Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books that Were Hard for Me to Read for Various Reasons

Here I am again with another list fashioned after the Broke and Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday meme. This wasn't an easy list to come up with, just like the books on it were not especially easy to read. I'll try to explain the various reasons these books were difficult for me as I go through my list. 

10. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

I had to read this one as a freshman in high school and again in college.  It's a depressing book about young German soldiers in World War I who have their youth stolen from them by the atrocities of war, and it also has one of THE WORST endings of a book EVER.  (I won't give it away in case you haven't read it. Good luck if you do have to read it.)

9. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Another one from that blasted freshman English class in high school! Even though it was short, it was just painful. It's about an old man struggling to catch a big fish. That is all. Honestly I don't remember if he catches it or not. It's one of my father's favorite books; a metaphor about the struggle of life of something.... I don't even think I finished it.

8. The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

Like a train wreck, I could not look away. But it was not pretty.

7. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

Supposedly an American classic. I was supposed to read this in college for a history class about the 1920's and 1930's. It's about a real estate agent and has no real plot. Yep.

6. Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi

Mr. Levi was an Italian scientist, who also happened to be Jewish. He was arrested during World War II by the Italian Fascist regime and sent to Auschwitz. His book is a harrowing account of the evil that was committed there. A well written and important book, but so hard to read because of the subject matter.

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I read this book when I was in the 8th grade. It was probably a little too hard for me then, but I was determined to read it. Long and slooooow moving with a twist that just didn't make a lot of sense to me. Maybe if I re-read it as adult? Nah.

4. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This book is about a young man and a girl he loves.  Unfortunately, she marries someone else. 50-something years and HUNDREDS of pages later they finally are together. This is one of those books that some people absolutely love but I just thought was overrated.

3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I thought this was actually a very good book but it is so sad and depressing. It is the story of a successful, ambitious young woman who slowly goes insane. To make matters worse, Sylvia Plath herself took her own life when she was just 30 years old.

2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Some would say this is an American classic.... Steinbeck has a very distinct writing style that I find difficult. Not only that this is a story of terribly poor people on a horrible journey, but there is AN ENTIRE CHAPTER ABOUT A TURTLE CROSSING THE ROAD. That's all I need to say.

And drumroll please.....

1.  The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
A man wakes up one day and he's a cockroach. He goes through his whole day and NEVER ONCE WONDERS WHY HE'S A COCKROACH. I couldn't handle it. Thankfully it's short.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: "To Be Read" Books for Fall

In my blogging today I stumbled upon something that I thought was really cool.... Over at the blog called The Broke and the Bookish, they have a meme where they post a topic and then bloggers respond with a list of 10 on Tuesdays.  I LOVE lists so I thought I would give this a try.

Today's Top Ten Tuesday was Top Ten Books on Your Fall 'To Be Read' list.  This is a great list for me to make.  I'm transitioning from elementary to middle school, so there are TONS of books I need to read.  I admit that last year in elementary school I spent a LOT of time on technology and other issues, and didn't read nearly as many books I should have.  But I'm changing that!

These books are not necessarily new books, but they're new to me....So, in no particular order, here goes!  (P.S.:  There were some books I wanted to put on my list, but they were not appropriate for middle school, so I chose other books.  All of these books we have at McKamy, except for one.)

10.  The Maze Runner by James Dashner:  I suppose it's popularity right now is due to the release of the movie, but all the students are telling me it's really good.

9.  Gone by Michael Grant:  Adults all gone?  What do the kids do?

8.  The Giver by Lois Lowry:  I read this book in a Children's Lit class at UT.  I think I definitely need to re-read it.

7.  The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson:  One of the Lone Star books for this year, a memoir set during the Holocaust.

6.  Ungifted by Gordan Korman:  Another Lone Star book.

5.  Hidden by Helen Frost:  More than one student has told me this is a good book.

4.  The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud:  Recommended to me by a teacher; also a Lone Star book.

3.  Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card:  I remember back in junior high, this was one of my best friend's favorite books.  I didn't read it back then.  She's still my best friend, maybe I can borrow it from her?

2.  Legend by Marie Lu:  Another librarian, as well as many students, have told me this is a great book.

1.  If I Stay by Gayle Forman:  We don't have this one yet at McKamy, but we get asked about it all the time.  I'm going to read it first and then put it in the library.

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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I know this is not a brand-new book, but I'm just getting myself caught up and acclimated to the world of YA literature.  Being a middle school librarian is so fun because there are SO MANY great books written for this age level that I really want to read for myself!  And so many students here at McKamy are prolific readers who love to have conversations about books.

I remember seeing this book, Miss Peregrine,  a few years ago.  I thought the cover looked creepy and interesting, but I never had the time to read it.  I forgot about it until I saw it in our library and thought I'd give it a try.  The picture on the cover was intriguing...I picked it up and started reading without reading the back cover or any reviews - something I like to do occasionally. Sometimes it's fun to read a book 'blind' with no expectations!

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children starts out with a very dreamlike quality.  The main character, Jacob, recalls his grandfather and the odd stories he would always tell him about an orphanage on a Welsh island he lived at when he was a young boy.  Jacob's grandfather escaped from Poland during World War II, but the rest of his family perished in the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Jacob's grandfather also had unique photographs that went along with his stories:  a levitating girl, children dressed in strange costumes, a boy covered with bees, another boy holding up a boulder with one arm.... Jacob never really believed the stories but thought they were interesting nonetheless.

Jacob's grandfather calls him at work one day flustered and out of sorts.  Jacob's parents can't leave their jobs to go check on him, so Jacob gets his only friend to take him to his grandfather's house. When he arrives he can't find his Grandpa Portman in his house, and the house is a disaster.  Jacob searches the woods behind his grandfather's house and finds his grandfather wounded and bleeding. He knows his grandfather is dying, and is trying to tell him something.  Grandfather tells him to "go to the island, find the bird, in the loop, on the other side of the old man's grave, September 3, 1940."  

Traumatized by the experience of seeing his grandfather die, Jacob's parents begin taking him to see a psychiatrist named Dr. Golan to help him deal with his experience.  After Dr. Golan thinks Jacob has made progress in dealing with his grandfather's death, he recommend that Jacob's parents take him to the island he thinks Jacob's grandfather was referring to:  the Welsh island where he was in the orphanage.

Jacob and his father travel to the remote island of Cairnholm, off the coast of Wales.  The tiny island only has one restaurant with one room to rent above it.  There is only one telephone on the entire island.  Jacob starts exploring with the help of two unfriendly boys who live on the island, and finally finds the ruin of the large orphanage house.  He explores the dangerously decrepit old house and is sadly falling apart.  After talking with a local expert on the history of the island, Jacob finds out that all of the children at Miss Peregrine's Home died in an air raid of the island during World War II, on September 3, 1940 -- the same date that his grandfather mysteriously mentioned.

He returns to the house once again, saddened by the knowledge that all of the children who lived there perished.  On this visit though, Jacob is met by a familiar young girl who asks him "Abe, is that you?"  Jacob realizes he does recognize the girl - from one of his grandfather's old photographs.  And then he makes the discovery that the children from the orphanage are indeed alive - but are they also in danger?

I don't want to give away more of the story - you'll have to read it for yourself.  I know that, for me, this book was not what I thought it was going to be.  I thought it might be a horror story, or at least have some creepy elements, but once I got into it, I found it to be more of a fantasy story.  The big mysteries in the book are revealed a little too late in my opinion; there is a lot of build up and the book is slow for the first 100 pages or so.  It also reminded me of another book, Tuck Everlasting, where the main character has to make a decision as to their fate.  The book also ends in a way that lends itself to having a sequel, which has already been published.  It's called Hollow City.

The thing I found to be unique and memorable about this book is its use of the old vintage photographs.  It was almost as if someone gave the author the photographs and challenged him to write a story around them.  Even if the story was a little uneven, it was an interesting and quick read.

Happy Reading!
Mrs. Cox

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Monday, September 15, 2014

The Testing

Malencia (Cia) Vale is a 16 year old girl on the eve of her high school graduation in Five Lakes Colony, the area formerly known as the Great Lakes. The top graduates from the United Commonwealth are selected for The Testing in order to be able to attend the University in far away Tosu City. There have not been any candidates from Five Lakes in many years.

Cia is happy when she finds out she and three other candidates from Five Lakes have been selected, but before she leaves her father, who was a successful Testing candidates, warns her not to trust anyone along the way and tells her to be aware that everything is not as it seems.

When Cia and the other candidates arrive in Tosu City, they meet other candidates from all over the United Commonwealth, and many are surprised that Five Lakes has any candidates at all. Then the tests begin....The Testing quickly turns into a dangerous adventure for Cia. She falls in love along the way and faces dangers she couldn't even imagine.

In many ways, The Testing reminded me of The Hunger Games. Both are set in a future United States that has been torn apart by war, and both have strong and likeable female main characters. But The Testing has its own plot twists and unique storyline that will engage readers who enjoy the 'dystopian' genre. Plus, there is a cliffhanger ending that left me wishing I had the sequel, Independent Study, handy so I could start it right away.

The Testing is one of the 2014 Lone Star Book selections.

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