Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring TBR

I almost thought I wasn't going to get a chance to post this today. I've been a little absent the last couple of weeks. Work has been very busy and I have been grading every spare moment. That has severely cut into my personal time. I haven't picked up a book in awhile!

But! Spring Break is coming up (first week of April), and I am excited to dive into the pile of books on my nightstand. I'm devoting a lot of time to reading and of course, organizing the boxes we still haven't unpacked that have been sitting ignored in the basement, but what better time to create a big old book list? hooray!

In no particular order...

1. The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass, and The Book of Dust by Phillip Pullman: I read The Golden Compass a few weeks ago in hopes of rereading the trilogy before getting to the new release. And while I am a couple chapters into The Subtle Knife, I just haven't had time to finish it. If I don't get a chance to read before break next week, this will probably be the focus of my Spring break.

2. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco: This is one of two books left in my pile of books for our "Battle of the Books" competition we're running this year at the high schools. It's truthfully not a book I would pick up normally, but I figured I should read it for the event (I am definitely going because Andrew Smith (Winger, etc) is going to be skyping in to talk to the kids. I'm all about that).

3. Generation One by Pittacus Lore: This would be the other battle book. And again, not excited about it. I did read the first chapter a week or so ago during my juniors' silent reading time (when I read with them, they are more focused). I wasn't hooked, but I definitely want to give it another shot.

4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: Truth: L'Engle was one of my favorite writers as a teen. I own SO MANY of her books and most are well-loved, but I haven't read Wrinkle in a very long time. I had originally planned on rereading before the movie came out, but here we are. I'd like to read the whole series, but it might get pushed back.

5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: I own 3 different editions of Anna, but I haven't read any of them. I did make an attempt a number of years ago and set it down 1/3 of the way through...but nope. There is a readalong happening in April, and I would really like to dive into this one! I loved the other Tolstoys I've read! (this will also be a title for my TBR challenge!)

6. Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Another book I've never read and one that seems to shock most classic lovers. :) I feel like the flamingos scream summer, but I do want to give this one a go! It's another title for my TBR challenge. :)

7. Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas: I BINGED on Maas' work a couple years ago and have been trying to savor what's been published. This was published back in the fall and it has been taunting me on my bookshelf ever since. I love her worlds, so I'm excited to get to it!

8. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: I loved Gay's Hunger, which I read last summer. This has been eyeing me for a few weeks and I'd love to settle in to read it. I actually might move it to my nightstand tonight!

9. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor: While I kind of enjoyed Taylor's trilogy (Daughter of Smoke and Bone), I've heard really good things about this title. And like many other books, it's been sitting on my TBR for a few months. This needs a good long weekend to read, so maybe an April readathon book?

10. Winger by Andrew Smith (and the sequel, Stand Off): My recommendation for the Battle of the Books was this title, and I was super excited when it was picked. I loved the book (read it in one long night), and the kids I've recommended it to have loved it as well. It's been a couple years and while I own the sequel, I haven't had a chance to read it. Now I feel like I need a reread before moving on. :) And it's Smith, so I know I'm going to be obsessed.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes.

I wasn't originally sure if I was going to participate this week or not, but well, I couldn't help it. I love a good quote from a book, so this week's list was right up my alley (and it's been a couple weeks since I last participated).

I decided to go with some of my all-time favorites, and this list took a lot of time to narrow down. Here it goes (in no particular order....because trying to rank these would make this even more difficult):

1. “Don't you ever mind," she asked suddenly, "not being rich enough to buy all the books you want?” -The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

2. “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.” -Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

3. “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 
"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.” -The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4. "Muse-Start from where you will-sing for our time too." -The Odyssey by Homer (I have a shortened version of this tattooed on my foot)

5. "I exist as I am, that is enough." -"Song of Myself" in Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

6. “Reader, I married him.” -Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

7. “I always want to know the things one shouldn't do."
"So as to do them?" asked her aunt.
"So as to choose." said Isabel” -The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

8. “I am not imposed upon by fine words; I can see what actions mean.” -The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

9. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” -David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (I need to reread this one)

10. “I want to put my hand out and touch you. I want to do for you and care for you. I want to be there when you're sick and when you're lonesome.” -Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: Illness, TV, Professional Reading, and Books.

It's been 2 weeks since I last sat down to write some posts-whoops! Last weekend got away from me and I didn't manage to sit down to write a weekly post or any bookish posts. egads. I was actually sick...still? Again? The flu that I had turned into walking pneumonia and I was down for the count again last weekend, even resulting in taking another day off work. I finally got some new meds and I feel like a whole new person, so I'm hoping I finally kicked it this time. My horrible cough is gone, as well as the fever and chills, so yep. Definitely feeling better.

I'm hoping that the 3 weeks I spent sick was it for the year, but I know that's wishful thinking. I inevitable get a cold before the school year is out, and get sick once I'm on summer break. So yep. I'm good now and I guess that's all that matters for the moment.

Speaking of break, we only have 4 weeks of school until Spring Break. Say what??!! This school year is flying by and I've been crazy busy between teaching, grading, committees, clubs, etc. Where has this year gone?

I definitely feel more comfortable and confident in my teaching this year. I'm trying new things (as always) and reevaluating some old processes to make way for new. I definitely feel...accomplished as a teacher-more like I know what I'm doing instead of flying by the seat of my pants. I'm managing my grading and prepping workloads much better than I have in the past, and I'm maintaining a better work/home balance-more so than ever before even though I'm busier this year. It's really nice to be able to leave work at work (sometimes) and relax as I need it. That being said, I did grade for a solid 6 hours yesterday and have a little I need to do today to feel better about going into a busy week.

I'm finishing up World War II with my APUSH students and it's at this point in the year that I wish I had more time. Unfortunately we have to keep moving because of their AP test on May 11th (getting close). That class is a constant stream of assignments to grade and assess, so I can never relax for more than a day or two. My Shakespeare class this semester (the only semester class I have this year) just finished our intro unit and sonnets, so we're diving into The Taming of the Shrew this week. This is now the...7th time I'm teaching the play and I still love it. My juniors (low-level) are in the middle of Night and just finished an Identity presentation (they were fabulous and the kids shared so many personal stories). We'll be wrapping that up in the next two weeks before a short, 2-week unit on SAT writing before break-they take the SAT the week we return.

This weekend I'm headed down to Detroit for year #3 of chaperoning my school's DECA chapter at the State conference. I love this trip. Even though the business/marketing world is pretty foreign to me, I love the experience of working with the kids in a different element, and judging is always fun. Last year I got to pretend to be a resort owner for a luxury spa. The year before I was the owner of a razor company that was trying to market to women. It's a fabulous weekend filled with great food (Detroit has amazing restaurants) and good company. I told the DECA coach that as long as he'll have me, I'll go. We're going down a night earlier than normal, so we're leaving directly from school on Thursday. This means I have to bring my suitcase with me to school and get all my stuff packed early. We come back Sunday afternoon, so it's a longer trip. But I'm looking forward to the time I get to spend vegging and exploring on my own.

I'm going to bring our Firestick so I can keep watching some of the shows I've started. I used to be a huge TV watcher, but over the last few years, I've cut back pretty dramatically. I have shows I put on for background noise while I grade, but I am very out of touch with new stuff (and things everyone has seen but me). I would just truthfully rather read. But since getting sick, I've spent a lot of time bingeing on TV. I watched both seasons of Disjointed on Netflix (pretty funny), as well as all of Archer, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Atypical. I'm currently plowing through Parks and Recreation (I watched the first two seasons a couple years ago with Matt and never finished). I also started Downton Abbey (I own the series on DVD) on my own and The Mick with Matt. What other shows should I watch? I'm saving Stranger Things for Spring Break!

In terms of reading, I've slowed down a little. I flew through The Golden Compass last weekend and while I have The Subtle Knife on my nightstand, I haven't started it yet. I did read about 40 pages of Ulysses this week, but honestly, I think I need to wait until summer for something so thinking heavy.

I did finish a bit of professional reading this week. Our district had some grant money that needed to be spent, so our English curriculum director purchased all the high school ELA teachers a copy of Penny Kittle's Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers. For someone who reads as much as I do, I am terrible about encouraging my high schools to read independently. This book was fabulous (review forthcoming) and I can't wait to implement some of her strategies into my own classroom. I already started a new SSR initiative with my juniors this semester and I'm already seeing results. She also talks about a bunch of books throughout each chapter, so I added a ton to my reading list.

This week I'm planning on reading The Subtle Knife. Depending on how it goes, I'm going to be bringing a few books with me this weekend. I usually have a few hours of downtime on Friday and Saturday, so I'm planning on spending it curled up in my hotel bed with some good books. I'll definitely bring The Amber Spyglass and The Book of Dust. I'm also thinking A Wrinkle in Time since I wanted to get to it before the movie came out. I'm also feeling like I need to grab another TBR Challenge book, so we'll see what strikes me!

Let me know what you're reading below! See you next week!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez.

“I don’t know why I’ve always been like this, why the smallest things make me ache inside. There’s a poem I read once, titled “The World Is Too Much with Us,” and I guess that is the best way to describe the feeling—the world is too much with me.” 

In college, I took a lot of courses in Mexican history, Chicano literature, and everything in between to earn a specialization with my history degree. I have always been fascinated by the differences between the United States and Mexico-from how we were settled by Europeans, to the genocides of indigenous peoples, to independence and beyond, it just fascinates me. 

This is a book that I would have loved to read in one of those classes because it fits in so well. But what I loved most about it is that while the main character, Julia, talks often about her Mexican family, heritage, and customs, the book never pushes it to an extreme level. Julia and her family are Mexican in a way that oozes through their conversations, their beliefs and their way of life in the United States. It was refreshing and I loved it. 

The book focuses on Julia and her parents after the death of Julia's older sister, Olga. Olga was everything that Julia isn't-focused on staying home with her parents to attend community college, focused on remaining a good, Mexican daughter. Julia, on the other hand, has dreams. She wants to leave town to go to college. She doesn't want to stay home and learn to make tortillas and other Mexican dishes. She smokes, she swears, she gets into trouble at school, she wants to wear clothes that her mother hates, she dates a white boy in secret.

With Olga's death, Julia is left feeling like she cannot live up to her parents' expectations. The world begins to crash in on her as she struggles between the expectations of her parents and her own happiness. It's written in a way that while you feel for Julia's angst and the somewhat oppressive nature of her parents, you also see their point of view-they now only have one daughter, and she seems determined to leave them after everything they've gone through.

It packs quite a punch.

And I loved it. 

Some of what stuck out to me, as mentioned above, is the easy way Sanchez weaves in pieces of Mexican culture and heritage into her writing. It never feels like she is trying to educate the reader about what it means to be Mexican, but you come away with far more knowledge than you had before. From descriptions of altars and cooking to religion and La Llorana, the book is full of vibrancy in relation to who Julia and her family are and where they came from. There's also talk about immigration and crossing the border, as both of Julia's parents are undocumented. The book even takes us to Mexico with Julia when she visits her relatives and the descriptions of Mexico and living conditions south of the U.S. border only amplified the cultural struggle Julia feels throughout the book.

“Be careful. Please. The border…The fucking border.” I feel a wildness spreading through me. “It’s nothing but a giant wound, a big gash between the two countries. Why does it have to be like that? I don’t understand. It’s just some random, stupid line. How can anyone tell people where they can and can’t go?”

While this is definitely a book about grief-we see how Julia and both of her parents "deal" with the loss of Olga, it is definitely a book about generational and cultural differences. It's moving and inspiring and everything I hoped it would be. There are some incredibly emotional parts to the book, especially when the book shifts tone in the last half. The book also contains a bit of a mystery, as Julia investigates just who her sister was and if she was really as perfect as she pretended to be. 

It was amazing and I loved it. I happened to bring it to school one day to read during reading time in my junior level classes, and a few kids seemed interested after I told them a bit about the story. It's a definitely a book I'm going to have our media specialist pick up for the library. 

“How do we tie our shoes, brush our hair, drink coffee, wash the dishes, and go to sleep, pretending everything is fine? How do we laugh and feel happiness despite the buried things growing inside? How can we do that day after day?”

Friday, February 23, 2018

Caraval by Stephanie Garber.

“Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.”

Caraval by Stephanie Garber is another title included in my district's "Battle of the Books" competition being held between the high schools. It's the 4th book I've read out of the 6 selected, and I can see why it was chosen. The very "Fantasy" feel of the title is in pretty good contrast to the two realistic fiction choices, the mysteries, and the science-fiction title. It also features a female protagonist, which keeps the balance a bit between the 6 titles (students ans staff got to nominate titles, then a committee selected the final titles. They tried to get a good mix, which I think they did. Not bad for our first year doing this).

The book was compared a bit to The Night Circus, and while I get where that comparison is coming from....no. I was late to reading The Night Circus, and like many others, I fell in love with the world building and depth of the story. Caraval, in short, lacks that element.

Essentially, the Caraval in the novel is an event held yearly by a mysterious character, Legend. Each year he invites people from around the world to participate in the game, which is full of magic and deception. Scarlett and her sister, Tella, live with their abusive father and have written to Legend for years in hopes they could participate.  It is only in the weeks before Scarlett is set to be married to a man she has never met that Legend responds with tickets. Recruiting the help of a sailor, Julian, the sisters set off the mystical island where Caraval takes place.

And that is where the story lost me. The idea of the story (the plot) is intriguing and could be so interesting, much like that of The Night Circus. But there is no world building. None. The world sounds wonderful, but it's never developed. Things are mentioned and then ignored and I'm left wondering why I'm supposed to care.

The writing is also...so very heavy. There are metaphors and similes and flowery imagery on every page and while I can like that kind of writing, it has to make sense. There is so much telling and not enough showing. Scarlett feels in colors, and would compare talking to some to a color. The phrasing was awkward and off-putting. When I would start to fall into the story, I'd be yanked right back out because some awkward comparison would ruin it for me, like, "He tasted like midnight and wind." I have no idea what that means. What is that?

Now, I say all this while also telling you that I kept reading because I did want to know what happened. The plot had a number of twists and turns that made it pretty compelling, enough so that I could ignore the awkward language. However, there were some things that were never fully explained and some plot holes that were never filled in. I also felt like the characters needed a bit more humanity to them...at some points...I just didn't care what happened to them. 

Wow, this is sounding much more negative than I intended. There is a sequel and while it's not a book I would buy for myself, if it ends up in our media center, I might check it out. How's that for a review?

After reading this, I did speak to our media specialist, and she felt much the same way. Apparently the kids are eating it up, and all the other copies (besides the one I had checked out) were in the hands of kids. None of my kids have picked it up (they're inhaling the John Green title and Winger by Andrew Smith-which I nominated and pushed for), but if they do, I'll be curious to see how they feel about it. 

Has anyone else read this? Thoughts?

“Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or performance. It's the closest you'll ever find yourself magic in this world.”