September 25, 2010

Spotlight on Speak

In celebration of Banned Book Week, Speak is this week's spotlight. This novel has been on shelves for ten years, and it continues to be a staple in classrooms and on teen bookshelves. Over the last week I have witnessed those on Twitter as well as in the blogging world speak loudly against one who finds this book as a representation of soft pornography.

This book is a must-read for every teen, male and female. The topic explored makes many uncomfortable, which means there is a need for this novel. The author addresses the topic of rape with tenderness and brings to reality the effects of the actions of others. The torment that our heroine (and yes, Melinda is a heroine in my eyes) endures throughout will stop your heart and bring tears to your eyes.

Everyone knows Melinda, and in a lot of ways, Melinda lives inside each of us. She is a reminder to those who do not speak for what is right, even when they've been wronged. The power of words is sometimes forgotten, but in the pages of this book, we are reminded that that power lies in the hands and on the lips of each and every one of us. Remember not to just speak, but to SPEAK LOUDLY.

This is a novel I wish were available to me when I was a teenager, and I am proud to place it in the hands of the teens I teach today and to discuss it with those who have read it. While I do not teach this novel, many of my juniors read it as a freshman. And they praise it. And they are grateful to have it. And they too know, or are, a Melinda. Thank you Laurie Halse Anderson for providing an honest work on a subject that leaves its victim feelings ashamed and silenced.

Novels such as this are the reason we should fight against the banning of books. People have the freedom to read, and every story deserves to be told. Stories that we ourselves may not personally experience but are able to develop empathy toward those who do. You have a right not to read those stories, but you do not have the right to tell others they cannot. By banning stories such as Speak, you are telling others they are alone and should feel ashamed.

September 19, 2010

Spotlight on The Lonely Hearts Club

Each week I shall "spotlight" a YA book I've read in the past. While these books are not new to YA, I hope to continue an interest in reading them because they are worth it! My first selection: The Lonely Hearts Club.

Penny Lane is an adorable heroine, and I wish I knew her when I was in high school. The plot itself is very clever, and Eulberg even weaves The Beatles (as well as their music) into side characters in this novel of teen angst.

After having her heart-broken one too many times, Penny Lane decides to begin a club for herself (and others like her), swearing off boys until after high school. As word gets out, other girls begin to share their stories of love-woes, and membership grows. The boys are left scratching their heads as the girls decide to no longer lose themselves in relationships. The only it truly plausible to swear off guys until after high school, especially when some are nice guys?

A Lovely Surprise

Bray's sequel to A Great and Terrible Beauty has it all - drama, suspense, romance, friendship, fear, coming-of-age - and ties it into this fast-moving plot. Gemma Doyle is the one - she is the only one who can stop Circe and restore order in the realms. With the help of her two friends, the three set off to discover the location of the Temple within the realms, an absolute must-find before it is too late. Torn between her life and her destiny, Gemma embarks on a quest that could cost her both.

As a YA lover, I am always looking for something interesting to read; I love finding books that my students have not read - or even know exist - and hold book talks. Every now and again the opposite will happen, my students will surprise me with a book I did not know existed...and thus Rebel Angels stepped into my life. I absolutely loved this book! Due to my current grueling schedule, I have not had a chance to read for pleasure in the way I am accustomed, and it is killing me. This is where audio books help me with my "fix". I found this at the library in audio, popped it in, and was hooked from the moment the reader began reading until the novel's conclusion.

September 10, 2010

The know you have one (we all do)

I have a mound...a mound of books. And I do mean mound. See, my hubby works for B&N, which means I get to enjoy his employee discount. Come payday (mine and his) I make a visit. This visit results in purchases of books for myself as well as for my classroom. I cannot help it...I LOVE books!

The only problem is...I teach 173 teenagers, have a 5-year-old, am interning, and am taking my final two classes in Graduate school. This leaves me thirsty for books I just don't have time to read. So, when I visit B&N, I shop for books I know I will read as time allows; but the mound continues to grow. I'll make an impressive dent, and then payday rolls around. Currently, my mound looks like this,

which isn't too it? Nah, I mean, is there a such thing as too many books? NEVER! Although, every now and again my hubby will say it is necessary to place me on a book diet until I make another noticeable dent. But then I use my "go to" excuse to buy books: "These aren't for me. These are for my students." See, I really can quit any time I want - I just choose not to quit. And at this point, my mound is full of such a variety of books, from old Hollywood bios to supernatural mysteries to YA yumminess, I feel over-whelmed at selecting my next read.

You know, the more I look at my mound, the more I realize it isn't really a mound. It is a stack of possibilities; a stack of escapism; a stack of dreams waiting to come true; a stack of laughter and of tears; a stack of hard-work and dedication. After all, "A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend." - Anonymous

So, I want to know...what's in your mound?

September 8, 2010

What I've Read Recently...and LOVED!

Caution! Some of these books might be on your "I've never heard of these" on at your own peril :-)

I shall share a few of my favorite reads that I've recently completed. After viewing the list you might ask yourself, "What is wrong with this lady?" But, if you know me, you already ask yourself that question.

Water for Elephants (S. Gruen) Loved every bit of this book. The narration is well-planned...we follow Jacob Jankowsi, a would-be vet with his father until his parents are killed in a car crash. Jacob hits the road, and one night jumps on a train. Little does he know that that one jump will change his life forever--for the better and the worst. Gruen delights readers with circus life during the depression, with strong character development and a strong plot. You root for the animals, who are heinously mistreated by the ringmaster, and you root for the workers. Basically, this books makes you "root"!

Fly on the Wall (E. Lockhart) AUDIO! (That's right; I listen to books in the car, go me!) Lockhart brings an interesting concept into YA literature through the character of Gretchen, a high school sophomore who has a best friend and a crush, Titus. Gretchen struggles with the opposite sex and makes a random comment, "I wish I could be a fly on the wall in the locker room." Little does she know that that singular comment will change her life, forever.Loved this book! The audio reader really brought out the character of Gretchen and enhanced Lockhart's plot.

Countdown (D. Wiles) This documentary novel takes its reader in 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis. By using an adorable main character, fifth grader Franny Chapman, Wiles spins an authentic tale of friendship, family, and fear.The reader will be captivated with Franny's family, which is sometimes a bit on the "nutty" side, as well as the print material that is cleverly woven throughout the book between chapters.This is an absolute must-read for anyone who loves history, the 1960s, or children literature.

Suddenly Supernatural 4: Crossing Over (E. C. Kimmel) My favorite in the series! Kat Roberts is an ordinary middle schooler with one exception, she's a medium. This can cause a bit of trouble for her at times, but with best friend Jac at her side, anything is possible. In the fourth installment, Kat is headed to Canada for a few days with her classmates. There's one major problem--her bus keeps "collecting" ghosts. Can Kat help the ghosts cross over without embarrassing herself in front on her crush, Ben? Kimmell hits a home run with this installment in Kat's world. The writing is right on target, and she truly captures the awkwardness of first crushes.

Sincerely (C. Sheinmel) A cute novel - two books in one - about the pangs of growing up (and apart from your best friend). Sheinmel uses Sophie and Katie in an interesting way, presenting one story through two sets of eyes. Sophie's story is first, and the reader laughs and cries with her as she loses her best friend, experiences her parent's divorce, and tries to find her own way. Sophie's story really focuses on her school and home life. Her only friend seems to be in a pen pal all the way across the country, Katie. Katie's story is different from Sophie's - hers is centered on her home life and the trouble she experiences with her mother. Both are adorable, likable characters the reader will enjoy.

Insatiable (M. Cabot)  Cabot has stepped into the world of vampires...and added a nice twist of comedic relief to go with it. Meena Harper is your typical New York single girl, if by typical you consider being a writer for the #2 rated soap on television and living with her unemployed brother. But, Meena has a gift that many men cannot handle, a gift that seems to attract another sort of man--being able to predict people's death. Speaking of death, while walking her dog early one morning Meena just about meets her own after a colony of bats attack her. But a talk, dark, handsome stranger saves her...and falls in love with her. There's only one problem--this talk, dark, handsome stranger is the prince of darkness. Can Meena save herself while trying to fight her urge to love the unattainable? Cabot gives readers a fun read in her vamp tale. Meena is a fun character that readers will pull for, and Lucien is the vampire with a soul (unlike his father or his brother). With a nice mix of drama, romance, and comedy, Cabot spins a tale that will keep chick lit lovers turning the pages.

Hush, Hush (B. Fitzpatrick) Fitzpatrick brings a new heroine to the forefront for teens...Nora Grey. Nora is a regular sophomore with a fiercely-loyal best friend who finds her world rocked one day when her Biology teacher has the class switch partners. Enter Patch - a fallen angel who seems mysteriously drawn to Nora...and Nora is drawn to him. This is a case of the book jacket not doing justice to the novel. Fitzpatrick's story is fast-paced, allowing readers just the right amount of action, of love, and of family. On a special note, I chose this novel as the FIRST pick for the new YA Teacher Book Club for my fellow teachers. The meeting is not until next week, but the feedback has been positive. Many papers have gone ungraded and many minutes/hours of sleep have been lost because the teachers could NOT put this book down.

Please Note: I read all the time; I'm always reading something. The above books are ones that have been read within the last four weeks. These are books that I read, loved, and recommend to others. This is not my complete list; it is abridged. Please watch for future posts where I list book recommendations.

What am I currently reading? Clockwork Angel by Cassandra for my review of this awesome book!!! Because it is awesome, and it will have its own review.

September 6, 2010

Decatur Book Festival & Cassandra Clare

This past weekend was the Decatur Book Festival in GA. I planned to attend the festival with my cousin, a fellow-lover of all things Cassandra Clare. Cassandra was appearing on Sunday, and the two of us did happy dances at the thought of meeting the goddess of Shadowhunters and Downworlders; however, life got in the way. My cousin was not able to attend, and my grading stack for the weekend was ever-increasing. A decision had to be four hours alone to meet Cassandra or grade? Hmmm...that seems to be an easy one, except the idea of traveling alone four hours from home was not ideal for me. Initially I decided not to attend. That was Friday (I was suppose to leave Saturday morning).

Saturday morning arrived and I really wanted to go to meet Cassandra. Not only do I love her books but also my students love her books as well. I had to make it, I coerced my hubby to tag along with our five-year-old. This would mean a great sacrifice on his part, having to keep up with said five-year-old while I got my Cassandra love on! And so we were off: 7PM Saturday night.

A lovely four-hour trip in the dark, arriving in GA around 1AM their time, and a nice, comfy hotel bed. Sunday morning arrived and we were off! Arriving at the Decatur Book Festival around 11 or so, we walked around in, meeting up with a friend, and began exploring. Lets just say the Decatur Book Festival was full of delicious smells, sales, and everything in between.

Cassandra Clare spoke for 45 minutes (1:15-2PM) and did NOT disappoint. She was amazing! She was greeted by a cheer from her fans; she was rewarded with gasps and claps from the audience when she announced she was reading from City of Fallen Angels, and she was pelted with a variety of questions. She handled all of those questions with grace - she is just a natural with her fans. If anyone was born to write and meet/greet fans, it is Cassandra!

One fan asked what advice Cassandra had for aspiring writers: READ! Read to write. Read outside of your preferred genre. Read ten books a week (okay, not really her advice, she was quoting Stephen King). Just...READ! Reading is the best way to write.

At the conclusion of her speaking engagement it was time for the signing. Many of her avid fans rushed to the doors and raced across the street. Other avid fans, like myself, weren't too sure where she was signing and stood for a moment trying to figure it out. MISTAKE! This one precious mistake resulted in a 2-hour wait in line. Of course it was worth it. I mean, I traveled four hours to just see and meet her!

While in line I meet two women that were also teachers (and, as it turns out, faux Edward fans). I knew I was in good company when one of them took out a 6" faux Edward doll to take pictures of. YES, that is correct. They were taking pics of faux Edward waiting in the massive line. As we crept along in line, we spoke about all the awesomeness that is reading. All the awesomeness that is sharing what we read with our students. Kindred spirits while waiting for Cassandra Clare - you betcha!

The reason the wait was two hours (besides the fact that Cassandra is AWESOMENESS!): she spoke to every fan, posed for pics, etc. By the time I reached her, literally two hours later, she was still smiling, still cordial, still willing to take a moment and speak to fans. That long line did not seem to frazzle her for a moment, even though she too was dripping with sweat.

She seemed genuinely surprised to know that I have many male students that are fans of her books. I told her it was a male student, Corey Morelli, who encouraged me to read her books. She wanted me to say hello to those male students. Too cool!!! I did forget to mention to her, you know, because I was so excited to finally be in her presence, that my husband too is a fan of her books! He seemed a little bummed that I forgot to tell her. Oh well, that's what Twitter is for ;-)

The result of my trip to the Decatur Book Festival: three new reading t-shirts and hearing/seeing/meeting Cassandra Clare. Decatur Book Festival, I cannot wait to visit again next year.