L: White’s “And I Darken”

I’ll cut right to the chase: I didn’t like this book. I blame myself as much as I blame the book. I heard about this one when the publisher company was book talking new and upcoming releases at my local book store. Ultimately, I was under the impression that this would be a very different book than it ended up being and, unfortunately, the version in my head was way better than the reality.

How did I get the wrong impression? Well, the book talker may have given a synopsis and, in my desire for a killer book, I misunderstood and came up with my own assumptions. On the other hand, the book talker may not have actually read the book and book talked it according to what she thought the book would be, so my assumptions matched her misleading book talk. Regardless, I was under the impression that the book would have vampiric elements; not like Twilight-style, but similar to the original vampire story, Dracula. I feel as though that assumption is totally validated when the main character is the daughter of literature’s most famous vampire, Vlad Dracul. I was dead wrong.

Let’s review the blurb:

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point

Nothing to indicate vampires in there, I agree. But still, don’t sass me about anticipating vampires in a book about Dracula. No, there was 0% vampiric activity; instead it was, honest to God, 90% feelings, which is decidedly not my jam. There was anger and resentment about being unhappy and there was anger and resentment about being happy. There were attempts to navigate the turbulent waters of sexuality, and there was crying. So much crying. Don’t get me wrong; I, too, have emotions and often enjoy seeing them reflected in my readings. But as is the case in real life, overdoing anything can result in a lack of poignancy. A smattering of emotions throughout the book would have been better than the pouring out of hearts on every page. I grew tired of it and it lost its meaning.

The other issue is that the character weren’t very likable to me. There is something to be said about feeling an emotional attachment, or maybe relating to a character. I saw nothing of myself in any of these characters and, on top of that, I did see reflections of personalities I generally find unlikable. Lada was meant to be a strong female protagonist, and sometimes she was, but other times, the character was so determined to be independent that she was often highly destructive to others and herself. Lada is not a female character that I would ever want young female readers to emulate. She had some serious self-damaging issues. The two other main characters were Lada’s brother, Radu, and their mutual friend/captor/whatever else he was, Mehmed. I didn’t like either of them, either. Radu started as a sniveling little whiny baby and grew up into a sniveling little whiny young man. He faced some issues, yes, and I gave him credit for being brave and mature when he earned it, but honestly, 75% of his presence is just self-pity and self-loathing. Now, would a troubled young man learn something from reading Radu’s story? I cannot say; I could never read from that perspective, myself. There may be some value in Radu’s story and some readers may relate to his trials and find solace. If so, AMAZING! Otherwise, I disliked him very much. Essentially, the same goes for Mehmed. He was an entitled brat who treated his friends like garbage and was so very emotional. No thanks.

This book contained constant displays of unhealthy relationships, not stopping with showing realistic depictions, but almost validating the extreme circumstances and making it seem as though the moral of the story was that love makes you miserable. Such may be the case in some instances, but it shouldn’t be lauded as the best way to love, nor the only way. Some love is mutual, respectful, unconditional. There was no such love in this story. Love did some serious damage in this book and I would hate to hand this book to a teen who is only just learning how to give and receive love, since I think it could do more to damage them than to help.

I wish I hadn’t bought this one. Usually, if I dislike a book, I can validate a purchase by making it a classroom library text, but I will need to keep a close watch on who is reading this one.

Has anyone else read it?! I’m honestly dying to know what others think and to talk with someone who liked it! Maybe I’m being too harsh? Talk to me!

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Waitin’, Anticipatin’ (Fall)

There are a lot of works to look forward to this fall! With Grad School classes, work at the brewery, Practicum, and wedding planning, I’m not confident that I’ll get to these in a timely manner, but one can always hope, right? Some of these are for me (shout out to Foer, Blake, and Corey), while others have promise for speaking to students. So excited!

Publication Date: 8/9/16 by Thomas Dunne Books

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible “adult” around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.

Publication Date: 9/6/16 by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

Unfolding over four tumultuous weeks, in present-day Washington, D.C., Here I Am is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. As Jacob and Julia and their three sons are forced to confront the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living, a catastrophic earthquake sets in motion a quickly escalating conflict in the Middle East. At stake is the very meaning of home–and the fundamental question of how much life one can bear.

Publication Date: 9/20/16 by HarperTeen

Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

Publication Date: 11/1/16 by Orbit

The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them.

James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network.

But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante’s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity.

Publication Date: 11/8/16 by Feiwel and Friends

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king’s marriage proposal, she meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship.

Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Publication Date: 11/8/16 by Delacorte Press

Hope is sick of everyone treating her like she’s breakable. Sure, she has cystic fibrosis (basically really bad lungs), but she’s tired of being babied by her mom and her overprotective best friend, Ethan, not to mention worrying about paying for her expensive medication and how she’s going to afford college. And she’s bored with life in her run-down New Orleans suburb.

When an invitation arrives from a mysterious group that calls itself the Society, Hope jumps at the chance for some excitement. This could be her ticket out. All she has to do is complete a few dares and she might win some real money.

But the Society isn’t all it seems . . . and soon Hope finds that playing the game isn’t a choice—it’s a requirement.

What works are you anticipating?! As always, we love to hear from you!

 

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L: FEELINGS ABOUND: “HP & the Cursed Child”

Don’t worry, this is not a review. No chance of spoilers. I’m really just wanting to get some feelings out there, because HOT DANG, are there a lot of feelings coursing through my body right now. I don’t want to do a review, though, and I’ll tell you why. Before reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I knew very little about the subject, except that it takes place later and focuses on one of Harry’s kids. Truly, that was the extent of my knowledge. I could not be happier with that general lack of information, since every page contained surprises, mentions, cameos and more that gave me so much joy in each surprise.

 

I am a person who hates surprises, even good ones, for the most part. I want to be in the know, so much so that I made Hannah tell me who died in each HP book before I would read it. With each passing year, I think my brain ejects more and more of my memories in order make room for more emotions and feelings, much to my dismay. So, now, when confronted with a surprise, not only am I reminded of my lack of control of my life, but I also get really emotional about stupid things.

All this to say, I cried a great deal while reading this book. 90% of this is due to my obsession with the series and the unquantifiable amount of love that I feel for these characters, but also I think much of this can be attributed to my own memories of teen experiences and my worries for my future students. Life is hard for teens; relationships with parents can be… turbulent; now imagine being the son of The Boy Who Lived, and those difficulties understandably multiply. All in all, I’m so excited for me! I just read something I never thought would exist and it was every bit as powerful, progressive, mature, reminiscent, and individualized as I ever could have hoped it would be. But more than that, I truly cannot wait to put this into the hands of students. This book deals with some very relevant issues to which teens just seem to relate. Cursed Child does a great job of showing multiple perspectives, so maybe readers who relate to Albus Potter’s trials and tribs will gain perspective while reading Harry’s thoughts, and vice-versa.

Undoubtedly, this is a powerful read for adults and children, alike.

Now, let’s talk about the screenplay format. SO WHAT?! WHO CARES?! BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU GET!! Okay, done talking about that.

IMG_20160731_240409297_HDRYes, miracle of miracles, I did stay awake long enough to relive my days of youth by going to the midnight release. I wasn’t going to originally. I pre-ordered the book so access to a copy was never an issue and Honey Girl is getting to the point where at 10:05… I’m OUT! However, when I thought about it, I realized that I never thought I’d would get to do a midnight release of HP ever again, so passing on it just because I’m emotionally elderly just seemed ill-conceived. If anything is worth a late night, it’s a Harry Potter release. So I went and there is photographic proof.

On a sidebar to that, I now need to give a quick shout out to my mother for being the best mom in the world. We lived over an hour away from the nearest release location back in the day, so not only would she let me stay up and attend a midnight release with the rabid masses, but she would drive for over an hour to get my butt there and then drive for an hour back home (in complete silence since I was reading and needed silence). I live like 8 miles from Avid Bookshop, so that distance and prolonged sleepiness wasn’t even a factor and, still, I was effectively zombified by 10:30. She is a true champ and book enabler and she deserves a cake and a lifetime of gratitude. She already has the gratitude, so now I need to make her a cake.

Anyway, appreciate your parents, read it, and PLEASE someone discuss with me!!!!

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Teachery Style

Remember a few months ago when I detailed the many Teachery Tools that I fully intend to include in my future classroom? Well, even more than having cool things, I love wearing cool things. There are WAY too many amazing garments out there, so I can’t waste my time wearing basic crap! Thus, my Teachery Style post. See below and covet, or just buy.

 

 

I wear a lot of dresses, but modesty is the name of my game, so I have a lot of patterned and colored tights. I cannot fathom a better addition to my collection than these Where the Wild Things Are themed tights. Yes, please, now.

 

 

 

 

LOOK AT THESE SHOES!! I mean, can you please?! They’re pricey and shoes are not my weakness, but if they were, I’d be broke but so teacher-chic! Also, I’ve bought a million dresses (there’s that weakness) from Modcloth and I can vouch for the quality & customer service. These things matter when you spend good money.

 

 

According to legend, this company is capable of getting nearly a whole text on a shirt. This is Beowulf. I own the shirt for Frankenstein and, I have to admit, I have not done the research to see whether it is there in its entirety, but I actually don’t care either way. Regardless, these shirts are cool, unique, and cool again. They have shirts, posters, and tote bags in about a bajillion texts with unique images for each. ALSO, for every shirt purchased, Litographs donates a book to a community in need. Buy one. No DUH!

 

This scarf is on my Christmas list. We all know how I love classic covers and warmth.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, it’s winter and you just need some Poe socks. Also, I got a Gatsby sweater from Out of Print Clothing and I get compliments every time I wear it, not to mention that it feels like wearing a cloud. Again, highly recommend.

 

 

 

 

 

This most beautiful bracelet, featuring the infamous Moby Dick. This shop has a lot of quality jewelry with amazing quotes!

 

 

 

Guys, I know as well as anyone what it feels like to be strapped for cash. I mean, I’m in Grad School… to be a teacher. But that just means that when you spend money, you need to get quality items that will last you a long time and will bring you years of joy. I have bought from many of these shops and I plan to buy from the rest, so I can vouch for the fact that these shops are cranking out quality items that will help you feel as beautifully unique as you undoubtedly are! I’m putting these items on this blog because we, the bookish, understand each other; we know how good it feels to geek out over our favorite works, and how much better it feels when someone says “Oh, cool Smaug” about your tattoo, when most people guess it’s a snake or seahorse. Please. No. I appreciate my bookish people and I appreciate the shops that exist to help you and me geek out as hard as possible. Now let’s show some love!

 

 

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L: Bartoletti’s “Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow”

I’m having a hard time articulating my thoughts about this book into sentences that are half as meaningful as anything included in this 150 page, picture-filled book that is astoundingly categorized as Juvenile Non-faction. I am fascinated by WWII and Holocaust accounts, so my reading on the subject has been relatively widespread, but this was easily one of the most profound texts I have read about WWII Germany and the horrific inflictions upon the Jewish (and other non-Aryan) communities from 1926 to 1945 under Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror.

hitler

Honestly, no review containing my own words and thoughts could serve as a better recommendation for this text than its own images and words. Unfortunately, I had to return the book before I remembered that I wanted to include direct quotes, but at the same time, that would have been a problem since I would’ve want to quote every single line; every sentence and every photo shed more light on the devastating details of Germany’s actions during WWII and the ways in which Hitler managed to recruit ultimately 7 million young Germans into the Hitler Youth, a group of the Neonazi Party that focused on young “Aryan” Germans, ages 13 to 18, and prepared them to assist in Germany’s martial efforts to take control of Europe. My eyes were opened to the countless rights I take for granted today, since those same rights were robbed from anyone and everyone who even seemed not to support Hitler. The harshest punishments were inflicted on those who did not support Hitler’s cause, and everyone, supporters or not, were at the mercy of the Fuhrer’s whims.

hitler3

2I say all of this because I’m afraid for my country. When I read about the power that a fanatical leader can hold over millions of willingly ignorant followers, I can’t help but be frightened by the echoes of a similar level of radical injustice that is unmistakably present in U.S. politics today. There are still people who absurdly believe that the Holocaust never happened, and even that is addressed in Bartoletti’s text, but blind obedience and willing ignorance can make millions of people do terrible things and, unless we educate ourselves on how it happened last time, history may truly be doomed to repeat itself.

1That means only one thing: we must educate ourselves. I thought about doing a “Love This, Try This” segment for this review, but it seemed too cheap, and I had a hard time narrowing it down to one recommendation. Thus, I will give all the recommendations I can think of that will help shed light on the atrocities that occurred, so as to prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again. I know enlightenment on genocide isn’t exactly at the top of anyone’s To-Do List, but PLEASE look into at least one of these things.

***All of the images above were featured in Bartoletti’s text***

Books:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Documentaries/Shows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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L: Yoon’s “Everything, Everything”

I read this book in one day. Granted, it was a day spent alone in a strange city waiting for my fiancé to get off work, but the point is that this book can easily be devoured in one lazy day and then you can consider it a day well spent.

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Everything, Everything fits into the genre fiction category of “sick lit,” meaning that one of the main characters suffers from some sort of illness. This genre is gaining momentum in the literary world, especially in YA. As you now know from the synopsis, Yoon’s protagonist, Madeline, has a disease that essentially has her under house arrest. Now, you’d think this would be the prime opportunity for some stereotypical teen angst and sulking, but instead, readers have been gifted with the most optimistic, buoyant, and humorous (and clearly fictional) teen I’ve ever encountered, in real life or books. This disease confines Maddy, undoubtedly, but it does not define her and she finds joy in the simple things in a way that I, as a reader, envied. Of course, all of that goes to crap once she gets a crush on a boy, but even imaginary teens are still teens.

Yoon deftly navigates readers through some really murky waters, addressing love (obviously), death of loved ones, domestic abuse, self-confidence, the value of life, the loss of trust, and forgiveness. To me, I found the humor to be the most powerful and ongoing influences within the text. If anyone has a right to be crabby, it’s Maddy, and she certainly experiences an exhausting range of emotions throughout this novel, but her humor persists, showing that each individual chooses how s/he will react to any and all circumstances. The characters were relatable and likable, so the emotions while reading were strong and meaningful, and the writing truly felt like I was in the mind of a teen, albeit an abnormally mature one.

I think this is one of those books that could speak to teens on a lot of levels, and in most ways, I trust the messages kids can read out of this text. Sick lit may offer some severe depictions, but I think it touches upon the feelings of isolation and other-ness that teens often feel, usually based on the smallest of differences. Take, for instance, Maddy’s freckles. They are mentioned numerous times in the book; for Madeline, they are a source of embarrassment and a flaw, while for Olly, they’re a source of attraction, a unique eye-catcher. Madeline disliked her freckles until Olly came along and liked them, and now she’s all proud. If I were one of her freckles, I’d be like, “um, no, gurl. That ship has sailed. You had your chance.” I understand that the emphasis on freckles was included because teens, especially females, often to hate the traits that separate them from the pack, and maybe this book hoped to speak to them and ultimately show them that our differences are what make us uniquely beautiful, but why, oh why, do we always need someone else to come along and tell us that?! Why did Madeline’s self esteem need to be gallantly saved by the man brave enough to see beauty in her flaws?! This is where I have to give endless props to Emmy Laybourne’s protagonist in SWEET. That right there is a girl who is beautiful and needs no man’s reassurances, and I think YA needs more confident girls and fewer girls in need of reassuring. Rant over.

Anyway, this will be a hot item on my classroom bookshelf, I have no doubt. However, this is certainly a girl book, no doubt about it. Lots of feelings in this one. I ultimately gave it 5 stars for being so sweet and so positive and so so CUTE!

Side note: I do not understand the title or cover art, so someone please enlighten me.

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Combo: Review of Myers’ “Monster” and Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary (…)”

I’m doing a combo review today, partly because I’m tearing through these books like a bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms, and partly because I don’t have too terribly much to say about a few of these books. But first, the obligatory synopsis courtesy of Goodreads:

This New York Times bestselling novel and National Book Award nominee from acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers tells the story of Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial. Presented as a screenplay of Steve’s own imagination, and peppered with journal entries, the book shows how one single decision can change our whole lives.

Fade In: Interior: Early Morning In Cell Block D, Manhattan Detention Center.

Steve (Voice-Over)
Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady prosecutor called me … Monster.

Monster was one of those books that I’m convinced could truly help readers of the right audience, but the fit would have to be juuuust right. The story is told as a screenplay as the main character, Steven, goes through his trial.

The good news is that the story includes journal entries here and there, which give chilling depictions of Steven’s time in juvie and these journals could easily speak to readers who are facing similar circumstances or choices. The bad news is that the story also includes transcripts of courtroom proceedings and, thus, a lot of legalese. The jargon regularly overwhelmed the story and, although it offered readers a glimpse of a life spent fighting for freedom, the transcript style was far less convincing and relatable than the journals. I was filled with sadness for Steven while simultaneously being utterly unsure about what happened in that convenience store. I think this was on purpose, since Myers wanted readers to decide whether Steven was guilty based on evidence, just like a juror. I just finished with the stong hope that none of my students ever endure circumstances like those, which was a powerful and meaningful take-away.

On the one hand, I think this would be a valuable read for students who may be struggling with friend groups or decisions about life paths, but on the other hand I think the legal emphasis could easily overwhelm and discourage that same student. Regardless, I was not the intended audience and that was painfully obvious throughout my reading, but it didn’t prevent me from seeing value for other readers.

Another recent completion was Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Synopsis:

Born poor and hydrocephalic, Arnold Spirit survives brain surgery. But his enormous skull, lopsided eyes, profound stuttering, and frequent seizures target him for abuse on his Indian reservation. Protected by a formidable friend, the book-loving artist survives childhood. And then – convinced his future lies off the rez – the bright 14-year-old enrolls in an all-white high school 22 miles away.

That synopsis manages to symplify a book that is anything but simple. I completed this one via Audiobook and, I’ll just be honest, while I appreciated that the author narrated it himself, his voice was distracting. It was some sort of stoner/dracula/Bob Dylan combo, that served no purpose but to distract me with every passing word.

Aside from that, the story was so unbelievably depressing at times and hopeful at others that I was just exhausted. This kid, Arnold, has to take the cake for the most pity-enducing story, what with his physical deformaties, mental handicaps, extreme poverty, alcoholic parents, bullying neighbors, racist classmates, friend turned ex-friend, murdered pet, and the fact that loved ones keep dropping like flies. I can understand an author seiezing one or even a few of these tropes and writing about them, but all of them?! Are you trying to make me die of sadness overload?

Don’t get me wrong, the book had beautiful, profound, stunningly hopeful moments that really gave hope to readers, but make no mistake it beat you into the ground before it even thought about picking you up and giving you a reason to smile. I have a number of friends who love this book, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that this is one of those books that was ruined by the narration, and I’ll certainly have it in my classroom for students who might be enduring any of the countless hardships Arnold Spirit navigates with relentless humor and positivity. It is just as uplifting as it is devastating; such is life.

I have a lot more reviews to complete, but I also have a few more books for my summer classes and those take prescedence, so I hope you all will be patient with me. More to come soon, but feel free to follow me on Goodreads for quicker updates. Happy summer readings!!

 

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