Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews

Fish in a Tree – Review

Soapbox moment

The last fiction book I finished was Four Days of You and Me which you can read about here. In that review I made the comment that adults would not enjoy the book. A few days later, I saw a different YA author tweet about getting the negative review that “adults wouldn’t like this book” and her reply was, “duh, it wasn’t written for you.”

Now, I know this is probably a common thought among YA authors, but good books, well-written books, books with good stories can and should be enjoyed by a wide range of people. I greatly enjoy many of my 5 year old’s picture books and early reader books she gets from the library, and I enjoy reading educational theories which are written at a much higher level than I probably am. YA authors should know that many of the books teens read are because a teacher and/or librarian recommended it. The list of books that make it to the top 10 lists or the different state’s award lists are determined by adults.

We adults that read YA know the books are not written for us, but we definitely will not recommend a book that has no plot, no great characters, and too much focus on what is not important to the teens in our lives.

Now – on to the review.

Summary from Goodreads

My 6th grader read Fish in a Tree this year in her ELA class. She told me that I should read it, and that it was a really great book. After finishing it this morning, I can tell you she is 100% right.

The book follows Ally as she navigates school. She knows that she can’t read and writing is difficult for her, but she doesn’t know why. Instead of asking for help, during times when reading/writing is required she avoids class. Sometimes she tries, but even during those times, her teacher and principal think that she is just trying to make a scene, and she ends up in trouble.

It isn’t until her regular teacher leaves for maternity leave and a long term substitute teacher arrives that things start to change for Ally. Mr. Daniels, who we learn is getting a degree in special education, sees Ally’s behavior as something more than just acting out. He begins to form a relationship with Ally, and she finds herself trusting a teacher and looking them in the eyes for the first time.

This book beautifully shows how difficult life can be for students struggling with a learning difference. It examines friendships, family, and bullies, and does so very well. This book will definitely be a book that I recommend to students, but it is more for upper elementary and early middle school.

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, NetGalley

Four Days of You and Me

Amazon.com: Four Days of You and Me (9781492684138): Kenneally ...

Goodreads summary:

Every May 7, the students at Coffee County High School take a class trip. And every year, Lulu’s relationship with Alex Rouvelis gets a little more complicated. Freshman year, they went from sworn enemies to more than friends after a close encounter in an escape room. It’s been hard for Lulu to quit Alex ever since.

Through breakups, make ups, and dating other people, each year’s class trip brings the pair back together and forces them to confront their undeniable connection. From the science museum to an amusement park, from New York City to London, Lulu learns one thing is for sure: love is the biggest trip of all.


I joined NetGalley to help me find more young adult literature for my classroom library, but also because I love to read. And for as cheesy and corny as young adult literature can be, there are some really great books out there. Books that can appeal to both teens and adults.

This is not one of those books. This book is strictly for teens; it is 100% a teen romance. I do not know a single adult who would enjoy this book, but again, it wasn’t written for them.

Teens, probably love-sick teens who think you can only find your true love during the four years of high school, they will love this book.

What I Didn’t Like:

The main character was not likable to me at all. I feel like I didn’t know her. She is a writer and an artist, but there isn’t anything but perhaps a paragraph that lets the reader know why this book she is writing is so important to her. Her friends are all more likable than she is, especially her best friend, Max. I liked his character a lot.

The time shifting. I usually like this writing style, but in this book, it was just confusing.

The fact that this book perpetuates the lies that high school is where you find your best friends and your true love. Teen Romance as a genre probably just isn’t for me.

As a middle school teacher, I couldn’t put this book in my 8th grade classroom. There are multiple sexual scenes that are pretty graphic (in my opinion) for a teen book.

So. many. clichés. I rolled my eyes quite a few times throughout the books. I had never read this author before and kept telling myself that this was probably her first novel. It definitely is not.

What I liked

Max, her best friend, is really enjoyable and a good best friend to a girl who, quite frankly, is extremely self-centered.

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I’m sorry, I really am. I just can’t think of anything else that I liked about this book.

Posted in Book Reviews, NetGalley

Invisible Differences

Invisible Differences: Julie Dachez: 9781620107669: Amazon.com: Books

Recently, as in about 3 days ago, I was reading through a few of the blogs I follow and one of the bloggers mentioned Netgalley, and that this was a site where she got many of her ARC books. Now, if you’re like me, I will save you the trouble and let you know that ARC means Advanced Reader Copy.

I have taught English for 9 years now. I have been good friends with every school librarian and media specialist with whom I worked, and I NEVER knew that people could get advanced copies of books. My list of already published books that I want to read is really long, so I should have just ignored this newly found information. However, the pull of new books was too much, and I had to check it out.

It is absolutely free to sign up. They are looking for people who: first, love to read, and second, have some sort of influence. Educators were among the list of people they wanted for their site. After I set up my profile, I spent about an hour looking at all the upcoming releases for this summer and fall, mainly in the young adult/teen genres. So much good stuff!

I’ve requested quite a few, but since I have no reviews my chances of getting selected are lower. I decided to look at some of the books that are available to all members, and I stumbled across Invisible Differences.

Brief Summary

The book follows Marguerite throughout her day to day life. It tells of her difficulties with people both at work and in her personal life. She gets worn out with too much interaction/noise, and she does not do well with spontaneity. Through some personal research she learns that she has Aspergers, and from there she begins to change her life.

My thoughts

First, this is a graphic novel, and I was able to finish it in about an hour. I’m not an artist at all, so I don’t feel like I can talk much about the book art except that it felt a little minimalist. I liked it; it just wasn’t very detailed.

The book is a translation from a French publication. I think the translation is good. There is still some dialogue left in French, and since I only know about 3 words in French, I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was saying. However, the context (both the art and words) makes it pretty clear about what was being said.

I really enjoyed this story. I currently work as a special education teacher, and I feel like this book would be an excellent addition to my classroom library. There are a lot of misconceptions about people with autism, although I do feel like this is getting better. However, I still come across people (and unfortunately some of them educators) who believe that all people with autism act the same way or have the same struggles. This book does a really excellent job of showing that autism is a spectrum, and that no two people with autism are the same.

I highly recommend this book for pretty much anyone since the chance that you will interact with someone with autism is pretty high. Latest estimate was that one in every 54 children are diagnosed with autism.

Posted in Book Reviews

the first part last – review

This book has been in our class library for the last two years, and we have had quite a few students pick it up and read it and enjoy it.

When we learned that our city was going on a stay at home order, we were told we could enter our buildings from 8-12 the day before the order started to gather what we may need “for the next two weeks.”

My first thought was that I need books, and I need to read! I gathered about 10 books knowing that I had quite a few from my public library and on my personal shelf at home that I still needed to read, but I wanted to be prepared.

Since so many of my students seemed to like this book, it was one of the first I grabbed. It’s very short – thus being one of the main reasons students pick it for SSR. The copy we have is only 131 pages. It is also part of a trilogy, which I did not know, and I also didn’t feel like I was missing anything. It definitely felt like a stand alone book.

The main character is Bobby and you find out in the first page (and from the front cover) that he has just become a father and is raising his daughter as a 16 year old. You don’t find out until almost the end of the book what happened with the mother.

The author does a nice job of telling both the present time story and what led up to the current events by alternating chapters between “Then” and “Now”. It shouldn’t come as any surprise in a story about teen parents that there is a little talk about sex, maybe one page in the entire book. The focus is definitely more on Bobby and his coming to terms with being a father.

I really enjoyed this book, and it only took me a couple hours to finish it in between my Zoom meetings today. I gave it a 4 out of 5 stars instead of a 5 on Goodreads simply because I wanted more of the story.

Oh, and fair warning, the last 15 or so pages made me cry a lot.

Posted in Book Reviews

The Princess Bride — Finally!

This past Christmas, one of my great friends, Sam, gifted me this poster which I hung in my classroom.

Its title is 100 Epic Reads of a Lifetime, and there is everything from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Hunger Games to The Odyssey and Don Quixote. As you read (or have read in the past) the books, you scratch them off. Upon receiving the gift, I was able to scratch off 30 of the 100 books. My co-teacher, Amy, was shocked by all the “classics” I hadn’t read, but then I had to remind her of my extremely legalistic and sheltered upbringing, and the fact that I was not allowed (even in advanced English classes) to read anything with cussing, sex, or too much violence. In fact, I vividly remember having to go through a novel with a black sharpie and cross out words deemed inappropriate by our administration. I wish I could remember which novel it was. I’m thinking it was To Kill a Mockingbird, but I can’t remember for sure.

A few days after I put up the poster The Princess Bride appeared on my desk with the command, “You HAVE to read this” from Amy. Since I had finished all the Truman nominees, and really wanted a break from YA for a while, I obliged.

I don’t know if you have ever read this book, but I was so confused for the first part. As most people probably are, I am very familiar with the movie version, but it definitely doesn’t start out with Buttercup and Wesley. Instead, it starts with the author and his backstory for why he wanted to do this abridged version of the original.

Knowing nothing of the book or the author, I was believing everything in the introduction. It wasn’t until about two weeks later that I finally asked Amy, “What is up with this book?” Throughout the entire book, the author will add side comments, and I just felt that it was really weird.

Amy let me in on the (not so) secret. All the backstory, the additions, the reasons for deleting passages, are all fake. There was no original book, and this wasn’t an abridgment. Knowing this made the rest of the read so much better and so much funnier.

I will say that after reading nothing but YA fiction for the last seven months (ever since grad school ended and I put up the textbooks) this was a difficult book for me to get through. It was wordy and there was a lot of detail and description that you don’t get much of in YA books.

If you love the movie, you will probably love the book as well. I felt like it followed movie well which makes perfect sense since the author wrote the screenplay. I definitely recommend this book. It was funny and kept my attention; it just took a while for me to finish.

Posted in Book Reviews

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – Review

Image result for harry potter and the half-blood prince book

Book 3 of 2020

I finished this book for the second time last night. The first time I read it was right after it was published in 2005. Since then, I have gotten married and successfully turned my husband into a Potterhead although he resisted for many years, and he still refuses to read the books. My daughters are also big fans of the series. My oldest has read most of the series, and I’m currently reading the Chamber of Secrets illustrated version to my youngest.

Since it had been so long since I originally read the book and have seen the movie about a dozen times, I forgot how much was in this book.

If you are like my husband, and you constantly ask questions during the movies about backstories or motivations of characters, I highly recommend reading all the books, but especially this one.

I found myself taking notes! Yes, notes, as I was reading all the information about Voldemort’s backstory that I had forgotten. I also love that Dumbledore finally starts letting Harry in on information he should have been given years before.

The conflict Draco feels, man, I wish he would have taken Dumbledore up on his offer. I love how Rowling writes it because you almost feel like he will.

As I read the last three chapters, I just couldn’t stop myself from crying, even knowing what was going to happen. This is a huge credit to Rowling. She created a story and characters that readers connect to and love.

It’s hard to write much more that hasn’t already been said. I can’t wait to read this one again, but for now, it’s on to book 7.

My assistant for this post
Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

Skyward Book Review

Ugh. The biggest book of the possible Trumans for 2020-2021 school year. Of course, it was a science fiction book. Gag. Sorry, it’s just not my favorite genre. I just can’t get into the space stuff. And spacecrafts and jargon I don’t understand.

This was going to be torture. I picked it up the week before Christmas break and read the first chapter. I told my co-teacher, that the first chapter reminded me of the beginning of Hunger Games, when Katniss is out hunting for her family. That’s basically how this book starts, with the main character, Spensa, out hunting rats.

I put it down over Christmas break to knock out three smaller books from the list since the voting was quickly approaching. I picked it back up on New Years.

And something crazy happened. I found myself enjoying science fiction. I never wanted to put it down, but, you know, work, family, basketball coaching; I had to put it down.

Spensa is an interesting character. Her father has been label a coward due to actions as a fighter pilot in the Battle of Alta, and we quickly learn that this label attaches to Spensa as well. All she has ever wanted is to be a pilot, and shockingly she gets her chance.

I was captivated by this book and was reading it during SSR (silent, self-selected reading) at school when one of my most liked characters died. I slammed the book shut, and scared a few of my students. I told them I didn’t want to read it anymore. Surprisingly, the students who struggle with reading were the ones who encouraged me to keep going. (I was never going to quit it, but it was nice to be encouraged to read.)

I am not going to give away any spoilers. Just know that this is the first book in a series, so if you like it as much as I do, you’re dedicating yourself to multiple books.

My favorite part of this book is a character that you may not suspect. This character gave a LOT of comic relief in a book with a lot of sadness and frustration with a society that seemed to be fighting a losing battle.

I definitely recommend this book for anyone who likes dystopian novels. That’s what it felt like to me. Also, while you can sense there may be a budding relationship, there isn’t a ridiculous romance that happens.

Voting ends tomorrow for the Trumans. I ended up only missing one: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. If it makes the top 12, I’ll read it, but I am welcoming the break from YA books…at least until the list of 50 comes out for the 2021-22 school year this May.

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

Double Review – Squint and Nightbooks

I listened to both of these books over the last two days. These two books will definitely be on the list that I recommend for the Truman list for 2020-21.

It isn’t easy for me to listen to books, but given my current travel situation, I didn’t really have an option. I cannot read while moving. But both of these audiobooks were performed well, and both kept my attention the entire time.

I’m going to skip over the summaries this time because tons of other people have written summaries, and I don’t think I can say anything that hasn’t been said without giving away major parts of the plots.

Reasons I loved Squint:

1. The main character was REAL. He had real, common middle school struggles (plus one not-so-common problem). He could have been any one of my students. A little awkward. Super creative. Self-doubting.

2. The minor characters are fantastic. They are well-written and exactly like middle school students. I need to do a little more research on the authors, but I would not at all be surprised if one or both of them taught middle school at some point.

3. The comic that the main character writes is really great.

4. I just really loved this story. It was definitely a feel-good book, even with a couple sad moments. I think middle school students will really love this book. Since I listened to it, I can’t speak to how it was written, or how long the chapters are (since a lot of my students get discouraged if the chapters are too long). But I think it will keep their attention, especially with the comic book references. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this book.


Reasons I loved Nightbooks

1. It was so scary! Okay, so not in an adult, Criminal Minds type of scary. But definitely middle school scary.

2. The characters were soooooo well developed.

3. I knew what would happen with the main character, but I had NO IDEA what the witch’s backstory was going to be. I love when a young adult book surprises me, and I don’t figure it out in the first few chapters.

4. The scary stories that are written by the main character, Alex, were super creepy.

The only negative I have with this book is that it wasn’t the most ideal book to listen to. In the parts where the main character is telling one of his own creepy stories, there isn’t any indication that it isn’t part of the main story. So if you are sort of half-listening, it can be confusing. The other part that was hard because of the audio is when the main character is reading a book with extra writing in it. It was really hard to tell from the audio what parts were the main story, the book being read, or the extra writing in the book. Confused? Yeah, me too, a little.


So, if you’re looking for a feel-good young adult novel, pick up Squint. If you’re wanting to be creeped out, Nightbooks is perfect.

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

I Am Still Alive – Book Review

Image result for i am still alive

First and foremost, know that I am going to give you a spoiler during this review. I just finished this book. Literally. It is still sitting within a few inches of me as I knew I needed to get my thoughts down as soon as I finished.

I have been making my way through the list of books that are up for next school year’s Truman nominees since this summer. I believe I have about 7 left now. This book was one that intrigued me from the very beginning, but I wasn’t able to get to until recently.

My friend who is also reading these books referred to is as the “better Alaskan one”. (I reviewed the other book set in Alaska here.)

You know from the very first page that the main character, Jess, is alone in the wilderness. Within the first few pages, the reader learns that Jess’s mom has been killed in a car crash (one that also involved and injured Jess), and she is being forced to move with her dad, who she barely knows, in Alaska. At least that’s what is told to her, her dad actually lives somewhere else, although we never get the exact location. Somewhere north. Somewhere in the wilderness. Somewhere alone.

The first half of the book goes back and forth between “before” and “after.” Before her father died, and after. I won’t get into the subplot of the story, because that will give away too much. The second part of the book is where the story really picks up.

Here are my thoughts – many middle school students will not get into this book. It took a long time for the story to really develop into much more than girl vs. nature. In fact the vast majority of the book is simply describing what she is doing while alone in the Northern wilderness. My students would not be able to make it through this book because there are just paragraphs and paragraphs of description.

Now, as an adult who has developed better reading stamina…okay, just kidding, I, too, had a hard time reading every word on every page. I ended up skim reading a lot of it.

Apparently Ben Affleck is going to make it in to a movie. I do think this book could be turned in to a great, suspenseful movie. As a book intended for middle school students, it wasn’t the greatest.

Oh, and the dog dies, so don’t get attached.

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

Mascot – Book Review

Image result for mascot book

Back in October, I was looking for a book to read aloud to my two reading classes. These classes are full of students who are two grade levels or more behind grade level. One of the biggest struggles for these readers is they fatigue and have a hard time finishing a book. Many of them didn’t have parents who read out loud to them, or if they did, stopped at too early of an age. It is vitally important to read to your kids, even your middle school kids (and I would dare say, many of your high school kiddos could benefit from it as well). By reading out loud and finishing a book, it helps the students realize that they can succeed in reading a book and persevering through it. This will hopefully encourage them to do it on their own as well.

So in my search for a book that my students would enjoy, and one that was on my to-read list, I found this one. Antony John does a fantastic job of channeling the brain of a 7th grade boy. The main character, Noah, is in a wheelchair. The result of a horrible car accident that took the life of his dad. (Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything with this. You find this out within the first chapter or two.) Noah is from St. Louis and a big baseball fan (and former player). Thus the Arch and the cardinal on the cover.

The story weaves through Noah trying to navigate new friendship, old friendships, his injury, emotions around losing his father, and his mom’s new “friend”. There are a lot of emotional elements throughout this book, but John uses middle school humor and some grown up insight to wade through them without making it too heavy. I definitely recommend this for middle schoolers.

I brought this book home over break, so my students haven’t finished it yet. I’m interested to see how they will react to the last part of the book. Many of them have predicted that Noah will walk again. I won’t give that away here though!