July 23, 2012

Review: Falling for Hamlet

I am always looking for novels to bring into pieces that I teach. I feel that it gives the piece credibility that extends past the author's own words. It's as if I can say to students, "Well, you may not think this piece is important, but let me introduce you to others who would disagree..." I especially love it when novels I introduce are YA novels because they speak my students' language.

This is why I had to buy and read this novel. I had to find other ways to connect Shakespeare to modern times, to prove to my students he is not antiquated nor are his ideas. He lives on...even in the world of YA lit. 

Summary (from Goodreads):

Meet Ophelia: a blonde, beautiful high-school senior and long-time girlfriend of Prince Hamlet of Denmark. Her life is dominated not only by her boyfriend's fame and his overbearing family, but also by the paparazzi who hound them wherever they go. As the devastatingly handsome Hamlet spirals into madness after the mysterious death of his father, the King, Ophelia rides out his crazy roller coaster life, and lives to tell about it. In live television interviews, of course.

Passion, romance, drama, humor, and tragedy intertwine in this compulsively readable debut novel, told by a strong-willed, modern-day Ophelia.

My Thoughts:

Author Michelle Ray brings Hamlet into the twenty-first century, rife with all the modern “drama” that can be seen on television.

But this book is not a focus of Hamlet or his characterization.

Enter Ophelia, whose father is a loyal worker to the Hamlet household and whose brother is a college student full of warnings. But when King Hamlet suddenly dies, the household falls into a spiral, taking everyone living there down with it, including Ophelia – with exception, it seems, to the King’s brother and Ophelia’s father.

While Hamlet struggles to find the truth of his father’s death, readers of the famous play will recognize sprinkled elements of the original, almost a wink to the audience that Hamlet is not forgotten; however, the star is Ophelia, and it shines bright on her relationship with Hamlet, her father, the royal household, her friends.

The novel is not plot-driven but character-driven. Readers must first invest in Ophelia as a character in order to buy into the plot. I not only bought into Ophelia but also all the minor characters as well. I feel the author brought Shakespeare’s most popular play into modern times in an authentic way.

The characterization of each character matches that of Shakespeare’s, and there are clever additions that answer questions that my students always ask while reading the play.
  • Where is Ophelia’s mother?
  • What kind of relationship does Ophelia and Hamlet really have?
  • How close is Ophelia to her father and her brother?
  • What role does Polonius play in the Royal household?
These holes are skillfully filled throughout the novel, allowing me to bring up Ray’s ideas to my own students when these questions arise during the reading of the play.

But…I do have a complaint.

For me, I found the opening and closing of each chapter to be a distraction from the storytelling itself. The novel would have been stronger without the talk show antics and police interrogation. After quite a few chapters I found myself skipping them completely, and by novel’s end I did not feel as if I had missed out on anything.  

While reading this novel, I could not help but notice parallels between Ophelia and Hamlet’s relationship and that of Kate Middleton and Prince William (while they were dating). There were a lot of similarities, and it is clear that the Royal couple is where she drew inspiration. After all, if you are going to bring characters like Ophelia and Hamlet into modern society, what better way than through Kate and William?

While this is an interesting and authentic update to Shakespeare’s tale, it does not live up to Klein’s Ophelia. I am sure that others have made the same comparison. The two novels are presented in different ways and serve two different purposes. If you have read Klein’s Ophelia, do not miss out on this novel. While it may not live up to Klein’s novel, it is still a strong re-telling.

Hooray for having two YA novels to introduce to students when teaching Hamlet! At the conclusion of teaching the play, I plan to book talk both novels to my students.

Have you read either novel? What are your thoughts?

Do you have a YA novel that you use when introducing/teaching classical literature to students? Share your title(s) in the comment section.

Happy Reading!

Spotlight on...Entwined

Good morning readers! I hope all is well in your worlds.

Spotlight on... is a celebration of books that are no longer new to the bookshelves but deserve a continued interest in reading them because they are worth it. A book will be featured each Saturday, so check back to see what will be next.

I am two days late with this week's pick, but I am pleased to bring Entwined back into the spotlight!

This retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses will captivate you. Before you know it,  you to find yourself a part of its alluring plot.

I "read" this book via audio, and it was a fantastic reader. She kept me completely engaged with the plot, making me feel as if I was becoming a part of the entwine, finding Keeper especially tempting. 

For those who have read the Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray and enjoyed it, you have to add this book to your list of reads, seriously. 

With the combination of intriguing plot, fantastical setting, and twelve dancing sisters, this novel will cast a spell on you. 

Have you read/reviewed Entwined? If so, leave a link in the comments section. You can read my original review of the novel here.

July 21, 2012

Review: Beautifully Broken

Title & author: Beautifully Broken by Sherry Soule
Publisher: Moonlight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult
Sub-genre: Paranormal
Reading age: 14 years and older
Pages: 330
Release Date: August 2011
ISBN: 9780615508122
Source: The author

Summary (from Goodreads):

 Thirteenth Daughter. Heritage Witch. Demon Slayer.

They say every town has its secrets, but that doesn’t even begin to describe Whispering Pines. The townsfolk are a superstitious lot and the mystical disappearance of a local teen has everyone murmuring about a centuries old witch’s curse.

Sixteen-year-old Shiloh Ravenwolf is a heritage witch from the Broussard family, a family both destined and cursed. After she takes a summer job at Ravenhurst Manor, she discovers a ghost with an agenda. That’s where she meets the new town hottie, Trent Donovan. But Trent may be the next victim on the supernatural hit list, and Shiloh is the only person with the power to save him. Complicated much?

After receiving cryptic messages from a creepy wraith and frightening threats from a demon, Shiloh finally begins to understand the mysterious significance of the strange mark branded on her wrist. Now Shiloh must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice to protect the other teenagers in town.

Unfortunately, for Shiloh, not all ghosts want help crossing over. Some want vengeance.

My Thoughts:

It is difficult to write this review without spoiling important plot points, but I have done my best.

From the moment I began reading this novel until the conclusion, my heart was pumping and the creep factor was rising. Soule does not hold back – not even a little bit – as she brings Whispering Pines to life. But this is not like ordinary, secretive towns. This place has secrets full of blood and murder. And yet, I found myself wanting more.

Our novel’s heroine, Shiloh Ravenwolf, just wants to be a normal teenager, but she is not normal by any standard. She can see shadows. She hears voices. She has a ghost stalking her. But what do these three things have in common? Soule creates more of a puzzle with this novel, giving readers all the outside pieces before finally filling in the middle. This is where the author keeps readers in suspense, making us wait for the intertwining of all elements, completing the puzzle.

While Shiloh is the novel’s heroine and should be the star, she is upstaged by Ravenhurst Manor, a combination of the hotel from The Shining and the house in Psycho. Yes, the Manor was that creepy. Every time the author placed me there, my heart rate went up. Heck, it's going up right now just thinking of it. But that Manor really does have a history, so to speak. It seems to hold the "key of secrets" in Whispering Pines.

And what is a YA paranormal novel without a hot male counterpart? Enter Trent Donovan. He and his father live in Ravenhurst Manor, and when Shiloh earns an internship there for the summer, the two begin a romance that is steamy, but can the two of them overcome their secrets? Because they both are keeping important things from one another.

Shadows, ghosts, demons - oh my! The addition of these upped the creep factor in the novel, by a lot. The demon alone made me want to keep my lights on, checking over my shoulder (just in case). Their combination with Ravehurst Manor makes this a horror-level novel, just without the gore. 

As a whole I enjoyed the novel. Soule has a lot of potential with this series, and I am curious to see where she takes Shiloh in Moonlight Mayhem. Shiloh has a lot of character development to go, but Soule sets the character up nicely for the sequel. Trent is mysterious enough for readers to crave more but gives just enough of him to have them swooning. And the spook-level of the storytelling is spot on for the paranormal.

I recommend Beautifully Broken to anyone who enjoys a witchy read and the paranormal. If you scare easily, I recommend you read this in the daylight; otherwise, you might find yourself looking over your shoulder one too many times while reading. [Not that I did that. At all. Not even a little bit.]

I have a few lingering questions I hope are answered in the sequel, and I am quite excited to learn that there are “ferocious wolves, deadly necromancers, and shambling zombies.” But I will be sure to read it in the daylight. 

Be sure to check out my interview with the author, Sherry Soule, as well. Learn who her writing inspirations are as well as her favorite pizza topping.  

July 20, 2012

Author Q&A with Sherry Soule

Thank you Sherry for taking time to stop by the blog and answer a few questions about your debut novel, Beautifully Broken, as well as a few about yourself.

1. Paranormal novels are hot right now. What do you think it is that lures readers to this particular type of storytelling?

The possibility of the impossible. The romanticism of the genre. The fantasy of a world with magical beings that have superpowers.

2. Why did you decide to write a witchy YA tale instead of an adult one?

I’m basically a big kid at heart. I love reading YA novels, and after watching reruns of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” and “Charmed” I had an idea for a series based on those old TV shows. However, my series will be more about a group of supernaturally gifted teens (each character will have their own unique powers and be a different type of paranormal) that work together to fight evil. And YA is the “hot” genre right now, so it seemed like a good fit.

3. What kind of research did you conduct to get the story just right?

I do different types of research for each book and/or character. For BB, I spent a lot of time researching demonology, ghosts and wraiths, and haunted houses. For the sequel MM, I researched a ton of lore on werewolves and zombies.

4. The word “whispering” has a lot of connotations. Where did the inspiration for the town’s title come from? Is there specific symbolism in the title?

I needed a spooky fictional town name. I liked Silent Hill but that’s already taken. LOL  I wanted to change it to something else after the first book came out. I still might if I do any heavy revisions and republish at some point. While researching the different elements of Whispering Pines, I came across Marin County in California while looking for a foggy and woodland area. The popular SF Bay Area tourist spot planted the seed for what developed into a fictional version of the place, we’ve all come to know and love as, Whispering Pines.

5. What is the one quality you created in Shiloh that you admire the most?

She’s a fighter. When things get tough, Shiloh manages to hang in there without falling to pieces.

6. What writer(s) has inspired you the most?

As a teenager it was authors like Lois Duncan, Anne Rice, and the late, V. C. Andrews that were my inspirations.

7. Was it always your dream to be a writer?

Yes. I’ve been writing stories since I was seven-years-old. I’ve always loved reading and writing since childhood. I can’t imagine NOT writing. It’s in my soul—my passion.

8. Favorite comfort food, especially when a deadline is looming?

Carmel-coated popcorn. Yum!

9. What is your favorite pizza topping and what do you think that choice says about your personality?

       My fav is BBQ Chicken pizza. It says that I’m tangy and 
       piquant? LOL

Thank you for letting me chat up my YA series with all of you. If you haven’t seized your copy of MOONLIGHT MAYHEM yet, please do so. More thrilling and extraordinary adventures await you!

Thank you Sherry! Check out the book trailer for Beautifully Broken and click here to read my review of this spooktacular read.

Where you can find Sherry:

July 16, 2012

Happenings in Hodgensville

Happenings in Hodgensville is sharing myself with you - not reviewing a book or discussing what I am reading - but sharing what I am doing in my classroom and/or in my life. This post deals with life. Okay, cooking.

In the last month, a lot has happened:
  • I have traveled to Dallas, TX to spend six days to learn and present for a chance at being  an LTF-endorsed trainer (I succeeded)
  • while in Dallas, my husband saw his mom, grandmother, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. for the first time in thirty-one years
  • while in Dallas, I visited the site of JFK’s assassination
  • I have read several amazing books
  • I have been raising two puppies
  • I have been planning for next school year, which is a month away
  • I have received an amazing job opportunity that would take me out of the classroom and into classrooms of other teachers, but due to my husband starting nursing school, I have to turn the job down (tear)
  • I have started cooking again - and I like it
The last bullet is what I want to share today. I know it has nothing to do with books or teaching, but for those of you who are like me and just do not enjoy it, I want to share a couple of things I have done that I have really enjoyed.

The nod goes to Pinterest as being a cooking inspiration. My husband does all of the cooking in the house, and he was fresh out of ideas. I had pinned several meals that I wanted to try, and so I took him to my board, and we did a bit of exploring.

As a result, I became inspired to get off my tush and do a bit of cooking myself. After all, with his going to nursing school and working, I will have to get back into the kitchen. Unless I want to eat fast food every night, and I can promise you that I do not.

The first one I worked through was the two-ingredient pumpkin cake. Now, I love pumpkin. And I love cake. To put these two things together in just two ingredients was tempting for me, so I gave it a try.

look at the color of the batter, beautiful

My results: yummy but a bit gummy.

Here's the link with the recipe directions. 

What I would do differently: I would definitely bake it for two more minutes than suggested. I took it out one minute early because it had a beautiful, baked look. Mistake. Keep it in there for the entire time, even if it looks done. I did the toothpick trick, and it came out clean, but it was still gummy a day later.

What I will do next time: definitely the apple cider glaze. I used whipped white icing this time because it's summer, but in the fall, with that drizzle, I'm expecting great things!

The second one I tried was for dinner this evening. It was a hit! And so simple. 

My little man helped me with this. He even whisked the corn bread mixture. Look what a great job he did.

going into the oven, coming out, and decorated by little man - as you can see, he gives it a thumbs up!

This was a tummy pleaser for my seven-year-old. 

Here's a link to the recipe directions.

What I would do differently: use smaller muffin pans. This is regular cupcake size, so I did double what the recipe suggested for filling the cups. It gave us big, beautiful corn dog muffins, but it was 75% muffin. 

What I will do next time: follow the recipe exactly for a more satisfying fill in my tummy. OR...I will keep it like it is and add in two pieces of hot dog. I will let my little man decide since he really enjoyed making this.

If you are not on Pinterest, or if you are and have avoided all the recipes because they constantly make you hungry (which is what I originally did), you are doing yourself a disservice. If you are looking for fresh ideas for any meal, definitely make Pinterest a part of that. It is free. It is interesting. And you control what you pin.

Do you have a favorite recipe that you pinned on Pinterest? Share the link below so the rest of us can enjoy it as well.

Happy pinning!

July 14, 2012

Spotlight on...Shine

Good Saturday morning readers! I hope all is well in your worlds.

Spotlight on... is a celebration of books that are no longer new to the bookshelves but deserve a continued interest in reading them because they are worth it. A book will be featured each Saturday, so check back to see what will be next.

beautiful cover
For my first Saturday pick, I'm going with one of favorite tween/YA authors, Lauren Myracle. All of her books should be on your reading lists, but for this week I am going to feature Shine

With bullying being such a topical discussion on an almost daily basis, Myracle shows readers what can happen when it goes unchecked. This realistic-fiction novel reminds readers of three things:  (1) it is important to fight for your friends and for yourself; (2) there is no wrong decision when doing the right thing; (3) intolerance will destroy a community.

This novel is gritty, it is gripping, it is worth another moment in the spotlight. 

Have you read and/or reviewed Shine? If so, leave a link in the comments section. You can read my review of the novel here.

What novel do you think deserves another moment in the spotlight?

July 13, 2012

Discounted Matched

Okay ebook readers, if you have not yet discovered the Matched series by Ally Condie, Sunday is the day for you to bring it into your world.

On Sunday, July 15th,  Matched will be available for just $2.99. Download it - you won't be sorry. I mean, look at that beautiful cover. It was the reason I picked it up in a bookstore. I wanted to know why that girl was wearing a beautiful dress in a bubble. I could not put this book down.

Still not sure? Here is the trailer, which will give you a miniscule view into Cassia's world.

Don't have an ereader but love audiobooks? This makes a great audio as well. Dystopian readers, YA readers, readers, if you haven't already, check out this series.

Happy Reading!

July 11, 2012

The Forsaken Book Trailer

If you love dystopian reads, you might want to check out this book trailer for The Forsaken, a debut novel by Lisa Stasse. Find it at your local book store.

Do the beating drums get to you too? Talk about eliciting fear into a prospective reader - and I love it! I haven't even cracked open the book, and I already I feel as if I've been forsaken.

Summary (from Goodreads):
As an obedient orphan of the U.N.A. (the super-country that was once Mexico, the U.S., and Canada), Alenna learned at an early age to blend in and be quiet—having your parents taken by the police will do that to a girl. But Alenna can’t help but stand out when she fails a test that all sixteen-year-olds have to take: The test says she has a high capacity for brutal violence, and so she is sent to The Wheel, an island where all would-be criminals end up.

The life expectancy of prisoners on The Wheel is just two years, but with dirty, violent, and chaotic conditions, the time seems a lot longer as Alenna is forced to deal with civil wars for land ownership and machines that snatch kids out of their makeshift homes. Desperate, she and the other prisoners concoct a potentially fatal plan to flee the island. Survival may seem impossible, but Alenna is determined to achieve it anyway.

Have any of you already read this? Thoughts?

July 7, 2012

Review: Scary School (Book 1)

love the cover
Title and author: Scary School by Derek the Ghost
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 237
Date: June 21, 2011
ISBN: 9780061960925
Source: The author

Summary (from Goodreads):
You think your school's scary? 

Get a load of these teachers:
"Ms. Fang," an 850-year-old vampire
"Dr. Dragonbreath," who just might eat you before recess
"Mr. Snakeskin"--science class is so much more fun when it's taught by someone who's half zombie
"Mrs. T"--break the rules and spend your detention with a hungry "Tyrannosaurus rex"


Gargoyles, goblins, and Frankenstein's monster on the loose
The world's most frighteningly delicious school lunch


The narrator's an eleven-year-old ghost 

Join Charles "New Kid" Nukid as he makes some very Scary friends--including Petunia, Johnny, and Peter the Wolf--and figures out that Scary School can be just as funny as it is spooky

My Thoughts:

This novel is quite a clever idea. What happens when you combine a moat, a giant squid, and a twenty-foot T-Rex wearing a blue dress and a blue bonnet? An introduction to Scary School!

The mission of the school is simple: to bring humans and other beings together as one unit, but what happens when a student accidentally calls a teacher by the wrong name? DEATH! No seriously, she drains them because the teacher is a vampire, and she cannot have students call her by the wrong name. But no student of Scary School should attempt to break a rule because the punishment is not worth the price, unless it turns the student into a dragon. Then it becomes a cool price to pay.

There are allusions to some of the best “monster” stories in literature and in movies. 

There are life lessons to be learned in this book as well – never judge someone based on their looks, always speak up for yourself, cleverness counts, and most importantly, do not betray your school: “‘I pity the fool who betrays his school,’ Mrs. T replied, licking her chops.” It’s the one-liners such as this that will make adults reminisce and young readers laugh.

Readers are also treated to a gaggle of goblins acting out “The Three Little Pigs” as a Halloween treat. If it can go wrong, it does.

And then there are the Ghoul Games: a survival of the fittest between monsters. With Scary School being both participant and host, the stakes are higher because now it becomes monsters vs. monsters and humans. There are some in the monster community that believe this is wrong, and thus they create the ultimate monster prize: the winners of the Games get to eat the losers. Or they can choose a lollipop instead.

The illustrations enhance the storytelling, giving a visual that many will find to be much more frighteningly comical than their own imagination.

The chapter titles are clever and the overall plot is hilariously engaging. I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think reluctant boy readers will enjoy it as well.

This is a winner for young readers in more ways than one. Add it to your summer reading list.

Be sure to check out the next in the series, Scary School: Monsters on the March out on June 26, 2012!