Monday, Monday! What are you Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.

I hope all of you had a wonderful week and have taken some time for personal care. I spent some time in the sunshine yesterday although it was edging the yard while my husband mowed. The weather helped to give me some perspective and to enjoy the small things in life.

Books I Read Last Week

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Seventeen-year-old Emoni Santiago got pregnant her freshman year of high school, and now that she’s a senior, she has to juggle parenting her “Babygirl”, Emma, with passing her classes and holding down a fast-food job to help her grandmother, whom she calls ‘Buela, with finances. ‘Buela has raised Emoni since she was a baby as Emoni’s mother died during childbirth, and Julio, ‘Buela’s son and Emoni’s father, went back to Puerto Rico. And even though that is a lot for one person to handle, Emoni longs for something more.

Her true passion has always been cooking, a gift that ‘Buela says started when she was small. In her hands, ingredients transform into something magical, transporting anyone who eats her food deep into their most precious memories. She has a rare talent, and everyone can taste it. But while she once dreamed of attending culinary school to nurture her skills and eventually working in a professional kitchen, Babygirl changed all that. Now Emoni’s not sure that college is in the cards for her at all, let alone the fast-paced world of a professional chef — because how could anything be more important than being a good mother to her daughter?

It seems almost too good to be true when her high school announces a special cooking class. The students will get hands-on kitchen experience, culminating in a trip to Spain. Emoni probably doesn’t have the time for an extra class, and she certainly doesn’t have the money to go to Spain. But the thought of getting to learn from a real chef is too tempting to ignore, and Emoni decides to take a chance and invest in herself.

The striking cover may be what draws you to this novel in the first place, but Emoni’s heart-felt story will be what keeps you reading. The story was as vibrant as the cover and the passion Emoni has for cooking radiated from the pages. This novel was a departure from the novels written about teen mother’s used to promote abstinence. Acevedo doesn’t sugarcoat the struggle of being a teenager mother, but she shows that this life can be full of hope and promise. My one critique of this novel is a longing for more. The ingredients are there, but some moments never come to fruition. However, I would not hesitate to recommend this beautifully written novel to anyone who enjoys a story full of hope and magic.

The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

The Cure for Dreaming takes place in 1900s Oregon set against the backdrop of the suffragist movement. On the night of her 17th birthday, Halloween, Olivia Mead is volunteered by her friend Kate to be hypnotized by the young and famous Henri Reverie. During this theatrical performance, modern yet repressed Olivia begins to take interest in the women’s suffrage movement. Just as her interest grows, her darkly conniving father, a dentist, becomes increasingly determined to keep her in what he has decided is her proper place—in the home. Olivia longs for freedom, attending college and having the right to vote. However, Dr. Mead hires Henri, after learning Olivia did everything she was told to do on stage, to give her a posthypnotic command: She will “see the world the way it truly is,” and when angry, she will only be able to respond by saying, “All is well”. This will ensure that Olivia lives the life that she is mean to, which means getting married, having children, and being submissive to her father and future husband. Due to troubles of his own, trying to raise money for his younger sister Genevieve’s needed surgery, Henri obliges. Olivia can now see each person’s true nature, which manifests in visions of darkness and light, good and evil. These supernatural challenges only make her more determined to speak her mind, drawing her into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist while secretly fighting for the rights of women.

This is a coming of age story of a young girl and her dreams. Interestingly, the hypnotized blessing and curse that inhabits Olivia parallels the 1900s—the inability of women to truly speak their minds, the suffering they had to endure at the hands of men, and their very natures being snuffed out by their near subhuman status.

(Original Caption) Hypnotised woman suspended by two chairs. Undated photograph.

The historical background that the plot is set against was written beautifully, and the parallel between Olivia’s hypnotism and the women of the 1900s was nicely portrayed; “the inability of women to truly speak their minds, the suffering they had to endure at the hands of men, and their very natures being snuffed out by their near subhuman status” (Martinez). However, this beautiful story is eclipsed by the author’s inclusion of “horror” and romance elements. I felt that the “Dracula” references, which were never fully tied in, added little to the plot overall and caused confusion. Winters should have played up the fact that Olivia could see peoples’ true natures with them looking good or evil, but should have left the weird horror elements behind. Along with this, the writing itself is mediocre and the dialogue slightly awkward, especially between Olivia and her father. Why is there are romance? The story would have been more compelling if it centered around women empowerment and feminism, playing up the strength and determination the Suffragettes had without relying on a man.  The Cure for Dreaming could use some heavy editing in order to tighten the prose and flow of the narrative.

Homeless Birds by Gloria Whelan

Leaving Home…forever. “

Like many girls her age in India, thirteen-year-old Koly is getting married. When she discovers that the husband her parents have chosen for her is sickly boy with wicked parents, Koly wishes she could flee. According to tradition, though, she has no choice. On her wedding day, Koly’s fate is sealed.

What Koly never dreams of is that she will be a widow in that very same year. When her sickly husband dies, Koly is left without any rights, sentenced to a life of hunger, loneliness, and servitude to her cruel mother-in-law.

Just as Koly begins to accept the hardships of her existence, her life once again takes a devastating turn. Young Koly is stranded in a city of unwanted widows who must wander the streets for hours begging for food. On the edge of starvation, Koly finds the strength and courage she needs to survive. Blending together the ancient traditions of her village life and a newfound independence, Koly learns to live for herself and pour her feelings into the beautiful art of embroidery. And a life, like a beautiful tapestry, comes together for Koly — one stitch at a time. (Summary from Scholastic)

Vrindavan: The City of Widows where Koly is left by her sass.

With my husband being from India, I want to read and learn as much about his culture as possible. Homeless Bird does offer some connections to my husband’s homeland, but I wonder what research Gloria Whelan, a Caucasian woman from Detroit, Michigan, did to write this book as there are a few things that aren’t authentic. As for the connections, arranged marriage is still practiced, and even though a law was passed against child brides in 1929, it still happens in poorer regions and villages. (India’s Forgotten Child Brides). My husband’s parents marriage was arranged (his mother was not a child bride), and before he left to come to America, my husband was also to have an arranged marriage.

The way Whelan describes the disparity between the villages and the cities is also very accurate along with the religious importance of the Ganges. However, the use of Hindi is at times awkward and too formal. For instance, Koly, the main character, would never call her father baap as this is what we would use to talk about her father; it is not personal. To show that familiar, personal connection Whelan should have used daddy or dada. Overall, I did enjoy this book, but I wanted more. Since it was written for a younger audience, I feel that it was a romanticized to avoid some of the gritty reality that an adult novel would have portrayed. This book is perfect for grades 6th-8th and for those of you who like a quick read with a happy ending.

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Monday, Monday! What are you Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.

Marvelous Monday morning! Despite the stay-at-home order being extended into May and COVID-19 continuing to take its toll, Spring has come to the Carolinas. The grass has been getting greener; the sun has been shining; and the flowers are blooming, providing some hope in this unprecedented time. Please continue to stay safe and healthy.

Books I Read Last Week

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Darius Kellner is literally not okay. In high school, he is constantly being bullied by Trent Bolger and his “Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy” the high school jocks, suffers from depression, and seems to always be a disappointment to his father, who pushes Darius to stand up for himself, cut his hair, and act more “normal”.

When Darius’s family learns that his grandfather is dying, they make the journey to Iran for the first time in his life and his younger sister Lelah’s life. Iranian on his mother’s side and white American on his father’s side, Darius never quite fits in. He doesn’t speak enough Farsi to communicate with his Iranian relatives, unlike his sister Lelah who is fluent, which results in him feeling awkward and isolated, leaving Darius wondering if he’ll ever truly belong anywhere. This all changes when he meets Sohrab, who lives a couple of blocks away from Darius’s grandparents. Sohrab teaches Darius what friendship is really about: loyalty, honesty, and someone who always had your back. Darius begins to think that he can overcome his feelings of isolation and frustration and love himself no matter what outside forces attempt to destroy his confidence.

Darius has to return to America with his family, but he promises to stay in touch with both his family and Sohrab. He thinks it is possible to be comfortable enough with himself to embrace the Persian side of his life without shame back in America.

I love books that transport you to a world that is different from your own. Darius the Great Is Not Okay is one such book.

Not only does it take you to Iran with its ancient vibrant history, but it also opens you up to understanding the world of someone who lives with depression. I loved Darius’s story and wanted to jump into the book and be a champion for him. It made me hurt when he felt like he couldn’t even fit in with his own family, the people who are always supposed to have your back and be there to comfort you. Sohrab is the friend that we all need in our lives; he is someone who lifts Darius out of his negative thoughts and reminds him that “Your place was empty before”. Adib Khorram was diagnosed with major depressive disorder when he was twelve years old, which brings a real raw sincerity to his characters. “In telling Darius’s story, I wanted to show how depression can affect a life without ruling it–both as someone who lives with it, and as someone who loves people living with it” (Khorram). This book is a must read for anyone living with depression and for those of us who want to better understand. A must for classroom libraries (7th-12th) and every adult.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Guilty by association? Or was it wrong place at the wrong time? Is he really a monster?

Steve Harmon, a teenager who dreams of being a filmmaker, writes the story of his trial for felony murder, facing a prison sentence of 25 years to life, in the form of a movie script, with journal entries when he returns to his cell after each day in court. Steve has been accused of being an accomplice in the robbery and murder of a drug store owner, Alguinaldo Nesbitt. The “film” begins with opening statements and other generic courtroom stuff, but the trial gets more intense as witnesses start taking the stand. There’s Richard “Bobo” Evans, the thug who claims Steve was a lookout at the crime; James King, who presumably recruited Steve to “check out the store”; Osvaldo Cruz, the lookout; Mr. Sawicki, Steve’s film teacher; Dorothy Moore, James King’s cousin; and even Steve himself. Although Steve is eventually acquitted, Myers leaves it up to his audience to decide for themselves if he is guilty or innocent.

“The format of this taut and moving drama forcefully regulates the pacing; breathless, edge-of-the-seat courtroom scenes written entirely in dialogue alternate with thoughtful, introspective journal entries that offer a sense of Steve’s terror and confusion, and that deftly demonstrate Myers’s point: the road from innocence to trouble is comprised of small, almost invisible steps, each involving an experience in which a ‘positive moral decision’ was not made” (Kirkus).

This book has been sitting on one of my many bookshelves for a few years now. Before this book, the only book that I had read by Walter Dean Myers was Fallen Angels, which has been several years ago. I loved the story that he told and felt invested in each character’s story. With Monster, I liked that the story started with the action and didn’t have much build-up, which I think appeals to reluctant readers. The courtroom setting allows you to be a apart of Steve’s case and more invested in the outcome of the trial. However, the style of the story was not my favorite; the camera cues and shots were distracting to the plot and, I feel, didn’t really contribute to the story as a whole. I would recommend this novel for 8th-12th grade classroom libraries and to people who want to rethink the way they look at stereotypes and the plight of innocent people, who happen to be the victims of these stereotypes.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

“Ben remembered reading about curators in Wonderstruck, and thought about what it meant to curate your own life…What would it be like to pick and choose the objects and stories that would go into your own cabinet?”

Wonderstruck follows the story of Ben Wilson, a partially deaf boy living in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota in 1977, and Rose Kincaid, a deaf/mute girl living in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. The stories overlap and weave together, as both Ben and Rose seek family and belonging. Ben’s plot line is written in prose and begins after the recent death of his mother, and Rose’s plot line is illustrated in wordless sequences, portraying the world-without-sound that she lives in.

Ben struggles to overcome his grief for his mother and no longer feels at home in Gunflint Lake, where he is living with his cousins, aunt, and uncle, only a few feet from his empty childhood home. While searching his mother’s bedroom one stormy night, Ben finds clues in a book called Wonderstruck that leads him on a quest to find his father. His quest becomes more difficult, however, when a lightning bolt hits the house, causing Ben to lose hearing in his one good ear. Meanwhile, Rose feels trapped in her childhood home. Her father doesn’t understand her, and she hates her tutor, who insists she learn how to lip-read. Both children leave their unhappy homes and head to New York City, Ben hoping to find his father and the Rose also in search of family. Eventually, the two plots come together at the American Museum of Natural History.

Upon first glance this book seems intimidating as the hardback is the size of a Webster’s Dictionary; however, it only took me a morning to read it. Selznick weaves a beautiful tapestry using the threads of images and words. From my understanding, his other novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which has been added to my to-read book pile, is written the same entertaining way. The plot of Wonderstruck, itself, is simplistic in nature but is the perfect backdrop for Selznick’s words and illustrations to come to life. This is unique story is the perfect book for middle schoolers to adults and a must for every middle school classroom library. (There is also a movie that was released in October 2017.)

Monday, Monday! I mean…Tuesady! What are you Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.

Happy Tuesday everyone. This last week has been a tough one for me. I realized, after my back has been in near constant pain, that I am not walking as much as I was before the stay-at-home order went into effect. Because of this, I have decided I need to set some goals for myself, one of them being to get outside and take a walk and/or exercise for at least 30 minutes 4-5 times a week.

I hope you have all been able to keep some normalcy in your routines as well as had some time to indulge in reconnecting with family and pursuing passions.

Books I Read Last Week

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

On a fall afternoon, November 4, 2013, two unlikely paths cross, when on a bus ride home, a young man sets another teenager on fire. “If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds” (goodreads). Sasha, a white teen with Asperger’s, identifies as agender, choosing the pronouns they/their/theirs, and their progressive private school, Maybeck High, provides a welcoming, nurturing atmosphere for them to explore their identity. Richard, a black teen, attended Oakland High School, a large public school from the “bad” side of Oakland where roughly one-third of the students failed to graduate. Known to those around him as well-intentioned, even when he was “always goofing around”, Richard tried to stay out of trouble and planned on graduating. The different worlds they inhabited came in contact with each other for a mere eight minutes every day, but eight minutes was all it took to leave Sasha severely burned, and Richard facing life imprisonment, charged with two hate crimes.

“Slater spends much of the book exploring the implications and ramifications of this crime for Sasha, Richard, their families, their friends, and their communities. Through investigations into the history of juvenile justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and the backgrounds and experiences of two people who live just miles—but also worlds—apart, Slater invites the reader to consider their preconceived notions of love, hate, justice, and right and wrong. Slater interrogates and unpacks racism, economic and social inequality, the criminal justice system, and the role of the media. She is interested in not just the crime itself, but how it came to be, and how the consequences that followed unfolded” (SuperSummary).

The reporters will continue to call Sasha “he” although Sasha identifies as agender.

This book is a must read not just for young people but for all people. A true story that expounds on a tragic moment to teach the lessons about how one bad decision can impact the lives of many people and how no one should be hurt because of who they are. Slater uses her background as an award-winning journalist, along with quotes directly from source texts, to address the reader directly, inviting us to become a part of the story. She informs us about the LGBTQ+ community as well as the inner-workings of the juvenile justice system. Although this book moves quickly from one moment to the next, you still find yourself feeling deep empathy for both Sasha and Richard. It is a book that will spark on open conversation about some of today’s most pressing issues and should be a part of every high school classroom library.

“Sometimes magic finds us; we don’t find it. And once it does, it’s nearly impossible to close ourselves off to it. It’d be like trying to forget how to read or speak or walk. Usually people who unlock magic within themselves don’t understand their importance in the world.”

“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

Let the good times roll! But are there any good times left after “The Storm”, the largest hurricane in US history, devastated New Orleans. After evacuation, Macalister Le Moyne, Adele’s father, sends her to Paris to live with her mother, Brigitte, and attend school. However, two months later, when her father asks her if she is ready to go back to New Orleans, she gets on the first flight home. Adele wants nothing more than for her life to return to normal, but the city is silent with reminders of all that was lost spray-painted in black and orange on the exteriors of abandoned homes. There is also a parish-wide curfew and “mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter. “Exploring their house, she’s attacked and severely scratched by a crow. Then one night, near her indefinitely closed school, she finds a corpse. This chilling episode leads to an even more surreal event, in which a convent’s shuttered window explodes, showering Adele with debris. After a large metal stake rolls near her and she grabs it, a supernatural talent begins to awaken within her. Later, she reconnects with friends and meets newcomers Gabe and Niccolò Medici, who search New Orleans for missing relatives. At home, she uses her strange new control over metal to discover the hidden diary of Adeline Saint-Germaine, her 18th-century ancestor. The diary speaks of European girls traveling to America with royal dowries in wooden boxes; the girls also used witchcraft to keep vampires at bay. Gradually, Adele sees connections among New Orleans’ high murder rate, her uncanny abilities and Saint-Germaine’s tale” (Kirkus).

It has been a long time since I have read a book about vampires as I swore off of them after the Twilight and Vampire Diaries craze. However, my book club decided to choose this book as our next read. For starters, the book was really long (561 pages) and at times seemed to drag on. I also didn’t like that the book is full of clichés and seems to directly reference other books of the same genre. There are not just vampires but witches, werewolves, and therianthropes (shape-shifters); one of the characters is named Annabelle Lee…Poe reference?; Blanche who seems to be based on Lafayette Reynolds from True Blood; there is the romantic love triangle; and the final “battle” takes place on Halloween. What I did like about the book is that it is well-written. We don’t know everything about the plot and characters right away, but information is revealed and connected as you keep reading. The fact that is based on actual New Orleans mythology and history (see the links below the picture) helped me stay interested in reading it.

The Ursuline Convent
Photo CC By- maddiep333

Even though this is not a book that I would normally pick up to read, I didn’t totally hate it. I might, in fact, continue reading the series. So who would I recommend this to? I would recommend this book to anyone who likes vampires, witches, legends, and love triangles, as well as anyone who is not intimidated by a 561 page book.

Monday, Monday! What are you Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.

Happy Easter Monday everyone. I pray that you all had a blessed Easter and that each of you was able to connect with family and friends. The weather here in Charlotte was cloudy preceding severe storms with strong winds that could possibly produce tornadoes. My anxiety went into full effect after being woken up by a booming thunderclap and a bright lightening flash at 4:45 a.m. Having grown up in Western Nebraska, where tornadoes are a common occurrence and most houses have basements, you would think that I would be prepared for this situation. However, our house in Charlotte has no basement, so the thoughts of where would we even go if there was a tornado bombarded my mind. Once I finally calmed down, I remembered what the pastor said during Easter Sunday Service: God is in control no matter what is happening in the world, and he can give us peace.

Photo CC – By Melinda King

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27

Books I Read Last Week

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

“How do you fly three thousand miles to meet the mother you hadn’t seen since you needed her milk, needed to be picked up, or were four going on five, and not throw your arms around her, whether she wanted you to or not?”

When Delphine and her two younger sisters, Fern and Vonetta, board a plane to fly from New York to Oakland, California to spend the summer of 1968 with their mother who abandoned them and their father, they are not sure what to expect. Will Cecile greet them with a big hug?

But the negative things their grandmother, Big Ma, who came to help take care of the girls after Cecile left, had said about their mother appear to be true: She is uninterested in her daughters and doesn’t welcome the intrusion into her life. Keeping her work and her involvement with the mysterious men in the black berets who visit a secret, the sisters are sent off to a Black Panther day camp, where Delphine finds herself skeptical of the worldview of the militants and questions why they call her mother, Sister Nzila. They join tons of other kids and a kind, welcoming teacher, Sister Mukumbu, where they learn lessons about unity and taking care of the planet. However, their experience with the Black Panthers is not all positive. Members intimidate Cecile, who is a poet, into using her printing press to make flyers for them, and a few days before the girls are to go back home to New York, Cecile and a few of the members get arrested. It turns out the police do not like people hearing how much power black people should have. Delphine and her sisters stay with a friend from camp until their mom is released from jail. After Cecile is released, she tells Delphine about her difficult past as an orphan, unpaid laborer, and homeless teen. She explains that allowing Big Ma to raise her daughters was for the best, and she advises Delphine to be a child while she still can.

During this crazy summer, Delphine learns more about her mother, herself and the changing world around her.

“I wanted to write this story for those children who witnessed and were part of necessary change. Yes. There were children” Rita Williams-Garcia

This book lives up to all the awards that it has received. Williams-Garcia does a wonderful job of weaving together the fictional with the factual told through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl. I had no idea that children were involved in the Black Panther Party and feel like I might not know as much about the Party as I thought I did. Because of the strong emotions, albeit negative, it elicited, I know that the writing is amazing. I sympathized with Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern and could not help but feel disgust and hatred towards their “mother” Cecile who I desperately wanted to pick up her kids and show them the love they longed for. Her actions broke my heart for those girls. Although there is some explanation at the end of the book as to why Cecile left and why she treats the girls the way she does, I wanted there to be more. However, I was excited to learn that this was the end of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern’s story, which continues in P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama. This book perfect for middle school students (Grades 5-8), but I would recommend it to any student (or adult) who has sisters, who has had to take on extra responsibility at a young age, or who likes to read historical fiction.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

“Froggy Welsh the Fourth is trying to get up my shirt.”

At the beginning of The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, Virginia Shreves is making out with Froggy Welsh the Fourth, as she does every Monday afternoon. They go to Brewster, a private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and Virginia lives on the Upper West Side, where Froggy takes trombone lessons. They started flirting on their crosstown bus rides, one thing led to another, and now he’s trying to get up her shirt.

It might seem like Virginia’s life is pretty good, but nope, it’s actually not. In fact, her best—and only—friend, Shannon, has moved across the country, the older brother she idolizes has gone off to college, and her sister up and joined the Peace Corps. But these aren’t her biggest problems.

Her biggest problem is that she’s fat.

Not fat fat, she tells us, just chubby fat. Still, that’s enough to make her an outcast not just at school, but among her own family members, all of whom are beautiful and perfect and, well, not Virginia. In fact, she thinks she might have been switched at birth.

Virginia’s daily life consists of trying to avoid the popular girls, emailing Shannon, watching lots of television, and attempting to deal with her mother, an adolescent shrink who has no time for her own adolescent daughter. Oh, and junk food binges. Lots of those.

Everything’s going along as usual, which is to say it’s all terrible, until the night her dad gets a phone call that rocks the family’s world. Virginia’s brother, Byron—the golden child of the family, and former Model Brewster Student—raped a girl after a party at which they both got drunk, so he’s suspended from school and moving back home.

Virginia’s life falls apart, as you might expect since she’s just found out her adored older brother is a rapist, but instead of talking about it, her parents go around pretending everything’s fine.

Unable to take it anymore, our heroine starts rebelling against her parents. She’s determined to go out and live her own life on her own terms, and she starts by buying a plane ticket to Seattle to visit Shannon over Thanksgiving weekend. Does she tell her parents? She does not. At least, not until the last minute, when it’s almost time to board the plane.

Thus begins Virginia’s transformation into a feminist rebel with purple hair and an eyebrow ring. With her newfound courage, she starts a webzine, makes a new friend, starts kickboxing, and, oh yeah, goes to Columbia to meet the girl her brother raped. If nobody else in her family is going to acknowledge Annie Mills’s existence, Virginia will, and she’ll do it on her own if need be.

Despite having previously lived her life by the Fat Girl Code of Conduct—in other words, only make out with a boy in private, and never kid yourself that he’s your boyfriend—Virginia gets herself a boyfriend at the end of the book. It’s her crush Froggy Welsh the Fourth, who actually wants to kiss her in the hallway at school. She happily obliges, and if the ending isn’t happily-ever-after, then it’s definitely something like it. (Shmoop)

I didn’t feel that I could do this book justice by writing my own summary. I felt connected to this book just by reading the title. I have struggled with body image starting in high school. I can remember feeling like I was so much bigger than other girls in my grade, but looking back, I wasn’t fat but the perfect size. These days my struggle with weight is real. I don’t like to exercise and the idea of eating healthy everyday is not something I relish but is something that I know I have to do to avoid heart disease, diabetes, and other health issues that come with obesity. I also didn’t have a boyfriend in high school and like Virginia, convinced myself that no guy would like someone like me. Because of this, I probably missed out on some opportunities for relationships. Virginia is a lovable character who you will root for to succeed. This book is not only for those who experience body issues but for anyone who is going through a time of self-discovery and finding out who they truly are in this world. I can’t wait to read the sequel and continue to go on this journey of self-discovery with Virginia.

Monday, Monday! What are you Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.

Good Monday evening everyone from my home in Charlotte, where we continue to be under a stay-at-home order. I feel very fortunate that my husband and I have been able to work at home, continuing to earn an income and that we have food to eat and a place to sleep. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who don’t have that luxury, and to everyone who is putting their health on the line in order to continue serving the community, I want to thank you although it will never seem like enough.

Books I Read Last Week

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & The Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

“Here is the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs—at once an intimate portrait of Russia’s last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing” (goodreads).

On July 17, 1918, the Imperial Family and their faithful servants were executed in Ekaterinburg, Russia, ending the monarchy and ushering in an era of Communist rule. (Pictures of the Imperial Family (Nicholas, Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia, and Alexei) and the home where they were murdered (Ipatiev house)).

Starting in 1881, when Nicholas was just a boy and his grandfather, Tsar Alexander II sat on the throne, Fleming chronicles the history of the Romanov family at the center of two of the early 20th century’s defining events.

Tsar Alexander II

It’s an astounding and complex story, and Fleming lays it neatly out for readers unfamiliar with the context. Czar Nicholas II was ill-prepared in experience and temperament to step into his legendary father’s footsteps. Nicholas’ beloved wife (and granddaughter of Queen Victoria), Alexandra, was socially insecure, becoming increasingly so as she gave birth to four daughters in a country that required a male heir. When Alexei was born with hemophilia, the desperate monarchs hid his condition and turned to the disruptive, self-proclaimed holy man Rasputin. Excerpts from contemporary accounts make it clear how years of oppression and deprivation made the population ripe for revolutionary fervor, while a costly war took its toll on a poorly trained and ill-equipped military. The secretive deaths and burials of the Romanovs fed rumors and speculation for decades until modern technology and new information solved the mysteries. Award-winning author Fleming crafts an exciting narrative from this complicated history and its intriguing personalities. It is full of rich details about the Romanovs, insights into figures such as Vladimir Lenin and firsthand accounts from ordinary Russians affected by the tumultuous events. A variety of photographs adds a solid visual dimension, while the meticulous research supports but never upstages the tale. (Kirkus)

Alexander Palace Time Machine The Romanov website, where you’ll find online books, letters, articles, photographs, and much, much more. (Candace Fleming)

The first reason I chose this book was because it is The Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, which fulfilled a square on my Book Bingo Card. “The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year. The award is named in honor of Robert F. Sibert, the long-time President of Bound to Stay Bound Books, Inc. of Jacksonville, Illinois. ALSC administers the award.”

The second was because of my Romanov fascination started with the 1997 movie Anastasia…

…and continued when I learned more about my ancestral ties to Russia. Tsarina Catherine II (Catherine the Great) “signed a manifesto inviting foreigners (mainly Germans) to settle in her country. Many of these people came to settle along the Volga river and became known as Volga Germans (classified today as Germans from Russia).

Catherine, a German national, remembered how excellent the farmers had been back in her home country and believed they could improve both the farming practices and cultural level of the Russian peasantry. This is where my family story begins and where my Great Grandpa Adam Wacker was born on June 17, 1879 (Frank, North Russia).

My Great Grandpa Adam Wacker in the Russian Army 1903

In 1905, Lenin was rallying the Bolshevik Russians into a starting a revolution. Also during this time, my Great Aunt Anna Margaretha Wacker was kidnapped by the Bolsheviks, who were known to be brutal, and was never seen again. My Great Grandpa and my Great Grandma Christina along with Peter, Ana, and Fredrick Hurst (my Great Grandma Christina’s mother, father, and brother aka my Great Great Grandparent’s and Great Great Uncle) immigrated to America, specifically Lincoln, Nebraska.

As you can probably tell, I loved the book. It was extensively researched and the way it was written didn’t make it seem like you were reading a history textbook but a narrative account of the Romanov’s lives. The inclusion of accounts about Russia, “Beyond the Palace Gates” during the time periods that the chapter covered gave a broader picture of what was happening in the country as a whole. Fleming also gives you some information before you even start reading the novel about what a tsar is, Nicholas and Alexandra’s Family Tree, and a map of The Russian Empire c. 1900, which is very useful if you are not familiar with the book’s topic. The inclusion of pictures helps to make history come to life, and even though I knew the fate of the Imperial Family, the execution chapter was very emotional to read. With that being said, I would recommend this book starting at age 12 and up. It would not be a book that I would recommend to struggling readers, however, because of the length and the Russian names.

Monday, Monday! What are you Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.

Happy Monday everyone! With the stay-at-home order here in Charlotte, and now in the whole state of North Carolina, I have been in my home for about 11 days now. My husband thought it would be a great idea to watch “Contagion” last night, which made me worry about how desperate humanity might get and how inhumane society may become. To quell this anxiety, I decided to bake some banana bread that went from one loaf to a mountain. I just pray that we can all remember to be civilized and treat everyone around us with kindness and compassion during this crazy time.

Books I Read Last Week

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

“There’s a lot you can get away with when no one else is watching.”

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, c. 1615-17 (The National Gallery, London)
Photo CC-by Smithsonian Magazine

In her debut novel, written in free verse, Joy McCullough brings a moment in history, relevant to today’s #MeToo movement, to life. Artemisia Gentileschi, a Baroque artist, who lost her mother at the age of 12, paints beautiful masterpieces, but 17th-century Rome is a city ruled by men who take what they want from women. Therefore, no one is aware of her talent because her less-talented father signs her paintings with his name. Artemisia is allowed to grind pigment, prepare canvas, and complete commissions as her father’s apprentice; however, her position in life may change when her father hires Agostino Tassi to become her tutor.

Agostino Tassi, self-portrait

‘Tino’ is charming and makes Artemisia feel that her work is being acknowledged and taken seriously. Her dreams of getting out of her father’s studio are crushed when ‘Tino’ takes what he wants, raping Artemisia while the maid and her brothers are in the rooms right below her. At first, she is broken in body and spirit, drawing from memories of her mother’s stories about the biblical heroines: Susanna and Judith.

Artemisia must decide between her talent and her voice. Eventually, Artemisia threatens Tino that she will tell her father, Orazio, the truth. In retaliation, Tino destroys the painting of Susanna she has been working on and says that she seduced him. Now she must face the hardest challenge yet—telling her father the truth. At first, her father tells her that she must let it go because no one will believe a woman, but inspired by Susanna and Judith, who both suffered sexual abuse, Artemisia decides to pursue the charge of rape against Tino, becoming a feminist icon.

We picked this for our book club and I was a little apprehensive at first. Up to this point, Ellen Hopkins and Jason Reynolds were the only verse authors that I had experience with. McCullough did not disappoint, using words to paint her own masterpiece while bringing a piece of history from Rome in 1620 to the modern age. I enjoyed that the writing remained in verse when Artemisia was the narrator and switching to prose when it went back to her mother telling her the stories of Susanna and Judith. The story had me captured from beginning to end. The only downfall was that I had no idea who Artemisia Gentileschi was and am not as knowledgeable about Baroque artists, which caused me to take moments as I was reading to look up what I didn’t know. For reluctant readers, this could cause a focus problem and a loss of interest. I would recommend this to 8th graders and up into adulthood, especially females.

this is where it ends by Marieke Nijkamp

What happens at Opportunity High School feels like an eternity but in reality, is only fifty-four life-altering minutes. We experience a tale of survival, written in prose, told from four different perspectives (Claire, Tomás, Autumn, and Sylv), which alternate in each chapter, along with tweets and blog posts. The students of Opportunity High, minus Claire and the track team and Tomás and Fareed, are attending an assembly in the auditorium where Principal Trenton is giving her “start-of-semester speech—virtue, hard work, and the proper behavior of young ladies and gentlemen.” At 10:02 a.m., Principal Trenton is done speaking, and the students and teachers make their way to the doors to head to class. “And soon–hopefully–we’ll have fresh air to breathe. Except we’re all moving, but no one gets out.” At 10:05 a.m. “One set of doors to [the] left opens. Fluorescent light filters in around a lone figure.” A boy with blond hair sticking out of a black cap enters, raises a gun, and directs a student to lock the door. “‘Principal Trenton, I have a question.’ The figure points the weapon at her, and his finger curls around the trigger. Then he fires.” Panic, screams, blood, and death follow in a matter of seconds. Marieke Nijkamp approaches the issues of bullying, abuse, rape, and deep-seated grief and loneliness in this fast-paced, terror-filled novel.

I have always been drawn to novels about school shootings. I was a senior in high school when the Columbine High School massacre happened: April 20, 1999. The memory of walking into my high school library where the librarian had the news on the tv and not being able to look away is still vivid. After school, I continued to watch the scene unfold as students left the school with arms held up over their heads and as Patrick Ireland jumped from a window, trying to escape. These images will forever be a part of my memory and have driven me to interact and build relationships with each of my students. Nijkamp’s novel is written with a diverse audience in mind as it includes characters from all walks of life, but the characters, as well as the story, seem to lack depth. I don’t know if that was because of the time constraint Nijkamp put on the novel, telling what should have been a profound narrative in only 54 minutes. The changing between the different points of view made you understand each narrator’s connection to the shooter, Tyler Browne. I understand that the author was trying to include diverse points of view, but none of the characters’ individual stories were explored in much depth. For instance, we only find out one of our characters has been raped by the shooter in the final pages. The ending is romanticized as the senior class and teachers who survived the shooting meet at the school that night to release paper lanterns with each victim’s names written on them. I would recommend other books like Columbine by Dave Cullen and Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser before I would this one. However, if I was to recommend it, it would be to students in 9th-12th grades.

Monday, Monday! What are you Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.

Happy Monday Everyone! I have been in self-isolation for six days now, only going out a couple of times for groceries. It has been a little weird not having to go to work in the late afternoon and return in the late evening. In fact, I have been able to do some Spring cleaning and cook supper every night while staying on top of the dishes and laundry. However, C2 Education is going online, so I will be back to work sometime this week tutoring students. Right now, I have been enjoying that I can read at any time without having to schedule it, which is a luxury I didn’t have before. Trying to look at the bright side of this uncertain time.

Books I Read Last Week

Shine by Lauren Myracle

“I guess what I’d decided was that looking only at people’s outsides—what they wore, what they did, how they regarded cows—wasn’t good enough. I needed to think about their insides, too. I needed to remember there was a difference. For a while there, I think I forgot there was one, and so I spent a lot of time comparing my insides to other people’s outsides, which made me feel broken and didn’t get me anywhere.” —Shine

Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains Shine centers on a town full of poverty, clannishness, drugs, intolerance, and one girl’s determination for justice. Cat, a withdrawn sixteen-year-old from Black Creek, North Carolina, sets out to discover the perpetrator of the hate crime towards her gay best friend. “When Patrick’s beaten and left for dead at the convenience store where he works, a gasoline nozzle protruding from his mouth, an angry, guilt-ridden Cat knows she must open her eyes and ‘look straight into the ugliness and find out who hurt him’” (Kirkus Reviews). No one, including the sheriff, knows what actually happened but is that really the truth or is it just a small town keeping its secrets. In becoming a small-town sleuth, Cat not only solves the mystery of the night her friend was attacked but also confronts pain from her own past she hasn’t yet dealt with.

I had this book on my shelf waiting to be read since it came out in paperback. At the time I picked it up in the bookstore, I was interested in it because on the cover it says that “A portion of proceeds from the sale of this book benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation“. The torture and eventual murder of Matthew Shepard happened in Laramie, Wyoming on October 6, 1998. Not only had I been to Laramie several times growing up, but I also was a junior in high school when this happened and was becoming more aware of the world around me.

This was one of the reasons that I had such a strong connection to Shine. I also felt that the way she wrote the small town in Black Creek could be any small town in America. The story is well-written and compelling with the mystery of who committed the hate crime keeping you in suspense until the end. Your heart will break for the world these characters live in and the devastating choices that are dictated by the small-town mentality. Myracle keeps the description of the hate crime to a minimum as it becomes the catalyst, not the focus, for the plot of the story. However, the trauma (rape) that Cat experiences was fairly explicit but was necessary for understanding why Cat has become so withdrawn and timid. With that being said, I would recommend this book to upper-grade middle school students and older. I think it is an important piece of literature needed for those students who are not being included in mainstream literature.

Lauren Myracle has experienced a lot of backlash for her writing and most of her books have been on the top of the list for wanting to be banned. “I remember going to a library once in Ohio. They had invited me, telling me, ‘We’d love to have you talk here.’ But when I got there, a librarian said, ‘We don’t have your dirty books on display here.’ I didn’t want to get into a fight, but I thought, ‘You should serve your population—kids have different needs.’…Kids are smart. Knowledge is power. Let them figure things out. Don’t turn into that grown-up who they won’t come to” (Daily Beast).

The Immortal by Christopher Pike

The ancient artifact was cursed. Josie is on vacation in Greece with her father, his new girlfriend, and her best friend. While visiting the sacred island of Delos, she accidentally stumbles upon an ancient artifact—a tiny statue of a [g]oddess. Immediately Josie is enchanted by the statue[,] and she takes it with her when she leaves the island. Then the trouble starts. A guy takes her for a boat ride and she is almost killed. Then the image of the [g]oddess begins to haunt her dreams. The [g]oddess wants something from Josie that she doesn’t want to give. The immortal wants to be mortal. The [g]oddess wants Josie’s life. (Blurb from the back of the book).

This was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager, and I can remember re-reading it several times. Reading it now, however, after all of these years, I can’t understand why it was such a favorite for me. Perhaps it was my innocence and lack of experience with elevated writing. The basis of the story is very interesting: greek gods interfering with the lives of mortals, and the setting, Mykonos, Greece, was described with such vividness that it mirrors the real place. However, for me, this is where the positive stops. The story is written with simple sentence structures, bad dialogue, and a lack of depth in characterization. The main character Josie doesn’t have a problem with stealing guys from her best friend Helen; this character flaw makes you despise Josie instead of sympathize with her. Josie falls in love with Tom after only a few days, which parallels a Romeo and Juliet timeline. Some of the lines in the story seemed so weird and out of place to me. For example, when Josie and Helen are out snorkeling, Josie makes this comment to the reader “The fish, of course, make me feel kind of horny.” What?! Why? What is the purpose of this? Unfortunately, this novel is full of these lines along with a moment on one page where Tom is wearing black leather shoes only to read a few pages later that he is wearing sandals, without it being written that he changed them. I would only recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a little nostalgia or a guilty pleasure read. Lesson learned: if you are afraid that it will ruin how you viewed it as a teen, do not reread it as an adult.

Monday, Monday! What are you Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.

Good Monday evening everyone! I hope all is well with everyone during this uncertain time of COVID-19 and that everyone is staying safe. As of this morning, C2 Education where I work, along with all of the other tutoring centers across the nation, have closed until at least March 30th. This forced closure has given me the opportunity to stay at home as much as possible, catch up on housework, and indulge in reading as many books as I can.

Books I Read Last Week

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred is the first science fiction written by a black woman and has become an important novel of black American literature. “This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity” (Goodreads). Dana is an African American woman has just moved into a new home with her white Husband, Kevin, in California. On June 9, 1976, her 26th birthday, she suddenly experiences dizziness and nausea, which results in her traveling back to antebellum Maryland where she save saves a drowning boy, her ancestor, Rufus Weylin, who is the white son of a plantation owner in 1815. Dana realizes that she is connected to Rufus and was summoned to save him. After that day, she is drawn back repeatedly through time to Rufus, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

I had mixed feelings after reading Butler’s most famous novel, along with questions that I didn’t get answers for. Her writing is truly complex and and at times painful to read because of its graphic depiction of slavery, which is no holds barred. Although this novel is considered to be a work of science fiction, Kindred is entirely focused on time travel, which is where the majority of my questions lie. What was the purpose of Dana traveling back in time when there was nothing she could do to change history? Why did this even start in the first place? Was the fact that she turned 26 the key to this? Did it hold some symbolism? Is it as possible for the future to influence the past as it is for the past to shape the future? However, this novel is shrouded in mystery from the beginning to the end, making some of these questions impossible to answer. I felt like there could have been more background before it got into the action of the book, and I was also not as satisfied with the ending; however, the story was engaging and definitely worth the read. Even though it takes place in 1976, the story could happen during any period in time. It is classified as a YA novel, but I would not recommend it to anyone under 9th grade. If you enjoy reading a novel that challenges you to think, this is the one for you.

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

The Tequila Worm is a 2005 novel by Viola Canales. Canales uses many details from her own life to bring authenticity to the story of a young Mexican-American girl, Sofia, who deals with prejudice while enjoying a rich and affectionate home life, then has an opportunity to leave her small Texas town behind—and in the process almost loses what makes her herself. Sofia’s tales are about growing up in the barrio and about family traditions: making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Dia de los Muertos, preparing for quinceañera, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento, and curing homesickness by eating the tequila worm.

When Sofia is 14 years old, she is the best student in school and gets an offer to receive a scholarship to attend St. Luke’s Episcopal School, an elite boarding school 350 miles away from her home. Sophia longs to explore life beyond the barrio, even though it means leaving her family for a strange world of rich, privileged kids, but she must convince her family that she should be allowed to attend. It’s a different mundo, but one where Sofia’s traditions take on new meaning and illuminate her path. (Parts of the summary from Goodreads).

I stumbled across this novel when I was looking for a Pura Belpre Award or Honor Narrative winner. “The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth” (Association for Library Service to Children). The Tequila Worm won this award in 2006.

I did my student teaching at a school that had a high population of Hispanic students, so I was aware of some of the traditions mentioned in the book; however, I loved how much more I learned about the Latin culture from this novel. This is an endearing coming of age story in which Sofia has to make a choice about leaving her family while not betraying her culture and forgetting its traditions. Even with this heavy theme running through it, the novel had several moments where I caught myself laughing at the antics of Sofia; Lucy, her little sister; and Berta, her cousin with the big teeth and falling in love with her family. The stories were full of color and life, which helped to draw you into this book. The only negative I had was that some of the writing/transitions were hard to follow, especially when it came to dialogue. However, there need to be more books published, like this one, that show pride in heritage. I would recommend this book to anyone 12 and up who are looking for a fun read with a lot of heart.

Monday, Monday! What are you Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.
Photo CC – By Cam Miller

Good morning everyone! If you are anything like me, you had a hard time dragging yourself out of your bed this morning. Thanks a lot Daylight Saving (Yes! It’s Saving not Savings.) Time! Have you ever wondered why we, except for Hawaii and Arizona, even give in to this changing of the clock?

“You might think that daylight saving time was conceived to give farmers an extra hour of sunlight to till their fields, but this is a common misconception. In fact, farmers have long been opposed to springing forward and falling back, since it throws off their usual harvesting schedule. The real reasons for daylight saving are based around energy conservation and a desire to match daylight hours to the times when most people are awake. Most studies show that its energy savings are only negligible, and some have even found that costs are higher, since people in hot climates are more apt to use air conditioners in the daytime.” (History).

Photo CC – By .sarahwynne.

This was my question this morning. Why? Not why do we have Daylight Saving Time, but why do we continue to engage in it?! Selfishly, I didn’t want to give up an hour of sleep because I stayed up too late, reading.

Books I Read Last Week

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris, an award-winning actor, who served as president of the Academy of Magical Arts from 2011 to 2014, has written a wonderful story full of magic and friendship. We first meet Carter, a young street magician, who stopped believing in magic after his parents vanished. He is taken in by his uncle Sylvester “Sly” Beaton, who uses his “magic” to hustle passersby. Carter, however, refuses to help his uncle in his thievery and decides to run away. He hops a train and winds up in the sleepy New England town of Mineral Wells. There, he discovers a “two-bit sideshow” run by B.B. Bosso and his crew of crooked carnies and encounters Dante Vernon, an illusionist. Through Vernon, Carter meets and teams up with five other like-minded illusionists: Leila, Vernon’s daughter, an accomplished escape artist; Theo, skilled in levitation; Ridley, the brains of the operation; and Olly and Lizzy, twin entertainers. Together, using both teamwork and magic, they’ll set out to save the town of Mineral Wells from Bosso’s villainous clutches. In so doing, these six Magic Misfits will soon discover the value of friendship and their own self-worth. Carter might even realize that magic is real after all.

This book had me hooked from the first page. I love Neil Patrick Harris’s writing style as he speaks directly to you, the reader. “Do you believe in magic? Hi there. Yes, I’m talking to you. Well, do you? Do you believe in magic?”

The inclusion of pages to learn your own magic tricks, like How To… Roll Coins on Your Knuckles and How To…Read Another Person’s Mind!, interspersed with the plot of the story allow you to become a magician like the kids in the book. These tricks along with some word puzzles give you a little break from the story, but with the flare that Neil Patrick Harris writes, you don’t want to be away from the action for too long. I also enjoyed that when a word was introduced that a reader may not know Harris took the time to define it. “They each took turns trying to figure out how the games were fixed–fixed in this case means set up to be advantageous to one person, and it wasn’t the person playing the game.” For those struggling readers, this is a helpful way for them to comprehend what they are reading without breaking their concentration to grab a dictionary. This novel is also inclusive as there is representation for the LGBTQIA+ plus community with Leila’s two dads; the African American community with the Master of Levitation, Theo; and the disabled community with Ridley, who is quick-witted and amazing at puzzles and codes. I would recommend this book to any middle school student, especially those who have an interest in adventure and magic. I was dazzled by Neil Patrick Harris’s creative genius and will definitely be reading the next book in the series.

to all the boys I’ve loved before by Jenny Han

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?

This is what happens to Lara Jean Song when someone mails the love letters from her secret hatbox. One for every boy she’s ever loved – five in all. Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, poured out her heart and soul in those letters, writing down all the things she would never say in real life. She doesn’t realize the letters have been mailed until a former crush, her first kiss, Peter Kavinsky, confronts her about the letter in the hallway. However, Peter is not the only one to receive a letter. That night, Josh, her sister’s ex-boyfriend, stops by, and Lara Jean hides, suspecting it is about the letter. When Josh confronts her at school the next day, Lara Jean replies defensively that she is dating Peter and then runs into Peter’s arms and kisses him. Afterward, she tells Peter about the letters. Realizing he can leverage a fake relationship with Lara Jean to distance himself from his recent ex, Genevieve, Peter decides to pretend to date her. As the charade progresses, Lara Jean finds that she still has a romantic interest in Peter. Josh is jealous of Peter, revealing that he likes Lara Jean.

“As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.”

Before I review this book, there are a few things you should know about me:

  1. I am religious about reading a book before watching the movie.
  2. I am a hopeless romantic and a sucker for teen romance.

With that out of the way, I must confess that I did watch the Netflix film before I read this book. However, I loved the book so much more than the movie, which is most often the case. In some ways, I could relate to Lara Jean. I was also not able to approach my crushes and wrote down my feelings in a diary, never to be seen by any eyes except for my own. I also wasn’t one of the popular girls, which is why I am drawn to stories where the unlikely girl gets the guy. I rarely find a book that has such a strong hold on me that it takes an act of God or the reminder that I must adult to put it down. This was one of those books. I fell even more in love with the characters, the story, and the relationships. Overall, it is an adorable story with lovable characters. I would recommend this book to anyone from middle school, grades 7th and 8th, and all the way up to adult.

Colors of the World: Diversify Your Life

Photo CC – By Jordi Domènech i Arnau

Diversifying your reading life means that you are open to experiencing authors that are culturally different from you and topics that you may not have experience with. This doesn’t mean that you only select books based on sexual preference, gender, or race but that you expose yourself to literature from every corner of the globe.

I have never had defined goals for diversifying my reading life, but I can see that at times I have gotten into a rut with my reading, choosing novels that are a similar genre or by a similar author. Because of this, I can see the need to set goals in order to ensure that you are reading diversely. Goal setting is something that I need to work on.

When goal setting, remember that goals should always be SMART:

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Attainable.
  • Relevant.
  • Time Bound.

For those of you who have found themselves in this same situation or for those of you who don’t really know where to start, you participate in a “diversity challenge”. Some of these challenges include

The biggest challenge that I have encountered when diversifying my reading life is that I find myself unintentionally neglecting some topics and authors. A reading list, along with goal setting, can be the remedy for this problem, keeping a record of books that you have read allows you to see the topics/genres/authors you are lacking.

Ellen Oh shares her perspective on the importance of diversity in her post on “Epic Reads“:

“Diversity is not only for the under-represented—the truth is, diversity is important for everyone. All people need to be exposed to other races and other cultures in positive ways. All people need to learn tolerance and acceptance of differences….Diversity is important because racism still exists in the world. And racism comes from ignorance.”

Just like it is important for you to have a diverse reading life, it is also important for your students to have one as well. “Reading about cultures, races, and sexuality outside of your own breeds empathy and respect. It expands your world view” (Reading Diversely FAQ: Part 1). Students not only learn about different cultures when reading diversely, which is important in developing tolerance, but they also understand their role in society when they see themselves reflected (mirrored) on the page. “Beyond the importance of providing stories in which readers of all types can see themselves, reading diversely is important because of the racial disparity that exists within publishing itself, and the disproportionate difficulty writers of color have in getting their books publicized….more people reading diversely means more diverse books being published. That’s just how the world works. If you support diversity in a big way, then so will publishers” (Reading Diversely FAQ: Part 1).

If you want your students to read more diversely, you have to be the example by reading diversely yourself and sharing what you are reading with your class. You should also encourage your students to share what they are reading. Along with this, your classroom library should be full of diverse texts for your students to choose from. Getting your students to read anything, including diverse texts, can start with the passion that you exhibit for reading.