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Thursday, December 26, 2013

"A Call to Resurgence" Literary Review

A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future? by Mark Driscoll
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being offered a chance to read and review this title, I began with the mindset that I would be learning more about the decline of Christianity during today's modern digital age, and I expected an explanation about what was happening and solutions to the problem. What I found while reading Pastor Mark Driscoll's title was more like a war manual of sorts that explained the decline, guided the reader towards different paths in which an individual could take, as well as begin to attack the issue itself, which is something that is essential to a text that wants to solve a problem. "A Call to Resurgence" does a marvelous thing: it explains, exhibits and enhances the topic of the Resurgence, a topic that is prominent with those who are seeking religious salvation. However, as many statistics throughout the book state, there aren't that many individuals who are on the side of the Resurgence.

Driscoll provides many statistics throughout his book to help enhance his argument, which sets the stage like any other solution book on the market. The book begins with the basic statistic that only 8% of Americans are classified as Evangelical Christians, which is less than the amount of left-handed people, Texans or even pet cats that are in America. This 8% haunts you as a reader, and you become part of the mission to raise that number as you continue reading. But what was the main issue in the first place? How did Christendom die? The rise of various political platforms on the national stage as well as the promotion of civil religion and borrowed faith instead of the "raw devotion" to the gospel of Jesus Christ, whom Driscoll reiterates as "humanity's one and only hope". As a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Driscoll continues evaluation the causes of death of Christendom, beginning with the idea of uniting various "tribes", which I interpreted through his elaborate explanation as the different denominations of Christianity. How does one do this? Identify the elements of your "tribe" (meaning understand your beliefs), then unite with others to begin promoting the message. Driscoll even tailors his argument to satisfy today's digital age by suggesting education, books, as well as the Internet. Considering that 61% of Americans say that they wish they read the Bible more than they do currently, the union of tribes could result in an initiative.

As someone who is not devotional in religious practices, this book was very informative in the different aspects of providing information on the subject, Driscoll is credible, well-spoken with his stories, statistics, and elaboration on the topics that could be otherwise considered dull and boring. He shows a drive to share this topic. However, with readers who are seeking a "how-to" manual, this is not a simple one. There is a lot of religious terminology that if you are unfamiliar with, you could become entirely lost, but nothing that a simple "Google" search wouldn't fix.

I received this book from NetGalley via the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest opinion in this review.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Literary Review: "Matched"

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first in a less popular series, yet is praised as being well written for the Young Adult dystopian romance literature genre.

Cassia is a young woman who is about to be Matched-a procedure in which the Society chooses your match that you will spend the rest of your life with. She's ecstatic that it's Xander, her best friend, but what happens when theres a glitch and shows someone else's face for a brief moment? Not only does Cassia begin to question how she is supposed to feel, but everything else that the Society has created...

For fans of futuristic literature, dystopian literature, or an overall love triangle story that is well presented through elegant prose and dialogue. You will not want to put this one down as the story unfolds.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

"The Cuckoo's Calling" Literary Review

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well my friends and followers, here comes a review that you may not be so thrilled to read, but nevertheless, contains criticism over "The Cuckoo's Calling".

It took me forever to get through this book! Not only was it an extremely lengthy book, but it really didn't pick up until Part Three in the midst of Strike's investigation. It was a huge trial for me to get past all of the tedious investigative questions and various character interactions, but even more so to watch the protagonist, Comoran Strike's growth. He is a detective hired to investigate the Cuckoo's (a supermodel) death, yet he grapples with his own relationship issues and identity. He sleeps in his office, is tended to by a temp secretary, Robin--who I wish I had read more of in this book-- and happens to sneak his way into interviews and meetings to further his inquiries. I was too absorbed in my own impatience to enjoy this book... And the fact that this is Rowling's post-Potter work makes me frown all the much more... yes I know there wasn't going to be magic, but still, I wanted a magical reading experience with this book.

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"XMEN: First Class" Literary Review

X-Men: First Class, Volume 1: Tomorrow's BrightestX-Men: First Class, Volume 1: Tomorrow's Brightest by Jeff Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quick graphic novel compilation of various adventures with the Xmen... What I really enjoyed was the connections to the rest of the Marvel universe, such as the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk and even Spider-Man. Good text for readers to engage with plot sequencing. Biggest issue? Lots of plot gaps that need filled in by more graphic ovens. Oh the torture of buying more comic books!

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"Eleanor & Park" Literary Review

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A best seller that has had rave reviews by the likes of John Green, Gayle Forman and students in Miss Foor's English 11... With free time on Thanksgiving, why not give it a shot?

Eleanor and Park are two misfits who happen to ride the same bus, but slowly develop an acquaintance through comic books and punk mixtapes, then later a romance. Both are infatuated with the other one's weirdness, but is the obsession with holding hands and tugging on wisps of hair enough for the romance through an 80's high school?

Particular things I liked:
1. The portrayal of an abusive household showed the true terror and fright that young children can face, furthermore shows possible outlets that they try to "escape" to.

2. The wittiness...Both characters have a sarcastic vat of comments that just oozes remarks that would make one smile with cleverness. This was what was most enjoyable to read.

3. It's quite easy to get into the characters heads with the distinguishable naming of sections within the book. Easy peasy.

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"The Fault in Our Stars" Literary Review

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So many people hyped this book up for me, and much like other titles, such as The Cuckoo's Calling or Eleanor & Park with hype, yet "almost perfect, but not quite" stories, I finally found one that satisfied the reader within me.

What did I want to read exactly on a vacation away from grading term papers at work to the concerning emails from professors about my own graduate work?

1. I wanted a love story. No, not a Nicholas Sparks story, because that's a formula I could find on my Sparks shelf in my library. Yes there's a shelf. Get over it. But rather a love story with ups, downs, dismay, disarray and the unpredictability that comes with the general concept of love. Give me that and a fuzzy blanket to replicate the warm and fuzzy feelings, and this single gal will be satisfied. Hazel and Augustus are two characters who quickly fall in love with each other because they seem to have what the other one is missing... It's one of those relationships that you root for.

2. Secondly, I wanted a struggle... Not action movie struggle, but internal character struggle. Both protagonists (as well as every character) deals with cancer in some way, shape or form. Being screened for cancer myself, I could relate to these individuals. Nuff said on that topic. But what was particularly interesting was how Hazel and Gus balanced each other out through their dilemma of terminal illness, and how you forgot that they [almost] were sick in the first place.

3. GIVE ME SOME SARCASTIC WITTINESS! I saw John Green speak once at a writing seminar at Butler University, and boy oh boy did he have some witty charm. It's a signature trait that I remember distinctly from
An Abundance of Katherines, which was too trademark high school for me. I wanted a dark situation (cancer-ridden teens seems to be the one in this scenario), in which there was still room for personality. Green nailed it with every line that comes out of Hazel, Gus and Issac (a minor character).

4. Memorable scenes. I'll never be able to look at a swing set the same ever again. Don't understand why? Well then go read the book!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

"The F-- It List" Literary Review

The F- It ListThe F- It List by Julie Halpern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in a while there will be a book that comes along that will become one of those stirring sticks of controversy... Boy oh boy I can't wait to see the reality television-esque turmoil that will erupt once this book gets released. First and foremost, look at that title!! "The F-It List" implies exactly what you think... it's a list with things that the protagonist Alex and her cancer-striken friend Becca want to say "F it!" and just do within their lifetimes. But along the way, both of the girls become stronger both within their friendship and their individual lives. Becca struggles with chemo and the fact that she may not survive to graduation, while Alex deals with more menial aspects of teenage life, such as saying "I love you" to a boy she truly loves, but she's still insecure.

This is a great book for teens to indulge with and connect to.... The only downside is the proverbial usage of vulgarity. Oh well, teenagers will be teenagers.

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"Hoot" Literary Review

HootHoot by Carl Hiaasen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a book that I had heard so much about and how the endeavors of the young protagonists was enlightening and adorable. However, I couldn't quite get my head around this tale.

Roy is a young boy who has just moved to Florida from Montana, only to be greeted with the challenge of Dana Matherson, the school bully. Right away, we can determine that this will be the problem that is most pronounced in Roy's mind, primarily because he being beaten up, harassed and made fun of on an almost daily basis. According to recent legislation regarding bullying (see for guidelines), Roy would not have had to be a victim of these incidents due to the fulfilled obligations of the school's staff, i.e. principal, teachers, etc. But then again, we wouldn't have had a problem story then would we?

Roy finds solace in the mysterious boy, Mullet Fingers, who looks more like a fugitive than a young boy, simply because he is avoiding his neglectful and emotionally abusive mother. This in itself is also a problem because how is a young child supposed to survive without a safe home? Mullet Fingers doesn't concern himself with his unfortunate circumstances, but would rather vandalize a construction site that would demolish an endangered breed of owls. THis plot line would entice readers who are subjected to emotional abuse, as well as neglectful parents, as well as any young reader who would be interested in wildlife, Florida, protests, and conservation.

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"Boy Toy" Literary Review

Boy ToyBoy Toy by Barry Lyga
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a disturbing read that provokes human thought and interaction... Josh is an eighteen year old baseball player who just wants to graduate from high school and go to college. The only problem is that he's being haunted by Eve, his seventh grade history teacher who molested him, and the scandal that has somehow turned him into a social pariah.
The message is that Josh wants to be normal, but furthermore, understood teenager. Baseball, girls and straight A's take up most of his time. However, when a controversy involves you and puts pressure on you, it's hard to deal with.

As a teacher reading this, it was more like a horror story considering the molestation factor, but Lyga presents the book in a way that makes it a disturbing, upsetting read in which the reader doesn't want to put it down. I even gave up sleep to finish this page-turner. However, I have concerns letting young adults (especially my own students)read this for the events and content involved, for the simple fear of possible controversy.

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"Carrie" Literary Review

CarrieCarrie by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have always avoided the horror genre, both books and films, and many other readers have recommended "Carrie" as a stepping stone. I also had never read Stephen King, so this was just a new experience overall that I was proud I was taking.

Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed. I was expecting a full fledged thrilling horror story, but I wasn't getting it. The style of the book has a variety of media; newspaper clippings, police reports, and even memoirs from the individuals that survived Carrie's wrath. However, it just was not my cup of tea. Maybe some more forward thinking or just psychological viewpoints? Oh well, no love lost.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Artemis Fowl- Reading Suggestions!

Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, #1)Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Oh if only I had read this book at a different time in my life.... Perhaps when I was actually a teenager looking for a teenage book that I could connect with, instead of reading this as part of my grad school homework. I would have found it much more enjoyable. SO- instead of giving a literary criticism, I figured I'd provide you with a list of other novels that you may enjoy if you have read "Artemis Fowl" and vice versa...

1. "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card- The protagonists are both thrown into a situation and must deal with it. Furthermore, both protagonists are young teenage boys.

2. "The Odyssey" by Homer- Yep, I went old school with this one.... However, if you are into fantasy, there is a good chance you will also like mythology, especially the Greek gods and goddesses. Odysseus is also the epic hero, so you may enjoy seeing another protagonist change throughout a journey.

3. Harry Potter Series.... Need I say more? Read them. Live a little.

4. "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman.... Fantasy galore! Male protagonist as well...

Suggestions?? Post THEM!

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Entwined" Literary Review

EntwinedEntwined by Heather Dixon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don't really know where to begin on this review, simply because this book didn't really affect me that much. Which is the most tragic thought concerning a book! I'd rather hate a book because it has evoked correlating emotions, instead of just having a blah or "okay" feeling.

Let's compile a list:

1) Azalea, our protagonist, is the eldest, aka the leader, of her twelve sisters... And they ALL happen to be too whiny for my taste.

2) Why do they all have awkward names? Azalea, Bramble, Clover, Delphinium, etc... WHY?!

3) There's a family drama issue that I won't reveal for fear of spoilers, but this issue is remnant throughout the book and never seems to be resolved until the actual resolution. I felt like that young adult readers would absorb this issue and could even entice rebellion within readers themselves. As a teacher, I want students to discover lessons from literature, and even though the primary idea would be to detect that there is an issue, some readers may not grasp this.

4) The plot is quite simple, but does introduce complicated twists that don't seem to be delivered fluidly... Keeper is our antagonist, and we don't fully realize that he's a bad guy until it's too late... (SURPRISINGLY, much like the princesses themselves).

5) The original fairytale is one to encourage love, yet the love story is dismal. I definitely wanted more!

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Princess of the Midnight Ball" Literary Review

Princess of the Midnight Ball (Princess #1)Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an interesting and delightful take on a traditional fairytale! At first, I vaguely remember the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses (often who go just for sport), but George's tale made me delve into a fantasy that was so enjoyable that I didn't want to put it down.

Galen is a soldier who has just returned home from war and is a new employee at the castle where twelve young princesses live. In the gardens he is tending, he meets Rose, the eldest princess, who just conveniently happens to take his breath away. But Rose and her sisters have a secret.... Why do they have worn out dancing slippers every morning? Furthermore, why are strange things beginning to happen in the kingdom? Galen is the only one who wants to figure it out in order to save Rose, her sisters and their kingdom.

I loved this book simply because not only did I feel like I was living through a fairytale, but rather a young adult adventure that had fairytale affiliations. I was constantly wondering about the curse that the princesses were under, as well as the development of the characters and the magical plot that surrounded them. Finally, there was a well crafted love story, that even if you knew the fairytale beforehand, you were still entertained at how it played out.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Real Men Don't Text" Literary Review

Real Men Don't Text: A New Approach to DatingReal Men Don't Text: A New Approach to Dating by Ruthie Dean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great reference tool for the modern woman who is conflicted in today's world of dating. Not only does it offer solid advice, but provides realistic examples that support scenarios involving the simplistic and technological communication methods, especially texting. The husband-wife duo were supportive through this learning process, and as the reader concluded the book, I personally felt as if I had became friends who have heard both the horror stories and praise tales from the dynamic Deans.

To simplify the contents of the book, the authors suggest to construct lists of what you want in a relationship, however do not follow the list to a tee. This is a concept that I think future readers will struggle with, because why would they have constructed lists to begin with? Furthermore, the list idea is neglected in order for the typical catchphrase "give every guy a chance"....except the bad ones. There were a few oxymorons that a reader, who may be a young, struggling dater, (like myself) would have had issues with while reading in her search for answers.

Overall, the context of the book is tailored to the needs of today's woman. They reinforce the idea that there are indeed good relationships to be had, however, insist on constructing them in any other manner than the simplified 140 characters known as a text message. Create a list of values that you as an individual want to keep in a relationship, regardless of who the opposite party is; don't bother with the whole "oh he'll change" concept, because it'll never happen; and finally, have a belief. Whether it is in yourself, Christian faith, or that the Cubs will make it to the World Series, have faith in something that will help support your journey into finding happiness.

I received this book from NetGalley via the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest opinion in this review.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Ship Breaker"- Literary Review

Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1)Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For fans of futuristic and dystopic literature, here's one that you'll enjoy! I won't even say that it's anything similar to The Hunger Games, other than it is geared towards Young Adults, simply because it can hold its own in this genre.

Nailer is a teen who is scraping for metal in deserted ships in the Gulf Coast region. He works dawn to dusk crawling in tight places for copper wire and signs of oil, and his only refuge is in the loyalty that he tries to foster with his crewmates. When he and a fellow crew member find a shipwrecked schooner off the coast of their island, Nailer wants nothing more than to find a way to escape his life and abusive drug addict of a father. However, he never expected to find Nita.

Nita is a swank, aka rich girl, who is a pawn in corporate trading to gain monopoly over the known world. She finds Nailer and promises him an escape to paradise if he can help her return to her father. Nailer, despite every instinct to say no, accepts. They are chased by bounty hunters, greedy corporate assassins and pirates, and even Nailer's father, Richard, in an adventure that I would consider exciting on an epic scale.

Adventure stories are not often well constructed, but with a dystopia, there's a lot of room to create a "new world". Bacigalupi does this with perfection; he constructs a desolate world, connects it to his teenage protagonist, which furthermore allows a young adult reader to connect with it. The aspect of abusive parent also plays in well, because despite pirates, disease and danger lurking around every corner, it's worse when it exists at home within your own family.

As a teacher, I would recommend this title to students as a great coming of age story, as well as an interesting and engaging read.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

"The One and Only Ivan" Literary Review

The One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an adorable little book that helps portray the message of helping others to today's youth! Applegate's Newberry Winner, "The One And Only Ivan" is a must read for young adults and anyone who just wants to read a feel-good tale.

Ivan is a gorilla who has lived at a mall for almost 27 years (!) and has a fondness for creating art. He draws, paints and sculpts for his animal friends Stella, an elderly elephant and Bob, a stray mutt. On the day a young elephant Ruby shows up, Ivan is forever changed by the notion to protect this newly introduced innocence, and he strives to make a change. He is "the mighty silverback" and will stop at nothing to save Ruby from the horrors that come with exotic animal showmanship.

The most impressive feature of this title was the style in which it was told. It is very simplistic and quite easy to speed through. It is a page turner indeed. This is not a style that can be mastered easily, and Applegate succeeds tremendously at telling the story of Ivan's mission to save Ruby, the humor that exists between the animal friends, and the sadness that lies within the backstory of animal captivity. This author will punch you in the gut when she has Ivan tell you his history, as well as have you cheering for him during his endeavors. I don't think I've ever done this for a young adult book, besides for perhaps Katniss in "The Hunger Games".

As a teacher, it is lower on the lexile level for students to read, however I would assign it for them to analyze for major themes, as well as develop connections to nonfiction texts and events, much like the true Ivan in which Applegate based this fiction work off of. I enjoyed reading "The One and Only Ivan", and I believe that many young adult readers will as well.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

"The Graveyard Book" Literary Review

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first of my Young Adult lit class reads and I feel like I've stepped off on the right foot!

Bod has grown up in the graveyard ever since the murder of his parents. After his escape, he's adopted by a set of ghosts and a mysterious guardian, Silas, only prepared with the knowledge that a man named Jack is out to get him. Bod has many adventures with ghosts and ghouls within the graveyard, but also many encounters with the criminal minds of humans in the real world. Specifically, an outing with a new friend Scarlett may forever change his life in the ways that he thinks he knows it.

Having read "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman, (and not being a fan), I was hesitant to read this Newberry winner simply for the absurdity that could be served within the fantasy genre. However, considering that it was also a Newberry winner, may have persuaded me to go at it, instead of choosing another young adult pick for my class. Gaiman constructs a fantasy world that we encounter within our everyday reality; the graveyard is indeed mysterious and at some times, creepy. Furthermore, his character of Nobody "Bod" Owens, is a young boy who is trying to deal with the fact that all of his family members are the deceased visions that exist within this ghastly setting. Bod is still adventuresome, finding trouble behind unmarked headstones and down deep dark caverns, and all of these tales are somehow supposed to set him up for the encounter with Jack--the killer of his mortal family-- when he becomes older.

My issue was that the suspense was always building up to it and although it did indeed deliver us to a delightful twist, it dropped off after that. Bod does indeed encounter Jack, but after that, well.... I feel like it had much more potential with this plot line, considering that it was the one that I was focused the most on. My other, more subservient, issue is the context of using a graveyard as a setting. Yes, we have ghosts, crypts, headstones, ghouls, chants, and most of all--stories! I loved hearing all of the stories, but I felt like Gaiman kept trying to get them to all connect, even though they didn't actually or necessarily need to. Furthermore, what was the deal with Silas? His job is to Bod's guardian, yet he is neither mortal, nor dead. Help someone? Because this is the thing that I'm remembering most from this book and it shouldn't be.

As a teacher, I'd recommend this book to a young reader who was fascinated with the supernatural and wanted something different to read. It does have potential to be openly criticized by a large, younger audience, which is what I think Gaiman's goal was to achieve. Bod is a character who constantly asks how things work, and I feel like the readers will do the exact same.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

"The Maze Runner" Audiobook Rant

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you're looking to get your Hunger Games fix, then you've found your match! "The Maze Runner" is another one of those dystopian society books focused on teenage protagonists; kids will love it because it is a story of survival and beating the system. However, it was not my cup of tea.

Disclaimer! I listened to the audiobook, which I've found that that can often influence your perception on the book. I would have rather created the images of the characters, such as Thomas, Newt, and Chuck in my head, rather than hear them through my speakers on the way to work. It was a struggle I must say...

If you plan of diving into the mystery of "The Maze Runner", don't do it via audiobook.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Sing Me An Old Song" Book Review

Sing Me An Old SongSing Me An Old Song by Morgan James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Folks, this one was an ideal summer beach read, but for one being in the midst of school starting in Midwest Indiana, I had trouble. Fighting to finish, I praise the author Morgan James for allowing me to review this book as a Goodreads giveaway, so I will provide my opinion in regards towards the novel's content and style.

In "Sing Me An Old Song", Mavis Banks Book is a Southern Belle who returns to her home as a ghost ten years after her funeral. Right off the bat I loved the idea of having a ghost coming back to their roots, because as an adult, I love reminiscing about old houses I grew up in and what they look like now. It's a fun idea, but for me, Mavis got a bit troublesome. As a teacher, I would have encouraged student writers to italicizes any and all relation to the ghosts movement and/or dialogue. However, since this is not the main technique in this novel, I got lost at times.

In "Sing", we also have the relationship between Niki and Jack, two roommates in Mavis' house that goes on during the story. For me, the chemistry between these two could have used more details... Yes they annoy each other at times, but the moments are often cut short because some sort of connection to Mavis comes up. At some times, I was annoyed that Mavis kept coming up.... Shouldn't the dead stay dead and forgotten? As the story progressed however, I learned why but read the book because I'm not spoiling it for you.

Overall, I award 3 stars due to literary entertainment that one could gain from reading James' new novel. It was my first exposure to her work, and after learning she writes mysteries (more of my forte), I'll have to check one out sometime.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" Book Review

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a refreshing read into the psyche of young adults who are coming of age and struggling to figure out how the world works and what is expected of them. Aristotle (Ari for short) and Dante are two young Mexican American teenagers who, through course of events find themselves forming a relationship.... as a reader, once I found out that Dante really (really!) liked Ari, I was rooting for them the entire time.

Related to an earlier book club discussion, I was impressed with the presence of the parental figures that are within the book. Often you find parents in YA literature to be more in the background while the teen "does their thing", but that isn't realistic. Parents influence their children in many ways and their presence needs to be accounted for in YA lit more often.

The writing style was also very interesting and I found that the shortened, two page chapters were also more realistic. As a teen, I only had a couple of pages written in my diary before a friend called to bug me or worse (!), my sister needed something. I felt like I could really connect with this style.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

"Reading for Understanding" Textbook Review

Reading for Understanding: How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College ClassroomsReading for Understanding: How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College Classrooms by Ruth Schoenbach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Reading Apprenticeship Program is innovative way to keep kids focused on reading and building literacy skills for their futures... But with limited class time and an continuously growing to-do list, as a teacher I find it difficult to make analyzing a single one page passage the prime focus of a precious class period of time. Yes, there are many elements to the program that can assist my teaching, but it takes quite a bit more effort from an already exhausted teacher to implement these rather basic things. The school year that lies ahead is my guinea pig and this is the manual to guide me, even though I think it requires more realistic connections.

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"Devil in the White City" Book Review

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting appeal for the story of the 1893 World's Fair and account of H.H. Holmes, infamous serial killer, however, I wasn't really the fish that took the bait on this one. What I was hoping for was a tale about the construction of a spectacular event, but beyond the awe, glamour and hype of it was a dark and twisted evil underneath. I wanted a story about how a serial killer lured his victims while at the event, and I admit that's sort of what I got, but it was told differently than I wanted it to be.

Instead, I received two tales that hopped to and from each other. First, you have the story of the construction of the World's Fair, with architect Daniel Burnham, who struggles to create a masterpiece that the masses will flock to. If you see pictures from 1893 Chicago, you can tell that he succeeded in creating a glimmering "white city". Secondly, you have the story of H.H. Holmes, a young, handsome, charming physician who also happens to be the ultimate scam artist. He builds hotels, marries many a pretty lady, then also happens to kill them in gruesome ways. Throughout the book each chapter switches back and forth between the two plots, but they never intersect!

What I wish would've happened would be for Holmes to somehow be directly involved in Burnham's creation. Sure, he may have visited the World's Fair, but I wanted something more dramatic. Granted, this was non-fiction, and what the truth reveals may actually creep you out and you may never want to stay in a hotel by yourself again, but if you've read fictitious crime stories or even watched "Dexter", you'll be wanting more.

Let's see what happens when the movie version with Leonardo DiCaprio is released sometime next year. :)

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Teacher Read- "The Hot Zone"

The Hot ZoneThe Hot Zone by Richard Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book because I will be teaching it this fall as the new non-fiction text in the English 9 curriculum, and since I'm such a good teacher, I better know what it was about. For this review, I will be analyzing "The Hot Zone" for its educational merits.

Preston investigates an outbreak of a dangerous viral strain- Ebola (Marburg, Ebola Zaire, Ebola Mayinga and Ebola Reston are all varieties that pose threats in this book), and its devastating effects on the human population from Kitum Cave in the heart of the African continent to a laboratory right outside Washington D.C and involves everyone from the amateur researchers to U.S. Army personnel who think they are familiar with disease....until this epidemic.

I specifically liked the narration of the text and how it is presented in smaller chapters that host individual stories that will eventually come together. We start the book off with Charles Monet who explores Kitum Cave, and Preston immediately twists the story and shows us how Monet is infected with a mysterious disease and dies in a short turn around rate. Preston also shows us the stories of doctors, nurses and other patients who interact with infected people and makes sure the reader understands the fear that comes with this unknown viral threat.

Folks- watch out for the vivid imagery! My male teenage students will love when Preston describes "organs turning into mush" and "blood dripping from every orifice", but if you're queasy, you may want to avoid it. I personally enjoyed the detail, but I also had to stop frequently and go wash my hands because I felt metaphorically contaminated.

NOTE- PETA representatives may object to this book as well, because the main reason the virus spreads is through human-primate interaction.... So how do you think the Army removes a threat of lethal virus when it's found in a laboratory of research monkeys? If you're clueless, whelp, read the book to find out.

I think that this will be a beneficial text to use in a classroom, especially in conjunction with science classes covering viruses and primates. I plan on having students investigating different diseases, writing persuasive essays about disease prevention and animal rights, as well as even doing a quarantine demonstration where the kids can do anything by sit in a chair for a certain amount of time....OH WAIT-they already do that! :)

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Come one! Come all! A MUST READ!!

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh the circus! What a novelty! But wait- this book is not what it appears, but rather an illusion... Morgenstern's debut is a complex story of 3 interwoven plots that will come together in a spectacular finish that I was neither hoping for, nor expecting. "The Night Circus" has mystery--TONS OF IT--, love, betrayal, blood, loss, confusion and above all, magic.

Folks, I picked up this book thinking that it may be somewhat along the lines of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants and was enticed by the idea of another circus novel. Low and behold, I was not only satisfied, but I was beyond enthralled with this novel because of all of the different elements that made it operate, much like an actual circus.

Celia and Marco are two people who are thrown into "the game", and I dare not ask what the game is, for fear of the silly Facebook gimmick of volleying between people without an actual answer. These protagonists are going through the same thing and we as readers aren't really sure about what is going until midway through the novel. Both individuals are young illusionists, complete with acts that defy nature and any trickery that lead others around them to believe that it must be actual magic. Of course, two individuals who are set against each other in becoming the so-called "master" set up another plot that I also enjoyed; they fall in love. :) So what happens when you fall in love with the enemy of whom you are supposed to defeat??? It's worth the read to find out, trust me. OH- and there are many twists in the book that you would not have truly expected the end result to come out.

Second plot line (albeit much more minor than the previously mentioned) is that of Bailey, a much more relatable character who is conflicted between his own ambitions and those of his strict farmer father who just wants him to follow familial inheritance. I personally enjoyed Bailey because he was the character that anchored the reader to the reality that was very limited in the book.

Thirdly, the final plot line is that of the actual operation of the circus-- an entity that runs with illusionists, contortionists, fortune tellers, not to mention the paperwork people behind the scenes. (No clowns--whew!). There are all of these elements that are present within the circus, and are definitely connected to within the story's progression.

Morgenstern pulled out all of the stops with vivid details that gave me the idea that I was actually watching the illusions performed in front of me. I felt the passion and connections to all of the characters [NOTE-Bailey was useful here...He kept reminding me that this was just an act and I needed to stay grounded.} The only thing that threw me off, unfortunately, were the dates posted under the chapter headings. YOU MUST KEEP TRACK! I had to reread a few chapters to understand the full effect of what was occurring within chronological order.

All in all- READ THIS BOOK! However, make sure you have plenty of time scheduled because it does take quite a bit of time to get through. I recommend that you read a few chapters so that you are caught up on all different plot lines then take a break... In doing so, you can relive the circus and experience the magic.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Betrayal by Robin Lee Hatcher (RITA Nominee )

Betrayal (Where The Heart Lives, #2)Betrayal by Robin Lee Hatcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I often stray away from Christian romance, primarily because I feel that there will be oddly placed Biblical references throughout the book that will stray me away from engaging with a trashy romance read. And if it were up to someone overbearing like my mother, then Christian fiction would be the furthest thing away from trashy romance reads. But when you have a romantic plot that just does not seem plausible at all, of course it’s going to go on the “to-read” list by Smart Bitches. We have a hot religious cowboy (who knows how to read! Ahhh! ) and right away I’m swept off of my feet…And I was just looking at the cover folks.
There are two separate plot lines going on in this story: first, “Betrayal” is the second novel in Hatcher’s “Where the Heart Lives” trilogy, but you won’t need to have read the others to understand what is going on. Each novel in the series focuses on one of the Brennan children, who were separated when they were younger and sent to different foster families. So if you want the full story, check them out. “Betrayal” focuses on Hugh, the big brother in the Brennan clan, and his happened-by-chance encounter with widowed Julia Grace. On his way to Idaho to search for his sisters, Hugh meets Julia and agrees to work around her ranch doing all of the manly work. Right away, the reader’s reality check alarm goes into play—he just mysteriously happens to have horse trouble when he encounters a widow’s ranch? Hmm…
However, the story does have some valuable morals to it. Both the hero and heroine use their religious beliefs to influence their choices, “God give me strength” and what-not. What I found particularly interesting and actually realistic was how Hugh and Julia connected romantically with a religious foundation. Each of them wanted an independent life with their separate goals--Hugh wants to find his sisters, Julia wants to keep her ranch, but is still haunted by the memories of her abusive deceased husband—and they solve their problems through God’s word.
Personally, I started the story and ignored the religious parts for fear that the novel would turn into a Bible lesson. But once you get involved with Hugh and Julia’s chemistry, you’ll want to see how it turns out.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"The White Tiger"-Aravind Adiga

The White TigerThe White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very interesting pseudo-narrative that tells the reader about a man who calls himself "The White Tiger". Balram is a man who has come to work as a driver from the country, only to be swept up in the conflict that comes with being a servant in a big city. The entire book is set up as a letter from Balram who is self-proclaimed fugitive (we won't find out why until later) writing to the Premier in Socialist China. Personally, I was confused with this part of as to why he was writing him, but the reason I gathered was simple-- no one else will tell us how it truly is. And for doing so, Balram is considering himself an outlaw.

I enjoyed this Man Booker Prize winner for its momentum that constantly kept the reader interested, and even though I feared I wouldn't understand the cultural differences, Adiga takes time to explain things in detail for his reader. With that said, if there are any points of confusion, feel free to pause and do some Googling... it definitely helped when there were moments involving Socialism, etc that I didn't fully comprehend.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Margaret Atwood's "Oryx and Crake"- Reviewed 2007

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam Trilogy, #1)Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this as part of the assigned reading for English 106 at Purdue University with a TA who thought that we should be prepared for the future... Little did I know, it was a proclamation more towards the evolution of the dystopic literature genre, versus the actual dystopia that could engulf the world. At the time, I had not been exposed to much Atwood, (besides "The Handmaid's Tale), and since this was her most recent work I was excited to read it.

There are many biblical connections that one needs to make sure they have brushed up on while reading "Oryx and Crake", simply because the plot is connected metaphorically to all of the Adam and Eve allusions... Atwood creates Eden- a paradise that slowly goes to ruin throughout the novel, but despite giving away that major detail, I'll also give away that the characters story of Oryx, Crake and Snowman are much more interesting. To see different people operate within the possibility of demise is very interesting. Looking back on my time with this novel, I can safely say that I enjoyed the experience.... Even more so, I'm THRILLED to see that it began a trilogy.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell

An inquisitive short young adult read that just keeps dragging you through a mystery of a ghost haunting a 14 year old girl. The only attribute that I found particularly interesting was the repetition of "where ya at?", a phrase I find commonly amongst curious teenagers.

A Place Not A Place- David Carr

Very good textbook for Library Science and Museum Studies students... I specifically like how it incorporates Education and Bloom's Taxonomy to create tiers of information exposure for patrons.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac- Gabrielle Zevin

Naomi has amnesia and had to suffer high school at the same time...The horror! Not only can she not remember why she wanted to take photography, but also forgets all about her boyfriend, best friend and the "crazy" kid, all three whom she happens to fall in love with throughout the story. Gazooks girl! Share the wealth!!

The idea was strong, title is ironic, but alas, the plot falls short in places where it needs to be stronger... Much like an actual teenager, this book often changes its mind on what it is going to do next.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"The Great Gatsby" Film Review

When I first heard that Baz Luhrmann was taking on the project of recreating one of the most classic pieces of literature AND it was going to have one of my favorite actors in it, I was counting down the months until it would arrive on the big screen. After purchasing my tickets online through, I was counting down the hours until I could munch on popcorn excitedly before the previews.... At every spare moment that I could dedicate to this film, I was thinking "will it be worth it?" Ladies and Gentlemen..... it was. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Dog's Purpose

Anyone who has ever had or loved a dog needs to read this book... I am trying my best to write this review with tears in my eyes because a dog (reborn many times) that is trying to find his purpose of existence finally found it... It also doesn't help that my dachshund Happy Gilmore is curled up next to me.

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Life in France by Julia Child

What a lovely audiobook that provides insight to THE American master of French cooking and her adventures in doing so... I would play this every morning on my way to work and felt enlightened about making various dishes that I feel compelled to go out and get the actual recipes to try. Be forewarned- hunger pains and unusual cravings for butter will ensue as you absorb this memoir.

Django Unchained

I heard quite a few things about this movie, and when my roommate sat me down to watch it with her, I must admit that I only remained on the pretense that Leonardo DiCaprio was in this movie. This will be a short review as that it's 4 am and I'm sleep deprived. This movie was quite good with the action and essence of a Quentin Taratino film....I haven't seen many of his other films, other than the first "Kill Bill", but since I heard that Django was a Western-esque film, I thought that I'd try it out. I was quite impressed. Not only was the storyline very good, but the acting was superb from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, DiCaprio, and Kerry Washington. There are also many memorable moments with Samuel L. Jackson, in a perfectly suited role that he obviously had fun with. I was on the edge of my seat (difficult since I was sitting on a plush and comfy sofa), and was immediately knocked out of my trance when my roommate threw a ball of orange Play-Dough at my face to knock me out of it. We rented this from Netflix, but I'll most likely be purchasing it to share with others...once every bill that decided to arrive in my mailbox AT THE SAME TIME has been paid.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda FitzgeraldZ: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I chose to read this book because of all of the hype with the new "The Great Gatsby" film, and because the cover also looked interesting....Frankly, I even stretched to imagine that Zelda may have been inspiration for the Daisy Buchanan character, but that may need to be rejected.

What I did find however was a novel that started off strongly with a whimsical love story and a Gatsby-esque feel of drinking, partying and the "high life" that we've come to associate with the 1920's. Shortly after this novel plateaued (perhaps when Zelda has her first child), the novel steeps to a repetitive examination of what feminine role Zelda is meant for.

Unfortunately, she suffers through multiple movements throughout the European continent, babbling encounters with Hemingway and Ezra Pound and stints in mental hospitals before she realizes that she is meant to play a dismal role.

Zelda was a strong character who was swept off her feet into a world of glamour, but was shortly lost to the overcoming power that exists with being a celebrity, and as a reader I felt like this journey could have been more thoroughly opened, examined and maintained for an audience's interest.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

Ahhhh how refreshing it is to read a novel that keeps you engaged with a character throughout their endeavors and even has you rooting for them in certain situations. Only thing I disliked was when they have away endings to certain classical texts. Well, guess I'll never have to read "The Bell Jar" or "A Farewell to Arms"!

Great book, easy read, anticipating the movie! :)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Greetings Earthlings!

Good morning everyone!

Please forgive the mess or the lack of a fully functioning website, but it's obviously still under construction. There will be more updates in the future regarding book reviews, educational materials, and other assortments of variety that you may or may not find useful.

However, at this time, the blog is no fully fantastic (to satisfy the domain name of ""), so my apologies beam at you like Captain Kirk commanding Scotty in the teleport room. Yes, that reference was just made.

Happy Sunday! :)