Summer Reading Recommendations!

•June 1, 2017 • 1 Comment

If you’re a teacher or a student, you know that summer is the best time of year to catch up on your TBR list…or add some to it and read those instead.

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Either way, there’s more time to read, and I always love to read books that people have recommended to me. So here are a few recommendations from me to you (all Young Adult, btw, because that’s how I roll)! Many you’ve heard of and maybe already read, but a few others probably not. I didn’t include The Hunger Games, Divergent, or The Maze Runner, because, well, those are a given.

Click on the title to go to the Goodreads page of the first book of that series so you can read the synopsis and check out reviews.

  1. The Unwind Series (Dystopian)- See my review here. You’ve probably already heard of this series too, but Neal Shusterman is probably my favorite author. The way each of his many characters has such a unique voice amazes me, and his stories are so deep and engaging! If you want your mind blown by some very well-written, super deep stuff, then check out this dystopian series! img_1673 2
  2. Timebound Series (Fantasy/Time Travel)- This series by Rysa Walker is one that sort of fell in my kindle lap so to speak. I’m not sure how this independent author managed to download her book onto my kindle without me asking for it, but props to her because it made me buy and read the others in the series of 3. If you’re into time travel books, this is good one. I rated it a 4 out of 5, so it wasn’t my absolute favorite series, and the last one dragged a bit. However, the premise was still very interesting and the writing engaging. The author kept me wanting more, so that deserves a recommendation in my book. 18108877.jpg
  3. The Heroes of Olympus series (Fantasy/Mythology) – For those who don’t know, this is a spin off series by Rick Riordan from the Percy Jackson series about Greek gods and goddesses and modern day demigod heroes. The Percy Jackson series was great, but this series is even better. Like Harry Potter, I think all of these books sort of grew with their audience. Percy Jackson seemed to be geared more towards middle school, and the Heroes of Olympus series feels more like typical YA. Rick Riordan has a hilarious style of writing that is easy and fun to read and his stories are just plain entertaining. If you want something adventurous and enjoyable, check out this series! heroes-of-olympus.jpg
  4. The Daughters of Zeus series (Fantasy/Mythology/Paranormal) – This one is a hidden gem that I only know of because my first novel was originally published by the same Publishing company as Persephone. We exchanged reviews early on, and I must say I quite enjoyed this series, giving all 3 books 5 stars! It’s a nice mix between Percy Jackson with cool stuff about Greek gods and goddesses and other popular YA series with a female protagonist. It’s exciting but still relatable and has an interesting love story. You’ll want to check it out! See my review of Persephone here!persephone-600x900x300-2 2.jpg
  5. The First Frost series (Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling) – Here’s another series I know of because the author, Liz DeJesus, started out at Musa Publishing with me as well. If you’re into fairy tale retellings and being a kid again but in a more grown up way (Bianca has some sass and a little bit of a mouth on her, lol), then check out this fun series! Check out my review here.15700479.jpg
  6. The Last Timekeepers series (Fantasy/Middle Grade) – One more gem from my Musa days. Read my review of the first book here. This book was super fun and especially great for middle school age or a little younger even! If you like time travel, fantasy, and Medieval Times, then put this one on your list! 13613004.jpg
  7. The Delirium series (Dystopian) – This amazing series by Lauren Oliver was very entertaining, exciting, and intriguing and a great dystopian series about a society where love is considered a disease and everyone gets a “cure” at 18 when they’re old enough for it. Interesting premise, for sure! I will warn you, though, the last book ends kind of stupidly. I don’t want to say more so as to not give anything away, but let’s just say I was pretty frustrated with a choice the author made. Lol. bookcover_home_delirium.jpg
  8. Lady Audley’s Secret (Classic/19th Century Lit) – If you like books/movies/stories in the vein of Pride and Prejudice (who doesn’t love Mr. Darcy!), you may like this classic as well! This book by Mary Elizabeth Braddon is a little darker than the well-loved and light-hearted Jane Austin classic, but it’s definitely a page-turner! It’s almost like a 19th century soap opera! I had to read it in college, but it was one of my favorites. So if you like the Victorian era and/or want to branch out while still being entertained, give this one a chance. 51iseeP2+-L.jpg
  9. The Hush Hush series (Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance) – This was one of my first favorites when I first started writing. Back when fallen angels were all the rage (after the vampire craze and before the dystopian craze), this series was on or near the top of the charts, so you may have read it. If you missed it, though, you should definitely give it a shot! The whole series was pretty interesting and I fell in love with Becca Fitzpatrick’s writing style. It’s very easy to read and flows beautifully. I actually learned a lot about writing style from her books, so props to her for helping me out! the-complete-hush-hush-saga-9781471121616_hr
  10. The Shadow Eyes series (Urban Fantasy) – Okay, obviously this is a given recommendation from me since I wrote it, lol, but I figured it was worth putting on the list. Forgive me for my shameless self-promoting… In short, the series is about a girl who sees angels and demons when no one else can. If you like urban fantasy, angels (not the fallen angel boyfriend kind, though), spiritual things, and mystery that keeps you turning the pages well into the night, check it out! See my Shadow Eyes series page here for more info on both the first and second book. FYI, the third one is in the works! Shadow Eyes new cover
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Why “Just Write Them Up” Isn’t Always the Answer

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

As a teacher, you sometimes have those days when a student or a whole class does something crazy or rude or inappropriate, and you feel the need to vent about it to a friend/family member/everyone on social media… But sometimes we get this response: “Just write them up.” “Send them to the office.” “Don’t put up with that.”

As if it were that simple.

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On behalf of all teachers everywhere who have heard this, let me explain why those statements are not only unhelpful, but also very misinformed.

  1. We have to PICK OUR BATTLES. Especially in our difficult classes, there are so many crazy things happening at any given moment, that if we were to write up everything that may deserve a referral, we would never have time to teach. Some things, for the sake of the lesson and maintaining some sort of classroom structure, we have to let slide. 57646093
  2. If we make a spectacle of the student and situation, it often just STOKES THE FLAME and causes more problems. Sometimes ignoring a toddler’s tantrum is best. The same is true for older kids and teens. Making a big deal about the situation can also rile up the class, and that’s the last thing you want.
  3. We may very well LOSE THE CLASS TO CHAOS if we “step aside” and take time to write up those students or deal with them sufficiently. When you’re dealing with a difficult class, if you loosen your reigns for a second, their concentration scatters and you’re left picking up the pieces for several minutes before you can regain their focus enough to start teaching again. chased-by-monkeys.gif
  4. Some of the things we would want to write referrals for SOUND STRAIGHT UP STUPID. “Student was sniffing glue.” “Student was meowing like a cat.” “Student was writing on herself and others.” “Student can not keep his hands to himself.” “Student was throwing pencil shrapnel.” The reality is, that student has done ten thousand “stupid” things that have accumulated over the months of torture we’ve endured. It’s really hard to justify or even articulate every offense that student has committed.
  5. Writing a referral for a student DAMAGES OUR RELATIONSHIP with that kid, and we’ve worked so hard on that all year. Obviously, sometimes a referral is needed and there’s no way around it. But it will come at a cost. Besides, everyone will tell you that a strong student/teacher relationship is one of the biggest factors in student success.
  6. Teachers are control freaks, and when we write a referral, we are HANDING OVER THE DISCIPLINARY CONTROL to someone else. Now, if it’s an extreme situation that needs an administrator, that’s different. But if we can handle the discipline issues ourselves, we will, at all cost. tenor
  7. Writing a referral is a last resort, and when we do it, IT FEELS LIKE WE’VE FAILED. That piece of paper is like a public statement: “I can’t handle this student.” I know we shouldn’t feel that way, but we do. And, to be honest, the kids feel that way too. They know when a teacher has lost control and has to resort to a referral. For that matter, depending on the school, the principals may even feel like you can’t handle your students. Again, it shouldn’t be that way, but in the world we live in today, this is a teacher’s reality.

So, please, if you know a teacher, love them and encourage them. And if they ever vent to you about a student or class, don’t suggest to them what you think they should do. Just pat them on the shoulder and empathize with them for the hell they have to go through every day. Somebody has to do it, and we choose to because, although we don’t always act like it, WE LOVE OUR JOBS.

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Sever (Wither #3) – YA Dystopian Book Review

•May 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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Let me start by saying I have never been so frustrated at a character that I nearly threw the book across the room until now. And I probably would have had I not been in my classroom with a bunch of freshman watching Gnomeo and Juliet.

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Of course, I’ve never seen a character so uncharacteristically stupid and passive when she SERIOUSLY needed to be bold and brave!

I have very mixed feelings about this 3rd and final book in The Chemical Gardens Trilogy. See my post of the first book here. Therefore…sorry, but not sorry, for such a long, animated post.

What I liked: There was a lot of suspense (much more than the 2nd book, see my review for it here). We got the feeling that we were actually getting somewhere with the major conflicts and issues and that exciting things were happening. I also loved some of the very quotable statements the author placed in the book about life, death, freedom, etc. As in the last 2 books, but probably more so in this one, Lauren DeStefano artfully illustrates the themes of this series in beautiful, poignant statements that really hit home and make you think. I loved that!

What I didn’t like: So much about the main character wasn’t believable or was confusing.

For one thing, she is away from the guy she likes (maybe even loves) for a long time and doesn’t think about him hardly at all. I mean, I get that you don’t want her always thinking of him because it could be repetitive and annoying, but at least let her do it a little. Just enough to remind us she has normal feelings and emotions and hasn’t completely forgotten him or doesn’t care.

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For another thing, the way she acts towards her former husband/captor, who, granted, wasn’t a horrible guy, is very confusing and up and down. I know that she’s confused too, but the enigma that is her relationship towards this guy are difficult to grasp and relate to. Especially since he was 21 and she was 16 when they got married. I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

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However, the worst part of all, was how things shifted with her and Dr. Evil himself. Throughout the whole series she has hated him, despised him, been terrified of him…to the point where she is determined not to go back to the mansion, even if it means saving her life, and she even cuts open her own leg so he can’t find her.

After all that, she comes to this pivotal moment where she’s faced with her brother taking her to this same evil doctor that he has been deceived to think is awesome, not knowing anything about what Rhine went through with him. Rhine knows it’s the same doctor who did all these horrible things to her and to the people she cared about. Yet, instead of telling her brother what she knows, all we get is this tiny, weak paragraph:

“He [her brother] grabs my hand and tells me to hurry, and we run through the rustling field, toward this menacing doctor, but with the summer breeze in my hair, I let myself pretend that everything is going to be all right.”

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WHAT????!!! You’ve got to be kidding me! “I let myself pretend that everything is going to be all right”?? If you couldn’t tell, this is where I almost threw the book at the wall.

I mean SERIOUSLY?! The “summer breeze” in your hair? Because that makes a year’s worth of horrendous atrocities seem not that bad.

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Part of me gets that, as an author, sometimes you have to figure out a way for your characters to get from point A to point B, and it’s not always easy. But I can think of at least 2 ways she could’ve made this better. One, Rhine was so terrified she couldn’t even speak and her brother drug her along. Two, she was afraid her newly-tough and possibly crazy brother would turn against her, not believing her story because he already idolized this guy. The author actually sort of implies this later, but right at that moment is where it was needed.

Oh, but it gets worse. As I kept reading, I kept waiting and waiting for her to just come out and tell her brother at least a fraction of what this evil guy has done. But no! She keeps him in the dark! And it’s not like there weren’t opportunities. The doctor freaking left them alone several times! The most she got out were a few questions to try to make him realize how the doctor maybe shouldn’t be trusted. Again, she does eventually imply that she’s worried of losing her brother if she pushes too much, but I don’t buy all that and it took a while to get that explanation. In the meantime, we’re flipping out and screaming at the book (at least in our minds if we’re in public), trying to will her to speak.

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There were several times, too, when the doctor was explaining himself and the situation to Rhine’s brother in his own distorted version to make himself not look bad, and she never interjects to correct him! She thinks it, but is never bold enough to let it out. Why?! She’s been more than bold and brave in the past, and she doesn’t imply that it’s because she’s too terrified of him. This is uncharacteristic of her, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it one bit.

Also, as this went on, and she started to see a different side to this evil doctor and somewhat understand what he was doing, I was very resistant to go with her. Even she was resistant, not as much as you would expect from her. Even so, I didn’t like that we were seeing this different side of him. I just wanted to hate him. Maybe that’s horrible of me, but with all he’d done, I didn’t want to view him in the same way I’d come to view Rhine’s husband and even Madame. As it got close to the end, I even had a horrific fear that he would somehow be excused or change with how Rhine had been seeing him differently.

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Lastly, the ending…I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think most dystopian series seem to end either a little too tidy or unfinished. There’s never a good in-between is there? Either they leave you to imagine what happens, or they try to wrap up everything in a tidy, neat bow so we feel closure. The latter is what happened in this book. As I was nearing the end and saw how little was left, I was seriously perplexed about how on earth the author was going to wrap everything up so quickly. I think the events themselves worked well, but it seemed rather quick.

Overall, I’d probably give it a 3.5. I’d still recommend the series but with some caution.

 

Fever (Wither #2) – YA Dystopian Book Review

•April 29, 2017 • 1 Comment

I’m enjoying this series because I love a good dystopian story, and I’m anxiously waiting for the resolution in the 3rd and final book of this trilogy. Check out my review of Wither here.

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I will say, though, that while this second book, Fever, was still a good read, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the first. As is the case in some 2nd or middle books of a series, you find yourself kind of in that in-between stage of initial action and climax. It’s not quite as intriguing because you’re already familiar with the storyline and the conflict is already established, but you’re not quite to the climax of the series yet. That generally happens in the 3rd and final book. So there you are in that slow-moving, melancholy state, when you’d really just like to get the show going and see what will ultimately happen.

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At least that’s how I felt with this book. I remember thinking the same thing with the 2nd book in the Twilight series and a few others. I didn’t think that in several other series, though, like The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, etc., so it’s not impossible to keep the momentum going.

I think part of the issue is that much of the book dealt with the narrator, Rhine, being either drugged and hallucinating, very sick and out of it, or very depressed and out of it.  Or all of the above at once. It got a little repetitive, but not too bad. I think the author did okay with using different descriptions and phrases most of the time, but it did get kind of melancholy and slow. I wanted action and scenes where I could imagine what’s happening, and instead there was a lot of inner monologue about her emotions, what she was going to do or wanted to do, and the crazy things going on inside of her groggy/hallucinatory head. With so much abstract, hard-to-grasp stuff, I became kind of lost at times. Not confused lost, but just…lost. Which is probably what the author was going for – for us to go with Rhine in her trippy, in and out of consciousness state. I just didn’t like to stay there or go back there that often.

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Aside from that, like I said, I still enjoyed the book and got through it fairly quickly. I’m still enjoying the series and can’t wait for the end. I’ll let you know what I think when I get there. Until then, happy reading!

Wither – YA Dystopian Book Review

•April 26, 2017 • 2 Comments

First, let me say that I truly love dystopian novels. I love seeing how screwed up the dystopian societies are and then getting to the hope at the end. It forces us to look at our own world, sometimes with appreciation that we’re not as bad as their society, but often with somber reflection, knowing we aren’t that far removed from some of the corruption and evils illustrated in these novels.

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Now let me say that I have mixed feelings about the Chemical Garden Trilogy so far. I’ve finished Wither and am about 1/4 of the way through Fever. With dystopian novels, you have to try to keep in mind that these characters grew up in this messed up world and many don’t know any better or think it’s normal. Oftentimes, we can sort of excuse some of their faults because of this. Effie in The Hunger Games is the perfect example. She clearly represents the corrupt and frivolous Capitol, but we soon realize, as Katniss does, that she’s simply a product of her society and how she was raised. It’s not her fault, and she does have some redeeming qualities. So we pity her and even eventually like her instead of hate her.

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A society being screwed up in a dystopian novel is just a given. And sometimes the reality of that society is a hard pill to swallow, like in the Unwind series. However, I found this dystopian world to be especially disconcerting. And maybe that’s why I had a hard time knowing how to feel about the “Effie” of the book, Governor Linden, who has 3 wives including the main character, 16-year-old Rhine, and a 13-year-old girl. Although the book isn’t exactly graphic about what goes on with the characters, we know exactly what happens, and I must say…it doesn’t always set well in my stomach.

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I will say the author does a fairly good job of being realistic yet careful with how Rhine feels about her husband, Linden. Her emotions and thoughts make sense, but it also leaves us kind of confused and torn when we really just want to hate the guy.

The premise is that a disease has taken over the population so that males die at 25 and women die at 20. Because of this, to keep the population going, and to produce babies to be experimented on to find a cure, girls as young as 12 or 13 are snatched off the streets and sold to be sister wives or worse, prostitutes. Some are even killed if they can’t be sold. Girls are seen as disposable things to be used and thrown away if they have no purpose anymore. Many young orphan girls who eventually grow into young women are forced into prostitution to make a living.

Violence against women, sex trafficking, and the sexualization of women are topics that I am very passionate about, and that’s probably why it’s been so hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this is normal for this society. Many characters don’t think it’s right, but most have given up hope that it will ever be any different.

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On a positive note, the premise and the plot are both very intriguing and kept me hooked the whole time. The author also has some very beautiful and poignant ways to describe things to set the tone, help us understand the characters, or illustrate a theme. I didn’t find these gems as much in the first half, but there are several after that.

On a negative note, I felt like there was some lack of detail in the world building. Some of the issues I just didn’t really buy into. Like why do the guys have to kidnap their wives? Can’t they just get married like usual but just young? How did women/girls become so degraded and thought of as nothing so quickly? I understand that as an author you don’t want to spend too much time giving information, but some of “the way things came to be” stuff wasn’t fully explained or believable.

Now, all that being said, I would still give this book a 4/5. Dystopian books are hard to write, and I recognize that a lot of this is probably just my personal bias and perspective because of my beliefs and feelings. It is still a very good read, and I will definitely be finishing out the series. I might be cringing through the whole thing…but I will finish it. 🙂

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Coffee is Life

•April 21, 2017 • Leave a Comment

And now for something a little more light-hearted. Happy Friday, everyone!

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To anyone who has ever said they could never foster…

•April 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

In honor of the Oklahoma Call to Action day (along with National Child Abuse Prevention and then Foster Care Awareness Month coming up)…

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To anyone who has ever said they could never foster…

 

If and when you lose a foster child,

As hard as it may be,

You won’t think,

“Gee, I wish I loved on that kid less.”

Because once you cross that line from detached caregiver to loving parent –

The line that, once crossed, binds your heart to theirs –

You won’t regret anything.

A love like that makes you go through fires willingly,

Realizing that whatever that child needs you would gladly give it…

Even if it means ultimately giving away a piece of your heart.

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Therefore, I vow to love these children with my whole heart,

Because whatever pieces I may lose, I know God can and will replace them.

And I would rather have a patchwork heart,

Molded and shaped by the Master Creator,

Than a stiff heart too scared to love.

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