Review: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Open Road SummerTitle: Open Road Summer

Author: Emery Lord

Publisher: Walker Childrens

Release Date: April 15th, 2014

Interest: Contemporary / Debut Author

Source: Finished copy received from the author

Summary (From Goodreads):

After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

I originally received a copy of Open Road Summer when I was at NCTE in Boston. I added it to my classroom library before I read it because I knew my girls in class would probably love it, so I figured I’d read it over the summer. Sadly my ARC went missing during the school year and I never found it. After tweeting about this, Emery Lord saw my tweet and offered to be a “book fairy” and replace my missing copy. I’m thankful she did for multiple reasons, one of them being because it gave me the opportunity to read a truly enjoyable book!

I have absolutely nothing against reading edgy YA, but sometimes it’s nice to read something light and sweet. Open Road Summer isn’t without its true to life conflicts, but it’s not a book that kept me on edge. Lord has written a book that I’ll feel very comfortable offering to both my incoming freshmen *and* my seniors; it will easily appeal to both grade levels. It’s not uncommon to start a school year with “young” freshmen who may not be ready for a heavy romance filled with conflict. Open Road Summer will work well for those students who want to read about love and summer and friendship. My seniors are a different story. They also like to read about love and summer and friendship, but they generally have more life experience and will appreciate Reagan’s history. (Please keep in mind that these are generalizations and don’t apply to all freshmen or all seniors.)

Speaking of Reagan, I’m glad Emery Lord chose to write this from her point of view. I love how protective and loyal she is to Dee (only people who know Lilah really well call her that) and how much she’s trying to move on from her past. Another thing I enjoyed about her character is that she reminded me of some of my friends, but I could also see myself in her. She’s a well-rounded character. On the outside Reagan is fierce and protective of those she loves, but underneath it all she’s vulnerable and hesitant to let anyone in. She makes mistakes and learns from them. I would, for the record, absolutely love to read stories from Dee’s and Matt’s points of view because they are both genuine and fun characters with interesting lives.

Once I finished reading this and gave it my rating on Goodreads, one of my followers on the site asked me if it’s really worth reading and how the music scene was portrayed. First of all, I absolutely think it’s worth reading. Emery Lord is an author that I’ll be keeping an eye on so I can read more of her books. I thought the question about the music scene was an interesting one because I honestly hadn’t considered it. Dee works hard to maintain a wholesome image because that’s who she really is and she wants to be a positive role model. She faces unfortunate drama and rumors because of the paparazzi, but other than that the drama she deals with mostly has to do with her personal relationships. It’s another reason why I think my more innocent readers will appreciate Emery Lord’s debut.

Book Trailer Thursday (152)–Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

I haven’t read Free to Fall by Lauren Miller yet, but I like the concept of this new dystopian/sci-fi novel. The book trailer is simple, but I can imagine my students will have a lot to say just from watching it. It will be interesting to hear what they think once some of them read the novel.

Free to FallSummary (From Goodreads):

What if there was an app that told you what song to listen to, what coffee to order, who to date, even what to do with your life—an app that could ensure your complete and utter happiness? What if you never had to fail or make a wrong choice?

What if you never had to fall?

Fast-forward to a time when Apple and Google have been replaced by Gnosis, a monolith corporation that has developed the most life-changing technology to ever hit the market: Lux, an app that flawlessly optimizes decision making for the best personal results. Just like everyone else, sixteen-year-old Rory Vaughn knows the key to a happy, healthy life is following what Lux recommends. When she’s accepted to the elite boarding school Theden Academy, her future happiness seems all the more assured. But once on campus, something feels wrong beneath the polished surface of her prestigious dream school. Then she meets North, a handsome townie who doesn’t use Lux, and begins to fall for him and his outsider way of life. Soon, Rory is going against Lux’s recommendations, listening instead to the inner voice that everyone has been taught to ignore — a choice that leads her to uncover a truth neither she nor the world ever saw coming.

Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever AfterTitle: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Author: Stephanie Perkins

Publisher: Dutton

Release Date: August 14th, 2014

Interest: Series / Author

Source: ARC received from a friend (Thank you, Lea!)

Summary (From Goodreads):

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins is going to receive a ton of well-deserved hype, so I’m going to try and keep this review simple. Basically, I LOVED it. I felt like I was waiting forever to finally read it and it was worth the wait.

I adore Stephanie Perkins’s writing and how she crafts stories that combine romance and self-discovery. Isla and the Happily Ever After balanced this perfectly. I really liked reading about Isla and Josh’s budding relationship and about Isla trying to learn what she wants to do with her life after high school. Like so many high school students, Isla doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do with her life. Trying to decide which college to attend and what to do after high school are major conflicts for plenty of high school students whether they’re in a relationship or not. Stephanie Perkins wrote a real love story with real conflicts.

In high school I felt pretty confident about what I wanted to do as a career and where I wanted to attend college, but I really connected with Isla in other ways. As I was reading I could identify with how she felt about relationships and the ways she reacted to things. Her character really came alive on the page for me. I let one of my former students borrow my ARC before she leaves for college for the school year and she told me she felt really similar to Isla as well. I have a feeling I’ll have quite a few “Islas” in my classroom this year and beyond.

If you haven’t read any of Stephanie Perkins’s books, I highly recommend that you do. You don’t necessarily have to read them in order, but it helps if you do simply because you’ll avoid tiny spoilers. Or in Isla and the Happily Ever After’s case, kind of a big and ohsocool spoiler. And that’s all I’ll say about that :)

Review: The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

The Murder ComplexTitle: The Murder Complex

Author: Lindsay Cummings

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Release Date: June 10th, 2014

Interest: Dystopian / Sci-fi / Debut author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

An action-packed, blood-soaked, futuristic debut thriller set in a world where the murder rate is higher than the birthrate. For fans of Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, La Femme Nikita, and the movie Hanna.

Meadow Woodson, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father to fight, to kill, and to survive in any situation, lives with her family on a houseboat in Florida. The state is controlled by The Murder Complex, an organization that tracks the population with precision.

The plot starts to thicken when Meadow meets Zephyr James, who is—although he doesn’t know it—one of the MC’s programmed assassins. Is their meeting a coincidence? Destiny? Or part of a terrifying strategy? And will Zephyr keep Meadow from discovering the haunting truth about her family?

It’s been a while since I’ve read a dystopian/sci-fi novel, so when I was at Barnes & Noble I decided to buy The Murder Complex. I’m happy with my purchase because I know it will be a hit with my students, especially those who like The Hunger Games, Legend, Blood Red Road, Divergent, and the like.

Before I get into how Lindsay Cumming’s debut will appeal to fans of other popular dystopian/sci-fi novels, I need to go over a couple areas. First, I like that we read this story from both Meadow’s and Zephyr’s points of view. I do hope, however, that in the second book their voices are more distinct. I only knew who was speaking based on the chapter headings, their situations, and when Zephyr would use words like “flux” and “skitz” to swear. It was nice understanding more of the world and story since we can read from both points of view, but I didn’t feel a connection to either character. I didn’t really worry about them or care for them like I have for characters in other novels. The constant action and mystery kept me reading more than the characters did.

The setting and the concept, however, are interesting and what sets this book apart from the rest. I can’t go into too much detail here without giving away major plot points though. I’d like to learn more about it in the second book . Hopefully these two pieces along with the character development and voices will be stronger.

It’s difficult to find a dystopian novel now that hasn’t been influenced by the major players published before it. Sometimes that turns me off more than other times when I’m reading, but this time around I appreciated it simply because I can tell The Murder Complex has been influenced by so many of my students’ favorites. It will help me lead them to another series once they finish one or while they’re waiting for a book in a different series. I’m going to break the comparisons down by book for this part of my review.

The Murder Complex and Legend by Marie Lu:

  • The first big comparison is that in both books we’re reading two different point of views. Also, we’re reading a male and female POV in each book which adds additional appeal to readers.
  • The second big comparison is that the main characters in both books should be at odds with one another for various reasons but they’re drawn together. I like the relationship between Day and June in Legend much more than the relationship between Zephyr and Meadow. Zephyr and Meadow have insta-love and I still don’t understand why. I do like, however, that their relationship doesn’t dominate the story. Readers looking for a book without a lot of romance will appreciate that.
  • Meadow is strong and devoted to her family just like June is.
  • I think The Murder Complex is more similar to Legend than any of the other books I’m going to compare it to.

The Murder Complex and Blood Red Road by Moira Young:

  • The strongest comparison to this book is that Meadow and Saba could cause some serious damage to their enemies if they ever paired up in a book. They are fierce.
  • The settings in both books are stark and dangerous.

The Murder Complex and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Young:

  • Meadow is extremely protective of her little sister Peri just like Katniss is protective of her little sister Prim. They’re even both named after plants (or names connected with nature).
  • Zephyr has been drawn to Meadow longer than Meadow knows, much like Peeta and Katniss.
  • Meadow doesn’t want to be involved in this conflict, much like Katniss doesn’t want to be involved in the Hunger Games. It boils down to both protecting their families and doing what they feel is inherently right.

Hopefully these comparisons will help you connect Lindsay Cummings’ debut with readers. If you want to recommend this book to a middle school student, however, I suggest reading it first. There are a number of bloody and violent scenes that don’t go beyond YA, but they may upset sensitive readers.

Book Trailer Thursday (151)–Rumble by Ellen Hopkins

Book Trailer Thursday

Every school year one of my bookcases has a very large gap of missing books. The missing books are all written by Ellen Hopkins. I might see them from time to time as they get turned in, but it’s usually for a very short period of time before another student borrows the returned book. I know my students will expect me to have Rumble this school year, just like I know I’ll rarely see it sitting on the shelf again until the end of the school year.

I’m looking forward to reading my students’ reactions to the book trailer. I’m also looking forward to reading this, especially after Ellen read an excerpt from it during her Ann Arbor book signing last fall.

P.S. I LOVE this cover!

RumbleSummary (From Goodreads):

Eighteen-year-old Matthew Turner doesn’t believe in much. Not in family—his is a shambles, after his brother’s suicide. Not in so-called friends who turn their backs when the going gets rough. Certainly not in some omnipotent master of heaven and earth, no matter what his girlfriend, Hayden, thinks. In fact, he’s sick of arguing with her about faith. Matt is a devout atheist, unafraid of some Judgment Day designed by decidedly human power brokers to keep the masses in check. He works hard, plays hard, and plans on checking out the same way. But a horrific accident—one of his own making—plunges Matt into a dark, silent place where the only thing he can hear is a rumble, and eventually, a voice. And what it says will call everything Matt has ever disbelieved into question.

Book Trailer Thursday (150)–Conversion by Katherine Howe

Book Trailer Thursday

So it’s been two months since I’ve written a Book Trailer Thursday post. Sorry, all! I do have what I think is an interesting trailer/book featured today. I like the idea of pairing Conversion by Katherine Howe with The Crucible, although I’ll have to read it first and see just how well it parallels the play. Either way, this book has my attention.

ConversionSummary (From Goodreads):

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane comes a chilling mystery—Prepmeets The Crucible. 
 
It’s senior year at St. Joan’s Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian, deciphering boys’ texts: Through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can’t.
 
First it’s the school’s queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan’s buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.
 
Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen—who’s been reading The Crucible for extra credit—comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago . . .
 
Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school—Conversion casts a spell. With her signature wit and passion, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe delivers an exciting and suspenseful novel, a chilling mystery that raises the question, what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?

YA Lit 101 Version 2.0

Last summer my friend Cindy (of Nerdy Book Club & Charting by the Stars) and I launched YA Lit 101 as a sort of summer PD designed to introduce teachers and librarians to different genres in YA. It was a really fun experience and after receiving some emails from participants asking if we plan on doing it again, we decided to relaunch YA Lit 101 with a twist.

Our focus this year opens up the participation to anyone who’s interested in reading and discussing YA. So if you’re neither a teacher nor a librarian, but you have a vested interest in reading YA, I strongly suggest you check out what Cindy and I are doing with version 2.0. We’re incredibly excited about the changes we’re making and hope to have more participants than we did last year. I hope to see you over at YA Lit 101!

Check out YA Lit 101 version 2.0 here to find out more. :)

Books That Are a Breath of Fresh Air

I’m 33 weeks into my pregnancy, so I’m entering the lovely stage where I’m uncomfortable all the time and am finding it difficult to breathe. I was sitting on the couch reading my book, taking yet another deep breath, and thought, “I should write a post about books that are a breath of fresh air.” Since I’m often winded, I think it’s fitting ;)

I’ve included these books for a variety of reasons. I considered the way topics were approached, the way characters are written, the way authors deviated from the norm, etc. Which books would you add to this list?

Winger by Andrew Smith–Ryan Dean’s story was the first book I thought of because of how Andrew Smith wrote him. I’ve taught quite a few fourteen-year-old boys over the past seven years. Ryan Dean is written exactly like a fourteen-year-old boy and I love that. Too often characters are written with adult voices and that’s not the case for Ryan. I think it’s one of the many reasons why Winger has been such a hit with both my underclassmen and upperclassmen.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White–Paranormal YA is nothing new and Kiersten White’s debut has been out since 2010, but I still think it’s a nice change from the typical paranormal fare. Evie, the main character, isn’t busy pining away over some guy in her biology class. She’s working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency and prides herself on doing her job well. She’s pretty and girly and there is a love angle to the story, but it’s also funny and witty and original.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray–I’m more than halfway through the audio and can’t begin to explain how much I love this book. I’m purposely taking my time listening to it because it’s that good. And honestly, I could go on and on about why this book is such a breath of fresh air. The satire is spot on. The list of big issues being tackled in a very smart way is impressive. It’s simply a great book.

Party by Tom Leveen–By no fault of their own, teenagers are very self-centered. Yes, they think about others and do amazing things for others, but much of being a teenager is about figuring out who you are and worrying about yourself. The reason I say this, and I don’t mean any of that in a negative way, is because I don’t think a teen will necessarily think about every single person at a party (or in a classroom) and what their individual story is. Or how stories and paths might cross. Tom Leveen addresses this in Party. We are taken to a party and see that party through the eyes of eleven characters. We see how their paths cross and what’s really going on with each individual. It’s eye-opening for many of my students and has made them think more about others and what other people are going through.

I Know It’s Over by C.K. Kelly Martin–There are plenty of YA books that deal with teen pregnancy, but not many that I  know of–other than Jumping Off Swings and Living With Jackie Chan–that are told from the father’s perspective. I had mixed feelings overall about this book, but it was still refreshing to read about how Nick deals with the unsettling news that his ex-girlfriend is pregnant and what she plans to do about it. This is also a book that I’ve had to replace every year since I originally bought it three years ago.

But I Love Him by Amanda Grace–Another common story told in YA is about abusive relationships. When my students read books about that they often tell me when they would leave and how they would never put up with a relationship like that. I’m always happy to hear that, but I also know from other students that it’s not always that simple. What I love about this book is that it isn’t told in chronological order. Because of this, there isn’t an easy spot for a reader to say, “I would have left him then.” It’s given a number of my students pause after reading it.

Every Day by David Levithan–I don’t know if I really need to explain why I’m including this book. I haven’t read anything else like it which makes it really difficult to help my students find a new book to read when they finish this and want something else like it.

My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi–Jessica Verdi’s debut made the list because of the topic she wrote about. For some this may be a spoiler, but like I stated in my review, I think it will draw in more readers if you know what the character’s dilemma is. Lucy, the main character, contracts HIV. I haven’t read or heard of any other YA novels that feature a character getting or living with HIV, so that’s why I included this title.

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon–Cancer books. There are SO MANY. And they often make a reader ugly cry which is one of the reasons I typically avoid them. This is not that book. Hollis Seamon’s debut made me snort with laughter and look at hospice and cancer in a very different way. One of my seniors read this and told me that he felt guilty for laughing so much. I laughed quite a few times, although a few scenes invoked tears. But would else is there to expect from a book about a teen who has terminal cancer?

nErDcampMI

I went to nErDcampMI on Tuesday, it’s Friday Monday (Yeah, life got in the way of this. Sigh.), and I feel like everyone has already said everything I could say or want to say. Yet I still feel the need to blog about it.

I guess I’ll start out with how I initially felt about it last year. I was skeptical. The idea of going to a conference and not knowing what I was going to get out of it (not knowing what sessions would be offered) made me hesitant. It was going to be almost a two hour drive, plus on that day I had two job interviews. But quite a few of my friends were going to be there, so I asked my best friend Lindsay (@LMGrady)  to come along and see what it was all about. It ended up being a really cool experience and for that reason I attended again this year.

This year was better. Despite getting up pretty early to drive to Parma, MI, I was excited to attend the entire day. It’s been a crazy summer so I skipped day one which had planned sessions and speakers. I really liked the un-conference approach to nErDcamp (teachers deciding on the spot what they want to present and which sessions they want to attend), so I knew Tuesday was the day to go.

Lindsay came with me again and we spent a lot of time hanging out with Jessica (@JCrawford728). I’ll admit that meeting up with friends I don’t see very often is a pretty big influence to attend these conferences. Spending some time with Lea (@leakelley), Cindy (@CBethM), Erica (@B10LovesBooks), and Jessica made for an excellent day. Even better? I had the pleasure of presenting with Cindy on Diverse Lit for Diverse YA Readers (session notes). I also saw Lindsay break out of her presentation comfort zone and present with Jessica on What Does Reading and Writing Workshop Look Like in High School (session notes).

The highlight of my day was presenting with Cindy. She and I are working on ideas to get YA Lit 101 started again this summer with a focus on the need for diverse lit. This was an opportunity for us to flesh out ideas, and more importantly, see what other teachers are looking for and reading. It was a full room and almost every single teacher had a title to offer or praise. We furiously wrote down titles and categories on the board and quickly ran out of room. I left the session excited, rejuvenated, and really wanting to read some diverse titles! And since it’s now Monday, almost a week later, I’m going to shorten this post up and leave with you some tweets/pictures about the session to wrap it up. I completely lost my momentum after sitting on this for so many days.

Celebration of books

 

Diverse readers tweet

Session Board

 

Session tweets

 

Session tweet favorite

 

Review: The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

The Scar BoysTitle: The Scar Boys

Author: Len Vlahos

Publisher: Egmont USA

Release Date: January 21st, 2014

Interest: Realistic fiction / Music

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

A severely burned teenager. A guitar. Punk rock. The chords of a rock ‘n’ roll road trip in a coming-of-age novel that is a must-read story about finding your place in the world…even if you carry scars inside and out. 

In attempting to describe himself in his college application essay–help us to become acquainted with you beyond your courses, grades, and test scores–Harbinger (Harry) Jones goes way beyond the 250-word limit and gives a full account of his life. 

The first defining moment: the day the neighborhood goons tied him to a tree during a lightning storm when he was 8 years old, and the tree was struck and caught fire. Harry was badly burned and has had to live with the physical and emotional scars, reactions from strangers, bullying, and loneliness that instantly became his everyday reality. 

The second defining moment: the day in 8th grade when the handsome, charismatic Johnny rescued him from the bullies and then made the startling suggestion that they start a band together. Harry discovered that playing music transported him out of his nightmare of a world, and he finally had something that compelled people to look beyond his physical appearance. Harry’s description of his life in his essay is both humorous and heart-wrenching. He had a steeper road to climb than the average kid, but he ends up learning something about personal power, friendship, first love, and how to fit in the world. While he’s looking back at the moments that have shaped his life, most of this story takes place while Harry is in high school and the summer after he graduates.

I can’t remember how The Scar Boys was brought to my attention as a book to read, but I’m happy that it was. It’s a book that my musicians and music fans will adore, but it’s also a book for my students who are looking for a solid story. I’m surprised more of my Goodreads friends don’t have this on their to-read shelf.

Something I liked most about Len Vlahos‘ debut is Harry’s voice. It’s distinct and one that caught my attention right away. He’s writing a college essay and decides to go way beyond the 250-word limit. I’ve read books like this before, but Harry’s story is quite different. As I read farther into The Scar Boys I realized that I was spending more time in Harry’s head than I typically do in a novel. I noticed that I wasn’t reading a lot of action scenes and a lot of dialogue; I was perfectly okay with that. It was refreshing.

Readers will really get to know Harry. They’ll get to know his fears, his desires, his taste in music, and more. His scars have left him severely deformed and insecure, but music becomes an outlet for him. Like music does for many people, it helps Harry escape and connect. The coming of age story arc ties in perfectly with Harry and his growth as he participates in the band. Being in the band puts Harry in scenarios he may not normally confront like learning to stand up for himself, putting himself in front of a crowd, and taking a risk on love. Without the band, I think Harry would have stayed hidden within himself.

The Scar Boys reminded me of what a Chris Crutcher book would be like if he wrote more about musicians than athletes. So if you enjoy Crutcher, books full of music references, road trips and more, then I recommend reading this.

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