Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I'm BACK! Also, it's Road Trip Wednesday!

Hey y'all!  It's true--I'm really back!  Today was my last day of school--last day ever at this school--and for the foreseeable future, I'm going to be a much better blogger/commenter/comment responder because I have neither full-time work nor full-time school lined up.  (I've been turning over options for part-time either or both when we get to Buffalo, but nothing too intense.)  This is the first time since I was four years old that I will not be starting school in September.  And while I have lots of emotions, as discussed for your GIFing pleasure yesterday, today I feel more like this.

Well, except for the parts of today that made me cry.  But I did really well at not crying more than just a teeny bit! 

Things I will not miss:

  • "Siri, set my alarm for 5:52 a.m."
  • Spending, by a conservative accounting, 11.1 FULL DAYS of my life each school year riding the F train.  (that's 16,000 minutes.  Not exactly a song from Rent but not chump change either.  Over the last three years?  That means I've spent about a month on the train.)
  • The pipes in our ancient, gorgeous-on-the-outside school building.  No one should have to rejoice, on the last day of a job, that they are filling up their last bottle of possibly toxic water.
Things I will miss:

  • My smart, hard-working, supportive colleagues.
  • My often-strange, always-wonderful students.
  • All the reading time the F train provided me!

And now, to celebrate, here are my two picks for June Book of the Month!  I haven't had time for Road Trip Wednesday in a while, but this was a great month of reading.

In no particular order because, well, I couldn't choose!  My full reviews are here.

In a nutshell, though: Enchanted is a really clever, lovely trip into the universes of several beloved fairytales, married so seamlessly that it feels like the real truth has finally been revealed.  Girl of Fire and Thorns is a gripping fantasy about a girl who has been chosen for a destiny she's never felt ready for.  I highly recommend them both.

Happy summer!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

For Posterity

They did it!  My seniors graduated today.  This was our school's first graduating class, so it was a pretty huge day for everyone.  AND, I had a small personal victory in that I did not cry at graduation!

That said, tomorrow is the last day of school, and I can no longer put off the moment when I won't see my kids again.  I mean, I'll come back for school plays and graduation and things, but I won't be able to just throw books at them or see them run off to Barnes & Noble on release days.

But hey: email, right? 

Also, because I have the coolest students ever, I'm going to be reading Great Expectations with them over the summer, with all of us sharing thoughts by email.  I'm thinking of setting up a separate blog for some of my thoughts on that book as we go through it chapter by chapter; if I do, I'll post the link here if anyone wants to read along with us. 

So it's really not goodbye.  But it's certainly something.

Ok, if you're still with me after all those EMOTIONS, then here's something cool.  You've earned it.  (Yes, cooler than a Doctor Who gif.  Really.)

Jaime Morrow is having a giveaway to celebrate Canada Day (how uncharacteristic of our two countries that Canada's big celebration of itself is named after itself, while ours is modestly named after the date.  That's so not like us!) which is coming up on July 1st.  The winner gets to choose from a long list of books by awesome Canadian authors, so check it out!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Too Darn Hot Edition

So, two books again this week.  My only thought is that the crazy heat we had here slowed down all my brain functions, including reading.  I don't know.  Thankfully, we had a crazy thunderstorm here on Friday (Keith Olbermann posted a great shot of lightning hitting the Empire State Building!) so it's cooled off a bit.  Anyway, here's what I read in my LAST FULL WEEK of teaching.  (Next week is just three days!)

What I Read This Week: 

 Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy, #1)Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shadow and Bone is a really fabulous read. I think its biggest strength is the way Leigh Bardugo marries fantasy and totally real, truthful relationship elements (big and small "r".). Like, the fantasy elements were fascinating and like nothing I'd ever seen before, and I loved them. But I also felt like Alina's relationships--with Mal in particular, but also with the Darkling, and with Genya, and with the Summoner girls--could be transplanted into a contemporary novel and be enough to carry a strong story all by themselves. Sometimes in fantasy, the relationships take a bit of a backseat to the magic, or it feels like the magic is central and the relationships are just for fun. But in Shadow and Bone, the relationships are integral to the magic, and the magic reveals important truths about the relationships. I think this could be a good bridge to fantasy for people who tend to like thoughtful, relationship-driven contemporaries. It's also a great new read if you're already into fantasy, though, so well done Ms. Bardugo!

For Darkness Shows the StarsFor Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up because it's inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, and ultimately I found that my experience with it reminded me very much of my experience with that novel. I felt like For Darkness...took its time getting started, but once I got about halfway through, I was really engaged and just wanted to keep reading. I was a little disoriented by the setting at first (although by the end I totally wanted to read more about the world, which is an interesting take on a post-genetic-engineering-apocalypse society) but I thought the Luddite-Post-Reduced caste system was a cool way to set up the social divisions of Austen's England. I thought Peterfreund wove in the key parts of Austen's original story well, without being held back by it. I would totally read a standalone story set in this universe, especially if it involved some of the supporting characters from this book. I was really interested in Ro, and I wished we found out more about how much the lowest caste, the Reduced, could really understand. If you're looking for a really different take on post-apocalyptic living, or if you're a big Austen nerd (like I am), you may enjoy For Darkness Shows the Stars

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Good News, Everyone! Edition

Before I get down to my week's reviews, I want to take some time to mention a few noteworthy events I've seen around the blogosphere--and one in my own life.

First of all, Colin is celebrating his first Blogaversary!  And, because he's a great guy, he's doing it with a giveaway.  I would never have guessed that Colin has only been blogging for a year--because that means that in September/October, when he was one of the first people to help bring me into the blogging community, he had only been blogging for a few months!  Thanks for your warm welcome back then, and here's to many happy returns of the day.

Second of all, a teacher/reader/blogger who I really admire had a pretty awesome week recently, with graduation and a really excellent author visit.  If you don't know about Kristen Pelfrey, her Angel Potatoes, and their Revolution, then you should.  Check her out.
I asked my students to help me share my news.  They made an interactive whiteboard posting.  I especially like the TV up top, and the section for comments.

And finally, my news--which is really not news for me, but which I haven't shared on the blog yet.  I have eight more workdays until summer vacation--and they'll be my last at my current school.  I didn't blog about it because I hadn't told my kiddos, and I know some of them read this blog (hi guys!).  Mr. S, being the rockstar law school grad that he is, has landed a job at a law firm in Buffalo, and sometime in August we will be packing up and saying goodbye to NYC.  Buffalo, poor, much-maligned Buffalo, is actually a really fabulous city, and I'm super excited to live there.  On the other hand, leaving my students behind...well, it's making me FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS this week.  There will be no graduation pictures on the blog, because I will be crying like it is Mockingjay and Looking For Alaska and The Amber Spyglass put together, and that means a very red and puffy Mrs. S.  And forget about saying goodbye to the juniors and underclassmen, who will be back in school next year (hopefully taking the TV Writing class I started, and/or participating in the theater program) without me.  So, while it's a change I'm really excited's definitely feeling pretty bittersweet as the school year comes to a close.

What I Read This Week: 

 An Old-Fashioned GirlAn Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a re-read from a long time ago. I found myself stuck in the subway with just the books I had on the Kindle app on my iPad, and flipped this open. Then I found I wanted to keep reading it. Louisa May Alcott is always chock full of morals and examples of good little girls, and this book is thicker with that than many of her others. But there's just something so lovely about her writing, and so sweet and earnest about her characters, that I can't help but love it. An Old-Fashioned Girl follows Polly, a poor country girl with rich friends in the big city. It's very much what you might expect in terms of plot--Polly shows up and is sweet to everyone and has some tribulations but overcomes them with spunk and a good attitude--but I would read Louisa May Alcott's shopping lists. So if you are a fan of Little Women, maybe consider dipping into the rest of her writing with this one.

DramaramaDramarama by E. Lockhart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok, so this was a lot of fun for me to read, as a theater teacher and former theater kid. When Sadye (née Sarah) heads off to drama camp, she faces a lot of the hurdles you might expect--shifting friendships, boy trouble, difficult directors--but Lockhart handles it so deftly that it feels new and unexpected. I love the line she walked with Sadye's two directors; both have elements of me as a teacher, and elements of teachers and directors I had as a student. Neither is all good or all bad, and both made me think critically about elements of theater (especially theater with young people) that I sometimes take for granted.

I think actually the thing I loved the most about this book, though, is kind of a weird thing to love. But in Dramarama...actions have consequences. And not in the usual way of "taking spunky risks pays off when they make everyone respect you more." Like, real consequences, big and small. That was so refreshing. Don't get me wrong: I often love to see spunky risk-taking pay off. But, wow, this was a really welcome alternative.

If you're a theater person, definitely pick this one up. It's a good summer read!

[Note:  Another teacher/reader/blogger I enjoy posted a student review of this book this week.  It was fun for me to compare, and I thought you all might like to as well.  Check it out over at Y.A. Love!]

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you've been reading my reviews for long, you may have noticed an unofficial metric I sometimes use is how nearly a book made me miss my subway stop, or how many times I almost missed my stop while reading it.

Well, thank goodness my students are often on the train with me. A few days ago, a student sat down next to me while I was reading The Girl of Fire and Thorns, we said good morning, and I went back to reading. All of a sudden, I heard him calling my name--from the open subway doors. At our stop. Oops. I darted off the train, but it felt like being woken up from a really vivid dream.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a top-notch fantasy novel. Elisa really grows over the course of the story, and I'm eager to see how she might continue to grow. I loved that the setting didn't feel like every other fantasy novel, and I was really intrigued by the way Rae Carson wove religion into the story without making it feel like a thin parable for current events. And the ending wrapped up the major plot points really nicely, while leaving room for the story to develop over the rest of the planned trilogy.

I'm definitely sorry I waited so long to read this--except for the fact that now I have less time to wait for the next book! If you've ever liked a fantasy novel of any stripe, pick this one up. It's that good.

EnchantedEnchanted by Alethea Kontis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Enchanted is a fairytale re-imagining that really feels like a fairy tale. I mean, I pretty much love any kind of riff on fairy tales, since I grew up hip-deep in Andrew Lang's Fairy Books and their ilk. But Enchanted finds the best balance between something new (I never knew exactly where the story was going next, even though every single element was familiar to me) and something ancient and beloved (the mood was exactly, perfectly, sparklingly right for a grown-up reinvention of traditional tales.)

None of this is to take away from other fairytale-inspired stories I have loved. Cinder, for example, is so brilliant precisely because it doesn't feel like a fairy tale (even though it is one, or several.) But I was completely thrilled by how right Enchanted felt--like a dream where you're coming home to someplace you've never been.

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Waiting in the Wings: 

...You guys, I don't even know, my shelf is too full.  Maybe this:

Or this...

Or this...

  ...all of which have been sitting patiently on my TBR shelf for quite some time.  Thoughts?  Recommendations?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: BUSY edition!

After my banner week last week, I'm back to two books--and a late post to boot!  I have been really busy this week, as Mr. S graduated from law school on Monday (yay!) and then this weekend was my five-year college reunion up at Williams.  All happy, fun occasions, but my head is spinning!

Apparently lawyers get funny hats.  Who knew?

What I Read This Week:

 The Selection (The Selection, #1)The Selection by Kiera Cass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this one in a day. The Selection sets up a distant future in which North America is united as a monarchy under the name Illea, and there is a strictly enforced caste system (numbers 1-8, with 1 being royalty and 8 being destitute.) When the prince needs a wife, one girl from each of the 35 provinces is selected to live in the palace until the prince chooses one of them to be his wife. America Singer is chosen--reluctantly--to represent her district, and watching her navigate palace life was my favorite element of the book.

I got completely sucked in by the world and the circumstances. I want to know more about life in Illea, and more about the rebels. I want to find out what is making the other girls tick (What is up with mean girl Celeste? What is bubbly Marlee hiding?) and I definitely want to know what America will decide, and if she will in fact be the one to decide on her future (or if circumstances will step in and do that for her.) I really loved America's relationship with her palace maids...and yeah, I dug Prince Maxon.

I have to say, there are a few characters I'm not wild about--including Aspen, one part of the inevitable love triangle. (But I guess I'm almost always not wild about one of the boys in a love triangle--that's just how it works.) Despite that, though (and this I guess may count as a spoiler) I was seriously frustrated when the book ended. There were so many unanswered, unresolved issues--I can't believe I will have to wait till the next book to basically find out about EVERY major issue that was raised in this one.

I've read that the CW is working on developing this into a TV series--I would definitely watch. It did really grab me, so I don't want to give a bad impression. That said...I might advise impatient people to wait for book two, and then definitely give it a shot.

Why We Broke UpWhy We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really wasn't sure what to expect, but this is such a gorgeous book and came so highly recommended that I decided to pick it up. Weirdly, I didn't necessarily feel like I was that connected with Min...but then I kept missing subway stops while I was reading, because I was so completely immersed in her story. I really liked Min's friends Al and Lauren, who were tight-knit but not so tight that they wouldn't call Min out when she did something dumb. The writing really matched the illustrations, I think--idiosyncratic, strange, and wonderful. This book fit nicely into the contemporary kick I've been on lately. It felt like something really different in terms of structure and writing, but told a familiar kind of story. I have to give a special mention to a passage near the end--too long and run-together to really quote--in which Min tears herself down in the most authentically devastated, angry teen girl voice I've ever seen in writing. It absolutely captures a feeling that I remember having all the time in high school: being fully aware of all the things other people might think are wrong with you, and even buying in to those things, but at the same time being completely infuriated because it's so unfair and un-okay that other people have made you think that about yourself, because really you know you have value, but it's like you're not allowed to own that value. We really need a word for that. Min's rant, I think, is as close as it gets.

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Waiting In The Wings

I was so skeptical of this--books about high school theater are often really disappointing so I don't read many of them any more--but then I saw who it was by and decided to give it a chance...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Awesome Alert!

Just a quick pop-in to share the book trailer for Maggie Stiefvater's upcoming The Raven Boys.

She made that, you guys. She made the book, and then she made that. Is there anything she can't do?

Anyway, you can also read the first two chapters here.  When they were released, I let go of a lot of my anxiety about this book.  As you may or may not have picked up, I loved The Scorpio Races a lot.  Like...a lot, a lot.  So I was a bit nervous that I couldn't ever love another book by The Fabulous Maggie* as much as I am hoping/expecting to after reading that one.  (I still haven't gotten to Shiver and company, probably out of a similar anxiety.  But I'm thinking maybe this week, in celebration of this trailer.)  But reading the first chapters here reminded me that even if there aren't horses, there's still all that fabulous storytelling that I loved.

And what spurred me to break my blog sabbatical and post on a Wednesday?  Well, Ms. Stiefvater is running a giveaway of some ARCs, so, duh.  (But, um, all you're required to do is post the trailer.  I do tend to get carried away.)

*Does anyone else get wonky about what to call authors?  Especially very current authors with web presences?  I teach my students that you never never never casually refer to an author by first name, but saying "Stiefvater is crazy awesome" or "Mafi writes the way I think" or "Hubbard made me want to visit Central America even though I loathe heat and bugs" just feels clunky.  And using first and last all the time is weird.  So maybe I'll just compensate by making up titles for the authors I write about most.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Overdrive Edition!

Holy cow--I finished five books this week!  It was a combination the quality of the books (good), the length of the books (short), and a few extra bus and subway rides.

Also, you may have noticed my new header, designed by Carrie Butler!  She just celebrated one year of her blog with a giveaway, and I was one of the winners.  Thanks, Carrie!

I celebrated an anniversary this week too--my 3rd wedding anniversary!  Check out the awesome present Mr. S got me: 

And for his present, I took him to see Icarus at the Edge of Time--a very cool event in which LeVar Burton read us a story, basically.  That was totally a '90s kid bucket list item, so fun for both of us.

What I Read This Week: 

 TranscendenceTranscendence by C.J. Omololu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ok, I have to say it--at first I was a little concerned that this book was REALLY similar to Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Well, concerned is the wrong word, because that book rocked, so I was excited to read something similar but feeling like this might be encroaching on the territory of something I loved. BUT within the first 100 pages, I realized how much difference there was between the plots, and then I forgot the comparison and just got really into Transcendence. Cello prodigy Cole starts having flashbacks (easily my favorite moments in the novel) and when she meets the charming and enigmatic Griffon, he helps her understand that they are part of who she is. This book kept me guessing, as the main conflict--a century-plus-old grudge--unfolded. I was frustrated to get only snippets of the history that looks as if it will make up most of the next book, though--I'm definitely looking forward to learning more about Lord and Lady Wyatt!

**Disclosure: I received a free advance Kindle copy of this book via Netgalley.**

GiltGilt by Katherine Longshore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was definitely my most anticipated non-sequel spring release, and let me say right off the bat: it completely lived up to how awesome I thought it would be. There are a lot of decent historical YA novels, but the really fantastic ones seem to be a little harder to come by than in other genres. Friends: this is one! The meticulous research never overwhelmed or got in the way of the plot. (A common downfall of historical fiction, and one that I don't mind indulging because I'm a super-nerd, is the frequent historical fact insertion. I kind of love it--but it can also be a little jarring, and often sets me up to look for things to come back later as part of the plot when really, the author just wanted to share something neat.) In Gilt, the details that are shared are all fascinating AND plot relevant! The clothing is always my favorite, and it's totally relevant here because it shows so much about the characters. In fact, almost all of the detail is related to characters' status, which really forms the crux of the narrative. Kitty Tylney, the narrator, chronicles the rise of her long-time friend Cat (short for Catherine Howard, real-life one-time Queen of England). In the meantime, she has her own concerns--I really like Kitty's growth over the course of the novel. Overall, it was just a really satisfying, vivid trip back to the court of King Henry VIII. If you've been hungering for the next great historical novel--try this one. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Way to GoWay to Go by Tom Ryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clearly, I was into this book--if you check the dates on my reviews, you'll see that I finished a different book on the same date. I picked this one up on my way home, and three long subway rides later, I was done. It's a classic coming-of-age story set in a small town in Nova Scotia, Canada. During the summer after 11th grade, protagonist Danny gets a summer job, figures out who his true friends are, and starts to get comfortable with new ideas about who he really is. What made it stand out were the supporting characters: Danny's little sister Alma was my favorite, with her wise-cracking, movie-quoting ways, and I loved the way Danny's opinion of his friend Maisie evolved as he--and we--got to know her. I also enjoyed the kitchen setting--my interest in food (i.e., eating it) and my interest in theater (having formerly spent a lot of time making it) combine into a complete fascination with stories about professional kitchens. I love the sense of urgency about something that isn't life-and-death, but feels like it (we definitely had that sense backstage.) It was fast-paced, which could be a plus, but I liked the characters enough that I could have happily spent more time with them in exchange for a bit more detail and depth. That said, I thought it ended in the right place--at the end of the summer, when a lot of things were started, but nothing was really finished. Clean, simple, a perfect summer story.

**Disclosure:  I won a free copy of this book through the Apocalypsies YAMazing Race.  This is my honest review.**

The Bermudez TriangleThe Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FINALLY, I have joined the rest of the world in seriously digging Maureen Johnson! This is the first of her books that I've read (and I'm halfway through my second even as I write this review...) and I really enjoyed it. For a few reasons. I feel a list coming on:

--Nina. I love this girl. Totally over-scheduled, over-worked, over-committed...and still willing to throw up her hands and walk away from intense midterm studying when one of her besties is having a crisis. I just want to take her out for cocoa and a hug, because she's so me-at-seventeen (but with so much more fashion sense and organization...and a boyfriend.)

--The Mel/Avery dynamic. I loved how real this relationship felt--I've seen this same relationship play out a dozen times in real life, across all kinds of relationships. Differentiating between feelings for specific people and sexual orientation isn't something I've seen a lot of in fiction, and I really appreciate that distinction. I thought Mel's coming out was written really well and none of this storyline felt like something out of an ISSUES novel.

--PARKER. I saved the best for last. Parker is fully responsible for the fourth star in this review. There was a question up on YA Confidential a few weeks ago asking which character you'd want your 16-year-old self to date? PARKER. Except he'd never go for my sixteen-year-old self, because I was too available and poor Parker only goes for the ones he can't have. He's funny and weird and SO sweet and WHY wasn't he real and at my high school? I want a book about Parker. He is hands-down my favorite YA boy of all time ever.

Suite Scarlett (Scarlett, #1)Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Maureen Johnson--this is exactly the kind of book I needed this weekend. Suite Scarlett is a fun, charming, lighthearted story about a large family that owns and runs a dilapidated, formerly-glamorous New York City hotel. When the oldest sibling, Spencer, lands a role in a downtown-funky version of Hamlet, his younger sister Scarlett will go to just about any lengths to see that the show actually goes on. But the family finances, not to mention their other siblings, a decades-old rivalry, and New York City building codes, get in the way.

I really liked Scarlett herself, and her relationship with her brother Spencer was super sweet and funny. I will say that just-turned-fifteen-year-old Scarlett's romantic, uh, thing, with a guy who had just moved to New York to start COLLEGE squicked me a bit. That relationship had other issues, but I really never got over the age. I found it totally believable that Scarlett would be into it and think it could happen (years of summer camp crushes on older counselors when I was just a CIT proved that side of it all too well) but Eric? That's kind of weird, dude. Wait a few years, or whatever, but college freshman-high school sophomore is too much for me.

I also really kind of loved Scarlett's older sister Lola. I would absolutely read a book about her (although it would fall into the dreaded New Adult genre/limbo state! Gasp!) and her quiet, serious efforts to make things turn out well even as she's dealt one crummy hand after another.

This would be a great summer read--it went very quickly, and held my attention throughout. (It did make working all day today harder, as I just wanted to pick it up and finish reading!) I have a hunch I will be picking up more of Maureen Johnson's books when school lets out.

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