Tag Archives: 5 STARS

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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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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L: Emmy Laybourne’s “SWEET” + Toon Teaser

createToon.do

Chubby bffs go on weight loss cruise; one crushes on sweetner drug, the other crushes on human boy; sweetner makes chubsters into addicted murderous zombies

Readers, I just finished the most FAB book and I cannot wait to sing its praises! I got Emmy Laybuourne’s SWEET in a recent book haul from my generous Grad professor and my expectations could not have been lower. I mean, it sounded positively ridiculous.

sweetSolu’s luxurious celebrity-filled “Cruise to Lose” is billed as “the biggest cruise since the Titanic,” and if the new diet sweetener works as promised—dropping five percent of a person’s body weight in just days—it really could be the answer to the world’s obesity problem. But Laurel is starting to regret accepting her friend Viv’s invitation. She’s already completely embarrassed herself in front of celebrity host, Tom Fiorelli (otherwise known as the hottest guy ever!) and she’s too seasick to even try the sweetener. And that’s before Viv and all the other passengers start acting really strange.

But will they die for it, too?

Tom Fiorelli knows that he should be grateful for this job and the opportunity to shed his childhood “Baby Tom-Tom” image. His publicists have even set up a ‘romance’ with a sexy reality star. But as things on the ship start to get a bit wild, he finds himself drawn to a different girl. And when his celebrity hosting gig turns into an expose on the shocking side effects of Solu, it’s Laurel that he’s determined to save.

The novel is a satire, making fun of… well, everything. The absurdity of our society’s obsession with weight and weight-loss; the danger of trusting that the things you’re ingesting are safe without doing your own research; the severity of addiction and how easily it happens; the ability to find love in unlikely places. It would be easy to read SWEET and think it’s just a ridiculous depiction of an impossible occurrence; undoubtedly, the premise of this novel is whackadoodle, but then again, is it?! Yes, Laybourne’s depiction is severe and unlikely, but far from unimaginable! The wonder drug, Solu, promises dramatic and almost instantaneous weight loss, something that I’m 100% certain real people would sign up for STAT, not just the fanatics in the novel.

Laybourne’s humor is present throughout the novel and it’s impossible (well, it was for me, at least) to read any of it without fully grasping the message, “people are CRAZY!” The story is told from the swapping perspectives of the main characters, Laurel and Tom. Laurel is a beautifully optimistic depiction of a seventeen-year-old, slightly overweight girl. She’s happy with her body, she loves her curves, she has a healthy relationship with her best friend, and aside from not being rich, she has no overwhelming resentments towards her parents! Can you believe that?! An emotionally un-scarred teen. It’s about gal-darned time!!

The first half of the book is comical, focusing on the budding love story and making fun of, again, everyone. About halfway through, though, things get so stinking REAL! S**t hits the fan in the most improbable way, and Laybourne doesn’t spare her readers any of the gory details. For me, this was an utter delight! Gross me out, girl! Give me the creeps! But for others who are not fans of horror or thriller stories, this may get a bit too heavy for you. I sincerely hope not, because this book deserves to be read by any and all. As vivid as the details were, it only emphasizes Laybourne’s point. How far will people go to be thin? Addiction is not glamorous; in the face of disaster, dignity and social status cease to mean anything. And at what point do you stop considering a person to be a person?

I adored this book. So much fun! It was a quick read, being just 250 pages, and I was utterly enthralled the whole time. This book will live in my classroom library and I’ll be sure to place it in the right hands. This could be a really poignant read for teen girls dealing with self-image and needing some perspective, but I’m in no need of body image reassurances and I got the biggest kick out of this book, so I’d also suggest it to my young readers who just love a good thrill.

I immediately texted Hannah upon finishing it and begged her to read it. We’ll see if she takes the bait. And sidebar, the book ended on a note that could totally mean there will be another book so let us all hope for the best.

Has anyone else read SWEET? I’ve not seen anyone talking about this book and I’d love to know if I’m alone in my adoration. Next up for me is Feed by M. T. Anderson. Join me, won’t you?

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L: Review of Pierce Brown’s “Morning Star”

To quote myself, “ALL THE FEELINGS THAT EXIST ARE HAPPENING IN MY BODY!!”

Thank Jove that I have friends with whom I can discuss the happenings of this novel, because I clearly cannot do it here and shower spoilers down upon you all. But I CAN discuss the roller coaster of emotions that I have experienced since starting this series in December. I need a Xanax.

I am feeling some type of way about these characters, the likes of which has not been felt since reading the Harry Potter books, ASoIaF, and LOTR. Please, do not take this statement lightly. I do not just throw around references to the favorites all willy-nilly, and I certainly don’t put anything on their level without due consideration. But dang. I have made the sacrifices; I have lost sleep, had murderous war dreams, cried like a little baby, been dooped, devastated, and overjoyed, and suffered a mild panic attack when things weren’t looking so “prime” for my book friends. The series now lives on my “All-Stars” shelf and let me tell you, it earned it.

As is always the problem with series works (except for the first), I can’t include the customary synopsis of the third and final book here since it might ruin the subsequent two for those who are climbing aboard the bandwagon. So it will have to suffice for me to talk about the feelings. The many, many feelings.

One thing that highlighted Brown’s prowess as a writer was that the readers were continually surprised. This third volume was exhausting for me, not least of all because, as I mentioned, I am emotionally invested in these characters and I needed to know whether we’d all make it safely through this together. However, the constant near-misses and political confrontations weren’t the only stress-inducers. Brown managed to lull readers into a sense of security (since we read from the main character’s perspective and thus thought we knew everything he knew) but Brown found the most heart-pounding ways to set readers straight and remind us that we’re not exempt from the surprises he has up his sleeve. I have to say, those moments of exclaiming “WHAT?! Why didn’t I know about this?!” were my favorites. Brown got me. He got me good.

Generally speaking, the final book in a series is usually a bit of a disappointment. It often feels as though the author exerted all his/her effort into establishing intrigue and conflict and then just got careless or exhausted with the final bits. S/he often resorts to some sort of deus ex machina quick fix, just trying to wrap it up, get it published, and make those final millions. “If you do books one and two well enough, they’ll buy book three, regardless of whether it’s good or not,” right? Well, yes, that’s true, but that isn’t a “get out of jail free” card that can be used to phone in a good ending. We stuck with you; we deserve pizzazz.

Pierce Brown has made me proud! He did not leave his readers hanging. It is abundantly evident that he put as much, if not more, thought into the minutiae of book three than into books one and two. The fact that book three was the pride and joy of this series was palpable. It got a bit heavy with details here and there, and my eyes glazed over during more than a few of the political discussions, but DANG, was that book every single thing I needed it to be. In terms of Morning Star being its own, individual piece of literature: bravo! But in terms of it being the third and final volume in a series: AH-MAZING!!!!

He’s writing a spin-off series = all the praise, all the time!!

5 Stars! Read it!!

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L: Review of Pierce Brown’s “Golden Son”

I have officially been labeled a disturber of the peace due to my… expressive reactions while reading Pierce Brown’s second installment in his Red Rising Trilogy, Golden Son. In spite of my better judgement, I needed to read this book in public. I knew it would solicit gasps, giggles, and tears, the likes of which I generally try to keep on lock when in public, but I was addicted to this book and what was to become of my beloved character friends from Red Rising. Just last night, I was reading my book over here, the boyfriend was reading his book over there, and I hit a MAJOR plot twist that evoked this response: “*gasp*… what? wait, WHAT?? Oh my god… whatohmyGODOHMYGOD!! WHAT?!?!? *maniacal laughter*.” The boyfriend just stopped to watch me react and process the info that had just rocked my world and, when I had calmed down to just soft murmurs of disbelief, he went back to his book, just like the random strangers I had been interrupting all week. This book is WORTH disturbing others.

Let us endure the boring part:

Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.

That’s distressingly short, don’t you think? And it has to be, considering the aforementioned dilemma of reviewing a subsequent volume in a series without spoiling the first book. This book, though, you guys, is out of this world and no dust jacket synopsis can adequately encapsulate that fact.

Whereas the first volume reflected elements of The Hunger Games Trilogy, with Darrow entering into a “game” for the entertainment of the upper class, even when his life and the lives of those he loves will be determined by his success or failure. However, in Golden Son, Darrow has now left the Institute and has entered into the world of politics. In my opinion, all hints of The Hunger Games have faded and been replaced with an essence of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. In the most flattering way possible, Brown echo’s Martin’s elements of political intrigue, familial bonds and betrayals, and the social divide enforced within the caste system. The similarities are subtle enough to be a mere tip-of-the-hat to Martin, not a blatant copycat. I have no idea whether Brown intended to emulate aspects of Martin’s series, but having read both, the similarities are clear to me.

Brown has achieved something that, to me, is a rare gift: a second volume that blows the first one out of the water! His writing is effortless, picking up where he left off in book one and including reminders of the previous events that are subtly worked into the story line, not uncomfortably forced in for reminder’s sake. The language is beautiful and evokes powerful opinions, forcing readers to take sides, pick favorites, and yearn for certain outcomes. I am emotionally invested in these characters and they immediately stand alongside my life-long favorites, the Potters, Bagginses, and Starks. Brown readily elicits emotions like victory, defeat, sorrow, hope, joy, and longing from his readers, meaning that I had to consistently remind myself that what I was reading was fake, not my life, and I needn’t feel so strongly, but I did, and still do.

5 stars. Hands down. No question. Golden Son is an undeniable success, appealing to all ages, sexes, races & creeds. I already got two friends addicted to the series, and you’re next!

Goodreads tells me the third volume, Morning Star, is expected to be published in early February. That cannot possibly come soon enough!

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L: Review of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and “Maus II”

Click here for IMDB

Click here for IMDB

I watched a movie the other night called “People, Places, Things” mostly because Jemaine Clement starred in it and I will follow him to the ends of this Earth. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when Jemaine’s character drew comics and taught a class on the ways graphic stories can convey important messages to readers. He also argued the importance of adding graphic novels to the texts discussed in college-level Literature classes and that the genre’s absence from Literature classes keeps its stories from being perceived as a legitimate form of literature. The presence of these elements of what I assumed would be a typical romantic comedy took me by surprise since just last week I read my first graphic novel and immediately saw the value of adding it to a classroom setting.

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

Every person learns differently. Every person has different interests and skills that can affect the way that they intake information, or fail to do so. I, for one, am a very visual learner. I can hear something all day long and I’ll absorb it as well as possible, but when I see something, not visualize but physically see it, my ability to retain that information is increased tenfold. Herein lies arguably the most valuable feature of the graphic novel. Not only am I reading the author’s words, but I’m unmistakably seeing what (s)he intended for me to see. Now, some may argue that this removes the reader’s ability to use their imagination to formulate the images, but I say poo-poo to that argument. Sometimes, the author needs to convey messages that may be beyond the reader’s imagination, or at least outside of what readers may be comfortable picturing. Such was the case with Art Spiegelman’s graphic novels, Maus and Maus II.

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

The stories are told from the perspective of Art who is telling the story of his father, Vladek Spiegelman’s, experiences during World War II and the Holocaust. Understanding the horrific magnitude of Vladek’s memories would be visceral and disturbing enough if told in a standard, narrative novel format, but the use of images to support the story and offer visual perspective elevates the level of understanding and thereby disbelief at the atrocities recounted in the stories. Through my reading experience, I repeatedly noted that in order for these novels to be incorporated into a high school classroom, I would have to ensure that my students were mature enough to digest the information appropriately, or simply limit their exposure to the most graphic parts by only reading excerpts instead of the whole. However, I don’t wish to do that in my classroom. The fact that these things are hard to read does not in any way mean that they should not be read, and we do not reverse the course of history by veiling the truth. The truth deserves to be told, and I wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate these graphic novels into a WWII or Holocaust-focused lesson.

These novels have a story to tell and, if one can only set aside any preconceived ideas about the maturity or age level of “comics,” you could truly learn something from them. I highly recommend them.

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