Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 End of the Year Survey.

I have some other things that I need to talk about to wrap up the year 2012, but I am putting them off until tomorrow. For today, I thought it might be time to plow through the traditional End of the Year Survey that Jamie hosts each year. This is the third year for the survey, and the third time I am participating.

Off I go...

Best In Books 2012

1. Best Book You Read In 2012? 
I read a lot of great books in 2012, and looking back at all of them leaves me a bit unsettled. There was a definite transition from classics into all the YA and Fantasy I've been reading recently. Anyway, I decided to pick two books from those very distinct portions of my reading. 
Classics: Hand's down, my favorite from the year was David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. I'm actually contemplating a reread for in February (to go alongside my reading of the last Dickens title on my original 250 list-A Tale of Two Cities). I was blown away by this one, so I can't wait to revisit. There are many other classics I loved this year, but Dickens' book blew them all away.
YA/Other reads: This is a split between The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Maus by Art Speigelman, and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. All three were excellent reads and rank up there with a lot of the great classics I read. 

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
I was really excited to read Catch-22, and while I liked it, it just didn't do it for me. Perhaps it was the time I read it, but I just wasn't into it. I will most definitely be giving it another try in the future.
 3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012? 
Roots was something completely in and of itself. It was a very overwhelming read and left me with a lot to think about.

Son by Lois Lowry was a book that took me by surprise. I really didn't think that the story behind The Giver needed anything else...but this was a lovely addition to the set and added even more. 

 4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?
Since I have been talking to my students more than bloggers in recent months, a lot of my pushy suggestions have been to get them reading things outside their comfort zone. I successfully convinced a student to read The Last of the Mohicans, which made me smile. But, I've also had a few kids reading some great YA-John Green, Lauren Oliver, etc.
 5. Best series you discovered in 2012?
I was sucked into one of the new Riordan series (Heroes of Olympus) in recent weeks, and I have very much enjoyed them! But, imagine my disappointment when I neared the end of The Mark of Athena to discover there was one more book left in the series...and now I must wait until next fall to dive in!
 6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?
I read Let it Snow just a few days ago and one of the stories was by Maureen Johnson. I follow Maureen on twitter, but hadn't read any of her work until then...I was IMPRESSED. She had me in stitches, and I think our senses of humor align perfectly. She is definitely a writer I need to read!
7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
I've still been reading things that have been all over the map, so I wouldn't say I have "branched out," merely just returned to how I used to read (before blogging). I will say that one book that took me by surprise (for how much I loved it) was The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins. It was a book I never would have discovered on my own, and I LOVED it. Definitely going on the reread list. 
 8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
I flew through a great number of books this year, but the most thrilling has to go to the Riordan series I read. I love the myths woven into the stories, and they were a lot of fun to read as school got hectic.
 9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:
Most likely David Copperfield by Dickens, but I might also revisit Mistborn by Sanderson (Since I never got to the other 2 titles in the trilogy), as well as finishing the Harry Potter series (that I started rereading back in August...never finished the last two!).
10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?
I just flipped through my Goodreads list for the year, and none of the covers really stand out to me! I might say the cover of Son by Lois Lowry (I like all the cover redesigns for her books), or any of the beautiful Penguins I read this year (The clothbounds, the new English Library Editions, or the Puffin classics).

11. Most memorable character in 2012? 
David from David Copperfield. I also quite loved Nicholas from Nicholas Nickleby. There was also Naomi from An Uncommon Education, as well as Calum and Neil from The Cone-Gatherers. I would also venture to say that Andi from my current read, Revolution, is memorable (I am going to finish this one by midnight-I swear!)
 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?
David Copperfield! I know that I keep repeating myself, but I just loved this, so much. I can also give a nod to Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Zusak's The Book Thief.
13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012? 
David Copperfield. Hand's down, this had the biggest impact on me this year. I have the opening lines of the novel written in the cover of my journal, and I have plans to put them up in my classroom. LOVED THIS BOOK.
 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read? 
I would venture to say that A Little Princess was a title I should have read a long time ago. I loved the novel and I cannot wait to read it to my kids!
 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012? 
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” David Copperfield

“My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.” David Copperfield

“And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you." Far From the Madding Crowd
 16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012? 
The longest was...Roots by Alex Haley at 899 pages (whew), and the shortest was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at 43 pages (I feel I should mention that my shortest classic was Steinbeck's The Pearl at 90 pages).
 17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
The Cone-Gatherers. Someone else needs to read this book.

Roots also had some super powerful scenes.
18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
I love the relationships in the characters in Riordan's books (far better than what they were in the Percy Jackson series). I also quite loved the relationship I just read about in Juliet Marillier's Heart's Blood. There was also the friendship and love between Calum and Neil in The Cone-Gatherers, and I can't forget Katniss and Peeta from my reread of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay.
19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously
I still have to give a nod to David Copperfield by Dickens. It made me want to read more of his work, so I have started to collect all his books. :) Future project!
20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:
Ummm...I honestly can't think of one! I did read some titles based on suggestions from students and teachers, but none that blew me away...Well, with the exception of Between Shades of Gray. It was a book I never would have picked up without it being forced on me, and I am SO GLAD I read it.

 Book Blogging/Reading Life in 2012

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2012?

I really struggled with blogging this year, especially in the last couple of months, so I can't really say. My interactions with other bloggers has been limited. I will say that I love my followers and those I talk to. You guys keep me hanging in here, and I hope that I can improve my relationships with you this coming year!
And, I also hope that I can get back in the swing of things soon!
2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2012? 
Oh many of my reviews seem like they took place so long ago! Perhaps this one, where I gush about my love for David Copperfield!
3. Best discussion you had on your blog?
I had a few discussions this year on my blog about various topics. Some of the big ones were this one on Teenager Friendly Classics, a fun meme on Reading Habits, and this post where I was Looking for Quotes for School. I am still working on my quotes wall, and when I finish, I will definitely share! 
4. Most thought-provoking review or discussion you read on somebody else’s blog?
I'll just be honest and say that I can't think of very many (my lack of interaction recently). Yes, I stink at being a blogger.
5. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
I didn't have the chance to go to any book events this year, mainly because Michigan is just too darn cold for authors to come visit (really, I think that's why no one comes here). However, I loved all the events in the blogging world this year-from my own events (Shakespeare Reading Month and my Victorian Celebration) to things like the 24-Hour Readathons.

The biggest and best event to launch this year was The Classics Club, which I have been a member of since the beginning! 

6. Best moment of book blogging in 2012?
Launching The Classics Club Blog. It took a lot of time to transfer everything over, but it was worth it. I love that people are coming together to read the classics, and I hope that it continues to grow!
7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
A lot of the informational posts I made this year have huge numbers of hits, especially the Shakespeare posts I wrote last January-Movie Adaptations and Books about the Bard. I've also gotten a lot of hits on one of my Top Ten Tuesday posts-Required Reading for Teens.
8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?
Many of them. :) Well, I would say some of my recent posts are a little lonely, but I chalk that up to my disappearance from blogging.
9. Best bookish discover (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
I'm still obsessed with Goodreads. I'm still obsessed with Penguins (I got the next two clothbounds for Christmas). So...nothing new?
10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
Quite honestly, I stink at Reading Challenges, but I sign up for them again and again anyway. :) I did do well in most of them

My biggest moment of sadness was that I didn't read nearly as much as I wanted to when I had the extra time. I really thought I would read more over the summer leading into working full-time this fall, but I just wasn't in a reading mood. I wanted to hit 100 books for the year, and if I finish my book today, I'll get to 91. That's SO CLOSE. I can hit it next year though, I'm sure. :)

Looking Ahead…

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2012 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2013?
There are many. I kind of tossed my classics to the side the past 4 or 5 months, so there are a few I am going to dive into, including Les Miserables and The Grapes of Wrath. I think I am going to have a great reading year in 2013 since 2012 was all over the place.
2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2013?
 I'm really excited for a lot of the classics I set aside for my challenges. I'm excited for classics, period. I know the first book I am reading is an Austen, since I didn't get to Northanger Abbey before Christmas. After that....who knows!
3. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2013?
I want to be more active now that things are under control (or getting there)-more on this tomorrow. I also want to return to my classics as a focus, with only slight forays into my fluffier reading. I have totally tossed aside classics in recent months and I MISS THEM. I also want to devote more time to The Classics Club since I have been neglecting my duties, as well as my own projects here. I want to make some progress with my 250 list, since it has been stagnant for far too long. We'll see how it goes! :)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope your day is full of love, family, friends, and books.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for December 16, 2012:.

This week has been dominated by things outside of my control. And these things have been tampering with my emotions to the point where I have cried a bit too much. Today I am trying to focus on moving forward into the last week of school and stressed before a much needed 2 week break.

I feel like I need to mention what happened on Friday, and how much it moved me. As a teacher, a human being, my heart broke on Friday for the families of the teachers and children at that school. I cannot fathom why someone would take out their anger on innocent just goes beyond any words imaginable. And, as a teacher, I looked at my own students a bit differently Friday. They are older than the kids who lost their lives, but in many ways, they still have that same innocence. They haven't lived their lives yet. It gets me...and it just hurts.

And with all of that lingering on my mind, it seems silly to write about anything else, so I will leave it there this week. I doubt I will post anything this week, since I need to get through these last five days. But look for a flurry of posts and books read once break gets here. :)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Two 2013 Reading Challenges.

I swore that if I didn't complete a couple of challenges this year that I would avoid them in can see where this is going, right? Needless to say, while I didn't complete all of my challenges for 2012, I have decided to join in on a few for 2013. :)

Both of these are challenges I've been a participant in for the last two years (at least), so it seems like I should soldier on, right?

Without further adieu...

Sarah's Back to the Classics Challenge 2013

This challenge is one of my favorites because of the categories that Sarah picks each year. Unlike some other classic challenges, Sarah picks fun little categories that your classics need to fit into. It is a great way to get some diversity into your classic reading. Personally, I love Victorian-era and turn of the 20th century classics, so this forces me a bit outside my comfort zone!

This year, Sarah has given us 6 required areas with a few "bonus" categories for anyone who feels pulled to read more. I am doing three of the bonus categories in addition to the required 6, but make sure to check out the sign-up post to find more information about the bonus categories!

The List:
1. 19th Century Classic: Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. This is one I really wanted to get to this summer during my Victorian event, but just ran out of time.
2. 20th Century Classic: All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque: This is a title I feel like I should have read by now...
3. Pre-19th Century: The Frogs by Aristophanes: Surprisingly, when I went to look at my 250 list, there were very few pre-19th century titles left!
4. Classic concerning the African-American Experience: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. This is another "should have read" title that I'll be getting to sooner rather than later.
5. Classic Adventure: Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs: I was actually sent a beautiful new edition of the Tarzan stories, so this is a great excuse to dive in and review this for the publisher. :)
6. Classic Featuring an Animal: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Kesey. This title has actually been on a challenge list ever since I started doing challenges. 2013 is the year!

Bonus Categories:
Russian Classic: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I really wanted to read this during this fall, but obviously I didn't get to it. I really want to read it before it disappears from theaters, so I'm thinking this might be my first book of 2013?
Classic Children's Book: Jane Austen's Complete Juvenilia. Does this really need an explanation? :)
Short Stories (at least 3 by one author): I have a big Mark Twain collection, so I am sure that'll be my focus this coming year!

Adam's 2013 TBR Pile Challenge

Third time is definitely going to be the charm for Adam's challenge. I swear!

Adam's challenge is a great way to clear books off the good ol' TBR. Rule is that these books have to have been on your TBR for at least 12 months-so only books published in 2011 and earlier. I choose to focus on classics since that is my main focus anyway!

Each participant gets to choose a list of 12 books they want to finish before the year is out, as well as 2 alternates, just in case...I always seem to want to read my alternates more than my list books...or books not on my list at all. :) Anyway, I scoured my dwindling 250 list and found 14 titles for Adam's Challenge.
The List:
1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Maya Angelou (year 2 on the list...)
2. Cold Sassy Tree: Olive Burns
3. Moll Flanders: Daniel Defoe
4. Sister Carrie: Theodore Dreiser
5. The Sound and the Fury: William Faulkner
6. Brighton Rock: Graham Greene (I believe this is the third year for Mr. Greene on my list...)
7. Doll's House: Henrick Ibsen
8. On the Road: Jack Kerouac
9. Billy Budd: Herman Melville
10. Going After Cacciato: Tim O'Brien
11. Ivanhoe: Sir Walter Scott
12. The Jungle: Upton Sinclair

1. The Once and Future King: T.H. White
2. Remains of the Day: Kazou Ishiguro

So, there you have it-2 challenges with the books all picked out. I'm doubting I will join any other challenges, unless they seem enticing... ;)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for December 9, 2012: Getting Closer...

It has been a whirlwind of a week. Lots of things have been happening in the political arena here in Michigan that will make things interesting for awhile. In addition to passing a bit of "Right to Work" legislation in just 24 hours (from it being brought up and introduced to voted on), there are a number of bills in the House having to do with revamping education in the State. One of the stupidest ideas is to turn the state into one big "super district." Things have been intense and a little uneasy at work, and I am anxious to see how everything pans out.

In addition to all that, the kids are certainly counting down until our last day on the 21st. They've already started on the path to becoming little monsters as their two week break approaches, so I'll be doing all I can to get through until that glorious break. I'm still having a hard time believing that we only have 2 weeks from break, 1 week in January, then exam week before we launch into second semester. CRAZY.

Besides school, we've been trying to be productive here at home. We spent a few hours on Wednesday pulling up most of our Christmas decorations and putting up our tree. We still have some smaller decorations that Matt promised to bring up tonight (everything is in our storage unit in the basement), and then we'll be cozy for the holidays. We usually decorate a bit earlier than this, but we've both been crazy busy with work.

Speaking of busy with work, I haven't had time for any kind of reading. I bet it will stay that way until break, since I am pushing through as much as possible so I won't have to bring home any grading over that two weeks off. Prepping and planning is fine with me, but I don't want to be stuck with any grading on my vacation! :)

I did put up a couple of posts this week, so make sure to go and check them out. I am going to finish out this year with some more YA themed reading before diving back into some classics come Janaury. I am going to pick up an Austen this holiday season (this has become a tradition for me), and I think it is going to be Northanger Abbey since it has been so long since I've read it. I also want to dive into a Dickens' Christmas story, so I'm going to look and see what one it will be for the year. I would also like to finish The Scarlet Letter, since I started it in the fall and never finished, but who knows. I'm trying to keep my plans loose! :)

I hope everything is going well! Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Few Mini-Reviews.

I am attempting to "catch up" on all the books I've read but haven't discussed this fall. Since school started, I've read about 22 books. I find that to be kind of amazing considering the amount of stress and work that goes into a first full year of teaching, but I've been finding time, here and there, to relax and enjoy some fun reads.

This edition is really going to focus on some of the YA/MG books I've been reading. In particular, I decided to mini-review some of the series and sequels I've been hooked on. Enjoy!

The Brotherband Chronicles Book 3: The Hunters by John Flanagan.

I consider this to be one of my biggest guilty pleasures, but at the same time, I think that Flanagan's books are just really entertaining and good. I know what to expect when I pick one up, and he hasn't disappointed me yet (after14 titles).

This series is the companion series to The Ranger's Apprentice. It is set in the same world, but features a different culture, which takes a lot more skill than it seems. That's honestly one of the major reasons I love these books. Flanagan manages to weave his narrative through multiple cultures, and show that no one "culture" or people is the enemy-only those with ill intentions are the enemy. And, I love that the books are action-packed, have good moral lessons, and are just gosh-darn FUN to read. I know that quite a few of my high schoolers would brush these off as too young, but I know that these would be a hit with the middle school crowd.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

I actually picked this one up a couple of years ago when a good friend recommended the series to me. I believe, at the time, that the third title had just come out, and she pretty much shoved the first two into my hands (I bought the third one when it came out in paperback to "match" ). It languished on my shelves and I finally felt pulled to it in the first month of school.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, but I was highly entertaining. The four children that are the main characters are highly intelligent-just in different ways. After their intelligence is tested, they form the "mysterious Benedict society" to work for Mr. Benedict against the evil Mr. Curtain.

I really enjoyed the ingenuity of all four kids. At times, I felt a bit stupid as they worked through challenges, but the book was fun, lively, and kept me flipping pages.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart.

Book two in the trilogy picks up shortly where the first one left off. The evil mastermind has escaped and the kids must journey to find more solutions to the problems arising at home.

In this novel, the kids journey away from home and encounter some of my favorite characters. I particularly enjoyed the Ten Men (evil men with briefcases that contain all kinds of horrid torture devices).

Like the first novel, the kids' ingenuity surprised me, and I even found myself laughing out loud. The scenes on the island were some of the creepiest and suspenseful! By far, this was my favorite of the three and had some of the best Constance moments in the entire series (Constance is one of the four children, and MAN, she had me cracking up at multiple points in the series).

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart.

The third and final volume in the series ended with a bang. Again, like the two previous titles, it was packed with action-filled scenes and puzzles. I really enjoyed the new dynamics between the children as they grew up. Sticky and his battle with proving how smart he actually was melted my heart.

However, I did feel like the story dragged in some parts and I just wanted the final confrontation to happen. I was also more than a little annoyed with the Ten Men and their stupid torture devices, Mr. Curtain, and the adults' general stupidity regarding their children. With that said, it was still a very quick read and a good ending to the trilogy. I imagine that these would be great fun to read with kids!

I also need to say that I adore all three of these covers. The black silhouettes really just make them, don't they?

The Kill Order, The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure by James Dashner.

I read all four of these in pretty quick succession, so they run together a bit. For those of you who haven't read the series, I should mention that The Kill Order is actually a prequel to the other three. I read it last since it was published last, but I don't think the order completely matters...

Now, I enjoyed these to a certain extent. But by the time I reached The Death Cure, I was annoyed with the series. There were parts that seemed incredibly drawn out, other important moments that felt rushed, and the narrator grated on my nerves by the end. I needed more information about the world than I got, and by the time I did get some of the answers I wanted, I forgot what my questions were in the first place. I really just felt incredibly rushed through the three books and wanted to be done with the series to say I finished it.

However, The Kill Order was something I really enjoyed. I liked the sense of urgency, the slow build of information, and the heart-wrenching climax. While I never felt like I connected to the main characters in the main trilogy, I felt incredibly drawn to the characters in The Kill Order. I could sympathize with them, root for them, and gasp at just the right moments.

If you're really big into the dystopian fad that is everywhere, then these are books you really can't miss. And I'm not saying they were awful-more that I tired of the series quickly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman.

About a month into the school year, I was talking to our media specialist about wanting to some fun and creative projects with my U.S. history classes. So, in the midst of discussing slang dictionaries for the 1920s, a Great Depression simulation I have, and various web related ideas, she said, "Why not teach that book Maus?"

She had never read it (but knew quite a bit about it), and it had been years since I had read it, so I decided to pick up a copy, read it, and then decide whether it was something worth pursuing. After all, teaching a book in a history class? Teaching a graphic novel? It was something to think about.

I went out and bought a copy of The Complete Maus, so I would have volumes 1 and 2. I sat down, read both straight through, and decided I needed to pursue the opportunity. To make the story shorter, I approached my principal, told him why I thought it would be a good idea, and he okayed it. The school purchased 36 copies of Maus Volume I, and I will be teaching it in late January.

As I sat down and reread the book, I was blown away by the story and the imagery. First, the story. I think that any story of a Holocaust survivor is mind-boggling. I am sure that I am not alone in saying that I honor and respect the people who were sent to Concentration camps and survived. If I am being perfectly honest with myself, I don't think I would be that strong, that resilient. I would be the person who gave up on the train heading to the camps.

But there is something incredibly moving about this story in particular. I think the juxtaposition between the "present" and the "past" of the story pulls at my heartstrings just a bit more. From the beginning, we know who survives and who doesn't, and that Vladek has lived to an age where telling his story is both painful and liberating. I actually think that the passages in the "present," where Art is trying to record his father's story, say far more about the effects of the Holocaust than the text related to Vladek's story. And I don't say that to diminish the power or struggle of what Vladek went through, but to say that this is more than a story about surviving the Holocaust-it is about a man surviving his memories.

I also love the imagery in the book, like the picture at left. I think that taking the time to pour over the pictures says a lot about Art Spiegelman's skill. Each image is crafted carefully and shows the heart he put into his father's story. Because in addition to hearing the story and helping Vladek come to terms with his own experiences, the story is also about Art accepting his father and they way he is. The constant bickering about money, saving, and keeping memories is something I know I am going to discuss with my students at length.

I think that I am very lucky-to be in a school that is supporting something "outside the box." I am excited and anxious to share this experience with my students. To read a book in history class. To read a graphic novel, a form of literature that is sometimes looked down on. But I have a strong feeling my students are going to be excited and moved by the story, much like I was.

And if you haven't read Maus, you need to. It is a book (books, really) that you can't be whole without. I think I learned far more about the effects of the Holocaust from this than all my years of schooling.