Waiting on Wednesday–Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

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

I discovered Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer the other day when Time featured a list of YA novels that should be made into movies. I have some opinions on that list, but we’ll save that for another day. Anyway, Belzhar was featured and piqued my interest because it’s said to be inspired by Sylvia Plath’s life. I haven’t read any of Plath’s books, but I’ve read some of her poems and I read and loved Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill. For whatever reason I find myself drawn to books that connect to her in some way. I’m really looking forward to reading this debut this fall.

BelzharTitle & Author: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Release Date: September 30th, 2014

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Summary (From Goodreads):

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be at home in New Jersey with her sweet British boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.

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

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.

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.

Waiting on Wednesday–Swim That Rock by John Rocco & Jay Primiano

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

I’m always searching for books that will appeal to my male readers in class; Swim That Rock sounds like a great book for many of them. I’m curious about it being written by two authors when it appears to be told by only one point of view (based on the summary). If you’ve read it already, I’d love to know what you think!

Swim That RockTitle & Author: Swim That Rock by John Rocco & Jay Primiano

Release Date: April 8th, 2014

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Summary (From Goodreads):

 A young working-class teen fights to save his family’s diner after his father is lost in a fishing-boat accident. 

When his dad goes missing in a fishing-boat accident, fourteen-year-old Jake refuses to think he may have lost his father forever. But suddenly, nothing seems certain in Jake’s future, and now his family’s diner may be repossessed by loan sharks. In Narragansett Bay, scrabbling out a living as a quahogger isn’t easy, but with the help of some local clammers, Jake is determined to work hard and earn enough money to ensure his family’s security and save the diner in time. Told with cinematic suspense and a true compassion for the characters, Swim That Rock is a fast-paced coming-of-age story that beautifully and evocatively captures the essence of coastal Rhode Island life, the struggles of blue-collar family dynamics, and the dreams of one boy to come into his own.

Waiting on Wednesday: There Will Come a Time by Carrie Arcos

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

Told from a guy’s point of view? Loss and grief? A twin sister? A bucket list? Yep, I’m intrigued!

There Will Come a TimeTitle & Author: There Will Come a Time by Carrie Arcos

Release Date: May 6th, 2014

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Summary (From Goodreads):

Mark knows grief. Ever since the accident that killed his twin sister, Grace, the only time he feels at peace is when he visits the bridge on which she died. Comfort is fleeting, but it’s almost within reach when he’s standing on the wrong side of the suicide bars. Almost.

Grace’s best friend, Hanna, says she understands what he’s going through. But she doesn’t. She can’t. It’s not just the enormity of his loss. As her twin, Mark should have known Grace as well as he knows himself. Yet when he reads her journal, it’s as if he didn’t know her at all.

As a way to remember Grace, Hanna convinces Mark to complete Grace’s bucket list from her journal. Mark’s sadness, anger, and his growing feelings for Hannah threaten to overwhelm him. But Mark can’t back out. He made a promise to honor Grace—and it’s his one chance to set things right.

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.

Book Trailer Thursday (140)–Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

Book Trailer Thursday

Thanks to Amy Fellner Dominy, the author of OyMG and Audition & Subtraction, I’m featuring the book trailer for Terry Lynn Johnson’s upcoming release Ice Dogs. I didn’t know she had a new book coming releasing this year, so I’m extra thankful for the recommendation. Ice Dogs, which releases on February 4th from HMH Books for Young Readers, sounds like a book that will appeal to both middle grade and young adult readers. I know freshmen readers are often looking for something with action and adventure, so I bet this will be a hit.

I’m really appreciating the book trailer recommendations, so if you have more please send them my way! :)

BTW–Goodreads is hosting a giveaway of five copies of Ice Dogs which ends on January 31st.

Ice DogsSummary (From Goodreads):

Victoria Secord, a 14-year-old Alaskan dogsled racer, loses her way on a routine outing with her dogs. With food gone and temperatures dropping, her survival, and that of her dogs and the mysterious boy she meets in the woods, is entirely up to her.

Author Terry Lynn Johnson is a musher herself and her crackling writing puts readers at the reins as Victoria and Chris experience setbacks, mistakes, and small triumphs in their wilderness adventure. 

Waiting on Wednesday–Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga

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

My life has been a little overwhelming as of late (mostly in good ways), which is why I haven’t been reading or posting anything. Christmas break felt like the first time I was able to relax since getting back from NCTE in Boston, but then I came back to school and was swamped with the end of the semester and midterm exams. I’ve noticed that I always go through a blogging/reading slump in January, however, and end up picking right back up where I left off in February. I sure hope that’s the case this year! Do any of you go through blogging/reading slumps at this time of year?

Anyway, I’m SUPER excited about the upcoming release of Barry Lyga’s newest book in the Jasper Dent series. This cover is fantastic, although a little different than the first two books’ covers. Regardless, it’s eye-catching and going to intrigue my students. Blood of My Blood doesn’t release for a while, but I couldn’t resist posting about it. I would avoid reading the summary if you haven’t read this series.

Blood of My BloodTitle & Author: Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga

Release Date: September 22nd, 2014

Publisher: Little, Brown

Summary (From Goodreads):

Jazz Dent has been shot and left to die in New York City. His girlfriend Connie is in the clutches of Jazz’s serial killer father, Billy. And his best friend Howie is bleeding to death on the floor of Jazz’s own home in tiny Lobo’s Nod. Somehow, these three must rise above the horrors their lives have become and find a way to come together in pursuit of Billy. But then Jazz crosses a line he’s never crossed before, and soon the entire country is wondering: “Like father, like son?” Who is the true monster?

The chase is on, and this time Jazz is the hunted, not the hunter. And beyond Billy there lurks something much, much worse. Prepare to meet…the Crow King.

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