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.

Sisters of Glass by Stephanie Hemphill
Maria is the younger daughter of an esteemed family on the island of Murano, the traditional home for Venetian glassmakers. Though she longs to be a glassblower herself, glassblowing is not for daughters—that is her brother's work. Maria has only one duty to perform for her family: before her father died, he insisted that she be married into the nobility, even though her older sister, Giovanna, should rightfully have that role. Not only is Giovanna older, she's prettier, more graceful, and everyone loves her.
Maria would like nothing more than to allow her beautiful sister, who is far more able and willing to attract a noble husband, to take over this role for her. But they cannot circumvent their father's wishes. And when a new young glassblower arrives to help the family business and Maria finds herself drawn to him, the web of conflicting emotions grows even more tangled.

Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel
  This new trilogy will capture the hearts of readers who adore Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series. Callie LeRoux lives in Slow Run, Kansas, helping her mother run their small hotel and trying not to think about the father she's never met. Lately, all of her energy is spent battling the constant storms plaguing the Dust Bowl and their effects on her health. Callie is left alone when her mother goes missing in a dust storm. Her only hope comes from a mysterious man offering a few clues about her destiny and the path she must take to find her parents in "the golden hills of the west" (California). Along the way, she meets Jack, a young hobo boy who is happy to keep her company—there are dangerous, desperate people at every turn. And there's also an otherworldly threat to Callie. Warring fae factions, attached to the creative communities of American society, are very aware of the role this half-mortal, half-fae teenage girl plays in their fate.

The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry
This dark and thrilling adventure, with an unforgettable heroine, will captivate fans of steampunk, fantasy, and romance.
On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena's father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears.

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
Mary O'Hara is a sharp and cheeky 12-year-old Dublin schoolgirl who is bravely facing the fact that her beloved Granny is dying. But Granny can't let go of life, and when a mysterious young woman turns up in Mary's street with a message for her Granny, Mary gets pulled into an unlikely adventure. The woman is the ghost of Granny's own mother, who has come to help her daughter say good-bye to her loved ones and guide her safely out of this world. She needs the help of Mary and her mother, Scarlett, who embark on a road trip to the past. Four generations of women travel on a midnight car journey. One of them is dead, one of them is dying, one of them is driving, and one of them is just starting out.

Code Name Verity  by Elizabeth Wein
Oct. 11th, 1943--A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.


  1. Partials is definitely on my list to read. Nice to know that I need to stick with it even if the start's a little slow. Will file that away in my memory bank for when I eventually get to it :)

  2. Sounds like you had fun working on Annie. I'll have to add Partials to my list. I just started reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King which feels like it might take a while to get through. Greyhound of a Girl looks good based on these descriptions.


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