Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

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February 22, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

lit selfie fangirlHow do I count the ways that I love this book?  While I fell instantly in love with Eleanor and Park, it took me a little longer to get to know and adore Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  However, Fangirl (St. Martin Griffin 2013) is one of those books that lingers in my mind and heart.  I haven’t wanted to pick up another book to read because I don’t want to leave Cath and Levi yet.  There are so many things I love about this book.  I think I will count them for you…or at least begin to count them.

  1. Cath is not just quirky.  She might just cross over the line a time or two.  After all, she lives more in the fantasy world created by a best-selling series than she does in the real world.  In fact, she often spends more time and effort avoiding the real world because new people and new places creep her out.  Despite her weaknesses, Cath shows strength and determination when it comes to protecting her dad and her sister.  Did I mention that Wren is her twin sister–her identical twin who promptly dumps her once they arrive at college.
  2. Fanfiction weaves in and out of this story in poignant and hysterical ways.  Yes Simon Snow is a boy wizard off to learn magic at a boarding school and destined to save the world from the evil Humbdrum.  Rowell treats us to “Encyclowikia” entries about the series, excerpts from the first seven (of eight) books in the series), and best of all,  excerpts from the highly popular fanfiction series Carry On, Simon by Magicath.  (You guessed it.  Cath writes this incredibly popular fanfiction that gets thousands of hits daily.)
  3. I wasn’t sure what I thought of Reagan at first.  She did terrify her freshman roommate, Cath, at first, but I came to relish her tough love.  Her brusque, matter-of-fact view of life is just what Cath needed.
  4. Levi is the perfect (slight spoiler alert) boyfriend.  I appreciate the fact it took half the book for the romance to blossom.  (I never liked that Nick guy anyway.)  Besides being absolutely adorable, he respects Cath for who she is–quirks and all–and will drop everything to be with her.  He’s even adorable when he messes up.
  5. Rowell deftly handles sensitive issues–mental illness and homosexuality–as part of the story but without making them ISSUES.  Cath worries about her dad and about herself,  but there different ways of seeing the world are just that–different, sometimes a challenge and sometimes a gift.  Most of all, I cheered for Cath as she discovered the strength of her own voice.

There is much more I love about Fangirl, but you should really read it for yourself.  Go get a copy while I wait for more books by Rowell.

December 30, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

imageAs soon as I finished reading Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, I put it in the hands of my fifteen-year-old daughter and told her, “Read this.  You will love it.”

She started reading in the car on our trip to North Carolina and kept reading as we settled into Grandma’s house.  Every once in a while I would ask her what she thought of Eleanor or Park, but she just shushed me and kept on reading.  When she turned the last page and closed the book, she looked at me and said, “That was the best book I’ve ever read until the end.  How could you give me this book knowing it ended like that?”

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that ending.  I won’t tell you what it is.  You will have to read the book to see how terrible, how infuriating, how perfect it is.  The journey through the pages will be a heart-breaking delight as you get to know Eleanor and Park for yourself.

I love Eleanor–her weirdness, that wild, red hair, her determination to survive no matter what her evil stepfather or the kids at school do to her.  I came to love Park–his vulnerability and insecurity, that roundhouse kick to Steve’s face, his determination to stick by Eleanor no matter what anyone else thought or no matter how hard she pushed him away.

Eleanor and Park is a love story that steals inside your heart while you aren’t even looking–kind of like love sneaks up on Eleanor and Park themselves.  Bus rides of shared comics and shared music bring these two misfits together in a world that seems just as determined to tear them apart.

December 19, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

imageAre you looking for just the right amount of quirky in your next romance?  Then This Is What Happy Looks Like (Little, Brown and Company 2013) by Jennifer E. Smith is the next book you should pick up.

Ellie O’Neill an Graham Larkin “meet” through a chance email about a pet pig inadvertently sent to the wrong email address.  Ellie responds to the misfired missive out of concern for Wilbur the pig, and a relationship begins.  Protected by the anonymity of the Internet, Ellie an Larkin share details of their lives with each other, but keep their biggest secrets hidden.  Ellie and her mom have been hiding from her father in a small town in Maine.  Graham lives the rest of his life under the public spotlight as a celebrity.  Once Graham pulls some celebrity strings to bring the filming of his movie to Ellie’s hometown,  can their relationship survive face to face?

If you can get past the premise of their meeting (Does anyone really respond to random emails?), this is a delightful romantic comedy.  The incorrect email address is not the only case of mistaken identity or the only misunderstanding.   Gentle humor and witty repartee fill the pages and explore ideas of truth and secrets and dreams.  And best of all, it ends with the sun rising on the promise of a new day.

October 10, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl

imageI could present Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl as historical fiction, but I think the tagline on the cover says it much better:  a novel of intrigue and romance.

Even though the story takes place in London of 1836 and involves historical characters such as the Princess Victoria, it is much more Downtown Abbey than dry history tome.  Poor Liza may have been born into a life of wealth and privilege, but her entrance into London society is blocked by the tragic death of her parents.  Now alone and penniless, she desperately accepts a job as a lady’s maid to the young Princess Victoria.

It’s certainly not what she expected–more maid than lady-in-waiting.  If she survives the gossip below stairs and the trickery above stairs, she just might be able to take control over her life, find true love, and secure the throne for her future king.  If she fails, she could live out her short days in a dungeon.

Liza is plucky and determined.  Even as fate turns her life upside down, she vows to do the right thing even when it means befriending a spoiled princess and a lost orphan boy.  She must learn who in the household she can trust, and who she cannot.  My favorite of her allies is one from outside the house–Will, a somewhat honest newspaperman.  He’s all for the power of the press, but doesn’t let the facts get in the way of good story.

June 5, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Cake Pop Crush by Suzanne Nelson

imageAre you looking for the perfect book to take to the beach or to read sitting beside the pool?  Suzanne Nelson’s Cake Pop Crush is just the book for you.  There’s not much beach action (though one memorable scene does take place at a pool party), but Oak Canyon Middle School is smack dab in the middle of sunny Southern California.

Ali Ramirez lives to bake.  It’s a good thing since her father owns Say It With Flour, a local bakery.  Ali’s newest craze is making cake pops. but she can’t convince her traditional father to try something new in the bakery.  Then Perk Up, a fancy coffee chain, opens a new store across the street.  To complicate matters, the owner’s son Dane McGuire is the dreamiest boy to ever walk the outdoor halls of middle school, and he likes to bake.  Who’s cake pops while rise to the challenge of a bake off as the competition between the two stores heats up?

There is so much to love about this book:  star-crossed lovers who fight as much as they flirt, best friends who stick together through thick and thin, mean girls who stoop to low acts of revenge motivated by jealousy, a loving family who doesn’t always see eye-to-eye.  Even though this is a fun, light-hearted read, I liked the fact that none of the characters were completely one-sided.  The mean girls aren’t totally mean (and can even be nice on occasion), and the good girls aren’t entirely good.

If reading about delicious baked goods makes you hungry, there are even recipes for cake pops in the back.  I just might be inspired to add another project to my summer list of things I want to do.  For now, you’ll have to put up with the brownies in the picture!

November 28, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
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I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder

I had been hearing good things about I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder, but it wasn’t until I bought it that I realized it is a novel in verse.  That just made it all the better and instantly moved it up to the top of my TBR pile.  I love novels in verse, and so do many of my students.

The story opens with Ava sitting through the funeral of Jackson, the first boy she ever loved.  Not only is she is devastated by his death,but she also blames herself for it.  Little by little, the short poems on each page reveal more and more of Ava’s story–her grief, her guilt, her indecision.

Then Ava begins to sense Jackson’s presence in her house.  At first its just a feeling of cold or a glimpse in a mirror.  Then Jackson begins to enter her thoughts and leave her messages by turning on lights or slamming doors.  How can Ava go on with life when her dead boyfriend is still hanging on to hers?

I loved this romantic ghost story and can’t wait to hear what my students think about it.

November 18, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
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Just for Fins by Tera Lynn Childs

Tera Lynn Childs creates a satisfying ending to the trilogy of books about Lily Sanderson, a secret mermaid princess learning about life on land as a high school student.  Just for Fins (Katherine Tegen Books 2012) is my favorite in this series because Lily has grown into her own person with grace and courage.

No longer is Lily plagued with deciding what is right for herself (Brody or Quinn?  Princess or not?).  Instead she is ready to take on the responsibilities that are her birthright–and not a moment to soon.  Trouble is brewing under the waves as multiple kingdoms are threatened by a changing climate and increasing pollution from humans.  The leaders of the seven seas come at Lily’s invitation, but they do not respond favorably to her pleas for help.  Many have secretly decided to take matters into their own hands, threatening the secrecy that protects the mer kingdoms.  Can Princess WaterLily uncover and stop the plot. before it is too late?  Meanwhile, an ancient mer-law threatens to separate Lily and Quinn, this time forever.  Quinn must pass three tests of his physical, mental, and emotional endurance without any help from anyone.

I really liked how the characters grow through this series.  Not only does Lily grow into a leader, but Quinn also changes through his quests.  He might even make a believable merman by the end.  The biggest change, though comes with Dosinia and Brody.  No longer a spoiled brat rebelling against everything, Dosinia becomes Lily’s staunchest ally.

This trilogy has been very popular in my classroom, and I think my readers will enjoy this final installment.  Of course, they may be begging for more!

March 12, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
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More Graphic Novels

I am plowing my way through the graphic novels that have been piling up on my desk.  Some of them I snatched up from the bargain books at our last book fair.  Some of them have been gifts from students who are helping me beef up my collection.

Arana:  The Heart of the Spider by Fiona Avery (Scholastic 2005)

I think superhero fans will like this graphic novel.  Anya is a reluctant recruit to the secretive spider society.  Miguel believes that she is the chosen one, to be the next hunter.  When he saves her life from an attack by the Wasps, she is bound for life.  All she wants is to be a normal high school student.  Will she come to terms with and claim her destiny before it’s too late?  The color illustrations in this one seem to explode off the page.  I really need to slow down and look more at the pictures when I read a graphic novel.

 

 

 

 The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan) Graphic Novel adapted by Robert Venditti (Hyperion Books 2010)

I loved the original Percy Jackson series, so I wasn’t sure what I would think of a graphic novel adaptation.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The color illustrations bring the story into vivid pictures.  The dialogue captured the fast-paced adventure of Percy’s first quest with Anabeth and Grover.  I wouldn’t want to replace the original completely, but this adaptation stands nicely alongside.  It’s much more faithful to the heart of the story than the movie was.

 

 

 

 Mystic:  Rite of Passage by Ron Marz (CrossGen Comics 2003):

 

I enjoyed the story in this graphic novel, first published in a series of comic books.  Two sisters–one responsible and one not–find their lives turned upside down.  Just as the responsible Genevieve is about to be accepted as Guild Master of one of the magic guilds on Ciress, the rite goes horrible wrong.  Party girl Giselle finds that she is now host to all seven of the magic guild spirits.  Whether she likes it or not, she is now the most powerful magician on the planet.  It’s too bad she hasn’t prepared for it at all.  With a talking squit (looks like a shaggy puppy) as her only ally, will Giselle survive the magic that now possesses her and those angry magicians who want it back?  For once, the artwork caught my eye as much as the words.  These color illustrations burst off the page.  I just might be getting the hang of these graphic novels.

 

 The Path: Crisis of Faith by Ron Marz (CrossGen Comics 2003)

This graphic novel is much darker than the above one by the same writer.  Set it the land of the samauri warriors, it involves war, betrayal, and the loss of faith.  Todosi dedicated his life to the arts of war while his brother Obo San dedicated his life to serving the gods.  After the gods take Todosi’s life, Obo San vows to use their own weapon against them for revenge.  But first he must survive the wrath of his emperor and the demons of an invading army.  My favorite part of this graphic novel is the interview with the penciler, Bart Sears, in the back.  After reading it, I understood much more what he accomplished with the two page spread layout, the dark images, and his penciling technique.

 

Rebound by Yuriko Nishiyama (Tokyo Pop 1997)

I successfully finished my first manga novel.  I am surprised that it is a basketball story!  Who knew that manga included sports fiction?  Not me until today.  Nate Torres and his high school basketball team, Johnan, won the Tokyo championship.  Now they are on their way to Sapporo to play again in the National Championships.  They hope to avoid a repeat of last year’s first round loss, but this year they have to get past Kyan Marine Industry–a team full of tough players who don’t mind playing rough.  Oh yeah, there might even be a few girls to provide a distraction.  I thought this was a fun story once I got the hang of reading from right to left.  It might even bring in new fans (of sports stories) to graphic novels.

Harlequin Pink:  Idol Dreams written by Charlotte Lamb & art by Yoko Hanabusa (Dark Horse Manga 2006)

I’m starting to get the hang of reading from right to left–and to the variety of topics and genres available through manga.  This is a love story that will please readers looking for something light and fluffy.  Quincy wins a contest she didn’t eve enter (thanks to her little brother Bobby) for a date with pop idol Joe Ardness.  Now she is caught up in a weekend of celebrity with her heart torn between Joe (Is he just using her for the publicity) and Brendan (Can her heart still be satisfied with her dad’s partner in their veterinarian practice?)  There’s lots of swooning and flashing cameras in this story even if there’s not much else.  It’s even printed in pink ink!

December 23, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
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The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner

I got to celebrate my first Christmas of the year with family last Sunday, and I received two of my favorite presents–a book!  and another book!  One of those books was The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner.  You are going to love it, as did many other readers.  That’s right.  The Pull of Gravity is one of the winners for YA Fiction for the first Nerdies Award.  Here are some of my favorite things about The Pull of Gravity:

  1. It’s a book about a book.  Okay, not really, but Nick and Jaycee travel with a signed first edition of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. They read it to each other and quote it.  You could say it inspires them.  Gang aft agley.  (Read the book if you want to get it.)
  2. It’s a road trip!  Nick and Jaycee head off on a bus to Rochester to fulfill the dying wish of their friend Scooter.  He wants the dad he never met to have his copy of Of Mice and Men, worth just $15,000.
  3. It has romance–not too much, but just right.  In fact the friendships in this story are much more important, but the growing romance fits.  As Nick and Jaycee travel together, all their plans unravel.  Somehow, if they just stick together, it might all work out.
  4. Nick.  Nick is the Fever King and doesn’t always know what to say or do in every situation.  He ignores his dad’s emails (from Fat Man Walking, 2) and and isn’t sure at all they should be chasing down someone who walked out on Scooter.
  5. Jaycee.  I love this girl with her troll necklaces, slinky bracelets, and orange Converse sneakers.  Even more, I love how she takes charge to do what she thinks is right, even when it sounds crazy.

August 31, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
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Stupid Cupid by Rhonda Stapleton

Stupid Cupid is one of the books I picked up at the Girls Taking Over the World Tour at Blue Manatee Books on Saturday.  Rhonda Stapleton has created a fun read that many of my girls will love!  I can’t wait to let this one loose in my classroom. 

Felicity loves nothing more than hanging out with her two best friends, Andy and Maya–unless, of course, it’s drooling over Derek, her current crush.  This looks to be a good year, especially when Felicity picks up a part time job at a matchmaking service.  When she shows up to the first day of work at Cupid’s Hollow, she learns that she really is a cupid.  Armed with a hot-pink and totally tricked out PDA (the modern equivalent of Cupid’s bow and arrow), she is ready to start making matches at her high school. 

Since she can’t be bothered to read the directions (they’re boring), she decides to go with her gut.  The first matches light a fire between couples, but will any of them last?  And then there’s the problem of Maya.  She beautiful and talented but shy.  Felicity would love to hook up her best friend with just the right guy, but which one?  Why just one?  She shoots her email arrows at three different guys for Maya so Maya can choose herself.  Along the way she also shoot arrows to get revenge on some mean girls and spice up her parents’ marriage.  Before she knows it, Felicity is in over her head with love problems.  Can she sort it all out before it’s too late?

I laughed my way through Felicity’s antics at school and home, and hope you will, too.  I’m definitely looking forward to reading more adventures in Flirting with Disaster.