Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the book cover:
What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb--males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape--to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant she trusts, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

A little while ago I saw a vlog done by the Lauren DeStefano about the effects of Good Reads on authors and really enjoyed her sense of humor. That caught my interest, so I sought out Wither. I was delighted to discover that my library had the audio version done by Recorded Books (excellently narrated by Angela Lin). This meant that I could listen to the book while I worked on other things. It was well worth it. The world is well constructed; you learn enough to be intrigued, but are left with questions about the society. The story is character driven, and those characters are well developed. Rhine is very compelling. She is a heroine that you genuinely want to see succeed. While some of the characters may seem like stock characters initially, DeStefano has created them with enough depth that they are believable and you find yourself somewhat sympathetic of even the evil House Master Vaughn. I look forward to the second book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy, and the next phase of Rhine's adventure.

Treasures: To Read Pile

Here are just some of the books that we got at the library yesterday:

Graphic Novels
Bayou by Jeremy Love
Amulet # 1 by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet # 2 by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet # 3 by Kazu Kibuishi
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Joann Sfar
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 by David Petersen

Books for high school summer reading
A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness by Gene Edwards
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson

Young Adult novels that I've been wanting to read:
Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
The Absolute Value of Mike by Katheryn Erskin
The Sweetness of Salt by Cecilia Galante

The Most Human Human by Brian Christian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Publishers Weekly
In a fast-paced, witty, and thoroughly winning style, Christian documents his experience in the 2009 Turing Test, a competition in which judges engage in five-minute instant-message conversations with unidentified partners, and must then decide whether each interlocutor was a human or a machine. The program receiving the most "human" votes is dubbed the "most human computer," while the person receiving the most votes earns the title of "most human human." Poet and science writer Christian sets out to win the latter title and through his quest, investigates the nature of human interactions, the meaning of language, and the essence of what sets us apart from machines that can process information far faster than we can. Ranging from philosophy through the construction of pickup lines to poetry, Christian examines what it means to be human and how we interact with one another, and with computers as equals—via automated telephone menus and within the medical establishment, for example. This fabulous book demonstrates that we are capable of experiencing and sharing far deeper thoughts than even the best computers—and that too often we fail to achieve the highest level of humanness.

This is a challenging, thought provoking book. I enjoyed the discussions of chess, computers, language, and communication.

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Good Reads: Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard--falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High... until vicious rumors about her and her best friend's boyfriend start going around. Now Regina's been "frozen out" and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn't come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend... if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don't break them both first.

Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be.

This was a frightening adventure into the world of mean girls. It's disturbing to read about just how horrendous young people can be to each other, and disheartening to realize that this is a reality for too many young people. There was quite a bit of swearing in the story. I realize that not everyone in the world shares my view that vulgar language is unnecessary, and that the dialogue and use of profanity is an accurate representation of "typical" teenagers. That being said, this was a one day read for me. I couldn't put it down. The story was very compelling, and I was eager to see how things were going to play out for Regina. I also look forward to reading Cracked Up to Be. Courtney Summer is a talented writer.

Dirty Little Secrets by CJ Omololu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Good Reads: Everyone has a secret. But Lucy's is bigger and dirtier than most. It's one she's been hiding for years—that her mom's out-of-control hoarding has turned their lives into a world of garbage and shame. Tackling an increasingly discussed topic that is both fascinating and disturbing, C. J. Omololu weaves an hour-by-hour account of Lucy's desperate attempt to save her family. Readers join Lucy on a path from which there is no return, and the impact of hoarding on one teen's life will have them completely hooked.

Wow. This is an incredibly compelling story. From the very first page, I was drawn in by the main character, Lucy. Although I knew the basic story line, I was intrigued by the "mystery" set up of the opening pages. Lucy struggles to keep her mother together, live a normal life, and keep the family secret, yet things come tumbling down- quite literally. This kept me up late into the night, reading how Lucy was going to resolve her dilemma without revealing her secret and destroying any chance at having a "normal" life.

Sense & Sensibility the Graphic Novel by Nancy Butler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know that Sense & Sensibility is one of the greats, and I probably should have read it, but having read the graphic novel version, I'm not sure that I'd be able to get through the real thing. Not because Jane Austen is a bad writer, I know she is quite good, but because I really don't like romance stories, and social manipulation and unrequited love, etc, really irks me. I really find those kinds of story lines to be quite irritating.

On the positive note, I enjoyed the cartooning. It was very good, and Nancy Butler did a nice job adapting the story. I look forward to reading more by both the author and illustrator.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Treasure Hunting

Combing the stacks, like hunting for buried treasure. We leave with our arms loaded. These riches ours to enjoy for at least 21 days.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Five

1.It's Friday. It is also my husband's last day of work. He surprised me by coming home around 2:30. Usually he doesn't get home until much later on Fridays because he has to clean for the weekend. But the guy who he had to hand his keys over to wasn't staying late, so he got to leave much earlier. He's so relieved to be done with this job. Now we'll see how he does being unemployed! He is looking for a job, but we're not moving until the end of July, so he's not too antsy about not having another job lined up...yet.

2. I got a new iPhone today. I love it, it's so much fun!

3. I still need to write letters to my students. I've been putting that off. I guess now that hubby is home during the day I need to be a bit more productive myself!

4. I've been trying to get caught up on my reading this week and have read several of the books from the library.
5. It may have been a mistake, but I downloaded Angry Birds to my iPhone.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lost and Found by Shaun Tan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a graphic novel that you read quickly. Each story (there are three) needs to be savored and each page carefully examined. The stories and art work are equally amazing. After reading through the stories, then reading the author notes, I had to go back and reread because I felt I had missed so much the first time through. This is a book worth reading multiple times.

The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the jacket flap:
In 1937 Kansas, eleven-year-old Jack Clark faces his share of ordinary challenges: local bullies, his father's failed expectations, a little sister with an eye for trouble. But he also has to deal with the effects of the Dust Bowl, including rising tensions in his small town and the spread of a shadowy illness. A case of the new "dust dementia" would certainly explain who (or what) Jack has glimpsed in the abandoned Talbot barn-- a sinister figure with a face like rain. In a land where it never rains, it's hard to trust what you see with your own eyes--and harder still to take heart and be a hero when the time comes.

Matt Phelan's drawings are wonderful- I drank them in page after page. He artfully tells a story of a time in our history where many were despairing, yet there were pockets of hope. I especially appreciate Phelan's choice to show this time period through the eyes of a child. This is definitely a book I hope to add to my classroom library and utilize when teaching American history.

My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the jacket flap:
Have you ever had trouble figuring out a tip at a restaurant? Or following directions to a new place? For Samantha Abeel, who has a math-related learning disability called dyscalculia, each of these seemingly simple acts can feel next to impossible.
In her beautiful and haunting memoir, Samantha Abeel describes in evocative detail how her life was affected by her learning disability before and after she was diagnosed. In seventh grade she struggled wit the pressures of junior high, from balancing schoolwork, to remembering locker combinations, to explaining her difficulties with math to new teachers who couldn't understand why a "good" student like Samantha wasn't excelling. Though signs of a learning disability were there all her life, she was not diagnosed until she was thirteen years old. My Thirteenth Winter, Samantha Abeel's honest, hopeful autobiography, is an inspiring story of courage and strength.

Samantha truly has a gift with words and her narrative of memories interspersed with reflection draws you in and carries you along. I was moved to tears for her struggles and the compassion that she felt for others, as well as for the countless students who move through our classroom who struggle and no one ever knows.

This is a book that should be read by parents, teachers, and teens. Samantha recognizes how fortunate she was to have parents who where able to push through the system and get her the help she needed. She had break-throughs and relapses. The story is truly one of hope.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


This morning when I opened my email I found this in my inbox:
Subject: Hi from M and B

Dear Mrs. S,
We miss you and love you! How is summer? Have you read any good books that you want to recommend? M and I are looking for more to read! How is Mr. S doing? Did he find a job in Maine yet? We hope you two are both well.
Love you again!
M and B

P.S. Y says "HI!!!!!!!" too!

It was an email from some of my 8th graders. I wasn't at all surprised
because I have a very good relationship with this class. I was really
touched that they were asking about my husband, and that they are
still looking to me for recommendations of book. For two years
I read aloud to this class and we built a genuine community around
our reading. We traveled after school to meet Laurie Halse Anderson.
We Skyped with Kate Messner twice, we had a special visit from
Cindy Lord when she was in the area for NESCBWI, we swapped
books and even had a pool party the day after school ended so that
I could finish reading Matched to them. Several of these students,
including "B", author of the email, became readers.

I know that I have impacted them, but they have also impacted me.
I sure am going to miss them!

First Day of

Today is the first day of Summer and that got me thinking about first days. We celebrate so many first days- first day of kindergarten, first day of school, first day of life, of marriage, etc.

When I was little I had a Holly Hobbie lunch box (not the cheep plastic ones of later generations, but a good ole' tin one with the images embossed and the matching thermos with the wire to hold it in place), and I put a little puffy, googly-eye sticker carefully in the corner of the lid. I don't remember when I put that sticker there, but I'm pretty sure it was early on in my ownership of the lunch box. It had a little chick, just hatched, and said, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life".

I really feel like I am at the first day of the rest of my life right now. Last week I finished my 5th and last year at this school. This week my husband finishes at his current job and will be unemployed (yikes!). At the end of July, we move to Maine.
Next year I'll be teaching high school at a Christian school in Maine; not only will I be teaching English and History for the freshmen & sophomores, I will be head of the high school, working to rebuild it, and advising the rest of the school on things like curriculum and how to promote the school. I'm excited about this new chapter. I've got volumes of work ahead of me. There are still unknowns (like hubby's job, and insurance), and I will miss the family and friends we have here.

But here on this first day of Summer, I've got that "first day of" excitement and nervousness. That hope of possibility as I look ahead to what might be.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Five

1. I don't remember the last time I did a Friday Five (or a Tuesday Slice of Life). My blogging efforts have been an epic fail this spring. I've got to rectify that.

2. Today I finished cleaning and packing my classroom. I've still got some boxes to bring home, I'll get those next week. I haven't turned my keys into the office yet, either. Just little pieces of denial. I'm really going to miss this place and these people.

3. We found a house in Maine that is a nice little place, has workshop space for Hubby, and is very affordable. It's in a lovely little neighborhood on a dead end street, on the side of a mountain, at the edge of a field. We're going to like living there.

4. Last night around 7:30 a bear came and ate all the seed out of the bird feeders. He bent the pole over and sat there licking the seed out of the feed. We're just glad that he leaves the feeders when he's done!

5. In one more week Hubby finishes his job, and then we move at the end of July. It'll be nice having him around to help with the packing and all, but I wonder if we'll drive each other crazy being home all the time? It'll be good practice for when we're both old and retired!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

Sean Griswold's HeadSean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I stayed up all night to read it in one sitting. I loved the main character's voice. It was so real and had such a likable quality to it. This is definitely a book that I look forward to purchasing for my classroom.

View all my reviews

Matched by Ally Condie

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the last read aloud with my 8th grade class this year. We snagged every bit of available reading time- even the 10 minutes before graduation started! On the last day of school I was trying to finish it, reading through part of dismissal, but we just couldn't make it. One of the girls asked her mom if she could have the entire class (all 7 of them) over for a pool party the next day so that I could finish the book. Her mom agreed, so this afternoon, I left my end of the year teacher meeting and drove over to Haley's house. After swimming with them for a while, hanging out, and eating homemade pizza, the girls drapped themselves over Haley's bed while I sat on the couch and finished the book.

We really enjoyed this story. It is one of those books that at first seems so simple, yet as you near the climax, just enough layers are peeled away so that you begin to get a glimpse of how complex the society really is and you want to know more. There are so many aspects of this story that I appreciated. There is much depth and complexity to the culture. I really look forward to Crossed being released in the fall. Anyone who is a fan of Lauren Oliver's Delirium or Lois Lowery's The Giver, will enjoy this book.

View all my reviews