Posted in 2020 Books, ProjectLitBookClub

Let Me Hear a Rhyme Review

I Loved This Book! With the current state of our country, I feel like who cares about a book review? But then I know that I start teaching again in a couple months, and my students know to come to me with book recommendations. Given the amount of books that I read, this blog helps me keep my thoughts straight and helps me remember why I would (or would not) recommend it to my kids.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have been using quarantine as a way to learn more. I started following a handful of authors which then turned into a (what’s the next biggest thing after a handful?) well, a lot more authors. I found this book and Tiffany Jackson through that. She is also on the Project Lit Book list 3 times…and she has 3 books out! (Fourth one Grown coming out in September!) Her books have also made it on the Missouri Gateway Nominee list. So, while these aren’t the ultimate authorities for great books, it says a lot about an author when they make these lists.

Now for a quick summary since you can read much better ones all over the internet. Let Me Hear a Rhyme is a young adult fiction book that follows three youths (Jasmine, Quadir, and Jarrell) who are dealing with the death (murder) of their brother (Jasmine’s) and best friend, Steph. It is set in Brooklyn in the late 1990s. The day of the funeral, the trio come across some music that Steph had recorded, and a few days later the boys develop an idea to let the world hear Steph’s music. They have to get Jasmine involved, but the only way she will join in with the scheme is if the boys help her find out who killed her brother.

Like I said above, I LOVED this book. For one, it is set in the late 1990s and the late 90s hip hop references made me super nostalgic for my last few years of high school. I can remember watching the news (probably on MTV) when Tupac and Biggie were killed. I even found myself pulling up the Lauryn Hill album that is referenced a couple times throughout the book and reliving hearing that for the first time. Yes, this extremely sheltered white girl from the midwest loved hip-hop.

My students, even though they weren’t even born until 2006, still talk about a lot of the artists mentioned throughout the book, and I think that will draw some of them in.

Now, that is really just a tiny part of the book. The story is so well-written. I pride myself on being about to figure out YA books within the first couple chapters. And while I was completely right about the romance, there are a couple things I did not see coming, and one of them made me cry. (I actually audibly said, Oh NO! and then started crying.)

The chapters aren’t too long either, and as weird as that sounds, a lot of my students get discouraged when a chapter (or book) is really long.

(I have probably mentioned this before, but my reading class is for students who are struggling readers and scoring at least 2 grade levels below the 8th grade. It takes a lot to get them to read on their own, so finding little things like short chapters helps.)

I highly recommend this book. There’s a mystery to solve, a sweet romance, lots of music references, drama, girl power…

Now to get Jackson’s other books and preorder Grown!

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, ProjectLitBookClub

Clean Getaway review

Quarantine has given me a lot of free time. Even while I was teaching from home, I found myself with time where I was just waiting around to answer students’ questions, so I started looking for people to follow on social media.

First person I started following was Jason Reynolds. I have a serious author crush on him, and I love everything that I’ve read that he has written. From his page, I found Nic Stone. At this point, I had only read Dear Martin which I loved, so I decided to follow her. If you’re looking for people to follow that will make you love life and want to be a better person, follow her. She’s friends with so many other awesome authors, and I have been introduced to many people and things from following her.

One thing was Project Lit (click the link to learn more, especially if you’re a teacher!). The basic gist is this English teacher decided to start having his students read books that better represented them, and over the years it has turned into a multi-country book club for students. I’m late to this party since it’s been going on since 2017, but I signed up to be a Project Lit leader, and I am looking forward to starting a book club in our school whenever we can go back.

Okay, alllllll that to say, I found Clean Getaway from following Project Lit and Nic Stone on social media 🙂

Now to the review. This book is great. I didn’t expect anything less from Nic Stone since I loved Dear Martin so much. From my understanding, this is her first middle grade novel (but definitely not her last). The book is everything a middle grade book needs to be: accessible, funny, fast-paced, easy-to-read, interesting characters, and adventure.

The book begins with Scoob (nickname – real name is William Lamar) and his grandma in an RV heading on an adventure. The reader finds out pretty quickly that Scoob was supposed to be on spring break, but had gotten in trouble at school and was on punishment with his father. No fun spring break for him. However, this all changes when his grandma shows up with an Winnebago and a promise of adventure if Scoob wants to go. Of course he goes, who would choose punishment over adventure? Scoob conveniently leaves his phone at home so his dad wouldn’t call him, and Grandma doesn’t tell him much about the adventure, just that they have a long way to go.

What I loved about this book is that it definitely talks about racism in a way that will allow teachers to talk to younger students. William is black, and his grandmother is white. We see early on some subtle racism (is there such a thing???) on their first stop to get food. Lots of strange and disapproving looks from the other customers. The book also talks about The Green Book. This book allowed Black Americans to navigate the country by highlighting Black-friendly businesses. I can definitely see using this as a talking point with my students. I also loved the relationship between Scoob and his grandma.

There is definitely more to the book than what I have written, but too much more will give away some of the surprising aspects to the book. I would recommend this to any lower-middle school grade kids, and probably 4th and 5th graders as well.

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, NetGalley, Uncategorized

☀️ Ignite the Sun ☀️ review

This was my 3nd ARC from NetGally. My 2nd YA one, and I have to say it was FAR better than the last one I read. Of course, they are completely different genres, and it’s hard to compare fantasy to contemporary romance (Although, I don’t think it could be a YA book without some romance, so you aren’t missing out on that with this book.)

This books follows Siria on her journey to discover who she truly is. I really cannot say much about it, because even saying who she truly is would give away a bit of the beginning plot twist.

It is set in a fictional kingdom of Umbraz which is ruled by a dark Queen. And by dark, I mean, the queen has eliminated the sun with her powers. She has ruled for years, and the people of Umbraz can barely remember the sun, they fear it, and rely on Queen Iyzabel to keep them safe.

That’s all the summary you’re getting.

Now for a couple personal thoughts.

One of the things I think could have been better was Siria’s character arc. She does change throughout the book, but I just felt like I didn’t really know her. Honestly, this is true of most of the main characters in the book. They are all very surface level.

On the other hand, the world building was great. Hanna Howard did a great job of helping me visualize her world. The castle descriptions were among my favorites.

This book is set to release in August, and if you like YA fantasy with a female protagonist, I would say you would like this one.

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