Sunday, November 1, 2015

October Wrap-up

I am so glad that Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction created this monthly wrap-up round-up. I always find plenty of interesting reading by following the links.

Daylight savings time is ridiculous and unnecessary and confusing, but it sure it nice to get an extra hour on Halloween evening.  I'll have time to write this post!

My Reading

I only read 16 books this month, but it feels like I read more.  Probably because I'm reading five different books to five different classes right now.  Three are re-reads for me (House of the Scorpion, Tiger Rising, and The Scorpio Races) and two are new to me (The Haunting of Sunshine Girl and Haddix Peterson's Found).  Plus sitting next to my bed are Emmy & Oliver, The Boy in the Black Suit, and Towering, all of which I've read a few chapters in but haven't been motivated enough to keep reading.  And Ex Libris, which I'm reading essay by essay in the morning before I leave for work.  And dear old George R. R. Martin, and Night, which I haven't cracked since July.

Sheesh.  It turns out I may in that thing I'd heard of without believing in, a ""reading slump".  Maybe I need to commit to either finishing or DNF-ing all these books.

On to the summary.

Not for Me

Sisters Red, by Jackson Pearce, has a great cover and premise, but wound up being kind of dull.  First & Then, by Emma Mills, was my Uppercase book of the month.  I liked a lot of things about it, but was frustrated by others.  It couldn't seem to decide if it wanted to be a pretty literal reimagining of Pride and Prejudice or more of a general homage to Austen.  Too many one-scene characters.  And, honestly, there are few things in life I care less about than high school football.  Still, the main character does develop as a person, and I was shipping the romance by the very end.  I also read Wolf Rider, by Avi.  I had high hopes it would be a quick, scary read to recommend to my students.  Um.  Nope.  It felt very stilted and dated.

I also started and decided not to continue with The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia.  It's a great topic, and the writing was fine, but--I majored in European History, focusing especially on Russia and Eastern Europe.  Plus I read Nicholas and Alexandra way back when.  Several chapters in, I wasn't getting anything new out of it.  If you don't know much about this era and/or part of the world, I would recommend the book; it just wasn't something I wanted to spend time on.

Middle Grade Hits

I am not a middle grade reader.  I adore picture books and some "chapter books," but middle grade is too---in the middle.  Still, I have many students for whom this level of book is way more appealing/appropriate than YA.  So I read some MG books to find ways to connect those kids to books as well.

I've never read any Gordon Korman, and the natural starting place was Chasing the Falconers.  It really was kind of fun to see my (maiden) name popping up over and over.  The notorious Falconers...those crazy Falconer kids....Anyway, the story also moved along at a brisk clip.  I was a little taken aback to realize the series goes on and on and on.  I maybe could have stuck with it for 3 books, since they're quick reads, but knowing that there is a multiple book commitment, I decided to just stop after one.  My 7th graders were excited to see me reading it, because one of last year's teachers read them 1 1/2 of the series, so I was at least able to tell them the rest of the books are in our school library.  One of my rowdier 8th graders said, "Oh, that's a really good book" every time he saw me with it, so I need to check in with him about it too.

Rowan Hood, Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest begins another series I won't continue.  It was fine.  I just don't need more.  Still, I can happily recommend it to students.

Lowriders in Space is one of the books I picked up at the conference I went to early in the month.  I got it autographed, which was awesome.  It is a cute graphic novel, starring a mosquito, an octopus, and an Impala, and their quest to design a prize winning lowrider, thus obtaining funds to open their own car shop.  It's a little strange, which pulls some readers in and pushes others away.  I enjoyed it, but it's gotten lukewarm reviews from my students so far.

I also read my very first Babysitter's Club book this month.  It was a Raina Telgemeier adaptation.  I knew some girls would be interested, because her style is immediately recognizable from Smile and Sisters, two books I can never keep on my shelves, so when I saw the first two on sale, I grabbed them for my class.
Oh. My. God.  The squealing.  The grabbing.  The rabid competition to be First Reader.  So when book 2 came back across my desk a few days later, I read it, figuring (correctly) that since I knew the basic premise, the story would still make sense.  And--well, I didn't love it, but I liked it far more than I expected.  Whether the stories were always better than those horrible covers let on, or whether Telgemeier worked some magic with her revising and illustrating, it was a decent book.  I will probably need to get another set, because every day someone is bugging me to find out who has them out and when they'll be back in.

My favorite MG novel I read this month was Absolutely Almost.  Lovely story, quick little chapters, really strong voice for the narrator.  Alvie is the kind of kid that we refer to as "low and slow" at school.  Yes, he's capable of learning, but it takes awhile.  Because he doesn't have "a pattern of strengths and weaknesses," he doesn't qualify for special ed.  My first thought upon finishing it was that it's a book that adults will like more than kids.  But as I thought more about it, I think that it would actually be a great book in terms of building empathy.  Alvie gets mocked and picked on, because he's both socially young and academically challenged, but by reading his story from his point of view, you come to understand what a great person and friend he is.  We all know (don't we?) that kids are more than their test scores, and Alvie is a perfect example of how someone can be a really top notch human being even if they don't "meet standards."

More good books

I thought that the super hero novel Sidekicks would be a MG novel, but it starts with an inopportune erection that continues to be mocked and discussed for a few chapters, so yeah.  Not so much.  If it weren't for that, I would LOVE to read it aloud to a class, because it is funny, sweet, inspiring, and has a few great twists.  

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die is another book I got autographed at the conference.  It was a good mid-level thriller; scarier than Nancy Drew but not as graphic as a full on adult thriller.  Plus, it's set locally, which is always fun.  (The main character attends the high school I went to, not that any of the story happens there.)  My students are gobbling up April Henry's books; I haven't been able to read any of the other two titles I got because they are constantly checked out.

Unpopular Opinions

The Orphan Train was a bit of a letdown, as I discussed earlier.  I think it says as much about me and my experiences as an adoptive mom as it does about the book, so I don't begrudge those who loved it.

It's Kind of a Funny Story broke my heart.  I loved the book initially, but learning that the author has since committed suicide really colored my feelings about it.


Reality Boy, The Impossible Knife of Memory, Mostly Good Girls and Anya's Ghost were my favorite reads this month.   A.S. King and Leila Sales are authors I am starting to look for more and more.  Laurie Halse Anderson was not only the terrific keynote speaker at the conference I attended, but also writes phenomenal contemporaries.  (Not a huge fan of her historical fiction, although I admire it greatly in theory.)  I had no idea Anya's Ghost was going to be creepy, and it was a pleasant surprise.  

My Writing

Argh.  I only posted 12 times this month.  Two Top Ten Tuesdays, three "normal" reviews and one "themed" review about books featuring toxic older brothers.  Two tags, two discussion posts, one post about my Uppercase book subscription, and one mini post when I found my picture on a book cover.

My Halloween themed TTT got the most views and comments.  My favorite ones to write were One of those People, reminiscing about a bookish role model from my childhood, and the TTT about what we'd wish for from a book genie.  I used that idea as a discussion prompt for my students as well, and they wished for a school visit from John Green, for an author to set a mystery at our school, comfy chairs for our whole class, for Rick Riordan to write more Percy Jackson novels, and "a book cannon so I can blast nowlege [sic] into my brother's head."  

There is a lot more I'd like to be writing about.  I NEED MORE TIME.  Or fewer responsibilities.  Or different priorities?  I also notice that when I'm writing less, particularly when I'm doing less linkups, I get less traffic and fewer comments.  That makes me sad.  

Internet Goodies

It's been going around, but if you haven't seen it, this article about the "Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland" is great.

The amazing teacher/writer Pernille Ripp had a post how classroom libraries are for the students, not the teachers.  Last year I bought a lot of books I loved.  This year I'm working really hard to buy books my students love, even if those books are not appealing to me.

A lovely collection of 1930s posters teaching children how to care for books.

And a French City installs short story dispensers in areas where people have to stand around and wait.  Brilliant.


My real life is pretty book-oriented too, so this is where I'll say how excited I was to win a Goodreads giveaway for Geraldine Brook's Last book, The Secret Chord.  (Every time I see, hear, write or think of the title, I start humming Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which is getting annoying even though it's a great song.)  I really enjoyed both Year of Wonders and March, and have also read People of the Book.  Her books are so well researched and also tell such great stories.  I did not read a single adult book in October, so I'm moving this one to the top of my to-read list.   I also won a book from Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction as part of the September Discussion Challenge.  She cleverly said we could choose any book with a title that began with either our first or last initial.  I sent her four options, and she sent me Growing up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen Drive World.  I sometimes think that if it were just up to me, my kids would have zero access to screens.  Other days I am so glad I can hand them an iPad and go take a nap.  I'm hoping this book will help me bridge the divide between my two extremes.  I'm pretty sure it will at least be fodder for a discussion post!

I had so much fun at the English teachers' conference I went to that I started looking into the national one, happening the week before Thanksgiving.  It features some of my teaching and writing heroes, AND it happens to be in the same city where one of my dearest friends lives--a city far enough away that I haven't seen her in ten years.  So I'm trying to get my school district to send me to the conference, while also trying to prepare my family for four days without mom.  It's a little tricky, as we are currently an issue-heavy little unit.  I know it will be truly hard on all three of them, and really really good for me.  Usually, I put them first.  This time, I think I'm going to put me first.  Wish us all luck.

We are still getting tomatoes off the vine.  I have lived mostly in Oregon for over 40 years, and I don't ever remember such a long dry spell as we've had this summer and fall.  The rains just started this week.  How well I remember the Halloweens of my childhood, when my costume was invariably ruined by having to wear a raincoat on top of kids were good sports about it this evening, and the rain actually tapered off quite a bit by the time we were outside.  Still, I think I will need to buy a new pair of shoes pretty soon.  There is only so long I can get away with wearing my sandals every day.

So that was my October.  Neither great nor terrible.  I have some quiet hopes for November.  How is your fall shaping up?


  1. Yech, I am sorry that you seem to be in a reading slump. I hate those! Sometimes taking a break from reading anything can help. Maybe your brain just needs a break. :) I just started The Orphan Train. I am sorry you didn't love it. It is hard to tell if I will like it or not. It's starting off a bit slow. We'll see.

  2. In spite of slumpiness you found some really great books. I'm glad to know you're not a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson's historicals, I've read one (Fever 1782) and was underwhelmed, but now maybe I'll try one of her contemporaries.

    I hope you will join in Witch Week over at ECBR. There's a linkup, a giveaway, and lots of other possibilities to interact!

  3. 16 is pretty fantastic! A couple of those I'd like to read. Happy November!

  4. Good luck with your conference - both for getting approval AND with your family coping without you. You're right that you need to take a little me time every now and again! I won a copy of First and Then, but I've been a little nervous about it. Like you, high school football is NOT on my list of things I care about! :-)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  5. Fresh tomatoes still! Yum! I love those straight off the vine, especially if they are slightly sun warm.
    Anya's ghost is one I want to read so glad to here you enjoyed it. I hope you are able to pull out of your slump soon. Those aren't much fun and can often feel discouraging.

  6. I loved The Impossible Knife of Memory too and Anya's Ghost - but prefered the graphic novel Smile, have you read it? Ahh that reading slump, I tend to DNF those I don't like as too many books out there and so little time!


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