Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday Salon: June 17, 2018

My life in books: 

  • The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax and Caryl Strzelecki--YA historical fiction/graphic novel
  • Refugee by Alan Gratz--YA historical fiction
  • Solo by Kwame Alexander--YA novel in verse
  • All 4s and 5s: A Guide to Teaching and Leading Advanced Placement Programs by Andrew Sharos--work book

Challenges progress:
  • Non-fiction--My goal is 20 books and I've read 25. 
  • Literary Voyage around the world--Read books set in as many countries as possible. I have read in 25 countries so far, recently adding Cuba, Germany, and Ghana.
  • Literary Escapes--Track the US states. I have read books set in 21 states so far and in the past weeks added Florida and South Carolina.
  • Read all of the ALA YA Award Winners--I have already read 6 of these winners.
  • Motif Reading Challenge--The June motif is Crack the Case (mysteries) so I did that with Blackout by Alex Segura.

My life outside books:
This past week was our district's professional development week and I led three days of workshops: student-centered learning for social studies teachers; enhancing curriculum with technology; and a Google Level 1 and 2 Bootcamp. All very successful, but also draining. I am officially done for the summer, but have scheduled at least 3 days during the summer to work with teachers on curriculum.

Our sucky 2017-2018 school year (devastating fire and debris flow, teachers out with major medical issues and chemical spill burns, and student suicides) ended on a very sad note when one of our district principals died the day before graduation. Her memorial was yesterday and it was a wonderful event. I think we're all glad this school year is over and done!

It's great having my daughter home for the summer! We're just going to hang out in Santa Barbara for the next couple of months getting ready for her to go off to college.

It's Father's Day here in the US, but our family isn't really big on these "days" since we all live in the same house and see and appreciate each other every day. But, mother nature has been good to us and it rained a bit this morning; that NEVER happens here in June and since we're in a drought we'll take all the moisture we can get.

I don't normally post about politics on this blog, but I am so ashamed and angry that we have become a nation that separates children from their parents and then locks them up. I am not sure why no one in authority is doing anything about this. What can we do?
2 baby hawks a couple weeks ago

About 6 weeks ago I discovered a red shouldered hawk's nest in the eucalyptus tree at the end of our driveway. It has been so wonderful to watch them go from sitting on eggs to the two babies learning to feed themselves. My guess is that they will fledge in the next 10 days. We set up my dad's birding scope each day around 4:30pm and take turns watching them for about an hour. The video is of the mama hawk feeding her two babies who are now quite big at about a month old.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Title: Geekerella
Author: Ashley Poston
Year Published: 2017

Genre: YA historical fiction
Pages: 317
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (SC)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): When geek girl Elle Wittimer sees a cosplay contest sponsored by the producers of Starfield, she has to enter. First prize is an invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. Elle's been scraping together tips from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck behind her stepmother's back, and winning this contest could be her ticket out once and for all--not to mention a fangirl's dream come true.

Teen actor Damien Freeman is less than thrilled about this year's ExcelsiCon. He used to live for conventions, but now they're nothing but jaw-aching photo sessions and awkward meet-and-greets.

Review: When I read a great review of this book by Jackie at Death by Tsundoku, I thought it sounded like a fun summer read. I haven't read a true YA romance in a while so thought, "what the heck?!" So much fun!

Yes, it's obviously a retelling of Cinderella with a mean stepmother and stepsisters, the main character is does all the work and is treated badly. And there is definitely a handsome prince and a glittery slipper. But this version is modernized with cell phones, Hollywood movies, cosplay (dressing up as your favorite character at a convention), and fan fiction. And romance.

This book is perfect if you are in the mood for fairy tale endings and swooning teenagers. And I was. I really enjoyed reading this book, even finding myself worried the "bad guys" were going to win out at one point. Of course they don't; this is the story of Cinderella. But, unlike Cinderella, Elle has a voice and she uses it, eventually. She makes good friends and gets the cute boy. It's all very good.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax and Caryl Strzelecki

Title: The War Within These Walls
Author: Aline SAx and Caryl Strzelecki
Year Published: 2013

Genre: YA historical fiction
Pages: 169 including illustrations
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)Poland

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Misha and his family, like the rest of Warsaw's Jews, are harassed and humiliated by the Nazis, and eventually crowded together into a single tiny ghetto. Every day more people die from disease, starvation, and violence. Misha has no way to protect his parents and sister, and no reason to hope--until one day he meets a group of brave young people who have decided that they will not give in to despair Together they make one final, daring stand.

Drawing on the actual events of hte Warsaw ghetto uprising, Aline Sax's spare prose and Caryl Strzelecki's striking images tell a powerful story of incredible courage amid brutal oppression.

Review: I thought this was a graphic novel in the traditional sense, but it's really an illustrated book. A well done one for sure. I'll admit that since I know so much about the Holocaust I don't learn new things from novels anymore unless they really deal with a more obscure version of the experience and sometimes that affects my ranking of a book. My response was, "this is a 4," but it's really well done and not the author's fault that I know this story so well. So, I gave it 4.5.

The illustrations really make this book as they are two-tone, graphic, and help the reader to feel the violence, anger, and angst experienced by the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. The text is sparse and moves quickly to cover the story, allowing the illustrations to fill in the details and emotions.

This is an important story and I like that this book is accessible to younger readers.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Review: Blackout by Alex Segura

Title: Blackout
Author: Alex Segura
Year Published: 2018

Genre: Adult fiction (mystery)
Pages: 322
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (FL)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In Blackout, the latest novel in Alex Segura's acclaimed Pete Fernandez Mystery series, startling new evidence in a cold case that's haunted Pete drags the exiled P.I. back to his hometown of Miami. But as Pete and his partner Kathy Bentley delve deeper into the unsolved murder, they become entangled in Miami's obsession with a charismatic and dangerous cult leader and his even more menacing followers. At the same time, the detectives find themselves at odds with a Florida politician's fixation on wealth, fame, and power. It all converges in the heart of the Magic City and Pete is left scrambling to pick up the pieces--or die trying.

The Pete Fernandez novels have always run on two tracks--the long-buried Miami mystery that Pete is forced gto solve, and Pete's often unpredictable evolution from self-destructive alcoholic to somewhat functional private eye. In Blackout, those two tracks blend into one dark, personal and deadly tale of dangerous completely changed. It's all been building to this.

Purchase Links: Indie Bound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Author Links: WebsiteFacebook, and Twitter 

Review: I don't read a lot of detective novels though I used to. Alex Segura has created a good  and likable (though flawed) PI character in this series. I didn't even realize this was a series until I read the blurb, but it doesn't seem to matter since there are references in this book that catch the reader up on relevant back stories.

I like that this book is set in Miami because it means I added another state to my list, but it also means I got to learn about a part of the country I don't know much about. The story covered Miami and the Keys, two places I've never been. 

Pete Fernandez and his friends are a good group who have love/hate relationships with one another though love wins out in the end, which makes me happy. Not love as in romantic love, but loyalty, friendship, and having each other's backs. That's the best kind of love. I wanted the characters to stick together against the bad guys and in a detective novel, that's key.

If you like detective novels, characters with flaws who are struggling to be better, some death and destruction, and some really mean bad guys, this is the book for you.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review: Solo by Kwame Alexander

Title: Solo
Author: Kwame Alexander
Year Published: 2017

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 457 (written in verse)
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (CA) and Ghana

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Blade never asked for a life of the rich and famous. In fact, he'd give anything not to be the son of Rutherford Morrison, a washed-up rock star and drug addict with delusions of a comeback. Or to no longer be part of a family known most for lost potential, failure, and tragedy. The one true light is his girlfriend, Chapel, but her parents have forbidden their relationship, assuming--like many--that Blade will become just like his father.

In reality, the only thing Blade has in common with Rutherford is the music that lives inside them. But not even the songs that flow through Blade's soul are enough when he's faced with two unimaginable realities: the threat of losing Chapel forever, and the revelation of a long-held family secret, one that leaves him questioning everything he thought was true. All that remains is a letter and a ticket to Ghana--both of which could bring Blade the freedom and love he's been searching for, or leave him feeling even more adrift.

Review: I don't read very many books written in verse, but Kwame Alexander is so good at it; I loved this book! Verse works really well when your main character is a musician since the cadence of the verse seems to match his thoughts and experiences.

The first half of the book sets the reader up for the second half. Growing up in Hollywood, CA the son of an old rocker who has definitely seen better days, Blade can't wait to get out. He is embarrassed and ashamed of his dad, their lifestyle, and just needs to escape. Luxury and money, while providing comforts and material goods, certainly doesn't buy happiness. Then, Blade finds out the family secret and he is out of there.

The second half of the book is set in Ghana where the rhythm of life is slower, poorer, and, in many ways, richer. But it is certainly not without its troubles. Blade learns about himself, his dad, and life while navigating Ghana. 

This all sounds like it's full of life lessons, and it is, but they are woven into the fabric of the story, setting, and characters in such a way that that reader absorbs them rather than getting hit over the head with them. This is about family, love, self, and understanding and it is beautifully crafted.

Challenges for which this counts: