Thursday, March 24, 2016

Book Review: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

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Premise: Alba has graduated from high school. Now it's her last summer with her friends, who are all moving away. But Alba doesn't want to go. She wants everything to stay the same. And then, the weirdos start showing up in her town claiming that the world is about to end and only this town will survive.

Title: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl
Author: Melissa Kiel
Length: 294 pages
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Content Appropriate For: Grades 9-12
Format: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Three adjectives that describe this book: unique, nerdy, slow

So, I'm definitely not the right audience for this book. But, I'm sure high school students everywhere will be happy to have a protagonist who is thoroughly confused, and possibly terrified, about what's next after high school. There are lots of things that I liked about Cinnamon Girl, but all that "What am I doing with my life?" got really old for me.

Things I Liked - 
* It's really really Australian. They have Christmas in the summer! And there was lots of great Aussie slang. It totally captured regular life in small-town Australia.... not that I've ever been there, but it just felt accurate.
* Alba is a Real Girl. She isn't some skinny-mini, fashionista. Alba has her own interests and personal style. She's a real girl. Yay for real girls!
* Alba is a nerd. She's into comics and  drawing and baking. Alba is smart, and her dialogue is witty and full of comic book references.
* The last 50 pages were intense. They kind of snuck up on me. I was surprised at how invested I had become in these characters.

Things I Disliked -
* It's normal Realistic Fiction. From the cover and title, I was expecting more elements of fantasy or sci-fi. But, no.
* The build-up was slow and tedious. All that character development and internal conflict just about killed me. Can we get some plot in the first half please?!
* So much angst! I'm definitely not the target audience!

3.5 stars

Friday, January 22, 2016

Classics Review: The Birchbark House

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Title: The Birchbark House
Author: Louise Erdrich
Length: 239 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Content appropriate for: Grades 3-7

Three adjectives that describe this book: slow, memorable, interesting

A book designed to transport you into the daily life of an Ojibwa family in the mid 1800s. Not only does The Birchbark House meet this goal, but it does so quite vividly. This is not a plot-driven novel, but instead all about the characters and setting. It follows a family over the course of one year, so we experience all that it takes to survive in the Great Lakes region. The characters hunt, fish, and farm. They create clothing, spend time with friends, and celebrate with their neighbors. They build homes suited to each season, and must survive a challenging winter. They encounter changes brought by the white men, and make decisions about how to deal with these changes. This is a quiet story, but would be great for any middle grade reader who is interested in the lives of native peoples.

On a side note - As an adult reader, I kept sensing the clock ticking in the background, knowing that the story is set in 1847, and that the characters in this story would not continue the rhythms of life, as established by their ancestors, for much longer. It was a strange feeling to be the observer who knows more than the characters about their futures.
3.5 stars

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My 2015 Reading Year in Review

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I know this post is really late since we're 19 days into 2016 already, but BY GOLLY I've been chilling and wrapping up in blankets and reading... so there!

For 2015, I started a new tradition - a SPREADSHEET of my books. I'm kind of a nerd, so I actually enjoyed updating the spreadsheet. But the real fun was in gathering the data into pretty charts at the end of the year.

So, without further ado,

My Reading Year:

Commentary: Not as high as last year's total (155), but still pretty great

Commentary: I really mixed up the formats this year! And audiobooks are coming on strong in my reading life with 32 audiobooks. Wow!

Commentary: Yay library books! Of course, this is also why I need the Triple Dog Dare TBR Challenge. Gotta keep that TBR pile under control!

Commentary: I guess this means that most of my books were somewhere between good and great. Meh. That's not very inspiring... maybe that's part of why my total went down by 15 books this year. 

Commentary: I'm a middle grades teacher, so I'm glad to see MG books dominate so much. And I'm pretty surprised that 8% were adult. That's more than I expected

Am I a nerd or what?? I love this kind of stuff! 

Want to make your own nerdy reading data chart thingies?
Here's a nerdy tip for you - I made my spreadsheet in Excel, but then Google started a new function where they automatically create charts for you, so I uploaded the Excel file to Google Sheets and pressed the magic button. And VOILA - pretty charts! For 2016, I'm skipping Excel and going straight to Google. Just click on the button in the bottom right corner.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Reading Challenges for 2016

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Last year, 2015, was the first year that I didn't complete all of my reading challenges. I moved across the state and changed jobs, so that I may have put a hamper in my reading. On the other hand, I really really really enjoyed 2 challenges that I completed - ABC Challenge and PopSugar. Both of these pushed me in ways, and helped me find new things to read.

So - I'll be doing both of those this year;

1. ABC Challenge - read a book for every letter of the alphabet. The title should start with the letter, although you may exclude The and A. For X, the x can be anywhere in the title.

2. PupSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge - A list of random genres and characteristics including "A YA Bestseller," "A Murder Mystery," "A Book of Poetry," and "A Book That Takes Place on an Island."

3. Triple Dog Dare Challenge - A Challenge to make you focus on your TBR pile. In this challenge, you commit to using January, February, and March to only read books that you already own. Exceptions are - new releases, books on hold at the library (from 2015), and new ARCs.
Since I just bought a pile of books at the bookstore this week, I'm excited to force myself to read them!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Book Review: The Terrible Two Gets Worse

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Premise: Niles and Miles are back. This ranking team, known as The Terrible Two, are ready for another year of pranking their school, especially their power-loving principal, Principal Barkin. Unfortunately, one of their pranks leads Principal Barkin to losing his job, and now he's been replaced with a much more stern principal, who is out to shut down all pranking. 

24795872Title: The Terrible Two Gets Worse
Author: Mac Barnett and Jory John
Length: 2
24 pages
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Series or Stand Alone: Book 2 of 2 so far
Content appropriate for: Grades 3-5
Format: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Three adjectives that describe this book: funny, easy-to-read, disappointing

I straight-up loved Book 1. It was so fun! I frequently recommend it to my 4th and 5th grade students who are looking for something funny to read, and so far they have all loved it. So, my students and I were super excited for Book 2. The first third or so totally lived up to my expectations. I Laughed Out Loud on almost every page. Unfortunately, I'll have to break the news to them that I didn't end up loving it, and that I'm not sure I'll get a copy for our classroom. Here's why -

The pranks in the first book were elaborate, creative, and harmless. There were awesome diagrams accompanying several, and they did a brilliant job of incorporating the cows of Yawnee Valley. The first book was outrageous, and that's why so many of us love it.

This second installment simply doesn't do the same things. The pranks are too typical, easy for kids to duplicate, and far from harmless. They put peppers in people's drinks, pull the fire alarm, and drop someone's pants. I've seen this book referred to as mean-spirited, and I totally agree. To make it worse, there are no cows! Where is the creativity? Where is the outrageousness? Where are the diagrams, a la Rube Goldberg???

Thursday, December 31, 2015

TBR Pile Challenge Update

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I absolutely LOVED this challenge in 2013 and 2014. This challenge is hosted by Roof Beam Reader. The challenge is to make a list of 12 books to read by January 1, 2015 and complete them by the end of the year. The books must also have been published before 2014.

Like last year, my TBR Challenge included book that cross-list with my Classics Club Challenge.

You'll see, below, that I fell short of this challenge by one book. I tried to read Dragonwings, but couldn't get past 50 pages. I still really want to read the remaining books, Mrs. Frisby and Hero and the Crown. I'll put them both on next year's list.

This is the first year in 3 attempts that I haven't completed this challenge. Boo! Maybe it was a bad decision to put so many classics on it... I'll rethink that policy for 2016.

The TBR Pile Challenge List 
1. Dragonwings by Laurence Yep - ABANDONED
2. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971)
3. The Menagerie by Tui T. Sutherland ~ Completed 4.19.2015 ~ My Review
4. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence ~ Completed 4.9.2015 ~ My Review
5. Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed ~ Completed 2.20.2015 ~ My Review
6. We Are Not Eaten by Yaks by C. Alexander London ~ Completed 4.20.2015 ~ My Review
7. Watership Down by Richard Adams ~ Completed 8.11.2015 ~ My Review
8. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper ~ Completed 12.15.2015 ~ My Review
9. Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve ~ Completed 4.5.2015 ~ My Review
10. HIVE by Mark Walden ~ Completed 1.4.2015 ~ My Review
11. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh ~ Completed 11.15.2015 ~ My Review
12. Airborn by Kenneth Oppel ~ Completed 9.29.2015 ~ My Review
1. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander ~ Completed 6.20.2015 ~ My Review
2. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (1984)

Pop Sugar Challenge Success!

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When PopSugar posted their Ultimate Reading Challenge, it spread like wildfire on "The Internets." I love their categories. They are challenging in a fun way.

So - I went for it.

This challenge turned out to be both Challenging and Fun. I found myself reading quite a few books I wouldn't have read otherwise including a play and a classic romance. It was fun trying to find books that could be counted across several challenges, and also figuring out how to assign books to the different categories. Some of them spent time in 3 or 4 categories over the course of the year as I tried to find enjoyable titles in each one.

Overall, I'm SUPER THRILLED to have completed this challenge!

My Progress
* A book with more than 500 pages - Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman (2.25.2015)
* A classic romance - The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (12.21.2015)
* A book that became a movie - The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (2.5.2015) My Review
* A book published this year - The Inquisitor's Mark by Dianne K. Salerni (1.1.2015) My Review
* A book with a number in the title - Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (2.5.2015)
* A book written by someone under 30 - Zac and the Dream Stealers by Ross MacKenzie (1.29.2015)
* A book with nonhuman characters - Seeds of Rebellion by Brandon Mull (1.11.2015)
* A funny book - Smek for President by Adam Rex (1.15.2015) My Review
* A book by a female author - The Menagerie by Tui Sutherland (4.19.2015)
* A mystery or thriller - Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (3.21.2015)
* A book with a one-word title - Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (1.7.2015)
* A book of short stories - To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix (6.20.2015)
* A book set in a different country - Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai (5.6.2015)
* A nonfiction book - The Great Fire by Jim Murphy (1.10.2015)
* A popular author's first book - Stiff by Mary Roach (2.22.2015)
* A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet - Beneath by Roland Smith (3.20.2015)
* A book a friend recommended - The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell (2.16.2015)
A Pulitzer Prize-winning book - Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey (11.29.2015)
* A book based on a true story - El Deafo by CeCe Bell (1.20.2015)
* A book at the bottom of your to-read list - Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (7.8.2015) 
* A book your mom loves - The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (9.12.2015)
* A book that scares you - The Diviners by Libba Bray (3.1.2015)
* A book more than 100 years old - The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (10.9.2015)
* A book based entirely on its cover - Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani (5.9.2015)
* A book you were supposed to read in school, but didn't - Watership Down by Richard Adams (8.11.2015)
* A memoir - My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen (1.11.2015)
* A book you can finish in a day - The Vanishing Coin by Kate Egan (1.21.2015)
* A book with antonyms in the title - Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein (3.26.2015) My Review
* A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit - Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel (6.26.2015)
* A book that came out the year you were born - Westmark by Lloyd Alexander (9.29.2015)
* A book with bad reviews - Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang (9.11.2015)
* A trilogy - #1: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (4.9.2015), #2: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (5.18.2015), #3: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (6.30.2015)
* A book from your childhood - Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (11.13.2015)
* A book with a love triangle - An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (7.5.2015)
* A book set in the future - Fairest by Marissa Meyer (2.1.2015)
* A book set in high school - Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (5.24.2015)
* A book with a color in the title - Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (1.19.2015)
* A book that made you cry - One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullally Hunt (3.1.2015)
* A book with magic - Searching for Super by Marion Jensen (3.15.2015)
* A graphic novel - Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (4.11.2015)
* A book by an author you've never read before - H.I.V.E. by Mark Walden (1.4.2015) My Review
* A book you own, but have never read - Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed (2.19.2015)
* A book that takes place in your hometown - Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty (5.31.2015) My Review
* A book that was originally written in a different language - Jane, The Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt (11.27.2015)
* A book set during Christmas - The Flying Classroom by Erich Kastner (2.9.2015) My Review
* A book written by an author with your same initials - Radiance by Alyson Noel (11.24.2015)
* A play - You Can't Take it With You by Moss Hart (12.24.2015)
* A banned book - The Giver by Lois Lowry (6.12.15)
* A book based on or turned into a TV show - The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene (3.25.2015) My Review
* A book you started, but never finished One Dead Spy by Nathaniel Hale (7.1.2015)