Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Pause... For Now

I've been blogging about every middle grade/YA book I have read on this blog since July of 2008 (as well as some on a new blog I started earlier this year to blog alongside my students). I have loved connecting with a community of readers, as well as having a place that I could revisit anywhere with Internet access to refresh my memory about books that I have read and might want to book talk to my class or to individual readers. Blogging, in general has become a big part of my personal and professional life.

And yet, I am starting to realize that I need to prioritize which type of blogging I care about most as I need to get a better balance between family time, professional time and time to myself. For now, I have realized that if I need to cut back on some blogging time that my top priorities are to participate in the Slice of Life community, as well as to document my thinking as a teacher.

I think I have known for a while that I could not keep up with all of the different types of blogging unless I miss out on other aspects of life. It's still hard to shift away from blogging about each and every book. This year I started using Good Reads for the first time. I have been putting links to my blog posts for the review section. I think what I am going to try now is to jot down quick notes about the books. However, rather than seeing others as my audience, I am going to write about them for me, thinking about what I will want to remember about the book. Rather than forming a cohesive blog post with a wider audience in mind, I will focus on capturing what I will want to know in the future when the book is not as fresh  in my mind.

At times I am sure that I will still blog about MG/YA books on my other blogs - either reflecting on reading with my girls or talking about implications for the classroom. Maybe someday there will be time to blog about each book again. Regardless of what happens, my priorities are to always be a part of a community of readers (face to face and via blogging), to participate in on-going dialogues about education, and to document the everyday life. I also started using Twitter earlier this summer, and look forward to some of the possibilities for chatting about books through that avenue.

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Queen of Water

Ruth Ayres has been talking a lot about Laura Resau lately. One of her posts, led me to Laura's blog to see her writing trailer. While there, the cover image for The Queen of Water caught my eye. I quickly turned on my Kindle to see if I had bought it before, as it seemed awfully familiar. When I saw that it was indeed there, I decided to treat myself to reading it.

Since it had been over a year since I bought it, I could no longer remember what it was about it that had me instantly purchasing. Rather than reading more about it, I decided to just jump right in and start reading yesterday afternoon. I was instantly swept up in Virginia's life, spanning years of her childhood from a rural village in Ecuador to having her parents send her to go live with a mestizo family. It was hard to remember her young age (around 7 or so at the time but she was not sure of her birthday) because of all the responsibilities she had. Living through abuse and sifting through experiences back home and with the mestizo family, Virgina catches the attention of many because of her strong spirit. With each experience relayed I got to know her and her motivations better, trying to imagine what it would be like to be in her shoes.

Had I read information about it (or the words under the title) before picking the book up, I would have noticed that it as actually co-written with Maria Virginia Farinango and that it was not a work of fiction. Since I hadn't, I was in awe as I clicked past the last page and saw the background information about Laura meeting Virgina at a community college and the two starting on a six year journey to write Virginia's story. I smiled thinking back to one point in the book when things were looking up but then I thought, something is going to go wrong. I'm only at 51% and it seems like this will have a happy ending but like a Mexican telanovela it will have many twists and turns before she actually gets there without realizing that it was actually based on someone's real life.

I loved the exploration of identity, and the mixture of Spanish, English, and Quichua. Laura has some additional background, including pictures of the setting and of Virginia when she was a teen on her site. While reading the description of Resau's other books, I realized that I will have a hard time choosing which to read next. They all have hooks with travel and issues related to culture and identity.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Article 5

I knew from the first time that I heard about Article 5 that I would love it, and I was definitely not disappointed. To this point it is my favorite 2012 debut novel. I won't be surprised if I still feel that way in December, even though I have already enjoyed other debuts so much this year and am sure to be clicking away on the pages of others. This one is just extra special.

In the dystopian novel three years after a life-changing war in the United States, Ember's relationship with her mom has always been at the core of her existence. The sense of security she feels with her life changes one day when officers from the Federal Bureau of Reformation come knocking on the door announcing that her mother is in violation of Article 5, having a child out of wedlock. To Ember's horror, Chase, one of her closest childhood friends ends up being one of the soldiers. She fights to stay united with her mom and to protect her to no avail. Though Chase briefly stands up for her a little bit, Ember is left feeling disappointed and furious with him.

Before she has time to come to grips with the separation, she is thrust into a new life, carted away to a Rehabilitation Center filled with horrors. Full of mystery, suspense, and plenty of twists, I could not wait to keep reading. I remembered that one advertisement for the book mentioned that Ember was "more Katniss than Bella", so I was expecting a strong, innovative character. While reading I was having a constant inner dialogue with Ember - sometimes cheering for her, other times thinking, no, no, no - what are you thinking!? Needless to say, I was engaged start to finish.

Dystopian novels always seem so disturbing with the what ifs? However, they often seem to be enough out there to feel more relieved that it probably wouldn't really happen; however, with this novel, there were many aspects that made me think about history, such as Nazi Germany and the underground railroad, making it all seem eerily more possible.

I always love hearing more about author's backgrounds, and I found it interesting to learn on her site that the Simmons is a mental health advocate. I absolutely loved the last paragraph of her acknowledgements, "And finally, thank you to the people who, in the face of hardship, fight. Who turn surviving into thriving. Because of you I now live stronger and wiser, with the knowledge that hope is working through us all, even in our darkest moments."

I bought this on my Kindle, but I will need to buy a regular copy for my classroom library. I can hardly wait for the other two books in the trilogy to come out, which made me think back to reading Wither last year. I just now checked to see when Fever would be released and am overjoyed to see that it was actually already released about a week ago! Good thing there are other great books to tide me over while waiting for the next book in Simmons' trilogy.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Small Town Sinners

I was intrigued when I first saw the topic of Melissa Walker's latest book, Small Town Sinners. In the novel, Lacey Anne is gearing up for her town's Hell House, a religious event that their church community looks forward to each year. Occurring around the time of Halloween, the event is seen as an outreach to shock attendees with enactments of various sins with the hopes of having them sign pledges at the end of the event to demonstrate they will avoid the scenarios portrayed.

I imagine that my response to hearing about the details of the real life events were similar to Walker's when she first heard about the concept - shocked. Nonetheless, Walked did an excellent job of showing us this aspect through the eyes of Lacey Anne and her friends who have grown up with the event and see it as being part of the "big picture" to draw people into the church. 

Throughout I was horrified but trying to understand what it was like from the community's point of view. Then there's Ty, someone who lived in the town as a child, moved away, and recently returned. He comes with an outsider's perspective and brings up questions about the tradition, making Lacey think and wonder rather than blindly accepting. Many events surround the year this particular year's Hell House, all leading Lacey to reflect more than before. While she looks to her parents, her friends, and Ty to navigate her thoughts, I appreciated that this coming of age story portrayed balance, rather than a sharp shift to one side. Lacey's emotions and actions seemed to accurately reflect an authentic experience.

I can't wait to see what Walker will write next. I still have to read the second two books in the Violet series, but I enjoyed the first as well as her Lovestruck Summer. Each of the three are unique. Right now the Kindle edition of Small Town Sinners is $2.51. I am not sure how long it will be at that price, but I could hardly believe my luck when I saw the deal!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Chopsticks

When I heard about the unique format of Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral from Franki's post over at a Year of Reading, I could not resist. I am always attracted to exploring new ways of telling stories. When the book arrived last night I was surprised by the size. I was expecting a regular chapter book sized text; however, it was more the size of a professional educator book. I would have known if I would have looked at the dimensions on Amazon (9.4 x 8 x .09), but I rarely pay attention to that. Surprise aside, I was thrilled because I quickly realized that it was much more appropriate for this story than the size I was imagining would have been.

The novel is told through photographs, news articles, art, ephemera, chats, and more. The start of the book reminded me of the feeling of picking up The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was another book that I was drawn to precisely for its unique way of telling the story through pictures and words.

I started to orient myself to the story, and based on the back cover, knowing that at the end I would wonder, "what is real, what is imagined, and what has been madness all along..." I was not sure which aspects to focus on, knowing that Franki had mentioned in her post that she would have to go back and look closely again. For example, one page contained a couple of pages of writing from Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar with writing all over it. I was not sure if it was really necessary to read the pages, or if the focus was more on a connection to the mood or if it was about the writing on the page.

I can see how I will need to go back and re-read now that I figured out some of the twists toward the end that change everything. There will definitely be so much that I will discover with a re-read. I didn't even capture certain aspects such as chapter markers consistently the first time through. I noticed the first one with chapter three, which was obvious, but then I could not find the first couple of chapters. Later I found chapter 7, which prompted me to go back and find the others. I found most but then could not wait to see what else was going to happen, so I decided that hold off on that search.

One aspect that I will need to do upon re-read is go to the You Tube sites listed in the book. I know that is part of the story and will add another layer of understanding. When I closed the book I had mixed feelings - one of great appreciation and awe at the format and frustration - wondering if I will ever truly figure it out, wanting to be able to discuss it with others. However, I reminded myself that it was part of the fun - the joy of knowing there will be more to discover on future readings. I will be looking for others who want to read and discuss the book though!

This book is also available as an App, something that I think would be interesting to see as well. As I understand it, it has everything the paper novel has with some added in multi-media experiences. Oh, the possibilities with creativity!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Wanderlove

I had high hopes for Kristen Hubbard's Wanderlove, and they were fulfilled. Bria was excited for a trip to Europe with her two best friends the summer after high school. When they disappointed her by saying that the trip would not be the best timing, she decided to go on a trip anyway but opted for Central America. However, her dreams of an ideal vacation were quickly dashed when she realized that the rest of her tour group was all middle-aged, rather than the fun teen-aged faces on the brochures!

Nonetheless, a twist of events set Bria on a journey to take risks and shift plans, traveling instead with brother and sister Rowan and Starling. While Starling seemed to be at peace with who she is, Rowan and Bria were both considering events from their pasts, present and who they want to become.

There was so much to love - the characters, the setting, the internal conflicts. I liked how throughout the book we discovered more of the pieces to Rowan's and Bria's pasts in order to better understand their present actions, as well as guessing what they would decide next. Another fun layer to the overall composition of the book was the addition of some of Bria's drawings. It was always a special treat to click and discover the way that Bria was capturing the experience.

I have heard a lot about Hubbard's other novel Like Mandarin, and now I want to read it even more.

*Netgalley e-copy provided. Wanderlove will be released in March.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Queen of Kentucky

Alecia Whitaker's book The Queen of Kentucky has one of those fun covers that made me want to read the book as soon as I saw the cover. Ricki Jo attended a k-8 Catholic school in her small community, and as she gears up for 9th grade, she is excited about a chance to finally go to school with more kids within her community. She wants everything to be perfect and decides that in order to start it off right, she needs to be Ericka instead of Ricki Jo.

Along the way I was laughing as Ericka/Ricki Jo tried to navigate who she was and who she wanted to become, while thinking about if that's what she really wanted after all. I loved that her dad thought it was a good idea to offer that she wear his high school FFA jacket on her first day to the high school. (Somewhere I have my corduroy FFA jacket stashed away - the one that I earned by selling the most Sloppy Joe feed tickets. But that is another story...) At least her mom came to her rescue, knowing that was not necessarily the first impression she wanted to make.

Among the unknown Ricki Jo has an anchor in her best friend and neighbor. She discovers what it means to be the "new" girl and tries to decide what her priorities are. While the book mainly lets us know about Ericka's process, there are also glimpses into her friends and acquaintances. Without giving away too much, (but don't keep reading if you don't want any type of a spoiler), I thought the ending had a nice touch, not necessarily your typical girl who wants to be popular eventually abandons the popular girls because of realizations along the way. There was more of a balance, and I liked that shift.

*Debut Author Challenge 2012 - 4/12