Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Between Shades of Grey

Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Gray. Read by Emily Klein. Penguin Audio, 2011.

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Summary (from
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.
Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.
It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
Between Shades of Gray is a riveting novel that steals your breath, captures your heart, and reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit.

I'm also including the audiobook summary because I think it gives some more insight. (from

Emily Klein quickly convinces listeners of the harsh reality and perceptive viewpoint of Lina, an artistic 15-year-old Lithuanian. Klein’s evocative inflections mirror Lina’s family’s confusion and fear as they’re woken by Stalin’s soldiers and loaded onto cattle cars labeled “Thieves and Prostitutes,” which are headed to a labor camp in Siberia. Klein doesn’t hold back from the story’s intensity—portraying the brutality, filth, bitter cold, and sometimes brief tenderness that buoys Lina, giving her the resilience to record all she sees with her art, hoping that one day it tells the story she can’t. Relief comes as well in the well-drawn, well-acted vignettes of Lina’s formerly happy life in Lithuania. Klein also draws credible portraits of Lina’s mother, brother, and fellow prisoners. An author’s note strengthens this little-known part of history. S.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine [Published: APRIL 2011]

This photo was taken at TLA 2017. 

My Thoughts
This isn't the book you might think it is! This is historical fiction about the Soviet overtaking of Lithuania.  The book is 85 chapters in length.

Sepetys does a fantastic job weaving history into an interesting narrative. She uses her own family's history as the genesis for a relatively unknown piece of WWII history. At the end of the audiobook, Sepetys gives her personal story with a small history lesson. It is moving what she did for research. Her goal is for this slice of history to not be lost.

Often in school, I was taught about the Jewish Holocaust. I've read multiple stories, seen movies and researched texts about the concentration camps and have even visited two. However, I've never studied much about what was happening in Russia during this time. Back in the spring I listened to a book (Symphony for the City of the Dead ) that gave me insight into the "real" Russia during this time period. Stalin killed so many more people than Hitler! Between Shades of Gray tells me of what happened to the Lithuanians and adds to my knowledge. I just didn't know.

I listened to this story when I could, so it took me several out of town volleyball games to hear how Lina & her family were able to endure and survive their deportation. When they were sent to the Arctic, I know the temperature in my car got colder.

As I listened, I thought about being in high school and hearing on the news about the division of the USSR and much of western Russia breaking up into many other countries (like I just refer to as the "ickstans"). I don't think I realized until listening to this story that those countries actually existed BEFORE 1991.

I love that I'm still learning. I love that fiction can bring alive the facts for me. I've noticed that I've read or listened to several historical fiction books, and most of them are set during WWII.

The title of the book doesn't surface until almost the end of the story. Sepetys explains in the author's note that "between shades of gray, sometimes there's a small crack that lets the love shine in."

Phonetically, /ze pet ees/ is how you pronounce her last name (I can't type the accent marks).

Read the book. Would you survive?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

Sedoti, Chelsea. The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett. Sourcebooks, 2017.
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Summary (from
Hawthorn wasn't trying to insert herself into a missing person's investigation. Or maybe she was. But that's only because Lizzie Lovett's disappearance is the one fascinating mystery their sleepy town has ever had. Bad things don't happen to popular girls like Lizzie Lovett, and Hawthorn is convinced she'll turn up at any moment-which means the time for speculation is now.
So Hawthorn comes up with her own theory for Lizzie's disappearance.  A theory way too absurd to take first. The more Hawthorn talks, the more she believes. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie's life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie's boyfriend. After all, it's not as if he killed her-or did he?
Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn's quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself. 

My Thoughts
This book was the Overdrive Big Library Read this season. I felt like I needed to read it if I was going to promote it. (I enjoyed last year's pick https://r ).  However, this book didn't captivate me like last year's. In fact, it was slow getting into it and took me almost the entire month to read it. I thought it would be more mystery. I thought there'd be more, I don't know. Something.  I thought the cover was cute and somehow tied into the book. I thought I'd learn about the hundred lies. I don't think what I expected is what I got.

I also hated the grammatical errors (commas before the word because, not capitalizing words that should be). I understand that modern writers take liberties with conventional rules, but I want teen readers to see correctly written texts as models.

I have this labeled for my mystery/drama genre, but I think I will move this into my chick lit section.

Griffin Mills is a small town with not much to offer. When a girl goes missing in the woods, the entire town starts talking. This isn't just any girl, though. She's Lizzie Lovett. She's was a high school cheerleader, a girl who had lots of friends, a girl who seemingly had "it all" in life. Why would she go missing? What happened? That's what Hawthorn, the main character, is trying to figure out. She speculates some funny scenarios (i.e., alien abduction). She is socially awkward, but on this quest to find out what happened to Lizzie, Hawthorn has self-discovery. She grows. She makes bad decisions. She makes good decisions. She develops some authentic friendships. The title makes the reader think this will be Lizzie's story, but really it's Hawthorn's. I liked Hawthorn. She is real. She is quirky. She is smart!

While reading, I kept thinking that Hawthorn's brother Rush might be "in" on something with Lizzie's disappearance. He just pops in and out of the story. Towards the end, I was glad to see his protective big brother role shine.

I  liked seeing the literary references (In Cold Blood, Carrie, and one of my favorite poems We Wear the Mask ( including Halloween costumes (Poe and Hester Prynne).

The hippies descending on the family's lawn was funny (and ended up being purposeful to Hawthorn's quest).

It isn't unbelievable that two characters in this book have sex, but the scene is more graphic than it needs to be. This could have been alluded to without the details.

SPOILER ALERT---ultimately, this is a book about a teen suicide. I think the reader needs a resolution about what happened to Lizzie, but as my school and town have experienced this tragedy fairly recently, I wondered about my high school kids reading this book. Lizzie's suicide probably wouldn't haunt me as it does if I wasn't thinking about our local teen. There are similarities in that both situations involve popular kids that seemingly "have it all." This story is a reminder to me that no matter how someone appears on the outside, it may conflict with what's happening on the inside.

The very last chapter gives a summation to the story. I think the reader needs this.

So, overall, the book was too long for me compared to the character development and action of the story.  It wasn't as much of a mystery read as it was a relationship story. It probably won't be a book I recommend to my teens.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

Hatmaker, Jen. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. B and H Publishing, 2012.

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My Thoughts
I'd heard some friends talking about this book, so I put it on my pile. It's funny to me when I have books on a pile for over a year, but when I finally get to it, it is EXACTLY the time I'm supposed to read it.

Jen Hatmaker is real. She doesn't seem to censor the reality of her life and how this experiment really played out. She talks about the success as well as the struggles. There were some very funny moments in this experiment. I laughed out loud when she wrote about the backyard garden (both times). I chuckled at her commentary.  I connected to many of the things that she strives for as a mom.

The experiment is 7 months, 7 areas, 7 simple choices to eliminate waste and "create space for God's kingdom to break through" (Hatmaker 4). She compares this experiment to a fast. She must "repent of greed, ungratefulness, ruined opportunities, and irresponsibility" (Hatmaker 5). She enlists the help of six friends (The Council). These ladies help keep Hatmaker accountable. Hatmaker writes in a journal/diary/confessional format to show the reader her experiences while trying to fulfill the experiment. She is so funny!

The areas that Hatmaker focuses on: foods, clothing, excess stuff, media, waste, spending, stress.
Month one is food. She decides to eat only 7 things for an entire month. There obviously are many challenges with this. I'm not sure I could have done it.

She writes about her kids and members of her church going to feed the homeless in Austin every week. That honestly frightened me. I want to think of myself as a helper, but I don't think I could do that.

When she got to the money month, she writes about three shifts that we could all do:  1. non consumption 2. redirect all that money saved 3. become wiser consumers (Hatmaker 168). "We can simply stop spending so much, use what we have, borrow what we need, repurpose possessions instead of replacing them, and live with less" (Hatmaker 169). PREACH! As much as I try to live by this, there are times when I don't.

In month seven, she is working on stress. To do this, she decides to pause and pray seven times a day and actually observe the Sabbath. Again, I'm not sure I could do this. I applaud Hatmaker. I think some of the stress of my world is due to me not pausing.

In the last chapter, Hatmaker writes that this was HER experiment and results might vary for others. However, she does remind the reader of the "baseline as a faith community:

Love God most. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is everything.
If we say we love God, then we will care about the poor.
This earth is God's and everything in it. We should live like we believe this.
What we treasure reveals what we love.
Money and stuff have the power to ruin us.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God. This is what is required." (Hatmaker 218)

I thought about this book at various times. I thought about what I might create for my own 7 experiment.  I paused. I needed to read this book at this time. Thanks God for inspiring Jen to write this book so I could read it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Witches

Schiff, Stacy. The Witches: Salem, 1692. Blackstone Audio, 2015.

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Summary (from
Author Schiff seeks to portray the historical figures involved in the Salem witch trials as the real people they were. Narrator Eliza Foss makes them come alive for the listener. Foss resists the urge to cackle or to sound incredulous during this objective examination of the so-called witches. While her voice suits the tone of the work, her reading is not dry. She modulates her intonations nicely, making listening easier on the ear and saving the long passages of historical and religious background from becoming tedious.

My Thoughts

This audiobook was 21 parts! It took several long trips in the car and stealing moments hear and there to finish listening to this book. It was full of great information about the Salem Witch Trials. Some of it I knew, but some was new.

I liked how well researched the book was and the audiobook included the footnotes. Part 20 was when I learned about what happened to many of the "players" of the trials.

As I listened, I kept thinking about movies I showed my English III students. "Three Sovereigns for Sarah" and "The Crucible." I would picture those actors when the actual witch trial participants were discussed in this book.

I bought this book for our library. I think it will be a great resource for students.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Stradal, J. Ryan. Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Viking, 2015.
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Summary (from
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a novel about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation. It was selected as a best book of the year by Amazon, BookPage, LibraryReads, and NPR. 

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

My Thoughts
I started this book before going on vacation, so it stayed on my nightstand a little too long. The story was interesting, but when I picked it up again, I had to really think about who these characters are and what had happened to this point.

Eva carries the story. There is a interweaving of food throughout her life. The summary from Amazon here really does tell the story, but the reader must "taste" the story (pun intended).

I liked how realistic the relationships were and how the story represented that some people are in your life for a season and some are there for a lifetime.

Some things I marked:
"She had overhead people calling her parents 'white trash,' and she had quickly figured out that no one protects or stands up for white trash, and no one on the outside world ever world. To be called white trash is to be told that you're on your own" (Stradal 55). Sadly, I think this hits the mark.

As they are driving to one of Eva's dinners, they passed "signs for something called Wall Drug." I laughed because I've been there (at least twice!). It is a place to stop and visit in South Dakota.

I'm not sure teens will enjoy the book, but I think adults will. I liked the inclusion of recipes that connected to the story.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Innovator's Mindset

Couros, George. The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of
     Creativity. Dave Burgess, 2015.
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My Thoughts
George Couros came to Stephenville! I was hoping to get this book read between vacation and his visit, but I didn't get it done. However, I did finish reading this book and have made lots of notes about things I agree with and want to do as librarian and as a leader on my campus.

The book is a little over 200 pages in length. One of the things I enjoyed were the questions at the end of each chapter for me to think about what I've read or apply what I learned and how I might use this knowledge. Some things that Couros writes about, I's just nice to have the reminder (or validation). I loved the whack a mole analogy in education (Couros 125)! I also liked when he wrote that "school should not be a place where answers go to die but questions come to life" (Couros 189).

The book is divided into four parts.

Part 1 of the book starts with a definition of "innovation." It is "a way of thinking that creates something new and better" (Couros 19). It's not just a buzzword (oh, how I've heard this term overused!), nor is it a "thing, task or even technology" (Couros 20). It's a way of thinking. It's a way of starting with a question, asking why we do what we do and what is best for the learner? (Couros 21).

When I saw Figure 2, I searched through my photos. I'd save a screenshot of this in August of 2015! This is how long these ideas have been swimming in my head.

I think Couros likes the number 8, as he lists several things in the book and explains what each means.
There are 8 characteristics of an Innovator's Mindset (p. 49):

  • empathetic
  • problem finders
  • risk takers
  • networked
  • observant
  • creators
  • resilient
  • reflective

There are 8 characteristics of the Innovative Leader (p. 88):

  • visionary
  • empathetic
  • models learning
  • open risk-taker
  • networked
  • observant
  • team builder
  • always focused on relationships
There are 8 things to look for in a classroom (p. 111):
  • voice
  • choice
  • time for reflection
  • opportunities for innovation
  • critical thinkers
  • problem solvers/finders
  • self-assessment
  • connected learning
I'm listing them here so I'll have them for quick reference.  

I think I could read this book every summer and see something new and relevant. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Ballantine Books, 1953.
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Summary (from Shmoop)

Shmoop Editorial Team. "Fahrenheit 451 Summary." Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 3 Aug. 2017.

My Thoughts
My daughter had to read this for her Pre-Ap English class. As I've never read it, I thought I'd read it with her. That was fun. We decided to try for 13 pages per night so we could finish it by the end of June. We did.

I know that Bradbury was commenting on how societies try to limit people's intellectual thoughts. I know this is a book about censorship. I know it's a classic. I know it's a book set in a dystopia. But, I DID NOT LIKE IT! The text just went on and on and on. I was bored, and so was my daughter. I kept notes as I was reading because I just didn't care to commit it to memory. I also didn't feel engaged with the story. I did see many things that reflect our current society, which made me smirk to think was Bradbury prophetic? But, overall, it's forgettable. I will remember a fireman who burns books. I will think about how a girl helped him question his beliefs. I will not remember much else.

After we finished reading the book, my daughter and I watched the movie (made in 1966). I'd seen the movie years ago and so after reading the book, the movie made sense, but for being "futuristic" this version was dated. I hope for future students, if this book is continued to be studied, a newer movie version will be made.