Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Progress and Ideas.

I'm still a little hesitant about the changes I want to make here on the blog. My biggest issue is with my original list of books and the progress I have made. While a part of me really wants to chuck it out the window, a larger part of me wants to continue chipping away at it while allowing myself the time to read outside of that list (which I have been doing almost exclusively all year).

I know that I want to return to reading classics more regularly. It was a great habit and one that I fell out of this year-I've turned to a lot of YA to fill the gap. And while entertaining, it doesn't sustain me in the same way as a meaty classic.

I think I might just roll the original list completely into my Classics Club List and forget the goal of 250....but merely focus on reading classics on a regular basis. Thoughts? I think I'm comfortable with that.

I'd also like to do more creative writing in this space. I've toyed with the idea for years about writing a novel online-publishing portions/chapters as I finish them and allowing pieces to be read before I finish the next (much like the serial releases of Dickens' novels). It's a challenge that appeals to me for many reasons-getting back into writing on a more regular basis, giving myself an audience (and deadlines), and getting honest feedback about my writing. It would obviously be very rough, and for those who read it...well, I'd hope they would keep that in mind. I think I just need to get enough courage to actually do it. ;)

I did make a big list of books I'd like to talk about-again, mostly YA. I feel like I have been "catching up" on some of the trilogies and big titles that have made appearances in the last few years, but I am nearing the end of the titles I'm interested in. In any case, I have a long list of books to talk about, so you can look forward to some thoughts on those books in the near future.

(and I will be honest that getting back into the habit of writing here is hard. It used to be second nature for me...now I am struggling).

Well, I will be back-just want to gather some opinions. :)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A List of "Thanks."

On this cold Thanksgiving Eve, I thought I would take a moment to post what I'm thankful for this year. Thanksgiving is definitely one of my favorite holidays, and not just because of the delicious food. I love taking the time to reflect on how fortunate I truly am. It is easy to be caught up in daily unhappiness and frustrations, so a time just to think about what I do have is always much appreciated. :)

  • My husband: He has been a part of my life since I was 15. And while I don't see him nearly often enough (our work schedules are opposite for a chunk of the week-it sucks), when I do see him, we always spend meaningful time together.
  • My family: The past year has been incredibly trying for me as I dealt with finding the right medication for my Lupus and my struggles with balancing work and home life. I can always count on my mom to pick up her phone and lend an ear when I have a problem, my sister to make me laugh, my brothers to give me advice and remind me of funny moments from when we were kids, my dad  to be a strong source of support, and little Zoey, my newest niece and only Goddaughter for bringing a smile to my face when we play and a feeling of comfort when we cuddle and watch Mickey. I'm also extremely grateful for Matt's family. His parents treat me like another daughter and support me in anything we wish to do. 
  • My kitties: The three of them cuddle with me on cold nights, offer a head nudge and the "honor" of petting them when I'm stressed, and lay on my piles of grading when I need to take a break. On days when I am feeling particularly unwell, I can always count on them to be right near me. They are very much my kids.
  • My students: I am truly blessed to be working in the school I am, in the district I am. Our kids are great and my students bring me daily joy-all 160 of them. I can always count on laughing each and every day while I'm at work-who else can say that? And as our teachers union has struggled to negotiate a new contract (we've been working without one, which is another story for another day), my students have been more than supportive of the stress it brings me.
  • My bosses and coworkers: Not only are my students fabulous, but so are the people I work with. My administrators are amazing. They are continually supportive of whatever I wish to take on and try, they offer their ears and knowledge to listen to my ideas, and encourage me to grow as a teacher. And my coworkers? Also amazing. I have to mention my "work wife" Colleen, who is a new teacher in our building this year. We share a classroom and I could not ask for a better friend. She's amazing.
  • Books: While I don't read nearly as much as I did a year or two ago, I can always count on a good book to bring me back to reality, and to get in touch with my human side. My quote for the yearbook this year for the English department is: "Every time I read a book, I learn something new about myself." I think that says it all.
  • The blogging community: While I was on hiatus, I still kept in touch with a few of you-on facebook, on instagram, on twitter, and through e-mail. It's amazing that even though I wasn't blogging, we were still connected in that way. And the comments on the last post have given me further drive to continue posting and to continue writing. 
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends, family, and good food. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On Change and Growth.

This is a post I've been meaning to write for quite some time. However, I don't think I ever felt comfortable enough with the words to sit down and attempt writing it. And while I'm not certain if I have the right words tonight, I feel a pull back to an old home to give myself peace of mind and a new start.

In the beginning of this space, I was a very different person. Younger, most definitely, but also still living at home, engaged to be married, and woefully unemployed. I had just been through my first year of "unemployment." While I didn't land a full-time right after graduation like many of my classmates did, I did get a phone call a couple of days before the start of school offering me a long-term subbing position (in a district quite far away from where I live and work now). I took the job, even though it was only in social studies, in hopes that it would lead to something permanent.

Instead, I spent six months working, living, breathing my life at that school. I poured my all into the job and when, just a few weeks before they had to "let me go" (I was nearing the maximum number of sub days allotted by the district), a job opened up. There happened to be another long-term sub in the building and in the same department. The two of us had worked closely together, had spent long hours creating lessons, drafting tests, and committing ourselves to a school in hopes we would get a job. Like myself, he was a recent graduate. We were the only two candidates selected for the interview and we knew it was going to be a tough decision.

At the time, I remember being incredibly nervous and excited about the prospect of finding a teaching home. I ignored a lot of warning signs at the time that should have clued me in to what was going to happen (I blissfully pushed aside the fact that I was notified of the interview barely a day before it took place whereas the other candidate knew for days). I also let myself believe a lot of the talk from other teachers-that the principal would hire me over the other candidate since I had no ties to the school and would be snatched up over the summer (the other candidate was coaching).

I'm sure you know where this winding story leads us...only hours after I interviewed, one of the assistant principals, who wasn't even in attendance at the interview, pulled me into a classroom that wasn't my own and told me they hadn't picked me.

To say I was crushed is an understatement. I lost it after he left the room. It became very real to me in that moment, standing in another teacher's room, that I didn't have "it." In many ways, I felt like a failure. Worthless.

I left that school only a couple of weeks later. A few of the other teachers told me to leave my belongings in the storage room, as they believed the other position would open up over the summer and that I would definitely be back. I didn't listen to them, and for that I am grateful.

It was in early July of that year when I received a phone call from one of those teachers telling me that they had a position open and already filled it. I wasn't called in for an interview. When I asked if she knew why, all she said was that the principal wanted to go "in another direction."

I was at the park then, and after hanging up, I jumped into a truck, ignoring my employees in the office, and sped into the park to hide. There, I called Matt sobbing and asked him to come to the park. I curled into a ball on the bench seat of the truck and cried until he got there. Once he saw me, he climbed into the truck beside me and held me until I was done.

Those moments in the truck, that anger and hopelessness that sank into my heart, were possibly the lowest in my life. I had counted on something too much. I had poured my heart into a school, into students, into a fantasy life that was out of reach. It became the moment that freaked me out before every interview and every phone call from an administrator telling me that I didn't make the cut. Even right now, it brings tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.

I wanted to tell this story, not to evoke any kind of emotion or sympathy from you, but so that you understand the very dark state I was in when I began blogging. As you know, I began writing in September 2009 with a goal in mind-to read a list of classics and write about them. It was also my goal to give myself some purpose, some focus to take away from the heartache of not getting what I wanted, and what I think I deserved. And so, A Literary Odyssey was born, and with it, my identity as a blogger.

The years since have changed me. In December 2009, I married Matt and moved out of my parents house. In the months after our wedding, I was completely unemployed, unable to find sub jobs, and waiting for the summer season to start at the park so I could work. I spent days upon days holed up in our apartment with no one to talk to when Matt was working. I occupied myself by watching TV, reading, and writing for my blog. And while the reading and writing were fulfilling for me intellectually, it left me a shattered mess in real life. I was aimless and frustrated.

That summer I worked, kept blogging and interviewed at countless schools. Each time I was passed over, I remembered my ultimate moments of rejection the year before and wondered more and more about why I was continually picked over, why I wasn't wanted by anyone when I had so much passion and energy for teaching.

It was in the fall of 2010 when I received a phone call that changed my life. It was from an assistant principal looking for an English/Social Studies teacher for a long-term sub job. I landed the interview and went in to speak with the AP and the teacher. The teacher, 7 months pregnant at the time, was loud, in charge, and ready to find someone with a passion for her subjects. Somehow, in that interview, we landed on the topic of reading and my favorite books. We ended up sharing some recommendations with each other before getting back on topic. Later that afternoon, that teacher called me and told me she wanted me to be her sub. As a side note, I want to point out something...that teacher is the same teacher I now co-teach AP U.S. History with. SHE is the reason I am blessed enough to work where I do.

Once I had that position, things slowly fell into place. While it took me two more years to find a permanent place, I did....in that same school. There were other interviews in between...at charter schools, other schools in the district, schools were old friends were working, and places all over the state. I never made it to the second round. But I did find a home in the place that accepted me for my passion...and the place that continues to allow me to explore that passion in my classroom.

This is a very long story to tell you what I need to say, and what I've been wanting to say for months...maybe even a year.

I no longer need this space as an escape from rejection and feeling unworthy. I turned to blogging as a way to find a place to teach...in many ways, I was a teacher without a classroom and being able to write and share my experiences with literature was a way for me to have that experience in the years it took me to find a physical classroom.

I know it to be true that I have changed and grown from who I was over four years ago. I no longer stay at home for days at a time, consumed by words and posts and numbers of pages. Instead, I am consumed by doing a good job in my classroom, teaching my students grammar, writing, history, and the bits of literature that have so inspired me. A student commented a few weeks ago, while I was reading "The Raven" to them, that I "really get into this literature stuff, huh?"

Yes, yes I do.

I think anyone who knows me even a little knows about my passion for language and the emotions it can evoke. I have always been inspired by the words of those who came before me...and in some way, hope that I, too, can make such an impact on the life of another. Where the blog filled that void and need for me previously, teaching does that now. It allows me the freedom to express the power of words and how words can change your life.

I think back to the words that were spoken to me in that first teaching job out of college. I think about the words I don't even remember...the hints that I wasn't the right fit for the job. I also think about those hurtful words that summer, when I was rejected without even a phone call from an administrator to tell me why. Those words hurt me, but they also inspired me. They gave me the courage and motivation to DO something with my life instead of wait. They gave me the inspiration to write about my passion, to grow as a person and a teacher, and to become who I am today.

This has all been a revelation to me over the course of the last few months as I battled what to do about this place on the internet. I needed this place once, for what it was and what I made it. I don't need it anymore.

But I do want it.

And acknowledging what it was and what it once stood for is important. But I need to move on. And in the next few weeks, I am going to transform my little corner of the online world to something I need now. There will still be book discussion (because that, most of all, is what I miss the most-writing about books), but there will also be life discussion.

I hope, that for those of you who read me before, to those of you who read this whole post, and to those of you who find me in the future, know that I am grateful for your eyes, ears, and minds-for letting me in and letting me explore the deepest parts of myself. I hope, that as the days and months and years pass, that I can continue to grow and change into a person I can be proud of.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Classics Club Spin #3!

It's time for another Classics Club spin! And I am signing up, even thought I failed miserably at the last 2.

In both of the previous Classics Club Spins, I ended up with the same spin book-I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. And while I know it is a marvelous book, I didn't read it. Either time.

For this go around, I'm hoping that I get a good one-one that will surprise me and suck me in and encourage me to continue on with my classics.

So, here is my spin list:

4 Books from Challenges:
1. All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque
2. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
3. Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
4. Billy Budd by Herman Melville

4 Books my Husband Picked (based on title):
5. The Fall by Albert Camus
6. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
7. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
8. A Doll's House by Henrick Ibsen

4 Books to Reread:
9. Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
10. 1984 by George Orwell
11. A Light in August by William Faulkner
12. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

4 Books by Favorite Authors:
13. Beloved by Toni Morrison
14. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
15. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
16. Tess of D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

4 Books I'm Dreading:
17. Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyon
18. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
19. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
20. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Dog Days of Summer Readathon.

I posted about my participation in this readathon MONTHS ago and then forgot about it. Then, I popped on last night and remembered that it was this weekend!

I've been needing a fun reading weekend for some time, so it was perfect that I had already committed to this. I've been doing a lot of work on things for school and reading for my AP history class, that all my fun reading time has disappeared (as well as my own presence). This is a great way to take a break!

Let's face it, we all deserve a little down time to remember why we read and why we love it so much. And while I love history...I'm a little sick of reading it as my "fun" reading.

So, I pulled a stack of books last night and determined that I would read 2 fun books before diving back into any prep work or anything that seemed like work.

Here is my pile:

From top to bottom:
  • Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis: I actually read the first chapter of this during my AP conference a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it, so it got bumped way up on my TBR.
  • The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente: I've never read anythign by this author (or heard of her), but it came in a package from my Book Swap buddy this month. It looks fantastic and I'm going to dive in as soon as I publish this post!
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: I need to admit that I cheated and read this last night (the whole thing in one big sitting). I had heard SO MANY good things and this book lived up to those good things! It was a great read. HIGHLY recommend it!
  • Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis: All of the AP kids had to read this over the summer for their reading assignment. I read it years ago (for fun), but the details are hazy and I need to read it again before school starts...in about 2 weeks.
  • 1776 by David McCullough: I'm about 3/4 of the way through this one, so I just need to settle in and finish it. It was one of the other choices for kids to read this summer, and like Founding Brothers, I've already read it. I'm hoping I can crank this one out tonight after I finish the Valente title and a little prep work.
Since I've already finished 1, and I am determined to read the Valente title before doing anything else, I already consider this readathon a success. :)I'm off to go read, and finish prepping my semicolon and colon unit. :)

Happy Reading!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Weekly Wrap-up for August 4, 2013: Busy and History Talk.

I thought that when I took this summer off, I would have a lot of time to be productive and get things done. And while our apartment is the cleanest and most organized its been since we moved in 3 years ago, I'm not feeling very accomplished.

I have made a little headway with prepping school items, but I don't have as much done as I would like. School starts in one month (we start September 3), and I feel like I have a mountain of things I'd like to get done. Deep down I know it won't matter how much I get done now-I'll still be working on things when school starts, but cranking out grammar and vocabulary things for the semester will be a huge weight lifted off my shoulders-then I can concentrate on the lit and writing.

Another big weight was learning (about 2 weeks ago), that I am no longer teaching U.S. History. Instead, I am teaching AP (Advanced Placement) U.S. History. I'm excited about it, but also a little nervous APUSH is a very intense class! I'll be co-teaching the class with another teacher (in fact, the teacher who I'll be working with is the teacher I subbed for in my very first placement in this school). Both of our classes will be in one big room, and we'll run two hours of the class (so, 35 students each=70 students IN the class times two). It will be a great challenge to take on.

I was fortunate enough to be able to go to a conference this past week geared specifically for the class. I'll admit that after the first day I felt incredibly overwhelmed. The pace of the class is intense (3 chapters of material in about 2 weeks), and the workload is high (lots of writing and reading for me and the students). I also felt a bit intimidated by the teachers with me in the conference-lots of very experienced history teachers with a lot of knowledge about the subject!

However, once we moved into the second day, I felt a lot better. We worked a lot on evaluating the writing piece. I feel like I was pretty confident with that part, even though the writing is different than English class writing. We also did presentations on the last day of lessons we've done before, and I came away with a lot of ideas for the class.

So while I know that this class is going to be A LOT of work, I'm also pretty excited to dive in. It'll be a good challenge for me, and I think I'm going to learn a great deal teaching it.

Our instructor also reached out to textbook publishers and scored us all a bunch of books! I walked away with 6 brand new textbooks (all different!), as well as 6 books full or primary and secondary sources to use! I've already started reading our textbook, and I feel like the others will just help me gain more knowledge!

I've also started looking at reading some other outside books to give me better context, and picked up David McCullough's 1776 last night. I read it a number of years ago, and quite enjoyed it! I'm also hoping to get through Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis (another one I've read before) in the weeks before school starts. I'd also love to read John Adams by McCullough, but it's a beast, and I'm not sure I'll have enough time.

Other books looming on the horizon and already on my shelves are American Lion by Jon Meacham (about Andrew Jackson), No Ordinary Time and Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (about FDR/WWII and Abraham Lincoln), as well as Truman by McCullough. I also accepted two books for review from HarperCollins that will fit in nicely: The Men who United the States by Simon Winchester (I'm really excited about this one) and Camelot's Court by Robert Dallek (obviously about the Kennedys-I'll save this one for next semester). All in all, I have some good history books in my future, so you can probably already tell that those will be appearing on the blog at some point.

In any case, I will have a busy school year ahead of me, and I've planned out the next month to make sure that I am as prepped as possible for what I can control. This means I am letting go of some other stresses...like stressing myself out about not making reading progress for my 250 list. It's something I have been fighting (and stressing myself out about) for months. It's time to let it go. I'm j

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Books for Adoption. :)

Hi everyone!

Sorry it has been a bit quiet around here the last few days. I had a minor surgery on Monday, and have been recuperating by sitting around all week. :) I should be back to regularly posting soon!

I went through and finished organizing my shelves last weekend, and in the process, I found a few books that I have doubles of. I'm posting a picture here. If you would like any (or all) of these, please comment below and I will mail them your way (first come, first serve). I will say that I bought Barchester Towers new, and it is definitely an older book. The same goes for David Copperfield, but that is the edition I read last year!

Again, if you'd like any of these, comment below with your e-mail and I'll get in touch with you. I hope all 4 books can find a new home soon!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book 154: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

“The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”

Going in to my second read of The Bell Jar, I wasn't sure how I was going to react. The first time I read Plath's novel, I was about 19 and home for the summer. A group of girls at the park were all reading the novel and they convinced me to read it as well. We all ended up talking about it a great deal, since many of us related to it in the same way. However, I do remember big pieces of the novel not necessarily relating to my life, and perhaps I didn't get everything from the novel I should have.

I will admit I was apprehensive about reading this again, but it felt right, so I dug in. The novel is no less painful the second time around-Esther Greenwood's spiral into depression is still absorbing and terrifying. Thankfully, I have a bit more perspective on my own life to not see as many connections, and I can understand the real significance of Plath's work and what Esther's spiral downward means for women, the feminist movement, and depression in general.

Essentially, The Bell Jar follows the story of Esther Greenwood, who is living in New York City at the start of the novel after winning a contest to work for a magazine. Her life is rather glamorous in the city. She lives with other girls who are also interning. They get free make-up and clothes, go to fancy parties, and seem to be headed on a successful track. However, as Esther starts to look closely at the life she's living, she realizes there are big holes in who she is, and she becomes unsure of the direction her life is headed. That is when the spiral begins. She stops caring. She stops feeling. She eventually stops doing everything because it all seems pointless. She says,

“I couldn’t see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to.” 

She also points out at one point that she stopped bathing and showering. Her point was that she was just going to get dirty again, so why bother to get clean in the first place? To someone who has never experienced that kind of depression, I'm sure that thinking seems...silly. And while I have never suffered from severe depression, I can understand Esther.

For the period of time after Matt and I were first married and I was completely unemployed, I went through some of those motions as well. I was in our apartment non-stop, refused to go out and see friends, and yes, went days without showering because really, what was the point? That kind of thinking it scary, and if you haven't experience, I imagine it must be hard to relate to Esther.

And for Esther, a lot of those feelings emerge once she starts thinking about her life and her "inadequacies."

“The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it.” 

She believes that she has merely been skating along her entire life. Yes, while she was smart, she never had to work for anything. Everything she has asked for or worked for, she has gotten. So when she loses a writing internship shortly before she is due home from New York, it is the last straw to tipping her over the edge. That was the piece I believed I related to when I read this as a college student. College was really the first time I didn't feel as smart as I could of been. I wasn't the best writer in my English classes, I was the most knowledgeable in my history courses. That feeling of inadequacy was something I wasn't used to. I have seen realized that everyone feels that way at some point. And it's okay to feel that way. We all aren't super-geniuses.

It was after I passed this point on this read that I could see the rest of Esther's spiral into depression from different points of view. Obviously, knowing more about Plath and her life gives me better perspective about her writing of such a topic. I can also understand the historical significance of why Esther rebels so hard against the dream of getting married and having children (something that went over my head the last time I read this).

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

In all, my read of The Bell Jar was enlightening this time around. It's not an easy book to read (in part because the descent into depression seems so normal at points-that's off-putting), but it is an important novel, and one that I think is worthy of reading a few times. It also inspired me to learn a bit more about Plath. I've already ordered a volume of her journals, since I find her to be such an interesting woman. So, if you haven't read it, I think you should.

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book 153: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.

“Of love it may be said, the less earthly the less demonstrative. In its absolutely indestructible form it reaches a profundity in which all exhibition of itself is painful.” 

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy is the first classic I've read and completely finished in recent months. It was the perfect choice as my first classic "back in the game" of regular blogging and reminded me why I love classics so much in the first place. Because while YA and genre fiction is fun and entertaining, it doesn't give me as much satisfaction and love as a classic does. Not to mention, Hardy is a superb writer and never disappoints me.

I've come to expect a number of things from Hardy when I read one of his novels-well-developed and rounded characters, a beautiful backdrop, and tragedy. The Return of the Native lives up to those things (although, I still think Jude the Obscure wins for being the most tragic of all the Hardy novels I've read).

The novel takes place in Egdon Heath-a beautiful piece of country that provides the dramatic backdrop to the actions of the characters. The main conflict of the novel centers on a very elaborate love triangle...err...square. Or something of that sort. The lonely Diggory Venn is a reddlemen in the area and is desperately in love with Thomasin Yeobright. She, while acknowledging the fact that Venn loves her, has already pledged herself to Wildeve (a man who has already messed up their wedding day once as the novel opens). However, Wildeve is also a bit confused about his feelings, as he also loves a woman named Eustacia Vye. It all comes to a head when Thomasin's cousin, Clym Yeobright "returns" from Paris and catches the attention of Eustacia (he is the native the title refers to). The rest of the novel is one of deception, false hopes, and the loss of hope as the characters struggle to understand their identities and who they actually love.

What I loved most about this novel is the way Hardy constructed the two quietest characters. The first, Thomasin Yeobright, is a woman who is very quiet. She is insistent on marrying Wildeve, even after he made her look quite scandalous, because it is the right thing to do. After that decision, she is a character that things happen to. She lives her life, relatively content in the decision she made, and things happen around her to change her life. The second quiet character, Venn, is one that I quite loved. He's very central in the beginning and end of the novel, but disappears for a bit in the middle. When the reader first meets him, he is pining for dear Thomasin and even proposes marriage to her. Once he learns that she won't have him, he insists on making sure that her life is as happy as possible. There are a couple of instances where he interferes in the actions of Wildeve or Eustacia to ensure Thomasin's happiness. That's the kind of man I can admire. He is more concerned with her happiness than winning her hand.

The other character I quite enjoyed is Thomasin's aunt and Clym's mother, Mrs. Yeobright. She appeared to be one of those meddling type of women, who assume their thoughts and wishes are the only way, and it must be done as they say. She is not content with the decisions either of her two charges take and winds up quite lonely. Her story was certainly one of the most tragic-I imagine watching your children pull away from you is quite a miserable experience.

As for Clym...I  really liked him and his hopes. He came back from Paris with the hopes of opening a school to educate his people-and he was focused on that dream throughout all the actions of the novel. He didn't waver from pursuing that dream, even with Eustacia's pressure to go back to Paris. His fate, by the end of the novel, was also quite tragic and I felt badly for him.

In all, the novel is really about the idea of hopes and dreams-and what steps you are willing to take to achieve them. All of the characters are consumed by something out of reach and it is their decision to either let the dream go (like dear Venn and his love for Thomasin), or to continue to pursue it, no matter the cost (like Eustacia's constant brooding and desire to leave Egdon Heath for Paris). Whether they get what they want or something else entirely is something I won't tell you.

This is definitely one of my favorite Hardys so far, and an excellent piece of Victorian fiction. I cannot recommend it enough!

“How I have tried and tried to be a splendid woman, and how destiny has been against me! ...I do not deserve my lot! ...O, the cruelty of putting me into this ill-conceived world! I was capable of much; but I have been injured and blighted and crushed by things beyond my control! O, how hard it is of Heaven to devise such tortures for me, who have done no harm to heaven at all!”

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mini-Reviews Part 3 (Adult Titles).

This is the third and final post in my attempt to catch up talking about the books I've read this year and haven't reviewed. The first two posts focused on young adult titles and this one is all about those adult books I've picked up and read in the last few months.

Keep in mind that these are just short little blurbs about the books and my impressions of them.

Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano

I was actually pitched this book for review and accepted for two reasons. First, the cover. Second, the title. If you are unfamiliar with Loteria, it is a card game-a bit like bingo-from Mexico. I took a lot of Mexican and Mexican-American history courses in college for my history degree (I have a specialization in Mexican-American Culture and Studies), and in one of my courses, a professor taught us how to play Loteria. I haven't played or seen cards since then, but when I saw the title of this book, I knew I had to read it.

Young Luz Castillo has been taken in by the state while her father is in jail and her sister is in the ICU. Alone and feeling very isolated, she takes to writing a journal in a very interesting way. With a deck of Loteria cards at her side, she pulls a card and writes a piece of her history. What unfolds is a very touching and emotional story of her childhood and how her family fell apart.

I loved this book. It was raw, emotional, and tugged at every heart-string. This is one of those books you don't see coming...but you need to read it. I promise.

*I will warn you that Zambano throws in quite a few Spanish phrases. Most you can pick up from context clues, but some are a bit trickier. I figured them out from my background, but some might be hard for you if you don't know any Spanish.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

This was a book not at all on my radar. I really don't read contemporary adult fiction. I really couldn't tell you what's "popular" right now. But I remember hearing someone on the blogosphere raving about this book, and I had it in the back of my mind. So, while down in Indiana in May for the Indy 500, I went to the bookstore with my sister-in-law. This was on a shelf and jumped out at me. So I bought it.

At times this book was...absurd that I laughed out loud. There were phrases that just jumped off the page...including quite a few f-bombs. It just seemed so raw and edgy. It was in my face and aggressive. The footnotes were insightful and interesting. I just sucked them up.

The book is about the life of Oscar Wao, a Dominican living in the United States. Through a series of different narrators, the book explores Oscar's life and how he became the person he is. In some ways, the book reminded me of One Hundred Years of Solitude-not the magical realism part, but the depth of family history and strength.

By the end of the novel, I was completely obsessed. It was a book that just took me over. And told me that perhaps I need to read more adult fiction...from this era. :)

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

I've never read anything by Sedaris, but he is one of those writers I've been meaning to get to. Then this book came out and I was so intrigued by the cover and title that I figured I would read it soon. Then I happened to win a copy from the 24-Hour Readathon, so it was perfect.

This is a collection of essays from Sedaris about a whole range of topics. Many made me chuckle and I flipped through them rather quickly. I will say that some of them would have gone over better had I been listening to Sedaris talk. I feel like a lot of his humor is lost in the written form. He must be hilarious in person.

I did enjoy my first exposure and have another one of his titles on my shelf (Me Talk Pretty One Day). He is someone I will definitely read more of in the future!

As you can see, I don't read much in the way of current adult fiction and non-fiction, so please give me some recommendations for other titles to check out. I think I read diversely, but I know this is an area I know nothing about. :)

Monday, July 15, 2013


Today is my 28th birthday! And while I'm not that excited about getting older, I am glad to put 27 behind me.

The last year has been incredibly eventful. I started my first official year of teaching. My brother had his first baby-my Goddaughter Zoey-in October. I was diagnosed with Lupus. And I've struggled to balance the different aspects of my life-mainly keeping a balance between work, illness, and my sanity.

So, I am glad to put 27 behind me, and I am looking forward to 28 with high hopes. I'm going to be starting my second official year of teaching (which I am really excited about-I've started prepping already!). Zoey is going to be turning 1. Watching her get bigger and being a big part of her life has been amazing. I consider it prep for a future kiddo in my future. ;) Matt and I have plans for potentially seeking out a house in the future (the original plan was to start looking this fall, but I don't think we're ready). Also, I want to keep my health in check, and since starting a new medication (Humira), I've been feeling a lot more optimistic about staying healthy.

And, of course, lots and lots of reading.

I've never been more grateful for my corner of the internet. The last year was emotionally trying, and I am so glad that when I did come and write, there was always someone listening. That has been a big comfort to me. So thank you.

Here's to another great year!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Weekly Wrap-up for July 14, 2013: Organization.

Hi everyone! When this post goes live, I'll actually be out of town (I'm a sneaky one). Matt and I will be traipsing along somewhere near Traverse City today (we came up here for a wedding on Saturday). Nevertheless, I have a question I've been meaning to ask, and perhaps you can help me!

I know I have talked about book organization before. However, I'm looking for some ideas from you about my shelves. As of right now, I have 5 shelves. 4 are big, full-sized beasts, and I have one tall, skinny shelf. 2 of my shelves are in our living room and they house all of my classics. The other 3 are in our second bedroom/office and have a mish-mash of YA, Science-fiction, Fantasy, History, and random other books I didn't want boxed up anymore.

Here is my problem.

Since I started collecting the new Penguin English Library books, my classics collection has grown...a lot. In fact, since I started blogging, my classics collection went from about half a big bookshelf to filling 2 big shelves (and then some). Right now, I have my clothbounds and PELs separated out from the rest of my classics-they look very pretty all together on the shelf-but they are growing as I continue to acquire and now I don't have room for all my classics in our living room. So what gets moved to the other bedroom? My classics are mainly organized alphabetically by author, so should I just take my poor end of the alphabet classics and moved them out? Or should I take a big set of titles (like my Shakespeare-which takes up a whole row...and then some) and move them over? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

And second problem...

My shelves in the second bedroom are also overflowing...which is a surprise to my husband...I mean, where are all those extra books coming from? (*whistles innocently*). I need to put some books away in a box to clear room for the classics moving in, and to get rid of the excess double stacking. But what do I put away? Should I keep old favorites on the shelves just because I love them? Or should I just keep unreads out so they taunt me into picking them up?

See, this is a very serious problem. :) I need your ideas! How do you organized your shelves? Be super specific and help a girl out!

Thanks in advance for all your help!

(And I'll be back in person on Wednesday). :)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mini-Reviews Part 2 (YA).

Today I bring you the second half of the young adult mini-reviews from what I've been reading this year. Like the first post, this will focus on those novels I've been reading and not writing about. And this second half has some GOOD books!

Every Day by David Levithan

My first Levithan experience wasn't as awesome as I had hoped, so I decided to try another novel before giving up on Levithan. I am so glad I did.

I settled on Every Day after a few people raved about it. The story focuses on a boy who wakes up in the body of someone new every day. Each morning he has to determine who he is and what his life will be. And each night he closes his eyes knowing he will end up somewhere else.

It's a great concept for a novel, and Levithan executed it brilliantly. I found myself truly sympathizing with the main character and his struggle to build some kind of a life with the people he meets. It got me thinking about the people you see every day-how you really don't know what their life is like at home. This book gave you a glimpse of it.

I'm ready to tackle more by Levithan, so please tell me some other titles to read!

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

I am in LOVE with Between Shades of Gray, so I bought Out of the Easy the day it came out. It didn't disappoint me.

The novel takes place in New Orleans in the 1950s. Our main character, Josie, has lived there since she was a little girl. Her mother works at a brothel as a prostitute, and Josie is responsible for cleaning it each morning. She refuses to fall into a life like her mother's, so she works hard to save money to get away and out of New Orleans.

This novel truly sucked me in. Sepetys has the ability to craft truly engaging stories with relate-able and likeable characters. Josie was someone I really rooted for. Her life was hard and her mother was truly a horrid person. But she persevered with class and strength. It was riveting.

Sepetys is an author that I will continue to follow!

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

This was a title I picked up at the book fair after seeing a bunch of students reading it and favorable reviews online. I decided to read it near the end of the school year when I was stressed out because I needed to be entertained. And entertained I was.

This is a cute story of an angry girl, Hadley, traveling overseas to her estranged father's wedding. She meets a cute and dashing boy, Oliver, at the airport, and the next 24 hours chronicle their time together.

The story was cute. I'm not a big fan of the whole "angry girl meets cute boy who shows her the error of her ways," but this was truly entertaining and very sweet. It was a just a happy book that delivered on its title. And that is something you need once in awhile!

Legend and Prodigy by Marie Lu

So, I do this thing where I buy new books that are coming out, then learn they are part of a series, and then I let them sit on my shelves until all are published. Perhaps it has to do with my need for instant gratification, but I really enjoy reading a series straight through. Legend was one of those books, until my husband picked it off the shelf for me to read next. It helps that the third and final book will be out this fall...I really don't have long to wait.

These are some of those novels that are for "fans of The Hunger Games." I personally find that to be an annoying comparison, since novels shouldn't have to be compared to something else to find readership. And while they do have things in common with The Hunger Games, they aren't that similar.

Anyway, Legend introduces the reader to a future world full of violence and anger-especially with children. June, a young prodigy in the military of the Republic, is on a mission to find the Republic's most notorious criminal, Day. It's a very action-filled book and I read it quickly. The point-of-view switches each chapter between Day and June (and I find it really annoying that Day's portions are in a different colored font. It made my eyes hurt. Don't try to be cute publishing houses).

I really enjoyed both titles and will definitely be picking up the third title when it debuts (I also plan on finishing my reading of the Divergent series), but after that, I need to step away from the post-apocalyptic world titles. While they are all entertaining, they are all starting to contain the same elements and it's driving me crazy. I just need a breather from the YA. :)

There you have it-I'm caught up on mini-reviews for all the YA I've read this year. Stay tuned for one more mini-review post on some adult titles. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Winger by Andrew Smith.

I had the opportunity to read a few Andrew Smith books last summer for a reading event. While I didn't finish out the event (school started and everything disappeared), I did read both In the Path of Falling Objects and Stick, both of which impressed me with their honest portrayal of teens. So, when Adam over at Roof Beam Reader starting talking about Smith's newest book, Winger, I knew I needed to pick it up. Then he reviewed it and really made me want to read it. So, I ordered it and when it came, I promised myself I would finish the two classics I had on my nightstand before picking it up.

That didn't happen. I settled in to read a few pages and became absorbed with the novel. I ended up reading it all in one go, unable to set it down. It was just that amazing.

Ryan Dean West, aka Winger, is a 14-year-old junior at an elite boarding school who plays rugby and is obsessed with his friend Annie. Clearly gifted in academics, he struggles with his age and how those around him see him. He begins his junior year by living in Opportunity Hall, a place for the "problem" kids at school. He winds up living with the biggest bully on the rugby team and from the beginning of the year, he struggles to find his identity with the other boys in Opportunity Hall.

I have to say that I am a sucker for any book that takes place at a boarding school. There is something about the idea of kids running rampant at a school with minimal adult supervision that gets me every time. Winger is no exception. From the beginning, there seems to be little adult interaction with the kids (with the exception of Mr. Wellins, the teacher in charge of Opportunity Hall, and a short excursion to Annie's home). Most of the book focuses on the interactions of the kids, all from Ryan Dean West's point of view.

I loved Ryan Dean as a main character. I had to remind myself at the beginning of the novel that he's only 14-2 years younger than many of the characters he interacts with. And once that piece of information was firmly embedded in my mind, I understood his actions so much better. He's obsessed with his friend Annie in a way that only teenagers can be. He thinks about her often, worries what she thinks of him, and tries hard to lift himself up in her eyes. As someone who works with teenagers at school, I've seen the same thing happen in front of my eyes with some of my students. Being a teenager is tough, but to be younger than most of your peers, well, that's hard.

And that conflict in his maturity level-the fact that he is gifted academically but clearly immature when it comes to social interactions-is what makes the novel shine. Ryan Dean is awkward at points. He DOES react immaturely to some situations because he simply doesn't know any better. But he grows and matures over the course of the novel, and the reader can truly see him growing up.

One of the highlights of the novel was Ryan Dean's growing friendship with Joey-a gay teammate and another occupant of Opportunity Hall. I loved that Ryan Dean was honest enough to acknowledge the fact that some might see their friendship as something as other than friends, but was man enough not to let it bother him. It was one of those pieces that showed his growing maturity. I also just liked the friendship and how it was portrayed. It's clear that Joey took Ryan Dean under his wing, and was open enough to tell him to quit being stupid and to "grow up" on more than one occasion. Their friendship just warmed my heart.

I just...I really loved the honesty here. Ryan Dean just felt like a real teenage boy, fighting real teenage problems-being ostracized from his peers, fighting to fit in, and trying to win the girl of his dreams. The novel was just...right. It made me think about those insecurities I used to have in high school-and that struggle to fit in with my peers. In Ryan Dean's voice, it just felt right and perfect. It wasn't a caricature of a teenager.

There is so much more I could say about this novel, as I have barely scratched the surface of what this novel is about and how truly powerful it is. If there is one novel you need to read, this is it. I promise you won't regret it. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Odyssey Readalong Books 1 and 2.

I'm trying to be good about stopping and writing down my thoughts after every book I finish, but I haven't been good about typing up my thoughts and sharing them with those of you participating.

I thought it might help those of you tackling this for the first time to have a place to talk about things as you read, so I'm sure these posts will be a bit of summarizing, and a bit of my own observations reading through this for the umpteenth time. :)

I already discussed the opening lines, which remain my favorite lines of the entire work, but there is so much more that happens in the opening books! We don't start with dear Odysseus, but rather with his son Telemachus and his journey to set things right in Ithaca.

Book 1: Athena Inspires the Prince

So, after the opening lines of The Odyssey, in which the bard reciting the story invokes the Muses to inspire their recitation, we learn about the state of affairs in Ithaca since Odysseus has been away from home. When The Odyssey was originally recited, or performed, by the bards in Ancient Greece, everyone knew the history behind it-that men from Greece rallied behind Menelaus and Agamemnon to get Helen back from Paris. So, all the Greeks ventured to Troy to get Helen back, and after ten years of fighting, Odysseus comes up with the idea of the Trojan Horse and Troy falls.

It is now years later, and while many other men have returned home, or have perished on the way home (news has traveled to let their families know), nothing has been heard from Odysseus or his men. All of the gods, with the exception of Poseidon, have taken pity on Odysseus, who is still far from home in the clutches of Calypso. Poseidon is still a bit mad at Odysseus for stabbing out the Cyclops' eye (something we will read about in a bit), so he has delayed poor Odysseus from returning home. However, the rest of the gods agree to help Odysseus when Poseidon conveniently isn't in attendance, and Athena decides to interfere directly with Odysseus' son Telemachus so he can take back his home in preparation for Odysseus' return.

Athena disguises herself and arrives in Ithaca at Odysseus' home. In his long absence (which is 20 years by the time he eventually returns), his son has grown up and his home has been overrun by suitors for his wife. Athena arrives to discover the suitors lounging around the home, eating and drinking and otherwise dishonoring Odysseus in his absence. Telemachus seeks out the stranger and they talk. it is during this discussion that Telemachus confides that he is unsure of what to do-how to drive the suitors away from his home and mother and take back his home;

"Dear stranger, would you be shocked by what I say?
Look at them over there. Not a care in the world,
just lyres and tunes! It's easy for them, all right,
they feed on another's goods and go scot-free-
a man whose white bones lie strewn in the rain somewhere,
rotting away on land or rolling down the ocean's salty swells.
But that man-if they caught sight of him home in Ithaca,
by god, they'd all pray to be faster on their feet
than richer in bars of gold and heavy robes. 
But now, no use, he's died a wretched death.
No comfort's left for us...not even if
someone, somewhere, says he's coming home.
The day of his return will never dawn." (lines 184-196)

Poor Telemachus is clearly lost-he doesn't know what to do to regain his home and honor his father's memory. Unlike the other Greeks who fought at Troy, Odysseus' fate is unknown. Others who died in battle or on the way home-that news has already made it. Odysseus is simply lost, and because of the uncertainty surrounding where he is and what has happened to him, Telemachus is at a loss for what to do.

Athena counsels Telemachus to go abroad to seek news of his father and to "become a man." By leaving home and taking action, she is taking him away from the uncertainty and anger regarding the suitors and will empower him to seek his own fate. She suggests traveling to Sparta and Pylos to seek information about his father and his fate. Telemachus agrees to her plan before Athena leaves.

For reference: Ithaca (Odysseus' Home, Pylos, Sparta, and Troy (location of the Trojan War)
Telemachus and Penelope
Penelope appears briefly and talks with her son about missing Odysseus and wanting to be rid of the suitors plaguing their house. After she leaves, Telemachus musters the courage to call out the suitors for dishonoring his father, but they pay little attention. He turns to bed and goes to sleep thinking over Athena'a plan and whether he has the courage to accomplish what she has set for him.

Book 2: Telemachus Sets Sail

The second book of The Odyssey opens with Telemachus waking the morning after his talk with Athena. He calls the Achaens to assemble to speak about his plans. Athena only intervenes slightly;

"And Athena lavished a marvelous splendor on the prince
so the people all gazed in wonder as he came forward,
the elders making way as he took his father's seat." (lines 12-14).

Athena hopes to give Telemachus the illusion of manhood as he takes his father's role at the head of the counsel, especially because the counsel has not been called since Odysseus left some years before. Once together, Telemcahus speaks to the counsel and explains he was the one to call it. He outlines his plans and that there are 2 issues that need to be dealt with: 1. the loss of his father has created a huge hole in Ithaca and 2. there are suitors plaguing the house that are dishonoring his father and pressuring his mother.

The counsel turns on Telemachus. Many place blame on Penelope for not simply choosing a new suitor (she actually spent three years tricking the suitors by saying as soon as she finishing a weaving, she would marry, but she unraveled her weaving every night. They eventually caught on). In response to the negativity and anger pointed in Telemachus' direction, Zeus sends down eagles as a sign of the gods' favor toward Telemachus and his quest to find his father. This is ignored by the counsel.

Telemachus then outlines his plans for journeying to Pylos and Sparta in hopes of discovering Odysseus' fate. He is laughed at as the counsel disbands. Feeling discouraged, he prays to Athena and she encourages him to continue on with the plan, even without the support of the counsel;

you'll lack neither courage nor sense from this day on,
not if your father's spirit courses through your veins-" (lines 302-304).

Telemachus returns home where the suitors also mock him for his plans, while Athena goes in search of a ship and crew for his journey. He makes plans with a servant to arrange supplies for the trip, then sneaks away to pack the ship and begin his journey in search of his father with Athena by his side.


I've already mentioned that the parts most are familiar with in relation to The Odyssey are only a small piece of the story. Because in addition to Odysseus' actual journey home and the monsters he faces, there is also the coming of age of Telemachus, and Odysseus' plan to retake his home once he sets foot in Ithaca.

This first 4 books focus closely on Telemachus and the life he has without Odysseus at home. he is first portrayed a bit of a list boy. He was only a baby when Odysseus left for war, so he has grown up under the protection of his mother, Penelope, and the servants in the household. And once Odysseus didn't return, his home became overrun with suitors, eager for a chance to marry Penelope and take everything Odysseus worked for. Telemachus is lost. His mother is too consumed by her grief for Odysseus to notice that her son is suffering from the pressure of the suitors taking over the home. Telemachus has no male role model to guide him, so once the gods interfere, he is eager for their help.

I quite enjoy the story of Telemachus. He IS weak at the beginning-he allows the open dishonor of his parents and lacks the courage to stand up for them. It is only after Athena speaks with him and inspires him to be proactive that he gains the courage to speak out to those around him. As Athena tells him, he must "become a man." The first step is take action be seeking information about his father and where he may be. 

We still have two more books that focus on Telemachus. He'll visit Pylos and Sparta to learn about his father's whereabouts before returning home to deal with the suitors. We'll see more growth from him, but it is only when Odysseus comes home that we see that he does, eventually, "become a man."

The other thing I want to mention is the interference of the gods. The Greek gods are notorious for interfering with mortals, and Odysseus has been a victim of that. Poseidon hates Odysseus, for many reasons we'll learn later, and has prevented him from returning home. The other gods only interfere when Poseidon is occupied elsewhere, a fact that cracks me up every time I read it. But you do have to keep in mind that since Odysseus must return by sea, Poseidon can really prevent his journey. 

But Athena is sick of sitting by and watching as things turn sour in Ithaca. As the story continues, we'll see the places where the gods decide things are important enough to interfere...and what they let go. 

**Please let me know if this format was helpful for you. And ask questions below! I'd love to get a bit of discussion going.*

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mini-Reviews Part 1 (YA).

Since I haven't been blogging on a regular basis, I have a pile of books waiting that I've read and haven't talked about. I figured I should remedy that, so I give you mini-reviews! I read some of these so long ago that some details are hazy, so this is really the best option for me to at least tell you what books I liked and didn't like. :)

This post will focus on half of the young adult novels that I've read over the last few months. Since this post has been sitting in "draft" mode for...well, a long time, some novels are a little hazier than others (these are in order from the furthest away to the most recent reads).

Feel free to tell me in comments if you've read the same novel and your thoughts! :)

Requiem by Lauren Oliver

I read both Delirium and Pandemonium shortly after they were published, and I was ready to read Requiem when it came out. I wasn't all that happy with the end of either of the two previous books-both made me roll my eyes. Of the two, Pandemonium irritated me more, but I still wanted to know how the story ended.

While I certainly flew through Requiem, I was left feeling very unimpressed. The book felt a bit disjointed. And the romantic conflict felt forced to me. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. However, I did like the storyline with Hana, and felt that it connected well with Lena's story.

Overall, I enjoyed the series, and I've recommended it to a bunch of students. They all seemed to really enjoy it, so I consider that to be a success.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling is one of those titles I've been meaning to read, but hadn't picked up at the store. I finally caved when one of the students from the school's book club convinced me it was really good.

And she was right. Hands down, Graceling is one of the best YA fantasy novels I've read in a long time. I found it to be original and compelling. Katsa was a narrator and character that I truly rooted for. She underwent a great deal of change in the novel, but maintained her identity no matter the circumstances. That was something I really admired from Cashore-that she didn't sacrifice her character's real identity to go along with what the read might want.

The novel, as a whole, was well-written and evenly paced. I flew through it in a night and couldn't read it fast enough. It also caused me to go out to the store and immediately pick up Cashore's other 2 titles.

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire is set in the same world as Graceling, but takes place in a neighboring realm. While in Graceling certain characters are marked with different colored eyes as a sign of their grace, or high skill in a certain area (Katsa's is survival), the country in which Fire takes place is one of violence and anger. The main character, Fire, is a woman with brilliant hair-a trait that attracts violence and anger since her hair also has power.

The story was similarly paced to Graceling. Again, I found the world believable and well-developed. In many ways, the country of Fire's story was similar to the places Katsa journeyed through. Both women had to struggle to be understood for their particular traits. However, I did find Fire to be more...violent than Graceling, and it was missing something to really push it over the edge (and that isn't to say I didn't enjoy it, I did, but not as much as Graceling). In any case, the book left me thinking after I closed it.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

The last of my Cashore binge is her most recent novel. Bitterblue goes back to the realm that Graceling takes place in and reintroduces us to some of the same characters, but focusing on Bitterblue.

Of the three novels in this world, Bitterblue was by far the most political. That is an aspect of fantasy literature that I really love, but puts some people off. I also really enjoyed seeing old characters in new roles, and seeing how Bitterblue had changed from the first novel.

I also loved that like Katsa, Bitterblue stayed in character throughout the duration of the novel. She didn't slip into any YA character traps that seem to be so popular in YA lit, and I found it refreshing.

After finishing all 3 of Cashore's novels, I can say that she has a fan for as long as she writes fantasy literature. She writes beautifully and I love her characters.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

This was a book I picked up at our school's book fair on a whim. I think I heard some murmurs about it on a few blogs, and since I was focusing on the Holocaust in my history classes, it was good timing. This is a historical fiction novel set in Nazi-occupied France. A girl was taken captive by the Nazis for spying, and as the novel unfolds, she tells her story.

At times the novel was very beautiful At other points, it was gruesome and harrowing. There is also THAT SCENE that shocked me very deeply (I had to reread it to let it sink in).

However, it was well-written and I enjoyed it well-enough. I do think there were a few pacing issues in spots, but the story was powerful enough to overwhelm that.

Every You, Every Me by David Levithan

I had heard many good things about Levithan, so I decided to try one of his novels on a whim, and this happened to be the lucky title.

I probably should have started elsewhere, since I really did not enjoy this that much. I found out, after I read it, that the novel was a bit experimental for Levithan. The pictures included were shot and given to Levithan as he wrote the book...so the story unfolded as new pictures emerged. It's an interested concept for writing, but the final product didn't work for me.

In a nutshell, Evan starts finding photographs that seem to be targeting him in some way. He begins investigating the source of the images and a whole bunch of things unfold.

For me, the story felt off from the beginning. The pacing jolted me, and it felt...just awkward.

The Raft by S.A. Bodeen

Our media specialist bought this and begged me to read it over our Spring Break, and I caved in. She wanted someone's opinion on it since it was a new title, but she hadn't been able to convince a student to read it.

Ummm...yeah. It's a good thing that the novel was short and very simple. I flew through it in about an hour or so. Basically, the story is about a young girl in a plane crash who ends up in a raft on the ocean when her plane crashes. It's the story of her "survival" and how she copes with things on the raft.

It was not my cup of tea. I found the writing to be almost childish considering that the novel focused on a teenager. And then there was the "twist" near the end that made me roll my eyes and almost throw the book across the room.

It just didn't work for me.

The Jessica Darling Novels by Megan McCafferty

Apparently I was living under a rock when these novels debuted when I was in high school. Had I found the first title, Sloppy Firsts, back then, I would have been a total fan-girl over these. The narrator, Jessica Darling, is the perfect amount of sassy I always wanted to be. She is also funny as all get out and makes some very humorous choices.

The rest of the series continues her life through the end of high school, through college, and then when she is out in the workforce. They come to a satisfying ending that I almost feel McCafferty wrote for her fans rather than her characters, but they were entertaining enough.

By far the best in the series is the first novel, followed closely by the second. They are funny, sarcastic, and wonderfully written. I just found Jessica got to be a bit stale as the novels progressed, and I didn't see her growing or mature. But, they were funny and light-hearted, which is what I needed when I read them.

And I will say...I don't get the fascination with Marcus Flutie. I just don't. He doesn't float by boat ladies-not even close.

So, there is part 1 of who knows how many mini-reviews. Let me know below what you think!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

1001 Books and What I've Read.

One of the questions I get asked most often is whether I've looked at the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die List (you can see it here). The answer is that yes I have, but I have always steered away from it.

First, the list has been revised a couple of times already. I find it a bit annoying that a book can be removed and another added, so it really makes the list longer than 1001.

Second, I'm offended that the creators of this list neglect plays. I'm sorry, but everyone should read Shakespeare. And while yes, I know you should SEE Shakespeare as it was intended, there is a lot to say about reading his plays. There are so many nuances you can pull from them by seeing the text.

Third, epic pieces, such as The Odyssey, Iliad, etc are also excluded from the list. REALLY?

Anyway, I've pretty much ignored the list for those 3 reasons...but also because I find the list daunting. While I consider myself to be more well-read than the average Joe, looking at the list intimidates me...and well, I know I won't ever complete the list. It's not something I will ever attempt, but I do think it's worth looking at...and maybe reading a few titles from.

You can blame O from Delaisse for inspiring this post. In a very recent post, she mentioned that rather than looking at the whole list, she would simply list the books she HAD read. I really like that idea, so I'm copying that here. :) I don't think she'll mind too much.

The time periods are listed below, with the titles I've read from that era.

The 2000s:
1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
2. Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
3. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
4. Atonement – Ian McEwan
5. The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

The 1900s:
6. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
7. Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
8. The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx
9. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
10. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
11. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
12. The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul – Douglas Adams
13. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams
14. Watchmen – Alan Moore & David Gibbons
15. The Cider House Rules – John Irving
16. Contact – Carl Sagan
17. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
18. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
19. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
20. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
21. Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
22. Sula – Toni Morrison
23. The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
24. Slaughterhouse-five – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
25. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
26. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
27. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez
28. Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
29. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater – Kurt Vonnegut
30. Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
31. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
32. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
33. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
34. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
35. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
36. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
37. On the Road – Jack Kerouac (technically I'm still reading this, but I'll be done soon).
38. The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
39. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
40. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
41. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
42. Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
43. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
44. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
45. Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
46. Animal Farm – George Orwell
47. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
48. Go Down, Moses – William Faulkner
49. The Outsider – Albert Camus
50. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
51. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
52. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
53. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
54. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
55. Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
56. Absalom, Absalom! – William Faulkner
57. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
58. The Waves – Virginia Woolf
59. A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
60. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
61. Orlando – Virginia Woolf
62. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
63. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
64. Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
65. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
66. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse
67. The Glimpses of the Moon – Edith Wharton
68. The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

69. Summer – Edith Wharton
70. Tarzan of the Apes – Edgar Rice Burroughs
71. Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence
72. Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
73. A Room With a View – E.M. Forster
74. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
75. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
76. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The 1800s:
77. The Awakening – Kate Chopin
78. The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
79. Dracula – Bram Stoker
80. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
81. The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
82. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
83. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
84. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
85. The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
86. Germinal – Émile Zola
87. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
88. The Death of Ivan Ilyich – Leo Tolstoy
89. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
90. The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
91. The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
92. Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy
93. Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
94. Middlemarch – George Eliot
95. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
96. The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoevsky

97. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
98. Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Jules Verne
99. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
100. Fathers and Sons – Ivan Turgenev
101. Silas Marner – George Eliot
102. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
103. The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot
104. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
105. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
106. North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
107. Hard Times – Charles Dickens
108. Walden – Henry David Thoreau
109. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
110. Villette – Charlotte Brontë
111. Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
112. Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
113. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
114. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
115. Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell
116. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
117. Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë
118. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
119. The Count of Monte-Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
120. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
121. The Pit and the Pendulum – Edgar Allan Poe
122. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
123. The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe
124. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby – Charles Dickens
125. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
126. Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
127. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner – James Hogg
128. Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
129. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
130. Persuasion – Jane Austen
131. Emma – Jane Austen
132. Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
134. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
135. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
136. Castle Rackrent – Maria Edgeworth

The 1700s:
137. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
138. The Interesting Narrative – Olaudah Equiano
139. Rasselas – Samuel Johnson
140. Candide – Voltaire
141. A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift
142. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
143. Love in Excess – Eliza Haywood
144. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

145. Aesop’s Fables

There you have it, a good 145. I was a little nervous when I started deleting titles. It's obvious that I haven't read hardly any contemporary fiction. I like my old writers. :)

I was also happy to see at least another 100-200 titles that are on either my 250 list or my list for the Classics Club. I can be happy about that.

So what do you think about lists like this?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Intimidate Me.

The lovely folks over at The Broke and the Bookish have an interesting topic for this week-the top ten books that intimidate us!

When I started out blogging, I was intimidated by most of my list. I had never read anything by the Brontes, I hated Dickens (I have a love/hate relationship with him now), and truthfully, I knew nothing about many of the authors on that list. Now, 4 years later, I feel much more confident about myself as a reader, and I have already conquered many of those intimidating titles (like Moby-Dick, Atlas Shrugged, and War and Peace).

So, to come up with my list of intimidating titles, I decided to base it on the titles I have left to read (less than 100). Some of these books will hopefully be obvious as to why they're here, but others...they require some explanation. :)

Without further delay:

1. Ulysses by James Joyce: When I was looking at other lists this morning, this is a title I found over and over again on lists. I've already decided that it will be the last title I read off my 250 list. I've started it once (got about 50 pages in) and gave up. I'm hoping that by waiting a little longer, I'll be better prepared to tackle it.

2. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad: I hate Heart of Darkness more than any other book. It makes me want to gouge my eyes out. So, the thought of reading another book by Conrad gives me heart palpitations. I've been avoiding this title like it's my job, but I know I'll eventually have to read it.

3. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: This is the last Dickens titles on my 250 list. By this point, I've read the other 6 titles with mixed feelings. Hated Great Expectations and Bleak House, but loved everything else, especially David Copperfield (LOVE MORE THAN ANYTHING). But this title scares me. First, it seems to be a favorite for many. Second, it's Dickens. Again, while I have had mixed success, I'm worried I'll hate it!

4. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding: To be honest, the main reason I'm intimidated by this one is length. It's long. And written in the 1700s...so...complicated language + length = scary.

5. Faust by Johann Goethe: I actually started this one earlier this year and set it aside when school got crazy. Like most books I set aside partially read, I'm worried about picking it back up and starting again.

6. Paradise Lost by John Milton: I remember an old roommate from college reading this for one of her classes. At night she would sit with the book open on her desk and her hands in her hair. That image scares me to this day! I imagine that it can't be that bad, but still...

7. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov: While I liked Lolita well enough (as much as you can like a novel about a pedophile), I've heard that some of Nabokov's other novels are very experimental in style. I know little about Pnin, so I'm a bit worried about this one!

8. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: I managed to conquer Atlas Shrugged already, and I've heard this one is easier, but still. It's RAND. She's very philosophical in ways that I don't agree with and...ugh.

9. The Aeneid by Virgil: The translation I own is by Fagles, so at least this has that going for it. But this is another one of those ancient, epic tomes that I'm hesitant to take on. Who knows, I might fly through it after I finish The Odyssey.

10. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson: I attempted to conquer this one about a year ago, and failed miserably. My bookmark is still 400 pages in...the idea of rereading those 400 pages to remember what happened makes me whimper. This is one of the longest books in the English language and I just don't know when I'm going to be able to conquer this.

There you have it, the 10 books on my list that most intimidate me. Do we have some in common? Any other books that scare you? Let me know!