Recently I picked up Stash from Barnes & Noble... I must admit this was a cover/title pick.  I originally grabbed it because it drew my eye sitting on the table- the title caught my attention and I liked the blurry rained-out cover (it reminds me of a car ride through the burbs on an overcast day).  I was sold after reading the novel description and this line: "Told from multiple perspectives and drive by psychological suspense and an escalating plot, this ambitious and deeply satisfying novel examines the moral complications that arise when one's determination to do the right thing collides head-on with human fallibility and desire." 
Stash is the debut novel from David Kline and follows the aftermath of a joint and a car crash.  Gwen Raine has a typically perfect suburban life: a successful husband, two beautiful children, a vacation home in the Adirondacks, a successful position in the PTA and great friends.  Gwen also likes to relax with wine and some marijuana.  Gwen and her close friend Marlene decide to split a purchase, but neither know where to get their stash.  Jude is an old boyfriend of Gwen's and owns a promising restaurant in her town of Morrisey.  Seeking him out, Gwen gets her stash and rolls a joint while taking a walk in the woods.  Then the unthinkable happens.  Marlene is unable to pick up the kids from swim class, so even after smoking, Gwen decides to go pick them up.  On the way, she is struck by another driver- yet walks away with just a scratch.  The other driver is dead.  Consumed with guilt and fear, Gwen confesses and allows her blood to be taken for a drug test.  Once found out (and the stash located in the car) the story takes off.
Judged by her actions and the towns current frenzy for arresting drug users, Gwen in is a bad spot.  Her husband Brian is struggling with his own demons at his pharmaceutical job and Jude Gates is trying to get out of the business of drug dealer.  Pressured by the DA, Gwen must make the choice: go to jail or give up her dealer.  What happens next is a crazy ride into the moral compass of America.
David Kline weaves a story that uncovers the hidden life of the successful suburban family.  What happens behind closed doors and how we get there.  We all make choices, but do we always think of the consequences?  Stash is the story of how one little joint can have consequences beyond comprehension.

I loved this novel.  It was voyeuristic- peeking into the lives of the typical American family and uncovering secrets hidden within.  Readers can make their own assumptions and judge for themselves whether Gwen's choices were justifiable.  Where is your moral compass?  And who are you trying to impress?... is it more important to be judged and follow suit, or be your own person?
write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow


Happy Birthday Roald Dahl!

The TwitsToday is Roald Dahl's birthday!  To celebrate, my classroom is embarking on an author study.  I will be reading The Twits as a read aloud during homeroom.  Each of my students picked one of Dahl's books to read.  We have quite the aray of books!  At the end of the month, each student will present a book report to the class on their choice.  Some of the kids picked books that have been transformed on the big screen... we will be watching the movies after the book reports are completed, then discuss the differences and similarties between movie and book.  Who was a better Willy Wonka?  Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp?  The decision will be up to the classroom!  I'm quite excited about our author study- this is my favorite author study, and I look forward to September every year! 

Our class selections:

Charlie and the Great Glass ElevatorDanny the Champion of the WorldJames and the Giant PeachFantastic Mr. FoxThe Magic FingerThe Enormous Crocodile

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow


Halloween Tales

Halloween in approaching!  That means it's time for me to start reading my collection of children's literature with spooky Halloween themes.  I have spent the past few evenings out on my porch reading spooky children's lit by candle light.  I love Halloween and tend to forget how awesome children's Halloween themed stories are.  I have oodles of picture books as well as chapter books.  Focusing on chapter books right now, here are the books I've been perusing.

 Fright Night by Molly Albright is GREAT.  An original Troll Book- I don't even know if you can buy these new anywhere.  The amazon link is to the used copies.  My copy comes from my older sister.  In this story, 4 best friends are planning their Halloween night when a dare changes everything.  Can Missy stay in The Old Rochester house for an our at midnight?  Everyone knows Old Mrs. Rochester haunts the house and they even saw here in the window!  Will Missy survive?  Some talking points that come out of this book: peer pressure, good friends, trust and how to deal with a bossy friend.

Magic Tree House #30: Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve (A Stepping Stone Book(TM))I also have a ton of Magic Tree House chapter books.  The Magic Tree House series is an excellent teaching tool.  All of the books tie in historical fiction, imagination, mythology and legends among other things.  At the end of each book, Mary Pope Osborne gives the reader a note explaining where she drew ideas from.  I just finished reading The Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve, Magic Tree House #30 by Mary Pope Osborne.  This time, Annie & Jack are off on an adventure for Merlin the Magician.  They must save Camelot and restore order to the castle.  Once Annie and Jack arrive to meet Merlin, they join with Teddy and journey to the castle.  The trio comes across ghosts and a deadly raven army.  To save the day, they must find the missing diamond of destiny.  Will they succeed?!  Some talking points that come out of this book: empathy, planning, historical references, bravery and imagination.

The Ghostville Elementary series by Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey is a cute series that follows a classroom of students at Sleepyhollow Elementary School.  Everyone calls it Ghostville Elementary because the school is rumored to be haunted by ghosts... and it sure is!  Friendly and sometimes mischievous ghosts appear to a trio of students in Frights! Camera! Action!  In this story, a famous director has heard about the rumors of ghosts haunting the school and decides to film in the basement classrooms.  As auditions are held the town goes crazy to get in the movie as an extra.  Some lucky students are cast in the movie, but some of the ghosts want to be in it to!  Not to be left out, they come up with a plan to either get in the movie or ruin the show.  Will Jeff share the limelight and let the ghosts play a role in the movie?  Some talking points that come out of this book: sharing, kindness, competition, dealing with fame and a nasty friend.

The Peculiar Pumpkin Thief (Geronimo Stilton, No. 42)Geronimo Stilton is a mouse.  He is the editor of the most famous newspaper and writes the most famous books in all of New Mouse City.  In this playful Italian series (translated into English), Geronimo has many adventures.  Fun to read, the text is littered with fun fonts to emphasize certain words, as well as great illustrations and maps.  This Halloween, he decided to throw a party for his nephew... but suddenly all the Halloween decorations (and even the pumpkins!) disappear in The Peculiar Pumpkin Thief.  Geronimo and all the other inhabitants of New Mouse City are invited to a secret Halloween party... but it is a stranger who invites them to a mystery park in the city.  With everyone so excited about a mysterious party celebrating Halloween, no one stops to think about who invited them.  Soon they find themselves trapped as their town is being looted by a thief!  Will Geronimo be able to get out of the park and save the day?  And who is this masked thief?!  Some talking points that come out of this book: stranger danger, trusting your gut, the effect or fonts in writing and the effect of maps & legends in writing.

I will continue to read Halloween books throughout the month of September and share them!  Hope you enjoy, and feel energized for Halloween!

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow


Dexter the Tough

Dexter the Tough
 "I am the new kid. I am tuf. This morning I beat up a kid." 

Last night I picked up the Dexter the Tough, a children's chapter book by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  This book came with a slew of freebies from Scholastic after I placed my September bookclub order for my classroom.  (I love scholastic for this reason- they have quality books for cheap, and the more my class orders and the more orders parents, family, & friends place online, the more free books and points our classroom earns.  I've been lucky enough to furnish a big area of my classroom library thanks to Scholastic.  Thanks to the bookclub program, I've gone from a classroom with ancient junk to beautiful fresh books for my students... many of those haven't experienced new books up until class with me!)  I went off on a tangent.. but hey, I gotta give props where due!  Oh, and if anyone wants to purchase books, contact me and I can help you out!
Back on track.... I picked up the book and read it because it is a great back-to-school read aloud.  Dexter is the new kid in school.  On his first day of school he decides that he hates everyone.  They all hate him anyway.  Kids only laugh at you when they hate you, and principals only yell at you when you're a bad kid and we all know secretaries are only mean when they don't like you.  Dexter takes his anger out on a peer.  He is angry.
Once in class, Dexter sees that he has the most sparkly teacher ever.  He knows he is going to hate her, and she will probably hate him too.  Dexter gets an assignment- write like a professional.  He choose to write about his fight.
As the story continues to unfold, we learn that Dexter may not be so tough.  Maybe he is just hurt, and doesn't know how to handle his complex emotions as a 4th grader.  At times both heartwarming and heartbreaking, Dexter the Tough teaches kids that maybe bullies aren't really mean, but just confused.  Emotions are confusing for everyone.  The fear of death, sickness and being away from your family bring about a lot of emotions.  Anger, sadness, hatred, fear and hope just to name a few... to 4th grade Dexter, it is just too much to handle and the easiest way to deal is to be mean.  Will he soften?  And how will his family problems end?  Dexter has a lot on his plate for a new kid at school.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  I am glad I read it first... in the comfort of a bubble bath with a glass of wine.  I cried like a little girl.  The topic hit home for me- Dexter's dad has cancer and is waiting for a bone marrow transplant or is going to have to try an experimental drug... or worse case, he may not survive.  Dexter the Tough never states explicitly that Dexter's father has cancer.  But I did go through this with my grandmother, and the general description of "bad blood" and a need for bone marrow and chemo treatments make it fairly obvious to adults (and some kids in the know).  It hit home because my late grandmother had leukemia and we went through the search for bone marrow, unsuccessfully.  Needless to say, the emotions that Dexter experiences are similar to how I felt through my grandmothers battle while I was a high school senior.  I am glad I read it at home- I have no problem crying in front of my students (I've done it before!) and they do know my grandmother passed away from cancer... but it gave me a chance to deal with some of my own emotions before passing it off to my students.
I plan to begin reading this book to my students on Monday during lunchtime.  I think they will relate well.  All of my students have had severe trauma in their lives, and many of them lash out in aggression.  Both physical and verbal aggression occur on a regular basis in our setting (psychiatric in-patient hospital / group home setting for adolescents with trauma history and psychiatric disorders).  I hope to relate the emotions that Dexter feels and his way of dealing with those emotions.  Many of our kids struggle to deal with their emotions and instead lash out at their peers or staff.  That is the basic issue in Dexter the Tough- lashing out instead of dealing with difficult feelings.  I will do a lot of therapeutic feelings work with the kids while we dive into this back-to-school chapter book.
Here's hoping it goes over well!
I suggest that teachers and parents alike read this story to the children in their lives.  Sometimes all we need is a friend and an ear to realize that our feelings are okay.

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow



Contagious: A Novel
Its been a long time since I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish a book.  Remember my post on the 4th?  I finished Infected at 10am and handed the book over to Joe.  We had a busy Saturday afternoon and went to a ball game Saturday night.  Neither of us read much.  Sunday was a different story.  Joe rarely has Sunday off (about once every few months) so we had a 'lazy Sunday'.  I woke up early, started a stew in the crockpot and then we both settled in to read.  We had a few things to do, so it wasn't straight through reading... but, both of us finished our books.  He finished Infected around 3:15am and I finished Contagious around 3:30am this morning.  I wasn't even tired!
I was obnoxiously obsessed with Infected and completely sucked in from the get go to Contagious.  Scott Sigler hit it out of the park!  Contagious picks up right where Infected left off- still in the mist of a crazy disease making killers out of human hosts.  But something is different this time.  More people are infected and the hosts are acting differently, as are the symptoms.  Not to mention the fact clearly it has gone contagious.  What happens to humanity now?  Will the president pull the trigger on "option number 4" or will Margaret get this thing under control?  And just who- or what- is behind this infection?
Contagious answered all of my burning questions... in a mind-blowing, edge of the seat, what happens next, ohmyfreakinggod!, don't shut your eyes- finish the book now! novel.  I could not pull away.  Scott Sigler drew me in so deep... I was completed invested in the novel.  The characters grew (as did my love for them) and changed, the plot thickened and humanity was on the brink.   Like a well oiled machine, Contagious just kept going.. never letting up, and never letting go of the grip it has on the reader.
I'm in love.  They were incredible.  I cannot remember the last time I was so wrapped up in a book.  At 3:30am, I promptly handed the novel over to Joe.  He couldn't wait to start reading, but had to go to bed so he wasn't dragging ass at work today.  But he did take it to work... I'm sure the kids will run wild today as Joe gets sucked in as deep as I was.
Only problem now... deciding what the hell to read next- because I'm sure nothing will compare.

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow



Infected: A Novel
I just finished reading Infected by Scott Sigler.  Normally, I would have tore through this book.. however it took me much longer.  As Joe said to me as I finished it this morning: "Long read?  What the hell?".  Hahah- shows my normal reading rate.  There are two very simple explanations for my slow reading of this novel- first, it was a bit creepy at times and I had to put it down, for fear of destroying my mind to mush.. second, I lost the book.  Literally- lost it.  We've been remodeling the bathroom and just finished remodeling the porch, so with the mess of those 2 tasks and my classroom book bins scattered about the living room (good 'ol prep for a new school year), I lost my copy and couldn't find it for about a week.  I was seriously pissed... but I couldn't just go out and buy another- I knew it was SOMEWHERE.  Come to find out, Joe put it away one morning on a bookshelf.  I mean really, who puts books on bookshelves?!  Thanks to my very meticulous bookshelf organization (I have 4 shelves and they're color coded for aesthetic reasons and I can honestly point out any book needed), having Infected placed on a different shelf threw me for a loop.  I found it 2 days ago while cleaning up the mess of my classroom books and the bathroom debris... but enough rambling- back to the book...
I must admit, what drew me in first was simply the title Infected and the sequel Contagious sitting next to it.  I've been on a doom & gloom government conspiracy kick lately, so I picked up it thinking it'd fall into that category.  Infected actually falls into horror, but I grew up obsessed with Stephen King so I went for it.  The short description and this review sealed the deal...
"Part Stephen King, part Chuck Palahniuk, Infected blends science fiction and horror into a pulpy masterpiece of action, terror, and suspense. Three recommendations: don't read it at night, or just after you've eaten a full meal, or if you're weak of heart. You've been warned!"
—James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of The Judas Strain and Black Order
I brought the book home and was chomping at the bit to read it, but I was mid-way through The Passage so I had to hold off... then I read a 'girly' book in between to give my mind a break.  Once I dove into Infected, it was like diving into ice cold water head first without warning.
Right from the start, we're introduced to some crazy... the prologue depicts a place and a women who has something terribly wrong inside her.  Soon we begin to hear about triangles.  What the hell?  Triangles that make people go f*cking crazy.  Bat-shit crazy.  The government is monitoring triangles and key phrases like "murder", "kill" and "burn".  But why?  What does the government have to do with a few nut-bags who think they have triangles growing out of their bodies and want to kill?  The story begins to unfold.. there is a threat.  An awful threat to humanity.  People are infected- no one knows what it is or where it comes from- but we do know that it makes people crazy.. and turns them into cold-blooded killers.  Is it possible that a disease has erupted and turned normal healthy adults into killing machines?  Or is this man-made?  Pretty quickly we rule out the natural route... there is no way in hell that these things were produced naturally.  That means it must be a bio weapon.  Some terrorist cell must have very advanced technologies and is creating a weapon capable of destroying all of humanity.
Throughout the novel, we get snippets of hope... a chapter here and there describing what these things are and how they're made.  As I read these chapters, I thought about another force... maybe not a terrorist cell, but maybe something over another kind is making this crazy infection.  These short chapters provided hope (for me) to unravel the truth... but it fell just short of giving me the edge I wanted.  I half-knew what they were and what was going on.
Infected has several main characters and angles to follow... there is Margaret Montoya the CDC specialist called in to figure this shit out and her entourage Amos & Otto.  Clearly the president knows whats up and the CIA has an air-tight bubble around everything happening.  The government is involved and the CDC is hot on the trail.  The big leading man (literally) is 'Scary' Perry Dawsey.  He is infected.  He is an enormous ex-football player who has a temper.  Just the mix the triangles need to get what they want.  Perry is huge.  Perry is strong.  Perry is a perfect host.  If anyone is going to do the deed and snap for these triangles, it has to be him right?  Already pre-disposed to violence, who is going to notice when he snaps and kills?  We follow Perry from day 1 of infection... learning how it grows and what it does to the body.  Not only to the body, but also the head.  I may have mentioned that this makes you go bat-shit crazy... but it does more- the infection talks to the host.  As the infection develops, Perry goes nuts and starts hearing them talk.  Accessing his brain for information, the triangles are speaking to him in his head... giving orders and asking questions.  Will Perry succumb to the wishes of his triangles, or will he fight back? Dew Phillips is the determined Nam-vet that takes us on the inside.  We meet the people infected and the insanity that ensues through Dew's eyes.  Murder, torture, fire and self-mutilation seem to follow each of these infected humans.  Dew is determined to find the cause and bust it open... he will take down whoever is responsible for this... if that is even humanly possible.
What will come of the triangles?  What will come of humanity?  Infected is in your face the whole way.  There is not a single dull moment.  Not for the squeamish, this novel will have your skin crawling.  (While reading I was a bit convinced I had a bruise in the shape of a triangle... it wasn't- I'm not infected, I swear!)  On the edge of my seat, waiting to discover the answer, I read Infected like it was going to save my own life.  I totally loved it.  Creepy, disturbing (Scott Sigler- you're twisted!), thought provoking and dashes of gore made this novel a must read for me.  Joe already started it (I finished at 10 am) and I barely remember to write up a review before I grabbed Contagious and read a chapter already.
So what is to come for me now?  Contagious... the infection is much more dangerous.  It is out there, and it's contagious.
Let Infected get under your skin.

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow