The Female of the Species

the-female-of-the-species-mindy-mcginnisFirst Lines: This is how I kill someone.  I learn his habits, I know his schedule.  It is not difficult.  His life consists of quick stops to the dollar store for the bare minimum of things required to keep this ragged cycle going, his hat pulled down over his eyes so as not to be recognized.

I received this ARC a little while ago (official release date is September 20, 2016).  I wanted to catch up on my ARCs because hey, it’s kind of fun to read books before everyone else (sorry about your luck).  This one grabbed my attention, so I thought I’d start with it.

Three years ago, Alex’s sister Anna was murdered and the killer set free.  That’s when Alex learned what it takes to kill someone.  But because she knows she’s dangerous, Alex keeps herself separate from other people.  She lives in the shadows, forgotten.  Until Jack Fisher, the boy everyone wants to be.  Jock, valedictorian, and shoe-in for Prom King.  Jack hasn’t gotten over his guilt from the night Anna was found in the woods, but he finds himself drawn to Alex’s strange demeanor.  So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid.  When Alex and Peekay start working together at the local animal shelter, Peekay sees something in Alex that she’s sure no one else does.  But this newfound friendship between Jack, Alex, and Peekay is threatened after a night of partying in their tiny town.  Can their friendship survive the darkness in their town and in Alex?

Y’all, I love a good dark story (hello, Poe), but this is almost unsettlingly dark.  Big game dark.  We’re talking drugs, sex, murder, and violence of other kinds.  I wasn’t expecting that.  Anyone who’s pretty sensitive to this kind of stuff should probably steer clear.  I’m totally not one for censorship, but this is probably inappropriate for younger readers.  Like, if you thought this would be awesome for your little sister/cousin/friend whatever, maaaybe you want to read it first yourself.  That’s all I’m saying.

These characters are different, but in a good way.  I can’t help but compare Alex to Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory because she’s usually pretty well-meaning but she completely misses social cues.  She’s lived in this bubble for three years and now that she’s emerged, she’s lost. But it’s also kind of adorable.  Jack is a small town hero who feels trapped by the county lines.  I thought that approach felt realistic and it helped to explain how Jack could be jerkish and admirable at the same time.  It was Peekay, though, who really won me over.  This preacher’s kid hides her heart of gold under a fine finish of sass and sarcasm.  It was glorious.

I was really surprised by a lot of chances the story took, and the direction it went in.  The darkness was for sure a surprise, but even some of the other plot events just shocked me.  I definitely didn’t see the ending coming.

I had a slight issue with the narration.  It rotates between Jack, Alex, and Peekay, which I understood.  These three are from vastly different social groups and they all had personalities that made them notice different things even when they were all in the same place at the same time.  So I understood that. But the chapters are super short, so the narration is constantly changing.  For a casual reader who maybe only reads a few chapters at a time, I can see where this book would get confusing.

Overall, I found it to be a scary–and a scary depressing–look at small town teenage life while maintaining a great cast of characters.

Top Ten Tuesday: The Long Forgotten Books

Hey everyone!  It’s Tuesday, which means we are another day closer to FRIDAY!  (Ok…not really, but it feels more optimistic!)  So here we’ve got a super interesting Top Ten Tuesday with a super long title.  Like one we had a few weeks ago, let me know if there’s anything on this list I need to read ASAP!

toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday: Ten Books That Have Been on My To-Read Shelf Since Before I Started Blogging

(I started blogging in 2011, so these are going to be old ones.)

1. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

I love fairytales, so this should be a given.  Yet I have probably 10 of them still sitting on my list.  But this has been there since 2008, so it kind of holds the record.

2. Forever… by Judy Blume

I feel like I really need to read some class Judy Blume because of how she helped pioneer YA lit.  And Forever… was, I think, one of the first books to truly deal with teens getting intimate.  It revolutionized the genre, and I just want to read it for that reason.

3. Kiss Me Kill Me by Lauren Henderson

This book has always caught my attention.  I mean, what are you supposed to do when your boyfriend just keels over dead when you’re kissing him?

4. The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

Been on my list for so long.  I love stories about music, so I figured I’d give this a shot.  I decided that back in 2009.  Clearly, I’m on it.

5. By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

Part of the reason I never got around to reading this was because I never really wanted to check this out from the library.  I didn’t want librarians to start getting concerned about me.  But now that half the library is digital, I suppose that’s not really a concern anymore.

6. Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

One of my friends from college has been pushing me to read this series, though she hated the way one of the later books ended.  That’s made me a bit leery about starting this series.

7. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Oh my gosh, it’s been so long since I’ve read The Maze Runner that I really don’t remember it.  Which is why I keep putting this off.  Nothing worse that reading a sequel and not remembering the first book. (Just saying, I read The Maze Runner before it was cool.  The Scorch Trials has been on my to-read list since 2009.)

8. Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender

Again, another book that keeps cropping up and catching my attention.  But I’ve never gotten around to starting it.

9. Eve by Anna Carey

For some reason, I feel like one of my early Spotlight Fridays was about this book.  And it totally could be, since this book has been on my list since 2010.

10. Born at Midnight by C.C. Hunter

I’ve had students who have read and loved this series and I still haven’t started it.  Sigh.  I almost don’t like it when my students have read books that I haven’t, even though that doesn’t make any sense at all.

Uppercase Has Arrived!

AAHHH!  It’s that time again when I get my Uppercase Box!  I thought I’d share this with you guys because I AM STOKED!

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So awesome, right?  First of all, picking a Kasie West book is perhaps the MOST BRILLIANT DECISION EVER.  I’ve been looking forward to this book, but I hadn’t had the chance to go out and find it at the library.  Only now I own it!  And did I mention IT’S SIGNED?!  *faints*

The other things are also exciting.  The bookmark on the left is another of those where as you read you can enter in different codes to access extra material from the author, which is sweet.  The pink page is simply a quote book plate thing, but I like the saying and I think it would be awesome if I could find a frame or something to put it in.  On the right is a new stationary pad with books and tea and other things on it.  On top of the notepad, I put the necklace I got, which I think is my favorite thing right now.  It says “Once Upon a Time” on it and, given my obsession with fairy tales, this is perfection.

Have I mentioned yet how pleased I am with Uppercase?  There may not be much in it, but I know that I’m going to be using all these things that I get.  How could I not?

The Passion of Dolssa

the-passion-of-dolssaFirst Lines: I must write this account, and when I have finished, I will burn it.

This book caught my eye for a couple of reasons.  First, I knew of Julie Berry.  I have one of her books, The Amaranth Enchantment, on my bookshelf at home.  As a cute take on a fairy tale-esque world, I’ve read it a few times and enjoyed it.  But this book looked vastly different from that, as a historical fiction charged with potential heresy, the equivalent of a witch hunt, and the dark side of religion.  I was intrigued.

Dolssa, a young gentlewoman with mystical abilities to communicate with Jesus, is being hunted.  On the run from a friar obsessed with burning her for heresy, Dolssa must stay one step ahead of him.  When Dolssa meets Botille, a wily matchmaker in a small seaside town, she’s found the ally she’d been looking for.  In 1241, these lands are struggling to recover from a bloody Crusade that destroyed most of Provensa (what we now call Province, France).  Hiding from the Catholic church will not be easy.  Can the girls put themselves at the mercy of a town that could betray them in an instant?

I thought the setting and subject matter for this story was incredibly unique and interesting.  I haven’t read much from the Middle Ages, especially in France (or Provensa, if we’re being technical), but I have dipped into the *lovely* record the Catholic church had around this time.  (To be fair, societal rules from 800 years ago are vastly different from our societal rules now.  But it’s still really hard to imagine a church being this ruthless.)  Also it was just fascinating to read about how a girl who claimed to talk to Jesus was treated.

I liked the cast of characters.  Botille is primarily our narrator for most of the story, and she’s a great mix of strong independence and the humility required of women at the time.  I liked that she was fierce while still realistically fitting into her time period.  Dolssa had more of this kind of humble strength that hovered just below most people’s radar.  Truly, what I liked about these girls was that they were clearly very strong without being physically strong, like most of the butt-kickers we admire.  They were clever and a bit sneaky, but that’s what they needed to be to survive.

As I kind of alluded to above, we do get to see the dark side of Christianity in this book.  This isn’t the church you see on Sundays.  This is more “grab your torch and pitchfork” when it comes to evil.  Souls who haven’t committed a terrible sin like heresy can be redeemed, but others are lost forever.  It was hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that Dolssa, who is performing miracles on command, is being hunted for conspiring with the devil.  But that’s just how it was back then.  And it was truly frightening to see the impact of the church on people back then.  There’s an awesome and extensive author’s note at the end of this book that shows some of this in more detail.

I also thought the action kept the story interesting.  The pace moved well and never really got slowed down by anything.

The only real qualm I had with the story was that there were a lot of characters and by the end of the book, there were a few I had given up on remembering who they were.  I liked the characters, don’t get me wrong, but it was a lot to keep straight, especially when I can’t remember the names of all my students yet.  Oh, and they speak a language called Occetian or something similar to that which basically looks like most other Latin-based languages.  Mostly a cross between Spanish/Italian and French.  And while that was cool to see that language, the words weren’t always fully explained for what they meant.  Still, after a few times seeing the word, I usually figured it out.

Overall, I thought it was a fascinating story that managed to be both hopeful and horrifying.  Which is a weird combo, but it worked.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in High School

Hey guys!  So this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is somewhat open-ended.  It was Books in X Setting, with us able to pick the particular setting that interested us.  I originally wanted to do book set in the U.K. because that’s a place I badly want to visit, but that was too similar to a Top Ten a few weeks ago (Top Ten Books Set Outside the US), so I scrapped that.  Instead, I decided to focus on high school, which was a lot harder than I thought it would be.  I wanted to pick books that spent most of the story in school, not just a story involving high schoolers, and ones where the action very clearly revolved around how hard high school can be.  Without further ado, here’s my list!

toptentuesdayTop Ten Books Set in High School

1. The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman

This book definitely makes you look at some staples of high school life (homecoming, prom) and how weird they can seem to outsiders.  These sisters grew up in New York City and attended an arts school until they moved to the country where, suddenly, they go to a school with a mascot and school spirit (eww, am I right?).  It’s cute and kind of funny while taking an almost cultural look at life as a high school student.

2. Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat

I adore this book so much.  Focusing more on socioeconomic status and stereotypes, this looks at the perceptions we have about certain people and how wrong we can be.  I loved that it was cute and serious at the same time.

3. Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

This is the only one on the list that starts to tip into the sci-fi realm, but I really wanted to include it for how ostracized some people can be in school and how challenging it is to overcome that.  Of course, these kids are ostracized because they have a gene that labels them as potential murderers, but don’t we have kids in our own schools that get ostracized for similarly bizarre things?

4. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Mental illness is the focus of this book, and it’s so lovingly done.  You never quite know what’s going to happen next, but it’s beautiful.  Our narrator suffers from schizophrenia and hallucinates quite often.  If you thought high school was already rough, throw in some hallucinations.

5. Hate List by Jennifer Brown

It’s almost as though each book is trying to outdo the previous in terms of awfulness.  If you’ve never heard of this one, it’s about the girlfriend of a school shooter who killed a number of his classmates.  Now he’s gone, but she’s still in school, living with the guilt of how she didn’t stop him when she could have.  It’s a very dark read, but also an important one.

6. Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti

And now a look at bullying.  Truly, I promise they get a bit lighter from here.

7. Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Ok, good, one that isn’t super dark!  Jordan, as quarterback of the football team and a girl, feels threatened when a new boy moves to town and could potentially oust her from her beloved position.  Throw in a love triangle and you’ve got high school.

8. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Another book that focuses on socioeconomic status and stereotypes!  Well, and gangs.  I have a copy of this on my shelves and occasionally pull this out to reread from time to time.  Alex and Brittany are just phenomenal.

9. Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Alright, this one’s a bit dark too.  That’s kind of what happens when it focuses on foster families, abandonment, self-harm, and anxiety.  Still, it’s another one that is cuter than you think it will be.  There’s a lot of hope here.

10. A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker

I saved the funniest for last!  Remember that class in high school where people took home the robotic babies and had to pretend to be parents for a couple of days?  This is based on that class, only it’s much longer than that.  Seniors are partnered together (1 male, 1 female) and made into “families”.  Hilarity ensues.  You will giggle from beginning to end, I promise.

Update: Back To School!

Hey guys!  I just wanted to let you know that I am officially back into the swing of things with school, so posts could be a lot more sporadic than they were in, say July, when I posted nearly every day.  Until I get used to my new schedule (my school day now starts at 8:45 and goes to about 3:40), things could be a little crazy.

But I’m still here!  I will still definitely attempt to do Top Ten Tuesdays and Spotlight Fridays as often as I can.  I will review books as often as I can.  Right now, I’ve got a ton of school work and I’m a total Olympics junkie, so my reading time has been severely hampered by all of that.

We’ve only had two days of school so far, but I’ll share with you a few stories about my classes.  :)  A few of them might make you smile.

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Today’s Fun Pun Friday

This year, I have 4 classes of 8th graders (made up about 50% by kids I had last year as 7th graders) and 3 classes of new-to-me 7th graders.  It’s kind of my thing to do this goofy thing I call “Fun Pun Fridays” where I put up one of the best worst puns I can find online just to make them smile or something at the end of the week.  I’ve pretty much trained my old students to fake laugh at them, but the new kids are so awkward!  It’s so funny.  The old kids are going, “Ha. Ha.”  The new kids just sit there like, “This is supposed to be funny?”  Oh, but give me a few weeks.  I’ll train them soon enough.  My puns are hilarious.

The best part is when someone doesn’t get it (like today) and half the class turns to explain it to them.  That’s when the puns are totally worth it.

Also a funny story, I have 1st period prep this year.  (That’s not the funny part.)  This means that when students bring in tissues, I get nothing because the tissues all go to 1st period.  So I wrote on my board “If you bring in a box of tissues, I’ll print you the best worst pun I can find online.”  In the last two days, 10 kids have brought me boxes of tissues, and many of them my new 7th graders!  Who would have thought puns would have been as awesome of a motivator as candy or stickers?  It’s actually hilarious.

One last story, one that most of us I think can relate to.  So yesterday on our first day, I let my 7th graders ask me questions about myself to get to know me better.  And after one student asked what my favorite book was (which is the worst question ever, so I went with the cop-out answer of Harry Potter), another girl asked me what house I got sorted into.  I told her originally Ravenclaw on Pottermore, but after went back and took the test a few years later, I was sorted into Gryffindor but I feel like a Ravenclaw.  Literally half the class had no idea what I was talking about.  The girl who asked was nodding along, following the whole thing.  So I looked at the class and said, “We were speaking English.  Not my fault you can’t follow along.”  It’s kind of sad, really.  As sad as the girl that I met years ago who asked who Lord Voldemort was and pronounced his name wrong.

Anyway, summer’s over, so I’ll update when I can!  If you’re headed back to school yourself, have fun!  It’ll go by quickly!

Top Ten Tuesday: Rewind (Pick a topic)

So this week’s Top Ten is a freebie of sorts.  We get to go back and pick a topic that we either missed (obviously, I’ve missed a lot) or one that we’d like to go back to.  I decided I’d take a little hit to the ego and do Ten Books I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read Yet.  Feel free to point me toward the ones I should seriously put on the top of my reading list.

toptentuesdayTop Ten Books I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read Yet

1. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

As a middle school teacher, you would think that this would be near the top of my to-read list.  And it is.  I have it in physical copy and ebook and yet I still can’t bring myself to read it.  I love Greek mythology and that’s still not enough enticement, apparently.  Still, I’ll get to it eventually.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It’s taken me a while to actually be interested in this book.  I haven’t read anything by Jane Austen, but I found that I kind of liked the Keira Knightley movie.  Plus, with the fact that I am an English teacher, it sometimes surprises people that I haven’t read a lot of classics that everyone loves.

3. Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon

I pounded out the Outlander series last summer.  I devoured it.  But when it comes to Lord John’s series, I haven’t started yet.  Part of me is really afraid that it’ll either A) not be as good as Outlander or B) will be super good and I’ll binge-read those as well.  Still, I truly do want to start reading this.

4. Anything by Phillipa Gregory

As a fan of the Tudor-era of English history (I’m currently reading a book about King Richard III), I’m totally shocked that I have not gotten around to reading anything from her yet.  It’s very surprising.  I even have two of her books on my bookshelf, staring me in the face every day!

5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Love the movie, haven’t gotten around to the book.  You know how it goes.

6. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

I am terrified that this isn’t going to live up to the hype.  I loved the original series (duh), but it’s been so many years since those were new that I can’t bring myself to read this and have it ruin those memories…even if I’ve heard good things about it.  Eventually…

7. The Giver by Lois Lowry

This is another one that I have students asking me about but I haven’t read.  It’s a YA classic, and yet I’ve not gotten around to this.

8. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

This one has fascinated me since I read a sample of it for an English AP test.  It sounds fascinating and its place in literature history is amazing.  Again, one day…

9. A full Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle

I have a full collection of Sherlock Holmes stories and I have yet to read a single one.  Sigh.

10. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is another one where I’m terrified that the original book is not going to live up to the movie I love: Muppet Treasure Island.  Oh my God, that movie always makes me feel better when I’m sick.  I grew up on that movie and even played the computer game as a kid (that didn’t date me or anything…).  So I fear the original story is not going to be nearly as awesome as Gonzo and Rizzo and the song about Cabin Fever.