Thursday, January 23, 2014

A to Z Bookish Survey

Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner created the survey a while ago, but I just found it thanks to Misty at The Book Rat.  I had some time on my hands (yay, no school!), so I put together my answers.

Author you've read the most books from:
Brian Jaques.  I read all of the Redwall books in middle school.  All of them.  I still have a secret desire to be a squirrel.  Or an otter.  Or a hare.  Really any Redwall creature would do.
(Want an easy way to figure this out if you have Goodreads and keep good track of your stuff? Go to your account, hit “my books”and on the left hand side under your shelves you will see “most read authors”)

Best Sequel Ever:
The Hero of Ages.  Prepare to have your mind blown.  This book does require the investment of 1000+ pages to get through the first two books.  Sanderson's books are amazing, but they are slow starters.

Currently Reading:
The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen.  I'm a sucker for a good first line:  "I had arrived early for my own assassination."  I quite liked The False Prince.  And book three, The Shadow Throne, comes out in February.

Drink of Choice While Reading:
Apple cider or hot chocolate.

E-reader or Physical Book?
Both.  Both is good.  With a Kindle I can get books for cheap that I never, ever have to pack (I hate moving).  But there's just something about browsing through a bookshelf, brushing my fingers against my favorites and flipping through physical pages.  So both.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:
Gilbert Blythe.  Gilbert is real, real as in realistic and flawed.  He and Anne are intellectual equals; I love how they pushed each other in school--first out of spite, then in friendly competition..  He made some stupid mistakes (Carrots), but he always wanted the best for her.  He gave up the Avonlea School for her!  What could be more romantic?

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.  I read this partially because of a recommendation from a professor and partially because my school district banned it about 10 years ago (crazy, I know).  It ended up being both funnier and deeper than I expected.

Hidden Gem Book:
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt.  More people need to read this book.

Important Moment in your Reading Life:
Getting permission to go to the library on my own.  Looking back on it, I'm surprised my mom let me ride my bike that far alone.

Just Finished:
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  So good.  And the cover.  Silhouette plus scroll-work.  Swoon.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:
Paperback romances/bodice rippers--the ones with Fabio and his abs and a woman in a falling-off satin dress.  Just not interested.

Longest Book You’ve Read:
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

** easy way to find this out. Go to your Goodreads “read” list, don’t scroll down but where you are on the screen there will be this little tab on the bottom that lets you choose how you want to scroll or how many books you want display. There is also a sort option with a drop down and you can sort by page.

Major book hangover because of:
Seraphina.  The sequel is taking way too long to come out.

Number of Bookcases You Own:
One at home, three at school.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:
Anne of Green Gables.

Preferred Place To Read:
Curled up on the couch, often with a throw.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you've read:
Although I do love a good set of feels, I actually prefer spunk, so here's my favorite quote from Jane Eyre as she's being interrogated by Mr. Brockelhurst:
"No sight so sad as that of a naughty child," he began, "especially a naughty little girl.  Do you know where the wicked go after death?"
"They go to hell," was my ready and orthodox answer.
"And what is hell?  Can you tell me that?"
"A pit full of fire."
"And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?"
"No, sir."
"What must you do to avoid it?"
I deliberated a moment:  my answer, when it did come was objectionable:  "I must keep in good health and not die."

Reading Regret:
Ummmm, I was anti graphic novel for a little while.

Series You Started And Need To Finish(all books are out in series): Matched.  I really liked the first book, but I don't feel strongly compelled to pick up Crossed, even though I do want to read of these days.

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:
Anne of Green Gables
Ella Enchanted

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

Fairy tale retellings.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:
CRESS!!!  Just a couple more weeks.

Worst Bookish Habit:
Acquiring cheap Kindle books and then not reading them for a long time or ever.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:
Between Shades of Gray.

Your latest book purchase:
Goblin Secrets.

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

Feel free to fill out the survey yourself or just let me know what you think in the comments. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate--Jacqueline Kelly
May 2009 by Henry Holt
338 pages--Goodreads

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger.

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing a year of growing up with unique sensitivity and a wry wit.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a highly enjoyable read with a gorgeous cover (I love silhouettes and scroll-work; this cover has both).  Made up of vignettes about one summer and fall, Callie's story is reminiscent of Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie with some Darwinian science thrown in.  I love Callie's adventures as a young naturalist, roaming the riverbed, collecting bugs and other scientific samples.  I especially love the relationship between her and her grandfather.

Callie's voice is distinct from the very start.  The writing in general is strong, but particularly in Callie's narrative voice.  She's a memorable character, and I love her spunk and determination.  Her observations about the world and people are hilarious, especially when three of her brothers have crushes on the same friend at the same time and Callie gets sick of being the middleman.  The brothers themselves are great.  I love Travis and his kittens and his unfortunate attachment to the family turkeys.

This novel presents a great coming of age story.  I completely understand Callie's desire to do something more than the life that was chosen for her, how she feels trapped by the societal and familial expectations that don't match up with her dreams.  This conflict is left mostly unresolved, and while I can understand why (time constraints--it would take years for Callie to work this out and this story only covers six months.) the ending feels just a bit incomplete.  I want some sort of reconciliation between Callie and her mother.

I wish this book had been around when I was younger.  Callie, Anne, Laura, and I would have been the best of friends despite differences in time, location, and fictionality.  There's just a bit of mild language (which I note only so I remember not to recommend the book to my ultra-ultra-sensitive students).  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a well-written and thoroughly enjoyable book.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Across a Star-Swept Sea--Diana Peterfreund
October 2013 by Balzer +  Bray
464 pages--Goodreads

Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.

On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever.

Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

In this thrilling adventure inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, Diana Peterfreund creates an exquisitely rendered world where nothing is as it seems and two teens with very different pasts fight for a future only they dare to imagine.

I am so impressed by this novel.  After being a bit disappointed by For Darkness Shows the Stars, I was worried that Across a Star-Swept Sea would follow suit.  No worries!  It takes everything that For Darkness did right and builds on it.

First, the setting is perfect.  It's an excellent adaptation of the source material.  Peterfreund takes the class system of the first book and fits it to the framework of the French revolution.  The the reduction was cured a few centuries ago, but there is still class tension between the aristos and regs.  In Galatea those tensions erupt into a Reign of Terror with people being reduced rather than guillotined.  Fervor blinds the revolutionaries to the cruelty of their actions until they care only for revenge against the aristos and those who support them for all their crimes and their fathers' crimes and their fathers' fathers' crimes.  In Albion things are more stable, but those tensions still exist.  Some aristos are fair stewards; others are not.  And whispers of revolution from discontented regs threaten destabilize a regency government.

And the fact that Justen invented the reduction drug (albeit by accident) is a great adaptation of Marguerite's accidental betrayal in the original.  Basically, I just love good adaptations.  The ones that bring out the most important parts of the original and adapting those conflicts into a new setting.  The ones that stay true to the core of the characters while bringing out something new and interesting about them.

In that light, Persis is so annoying, and I mean that in the best possible way.  Her disguise requires her to act in a manner WAY below her intellect.  It drove me crazy how she had to hold back her complicated opinions about politics, gender relations, and social equality.  I hated every time Justen thought of her as a spoiled idiot.  It is so perfect for this story and the tension it needs.  I was a bit worried about this aspect of the adaptation--there is a big difference between a fop and a shallow socialite woman--but Peterfreund pulls it off masterfully, causing even Justen, the oh-so-enlightend, to question his gender assumption.

I know it wouldn't fit the story, but I wish we could see more of Persis' parents.  Dealing with an Alzheimer's-like condition would be both a fascinating, though tragic, plot line.  Persis, understandably, wants to ignore what was happening to her mother, but I want to see more exploration of that situation.

I only have a couple of complaints.  First, the multiple perspectives get a bit confusing at times.  For the story Peterfreund is telling, we do need to see from multiple characters' perspectives, but there isn't quite enough cuing as to when we switch perspectives.  I don't need a label slapped on each section, but it needs to be clear in the first sentence who's talking.  Sometimes it takes nearly a paragraph before we know who is narrating.

Second, I know most people were excited to see them again, but Elliot, Kai, and the rest of their group feel out of place in this story. There would have been better ways to lure the Poppy into a trap (for example, Remy getting captured) without pulling these characters in so late in the game.  And then the ending itself is just a bit too sudden.  Minor qualms, but still.

Across a Star-Swept Sea is excellent, both as its own story and as as a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel.  I need to go rewatch the movie now.  If you haven't read For Darkness, don't let that stop you from reading Across a Star-Swept Sea.  It's more of a companion novel than a sequel and can stand on its own.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Legend--Marie Lu
November 2011 by Putnam Juvenile
320 pages--Goodreads

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills. 

A bunch of my students love this series, so I figured I'd check Legend out.  Sadly, it was not as good as I had hoped it would be.  

I think I've finally figured out why most of the dystopian novels published in the last few years disappoint me:  they tend to use dystopia as a setting rather than as a social critique.  When I read a dystopia, I want the novel to hold up a mirror to our own world, to show the dangerous potential of where we could go, or to exaggerate our society's flaws so we can more easily see how they are problematic.  Books like Legend just use dystopia as a cool setting where the young heroes can be pitted against impossible odds.  That's just not as compelling to me.  

Additionally, the world building is too sparse.  Even ignoring the lack of social commentary, the setting is vague.  We never see how or why the Republic is a dystopia; we just have to take the synopsis's word that it is.  I need to see how the government is repressive.  What do they do that is so awful?  Since no one knows about the plague cause, that isn't enough.  What started the war between the Republic and the Colonies?  What happened to the United States to cause it to break  into factions?  Why would people start revolting at Day's arrest?  He's not a Robin Hood or a Mockingjay figure, and there's almost no evidence of repression, so the riot seems to exist solely to prick June's conscience.  More detail about the world will probably be revealed later in the series, that's too late.  You can surprise me later, but you must sell me on the world in the first book. 

INSTALOVE.  Seriously?  A military girl working undercover and a rebel criminal living on the streets should both be much much much slower to trust and should not start making out with each other a day after they meet each other.  I can accept descriptions of Day's gorgeous eyes and June's stunning beauty.  I'll just roll my eyes and move on.  But their relationship is way to serious given the time frame. 

June and Day's personalities and voices are not distinct.  Aside from their differing circumstances, either character could be narrating at any given time.  If you are going to use two first-person narrators, their voices need to be clearly different from each other.  As similar as the two characters are, they should not be identical. 

Lu gets points for allowing Day to be vulnerable enough to cry, but those points are cancelled out by Day telling June, "Sorry.  I couldn't help it," to explain why he kissed her.  You'd better help it, Bucko.  Even if you are not in control of your feelings, you are certainly in control of your actions.  Words on even the hazy end of the victim-blaming spectrum are not romantic.

Despite all it's flaws, Legend is a decently enjoyable read.  The mysteries, despite the bland world, are intriguing.  The writing is fast-paced.  The plot is exciting, and the book draws you in from the first line.  Legend gets a low 3.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

End of Year 2013 Book Survey

Happy 2014!  I had a great year in books and in life.  I started teaching, which is why my posting has gotten spotty, and overall it's going well.  I love my kids (most of the time).  It's definitely a challenge, but there are moments that make it all worth while.  Despite being busy with teaching, I've been able to fit in a lot of good books.  Here are some of the highlights.  Thanks to Jamie over at The Perpetual Page Turner for the survey questions. 

1. Best Book You Read In 2013?
This is a tie between Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.  They're both beautifully and powerfully written with characters that you love and root for as they endure all this crap.  Okay for Now is also sweet and funny, so I think it wins, but only by a little bit.

2. Book You Were Excited About and Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  I know that by saying that, I'm signing up to be chased by a pitchfork-carrying mob full of feels.  I heard so much hype about it from so many people, that by the time I read it there was no way it could live up to its reputation.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? 
Either Bomb by Steve Sheinkin or How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg.  These are both non-fiction, which is a genre I don't usually enjoy.  I read Bomb because it received so many awards, but I was surprised at how compelling of a narrative it presented.  How They Croaked is quirky and a delightfully gruesome book for reluctant readers.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?
Definitely, Okay for Now.  I finished it and went to school the next day and recommended it to all my kids, and most everyone else too.

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?
The League of Princes by Christopher Healey (aka The Hero's Guide to...).  I'm a sucker for fairy tale retellings, and these are just hilarious.  They delve into the oft ignored stories of the Prince Charmings with fabulous, funny characters.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?
Christopher Paul Curtis.  I know he's not a new author, but I rediscovered his writing this year while reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 and realized that I really like his style.  
Honorable mention goes to Ruta Sepetys, Merrie Haskel, Jane Nickerson, and Terry Pratchet.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
Monster by Walter Dean Meyers.  I don't read a lot of realistic fiction, particularly about inner city kids, but this book had me on the edge of my seat as it approached the end of the trial.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel.  Sky pirates.  End of story.

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?
The Fault in Our Stars. I want to give it a second chance now that I can approach it with more reasonable expectations.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

This cover is gorgeous in person.  I love scroll work.

11. Most memorable character in 2013?
Monsieur Bernard from
Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson.  Bernard's true, abusive self is revealed so gradually, it's chilling.  Honorable mention goes to Death from The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?
Okay for Now.  Schmidt weaves Audubon's paintings in with the narrative excellently.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?
Between Shades of Gray.  It is both depressing and inspiring.  And I didn't know anything at all about the Russian concentration camps.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited until 2013 to finally read?
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?
"I've seen so many young men over the years who think they're running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me." -- Death, The Book Thief

"The element of surprise can offer a hero great advantage in battle. The element of oxygen - also important." -- The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healey.

"The purpose of a storyteller is is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think on." -- Wit, The Way of Kings

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?
Shortest--Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack by Shannon Hale tie at 144 pages

Longest--The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson 1007 pages

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer.  The grandmother scene.  Just.  Aaaaaahhhh!

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013.
Family--Catherine and David in Rules by Cynthia Lord

Friends--Prince Gustav and Prince Frederic from The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healey
Romantic--Miri and Peder in Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously.
I've already talked about Okay for Now a lot, so I'll say Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 and 
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens.

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?
Without question, fantasy.  Fairy tale retellings ranks up there pretty high too.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?
I don't crush on fictional boys anymore, but if I had to choose, I'd go with Peder from Palace of Stone.  He's like the Gilbert Blythe of fantasy.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?
Strands of Bronze and Gold.  So creepy.

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?
The Way of Kings.  Brandon Sanderson is a master of world building.

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?
Airborn and 
How they Croaked.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

Okay for Now.  Actual tears running down my face.  Also Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, which was a bit of a problem since at the time I was trying to teach it to my 7th graders.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

Have you guessed yet?  Okay for Now.

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2013 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014?
Code Name Veirty by Elizabeth Wein.  I got this for my classroom library, but before I could read it one of my students checked it out and two others put their names on a waiting list.  As soon as they finish with it, I will read it.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2014 (non-debut)?
Cress by Marissa Meyer.  Prince Kai and Queen Levana and Cinder and dfaljkkdsfaa!!!!  I have to know what happens!

3. 2014 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?
Sekret by Lindsay Smith.  Spies and psychics and the KGB.

4. Series Ending You Are Most Anticipating in 2014?
I don't think any of the series I'm following end this year, so I'll list The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell because it needs a sequel.  I need to know more about Reveka's awesome underworld powers.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2014?
I want to read with greater variety.  I was doing a better job of this before school started.  Now I read whatever I'm in the mood for, can finish quickly, or have in my classroom library.  This leads to me reverting to my favorite genres.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Review: Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen

Scarlet--A. C. Gaughen
February 2012 by Walker Children's
292 pages--Goodreads

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

Aaarg!!  This book was such a disappointment.  I wanted Scarlet to be an awesome adventure about the girl hiding in plain sight among the Merry Men.  I wanted to know where she came from and why she was hiding from Gisbourne and how she got so good at knife throwing and why she dressed up like a man and why she joined Robin's group and how she hid her identity from the world.  Basically I wanted an Alanna-esque character inserted into the Robin Hood mythology.

Of all the stories that didn't need a stupid, stupid love triangle!  This could have been such a good book with knife throwing and daring escapes and hangings.  But instead, we spent the whole book listening to Robin, John, and Scarlet angst about who would get together with whom, completely ignoring the more important and deadly things going on.  Yes, Alanna had a love triangle too, but the adventure and the fate of the kingdom always came first.  The external plot or internal non-romantic conflict in a novel will always be more interesting to me than romantic angst.

And the best part of the awful unnecessary romance:  Robin, who never said a word to John about sleeping around, calls Scarlet a "whore" for accepting a little comfort in a moment when she is scared and injured and in shock.  And his reason for doing this?  "Hurting you is the best way I know to punish myself."  What kind of messed up crap is that?!  That statement is so close to justification for domestic abuse, I can't believe it made the final cut into the novel.  We'll just log it away with Carosel's If-he loves-you-it-doesn't-hurt-when-he-hits-you message.

The slightly less annoying or unsettling problems in the novel include:

  • The trust timeline was unrealistic.  Scarlet had been working with Robin and company for almost two years before the book gets started, and she didn't trust them at all.  Then, once we finish the first few chapters, she suddenly trusts them.  Because reasons.
  • Robin needs to be an adult.  Otherwise, the myth loses a lot of its significance.  Robin has to be a man when he returns from the crusades to find his lands seized and his people starving.  You can't blame a mere boy for letting his people down, but Robin the man has to accept that responsibility.  If you're going to make Robin a teenager, you better have a very good reason for doing it, and angst is not a good enough reason.

Scarlet was so disappointing, and yet frustratingly addictive.  I couldn't stop reading, even though I didn't like it.  This book sullies the good name of Scarlet.  Go read a good Scarlet instead where Marissa Meyer proves that a romantic sub plot can enhance rather than completely derail the main plot.


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