Combining Reading, Discussion, and Technology as Summer Homework

One of my favorite parts of being a teacher is the reflection that’s involved. This past school year was different and challenging since I was on maternity leave at the beginning and wasn’t able to create the same community that I could have had I been there all year. My long-term sub did a fantastic job setting the tone and getting my students excited about reading, but I personally still felt like something was lacking on my end. I didn’t have as much time to make an impact on my students as readers. Thankfully I discovered through my students’  reading reflection essays at the end of the year that I did help some of my students discover a love of reading. Below are two excerpts from those reading reflection essays.

Margaret's response

Renae's response

On top of being on maternity leave for part of the school year, I returned to school  and encountered new technology. Through a millage, our school district has acquired many Chromebooks and is now using Google Apps for Education. I stepped out of my comfort zone and started using Google Classroom with great success. My students and I utilized Docs, Slides, Forms and more this year, but I hadn’t yet tried Groups. After reflecting over the success of Google Classroom and wishing I had more time to build my community of readers, I knew I had to explore ways to bring those elements together in my summer homework assignment for my incoming honors freshmen. I want more of my students to have experiences like the students who wrote the letters pictured above.

I took over the honors freshmen course (Literature and Composition I Honors) this past year, so this was my first opportunity to design the summer homework assignment. In the past, the students were required to read various short stories and write paragraphs analyzing those stories. That’s not my style. I wanted them to have choice in their reading and I knew I wanted them to be familiar with Google Classroom since we’ll be using it this coming school year. I also wanted to find a way to build our reading community before we even met one another on the first day of class.

After reflecting and conferring with my peers, I came up with this (there are two other parts to my summer homework assignment outside of the reading):

Part III–Reading:

Reading throughout the summer will help you avoid “summer setback” and keep you in better academic preparedness for the 2015-2016 school year. Instead of requiring one book for all of us to read I’m expecting you to read widely and read often this summer. Like I noted at the beginning of this assignment, I work diligently to create a community of readers; we’re going to start building that community this summer.

Summer is the perfect time to introduce yourself to new genres and authors. Read a graphic novel like Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge or El Deafo by Cece Bell. Open yourself up to a dystopian series like Legend by Marie Lu or The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Travel back in time with some great historical fiction novels like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. If you have younger siblings or babysit young children read aloud a wonderful picture book like You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown and The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty. Ask your parents to read the novels with you to share the experience and open up discussions. Share books with your friends who are enrolled in the class as well. The opportunities for reading this summer are endless.

To help build our classroom community, I’m requiring you to post about your reading experiences via Google Groups. This summer you will post at least twice about what you’ve been reading and also comment on other students’ posts as well. Your individual posts may be book recommendations, questions about books or what to read, great quotes/passages from a book, etc. The comments you make on other posts should be thoughtful in nature and may also consist of questions, comments, recommendations, etc. I will also be reading widely this summer, so you’ll see my posts, comments, and recommendations as well.

After that, I included the guidelines and the dates that I would like them to post by. Their first post on Google Groups isn’t due until July 16th, but we’ve already had a conversation going about The Book Thief.  The picture below is a screenshot of that discussion (student names have been removed).

The Book Thief Convo

Sure, there are some writing rules we’ll need to address at the beginning of the school year, but this type of discussion excites me. This is what I see/hear happening in my classroom after I establish what a reading community is and get them excited about reading. If this sort of dialogue continues over the summer then I know we’ll have an even more successful school year. I want them to feel comfortable talking about books on the first day of school. Too many students enter my room intimidated by reading; it’s my hope that this will erase that intimidation factor.

In my assignment letter I also included the following resources to help them find books to read:

If you need help finding great books to read this summer consider using the following resources:

The first part of their summer homework assignment is to send me an introductory email. Many of them have mentioned books they enjoy and have asked for book suggestions. I love this part of the assignment because I get to see how well they write formal emails and–more importantly–I can start getting to know them. A few students have asked if it’s required that they read a certain number of books or if they are expected to read the books I specifically mentioned in the assignment. Their replies to those emails are full of relief at knowing they have the freedom to read what they want and as much as they want.

I’m looking forward to what the remainder of the summer brings.

Getting Caught Up: Spring Reading

I haven’t been keeping up with my book reviews, but I have been reading as much as I can. Now that I’m on summer break it should hopefully be easier to read more and blog more. I figured now is a good time to fill you all in on some of the books I read this spring.

I’m going to write brief reviews and am including the Goodreads link so you can see the summary.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley (Goodreads): Novels featuring war, soldiers, boot camps, and more have been really popular lately for obvious reasons. When I learned about Rites of Passage I was instantly intrigued because Sam McKenna is a girl joining a previously all male military school. As I’m sure you can imagine, Sam is faced with more than her fair share of conflicts. Because of this I was often mad, dismayed, and frustrated while listening. Sam’s a strong and independent character, however, so I completely admired her and how well she fought to overcome the many obstacles she faced. There’s also an element of romance in the story, which definitely had me swooning from time to time. Rites of Passage is going to be a big hit in my classroom next school year.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen (Goodreads): The first thing I need to mention, is that middle school libraries should consider adding Maya Van Wagenen’s memoir to their collections if they haven’t already. I always recommend reading a book first before adding it to a classroom or library, especially at the middle school level, but this memoir is set during Maya’s 8th grade year. She learns so much about self-esteem, friendships, family, and finding herself that readers of any age will relate. I haven’t bought a physical copy yet, but I will this summer so I can share this with my students next school year.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (Goodreads): I’m afraid to admit this: I couldn’t get into Throne of Glass. I met Sarah at a dinner during NCTE in the fall, though, and after talking to her I had a good feeling I was going to enjoy A Court of Thorns and Roses. I was not wrong! Feyre is fierce and intelligent. I loved that she goes after what she wants and that she’s so loyal and protective of her family. There is a heavy amount of romance in Maas’s first installment of this series; I found myself blushing as I read one particuarly steamy scene while reading during class. Fantasy lovers who are looking for more mature fantasy while still hanging out in the world of YA will thoroughly enjoy this. The imagery is lush, there’s plenty of action, and the story is engrossing. I can’t wait to read the second book!

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (Goodreads): It’s been at least a month since I finished reading this, and I still don’t know where to begin my review. I own all of Nova Ren Suma’s books, but this is the first I’ve read. Her writing is beautiful and vivid and really pulled me into the story. The story itself is so richly layered, I had to purposely slow down my pace so I could take it all in. Honestly, it’s a difficult book to explain without giving too much away. Readers who enjoy magical realism, mystery, and character driven novels will enjoy The Walls Around Us.

Students’ Thoughts About Book Covers

In 2012 I polled both my Young Adult Literature class and my freshmen classes to learn their opinions about book covers. The results were enlightening. During the spring one of my Facebook “memories that popped up was when I shared those posts; I had forgotten that I polled my students about that. I decided to poll my current freshmen to see what they think, especially if they feel similarly to my students from 2012.

I asked all of the same questions as I did in my previous poll. I also included the option for them to share which book covers they like and why. In 2012 I printed off a survey and passed it out to my students. This year I created a Google Form and linked it to my students’ Google Classroom page. Out of my 53 freshmen, 49 of them responded (12 boys and 37 girls).

I have graphic breakdowns for the first two questions and I’m including a variety of the responses to the remaining questions.

Book Cover Graphs

What color combination on a book cover draws your attention the most?

“I just need color schemes that represent the theme of the book, as long as it’s accurate I don’t care. For example, a book that has darker themes probably has a darker cover, and books with lighter themes have lighter colors. I would read both, but I like that it gives me an insight to how this book is going to go.”

 

“The color combination does not effect my thoughts on a book. To me it depends if the book grabs the readers attention.”

 

“A black and red combination, but I also read just black covers with drawings as well.”

 

“I’m drawn to really any colors, but some colors are green, puarple, and blue, anything that is attention grabbing as well.”

 

“Usually I am drawn to brighter colors on the cover of my books. I usually am attracted to them more because they stand out to me.”

 

“I feel color scheme needs to be related to the mood or the events that will take place within a book. The book needs a good combination that makes it pop out more than the other books around it. One color will not do the trick, unless that is what the book will be like. The cover has to represent the book as a whole, or otherwise I will not be able to get interested in it.”

 

“Opposite colors (Ex. Black and white, purple and yellow, etc.) or colors that compliment each other”

 

“Probably clashing colors, something that makes it stand out, such as the black and green cover for Liars Inc..”

 

“For me, I do not look for a specific color combination. If I like how the cover looks with that color combination I will check it out to see if I would like the book.”

 

“When looking for a book, I look for simple, white backgrounds with only a few notable words. I am drawn in by a clean look.”

 

Is font style and placement important to you? Explain.
“No, as long as I can read what it says”

 

“Yes. When an author’s name is bigger than the title, I will not read the book. If the font is curly and cute, I will assume that the book is sweet and romantic, so I will not read it. I guess I have a lot of expectations from my book covers.”

 

“Yes, if a title or author is in a spot or font where I cannot see nor read it, or blocks the cover in a certain way, that immediately says “DO NOT READ!” to me.”

 

“Not really. I will notice if I don’t like it, but it doesn’t really stop be from reading it.”

 

“Yes, because the font should fit the style of the book, and the placement helps add more reason for someone to want to read it, and tends to draw the reader in.”

 

“Yes, because if a book covers a dark topic, I don’t want them to have super “pretty” hand writing unless there is a god reason. For example, if a girl is writing a letter in the book, it is okay to have nice hand writing.”

 

“The font for me should match the tone of the book. For example, if it were a serious book then I would expect the font to e a sharped or jagged edge type of lettering, not a rounded font.”

 

“YES, I love it when there is a different font for the cover, and it helps show what the book can be about.”

 

“Font and style is very important to me because it should help show the mood of the book. Font and its style should be adding a great expression to the book or accent the feel of how the novel is.”

 

“I like certain fonts for the cover. I also like texture, which sounds weird. I love the matte book covers rather then the glossy covers.”

 

“Font is the most important, “despite the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” a font can tell you quite a lot about the book like weather or not its an intense horror book with jagged words or a love story with cursive.”

 

“Yes, its very important. It has to be an interesting font to catch my attention or else I will scan right over that book. I also really don’t like it when the Authors name is bigger than the title because I feel it takes away from the book title/cover.”

 

Would you feel comfortable reading a book w/a gender-specific feel to it? (Guys reading a book w/a “girly” cover.)
**Note: In every class we have the conversation about books being for every reader, not just certain genders.**

 

“Yes because I think that either gender can read any type of book if it interests them.”

 

“no”

 

“Yes, because it doesn’t really matter about the gender or cover. If the book sounds good and is good and you like it, then it’s fine.”

 

“Totally. It should not matter who the targeted audience was. Maybe that person wants to see life from another point of view…I think it’s completely acceptable, and there should be no bias against it.”

 

“Yes, I do feel comfortable reading a book with a gender specific feel to it because some of my favorite books have male characters on the cover, and is even about a guy.”

 

“Yes, one of my favorite books has a more of guy-ish feel when you see the cover. (Divergent)”

 

“I personally don’t care because I will read any book if it interests me, whether it’s meant to be a “guy” book or a “girl” book. However I do think that a lot of guys care a lot more, so I wish that book covers weren’t as gender specific as they are.”

 

“Yes, it does not bother me. A book is a book, as long as it is good it would not matter to me.”

 

“I prefer a guy feel and protagonist because it is more relatable, but I’m fine with both.”

 

“I don’t mind reading books with the opposite gender, Like Winger, I like see how they feel about things.”

 

“I feel like for girls it’s not as big of a deal because guy books don’t really seem like they are just for guys. But for some reason people think its “weird” and “gay” for guys to want to read a girly or romance book”

“Yes, I am a girl though and girls usually don’t have a problem with reading “guy books”. I don’t think there is a such thing as a book that only one gender should read, because everyone understands different things and can relate to different things.”

“I don’t think there is such a thing. Girls and guys should be able to read any books that they find interesting.”

 

“Yes, I like when books are directed to just girls or just boys. It makes it easier to relate to the book when it is directed to your own gender.”

 

“nah, I stick to mostly to masculine type of books”

 

“Yes. I have read books of all sorts. I do not believe in “gender specific books” I believe in reading what YOU want to read. If I were to pick up a “manly” book and it wasn’t good, then I wouldn’t read it. But the quality of the book is what matters. Not the gender specific aspect of it.”

 

“I feel semi-comfortable reading a gender specific (girly) book, but the real deciding factor at that point is how good the book is.”

 

“No. Books are books. Do we really need to gender stereotype our literature?”

 

“I don’t mind reading books from diverse points of view. If I only read books from one point of view, I would probably be out of books to read by now.”

 

Do you prefer to see the character’s “face” or would you rather imagine the character on your own?

 

“Imagine the characters face and having it not be on the cover.”

 

“I like to imagine the character on my own.”

 

“I absolutely hate seeing the characters because I prefer to visually people, not be given a picture of what they look like, leave that up to the description. Objects and symbols provide a better clue into what the book may be about than a “face” would. Objects also make a story seem more authentic and original, rather than “oh look, a person…hmm””

 

“It really does not matter to me because I end up making my own Image of a character anyway, although a picture may influence my mental image,”

 

“I prefer both, sometimes when I’m having a tough time imagining the character, I look at the cover, but other times, I prefer to think up what the character looks like.”

 

“I would rather form my own opinion from the story and imagine it on my own.”

 

“I would prefer to imagine the “face” on my own because I feel like the sky’s the limit for book characters. I can imagine how I would want the character to look if it were me writing the novel.”

 

“I like seeing the characters face because if I read a book and someone is described, I always imagine someone I know. Sometimes I don’t like that because it confuses me with thinking, “oh well so and so wouldn’t do that” but then at other times I do, because after the book ends I think of what that person would do.”

 

“I like to imagine my own characters because I like to put myself into the situation as the characters”

 

“I like to imagine my own characters, especially if it gets turned into a movie and the actor/actress doesn’t look like the cover model.”

 

“I like for the author to describe the characters, but I don’t care for pictures.”

 

“I don’t have a preference, because I don’t pay attention to the models on the book when I imagine the characters.”

 

“I would rather leave the imagination to the reader because I am a fan of letting the reader piece parts of the story together on their own”

 

If possible, please provide some examples of book covers that you like and why.
The 5th Wave“The Fifth Wave, because it has colors that contrast with each other, but it didn’t slam it in your face. I also like how they don’t show what the character looks like. That way I can imagine her the way I want. Revived by Cat Patrick, was an amazing book, and had an awesome cover. It had a model on the cover which I don’t normally like, but for this one it covered a lot of her face with the blue paper so it turned out perfect”

 

“One that I can think of is “Out of My Mind”. It’s a fish jumping out of it’s bowl. not only is it attention grabbing and thought provoking, but when we read the story, it encompassed the main idea of the book theme wise and it was an actual occurrence in the book.”

 

“I like Sarah Dessen covers because some are bright and fun, when the more somber novels still are exciting to draw you in.”

 

Between Shades of Gray“I like Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys because the cover is simple with light colors, but has a pop of color with the leaf which attracted me to it. I also like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Sekret by Lindsay Smith because the background is really interesting and the titles are written in an unusual font which makes them unique.”

 

“I really liked the cover Also Known As by Robin Beckman because it has models who are representing the character and the color is intriguing. I also really like the cover of Gabi a Girl in Pieces cause the Orange is very bright.”

 

“But I Love Him By: Amanda Grace – This cover has the project that the main character is working on throughout the book. This helps the reader imagine something that’s very hard to explain threw words.”

 

“I like the book covers: 1.Moonglass- because it shows a beachy, mysterious and intriguing theme. 2.Hunger Games- because you can tell that there is something that occurs in the novel that the main character is involved in.”

 

“13 Reasons why- I like the cover of this book because obviously it’s the character that died on the front (Hannah Baker) and then when you open up the cover, it’s a map Hannah left Clay after she died so you can follow along in the story and see where Clay goes around his town.”

 

All the Rage“All the Rage- Because 1.)its creepy 2.)It’s got a blurred image of the character so you’ve got an IDEA of what she looks like, but nothing for certain and 3.) Because the font isn’t all the same, some have little cracks in them, i think the cracks add character to the cover and hints into the plot of the story.”

 

“Catching Jordan- I really like it because it is foreshadowing that football is going to be a big part of the book.”

 

“The book cover of brutal youth by Anthony Breznican is one of my favorites. It’s simple, classy, but at the same time sends a message that this is a book with serious issues.”

 

“Liars Inc., the colors clash well, and picture provides an eerie feeling”

 

“I Am Not A Serial Killer’s cover because of the striking font. Also the cover of Gone because it is dark and has lots of black with green which comes across as dangerous and mysterious.”

 

“I LOVE the original book cover for ‘The Book Thief.’ It was the one where Liesel was dancing with death in the black coat. I felt like it represented the novel without being horribly cliché, which is something that gets old when you see a thousand books of cute girls in dresses in fields kissing some boy. The cover for ‘The Book Thief’ was original and interesting.”

 

“I really like the cover of It’s Kind Of a Funny Story because it is very interesting and shows the book in a very cool way without showing a character.”

 

Every Day“Everyday: The color scheme (tan, black, white) of the book depicts the story very well along with the floating bodies that A could inhabit.”

 

“I like the cover of “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” because it looks so mysterious and interesting”

 

“I liked the cover of Panic by Lauren Oliver. You do see the face of the main character, but it has a mysterious tone to it.”

 

“Things We Know by Heart because the hearts on the cover goes from a real human heart to a drawing of a heart.”

 

“I like the book cover Paper Towns with the pin and map, because in the book there is a part to the cover. I liked this book called 100 Cupboards, because the cover shows the different kinds of cupboards that the book talks about. Also, The Book Thief, with the dominos, because this isn’t in the book, but it has a meaning to the story, that yo can connect yourself at the end of the story.”

 

“I liked to covers of Grasshopper Jungle (the newer not plain green one), Winger, High and Dry, and Freefall.”

 

 

Book Trailer Thursday (171)–Keepers of the Labyrinth by Erin E. Moulton

Book Trailer Thursday

Many of my reader friends are fans of mythology and action/adventure, so I’m surprised Keepers of the Labyrinth by Erin E. Moulton isn’t on more to-read lists. It releases on August 25th, so it’s my plan to try and read it before schools starts I can book talk it to my students.

Keepers of the LabyrinthSummary (From Goodreads):

Courage is tested, myths come to life, and long-held secrets are revealed

Lilith Bennette runs at midnight. She scales walls in the dark and climbs without a harness. She hopes that if she follows exactly in the steps of her strong air force pilot mother, she’ll somehow figure out the mystery of her mother’s death—and the reason why her necklace of Greek symbols has been missing ever since.

So when Lil is invited to Crete for a Future Leaders International conference, the same conference her mom attended years ago, she jumps at the chance to find some answers. But things in Melios Manor are not what they seem. Lil finds herself ensnared in an adventure of mythological proportions that leads her and her friends through the very labyrinth in which the real Minotaur was imprisoned. And they’re not in there alone. What secrets does the labyrinth hold, and will they help Lil find the truth about her mother?

This book is perfect for older fans of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the Heroes of Olympus–and anyone who wants to find out the true story behind the magic of the Greek gods.

Blog Tour + Giveaway: Students Want to Know Katie M. Stout, Author of Hello, I Love You

Katie M. Stout’s debut Hello, I Love You has been on my radar for a while now, so I was overjoyed when St. Martin’s Griffin asked me to join her blog tour. The cover, the concept, and the setting drew my students in right away when I asked them if they wanted to participate in an interview with Katie.

Also, how cool is it that Katie created a Spotify playlist for Hello, I Love You?!

Stout, Katie_CREDIT Brenna B Photography

Katie’s Social Media

Goodreads
Website
Twitter
Tumblr
Pinterest

Hello, I Love YouAbout The Book (From the publisher)

Grace Wilde is running—from the multi-million dollar mansion her record producer father bought, the famous older brother who’s topped the country music charts five years in a row, and the mother who blames her for her brother’s breakdown. Grace escapes to the farthest place from home she can think of, a boarding school in Korea, hoping for a fresh start.

She wants nothing to do with music, but when her roommate Sophie’s twin brother Jason turns out to be the newest Korean pop music superstar, Grace is thrust back into the world of fame. She can’t stand Jason, whose celebrity status is only outmatched by his oversized ego, but they form a tenuous alliance for the sake of her friendship with Sophie. As the months go by and Grace adjusts to her new life in Korea, even she can’t deny the sparks flying between her and the KPOP idol.

Soon, Grace realizes that her feelings for Jason threaten her promise to herself that she’ll leave behind the music industry that destroyed her family. But can Grace ignore her attraction to Jason and her undeniable pull of the music she was born to write? Sweet, fun, and romantic, this young adult novel explores what it means to experience first love and discover who you really are in the process.

Student Questions:

Ashley asks:

Why did you choose Korea as a setting and not another country? Is Korea significant to you?
I chose Korea because I wanted to write about Korean pop music. That seemed the obvious choice. :)

What are some of your favorite YA novels?
I’ve got a ton of favorites, but I’d have to say some of my all-time favorites are…
1.  Lunar Chronicles series, by Marissa Meyer
2. The 5th Wave series, by Rick Yancey
3. Shatter Me series, by Tahereh Mafi
4. Curse Workers series, by Holly Black
5. River of Time series, by Lisa T. Bergren

 Hannah asks:

How long did you have the idea for Hello, I Love You before you started writing it?
Considering I wrote the rough draft of the book nearly four years ago, this is going to be a guess…

But I remember thinking about it a while. I was working on another project at the time, a YA paranormal (it was hot at the time), but I got too distracted by this new idea. Glad I let myself switch to the new idea!

How long did it take to write this and get it published?
I think I just answered that. Hah! It was a long journey, with many rounds of edits. I was told many times by many people that YA wasn’t ready for a book about KPOP. I had one particularly lovely agent say she loved the book and wanted to offer representation, but she had no idea how to sell it and therefore had to pass. I’m still really grateful for both my agent and my editor, who took a chance on the book!

About The Author

Katie M. Stout is from Atlanta, Georgia, and works for an international charity that sends her to fun places like Spain and Singapore. When she’s not writing, you can find her drinking an unhealthy amount of chai tea and listening to Girls’ Generation, Teen Top, and all her other favorite K-pop tunes.

Buy Links

Amazon
B&N
Books-A-Million
IndieBound
iBooks

Giveaway Details:

One copy available for US & Canada entrants only
Giveaway provided by the publisher
Leave a comment to enter
Only one comment per entrant
Giveaway open until 6/17/15
Winner will be emailed/tweeted
Feel free to spread the giveaway love! :)

Book Trailer Thursday (170)–The Witch Hunter by Victoria Boecker

Book Trailer Thursday

The Witch Hunter by Victoria Boecker slipped past my radar until I went searching for a book trailer to post today. I’m glad I found it, however, because it has a really intriguing summary and trailer. I especially love the music playing at the end of the trailer. Since it’s being compared to Game of Thrones, maybe I’ll read Boecker’s debut when GoT ends this month and I need something to help me hang on to the show for just a little while longer.

The Witch HunterSummary (From Goodreads):

The magic and suspense of Graceling meet the political intrigue and unrest of Game of Thrones in this riveting fantasy debut.

Your greatest enemy isn’t what you fight, but what you fear.

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king’s best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. But when she’s accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.

Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can break the deadly curse that’s been laid upon him.

But Nicholas and his followers know nothing of Elizabeth’s witch hunting past–if they find out, the stake will be the least of her worries. And as she’s thrust into the magical world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and one all-too-handsome healer, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.

Virginia Boecker weaves a riveting tale of magic, betrayal, and sacrifice in this unforgettable fantasy debut.

Waiting on Wednesday–This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

wow

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

I already have almost 200 books on my 2015 release Goodreads shelf, but I wanted to add more so I started perusing NetGalley and came across today’s WoW pick. The bright cover grabbed my attention first and then the summary solidified the deal. I REALLY want to read This Raging Light by Estelle Laure. My students next school year will adore this book.

This Raging LightTitle & Author: This Raging Light by Estell Laure

Release Date: December 22, 2015

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary (From Goodreads):

“A funny, poetic, big-hearted reminder that life can—and will—take us all by surprise.”—Jennifer E. Smith, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight  Can the best thing happen at the worst time?  Her dad went crazy. Her mom left town. She has bills to pay and a little sister to look after. Now is not the time for level-headed seventeen-year-old Lucille to fall in love. But love—messy, inconvenient love—is what she’s about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend’s brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure’s soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.

Audiobook Review: 99 Days by Katie Cotugno

Audio Review

99 DaysTitle: 99 Days

Author: Katie Cotugno

Narrator: Allyson Ryan

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: April 21st, 2015

Interest: Contemp

Source: eARC received from the publisher / audio received via Scribd

Summary (From Goodreads):

Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything—how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe. How I wrecked their whole family. Now I’m serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college, and be done.

Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn’t finished. I’m expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it’s just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me. “For what it’s worth, Molly Barlow,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”

Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party, and I’m actually having fun. I think he’s about to kiss me—and that’s when I see Patrick. My Patrick, who’s supposed to be clear across the country. My Patrick, who’s never going to forgive me.

Audiobook Review: I decided to read 99 Days via audio despite having the eARC mostly because of how much easier it is for me to listen to audiobooks at this stage in my life. I’m trying to keep up with blog tour reading requests and my own personal reading desires, so sometimes I’ll take the easiest route and experience a book via audio. Also, I’ve recently been contacted by Scribd to give their platform a free one month trial and figured, why not? Katie Cotugno’s book was right there and I’ve been wanting to read it. The stars aligned and I made it happen.

At first I wasn’t quite sure about Allyson Ryan as the narrator. She doesn’t really sound like a teenager to me and sometimes her voice went a little flat, but somehow that worked for Molly’s character. Molly is sometimes a tough character to like so it worked for me that I didn’t always like Ryan’s voice. A number of people have abandoned this book because of the content and characters, so I think those readers should give the audio a try. It’s not my favorite audiobook because of the narrator, but I enjoyed the story itself.

Book Review: Like I said, 99 Days has been receiving a lot of criticism, mostly because the story features characters who cheat on one another. Honestly, I don’t think those reviewers are being fair. I 100% understand being against cheating, but I think we have to recognize and remember that even though it’s ugly and messy, it happens more often than we’d like it to. For that reason, I think Katie Cotugno deserves more credit for writing this book. She could have written another story about a guy or a girl getting cheated on, but instead she wrote it from the point of view of the person being unfaithful. This is a young adult novel and young adults are going to connect with Molly, Patrick, and Gabe for one reason or another. Every reader deserves to find her or himself in a book even if that book contains subject matter that some readers don’t like.

Do the characters in this novel make poor choices? Yes. Do they make poor choices over and over again? Yes. For me, this heightened the story and made those characters stand out on the page. I like flawed characters; they’re interesting and engaging. So many times I cringed over Molly’s decisions, but I also recognized that she’s just finished college and is at an age when she’s going to make mistakes. I think one of the best parts about her story is that she learned from those mistakes. Her entire summer was about figuring out who she is and how and who to love. She needed to figure out how to make friends and how to trust her mother again. She needed to figure out what she wants out of college. Molly figured out much of those problems, but it wasn’t a neat and tidy process that resulted in a gift with a big fat bow. She stumbled, she lost friends, and she learned some important lessons about life and relationships.

Personally, I couldn’t stand Patrick for most of the book and could not understand Molly’s attraction to him. Gabe has a little more going for him, but even he didn’t always seem right for Molly. Molly struck me as an insecure teen trying to find her way and in need of positive attention. I know teens like Molly and I know they’ll appreciate what Katie Cotugno wrote.

I do, however, like Molly’s close friend Imogen. She’s the type of friend I think most people desire because she’s loyal and honest.  She stands by Molly and sticks up for her as Molly endures endless slut-shaming, but she also calls Molly out when she thinks she’s making a huge mistake. People need friends like that in their lives because they keep us balanced. I’m glad Cotugno wrote Imogen’s character the way she did.

Another element to the story I enjoyed is the summer atmosphere. I can’t wait for summer and warm weather and reading on my deck, so listening to 99 Days while I drove to work in the morning literally brightened my day. It felt like summer while I read this even though the temps weren’t quite summer-ish.

Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

Things We Know By HeartTitle: Things We Know by Heart

Author: Jessi Kirby

Publisher: HarperTeen

Release Date: April 21st, 2015

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: eARC from the publisher / Purchased hardcover

Summary (From Goodreads):

When Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.

After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.

Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn’t want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they’re connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.

Jessi Kirby is hands down one of my favorite authors of realistic fiction. Every one of her books pulls at my heart strings and Things We Know by Heart is no exception. I literally cried within the first two pages.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the inclusion of different quotes relating to hearts at the beginning of each chapter. Some of the quotes are profound, many are scientific, and others are dealing with love. I especially appreciated how each quote specifically connects with events in the chapter it begins. Unfortunately I didn’t mark some of my favorite quotes like I now wish I would have.

I also really liked Quinn and Colton; they’re simply incredibly likable characters. Sometimes books dealing with the loss of a loved one will feature characters trapped in the past, but Quinn isn’t like that. She’s understandably afraid to move on from Trent, but she shows growth and allows herself to let go and try new things when she’s with Colton. Both characters shine when they’re with each other and I couldn’t help but fall for both of them.

There were times when I was uncomfortable and tense while reading Things We Know by Heart, but that’s natural considering the plot. Quinn already knows Colton before actually knowing him. She’s at an unfair advantage in the relationship and as a reader I kept waiting for the moment when that would come to light. So of course parts of the story are predictable, but that never drew away from my complete and utter engagement and enjoyment. I rooted for Quinn and Colton the entire time I read this book, especially as I stayed up until close to midnight on a school night so I could finish reading their story. I may have even shed some tears as I read the last 10-15% of the novel.

Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby made my heart swell. It’s one of my favorite books of 2015; I hope you’ll read it soon if you haven’t already.

Students Want to Know Jennifer Banash, author of Silent Alarm

Jennifer Banash is the author of The Elite, White Lines, and the recently published novel Silent Alarm. Thanks to Jennifer and Penguin, some of my students were afforded the opportunity to read ARCs of Silent Alarm and ask Jennifer questions about the book.


Jennifer Banash 2

 

Jennifer Banash’s website
Follow Jennifer on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

 

Silent AlarmSummary (From Goodreads):
Alys’s whole world was comprised of the history project that was due, her upcoming violin audition, being held tightly in the arms of her boyfriend, Ben, and laughing with her best friend, Delilah. At least it was—until she found herself on the wrong end of a shotgun in the school library. Her suburban high school had become one of those places you hear about on the news—a place where some disaffected youth decided to end it all and take as many of his teachers and classmates with him as he could. Except, in this story, that youth was Alys’s own brother, Luke. He killed fifteen others and himself, but spared her—though she’ll never know why.
 
Alys’s downward spiral begins instantly, and there seems to be no bottom. A heartbreaking and beautifully told story.

 

 

My students Hannah and Rachel asked the following questions:

 

What inspired you to write a book revolving around a school shooting?
Well, I’m a high school teacher, and while school shootings aren’t something I’ve experienced first hand, thank goodness, they are something I think about more and more these days as they’re happening much more frequently. I’d also been reading news articles about shootings at the time I had the idea to write the book, and one of them mentioned that the shooter in that particular case had a younger sister. I started imagining what things were like for her, and Silent Alarm was born!

 

Why did you decide to write about the sister’s recovery instead of the events of the shooting?
I felt that so many books and films had already covered shootings themselves, so I wasn’t particularly interested in exploring them further or telling the story from the gunman’s perspective. I wanted to write about the people who are also victims in these kinds of events–the families who are left behind to clean up the mess.

 

Would you consider writing a book about the events leading up to and including the shooting in the perspective of Luke? 
Actually, I wouldn’t. It’s Alys’ book, and I feel like by the end of the novel, both she–and Luke–achieve some kind of closure, or are on their way towards it. To me, at least, I feel like the story is finished, The point of the book is that sometimes there are no concrete answers when tragedies like these happen–there are no easy answers at all. And going back in time and retracing Luke’s last days wouldn’t really provide them either. What happens to Luke occurs over the course of many years–not days.
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