Thursday, March 26, 2015

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

"The great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody.” 

When I first read a synopsis of All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, I knew it was a book I wanted to read. On a surface level, I don't know what drew me to it-two kids meet at the bell tower of their school when they want to jump off and kill themselves-so why did I want to read it so badly?

I truly believe that there are times when books find us. Niven's book was the first title in a long time that I was genuinely excited to pick and read. And so I ordered it and waited until I had a night that I could fully immerse myself. And I was right-that I would want to sit and read the book straight through-to be fully engaged in the voices of both Theodore Finch and Violet Markey.

Theodore is the freak of the school-always odd and eccentric and never quite fitting in. He goes through periods of time where he feels like he's asleep as he doesn't remember day to day interactions or things that make him feel alive. It is when he is awake that he finds himself at the top of the school's bell tower, ready to jump off. He is stopped when he sees a girl also standing on the ledge, and determines then to save her.

Violet Markey is a popular girl at school. However, she's still coming to terms with the tragic death of her sister, who died in a car accident a year earlier. While many around her have moved on, Violet has yet to come to terms with the death of her sister and the impact it truly had on her life. She refuses to ride in cars, is worried that her presence upsets her parents, and wonders whether life is truly worth it. It's with those thoughts that she finds herself on the bell tower.

When the two save each other, they start a friendship that soon turns to something more. Together, the both battle their depression and attempt to heal one another. But it's clear to the reader that their depression is very different and their reasons for being on the bell tower are disparate. Theodore, as it is hinted at throughout the book, suffers from definite chemical imbalances (there is a direct reference to bipolar disorder). Violet, on the other hand, suffers from grief and depression.

It was Violet as I was first drawn to, and this line in particular....

“It's my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

I had to stop reading and write that down, as it struck home. As someone who suffers from a chronic illness that is mostly invisible, I know that feeling. It's hard for people to understand or be sympathetic when there are no outward signs of something being wrong. On my bad days, I try as hard as possible to look normal and act like myself. It's rare that anyone picks up on my actual state of being (unless it's a horrible day-then it's pretty obvious). For Violet, her grief is much the same. I've never been in her situation, and I'm sure many high schoolers aren't either. In high school, life moves quickly, and many high schoolers since themselves as invincible. But we all know that isn't the case. Violet is there.

But I digress.

What I loved most about the novel was the language, and the feeling in my stomach that while these two attempted to heal each other, as a reader I knew that something would happen. And of course, in any book that is about suicide, you know that something has to happen to truly develop the characters and the story.

And when things did happen, I dissolved into a mess. I don't think I get overly emotional when reading-meaning that I don't outwardly cry that often-but I did while reading this. It got to me. There was something beautiful and raw in their story.

And I also found myself pulling for Theodore, as I see some of my students in him. There is always a struggle when you are not the same as everyone else, but Theodore fought through it and stayed true to himself, which, I think, is a hard thing for high schoolers.

Above all, I just plain loved the story. It has some hope, some sorrow, but I think it leaves the reader with a lot to think about. I, for one, was reminded that behind every smiling face, there is a deeper story. Sometimes we are lucky and people share those stories with us. And other times, we find out their truth when it's too late.

If you passed this one over, give it another look. I promise you won't be disappointed. 

“I walk through the black Indiana night, under a ceiling of stars, and think about the phrase "elegance and euphoria," and how it describes exactly what I feel with Violet. For once, I don't want to be anyone but Theodore Finch, the boy she sees. He understands what it is to be elegant and euphoric and a hundered different people most of them flawed and stupid, part asshole, part screwup, part freak, a boy who wants to be easy for the folks around him so that he doesn't worry them and, most of all, easy for himself. A boy who belongs - here in the world, here in his own skin. He is exactly who I want to be and what I want my epitaph to say: The Boy Violet Markey Loves.” 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books from My Childhood/Teen Years to Revisit.

It's Tuesday, which means another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the lovely folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. Every week they name a topic, and book bloggers give their list to match.

When I saw this week's topic, I got very nostalgic and excited, so I knew I had to make an effort to figure out the titles for this list. And, once I got started, I was super excited to write out this list.

I hope you can relate to some of these titles, and perhaps find a few titles to check out. :)

In no particular order...


1. It Zwibble, The Star Touched Dinosaur: This book was one of my childhood favorites. I know I still have my copy somewhere, but I haven't seen it in awhile, and I miss it. The story basically follows It Zwibble, who is sent to earth in search of lost dinosaur eggs. It's adorable. There's a toucan and a moose. And it is made of awesome.


2. The Sweet Valley High books: I discovered these as a preteen during a library book sale. There was a big brown paper bag full of them, and I begged my mom to buy them for me (this was the mid-90s?). I became obsessed with the series and read them all numerous times. I have no idea what happened to my old copies, but I do feel a wave of nostalgia just looking at that cover-the drama. The heartbreak. Ugh. And I still can't believe my mom let me read them when I was only in the 5th or 6th grade. 


3. Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder: No list about my childhood would be complete without this series. I actually reread them a few years ago and blogged through the process, and they stood the test of time. I know I read these at least a dozen times as a girl, and there are scenes that are still incredibly vivid in my memory. They also remind me of my grandparents, since their copies were the ones I originally read.


4. The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell: I actually loved all of O'Dell's books, and my copies are safely tucked away in a box somewhere. I actually read this one after one of my older brothers came home from school and complained about it. I fell so hard for Karana's story and this jump-started an early love of history. I also went on to read all of O'Dell's books, and all of my copies are beat up from multiple rereads.


5. The Mrs. Piggle Wiggle Books by Betty MacDonald: I can remember reading these in the second grade, hidden away in our classroom castle (yep-we studied medieval times and built a castle in the classroom). I LOVED these books. Of course, they're cheesy and meant to teach children lessons, but I loved them anyway. When we moved into this apartment and I had to decide what books to keep on shelves, you better believe Mrs. Piggle Wiggle is out. YEP.


6. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner: This was another big hit in the second grade. My teacher had this big bookshelf FULL of books, and the Boxcar Children were always in big demand, especially this second book. Everyone fought over it (no idea why), and it was always joyous when someone new got to read it. I went on to read a majority of the series (my older brothers also had them). Great series of books!


7. The White Dragon by Anne McCaffery: I have another vivid memory for you. In 8th grade, my English teacher told us we had to read a book outside our comfort zone. My best friend Jenny and I decided we needed to read the same book. We scoured the school library and painfully passed up our beloved Mary Higgins Clark (it was a phase....at one time I owned everything she wrote). This was the only book we found that had two copies and that our teacher agreed to. DO YOU SEE THAT COVER? Anyway, it ended up being the best thing ever, as it launched my love of fantasy. I own a bunch of the Pern novels (some are more battered than others), and I know I need to reread them at some point.


8. Loves Music, Loves to Dance by Mary Higgins Clark: So....like I said, I went through a phase in 7th and 8th grade with my friend Jenny where we obsessed over Mary Higgins Clark. I have no idea why it started, but I blame Jenny completely. We each bought tons of her books, traded with each other, and gushed over the "romance" and "mystery." This one was a favorite of ours, and I'm pretty sure I read it 5 or 6 times. I'm happy to say that I sold all my Clark books years ago, and while I have a huge wave of nostalgia every now and again, I've resisted. ;) And please know I say that all in good fun.


9. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: I debated whether or not to put this book on my list because of the controversy surrounding Card, but this title remains a large part of my reading history. This was required summer reading for my 9th grade English class (we actually had to choose between this and David Copperfield, which I now love, but would have hated then. And for those interested, the other required titles were My Antonia and The Count of Monte Cristo). I loved this book. It created my love of science-fiction and really drove me as a reader throughout high school. It also encouraged me to branch out to trying new things and exploring different kinds of fiction. Now...I have mixed feelings about the book and Card. I actually taught this book in the fall to my struggling readers class, but they hated it and the experience was not that much fun for me....but it still remains a book I keep on my shelf and think about from time to time.


10. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: This series started to debut when I was in high school, and while I avoided them at first, I caved in when my aunt gave them to me when I ran out of things to read on vacation. I soon became a Harry Potter nerd, attended midnight release parties for the last 3 books (the first 4 were already out when I started reading them), and saw all the movies on their debut. It's a series I will always love. I mean, it's Harry Potter, you know?

So, there's my list. There's a few more I could have added, but I think these were fun and representative of my early reading life. :) Do we have any books in common?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Reading Habits.

This is an old survey that I did once before on my blog. I decided it would be fun to revisit, as my habits have changed a lot in the last year or two! Let me know if you decide to complete it as well!

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack:
I usually become to absorbed in what I'm reading to snack while I'm trying to flip pages. I'm also a fast reader, so I find it incredibly distracting to eat and try to read!

What is your favorite drink while reading?
I'm a big Diet Coke addict (I've cut way back from how much I used to drink), but I usually have a my water bottle nearby. I've been meaning to try adding fruit, etc to my water to give it more flavor, but haven't tried it yet. I know they make special water bottles for that as well!

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
It really depends on what I'm reading. If I'm reading something history related, I will usually jot notes down. And depending on what kind of novel it is, I might circle or star something. I used to do much more to my books when I was in college, but I've fallen out of that habit. It is fun to go back and reread those old notes!

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
I am very kind to my books. I always use a bookmark (or a scrap of paper, a postcard, something) when I'm reading. Since I consider my book collection more of a library, I want to take care of them so they last. That might sound silly, but it's how I see. I also try to protect the spines of my books as much as possible, but if it breaks, it breaks. I have quite a few hefty paperbacks with broken spines, and that's AOK.

I will say that if I lend a book out, I do expect the person will treat it the way I do. I mean, I know things happen, but if you destroy one of my books, that's the last time I will ever let you borrow from me. My BIL is one of those people that lost the privilege of borrowing from me.

Fiction, non-fiction, or both?
I read a lot of fiction, but I also love history, biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. I would really like to read more of those, but I often feel they require a little more effort on my part.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?
If I'm really tired and just can't get to the end of a chapter, I will try and finish the "Scene" that I'm currently reading. But I have a hard time stopping mid-chapter. It usually means I start over from the chapter's beginning when I pick the book back up.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?
I've done it a few times, but it's rare. The only book I can vividly remember throwing (more than once) was Atlas Shrugged.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?
Usually I don't need to. I think context clues are very helpful, so I always go that route. However, if I can't figure out that it means, I have to look it up or it will annoy me.

What are you currently reading?
I just finished a book (I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak) this afternoon (Saturday, March 21) and I'm hesitating in deciding what else I want to read. This is the first weekend in a LONG time where I haven't had piles of grading, so I'm not quite sure what to dive into. I might pick up the new Andrew Smith or Lady Audley's Secret.

What is the last book you bought?
I just posted about some recent "Book Loot" but I also just ordered the first 2 volumes of Fables. I read the first 9 or 10 a few years ago, and I have been meaning to acquire and reread them. It helps that the series is coming to a close shortly.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?
I usually read before bed. It's really the only time I have available anymore. It's also pretty typical for me to come home on Friday afternoons and relax with a book while Matt is working. It's rare that I read any other time of day. However, if I'm teaching a text in class, I usually complete the homework during my prep hour (and yes, I count that as books read, as I always reread the texts I teach).

Do you prefer series books or standalones?
It really depends on the mood I'm in and what time I have available. It never used to be that way, but since my grading pile dictates some of my free time, I'm wary of starting big series in the middle of the school year. That's why I've avoided some books!

I do think that there are way too many trilogies, etc, and there is nothing wrong with a good standalone title. I actually really like picking up a book and knowing the story will be complete when I close the cover.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
I have some standard titles that I always recommend: The House of Mirth, The Portrait of a Lady, The Odyssey, etc. But recently I've added a few books and mainly because I know that students have enjoyed them. They always love John Green and Andrew Smith!

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.) 
I currently have 5 bookshelves that house about half of my total library (the rest are in boxes in the closet). The 2 tall shelves in the living room house most of my classes. My small Puffin Hardcovers are actually sitting in our entertainment center on a top shelf (I had to move them because I ran out of room). The classics are mostly in alphabetical order by author, except when a book is too tall to fit on a shelf (then it gets kicked to the bottom row). The whole left shelf is A-R, and the right shelf is the rest. The top 5 rows on the right shelf are also home to my Penguin clothbounds and all 100 Penguin English Library editions.

In our second bedroom, I have two more tall shelves, and one super skinny shelf. One of the tall shelves houses all of my Shakespeare (takes up a whole row...and it's organized a little crazy to get them to fit). The rest of the shelves house YA, a row of teaching reference books, and history/biography titles. The skinny shelf holds a mishmash of things, but mainly it has a ton of mass markets (mainly fantasy and Sci-fi). The skinny shelf is double stacked because I've been acquiring too much. haha.

I also have some nicer leather-bound books in another storage area in our living room and a stack of TBR on my nightstand. As my husband says, we are quite surrounded by books. It IS a bit excessive and I do need to cull some titles (especially from the boxes in my closet).

Any other weird habits?
I keep a written record of books read each month. They are all in a spiraled journal and I've had it since the beginning of 2008. I did fall out of that habit a few months ago, but I did update it. :)

I have a big printed out list of the titles on my 250 list taped to the back of our "office" door. I highlight each title as I finish it. I'm a big fan of crossing things off, so it helps me visualize my progress!

If I buy the first book of a series in a certain format (paperback, mass market, or hardcover), I like the remaining titles to match. I know that it's a bit obsessive, but I'm weird like that. So, it bothers me when publishers change the layout/design of books halfway through a series.

I used to keep a book database in Excel of all the books I owned and when I last read them, but I stopped updating it about 3 years ago when it became overwhelming. I opened it up the other day and it is so out of date and incorrect that I need to just start over. Perhaps I will do so over the summer and after I cull some books.

I like pretty covers. If there is more than one edition, I look at a couple of things before buying. 1-the publisher. I do have preferences when buying a classic, so that trumps everything (I prefer Penguin or Oxford). 2. The cover. I like pretty covers. Maybe that's a bad thing, but it does make me want to read certain titles over others!

There are my habits! Let me know what yours are!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Weekend Update for March 21/22, 2015: A Life Update.

I thought it would be a good idea to give a small life update, as I haven't been posting regularly in quite some time. I could say a year, but quite frankly, I lost the blogging mojo for a couple of years.

In two words, I'm good. Things are going much better than they have been, and while the last year has been incredibly challenging for me, there are a lot of good things on the horizon for myself, my husband, and my life in general.

I think in the last update I gave before completely disappearing, I mentioned that I was hit with a lot of chaos in my life all at once-issues at work, stress from taking classes to renew my certificate, and Matt losing his job. Of the three, obviously Matt's job was the biggest problem and caused a great deal of stress and financial strain for about 6 months. It's been almost a year since it happened and I can say that without a doubt, it was a blessing in disguise. Matt is finally back in school and is set to graduate in another year (FINALLY). We're actually at a good place financially where all of our debt is paid off, and we've both grown up in a lot of ways. There were many times over last summer when I would break down crying because of stress, but we're doing okay now, and our relationship is stronger because of that strain.

Speaking of Matt, we celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary after Christmas. It doesn't seem like it has been that long, which I suppose is a good thing. ;)

I also have a new niece, Madelyn, who was born in October. She belongs to my brother, Eric (he also has Zoey, my goddaughter). It's crazy that Zoey is already 2 1/2!

In my work life, things are pretty good. My district has some reshuffling before Christmas that resulted in a few lay-offs, and because of that, my schedule was changed. I now teach all English, and while that was what I wanted a long time ago, I really miss teaching history. I currently have 3 sections of sophomore American Literature, 1 section of senior Composition, and 1 section of Mythology. It's a lot of essay grading, but I have found that I've been much more efficient in how I collect and grade papers. I'm not sure what I'm teaching next year, but I'm pushing to get at least 1 section of history back. I'm also hoping that if we get enough student interest I will be teaching a Shakespeare class. We will have to see.

Probably the biggest news is that I finally decided what to do with my education. I was going to start graduate school in the fall, but after Matt lost his job, it wasn't a financial possibility. So, I decided to earn my National Board Certification instead, which in addition to giving me a substantial pay raise, is pretty prestigious and takes care of my certification issues for the next ten years. It's a 3-year process to complete and has 4 parts-a content test and 3 different portfolios. I'm working on one of the portfolio pieces now (it's due May 20th), and when it's finished, it'll be about 60 pages. But the whole process is a challenge and worthwhile, so I'm going to tough it out (and will be spending my entire Spring Break writing and writing and writing).

I'm also hoping to teach summer school this year, with the hopes that the extra income will fund a road trip Matt and I have been talking about taking for years. If all goes well, we're going to spend the first two weeks in August driving out West, camping in Yosemite, seeing lots of national parks, visiting my sister in Los Angeles, and heading back by way of Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and more. I'm really hoping it pans out, as we have been talking about taking this trip for years!

Beyond all of that, not much has been going on. My health has been surprisingly good, with the exception of bad days here and there and a string of migraines that have plagued me this winter. I did have to get glasses back in December as my eyes were going crazy. They make my life much easier. :)

If there's anything else I forgot to mention, feel free to ask.

I will say-it feels good to be writing again.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Book Loot (March 2015).

Ahhhh....buying new books. To be honest, while I have purchased books here and there over the last year, I've been reading a lot from my own shelves and the shelves of my school's media center.I'm sure I will continue to do so, as the need to own every book I read has passed (I've gone through that stage...seriously, I had to buy my own copy). I have learned that it's okay to read things, then seek out a copy if it's something I really want to keep or read again in the future.

That being said, I've gone a bit crazy buying books in the last couple of months. I thought it might be fun to pull out some titles from my new acquisitions and book chat with you. Some of these I have already read, some are shelved on my bookshelves, and some are waiting for me on my nightstand (my nightstand is where I store my current TBR).


The Penguin English Library Collection

Long time readers of my blog know my obsession with all things Penguin Classics. The Penguin English Library editions became an obsession of mine beginning with their debut. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase many of them myself, but I had about 10 more that I needed when Christmas rolled around. My mom ended up buying the remaining books for me, so now I have all 100. I know that's a bit insane, especially when I own the same title in other editions, but I have since culled my classics shelves for doubles and donated them to my school. 

I also love that I have a full set of classics with gorgeous covers and great features inside. I know I will keep these always, so it was a great investment. :) And just throwing it out there that these are pretty darn affordable. The clothbounds, on the other hand, well, I have quite a few left to pick up, but I'm working on that now too. 


The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

I first discovered Smith through that Smith reading project a few summers ago (I know RoofBeamReader was on of the organizers, but I can't see who else....). I fell in love very quickly and have purchased all of his new releases since. This one did sneak up on me (I blame that on being out of the book blogging loop), but now that it's in my hands, I'm excited to get to it. 


Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

This is another very recent acquisition, but I'm excited about it. While I always find some fault in Oliver's work, I'm always excited to see a new title out from her. I actually just talked about Panic with a student the other day, so that's given me a bit of a push to read this one sooner rather than later.

I do want to mention that I'm not at all a fan of the cover. It's boring.


Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

This was definitely an impulse buy for me the other night when I ducked into Barnes and Noble for the Smith title. It was the only copy left, so I snatched it up pretty quickly, even though I still have Seraphina on my shelf unread. I find some kind of dumb comfort in knowing that they're both there when I want them. Question for those who've already read it...is there a third book coming out? Tell me so I know whether to wait to read them. 


All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Truth: I've already read this book. I actually bought it as soon as I read a synopsis and read it that weekend (my thoughts are coming next week). I love this book. Seriously. So far it has been my favorite read of 2015, and it gave me a ton to mull over in the weeks since finishing it. 

I often stay away from books like this-that have a lot of hype-when they debut. But the hype was worth it.


Landline by Rainbow Rowell

This was another spur of the moment decision the other night, even though it has been on my mental TBR since it's debut over the summer. I have loved the Rowell titles I've read so far (Eleanor and Park, Attachments, and Fangirl), so I'm excited to read another by her. And because of my book blogging bubble, I really have no idea what it's about. I like it that way.


The Wheel of Time Series (Books 1-6) by Robert Jordan

Considering I believe myself to be a big fan of fantasy novels, a friend was shocked I had never read these. Truthfully, I had never picked them up because they are GINORMOUS. And there are twelve of them. I also wanted to avoid reading them while they were incomplete (but Jordan passed along his notes to Brandon Sanderson to finish after his death). 

But I miss reading big fantasy epics, so I have acquired the first 6 books over the last couple of months (some I purchased, some were gifts). I'm hoping to dive into the series later this spring and read a book a month over the course of the next year. Readalong anyone?


Stormlight Archive 1 and 2 by Brandon Sanderson

Since we're talking about epic fantasy, why not add on the other series that I have started to acquire....and that has no end date in sight....and who knows how long it will take. But....I might as well have them on my shelf, right? They are also VERY big-they make the Wheel of Time books look like afternoon reads, but I have heard very good things, and I have enjoyed all of Sanderson's work that I've read (and you know...I have other books by him on my shelf that need reading too). 


My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

I honestly don't know why I bought this book, as I heard nothing about it. But, it called to me, so I bought it and read it shortly after All the Bright Places. I think that's where I went wrong because while the books are very similar, Niven's was more compelling. That's not to say this was a bad read (it isn't), just that I didn't sink into it as much as I probably would have. 


We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I know that I read this at some point in the past, but couldn't remember when and I didn't have a copy on my shelves. Since this was a title for my literature groups, I needed to read it, and quickly (my thoughts up sometime soon). 

I was very particular looking at covers, and this one drew me right in. And hey, it's a Penguin (you see how they get me every time?). Now that I've read it, I'm drawn to The Haunting of Hill House even though I hate scary. Crazy how that works.


There you have it, the newest additions to my already overflowing shelves. I'm sure I'm missing a few, but they're hidden on my shelves and I don't want to go digging. So let me know if you've read any of these, or if there is something else I should check out!