Friday, January 31, 2014

Review: The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

Publish date: May 2013
Source: Classroom library
Format: Hardcover
Length: 329 pages
"17-year-old Verity Boone expects a warm homecoming when she returns to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, in 1867, pledged to marry a man she has never met. Instead, she finds a father she barely knows and a future husband with whom she apparently has nothing in common. One truly horrifying surprise awaits her: the graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages outside the local cemetery. Nobody in town will explain why, but Verity hears rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Perhaps the cages were built to keep grave robbers out . . . or to keep the women in. Determined to understand, Verity finds herself in a life-and-death struggle with people she trusted.

Inspired by a pair of real caged graves in present-day Catawissa, this historical YA novel weaves mystery, romance, and action into a suspenseful drama with human greed and passion at its core.
" (Goodreads)

I first heard about The Caged Graves when I was at ALA and was immediately sucked in by the cover and title while walking around one day. It came out in May, so we got copies for our classroom libraries this fall and I can't believe I waited until now to read it! I absolutely loved it!

The Caged Graves is basically my favorite kind of historical fiction, in that the setting doesn't overwhelm the story. I love historical fiction, but find that sometimes the setting takes over, which usually means I'm not a fan of the book. Instead, the time period of just after the Civil War was a great complement to Verity's story. I loved Verity herself and all of her intelligence and curiosity. Also: she decided to come back to Catawissa to enter her marriage. I think the blurb makes it seem like the was forced into it. Nope.

I really love that there are actual caged graves in Catawissa. Author Dianne Salerni found them in an abandoned graveyard and after not being able to find out why the cages were there, decided to write a book about them. It's just the best when historical fiction makes me want to learn more about actual events, so you better believe if I ever go to PA, I will be going to see these cages!

If you are in the mood for addicting and interesting historical fiction, check out The Caged Graves! I don't think it's gotten the attention it deserves and I look forward to pushing it on people :)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio (January Adventures through Awkwardness)

Publish date: 2012
Source: Classroom library
Format: Hardcover
Length: 315 pages
"August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.
" (Goodreads)

So obviously I've heard of Wonder...who hasn't? Everyone loves this book but I still didn't feel the need to read it, probably because of the age of Auggie. What can I say? I tend to be drawn to books with older protagonists. I figured it would make a good choice for January's Adventures through Awkwardness challenge, since the genre is contemporary, and I was right!

Wonder is the story of Auggie, born with a facial deformity and starting 5th grade. He's never been to a real school before and is afraid of being the new kid, like we all would be. The story is essentially his 5th grade school year, taking us through the ups and downs of being the new kid and him trying to show his classmates that he's just a normal person too. Some of the kids were predictably terrible to him but some were surprisingly nice and providing some good moments in the book. Auggie's parents were very supportive, which was nice to see as well. I didn't really have any issues with the storyline.

The one thing that kind of confused me while reading was the multiple points of view. I liked reading from Via's POV but didn't think any of the others were necessary. I thought they took away from the story, especially a few that only were around for a few pages. I also had issues with certain conflicts not being resolved, but instead just forgotten about (but maybe that's just me reading this as an adult reader).

Overall, I think Wonder has huge appeal for late elementary and middle school readers. I know some teachers are starting to include this in their curriculum, which is great, and should provide some excellent conversations in class. If you've read it, what did you think?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Audiobook Review: Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Narrator: Natalie Moore
Publish date: 2006
Source: Library
Length: 6 hours 7 minutes
"When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D. J. can’t help admitting, maybe he’s right. 

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Stuff like why her best friend, Amber, isn’t so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret. Why her college-football-star brothers won’t even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.
" (Goodreads)

I'd been meaning to read Dairy Queen for quite a while, mostly because of people's reviews and not because the book necessarily sounded like my kind of book. I'm usually a tough sell on contemps, so it took me a while to decide to read it. I actually picked up the audiobook at the library, which is a good way for me to read books I'm feeling iffy about. Dairy Queen, though, ended up being great and I really wish I hadn't waited so long to read it!

One of the reasons I liked Dairy Queen was not the sports aspect of it, as I'm not a football person, but it was where D.J. lived and what her family did. I live and teach in a rural area myself (although did not grow up in one) and really enjoyed that a lot of this book took place on a Wisconsin dairy farm. Farming and rural areas are not well represented in YA, as far as I can tell, so it was refreshing to take in that setting and read about those activities.

I thought the narrator, Natalie Moore, was a great choice for D.J. Her voice definitely sounded like a teenager and I loved her accent. Listening to this book was the right choice for me since D.J. rambles sometimes and I think that would have gotten a little boring to read. It was also just over 6 hours, making for a nice, quick read.

Basically this was a solid contemp that had lots of great elements: family dynamics, friendship issues, romance but not too much of it, and really D.J. just trying to figure out what she wants. I've already requested the audio of book 2 from the library and I love the cover with the cow!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: Pivot Point by Kasie West

Publish date: 2013
Source: Classroom Library
Format: Hardcover
Length: 352 pages
"Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.
" (Goodreads)

I had heard of this book earlier this year, but didn't pay much attention to it. However, after seeing consistently high ratings from friends on twitter and Goodreads, I decided it was time to try it out. I brought it home over winter break from my classroom library and spent a few hours kicking myself, wondering why it took so long for me to read this! Pivot Point was excellent and I think it deserves more attention.

First of all, I like the concept of the advanced psychological abilities and Addie's skill of Searching. How many of us have wanted to see into our futures to see if we're making the right choices? I know I have. I liked that each chapter alternated between her potential future with her mom at the Compound and another life with her dad in the real world. It was interesting to see what Addie knew about in the real world in terms of what we know is normal and to see what abilities other people at the compound had. All fun to read about!

I also really liked that this book wasn't just about meeting guys and falling in love. Addie has complicated relationships with boys, her parents, and her friends, making the book that much more enjoyable. I think I initially didn't pay attention to Pivot Point when it came out because the synopsis makes it seem like it's all about boys, but the book is about much more than that.

If you are looking for an interesting take on powers, but a book that reads more like a contemporary, try Pivot Point! I would not consider myself a big paranormal fan, but I was very pleasantly surprised by this (and it really does seem like realistic fiction!).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Middle Grade Challenge: Adventures Through Awkwardness

Well, I've decided to take part in a reading challenge this year! The wonderful Lisa (Lisa is Busy Nerding) and Amy (Tripping Over Books) are hosting a 2014 Middle Grade Challenge called Adventures Through Awkwardness. If you like MG or want to read more MG, sign up!

I never considered myself a fan of middle grade until recently, due to reading Counting by 7s last year and The Lightning Thief (my first book of 2014!). I really liked both and it made me realize that there is awesome stuff in MG that I don't know anything about! That definitely needs to change.

Check out Lisa or Amy's blog to find out the details for the challenge, but basically there's a genre within MG assigned to each month. Read a book within that genre and post your review that month, linking up to either Lisa or Amy's post (depending on who is hosting). Easy!

January's genre is contemporary, so I was thinking of reading Wonder by RJ Palacio (if students don't have it checked out) or a fun looking one I have at school, Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur. Looking ahead, February is fantasy, so that might be a good time to read more Percy Jackson with The Sea of Monsters!

Please let me know if you have any MG suggestions!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Publish date: August 2013
Source: Classroom library
Format: Hardcover
Length: 384 pages
"Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
" (Goodreads)

I will be honest: I would not have read Counting by 7s if my coworker, another English teacher, hadn't mentioned how much she loved it. I obviously noticed it as I shelved it in my classroom library, but it didn't jump out at me, screaming to be read. I decided to read it because I trust her recommendations and wow, was she right! This book was amazing!

Counting by 7s is middle grade, but don't let that deter you (if it does). I would not call myself a reader of MG by any means, but I absolutely adored this and it changed my mind about what MG lit can be. I was completely sucked into Willow's story and could have easily read this in one day if I'd had the time. I essentially loved every single thing about this story and wish I could spend more time with the characters.

I also loved Holly Goldberg Sloan's writing style here, which definitely fit with Willow's quirky characteristics. It wasn't like the book was narrated by her, but the third person omniscient just fit so well here. Typically that style does not mesh with me, but not the case!

It's hard for me to explain exactly why I liked this one so much, so just take my word for it. This is a solid, wonderfully written middle grade about the power of family and friendship and finding your people that everyone should read. Quite possibly my favorite book of 2013!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Publish date: September 24, 2013
Source: ALA
Format: ARC
Length: 320 pages
"Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….
" (Goodreads)

While attending the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago over the summer, I met the fabulous and amazing Mindy McGinnis, whose debut novel, Not a Drop to Drink, was published in September. I actually met her at a meet-up Friday night (along with Debra Driza!) and then went to her signing at the Harper Collins booth the next day. She is smart and hilarious and you will love her if you get the chance to meet her. I hope I can go to another of her signings someday so I can tell her how much I loved Not a Drop to Drink!

The premise of Not a Drop to Drink is amazing because it is so scarily real. Limited drinking water creating havoc in the future? I can definitely imagine that (and am happy I have a pond at my house...just in case!). Lynn lives with her mom, guarding their pond from people trying to steal water. This is definitely a survival story, so if you are looking for a government conspiracy dystopian, this isn't it. But read this one too!

McGinnis's writing style works perfectly with the events happening in the book. It's concise and straightforward, with no extra words, working perfectly with the tone and mood of the novel. At first I was a little put off by it, until I realized more of what the story was about and then it made perfect sense.

Not a Drop to Drink was my favorite debut I read last year and one of my favorite 2013 reads, period. In my 2013 book survey, I classified it under science-fiction, but I don't even know that it really is. Read it for yourself and let me know what you think!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

Publish date: December 24, 2013
Source: ALA
Format: ARC
Length: 288 pages
"When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.
" (Goodreads)

I read Roomies over the summer after picking up an ARC from the generous publishers at ALA in Chicago. I have previously loved Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl and How to Save a Life, so I was sure I'd like her newest, co-written with Tara Altebrando. Books with two authors fascinate me, as I don't think I'm the type that could do that, but this book turned out fantastically with two excellent authors.

Roomies is written from two points of view: Elizabeth and Lauren, two girls who will be roommates during their freshmen year of college. Zarr writes from Lauren's POV and Altebrando writes Elizabeth's, which works out very well here (although if you've read How to Save a Life, you know Zarr can do two POV's masterfully). I loved how different both girls were and how true to life the story was in terms of starting college. You room with someone you don't know, sometimes leave family behind, and start over in a new place.

I was surprised at how much I ended up enjoying Roomies. I thought it was well-written and brought me back to that summer after high school when I "met" my freshman roommate for the first time via phone and email. It was a summer of beginnings and endings, and I think Zarr and Altebrando captured that perfectly. This book hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but it's definitely a solid contemporary you should read. I'm picky about my realistic fiction, so if I recommend one, you know it's good :)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My 2013 Book Survey

I'm back! (I think.) I took an unofficial break from blogging there for a few months, but I'm ready to start again with reviews and Top Ten Tuesdays. Over the last month or so, I've been missing writing reviews and interacting with other bloggers, so the new year seemed like a great time to start posting again.

I'm starting the year with my 2013 book survey and I'll post some reviews after that!

This fun survey was created by Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner, one of my favorite bloggers. All questions belong to her and answers to me :) All links go to Goodreads!

1. Best book you read in 2013 (broken down by genre for me)

Contemporary/realistic: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell; Counting by 7's by Holly Goldberg Sloan; The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Science fiction/fantasy: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis (is it sci-fi?); The Program by Suzanne Young; Pivot Point by Kasie West

Historical fiction: Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

Audiobook: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

2. Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love, but didn't?

This seemed to be the year that books fell short for me, so just to name a few: Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols, Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan, and Defiance by CJ Redwine. OH and Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney.

3. Most surprising (in a good way) book of 2013?

Pivot Point! I was not expecting to like it as much as I did.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people the most?

Probably The Program. My student book club read it and it became very popular at school, which is awesome!

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

Pivot Point and The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe (have only read the first of each series)

6. Favorite new author you discovered?

Rainbow Rowell, for sure! I loved Attachments, Eleanor & Park, and Fangirl this year.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone?

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer. I didn't think I would like it, but I did!

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book of 2013?

Either The Program or The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.

9. Book you read in 2013 that you are most likely to reread?

I don't reread much, but I found it was really helpful to reread Divergent & Insurgent and Legend & Prodigy before finishing the respective series, so probably...The Program or The Way We Fall.

10. Favorite cover?

11. Most memorable character?

Probably Cath from Fangirl. I found a lot of myself in her. And definitely Willow from Counting by 7's.

12. Most beautifully written book?

I loved the writing style of Counting by 7's and The One and Only Ivan.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you?

Hmm...The Program brought up a lot of great questions that really made me think. Professionally, Kelly Gallagher's Readicide will make you rethink reading in schools. Read it.

14. Book you can't believe you waited until 2013 to FINALLY read?

The Scorpio Races, although I listened to that one on audio.

15. Favorite passage or quote?

Yeah, let's pretend I remember or even write those down. Oops.

16. Shortest and longest books you read in 2013?

Shortest was Fables Volume 1: Legends in Exile at 128 pages (graphic novel)

Longest was The Diviners by Libba Bray at 578 pages (and I felt EVERY ONE of those pages)

17. Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to someone about it?

Allegiant, for sure.

18. Favorite relationship from a book?

How about Eleanor and Park? :)

19. Favorite book you read in 2013 from an author you read previously?

Either Scarlet by Marissa Meyer or Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

20. Best book you read in 2013 that you read solely based on the recommendation of someone else?

I read Counting by 7's based on my coworker's recommendation and absolutely LOVED it.

21. Genre you read the most?

Science-fiction/fantasy, followed by contemporary, graphic novels, nonfiction, and historical fiction.

22. Newest fictional crush?

Yeah, not that kind of person :)

23. Best 2013 debut?

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis. Met Mindy at ALA and she is amazing!

24. Most vivid world/imagery?

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson felt like it took me back in time

25. Book that was the most fun to read?

It was really fun to reread the Divergent series before starting Allegiant. I really enjoyed Divergent for the second time.

26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry?

I'm not a crier with books, but The One and Only Ivan brought out some feelings.

27. Book you read in 2013 that you think got overlooked?

Roomies but it did just come out in December! I also don't think Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight got enough attention.

I'm going to skip most of the blogging questions, since I was a sad excuse of a blogger this year, but I will say I did not reach my reading goal. I originally set it at 120 books, but changed it to 100 around October when I realized there's no way I'd hit 120. By December 31, I'd read 85 novels/graphic novels//audiobooks in 2013. I did not count picture books toward my total.

Looking Ahead!

1. One book you didn't get to in 2013 but will be a priority in 2014?

Cress by Marissa Meyer. I got an ARC at ALA and have been passing it around to students, but still haven't gotten to it myself. I plan on it being my next book or the one after.

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2014?

Sisters' Fate by Jessica Spotswood and The Treatment by Suzanne Young! Both sequels to favorite series.

3. 2014 debut you are most anticipating?

I have no idea! I haven't been keeping up with debuts, sadly.

4. Series ending you are most anticipating?

Sisters' Fate!

5. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2014?

Reading-wise, I'd like to read 100 books. Definitely do-able, especially if I keep up with reading over the summer and don't get distracted by Netflix :)

Blogging-wise, I'd like to blog! I want to stay motivated and write book reviews and TTT's. I took a break last year because it felt like work, but now I'm missing it and ready to start again!