Review: The Taking by Kimberly Derting

The TakingTitle: The Taking

Author: Kimberly Derting

Publisher: HarperTeen

Release Date: April 29th, 2014

Interest: Author / Science Fiction

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

A flash of white light . . . and then . . . nothing.

When sixteen-year-old Kyra Agnew wakes up behind a Dumpster at the Gas ’n’ Sip, she has no memory of how she got there. With a terrible headache and a major case of déjà vu, she heads home only to discover that five years have passed . . . yet she hasn’t aged a day. 

Everything else about Kyra’s old life is different. Her parents are divorced, her boyfriend, Austin, is in college and dating her best friend, and her dad has changed from an uptight neat-freak to a drunken conspiracy theorist who blames her five-year disappearance on little green men. 

Confused and lost, Kyra isn’t sure how to move forward unless she uncovers the truth. With Austin gone, she turns to Tyler, Austin’s annoying kid brother, who is now seventeen and who she has a sudden undeniable attraction to. As Tyler and Kyra retrace her steps from the fateful night of her disappearance, they discover strange phenomena that no one can explain, and they begin to wonder if Kyra’s father is not as crazy as he seems. There are others like her who have been taken . . . and returned. Kyra races to find an explanation and reclaim the life she once had, but what if the life she wants back is not her own?

The Taking by Kimberly Derting hooked me right away, just like her The Body Finder series did. It’s full of action, suspense, romance, and features a strong female protagonist.

If you’ve read The Body Finder series then you might agree that it’s a supernatural story. The Taking, however, I consider to be more science fiction. Just yesterday I was at lunch with a group of girlfriends and we were discussing what we like about fantasy and science fiction, so I brought up this book (besides the fact that I had just finished it and wanted to discuss it). My friend Beth said that she likes her fantasy to be grounded in reality since she’s a realistic fiction reader. That aspect is something that I love about Kimberly Derting’s writing; it feels like realistic fiction even though there’s a supernatural/sci-fi element involved. The Taking is sci-fi light and would be great for readers who are new to science fiction or unsure about it. There’s talk of alien abduction and other elements that reminded me of the X-Files, but it’s balanced with romance and regular teen issues.

Something I’ve brought up in past reviews is insta-love. Sometimes it works for me and sometimes I can’t stand it. Kyra’s instant and unexplainable attraction to Tyler worked for me. When Kyra is returned, she’s understandably confused and overwhelmed. When she meets Tyler again, only five years older now, she’s shocked. He looks quite a bit like Austin, but he’s different and he accepts her. Tyler grounds Kyra and I think it’s what really connects them. Considering Kyra’s circumstances, this insta-love made sense in the story and was fun to read.

Reading The Taking was fun because there’s so much action and suspense. There are some really surprising “I can’t believe that just happened” moments. Those moments kept me reading so I could piece everything together. I didn’t encounter any lulls in the story, so I’m planning on handing this to my readers who need a lot of action to keep their interest piqued. It’s hard to go into too much detail about some of the more suspenseful and surprising moments without spoiling the story.

Overall The Taking is an exciting first installment in a new series by Kimberly Derting. Just as I expected, I finished this book and wanted the sequel right away. I hope you’ll add it to your TBR list this spring/summer!

Audiobook Review: Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Audio Review

Ketchup CloudsTitle: Ketchup Clouds

Author: Annabel Pitcher

Narrator: Julie Maisey

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: November 12th, 2013

Source: ARC received from the publisher, audio purchased via Audible

Summary (From Goodreads):

Dear Mr. S. Harris, 

Ignore the blob of red in the top left corner. It’s jam, not blood, though I don’t think I need to tell you the difference. It wasn’t your wife’s jam the police found on your shoe. . . .

I know what it’s like. 

Mine wasn’t a woman. Mine was a boy. And I killed him exactly three months ago

Zoe has an unconventional pen pal–Mr. Stuart Harris, a Texas Death Row inmate and convicted murderer. But then again, Zoe has an unconventional story to tell. A story about how she fell for two boys, betrayed one of them, and killed the other. 

Hidden away in her backyard shed in the middle of the night with a jam sandwich in one hand and a pen in the other, Zoe gives a voice to her heart and her fears after months of silence. Mr. Harris may never respond to Zoe’s letters, but at least somebody will know her story–somebody who knows what it’s like to kill a person you love. Only through her unusual confession can Zoe hope to atone for her mistakes that have torn lives apart, and work to put her own life back together again.

Rising literary star Annabel Pitcher pens a captivating second novel, rich with her distinctive balance between humor and heart. Annabel explores the themes of first love, guilt, and grief, introducing a character with a witty voice and true emotional resonance. 

Audio Review: I decided to listen to Ketchup Clouds because I really liked Julie Maisey’s narration when I listened to the sample on Audible. I enjoyed her accent and how easily she changed her voice for each character. I especially liked the voice she used for Zoe’s little sister Dot. Her voice for Dot really fits Dot’s character and charm. Julie Maisey paced the story well with her narration. I didn’t, however, like the really long pauses between parts in the book. The first time it switched parts I had to check my phone to make sure the app didn’t fail.

Book Review: While I enjoyed the audio, I ended up being disappointed in the actual story. When I first started listening to Ketchup Clouds and Zoe was writing her first letter to Mr. Harris on death row, I was hooked. I thought, “Wow, I really hope I get to hear his response.” And I wondered why Zoe felt so connected to an inmate on death row. Unfortunately as the story continued I lost that wonder. I quickly realized that the correspondence was one-sided and I was questioning how seriously I should take Zoe.

Annabel Pitcher’s story would have been much stronger if we were able to see Mr. Harris’s responses, if he ever responded at all. Or if the book had been set up as Zoe’s personal journal entries then I probably wouldn’t have been as disappointed. I was expecting something dark and suspenseful like I Hunt Killers and that’s not what I ended up with. It really did feel more like a series of journal entries considering how personal and candid Zoe was. She wrote about things I would never tell a perfect stranger.

Along with the idea of the letters feeling more like journal entries is the content of the letters. Zoe details so many aspects of her life in these letters. She writes about her dramatic love triangle, her parents non-stop arguing, her relationship with her sisters, etc. At times it felt like Pitcher was writing two different books in one–one about problems at home and one about angsty high school love. It was a lot for such a short book.

I will say, however, that the ending of Ketchup Clouds saved the book for me. I of course won’t give it away, but it tied things together nicely for me.

Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

The Sea of TranquilityTitle: The Sea of Tranquility

Author: Katja Millay

Publisher: Atria Books

Release Date: June 4th, 2013 (paperback)

Interest: ALA Alex Award Winner / Contemp

Source: Publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.

Full of rage and without a purpose, former pianist Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone discovering her past and to make the boy who took everything from her pay.

All 17 year-old Josh Bennett wants is to build furniture and be left alone, and everyone allows it because it’s easier to pretend he doesn’t exist. When your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, a hot mess of a girl who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. The more he gets to know her, the more of a mystery she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he may ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a slow-building, character-driven romance about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.

OhMyGosh. I’m sorry (well, not sorry) that I’m going to gush all over this review because this book is absolutely fantastic. The publisher approved The Sea of Tranquility for me over the summer via NetGalley and for some reason I started it but didn’t finish it. I’m so glad the librarian in my building asked me to read some of the Alex Award winners to help her decide which ones to add to the library. I was in one of my moody reader moods on Friday and decided to pick up Katja Millay’s debut again to see if it would perk me up and also to help out our librarian. It did that and more.

Since I found out I was pregnant in January, I haven’t been able to read a book in one sitting without falling asleep. The Sea of Tranquility is 448 pages long and I read the entire book in almost one sitting without falling asleep. It’s incredibly engaging and engrossing. I can hardly explain how attached I am to the characters in this book. I woke up in the morning thinking about Josh and Nastya wondering how their story would end. Some reviewers say that the story starts out slow, but I disagree. I really can’t remember why I set it down over the summer, but I know it wasn’t because it’s slow.

But speaking of slow, Josh and Nastya’s relationship grows slowly–there’s no insta-love. Instead we really get to know Josh and Nastya as they get to know each other. I loved watching them navigate their feelings for each other since they’re both very guarded and hesitant to let anyone into their lives. I don’t know if this is weird to say, but I felt myself falling in love with them as I read their story. We get to read from both of their point of views, but I still wanted to know more about Nastya just like Josh did. Katja Millay wrote such real characters that I felt their emotions with them. She gave them depth and emotion and so much heart that I teared up multiple times while reading.

I do want to mention a warning that’s placed at the end of the Goodreads summary that I chose to eliminate from my review. It warns the reader about the mature content in the story. I know that’s one of the reasons why my librarian asked me to read The Sea of Tranquility before she added it to the circulation. I really don’t think the warning is necessary. Yes, there’s profanity, but I don’t think there’s an excess of it. There’s a lot of sexual innuendo and joking, but there isn’t anything graphic included in terms of sex. There’s a scene which includes drugs, but again, it’s nothing that really shocked or alarmed me. All of it fit the characters and the situations in the novel. I always recommend reading a novel before handing it to students and this is no different. I did, however, order myself a copy for my students when I was only 40% through because I felt that confident about it.

I really hope Katja Millay writes another book soon. I’d even be happy if she chose to write a sequel. ;) I’m so impressed with her debut that I’ll automatically add her next book to my TBR list. The Sea of Tranquility is a new favorite and has been added to my limited list of books that I would happily read more than once.

The Sea of Tranquility read alikes (titles & authors): Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Fall for Anything & Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers, Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

RoomiesTitle: Roomies

Authors: Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: December 24th, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

It’s time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl’s summer — and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they’ve never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.

If new adult is going to become a category that sticks around like young adult has, then it needs to have more books like Roomies published if it does. Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando truly understand what it means to be a teen who is about to leave for college. They understand what it means to be a teen on the cusp of adulthood. I can’t wait to share Roomies with my seniors this year and every year that I teach seniors.

I really appreciate the characters’ emotions in this book. Elizabeth and Lauren appear to be very different people, but they’re actually quite similar, especially when comparing how they feel about leaving for college. Both of the girls are questioning their decisions about moving away from home, how to deal with their friends, and how this move will affect their families. I appreciate their feelings about all of these things because I remember feeling exactly the same way before I moved to college. Quite a few of my former seniors confided in me and expressed similar worries. Roomies is a book that will let seniors know that it’s okay to have doubts, but that it’s also okay to ultimately be confident about a decision.

Another reason this book won me over is because it’s written so seamlessly. Sometimes I wonder if a dual-authored book will flow well. I can honestly say that I’m not sure if Sara Zarr and Tara Alterbrando each took on a different character and wrote this story or if they worked on it as a whole together. The characters’ voices are distinct and the story flows perfectly as the points of view change. I love that it felt like I was reading one author’s work.

A layer of the story that made Roomies extra fun are the relationships Elizabeth and Lauren begin. Neither of the girls are really looking to be in a relationship before they leave for school, but the guys they each meet end up being supportive and positive additions to their lives. I love how Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando handled these relationships because while new adult has become associated with romance novels, these relationships are very fitting for the average senior girl who’s about to start life outside of high school. Sex is discussed and a topic of conversation in Roomies, but it’s done without venturing into romance novel territory. It’s new adult that I feel comfortable adding to my classroom library.

Overall, I can’t recommend Roomies enough. The characters are vibrant, their stories and conflicts will resonate with readers, and the feelings and worries portrayed about venturing into the real world are authentic.

Review: Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy

CriminalTitle: Criminal

Author: Terra Elan McVoy

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: May 7th, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

A searing and gripping read that explores the depths of desperation true love can inspire, from the author of Being Friends with Boys.

Nikki’s life is far from perfect, but at least she has Dee. Her friends tell her that Dee is no good, but Nikki can’t imagine herself without him. He’s hot, he’s dangerous, he has her initials tattooed over his heart, and she loves him more than anything. There’s nothing Nikki wouldn’t do for Dee. Absolutely nothing.

So when Dee pulls Nikki into a crime—a crime that ends in murder—Nikki tells herself that it’s all for true love. Nothing can break them apart. Not the police. Not the arrest that lands Nikki in jail. Not even the investigators who want her to testify against him.

But what if Dee had motives that Nikki knew nothing about? Nikki’s love for Dee is supposed to be unconditional…but even true love has a limit. And Nikki just might have reached hers.

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy is a book that surprised me and kept me turning the pages. It’s a book that I’m very excited to share with my students, especially those who love mysteries and edgy books.

Nikki is a character that I felt for, but I also found myself shaking my head at her often. Terra Elan McVoy wrote her in such a way that while I knew I shouldn’t feel sorry for Nikki, I couldn’t help it. She makes horrible choices. She blindly follows her boyfriend’s directions. But she’s also coming from an unstable home and is uneducated. She’s very naive. But she’s also real. She makes choices like many girls in bad relationships do. They may not be as extreme (thankfully), but readers will relate with Nikki.

Like I said before, Criminal kept me turning the pages. The chapters are fairly short and the plot moves quickly. I hope this book will end up YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers list because it’s one that I know will win over my reluctant readers. One day during SSR in my sophomore class I had to stop our reading to talk to them about a part that made me angry. Nikki did something that I couldn’t believe she did; I thought it was stupid of her. I had a quick conversation with my kids and asked them if they’d ever confronted a part like that in a book. Taking that moment piqued quite a bit of interest which I’m happy about because my sophomores aren’t as excited about reading as my seniors are this year. Criminal is full of “we need to discuss this” moments.

I do want to add that Criminal is a mature read. There are sexual scenes and mature themes involved. I’m not worried about placing this in my classroom, but I know quite a few of my readers work in middle school libraries/classrooms. Nikki is an eighteen year old character and lives a rough life. There are certainly lessons to be learned from Nikki’s story.

More reviews:
Chick Loves Lit

Wrapped Up in Books

Mrs. Crawford’s Thoughts

Review: The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine

The Promise of AmazingTitle: The Promise of Amazing

Author: Robin Constantine

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: December 31st, 2013

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Wren Caswell is average. Ranked in the middle of her class at Sacred Heart, she’s not popular, but not a social misfit. Wren is the quiet, “good” girl who’s always done what she’s supposed to—only now in her junior year, this passive strategy is backfiring. She wants to change, but doesn’t know how.

Grayson Barrett was the king of St. Gabe’s. Star of the lacrosse team, top of his class, on a fast track to a brilliant future—until he was expelled for being a “term paper pimp.” Now Gray is in a downward spiral and needs to change, but doesn’t know how.

One fateful night their paths cross when Wren, working at her family’s Arthurian-themed catering hall, performs the Heimlich on Gray as he chokes on a cocktail weenie, saving his life literally and figuratively. What follows is the complicated, awkward, hilarious, and tender tale of two teens shedding their pasts, figuring out who they are—and falling in love.

I loved The Promise of Amazing and want to read Robin Constantine’s next book right now. Unfortunately, I’ll be waiting for at least a year to read that next book since The Promise of Amazing is her debut novel. And what a fun debut it is!

Sometimes I need something sweet and romantic to read. The story of Wren and Grayson is exactly what I needed this week. I loved reading from both of their perspectives and getting a well-rounded view of who they are as characters and what they were each going through during the story. Just like Wren and Grayson were instantly attracted to each other, I was instantly hooked to their story.

I’ll admit, insta-love usually doesn’t work for me, but it works in this book. I bought into their attraction to each other. It’s honest and very much what I remember feeling like when I fell hard for guys in high school. I’ve read some criticism about this part of the story, but I think many of the adult reviewers forget what it’s like in high school. I don’t remember everything from high school (thank goodness!), but since I’m a high school teacher I see this happening ALL THE TIME. It’s one of the reasons I loved reading this book so much. It took me back to high school/early college. It made me think of the students that I should hand this to next. It’s become one of my favorite contemporary realistic fiction romances and I know many of my students will consider this a favorite as well.

Since I’m bringing up the topic of romance, I know some of you will want to know just how romantic this is. There’s plenty of kissing and some references to sex. Wren and Grayson are older high school students so this makes sense, however there’s really never anything explicit described. Grayson is/was a player so that’s when most of the references to sex come into play. I appreciate that Robin Constantine wrote such a stellar teenage romance without getting too detailed. I don’t have freshmen this year, but I’d feel more than comfortable handing this to a freshman reader.

I really like that while this is very much a romance, it’s also about Wren and Grayson wanting to change. Wren doesn’t like being described as “quiet” because she associates that with boring. Grayson has gotten into trouble at school and is ready to change his ways. These two characters crossing paths makes sense because they help each other change. More importantly, neither characters forces the other to change. Simply meeting is what really drives each of them to put their desire to be different into action.

If you’re looking for book pairings, I think readers who enjoy Simone Elkeles, Kody Keplinger, and Stephanie Perkins will enjoy The Promise of Amazing.

Review: My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi

My Life After NowTitle: My Life After Now

Author: Jessica Verdi

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: April 2nd, 2013

Interest: Contemp / 2013 Debut Author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Lucy just had the worst week ever. Seriously, mega bad. And suddenly, it’s all too much—she wants out. Out of her house, out of her head, out of her life. She wants to be a whole new Lucy. So she does something the old Lucy would never dream of.

And now her life will never be the same. Now, how will she be able to have a boyfriend? What will she tell her friends? How will she face her family?

Now her life is completely different…every moment is a gift. Because now she might not have many moments left.

Somehow My Life After Now escaped my attention until a few days ago. Once I found out what it’s about, I instantly wanted to read it. My debate right now is whether to go into detail about Lucy’s “dilemma” since the summary doesn’t state it and it might upset some readers to know prior to reading. That being said, I’m going to go ahead with openly discussing it because I think knowing that piece of information will prompt more readers to pick this debut title up and read it since it’s not an issue that’s often addressed in YA (that I know of).

The main reason I decided to read Jessica Verdi’s debut right away is because it’s about Lucy contracting HIV. I’ve read plenty of YA novels about girls getting pregnant and teen boys dealing with getting girls pregnant, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a teen getting an STD. I’ve never read one about a teen getting HIV. Our teens need to read stories like Lucy’s because 1.) They need to find themselves in a book if they’re also dealing with this and 2.) They need to see that they aren’t immune.

I will say, however, that My Life After Now isn’t preachy. There’s an obvious message present in Jessica Verdi’s novel, but it isn’t off-putting like it so easily could have been. It’s quite accessible and quite enjoyable. I felt Lucy’s anguish, shock, and anxiety. I was reading this during SSR and got to the part when Lucy finds out that she’s positive and wanted to stop reading to start discussing this with my students. Lucy’s emotions became my emotions. I think many of my students will love this book and really start thinking about their actions. Besides the HIV, students will like this book because of the relationships and other conflicts that are present. I’m sure my drama students will appreciate the drama/theater aspect as well.

Overall, My Life After Now is an engaging book with well-developed characters. It’s a fresh story that I can’t wait to share with my students. Jessica Verdi is an author to set your sights on.

Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

The Beginning of EverythingTitle: The Beginning of Everything

Author: Robyn Schneider

Publisher: Katherine Tegen

Release Date: August 27th, 2013

Interest: Contemp / 2013 Debut Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

I’ve been sitting on this review of The Beginning of Everything for months now. I had mixed feelings about it when I finished reading and wasn’t sure what to say in my review. Now that it’s months later, I’m still not sure what I want to say, so this may be a short review. Before I get into my actual review, I will say that I plan on reading more of Robyn Schneider’s books, even if her debut wasn’t one that I loved.

While I didn’t love The Beginning of Everything, I did enjoy Ezra’s story. It’s an engaging read and one that I liked. The issue I have with it, is that it’s too similar to Looking for Alaska. I try not to make comparisons to John Green’s work, especially with debut authors, but sometimes it’s impossible not to. While I read Schneider’s debut, all I could think was that she read Looking for Alaska and wanted to write her own version of it. Is there a great tragedy in The Beginning of Everything? No. Does it take place at a boarding school? No. But the characters are written quite similarly, especially Cassidy. And the same kind of pretentious attitude from other characters is present as well (think Weekday Warriors).

I’d describe both Alaska and Cassidy as manic pixie dream girls, but while I loved Alaska, I grew tired of Cassidy and her whims. I liked Ezra and think some of my guys in class would like him and his story, but Cassidy, while being smart and unique, bored me. I think that if she wasn’t written so similarly to Alaska I would have liked her character more.

I think if The Beginning of Everything wasn’t written so similarly to Looking for Alaska I would have liked this book more. But like I said, I enjoyed reading it. I’m disappointed that it isn’t more of its own book. Maybe if I didn’t teach, and read, and discuss Looking for Alaska every year, I would think differently. But I doubt it.

I know some of my students will love this. When I was reading it, I read the first few pages to my class and hooked a few of my students. I’m sure I’ll be able to do that again with this new group of students.

Review: How to Be Alone by Tanya Davis

How to Be AloneTitle: How to Be Alone

Author: Tanya Davis

Illustrator: Andrea Dorfman

Publisher: Harper

Release Date: October 22nd, 2013

Interest: Illustrated Poem

Source: Finished copy received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

If you are at first lonely, be patient.
If you’re not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait . . .

From a solitary walk in the woods to sitting unaccompanied on a city park bench to eating a meal and even dancing alone, certain activities can feel strange when you’re on your own. We rarely treasure those moments, even though there are abundant possibilities and delights waiting to be discovered when we have the time to just be with ourselves. Tanya Davis’s words and Andrea Dorfman’s beautiful illustrations soothe the disquiet that accompanies this fear of aloneness, and celebrate the power of solitude to change our views of ourselves and the world. How to Be Alone reveals how, removed from the noise and distractions of other lives, we can find acceptance and grace within.

For those who have never been by themselves, or for those who relish being on their own, this moving work encourages us to recognize and embrace the possibilities of being alone—and reminds us of a universe of joy, peace, and discovery waiting to unfold.

No one will think lessMy seniors are working on their My Story project which connects with their end of the year Senior Exit presentation, so when HarperCollins emailed me about How to Be Alone, I knew I wanted to read it. The My Story project focuses on students’ values, how they were developed, and the students expressing these values in a creative way. Poetry and art are a couple of options, so Tanya Davis’s illustrated poem was the perfect example for them. This is a great book to have handy when you’re teaching poetry.

The poem itself is lovely, as are the illustrations. Many of us struggle with being alone, especially in social situations/places, but Davis makes plenty of good points about being alone. Andrea Dorfman’s illustrations complement the different parts of the poem perfectly and drive those words home. And maybe this is weird, but the pages smell good because of the ink used. :)

Anyway, if you’re looking for a poem that will make you smile, you should pick up a copy of How to Be Alone. I’ve also included an image of one of my favorite pages, as well as a YouTube video so you can hear the poem.

Audiobook Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Audio Review

The Book Thief audioTitle: The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Narrator: Allan Corduner

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers/Listening Library

Release Date: March 14th, 2006/September 26th, 2006

Interest: Printz Honor / Movie

Source: Purchased book & audio (via Audible)

Summary (From Goodreads):

The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that will be in movie theaters on November 15, 2013, Markus Zusak’s unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

Audio Review: I chose to listen to The Book Thief because I couldn’t get into the book reading it traditionally. Thankfully, Allan Corduner is an excellent narrator and really made Markus Zusak’s book come alive. His voice is easy to listen to and his accent fits the story perfectly. His voices fit the different characters well, which added to my enjoyment of the audio. If you’re like me and are either hesitant to read The Book Thief traditionally, or you’ve tried reading it and couldn’t get into it, I suggest giving the audio a try.

Book Review: I enjoyed The Book Thief, but I didn’t love it to pieces like so many others. I appreciate the story, and I love that Death is the narrator, but something is missing for me. I guess I sort of felt like, “So what?” when I finished listening. Thinking that and writing that makes me feel like a horrible person. I understand that “books feed the soul” but I think I needed something more than that from the story.

Maybe I need to admit to myself that World War II/Holocaust stories don’t work for me anymore. I’m a history minor and understand the importance of the time period. I have a tough time finishing these novels because I know how all of them end–tragically. Yes, that’s a generalization, and yes, The Book Thief ends with a sense of hope. But from this story in particular, which I did finish, I needed something more.

I will say, however, that the writing it beautiful and the character development is wonderful. I can easily see why it received the Printz Honor. Hopefully the movie will affect me more than the book did.

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