I hope that everyone had a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and will have an even better 2011. Yesterday, I shared with you the first five of My Ten Best Reads of 2010, including my all-time 2010 favorite, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. The Top-10 list was incredibly hard to make as I read so many wonderful Young Adult and Middle Grade Books this past year. What a great year for reading
I remember the first time I was thrust into the violent, desolate world of Panem in The Hunger Games. After reading the first few chapters, I was drawn into the story of Katniss, a brave girl who ultimately became the face of a revolution but at heart just wanted to protect her family and their happiness. The story of Katniss is all at once beautiful, terrifying and life-affirming. While Mockingjay was not my favorite of the books(a spot reserved for Catching Fire), I thought that it was a fitting, though sad, conclusion to this finely crafted trilogy. This trilogy will sock you in the gut but you find yourself asking for more. A powerful and important read about love, loss and war.
Melina Marchetta is a true master of the young adult genre. Even more so, she is a true master of conveying the human experience and emotion – her writing is spot on. Realistic, emotional, smart, deep. Saving Francesca is a beautiful novel that examines what it means to grow up and to grow into who you are meant to become. Francesca and Will are one of my very favorite relationships, and the characters Marchetta crafts stay with you long after you have closed the book. I can’t wait to revisit these characters when The Piper’s Son is released in America in March. I can only hope that more American readers will discover the magic of Melina Marchetta’s novels.
Girl power? Well, Natalie Sterling’s got it – president of student council, driven, motivated – nothing is going to stand in her way, especially boys. Girl power? Spencer’s got it but definitely in a different way than Natalie. Spencer is used to using her body and attraction to get what she wants. This novel explores feminism, the expectations of young women and the roles that they are supposed to play. The characters are wonderfully flawed, and the novel doesn’t leave us with any easy answers. However, it does leave the reader with the sense that women need to stop judging themselves, and others, so harshly and that we must fight against the titles and roles that others put upon us and just be ourselves.
Well, surprise, surprise! Another Melina Marchetta book on my list. What a shocker…
The exploration of different types of relationships, what it means to be an immigrant, the character growth. There is nothing about this novel that I don’t love. And Jacob Coote. Just read this book and try not to have him steal your heart. I hope that all of you will read this book, and it will make your favorite reads list for 2011.
Out of My Mind is the only MG selection on my Top 10 list for this year but it is well-deserving. The spirit and spunk of our protagonist, Melody, is reason enough for this book to get a place on the list. However, if you need more reasons to read this book, look no further than the masterful writing, the realism, the richly-defined characters and the message of hope and acceptance. All of my students that have read this poignant novel loved it as well.
I would love to know your favorite book from 2010! Tomorrow, look for a recap of my Christmas break reading (I think I am at 8 books) and the winner of four fantastic Melina Marchetta novels.
PS . Can I just say that I am now obsessed with Simone Elkeles’ novels? Anyone with me?
Another year has come and gone. Seemingly, 2010 has flown past – a great year full of even better reads. The fabulous Adele over at Persnickety Snark created a challenge to reflect back on the year in terms of blogging and books. Sadly, I am a bit late to the party. (Note to self: Make planning ahead a resolution!) However, I definitely wanted to participate in the final post: The Ten Best Reads of 2010.
In 2010, I felt that my love of reading was revitalized – I was reading as much as I did in grade school, and it was wonderful. It felt like I had reclaimed part of who I was. 2010 was filled with so many wonderful books and authors that to narrow it down is going to be difficult. However, without further ado…. the first five of My Ten Best Reads of 2010!
This beautifully written novel was my absolute favorite read of 2010. The examination of what it means to be truly beautiful along with the authentic characters and extended metaphors made this novel stand out in a field of outstanding books. Justina Chen Headley’s writing transports you into the the characters hearts and minds and takes you on an unforgettable journey – to China and to the realization of what true beauty really is.
Sometimes you just want a fun, escapist read. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles was just that book for me. I will be posting my full review in January, but I really loved this book. This book doesn’t try to pretend to be anything it is not. Gang-member Alex and rich-girl Brittany are two teenagers from opposite worlds who just don’t understand each other. However, when they get paired up as chemistry partners, they find that they have more in common with each other than they originally thought – including some romantic chemistry. Is this book a little bit improbable? Sure. Is the epilogue a little bit cheesy? Yes. But that’s why I loved this book. You know you are supposed to eat fruits and vegetables but sometimes all you want is a huge bag of Doritos. Perfect Chemistry is reading junk food of the most delicious kind.
I didn’t get a chance to review this book but it was still one of my favorite reads of 2010. It is another book about that features a star-crossed romance but when you throw Edgar Allen Poe, a creepy super-natural element and cheerleading into the mix, you have yourself one fast-paced, engaging book. I loved the relationship between Isobel and Varen as it developed slowly and realistically. Trust had to be built between them especially with such a dark reality looming around them at all times. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel to this book which is scheduled for release in spring of 2012.
Sadly, I did not write a review on Graceling either but I felt that my words could not adequately relate the awesomeness that is this book. I have never been a huge fantasy fan (especially high fantasy). In fact, I would call it my least favorite genre. HOWEVER, Kristin Cashore made a believer out of me with this novel. The sense of place she created with vivid detail (and she included a map! I love maps!), the independent, strong-minded characters, the epic romance, and the evil, sickening villain made this book a memorable, stand-out.
Suspenseful. Gripping. Creepy. Romantic.
All of these adjectives aptly describe one of my new favorite paranormal mysteries The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting. I have never read a book faster than I did this one. I could almost hear the creepy music surround me as Violet hunted the killer and Derting’s incredible detail allows for you to experience the intensity of the story. The relationship between Violet and her best friend, Jay, captivated me as well. It is no coincidence that this is one of the most talked about books of 2010. It was intensely amazing.
Come back tomorrow as I finish counting down my Top Ten Reads of 2010. I wanted to note that not all of these books have a 2010 publishing date; rather, they simply books that I read in 2010 and are in no particular order. I would love to know your ultimate favorite book that you read this year!
Finally, today is the LAST day to enter my Melina Marchetta book giveaway. I hope that all of you have a fun and safe New Year’s eve. I look forward to sharing more reading and book discussions in 2011.
I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas and holiday. Ours included dressing up our English bulldog, Oliver, as Santa Claus. As you can tell, he TOTALLY loves it. Well, even if he didn’t, he got lots of fun toys and treats under the tree! I was super excited to get several book gift cards to add to my book collection – so far I have bought The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker, The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting and Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles.
I also gave several books as presents this year: Little Bee by Chris Cleave, Nevermore by Kelly Creagh and North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. I would love to know what books you gave and received this holiday season!
In some blogging news, Literature for Lunch is getting a new contributor! ::APPLAUSE:: My sister, Lauren, who is an avid, adventurous reader (there is really nothing that she won’t read) is coming on board to do an occasional review. She will be debuting a new feature here called Reading Revisited in which we take another look at some of our favorite childhood/young adult reads. Word on the street is that her first review will be on Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume or The Ear, The Eye and The Arm by Nancy Farmer. In addition to being an avid reader, Lauren enjoys running like a crazy person, shows on BBC On-Demand, and the outdoors. Welcome to Literature for Lunch, Lauren!
Finally, we are entering the final days of the Melina Marchetta giveaway for our Canadian and American readers. Click here to enter and good luck!
Megan Meade has a dilemma. Her parents are moving to South Korea with the military, and she wants to stay in America to finish her last two years of high school. What is a girl to do? Move in with the McGowan family and their seven boys! Soon Megan finds that living with seven boys is not all that it is cracked up to be…will she be able to survive?
Review: Often times, on my Nook, I will scroll through book covers and titles to see which ones catch my eye as potential reads. Then, I read the publisher reviews and take a look at the number of stars fellow readers have given the books. This book received 5 stars from a large number of people on Barnes and Noble and I thought the premise was promising, so I decided to give it a try. To be blunt, I am not sure I see how this book has received so many five star ratings. But I digress, let me start at the beginning….
I always like to say something positive about a book I have read. For this book, I thought that the cover was cute, the title was clever (it alludes to the rules she comes up with for living with boys) and the premise showed a lot of promise. Megan Meade’s parents are in the military and are about to be sent to South Korea. Megan is tired of moving and is definitely NOT going to South Korea for her junior year in high school. Instead, she moves in with the McGowans and their large brood of boys. As she experiences living with the McGowans, she e-mails her friend back home and comes up with “rules” for living with all of the boys. I thought, “Ooh, this could be fun! Hi-jinks! Romance! Our main character finding out who she is!” Sadly, this book did not live up to my expectations.
One of the main issues that I could not really get past is with the character development, in that the characters were not developed. Honestly, they were stock, cookie-cutter characters – the attractive jock who dates the hot, mean girl, the bad boy motorcycle rider, the feeling artist, the brother with Asperger’s who needed “saving”, the girl who had so many boys she didn’t know what to do, etc. I just could not get invested in any of these characters because there was nothing to hold on to, nothing to cheer for, nothing to care about. I found the majority of them unlikable, and it was difficult to keep the brothers straight at the beginning. Additionally, I was really offended (and perhaps unnecessarily, I am not sure) by Megan’s treatment of the brother with Asperger’s. It made it seem like all she had to do was read a few articles on the internet about it and then suddenly she was able to make breakthrough connections with him that no one else could. This part really felt forced, which brings me to the writing.
I have never written a book and cannot imagine how difficult it is to develop an idea, story arc, setting, etc. and have it be cohesive and work together well. Therefore, I salute all book writers. However, in my opinion, this book would have benefited from some further revision before being published. The dialogue seemed unnatural and the writing was pedestrian. The plot seemed like it came right from one of those after-school specials in which Johnny learns a special lesson or something like that – in a word, predictable. The characters, as mentioned previously, lacked any sort of depth or nuance.
There was no real tension in the story, and from the start, you can guess the brother that Megan is going to end up with. However, she ends up with him after some silly, contrived ending in which she was going to fly to South Korea but the brothers tell her to come back. So she leaves the airport and goes back with the McGowan family to live happily ever after. To be honest, at that point I was hoping her parents had travel insurance because that was just ludicrous to me.
So, overall, this book just really did not live up to my expectations, and to say it was disappointing would be putting it mildly. From looking on Amazon, Good Reads and Barnes and Noble, there are lots of people who DID like this book so feel free to check those places out for an alternate perspective. I would give another one of Kate Brian’s books a try because it is possible that this book just didn’t resonate with me.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age Recommendation: 14 and up
**Last few days to enter my Melina Marchetta giveaway!**
There must be a few times in life when you stand at a precipice of a decision. When you know there will forever be a Before and an After. Mom’s life was twice marked: Before Dad, After Dad. Before her sister’s death and After. I knew there would be no turning back if I designated this moment as my own Prime Meridian from which everything else would be measured.
What is the definition of true beauty? Without knowing it, Terra Cooper is on a search to find out the answer to this very question. Terra has long been thought of as beautiful – except for the prominent port-wine stain that covers part of her face. Long defined by this birthmark and belittled by her cartographer father, Terra and her mother’s world is thrown into a different direction when they meet Jacob, an adopted Asian teen who had a cleft palate as a child, and his mother. Soon Terra and her mother find themselves on a trip to China and a journey to map out and reclaim their lives.
Review: I first heard of Justina Chen Headley during a Blog Hop in which a blogger recommended her as an author she wished more people knew about. I was intrigued and decided to purchase a book of hers called North of Beautiful. I was blown away and now am firmly on the Justina Chen Headley train. North of Beautiful was one of the most beautiful, well-crafted, meaningful books I have ever read. In fact, it has even earned a spot in my Top 10 List of all-time favorite books which I will be updating soon.
There are so many things that I love about this book – the first being the absolutely wonderful writing. Headley has a real knack for being able to put feelings and truth into her writing – her writing is so authentically real, and the dialogue is perfectly crafted.
The characters of Terra and Jacob, as well as the secondary characters, are so dimensional and well-rounded. Each has an amazing amount of depth – from Terra’s artwork, obsession with working out, relationship with her best friend and her mother, and her need to get away to Jacob’s love of geocaching, his search for his roots in Asia and his ability to make others see themselves differently. Even Terra’s father, who is emotionally abusive, has many layers and is never reduced to a stereotype.
The trip to China that Terra, Jacob and their mothers take was so fun to read about – the sights, smells, experiences, food, and people were described in such detail that you feel you are right there with them. You can tell that Headley has first-hand knowledge of China and brings that to the story. I love when authors use travel to allow characters to learn something new about themselves as they experience a new place or culture.
The metaphors of maps and map-making were skillfully woven throughout the story elevating this novel to an even higher level of excellence. It it is a novel that will truly get you thinking about what true beauty is and how you can find it in yourself. I would recommend this novel to anyone but especially to those who love the beautiful realism found in Melina Marchetta and Jennifer Donnelly’s stories. If I was a high school teacher, I would definitely want to have all of my students read and experience this novel.
A unique, brilliant story, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley gets my highest recommendation. I absolutely adore this book and its amazing message.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age Recommendation: 14 and up
Rating: 5/5 (will be a new addition to my Top 10 Favorites list)
**Only a few more days to enter my Melina Marchetta giveaway!**
Gail Godwin said, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.” I would have to say that to some extent, I agree with this quote. It is so important to portray concepts, ideas, and books to students with a high level of enthusiasm, engagement and drama so that the students “buy-in” to what they are learning. One way that I have built excitement for a class novel study is by using a scavenger hunt to help introduce the book selection. A book scavenger hunt is easy to create! Recently, my students read Holes by Louis Sachar as a class novel. Here is what I did to create a scavenger hunt for this book:
1. Identify and jot down symbols, characters, and settings from the book. For Holes, I jotted down sand/desert, holes, shoes, camp, X-Ray/Zero/Armpit, palindromes, Clyde Livingston and onions. This list will help you create your clues.
2. Choose areas around your school where students will be able to go find the clues. For my scavenger hunt, students went to the cafeteria, library, gym, office and outside of my classroom.
3. Write your clues. Your clues should combine a “piece” of the book and where the student should travel next. For example, I set a big bin of shoes outside the gymnasium. Inside one of the shoes was a little baggie filled with Clyde Livingston “autographs” that the students could take and the next clue. Here is the clue that they received at that station:
Inside this basket here
You will find a lot of shoes
Find the one used for sports
And you just might find some clues!
From here go to the place
Where novels and magazines take up space.
Outside the room lies a big book
Open it up and take a look.
4. Prepare a physical symbol that students can take from each station to help them guess what book they will be reading. For our Holes study, students took a small scoop of sand, paper cut-outs of onions, x-rays, and zig zags, Clyde Livingston’s autograph and the definition of palindrome. Each student had a zip-lock bag that he or she could put the physical symbols in. This bag later was used to store each child’s novel study materials (book, response journal, etc.) and students glued many of their clues into their response journals as they later recognized their role in the book.
5. Find a space for students to spread out their clues and guess the title of the book. I had my students write their guesses on a note card along with their reasoning. I had some really crazy and hilarious answers like “Race Car Driver Clyde Livingston’s Broken Arm.”
6. Plan the big reveal. I have done this in a couple of different ways. I have created a bulletin board with the book cover and the blown-up items from the book and covered it with a sheet. Once all students have returned and ventured their guesses, I reveal the bulletin board. This year, the literacy teacher and I buried small versions of the Holes cover in sand and had the students dig for the answer.
And there you go! It is so easy to create a novel scavenger hunt, and your students will love being book detectives.
Helpful Hints: I would stick to about 5 or 6 clues for the hunt and split students into teams of four or five. I worked with our literacy teacher on this activity. It was nice to be able to have two people out in the building helping to monitor the students, answer questions, take pictures, etc. so I would suggest enlisting a helpful volunteer.
If you have any questions about the novel scavenger hunt or would like a copy of the one I created for Louis Sachar’s novel Holes, let me know! My students loved this activity (in fact, they asked if we could do this for every novel we read), and I know that your middle school students will enjoy it, too!
“Tomorrow will be better.”
“But what if it’s not?” I asked.
“Then you say it again tomorrow. Because it might be. You never know, right? At some point, tomorrow will be better.”
Amy Curry doesn’t recognize herself anymore. After the tragic death of her father, Amy and her family are lost and disconnected from each other – her mother decides that they need to sell their house in California and move to Connecticut, her brother goes to rehab and Amy’s lost her direction and sense of self. After finishing out the school year, Amy is going to take the family car and join her mother in Connecticut. However, after the accident Amy doesn’t drive. Enter her old neighbor Roger who is home from college and going to spend the summer with his dad in Pennsylvania. Amy’s mom comes up with the perfect solution: Amy and Roger can drive cross-country using the carefully crafted itinerary she has designed. But sometimes plans are made to be broken and as the title states, Amy and Roger go on one epic detour across America because it’s the journey and not the destination that’s important.
Told through a traditional narrative style sprinkled with scrap-book like items and playlists, Amy and Roger’s Epic Journey show us that the best discoveries are the ones we make when we aren’t looking for them.
Review: In looking back at my most recent book reviews, I become a little worried. I worry that people will think that I am too complimentary – that they will ask themselves, “Does she only give positive reviews to books? She LOVES everything.” But I looked back at those novels and my opinions stand – I have been reading some really stellar books and am not going to worry that people think I am too positive.
Amy and Roger’s Epic Journey falls squarely into my stellar books category. Well-developed, nuanced characters are so important to me as a reader. Matson excels in this area – Amy has so many different layers that peel back as the novel progresses. You are right with her in her intense grief and guilt over her father’s death. She has the most wonderful voice – wry and caring. The way that she kept comparing herself to Amy!, the girl who she imagined her stripped down room represented, was hilarious and in comparing the two, I was able to get a better idea of who Amy really was. And Roger- I just loved him and his nickname, Magellan. The secondary characters like Bronwyn and Lucien are also dimensional – more so then I have seen in a lot of other novels. The fact that I remember their names says a lot about their impact on me (I have a terrible time remembering character names-even as I am reading. Weird, I know) Matson really has her finger on the pulse of what teens are like today, what makes them tick and their voices.
I read this book on my Nook so I am not sure I got to experience the full effect of the little notes, postcards, receipts, pictures and music play lists sprinkled throughout the book. However, I thought they were a wonderful addition to help further develop this story. It almost made it seem like a travelogue and really gave me the itch to go on a road trip this summer. Sidebar – I LOVE road trips. In college, my roommates and I drove down to the land of fun and sun, Daytona, Florida, for our university’s sponsored trip. Florida was great but it was the stops we made along the way (world’s largest alligator, Fountain of Youth) that really made the trip. – End Sidebar
I also appreciated the theme of this novel which was subtly woven throughout. Each of us have a journey to take – there might be roadblocks or obstacles that we need to overcome, but life is about taking one step at a time and enjoying the experience.
This novel is a treat. I strongly encourage you to join Amy and Roger on the road trip of a lifetime and read Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson! This was Matson’s debut novel, and in my opinion, she is an author to watch.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age Recommendation: 15 and older
Rating: 4.75 / 5
I am sure that it comes as no surprise to any regular reader of this blog that I have a special place in my heart for Australian authors – especially author Melina Marchetta. Her books have a beautiful realness to them, and the characters are unforgettable. I recommend her books to everyone (whether they have asked for a recommendation or not ).
I would like to share some of my love for Melina’s books with you! I am giving away FOUR of her novels to one lucky follower who lives in the United States or Canada.
I am so excited to share these books with you! You will win Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca, Jellicoe Road (one of my top 10 favorites of all time) and her foray into fantasy, Finnikin of the Rock.
Please fill out the form below to enter. The contest will run December 11th through December 31st. I can’t think of a better way to start 2012 than by reading these phenomenal novels!
**Fine print: You must be 13 years or older and the winner will be chosen by a random number generator. You must be a resident of the United States or Canada for this particular giveaway. A special thanks also goes out to Parajunkee Designs who created an awesome tutorial for Google Docs (which sadly didn’t address what to do when my form kept showing up in Italian ) and the fabulous Liz @ Midnight Bloom Reads who shared the link!
It’s that time again! Time for the weekly book party hosted by Crazy for Books. The blog hop gives book bloggers a chance to share their love of books with others, find new reads and connect with new people! Thanks again to Jennifer @ Crazy-for-Books for hosting this great event.
Each week Jennifer posts a question for the Hop. This week’s question is: What is the thing you like most about reading book blogs? Is it the reviews, author guest posts, articles, giveaways, or something else entirely?
There is a lot that I love about reading book blogs! I absolutely love all of the people I have “met” through book blogging. I love the connections and the camaraderie that I have with these people about books. Who else can you squeal with about Jenny Han’s books or lament an entire year’s wait for a much anticipated sequel? I also love the reviews. I have learned about so many great books (new and old) from fellow bloggers. I always sit at the computer with a piece of paper or my Nook so that I can jot down books that I want to read. I have about 20 now. Oops! I hope that I have been able to introduce people to books that I am passionate about. The discussion that comes from these books is great as well. It is like having an on-line book club.
Thanks to everyone for stopping by. Be sure to come back on Saturday for my Melina Marchetta giveaway. Also, check out Christina’s Blogoversary Giveaway Extravaganza (she is hosting four giveaways!) at her fantastic blog Confessions of a Book Addict. She has excellent taste in books, is a fellow teacher, and her reviews are extremely well-written and thought out.