July 30, 2015

Book Review: Choosing Courage by Peter Collier

Title: Choosing Courage
Author: Peter Collier

What turns an ordinary person into a hero? What happens in the blink of an eye on a battlefield (or in any dangerous situation) to bring out true courage? The men and women who have been recognized by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation know the answers to these questions deep in their hearts. We learn of Jack Lucas, a 13-year-old who kept his real age a secret so he could fight in World War II—where he deliberately fell on a grenade to save his buddies during the Iwo Jima invasion—and Clint Romesha, who almost single-handedly prevented a remote U.S. Army outpost in Afghanistan from being taken over by the Taliban. Also included are civilians who have been honored by the Foundation for outstanding acts of bravery in crisis situations: for example, Jencie Fagan, a gym teacher who put herself in danger to disarm a troubled eighth grader before he could turn a gun on his classmates. Adding depth and context are illuminating sidebars throughout and essays on the combat experience and its aftermath: topics such as overcoming fear; a mother mourning her son; and “surviving hell” as a prisoner of war. Back matter includes a glossary and an index.

I was contacted to see if I wanted to review this book.  I'm not usually one to jump at reading nonfiction, but this one caught my attention.  

The book is divided into sections mostly by different wars - WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  But the last section is "Heroism in Civilian Life".  I liked that last part because it showed how you can be courageous in your life not just if you are a soldier.  

I learned a lot by reading this book.  The thing I learned that hit me the most was how much we didn't honor minorities very well during WWI and WWII.  Many of the stories were about minorities that showed amazing acts of courage, but weren't recognized for it because of their skin color or religion.  It wasn't until later that they received recognition.  It does make me wonder how much that happens now.

My favorite story was about a man named Desmond Doss.  He was drafted but was a conscientious objector.  Instead of carrying a weapon he became a medic.  He was bullied and ridiculed by the men in his unit even though he put himself into harms way just like them.  Slowly his unit saw how much he risked for them.  When he was hurt he lost the Bible he carried with him.  His unit went and searched the battle field for it so they could get it back to him.  That made me tear up! I liked this story because it showed courage in so many ways.  His courage to do what he believed in.  But also the courage of the men in his unit to admit they were wrong and change their beliefs.  Wonderful story.

This is a book I'll be sharing with the teachers in my school.  We talk about courage a lot, and this will be a great resource to use to share stories from.  I'm glad I was introduced to it. 

July 28, 2015

Teaser Tuesday: The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbit

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

My teasers are from:

"Then, with  final ear-splitting crash, an enormous hole appeared and the huge bulk of a great white whale came to the surface." pg 116

"Poor young nose-picking Mabel Jones.  She had never asked to be a pirate." pg 252

Doesn't it sound like a fun book?!?!

July 27, 2015

Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: Brown Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

I really enjoyed this book.  I had the ARC sitting on my shelf for awhile and knew that it had won awards and received a lot of praise, but I just hadn't read it yet.  So when it was on the list for the media specialist class I was taking I was happy because I knew now I would read it! 

This is a piece of nonfiction about Woodson's life.  It starts from the day she was born and the argument about what to name her.  From there we see her grow up first living in the North, then the South with her grandparents and then back to the North again.  

The language in this book is amazing.  It's told in verse, and what she captures in the few words of some of the poems is filled with imagery and detail.  I'm always amazed on how verse can capture a full scene and place me in it with such few words! There is a scene in the book where they are taking their bath and redoing their hair and hair ribbons.  I could see it all!  As a teacher this is the type of writing I show my students, so they see what is possible.  

What is also fantastic about this book is watching her grow up in a very turbulent and active time in our country.  I loved hearing about from first a young girl really almost unaware to the voice of someone older who sees what is happening and is struggling with it.  And what added was that not only is Woodson struggling with the larger picture of what was happening in the country - she is also struggling with who she is within her own family.  That is a theme that kids can relate to - how do I fit.  

In the end it was fascinating to see how Woodson grew from a young girl into someone who found her voice and how to use it.  Very well done.  

July 23, 2015

Book Review: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Title:  Gregor the Overlander
Author: Suzanne Collins

When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor's arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland's uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it -- until he realizes it's the only way to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.

So yes this book has been our for awhile.  And yes I should've read it a long while ago.  And yes my daughter has told me for years I should read it.  And yes I'm glad I finally did!

I picked up this book, finally, a bit over a week ago and started reading.  My son is in soccer and swimming lessons, so I've had a lot of sitting time to read (yes I'm the bad mom that reads instead of watches intently every second). I couldn't believe how quickly I was moving through the story.  It was such a fast read!

Here's what I liked:
  • I loved Gregor.  He's sweet and brave and smart and he treats his little sister so well!
  • It made me care about a cockroach! I mean how great must the book and writing be if I actually care about a cockroach!
  • It's fast paced - no dragging things out
  • I loved the Underworld.  It was well created and described but I want to know more about it!
  • It has heart.  From Gregor's little sister Boots to the whole story about his father - it had heart and caring. 
  • It ended in a NON-cliffhanger! Yes there are more books in the series but I could stop here and not feel like I was left with a ton of unknowns.
Ok I think that about sums it up.  If you like something with action and nice well-rounded characters I suggest you pick it up.

July 21, 2015

Teaser Tuesday: Gregor the Overlander

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

My Teaser is From:

"As Gregor broke free of the roaches and ran for his sister, a shadow passed over him.  He looked up and to his horror saw a golden bat diving straight down at Boots." page 25

"A delegation of roaches appeared and bowed low.  The humans got to their knees and bowed back, so Gregor did the same." page 149

This series has been out for a long time, but I hadn't read it yet.  
I'm really enjoying it!

July 20, 2015

Quarterly YA Book Box Unwrapping

Lately I've been seeing a lot of posts about subscription boxes.  Of course when I saw some that were book related my interest perked right up!

After looking at a few of them I decided to give Book Riots YA box by Quarterly a try.

If you don't know what a subscription box it - it's pretty neat.  Once a month/week/quarterly a box arrives at your home filled with fun theme related items (whatever the theme you signed up for is)
The one I signed up for is curated by Book Riot and it comes every quarter.  

Last week my first box arrived!

It was really heavy!

Upon opening it here's what I saw

What's really cool is that there is a packet that explains everything in the box PLUS it had an extra scene from one of the books!

The Books
I haven't read any of them, so that was exciting!
Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith

And there was a signed bookplate included :)

The Extras

These reminded me of my wedding! We used library cards for information about hotels etc! I'm going to use these at work for notes and reminders :)

I could't believe there was a book light because I had just been looking at them wanting a little one to have around!

Some Swag

All of it laid out

Over all it was pretty fun to open.  I got some great new books.  I'm going to keep getting this one a few more times.

If you're interested I know of these book related subscription books as well:
OwlCrate (this one is super hard to get into!)
Uppercase (I signed up for this one too)
The Bookish Box - This one interests me because it's not a book you get each month it's a bookish t-shirt!! I just might sign up for this one.  

And if you want to see how crazy these subscription boxes have gotten check out this post about them on Buzzfeed.  

July 18, 2015

Book Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Title: The Wrath and the Dawn
Author: Renee Ahdieh

A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

LOVED THIS BOOK!  Now, to be fair, I love reading stories about girls/women in the Middle East; I've always been captivated by the culture, people, and landscape of this vast area.  I think that is because the Middle East seems so exotic compared to my fairly boring central Minnesota life.

This novel is the author's take on the story of Shahrazad (One Thousand and One Nights) and her king, who kills each of his new bride's at dawn.  Just like the famous tale, Shahrazad does tell stories, but that is not the main focus of the story.  It is a love story, which I think most teen girls will like (would not recommend this book to most teen boys), with intrigue, suspense, and romance.  (There is even a love triangle.)  To be fair, the book, although a love story, is not sappy.  Yes, there is romance in the story, but the fun part is trying to figure out the mystery behind Khalid (the king) and learning to like him.  Shahrazad is a good person - caring, thoughtful, and strong -  and these traits make her a likable character.

When I finished the book, I wanted to scream in frustration.  The book didn't end!!  I didn't realize at first that there is a second book, The Rose and the Dagger, and it comes out sometime in 2016.  I guess good things come to those who wait.  Sigh.

Note for teachers and parents: There are some intimate scenes that might be considered inappropriate for younger teens.  I like how a reviewer on Amazon describes it: "It is sensual without being vulgar and is appropriate for young adults."  I concur.  

July 16, 2015

Book Review: Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn

Title: Delicate Monsters
Author: Stephanie Kuehn

From the Morris-Award winning author of Charm & Strange, comes a twisted and haunting tale about three teens uncovering dark secrets and even darker truths about themselves.

When nearly killing a classmate gets seventeen-year-old Sadie Su kicked out of her third boarding school in four years, she returns to her family’s California vineyard estate. Here, she’s meant to stay out of trouble. Here, she’s meant to do a lot of things. But it’s hard. She’s bored. And when Sadie’s bored, the only thing she likes is trouble.

Emerson Tate’s a poor boy living in a rich town, with his widowed mother and strange, haunted little brother. All he wants his senior year is to play basketball and make something happen with the girl of his dreams. That’s why Emerson’s not happy Sadie’s back. An old childhood friend, she knows his worst secrets. The things he longs to forget. The things she won’t ever let him.

Haunted is a good word for fifteen-year-old Miles Tate. Miles can see the future, after all. And he knows his vision of tragic violence at his school will come true, because his visions always do. That’s what he tells the new girl in town. The one who listens to him. The one who recognizes the darkness in his past. 

But can Miles stop the violence? Or has the future already been written? Maybe tragedy is his destiny. Maybe it’s all of theirs.

I was so very excited when I received a copy of this book.  I absolutely loved Kuehn's book Charm & Strange, so I couldn't wait to read this one.  

Here's the thing - when I finished I was left bewildered and lost.  This book is tough.  Very tough.  The characters are not your typical teens in any way.  Sadie is downright mean. I had no sympathy for her at all!  Emerson has some secrets that are quite shocking.  And Miles struggles all the way around.  Now all three are also dealing with some sort of mental illness, and that can't be left out of the equation.  I got that as I was reading, but I was hoping for some sort of resolution or hope at the end of the story for them.  I didn't feel that at all.  To be honest I left the book feel almost helpless.  And maybe that's what Kuehn wanted you to feel - to understand how hard it is help people and things don't always end in a positive way.  I just don't know, and I'm struggling with that.  

I keep reading other reviews of the book hoping to gleam some understanding of what I missed because I feel like I really missed something here.  I feel like there had to be some reason for me to meet these characters, watch their self-destructive behavior and leave them in such a place.  I just don't know what it is. As an English major it bothers me when I can't see the theme or reason for a story.  If you have insight I beg you to share it with me!!!!!

If you judge the success of a book by how much a book stays with you - this book was hugely successful.  But this is one time I would've rather had answers.  And I have to share that is review was hard for me to write because I wanted to love this book as much as I loved Charm & Strange.  

Heads up - there are some things in this book that might be difficult for some readers.  It is definitely for upper young adults.

July 15, 2015

Book Review: Cracked by K.M. Walton

Title: Cracked
Author: K.M. Walton

Sometimes there's no easy way out.Victor hates his life. He has no friends, gets beaten up at school, and his parents are always criticizing him. Tired of feeling miserable, Victor takes a bottle of his mother's sleeping pills—only to wake up in the hospital.

Bull is angry, and takes all of his rage out on Victor. That makes him feel better, at least a little. But it doesn't stop Bull's grandfather from getting drunk and hitting him. So Bull tries to defend himself with a loaded gun.

When Victor and Bull end up as roommates in the same psych ward, there's no way to escape each other or their problems. Which means things are going to get worse—much worse—before they get better….

I read this book in a little over a day, which, in my world, means I found the characters realistic and likable.  Realistic fiction is my absolute favorite genre, so I knew I'd devour this book about two teen boys who are struggling with their completely opposite lives.  Victor comes from a well-off family and is the object of Bull's anger; Bull lives in abject poverty and is just downright mean (with reason, of course).  Teens (grades 8 and up) will find this book fast-paced, realistic, and easy to read.  The only problem I had with the book is with how fast Bull figured out the error of his ways.  In the beginning Bull doesn't care about anyone or anything, and all of the sudden he feels bad for what he did.  Hmmmmm . . . .  that seemed a little unrealistic.  Overall, I'd rate it 4 out of 5 stars - good message for teens, true to life, and honest.  FYI - There are parts that some parents might find objectionable, but that is true for most YA books, isn't it?

July 14, 2015

Teaser Tuesday: Brown Girl Dreaming

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

My Teaser is From:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

"why people are marching all over the South-
to walk and sit and dream wherever we want." pg 72

"Deep winter and the night air is cold. So still,
it feels like the world goes on forever in the darkness
until you look up and the earth stops
in a ceiling of stars." pg 131

For those that don't know - Brown Girl Dreaming is about Woodson's childhood and it is written in verse.  

July 13, 2015

Class Book Review: A Good Night for Ghosts (Magic Tree House Book)

I'm taking a class this summer on choosing children's books for a media center. 
It's called: Reading, Listening, Viewing Guidance & Selection of Resources for Children

For this class I have to read many books from picture books to chapter books (tough sounding class I know!)

I'm going to review these books and label them as for this class and for each one I'll share how I might use it or share it in my FUTURE media specialist position :)

Early Readers

A Good Night for Ghosts by Mary Pope Osborne

Jack and Annie are on their second mission to find—and inspire—artists to bring happiness to millions. After traveling to New Orleans, Jack and Annie come head to head with some real ghosts, as well as discover the world of jazz when they meet a young Louis Armstrong!

Ghosts (Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #20)
When Jack and Annie got back from their adventure in Magic Tree House #42: A Good Night for Ghosts, they had lots of questions. What are some of the most famous ghost stories? Why do people believe in ghosts? Do most cultures have ghost stories? What are ghost hunters? Find out the answers to these questions and more as Jack and Annie track the facts. Filled with up-to-date information, photos, illustrations, and fun tidbits from Jack and Annie, the Magic Tree House Fact Trackers are the perfect way for kids to find out more about the topics they discovered in their favorite Magic Tree House adventures.

I have been reading Magic Tree House books with my kids for at least 10 years.  This is the first time I ever had to read one just for me though! I've always liked this series.  Some early chapter books can annoy me, but this one doesn't that much.  How's that for a resounding positive review?? :)  In this book Jack and Annie head to New Orleans and meet Louis Armstrong.  I love how it would expose children to some history and most likely history they are not aware of.  It would expose them to something beyond what they might know on a daily bases.  It was also cute with the ghost aspect.  And yes there really is a ghost in the story! It was done just right for kids - nothing scary that would keep them up at night.  As usual, Jack and Annie has to help fix something in history.  This is done with some conflict but solved easily in the end.  

Over-all a nice book and series for those beginner readers.
About the nonfiction companion book - I like that some of the Magic Tree House books have these because it gives young kids some of the information behind the story.  This one looks at several different topics including why New Orleans is considered a very haunted city.  I even learned a few things reading it!

July 7, 2015

Teaser Tuesday: The Lost Hero

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

My Teaser From:
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

"Leo's tour was going great until he learned about the dragon."

"Will took a while to answer.  "You were claimed almost immediately.  That's usually good."

I'm really enjoying this book! It's one I have to read for my class.  

July 6, 2015

Book Review: Jungle of Bones by Ben Mikaelsen

Title: Jungle of Bones
Author: Ben Mikaelsen

Lost and alone in the jungle, one boy will have to let go of his assumptions and anger, or be dragged down with them.

Dylan Barstow has finally crossed the line. After getting caught on a late-night joyride in a stolen car, Dylan is shipped off to live with his ex-Marine uncle for the summer. But Uncle Todd has bigger plans for Dylan than push-ups and early-morning jogs.

Deep in the steamy jungles of Papua New Guinea, there's a WWII fighter plane named SECOND ACE that's been lost for years, a plane that Dylan's own grandfather barely escaped from with his life. In all this time, no one has ever been able to track down SECOND ACE -- but now Dylan and his uncle are going to try.

Lush and haunted, vital and deadly, these alien jungles half a world away could mean Dylan's salvation, or they could swallow him whole.

Short Version:  Quick read that reluctant readers would enjoy because it has enough action and tension to hold their attention. 

Long Version:  I read this book because my 13 year old son got it and read it in just a few days.  He said I should read it because he enjoyed it.  I also read it because I loved Ben Mikaelsen's book Touching Spirit Bear.  He visited our school several years ago, and I got to meet him, so this all led me to want to read another book by him.  

I liked this book.  It was a quick read that had a lot of tension to keep the reader hooked.  I know that's why my son read it so fast.  And I know that would hook in reluctant readers. The main character Dylan could be a bit hard to like at points.  He was rude, disrespectful and pretty self-centered.  As a mom I wanted to ground him to his room, so I completely got why his mom took the steps she did.  Thankfully I could see that under all of that was a kid that could be ok if he just got on the right track.  I liked how Dylan's behavior and attitude could show to younger readers the affects of behaving that way and why it should change.  I thought that was a good lesson!

I think one part I liked the best was Dylan seeing that he had burned a lot of bridges, and that people weren't going to just trust him quickly anymore.  I think it's very realistic to show that he was going to have to work to prove what he was saying.  So many kids think they can just change and everyone will believe them.  I like the realism shown.  

This is a book I would easily recommend to the more reluctant reader.  It would grab their attention and hold it for the duration of the story. As an adult there was a copy of things that bugged me, but they were very minor and would not bother the younger reader.

July 1, 2015