Saturday, August 29, 2015

August Wrap-up

Edited because I realized the Goodreads shelf I was relying on wasn't accurate.

August flew by, as it always does.  It's my favorite month, yet it's always bittersweet, as it brings the end of summer vacation.  Thanks to Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction, I have incentive to look back on my blog over the past month.

What I read

I read twenty-seven books this month (twenty-one if you count Brody's Ghost as one book), plus numerous picture books, and continued plugging away at Storm of Swords.  Specifically...

Professional Books

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

Reading Workshop 2.0: Supporting Readers in the Digital Age by Frank Serafini

Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look at High School by Lisa Wilde

 Igniting a Passion for Reading by Steven L. Layne

What We See was more of an essay illustrated with fancy typography, and basically states that we don't truly imagine detailed scenes in our head when we read, any more than we have literal, pictorial memories.  Yo, Miss is a graphic novel/memoir about a teacher's experience in a NYC school.  The other two are even more specialized professional books, but I was very impressed with both.  I have to say, though, I'd rather have coffee (or a beer) with Layne than with Serafini.


Didn't Work for Me

I read One for the Murphys and felt bad for not liking it.  Many teachers and readers I respect lauded it as a sensitive story of a girl in foster care.  Then I read this on Tales from the Reading Room (found via Emerald City Book Review), and figured it out better.  This story did not ring true to my experience as a mom of kids from traumatic backgrounds, so I had trouble getting invested in the characters and events.  

Mildly Disappointing


I've heard such enthusiasm for To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Hann and Weetzie Bat, by Francesca Lia Block, but I think I'm just too old and crabby for them.  Meredith Moore's I Am Her Revenge was one of those books that I enjoyed while reading, but began to pick apart in my mind as soon as I finished.  If you read Great Expectations, it is fun to trace parallels between the two.  Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake, was not a book I'd normally pick up, as I am not a horror fan at all.  Again, it had great reviews, so I tried it, liked it fine, but will likely forget it in another week or two.  Finally, I read Nick Bertozzi's graphic novel take on Lewis and Clark, key figures in my northwest childhood imagination.  I was impressed with the after-the-journey section, which addresses Clark's depression and suicide, but the rest of the book was hard for me to follow, even with reasonable background knowledge.



3:59, by Gretchen McNeil, was something I picked up on the spur of the moment, so it wasn't too big of a disappointment, but it could have been better.  It could have been worse, too.  Parallel universes are always kind of fun.  I had higher hopes for Ash, Malinda Po's "lesbian Cinderella" story, only that was about as descriptive as calling Brokeback Mountain "the gay cowboy movie."  There was more to the book than that reductive description, but the slow pace drove me nuts.  


Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse, by Robin Hutton, is a book I picked up because I thought it might appeal to some of my students.  Oddly, they don't all like high fantasy, contemporary fiction, and novels in verse.  This graphic novel tells the true story of a horse that served in the Korean War.  (Spoiler: the horse survives the war.  I'd want to know if I were picking this book up!)  I am a huge Karen Hesse fan, and Aleutian Sparrow worked really well for me, although I'm not sure it'd be a good choice for reluctant readers.  I know a little about the Aleutian islands, and a little about the Japanese internment camps of WWII, but had no idea the U.S. had removed the native people from the Aleutians for the duration of the war, greatly breaking down their society and culture.  The False Princess was more enjoyable for me than The False Prince.  (I know they're not related, but their titles are.)  I think author Elis O'Neil could have used a bit more editing to tighten up her story, but it was a great first novel.  Zipped, by Laura McNeal, takes a somewhat provocative premise--a teenaged boy discovers that his unsettlingly hot stepmom is having an affair--and creates sympathetic characters.  I was struck at how quaint its 2003 setting made it.  



I know Ruta Sepetys got a lot of attention for Between Shades of Gray.  And yes, it is a very good book that covers a piece of modern history that is not well known (like Aleutian Sparrow, come to think of it).  However,  having lived in the Baltics for five years, and adopted two children from Lithuania, the story wasn't as new for me.  Out of the Easy, on the other hand, takes me to a place I've never been--post war New Orleans.  Josie has been handed a tough hand in life, but she rises to the challenge impressively.  

Awkward, Svetlana Chmakova's graphic novel about fitting in and finding friends in middle school, is just about perfect.  From her gracefully diverse characters to her age appropriate angst to her delightfully characterized teachers, she has created a book I'd like to press into the hands of every single one of my incoming seventh graders.  

The War Within These Walls, written by Flemish author Aline Sax, is a graphic novel fictionalization of the Warsaw Uprising.  Horribly sad, of course, but such an important perspective, that not all Jews in WWII Europe waited passively and stoically for their annihilation.  Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Meg Medina's story of bullying, classism, and identity, is one I think my students will relate to.  Plus, they'll love the title,  

I'm such a comic book/graphic novel newbie that I'm not even sure how to count Brody's Ghost.  It's divided into six volumes, but they tell one story, and I probably took less time to read all six than I do for most novels.  It is one of the most anime-looking things I've read--no wait, manga, right?--which is (obviously) a stretch for me.  I was pulled right in by the dystopia/mystery/ghost story thing it has going on, and I loved how Mark Crilley included some of his sketches and reflections on his creative process at the end of each volume.  I'm definitely trying to get the complete set for my classroom.  

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!

I already talked about this.  Challenger Deep requires a lot of its readers, and it pays it back tenfold.  I can't say enough good things.  I liked Shusterman's Skinjacker books, loved his Unwind dystology, and with this book he's leapt to the front of my list of amazing authors writing today--in any genre or for any age group.  

My Writing

I continued to have a lot of fun with both Top Ten Tuesday and Book Tag posts.  I especially enjoyed putting together a Mid-Year Freakout Post, the Fairy Tales Retold post, and British Mystery Authors 101.  That week's top ten link-up was amazing; so many people had such creative ideas for "courses" to create.  I was delighted to have another post appear on Nerdy Book Club.  Titled Oregon, My Oregon, it was a list of ten books written by Oregon authors and/or set in my native state.  I have another post appearing there next month.  The first two posts I'd submitted were published without further ado, but when I submitted the third post, the woman who manages the guest post wrote back with some constructive criticism.  I had about 30 seconds of feeling bad, then I felt INCREDIBLE, because someone was actually helping me EDIT MY WORK, just like a REAL AUTHOR.  I revised it based on her suggestions, figured out exactly where I wanted to go with the piece, and resubmitted it successfully.  It is more personal a less of a list than my first two submissions, so I'm feeling super proud of myself.  I also reviewed a few books this month on my blog; in addition to Challenger Deep, I was inspired to review Everybody Sees the Ants and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

Internet Treasures

At last month's wrap-up round-up, I got such a kick out of reading other people's suggested links that I actually kept track of things I found online this month that I thought other readers would enjoy.  

  1. Author Kekla Magoon had a guest post on Nerdy Book Club in which she writes about her decision to reimagine Robin Hood as a "biracial twelve-year-old girl in a futuristic world."  I've read a lot recently about both the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and about the push to not just "feature diversity" but to fold diversity into stories that are not specifically ABOUT being black/blind/an immigrant/etc.  Shadows of Sherwood should do just that.  
  2. My super awesome niece sent me a link to an NPR story on what college kids are being assigned to read these days.  
  3. I've discovered a lot of teacher bloggers this summer, and I found Pernille Ripp's article on why picture books are good for all ages to be thought provoking and inspiring.  
  4. How cute are these rain gutter bookshelves?
  5. And how sweet are these kids talking about why they read?
  6. Finally, this Yahoo article looks at what is wrong with college students refusing to read books they consider immoral.  I have been thinking a lot about censorship this summer (like here and here), but self censorship is a danger I'd forgotten to consider.  I certainly have read many books in which characters do things I wouldn't do.  Like, say, every murder mystery ever.  Does it make a difference if it's visually portrayed?  I know I've read a few graphic novels this summer that won't make it into my classroom because of nudity, even though the story itself might be appropriate for many students.  But I teach middle school, not college.  C'mon.  
  7. Special mention to the month-long "Mental Health in YA/Shattering Stigmas" event hosted by Bookshelf Reflections, It Starts at Midnight, and The Thousand Lives.  Personal stories, book reviews, discussions, author interviews--there was so much important information shared and so many important stories give space.  


We went on another camping trip, this time with friends I've camped with annually for 16 years.  We made exactly zero progress on our bathroom remodel*, but did get in a day trip to the beach.  We bottled a bunch more wine, and I got to take my son to the nearest big water park, thanks to our library's awesome "Culture Pass" program, which allows families to borrow one day passes to local attractions.   I'm currently hosting what I just realized is the first sleepover my son has had.  The whispering has died down considerably over the past half hour, meaning they got to sleep a mere 90 minutes later than usual.**  A bunch of people I know announced pregnancies this month, including my nephew's wife. son set up a ten gallon fish tank with two tetras and two guppies.  That was kind of fun.  I also spent a fair amount of time this month with one of those adult coloring books that are all the rage.  (That always sounds like I'm coloring pictures of naked people.  Really, it's just mandalas.)  Why paint bathroom cabinets when you can color?  

My sister and I on a hike.  
My kid being creative at the beach.
Very excitingly, I found out two weeks ago that my teaching assignment this year has changed from 7th and 8th grade language arts to reading specialist.  I'll be working with our school's lowest readers.  All that book buying and book blogging and reading books about teaching reading will certainly pay off!  I'm exhausted from setting up my classroom, revamping my plans to focus on just reading, and on finding ways to get my reluctant students engaged.  
Loving my Russia themed display.  Also, you can sure tell I'm not on Instagram.  

Ooh, I also won a book on a giveaway!  This was a first for me as a blogger, so I'm pretty thrilled.  

Last week was inservice week, setting up my classroom and attending approximately five billion meetings.  Tomorrow is more of the same, then kids show up Tuesday.  I am interested to see how much blogging (if any!) I get done in September.   Wish me luck!

* My husband made a liar out of me today by getting a bunch of work done.  That's what I get for trying to wrap up the month 2 days early.

**Oh, foolish Mama.  They were up past midnight.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

TBT: Reading After Bedtime

If you're reading this blog, you probably love reading.

If you love reading, you probably loved reading when you were a kid.

If you loved reading when you were a kid, you may have snuck-read in bed after lights out.

This post is turning into a Laura Numeroff book.  I'll move it along now.

When I was a kid, I loved reading, and I always sometimes wanted to keep reading after my bedtime.  My bedroom  was at the end of the hall, and if I sort of hung sideways, half off the bed,  I could read by the hallway light.  I spent many a night finishing up a book in this awkward pose.

Leaving the bedroom door open wasn't suspicious, as we had cats.  It's always easier to leave interior doors open than to get up in the night to let cats move around.  If the light got turned off, I'd get up, pretend to use the bathroom, and "accidentally" leave the hall light on when I went back to bed.

If someone came down the hall, I'd slip the book under the covers and pretend to sleep.  My family, however, caught on, and they'd come in and check.  I had to get more and more creative in where I'd stash the book when I heard footsteps.  Under the pillow was a pretty good spot; it took them awhile to figure that one out.

Eventually it became kind of an issue.  This was probably about 4th grade, the same year my teacher had to check me over before class to be sure I wasn't smuggling in books to read while she taught.  I don't remember ever getting in serious trouble, but there was a level of exasperation building, and a few lectures about the importance of sleep.  The whole family was in on the "catch Wendy reading and remove her book" project.

One night, a shadow fell across the doorway, and I looked up to see my sister's boyfriend standing there.  He'd crept down the hallway so quietly I hadn't even had a chance to hide my book.  Caught.  Red-handed.  (Read-handed?  Ouch; sorry.)  I tensed myself for the lecture, or for the announcement to my family.  Instead, he just grinned at me and shook his head, then walked quietly back down the hall.  I don't remember now whether I put the book away or kept reading, but I do remember how grateful I was to him for not telling on me.

He's still my favorite brother-in-law.

What about you?  Any late-night reading escapades?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

TTT: British Mysteries 101

This week, The Broke and the Bookish have picked a fun top ten theme--If you were creating a course in ___101, what books would be on the syllabus?
 By overwhelming popular demand (read: one person voted and this is what they voted for), I will now start your crash course in British Mystery Writers 101.  I'm going to be very American and ignorant here (was that redundant?), and include Irish and Scottish authors, and also books written by Americans but set in England.  All images were taken from Goodreads.

1.  We shall start our course with Wilkie Collins, a contemporary of Dickens.  Born in London in 1824, Collins was a very popular novelist at the time.  These days, he is mainly remembered for his prototype mysteries, which could also be considered ghost stories or melodramatic novels.  The Moonstone is perhaps more famous, but I love The Woman in White, published in 1860.  Both are delightfully Victorian.  Collins died in 1889.  
2.  Skipping right over Sherlock Holmes, who did nothing for me until Cumberbatch and Freeman came along, the next author I'd like to introduce you to is Josephine Tey.  Born Elizabeth Mackintosh in Inverness, Scotland, the author known as Tey lived from 1856-1922.  She wrote a short mystery series--well, short by mystery standards--that feature the same detective, but the books can be read independently of each other.  Her books have a humor and sophistication missing in most early 20th century mysteries.  One of my favorites is Brat Farrar, about an impostor posing as a family's long-lost son and heir.  Brat Farrar came out in 1949, and has held up well over time.

3.  You can't teach a course in mysteries, let alone BRITISH mysteries, without bringing up Agatha Christie.  She was actually my first grown-up mystery writer, after a childhood of Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and the Three Investigators.  You already know that she's the best-selling author since Shakespeare, with the longest running play ever.  I was always fond on her Miss Marple stories, so I'll start you off with her first appearance, in the 1930 novel Murder at the Vicarage.  Christie was born in Devon in 1890 and lived until 1976, seeing a lot of change during her lifetime.  

4.  Contemporary with Christie, and writing mysteries that feature rather more in the way of character development, is Dorothy L. Sayers.  Born in Oxford in 1893, Sayers writes about a more elegant detective and milieu than most of Christie's. Lord Peter Whimsy made his debut in 1923, in Whose Body?  I found him fascinating, and he is definitely a precursor to Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley.  The eventual introduction of writer, feminist, and scholar Harriet Vane made this series even better.  Sayers died in 1957.

5.  The first novelist on this list born in the 21st century, Ellis Peters (1915-1995) is less illustrious than most of the others I'm featuring.  Her series, about a medieval Welsh monk, doesn't necessarily stand above Elizabeth Peters' Egyptologists, Anne Perry's Victorians, or Charles Todd's WWI nurses and soldiers.  But we need a good historical mystery writer on this list, and there was a time when Brother Caedfael was a good friend of mine.  I even visited his home in Shrewsbury.  A Morbid Taste for Bones began the series in 1977.  (Besides, I remain eternally skived out by Perry's involvement in the murder of her best friend's mom when she was young.)  

6.  Reginald Hill was a contemporary of my parents.  Born in Shropshire in 1936, he died in 2012.  His early works are very much products of his time, and would have faded into oblivion if that was all he'd written, but in 1970 he wrote a mystery starring the coarse, vulgar, old-school Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel and the college educated, enlightened Sergeant Peter Pascoe.  Their first few outings together weren't particularly remarkable, but if you catch up with them seven books along, in 1983's Deadhead, you'll be ready to follow them for nearly thirty years of growth, change, and ever more complex, literary, philosophical, witty, and humane novels.  He may have started with stock characters out of any Odd Couple fiction, but Pascoe and especially Dalziel developed into wonderfully complex and nuanced characters.  When I heard Hill had died, I grieved for the loss of these two detectives as much as for their author, who saw them through not just 24 novels, but also through several wonderful short stories, including a ghost story, some sci fi, and a surrealistic meta story about actors playing the characters on TV.  

7.  If Reginald Hill showed me how great mysteries could be, Elizabeth George proved that he wasn't the only author capable of writing like that.  Her style is very different--there's a lot more kink in her books, frankly--and I don't actually like about half of her recurring characters, which may be intentional on her part.  George is an American, born in 1949 in Ohio, but I sure can't tell from her writing.  She obviously has spent plenty of time in England and writes with confidence and authority.  Like Hill, her books stand up to re-reading, since the central mystery is only part of the story.  The inner lives of all the characters, recurring or not, are fascinating.  I still remember details from books I read years ago.  She has a knack for creating sensational situations and making them seem absolutely believable.  Oh, what does she write about?  A London murder squad headed by Inspector Lynley, a lord who refuses his title.  Detective Barbara Havers, a pudgy, belligerent, working class woman is his colleague (and my favorite character).  One of his oldest friends is, conveniently, a pathologist, and, less conveniently, married to an old flame.  Oh, and the friend is lame because of a drunk driving incident Lynley was responsible for.  And Lynley's manservant is the old flame's father.  We first meet this soap operatic cast in 1988's A Great Deliverance.  

8. Sophie Hannah was born in Manchester in 1971, making her two years younger than me, making my wonder what I'm doing with my life.  I first heard of her on an adoption blog I was working on.  Being the bookworm that I am, I couldn't help talking about books on there, and when I shared my enthusiasm for Hill, George, and the new-to-me Tana French, someone suggested trying Hannah's Little Spilling CID series.  So glad I did!  The main characters are beautifully screwed up, and the mysteries they solve are inventive and intriguing.  Starting with Little Face, in which a woman comes home from her first postpartum workout to find the WRONG BABY in her child's crib, the series gives you characters to root for while making them all deeply, humanly flawed.  

9.  I just mentioned Tana French.  She may be the best one on this list.  Maybe.  In her debut, In the Woods, a detective is called on to investigate a crime that seems a lot like a strange incident that happened to him when he was a boy.  He and a friend went into the woods, the friend never came out, and he was found dazed, bleeding, and unable to remember anything besides some sort of monster.  French was born in Vermont in 1973, but has lived in Dublin since 1990, so her Dublin Murder Squad seems very authentic.  One of my favorite aspects of this series is that instead of following the same cast around, each book features a supporting or minor character from another book.  The result is something like reading a multiple POV book, in that someone that comes across as a complete jerk from one point of view turns out to have a lot more going on once you learn their own point of view.  Also, French is the first author on this list since Collins to let a sliver of the supernatural into her stories.  They are very grounded in our world, but things happen that can't quite be explained by science.  

10.  My most recent discovery is Jane Casey, born in 1977.  Like her main character, Maeve Kerrigan, Casey was born and raised in Dublin, but makes her home in London.  Her first book, The Burning, was lots of fun, with plenty of twists and a sizzling romance.  But it was her second book, The Reckoning, that earned her a place on this list.  The romantic question more or less clear (if not settled), the subplot delved into female friendships and competition.  My main complaint about Casey is that everyone in her books is described as being gorgeous.  Really?  No ordinary people in the department?  Well, other than those nasty blokes who give Kerrigan a hard time, of course.  I expect everyone to be beautiful in a Hollywood adaptation of a book, but I hate being told I must imagine everyone as stunning when I'm reading too.  

It is, of course, impossible to include everyone relevant on a list like this, but I think if you were to read one book by each of these authors, you'd be well grounded in British Mysteries.  Go forth and detect!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag

Also, yes, it's a bit beyond mid-year, but that's okay. As my Vegan friend who ate chocolate chip cookies always said, "I'm not doing this to impress anyone else, so I can make my own rules."

I got this brilliant idea from Cynthia at Bingeing on Books. I'm unable to choose just one for most categories, but I'm trying very hard to not freak out about all the books, so I capped most of them at two.

10626594Total Books Read so far: 128. On track to read 200 this year, which will be a record. This is partly owing to the high number of graphic novels and kidlit, partly due to my being a fast reader, and partly due to my being a maniac.

18075234best I've read in 2015: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Completely different books, but oh, so good. I guess you could say they are both growing-up-despite-intense-challenges books. Or authors-at-the-top-of-their-game books.


best sequel: Cress, by Marissa Meyer and The Reckoning, by Jane Casey. We all know how fantastic the Lunar Chronicles are, amirite? Casey's mystery series had a solid first book, but it was the second book that really impressed me. She moved away from relying on romance as the major subplot, and instead brought in some interesting storylines about female friendship and competition.


new release you want to readThere are so many good books I've never read that already exist, so I don't usually focus on new and upcoming releases. That being said, I picked up a copy of Gretchen McNeil's 3:59 at a local paperback store last week. I'd never heard of it, but it sounded so intriguing that I had to get it, even though it was at full price (their used books are all half off). It's described as Dr. Who meets Groundhog Day. I'm expecting a fun ride, not great prose, but it's totally what I'm in the mood for.


anticipated book for fall: Winter, by Marissa Meyers (have I mentioned how much I love the Lunar Chronicles?) and The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness. I am purposely trying to avoid learning anything about what the latter is about, because that's how much I love Ness. Even his weird stuff is awesome. I don't need to know the premise before deciding if I'll read it.

180778363239487biggest disappointment: Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson. Neither one was bad, they just weren't what I was hoping for. I wanted Yummy to be relatable and dramatic and heartrending for my students, and it was...okay, with truly awful drawings. The Mark of the Dragonfly came highly recommended from many teachers, but it just reconfirmed for me that I like a lot of YA but not nearly as much MG.

biggest surprise: This would be the opposite of the previous category--a book I didn't expect much from that absolutely delighted me. I grabbed Gabi, A GIrl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, off the library shelf more or less at random. I thought the cover was ugly, but I'm always on the lookout for Latino/a YA and MG books, so I gave it a try. Gabi's voice and personality blew me away.

Benjamin Alire SáenzJojo Moyesfavorite new author: I've only read one book by each of these authors, but their style, storytelling, and heart mean that I will definitely be seeking out more. I met JoJo Moyes through Me Before You, and of course Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is by the amazing Benjamin Alire Saenz.

newest fictional crush: If crushing on Tyrion Lannister is sick and wrong, then I don't want to be healthy and right.

Favorite new character: 
This guy::  from this book: 11594337

6217775 18460392       15507958
Books that made you cry: Sprout, All the Bright Places, Me Before You

Books that made you happy: Truly Grim Tales, Dog Songs, Aristotle & Dante, Roller Girl
1194783 17707772 1200002022504701

Best book to film adaptation: N/A. I don't watch many movies. The best I could come up with is Maleficent.

Prettiest book you bought:  Shadow and Bone and for the third mention, Aristotle & Dante.

Books to read by end of year: Brown Girl Dreaming, Night, Orphan Train, Legend, Storm of Swords


Are there any awards Brown Girl Dreaming has not won? I'm starting to get a complex about not having read it. Then again, I've been "wanting to read" Night for about ten years, and been "currently reading" it for about four months, so maybe I should save my angst for that. Orphan Train just looks good, and I recently got a copy of it for myself. Legend is one of those "super hyped but I haven't read it" books, and I just got a copy at the library. Storm of Swords will probably take me far longer than the first two books did, since I'm going back to work in a few days. Sigh. Still, I have to see how my sweetie Tyrion does with no nose.