Thursday, July 31, 2014

"If I Stay" plus sequel "Where She Went"


When I saw The Fault in Our Stars in the theater, there was a preview for If I Stay, which is a YA book I've had on my classroom shelf for awhile, but hadn't gotten around to reading. The preview looked good, which means I HAVE to get the book read ASAP! So, thanks to the amazing Overdrive app, I borrowed the ebook from the library and read it in a couple hours...really, it was a very quick read.

If I Stay is about seventeen-year-old Mia, whom we don't know too much about in the beginning. Traveling out on a wintry day, Mia's family/car is broadsided. She finds herself standing to the side and feeling fine. Even as she observes the scene, both of her parents obviously dead, she can't seem to feel much, just the facts she can observe. Even when she finds her own body off to the side of the road, mangled and bloody. The interest factor in this book is that Mia is watching everyone around her, including her own physical body, throughout the tragedy. The story expands to include well drawn characterizations of those in Mia's life.

With her parents gone and her little brother in critical condition, Mia watches from the side as doctors, nurses, friends, and family gather around her unconscious body crying, begging, and praying for her life. She is faced with the decision to let go or stay. Letting go would be the easy choice, so she wonders what happens if she stays.

The sequel, Where She Went, picks up three years after the accident. It is told from the perspective of Adam, Mia's boyfriend at the time of her accident. Everything and everyone moves on with life, although this is not the optimal arrangement as far as Adam's concerned. His life has just happened around him as he's forced to live without Mia. Until one day, a random choice puts him back on the path to happiness.

I didn't care for this sequel very much. The narration is set up much like If I Stay, where you get the present day situation, supplemented with a flashback that parallels or supports the present piece of the storyline. Unlike If I Stay, I didn't feel I always cared about what was going on. Everything focused on Adam, without much said about other characters in any depth at all. Also, Adam seemed whiny (about Mia, about his fame, about the people around him), which is all understandable to an extent, but it made up most of the book and I tired of it. It could be said that this was the point of the limited narration...that the reader should be feeling what Adam felt in his isolation. Still, overall, I think this book stays squarely in the typical YA realm.

Any good or disappointing YA you've read lately?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Me Before You

As often happens, my fellow bloggers have led me to another author and book I enjoyed. Based on my experience reading Me Before You, Jojo Moyes constructs interesting characters, whom I care about, and a plot that keeps me reading.

Me Before You is the story of Will Traynor's life after a tragic accident and ordinary Lou, who cares for him out of her desperation for a job. In many ways Me Before You follows the typical boy meets girl storyline, unlikely people meeting in unlikely situations. However, this particular unlikeliness creates a twist that makes the story all its own. The twist drives the story through to its ending, which was unsure to me until the last couple pages. And the ending is one about which everyone will have an opinion!

Unfortunately, there is little I can say without giving away the very happenings that build the story to its ending. But with the tag line, "What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?", who wouldn't want to check it out? I enjoyed Jojo Moyes's ability to draw me into the story with an interesting beginning and only a measure of romance to carry it out. I will definitely read another of her books.

I know there are other Jojo Moyes fans out there! Any title suggestions?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

Reaching back for a sentence I'd written down a few books ago, but it just perfectly sums up how any avid reader feels about the number of books they want to read and the time in which to do it.

"...I was prowling the tables outside, those groaning boards weighed down by piles of books that make a lifetime seem even shorter than originally advertised." 

The Book of Not So Common Prayer, by Linda McCullough Moore

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Stuff Christians Like

Every "group" has its own culture. The things they say, do, feel, and like. And that's what Jonathan Acuff's blog, Stuff Christians Like, discusses about Christians. All of the little mannerisms and tics the faith has cultivated come together for one big hurrah...literally, you will laugh. His blog became hugely popular and in 2010 he published this book of his blog essays.

I read the book in two days and my husband said I had a silly grin on my face the whole time. I was glad to hear that because (I'm hoping) it means I'm not uptight or easily offended. People have to be able to laugh at themselves, right? As a Christian himself, Acuff helps other Christians (or anyone for that matter) do just that. The cool thing is that Acuff's wit almost always leads you to wisdom. The joke lures you in and bam! he sets you straight at the same time. Sneaky. Also, for your chuckling pleasure, there is a sampling of illustrations, such as the one of the "side hug" on the cover.

I would like to highlight some of my favorite essay titles. Some because of the title's wonderful wording, some because of the topic, and some as forms of a confession. Too bad you don't know which is which! (Acuff's quotes in italics.)

1. Ranking Honeymoon Sex Slightly Higher Than The Second Coming of Christ. Because you know honeymooners have priorities...well, a priority.

2. Judging Fundamentalists For Being Judgmental. I think the irony goes without saying, but in this essay it just keeps going.

3. Sending More Hate Mail Than Satanists. Acuff (who is a Christian) says he receives more hate mail from Christians than other group or type of people.

4. Occasionally Swearing. If you're a nonbeliever and swear a ton, it's just not that big of a deal. If you're a Christian though and you swear, birds fall out of the sky. Trees shake to their roots. Magma gets fourteen degrees cooler under the crust of the earth. Wielding that kind of power is too tempting to ignore.

5. Subtly Finding Out If You Drink Beer Too. This one comes with techniques to figure out if other Christians around you are of the beer accepting type or not...very handy. No, really, it is.

6. Using Waterfalls And Butterflies As An Opportunity To Give Evolutionists The Middle Finger. The premise that nature is too beautiful to be accidentally made. Because snootily saying, "And it was all an accident" completely in line with Jesus' whole "love your neighbors through sarcasm" thing.

7. Missionary Dating: When God Calls You To Convert The Sexy And Unchurched. It's a hard job, but someone's gotta do it. Worked for my husband and a very. roundabout. way.

8. Finding Typos In The Worship Music. Yea, I know, this one is an obvious confession. I'm an English teacher though! What's your excuse?

9. Using Vacation Bible School [VBS] As Free Babysitting. If VBS didn't start so early in the morning, I would've totally done this with my kids when they were little...jumped from church to church each week for a new VBS. But, 8am start time? Ugh!

10. Name-Dropping God To Get Out Of A Speeding Ticket. Gives the best ways to name-drop God on certain days of the week - especially on Sunday.

And these are just a few essays from 2010 or earlier. Can't imagine what else might have gone through the blog in the years since. So check out the book or the blog, either way you'll get a laugh, which might also be a swift kick in the pants to set you straight.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Erin's Begin the Week with Words

Today's Sunday Sentence pictured above goes to those with heavy hearts today. I found out Saturday evening that a student I've known for five years, who graduated in June, passed away this morning. It was sudden and nothing short of a complete tragedy. It has left us all in complete shock.

In this type of situation, everyone has their own story or side in connection to the people around them, and the telling often brings smiles, maybe even laughter, through the tears. For me, Erin was a bright spot in any day. Even though she wasn't in my class her Senior year, she was in my classroom most every day, sometimes just to say hi and sometimes to discuss a book or subject we both found interesting. She was a constant presence in my school book club and happily read through my classroom shelf, telling me which books (that I hadn't yet read) she deemed most worthy. Her last recommendation to me, the last week of her Senior year, was Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh. She left her copy on my desk, even though I told her I didn't have the time to read it. She didn't come back for it for a couple days and when she did, I just smiled and she said, "I knew you wouldn't be able to help yourself."

My other favorite memory is from Prom this year. Erin wanted to get another teacher dancing and asked me what to do. I told her to have the DJ call him up to do YMCA and he would. So the DJ does end up calling him up...and me! Saying that the students requested a dance off, which did not include YMCA. It was so bad - the dancing that is - and most of the Junior and Senior classes were there to witness it, but they loved it and it was all Erin. The minute it was over I shook my finger at her, we threw our arms around each other, and I told her I'd never forgive her. Of course we were both laughing. And that's how she was - always making you smile, even if you had just lost all of your dignity in front of the very people you had to face daily.

Oscar Wilde said, "Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is by far the best ending for one." Why now, at age nineteen, is something no one will ever understand. But the absolute joy and laughter Erin brought to those around her will always be the way in which we remember her.

*picture source: edited from original

Friday, July 18, 2014

North of Normal: a Memoir

North of Normal, by Cea Sunrise Person
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: June 24, 2014
Category: Memoir
Source: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

I usually give only the main title to books, but this one has a subtitle worth mentioning. The full title is North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both. That's a mouthful and evidently a childhood full of one crazy event, person, or situation after another.

I mean, whose childhood doesn't consist of a family of nudists, open pot smoking, casual sex, an uncle who tried to kill you, and more "homes" than you can count? Not to mention living in tipis in the wilderness, miles from civilization, for years at a time. I'm not making light of these things at all. Reread that list. Can you imagine one or two of those things, let alone all of them and more, making up your childhood? Obviously, this is not the norm, but this is the childhood Cea Sunrise Person survived.

The narrative Person strings together is shocking to say the least. There isn't anything I can recount here, besides the list, that isn't already laid out best by the author. North of Normal is definitely reminiscent of Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle, maybe even a little bit crazier! Person even gives Walls a shout out in the acknowledgements for writing The Glass Castle, which gave Person the courage to write her own life story.

A definite testament to the human spirit, I couldn't help but grit my teeth and cheer Cea on as she made her way through trials that no child should ever face...and yet, come out better for it on the other side. If you are a fan of memoirs about overcoming, this is a book for you.

What is the most gripping memoir you've ever read? Why?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cloud Atlas, aka how-the-holy-hell-did-he-do-it?

Pic Source:
Title credit to Dave Eggers's cover quote 
Note: I do not give any real spoilers as far as details are concerned, but I do discuss the layout and theme of the book and movie, which some might consider a spoiler. Some readers like to jump into a challenging book without much insight. I did so with this book, so I do not believe I am providing any detail that would spoil the book; however, I wanted to fairly warn you.

I finished the behemoth Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Behemoth not so much because of its length, it is not near the longest book I've read, but behemoth because of its complexity. This is not a book for everyone, but if you are a reader looking for a challenge, pick up Cloud Atlas.

Cloud Atlas is a timeline. We are treated to the first half of five different stories, taking place in chronological order starting in the 19th century and leading into a future we have not yet encountered. Each past story appears in the next, as history is wont to do. However, these links of one story within the next hint at something more than simply a historical timeline...a more connected presence of the characters and circumstances within the timeline. The collection of these hints and their connections and possibilities are what make Cloud Atlas such a challenge. The five stories lead, in chronological order, to a sixth story, which is the forsaken future of fallen humanity. And then the five stories count down counterclockwise, finishing off the second half of each, until we are back in the 19th century with a most apparent theme, tied together and strengthened with each story: " fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction" (Mitchell 508). Indeed, in each story, selfishness of some people sets out to destroy the lives of others.

And is that it? Is mankind doomed to extinguish itself? I have a suggestion that you will rarely hear me make emphatically: Watch the movie. Read the book FIRST, but definitely watch the movie afterward. The movie stays pretty true to the stories, but I love it for the wonderful way it visually represents the main ideas/themes of Cloud Atlas. There are a limited number of actors and actresses who show up as a different character within each of the six stories. Paying attention to which characters each actor or actress plays allows the viewer to see the connection between the characters in the stories.

Another beautiful thing about the movie is the way in which the stories are represented and connected. Unlike the book, the stories are chopped into smaller sections and rotate through each, repeating, until all stories conclude. At first it was somewhat confusing (this is why reading the book first is best, it kept me from being completely lost); however, I soon began to see the connections between the stories that I could not see as clearly when I read the book. With overlapping narration as one story melts into the next, I saw how Adam Ewing's situation in the 19th century story was connected to Somni's hundreds of years in the future.

There are also sections of the text that are rewritten more fluidly and concisely in the movie, allowing the ultimate meaning to shine through and add yet another layer of meaning, such as this excerpt:
"Belief, like fear or love, is a force to be understood as we understand the theory of relativity and principles of uncertainty; phenomenon that determines the course of our lives. Yesterday, my life was headed in one direction. Today it is headed in another. Yesterday I believe I would never have done what I did today. These forces that often remake time and space, that can shape and alter who we imagine ourselves to be, begin long before we are born and continue after we perish. Our lives and our choices, like quantum trajectories, are understood moment to moment. At each point of intersection, each encounter suggests a new potential direction."

The ultimate thought behind it all: "Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future."

There is more, sitting at the edge of my mind, just out of reach. I know I will hit publish on this post and wake up tomorrow bursting with more insight. But, at some point, you just have to read, watch, and gather the epiphanies for yourself. This is definitely a book made for careful consideration and discussion.

Any reads blow your mind lately?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

Who doesn't like a little sarcasm when making a point? Subtle sarcasm especially...more creative that way.

"What moral to draw? Peace, though beloved of our Lord, is a cardinal virtue only if your neighbors share your conscience." Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Two Book-tastic Years!! (and a giveaway)

Today, July 12th, marks two years of blogging for me here on My Life in Books. It has been a great two years. I've "met" so many wonderful book lovers from across the U.S. and the world! Books themselves may take you across the world, but so do the friends you make through books. Those listed in the blog roll to the right margin of my blog hail from Ohio, New York, Connecticut, and Virginia, to North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, across the way to Texas and Colorado, and back up to Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Not to mention those in Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, and South Africa! And before you scoff at my use of "friends," realize I converse with these bloggers constantly, we know what's up with each other often, we share one of the most passionate things of our lives (books), and many of us have met each other in person at different times in the past couple years. I absolutely love the uniting factor books provide between you and people you might not have known otherwise.

What else? I've had the opportunity to read countless books before publication, which is always a thrill when you're in a bookstore and see a new book out on its first day and say, "Oh, I've read that already." Because of my blog, I am finally a competent Twitter user and I have increased my Pinterest use slightly, although neither have became a habitual use yet...and I don't mind that really. One of the best pluses, I've had the chance to converse with so many authors through Twitter! It's awesome! Oh, and the graphic above is the first one I ever made myself! I went ahead and attempted picmonkey. It's nothing great, but I learned how to get words and a background on there, so I'm content for now!

I know there is more I could do to improve my blog and gather a larger reading base, but really the blog is serving its purpose for me. It was meant to keep me writing until a time in my life when I can pick writing up seriously. (At the moment my family and career are time consuming, as they should be.) But this purpose seems to work quite well, as I was asked to apply for a writing gig for a website at one point. The job is temporarily on hold for the company, but it's exciting nonetheless. As it is, the blog has exceeded my expectations, so can you imagine the possibilities in the next year? I have a few things in mind and some bookish goals I'd like to meet. I'd love to attend a book-related workshop/convention, meet authors at book signings, and meet some of these wonderful book blogging friends of mine in person.

Well, let's make a jump into those possibilities with my first ever giveaway! For some reason I've always been so hesitant and nervous about doing a giveaway, but I had some awesome advice/help from the ladies on my blog roll. Besides, two years warrants a celebration of my readers, followers, and fellow book lovers. So enter below, good luck, and thanks for all of your involvement with My Life in Books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 7, 2014

How I Torture My Students


Truthfully, one of the fun parts of being a teacher is watching your students squirm from the torture you put them through. I've gotta find amusement somewhere in my day, right? And it's easy to do when you're an English teacher. All I have to say is, "Get out a piece of paper and something to write with" and the moans are instantly audible.

Before you think I hate kids, let me say, part of the amusement is what they can do if they try. There's truly an element of "I'm doing this for your own good" involved. They whine, complain, make faces, and sit for a couple minutes staring at their pen and paper. Then, some start trying the given exercise. They often ask me for help, but that's a slippery slope. Help once and they're all begging you every step of the way. A generation raised with Google does not truly know how to help themselves. The struggle to create is what makes or breaks them and the ones who try often find satisfaction, even if it wasn't a complete success.

My instrument of torture? Writing challenges. Plain old writing prompts are torture for me as much as them sometimes, although those definitely have their time and place. Writing challenges are a different story. They can sound easy at first or possibly seem fun, have you hit a wall and give up, only to get mad at giving up and start it again. Watching each other move forward goads students to personally keep trying (as well as me walking around instigating students who seem to really give up). They "cheat," helping each other here and there and I pretend not to notice. After all, what they are really doing is teaching each other and it's a proven fact that two heads are better than one, especially when all involved in the collaboration are engaged.

I have a couple favorites.
1. Write a 3/4 page story, that makes absolute plot and grammatical sense, without using the letter "e" a single time. Possible? Oh yes, I did this one myself. I wrote about looking for and getting a job...pretty snazzy piece, beings the words "teacher" and "educator" both have "e" in them. The key is vocabulary...looking for words that share the same meaning, but don't have an "e".

Oh, oh...see that? It's not just random torture, I have an objective. Vocabulary building...using a thesaurus. Say what?

2. To be or not to be? Sorry Hamlet, NOT to be is the correct answer here. Write a one page summary, review, or analysis of a short story we've read without using a single "to be" verb. Who needs pesky verbs like is or are anyway? Not to mention: am, was, were, be, became, have, has, had, do, does, did, could, should, get the point. The key to this exercise is using stronger action verbs and precise nouns. The books you love because of the wonderful writing, even though the plot may kinda suck, deal largely with this skill. And students don't even have completely eliminate to be verbs successful. Eliminating any number of weak verbs improves their writing. Namely, my arch writing nemesis, passive voice.

So, yea, torture is fun AND educational. Who knew?

Anyone have any teachers who had such torture techniques/writing challenges? I'm all ears!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

Today's quote reminds me of the Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 13:13,  "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (My emphasis added.)

"We aren't things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on." The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bookish Quiz Fun

I am still making my way through Cloud Atlas and enjoying it, but it does make you pay attention to make the needed connections. So, in the meantime, here's a fun bookish quiz I found from Lori over at Palmer's Page Turners.

Top Three Bookish Pet Peeves:
1. Dog earring pages, highlighting and writing in books, and movie covers are no-nos.

2. When people say they read the last page first or that the order of certain series doesn't matter (ahem...Chronicles of Narnia).

3. When I need to run to B&N for something (a gift or card) but don't have time to browse.

Perfect Reading Spot:
In my bed. Seriously, better than by the pool, at the beach, etc. My bed has my pillows and blankets and I can get as comfy as needed.

3 Bookish Confessions:
1. I buy and carry my purses based on their ability to hold a book AND my iPad (my iPad holds all my bookish thoughts, lists, and blogger stuff). I always have a book, even if it is just my iPad, whose Kindle app has at least a dozen books I haven't read. You never know when there will be time to read.

2. My personal books are organized by genre and then by author within the genres. I have six bookshelves total and haven't read half of the books I own (which is in the hundreds).

3. I am definitely a passionate book snob about certain things, although I've gotten so much better at being less so and keeping my mouth shut all the other times.

When was the last time you cried during a book?
I don't think I've ever cried while reading a book. My mind has this tendency to downplay what I'm reading so it seems to be less effective on my emotions. But put that book into a visual, like a movie, and it'll get me every time. The Fault in Our Stars barely affected me as a book, but teared me up in the movie theater!

How many books are on your bedside table?
22. Yea...three series, three review copies, and a bunch of books I've been "looking forward to." Sandwiched in there is a set of Pilates videos...they haven't stood a chance for some months now.

What is your favorite snack to eat while reading?
Anything munchy...could be candy or chips.

Name 3 books you'd recommend to everyone:
The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
Most anything by Malcolm Gladwell

Write how much books mean to you in three words:
My blog name says it all - My Life (is) in Books (articles don't count in word counts 😉)

What is your biggest reading secret?
Not sure I have one...I'm pretty loud and proud about my reading. One thing is that I do like romance in books (but not romance novels), although (and maybe because) I'm not romantic at all in real life.

Who are you tagging?
Anyone who wants to participate! Post your own answers to this bookish quiz!