Friday, March 24, 2023

Jennifer Donnelly Does It Again

I have been a fan of Jennifer Donnelly since I read Revolution, which is one of my favorite books (something a reader doesn't say lightly). It is mentioned in three of my previous blogs (2/5/13, 3/7/15, 12/3/17) because I hold other YA historical fiction books to that standard. I've also read some of her other works: A Northern Light (reviewed 10/29/17), These Shallow Graves, and The Tea Rose. I intend to read all of her books, eventually.

I haven't looked for anything new from Donnelly since she wrote the mermaid ones, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when I saw her name on the only two books that caught my eye at our school's Scholastic Book Fair: Stepsister and Poisoned. The covers attracted me, and the author's name cinched the sales. 

I just finished reading Stepsister, and I absolutely loved it! The story begins where the stepsisters in Cinderella cut parts off of their feet in order to try to fit into the glass slipper. We all know how that turned out, but we don't know what happened to the stepsisters after that. 

The story is about what happens to the stepsisters after Ella (as she's called in the book) rides away with the prince to her new life. While we hear about the stepmother and the other stepsister throughout the book, the story primarily focuses on only one of them, Isabelle. 

I don't want to give anything away because I was delighted at exactly how Donnelly chose to set the story up. I also love that none of the story claims that the story of Cinderella, as we know it, was different or wrong in a way that "twisted fairy tales" often claim. This wonderfully written tale just continues the story of Isabelle, while also flashing back from time to time to scenes from her childhood to help explain a few things from her past.

Who would I recommend this book to? Everyone. I mean, it's certainly appropriate for 10 years old and up, but it's just a really good story for anyone. I don't know if you know how rare it is these days for me to find something that's just a really great story that would work for students from 6th grade to 12th grade, but this one would. I know not everyone loves fairy tales, but it's so much more than that. I also think guys would like this book. There are male characters that play major secondary roles in the story. There's also fighting and battles and...just a good mix of things that make an interesting and adventurous story.

I talked about this one so much, my middle daughter is now reading this one on her Kindle Paperwhite (she's over 30), and I just sent a paper copy to my sister-in-law (she's over 50). Not my copy, of course. My copy is here with me. The first photo in this blog was taken before I read the book, see the second photo to know what it looks like now.

I didn't expect to tab this one, but the writing was just too good to resist flagging a few excerpts I want to refer back to later and share with friends and students. 

I'm really looking forward to reading Poisoned, but I'm holding off for now because I don't want this type of tale to be over too soon. I devoured Stepsister in one day. I didn't mean to, but I got carried away during my Spring Break. No regrets, though, I completely enjoyed that day. :)

Happy reading!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Okay, I Admit It: I Am Not A Pioneer Woman

It's very, very seldom I don't finish a book. I don't feel it's fair to review a book I don't finish, which is why I have shlogged through some real duds in my life. The older I get, though, the less I'm willing to finish a book I feel is a waste of my precious reading time. 

I managed to get through almost 70% of Laddie: A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter, but I couldn't make myself finish it. It was one of the books listed as a "classic" (it was published in 1913) that should be read as part of a child's education. My vote is that it should not be. 

If you read my earlier post about Little Britches, I could see where it would appeal to some people. There are parts of Laddie that I also found appealing, even funny (Chapter 3 was my favorite), but the stories just went on and on and on. I couldn't take it anymore.

Laddie is really an autobiographical "fiction" novel written about the author's life and her love of her oldest brother, Laddie, and his long-term courtship with a young lady. It has some sweet and funny anecdotal moments, but when I reached the halfway point of the novel, I felt like it would never end. There were too many detailed descriptions. I tried to make myself finish it by listening to the audio version, but I started dreading my daily commutes to work because if I had to hear one more detailed description of the farm with the geese and the horses and the trees or a wedding dress or a bonnet, I was going to scream.

In all fairness, I should tell you that I am not a fan of the whole "pioneer woman" genre. Don't get me wrong, I greatly admire women who moved to a new country to start a new life or traveled in wagons to move out West, but I don't want to read about them. At least, not in the way this book was written...or the Little House in the Big Woods series...or, if I'm honest, Anne of Green Gables (I only read the first one, enjoyed it okay, but didn't want to read anymore of the series). 

They are all wholesome, good books, but they bore me. And I say this as someone who loves historical fictions. In fact, it is my favorite genre! But the style of writing in this type of "pioneer" story is like watching paint dry. 

I say all this to say, if you ARE the type of person who likes Laura Ingalls Wilder books, you'll probably love Laddie. I do not think, however, that it belongs on a list for today's young people to read as a part of a "classics" list, unless you want them to dislike reading. I would not recommend this book to any of my students, much less make it required reading in class.

I just keeping thinking....

I'll never get the time back I spent on this book. Ugh.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Hard to Breathe

I have a few books on my bookcase, just a handful, that I avoid reading. I fully intend to read them someday, but I know I'll have to be in just the right frame of mind. It may sound odd, but there are these rare moments when I get a feeling about a book. I know that it may cut a little too close to that place I keep tucked away in the deepest recesses of my heart. I know when I read it, I'm going to need a recovery period. This is why a few books remain untouched on my shelves until I'm ready. And I decided, just a few days ago, that I was ready to read one of these books. 

I've had The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson for a couple of years. There have been several times I've touched its spine, even pulled it from the shelf and held it in my hand, feeling the weight of it and rereading the synopsis on the back. I've run my fingers over the front of the cover, which is made to look like the edges have been burned. But I always stopped there. I always put it back on the shelf...until now.

I've been reading The Gargoyle for the past few days. I haven't finished it. I am about 100 pages away from the end, and I'm finding it hard to breathe. I was correct in my initial assessment about the book, I know I'll have to recover after this one. I'm putting off the ending because, so far, it's been written so well that I know there will be an unforgettable climax and resolution, but it may just break my heart with its truth. 

So, this is not a book review. It's a book anticipation. I anticipate that I will be unable to write a book review for this book when it is over. It cuts too close, it will hurt too much, and I will not have the words for how this book will devastate me in the very best way.

My advice to you, as a reader? If you don't mind your books a little dark and twisted and deep, you should read it. 

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Bold and Brave

We had our final "ice day" yesterday and, now, Texas is going to give us two glorious days of sunshine and warmer temperatures! And, yes, I love where I live! The weather may be unpredictable (it's something Texas is known for), but it's wonderful weather about 10 months out of the year. I'm good with that. 

Now, let's move on to a book review:

I've blogged about diving into a "classical education" with my last two posts, but I do like variety in my reading, so let's talk about another book I just finished.

First, let me say, the title appeals to some people...and offends others. To me, those are the best titles because it gets people's attention. The one thing I wish everyone would recognize is that it takes a bold and brave person to give it that title. The real question is whether or not the book lives up to the title. Does it have real substance? Does Jennette McCurdy have reasons for titling her book I'm Glad My Mom Died and will the reader empathize with her reasons?

In my opinion, and from my perspective, McCurdy definitely makes her case. A reader may not think so when they first begin the book, but you quickly learn there's more to this mother/daughter relationship than meets the next-door neighbor's eye. 

While this book spans McCurdy's life from about six years old to present, the book doesn't drag or lag from beginning to end. In fact, I ended up reading the entire book in one "ice day" because I didn't want to put it down for very long. The book moves along at a good pace, and you understand from each story she tells, in sequential order, what her life was like. McCurdy's story is less about her acting career (though it's in there, as it was a huge part of most of her life) and more about her relationship with her mother and what choices were made because of that relationship. 

I think it's important to point out that I know nothing of McCurdy's acting career. I saw her interviewed about the book, which is how I became interested in reading it. I didn't recognize her face or know that she was, at one time, popular on Nickelodeon. I've wondered if her story would be even more powerful to a reader who knew her as an actress. It was certainly powerful for me just reading it as a daughter.

I have a worn-out saying I often use when talking to other teachers and to students. It goes like this: Not everyone goes home to warm cookies and milk. In other words, everyone doesn't have a great home life, loving parents, a safe place, or a responsible adult in their lives. We recognize this, as a society, in severe physical abuse cases that end up on the news or in a movie (like "Mommie Dearest" from 1981) or in a shocking book (A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer published in 1995),...but there are other types of abuse that are just as detrimental and destructive to children, though you may not see marks on their bodies when they are young. But give it enough time to fester in the life of a person and you will, indeed, see the marks in a different way.

I stand up and applaud Jennette McCurdy for her bold and brave decision to write this book. She dedicated the book to her three older brothers, which made me realize just how truly difficult it would've been to be as open and honest about her life as she has been in this book. She has an important story to tell, and I am glad she told it. I hope you'll read it.

Happy reading!

Thursday, February 2, 2023

So, Why Read A "Classic" Young Adult Book?

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I have already started down the reading path suggested by the book A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille. While I've read three of the five YA books DeMille suggests starting with, I'd like to focus this review on the two I've read, but had never heard of until DeMille's book. The third book on the list was one I believe is quite well-known by many, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which I read as an adult when another teacher suggested it a few years ago.

The first book I chose to read from DeMille's list was The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I was greatly moved by this book about two Jewish teenage boys in 1940s Brooklyn who become friends, despite the differences that exist within their shared religion. The book teaches so many important life lessons about friendship, loyalty, family, education, and compassion. I loved the book so much, I bought two of the books mentioned by the characters to help with my understanding of higher-level mathematics and the history of the Jewish people. 

I asked myself if the lessons I learned from the book would have been as meaningful to me when I was fifteen, if I'd read the book then. I think they most definitely would have. For example, I didn't have a strong relationship with my father, and I would like to have read about the two fathers in this story (who are very different from each other). As a teenager, I didn't know very much at all about Judaism, except from the viewpoint of the Christian church I was raised in, until I was out of high school. I used to babysit two adorable little boys for a college professor who was Jewish. She encouraged my curiosity and was happy to share their beliefs. I definitely think The Chosen would've been a book I would have enjoyed when I was a teenager.

I had such a great experience reading The Chosen, I was excited to move on to the next book on the list, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody. Now, I admit, the title did very little to thrill me,...but I had high hopes for the book - I was on a roll!

Moody's autobiographical fiction novel consists of stories from his childhood in sequential order. It reads like a novel, and I enjoyed it in the beginning. After a while, though, I got tired of all the cowboy stories. I understand the book's place as a "classic" YA novel because it helps young people understand what life would have been like for children in the early 1900s, the responsibilities they carried and how hard they worked to help their families. Ralph's father had the patience of Job and was always teaching good lessons to his son in the book. I appreciate the sentiment behind the book, and I've even considered that a boy might find the book more engaging than I did. I intend to put a few copies in our reading classroom and see if I can get some feedback from our sixth graders. This book is the first in a series, but I'm not interested in reading the series. If some of our students at school decide they like it, I'll buy some for the classroom.

I am continuing to read other books, of course, while I'm on this specific reading journey. Since we have another "ice day" off from school tomorrow, I'll post about a couple of more recently published books I've enjoyed this week while we've been "iced in" all week.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

"To Boldly Go..." Where Our Forefathers Went?

I don't know what life is like where you are, but we are currently hunkered down in Texas due to inclement weather. I use the term "inclement weather" because different parts of Texas are experiencing different types of weather. In our neck of the woods, the winter storm is mostly freezing rain, sleet, and a little snow. Our streets are like ice skating rinks, so...I won't be venturing out any time soon. Schools were canceled yesterday, today, and will, most likely, be canceled tomorrow. On a good note, while the weather is keeping me at home, it's also allowing me more reading time! 

I mentioned in my last post I've started a new reading journey, one that may challenge me a bit more than I anticipated. It all started when I read a book entitled Battle for the American Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation by Pete Hegseth with David Goodwin. I wasn't impressed with the first bit of it and felt the authors were a bit pompous (if I'm honest). I continued to read, though, because it always intrigues me when reviews of a book are either "for" or "against" with very few critics staying in the middle of the reading road. I don't have a problem with reading other people's opinions without feeling offended or feeling that I have to agree completely with either side. I take the best and leave the rest by the roadside. (Oh, how I wish more people would learn to do the same.)

Battle for the American Mind addresses some of the problems with public education. After I made it through the first ten percent of the book, the writers got my attention. I'm always interested in history, and I found that the information they presented in the book checked out (I always do my own research for these types of non-fiction books), which surprised me. However, after I read the book and had some conversations with a few long-time educators, I had to admit the book made sense - even though it hurt me, and disappointed me, to admit how broken the public education system really has been...for quite some time. I decided to read more.

The next book I read was A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first Century by Oliver DeMille. This one really got my attention by explaining how our forefathers were educated, why it worked, and what critical parts are missing in the education of children today. It explained how this could be helped, whether a child is in a public, private, or charter school, or if you homeschool. It also gave a simple plan to follow in the back and a list of important books that should be a part of every person's education.

My education consists of a public education, two years in a community college, and two years in a private university. I didn't receive a "Thomas Jefferson Education," but I found myself intrigued enough to begin the reading suggestions in the back of the book to educate myself. I started with the easy stuff: young adult fiction. What "classic" YA books should I have read as a teenager? What difference, if any, would they have made in my life? I thought that was a good place to start.

I've now read three of the five suggestions, so far. I can't wait to share my review of the first one, which led me down another reading road I didn't expect. More about all that tomorrow. For now, I need to get back to my current read. This ice won't last forever, you know. 

Happy February! And, always, happy reading!

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

"It's a new dawn, it's a new day..."

Happy New Year! 

I've started a new reading journey and thought I'd blog about it here. While I haven't been on my blog for...quite some time,...I have continued to journal the old-fashioned way (good ol' pen and notebook) about what I've been reading. I look forward to getting back into the swing of blogging. My fingers will thank me, as I type MUCH faster than I can write by hand.

I am happy to celebrate that I read 100 books in 2022, meeting a Goodreads goal I've been trying to reach in previous years. It's not easy to read as much as you want when you work a full-time job that takes more than 40 hours a week. However, it helps to have a reading goal to make better use of the downtime I do have. 

This new reading journey is a bit off my usual beaten path. I've read a couple of interesting books over the past couple of weeks that have my brain reaching for something new, and I've decided to take up the challenge they presented. (I do love a good challenge!)

More on that next time...

Happy Reading!