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

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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

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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!

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

The Colors of the Rain – Book Review

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Let me start with the good. Since I haven’t done a review in a while, I don’t want to start with negativity.

The story within this book is amazing. It starts with our main character driving by an accident with his mom and sister. The reader finds out within a few pages that the accident would changed their lives forever. The story is told strictly from the point of view of the main character, Paulie. He’s an upper elementary aged boy with an older sister and dog. He lives with his mom, his grandparents live across the road, and his aunt lives nearby and takes care of the kids when the mom can’t.

The story is set in Texas during a time when desegregating the schools was still happening. In Texas it happened a little slower than other areas.

I enjoyed the story, and I think students could learn a lot from this book.

Now for the negative. Spoilers ahead, so stop here if you don’t want to know.

The book is written in free verse, which seems to be a trend in YA books lately. Sometimes I love it. I did not love it in the book. It never flowed well. It was more stream of consciousness than free verse. I felt annoyed while reading because I loved the story, but the way it was written just irritated me. I am probably in the minority when it comes to this, though. Don’t let the fact that it’s written in verse deter you from reading it, let the next point deter you!

THE DOG DIES. This book is dead to me now. I cannot handle the dog dying especially when the dog is the only friend the kid has.

Okay, it probably isn’t great of me to judge the book this harshly just because the dog dies, but I hate it when the dog dies! It also probably doesn’t help that we just had to put one of our dogs to sleep recently.

I would recommend this book despite my negative feelings. It has good messages throughout the book about acceptance, love, forgiveness, among other things. I know some of my middle school students would really enjoy this book, so I will probably rate it well when the recommendations start in January.

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

Fall Break Read-a-Thon!

Finally! a break from the chaos of school, coaching, dance, drama, and chess club! Over the next few days, I am going on a reading marathon! I have 10 books left of the possible Truman nominees for the 2020-21 school year, and six of them are in my house right now. My goal is to read all of them before Monday, but we’ll see how that goes.

My current possible Truman nominee reading list includes:

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I’m nearly done with this one. I’ve been reading it out loud to my 8th graders and many of them are enjoying it.

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Another one that I’m almost finished with!

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I’m curious as to which ones appeal to you simply based on the cover? Skyward is one that I normally wouldn’t pick up because the cover looks very science-fictiony to me. My first grab would probably be I Am Still Alive.

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

Fire & Heist Book Review

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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 Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My TBR I’m Avoiding Reading and Why

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Schinder’s List by Thomas Keneally. I have never seen the movie, but I know all about it. I don’t know if I can handle watching it, so I put it on my To Be Read list for this year. I’m avoiding it because I know I’ll cry, and I’m just not sure I’m ready for a super emotional read.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. My friend, Kelli, recommended this book a few years ago, and I put it on my list. I think I keep putting it off because I know that it’s a part of a series, and I know that if I like it, I will want to read the whole thing, and I don’t know if I can commit to a long-term relationship right now!

East of Eden by John Steinbeck. My dear friend, Casey, loves this book. She reads a lot more than I do, so I trust her opinion. I believe at some point she told me this is her favorite book. She lent me this book about 3 years ago, and it is still sitting on my shelf intimidating me with it’s length.

Sold by Patricia McCormick. We have this book in our classroom, and two years ago I picked it up to start reading in during SSR time. Within five minutes, I was almost in tears. It’s now been labeled NSFW, and I haven’t had the courage to pick it up at home.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman. This is the first of another series, so I’m facing the same dilemma as a A Court of Thorns and Roses. Also, this books is out of my element as it seems that the main focus is killing people, or at least deciding who is and is not worthy of being alive. I don’t know much. A little scared to jump in to this one.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Considering I couldn’t make it through the first four episodes of the show, I highly doubt I will easily make it through the book. But, it is on my list, and I will read it eventually.

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz. Can I be honest? I probably should be since this is my blog. But, I really do not love Alan Gratz as an author. My co-teacher, librarian, and some of my student have told me, “You HAVE to read this one!” So, it’s on my list for when I decide that I can give Gratz another chance.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. The sheer size of this book makes me hesitant in picking it up. Plus, I have heard mixed reviews.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. I loved Six of Crows so much, and I was very involved with the characters. Since this is the follow up and the final book, I have put it off because I do not want the story to end. Or maybe, I don’t want the story to end in a way that I haven’t already imagined.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. First, this is nonfiction, and anyone that knows me knows that I only read nonfiction if it is assigned and I am getting a grade on it. Second, I don’t love doing introspection, and I’m pretty sure this book is going to make me do that. But I’m determined to read this within the next few months.