Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

Fire & Heist Book Review

Image result for fire & heist book
Read a summary of the book here.

Book 8 of the 22 I need to read in the next few weeks. Yeah, I doubt I’ll make through the list, but I’ve read enough to be able to vote for my favorites.

This was definitely not one of my favorites. Now, it wasn’t bad, but if I had to rank the ones I have read, this wouldn’t be at the top.

I also should have written this review right after I read the book because I can honestly not remember the characters’ names, and I try to stay way from summaries and other reviews until I finish mine.

The basic premise of the book was the main character, her 3 older brothers, and her parents were all descendants of…wait for it…dragons. Yup. You read that correctly – these PEOPLE are descendants of DRAGONS.

As you can probably tell, I don’t read much fantasy (besides Harry Potter), so I am not sure if this is common for fantasy novels. Once I got past the shock that these people had lingering dragon abilities, I really enjoyed the book.

The main character and her family not only have dragon abilities, but one of their pastimes is completing heists (thus the name of the book). This made the book feel a little like Ocean’s Eleven with all the plotting. Ocean’s Eleven with magic.

I am assuming if you enjoy fantasy, you will enjoy this novel. It is well-written, and for me, a new concept, so I liked it.

I gave it a 4 star rating on Goodreads.

Posted in Book Reviews, Reviews by Charis

I Am Princess X – A guest book review

By Charis, age 11

Do like mystery books? If so, you should read I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest. There are many reasons why this is a great book.

First of all, the illustrations are great. Although it’s not multi-color, they’re still beautifully drawn. Actually, the fact that it’s not multi- colored makes it more interesting! This book is mostly a chapter book, but occasionally there are comic pages.

Second, it has clue-filled adventures. In the beginning of the book, the main character, May, lost her best friend and found something that they had worked on together. She found a sticker in a shop window and website called http://www.iamprincessx.com and found many comics about Princess X. Also, in the last comic, someone tells Princess X “Inside her black cup, you will find the black mirror.”

Third, it has mysteries. For example, May’s friend, Libby, is she really dead? On www.iamprincessx.com, May finds information on the Four Keys, which aren’t really keys. They’re objects, a gold mask, a red box, a black mirror, and a dead gray girl!

Clearly, I Am Princess X is a great book for many reasons. The illustrations are beautiful, it had clue-filled adventures, and it’s full of mystery. If this sounds like a book you’ll enjoy reading, find it at your local library or bookstore. Take it from me, this book is really good.

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

Game Changer Book Review

Read a summary of the book here.

Another of the twenty-two possible Truman nominees for 2020-21.

Game Changer tackles (pun intended) the difficult topic of whether or not football needs to be changed. The book begins where we find Teddy unconscious in the hospital after a football related injury.

I really enjoyed how this book was written, and I think that middle school students will like it as well.

The book is broken into parts instead of specific chapters. When people are in the hospital room, we “hear” everything from Teddy’s unconsciousness. It’s written in what looks like verse, but it’s not like the typical rhyming or rhythmic verse. It’s more like stream of consciousness, and the way it was written made it read very fast. Other sections show text message conversations – it literally looks like a phone conversation on the page, or a social media type post.

When I say this read fast, it really did. I finished in about 2 hours total.

Not a fan of football? That’s okay. I think you’ll like this book anyway. There is drama between Teddy’s parents, a secret that the entire football team is trying to keep, and a friendship that is tested. All the perfect elements of a good young adult drama.

Simply for the unique way the book was written, I gave this 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Posted in Book Reviews

2020-21 Truman Nominees Update and The Darkdeep Review

I’m still working on the list of possible Truman nominees for the 2020-2021 school year. I had knocked out nine from the list of 50 this summer, but less than half of the ones I read made it to the next round.

So the list has narrowed to 22. We have until the beginning of January to get through as many of the books as we can before it is time to vote. I have three books, including this one, still to review, and that puts me at 8…of 22. It seems like an impossible task, especially with school in full swing, math tutoring starting, and my daughters’ seemingly endless activities.

But! Today, I got a book light, so bring on the late night reads!!! (Before you suggest reading on a device, I can’t do it at night for some reason. My eyes start burning.)

Now for the review. “The Darkdeep” by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs follows 4 kids who accidentally find an abandoned house boat as they search for their drone. The houseboat, while filled with really weird treasures, seems pretty harmless until the group heads downstairs. Yes, downstairs…on a houseboat. There is a hole where the kids could see the water, but the water is weird and swirling and the kids just can’t leave it alone.

Eventually one of the kids goes into the water and gets sucked in. After this some creepy things begin happening. The kids end up having to face things from their memories and dreams, some good and some terrifying. If you like creepy and mysterious, you will probably like this book…if you’re an 11 year old kid. I would definitely think the 6th graders will like this book, a few of my 8th graders will like it, but I think it is meant for the younger middle school grades. Even upper elementary students could read and enjoy this book.

I only gave it three stars on Goodreads because it just didn’t keep my attention, and it took me over a week to finish. Also, no crying in this book. I just didn’t care enough about any of the characters to have any sort of emotional connection to them.

Posted in Book Reviews, My Teaching Journey

The Benefits of Being an Octopus – Review

Summary from Goodreads:

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

My thoughts

This review has been sitting in drafts for almost a week. I keep coming back to it, and I keep putting it away because I don’t know what exactly to say.

The book made me pretty emotional. I work in a school where a lot of our students come from poverty, and I think it is pretty easy to forget that not every student has hours at home to do homework or study for a test. Then, my mind really started to wander to what I can do as a teacher to help this. There are so many standards and expectations placed upon us that it is almost a necessity to assign homework and force students to work outside of school time to complete projects, but most of the time, students simply cannot do work outside of school for one reason or another.

Then there are the grumps out there who will say, “Well, I did it when I was a kid. I had two hours of homework each night. These kids are soft!” But even when I was in school, a lot of my friends had one parent (100% of the time, the mom) who stayed at home, and I went to a pretty expensive private school. I grew up in a time when it was doable to survive on one income. We now live in a society where this is not possible. I have a BA, and two Master degrees, and after nine years of teaching, we are finally at a place where if we HAD to, we could survive on one income. It wouldn’t be comfortable, and we would definitely not be able to save any money for college for our girls, but our needs would be met.

What do we do for these students whose parents are working full time jobs, sometimes multiples, just to make ends meet? These students who have to fend for themselves and their younger siblings when they get home? Do we keep saying, “Well, this is how it worked when I was a kid?” Or do we start making changes?

Now, you see why this post has taken me so long.

The book was really well-written. The main character, Zoey, was someone I definitely was rooting for to succeed. Zoey and her three younger siblings live with her mom, her mom’s boyfriend (who I hated from the first time he was mentioned), and her boyfriend’s dad in a trailer. But it’s a nice trailer, and her mom reminds her many times that they should be thankful for the nice place to live.

I found myself frustrated, then extremely sympathetic with the mom. I can’t write too much about the mom because that will give away a lot of the story, and I don’t do spoilers.

I highly recommend this book, and I am hopeful that it makes the list of the top 12 for the Truman nominees. I think the middle school students will really enjoy reading about someone they can relate to.

(Sorry for the longer post, but you now have a glimpse into how my brain functions while reading.)

Posted in Book Reviews

Lost Boys Review

Summary from Goodreads

It’s 1982, and twelve-year-old Reza has no interest in joining Iran’s war effort. But in the wake of a tragedy and at his mother’s urging, he decides to enlist, assured by the authorities that he will achieve paradise should he die in service to his country. 

War does not bring the glory the boys of Iran have been promised, and Reza soon finds himself held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Iraq, where the guards not only threaten violence—they act upon it.

Will Reza make it out alive? And if he does, will he even have a home to return to?

A couple quotes I liked that don’t give away too much from the book.

And you know this jazz comes from American slavery. Picture a whole people caged - you hear that sadness? But their music was subtle rebellion, something that made them free. It's no surprise our government bans music. Music can be power to people who are struggling. - pg. 38

I no longer prayed. At first I had no idea time was passing. Once I could tell one day from the next, I couldn't physically kneel down. But as weeks went by, it wasn't the physical pain that kept me from facing Mecca with the others. It was the knot that lodged just below my heart. - pg. 105

When I got the final list of Trumans for the 19-20 school year last spring, this was one of the first books I got from the library. But, I do this thing where I check out 10+ books at a time and only make it through three of them before they’re due back. So this book kept getting check out and returned. In fact, when I got it from my school library last week, it was the fourth time I had checked it out.

Lost Boys ended up being my last Truman nominee to read, and I think I’m glad it ended up that way. I absolutely loved this book. It made me have all sorts of feels, and there were multiple times throughout the book when I cried. I also found myself getting angry multiple times.

Reza was such a well-written character, and I loved seeing his growth as a person and as a musician. I felt his heartbreak at the beginning of the book, and as he made a difficult decision toward the end. (Really trying to avoid spoilers here!)

This book made me realize how much I do not know about history and other countries. Obviously there is much more that has happened in our world than what can be taught in history classes in high school and college, but man, I feel like I wasn’t taught much more than US history up until the Civil War with WW2 being taught during Holocaust units in English classes.

With that said, I think it will be my reading goal for 2020 to read more historical fiction (and maybe a couple nonfiction pieces…gasp!). Feel free to recommend your favorites.

Posted in Book Reviews

Hideout – Review

Goodreads Summary

Twelve-year-old Sam has been given a fishing boat by his father, but he hates fishing. Instead he uses the boat to disappear for hours at a time, exploring the forbidden swampy surroundings of his Gulf Shore home. Then he discovers a boy named Davey, mysteriously alone, repairing an abandoned cabin in the deep woods. Not fooled by the boy’s evasive explanation as to why he’s on his own, Sam becomes entangled in his own efforts to help Davey. But this leads him to telling small lies that only get bigger as the danger increases for both boys, and hidden truths become harder to reveal.

I kept putting this book off because I had read the back cover, and it just didn’t seem that interesting to me. I finally picked it up again when school started last week. It is the 2nd to last Truman nominee for the 2019-2020 school year that I have to read, and then I can focus completely on the 2020-21 list.

This book definitely surprised me. The first chapter, I actually had to look up what some words meant, because I know absolutely zero about boats or fishing.

Hideout was the first book by Watt Key that I have read, and I really enjoyed his style. The book was simple to read (which is great for middle school students), suspenseful, and funny (in places).

The main character, Sam, is at an interesting place in his life where he wants to prove to himself and others that he is brave. This desire comes from having a dad who is a police officer and the fact that he got beat up pretty badly in front of the prettiest girl in school.

This desire to prove himself leads him on an adventure to help Davey, but in doing so, he starts lying to his parents and fighting with his best friend. I liked Sam’s character a lot, and honestly, with how creepy the front of the book looked, I thought Davey might be some sort of ghost. I was wrong, and I’m not ruining the story by sharing that. Just showing how my mind works.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and I am looking forward to putting more of Watt Key’s books on my to-read shelf!

Four out of five stars!