Tuesday, February 27, 2018

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez.

“I don’t know why I’ve always been like this, why the smallest things make me ache inside. There’s a poem I read once, titled “The World Is Too Much with Us,” and I guess that is the best way to describe the feeling—the world is too much with me.” 

In college, I took a lot of courses in Mexican history, Chicano literature, and everything in between to earn a specialization with my history degree. I have always been fascinated by the differences between the United States and Mexico-from how we were settled by Europeans, to the genocides of indigenous peoples, to independence and beyond, it just fascinates me. 

This is a book that I would have loved to read in one of those classes because it fits in so well. But what I loved most about it is that while the main character, Julia, talks often about her Mexican family, heritage, and customs, the book never pushes it to an extreme level. Julia and her family are Mexican in a way that oozes through their conversations, their beliefs and their way of life in the United States. It was refreshing and I loved it. 

The book focuses on Julia and her parents after the death of Julia's older sister, Olga. Olga was everything that Julia isn't-focused on staying home with her parents to attend community college, focused on remaining a good, Mexican daughter. Julia, on the other hand, has dreams. She wants to leave town to go to college. She doesn't want to stay home and learn to make tortillas and other Mexican dishes. She smokes, she swears, she gets into trouble at school, she wants to wear clothes that her mother hates, she dates a white boy in secret.

With Olga's death, Julia is left feeling like she cannot live up to her parents' expectations. The world begins to crash in on her as she struggles between the expectations of her parents and her own happiness. It's written in a way that while you feel for Julia's angst and the somewhat oppressive nature of her parents, you also see their point of view-they now only have one daughter, and she seems determined to leave them after everything they've gone through.

It packs quite a punch.

And I loved it. 

Some of what stuck out to me, as mentioned above, is the easy way Sanchez weaves in pieces of Mexican culture and heritage into her writing. It never feels like she is trying to educate the reader about what it means to be Mexican, but you come away with far more knowledge than you had before. From descriptions of altars and cooking to religion and La Llorana, the book is full of vibrancy in relation to who Julia and her family are and where they came from. There's also talk about immigration and crossing the border, as both of Julia's parents are undocumented. The book even takes us to Mexico with Julia when she visits her relatives and the descriptions of Mexico and living conditions south of the U.S. border only amplified the cultural struggle Julia feels throughout the book.

“Be careful. Please. The border…The fucking border.” I feel a wildness spreading through me. “It’s nothing but a giant wound, a big gash between the two countries. Why does it have to be like that? I don’t understand. It’s just some random, stupid line. How can anyone tell people where they can and can’t go?”

While this is definitely a book about grief-we see how Julia and both of her parents "deal" with the loss of Olga, it is definitely a book about generational and cultural differences. It's moving and inspiring and everything I hoped it would be. There are some incredibly emotional parts to the book, especially when the book shifts tone in the last half. The book also contains a bit of a mystery, as Julia investigates just who her sister was and if she was really as perfect as she pretended to be. 

It was amazing and I loved it. I happened to bring it to school one day to read during reading time in my junior level classes, and a few kids seemed interested after I told them a bit about the story. It's a definitely a book I'm going to have our media specialist pick up for the library. 

“How do we tie our shoes, brush our hair, drink coffee, wash the dishes, and go to sleep, pretending everything is fine? How do we laugh and feel happiness despite the buried things growing inside? How can we do that day after day?”

Friday, February 23, 2018

Caraval by Stephanie Garber.

“Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.”

Caraval by Stephanie Garber is another title included in my district's "Battle of the Books" competition being held between the high schools. It's the 4th book I've read out of the 6 selected, and I can see why it was chosen. The very "Fantasy" feel of the title is in pretty good contrast to the two realistic fiction choices, the mysteries, and the science-fiction title. It also features a female protagonist, which keeps the balance a bit between the 6 titles (students ans staff got to nominate titles, then a committee selected the final titles. They tried to get a good mix, which I think they did. Not bad for our first year doing this).

The book was compared a bit to The Night Circus, and while I get where that comparison is coming from....no. I was late to reading The Night Circus, and like many others, I fell in love with the world building and depth of the story. Caraval, in short, lacks that element.

Essentially, the Caraval in the novel is an event held yearly by a mysterious character, Legend. Each year he invites people from around the world to participate in the game, which is full of magic and deception. Scarlett and her sister, Tella, live with their abusive father and have written to Legend for years in hopes they could participate.  It is only in the weeks before Scarlett is set to be married to a man she has never met that Legend responds with tickets. Recruiting the help of a sailor, Julian, the sisters set off the mystical island where Caraval takes place.

And that is where the story lost me. The idea of the story (the plot) is intriguing and could be so interesting, much like that of The Night Circus. But there is no world building. None. The world sounds wonderful, but it's never developed. Things are mentioned and then ignored and I'm left wondering why I'm supposed to care.

The writing is also...so very heavy. There are metaphors and similes and flowery imagery on every page and while I can like that kind of writing, it has to make sense. There is so much telling and not enough showing. Scarlett feels in colors, and would compare talking to some to a color. The phrasing was awkward and off-putting. When I would start to fall into the story, I'd be yanked right back out because some awkward comparison would ruin it for me, like, "He tasted like midnight and wind." I have no idea what that means. What is that?

Now, I say all this while also telling you that I kept reading because I did want to know what happened. The plot had a number of twists and turns that made it pretty compelling, enough so that I could ignore the awkward language. However, there were some things that were never fully explained and some plot holes that were never filled in. I also felt like the characters needed a bit more humanity to them...at some points...I just didn't care what happened to them. 

Wow, this is sounding much more negative than I intended. There is a sequel and while it's not a book I would buy for myself, if it ends up in our media center, I might check it out. How's that for a review?

After reading this, I did speak to our media specialist, and she felt much the same way. Apparently the kids are eating it up, and all the other copies (besides the one I had checked out) were in the hands of kids. None of my kids have picked it up (they're inhaling the John Green title and Winger by Andrew Smith-which I nominated and pushed for), but if they do, I'll be curious to see how they feel about it. 

Has anyone else read this? Thoughts?

“Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or performance. It's the closest you'll ever find yourself magic in this world.” 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster.

“You told me once that we shall be judged by our intentions, not by our accomplishments. I thought it a grand remark. But we must intend to accomplish - not sit intending on a chair.” 

I'm not sure how long this "review" is going to be for a few reasons. 1. While I just finished this book last weekend, the details are already fuzzy, which should give you the indication that 2. I didn't love this one because 3. It seemed unpolished and not quite there, at least in comparison to the one other novel I've read by Forster, A Room with a View. Granted, I read that one fairly early in my blogging career, so details are fuzzy, but I do remember wanting to keep reading and flying through the book because I loved it. 

It's not that Where Angels Fear to Tread is poorly written...I just didn't get into the story and it took me too long to finish for how slim of a novel it is. There were aspects I liked (it has some funny moments), but is just seemed...overly dramatic and drawn out.

The book opens with Lilia Herriton, a widow, goes off to Italy some some vacation time at the bidding of her in-laws. Back in Uppity Edwardian England, the in-laws were disapproving of Lilia's choices and felt that she needed some time away. They kept her daughter while she traveled with a companion in town. Imagine their horror and dismay when they receive word that Lilia has met an Italian and is considering marrying him. 

To try and prevent scandal from descending on their family, Lilia's brother in law, Philip rushes to Italy to bring her home and stop all the foolishness. Well, it's too late-Lilia is married to the Italian and has brought disgrace on her in-laws. Philip returns home in despair and Lilia begins her life with her new husband. She quickly becomes pregnant, then realizes her mistake. Gino is not who he said he was, her life is lonely, and she doesn't actually love him. He becomes verbally and emotionally abusive and shortly after giving birth, she dies. 

The Herritons believe they need to rescue Lilia's son and so Philip, his sister Harriet, and a friend, Miss Abbott go back to Italy in hopes of retrieving the baby. And it all falls apart.

Overall, the story is intriguing. I mean, it sounds interesting, right? Perhaps it was my mental state as I was reading, but I just could not get into caring about any of the characters. Philip is pretty pompous and opinionated (don't even get me started on his mother), Harriet is one of those hysterical women who is just a stereotype, and Miss Abbott, well, she's just kind of there. 

I know Forster was making some kind of commentary about the snobbish nature of the English towards other countries, and that came through pretty clearly as he depicted Gino and the small Italian town most of the novel took place in. As the reader...I just didn't care. I didn't find any of the characters to be relatable...or likeable, and that really prevented me from wanting to pick the book up after setting it down. 

I will give props to Forster for the beauty of his language. He writes some beautiful passages. But that wasn't enough for me. I'm just too picky. This was his first novel, and I'm glad I have a positive experience with one of his works under my belt so I'm not too discouraged. The only other Forster on my shelf is A Passage to India, but it'll be some time before I give that a go.

However, this did mark book 3 on my TBR Challenge list for 2018. I'm kind of rocking that challenge! I'm going to take a little break from my challenge list, but I'll be back in March!

“All a child's life depends on the ideal it has of its parents. Destroy that and everything goes - morals, behavior, everything. Absolute trust in someone else is the essence of education.”

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: Flu, Kitchen, School Shootings, and Reading.

I totally meant to write a post mid-week, but that didn't happen after the Parkland shooting. I didn't feel motivated to come and write a review of a book when so many people are hurting. But more on that in a minute.

The last time I wrote, I was in the throes of the flu, and while I am feeling a lot better this weekend, I am still sick. This flu nonsense is no joke. It settled in my chest so I have these deep, horrible coughs that shake my whole body. My throat is still sore and I have eaten my weight in cough drops this week. I was so happy that we had another snow day on Monday. I had taken off last Thursday because of being so sick, and then we had snow days both Friday and Monday-what a lucky and much-needed coincidence. Instead of using 3 sick days, I only had to use 1, and I had a glorious 5 day weekend that was spent in bed. Coughing and feeling terrible.

I get sick frequently, the joys of having an autoimmune disorder, but this was something else entirely. I'm glad that the weakness is gone, although I still get tired real easily and I spent most days after work crashing in bed. I joked with my students on Tuesday that being at work was the longest I had been awake in nearly a week. Work was tough-I had a heavy lecture based week-and trying to lecture and not have a coughing fit proved to be impossible. I had to run out of my room to compose myself after coughing fits a few times, but the kids were great and supportive. And I managed to make it through all the material I needed to by the end of the week. And thankfully, this weekend is our "Midwinter" Break, so I have Monday and Tuesday off. The weekend is also considered a "Wellness Weekend" for the district meaning no homework for students, and staff wasn't supposed to bring work home. So I didn't. I'm glad I can continue to rest up.

One of the goals for this weekend is to finish putting everything away in our new kitchen! Yep! Matt finished it! While I was sleeping all last weekend, Matt was working on the finishing touches in our kitchen, and we finally installed the range on Tuesday night. Since I was still feeling crappy, I didn't start putting away dishes until Thursday. We moved very quickly, so we're still trying to find things (like our baking sheets and cutting boards. They seem to have disappeared in the piles of boxes in the basement), but most of our dishes, etc are put away. We're still trying to figure out the best places for everything, since the kitchen has less storage than our apartment kitchen...and we own too much crap. But I'm going through it. When Matt gets home from lunch with a friend, he's going to cut the shelves for our pantry so everything can finally be put away. Tomorrow marks 2 months that we've owned the house, and I am ready for it to feel like a house. :)

I'm also just glad to be stepping away from the events of last week and the trauma of yet another school shooting. I posted a bit about it on facebook, and of course that post turned into a nightmare, but I can't believe we are here again. Talking about another school shooting.

As a teacher, I struggle with it each and every time. Not only because of how sad I am for the victims and their families, for the students who survived, for having to bring up the conversation of gun control again and again, but because I always have nightmares. I see my classroom, my kids. I have to have tough conversations with students that I shouldn't have to have. I have people telling me that I should carry a gun to work, people messaging me ways to help "lock down" my classroom, people telling me get over my emotions because it happens everywhere, people telling me my emotions about the situation are silly and unfounded. It kills me every time.

This week I had multiple students ask me if I would take a bullet for them, if I would protect them if there was a shooter in our building, if I would hold my classroom door open for them. Those are questions I shouldn't have to answer. And I don't know HOW to answer them. Would I protect my students? Of course I would. I would do my best to hide them in my too small classroom. In lockdown drills I have my classes shove desks in front of my door to barricade it. I keep a supply of canned goods in my cabinet that we can use to throw at an intruder. But why are these things I have to worry about as an educator?

People on the outside don't always get that, and it's maddening. I didn't practice lockdown drills in school. Even though I was in high school in the years immediately after Columbine, it wasn't like this. We weren't constantly afraid of a shooting happening in our backyard. It's terrifying. And maddening that absolutely nothing changes.

But, I do see a lot of hope. The outcry and anger from the survivors gives me hope. These younger generations are DONE and close to voting age. And while something should have been done years and years ago, I have faith and hope that these kids are going to accomplish more than what we have-because let's be frank-we've failed to protect them.

I hear and see a lot of adults ragging on the younger generations-millennials and these younger kids who haven't been labeled yet, but having taught them...watch out. These kids are angry. They are ready to change things. They are ready to make the world a better place, and I know they're going to do it. I am constantly amazed by the things they say, the things they know, the things they want to do in their lifetimes. I was not that kind of teenager-I was ignorant and sheltered.

I could continue, but I feel like I should stop. Let's talk about books!

Last weekend I finally managed to finish Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster. It was the 3rd book off my TBR challenge, even though it was listed as an alternate. I think I'm taking a step back from that challenge for a bit to get to a few other things I want to read, but that post should be coming up this week (finishing it after I publish this one).

I also flew through Caraval by Stephanie Garber. It is one of the 6 books selected for my district's new "Battle of the Books" for the three high schoolers, and I made it a goal to read all 6 before the event in mid-May. It was pitched as being similar to The Night Circus, which intrigued me, but...well, you'll have to wait for my review. I only have 2 more titles to read off the Battle list, and one is sitting on my nightstand. I probably won't get to it for another week or two, but I'm making good progress.

Throughout most of the week, I read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez. The book had been recommended to me in an ELA facebook group and it was calling to me. I even brought it to school with me on Friday to read during silent reading time with my juniors (they read at the beginning of each hour for ten minutes-sometimes I read with them....which actually keeps them more focused, so I should probably do it more often). They were intrigued by the title (and how fast I read-these are my low level kids). I ended up finishing it Friday night.

Yesterday I sat down with Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston. This was another recommendation by the ELA group, and I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would (cheerleading and Shakespeare? Really?). I have a lots of thoughts, but the fact that I sat and read it in one sitting should tell you something. So glad that Adam gifted me a copy. :)

This week I am going to be working my way through chunks of Ulysses by James Joyce since I'm technically doing a readalong....I started it a few years ago as part of another readalong, but never finished it (I should do a list of those books). I also pulled my old and battered copy of The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman off my shelf to reread before getting to The Book of Dust, also gifted from Adam. I LOVE the His Dark Materials trilogy. It's one of the first that I can remember reading as it came out. The wait between books 2 and 3 almost killed me. My copy is very well loved and I'm excited to be diving back into that world. I was debating this trilogy or starting A Wrinkle in Time, but I think that's going to be next up.

I'm hoping that after we finish setting up the kitchen today, I can spend most of tomorrow and Tuesday reading to take advantage of our "Wellness" time. :)

I love having my reading and blogging mojo back. I need to be better about visiting other blogs and commenting, but I'm getting there. Let me know what you're reading below!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Recent Book Loot.

I used to do "Book Loot" posts pretty regularly, but haven't done one in ages! I do think I have begun to limit my book purchases quite a bit. For one, I don't have enough physical space to keep storing all of the books I want to buy and read, and two, I've been much better at reading from my own shelves the last couple of years. However, I still buy when the mood strikes, and I am a part of a book swap with some fellow bloggers, so I do acquire new titles pretty regularly!

In what I'm going to call a fit of boredom, I made an Amazon order a couple weeks ago to get a few new titles. Here's what I got (from top to bottom):

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: I love L'Engle and read almost all of her work when I was a young teen. A friend of me got me hooked on her books and I scooped up most of them. And while I know I've read Wrinkle before, I couldn't find my copy. I tore through every box of books I own, and sadly, my copy disappeared (I found everything else by her, so not sure what happened). With the movie coming out, I really want to reread, so I'm glad I have a new copy ready to go.

2. Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart: I've enjoyed the other titles by Lockhart I've read over the last couple of years-We Were Liars blew me away and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks being a favorite to recommend to kids at school. I had marked this one on Goodreads when I saw it pop up, but hadn't snapped up a copy yet. It looks like another suspense-type novel, so I'll probably save it for a day I can read it all in one go.

3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: Are you shocked I've never read this? Me too! It's a book I feel I should have read by now, but just haven't gotten around to. Now that a physical copy is on my TBR bookshelf, I'm hoping I can get to it before the end of the school year. I truthfully know very little about it.

4. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez: I first heard about this one in an ELA teacher Facebook page a couple months ago, and the title kept popping up amidst conversations of books similar to Dear Martin and The Hate U Give. While reading the description doesn't make that direct connection for me, I am pretty intrigued by what it has to offer (in fact, I'm starting this as soon as I finish drafting and scheduling this post!)

5. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg: This title actually came up at the AP conference I went to this past summer and I've had it on my Amazon wishlist ever since. Issues with class in the United States fascinate me, and I'm hoping it offers some good things to ponder and discuss.

What are some recent things you've picked up? Have you read any of these titles? Let me know!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: Flu Haze.

Usually when I sit down to write these posts, I have an idea of the things I want to write about, and then I stick to that list. This week is not like that. I can't think of anything of substance to write about, mainly because I have been in my bed for nearly 3.5 days straight either sleeping or sleepily watching Netflix.

On Monday, we had a snow day, which was the nest thing ever after the events of last weekend. On Tuesday, I felt exhausted all day and ended up taking a 2 hour nap on the couch when I got home from work. When I woke up, I felt terrible-still exhausted, aching all over, and that feeling in the back of my throat that signals I'm going to get sick. I guess I wasn't surprised. When I get overworked and don't sleep enough, I inevitably get a cold. But this felt different.

I went to bed super early and got up for work Wednesday in a complete fog. I took my temp and didn't have one, but I just felt off in a non-cold way. I struggled through the day and took Motrin at lunch after noting I had a small fever. After school I had a training I couldn't skip, but as I sat there, I just felt worse and worse. I headed back to my classroom and prepped for a sub on Thursday, just in case (best decision ever). After leaving my sub plans on my desk, I left work at 5:15 and headed straight to the clinic.

At that point, I had massive chills and my body aches were unreal. They were out of the instant flu tests, so they did the 24 hour test and prescribed me flu meds to start in the meantime. Since I'm a teacher and immuno-compromised, they didn't want to take any chances. I got my meds and headed up and immediately put in for a sub and jumped into bed. I shivered under our normal bedding and three blankets until the middle of the night when I woke up drenched in sweat. It was terrible.

I proceeded to stay in bed unless I was showering or needed the bathroom until this morning. And while I often say I would love to stay in bed for days to read and watch TV, it was not wholly enjoyable. I feel weak and still sick-my throat is super swollen which makes talking and swallowing difficult. I don't have a fever (haven't since Friday), but I feel achy and tired and like I could sleep for days. I'm grateful we had another snow day on Friday (we got a foot of snow), so I didn't have to use another sick day, and while I think I should stay home tomorrow, I don't think I will. Since I was out the week prior (for a field trip), I feel guilty about taking the time. We'll see how I feel in the morning....just in case.

With all of that going on, I didn't read much. I couldn't focus on a book Thursday and most of Friday, and I finally managed to finish Where Angels Fear to Tread by Forster last night. And I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed it more had I not been all sick and whiny.

I'm actually not sure what I'm going to read next. I should really start Ulysses for the readalong I'm "participating" in, but I am not up for that today. I need something fast paced and addicting. Any suggestions?

That's all I've got for this week-just too exhausted to write more. I hope you all had a great week!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

American Street by Ibi Zoboi.

“So trying to come to America from the wrong country is a crime?”

American Street is a book that sat on my Amazon wishlist for months-since its publication. There was something about the description that drew me to it (plus the gorgeous cover), and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I finally bit the bullet and purchased it in early January and got to it during the #24in48 Readathon last weekend. 

It was not what I expected. 

Do you ever build up a book in your mind and have these expectations, only to have the book be about something completely different? That was American Street for me. And I say all that while also saying that this was a good piece of YA fiction. It just wasn't what I expected. And there were a few things that irked me.

The description talks about the main character, Fabiola Toussaint, immigrating to the United States from Haiti with her mother. Her mother is detained and Fabiola goes on alone to live with her aunt and three female cousins in the city of Detroit. 

This is where I detached from the book and had to be brought back because the book detoured into something else entirely. Based on the synopsis and description, I thought I was going to read more about Fabiola's struggle with immigration and assimilating into the culture of Detroit. I thought I was going to see more focus on the struggle to reunite with her mother and get her to Detroit. And while there were references to both those things, the book was more closely tied to how Fabiola's view of America changed and her desire to become a part of it more wholly.

I was fine with where the story ended up going-it just wasn't what I had anticipated. The story follows Fabiola as she enters an American high school (a private Catholic school in Detroit) and she learns just who her cousins and aunt are. There's a lot of references to gang violence, drug dealing, and the shady bits of Detroit (side note: there are good places in Detroit-the city is often painted negatively in the media, but there are nice places and the city is bouncing back from what it was). Fabiola's cousins, Chantal, Primadonna, and Princess are a hoot and while I didn't like some of the choices the author made in connection to their relationships, I did enjoy their characters and how they tried to bring Fabiola into their culture.

That being said...the hardest thing for me to reconcile with in the novel was the amount of abuse and shaming that went on between the female characters. They often slut-shamed each other and other female characters to the point that it made me angry on more than one occasion. I work in a high school, so I get it and I see it happen daily, but I hate it anyway. I also hated the normalization of a very abusive relationship.

Fabiola's cousin Primadonna (Donna) is in a long-term relationship with Dray, who not only physically abuses her, but also abuses her mentally. He's a control freak about what she wears, etc. The other characters make fun of Donna for it, but then make statements like "that's just how they are together", or "that's how they love."

*sigh* I hate the normalization of abuse because teenage girls equate that to a real relationship. And it made me sad because I think there was so much opportunity in that relationship to say something. But then again, it's Zoboi's story to tell.

Negatives aside, I enjoyed the slight elements of...mysticism? Magical realism? Not sure what word to use, but there was a great deal of some kind of element that allowed things to happen. It wasn't over the top, but there enough so it was noticeable by the reader. I also enjoyed that while Fabiola was the main narrator, the author allowed the  main secondary characters a chance to have their own voices heard just enough so that felt more real, more developed. It was an interesting stylistic choice, but one that I appreciated. 

And, obviously, I liked the references to Detroit (I live 30 minutes north of the city in a suburb, but I've always loved the city). The references to specific Detroit locales made the book that much better for me as I could situate myself a little more clearly in Fabiola's story. 

Overall, a good piece of contemporary YA fiction-just not what I thought it would be.

“Don't give me no 'but you're beautiful on the inside' bullshit."

"No, you are beautiful on the outside," I say.

"Don't give me that bullshit either. I'm beautiful when I say I'm beautiful. Let me own that shit," she says. Her eyes have not left the computer screen this whole time, but I know she's paying attention to everything I say.

"Okay, then you are ugly."

"Thanks for being honest."

"Seriously. That's what we say in Haiti. 'Nou led, men nou la.' We are ugly, but we are here."

"We are ugly, but we are here," she says, almost whispering. "I hear that.” 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Have Been On My TBR the Longest and I Still Haven’t Read.

I was really excited to see this topic this week. A few weeks ago, as I was re-shelving books after the move, I realized how many books I purchased years ago for my blog that I still haven't gotten around to reading. It kind of made me sad that all these classics have been sitting on my shelves for years and years, and I still haven't made time for them. It's been a few years since I've read a large number of classics yearly, but I'd really like to spend more time with them. They make me feel better as a reader, if that even makes sense. I've got nothing against a YA title, a bestseller, or anything else, but the classics are just something I'm drawn to.

So, one of my biggest resolutions this year was to have a better balance in my book diet. And so far, so good.

I'm sidetracking myself...For this list, I wanted to focus on some titles from my original 250 list, as it's really the oldest TBR list I have, and pull some titles that I still can't believe I haven't gotten to yet. Hopefully I can make room for them this year!

In no particular order...

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: I was super excited to get to read this when I made my 250 list, and while I know I started it at some point (there's still a bookmark in it about 100 pages in), I stepped away from it during a busy period and never returned to it. I'm set to do a readalong of it in April, so I know I'll finally read it and I am so excited. I really enjoyed War and Peace, so I have high hopes!

2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: This is one of those titles that I am almost embarrassed to say that I haven't read yet. I've read a lot of Angelou's work in anthologies, school textbooks, etc, but I have never picked this one up. I can remember being excited to put this one on my list, but time gets away from me. I actually think this would be a great title to read this month...so I'm going to move it on my nightstand.

3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: It never fails that when I tell people (especially bloggers) that I've never read Alice, they freak out on me. But I haven't. I am a little wary of this one, for whatever unknown reason, but it's never struck me as the "right time" to give it a go. I did put it on my TBR challenge list for this year so I would make it a priority. I'm thinking this spring/summer?

4. Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe: Considering I teach a course on Shakespeare and talk about Marlowe, you would think I would have read something by him. But nope. This is the only Marlowe on my shelves and there it sits, unread and unloved. I'm thinking that once I finish all of Shakespeare I'll give this one a go...

5. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Again, you would think that since I teach a course on Shakespeare I would be able to call this an accomplishment, but no. There are about 10 plays by the Bard that I haven't read (as well as some of his longer poems), and I do want to read all of them. I own almost all of his works as single editions, so perhaps I should try to read one a month until I finish? My little "Shakespeare Project" tab up there is woefully outdated as well.

6. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: I've had a love/hate relationship with Dickens for a very long time, but this was always a title I was intrigued by. I've read a lot by Dickens over the years, but I always pass this one by for some reason...even though I know I will love it. Again, perhaps this summer?

7. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: Yet another title I'm ashamed I haven't read yet. I've also never seen the musical, in any form, so feel free to shame me. I have no doubt that I will love this once I dive in, but my copy looks awfully chunky...

8. Beloved by Toni Morrison: I've actually read a few other titles by Morrison, so that assuages my guilt a touch, but this is another book I should have read by now. I'm actually moving this to my nightstand alongside the Angelou in hopes I'll get to it soon!

9. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe: Every time I get to the Civil War in my history classes, I tell myself that I'm finally going to read this. And every time, I don't. This is definitely a title I need to read sooner rather than later, but it never feels like something I need to get to immediately. Instead I pass over it.

10. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell: I can tell you exactly why I haven't read this yet-I'm hoarding it. I do that sometimes with authors I love. I hoard their books so I always have something unread by them on my shelf. In reality, that's silly. I know I'll enjoy the book more as I'm reading it then having it sit there unread, but that's what I do to myself.

Tell me what books you have sitting on your shelves!

(In looking at this list...I kind of want to do A Victorian Celebration again this summer like I did a number of years ago. Would anyone be interested?)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: New Kids, Lovefest, and Reading News...

It has been a long and exhausting week, which is why I am writing this update at 11:09 Sunday night instead of early Sunday morning. It doesn't help we were gone Friday and Saturday, so I feel all discombobulated. I was going to skip the post, but I got a magical phone call and we have a snow day tomorrow, so now I can stay up late writing. :)

Last week felt like it went by very slowly. It was the start of the new semester, and I only gained one class of new kids. 4 of my 5 hours are year-long courses, so I kept those kids-they just mixed together in their hours. My only semester course, Shakespeare, has all new kids, but I know a lot of them from previous classes or as members of NHS (which I advise). It's a great group this semester, and I'm excited to do some new things with them. We're still doing some of the same opening units, but I want to change up the plays a little-definitely thinking we're reading The Merchant of Venice. Any other suggestions?

Besides the start of the new semester, there were the other stresses. Grades were due Wednesday and we got a new gradebook system this year, so of course, we're all still trying to figure it out. I was so glad that I was done grading last week, as most of my grades were done-I just had to enter comment codes and citizenship, and all the other things kids needed me to enter. I also had a very heavy "Talking" week, which always strains my voice.

It doesn't help that I also had IEP meetings, leadership team meetings, and play rehearsals mixed in there. The play rehearsals are done now, since we had Lovefest this weekend.

Lovefest is actually called the "Mid-Michigan Theatre Arts Festival" and I've gone every year for the last 5 years. Essentially all the participating schools rehearse a 1-act play. They get 1 hour to set up their set, perform, and tear down their set before getting feedback from a local college professor. Over the course of Friday night and Saturday, there were 15 performances. It's a wonderful experience for the kids and they have a blast being with like-minded kids. I love seeing all the shows and I like being a part of the plays as much as I can. I was definitely less involved this year than I have been in years past (last year I helped a student direct a version of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown"), but I was excited to go anyway. Our kid did a comedy this year-"The House of Fog"- and did a fabulous job.

There were some other great plays. One school did a workshopped piece of the 3 Oedipus plays rolled into one, and it was amazing. I also loved a performance of "Silent Sky," about female astronomers at Harvard. "Dark Road" was another great performance. It told the story of a female Nazi guard-what brought her into it and how it changed her as a person. But one of my favorites was a piece called "Exonerated." It had multiple storylines woven together that talked about people who were sentenced to death row for crimes they didn't commit (all based on real people). It was a powerful piece!

The weekend always ends with an awards ceremony from the 2 college professors who watched all the plays, and a big celebration. The professors announced that Saginaw Valley State University started a scholarship just for Lovefest participants wanting to go in theatre and gifted a kid a $2000/year scholarship at the festival. It was amazing.

Anyway, Lovefest weekend is always one of my favorites of the year, and I love that Matt goes with me as well. The kids like getting to know him, and he enjoys seeing a little of what I do. This year he drove our set truck, so he bonded with the techies. We got home super late last night and tried to get some sleep today.

So yeah, definitely glad to have tomorrow off. I'm going to spend some of the day helping Matt work in the kitchen (STILL NOT DONE). We need to finish hanging cabinet doors, and we might start putting up the backsplash. But I'm definitely going to do some reading. I didn't bring any grading home since I knew I wouldn't get to it, so now I have some free time.

I didn't get a chance to read a lot last week with how busy I was, but I only have about 100 pages left in Where Angels Fear to Tread by Forster. It's a quick read and I'd like to finish it up. I'd also like to get to Caraval by Stephanie Garber, as it's one of the Battle Books for school. But I'm also participating in a Ulysses readalong (or at least I'm supposed to be), so I should probably start it (I did read the first 50 or so pages a few years ago, but set it aside). I do have some posts scheduled for this week, but I need to finish something so I can keep up my posting streak. ;) Now I just need to work on reading and commenting. I'll get there!

Let me know how your week was and what you're reading this week!

Friday, February 2, 2018

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus.

“She's a princess and you're a jock," he says. He thrusts his chin toward Bronwyn, then at Nate. "And you're a brain. And you're a criminal. You're all walking teen-movie stereotypes.” 

One of Us is Lying is probably not a book I would have picked up on my own. Mainly because it's a mystery and mysteries are not my jam. But, it was a title selected for the first ever "Battle of the Books" Competition taking place in my district between the high schools. I told myself I would read all the books on the battle list (6 in total), and this was my first pick (I've already read Winger by Andrew Smith-which I nominated and pushed for-and Turtles All the Way Down by John Green). I was hoping that by reading the books, I could help motivate some kids into participating (we do NOT have a big reading culture in my building). 

Now, while this wasn't a book that I would normally pick up, I enjoyed it. A lot. It was the second book I read during the #24in48 Readathon last weekend, and I flew through it in just a couple hours, staying up pretty late because I couldn't put it down.

The book is pitched as being an edgier, more modern version of The Breakfast Club, but that comparison fell flat for me after the first couple chapters. Because while the novel opens in detention with 5 students gathered from different walks of life, the comparisons end there. 

The 5 students in detention definitely come from different groups in school. There's Bronwyn, the super smart girl from a wealthy family; Addy, the beautiful girl with the hottest boyfriend in school who everyone things is a bit dumb; Cooper, the star baseball player; Nate, the stereotypical bad boy who sells drugs; and Simon, the founder of a gossip app that reveals the "truth" of what happens at school.

Then, Simon dies by ingesting concentrated peanut oil, and the 4 other students are all suspects. 

It's entertaining. And fast-moving. As the book dives deeper into the lives of the 4 students under investigation, we, as readers, learn that each of them does have something to hide that Simon knew-thus, they could all be responsible. But as the media frenzy heightens and new evidence comes out, the 4 of them have to decide if they can rely on each other and determine who is lying and killed Simon.

It's a fascinating read. Of course there were parts that I didn't love (some of Addy's story-line developed a bit too quickly and some minor characters who turned major characters needed a little more page time), but overall, it was an engrossing book, and one that I know students would love. I also loved that I didn't guess the twist (I guessed wrong, but I was close)! 

In all, a very fast paced read that's perfectly wonderful and suspenseful. I have a feeling our kids are going to love it! (And I do think McManus is one of the authors who agreed to skype in during the Battle in May).

“I stand and hold out my hand. She gives me a skeptical look, but takes it and lets me pull her to her feet. I put my other hand in the air. 'Bronwyn Rojas, I solemnly swear not to murder you today or at any point in the future. Deal?'
'You're ridiculous,' she mutters, going even redder.
'It concerns me you're avoiding a promise not to murder me.”