Monday, July 3, 2017

In Our Backyard

Belles, Nita. In Our Backyard: Human Trafficking in America and What We Can Do To Stop It. Read by Nicol Zanzarella. Oasis Audio, 2015.

image from (

Summary (from
Modern slavery is happening all around you . . . and you can be part of the solution.
Human trafficking is not just something that happens in other countries. Nor is it something that just happens to “other people,” such as runaways or the disenfranchised. Even kids in your own neighborhood can fall victim. But they don’t have to.
Through true stories and expertise from her many years of boots-on-the-ground experience, anti-trafficking expert Nita Belles teaches you everything you need to know about human trafficking in the United States, helping you identify risk factors, take practical steps to keep your loved ones and neighbors safe from predators, and recognize trafficking around you, so that you can help fight it.

My Thoughts
I've studied this topic through United Methodist Women. As much as I didn't want to hear these heartbreaking stories, I felt compelled to keep listening. How can I help if I don't know?  Human trafficking exists in every state and nearly every city. It's "in our backyard." By doing nothing, the slavery continues. We must speak up and try to end it.

The book is ten chapters long, each chapter with a different theme or aspect of trafficking (not all is sexual in nature). The first chapter stopped me. It hit too close to home--a girl who is loved & comes from a "good" family is lured into "dating" older men for money. It made me fearful for my own daughter.

The chapter about restaurant workers made me starting looking at where I eat differently.

Many of the chapters are about human trafficking that is related to sex. For example, one chapter is devoted to the Super Bowl.  There's another chapter discussing why victims stay.

I want to help fight slavery! It is easier to not get involved, but I have to think about my daughter, her friends and the thousands of kids I've taught over the years. Just how many eyes have I looked into without any idea of what kind of life they were leading?

I kept thinking about Ellen Hopkins' novels, especially Tricks. According to Belles, "The US Department of  Justice named Las Vegas as one of 17 most likely destinations for sex trafficking victims." Hopkins' characters often find themselves in Vegas.

It astonished me that the list of sexual perpetrators included EVERYONE--from all walks of life, all levels of education, all salary points.

It was interesting to me to learn about TAT--Truckers Against Trafficking. I really assumed that truckers would be part of the problem, not part of the solution. This reversal of my understanding gives me hope.

How do we stop human trafficking? One "bite at a time"--do something. Each step we take to combat this issue is a step to ending human trafficking!

Now, I will say there were times that I thought the writer was trying to manipulate my emotions and perhaps some details of the stories were simplified or glossed over, but there were other times that the stories were quite graphic.

In the About the Author section at the end of the audio, Belles tell the reader that this book is designed as a "sampling" of human trafficking. Specific organizations are not endorsed, but the author does give some resources, including 1-888-373-7888 or text help to 233-733.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Crossover

Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2014.
image from: personal photo

Summary (from
"With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

My Thoughts
I'm reading this for the Book Love Foundation summer book club.  I was excited to see this one on the list because I wanted to read it (I've seen the author at TLA), but since the main character is 13 years old, I don't have it in my library. (I'm not sure high school students want to read about younger kids).

The book club gave me a deadline to reading it instead of letting it pile on my "one day" list. The book club discussion points gave me some interesting things to look at with Alexander's writing style as well as some ideas if I were to use this book in the classroom.

Now that I've read it, I can say that I enjoyed it, and I might put it in my library after all.  This is a basketball story, but it's also a "life lessons" story. I like the novel in verse format that Alexander uses. I could visually see the ball bouncing on the court through the word placement. I felt the intensity of the game clock counting down to the last seconds. The emotions of the narrator are visual on the page. I also felt the story was honest.

I like the basketball lessons sprinkled throughout the book. Narrator Josh titled them Basketball, but they really are the life lessons or affirmations that his dad tries to teach. I also liked that Alexander uses words or expressions that might not be familiar to a 13 year old, defines it and uses it in the next poem.

I enjoyed the musical connections (and took time to listen to Horace Silver's "Filthy McNasty" song and Beethoven's "5th").

I smiled when I saw how the title was used in three different ways in the story. It is a basketball term, an explanation of life and in the very last line of the book (no spoilers here---but the moment is poignant).

Several times, Alexander uses a split poem, meaning that you can read it all together or you can read down one column and then read down the next column. When I came to pages like this, I read it both ways.

The book is divided by quarters, like a basketball game.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Story

The Story, NIV : The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People. Zondervan, 2011.

image from (

Summary (from
THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD” IS MORE THAN JUST A CLICHÉ. God goes to great lengths to rescue lost and hurting people. That is what The Story is all about: the story of the Bible, God’s great love affair with humanity. Condensed into 31 accessible chapters, The Story sweeps you into the unfolding progression of Bible characters and events from Genesis to Revelation. Using the clear, accessible text of the NIV Bible, it allows the stories, poems, and teachings of the Bible to read like a novel. And like any good story, The Story is filled with intrigue, drama, conflict, romance, and redemption; and this story’s true! From the foreword by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee: “This book tells the grandest, most compelling story of all time: the story of a true God who loves his children, who established for them a way of salvation and provided a route to eternity. Each story in these 31 chapters reveals the God of grace---the God who speaks; the God who acts; the God who listens; the God whose love for his people culminated in his sacrifice of Jesus, his only Son, to atone for the sins of humanity.” Learn more about this whole-church experience at

My Thoughts
It's taken me almost a year to read this book. I left it on the night stand and would try to read in it every night, but that didn't always happen. Before I opened the book, it stayed on my nightstand probably two years. This was a gift from a dear friend, so each time I did open and read, I thought of her special gift and friendship.

This is a chronological narrative version of the Bible. Included are time lines (helpful!), maps and of course, the Bible stories. At times, I felt I understood my Bible better and then other times, I felt like something was left out, even though actual passages from the NIV version of the Bible are included. This is not a substitute Bible.

The chapters varied in length, but they were usually about 13 pages long. I didn't want to stop mid-chapter, so that's one reason it took me a year to read it. If I couldn't complete an entire chapter in one evening, I wouldn't start it.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter regarding Revelation, as it reminded me of the Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins book I read back in the late summer entitled John's Story.

At the end of the book, there are discussion questions for each chapter, a list of characters (in chronological order, so I think that wouldn't help me), and a chart of references for each chapter. At the beginning of the book, there's a preface and a timeline.

Some passages I marked:

"Love the Lord your God with all your hear and with all your soul and with all your strength" (85). I love this verse!

"Dispatches were sent...with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews...on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month" (280).  This made me think of what Hitler tried to do in modern times. It also made me wonder about how many times over the course of human history attempts to get rid of the Jews have been made.

I also marked the place where Paul begins his letters to Timothy, as my Bible study this summer is is over 1 Timothy.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Museum of Heartbreak

Leder. Meg. The Museum of Heartbreak. Simon Pulse, 2016.
image from: personal photo

Summary (from 
When it comes to finding her true love, Penelope Marx knows it will happen just like in a book. And when Pen meets Keats, a suave, literary cool guy, her book-loving heart is sure she's found the real thing. This is huge, since she has only two friends, Audrey and Eph. While they are her whole world, they exist beyond her. Audrey's other best friend is rude to Pen, and Eph is always dating a different beautiful girl. Pen and Audrey have an argument, and Pen throws herself into a relationship with Keats. But her conscience knows that he is not perfect, or even perfect for her. Making new friends at the literary magazine helps the protagonist expand her narrow circle. This is a sweet look at first love and the lessons we learn from it. New York City provides the perfect backdrop for the narrative: making out in the stacks at the Strand, having a fight on the subway platform. While heavy foreshadowing (heartbreak is in the title) will all but tell what will eventually happen, the journey is the point. The large cast of characters are varied, and each figure is easily discernible from the others. VERDICT Not required reading, but absolutely an enjoyable ride for fans of NYC and first love.—Kelly Jo Lasher, Middle Township High School, Cape May Court House, NJ 

My Thoughts
This was a cute story with a museum twist on the "artifacts" of the narrator's heartbreak. There are lots of literary references and some funny allusions to "Twin Peaks"--a show that is having a revival this year!

Penelope thinks she wants Keats. Little does she realize that her best, good friend Eph is really the one she should love. The story takes some twists and turns, and I'm glad that Pen realizes the fantasy of Keats isn't the reality of Keats.

Cherisse is awful (fake) but people think she's so great. Like the narrator, I really didn't like her.

I loved the idea of the Nevermore journal and think the Dead Poets Phone idea was hilarious! There were several times while reading I thought the author and/or the narrator was me. We have similar experiences and reading habits and nervousness in social situations.

There was also a part in the book that talked about people leaving notes in books. This reminded me of Words in Deep Blue.

This book was a funny read and one I'll add to the SHS collection.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Book of Unknown Americans

Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel.  Read by Christine Avila, Ozzie Rodriguez, Yareli Arizmendi, Gustavo Res, Gabriel Romero, Jesse Corti . 2014.

image from (
Summary (from
This captivating story of America's "simultaneously conspicuous and invisible" population is powerfully rendered by an ensemble of narrators representing voices from all over Latin America. Like families before them, the Riveras immigrate to the U.S. in search of a better life for their daughter, Maribel. Though Maribel is the catalyst, it is Alma, her mother, and Mayor, her friend, who lure listeners in during alternating chapters. Their voices shift with emotion as the narrators deftly use pitch and pacing to maintain an intimate atmosphere amid the shifting perspectives. Periodically, new voices and new accents claim a chapter to share their own immigrant experiences. Each is captured with sensitivity, lending an immediacy to the story and providing a larger context to the Riveras's experience. A.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine [Published: JUNE 2014]

My Thoughts
This is a collection of stories, but they are connected. Alma and Mayor tell most of the narrative. I could related to Alma's worries for her daughter and hoping that coming to America would help her daughter.

Maribel's story (really, her mother's truth) is heartbreaking.
I liked Mayor and that he liked Maribel and demonstrates his love for her.

As I listened to this book, I wished I could see some of the Spanish words. It took me a little while to understand the accent on some of the narrators.

We hear stories from other tenants in the building like Quisqueya Solis and Gustavo Milhojas and Benny Quinto. It just reminded me of how everyone has a story.

As I neared the end of the book, I was in tears. I can't believe that the story spans only 7 months (but really it is several lifetimes). The last chapter, Arturo Rivera's, was a surprise. Even though we see him through the other characters, it's the only chapter he has in the book.

The title reference is in Micho Alvarez' chapter, over 80% into the book.

I think these characters will stay in my conscience, especially when I look at my students and wonder, "What's their story?"

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Stars Above

Meyer, Marissa. Stars Above: A Lunar Chronicles Collection. Feiwel and Friends, 2016.
image from

My Thoughts
I've finally completed everything  in The Lunar Chronicles. I've read the four major books, the novella, and now this collection of short stories. Again, Meyer layers more and more about the world of Earth and Luna, the many characters and those "back stories" of how things came to be.

CONTENTS (from Marissa Meyer's website) 
The Keeper: A prequel to the Lunar Chronicles, showing a young Scarlet and how Princess Selene came into the care of Michelle Benoit.

Glitches: In this prequel to Cinder, we see the results of the plague play out, and the emotional toll it takes on Cinder. Something that may, or may not, be a glitch….

The Queen’s Army: In this prequel to Scarlet, we’re introduced to the army Queen Levana is building, and one soldier in particular who will do anything to keep from becoming the monster they want him to be.

Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky: Thirteen-year-old Carswell Thorne has big plans involving a Rampion spaceship and a no-return trip out of Los Angeles.

After Sunshine Passes By: In this prequel to Cress, we see how a nine-year-old Cress ended up alone on a satellite, spying on Earth for Luna.

The Princess and the Guard: In this prequel to Winter, we see a young Winter and Jacin playing a game called the Princess and the Guard…

The Little Android: A retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” set in the world of The Lunar Chronicles.

The Mechanic: In this prequel to Cinder, we see Kai and Cinder’s first meeting from Kai’s perspective.

Something Old, Something New: In this epilogue to Winter, friends gather for the wedding of the century…

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Crown

Cass, Kiera. The Crown. Harper Teen, 2016.
image from:

Summary (from
Prepare to be swept off your feet by The Crown—the eagerly awaited, wonderfully romantic fifth and final book in the Selection series. Eadlyn didn’t think she would find a real partner among the Selection’s thirty-five suitors, let alone true love. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and now Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more difficult—and more important—than she ever expected.

My Thoughts
So satisfying! This entire series is great! I enjoyed that the story held my attention, and I was transplanted into this world with America, Maxon and then Eadlyn and her Selection. I won't give away which of the men get to become Eady's husband. Cass keeps you guessing until the second to last chapter!

Since it's been awhile between my reading The Heir and this title, I had a little bit of a hard time remembering which guy was which. Cass puts some details to help refresh the reader's memory, but even when I didn't quite remember, I kept reading.

I liked seeing Eadlyn's growth in this book. She's young, but she begins to make decisions that aren't selfish. She begins to see situations from a world view. She becomes less rash and more pensive. She is smart always (even when she messes up). Cass created flawed characters who aren't perfect because even in this fairy tale, readers can see themselves.

I'm glad I bought these books with the pretty covers and then took a chance on reading them!