Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: July 16, 2014
Number of Pages: 306
Source of Book: egalley from publisher

        Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.
        But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind—and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.

There is just something about Miranda Kenneally's books that hooks me into reading them start to finish without wanting to stop...and Breathe, Annie, Breathe was no exception. This story again takes place in the world of Hundred Oaks as her previous four books do, but this one edges toward the older end of YA with an 18 year old main character heading off to college and a 20 year old romantic interest. Annie is a character I emphathized with as she is struggling with her feelings and guilt over the loss of her longtime boyfriend in an accident. She decides to train to run a marathon that he was going to do but never got the chance to, and during that time meets another guy. Her fear of losing someone close to her again makes her hesitate to get involved, even as she gets closer to him. This is a book about grief and finding the strength and peace to be able to let someone else in after losing the one she thought she'd be with forever. But it's also a story of family and friendships and romance. It felt like an honest book, and it was enjoyable to read. I also appreciated how characters from Kenneally's previous books make appearances in Breathe, Annie, Breathe allowing loyal readers to get an update of sorts on where they've ended up as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What I'm Recommending Lately

I've been reading a lot these last few months, even if I haven't been blogging much, I've been tweeting and sharing thoughts on my goodreads, and also sharing many recommendations in person. So, in the interest of sharing what some of my favorite titles have been so far this year, I wanted to document a bit of what I've been recommending most lately. Happy reading!

If you want to head back into the world of the Wolves of Mercy Falls and back into Cole St. Clair's head (and, really, why wouldn't you?), try SINNER by Maggie Stiefvater.
A standalone companion book to the internationally bestselling Shiver Trilogy. 
Sinner follows Cole St. Clair, a pivotal character from the #1 New York Times bestselling Shiver Trilogy. Everybody thinks they know Cole's story. Stardom. Addiction. Downfall. Disappearance. But only a few people know Cole's darkest secret -- his ability to shift into a wolf. One of these people is Isabel. At one point, they may have even loved each other. But that feels like a lifetime ago. Now Cole is back. Back in the spotlight. Back in the danger zone. Back in Isabel's life. Can this sinner be saved?
My thoughts: I am so, so happy that Maggie Stiefvater wrote this book. Getting inside Cole's and Isabel's heads for a bit longer was enthralling. Maggie's writing is as stand out as it always is - to the point that I would have to pause and reread just to appreciate so many beautifully written lines. I was pulled right into this LA life and the characters' battles as they fought for and against love and fame. I think this book is stronger than the others in this series and shows how much Cole St. Clair's story needed to go on, be told, and get closure.

If you want something different that is a must-read with a guy main character (that might make you cry a bit), try WINGER by Andrew Smith.
        Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.
        With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.
        Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.
My thoughts: Wow. Just wow. I loved it from the start, and I love it even more after finishing. The voice is incredible. So authentically real. I laughed (out loud), I sighed, I shook my head, I cried, I hoped. A powerfully engaging book with unforgetable characters. This is a must-read for high school (some very mature words/scenes/themes). Without question, one of the best books I've ever read.

If you want to read a magical fantasy book whose entire trilogy is already out so you don't have to wait to find out what happens, that will make you wonder why you didn't read it two years ago, try SHADOW & BONE by Leigh Bardugo.
        The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.
        Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?
        The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.
        But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?
        Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance.
My thoughts: Addictively good and utterly readable. Fantasy in a way it's never been done before. Creative and tense and exciting and terrifying and hopeful. A new favorite series.

If you want a heart-warming book for the middle grade level, from a wonderful debut writer voice, that celebrates words and relationships and will leave you believing that there just might be some magic in this world after all, try A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd.
      Introducing an extraordinary new voice---a magical debut that will make your skin tingle, your eyes glisten . . .and your heart sing.
      Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.
      But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere---shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears---but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.
      Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town . . . and her mother's broken heart.
My thoughts: This is a special book. Natalie Lloyd has written a magical, enchanting book that pulls at the reader to keep turning pages and believe in magic. A heartwarming book that is a must-read for middle grades.

If you want something gritty, with perspectives that will make you (or your students) question your own perceptions and what is truth, try HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon.
        In Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down, when sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.
        In the aftermath of Tariq's death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. By the day, new twists and turns further obscure the truth.
        Tariq's friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and of the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.
My thoughts: This was a tough book to read, but a powerful book. On the surface, it's a story about a black teen boy getting shot by a white man in a city's rough neighborhood, and that man goes free. Deep down its a story about perspectives and perceptions and expectations and preconceived notions and fighting for yourself and trying to do what's right and finding your path and grief and tragedy and race relations and societal commentary. The intertwining of the multiple POVs within the overall story arc of the nine days following the shooting highlights just how much each person has their own truth.

If you want something wholly different and truly unique that is a historical-ish story intertwined and interwoven with stunningly gorgeous wordless graphic illustrations, whose whole is told via both individual stories in a twisty way, try IN THE SHADOWS by Kiersten White & Jim Di Bartolo.
From the remarkable imagination of acclaimed artist Jim Di Bartolo and the exquisite pen of bestselling author Kiersten White comes a spellbinding story of love, mystery, and dark conspiracy, told in an alternating narrative of words and pictures. 
Cora and Minnie are sisters living in a small, stifling town where strange and mysterious things occur. Their mother runs the local boarding house. Their father is gone. The woman up the hill may or may not be a witch. 
Thomas and Charles are brothers who’ve been exiled to the boarding house so Thomas can tame his ways and Charles can fight an illness that is killing him with increasing speed. Their family history is one of sorrow and guilt. They think they can escape from it . . . but they can’t.
My thoughts: Stunning, enthralling, engaging, a little frustratingly confusing, but so smart in how it all comes together in the end. One of the most unique books I've read with alternating text and illustration sections. It's like a logic puzzle you keep trying to figure out how the two stories interconnect and have a bunch of theories only to find out you were quasi right but really not all along. This one is twisty, but after I finished, I wanted to reread it all over again.

If you want something to read in August that is stunningly beautiful free verse and a brilliant new take on the memoir, try BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson.
Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.  Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
My thoughts: Beautiful, powerful, encouraging, hopeful. A must-read for teachers. Has earned a spot on my all-time favorites list.

>>Fair Warning: The following are September releases, but they're so good I've been recommending them since I first read advance copies of them. And you can pre-order now so you won't forget about them in the back-to-school craziness.<<

If you want a September debut contemporary with some romance, but mostly about a kick-butt, strong female main character who enters a previously all boys military academy (that I know will be at the top of my students' want-to-read lists), try RITES OF PASSAGE by Joy N. Hensley.
       Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she's not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.
       So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She's even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won't risk her future, or the dare, on something so matter how much she wants him.
       As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out.       At any cost.
       Now time's running short. Sam must decide who she can trust...and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.
My thoughts: Ooh, this one is really good! I loved it and predict it will become a favorite with my students. The insight into military academies was intriguing and I cared about and rooted for the characters. The story was suspenseful and exciting and emotional. I'm hoping for a sequel for more time with these characters in this setting, but also because of one slight thing at the end that I wasn't happy about (however realistic it may have been). A solid debut novel. I look forward to more from this author who knows how to write an intelligent story that will hook readers.

If you want something to add to your fall TBR list that is a diverse, powerful story for older YA, from a fresh, new writer, try THE SECRET SKY: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan by Atia Abawi.
A novel of love during a time of war by NBC's Afghanistan correspondent                                            Set in present-day Afghanistan, this is the story of two teenagers, one Pashtun and one Hazara, who must fight against their culture, their tradition, their families, and the Taliban to stay together. Told in three rotating perspectives—the two teens and another boy in the village who turns them in to the local Taliban—this novel depicts both the violent realities of living in Afghanistan, as well as the beauty of the land and the cultures there. And it shows that love can bloom in even the darkest of places.
        This is an absolute must read not just for teens but for anyone who has lived during the time of America's War in Afghanistan.
My thoughts: An incredible story of the intersection of love and culture and family and trust told in a beautiful landscape with tragic circumstances. A strong debut YA novel telling a side to the story many won't have heard before. 

I'd love to hear what you've been recommending lately!

Monday, July 21, 2014

How Life Got in the Way This Summer

I have been woefully neglectful on blogging this summer (really this year so far). I thought for sure with ending the school year, I would get back to blogging, but that hasn't happened...because life got in the way.

First there was this...
My 8th grade class, who I will never forget because they were my first ever class I've gotten to teach for two years in a row, graduated, and I got some very sweet messages and notes from some of them. It was busy and emotional.

and I still had one more week with this group...

Those are my 7th graders celebrating the end of their school reading year.

then I went to this...
The All Write conference is always a highlight of my summer for learning, decompressing from the school year, prepping for the next, and spending time with my PLN.

during which I was able to get my hands on an ARC of this, which I spent every spare moment reading...
Without a doubt, on my list of best books of all time. You need to get your hands on this autobiographical memoir written in stunningly gorgeous verse by Jacqueline Woodson in August.

and then I was off to ALA in Vegas where I had this view from my room at the Bellagio...

Conferences are always amazing, but ALA has its own uniqueness. I was so grateful for the generosity of the kidlit publishers in talking books, handing out books, offering steep discounts on books, and inviting me to some really cool events where I got to talk with authors and learn more about their books. 

and after three busy, fun, exciting days, arranged for shipping of this...
It's always exciting to get bookmail - even if you know what's in it! I had more picture books I bought on the last day, but in my hurry to get to the airport, never took a bookstack picture. If you want to know all the books I got, you can see them on my goodreads shelf.

and I attended my first one of these...
The Newbery Caldecott Awards Banquet is inspiring. There is an energy in that room unlike any other.

and then I flew to Newport Beach, CA for some R&R and this...

I met my mom and dad's new puppy! I got to help train her a bit 
in between eating good meals, relaxing, and hanging out with my Mom

while I also spent some time in SoCal on this...
I was lucky to have that view as I worked on revising and writing and trying to find my professional writerly voice. 

then more family arrived and this happened...
I love that my nieces and nephews are turning into happy readers!

and then finally this...

Disneyland is so much fun, but exhausting!, especially with four kids aged 1 1/2-10. 

and then, when connecting back through Vegas on my way home to Milwaukee, this...
I was so ready to be out of there when I left ALA, and I ended up delayed and was stuck there for six hours - luckily I had plenty with me to read!

...all within the last month and a half.

Life got in the way of blogging. I didn't mean for it to, but it did. It's been a busy summer of learning and traveling for me. I've had ideas floating in my head about what I want to share, and I've been reading loads of books (especially with year three of #summerthrowdown this month), and I've been briefly blurbing them on goodreads and tweeting about them often, but haven't carved out the time to sit down and blog about them.

I'm hoping to remedy that. I'm hoping to rededicate myself to writing a blog post at least once a week. I'm remembering that I feel better when I write and share. I'm remembering that this blog was supposed to be a fun way for me to process what I've read, and not a hassle or obligation. I'm getting back to it. I hope. I'll see you along the way. Happy reading!