Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Museum of Heartbreak

Leder. Meg. The Museum of Heartbreak. Simon Pulse, 2016.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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!


Meyer, Marissa. Fairest. Feiwel and Friends, 2015.

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Summary (from


Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?
Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story—a story that has never been told … until now.
Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from WINTER, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.
My Thoughts
If you haven't read the Lunar Chronicles yet, do NOT read this post! I protect some things, but there are some spoilers to the Chronicles as a whole. 

This novella is Queen Levana's back story. Some sources say read this before Winter. However, I think since I read it right after finishing Winter, events were still fresh in my mind.

I liked seeing that Levana wasn't as evil as her sister (who I think is portrayed as beautiful in the previous books, but not much else--at least not to my memory). It's Levana's story, but it's also her sister's and her husband's and even her parents' tale. It sets some things up for all four other books. Princess Selene (Cinder) has her back story (a bit) in here, too. Make no mistake, though. Levana is evil. She's made decisions and justified them in her own mind. This book offers some understanding as to how and why and what helped shape her personality.

"Come here, baby sister. I want to show you something" is repeated in the book. It's Channary luring (and controlling) her sister. I'm glad Levana's glamour is explained and her love to her husband Evret. All very interesting. I was surprised (although  maybe I shouldn't have been) to find out about Winter's parents. I also learned about the strained relationship between Earth and Luna.

So, could you read the 4 major books and not this one and still have a story? Sure. But...reading this one gives more spice to the fairy tales. I've now started reading Stars Above, a collection of stories from the Lunar Chronicles world. I've enjoyed my time on Luna and Earth with these characters and look forward to reading the story collection to complete the world of the Lunar Chronicles.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Words in Deep Blue

Crowley, Cath. Words in Deep Blue. Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
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Summary (from back cover)
"Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family's bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.
Now Rachel has returned to the city--and to the bookshop--to work alongside the boy she'd rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can't feel anything anymore. She can't see her future.
Henry's future isn't looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart.
As Henry and Rachel work side by side--surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages--they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it's possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough."

My Thoughts
The booktalk I heard about this book doesn't quite match up to what happens in the book, but I enjoyed it anyway.

The premise is Rachel & Henry work in a bookstore. Inside this bookstore is a Letter Library where people can (and are encouraged to) write in the books or leave notes in the book or mark passages in the book. Rachel's job is to catalog these notes. There are some touching notes!  Even the author of the book includes a note in this book for the reader, which I thought was clever.

I really like the concept of the Letter Library. I've had students leave notes to future readers in books before (thankfully, just notes--not passages marked in the book). As I read this book, it got me thinking about something I did in the classroom that I may start in the library next year.

I loved the many literary references in this book!  I also loved this description: "I'm fond of Derek Walcott. I could eat his poem 'Love After Love.' Just peel the words off the page and stuff them in my mouth" (Crowley 25). I feel this way about words sometime.  I had to look up "Derek Walcott" to see if he is real. He is.

There's a love story, a break up story and a growing up story all included. There's grief, healing and learning. There's a theme to not judge a book by its cover. (And the actual cover of this book is cute!).
We are the books we read and the things we love (Crowley 258). 
This quote sums up life.

I don't know if I'll remember the entire story line years from now, but I will think about "a book I read once" where people left notes in the books.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Meyer, Marissa. Winter. Feiwel and Friends, 2015.
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This is the fourth installment of the Lunar Chronicles. I realized it's been over a year since I finished Cress (I'm seeing that I'm horrible about finishing series, as this isn't the only one I've stalled out reading).

It took me several weeks to steal moments away to finish this installment, as it is over 800 pages in length (so, it's like reading more than one book. Well, Meyer actually divides it into 5 books)!

There is so much happening in this book. I'm glad that Meyer puts in reminders of how things came to pass or why something is a way because it's been awhile since reading the first three books. I felt my heart rate increase as I read. I didn't want to stop, but I also didn't want to continue. I've enjoyed my time with these characters.

One thing I really liked about these stories is that everything isn't forced into a "happily ever after" ending.

What you will get from this book (as well as the entire series):

  • humor
  • romance
  • action
  • space travel
  • violence
  • social issues 
  • friendships
  • questions of right vs. wrong
After I finished this book, I immediately started reading Fairest, the novella of Queen Levana. It's a great backstory! 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Pennies for Hitler

French, Jackie. Pennies for Hitler. Read by Humphrey Bower. Bolinda Audio, 2012.

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Summary (from
Narrator Humphrey Bower brings Georg Mark’s childhood in Nazi Germany to life with precise German accents and phrases. As Georg becomes George to escape Nazi persecution, first in England and later in Australia, Bower presents realistic characterizations with English and Australian accents. The voices Bower creates for Georg’s Australian foster family, the Peaslakes, make them a memorable example of the indomitable will of ordinary citizens in wartime. Steady, appealing narration enhances this slowly building story of home and identity. Bower’s ability to capture the history and setting of Georg’s story makes French’s novel ideal for use in school as well as for general reading. C.A. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine [Published: JANUARY 2015]

My Thoughts
This book is fine for middle grades and up. It is a Holocaust story, and there are some gut wrenching moments, but the story is softened for a non-adult reader.

I was reading Salt to the Sea (another WWII story) when I started listening to this, (interesting how that happens sometimes), so I had to stop listening so that the two stories didn't blend together.

This is a story about a German boy who has an English father, so he is sent to England to live with an aunt. When London gets bombed, the aunt sends Georg to Australia to a foster home. Honestly, this was the first time I'd ever heard about this. I didn't know that several boats of children left England to sail to Canada or Australia.

In Australia, Georg finds a home with the very loving and caring Peaslakes. I was so glad to hear that this couple was kind and treated Georg as their own son (who was away at war). His new friend/cousin is named Mud. It was nice that they had each other.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Memory Book

Avery, Lara. The Memory Book. Little, Brown, and Company, 2016.
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Plot Summary (from book jacket)
     "Sammie McCoy is a girl with a plan: graduate at the top of her class and get out of her small town as soon as possible. Nothing will stand in her way--not even the rare genetic disorder the doctors say will slowly steal her memories and then her health.
     So the memory book is born: a journal written to Sammie's future self, so she can remember everything from where she stashed her study guides to just how great it feels to have a best friend again. It's where she'll record every perfect detail of her first date with longtime-crush Stuart, a gifted young writer home for the summer. And where she'll admit how much she's missed her childhood friend Cooper and the ridiculous lengths he will go to make her laugh. The memory book will ensure Sammie never forgets the most important parts of her life--the people who have broken her heart, those who have mended it--and most of all, that if she's going to die, she going to die living."

My Thoughts
I can't remember (ironic) how this book got on my pile...did I read something about it? Was the author going to be at NTTBF or TLA this year? Was there some Twitter buzz? Anyway, I spent the weekend with The Memory Book.

Sammie McCoy has a plan and a life threatening illness is NOT part of it! I haven't heard of Niemann-Pick Disease (NPC) before reading this book (I've since done some research). I don't have NPC, but I do keep this blog as my own recording of books read, so I could relate to the character in that way.

The story was cute, the idea is creative, but the thing I enjoyed most about it was finding the literary allusions. There were at least 10 of them (mostly overt), as I made a list. Some references I probably didn't catch.

I flagged the chapter where Sammie predicts what will happen at the National Debate Tournament. I'm going to show that to our debate coach.

Avery's story is believable (wonder if she was a debater in school?), but I really didn't like Stuart. He seemed too...unrealistic...maybe there are people like Stuart in the world, but for me, he could have been left out and still had the story line of Cooper and Sammie's renewed friendship (the jealous fight scene would be rewritten).

I liked that different people in Sammie's life were able to write/type in her memory book. (Sign of the times--journals are digital).

I should have expected the ending, but the setup was so sweet I was lulled.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Myers, Walter Dean. Juba! Read by Brandon Gill. Harper Audio, 2015.
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Summary (from

Myers's posthumously published novel, set in the 1840s, tells the story of William Henry Lane, a free black dancer known as Master Juba. Incorporating the Irish step dancing he saw around him as a child in Brooklyn with African and minstrel styles, Juba developed what came to be known as tap dancing and was celebrated in London, as well as New York, until his early death at 27. Sadly, the ambiance of the times and the exuberance of Juba's dancing don't translate well to audio, despite the efforts of narrator Brandon Gill. Listeners unfamiliar with old minstrel shows will miss the historical pictures in the print edition, and, though Juba and his friends are mostly well realized by Gill, the challenge of the Irish accents makes it sometimes problematic to determine which character is speaking. S.G. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine [Published: DECEMBER 2015]

My Thoughts
I have liked everything I've read by Walter Dean Myers, so I was happy this was an audiobook selection. Even though the above review slams the narration, I felt it was fine. I could follow along (but now I do want to see the historical pictures included in the print version).

This story didn't grab me like Monster, but I stuck with it so see what would happen to Juba.

The Hate U Give

Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Balzer + Bray, 2017.
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Summary (from
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter navigates between the poverty-stricken neighborhood she has grown up in and the upper-crust suburban prep school she attends. Her life is up-ended when she is the sole witness to a police officer shooting her best friend, Khalil, who turns out to have been unarmed during the confrontation – but may or may not have been a drug dealer. As Starr finds herself even more torn between the two vastly different worlds she inhabits, she also has to contend with speaking her truth and, in the process, trying to stay alive herself.

My Thoughts
When I first started hearing about this book, the plot synopsis did not appeal to me. I just didn't think I needed this book in my conservative, rural library. However, after hearing Angie Thomas at NTTBF17 discuss this book (and even read a bit from it!), I was glad I ordered it. As soon as it arrived in my library, I checked it out to read. I was not disappointed. This is not a fluffy read due to language and violence, which is part of what makes the story believable. The characters make the story relevant.

The title reference is on page 17 (which I didn't "see" until it was pointed out to me). There are pop culture references too, like the use of Tumblr.

The book is divided into five parts.  I wasn't sure I wanted to finish the book because I didn't know how I'd react to the outcome of the trial. I hoped that Thomas would make it end "happily ever after," but I also knew I didn't want her to manipulate the story to make that happen. I honestly wasn't sure how it would go.

I felt for Starr when she said realizes that what she thought she's do in a situation turns out to be the opposite of what she does. "I always said that if I saw it [a black person getting killed just for being black] happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I'm too afraid to speak" (Thomas 35).  Starr had to find her voice and use it as her most powerful weapon.

There is humor in this book. For example, Starr's dad, a former gang member,--it's explained how he got out of "the life"--claims  Harry Potter is about gang theory. He makes good points. Some of Starr's descriptions of her neighbors are hilarious. Her neighbors also made me think about how communities come together at times. The description of herself at school versus the Garden Heights neighborhood Starr are funny (and realistic).

I thought it was ironic that I read this book the week of prom because there is prom episode in Starr's story.

This book made me think about a lot of things---which is what I think it is supposed to do. We often prejudge a person, situation, even a story line. As I read, I would catch myself thinking about my own comments, thoughts, and even actions (or lack of action) of "real life."

The story has good timing and didn't feel like it was over 400 pages (Yes, it's 444!).

Some quotations from the book:
Hailey & Starr "rode the waves of grief together" (Thomas 79).

"Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right"  (Thomas 154).

"Somebody's going to turn Mr. Lewis into a meme. He's making a fool out of himself and doesn't even know it" (Thomas 189).

"You have to decide if their mistakes are bigger than your love for them" (Thomas 264).

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Salt to the Sea

Sepetys, Ruta. Salt to the Sea. Philomel Books, 2016.
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Summary (from
In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
A tribute to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

My Thoughts
This is a well researched historical fiction book, but I felt like I was reading narrative nonfiction. Refugees are fleeing Germany during WWII. The story is told from the 4 characters (Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred) points of view, but there are other characters who hold a prominent place. Each story is not what it seems at first. I liked how the opening lines of each character was parallel ("_____ is a hunter" (Sepetys 1, 3, 5,7).  Each character had a different noun hunting them. Sepetys brought this noun hunter back around towards the end of the novel.

One of my favorite, non-main characters was the "shoemaker poet." He often said, "the shoes always tell the story." How wise he was about that.

At one point, I thought of how these refugees were almost like the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales. We, as the reader, are traveling along and learning about their lives.

I did not like Alfred the more I learned of him. At first, I thought he was just imaginative.  Florian realizes that Alfred is "a sociapath in training" (Sepetys 280). Yes, I would agree!

The title reference is on page 357.

The ending chapters of this book are so vivid. I felt like I saw what the characters saw (I don't want to ruin it here, but it is full of emotion).

Sepetys includes an author's note at the back that explains to the reader how she came to write this story. It is not biographical, but she does honor her family's heritage by writing about this event. She also includes other sources for information.

ADDED 5/8/17--I got to meet Ruta Sepetys at TLA this year!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Outsiders

Hinton, S.E. The Outsiders. Speak, 2012.
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My Thoughts
Don't tell my Upward Bound kids, but I think this is the novel for the summer. It celebrates 50 years, so I think it's worthy of study. Besides, this was one of the first YA novels (long before the term "YA" existed). Since we studied the first English novel last year, I think it's appropriate to study the first YA novel this year.

I have a history with this book...sort of...

When I was in high school, one of the 9th grade English teachers taught The Outsiders. My 9th grade English class read a different Hinton book, Tex.  I still have my copy and remember a part where Tex is told some people stay and some people go. I knew at 14 I was leaving my hometown as soon as I graduated (I did move away to attend college and have never left that town. I was the only one of my running buddies that left home.). It's been many years since I was in 9th grade, and this book has been on my virtual pile. It wasn't until a couple of years ago when I heard Ally Carter speak about how Hinton influenced her to become a writer that I thought, "Man! I've really got to read that book!" Yes, by then, I'd seen the movie, but I know how books are usually better than the movie interpretation.  Earlier this school year, I was hearing some buzz about this being the 50th year since publishing and made a note that this would be a Upward Bound summer novel possibility.
So a few weeks ago, I was trying to get an Ally Carter book read before hearing her speak at a conference when I decided that after Carter's book, I would FINALLY read this one.

I'll have to watch it again to see how close it follows the book, but I had movie images in my head while I read. I couldn't remember which character was which, but I do remember Patrick Swayze being the oldest brother.

As I read, I kept thinking about how teenagers today can still identify with Ponyboy and his gang (even if we don't use the Greaser or Socs terms)--we still separate ourselves. We still want to feel needed and loved and part of something. I think this will be my approach in teaching this book.

I like that there's very little cussing in this book. It's alluded to, but not printed out.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Reynolds, Jason. Ghost: Track: Book 1. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016.
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Plot Summary (from
Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

My Thoughts
I hadn't read anything by Jason Reynolds before this book (even though I'd planned to before seeing him at NTTBF). Reynolds is a thoughtful speaker, so I was happy to buy his latest book (and get him to sign it!). I was excited that it was a track story because I don't have very many in my library.

This is the story of Ghost (a self given nickname). As someone who kinda runs and has never had formal training, I'm glad Reynolds explained the track terminology and workouts. As Ghost learned about training, so did I. I actually thought about copying some of the things down for my own workouts. 

This is a quick read geared to middle grade, but I can think of some high schoolers who will enjoy it, too.  I really liked that the coach was a positive role model and seemed to genuinely understand, love and push his team. I also felt such empathy for Ghost because I knew that he really wanted to make "good" choices, but it seemed circumstances got in the way. I know so many kids who deal (or not) with similar situations.  
The story has some real, emotional struggles, but there is also humor, including the chapter titles! 

I'm not sure what I want to write about with this book except I hated the ending---only because it sets up the next book and that won't come out for awhile (I'd read somewhere August 2017). 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

All Fall Down

Carter, Ally. All Fall Down: An Embassy Row Novel. Scholastic Press, 2015.

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Plot Summary (From

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:
1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.
As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her–so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door who is keeping an eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.
Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace–no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do.
Her past has come back to hunt her . . .  and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world all stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.
My Thoughts
Ally Carter was at the TLA 2015 Teen Day. This is how long I've had this book on my pile. This is how long it's been staring at me across my office to be read. This is how long others have read it and raved about Ally Carter.

Well, Ally was coming to NTTBF (North Texas Teen Book Festival), and I was determined to read one of her books before hearing her speak again. I almost got this one finished before the event.

I enjoyed it. The story has suspense and intrigue without gore. Grace's mother was murdered. Grace saw it happen (so she thinks). When she returns to the city of the crime, she just cannot shake that people are lying to her. She must find her mom's killer. I'm glad that Carter drops clues and red herrings into the story. I didn't figure it all out five chapters into the book. In fact, I didn't know how this book would end until it did.

Knowing there are already two other books in this series, I chuckled when I saw their titles embedded into this story. I wondered if that was Carter's intention (Did she already know the arc of the series?).

I liked the different characters from each embassy. I think I'm most like Ms. Chancellor (but I think there's MUCH more to her story than I realize from book 1). I will continue reading Grace's story, but before I do, I'm going to read S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders because Ally Carter talked about her and this book in 2015, and that's been on my pile, too.


Murphy, Julie. Dumplin' : Go Big or Go Home. Harper Collins, 2015.
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Summary (from
Dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . .  until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.  
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

My Thoughts
This book is HILARIOUS! The author captures so many elements of living in Texas. I even wrote in my notes about this book these "nuggets of wisdom, things as a Southerner, I just understand." I wondered if readers from other states would even see some of the nuances. The story can be enjoyed without it, but there are just some things that are funnier knowing (I'm specifically thinking right now about the judging committee. I shared that part with two different people I sat near because it was so descriptive and funny!).
"You don't always have to win to wear a crown" (Murphy 67).
This is the story of Willowdean Dickson. She is overweight and lives in a small Texas town (fictitious Clover City) known for its beauty pageant, "Miss Teen Blue Bonnet." Her mother won years ago and now heads up the planning committee to pull off the event. When Will decides she's going to enter the contest, she begins a crusade that will not only affect her but her town as well.

I heard Murphy at TLA last year (2016) on a panel called Humor in YA Lit. I'd seen some buzz about the book, but just didn't pick it up until this spring. It fulfilled the humor part, but it wasn't just laugh after laugh. (Although I often wrote "HA!" in my notes). There are some serious moments (e.g., Will's friend confides in her about having sex).

I was pleased how friendships formed in this story and appreciate that Murphy explores many levels of relationships. I loved that in trying to honor her aunt's memory, Will learns some wonderful truths about her aunt. I liked the honestly of the writing and the characters.

I also liked how this story linked with The Serpent King (by Jeff Zentner) that I finished reading before this book. Both novels are set in small towns where the kids are eager to leave and both have a connection to Dolly Parton. I always enjoy when I see connective threads between the books I read.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

SYMPHONY FOR THE CITY OF THE DEAD Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

Anderson, M. T. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. Brilliance Audio, 2015.

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Summary (from AudioFile)

M.T. Anderson narrates his own extensively researched work in a gentle, emphatic tenor, simultaneously methodical and sympathetic. Although his discussion focuses on Shostakovich's personal experiences, Anderson incorporates a great deal of historical information, using primary sources and detailed accounts of events to give listeners an immersive account of one of Russia's darkest periods. With a balanced, impartial tone, Anderson recounts the daily lives of Shostakovich's friends, family, and fellow citizens amid the actions of corrupt dictators, outlining how machinations from above affected ordinary people. Anderson's use of Shostakovich's music and his thorough, direct approach as an author and narrator make this an immersive listen for music and history enthusiasts alike. K.S.B. © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine [Published: JANUARY 2016]

My Thoughts
This was a very interesting "read," and I enjoyed hearing the author read his own work. It seems to be well researched. It is a story that I don't know much about the history. It took me a long time to listen to the book because (1) it is long--10 parts and (2) I wasn't driving as much as usual, which is where I listen to books the most. 

  • I am thankful for listening to the Russian words. I'm not sure I'd stuck with this in print. 
  • I liked the music in the background. It seemed to bring Shostakovich's music truly to life. 
  • I loved when I heard about the librarians in Leningrad and Moscow. GO LIBRARIANS! 
  • My stomach often churned at the horror that Anderson describes of what was happening in Russia during the time of the book.
I ordered this book for our library. I think it's a part of the world's history that we (Americans) should learn. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Serpent King

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Zentner, Jeff. The Serpent King. Crown: 2016.

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My Thoughts
I enjoyed this book! The characters are real--so real that I was crying at one point while reading (which was a little embarrassing because I was at a volleyball tournament).

Dill(ard), Lydia and Travis are friends. They are entering their last year of high school and making plans for the next chapter. Dill will probably work full time at the grocery store to help his family pay bills. Lydia plans to leave Tennessee (as soon as she can!) and attend school in NYC and make her fashion blog even bigger (she already has thousands of followers) and Travis...well, Travis is just waiting for the next book in the Bloodfall series.

The story is told from all three character's points of view, but it's a blend of first and third person narration. It broke my heart reading about some of the "trials" of their lives, but these episodes make the characters believable. I think I've known all three of these kids several times over in my career.

Dill's family's story is the title reference (found on page 68). Does he have his "family blood" and end up like his grandfather (dead) or dad (prison)? Will Lydia's and Travis' friendship help him forge a different path?

I LOVED the Pathetic Prom scenes. SO FUNNY!  I loved that Mr. Burson's "tiny museum of early editions of Faulkner, O'Connor, Welty and McCarthy" bookstore is included. (Zentner 124)

At times, there were summations included to push the story forward. I was bothered a little by this, as it seemed to gloss over or force the story. This wasn't too often, but I did notice it.

When I finished the book, I Tweeted out to the author, and he responded! I can't wait to meet him in a few weeks at the North Texas Teen Book Festival. Based on this book, I will read Zentner's other works.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Girl on the Train

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Hawkins, Paula. The Girl on the Train. Riverhead Books, 2015.

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Summary (from Wikipedia):

Rachel Watson is a 32-year-old alcoholic reeling from the dissolution of her marriage to Tom, who left her for another woman, Anna Watson. Rachel's drinking has caused her to lose her job; she frequently binges and has blackouts. While drunk, she often harasses Tom by phone and sometimes even in person, though she has little or no memory of these acts once she sobers up. Tom is now married to Anna and has a daughter with her, Evie – a situation that fuels Rachel's self-destructive tendencies, as it was her inability to conceive a child that began her spiral into alcoholism. Concealing her unemployment from her flatmate, Rachel follows her old routine of taking the train to London every day; her train slowly passes her old house, which is now occupied by Tom, Anna, and Evie. She also begins watching from the train an attractive couple who live a few houses away from Tom, fantasizing about their perfect life together. Rachel has never met them and has no idea that their life is far from perfect, or that the woman, Megan Hipwell, helps Anna care for her child.
Megan outwardly seems perfect to Rachel — beautiful, apparently happy, and married to a handsome, devoted man. However, Megan has a troubled past that she conceals from everyone who knows her and which gives her severe insomnia. She secretly finds her life boring and shallow, and escapes from her troubles by taking a series of lovers. She has sought help by seeing a therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic, whom she would like to seduce. Eventually, she reveals to him a dark secret she has never confided to anyone before.
Anna is young, beautiful, very much in love with Tom, and happy as a stay-at-home mother to the young Evie. While at first she enjoyed the idea of parading her conquest of Tom in front of Rachel, as a way to show that he picked her over Rachel, she eventually becomes furious at Rachel's harassment of her and her family, and wants to move from Rachel's former house and report Rachel's stalking to the police. Anna views Rachel as a threat to her family and home, and particularly dreads Rachel's presence because Rachel entered their home, picked up Evie, and walked outside with her one day.
One day, Rachel is stunned to see Megan kissing a man other than her husband. The next day, after a night of heavy drinking, Rachel awakens to find herself bloody and injured, with no memories of the night before but certain that she has done something she will regret. Soon, she learns that one of the top stories of the day is that Megan is missing. Rachel is questioned by the police after Anna reports having seen her staggering around drunk in the area the night of Megan's disappearance. Rachel starts to become interested in the missing persons case. She contacts the police to tell them she thinks Megan was having an affair, because she was watching her every morning and evening from the train, and then she contacts Megan's husband, Scott. Rachel lies and tells Scott she and Megan were friends, and she tells him her thoughts about the affair. Rachel learns that the man she saw kissing Megan the day she disappeared was Kamal.
[The summary continues, but I don't want to spoil the story for the reader.]

My Thoughts
Almost immediately, this book had me thinking...what was happening? Who did it?

This is not a book I would normally pick up, but several friends recommended it. It has a murder. There is violence, but I enjoyed trying to unravel the mystery of the story. I was pleased with the way the story ended. I didn't have it all figured out before finishing.

There are three narrators: Rachel, Megan and Anna. Each woman tells events that lead up to and follow the murder. I started keeping a log of when each was speaking because I didn't know if the author was giving clues in that or not.

There are several twists in the story. There are several red herrings. There are times I could feel my heart racing. I liked the way the author folded in the three narrators' stories to create the book.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Young World

Weitz, Chris. Read by Jose Julian and Spencer Locke. The Young World.  Hachette Audio, 2014.

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Summary (from AudioFile)
Chris Weitz’s postapocalyptic adventure is a gritty, taut, and unexpectedly funny gem, made even more engrossing by expert narration. A mysterious Sickness has changed New York into a haunting alien world, and those remaining have banded into tribes for survival. But when two teenagers find a clue to a cure, they must embark on a journey into the unknown to save humankind. Jose Julian and Spencer Locke perfectly capture the brash, vibrant energy of these two youthful protagonists, timing their quips, confessions, and grousing perfectly, and creating a tense, compelling relationship that propels the plot forward. Through their eyes, the world of the story becomes a thoroughly engrossing one that readers will find hard to leave behind. B.E.K. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine [Published: AUGUST 2014]

My Thoughts
I listened to this book (thanks to SYNC downloads last summer).

I think it is an interesting idea--an illness has killed everyone except the teenagers "something about hormones. Something we have and the adults and kids don't" (Weitz). The book bogged down for me, but I still wanted to know what happened. It didn't resolve by the end of book one (I've since learned this is book 1 of a series). I'm not sure I care enough to find out what happens in book 2.

There are two narrators: Jefferson and Madonna (Donna). I found my mind wandering when Donna was speaking. It was a different, clipped style. She'd say, "Me: [blah, blah]. Washington: [blah, blah]. Jefferson: [blah, blah]." This sounded like the reading of a play. I wondered how her parts looked in the book.

There were LOTS of similes and cliches in the story. Much of it was over described. I enjoyed the allusions to other works of literature and movies (including Star Wars) but even that was included too many times. Donna says, "This is just like Lord of the Flies meets The Hunger Games" (Weitz). I would agree. I also think the pop culture references will date the book.

When the servers go down, "people freaked out" and Donna explains that "Books, books are handy...books had the last laugh" No electricity or service required. This made me smile.

Another part of the book that made me think was when it's discussed that the Chinese were behind the illness. Is this prophetic? Sometimes science fiction can "predict" the future.

There was much action and sexual content which I think appeals to the guy reader, but as mentioned in the previous paragraph, I think it was overdone. There's also a lot of cussing, which seemed appropriate to the teen aged characters, but I was distracted by it.

Brain Box is the "nerd" of the group who actually helps the teens survive because of his vast knowledge. His knowledge sends the group on a quest that I'm sure will continue in book 2. There is also a love story developing that I think will continue as well.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices

Charleyboy, Lisa, and Mary Beth Leatherdale, editors. Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices. Annick Press, 2015.

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My Thoughts
I was able to read these essays/articles/biographies in just a day (and while in "down time" at a volleyball tournament").

I liked reading about contemporary Indians. My brain often keeps Indians in the box of the 1880s--roaming the prairies, living in teepees, hunting buffalo (ok, perhaps I just lump all Indians into the Plains). This book gave me insight to the Indians of today, although they were all Canadian. I wished to see some profiles of Indians living in the United States. I'm sure some of the experiences are similar, but it would have been nice to include voices from both countries.

Included in the book are 64 artists, writers, actors, singers, poets, as well as "everyday people" telling their stories. Some live in the city; some live in the country. Some stories are written as poems, others as essays. Some stories are visual. The editors have "asked [the contributors] to share their nations and home reserves. Contributors decided for themselves how to define their heritage" (Charleyboy 11).

One of the things I noted in the book comes from Jeffrey Veregge (S'Klallam, Suquamish, Duwamish). He writes, "The other place I loved going was the library. Here I could get lost for hours looking at all the books...When the library started adding movies that you could check out, it was like getting your meal supersized for free. I know I would not be the same artist had it not been for the library" (Charleyboy 108).