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

Student Book Review: Winger by Andrew Smith

WingerTitle: Winger

Author: Andrew Smith

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Student Reviewer: London

Summary (From Goodreads):

Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.

Student Review:

Winger was the best book I have read this year! I loved the way the author made me feel as if Ryan was a real person. Andrew Smith did this by making the main character Ryan Dean draw doodles and pictures on how he was feeling or what was going on in his life. The doodles were always comical and made me laugh.

I believe that everyone would enjoy reading Winger, it was a quick read. The book had really short chapters which was wonderful, because it made the book easy to pick up and put down. Also, it allowed me to read the book faster because whenever I got spare time I could get in a quick chapter.

Not only did the author do an amazing job of making me feel emotions for these characters, but he made me feel as if I was watching them from afar. Just like a movie. Andrew Smith did an excellent job of describing the setting and made me feel like I actually knew the layout of the boarding school campus, Annie’s house, etc.

Great escape from reality. If you are looking for a light read that will put a smile on you face this is the book for you. The author Andrew takes you inside the mind of a 14 year old boy and it’s extremely entertaining. Winger was a good distraction and didn’t force my brain to have to do a lot of thinking.

Even the ending was eventful and extremely unexpected. I loved this because I thought the book was going to be a typical love story, but then is turned into a tragedy. Although it had me in tears I couldn’t imagine the book ending any other way.

Really loved this book and hope that other people will read it and fall in love with it like I did. I just could relate so easily with the book, because it is about the realities of a high school student. Even though they were at a boarding school most of the conflicts were common and can be found in every high school. I just thought this book was so great and hope others will too.

Book Trailer Thursday (145)–The Maze Runner Official Movie Trailer

Book Trailer Thursday

My students are big fans of The Maze Runner trilogy. I abandoned this book when I tried listening to the audio because I had too many questions that weren’t being answered. The movie trailer, however, has my interest piqued again. I don’t think I want to try reading the series again, but I do want to see the movie when it releases on August 13th this summer. I’m sure once I show this trailer in class today my waiting list for this book will grow. :)

The Maze RunnerSummary (From Goodreads):

“If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.” 

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers–boys whose memories are also gone.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out–and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Book Trailer Thursday (144)–Elusion by Claudia Gabel, Cheryl Klam

I have to admit that the cover for Elusion drew me in first. It’s so pretty! Thankfully the premise sounds promising and intrigued me enough to add it to my TBR list and feature it today. I’m looking forward to what my students will say about the trailer. If you’re interested in reading Claudia Gabel & Cheryl Klam’s book, it’s set to release on March 18th.

ElusionSummary (From Goodreads):

Soon, Elusion® will change the world and life as we know it.

A new technology called Elusion is sweeping the country. An app, visor and wristband will virtually transport you to an exotic destination where adventure can be pursued without the complications—or consequences—of real life.

Regan is an Elusion insider. Or at least she used to be. Her father invented the program, and her best friend, Patrick, heir to the tech giant Orexis, is about to release it nationwide. But ever since her father’s unexpected death, Regan can’t bear to Escape, especially since waking up from the dream means crashing back to her grim reality.

Still, when there are rumors of trouble in Elusion—accusations that it’s addictive and dangerous— Regan is determined to defend it. But the critics of Elusion come from surprising sources, including Josh, the handsome skeptic with his own personal stakes. As Regan investigates the claims, she discovers a disturbing web of secrets. She will soon have to choose between love and loyalty…a decision that will affect the lives of millions.

Suspense, thrills, and romance fuel this near-future story about the seductive nature of a perfect virtual world, and how far one girl will go to uncover the truth behind the illusions.

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New Release: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu

A new book is on my reading radar: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu. It’s a contemp dealing with being a teenage undocumented immigrant. I don’t believe I have any students dealing with this issue, but based on the summary and some of the early reviews I’ve read, this is a book that will resonate with my readers for a variety of reasons. I think they’ll connect with the character’s high school-related conflicts while learning what it’s like to be an undocumented immigrant. I haven’t read anything like this before, so I’m really looking forward to reading Maria E. Andreu’s debut.

The Secret Side of Empty releases today, March 11th, from Running Press Kids.

The Secret Side of EmptySummary (From Goodreads):

As a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But M.T. hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant. 

But it’s harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems empty. In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants.

Author Maria E. Andreu draws from her personal experience as a (formerly) undocumented immigrant to explore an issue that affects over one million children in the U.S. But while the subject matter is timely, it is M.T.’s sharp, darkly funny voice and longing for a future that makes this story universally poignant.

Blog Tour: The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle Read Alikes

I’m happy to be part of Rebecca Serle’s blog tour for her sophomore release, The Edge of Falling. I love a good contemp and love it even more that Rebecca agreed to compile a list of read alikes for her newest book. I’m halfway through her book right now and I’m already thinking of students who will enjoy this.

The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle releases on March 18th and is published by Simon Pulse. I’m including the summary so you can learn a little more about it before reading  Rebecca’s list of read alikes.

The Edge of FallingSummary (From Goodreads):

Growing up in privileged, Manhattan social circles, Caggie’s life should be perfect, and it almost was until the day that her younger sister drowned when Caggie was supposed to be watching her. Stricken by grief, Caggie pulls away from her friends and family, only to have everyone misinterpret a crucial moment when she supposedly saves a fellow classmate from suicide. Now she’s famous for something she didn’t do and everyone lauds her as a hero. But inside she still blames herself for the death of her sister and continues to pull away from everything in her life, best friend and perfect boyfriend included. Then Caggie meets Astor, the new boy at school, about whom rumours are swirling and known facts are few. In Astor she finds someone who just might understand her pain, because he has an inner pain of his own. But the more Caggie pulls away from her former life to be with Astor, the more she realises that his pain might be darker, and deeper, than anything she’s ever felt. His pain might be enough to end his life…and Caggie’s as well.

List of Comps for The Edge of Falling 

So, you’ve just finished reading The Edge of Falling, and you want to know what to read next? Or maybe you want to know what books are similar to The Edge of Falling so you’ll know if it’s your type of book? No worries, I’ve got you covered! Some of these books are in a similar genre, some deal with issues like grief or hidden secrets, and some actually inspired ME to write The Edge of Falling! So let’s jump in:

  1. Speak- Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is a beautiful book about Melinda, a girl who is alienated from her friends and suffering the burden of a huge secret. Caggie still has her voice in The Edge of Falling, but her journey is similar to Melinda’s because she is plagued by the things she can’t say out loud: her grief about the role she played in her sister’s death; the separation she feels from her family; and the one big secret that, if revealed, would cause everyone to call her a liar instead of a hero. I highly recommend Speak if you’re looking for a book about family, grief, and overcoming silence.

2. Gossip Girl- Cecily Von Ziegar

Yep, you read right- the Gossip Girl books! These books (and the TV show, of course) inspired the world of The Edge of Falling. I wanted to write about the privileged elite of the Upper East Side, and their complex relationships with their finances and their feelings. Caggie comes from a privileged family as well, but sometimes instead of opening doors, privilege closes them: the doors of communication and intimacy, the doors of honesty and forgiveness. Caggie seeks these things from her family, but in their time of grief they depend more on material things than on each other. The characters in Gossip Girl go through their fair share of grieving as well, but beneath the lens of the paparazzi and the public eye, even their private suffering becomes public scandal.

3. This Song Will Save Your Life- Leila Sales

Ok, so, full disclosure: this next book was written by my BFF Leila Sales. But I am not remotely alone in thinking it is one of the best YA books not just of last year, but of all time. This Song Will Save Your Life tells the story of Elise, a girl who just wants to have friends, and feel loved, but who is bullied mercilessly in her school. After she self-harms and ends up in the hospital, Elise feels more trapped than ever: but now by uber-watchful parents who don’t trust her. Everything changes the night she discovers  START, an underground disco club, and ends up in the DJ booth. Elise finds her place making people dance—and meets a pretty cute boy along the way. Caggie and Elise come from two very different worlds, but they both discover that loving yourself gives all other kinds of love meaning. Plus Leila and I wrote This Song Will Save Your Life and The Edge of Falling sitting across from each other—true story!

4. We Were Liars-E Lockhart

Okay, I confess: this book hasn’t even come out yet. But I read it and loved it, so I’m putting it on my list! We Were Liars is the story of a girl who comes from a prestigious, wealthy family (like Caggie’s) and the life-changing events that happen to her on the private island where her family spends every summer. It’s a literary, dark, poetic book about first love, the bonds of family, and the fragility of secrets. I was told to lie about the ending, so…I will just keep quiet J

5. The Catcher in The Rye- JD Salinger

I’m closing out my list with this classic novel, because not only is Caggie descended from the Caulfield family, which JD Salinger famously fictionalized, but because Holden and Caggie have more in common than their last name. Holden’s journey in The Catcher in the Rye is a coming-of-age story: he is disillusioned by wealth, jaded by the inconsistent and seemingly false bonds of family, and feels uncomfortable in his own skin. He, like Caggie, lost a sibling, and spends time reflecting on the cruelty of his world changing and progressing so much over time, while his lost loved one never will.  The Catcher in the Rye is one of the books that inspired me to write The Edge of Falling and I would definitely recommend you read it, if not re-visit it after you read Edge.

Rebecca Serle has a fantastic blog tour set up (with some of my favorite blogs!), so make sure to check out these upcoming posts to learn more about Rebecca, The Edge of Falling, and much more!

March 11- Fangirlish
March 17- Forever YA
March 20- Cuddlebuggery

Pink or Blue? Either Will Do :)

I’ve been keeping a pretty big secret since the beginning of January. My husband and I are expecting our first baby! We couldn’t be more thrilled. :D As the announcement says, the baby is due September 9th. Next month we’ll be able to find out if we’re having a boy or a girl if the baby cooperates. I sure hope it does because I can’t wait to find out!

Pink or Blue

Right now I’m really grateful to be past the first trimester (although I’m grateful to have even experienced a first trimester). I had zero attention span (what was I just doing?), was extremely exhausted (taking three hour naps like they’re going out of style), and dealt with nausea in the evening and before I went to bed (such a miserable experience). I barely read any books because they either weren’t holding my attention or I couldn’t stay awake long enough to read them. Already, though, I’ve been feeling more energized and more focused. I’m hoping this will last for a while so I can get some more books read and start keeping up with my blog again.

To be honest, I don’t know what all of this means for my blog. I’m going to do my best to balance everything, but if it comes down to choosing to read a book or writing a blog post, I’m probably going to choose to read my book because that makes a greater impact in my classroom. But like I said, I’m going to do my best because this blog is important to me. Hopefully all of you will understand :)

March is Reading Month

Just a warning–this post might be lengthy and might be all over the place. I have a lot of ideas and lots of excitement about this month.

If you aren’t aware of this, I started my 7th year of teaching this year in a new district. My new district has a certified media specialist whereas my last district lost ours and decided not to replace her. Working in a district again with a media specialist has been really nice because she and I work together to encourage reading.

I’ve been encouraging my students to read since the beginning of the school year like I usually do. This year my students, my seniors in particular, have responded really well to my efforts. A friend of mine who teaches math in my building approached me about helping her promote literacy in her math class. She’s reading Subjects Matter by Harvey Daniels and wants to incorporate his ideas. I love her enthusiasm, but I also understand how tough it is to get students and teachers alike to see literacy as important outside of an English classroom. This is incredibly disappointing, but it’s also something that I’m trying to conquer because literacy is important in every aspect of school and life. I gave her some ideas to get started and also asked one of my friends, Brian Wyzlic, for ideas as well since he’s promoting literacy in his math classroom.

After talking with my friend about this, I spoke with our media specialist, Rachael, about it. I wanted to know if she had any ideas as well. This sparked a conversation about March is Reading Month because she’s been thinking about how to get the school involved. Perfect timing, right? Rachael and I started brainstorming and came up with a list of ideas. She spent the day talking with a few other teachers in our building to see what they thought. More ideas were added to the list. I can’t really explain how excited I am about this month.

My reading life door this year.

My reading life door this year.

Switching gears for a minute. Earlier in the week I spoke with my principal about my Literacy Lockers idea. I wanted to get my feet wet this year before approaching him about the idea and I wanted to give my students a chance to get used to me and get used to doing so much reading. My principal loves the idea and he loves my reading life door (the picture that inspired me to do this). He asked me how we can get more teachers creating reading life doors and posting what they’re reading outside their classrooms. My wheels started turning and I wasn’t even thinking about March is Reading Month. After a department meeting I approached one of my department members who also teaches social studies. He told me that he was already talking to his class about creating a reading life door and loves the idea! He asked me to send him some tips so he can make his similar in format to mine while putting his own spin on it. I then approached two more department members and their responses were positive. Unfortunately, my students aren’t as excited about creating Literacy Lockers, but I haven’t given up on them. Quite a few of them are participating, but I’d love to have more take part. I think once they see their classmates doing this, and if more teachers have their classes do this, they’ll feel more comfortable about it.

Anyway, the reading life door conversations fit in nicely with my conversation with Rachael about March is Reading Month ideas. She included that idea along with the Literacy Lockers idea in her email to the school inviting everyone to participate. We also invited teachers and students to submit their favorite lines from books so we can create twirly things (a very technical term) to hang from the ceiling of the library with the book cover on one side and the quote on the other. We asked the math department to graph the amount of books read and/or the pages read during the month of March that can be scrolled outside the media center. After reading the Nerdy Book Club post about picture books and illustration mentors, I sent the link to Rachael with the idea that the art teachers could do something similar. Or maybe the art teachers could have students recreate book covers. Rachael sent her invitation email at the end of the day on Friday and she received responses right away. Our teacher who runs the news cast wants to run a “Caught You Reading” feature. I’m going to ask our administrators to create reading life doors. We would love to see the secretaries post what they’re reading on their desks or create a reading life space on the outside of their desks.

This coming week may be ACT/MME week (state testing week), but I couldn’t be more excited about it. I can’t wait to find out what other teachers say in reply to Rachael’s email. I can’t wait to talk to teachers and others about their ideas and help make those ideas happen. I can’t wait to hear what my students think about this.

We’r still coming up with ideas and would love your opinions! I hope everyone is gearing up to read and celebrate March is Reading Month! As these ideas come to fruition, I’ll be posting about this again to update everyone.

Bulletin Board Book Recommendations

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a difficult time switching my bulletin boards throughout the school year. It often becomes one more thing on my never ending to-do list, but I act if inspiration strikes. Yesterday I was inspired.

I only have two mid-sized bulletin boards in my classroom so I try to utilize those spaces as much as possible. On one of my bulletin boards I started the year with a Wonder-inspired Choose Kind board where my students pinned moments of kindness. Since I’m done reading Wonder out loud I knew it was time for a change. The other day I surveyed my students on their favorite books read last semester and the books they’d like to read this semester. There were quite a few common threads between my classes and it’s been on my mind since I have a limited amount of those particular books (think Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars). Anyway, I suddenly thought of an idea to hopefully remedy that situation yesterday during class. I decided to create a bulletin board recommending books.

Of course that’s not exactly a unique idea by any means, but I’m hoping it will be effective. A number of my students love Ellen Hopkins’ books and many have fallen in love with John Green this year. I also have more Divergent fans than I’ve had before. And as usual, I have many realistic fiction fans. So I broke my bulletin board up into four sections: books for Divergent fans, books for Ellen Hopkins fans, resilience lit, and books for John Green fans. I limited each recommendation space to six books. I have leftover paint chips that I used for my Choose Kind board, so I left those on the bulletin board ledge for my students to pin additional recommendations on the board. Already one of my seniors added two book recommendations to the Ellen Hopkins section.

Book Rec Bulletin Board

When I decided on the books to recommend I looked up lists online, asked a few of my students for their opinions, and also used my own book knowledge. My Divergent fans section includes recommendations for Blood Red Road by Moira Young, Enclave by Ann Aguirre, Legend by Marie Lu, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Variant by Robison Wells, and Feed by M.T. Anderson (this isn’t part of a series, but it’s a good recommendations). My Ellen Hopkins recommendations include Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy, Clean by Amy Reed, Sold by Patricia McCormick, Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman, Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams, and Recovery Road by Blake Nelson. When choosing these books I considered writing style (two of these are verse novels) and primarily similar content. My resilience literature recommendations include Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles. This was a tough section for me to narrow down because I wanted to include novels written by A.S. King, Trish Doller, David Levithan, and so many more authors. For my John Green fans I recommended Winger by Andrew Smith, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I was a little uncertain about these recommendations because all of these books are so different. But one of my John Green fans said I should include some of these titles because of the unexpected endings that she’s found in Green’s novels. I also considered similar characters and writing style. Regardless, I hope these recommendations will expand my students’ horizons.

I’d like to switch up this board a couple more times before the end of the school year. One of my classes of seniors has a large group of fantasy fans. I also have a number of students who want to read everything sports. And then there are my romance and mystery fans. And like I said before, I really hope my students will take part and add their own recommendations.

If you’ve created a bulletin board or book display like this one, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. Was it successful? Did it promote discussion? Were reading ladders created?

Book Trailer Thursday (143)–Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

Book Trailer Thursday

I’ll admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of Tahereh Mafi’s second book in the Shatter Me trilogy, Unravel Me. But I loved Shatter Me and because I know quite a few middle-of-the-trilogy books drag, I’m hopeful that Ignite Me will be fantastic. I love Mafi’s writing style and the characters in this trilogy so I’m excited to revisit them and find out how their story ends.

Ignite MeSummary (From Goodreads):

Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she’ll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew – about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam – was wrong.

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