing their books. Students used iPads with headphones to access the trailers. Then the students wrote down some titles that may be of interest to them for the summer.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

No, this is NOT a book I would recommend to Middle School students. It's an adult book for my June
Book Club meeting. I actually listened to the book. I'd already purchased it on Audible before my book club selected it. So....I listened.

The book is a murder mystery told in three voices. First wife, Rachel, is still besotted with her ex-husband, Tom. Having not been able to conceive a child, Rachel turned to alcohol to give her comfort. However, Tom turned to another woman, Anna with whom he married and had a child, Evie. Rachel stalks Tom because she passes his house, their house, everyday on her train ride into London. Anna is the second voice in the story. She detests the house and Rachel and fears for Evie's safety from Rachel. She has difficulty after Evie's birth and hires Megan to help care for the baby. Megan lives down the street with her husband and has been unemployed after the art gallery where she worked closed. Although Megan works for Anna for awhile, she quits alluding to another job. Megan also has some emotional issues and seeks help from a therapist to help her work through those issues.

One morning Rachel awakes in her bedroom to find that she's had a horrible head injury. She knows that something is wrong although she cannot remember because she was so drunk the night before. Then when Megan goes missing, she somehow feels that she has some knowledge of it if she could only remember...

The three voices are not sequential in the story. Parts of the story are told in flashback. It was most concerting when Megan's chapter is read after her death.

I rarely read murder mysteries. I rarely read mysteries at all. I enjoyed Girl on the Train. It's not great literature, but it's a good read.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Now that I've finished the 40 Book Challenge, I've set a goal for my summer reading. I like to try to read at least 20 books during the summer. I know I'm going to need to finish my Lone Star Reading, but I think I've got some really terrific reads in my TBR pile. My book club is meeting throughout the summer, too; I'll be reading some great adult books in addition to my YA fare.

At TLA, I saw a great YA panel. Julie Murphy was there talking about her new book, Dumplin'. I saw this ARC on Edelweiss, and just knew it would be a book I'd like to read. Julie is apparently from Fort Worth, and her book is set in Clover City, Texas. While this is a fictionalized town, Murphy obviously knows her small town stuff.

The summer before her junior year, Willowdean Dickson, falls hard for her co-worker, private school student, Bo. He's good-looking, athletic, and personable, and he seems to really like her. This would be no problem except that Willowdean is everything he's not. She's fat, somewhat self-conscious, and seems to be losing her BFF, Ellen. Her life is also complicated because her single mom was once Miss Teen Blue Bonnet and directs the pageant every year, her loving aunt is dead, and she idolizes Dolly Parton.

Things are going well between Willowdean and Bo until she finds out that he will be attending Clover City High in the fall. She can't face the scrutiny the two of them will face. She quits her job, starts dating one of the football players, and enters the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant just because she can. When she finds that she will be competing with her best friend, Ellen, they have a major disagreement and stop speaking.

While the end is quite predictable, it's the journey that is interesting. When Willowdean and her new pageant-participating girlfriends visit the Hideaway (a drag queen club), and later learn how to prepare for the pageant from the drag queens themselves, I knew that this was more than just the regular small town novel. Also, the references to Dolly Parton and her music made the book more than just the usual YA fare.

I really liked Dumplin'. Murphy's Willowdean is an honest portrayal of what it feels like to be the fat girl in high school (and I should know.) The book has an authentic voice. I'm sure folks in New York may think that some of the things in the book are over the top:I can assure them that those kind of things really happen in Texas. (Nobody knows beauty pageants and small towns better than Texas.)

Enjoy Dumplin'!

(Note: According to Amazon, Dumplin' has 384 pages - counts as two books!)

Julie Murphy is third from the left.