Friday, February 23, 2018

Caraval by Stephanie Garber.

“Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.”

Caraval by Stephanie Garber is another title included in my district's "Battle of the Books" competition being held between the high schools. It's the 4th book I've read out of the 6 selected, and I can see why it was chosen. The very "Fantasy" feel of the title is in pretty good contrast to the two realistic fiction choices, the mysteries, and the science-fiction title. It also features a female protagonist, which keeps the balance a bit between the 6 titles (students ans staff got to nominate titles, then a committee selected the final titles. They tried to get a good mix, which I think they did. Not bad for our first year doing this).

The book was compared a bit to The Night Circus, and while I get where that comparison is coming I was late to reading The Night Circus, and like many others, I fell in love with the world building and depth of the story. Caraval, in short, lacks that element.

Essentially, the Caraval in the novel is an event held yearly by a mysterious character, Legend. Each year he invites people from around the world to participate in the game, which is full of magic and deception. Scarlett and her sister, Tella, live with their abusive father and have written to Legend for years in hopes they could participate.  It is only in the weeks before Scarlett is set to be married to a man she has never met that Legend responds with tickets. Recruiting the help of a sailor, Julian, the sisters set off the mystical island where Caraval takes place.

And that is where the story lost me. The idea of the story (the plot) is intriguing and could be so interesting, much like that of The Night Circus. But there is no world building. None. The world sounds wonderful, but it's never developed. Things are mentioned and then ignored and I'm left wondering why I'm supposed to care.

The writing is very heavy. There are metaphors and similes and flowery imagery on every page and while I can like that kind of writing, it has to make sense. There is so much telling and not enough showing. Scarlett feels in colors, and would compare talking to some to a color. The phrasing was awkward and off-putting. When I would start to fall into the story, I'd be yanked right back out because some awkward comparison would ruin it for me, like, "He tasted like midnight and wind." I have no idea what that means. What is that?

Now, I say all this while also telling you that I kept reading because I did want to know what happened. The plot had a number of twists and turns that made it pretty compelling, enough so that I could ignore the awkward language. However, there were some things that were never fully explained and some plot holes that were never filled in. I also felt like the characters needed a bit more humanity to some points...I just didn't care what happened to them. 

Wow, this is sounding much more negative than I intended. There is a sequel and while it's not a book I would buy for myself, if it ends up in our media center, I might check it out. How's that for a review?

After reading this, I did speak to our media specialist, and she felt much the same way. Apparently the kids are eating it up, and all the other copies (besides the one I had checked out) were in the hands of kids. None of my kids have picked it up (they're inhaling the John Green title and Winger by Andrew Smith-which I nominated and pushed for), but if they do, I'll be curious to see how they feel about it. 

Has anyone else read this? Thoughts?

“Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or performance. It's the closest you'll ever find yourself magic in this world.” 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster.

“You told me once that we shall be judged by our intentions, not by our accomplishments. I thought it a grand remark. But we must intend to accomplish - not sit intending on a chair.” 

I'm not sure how long this "review" is going to be for a few reasons. 1. While I just finished this book last weekend, the details are already fuzzy, which should give you the indication that 2. I didn't love this one because 3. It seemed unpolished and not quite there, at least in comparison to the one other novel I've read by Forster, A Room with a View. Granted, I read that one fairly early in my blogging career, so details are fuzzy, but I do remember wanting to keep reading and flying through the book because I loved it. 

It's not that Where Angels Fear to Tread is poorly written...I just didn't get into the story and it took me too long to finish for how slim of a novel it is. There were aspects I liked (it has some funny moments), but is just seemed...overly dramatic and drawn out.

The book opens with Lilia Herriton, a widow, goes off to Italy some some vacation time at the bidding of her in-laws. Back in Uppity Edwardian England, the in-laws were disapproving of Lilia's choices and felt that she needed some time away. They kept her daughter while she traveled with a companion in town. Imagine their horror and dismay when they receive word that Lilia has met an Italian and is considering marrying him. 

To try and prevent scandal from descending on their family, Lilia's brother in law, Philip rushes to Italy to bring her home and stop all the foolishness. Well, it's too late-Lilia is married to the Italian and has brought disgrace on her in-laws. Philip returns home in despair and Lilia begins her life with her new husband. She quickly becomes pregnant, then realizes her mistake. Gino is not who he said he was, her life is lonely, and she doesn't actually love him. He becomes verbally and emotionally abusive and shortly after giving birth, she dies. 

The Herritons believe they need to rescue Lilia's son and so Philip, his sister Harriet, and a friend, Miss Abbott go back to Italy in hopes of retrieving the baby. And it all falls apart.

Overall, the story is intriguing. I mean, it sounds interesting, right? Perhaps it was my mental state as I was reading, but I just could not get into caring about any of the characters. Philip is pretty pompous and opinionated (don't even get me started on his mother), Harriet is one of those hysterical women who is just a stereotype, and Miss Abbott, well, she's just kind of there. 

I know Forster was making some kind of commentary about the snobbish nature of the English towards other countries, and that came through pretty clearly as he depicted Gino and the small Italian town most of the novel took place in. As the reader...I just didn't care. I didn't find any of the characters to be relatable...or likeable, and that really prevented me from wanting to pick the book up after setting it down. 

I will give props to Forster for the beauty of his language. He writes some beautiful passages. But that wasn't enough for me. I'm just too picky. This was his first novel, and I'm glad I have a positive experience with one of his works under my belt so I'm not too discouraged. The only other Forster on my shelf is A Passage to India, but it'll be some time before I give that a go.

However, this did mark book 3 on my TBR Challenge list for 2018. I'm kind of rocking that challenge! I'm going to take a little break from my challenge list, but I'll be back in March!

“All a child's life depends on the ideal it has of its parents. Destroy that and everything goes - morals, behavior, everything. Absolute trust in someone else is the essence of education.”

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: Flu, Kitchen, School Shootings, and Reading.

I totally meant to write a post mid-week, but that didn't happen after the Parkland shooting. I didn't feel motivated to come and write a review of a book when so many people are hurting. But more on that in a minute.

The last time I wrote, I was in the throes of the flu, and while I am feeling a lot better this weekend, I am still sick. This flu nonsense is no joke. It settled in my chest so I have these deep, horrible coughs that shake my whole body. My throat is still sore and I have eaten my weight in cough drops this week. I was so happy that we had another snow day on Monday. I had taken off last Thursday because of being so sick, and then we had snow days both Friday and Monday-what a lucky and much-needed coincidence. Instead of using 3 sick days, I only had to use 1, and I had a glorious 5 day weekend that was spent in bed. Coughing and feeling terrible.

I get sick frequently, the joys of having an autoimmune disorder, but this was something else entirely. I'm glad that the weakness is gone, although I still get tired real easily and I spent most days after work crashing in bed. I joked with my students on Tuesday that being at work was the longest I had been awake in nearly a week. Work was tough-I had a heavy lecture based week-and trying to lecture and not have a coughing fit proved to be impossible. I had to run out of my room to compose myself after coughing fits a few times, but the kids were great and supportive. And I managed to make it through all the material I needed to by the end of the week. And thankfully, this weekend is our "Midwinter" Break, so I have Monday and Tuesday off. The weekend is also considered a "Wellness Weekend" for the district meaning no homework for students, and staff wasn't supposed to bring work home. So I didn't. I'm glad I can continue to rest up.

One of the goals for this weekend is to finish putting everything away in our new kitchen! Yep! Matt finished it! While I was sleeping all last weekend, Matt was working on the finishing touches in our kitchen, and we finally installed the range on Tuesday night. Since I was still feeling crappy, I didn't start putting away dishes until Thursday. We moved very quickly, so we're still trying to find things (like our baking sheets and cutting boards. They seem to have disappeared in the piles of boxes in the basement), but most of our dishes, etc are put away. We're still trying to figure out the best places for everything, since the kitchen has less storage than our apartment kitchen...and we own too much crap. But I'm going through it. When Matt gets home from lunch with a friend, he's going to cut the shelves for our pantry so everything can finally be put away. Tomorrow marks 2 months that we've owned the house, and I am ready for it to feel like a house. :)

I'm also just glad to be stepping away from the events of last week and the trauma of yet another school shooting. I posted a bit about it on facebook, and of course that post turned into a nightmare, but I can't believe we are here again. Talking about another school shooting.

As a teacher, I struggle with it each and every time. Not only because of how sad I am for the victims and their families, for the students who survived, for having to bring up the conversation of gun control again and again, but because I always have nightmares. I see my classroom, my kids. I have to have tough conversations with students that I shouldn't have to have. I have people telling me that I should carry a gun to work, people messaging me ways to help "lock down" my classroom, people telling me get over my emotions because it happens everywhere, people telling me my emotions about the situation are silly and unfounded. It kills me every time.

This week I had multiple students ask me if I would take a bullet for them, if I would protect them if there was a shooter in our building, if I would hold my classroom door open for them. Those are questions I shouldn't have to answer. And I don't know HOW to answer them. Would I protect my students? Of course I would. I would do my best to hide them in my too small classroom. In lockdown drills I have my classes shove desks in front of my door to barricade it. I keep a supply of canned goods in my cabinet that we can use to throw at an intruder. But why are these things I have to worry about as an educator?

People on the outside don't always get that, and it's maddening. I didn't practice lockdown drills in school. Even though I was in high school in the years immediately after Columbine, it wasn't like this. We weren't constantly afraid of a shooting happening in our backyard. It's terrifying. And maddening that absolutely nothing changes.

But, I do see a lot of hope. The outcry and anger from the survivors gives me hope. These younger generations are DONE and close to voting age. And while something should have been done years and years ago, I have faith and hope that these kids are going to accomplish more than what we have-because let's be frank-we've failed to protect them.

I hear and see a lot of adults ragging on the younger generations-millennials and these younger kids who haven't been labeled yet, but having taught out. These kids are angry. They are ready to change things. They are ready to make the world a better place, and I know they're going to do it. I am constantly amazed by the things they say, the things they know, the things they want to do in their lifetimes. I was not that kind of teenager-I was ignorant and sheltered.

I could continue, but I feel like I should stop. Let's talk about books!

Last weekend I finally managed to finish Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster. It was the 3rd book off my TBR challenge, even though it was listed as an alternate. I think I'm taking a step back from that challenge for a bit to get to a few other things I want to read, but that post should be coming up this week (finishing it after I publish this one).

I also flew through Caraval by Stephanie Garber. It is one of the 6 books selected for my district's new "Battle of the Books" for the three high schoolers, and I made it a goal to read all 6 before the event in mid-May. It was pitched as being similar to The Night Circus, which intrigued me, but...well, you'll have to wait for my review. I only have 2 more titles to read off the Battle list, and one is sitting on my nightstand. I probably won't get to it for another week or two, but I'm making good progress.

Throughout most of the week, I read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez. The book had been recommended to me in an ELA facebook group and it was calling to me. I even brought it to school with me on Friday to read during silent reading time with my juniors (they read at the beginning of each hour for ten minutes-sometimes I read with them....which actually keeps them more focused, so I should probably do it more often). They were intrigued by the title (and how fast I read-these are my low level kids). I ended up finishing it Friday night.

Yesterday I sat down with Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston. This was another recommendation by the ELA group, and I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would (cheerleading and Shakespeare? Really?). I have a lots of thoughts, but the fact that I sat and read it in one sitting should tell you something. So glad that Adam gifted me a copy. :)

This week I am going to be working my way through chunks of Ulysses by James Joyce since I'm technically doing a readalong....I started it a few years ago as part of another readalong, but never finished it (I should do a list of those books). I also pulled my old and battered copy of The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman off my shelf to reread before getting to The Book of Dust, also gifted from Adam. I LOVE the His Dark Materials trilogy. It's one of the first that I can remember reading as it came out. The wait between books 2 and 3 almost killed me. My copy is very well loved and I'm excited to be diving back into that world. I was debating this trilogy or starting A Wrinkle in Time, but I think that's going to be next up.

I'm hoping that after we finish setting up the kitchen today, I can spend most of tomorrow and Tuesday reading to take advantage of our "Wellness" time. :)

I love having my reading and blogging mojo back. I need to be better about visiting other blogs and commenting, but I'm getting there. Let me know what you're reading below!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Recent Book Loot.

I used to do "Book Loot" posts pretty regularly, but haven't done one in ages! I do think I have begun to limit my book purchases quite a bit. For one, I don't have enough physical space to keep storing all of the books I want to buy and read, and two, I've been much better at reading from my own shelves the last couple of years. However, I still buy when the mood strikes, and I am a part of a book swap with some fellow bloggers, so I do acquire new titles pretty regularly!

In what I'm going to call a fit of boredom, I made an Amazon order a couple weeks ago to get a few new titles. Here's what I got (from top to bottom):

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: I love L'Engle and read almost all of her work when I was a young teen. A friend of me got me hooked on her books and I scooped up most of them. And while I know I've read Wrinkle before, I couldn't find my copy. I tore through every box of books I own, and sadly, my copy disappeared (I found everything else by her, so not sure what happened). With the movie coming out, I really want to reread, so I'm glad I have a new copy ready to go.

2. Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart: I've enjoyed the other titles by Lockhart I've read over the last couple of years-We Were Liars blew me away and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks being a favorite to recommend to kids at school. I had marked this one on Goodreads when I saw it pop up, but hadn't snapped up a copy yet. It looks like another suspense-type novel, so I'll probably save it for a day I can read it all in one go.

3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: Are you shocked I've never read this? Me too! It's a book I feel I should have read by now, but just haven't gotten around to. Now that a physical copy is on my TBR bookshelf, I'm hoping I can get to it before the end of the school year. I truthfully know very little about it.

4. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez: I first heard about this one in an ELA teacher Facebook page a couple months ago, and the title kept popping up amidst conversations of books similar to Dear Martin and The Hate U Give. While reading the description doesn't make that direct connection for me, I am pretty intrigued by what it has to offer (in fact, I'm starting this as soon as I finish drafting and scheduling this post!)

5. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg: This title actually came up at the AP conference I went to this past summer and I've had it on my Amazon wishlist ever since. Issues with class in the United States fascinate me, and I'm hoping it offers some good things to ponder and discuss.

What are some recent things you've picked up? Have you read any of these titles? Let me know!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: Flu Haze.

Usually when I sit down to write these posts, I have an idea of the things I want to write about, and then I stick to that list. This week is not like that. I can't think of anything of substance to write about, mainly because I have been in my bed for nearly 3.5 days straight either sleeping or sleepily watching Netflix.

On Monday, we had a snow day, which was the nest thing ever after the events of last weekend. On Tuesday, I felt exhausted all day and ended up taking a 2 hour nap on the couch when I got home from work. When I woke up, I felt terrible-still exhausted, aching all over, and that feeling in the back of my throat that signals I'm going to get sick. I guess I wasn't surprised. When I get overworked and don't sleep enough, I inevitably get a cold. But this felt different.

I went to bed super early and got up for work Wednesday in a complete fog. I took my temp and didn't have one, but I just felt off in a non-cold way. I struggled through the day and took Motrin at lunch after noting I had a small fever. After school I had a training I couldn't skip, but as I sat there, I just felt worse and worse. I headed back to my classroom and prepped for a sub on Thursday, just in case (best decision ever). After leaving my sub plans on my desk, I left work at 5:15 and headed straight to the clinic.

At that point, I had massive chills and my body aches were unreal. They were out of the instant flu tests, so they did the 24 hour test and prescribed me flu meds to start in the meantime. Since I'm a teacher and immuno-compromised, they didn't want to take any chances. I got my meds and headed up and immediately put in for a sub and jumped into bed. I shivered under our normal bedding and three blankets until the middle of the night when I woke up drenched in sweat. It was terrible.

I proceeded to stay in bed unless I was showering or needed the bathroom until this morning. And while I often say I would love to stay in bed for days to read and watch TV, it was not wholly enjoyable. I feel weak and still sick-my throat is super swollen which makes talking and swallowing difficult. I don't have a fever (haven't since Friday), but I feel achy and tired and like I could sleep for days. I'm grateful we had another snow day on Friday (we got a foot of snow), so I didn't have to use another sick day, and while I think I should stay home tomorrow, I don't think I will. Since I was out the week prior (for a field trip), I feel guilty about taking the time. We'll see how I feel in the morning....just in case.

With all of that going on, I didn't read much. I couldn't focus on a book Thursday and most of Friday, and I finally managed to finish Where Angels Fear to Tread by Forster last night. And I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed it more had I not been all sick and whiny.

I'm actually not sure what I'm going to read next. I should really start Ulysses for the readalong I'm "participating" in, but I am not up for that today. I need something fast paced and addicting. Any suggestions?

That's all I've got for this week-just too exhausted to write more. I hope you all had a great week!