This World We Live In

Hello blogosphere!  I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays & took some time to relax and rejuvenate!  I spent the majority of the holidays wrapped in blankets and coughing up a lung.  Unfortunately my body decided that holidays didn't matter and I was due for a fever and uncontrollable cough.  Worst of all, I didn't get to visit family out of town due to my sickiness- babies and sickness of this magnitude don't mix.  I did have a wonderful holiday even though I spent most of it on the couch.  It was nice to spend time with family and enjoy a relaxed Christmastime.  I'll get my camera out this week and photograph my goodies and decorations around the house and post later.
This World We Live In (The Last Survivors, Book 3)Now, on to the third installment in The Last Survivors trilogy.  I finished This World We Live In last week during an evening by the fire.  I liked this novel, but there were elements that I thought were a bit far-fetched.  The fact that This World We Live In meshed both Life As We Knew It and The Dead & The Gone was kind of surreal- I thought it wasn't very plausible that Miranda's father somehow joined up with Alex and his sister... then made the trek from down south back to PA.  It was definitely interesting how Pfeffer brought them both together, but just seemed way too out there.  While the novels themselves all have that sense of reality, they do have a lot of elements that seem completely unbelievable- however, I didn't feel like any were so unbelievable that they took a part away from the storyline.  The mesh of Miranda & Alex did that to This World We Live In.  It took away the reliability for me.  I still enjoyed this series, but I think the third installment was a let down.
Overall, I would recommend the trilogy and I would definitely advise that readers finish through and read all three novels.  The ending to This World We Live In is open ended which allows the reader to fantasize the ultimate fate of the world that Miranda and Alex are now living in.  Pick up this trilogy and decide for yourself- are you prepared for what may come?

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


The Dead & The Gone

The Dead and the Gone (The Last Survivors, Book 2)
Earlier today I reviewed Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  As promised, I have a review for book number 2 in The Last Survivors trilogy, The Dead & The Gone.

The Last Survivors trilogy by Susan Beth Pfeffer is a dystopian trilogy about an asteroid hitting the moon and sending it closer in orbit to the earth and the horrendous conditions that follow.  In Life As We Knew It the reader was transported to rural Pennsylvania and followed Miranda as she journals her way through the terrors that followed after the moon was knocked closer to the earth.  It was a great story and it totally sucked me in, but it did leave the question of what happened in the city?  The Dead & The Gone is the answer.  In this installment, we meet Alex and his 2 younger sisters.  His mother is gone and his father is in Puerto Rico, likely dead.  Alex lives in New York City and when the moon is pushed closer to earth, tragedy falls on the City.
Left with only his strong faith, his younger sisters Bri and Julie, hope and a trust in God, Alex must find a way to survive the harsh reality of the world seemingly coming to an end.  At first things seem okay- Mami was called off to work and Papi was in Puerto Rico.  But quickly the reality sinks in... Mami probably never made it work because of subway flooding, and Puerto Rico was hit hard by massive tidal waves and Papi was on the coast.  Their brother Carlos is in the Marines, and while they did hear from him in the beginning, they never heard from him again and who knows where he went.  The City is definitely trying to function on some sort of a normal level- schools have stayed open and the churches are open as well.  Alex is able to get around and find food to keep his sisters alive, but the longer they stay in The City the clearer it becomes that there is a big divide between the haves and the have nots.  If you're "somebody", you know you will be fed and you will be getting out of NYC and going to an elite camp in the South.  But if you aren't a big name with a large price tag attached, you're either staying in The City to die a horrible death or being transported to an evca center a few hours upstate in Binghamton.  Alex has people who care for him with a lot of friends in high places, but he is still a have not and his fate seems to be sealed.  Will he be able to save his sisters and leave The City, or will they fall prey to the weather, disease and lack of food?

I quite enjoyed this installment in The Last Survivors trilogy.  Like Life As We Knew It, I was immediately pulled in to the story.  I knew what to expect from the changes in the weather, but I didn't know how it would pan out in the City.  It was a totally different world with similar tragedies, but also an entire new breed of horrifying circumstances.

I also gotta say that I was totally in love with the fact that so far I pretty much know everywhere Susan Beth Pfeffer has placed her novels.  I know the City {not as well as I'd like, but I'm not far away!} and I know the general area around where Miranda lived in Howell, PA {it isn't too far from Mechanicsburg}, and I clearly know where the evac center from The Dead & The Gone was, since my address is Binghamton, NY and has been for 23 years of my life.  Plus, throughout both books she mentioned a lot of places that I know.  I just hope that in This World We Live In I get to visit some more local places that have suffered doom and gloom.

While I wanted to read at least all 3 of Susan Beth Pfeffers books for the YA Dystopian Challenge, I only finished 2- but hey, that still met Level 2 and means I completed the challenge!  YaY!  I'll read This World We Live In this week and review it.. just not in time for the YAD2 challenge.  I really liked this challenge and have loved reading other reviews and finding more great YA Dystopian novels- big thanks to Bart's Bookshelf for hosting YAD2!
write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow

Life As We Knew It

I really procrastinated on the YA Dystopian Challenge... things just got busy!  I've had Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It on my bookshelf for quite some time {along with The Dead & The Gone} and finally picked it up last week.  After starting the novel, I couldn't believe it sat on a shelf for so long!

Life As We Knew ItLife As We Knew It is the story of what happens after the moon is knocked closer in orbit to the earth.  Struggling to survive in a world of despair and tragedy, 16 year old Miranda keeps an {almost} daily journal.  Through these journal entries, we are transported to a time when nothing but surviving the day matters.

Miranda is a powerful guide through hell on earth.  I stayed up reading this novel and was so sucked in it was like I felt everything Miranda felt.  She described how cold she was and I swear I got colder, she described her hunger and I was hungry, she wrote about the silence and the dark and even though it wasn't silent or dark in my house, I could swear I was right there with her, trying to stay warm by a fire and quiet my rumbling belly.
So what happens when an asteroid knocks the moon too close to earth?  Massive tidal waves and flooding, earthquakes, dormant volcanoes erupting all over the world, terrifying thunderstorms and eventually freezing temperatures, diminishing food supplies, deadly disease and the fight to survive on a daily basis.  Miranda, her brothers Jon & Matt, their mother and their neighbor Mrs. Nesbitt must come together to survive through this unpredictable and scary world. 

This book was beyond good.  I love novels about the end of the world, surviving through it all and carrying on.  Not only was Life As We Knew It mesmerizing, it was also informative and accurate.  Susan Beth Pfeffer was sure to check her facts about space and what our moon has the power to create {destroy?} and what it really means to survive.  This wasn't full of lovey-dovey rainbows and unicorns survival- it was raw reality.  No sugar coated survival here!  I even learned a few things, which is crazy considering Joe & I are always researching and discussing survival and end-of-the-world stuff.  I would definitely suggest reading this novel.
I'm reading The Dead & The Gone right now... it is a companion novel basically- same time frame, but a different main character {Alex} and a different location {New York City}.  So far, I love it.  I'm sure I'll finish it tonight, so expect a review soon.  I also bought This World We Live In, the final installment of The Last Survivors trilogy.  Can't wait to finish reading and review book 2 {The Dead & The Gone} and book 3 {This World We Live In}... see you soon!

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


Pictures of Hollis Woods

Recently my classroom was blessed with new a TON of new books!  I have always participated in Scholastic Book Clubs and during the month of December I earned a lot of free books and bonus points.  I seriously am so in love with them- I head up the Book Clubs for my classroom and always end up with free books and a lot of bonus points.  True, I spend some of my points on books that I want to read, but mainly they go back into my class library.. I get giddy when I see how much it is growing!

Pictures of Hollis WoodsOne of the new books I picked up for the class is by Patricia Reilly Giff {I soooo loved Polk Street School} titled Pictures of Hollis Woods.  I didn't know much of anything about the book aside from the fact it dealt with foster care and "bad" kids.  I just picked it up and read it.  I am glad I did.

Hollis Woods was an orphan- found on a doorstep fresh from birth, with nothing but a note saying to name her Hollis Woods.  With no connection, Hollis is thrown into the system as a young orphan.  Bounced around from foster home to foster home, Hollis is described as "a mountain of trouble".  Too bad she listens- at 12 years old, Hollis believes she really is trouble and that she is more of a burden than a blessing.  She's the type of kid who runs.  Hollis runs from every situation that gets a bit too scary- and the folks at her agency are quite thrilled when a retired art teacher accepts the proposal to take Hollis is.  As Hollis is told, she works wonders with... kids- Hollis knows that really means she works wonders with kids like her, kids that are a mountain of trouble.
Hollis moves in with Josie Cahill- a stunning women who loves large and has an amazing talent with wood.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?), Josie is slowing forgetting- losing herself to dementia.  Through this, Hollis finds a purpose.  She realizes she has to stick around this time, if only to help Josie through her struggle.  Since Josie forgets a lot, she never notices that Hollis rarely goes to school.  The agency does though.  Sent to retrieve Hollis and send her to another foster home, the "lady with mustard on her sweats" finds Josie and Hollis missing.  Hollis couldn't leave Josie, so instead she ran away- this time taking her foster parent with her.  They run away to a place Hollis called home- the summer house of one of her previous foster families.  Hollis ran from them as well, even though her life with them was almost perfect.  As she comes to terms with running, family and life, Hollis grows up beyond her age throughout the story- with an amazing discovery of what it means to love someone.

Pictures of Hollis Woods is told from the perspective of Hollis through her artwork.  Chapters are titled by "Pictures" or "Time with Josie".  Through the vivid descriptions of Hollis' artwork, the reader rides along with her as she remembers a time in her life when she finally felt loved and was beginning to feel complete.  We uncover the truth behind her running and see what the future holds for this beautiful, strong, talented and wise-beyond-her-years heroine.

I would suggest this book to parents, teachers, social workers, foster care families and young readers alike.  There is a lot to be learned from the eyes of a child, and Giff gives the reader an inside look at foster care and how neglected children feel.  It also will shed some light on why young people act the way they do- especially if they have a history of trauma or neglect in their lives.  Not particularly deep when it comes to the raw nerve of a child in foster care, but definitely an insight into the mind of a sad and lonely child. 

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


Dark Places

Dark Places: A Novel
I just finished Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.  It took me forever, not because I didn't enjoy the book but because I had a million other things going on when I started it.  I was finishing up some pre-reading for my classroom library, making Christmas cards and crafting gifts for Christmas as well.  Now that all of those things are completed, I can get back to reading by the fire!

Dark Places is thrilling mystery about Libby Day- the sole survivor of a brutal murder.  Libby had a simple life as a child.  She grew up on the Day farm with two older sisters and her older brother Ben.  Raised with little money and hard work by their mother, Patty, the children all develop strange defences.  With their father, Runner, out of their lives the children work on the farm to help out their mother in her attempt to save the farm from going under.  Never enough money to go around, the children grow up on Goodwill and hodge-podge dinners.  With the lack of a father figure, Ben becomes even more withdrawn from the females in his life.  He hangs around with a tough crowd, smokes & drinks at a tender age, dates a girl who is obsessed with sex, money and Satan, and ultimately pays the price for these indulgences.  The girls all develop their own niches within the house- a clear pecking order.  Debby & Michelle are bossy, Michelle is the noisy little sneak, and the youngest, Libby keeps to herself and is the only one in the house who befriends Ben.  As Patty does anything to save her farm and her family, a tragic event occurs- what the media dub "The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas".
The Day family is brutally murdered in what appears to be a satanic ritual.  Patty is stabbed and then shot, Debby is axed to death and Michelle is strangled- the house is covered in food and blood drawn Satanic symbols.  Libby escapes to the frozen pond outside, where she stays the night until she feels she can run to get help.  Libby looses a finger & some toes to frostbite, but what she really looses is her sense of self.  At 7 years old, Libby saw the destruction that fell upon her family.  She is damaged goods.  Ben also survives, but has no alibi for the night.  When put on trial, Libby tells the jury she saw him kill her family.  Libby is bounced from family member to family member while Ben is in prison for life for the murder of his family.
Libby Day is now 31 years old and has burned through all the cash she received from the support of strangers during her younger years.  Desperate for money and not knowing where to turn, she decides to respond to a letter in the mail with a supposed "business proposal" for an appearance.  When Libby accepts the job, she realizes that she has unofficially joined the "Kill Club" - a group of men and women who get together to find the truth in crimes that they feel are still mysteries.  The Day Massacre is one of the Kill Clubs smaller subgroups, and Libby has agreed- at a price- to help them uncover the truth behind the murders.  No on in the Kill Club thinks Ben is guilty.  Libby knows no other suspect, and has not allowed herself to walk down memory lane into the dark place where that night lies.  With the offer of money, she begins to walk down that road and starts to uncover the truth.  Libby tracks down people from her past to help put the pieces of that night together and find out if she put her brother away for a crime he did or did not commit.

This novel instantly sucks the reader in.  Written in intermittent flashbacks, the reader uncovers the truth behind the murders along with Libby as she seeks out answers to the Kill Clubs questions.  Libby realizes she may have been coached into her answer as she reads through the trial transcripts, but also notices that Ben didn't do much for defending himself.  As the reader goes between the voices of Libby Day now and Ben & Patty on that fateful night, we become part of the story.  I read along and tried all the while to figure it  out myself, but I just couldn't fit all the pieces together until the very end.  At times confusing, brutal and downright disturbing, Dark Places is a thrilling ride, not for the weak at heart.
I highly recommend this book, and will soon be picking up Gillian Flynn's debut novel, Sharp Objects.

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


Thanksgiving on Thursday & Pilgrims

Thanksgiving on Thursday (Magic Tree House #27)
Just popping in with a quick post...  last month I read aloud
Thanksgiving on Thursday {Magic Tree House #27} by Mary Pope Osborne to my classroom.  I've always liked Magic Tree House because they seem to tie in very well with many of the thematic units or lessons I present in class.  Thanksgiving on Thursday obviously tied in to the progression of our history lessons in November, which naturally coincides with the pilgrims & Thanksgiving. 
Magic Tree House Research Guide #13: Pilgrims: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #27: Thanksgiving on Thursday (A Stepping Stone Book(TM))This was the first time I used one of the research guides.  Pilgrims: A Nonfiction Companion to Thanksgiving on Thursday by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce was easy to use and incorporate in the read aloud.  I love the way the research guide was written- answers to typical Thanksgiving-themed questions, facts from Annie & Jack {the characters in all the Magic Tree House stories} and great pictures & illustrations.  My students also enjoyed the research guide, not just while I read from it, but also on their own.  They never pick up the read aloud book {'cause really, why would they?  I'm reading it to them!} but they did pick up this research guide, even though I was reading it to them.  They were totally intrigued by the informative text and the fun facts from Annie & Jack.
I would recommend this to any parent or teacher- all the Magic Tree House stories have teachable moments, both in respect to life in general and an interesting topic.  I'm already looking into other Magic Tree Houses to use in the upcoming months.

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


Bad Marie

Bad Marie: A Novel (P.S.)Sometimes when I'm at Barnes & Noble, I peruse the "Discover New Writers" section.  Recently I picked up Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky from that sparse little shelf.  It was totally a cover purchase.  It just looked dangerous and cool.

Bad Marie tells the tale of Marie, an ex-con turned nanny turned.....  Marie has recently been released from a 6 year stint in jail for aiding and abetting a fugitive of the law- her then boyfriend.  While in jail, he kills himself and Marie finds solace in a novel by a French writer.  The novel, Virginie at Sea is the only thing that keeps her going during her days in prison.

Upon her release, she has no where to turn.  Returning home to her mother is a no-win situation, so instead she seeks out the only "friend" she has left.  She turns to a childhood 'frienemy', Ellen who overlooks Marie's past transgressions and hires her as a nanny.  Ellen has it all- a beautiful daughter, powerful job, stunning home and a handsome husband, who by a little twist of fate is the author of Marie's favorite novel.  Since Ellen has it all, Marie is planning on taking it all away.

Marie is a manipulative, lazy and selfish woman.  Through all the bad though, Marie does truly care for Caitlin.  Unfortunately, Marie can't keep control of her 'bad behavior' and is found asleep in the tub with Caitlin.  A discreet fight occurs between Ellen and Marie, resulting in Marie being fired.  Lucky for Marie, her plans of taking it all are falling in to place- Ellen's husband Benoit suggests that they run away together, and take Caitlin with them- Marie quickly agrees and off they go.  From there, Marie's dream continues to unravel as she faces reality and the consequences of her choices and circumstances.

Maire is a complex girl- not all bad, but certainly not all good either.  Her life hasn't been easy and she was molded {aren't we all?} by her experiences.  Jail made her lazy- sure, she worked while in jail {in the laundry}, but she never had to think for herself or do much else.  Lights on, lights off- when to eat, sleep, dress and exercise.  All her decisions were made for her.  Then she ends up being the decision-maker.  Marie doesn't know how to make good decisions... she spent her youth in jail, just surviving, never learning how to grow up.  As a result, Marie makes bad choices and carries Caitlin along for the ride.

I really enjoyed this novel.  Bad Marie was a quick read, but still had a lot of substance.  It brings up questions of circumstance, character, lust, growing up and love.  I suggest you go buy this and read it now... I've already loaned out my copy, twice.

Oh, and I have not read Dermansky's first novel, Twins but will definitely be picking it up after reading Bad Marie!  I hear it is quite good as well!

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


Flower Children

Flower ChildrenDuring the Thankfully Reading Weekend {last weekend} I read a few books.  One of the books I read & finished was Flower Children by Maxine Swann.  I picked the book up at the warehouse sale- the cover and title pulled me in.  While it was beautifully written, it wasn't memorable.  Flower Children is about 4 siblings growing up on a small hippie farmstead, raised by intelligent ex-Harvard parents who were pulled into the idealistic hippie lifestyle.  Chapters {and sometimes paragraphs within those chapters} were written from various points of view, including the children's and the parents.  To be quite honest, it was confusing at times... it jumped around a lot.. different points of view, skipping chunks of years and different locations- all very quick and with little transitioning.  Maybe its just me, but I don't like when stories do that {unless it is some crazy out there sci-fi type}.  That is basically the whole novel- a few years in the children's lives and how they saw it. Their parents divorce and have lots of lovers, they visit family {Dad has large a crazy family who are living off of strange inventions.. Mom has a small family of her own mother, who doesn't approve of the hippie life}, they travel and meet their fathers old friend from Harvard, they constantly feel like they are dressed inappropriately, they get teased at school, they know too much and not enough at the same time and they pretty much just exist. To be frank- I didn't like it.  Like I said before, it was beautifully written- lyrically the story is dreamy.  Other than that, it was pretty boring.  I don't really even have anything else to say about it. 

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