Monday, May 28, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 5-28-12

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?
Last week I only finished two books and they were audiobooks:

What I'm currently listening to:

I'm still reading:
Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen
Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner
Oh how I can't wait for #bookaday. I have finished many audiobooks recently but I just don't have any time to sit down and read right now. June 8th can't come soon enough!

What I reviewed last week (though it wasn't technically a review since I didn't finish it):
Paris in Love by Eloisa James

Friday, May 25, 2012

The "Did Not Finish" Chronicles: Paris in Love by Eloisa James

From Goodreads:
In 2009, New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James took a leap that many people dream about: she sold her house, took a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moved her family to Paris. Paris in Love: A Memoir chronicles her joyful year in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

With no classes to teach, no committee meetings to attend, no lawn to mow or cars to park, Eloisa revels in the ordinary pleasures of life—discovering corner museums that tourists overlook, chronicling Frenchwomen’s sartorial triumphs, walking from one end of Paris to another. She copes with her Italian husband’s notions of quality time; her two hilarious children, ages eleven and fifteen, as they navigate schools—not to mention puberty—in a foreign language; and her mother-in-law Marina’s raised eyebrow in the kitchen (even as Marina overfeeds Milo, the family dog).

Paris in Love invites the reader into the life of a most enchanting family, framed by la ville de l’amour

I was so excited to get an offer to review Paris in Love because I love travel memoirs. I was certain this book would be right up my alley (I mean, my blog has the word "Wanderlust" in the title. How can I pass up a travel memoir?) And I'm sure it would have been, had this book been given a narrative structure rather than, well, I don't know how to describe the structure. It was told pretty much in Facebook-status-update-sized vignettes. And while I love telling my own little stories to my friends and family via Facebook, I'm not going to compile all of them and put them in a book. 

The book didn't feel crafted; it felt slapped together. I could assemble all the posts I've written about my teaching life on Facebook and make a book out of it, but to me that's not writing; that's just slapping something together. The difficulty of writing is honing your craft to create an engaging narrative or informational piece of text. As someone who hopes to be a published writer someday, I'm kind of irked by the way this book was put together. I mean, anyone can assemble Facebook status updates, paste them into a Word document and turn them into a book. To me, the purpose of a journal/writer's notebook or even social media is to inspire bigger writing projects, not BE the writing project.

Perhaps I just missed the point of the book, I don't know, but I like to sit down with a book and have it be a continuous narrative. I want to invest in the people and conflicts that are going on. Instead, all this book does is give you little scraps of scenes that do nothing to tide you over. They merely make you hungrier for something more sustaining. Even if the book were a series of essays, that would be more satisfying and sustaining than the little snippets of unrelated text you get on each page:
But maybe for someone else this is just the type of book that they need. Short, quick, and with little emotional investment. That's just not the type of book for me. 

Paris in Love by Eloisa James
Published: April 3, 2012
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 272
Genre: Nonfiction/Travel Memoir
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: Title received for review

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop

For my portion of the blog hop, I am giving away the following:

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari
Published: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: Advanced Reader Copy
Pages: 121
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade

From Goodreads:
Twelve-year-old June Farrell is sure of one thing—she’s great at making pies—and she plans to prove it by winning a blue ribbon in the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition. But a backlash against Vermont’s civil union law threatens her family’s security and their business. Even when faced with bullying, June won’t give up on winning the blue ribbon; more importantly, she won’t give up on her family.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

It's Monday! What are You Reading? 5-21-12


Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

What I read last week:
See You at Harry's by Jo Knowels
It's not often that I finish a book in a weekend anymore, but with See You at Harry's, I finished it in about 24 hours. It's such a heartbreaking yet heartwarming story. I still can't get Fern and her family out of my head.

I can't get enough Elephant and Piggie! :)

Zorro Gets an Outfit by Carter Goodrich
I will read any book with a pug in it. But a pug in a ridiculous superhero outfit? Count me in!

Audiobook I finished last week:
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
I remember reading this book in 8th grade and really enjoyed it. I don't think I loved it this time as much as I did when I was in 8th grade but it was still a great story. I really enjoyed the audiobook narrator too.

What I'm currently reading:
Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner
I used to be a figure skating junkie all through middle school and high school. I never learned to skate myself, but I loved to watch it and wished I could feel that freedom of flying on the ice. So I love that Kate Messner gets a skating story right. Too many times I have read stories that involved skating and the author didn't come close to showing they knew anything about the sport of figure skating.

What I'm Currently listening to:
I have listened to the previous two Incorrigibles books on audio because Katherine Kellgren is one of those narrators that makes the book even better than it would have been if you had read it. She's not disappointing with her third installment.

What I reviewed last week:
Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steven Salerno

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Love in Bloom giveaway hop: signed copy of Goddess Interrupted

This blog hop is hosted by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and Portrait of a Book.

For my portion of the blog hop I am giving away a signed copy of:

Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter
Published: March 27, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 296
Format: Paperback

From Goodreads:


Becoming immortal wasn't supposed to be the easy part. Though Kate is about to be crowned Queen of the Underworld, she's as isolated as ever. And despite her growing love for Henry, ruler of the Underworld, he's becoming ever more distant and secretive. Then, in the midst of Kate's coronation, Henry is abducted by the only being powerful enough to kill him: the King of the Titans.

As the other gods prepare for a war that could end them all, it is up to Kate to save Henry from the depths of Tartarus. But in order to navigate the endless caverns of the Underworld, Kate must enlist the help of the one person who is the greatest threat to her future.

Henry's first wife, Persephone.

To enter, complete the Rafflecopter widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway Don't forget to visit all the other blogs participating in this blog hop:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Brothers at Bat by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steven Salerno

The Acerra family is big. Sixteen children big. And with twelve sons, big enough to form their own baseball team. Which is exactly what they did. From the 1930s-1950s, this band of brothers played semi-pro ball and competed all throughout New Jersey.

Despite the fact that from the 1860s - 1940s, there were 29 known all-brother baseball teams, the Acerras made history by playing longer than any other. Audrey Vernick tells their story with great care and admiration for their accomplishment.

Truth be told, I don't even really like baseball that much. I picked up this book because I adore Audrey's writing. She has shown time and again that for her, it's not just about the story. She works really hard to craft a narrative full of voice: whether it's silly humor in her Buffalo books, or quiet respect and reverence as with her nonfiction picture books like She Loved Baseball and now Brothers at Bat. And to write such a brief narrative full of voice is no simple task, but Audrey is a master at it.

From the opening sentence, Audrey sets the perfect tone to help the reader settle in and enjoy the journey. Often when I read picture books to my sixth graders, not everyone enjoys the stories. There's always a handful of students who have something critical to say. But with every Audrey Vernick picture book I have read, each one of my students have always written glowing responses. Brothers at Bat was no different.

Warning: Some of these comments from my students are a tad spoilery but will by no-means ruin your desire to read the book. In fact, perhaps I'm a bit biased since they're my students, but I think they might make you want to read the book even more:

"The best part was when all the brothers came home safely. That part was really good. My other favorite part was when the bus broke down and the brothers started playing baseball in the sweating sun."

"I really enjoyed the book and I don't even like baseball. I don't know why but I felt like crying, it was like emotional for me... what I want to know is how the parents kept up the money to support them."

"My favorite part of the story was when Alfred came back after he lost an eye and he still was a good catcher."

"I love Audrey Vernick's stories... That would be so interesting to go talk to the Acerra brothers that are still alive. That is also amazing that Alfred came back and played on the team with one eye. I thought it was just a cool story overall."

As far as the illustrations go, Audrey Vernick manages to luck out with amazing illustrators for all of her books. While my favorite illustrator of her books continues to be Daniel Jennewein for my own biased reasons, Steven Salerno is no slouch either. He captures the endearing and friendly qualities of the Acerra family in his illustrations and after reading the author's note about Freddie inviting Audrey over for dinner to interview him for this book, and reading the end of the book where even a broken down bus doesn't get them down, I don't doubt the Acerra family is anything but delightful.

So have I gushed enough? There's not much more I can say after that. If you're a baseball lover - or even if you're not - go out an get a copy of Brothers at Bat today.

Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steven Salerno
Published: April 3, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 40
Genre: Nonfiction picture book
Audience: Primary/middle grade

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound

It's Monday! What are You Reading? 5-14-12

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

First, check out all the rockin' books I got at the used bookstore this week:

In addition, I'm rather proud of the awesome gift I assembled for both my mom and my mother-in-law for Mother's Day (though I probably shouldn't be talking about it here since I haven't been able to give my MIL her gift yet). Both The Fault in Our Stars and Wonder have been my favorite books  of 2012 and starting with their sparse, blue covers, I've noticed a few similarities in these books: their ratings on Goodreads were only 0.01 points apart for a while. Now they're almost 0.2 points apart. Their audiobooks also have the same narrator: Kate Rudd (she is one of the three narrators in the Wonder audiobook). Anyway, using Wonder and TFIOS as inspiration, I decided to assemble and all-blue gift basket. It's nothing fancy, but I personally have to pat myself on the back for my creativity:

What I'm currently listening to:
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

What I'm currently reading:
Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

What I read last week:
Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex
Guess Again by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex

 What I listened to last week:
The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

What I reviewed last week:

The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines

So I haven't done anything foodie related in a while. When the school year goes full force, my passion for food often takes a backseat and I end up eating a lot of cereal for dinner. But alas, I just recently picked up The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook at the library and thought I would write my thoughts about it. I don't often review a cookbook without having made at least one recipe from it, but since this is so much more than a cookbook, I thought I could justify giving my thoughts on it without having made anything from it.

First of all, you wouldn't think with a title like The Hunger Games that there would be much to put inside a cookbook, but coming in at 239 pages, there's a lot more things food-related in the series than I first remembered. The blurb on the back of the book states:

Recipes inspired by foraging with Katniss, hunting with Gale, baking with Peeta, and indulging at the Capitol.

The chapters are divided thusly:
Chapter 1: Breakfast of Champions
Chapter 2: Breaking Bread
Chapter 3: Keep the Campfires Low and Forage: Soups, Stews, and Salads
Chapter 4: Humble Beginnings
Chapter 5: Sink or Swim - Seafood
Chapter 6: Don't Call me Chicken - Poultry Dishes for the Brave
Chapter 7: Put Some Meat on Your Bones - Beef, Lamb, and Pork
Chapter 8: Wild Game for Wild Girls
Chapter 9: Just Desserts
Appendix: Katniss's Family Book of Herbs

Each recipe has an explanation for why it's in the cookbook and how it connects to the series. Some connections are directly relevant to the story, such as the recipe for Katniss's Craved Cheese Buns:

Katniss loves Peeta's family's cheese buns, and throughout The Hunger Games trilogy the buns become a symbol of home and of Katniss and Peeta's lives before they became tributes. This symbolism is so pervasive that Katniss's preferences for cheese buns becomes part of Peeta and Katniss's "Real or Not Real" game to help Peeta find himself after the Capitol violated and changed his memories.

But some connections feel like you're playing the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but with The Hunger Games instead of Kevin Bacon. Like this recipe for Super Healthy Dried Fruit Quinoa Salad:

While Katniss is able to find and gather her own fresh food, the Careers can only survive on pre-made, preserved snacks that they grabbed when they first entered the arena. This juxtaposition gives you a good idea of who is more likely to survive. If only she had some quinoa, Katniss could blend it with the stolen fruit to make the incredibly healthy (not to mention filling) quinoa salad below.

And some recipes, while not entirely connected to the series, have lovely symbolism, such as the White Chocolate Chocolate Cookies:

A twist on the classic chocolate chip cookie, this cookie is similar to Katniss's spirit - mostly dark, with patches of light throughout.

While most of the recipes in this book are well-thought out and written with great respect and care for the food, it is a bit inconsistent in places. Many recipes call for making everything from scratch, but every once in a while you will come across something that requires you to use a boxed cake mix or a can of cream of mushroom soup. It's like the book jumps around from Julia Child to Sandra Lee.

The recipes in the wild game section are definitely, in my opinion, more of a novelty than something a reader of this series is likely to make. With recipes like Mr. Mellark's Favorite Fried Squirrel, Hazelle's Beaver Stew, and Grilled Tree Rat with Peanut Butter Dipping Sauce, I'm not sure how many die-hard fans are going to be clamoring to give those dishes a try any time soon. I wonder if the author even tried them?

On the whole, I enjoyed reading this cookbook and being reminded of just how important food was in the series: whether it was, as the back of the book says, "foraging with Katniss" or "indulging at the Capitol." Every fan of the series should at least give this book a look, but I highly recommend checking it out at the library before committing yourself to a purchase. I might buy the book for the simple fact that I showed it to my students and they were excited about reading it and possibly trying some of the recipes (they wanted to have a Hunger Games party where everyone made something from the cookbook) but as for including it in my own personal cookbook collection? I'm still on the fence.

The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines
Published: December 1, 2011
Publisher: Adams Media
Pages: 239
Genre: Cookery
Audience: Young Adult/Adults

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Blind Spot by Laura Ellen

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to showcase upcoming books that you can't wait to read.

My anxiously awaited title this week is:

Blind Spot by Laura Ellen
Expected Publication: October 23, 2012
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Pages: 356
Genre: Mystery
Audience: Young Adult

From Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Tricia Farni’s body floated to the surface of Alaska’s Birch River six months after the night she disappeared. The night Roz Hart had a fight with her. The night Roz can’t remember. Roz, who struggles with macular degeneration, is used to assembling fragments to make sense of the world around her. But this time it’s her memory that needs piecing together—to clear her name . . . to find a murderer. This unflinchingly emotional novel is written in the powerful first-person voice of a legally blind teen who just wants to be like everyone else.

This book sounds ah-mazing. And YA lit needs more mysteries. There are not nearly enough of them. I'm excited that this book is there to fill that need. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is: Top Ten Favorite Book Quotes.

However, since this is something my students have done throughout the school year via a graffiti wall
 (an idea I stole from so many teachers on Twitter, I don't even remember whose original idea it was anymore. UPDATE: It was the amazing Donalyn Miller's idea) I'd much rather share with you some of our favorite quotes this school year.

Monday, May 7, 2012

It's Monday! What are You Reading? (2)

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

I have lots of bookish things to talk about from this past week.

First of all, I amassed quite a few new books from the Scholastic warehouse sale.
Strangely enough, I managed to leave only spending $55 but that was mainly because I'd look at a book and couldn't remember if I already had it or not - that's how many books I currently have in my classroom library! This got a conversation started on Twitter about how many of us teachers will be spending the summer adding our classroom libraries to The Booksource's FREE classroom organizer. This is epic people. If you haven't seen this before, hold onto your seats. This organizer basically allows teachers to do what libraries do: electronically keep track of books in and books out, but this lets us do it for FREE! Teachers like free.

In addition to the Scholastic sale I also, like I do every week, visited my library's used bookstore. Instead of a yearly book sale, my library has a bookstore that is open a few hours 6 days a week. Every Tuesday is a member's only day where you can come in and get first pick of the "new" stock. They generally have a nice collection of kid's books, so I often leave with a bag full of books, having spent anywhere from $1-15. This was my haul from this week:

Books I am currently listening to:
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

What I'm currently (still) reading:
Paris in Love by Eloisa James

Books I finished last week:

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems
Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino

Nasty Bugs by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Will Terry
Squish: The Power of the Parasite by Jennifer and Matthew Holm

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (audiobook)
Bad Hair Day by Carrie Harris

Audiobooks I reviewed:
Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber
Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Picture book I reviewed:
The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Adam Rex