Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Two Books and a Movie!

I've been dying to get my Hunger Games thoughts down here (I haven't let myself read other people's yet, and I can't wait) but I've been working non-stop since Friday night so I decided to include it in today's post.  It does, for the most part, fall under the category of "sunshine" so I think it's appropriate!  I'll try to warn for anything that might be too spoilery, in case you haven't seen it.

The Characters/The Actors
  • With several of the actors (Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson) I had a bit of an adjustment period.   There were a few lines early on for each of them that, I don't know, pulled me out of the story for a second, because they felt too much like the actor and not enough like the character.  But for all three, after the first five minutes or so of watching them, that stopped entirely and I was sucked in. 
  • Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Amandla Stendberg: YES.  Nailed it.  Cinna, Effie, and Rue were 100% spot on for me.  
  •  POTENTIAL SPOILER: I loved getting to know Seneca Crane a bit more.  Wes Bentley was delightfully creepy and cold, but then also in his own way so passionate about the fate of his Games.  And Donald Sutherland as President Snow:  Well done.  Although I think I pictured someone more useless and spoiled-looking, Sutherland was actually pretty believable as someone people might actually choose to follow.  (Total sidenote: Did the way he was written in the movie remind anyone else of like an evil version of The Giver?  Like, "I've seen all the things, and that's why we must KEEP THE PEOPLE DOWN!"  Anyway, I bet Sutherland would be great in that role...just sayin'...)
What was added/What was lost (SPOILERS ABOUND)
  •   Ok, overall, I thought they did a good job of taking the book (one distinct art form) and turning it into a movie (another distinct art form).  These books are a lot more challenging than the Harry Potter books (for example) because so much of what makes me love the books is getting to be in Katniss' head.  I'm glad the movie didn't attempt that with v/o; at the same time, a lot was lost that I loved.  But I understood most of it, and so I'm ok with it.
  • Things that got cut that I realized I was pretty ok with: Madge, Lavinia/the whole concept of Avoxes, watching Katniss nearly die of thirst over the course of like three days.  I mean, here's the thing, really: The whole book is my favorite part.  So I'm sad to see anything go.  But they had to streamline somewhere, and I think we pretty well got that the Capitol is horrific and so is the arena.  I liked the change in provenance of the Mockingjay pin, actually--that it represents the kindness of her district, and the hob in particular, and that Prim is the one who gets her to wear it in the games.  
  • Things that got added that I liked: All the game-making.  I think it really sets up the next movies well (although you lose the total blindsiding when Katniss gets out of the arena--I, like her, was pretty dumbfounded the first time I read the books and she got out only to be told that she was now in even more danger).  The uprising in 11.  And, OMG, the bowl of berries.  That was so well done.  
  • Things I missed:  Well, I wish Katniss had yelled Peeta's name instead of whispering it, after the rule change is announced.  That's really small, but I love that moment of her losing control just for a second.  Actually, I felt like we lost a lot of what made Katniss and Peeta interesting together--her conflicted feelings and strategizing and what makes them grow together.  We lost some of the growing together with Rue too--the day with Rue and the cave were places I wished the movie would have taken just a few more beats.  
Times I cried
  • Every single time anyone did the three-finger salute (my students loved that gesture, by the way--I anticipate seeing it in the halls at school a lot over the next week or so.)
  • The parade of tributes
  • Basically any time Rue or Prim showed up 
Ok--now time for books.  I know this has been a long post, but please, do yourself a favor--even if you don't read my review below, put Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein on your TBR.  Then buy a lot of tissues.  (Canadian friends: Goodreads is doing a giveaway of CNV just for you guys!  Go enter!)

What I Read This Week
  The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went into this looking for a light contemporary to break up a long (and to-be-continued) string of dystopia/sci-fi and historicals. What I found was something more than that. I love, love, love the narrative voice of this book, so much so that I nearly gave it a five-star rating (pretty rare from me; oh Goodreads, why can't I give half stars?) It's kind of old-fashioned sounding, in that it's an older-and-wiser sounding person, but not in a preachy and obnoxious way (although I guess I can't speak from the teen perspective--students? Want to borrow this one and weigh in?) But Frankie is far from old-fashioned. I empathized with her a lot of the time--while I don't have any boarding school or secret society or pranking experience, I was often the youngest person in my group of friends, or at least perceived as the "most innocent", as I went to parochial school through 6th grade. Frankie is the youngest girl in a largely male family, she goes to a boarding school still redolent of whiskey and leather and Old Boys, and she socializes mainly with older kids. She's often marginalized as the sweet, cuddly, innocent "bunny rabbit", and watching her break out of that shell was one of the most satisfying transformations I've read in a while. It's made even better by her occasional ambivalence--because, even when you know you shouldn't like a guy if he only wants you to be cute and docile, it's hard to do something that he won't like when he's adorable and brings you strawberry Mentos. I recommend this to anyone looking for a good contemporary that's not just a big ol' mush-fest (not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**I received an e-galley of this book for free through Netgalley**

I am writing this review at 2:00 am. I had about 20% of the book left when I picked it up at midnight, struck by mild insomnia. Now I am finished and I may not sleep tonight. I can't remember the last book I read that turned me so inside-out. I suppose I should say something more specific, so here goes: Code Name Verity is a completely different sort of WWII novel than I've ever read. There is plenty of hiding and waiting and suspense (all de rigeur) but there is, I think, more hope than I'm used to, and also a different kind of horror. The two main characters, Maddie and Julia, are two of the most memorable, wonderful, real people I've ever met on a page. Maggie Stiefvater blogged about this book recently, and I will echo her advice: make time for this book. Be present and attentive and let it pull you in. You will ache by the end, but you won't regret it.

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Waiting in the Wings

 (As requested by Carrie last week!)


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: This Magic Moment

I'm pretty sure I've blogged about my answer to this week's RTW before.  I do have some runners-up, and I realized that what separates the runners-up from the winner is that the runners-up made me cry--I mean, really sob, out loud, on mass transit--and the winner knocked so much breath out of me that I couldn't even cry.  Geez, cheery, right?

This Week's YA Highway Road Trip Topic:
A long-awaited kiss, a surprise ending, a character's sudden decision… these are the moments that make us smile, gasp, and LOVE a book for the rest of our lives.
What is your favorite literary moment?

Ok, spoilers ahead for The Time Traveler's Wife, The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials trilogy), and Mockingjay (Hunger Games trilogy).  You've been warned.

3)  The Time Traveler's Wife: Henry visits Alba at the museum and Claire tries to meet him there.  Other parts of the book make me cry, too--I mean, really, from there on out, the last hundred or so pages, it's basically continuous--but that's the image that stays with me.  Henry and Alba at the museum entrance, and Claire running from her car, just a bit too slowly.

2) The Amber Spyglass: Will and Lyra make their pact to visit the bench.  Really the whole sequence, now that I re-read it, of their realizing they can't stay together, because there is so much false hope.

1) Mockingjay: The silver parachutes.

Using the rope that hangs from the top, I pull myself out of the crush of bodies.  Yes, I can see the rebel army pouring into the Circle, driving the refugees back onto the avenues.  I scan the area for the pods that will surely be detonating.  But that doesn't happen.  This is what happens:
That colon is the most devastating punctuation mark in literature.  For serious.  Because it's really the first time that Katniss, as our narrator, has ever told us to STOP for a second.  This series doesn't come with pause buttons.  And because this plan has been set up, more or less.  And because, my god, it's so close to the end of the book and Prim is still alive.   (Listen, whoever directs that scene on film, I'd be happy to come down to the set and give you some ideas.  Just sayin'.) 

Ok, well, now that you're all crying, I need to cheer you up.  I leave you with something that you've hopefully already seen but definitely want to see again: 

MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON from Dean Fleischer-Camp on Vimeo.

MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON, TWO from Dean Fleischer-Camp on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday Sunshine: Yup, you read that right!

I'm proud to report that my students now have two successful shows under their belts, with one more this evening, and then our production of Annie will be over!  I've loved getting to know and work with some new students (only maybe a quarter of our cast and crew have worked with me before, I think?) but I will be very, very happy to have my school day end at 3:00 (or even 4:00, if I stay after with students) instead of 6:00 or 6:30 as it has for the last several weeks.  I'll definitely have more energy and time for keeping up with the many blog friends I've been kind of neglecting!

I'm posting today because I have some time to myself this morning--Mr. S is off taking an exam to test his legal ethics (for the record, I almost never believe the "correct" answer according to current legal rules and laws is actually the most ethical one, but what do I know) and so instead of sleeping in I'm trying to do as much of my non-school to-do list today before the show, so that tomorrow I can focus on getting my grading and planning done!  I'll be back on track next week, though.

Also--I'm looking for help choosing what to read next!  Check out my possibilities at the bottom of the post, and let me know in the comments what you want to see reviewed here next Sunday!

What I Read This Week: 

  Partials (Partials, #1)Partials by Dan Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**I received this book as a free e-galley from Netgalley**

Friends, I don't know quite how to start this review. I want to start with the absolutely edge-of-your-seat last quarter of the book, because I cannot get it out of my head. That feels backwards, but I don't want to lead with the fact that the beginning felt a bit slow, because that might make this review sound negative, which it is emphatically NOT. Because, here's the thing. The beginning did feel slow, but once I finished the book, I was so happy for that slowly unwinding beginning, where I got to sit with the characters a little bit before everything went crazy. There is one longish scene in particular, a dinner party of sorts, that felt like it went on a bit too long when I was reading it--but now, thinking back, I feel like I was there with the characters. It's hard to describe more clearly than that, but the pacing created the overall effect of being in it in a way that doesn't happen often. And then, of course, the last 25% or so was that great mix of quick-moving and suspenseful that just forces my eye to jump over paragraphs to see what comes next. I always go back almost immediately, but the author might as well have grabbed my face and smashed it against the next paragraph when the writing gets really tense and things start to happen in rapid succession. (Suzanne Collins, I'm looking at you, here.)

So, my advice? Definitely add it to the list, and if the beginning feels slow, stick with it--it more than pays off. And the sequel, whenever it may be, is high on my list.

IvylandIvyland by Miles Klee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My reaction in a nutshell: the craft that went into making this book is so high-level and fascinating to me that I plan to take another pass at it in a few months just to look at the how of it all. But in my first read, I got so caught up in the characters and their stories and the world they live in that I forgot to focus on the craft. I find that combination really exciting in any artistic medium, especially those I've studied (lit and theater). When I'm reading or watching something that's technically virtuosic, I might be academically interested (and I'm a big nerd, so that gets me pretty far) but ultimately I get a little bored. Ivyland combines really well-executed writing with the "third heat" of a story and characters I cared about. I especially loved the family saga of Aidan, stuck in Ivyland, and his brother Cal, stuck in space. For me, those two felt like the center of the novel (maybe because, in an alternate universe, this is a YA novel about the two of them, and Aidan's best friend Henri, and this girl Phoebe who I really want to know more about. For sure, Miles Klee would make a fantastic YA author--but that's probably just wishful thinking. And the folks hyperventilating over how ZOMG DARK AND VIOLENT AND LANGUAGEY AND SEXY YA has gotten would probably all drop dead of heart attacks if that were ever to happen. But I would love it, and I think my students would too.)

Speaking of which, I have to mention, because I know some of my students read these reviews: parts of the book are extremely dark, containing frank depictions of drug use, violence, sex, caterpillars (yup), language, and general meanness. So, students, I love you guys and respect your intelligence and near-adulthood, but probably hold off on this one at least until college. You'll enjoy it better after a few college English classes anyway. This is definitely a book that required the use of my whole brain. I'm certainly not of the mindset that YA, as a genre, is shallow or simplistic, but it is usually written to be a little more accessible to readers at different levels, and Ivyland might be a tough leap to make if you haven't read much other literary fiction for adults. Who knows, though--I'll never tell you YOU MAY NOT READ THIS BOOK. (But your parents can, absolutely, so check with them first.)

I'll close with what is, hands down, my favorite paragraph of the whole novel. I love it too much to say anything intelligent about it other than YES, THIS. Especially the first and two last sentences.

We cannot nix the dread that some malfunctioning mass of neurons won't flip the switch from CHILD to ADULT. And if we have nothing of value to offer. Then. Am I meant to apologize for my time? Enjoy and not reverse the end? It's true we can't spend our lives in trances, with perfect TV-related recall. But who's to judge. Schedule me. I am highly trained and helpless. I assumed there was a plan.

(Full disclosure: I went to college with the author. I think he's almost intimidatingly cool. On the other hand, he was late to my wedding. But this review has been as objective as possible, given all of the above.)

Miles is a St. Patrick's Day baby, so happy birthday, Miles!  Thanks for writing such a great book, and congrats!

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red DressesLies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**I received this book as a free e-galley from Netgalley**

This was a fun, quick read--edgy, poetic takes on classic fairytales, accompanied by excellently creepy woodcuts. (A highlight for me was the Princess and the Pea retelling, which highlights what should have been an obvious flaw in the plan!) I wish this had been around when I was teaching fairytales last year! I recommend for grown-up fans of Gail Carson Levine.

View all my reviews  

This is normally where I would put  my Waiting In the Wings, but I can't decide where to go from here.  After the jump are my choices (linked to their Goodreads profiles!)  Let me know in the comments what you'd like to see reviewed next week.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Help out my classroom!

Edit, 3/13/12:  My project has been fully funded!  THANK YOU so much to those of you who donated or helped spread the word.  I still encourage you to check out Donors Choose--it's a seriously amazing site and I'm sure there are teachers in your community who could use some help!

Hey y'all,

I don't do this much, but Donors Choose is doing a great promotion right now, so what the heck:

I'm trying to get some basic classroom supplies--sticky lined chart paper, post-its, and markers--to make it easier for my students (hi guys!) to create and display work, and to let them discuss their ideas in writing.  Donors Choose has matching funds available THIS WEEK ONLY--so even if you can only give a buck or two, it counts twice as much toward helping me restock these (astonishingly pricey, when you use enough of them) much-needed items.

If you're interested in helping out, first of all, THANK YOU.  Second of all, here's the relevant info:

To learn more or donate:
  1. Visit my Teacher Page,
  2. Choose one of my projects, enter the amount of your donation, and click "Give"
  3. During check-out, enter the word BLOOM where it says "Match or gift code", and your donation will be matched dollar for dollar.
The BLOOM match code will double your donation until the end of the day on Monday, March 19th. So exciting!

And if you can't donate but can drive traffic my way, I'd greatly appreciate that as well!  I'm envisioning using all of these items a lot in my TV Writing and Production class--a brand new elective at our school and something of a passion project for me.  I think these will help us track our goals and production needs and just generally make everything run a lot more smoothly.

Thanks, guys!

Lucky 7s

So, it's finally come to this.  I've been tagged in the Lucky 7 Meme! 

Both of my WIPs are sloppy messy disasters that are more outline than writing, so I don't have a page 77 of either one that's in any kind of shareable shape.  But here's lines 7-14 of one of my page 7s:

     "Campbell! It's ok! It's ok! Calm down! Look--it's ok," he says, putting both hands in the air. I am all the way over to the side of my seat again, but I relax my stance just a little and meet his eyes. ", what did you think I was going to do to you, exactly?"
      I feel my blush reach my scalp as I realize I can't answer him. I clench my jaw and shrug against the seat back. His hands ball up into fists and then stretch out to their full length. His fingers are long and knotty--and they look strong. I won’t let my guard down all the way, no matter what he says. Those fingers could easily wrap around my neck.

I was tagged by Mr. Colin D. Smith, who explained the meme thusly:

The idea of the Lucky 7 Meme is to get each person that receives the meme to share some of their WIP–i.e., the novel they are currently working on. It’s a Lucky 7 meme, because each person is supposed to go to page 77 of their WIP, jump down to line 7, copy the next 7 lines, and paste them into a blog to share with the world.

I'm going to back out of actually tagging people, because I feel like every other blogger I follow has already been tagged!  But if you haven't, chalk it up to "show week brain", and take the challenge!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Time Jump!

Just a quick PSA:  since you're reading this on your computer, you probably already know this, but it's an hour later than you think it is!  Happy time change!

Ok, friends, this school musical business is slowing me down a bit (I just don't read as fast when I'm falling asleep on the train!)

But here's what I read this week: 

The AcadémieThe Académie by Susanne Dunlap
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**This is a book I got for free, in advance through Netgalley.**

I didn't realize while I was reading this that the eponymous school was a real one, and that these three young ladies were real historical figures who all attended it in real life (although not all together.) I definitely enjoyed the historical setting, and the multiple point-of-view narration. A few things pulled me out of the story a little--occasionally when things had to be explained, or when characters stopped to really belabor a particular belief--and the ending, while exciting, felt a little rushed--but overall I found this a very enjoyable story and I'm thinking about tracking down more info about the girls themselves.

View all my reviews

Waiting in the Wings:


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tahereh Mafi Is Awesome. (That is all.)

Hey all--RTW kind of stymied me today, so I'm sitting it out--but I had to have a moment of squee here on the blog, since I'm lucky enough to have won yet another giveaway, this time from the fabulous Tahereh Mafi.  Somehow, it's not enough for her to write beautifully, she's also just a cool person and does stuff like give away her books.  Check out her blog, and if you haven't read Shatter Me--well, what are you waiting for? My review is here, but really, in a nutshell: if you like good writing, you will love Shatter Me. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Whoah, It's March!

Ok, I was back at work this week, and therefore back on the F Train--so I actually did finish some books this week.  It's not that I don't want to read when I'm on vacation--I just feel like I should be out!  And about!  And also in!  and sleeping! 

Since it's a new month, that means I should be setting a new goal for a specific type of book I want to read more of.  Well, last month I didn't do as well as I'd hoped on my goal of getting caught up and reviewing all the e-galleys I've gotten from NetGalley, and I actually feel an obligation to do so (as opposed to the goals I set just for myself, this affects other people.)  So I'll continue to work through those in March.  I read two in February--The Glass Collector by Anna Perera and Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta--and you can find my reviews here and here.

What I Read This Week:

 Across the Universe (Across the Universe, #1)Across the Universe by Beth Revis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After I got past the TERRIFYING beginning (seriously, I had to walk away for a day or two)I got really swept up in this story. Amy's voice, in particular, feels very true--and in a book with a plot this wild and twisty-turny, having a protagonist who can anchor it with some reality is important. That's not to say that the plot doesn't work--in fact, it's very well constructed--but I don't read a ton of science fiction, so it's nice to have a bit of a lifeline. I can't help but compare the plot, in some ways, to The Giver, but it never feels copied or unoriginal. It's like it takes some of the concepts and situations that were most interesting from that book and gives them a whole new context. (And really, so much in The Giver is just waiting to be revisited!) Revis has created a really fascinating world in Across the Universe, and by the end of this book you're left with the feeling that she's just scratched the surface (so isn't it awesome that Book 2 is out? Yes, yes it is.)

A Million Suns (Across the Universe, #2)A Million Suns by Beth Revis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, the rare (these days) second book I read immediately after the first book! And it did not disappoint. The big reveals are just as satisfying and tightly paced as those in the first book, and the stakes just keep getting higher! I loved the "scavenger hunt" setup--and completely did not anticipate any of the big twists. My only complaint: having to wait for book three!

View all my reviews

Waiting in the Wings