The Year of the Hangman

0142400785-01-lzzzzzzzFirst Lines: At least once a week, Creighton Brown’s mother predicted that he would come to a bad end.  Though she never specified what she meant by ” a bad end,” it was understood to mean the end of a hangman’s rope.

My students are getting ready to read books about the Revolutionary War-era, along with a few books about Native Americans.  (They get to choose which book they want to read.)  This is one option and I wanted to read it before they did.  I’ve read this before, years and years ago, but I definitely needed the refresher.

The year is 1777–and the rebellious Americans have been soundly beaten by the British.  General George Washington is awaiting execution and Creighton Brown, a troublesome 15 year old, has just arrived in the colonies against his will.  Bringing with him just his attitude, Creighton befriends Benjamin Franklin and gets a job at Franklin’s print shop.  But a British general expects Creighton to spy on Franklin for the British.  As battles are fought and lies exposed, Creighton must decide which side has his loyalty: the country he’s called home for 15 years or colonies where he’s finally found friends.

I’m going to start by saying that I truly love the Revolutionary War era.  I watch documentaries about it, read biographies about it, and generally geek out whenever I can about it.  So the fact that I’m about to teach it has me in excited fits.

But…this book just doesn’t do it for me.  For me, it’s like taking a Shakespearean classic like Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet and dramatically changing the ending.

I don’t like that it’s an alternative history.  (That is, it pretends we lost the Revolution in 1776 rather than winning it.)  Part of the reason I like the Revolutionary War so much is because we were the underdog nation, fighting against the biggest military superpower the world had known to that point.  And we won.  So taking that away kind of kills its mojo for me.

I mean, I totally get why a story like this exists.  We shouldn’t have won.  And it’s interesting to contemplate what we would have done if we had lost.  Where would the rebels hide?  What would they be doing?  Fun to question, but I prefer the stranger-than-fiction facts.

Also, Creighton just comes off to me as a spoiled brat.  (Which, he is.)  Again, I understand why his character is like that.  It’s trying to show growth and all that, but it doesn’t make it easier to read when he whines about everything.

My favorite character, though, is Sophie.  She cracks me up and I was always looking for more of her scenes.

It’s not a bad read, especially when you consider what kind of research had to go into this story, but it just doesn’t work for me.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)

a-court-of-thorns-and-rosesFirst Lines: The forest had become a labyrinth of snow and ice.  I’d been monitoring the parameters of the thicket for an hour, and my vantage point in the crook of a tree branch had turned useless.

I had heard so many good things about this that I couldn’t pass it up.  Also, it’s been a while since I’ve read a story about Fae.  What wasn’t to like?

In the depths of winter, 19 year old Feyre’s wish is just to survive.  So killing a huge wolf–who provides food and money from his fur–seems like a Godsend.  That is, until a beast-like creature shows up demanding retribution.  He drags Feyre to a land she’s only heard about in nightmarish tales of Fae and monsters.  But it’s there that Feyre discovers this beast is a Fae named Tamlin–a lethal immortal.  The longer Feyre stays with Tamlin, the more she starts to thaw toward him and his icy demeanor.  But an ancient shadow hangs over the land, cursing Tamlin and those Feyre has come to care about.  Can a human possibly stand a chance of saving her new home?

Feyre is a great lead for this book.  She’s strong and independent, but also hardened by the hardships of her life.  She’s stubborn, but also fierce and loyal.  She doesn’t always make the right decisions, but she tries.

The minor characters were also fantastic.  Tamlin, yes, but I had a soft-spot for his best friend, Lucien, who was definitely wearing his sassy pants the whole time.  I actually probably ended up liking him more than I liked Tamlin.  Tamlin was hard to get a read on, but you always knew where you stood with Lucien.

The funny thing when I was reading this was how I slowly started recognizing the plot.  I think by the time I was in chapter 2 or 3, I was thinking to myself, “Huh, this is extraordinarily like Beauty and the Beast.”  Halfway through the story, I was utterly convinced.  You can’t talk me out of it.  Whether it’s coincidence or not, I also saw elements of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche here as well, which happens to be one of my favorite myths.  Could this combo be any better?

So…I want to explain my rating of this a little.  I’m giving it a 4–a high four.  But why not a 5?  I was missing something emotionally from the story, something to really get me invested in the story.  Oh sure, I loved Feyre.  But Tamlin…I struggled with him.  I felt a little something between him and Feyre, but it really wasn’t enough for me.  Like I said, Mr. Sassy Pants Lucien was more the character for me.  I understood him.

Definitely a book worth checking out.  Like now.


awkward-cover-334x480First Lines: Okay, so when you’ve just moved to a new town and are still a total outsider, this is not the best way to start life at your new school.

This is different from what I usually read.  It’s a graphic novel!  But I got it in a book order and I figured I needed to read it before my students did.  Besides, a graphic novel from time to time is good fun.

On her first day of school, Penelope “Peppi” Torres has to remind herself what she should do.  1) Don’t get noticed by the mean kids.  2) Seek out people with similar interests to befriend.  But when Peppi trips over Jaime Thompson, she’s automatically broken rule 1 and the bullies start calling her “nerder girlfriend.”  How do she react?  By pushing Jaime and running away.  Ashamed of her behavior, she seeks Jaime out.  They could be friends…if they weren’t members of rival after-school activities.  Maybe rules are meant to be broken.

This was cute.  It’s definitely middle grade, but it’s cute and has a good message.  Peppi is sweet and her friendship with Jaime is still innocent and devoid of anything romantic.  I certainly had guy friends when I was in middle school that weren’t touched by romance, and it’s nice to see it here.

Even better (in my opinion) was that this book was clean.  Only one instance of a curse word throughout the whole book.  So many graphic novels are…um…graphic.  It was nice to read one that wasn’t.

I know I haven’t said much about this, but I don’t really have a lot to say.  It’s a cute little story about teamwork and overcoming prejudice.

My Life Next Door

my_life_next_door_-_huntley_fitzpatrickFirst Lines: The Garretts were forbidden from the start.  But that’s not why they were important.

Initially, I had put off reading this for months because my mom read it and said she hated it.  (While we generally do have very different tastes in books, we generally feel the same about the books we do read in common.)  So when I finally picked this up, I was a bit hesitant.

For years, Samantha Reed has watched her neighbors.  The Reed household is quiet, uncluttered, and reserved, all of the time.  But the Garretts…the Garretts are everything Samantha longs for.  They’re loud and messy and interesting.  They get even more interesting when Jase Garrett climbs up to her window one night and changes everything.  As they begin to fall for each other–awkwardly discovering what it means to be in love–Samantha struggles with acknowledging Jase around people who will judge her.  She certainly can’t tell her mom, who flies off the handle whenever the Garretts come up in conversation.  Then something unthinkable happens and Samantha is put in an impossible position–protect her family…or the Garretts?

Actually, this was better than I thought it would be, based on my mom’s review.  I had gone into this thinking there was a Montague & Capulet/Hatfields & McCoys kind of rivalry going on between the families, but that is definitely not the case.  More like simply dislike and prejudice.

Samantha and Jase are adorable.  I mean, Jase is simply the boy next door: he’s good with his little siblings, he’s mechanical, and he’s sweet.  It’s adorable and I want one.  Please tell me I can put Jase on my Christmas list.

There was also some really great commentary on this book about our society–and parenting.  I mean, I don’t even have kids, but I know all this is true.  Like how everyone has an opinion on how to parent your child.  Or like when you run across big families and people assume stupid things like they must be Catholic, they’ve never heard of birth control, etc.  I didn’t even realize how big a pet peeve this was for me until I was reading this.

I wasn’t so much a fan of Samantha’s mother.  She’s a politician and, due to pressures of the job, she acts like every politician you’ve grown to hate.  Ugh.  I’m reading to avoid watching that on TV, thanks.

There are some twists near the end that felt really…extreme.  Like I realize that fiction tends to do that from time to time, but normally it still feels really realistic.  This, at least for me, went a bit overboard.  But, I’ll admit, it was still interesting to read.  I still wanted to know what happened next.

Overall, it’s a cute romance, but you may have to deal with some awful (as in despicable, not horribly-written) characters along the way.  Sometimes getting through those scenes was a challenge.

Walk On Earth a Stranger (The Gold Seer Trilogy, #1)

First Lines: I hear the deer before I see him, though he makes less noise than a squirrel–the gentle crunch of snow, a snapping twig, the soft whuff as he roots around for dead grass.

When I saw that Rae Carson was coming out with a new series, I couldn’t have cared less what it was actually going to be about–I just had to read it!  But when it turned out to be a historical fantasy, well, I was definitely there!

Lee has everything she could want–a homestead with loving parents, space to hunt and roam, and a best friend that may be something more.  Lee also has a secret, a dangerous one: she can sense gold, wherever it is around her.  In veins in the ground, in nuggets, in heirlooms or hidden on a person–she can find it.  This talent helps keep her family fed through even the harshest winters.  But what would someone do to get that kind of power?  They may murder for it.  So when everything Lee holds dear is ripped away from her, she flees to California to join the gold rush.  Perhaps she can reinvent herself out west.  If she survives the journey.

I was really looking forward to an awesome historical fantasy, but unfortunately, the “fantasy” term should be used incredibly loosely.  I thought since Lee has this power or whatever, there’d maybe be others with abilities or something else fantastical about the book.  Nope.  Lee’s ability is literally the only thing that can be considered “fantasy” and even then, it’s really not a big part of the story (except for how it gets the plot rolling).  So in that respect, I was a bit disappointed.

But the history is awesome.  I don’t know much about the Gold Rush, but I do know how dangerous it was to journey across the country in 1800s.  (I may be too young to have ever played Oregon Trail, but I’ve certainly heard about the ill-fated Donner Party.)  So it was really cool to see that journey played out.  It’s not always exciting, maybe, but it was interesting.

The action was a mix of predictable and not-so-predictable.  I was blindsided a few times by things, which was fun, but there were plenty of other times where I totally saw things coming.  Such is the nature of books.

Lee is a pretty cool character.  She seems to trust people that others may not trust (and vice versa), which was interesting and led to some things happening in the book.  But at the same time, I thought Lee was kind of a forgettable heroine.  She was so…normal is not the right word.  More like typical.  There wasn’t anything about her that really stood out.  I can’t tell if that was intentional or not.

Anyway, definitely worth the read for the historical stuff.  And the other characters.  There’s this minor character that I’ve really taken a shining to, who happens to have the same name as my dog…so that might explain it.

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

First Lines: This is the part where I die.  Don’t panic; it isn’t unexpected.  The sea is prideful, after all, and Death never goes back on a deal.

This is the first Sarah Ockler book I’ve picked up since I read Twenty Boy Summer years ago (when it was the only book she had published!).  Because I hadn’t liked that one, I was always leery about trying another.  But this one just called to me.  And dude, those first lines?  How could you not want to pick it up?

The youngest of six singing sisters, Elyse’s future had been planned since she was old enough to start singing as a toddler.  And she wanted that future.  But after a boating accident took her voice, Elyse can’t sing anymore.  She can’t even speak.  To get away from the accident, she accepts an invitation to stay with a friend in Atargatis Cove, Oregon, a small sea-side town vastly different from her home of Tobago.  The only person in town who treats Elyse like a person instead of a piece of sea glass is Christian Kane–notorious player.  He challenges Elyse to express herself, and he likes the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is a mermaid come to life.  When Christian needs a first mate for the town’s Pirate Regatta, Elyse tries to push away her fears and get back on the water.  And through it all, she can’t help being drawn to Christian.  With him, she finds her inner voice.  But even scarier than that, what if she can’t help losing her heart to him?

Y’all…this is a must-read.  So so many things were well done in this book.  It’s so incredibly relatable.

Elyse’s struggle is so real.  She struggles to communicate, and so many people either don’t take the time to figure out what she’s trying to say or they forget she’s even there because she doesn’t speak.  It’s frustrating to read.

The author’s note at the end mentioned how she wrote this because a lot of us feel silenced sometimes.  It may not be to Elyse’s level, but we may have had times as kids where adults silenced us, or any time when our opinions were not heard.  And that comes out so clearly through this book.  As an introvert who usually ends up observing conversations rather than taking part in them, I totally got this.

And Elyse is just interesting.  She comes from the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, which gives her a really cool background.  Her past unfolds throughout the story, so we get to learn about who she was at the same time we learn about who she is now.

Like any good novel, there are multiple layers to this story.  It’s not just about Elyse’s problems, but also about Christian’s, about the town’s, and so much more.  There are so many components that it really does start to feel like real life.

There were some things that needed improvement, but not enough to sway what I felt about this book.  I never really felt like Elyse’s ethnicity and uniqueness stuck.  She’s a Caribbean girl in Oregon; how much different could she be?  But I constantly forgot that she wasn’t the same as everyone else.  She did use some slang in her thoughts, but it wasn’t much.  I simply would have liked to see more.  And the relationship between Christian and Elyse never felt…quite on target…for me.  I just didn’t feel emotion behind it like I was hoping.  They seemed like a good fit for each other, truly, but I just didn’t get much emotion out of it.

But overall, it’s a really incredible story.  Definitely worth picking up.