Ghost (Track, #1)

Ghost (1) (Track): Reynolds, Jason: 9781481450157: Amazon.com: BooksFirst Lines: Check this out.  This dude named Andrew Dahl holds the world record for blowing up the most balloons…with his nose.  Yeah.  That’s true.  Not sure how he found out that was some kinda special talent, and I can’t even imagine how much snot be in those balloons, but hey, it’s a thing and Andrew’s the best at it.

I had heard of this book before, but PBS’s Great American Reads really put this book on the map for me.  It was a short book and, when I needed something fast and happier than what I’d been reading, this seemed like a safe choice.

Ghost (real name Castle Crenshaw) has only ever known running.  Basketball is his sport, though, and he’s never run on a track team before.  So when he impulsively challenges a well-trained sprinter–and wins–the coach notices Ghost’s inherent talent.  But Ghost has a lot of things he can’t outrun: his anger, his past, the way people treat him.  Can Ghost harness all that energy into something beneficial?  Or will his past catch up to him?

I will say upfront that I am not the targeted demographic for this book. I know this.

Doesn’t mean I didn’t still like it.

Ghost is younger than most of the characters I typically read about. A 7th grader, his biggest issues are what everyone thinks of him and working past a horrible situation from about three years earlier. (I’ll let him tell you what happened.) He thinks he knows everything and, when he makes mistakes, they are often because his emotions cloud his reasoning.

As a middle school teacher, Ghost was very authentic. He responded to things the way I would expect my students to. He was a well-rounded character who clearly had flaws (as we all do) and was still very much our hero. I kept reading to see him grow.

I think what gets this book the most respect is its diction. It’s like Ghost is actually writing the story and the use of slang is heavily present. I liked it because it just made it feel even more like Ghost was actually telling us the story rather than a narrator telling us. I’ve read other books that do this too, but I do see why this book is so praised for it.

It’s a good story. It’s a quick read and it’ll have you cheering for Ghost the whole way through.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Signs You’re a Book Lover

Hey guys!  This one seemed pretty lighthearted and I thought it would be fun to go through some of the geekier side of our booknerdiness.  (Did I just make up a word?)  And of course, I exhibit none of these traits.  (*cough* I exhibit every single one of them.)

So let’s get started!

Ten Signs You’re a Book Lover

1. Your ultimate life goal is to have a library in your house.

When I was house hunting, I 100% planned out which room would work best as a library in every house I looked at.  Someday, I might even convert one of the closets into a built-in book case.

2. You know exactly how many books you can carry at one time.

The best looks, bar none, are when I’m walking out of the library holding a dozen books in my arms.  People always look like they want to offer me help, but trust me, I’ve got it.  I know exactly how to cradle them against my body and how many I need turn in order to achieve this.  Thank you for your concern.

3. You get all the book references in movies.

I was just watching Willy Wonka the other day and out of nowhere, Wonka says, “Adieu, adieu.  Parting is such sweet sorrow.”  Me, being the nerd, was like, “Romeo and Juliet!  He just quoted Romeo and Juliet!”  Frequently these are Shakespeare quotes because those are so well known, but still.  It takes a lot of familiarity with them to remember and recognize them.

4. You own more than one copy of the same book.

I always thought people were crazy to do this, but now I am one of those people.  It’s the Harry Potter series, y’all.  I have a boxed set of all the books in paperback, all of the illustrated editions currently out, and 2 of the books (1 & 3) in French.  Don’t judge me.

5. You have multiple means of reading your books (Kindle, apps, physical books, etc.)

Especially in these turbulent times, it’s hard to keep getting our hands on fresh new physical books.  But that’s ok because true bookies have more than one way to get their fix.  For me, it’s my Kindle.  (I can’t focus while listening to audio books, but those are also worthwhile to check out!)

6. Your favorite characters are always the bookish ones.

Belle, Hermione, even Rapunzel…if they read a lot, they remind me of myself and I thus like them immensely.

7. You know all the differences between the book and the movie.

Whether it’s The Book Thief, Divergent, all variations of Beauty and the Beast, or If I Stay, I can tell you the differences.  I’ve read the books nearly as many times as I’ve seen the movies.

8. You have more bookmarks than you know what to do with.

Guilty.  I used to buy the cheap bookmarks at the school Scholastic Book Fairs and I still have a ton of them, on top of so many others I’ve collected over the years.  They just all look so cute!

9. Your Goodreads to-read list is essentially a wish list.

So many options!  So many different stories and characters to fall in love with!  This is definitely a wish list for me.

10. You’ve devoted years of your life to a book blog.

9 years strong!  If I didn’t love books so much, I definitely wouldn’t be doing this.  And I’m so thankful that you all love books too!

Some Boys

Amazon.com: Some Boys (0760789246418): Blount, Patty: BooksFirst Lines: No Monday is history has ever sucked more than this one.  I’m kind of an expert on sucky days.  It’s been thirty-two of them since the party in the woods that started the battle I fight every day.

You know, I don’t remember where I first heard about this book or why I thought I’d like it.  It’s been on my to-read list since 2014 and I’ve recently been trying to work through those (especially since the library has closed due to the pandemic).  This was one I thought might be good to mix things up with.  Sometimes I like the darkness.

Grace is living with fear every single day.  After she accuses the town’s “golden boy” of rape, the whole town turns on her.  Why would a boy like that do anything like what Grace is claiming?  They call Grace names, reject her, bully her.  The only one who doesn’t is Ian.  He’s funny and kind to Grace, especially when she discovers he has secrets of his own.  The only problem?  Ian is best friends with Grace’s rapist.

There are some books that you know are going to stay with you long after you’ve read them. This is one of them for me.

It’s hard to find the drive to read a book you know is going to be a long, emotional drama. I put off reading this book for a long time, but I decided to make time. And I very quickly fell into Grace’s story.

The story is told in alternating perspectives between Grace and Ian. It’s been just over a month since Grace was raped and she’s not sure life is ever going to return to “normal,” no matter how hard she tries to pretend. It’s impossible when everyone keeps calling her names and taunting her. Ian has been struggling with family issues, but he’s sure that his friend Zac isn’t the person Grace says he is. Only, the more time he spends with Grace, the more he starts to question Zac’s version of events.

I thought the two characters were different enough to be interesting and similar enough to have a reasonable friendship. Grace wears her attitude like a mask so no one sees how much she’s hurting. Everything scares her now–footsteps, a house settling, the wind–but she refuses to let anyone see that. In her mind, showing her fear lets Zac see he’s won. Ian very much wants to be a good person. In his mind, that means showing loyalty to his friends and teammates. Grace is trying to divide them, which initially infuriates him. But as they get to know each other better, he starts to see that not only does Grace have a different perspective, she might be right.

The story is rough, there’s no way around that. There are a lot of mature subject matters being dealt with. I know there are some people who have taken offense at the way some subject matters have been described (particularly how girls turn on other girls). But the fact of the matter is that those things happen. The things Ian struggles with to understand what Grace is going through made sense to me. I didn’t think that made him an ignorant character. I frequently have to explain to guys why women can’t walk alone at night or why we always carry our keys in our hands when we have to. And it’s 2020, post-Me Too movement and they still don’t think about it. Did Ian make a lot of horrible decisions? Sure. But I saw all of them as part of his learning process.

There’s a lot going on in this story. I was fortunate enough to have a large block of uninterrupted time to sink into the story and get completely sucked into it, which definitely helped my experience as I was able to really connect with each story line and see how they worked together. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book this fast and I desperately needed the escape from the news when I was reading it.

Top Ten Books, Movies, and TV Shows To Make You Laugh Right Now

Ok, y’all, it’s crazy out there.  I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve been trying to find enjoyment in things that are funny to keep from going nuts.  (Ironically, I’ve been watching/reading thrillers lately, so…I’m not following my own statement there.)  But I think all of us need a little break here, so I’m going to list off ten of ALL THREE of those things above.

Yes, you read that right.  TEN OF ALL OF THE ABOVE.

So let’s get started!  No time like the present!  These are in no particular order.

Ten Books To Make You Laugh*

*Very few of these books are funny from start to finish, but I tried to find ones that I remember thinking were funny even if they did take a serious turn for the characters at some point.

1. Lovestruck by Kate Watson

This story, about Cupid’s daughter Kali, may not be tons of laughs from start to finish, but I was definitely giggling through the first half.  See, Kali accidentally sticks herself with a love arrow, making her fall in love with Benicio, this bass-playing cutie she’s supposed to match with someone else.  It’s your typical comedy of errors and there’s a lot of humor sprinkled throughout.

2. Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

This is an update of the Shakespearean classic, Much Ado About Nothing (which happens to be my favorite).  Set in the 1920s at a speakeasy in New York, we follow Beatrice, who gets kicked out of her boarding school and must live with her uncle and cousin Hero at the speakeasy the Hey Nonny Nonny.  Unfortunately, this also means living near Benedick, an aspiring writer who annoys Beatrice to no end.  The witty banter and the comical situations are sure to make you laugh!

3. Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Charlie’s sister is about to get married.  The only problem?  Everything and everything that could go wrong, is.  Howling dogs, house alarms, relatives that won’t talk to each other, a missing tuxedo, and an unexpected girlfriend are just a few of the issues Charlie navigates to make the weekend memorable for her sister–in a good way.

4. Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean

If you like historical romances, this series by Sarah MacLean is one of the best I’ve ever read in terms of characters, banter, and situations.  When a stranger comes into Felicity’s bedchamber and offers to help her land a husband, Felicity agrees to his terms.  But what neither Felicity or Devil expect is that this is going to be anything but easy.  For one thing, Felicity is more of a firebrand than Devil anticipated.

5. Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

In terms of comedic banter, Clare is always on point with hers.  This, the first in The Dark Artifices series, definitely has a lot of funny moments and great character wit balanced with the seriousness of their world.  Actually, any of Clare’s books would be good for a chuckle.  If you haven’t read any of her books before, though, I definitely recommend you start with City of Bones.

6. It’s a Wonderful Death by Sarah J. Schmitt

I know what you’re thinking: Why did you include a book clearly about death on this list?  But I promise you, this was the funniest thing I read in 2018.  RJ’s soul was accidentally reaped and someone better figure out how to get her back to her body.  RJ’s told she can remain in “the lobby” until her life expires or she can relive 3 moments in her life and make better choices.  Easy, right?  But what RJ doesn’t plan on is becoming a pawn between Death himself and an overzealous archangel in the process.  (And Death is a Hawaiian shirt-wearing bro and Saint Peter loves Cornhole.  Like, it’s about as surreal as what’s going on outside right now.)

7. Freya by Matthew Lawrence

If you’re familiar with Norse mythology, the name Freya should sound familiar.  She was the Norse goddess of beauty, war, and death.  To blend in with society, she goes by Sara now, but everything changes when a shadowy society makes her a deal: join us and you’ll receive unlimited strength and believers.  Refuse and die.  So Sara, fierce and battle-thirsty, chooses neither.  Escaping with her friend Nathan, Sara tries to discover what exactly is going on and how to stop them.  It’s the Norse-Goddess-in-the-21st-Century that is the funniest part of the whole book.

8. Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

A YA twist on You’ve Got Mail, we meet Bailey.  She’s got a crush on “Alex”, an online friend who lives on the opposite side of the country from her…until she has to move in with her dad in the same sleepy town as her crush.  Nervous that “Alex” could be a creep, Bailey doesn’t tell him she’s moved so much closer.  Or that her newest arch-nemesis, Porter, may not be as annoying as she first thought.

9. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

This is probably one of the most ridiculous books I’ve ever read–and it wasn’t too bad.  Sixteen year old King Edward is dying and he has no one to pass the crown on to.  Enter his cousin Jane, who is far more interested in books than husbands.  Unfortunately, Edward has arranged for Jane to marry Gifford (known as G).  Only what they don’t know is that G is a horse.  Literally.  From dawn to dusk, he’s a glorious chestnut steed.  And there’s a dangerous plot afoot that will take all three of them to solve…before someone dies…

10. A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker

Funny from beginning to end, this high school comedy forces seniors to participate in a year-long Marriage Education program.  Fiona’s “husband” is Todd, a jerky jock whose girlfriend has hated Fiona for years.  And Todd’s girlfriend is matched up with Fiona’s crush, Gabe.  There are tons of pranks, misunderstandings, and witty banter to fill the pages.

Ten Movies To Make You Laugh*

*My tastes tend to be more of what’s called “stupid humor”, so bear with me.  I think Dad jokes can be really funny and puns are my meat & potatoes.

1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

My students and I were just talking about this movie yesterday!  We needed a laugh and some of us were quoting our favorite parts.

2. Anything by Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, etc.)

If you’ve never watched anything by Mel Brooks before, it’s comedy gold from the 70s and 80s.  My personal favorite is this little known movie called History of the World, Part I, but any of his are pretty much guaranteed to make you laugh again and again.  The jokes can be super subtle.

3. 10 Things I Hate About You

This 90s classic is sure to lift your spirits!

4. Music & Lyrics

I think this isn’t a well-known movie, but it’s definitely feel-good.  It’s a 2007 rom-com with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore about a washed-up 80s pop star who is charged with writing a song for a current pop star.  The characters are super quirky, the music is excellent, and the scenes are funny.  My boyfriend and I watched this Saturday night!  He’d never seen it before and really enjoyed it.

5. Dodgeball

This is a classic for me!  It’s so much smarter than anyone gives it credit for!

6. Jumanji (the newer ones)

If you haven’t yet watched the newest two Jumanji movies, this is a good time to do that.  There’s nothing like watching Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson act like a self-conscious high school geek and Kevin Hart play a huge football player.  But it’s Jack Black who is my personal favorite.

7. The Emperor’s New Groove

This movie always makes me smile!  It does everything a movie shouldn’t–break the fourth wall, have inexplicable plot holes, etc.–and yet that’s why we love it so much.

8. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

If you haven’t watched this since your childhood (and I’m talking about the 70s version starring Gene Wilder), you really need to.  It’s so smart.  There were definitely jokes that went over my head as a kid that now are just downright hysterical to me as an adult.

9. Pitch Perfect

Aca-scuse me?  With so many memorable lines, how could I leave this one off the list?

10. Austin Powers

Look, right now we really need a hero.  And who better than the 60s British spy Austin Powers fighting Dr. Evil to brighten your day?  Yes, the movies can be kinda dumb, but these were the movies of my childhood and the characters never fail to make me laugh.  Plus, there are some big names in these movies!  (Rob Lowe, anyone?)

Ten TV Shows To Make You Laugh

1. The Office

Ok, absolutely, this can be more cringey than funny at times.  I don’t deny it.  But there are some parts that are absolutely hilarious if that’s your humor.

2. Parks & Rec

If The Office is too weird, this is a nice substitute.  I ended up liking this show far more than The Office.  Set in my home state of Indiana, it’s a small-town Parks & Rec department that gets the “mockumentary” treatment.

3. The Good Place

I got hooked on this show this winter!  Kristen Bell is a treat and the show will keep you laughing–and guessing!–every episode.  It’s just so weird that it’s actually wonderful.  And it’s wonderfully uplifting.

4. The Big Bang Theory

I watched this show for years and it never failed to make me laugh, especially the early seasons.  There was so much to love about these quirky characters!  A rewatch might be necessary.

5. Friends

I didn’t get into this show the way many people did, but I definitely enjoyed what I did watch.  Six friends, a huge apartment, and a smelly cat.  What could go wrong?  (“We were on a break!” is not an acceptable answer in any situation.)

6. Whose Line Is It Anyway?

I don’t care if you find reruns on TV, bloopers on YouTube, or you watch the new episodes.  This show is comedy gold.  I literally cry watching compilation videos because it’s so funny.

7. Cheers

This is my happy place.  A few years back, I got hooked on this show and I’ve been watching it on Netflix ever since.  It’s always funny and the episodes are still funny after you’ve seen them a few times.

8. One Day At A Time

With this one, I’m talking about the reboot Netflix did with a Latin family.  It’s smart, witty, and yet pulls at the heartstrings every episode.  I adore this show.

9. That 70s Show

I was too young to watch this when it was originally on, but I’ve caught episodes and a seasons or two on Netflix and it’s pretty freaking funny.  If your dad isn’t like Red, you probably didn’t grow up in the Midwest.

10. Everybody Loves Raymond

You know, trying to come up with 10 of these was really taxing my brain here.  Now I’m really showing my age, if I wasn’t earlier.  I grew up on this show and it was just so funny in its portrayal of a “normal” family.  Especially when it so perfectly mimicked so many elements of my own family growing up.  (My grandparents were Frank and Marie to a T!)

Regardless of what you like/don’t like on this list, please take some time to laugh at something.  We all need a laugh right now.  Take care of yourselves!

The Tombs

Image result for the tombs deborah schaumbergFirst Lines: This must be how madness begins.  Traces of light or a shadowy haze around a person’s face, meaningless images in my head, and then the fear, the all-consuming fear that at any moment they will come for me.  For a long time I convinced myself that madness was not hereditary.  I may have been wrong.

Anything that combines historical fiction, madness, and a place called “the Tombs” is definitely on my to-read list for the sheer Gothic-quality of it all.  I didn’t know the history behind it at all, but that didn’t matter.  I was going to learn.

New York City, 1882.  Avery wishes for the life she had before her mother was taken away to the Tombs asylum for having unexplained visions.  Avery fears the asylum guards, men who wear terrifying crow masks and roam the streets from time to time.  But most of all, Avery tries to pretend she does not share the same strange visions as her mother.  Instead, she focuses on her job at an ironworks factory and keeping track of her usually-drunk inventor father.  She lives on the stories her friend Khan, an ex-slave, tells her, and the sight of her falcon Seraphine flying above the city.  But eventually Avery’s abilities cannot be contained.  When a freak explosion at the factory seems to have no cause except her, Avery is forced to run.  She must embrace her abilities or become another patient at the Tombs…a place where they’re conducting experiments on people and no one knows why.

I was pretty excited about this one because I love discovering debut novelists and because the combination of fantasy and a famous prison sounded interesting.  The story is billed as “Gangs of New York” meets Cassandra Clare.

The execution of the story left me a little wanting, though.

It took a very long time for me to feel like I even understood the story. It seemed like Avery’s story was missing vital parts for a long time as we were constantly left with “cliffhangers” at the end of each chapter. (I put that in quotes becomes sometimes they were clearly meant to create drama/misunderstandings and were resolved literally on the next page. It was cheesy.) Nothing felt like it was getting explained for the longest time. I still don’t know how people get these powers.

I did like the bits of history that were included. I don’t know much about 1800s New York (seeing as I don’t live there), so parts of that were interesting. I liked the stuff about the Tombs and the story’s surprising focus on unions and the plight of lower class workers and child labor. That was actually probably the best part, although it was little of the story overall.

I never felt like I got to really know any of the characters. They all seemed relatively flat, including Avery, our main character. There are just so many characters that Avery interacts with that we never see any of them consistently or see how they change. It just doesn’t happen. I’m a little bummed about that.

And the ending.  Oh my God.  It’s set up like it’s part of a series, but I can’t find any information that a sequel is coming.  It was hugely unsatisfying.

This book isn’t a total wash. There are some well written scenes and some very interesting characters, but overall I was hoping for more. Or maybe not “more” so much as “better.”

Be Not Far From Me

Image result for be not far from meFirst Lines: The world is not tame.  People forget that.  The glossy brochures for state parks show nature at its most photogenic, like a senior picture with all the pores airbrushed away.  They never feature a coyote muzzle-deep in the belly of a still-living deer, or a chipmunk punctured by an eagle’s talons, squirming as it perishes in midair.

Pre-COVID-19, I was reading this ARC (it’s now available, because I’m that far behind on reviews).  I’ve been a fan of the McGinnis books I’ve read before, and this one definitely seemed like one I’d be interested in.

Ashley is more at home in the forest than under a roof.  So when she and some friends head into the Smokies for a night of partying, the sights and sounds of the mountains are as familiar to her as home.  But some things can’t be predicted.  When Ashley catches her boyfriend cheating on her, she drunkenly dashes off deeper into the darkness of the forest, only stopped by falling into a ravine.  Morning shows her she’s far from the trail–and alone.  With nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must find a way to survive…especially as the red line of infection creeps up her leg.

Before we really get rolling here, I do want to warn you that the story can get incredibly graphic, from a survivalist standpoint.  I put all that in the first lines on purpose, because blood and gore is a constant throughout.  If you have a weak stomach…well, you may want to take this one slow.

This bears a lot of similarities to McGinnis’s other stories. Ashley, our protagonist, isn’t the hero you expect her to be. She’s imperfect and has negative qualities, like being a hot-head and being pretty judgmental. But that doesn’t make you root for her any less. If anything, it makes you like her all the more.

Most of the story is about Ashley lost in the forest and, frankly, the forest almost becomes a character itself since there’s no one else around for Ashley to interact with. At times, it almost seems to have a personality, which is pretty cool. You might think that a story about someone lost in the woods would get boring (and I thought it was going to a time or two), but there’s always something Ashley’s working toward or a surprise twist thrown in. Yes, it gets a little monotonous sometimes, but I got sucked in.

The survivalist elements felt very realistic. I’m not particularly outdoorsy myself, but I know the general facts about surviving in the wild. Not only that, but the stuff Ashley does to survive is desperate, wild, and thrilling. And also disgusting. I read a lot of this while I was eating and I don’t recommend that. It gets really really gross at times. McGinnis does not back away from the harsh realities and I respect her for that.

This was just a wild ride and I loved it. Another solid book from Mindy McGinnis.  Probably my favorite read so far this year.

Write This Down! Isolation Notes

Hey guys!  I’m currently in the process of writing up a bunch of reviews and things that I’ve definitely fallen behind on this month, so I’ll have a lot of new content now that I have more time at home!  (My Kindle will soon be getting a workout.)

But if you’re looking for something to do while you’re stuck at home, I’ve started doing this recently at the recommendation of a Social Studies teacher and friend.

We are in the middle of unprecedented times.  None of us know what’s happening and the news is changing so quickly.  Because we are the ones currently living this, it’s a fantastic idea to write a journal/diary of what’s happening with you.  Primary sources, people!  It’s like how we read the letters and diaries of people who lived in Atlanta during the Civil War or how we still read Anne Frank’s diary.  Perhaps you think your story is insignificant, but future generations will look back on these things and see the value.

I started writing (literally handwriting, but the choice is yours) mine on Wednesday last week.  I really should have started sooner because I took the first entry to recount all the necessary details: what COVID is, how everything was normal one week and unrecognizable the next, etc.  Let me tell you, my hand was sore by the end of all that.  It was a lot of writing.

Most days, my entries are about what I’m doing that day, what I saw on the news, the newest case/death totals to track the progression, etc.  I’m even recounting things like how the check-out line at my local grocery store literally wrapped around the store.

That first day, I felt more like a historian in my writing.  It’s slowly turning into more of a diary, which is fine.  I think the more human I can make it, the better.  If someone wanted the facts, they could easily look up the articles posted about it.  I want this to be what it was like for ME.  (Later generations may read it and go, “What’s a Wii and why is she playing it for so long?” Well, future kids, it’s because it’s a game and it gets me moving!  I don’t care that the games I own are literally 5-12 years old!)

Anyway, I thought I’d pass on the idea to you guys as well!  I’ve seen it making the rounds online anyway, so it’s out there, but truly, it’s kind of helping me make sense of everything.  My mood is so up and down each day that it’s hard to feel anything but trapped.  Being able to write it all down helps.

Stay safe out there!

~Holly