Spotlight Friday (121)

Hello lovely people!  For you Americans, are you having a good Thanksgiving break?  I am!  So much so that I’m able to put out a Spotlight!  (So…regardless of what country you’re from, you get a Spotlight!)  I’m rambling.  On to the books!

w557676Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories by Megan Crewe

Release Date: December 2, 2014

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads):

A collection of stories giving a new voice to three characters from Megan Crewe’s Fallen World trilogy, and a glimpse of life beyond The Worlds We Make.

“Carry the Earth” – When Kaelyn’s news about the vaccine stirs up unrest at the artists’ colony, Tessa struggles to protect the sanctuary she’s carefully constructed.

“Trial by Fire” – Drew tackles a new assignment that not only puts him at odds with his most vicious colleague and his life on the line, but may also determine the entire future of the Wardens.

“Water Song” – After he convinces a boy to leave his sick mother, Leo commits to helping the now hostile kid settle into life with the surviving islanders while confronting his own self-doubts.

What’s To Like: I found out about this book like, yesterday.  I’m so excited to go back to this world!  It’s so dark and realistic and plausible.  It’s kind of freaky, actually.  So realistic it’s scary.  But I’m really excited to see these stories about minor characters.  While I don’t remember these characters as well as I would like, i think I can totally hand this.

Suspicion by Alexandra Monir

Release Date: December 9, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

Mysterious. Magnificent. Creepy. Welcome to Rockford Manor.

“There’s something hidden in the Maze.” Seventeen-year-old Imogen has never forgotten the last words her father said to her seven years ago, before the blazing fire that consumed him, her mother, and the gardens of her family’s English country manor.

Haunted by her parents’ deaths, Imogen moves to New York City with her new guardians. But when a letter arrives with the news of her cousin’s untimely death, revealing that Imogen is now the only heir left to run the estate, she returns to England and warily accepts her role as duchess.

All is not as it seems at Rockford, and Imogen quickly learns that dark secrets lurk behind the mansion’s aristocratic exterior, hinting that the spate of deaths in her family were no accident. And at the center of the mystery is Imogen herself–and Sebastian, the childhood friend she has secretly loved for years. Just what has Imogen walked into?

Combining a fresh twist on the classic REBECCA with a spine-tingling mystery and powerful romance, SUSPICION is an action-packed thrill ride.

What’s To Like: This sounds super creeptastic.  I want to know what’s in that maze!  I love the mystery that surrounds this.  It sounds like it’s definitely some kind of thriller, maybe psychological or paranormal?  It’s hard to tell, and I think that’s partly the point.  I don’t mind.  It gives me something to look forward to!

Ensnared (Splintered, #3) by A.G. Howard

Release Date: January 6, 2015

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead.  This is the SERIES FINALE*

Summary (from Goodreads):

After surviving a disastrous battle at prom, Alyssa has embraced her madness and gained perspective. She’s determined to rescue her two worlds and the people and netherlings she loves. Even if it means challenging Queen Red to a final battle of wills and wiles . . . and even if the only way to Wonderland, now that the rabbit hole is closed, is through the looking-glass world–a parallel dimension filled with mutated and violent netherling outcasts. In the final installment of the wildly popular Splintered trilogy, Alyssa and her dad journey into the heart of magic and mayhem in search of her mom and to set right all that’s gone wrong. Together with Jeb and Morpheus, they must salvage Wonderland from the decay and destruction that has ensnared it. But if they succeed and come out alive, can everyone truly have their happily ever after?

What’s To Like: There is so much that I know I’m going to like about this…and some that I already know I’m not going to understand.  Howard gets super into her descriptions of Wonderland, and I don’t always know what she’s describing.  But she does it well!  I’m really interested to see how this goes, especially now that Alyssa has pulled her dad into everything.  I’m just waiting for that reaction.

My review of Ensnared

My True Love Gave To Me

No, this isn’t another update post.  🙂  It’s a Christmas novel!  For those of you who really want to get into the cutesy, Christmas mood, I think this is perfect for you.  And as an anthology, I’ll break down each story to give you a quick rundown.  But first, I’m going to talk about the collection as a whole.

Just as a heads up, before I forget, these stories are clearly meant for older YA readers.  Lots of language.  Now, carry on.

First of all, I thought it was really cute.  All of the stories together were sweet and funny.  Some were sadder, some were hilarious, some were fantastical.  It just depended on the story.

And I thought they were ordered in a really cool way.  I mean, while 85% of them were schmaltzy romances, there were a few that were very different.  And those were sprinkled in in good places to break the monotony.  (We’ll get to those in a minute.)  There were different genres and a lot of diversity in the characters.  The best part?  While I definitely know which ones I liked best, none of them were bad stories.  They were all interesting and entertaining.  I went into each one not knowing what to expect and coming out with a smile on my face.

So here’s the story breakdown! I want to avoid spoilers, so I’ll just say a few words about each story.

Midnights – Rainbow Rowell

A very typical Rainbow Rowell story.  And less Christmasy, more New Years-y.  It wasn’t the greatest story, but it wasn’t bad.

The Lady and the Fox – Kelly Link

Definitely one of the more fantastical stories.  It’s something of a ghost story, which definitely had my interest.  Having never read anything by Kelly Link, I was intrigued.

Angels in the Snow – Matt de la Pena

This was really cute and had great themes about social class and race.  The main character is a Latino college student who is spending Christmas away from his family when he meets a cute girl he likes.  I liked the way the romance built in this one.

Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me – Jenny Han

This was cute and another diverse story.  Natalie is a Korean girl who was adopted by Santa and lives at the North Pole.  So…like a female Buddy the Elf.  Actually, now that I think about it, that actually sums up the story really well.  It’s the female version of Elf.

It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown – Stephanie Perkins

One of the cuter/funnier ones.  Marigold doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but she still gets wrapped up in it all the same.  I was a fan of how this story unfolded.  It was just the right mix of strange (as in, the characters) and cute (the plot).

Your Temporary Santa – David Levithan

I think this was pretty much David Levithan to a T.  It’s a gay romance between two boys, but it was more about one of them trying to impress the other boy’s family more than it was a romance of any kind. It was nice.  Just not what I would normally read.

Krampuslauf – Holly Black

And this was Holly Black in spades.  It was fantastical and weird and yet still awesome.  It mixes Norse (I think) legend with New Years in a way that was super strange.  I kept reading it going, “What is this?”  But it all came together.  I really liked this one.

What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? – Gayle Forman

Oh, Gayle Forman.  This was one of the cutest stories of the bunch.  Sophie is a Jewish girl stuck on her college campus for a few more days after everyone’s left and she bumps into someone who seems to understand her better than everyone else.

Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus – Myra McEntire

This one definitely made me laugh with its comedy of errors.  Vaughn is a prankster who nearly ruined Christmas.  Think the Christmasy version of A Walk To Remember.

Welcome To Christmas, CA – Kiersten White

My favorite, but that isn’t surprising considering I’m a big fan of Kiersten White.  This had a slightly warped sense of humor while still being cute and romantic.  So, apparently, that’s my thing.  (What I mean by “warped” is that Maria lives in Christmas, California, and she takes it out on the Christmas memorabilia around the diner she works at.  Also, this story had a lot of heart.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Star of Bethlehem – Ally Carter

This was different, in a good way.  It was less about the romance and more about figuring out who you are.  It was funny and awkward and a huge mystery as to what was going on.  I’m not going to ruin the fun!

The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

And this was the last super-fantastical one.  Taking place in its own world (where Christmas apparently still exists), Neve is a young girl alone in the world.  It was a strange story, but it eventually starts to fall into a pattern.  Or maybe that’s just me, since I haven’t read a whole lot of Laini Taylor’s writing.  I’m still trying to figure out her brand of fantasy!

Let’s Play Catch-Up!

Hello my lovelies!  It’s been nearly a week since I’ve posted anything here, and I thought I’d do a little update to tell you what’s going on!  (You know, so you know I’m still alive.)

So, apparently, this holiday crush of after-midterms-but-not-yet-finals is even harder as a teacher than as a student.  (College’s got nothing on this.)  And as a first year teacher who can barely tell you what I’m teaching on Monday, let alone what my finals will look like, this is insanely difficult.  I mean, talk about flying by the seat of your pants.  This is the first time in my entire teaching career (short though it may be) where I’ve been in the same classroom longer than 8 weeks.  During student teaching, I was even bounced halfway through from one class to another!

And it’s such a hard job.  I don’t think some people understand just how hard teaching is.  I have roughly 200 students I see on a daily basis.  And every day, I need to keep track of where everyone is, what they’re doing, checking to see if they’re learning (or even just paying attention), and trying to teach them how to be good people.  It is so hard, you guys.  I drown in grading, I fall asleep thinking about lesson plans, and I spend days questioning whether or not I’m actually making a difference in my students’ lives.

Though it’s hard (and severely cuts into my reading time), there are some really great payoffs.  I love getting to know the kids.  You just know some of them are going through rough patches in their lives and yet they still have this incredibly upbeat attitude.  And some of them are finally finding their place in school.  I love seeing some of my forgetful, average students turn into conscientious, responsible kids.  It’s a slow change, but it’s so worth it when I realize that this student is turning things around.

But it’s the greatest thing ever when I see them have a lightbulb moment of some kind.  Sometimes, it’s when we’re reading a book that relates to their lives.  Other times, it’s when I point out what a Latin root means that they can apply to other classes.  It’s these moments when I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

I love sharing books with my students.  Though it sometimes kills me to see how they treat books, I love having someone come back to me and say, “Can I borrow this book, Miss M?  I started reading it and I can’t stop.”  (They always seem so scared that I’m not going to let them borrow it.)  I’ve had students take some of my favorites off the shelves, like Divergent and My Soul To Take and City of Bones, and come back to me telling me they put the sequel on hold at the library.

I wish I could just talk about books with students all day long.  I feel like that’s the fastest way to get to know any of them (as any reader will attest, you do find some of your best friends through books).  And while I never seem to get any reading time of my own anymore because of these rascals, I love passing on to them this idea that books can be fun and interesting.



All Our Yesterdays

First Lines: I stare at the drain in the center of the concrete floor.  It was the first thing I saw when they locked me in this cell, and I’ve barely looked away since.

This was a book I would see all the time at the library.  It seemed to be staring at me.  And I wanted to read it, but I was a little concerned about the time travel aspects I knew would be in it.  Time travel hurts my head, trying to make sense of it.  But a good time travel book is amazing.  So I caved and tried it.

Because I’m busy and the Goodreads synopsis sums it up so well, I’m just gonna copy that:

What would you change?

Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.

Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it… at least, not as the girl she once was. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.

The first thing I’ll say is the time travel science in this looked legit.  But take that with a grain of salt.  This is coming from an English teacher who probably couldn’t help her 7th grade students with their science homework.  (Oddly enough, The Big Bang Theory is my favorite show and I generally get what they’re saying there.)  The science made my brain hurt just trying to piece it all together.  Maybe for someone who really likes science, this makes more sense and is thus way more exciting.

I really liked the characters of Em and Finn.  Finn was the guy who tries to break the tension by cracking jokes at the most inappropriate times.  (I am that person, so I liked that.)  Em feels like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders and she wrestles with coming to grips with what she can and can’t change.  I thought both of them felt very realistic and relatable.

I thought the story was very cleverly written, which it had to be.  With all the time travel going on, there were occasionally times when people of the same name were in the same scene.  And as the reader, I knew which one was which.  That was super important.  And the story was always switching from being told by Em to Marina.  It was done expertly, in a way that increased the suspense without losing any of the action.

With all the time travel going on, I thought it could have easily become a great confusing ball of bleh.  So I just want to give the author kudos for pulling off something that was exciting, riveting, and completely heartfelt.  Basically everything you could want from a story was here: action, mystery, suspense, love, friendship.

This was a really good book.  I enjoyed this a lot.

The Distance Between Us

First Lines: My eye burns a hole in the page.  I should know this.  I can usually dissect a science equation easily, but the answer isn’t coming to me.

Here’s my dirty little secret guys: before this book, I had never read a Kasie West book, no matter how often I had heard she was amazing.  Partly, this was because I just never got my hands on one.  Partly, it was because everyone was hyping it up.  (The more people hype things up, the more I don’t want to read/watch/hear something.  I still have not heard “Friday” by Rebecca Black all the way through.)  But when I saw this on the library shelf, I decided to make time for West.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen has been observing the uber rich through her own personal microscope.  She watches what they do, and notices that they seem to be very good at one thing: spending money on useless crap, like the porcelain dolls Caymen sells at her mother’s shop.  When Xander Spence walks into the store to pick something up for his grandmother, it takes Caymen less than two seconds to peg him as a rich kid.  Despite that black mark to his name, Xander is the first person who really seems to understand Caymen.  And Caymen’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last.  Still, Xander keeps coming back, day after day.  But Caymen can’t let her mother know about Xander.  Her mother would rather she spend time with a local rocker who never came from money.  Just when Caymen begins to believe Xander’s intentions are true, she finds out that money pays a bigger role in their relationship than she could ever have imagined…

I will say, there were some things about this book that I was really impressed by.  Caymen is whip smart and so sarcastic she could cut you open before you even realized she was doing it.  You have no idea how much I loved that.  That is my life, though my humor is not quite as dry as Caymen’s.  But I loved that she maintained that humor all through the book.  It seems like main characters are not often that sarcastic.

I also liked that the details in this story were great.  The little things can totally make or break a book.  Caymen quickly and easily notices the difference between her life and the lives of the rich (like Xander).  Some are subtle, and that was well done.  But there were other things too.  The way the story unfolds.  The way the characters interact.  Have I mentioned yet I’m a detail-oriented person?  (Well, some of the time, at least.)

I think there were some harsh realities brought to light in this book about social class.  As I’ve mentioned a few times, Xander practically bleeds money.  But Caymen lives in a tiny apartment above their porcelain doll shop with her single mom.  (Now you understand where her humor comes from.)  I think social class issues are slowly getting addressed more and more in YA books.  I’ve seen it cropping up a lot lately, and I like that.  It just needs to be done well.

…And this one was pretty close to the target, but it still felt odd at times.  Caymen has a habit of obsessing over the different social planets her and Xander inhabit, but it seemed like right after that, she was cool with some of the showy things he did.  It seemed strange that Caymen could obsess over it one chapter and then be fine with it the next.

Admittedly, there are many parts in the book that come off as cheesy.  It’s a YA romance, and I can’t say I really expected (or wanted) anything else.  But the ending was a bit lackluster.  It felt too easy.  The story went from being interesting and mysterious to suddenly wrapping everything up quickly in a predictable manner.  I was a bit disappointed with that.

Still, it was a cute story.  It tackled heavy social issues while still managing to be lighthearted and funny.

Red Kayak

First Lines: After all this time, I ask myself: Was it my fault?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

I can easily say–and with certainty–that I never would have stumbled across this book if it wasn’t something my 7th graders will start reading next week.  I would have never had any interest in it based on the back cover.  Nothing about it would have captured my attention.  But seeing as I’m the teacher, it’s probably really helpful if I’ve read the book before my students have.

Brady, an 8th grader, loves his life in the Chesapeake Bay.  He loves hanging out with his best friends, J.T. and Digger…but bitter changes are ahead of them.  When a wealthy family, the DiAngelos, moves in next to Brady, Brady slowly befriends them.  Tragedy strikes when the DiAngelos’ kayak overturns in the bay, and Brady begins to wonder if it was really an accident.  When Brady discovers the terrible truth behind the kayak’s sinking, he’ll have to make choices…choices that may change everyone’s lives.

I didn’t have terribly high expectations going into this.  Some of my 8th grade students (who had read the book last year) didn’t have good things to say about it.  But I tried to just read it and enjoy it like I would any other book.

And really, I liked it.  It plays with actions and consequences more than a lot of books do.  Or, I guess, it focuses on a couple of actions and the entire book is about the consequences.  And I think it’s important for kids about this age to see how their actions, even seemingly small ones, can have awful results.

Brady was an entirely relatable character, even for me, someone ten years-ish older than Brady.  Brady really struggles with deciding what to do with what he knows, and he doesn’t always make the right decision.  I liked that.  It made him feel more real.  This book could have easily come off as moral and preachy to kids, but I didn’t feel that at all.  (Maybe my 7th graders will argue that.)

There were many different levels to this story.  While Brady was struggling with his issues, other things were going on.  His parents were dealing with some things, Brady witnessed the DiAngelos’ struggles, etc.  There was always something going on in the story and Brady absorbed it all.

So many lessons could come from this book, but I kind of loved that.  It was heartbreakingly tragic while still being entertaining.