Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What's Up Wednesday: EXTREME COLD EDITION!!!

What's Up Wednesday is a meme started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to bring reading and writing bloggers together once a week. Go to Jaime's blog to add your link and check out posts from other writers!

What I'm Reading

Four or five things at once--but all re-reads!  I'm wrapping up Beauty Queens in class, so I just completed a re-read of that. (Satire!  Sex-positivity!  Intersectional feminism!  Why isn't this in every classroom everywhere?)  I'm also teaching Persuasion in a different class and I'm really enjoying coming home to Austen and tea every day.  About a week ago I picked up Divergent so that I can re-read that in time for the movie AND work my way through the whole trilogy--I cannot BELIEVE it's taken me this long to get to Allegiant.  Plus, my book clubs at my other school are reading The Sound and the Fury and Great Gatsby.  I've taught Gatsby before, which means that I don't need a full re-read, but I haven't gone back to The Sound and the Fury since I read it in college and--much to my surprise--really enjoyed it. 

What I'm Writing

...Work stuff?  Tests, quizzes, prompts for response papers, curriculum materials.  But I've got a project simmering in the ol' brain crockpot (ew) and it's starting to bubble (sorry this metaphor got gross.) 

What Else I've Been Up To

Nesting!  Having a house is a lot of work.  (Thank GOODNESS for the snowblower my mother gave us, and also for Mr. S's willingness to get up early and snowblow...all the fricking time.  This is a real Buffalo winter.)  

OOH!  And because it's so disgusting out all the time, we finally went ahead and bought a piece of indoor exercise equipment!  

At the moment it's hanging out in our living room, which isn't the prettiest, but it means I use it pretty regularly.   Eventually it would be nice to put it upstairs, either in our room or the "rec room" (board games, table, yoga mat, keyboard).  But until we can get three-pronged outlets up there so we can plug in a TV, I know it will just gather dust.  So, one thing at a time.  I am horribly out of shape and biking is hard, but it feels SO good to be moving again.  

What Inspires Me Right Now  
My students!  I feel like this is my go-to answer, but seriously: I work with such great kids.  My upperclassmen at the one school are incredibly thoughtful, articulate, and motivated, and my freshmen at the other school are so curious, open-minded, and full of energy.  Mr. S said to me recently that he thinks the reason I'm a good teacher is that I'm so interested in what teenagers are interested in, and I think he's right.  I find my kids completely fascinating, and the things they have to say about the world are so, so, so smart and important.  

What's up with you?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sunday Smiles: Long Weekend Edition!

This is the weirdest month: it started during Winter Break.  Then we went back to school...for one day.  Then we were snowed out for two days.  Then two days on, then a weekend.  This week we actually managed a full five-day week...and today we have off in honor of MLK Day.  So it will be another short week.

Anyway, I figure I can count today as my Sunday, and tell you all about the book I finished yesterday.  This one isn't YA, but I think will appeal to a lot of the readers of this blog:

LongbournLongbourn by Jo Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book close on the heels of re-reading and teaching Pride and Prejudice, expecting that I would need to remember details, but really this is a standalone story. Sure, it gives another perspective on the Bennets (especially the parents) but mostly, this is the story of the servants at Longbourn, the ones who keep the house running and let Jane and Lizzy focus on looking pretty at balls.

I don't want to say too much, because I think one of the strengths of Longbourn is its plot, and the way in which everything ultimately falls into place. The characters held my attention and I would love to read more about all of them, especially Sarah: she came to Longbourn as a child, after the rest of her family died of illness. As a result, she has a vague sense of a different life, and while I wouldn't say any of the servants love their jobs, Sarah's past makes her particularly dissatisfied with her situation.

As a Downton Abbey fan (but a critical one), I also appreciated the lack of sugar-coating. It's easy to romanticize service (Downton is notable for doing that) and this book really exists to do the opposite. The servants in Pride and Prejudice are nearly invisible, and so is the work they do: bringing slop buckets to the pigs, hauling water and lighting stoves, and washing up after every trace of any and all bodily fluids (plus all that mud Lizzie is always tromping through.) This felt different than a lot of other depictions of service that I've seen and I appreciated that.

Ultimately, you don't have to be a Pride and Prejudice fan to read and enjoy Longbourn. (Also, I feel compelled to note, you may not enjoy this just because you liked P&P: in particular, there is some strong language and the unsavory elements are not nearly as tidily referenced as in P&P. Wickham, in particular, while not surprising to fans of the original, is even grosser than I imagined, and a few scenes that take place in a war zone are really tough. It all works with the story, and it didn't bother me more than it was meant to, but it's there nonetheless. So, if there is an easily shocked P&P fan in your life, maybe go another way at their birthday.) This is a satisfying story with original characters. It's a family story, a coming of age, a romance, and in parts an adventure. It's a novel written for adults, but with elements that would appeal to many readers of YA (especially older teens and adults.)

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Snow Day Smiles: Blizzard Edition!

I'm hoping to get back to reading and reviewing regularly in 2014.  I've finished two books so far this year, which is not bad, but in the rush of "vacation is over, back to school" I forgot to post on Sunday.

Then we got a blizzard.

And so no sooner had we gone back to school than we got not one but TWO snow days!  And really, immediately post-vacation is a great time for snow days, because  there's always something left over that didn't get done on vacation. 

Anyway, here's what I've read so far this year!  

Untold (The Lynburn Legacy, #2)Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It feels silly to review this because who could possibly have read Unspoken and not be dying to read Untold? If you haven't read Unspoken and you enjoy romance, laughter, creepiness, or emotions, go read that and then this review will be totally unnecessary because you'll already be on your way out to buy Untold. But if you are somehow on the fence: yes, this is as good as I had hoped it would be and the late-in-the-game twists had me gasping in shock even more than the twists toward the end of Unspoken. Plus, this one has some really excellent kissing. REALLY excellent.

Control (Control, #1)Control by Lydia Kang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This exciting debut from author/blogger/ACTUAL MEDICAL DOCTOR Lydia Kang (whose blog I've been following for a few years now, so I guess I should note that I "know" her in that weird blogging community kind of way, and I think she's great) has all the action (both fighting and kissing!) and suspense I've come to expect from a sci-fi futuristic thriller. It also has a meticulous world-building and a totally non-threatening and fascinating amount of science. A lot of people are talking about the science stuff because Lydia's a doctor--all I can say there is that I found it really interesting and that everything I needed to understand was explained in a way that made perfect sense. I want to shout out the political background of the world itself, though, because the setting felt so plausible. As best I can tell, the US has fractured into a loose coalition of nation-states, with a few states fused together to makes up each one, based on shared beliefs and value systems. This isn't a huge part of the plot or anything, but I was intrigued whenever I got a glimpse of the differences between states.

But you don't want to hear about the political background; you want to hear about the characters! And they do not disappoint. Zelia, the protagonist, broke my heart for a lot of the book. At first I was a little frustrated with her (not as a character, as a person): her father raised her to follow every rule, obey his whims about her courses of study and even her interests, and only try new things if she was likely to succeed. I just wanted to shout "NO NO NO DO THE OPPOSITE OF THAT!" As the story unfolded, more and more context was added, and Zelia started to grow and change in little steps that felt very realistic. I think the highest praise I can give is that Zelia feels like a teenage girl in an extraordinary situation...which means that she is sometimes extremely impressive and sometimes doesn't have great judgement. There were times when I could see a little farther than her, and times when she and I were taken completely by surprise together.

The supporting cast was also great; I don't want to say too much about them or give anything away, but there are a few characters who had relatively less page-time in this book that I hope to see more of in the next! I will say that I think the genetic differences in many of those characters were well-thought-out: some were more helpful or attractive than others; some were hard for Zelia to look at or be around at first; they all required a great deal of work to understand and more to turn them into something useful to others.

While I will admit that I've been excited for this book for a long time because Lydia wrote it, I can now properly recommend it on its own merits. Science+action+family+oh yeah did I mention kissing? Check it out!

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