Thursday, August 4, 2016

Review: The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Publish date: 2015
Source: Library
Format: Hardcover
Length: 372 pages
"Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather's ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.

And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess's classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess." (Goodreads)

I'll be honest: none of Jennifer Lynn Barnes's books have ever appealed to me. I met her a few years ago at a Smart Chicks Kick It tour (maybe 2011? 2012?) and thought she was a lovely person and was bummed that her books didn't sound like me books. Fast forward to sometime earlier this year (maybe 2015, who knows) and I started reading really good reviews about The Fixer. It sounded completely different than her other books, so I decided to go for it and really enjoyed it.

I put this on hold a couple months ago at my library and embarrassingly, totally forgot to pick it up. I blame general May craziness at school. A few weeks ago, I started thinking about what books I wanted to take on vacation (the MOST important thing I pack, let's be honest) and got this and The Conspiracy of Us from the library. I wish I'd read The Fixer earlier because it was pretty entertaining and very fast paced. Some of it was fairly unbelievable, but really, I think a lot of YA is unbelievable.

Some of the politics were a little confusing at first, but I got used to who everyone was pretty quickly. I liked all the little twists and turns and while I didn't love all the characters, there's no one that would stop me from reading the sequel. I stayed up really late one night on vacation to finish it, so that should tell you about the plot :)

I see it compared to Heist Society and while I suppose they are both thrillers, they aren't that similar (but I didn't really like HS). I also saw a comparison to the show 24, which I would say is better. But really, if you like political thrillers with secrets and twists and a fast moving plot, read The Fixer!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Review: Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novels by Ann M. Martin & Raina Telgemeier

Publish date: 2015 (First published 2006 and 1986)
Source: School media center
Format: Paperback
Length: 192 pages
"Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey are best friends and founding members of The Baby-sitters Club. Whatever comes up -- cranky toddlers, huge dogs, scary neighbors, prank calls -- you can count on them to save the day. But baby-sitting isn't always easy, and neither is dealing with strict parents, new families, fashion emergencies, and mysterious secrets. But no matter what, the BSC have what they need most: friendship.

Raina Telgemeier, using the signature style featured in her acclaimed graphic novels SMILE and SISTERS, perfectly captures all the drama and humor of the original novel!" (Goodreads)

As a kid, I was obsessed with the BSC. I started reading them in 2nd grade and didn't stop for years. I've been reminiscing about them lately (more than usual!) by listening to the podcast "The Baby-Sitters Club Club." Two guys in their 30's discuss the books one by one, analyzing one book per podcast. It is HILARIOUS. I absolutely love it and it's been making me think about how much I loved all the BSC books. During all my reminiscing, I remembered that the media center at my school has the graphic novel adaptations and ta-da, my next two reads.

I ended up reading Kristy's Great Idea and The Truth about Stacey, which are considered #1 and #2 of the graphic novel quartet. It was a fun reading experience since I know the stories, of course, but haven't read them in years so it was a nice little trip down memory lane. Of course, not every single detail was in these versions, but I thought it was enough. I think these would be fun for someone who read the BSC books as a kid and for someone completely new to the series.

As usual, I enjoyed Raina Telgemeier's illustrations. I've read her previous GN Smile and liked it a lot. Her drawings are simple but effective and work well with the story and overall series. If I see the other two in the series at the library, I will definitely pick them up!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Publish date: 2009
Source: Purchased
Format: Paperback
Length: 466 pages
"Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes.

Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.
" (Goodreads)

I had never read a Liane Moriarty book before this, despite her being pretty popular. I know my friend Elizabeth is a fan and we usually have similar tastes, but I still never read anything by her. My book club (the adult one, not the student one!) chose this for our April/May-ish book, so I started reading it toward the end of spring break and stayed up really late one night to read a big chunk of it! Oops (but not really).

What Alice Forgot is about a woman named Alice who falls at the gym and when she wakes up, cannot remember the last 10 years of her life. Like the blurb says, she thinks she's 29 and pregnant with her first kid, but is actually 39, divorced with 3 kids. Sometimes amnesia type books can be really frustrating, but this one was very fun and enjoyable. I loved that Alice had no clue how to take care of kids and laughed out loud a few times at those scenes. 

Some of the book felt slightly frustrating (like, Alice, just ASK what happened on this occasion or to this person), but the majority of it was a fun journey to go on with her. I liked Moriarty's writing style and can definitely see myself reading more of her books. There was a lot to discuss with my book club and although I/we felt like the ending seemed rushed, we still liked it overall. I flew through reading it and like I said, stayed up way too late one night reading the first half! This would be a great pick if you need a quick, easy read and is definitely a good vacation book. 

What Liane Moriarty book should I read next? The Husband's Secret?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Event Recap: ILA 2016

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to the International Literacy Association (ILA) annual conference in Boston. I teach high school English, so I love going to conferences about teaching and literacy. I went to NCTE last fall, which was absolutely fantastic, and while ILA is not one that I would normally go to, a few things lined up, and I was in a position where it was hard to say no to going to it :)

I was in Boston for about 2 and a half days and the majority of that time was spent in the convention center. I wish we could have spent more time outside though, since it was cool and in the 60's, a big difference from the hot and humid Michigan I left behind!

I spent my time either going to sessions by my favorite teaching gurus/idols or walking through the exhibit hall looking at books and talking to publishers. My top two teaching idols are Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, both of whom were at ILA, so I went to two sessions with each of them (and where they were speaking together!), plus one with Donalyn Miller. I learned a lot, was reaffirmed in what I am doing, and am full of ideas to revamp my lessons, units, and overall classroom environment. I love when conferences make me excited to go back to work :)

I also really enjoyed walking around the exhibit hall talking to publishers and authors. I was able to meet Siobhan Vivian and get a signed copy of The Last Boy and Girl in the World. I'm excited to put that in the hands of my students this fall, especially the ones who loved her and Jenny Han's Burn for Burn series (which is very popular!). I also met Daniel Kraus, Renee Ahdieh, and Sarah Fine.

Overall I had a good time at ILA, but I still liked NCTE better in terms of the complete conference (it is much bigger). I do like that ILA is during the summer, but in terms of professional growth and number of authors to meet, I'd still rather go to NCTE in November. That said, I really enjoyed listening to Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher and am happy that I was able to attend their sessions.

I want this as a poster in my classroom!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Audiobook review: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Narrator: Rebecca Macauley
Publish date: 2006
Length: 8 hours 53 minutes
"I'm dreaming of the boy in the tree. I tell him stories. About the Jellicoe School and the Townies and the Cadets from a school in Sydney. I tell him about the war between us for territory. And I tell him about Hannah, who lives in the unfinished house by the river. Hannah, who is too young to be hiding away from the world. Hannah, who found me on the Jellicoe Road six years ago.

Taylor is leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs - the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.
And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor's only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother - who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road." (Goodreads)

Wow. Just wow. I liked this book SO much more than I thought I would. It was so completely confusing at the beginning and I thought about maybe trying the print version, hoping it would be less confusing, but I was assured that it would be confusing either way. I kept plugging away with the audio and lo and behold, I got hooked maybe 2 hours in. Like, completely hooked. I wanted to do nothing but listen to this story. 

Part of the reason I really liked Jellicoe Road was because it was really fun. It is plenty of other adjectives too (sad, funny, touching, lovely), but it was still fun. I loved the territory wars and plotting against each other and general hijinks that happened the whole way. There were lots of characters to keep track of, especially with the two narratives, but I loved how everything came together and made sense at the end and along the way. I found myself gasping a couple times while listening and had to remind myself to tone down the emotions since I finished the last couple hours on the plane and didn't want my seatmate to think I was crazy!

Jellicoe Road also has one of my new favorite, definitely top five ever, OTP's because I absolutely loved Jonah Griggs. I've seen people talk about him on Twitter and in blog posts before, so I knew he was a character in the book, but I didn't know I'd love him so much. I loved everything between him and Taylor so much that I actually bought the ebook (only 1.99 right now!) so I could reread my favorite scenes! I don't think I've ever done that before, but it seemed completely justifiable for these two <3

I really enjoyed the audiobook and would recommend it. It is currently FREE on for one more day, so make sure you download it soon! I definitely see myself reading the print version too at some point. I'm not a big rereader, so that should say something! 

PS: I really hope the movie version of this actually happens!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Publish date: 1997
Source: Library
Format: Ebook
Length: 337 pages
"A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more--including Krakauer's--in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster." (Goodreads)

Into Thin Air might seem like an odd book for someone like me to read, as a person who reads mostly YA and not a lot of nonfiction, but I read one of his other novels, Into the Wild, a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I read it because I was going to teach it, but I was pleasantly surprised with how much I actually enjoyed it. I'd meant to read Into Thin Air ever since then, but didn't pick it up until recently when I was trudging through a book I needed to read for my student book club, but was not enjoying it at all. I look through the ebooks my library had available, saw Into Thin Air, and promptly downloaded it. I read it over 3 days and loved it!

Into Thin Air is about the May 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest in which 5 people died. Jon Krakauer was one of the climbers, but he was actually sent as a journalist (who actually had a lot of mountain climbing experience) to write a story about the expedition. I have zero desire to climb a mountain (I mean, it's interesting and I'm interested in it, but not in actually doing it), but I still found this book so intriguing and satisfying. 

Jon Krakauer writes the kind of nonfiction that I just greedily gobble up. I love how much research he pours into everything he writes: everyone's backstories, lots of historical information, scientific information, and just lots of honesty in everything. I also love his writing style itself. It's so compelling that it reads just like fiction and a very exciting piece of fiction at that. I never wanted to put this down!

There were some afterwords added to this that I appreciated a lot. Some people on the expedition didn't like how Krakauer explained this, so they told their side to people and the afterwords were basically explanations of that. If you plan on reading this book, definitely read everything included!

I highly recommend Krakauer's work, especially Into Thin Air. Even if you think you don't like nonfiction or stories about mountain climbing, I would still give this a shot. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Review: I am Princess X by Cherie Priest

Publish date: 2015
Source: School media center
Format: Paperback
Length: 256 pages
"Once upon a time, two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons and scaled all the mountains their imaginations could conjure. 

Once upon a few years later, Libby was in the car with her mom, driving across the Ballard Bridge on a rainy night. When the car went over the side, Libby passed away, and Princess X died with her.

Once upon a now: May is sixteen and lonely, wandering the streets of Seattle, when she sees a sticker slapped in a corner window.

Princess X?

When May looks around, she sees the Princess everywhere: Stickers. Patches. Graffiti. There's an entire underground culture, focused around a webcomic at The more May explores the webcomic, the more she sees disturbing similarities between Libby's story and Princess X online. And that means that only one person could have started this phenomenon---her best friend, Libby, who lives.

Do you ever read something and then wonder why you waited so long to read it? That is exactly how I felt when I was reading I am Princess X! It's been on my TBR since I'd heard of it and the media center at the school where I work even had it, but I STILL waited so long to read it and now I want to kick myself. I picked it up on a whim recently while at school and could barely put it down!

The bulk of this story is May trying to find out what is going on with all the Princess X stuff she is seeing all over Seattle since only she and Libby really knew about it and Libby's been dead for years. I felt like I was right there with her, trying to figure out who was putting all this Princess X stuff everywhere. Was Libby still alive? Did someone find all their stuff and start posting it? What was going on???  I felt like I was on the edge of my seat the whole time!

Another aspect of the book I liked was the addition of some of the Princess X comics throughout the book, so you get both normal narrative parts and comics while reading. Sometimes extra stuff like that annoys me in books, but it worked perfectly here. I think that will really help with its appeal when I book talk it to my classes in the fall.

The only reason this wasn't a five star read for me was because of the ending. I wanted more explanation and basically just more in general of everything, but I still felt like it was a really good book. I only wish I'd read it earlier so I could have gotten it signed when I was at an event with Cherie Priest in January. Note to self: don't wait so long to read books when they sound amazing!