Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 End of the Year Survey.

I have some other things that I need to talk about to wrap up the year 2012, but I am putting them off until tomorrow. For today, I thought it might be time to plow through the traditional End of the Year Survey that Jamie hosts each year. This is the third year for the survey, and the third time I am participating.

Off I go...

Best In Books 2012

1. Best Book You Read In 2012? 
I read a lot of great books in 2012, and looking back at all of them leaves me a bit unsettled. There was a definite transition from classics into all the YA and Fantasy I've been reading recently. Anyway, I decided to pick two books from those very distinct portions of my reading. 
Classics: Hand's down, my favorite from the year was David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. I'm actually contemplating a reread for in February (to go alongside my reading of the last Dickens title on my original 250 list-A Tale of Two Cities). I was blown away by this one, so I can't wait to revisit. There are many other classics I loved this year, but Dickens' book blew them all away.
YA/Other reads: This is a split between The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Maus by Art Speigelman, and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. All three were excellent reads and rank up there with a lot of the great classics I read. 

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
I was really excited to read Catch-22, and while I liked it, it just didn't do it for me. Perhaps it was the time I read it, but I just wasn't into it. I will most definitely be giving it another try in the future.
 3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012? 
Roots was something completely in and of itself. It was a very overwhelming read and left me with a lot to think about.

Son by Lois Lowry was a book that took me by surprise. I really didn't think that the story behind The Giver needed anything else...but this was a lovely addition to the set and added even more. 

 4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?
Since I have been talking to my students more than bloggers in recent months, a lot of my pushy suggestions have been to get them reading things outside their comfort zone. I successfully convinced a student to read The Last of the Mohicans, which made me smile. But, I've also had a few kids reading some great YA-John Green, Lauren Oliver, etc.
 5. Best series you discovered in 2012?
I was sucked into one of the new Riordan series (Heroes of Olympus) in recent weeks, and I have very much enjoyed them! But, imagine my disappointment when I neared the end of The Mark of Athena to discover there was one more book left in the series...and now I must wait until next fall to dive in!
 6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?
I read Let it Snow just a few days ago and one of the stories was by Maureen Johnson. I follow Maureen on twitter, but hadn't read any of her work until then...I was IMPRESSED. She had me in stitches, and I think our senses of humor align perfectly. She is definitely a writer I need to read!
7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
I've still been reading things that have been all over the map, so I wouldn't say I have "branched out," merely just returned to how I used to read (before blogging). I will say that one book that took me by surprise (for how much I loved it) was The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins. It was a book I never would have discovered on my own, and I LOVED it. Definitely going on the reread list. 
 8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
I flew through a great number of books this year, but the most thrilling has to go to the Riordan series I read. I love the myths woven into the stories, and they were a lot of fun to read as school got hectic.
 9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:
Most likely David Copperfield by Dickens, but I might also revisit Mistborn by Sanderson (Since I never got to the other 2 titles in the trilogy), as well as finishing the Harry Potter series (that I started rereading back in August...never finished the last two!).
10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?
I just flipped through my Goodreads list for the year, and none of the covers really stand out to me! I might say the cover of Son by Lois Lowry (I like all the cover redesigns for her books), or any of the beautiful Penguins I read this year (The clothbounds, the new English Library Editions, or the Puffin classics).

11. Most memorable character in 2012? 
David from David Copperfield. I also quite loved Nicholas from Nicholas Nickleby. There was also Naomi from An Uncommon Education, as well as Calum and Neil from The Cone-Gatherers. I would also venture to say that Andi from my current read, Revolution, is memorable (I am going to finish this one by midnight-I swear!)
 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?
David Copperfield! I know that I keep repeating myself, but I just loved this, so much. I can also give a nod to Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Zusak's The Book Thief.
13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012? 
David Copperfield. Hand's down, this had the biggest impact on me this year. I have the opening lines of the novel written in the cover of my journal, and I have plans to put them up in my classroom. LOVED THIS BOOK.
 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read? 
I would venture to say that A Little Princess was a title I should have read a long time ago. I loved the novel and I cannot wait to read it to my kids!
 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012? 
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” David Copperfield

“My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.” David Copperfield

“And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you." Far From the Madding Crowd
 16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012? 
The longest was...Roots by Alex Haley at 899 pages (whew), and the shortest was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at 43 pages (I feel I should mention that my shortest classic was Steinbeck's The Pearl at 90 pages).
 17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
The Cone-Gatherers. Someone else needs to read this book.

Roots also had some super powerful scenes.
18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
I love the relationships in the characters in Riordan's books (far better than what they were in the Percy Jackson series). I also quite loved the relationship I just read about in Juliet Marillier's Heart's Blood. There was also the friendship and love between Calum and Neil in The Cone-Gatherers, and I can't forget Katniss and Peeta from my reread of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay.
19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously
I still have to give a nod to David Copperfield by Dickens. It made me want to read more of his work, so I have started to collect all his books. :) Future project!
20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:
Ummm...I honestly can't think of one! I did read some titles based on suggestions from students and teachers, but none that blew me away...Well, with the exception of Between Shades of Gray. It was a book I never would have picked up without it being forced on me, and I am SO GLAD I read it.

 Book Blogging/Reading Life in 2012

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2012?

I really struggled with blogging this year, especially in the last couple of months, so I can't really say. My interactions with other bloggers has been limited. I will say that I love my followers and those I talk to. You guys keep me hanging in here, and I hope that I can improve my relationships with you this coming year!
And, I also hope that I can get back in the swing of things soon!
2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2012? 
Oh many of my reviews seem like they took place so long ago! Perhaps this one, where I gush about my love for David Copperfield!
3. Best discussion you had on your blog?
I had a few discussions this year on my blog about various topics. Some of the big ones were this one on Teenager Friendly Classics, a fun meme on Reading Habits, and this post where I was Looking for Quotes for School. I am still working on my quotes wall, and when I finish, I will definitely share! 
4. Most thought-provoking review or discussion you read on somebody else’s blog?
I'll just be honest and say that I can't think of very many (my lack of interaction recently). Yes, I stink at being a blogger.
5. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
I didn't have the chance to go to any book events this year, mainly because Michigan is just too darn cold for authors to come visit (really, I think that's why no one comes here). However, I loved all the events in the blogging world this year-from my own events (Shakespeare Reading Month and my Victorian Celebration) to things like the 24-Hour Readathons.

The biggest and best event to launch this year was The Classics Club, which I have been a member of since the beginning! 

6. Best moment of book blogging in 2012?
Launching The Classics Club Blog. It took a lot of time to transfer everything over, but it was worth it. I love that people are coming together to read the classics, and I hope that it continues to grow!
7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
A lot of the informational posts I made this year have huge numbers of hits, especially the Shakespeare posts I wrote last January-Movie Adaptations and Books about the Bard. I've also gotten a lot of hits on one of my Top Ten Tuesday posts-Required Reading for Teens.
8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?
Many of them. :) Well, I would say some of my recent posts are a little lonely, but I chalk that up to my disappearance from blogging.
9. Best bookish discover (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
I'm still obsessed with Goodreads. I'm still obsessed with Penguins (I got the next two clothbounds for Christmas). So...nothing new?
10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
Quite honestly, I stink at Reading Challenges, but I sign up for them again and again anyway. :) I did do well in most of them

My biggest moment of sadness was that I didn't read nearly as much as I wanted to when I had the extra time. I really thought I would read more over the summer leading into working full-time this fall, but I just wasn't in a reading mood. I wanted to hit 100 books for the year, and if I finish my book today, I'll get to 91. That's SO CLOSE. I can hit it next year though, I'm sure. :)

Looking Ahead…

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2012 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2013?
There are many. I kind of tossed my classics to the side the past 4 or 5 months, so there are a few I am going to dive into, including Les Miserables and The Grapes of Wrath. I think I am going to have a great reading year in 2013 since 2012 was all over the place.
2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2013?
 I'm really excited for a lot of the classics I set aside for my challenges. I'm excited for classics, period. I know the first book I am reading is an Austen, since I didn't get to Northanger Abbey before Christmas. After that....who knows!
3. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2013?
I want to be more active now that things are under control (or getting there)-more on this tomorrow. I also want to return to my classics as a focus, with only slight forays into my fluffier reading. I have totally tossed aside classics in recent months and I MISS THEM. I also want to devote more time to The Classics Club since I have been neglecting my duties, as well as my own projects here. I want to make some progress with my 250 list, since it has been stagnant for far too long. We'll see how it goes! :)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope your day is full of love, family, friends, and books.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for December 16, 2012:.

This week has been dominated by things outside of my control. And these things have been tampering with my emotions to the point where I have cried a bit too much. Today I am trying to focus on moving forward into the last week of school and stressed before a much needed 2 week break.

I feel like I need to mention what happened on Friday, and how much it moved me. As a teacher, a human being, my heart broke on Friday for the families of the teachers and children at that school. I cannot fathom why someone would take out their anger on innocent just goes beyond any words imaginable. And, as a teacher, I looked at my own students a bit differently Friday. They are older than the kids who lost their lives, but in many ways, they still have that same innocence. They haven't lived their lives yet. It gets me...and it just hurts.

And with all of that lingering on my mind, it seems silly to write about anything else, so I will leave it there this week. I doubt I will post anything this week, since I need to get through these last five days. But look for a flurry of posts and books read once break gets here. :)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Two 2013 Reading Challenges.

I swore that if I didn't complete a couple of challenges this year that I would avoid them in can see where this is going, right? Needless to say, while I didn't complete all of my challenges for 2012, I have decided to join in on a few for 2013. :)

Both of these are challenges I've been a participant in for the last two years (at least), so it seems like I should soldier on, right?

Without further adieu...

Sarah's Back to the Classics Challenge 2013

This challenge is one of my favorites because of the categories that Sarah picks each year. Unlike some other classic challenges, Sarah picks fun little categories that your classics need to fit into. It is a great way to get some diversity into your classic reading. Personally, I love Victorian-era and turn of the 20th century classics, so this forces me a bit outside my comfort zone!

This year, Sarah has given us 6 required areas with a few "bonus" categories for anyone who feels pulled to read more. I am doing three of the bonus categories in addition to the required 6, but make sure to check out the sign-up post to find more information about the bonus categories!

The List:
1. 19th Century Classic: Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. This is one I really wanted to get to this summer during my Victorian event, but just ran out of time.
2. 20th Century Classic: All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque: This is a title I feel like I should have read by now...
3. Pre-19th Century: The Frogs by Aristophanes: Surprisingly, when I went to look at my 250 list, there were very few pre-19th century titles left!
4. Classic concerning the African-American Experience: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. This is another "should have read" title that I'll be getting to sooner rather than later.
5. Classic Adventure: Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs: I was actually sent a beautiful new edition of the Tarzan stories, so this is a great excuse to dive in and review this for the publisher. :)
6. Classic Featuring an Animal: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Kesey. This title has actually been on a challenge list ever since I started doing challenges. 2013 is the year!

Bonus Categories:
Russian Classic: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I really wanted to read this during this fall, but obviously I didn't get to it. I really want to read it before it disappears from theaters, so I'm thinking this might be my first book of 2013?
Classic Children's Book: Jane Austen's Complete Juvenilia. Does this really need an explanation? :)
Short Stories (at least 3 by one author): I have a big Mark Twain collection, so I am sure that'll be my focus this coming year!

Adam's 2013 TBR Pile Challenge

Third time is definitely going to be the charm for Adam's challenge. I swear!

Adam's challenge is a great way to clear books off the good ol' TBR. Rule is that these books have to have been on your TBR for at least 12 months-so only books published in 2011 and earlier. I choose to focus on classics since that is my main focus anyway!

Each participant gets to choose a list of 12 books they want to finish before the year is out, as well as 2 alternates, just in case...I always seem to want to read my alternates more than my list books...or books not on my list at all. :) Anyway, I scoured my dwindling 250 list and found 14 titles for Adam's Challenge.
The List:
1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Maya Angelou (year 2 on the list...)
2. Cold Sassy Tree: Olive Burns
3. Moll Flanders: Daniel Defoe
4. Sister Carrie: Theodore Dreiser
5. The Sound and the Fury: William Faulkner
6. Brighton Rock: Graham Greene (I believe this is the third year for Mr. Greene on my list...)
7. Doll's House: Henrick Ibsen
8. On the Road: Jack Kerouac
9. Billy Budd: Herman Melville
10. Going After Cacciato: Tim O'Brien
11. Ivanhoe: Sir Walter Scott
12. The Jungle: Upton Sinclair

1. The Once and Future King: T.H. White
2. Remains of the Day: Kazou Ishiguro

So, there you have it-2 challenges with the books all picked out. I'm doubting I will join any other challenges, unless they seem enticing... ;)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for December 9, 2012: Getting Closer...

It has been a whirlwind of a week. Lots of things have been happening in the political arena here in Michigan that will make things interesting for awhile. In addition to passing a bit of "Right to Work" legislation in just 24 hours (from it being brought up and introduced to voted on), there are a number of bills in the House having to do with revamping education in the State. One of the stupidest ideas is to turn the state into one big "super district." Things have been intense and a little uneasy at work, and I am anxious to see how everything pans out.

In addition to all that, the kids are certainly counting down until our last day on the 21st. They've already started on the path to becoming little monsters as their two week break approaches, so I'll be doing all I can to get through until that glorious break. I'm still having a hard time believing that we only have 2 weeks from break, 1 week in January, then exam week before we launch into second semester. CRAZY.

Besides school, we've been trying to be productive here at home. We spent a few hours on Wednesday pulling up most of our Christmas decorations and putting up our tree. We still have some smaller decorations that Matt promised to bring up tonight (everything is in our storage unit in the basement), and then we'll be cozy for the holidays. We usually decorate a bit earlier than this, but we've both been crazy busy with work.

Speaking of busy with work, I haven't had time for any kind of reading. I bet it will stay that way until break, since I am pushing through as much as possible so I won't have to bring home any grading over that two weeks off. Prepping and planning is fine with me, but I don't want to be stuck with any grading on my vacation! :)

I did put up a couple of posts this week, so make sure to go and check them out. I am going to finish out this year with some more YA themed reading before diving back into some classics come Janaury. I am going to pick up an Austen this holiday season (this has become a tradition for me), and I think it is going to be Northanger Abbey since it has been so long since I've read it. I also want to dive into a Dickens' Christmas story, so I'm going to look and see what one it will be for the year. I would also like to finish The Scarlet Letter, since I started it in the fall and never finished, but who knows. I'm trying to keep my plans loose! :)

I hope everything is going well! Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Few Mini-Reviews.

I am attempting to "catch up" on all the books I've read but haven't discussed this fall. Since school started, I've read about 22 books. I find that to be kind of amazing considering the amount of stress and work that goes into a first full year of teaching, but I've been finding time, here and there, to relax and enjoy some fun reads.

This edition is really going to focus on some of the YA/MG books I've been reading. In particular, I decided to mini-review some of the series and sequels I've been hooked on. Enjoy!

The Brotherband Chronicles Book 3: The Hunters by John Flanagan.

I consider this to be one of my biggest guilty pleasures, but at the same time, I think that Flanagan's books are just really entertaining and good. I know what to expect when I pick one up, and he hasn't disappointed me yet (after14 titles).

This series is the companion series to The Ranger's Apprentice. It is set in the same world, but features a different culture, which takes a lot more skill than it seems. That's honestly one of the major reasons I love these books. Flanagan manages to weave his narrative through multiple cultures, and show that no one "culture" or people is the enemy-only those with ill intentions are the enemy. And, I love that the books are action-packed, have good moral lessons, and are just gosh-darn FUN to read. I know that quite a few of my high schoolers would brush these off as too young, but I know that these would be a hit with the middle school crowd.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

I actually picked this one up a couple of years ago when a good friend recommended the series to me. I believe, at the time, that the third title had just come out, and she pretty much shoved the first two into my hands (I bought the third one when it came out in paperback to "match" ). It languished on my shelves and I finally felt pulled to it in the first month of school.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, but I was highly entertaining. The four children that are the main characters are highly intelligent-just in different ways. After their intelligence is tested, they form the "mysterious Benedict society" to work for Mr. Benedict against the evil Mr. Curtain.

I really enjoyed the ingenuity of all four kids. At times, I felt a bit stupid as they worked through challenges, but the book was fun, lively, and kept me flipping pages.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart.

Book two in the trilogy picks up shortly where the first one left off. The evil mastermind has escaped and the kids must journey to find more solutions to the problems arising at home.

In this novel, the kids journey away from home and encounter some of my favorite characters. I particularly enjoyed the Ten Men (evil men with briefcases that contain all kinds of horrid torture devices).

Like the first novel, the kids' ingenuity surprised me, and I even found myself laughing out loud. The scenes on the island were some of the creepiest and suspenseful! By far, this was my favorite of the three and had some of the best Constance moments in the entire series (Constance is one of the four children, and MAN, she had me cracking up at multiple points in the series).

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart.

The third and final volume in the series ended with a bang. Again, like the two previous titles, it was packed with action-filled scenes and puzzles. I really enjoyed the new dynamics between the children as they grew up. Sticky and his battle with proving how smart he actually was melted my heart.

However, I did feel like the story dragged in some parts and I just wanted the final confrontation to happen. I was also more than a little annoyed with the Ten Men and their stupid torture devices, Mr. Curtain, and the adults' general stupidity regarding their children. With that said, it was still a very quick read and a good ending to the trilogy. I imagine that these would be great fun to read with kids!

I also need to say that I adore all three of these covers. The black silhouettes really just make them, don't they?

The Kill Order, The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure by James Dashner.

I read all four of these in pretty quick succession, so they run together a bit. For those of you who haven't read the series, I should mention that The Kill Order is actually a prequel to the other three. I read it last since it was published last, but I don't think the order completely matters...

Now, I enjoyed these to a certain extent. But by the time I reached The Death Cure, I was annoyed with the series. There were parts that seemed incredibly drawn out, other important moments that felt rushed, and the narrator grated on my nerves by the end. I needed more information about the world than I got, and by the time I did get some of the answers I wanted, I forgot what my questions were in the first place. I really just felt incredibly rushed through the three books and wanted to be done with the series to say I finished it.

However, The Kill Order was something I really enjoyed. I liked the sense of urgency, the slow build of information, and the heart-wrenching climax. While I never felt like I connected to the main characters in the main trilogy, I felt incredibly drawn to the characters in The Kill Order. I could sympathize with them, root for them, and gasp at just the right moments.

If you're really big into the dystopian fad that is everywhere, then these are books you really can't miss. And I'm not saying they were awful-more that I tired of the series quickly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman.

About a month into the school year, I was talking to our media specialist about wanting to some fun and creative projects with my U.S. history classes. So, in the midst of discussing slang dictionaries for the 1920s, a Great Depression simulation I have, and various web related ideas, she said, "Why not teach that book Maus?"

She had never read it (but knew quite a bit about it), and it had been years since I had read it, so I decided to pick up a copy, read it, and then decide whether it was something worth pursuing. After all, teaching a book in a history class? Teaching a graphic novel? It was something to think about.

I went out and bought a copy of The Complete Maus, so I would have volumes 1 and 2. I sat down, read both straight through, and decided I needed to pursue the opportunity. To make the story shorter, I approached my principal, told him why I thought it would be a good idea, and he okayed it. The school purchased 36 copies of Maus Volume I, and I will be teaching it in late January.

As I sat down and reread the book, I was blown away by the story and the imagery. First, the story. I think that any story of a Holocaust survivor is mind-boggling. I am sure that I am not alone in saying that I honor and respect the people who were sent to Concentration camps and survived. If I am being perfectly honest with myself, I don't think I would be that strong, that resilient. I would be the person who gave up on the train heading to the camps.

But there is something incredibly moving about this story in particular. I think the juxtaposition between the "present" and the "past" of the story pulls at my heartstrings just a bit more. From the beginning, we know who survives and who doesn't, and that Vladek has lived to an age where telling his story is both painful and liberating. I actually think that the passages in the "present," where Art is trying to record his father's story, say far more about the effects of the Holocaust than the text related to Vladek's story. And I don't say that to diminish the power or struggle of what Vladek went through, but to say that this is more than a story about surviving the Holocaust-it is about a man surviving his memories.

I also love the imagery in the book, like the picture at left. I think that taking the time to pour over the pictures says a lot about Art Spiegelman's skill. Each image is crafted carefully and shows the heart he put into his father's story. Because in addition to hearing the story and helping Vladek come to terms with his own experiences, the story is also about Art accepting his father and they way he is. The constant bickering about money, saving, and keeping memories is something I know I am going to discuss with my students at length.

I think that I am very lucky-to be in a school that is supporting something "outside the box." I am excited and anxious to share this experience with my students. To read a book in history class. To read a graphic novel, a form of literature that is sometimes looked down on. But I have a strong feeling my students are going to be excited and moved by the story, much like I was.

And if you haven't read Maus, you need to. It is a book (books, really) that you can't be whole without. I think I learned far more about the effects of the Holocaust from this than all my years of schooling. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"I Have Been" 2

I did this cute little meme way back in September, and I decided it was time to update. :) Enjoy!

I have been:

Lesson plans! Actually, I've been really trying to work ahead of where I am now so I can finish my semester strong and launch into content I've done before (as a long-term sub). I'm also figuring out a unit plan for Maus, which I am teaching to my U.S. History kids next semester! I am way over the moon about this!

I have definitely been on a big YA kick. I told Matt that I felt like I was "catching up" on all the titles everyone else has been reading in the last couple of years while I've been focusing on the classics. I am definitely enjoying my little excursions into YA, but I know that in another month or two, I'm going to want something more substantial. I'm already trying to decide what Austen to read in December...I think it might be Northanger Abbey, since I have read it in a very long time!
Matt got me hooked on Mumford and Sons, so that has been on repeat for the last week or two as I grade. :)
I've been really hooked on The Walking Dead (can't wait for the episode on Sunday), as well as The Big Band Theory. I've also been watching some other shows when I catch them-Project Runway, Top Chef...I just don't have tons of TV watching time recently. And reruns are always a better choice when I'm grading.
I have another tab open to Goodreads...I guess I'm looking at what to read next?
I'm doing a lot of side research into some other aspects of WWII to make that a really amazing unit at the beginning of the semester. I know that there are a lot of kids who get really into the war units, so I'm trying to find some fun activities to help them learn the material. I think activities and other things are great alternatives to the days when I lecture. 

I'm also trying to find some more resources for teaching this graphic novel. Anyone done that before?
Quite achy. My joints are hurting something fierce today!

But emotionally-really good. Things have been going well at school-finally found that balance I needed!
Christmas break! ;)

I know the kids are excited for break as well! Two whole weeks!
For a good meal. I've been scrounging around the last week trying to empty our pantry a bit...I really just want someone to make me something delicious. :)
My husband, my kitties, and the fish that entertain everyone.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.

“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.”

One of the dream classes I would like to teach, if I was allowed to teach whatever I wanted, would be a war literature class. There is something incredibly powerful in the literature focused in periods of brutality and violence that really speaks to me. I also think that war literature is incredibly profound and moving-especially for high school students. Many of my students haven't faced that kind of hardship and loss (Not all, but many), so it would be a great learning experience for them.

And among the piles of books I would love to include in this class (titles like The Book Thief, The Things They Carried, Maus, All Quiet on the Western Front, 1776, Slaughterhouse-Five, Night, Birdsong, Johnny Got His Gun, The Diary of Anne Frank, and more...), I would include this new release by Ruta Sepetys.

I bought this at the bidding of our media specialist during the second week of school at our school book fair. She told me she had heard wonderful things about it and thought that I might like it. So, I bought it, brought it home, and there it sat for a number of weeks until I was feeling restless one Friday evening. Home alone and needing a new book to read, I pulled it out of the pile, snuggled in bed, and began reading.

Two hours later, I closed the back cover with a huge lump in my throat. This wasn't what I expected. I was moved, immediately, by the passion and power of Lina's story. What happened to her and her family...I've never read about it before-not in high school and not in any of my college history classes. I never realized that people of her descent (Lithuanian) were sent away during WWII-to Siberia of all places-and by Stalin. We are so often consumed by the disgusting nature of Hitler and the Nazis that we forget the other dictator of the time. Lina's struggle to survive was so similar to what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust (both were sent to camps, shot down, starved, forced into labor, etc), and I was simply blown away.

And it wasn't that this was just another book about the horrors and atrocities of WWII. I mean, I'm sure we've all read the stories of the camp survivors. We talk about it often in history classes so that we don't forget, but it is the stories like these, those that are less heard, that truly strike a chord.

But what really makes this book powerful is the honesty and raw nature of the writing. As a young adult novel tackling some harsh and brutal themes, Sepetys does a masterful job of bringing humanity and life to a dark story. It was beautiful and moved me that night I read it.

“November 20. Andrius's birthday. I had counted the days carefully. I wished him a happy birthday when I woke and thought about him while hauling logs during the day. At night, I sat by the light of the stove, reading Dombey and Son. Krasivaya. I still hadn't found the word. Maybe I'd find it if I jumped ahead. I flipped through some of the pages. A marking caught my eye. I leafed backward. Something was written in pencil in the margin of 278.
Hello, Lina. You've gotten to page 278. That's pretty good!
I gasped, then pretened I was engrossed in the book. I looked at Andrius's handwritting. I ran my finger over this elongated letters in my name. Were there more? I knew I should read onward. I couldn't wait. I turned though the pages carefully, scanning the margins.
Page 300:
Are you really on page 300 or are you skipping ahead now?
I had to stifle my laughter.
Page 322:
Dombey and Son is boring. Admit it.
Page 364:
I'm thinking of you.
Page 412:
Are you maybe thinking of me?
I closed my eyes.
Yes, I'm thinking of you. Happy birthday, Andrius.”

Since reading this (nearly a month ago), I have been trying to persuade some students to give it a chance. Many of them refuse, saying that books about war are boring and "unimportant." Their attitudes are the reason I want to teach war literature-to show that there is beauty in war, and to honor those who have fallen.

"...says that evil will rule until good men or women choose to act. I believe him. This testimony was written to create an absolute record, to speak in a world where our voices have been extinguished. These writing may shock or horrify you, but that is not my intention. It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for November 25, 2012:

I'm actually typing this late Saturday night, since I am still awake, and I felt like writing. That seems to be a rare combination, so I best take advantage of it.

I'm a bit said that tomorrow is the last day of a lovely 5-day break from school. I NEEDED this time off to recharge. I was flying at high speeds through the first few months of school, and now I feel like I have caught my breath. It has been a great weekend filled with a lot of family, reading, time with Matt, and some shopping. Tomorrow I will definitely spend a chunk of the day working on some prep and plan work for the rest of the semester (we have 4 full weeks until our winter break, then 1 week in January before exam week!). I'm hoping that I'll be able to focus for a long time tomorrow and knock a lot of that prep stuff out of the way. I purposefully left my school things in the car when I got home on Tuesday...and they're still there. :)

I've been reading quite a bit. I managed to read both Before I Fall and Hana by Lauren Oliver. I was excited to read both. I'm still a bit undecided on the Delirium series, but Hana was a short little novella. It was okay, not stellar, and left me feeling like I didn't really need to read it. I don't think it added much to the first two books. As for the first title, I've been meaning to read it since it came out. There were so many rave reviews...and I really LOVED it. It was definitely worth the wait!

I also read Son by Lois Lowry. It is the fourth and final book in the Giver series, so I was really excited about it (I bought a copy when it came out). I really like the series as a whole, and I felt it gave a nice rounded feeling to the whole set that Messenger didn't. However, The Giver is by the far the best of the set and will remain a favorite book for always.

Last night and this morning I plowed through Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. It was another book I had been meaning to read because I have read all of Green's other books (LOVE THEM), so why not. I finally picked up a copy on Friday while I was out shopping. It was yet another book that was worth the wait and lived up to the high standards Green as set for himself. It also makes me want to read more by Levithan, so that's good!

I started Rick Riordan's The Lost Hero just a little while ago. Quite a few of my kids are reading The Mark of Athena, which is the third title in the set, so I figured I should read them before they get spoiled for me. I enjoyed the Percy Jackson series, and so far, I'm enjoying this as well. It also helps that it connects to my own mythology class. :)

There is also The Scarlet Letter sitting on my nightstand. I've been reading a few pages here and there in an effort to finish it, but I'm not in a rush.

A very big part of me just wants to fly through the stacks of YA, fantasy, and other titles that I've been picking up over the last three years. And once those piles are gone, I can return my attention to the classics. I think, tentatively, I'm sticking with this plan for the rest of 2012. Come 2013, I think I'm going to refocus my efforts on finishing my list and project. Right now? All I want to do is escape into books, and these are providing that escape for me. Part of that is due to school stress, and some of it is more...but I can't explain that now (I will in the future).

Anyway, I hope you all had a great weekend and that you'll have a fabulous reading week ahead of you. :)

Thursday, November 22, 2012


I just wanted to stop and say "Happy Thanksgiving" to all of you. I hope you have a wonderful day filled with good food, family, friends, and fellowship.

And thank you all for your support over the last year. :)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for November 18, 2012: Home Organizing and Bookshelf Questions.

Sometimes it's hard to be a grown-up. You have no one else to get cranky at but yourself when things need to be taken care of around the house. Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who helps out A LOT, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by the amount of cleaning, organizing, and other straightening up tasks I need to do.

I think I push aside household chores for two reasons. One, I hate cleaning. And two, there is always grading and prep work to do. A very big part of me feels like my work obligations come before scrubbing out the fridge...know what I mean? And that doesn't mean we keep a disgustingly dirty apartment, because we don't, but merely that we live in a very disorganized fashion.

Matt and I both hit our breaking points with the function of our apartment. We WERE looking to move elsewhere (I think I mentioned that on twitter). When we moved here two years ago, we were escaping a very shady apartment complex and thought this would be a better option. Well, we knew at the time it was a lot smaller than our previous apartment (by about 350 square feet or so), but we figured we could make it work. We have a lot of...crap and when we moved in, it was a matter of shoving it wherever it fit, including our storage area in the basement. And in the two years since, we've really just been dealing with the items we shoved away in the fast move into this place. So, we began looking for a new apartment, and a more expensive apartment, since we both have new jobs and hey, we could afford it. But after thinking about it long and hard, it didn't make sense for us to move. We decided to stay and save for a house, since that's what we really want.

The deal is that we would change some things about our current living situation. We need to clear out the clutter, remove unwanted items to the trash or to Salvation Army, and upgrade some of our current "old school" furniture in attempts of living like grown-ups.

New entertainment center (HEMNES from Ikea)
We've started the process in our living room by upgrading our entertainment center and getting rid of a massive amount of clutter (when I say clutter, I'm referring to three months worth of mail stacked on a bookshelf-things like ads, newspapers, etc. WHY did we keep all that crap?). A couple weekends ago, we went and picked up the pieces we needed to finish our new entertainment center from Ikea. Matt finally had some time off and assembled the whole thing on Wednesday. I re-organized and re-alphabetized our movies and TV shows and voila, the apartment already looks a lot better (yes, everything on these shelves are DVDs or TV series).

We also cleared out a lot of lingering items taking up residence under our coffee table and just tossed them-there were magazines, receipts, random pieces of paper, etc that just needed to go. Matt also reorganized all the wires associated with all our techy stuff and spent a lot of time wiping down dust, etc (I can't do that these days-aggravates my lungs too much). The result is that we are both insanely happy with the progress in our living room. The next goal is to get rid of our couch and upgrade. Our current couch belonged to my grandmother. It was probably made in the 60s or 70s...and it is the most hideous abomination of burnt orange plaid. Seriously.

We're also working on moving some bookshelves around. We originally had two open bookshelves on either side of our TV for our DVD collection that need a new home (they are against various open walls in the apartment). We're going to be focused on cleaning out out second bedroom "office" to make room for them. That involves the dismantling of a futon and moving Matt's guitars to other places on the walls. But I am excited to be able to put more books out on shelves instead of keeping them in boxes in the closet (where most of my 2,000 books live...).

That brings me, in a very long, rambling, and a roundabout way to my real questions...about organizing my books. My current set-up is two big bookshelves and one skinny, narrow shelf. The two big shelves that are currently in our living room (on the opposite wall than our new entertainment center) currently house my classics (mainly alphabetized by author). The skinny shelf held a lot of hardcover titles-mainly YA (that shelf used to be in that far corner in the picture above, but doesn't fit anymore-it's going to be moved into the second bedroom with the additional two big shelves). I'm not sure how I want to organize all these books. I am keeping my classics out in the main room, but I don't know where to put some of the books...I have "collections" of books that I don't know what to do with (Shakespeare titles, my Penguin and Puffin clothbounds, AND all the new Penguin English Library editions). Do I keep them separate? Do I intermingle them with my other classics? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

I'm also debating what to do with the two new shelves I get to stock...I was thinking of making one devoted to YA and the other to sci-fi and fantasy? Or should I intermingle and alphabetize by author? Again, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

I'm aware that this whole dilemma makes me sound a bit silly, but book organizing is a serious business and if anyone can help me, it's you folks. You know what it's like, right? :)

I hope you're all having a splendid November (And seriously, how is the month HALF OVER already? How is it Thanksgiving already? WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE?)! Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for November 11, 2012: This and That.

Our first quarter ended last week. It surprised me a bit. One minute I was under the stress of entering grades, and then I realized that hey, my first year in my real teaching job is a 1/4 over. It was a bit of an overwhelming feeling-that there was still a lot left to do, that it went by SO fast, that I need more time to teach my content to my classes, and that I need to relax and get some sleep. This last week has been an extension of that.

At times I feel like I am rocking at everything...and at other times, I feel like I'm drowning. It's a toss up with what each day will bring, but I am pushing through. I know that the first quarter of school was the was ten weeks straight without a day off for the kids. Now, the rest of the year is broken up by short weeks and breaks interspersed into our daily routine.

One of the things I told myself last weekend is that I need to start setting aside time for myself. I have workaholic tendencies (courtesy of my dad, I suppose). I always feel like there is MORE that I could be doing. I get hyper-focused on tasks and before I know it, the clock says 6pm and I'm still at school. THEN, I bring things home and work until 9 or 10 at night. I can't keep up that pace, and I can't continue to give up my weekends, so I'm trying to turn that around-set some limits for myself so I don't burn out.

Part of that is returning my reading. Reading is something I feel guilty about when I have papers to grade and lessons to plan, but it really calms me. Besides, I enjoy the time I spend with my books, so I need to find the time. In the last couple of weeks, I have definitely done that. While I am still on a big YA kick, I've been reading more...and I feel calmer having done so.

As for my project...I'm not sure where it stands. Having read 150 titles from my 250 shows me that I can be dedicated. It has also changed my reading preferences significantly (I say this after being on my YA kick...I still prefer my classics, YA just holds my attention better and I can read MORE). But right now, the idea of solely focusing on the remaining titles makes me twitchy. I know that eventually I will finish, and I know that when I do have breaks from school I will shift my focus.

Anyway, I'm going to continue to try to revive the blog. It is in a state of standstill, and that bothers me, so we'll see if I can bring it back to life.

I hope everything is going okay with all of you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What I've Been Reading.

I'm going to ignore the three week silence by only saying that I've been busy with school and overwhelmed by everything else going on in my life. I'll talk more about that on Sunday.

Anyway, I thought that the best way to jump back in was to tell you that yes, I have been reading. I've been on a big YA kick, since that seems to be the only thing that calms me down and can keep my attention. I do have plans to finish my list of classics, but it will probably be a much slower process.

So, without dragging this out, here is a list of all the titles I have read since the beginning of September:
  1. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
  3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
  7. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  8. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart
  9. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart
  10. The Crucible by Arthur Miller (read with my sophomores)
  11. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  12. The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
  13. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  14. Where She Went by Gayle Forman
  15. The Hunters by John Flanagan
So yep. I've been busy reading in some spare moments-although, the last 5 books were all read in the last 2 weeks. It seems a bit overwhelming to try and back up to write big posts over each of those titles, but I might just try. :)

So what have you been reading recently?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Looking for Quotes for School.

I have been tossing around a decorative/inspirational idea for my classroom for the last few weeks. When I was in high school, I loved reading things hanging up in my teachers' rooms. And I've decided that my room is too plain and needs some jazzing up.

Here is where you come in.

I really want to put quotes from literature up on my walls. I figure each quote can be printed on colored paper (blue, green, and purple to match my decor ;) You think I'm kidding...I'm not). I would love to have your input on some fabulous quotes for my kids to gaze at while they are pretending to read The Epic of Gilgamesh in the new future...

In exchange for you favorite quotes from books, I'm also going to put your name up there, so you will have a permanent place of honor in my room. :)

Please help me out by commenting below with some of your favorite quotes. The one thing I ask is that the quotes be appropriate for my high schoolers.

Thank you! I look forward to seeing your quotes!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for October 14, 2012: A Happy Weekend.

I know that quite a few bloggers are taking ti easy today, recovering with a reading hangover from yesterday and the 24-hour readathon. This is the first time since I started blogging that I haven't participated. It felt a bit odd to not be as involved (I still hosted a mini-challenge, but didn't pick up a book yesterday). I know I have said it before, but I have felt so removed from my blog and my original intentions that I am struggling with coming back to blogging...and finding the time to read, let alone write entries.

This past week was incredibly stressful-meetings, grading, conferences, Homecoming festivities...I am still recuperating and probably will be for the rest of the week. I also had to get my self-evaluation done for school and will be having my first formal observation on Wednesday (hello nerves....). I've been busy and happy.

I was also excited to spend the whole day yesterday and a good chunk of this morning with Matt. Since school started, we have been working completely opposite schedules. I get up at 5:15 when he has just come to bed. I go off to school and don't get home till after 4 most days. He leaves for work at 2:30, so we miss each other. The only time I see him is on Saturday mornings before he leaves for work and on Sundays. So, it was nice to see him ALL day yesterday and spend some quality time with him. We drove up to Michigan State for the game, saw some old friends, ate delicious food, and sped back home to chaperone Homecoming. It was fun to see all the kids dressed up. When our shift was over, we went out for a nice dinner, then spent the rest of the night watching baseball. We both really needed that time together, so it was worth missing the readathon. :)

I'm still trying to decide what I want to do on the blog. I miss the blogging community, but I am over some aspects of it-the pressure to consistently post, the pressure to be overly social on twitter, the pressure to READ and write all the time...I don't want to stop blogging...but I am tempted to just delete this space and start over...I don't know. I'm just unsure if I want to write about the same things. And since I got my job and since unemployment was the reason I started blogging here in the first place, I feel like this just isn't as important.

Anyway, I didn't mean to whine-just thinking out loud.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Winners for the Oldies but Goodies Mini-Challenge.

First, I want to apologize that I am announcing my winners so late-I was out all day with my husband and just got home a little while ago.

I had a great time reading through your entries! I went to to pick my winners and you'll see them here in reverse order. Since I had over 100 entries, I am adding a third winner!

First up is our winner of ONE PEL title....Congrats to...

The second winner get their choice of THREE PEL titles. Congrats to...

Laura of Devouring Texts!

Last is our big winner who gets to choose FIVE PEL titles. Congrats to...

Winners-I will be sending you an e-mail soon to touch base about your titles!

Thank you all for entering. I will give you a hint and let you know that I will be doing a holiday themed giveaway with PEL titles as well. Make sure to come back and visit me! :)

Keep on reading!

The "Oldies But Goodies" Mini-Challenge.

Welcome readathoners!

I hope your readathon day is going wonderfully, and that you are reading a slew of amazing things. While I signed up to participate, I won't be starting my reading until later tonight (some things came up that I have to take care of today). 

In any case, I DO have a mini-challenge for you. A couple of years ago, I hosted a similar challenge and passed out some wonderful Penguin Clothbounds to the winners. I decided that I really wanted to host something similar, because hey, I read a lot of classics round these parts...

But instead of those Penguin Clothbounds, I decided to offer up something a little more exciting-Penguin's new English Library Collection (henceforth called PEL). You can see my own budding PEL collection at right. What I love about these titles is that they have the same style and covers as the clothbounds, but in a broader selection of titles! They're wonderful books...and I want to share them with two winners.

The first winner of this challenge will win their choice of FIVE TITLES from the PEL line. The second winner will get to choose THREE TITLES. And if 100 people enter, I'll add on a third winner who will get their choice of ONE TITLE. If you want to know what titles are available, you can visit the PEL Website to see the covers and titles (I should comment that the collection consists of 100 titles-30 of which haven't been released just yet).

The Rules:
  • You must be a participant of the readathon to enter.
  • You must 13 years of age or older.
  • This challenge is open to anyone that the Book Depository delivers to (most countries).
  • You MUST leave me an e-mail in your comment below so I can contact you if you win.
  • To officially enter, leave a comment below (with your e-mail) and your answer to the following question: What classic book should ALL high school aged children read and why?
  • This challenge will end after three hours (*I do want to note that I may not post winners right away. For that, I apologize, but I have something I have to take care of this afternoon). I will disqualify any comments left after that time has passed.

Good luck! I look forward to reading your answers and sharing those titles with my students!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Harry Potter Schoolbooks.

I am participating in Jenna's readalong of the Harry Potter series through December 15th, and I made some great progress at the very beginning of last month (I flew through the schoolbooks, Beedle the Bard, and the first 5 books in about a week and a half). I figured it was time I actually start writing about those books and my impressions.

First, I should tell you that with the exception of the schoolbooks, I have read the series numerous times. I love Harry Potter and the world Rowling created. I will apologize in advance if my fan-girling gets a little nuts, or I talk about the books in general. I will try not to give away any spoilers to the handful of you who haven't read the books, but I can't promise anything.

Second, I completely forgot how much I LOVE this world once I am in it. It sucked me in and if it hadn't been for that pesky job of mine, I would have finished the series outright. ;)

On to the books!

I decided to start off the readalong by reading the schoolbooks. These are the only books in the Harry Potter world that I hadn't read before. I know that my sister owned them, but I guess I never read them? Actually finding copies of them was difficult. I had to visit three bookstores before I found the box set pictured above. I found that odd, but nevertheless, I have them in their new hardcover glory sitting on my shelf.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander

I began with this title for a couple of reasons...mainly that I wanted to save Quidditch until later. :) I thought this one would be the least interesting of the two.

Fantastic Beasts is essentially an encyclopedia of the creatures found in the Harry Potter world. There are some notable exceptions to what's in here-goblins are not classified as beasts, so they aren't in here while centaurs are (centaurs asked to be labeled as beasts). I found the classification notes interesting, and as I began reading the series, it would pop up in my head.

Each entry has a label of how dangerous the creature might be. Some entries have scribbles from Harry and friends in the margins-I wish there had been more of this. Their little quips and insights were charming and cute, but sometimes pages would go by before another one. I wanted more!

There are some pictures to display some of the creatures-especially the ones that don't appear in the series. Again, I found it quite charming! I enjoyed the little sketches and the little bits of humor Rowling injected into the book.

My one qualm with the book didn't even pop into my head until I was reading book 4...the blast-ended skrewts that are Hagrid's obsession are not in the book! I'm sure this has something to do with when the schoolbook was originally published to when the fourth book came out, but I was a little surprised. That was the only missing beast that popped into my head, but I wonder if there are more?

All in all, this was an enjoyable little read, and it only took me an hour or so to get through. It was entertaining for me since I had already read the series multiple times and was a great way to get back into the mindset for the universe.

Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Wasp

Whereas Fantastic Beasts was a schoolbook belonging to Harry, this title was part of Hogwarts' library. I loved the little touch of seeing the list of team members who checked the book out prior to Harry. That's what makes specialty books like this worth it!

Like Fantastic Beasts, this is just a slim volume that talks about one of the obsessions in the Harry Potter world-that of Quidditch-the wizards' game played on broomsticks. Reading the books, I have always been a fan of the game that Rowling invented for her wizards and witches. And when I was away at college, we had an intramural Quidditch program (sadly played on the ground, but you did have to pretend to be sitting on a broomstick). Quidditch is one of the many touches in the books that makes the whole world feel real, you know?

Anyway, this title talks about how the game was created, some notable teams around the world, and special moves, like the Wronski Feint. I think I enjoyed this one far more than the previous title only because it read straight through and wasn't disjointed in entries (makes sense, right?). I learned some interesting things about the sport so that when I started reading and Harry started playing Quidditch, I picked up a few things!

But just made me want to play. :)

Both books were great little reads and a great reintroduction to Harry Potter and Hogwarts. I would definitely recommend both titles to people who have read the series and loved them, since reading them before would just confuse you. :) I do wish Rowling would write more of the schoolbooks in the future (Hogwarts, A History anyone?), but that's just wishful thinking. I think she has left the world of Harry Potter behind her for now. Let's keep our fingers crossed though!

Onto The Tales of Beedle the Bard!