Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Books I'm Teaching This Year (2019)

It's that time of year again! School starts here in Tennessee next week. Our homeschool co-op, where I teach two high school English classes, begins on Monday. Here in my house, the Painter children have already started with their non co-op studies. As always, I enjoy sharing what I'm going to be teaching (and therefore rereading) through the year.

For my Elegant Essay class:
First Semester 
Second Semester

For my Literary Analysis Class (my oldest who will be a Sophomore is in this):
First Semester

Second Semester
In addition to these, they will be reading a whole bunch of classic short stories we all remember fondly and not so fondly from our own time in school. They will also have one more novel I'm still deciding on.

For my 5th Grader is doing an Ancient Based writing curriculum:

He will obviously be reading way more books than this, but those will be of his own choosing from a list.

What was your favorite required reading in school? Least favorite? 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Shorter Musings: A Curse so Dark and Lonely; Echo North, The Hazel Wood

Here are some shorter musings on recent YA Fantasy Reads.

A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
At nearly 500 pages, this book seems long, but I actually found it to be a quick, engaging read. Brigid Kemmerer certainly has a way with words and is a gifted writer. This is the first book of hers I have read, and I will definitely be reading more. As far as "Beauty and the Beast" retellings go, this one is fairly well done. Rhen has the factor the male lead in this story needs-the realization that he is undeserving of saving. I love that he rallied not for himself but his people. As far as staunch allies go, you can't get better than Grey. He is such a wonderful foil to both Rhen and Harper. (He is my favorite. I'm reading the sequel just because he's the main character.) My main issue with the book is Harper, who I never really saw as a fully realized character. Harper has Cerebral Palsy. She has a limp due to it. This causes her to have to explain it to Rhen in a way that sounds like the author copied and pasted it from the dictionary. And then....that's it. I would love to hear from someone who has CP on this. In the course of my life, I've had two friends with it, and it is not anywhere close to being that simple for them. (Both of them have very different experiences.) My understanding is most people who have CP also have at least one other condition as well, and there is a very real fear of injuring oneself. It DOES affect their daily lives when they're trying to navigate being a person with a disability in a world that has little to no time for that. I'd imagine it gets ten times worse when one is in a world that has no concept of it at all. I imagine that is why Harper's is the mildest of mild CP can get. The fact that it was so easily pushed aside or ignored felt like it was a way to be "diverse" without having to put in the work to actualize it. That is the one thing bothered me, but as it bothered me throughout the entirety of the novel, I couldn't love this like I might have otherwise been able to. I do really enjoy the ambiguity of the end and am looking forward to seeing how Kemmerer resolves it in the sequel.

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer
Let me begin by saying the crafting of this novel is good. Meyer has a talent for spinning words and her plotting is certainly captivating. I'm still going to read her previous novel even though this one didn't quite work for me the way I wanted it to. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love "East of the Sun, West of the Moon", "Beauty and the Beast", and "Tam Lin". Whenever I'm reading novel adaptations of these, I always enter with a sense of caution because why two people may love the same tale differs wildly. And I know this. I think it's important to note that my favorite novel retellings of any of these are The Perilous Gard, Bone Gap, and Fire and Hemlock. It's important because it highlights what about Echo North it was that didn't work for me. Anyone super familiar with these tales knows that there is a chance to fall into creepy relationship dynamics with it very very fast. (No one understood this better than Diana Wynne Jones. Except maybe Laura Ruby.) I feel like Echo North flirted with that a little more closely than I was comfortable with. There is a lot of the Wolf/Hal apologizing for hurting Echo, telling her she needs to stay away from him, reminding her he's dangerous, but then he does nothing to remove himself from her presence. He also scars her in his wolf form and at one point seems oddly proud about this fact. Here's the thing about this character in this tale. You have to believe he's worth the sacrifice the heroine is making for him. And I never bought that here. In The Perilous Gard, Christopher can be a pompous, melodramatic arse but he is also quite obviously a GOOD MAN. In Bone Gap, the guy in that role is actually the villain and not the hero because...yeah. And in Fire and Hemlock, Tom is most definitely not worth it, but at least both DWJ and Polly seem to know this. We could argue about the end of that novel and what it means until the cows come home (and people have), but one thing everyone seems to agree with is that it isn't tidy and it isn't neat and it definitely doesn't scream happily ever after. I always interpreted it as Polly saving herself and being required to save Tom at the same time, but that didn't mean she was planning on putting up with him forever. As I was reading this novel, I was never convinced this was an actual relationship worth saving. We aren't given enough of it, but also Echo just isn't that layered. I was terribly frustrated with her character development. When the twist at the end arrived, it made it even harder for me to swallow that I was supposed to want this relationship to work. Like, girl. Shake his hand and go your own road. What did he ever do to convince you to trust him with all of you forever?

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
When this book was released, I saw the title, saw the cover, and saw that it was about fairy tales. That was enough for me, so I didn't read the synopsis. If I had read the synopsis, I might have realized it was a reworking of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and therefore never would have picked it up. Alas. I was ridiculously far into it when I realized what it was. I was already struggling by that point because my overwhelming reaction to Alice was pure annoyance. (Yes. That's her name. I fully admit I was rather blindingly stupid here.) She is exactly the sort of person who drives me crazy-aloof, mean to those who try to get close to her, sneers at everyone and everything. There is an in-world reason for all of that, but by the time I got there, I had stopped caring. I also felt that she read way older than she was. Again, there are reasons for that, but for the majority of the book it felt like the author was writing an adult novel she was told needed to be YA, and all she did was change the age of the protagonist. A lot of people have really loved this, so this is clearly a "it's me" thing. I have a deep and abiding dislike of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that typically carries over into all reworkings.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Lovely War

When I first heard about Lovely War by Julie Berry, I remember thinking, "Whoa, that's ambitious." And it is. The scope and depth of this story with all of its intricacies and thematic elements is massive. Berry manages to hold it all together beautifully. She managed it so beautifully that it is so far my favorite YA read of 2019.

The ecstasies and the wounds of love were Aphrodite's work. Forging passions was what she was born to do. She, too, was a welder, a mistress of fire of a different sort, working in materials more powerful and resistant than carbon and iron. And what did that toil do to her?

In 1942 New York City while men are partying on the eve of shipping off to war, a stunning couple arrives at a hotel in the midst of the revelry and departs for their room followed by an overly enthusiastic bellboy. But none of these figures are as they appear. The couple is Aphrodite and Ares on a secret assignation that turns out to be not so secret as the bellboy is Aphrodite's husband Hephaestus, who is there to trap them. Caught in the net her husband forged, Aphrodite proposes a private trial where she will explain her work and the impossibility of the goddess of love ever being truly loved herself. To assist with her story she calls on Ares and brings in both Apollo and Hades. For what goes better with epic love than war, music, and death? Together they weave the tale of four individuals whose lives collided thanks to love, war, music, and the always present specter of death three decades prior:

James Alderidge is a young, British future architect headed off to the western front in mere days. His life is forever altered by one chance attending of a dance where he meets the love of his life right before its devastated by the realities of war.

Hazel Windicott is a shy, talented pianist who always offers to play piano rather than dance while never dreaming her playing will attract the attention of a handsome soldier she discovers she can't live without. Their chance meeting and whirlwind romance forever change the course of her life and she soon finds herself headed to France as a YMCA volunteer to help cheer the morale of the troops.

Aubrey Edwards is a prodigy of a piano player who is a member of the famous African American 15th Infantry headed to France with visions of earning glory in both music and battle. He is not thinking of girls or the possibility of love until he meets a beautiful singer who moves his muse and ignites more than one passion in his soul.

Colette Fournier is a young, devastated Belgian woman whose life was tragically ravished in the first few days of the war. Alone in the world, she finds solace in singing and has shut herself off from the sort of close connections that devastate when they are lost. She isn't counting on meeting two fabulously talent pianists who offer the friendship, closeness, compassion, and the love she is desperately missing. Now she has a best friend and a love for the ages that could be snatched away at any moment.

Like I said, the premise of this is ambitious. It is a frame story where the frame is intrinsically important because it deals with gods, fate, and the meddling of the divine in human affairs. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love the mythopoeic, particularly when it deals with the relationship of the human and the divine. I have rather high standards for it though, and this story hurdled right over them. 

Within the frame is a story that would be an excellent work of historical fiction all on its own. The characters of James, Hazel, Aubrey, and Colette are wonderfully layered and their stories exquisitely told. I love all four of them so much. So. Much. I could read at least a thousand more words about them and never grow bored. Through each of them we see a different perspective on the first world war. James gives the reader the up close personal devastation of a soldier on the front lines. In a weird twist of fate, James is a crack shot and is made into a sniper. The psychological trauma of so many close-up kills, the sites he sees, and the friends he loses demonstrate exactly how devastating war is on the combatants. Hazel is thoroughly sheltered and innocent before her arrival in France. Through befriending Colette and Aubrey she gets a second-hand look into how devastating a place the world can be. Then she gets to personally experience it as she encounters trials as a volunteer near the front and then has to contend with the possibility of losing James to the horrors he has witnessed and endured. Through Aubrey we are given a window into the segregation of the US Army and the atrocities that were heaped on soldiers only trying to serve a country that didn't value them the same as their fellow, white soldiers. Colette shows the reader what life was like for the civilians whose lives were trampled and devastated by the war before they even realized there was anything to worry about. It is a startling picture of how normal life can be blown apart in a flurry of bullets and fire bombs abruptly and instantly.  Berry does an exquisite job of making the reader feel everything all four of them experience. They are like real people who you can't help but love. Despite the fact that I was fully immersed and wanted to keep reading to the end, I had to take breaks just to breathe a couple of times. The story is a sweeping one that encompasses the last year or so of the war in all its horrors and triumphs. Through it all, the use of music as a balm for the soul and lifeline that carries the characters through is artistically masterful. 

I didn't expect to find myself as fully invested in the frame as I was though. I thought that was going to be merely intellectual. But dang it if I didn't fall in love with Aphrodite and Hephaestus. And Hades. Hades is marvelous in this. I want a whole book just about this Hades. (Pleeaasse, Julie Berry. Give us a companion novel with him and Persephone. That would make my year.) Apollo is the charming rogue he always is, which is absolutely delightful. Ares is an ass. There's one in every family. His part is crucial for reasons other than the obvious one of war though, and that is entertaining. Let's return to my love for Aphrodite though. The reason the reader loves the four characters so much and so fast is due to how Aphrodite describes them. It's in how much she loves them, her passion for the work she does, the pain it often causes her, the loneliness she feels. It's all powerful and more real than I expected coming from a goddess. 

The entire thing is woven together masterfully. It requires patience and a willingness to sit through a story well told, but it is well worth it in every way.

Lovely War is being marketed as YA, yet it has crossover adult market appeal as well. The characters are all adults in the world in which they live. Hazel is the youngest at 18. This is definitely for more mature YA readers and would make a good read for anyone who enjoys excellently written and researched historical fiction. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

TTT: Auto-Buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly themed blog hop created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl.

This Week's Topic: Auto-Buy Authors

Here are my auto-buy authors and their most recent or coming soon release. Also, I got stuck on twelve and couldn't cut it down any further. So it's really Top Twelve Tuesday today. Or Thirteen rather as I sort of combined Emma and Genevieve. (I auto-buy all their individual projects too.)

Who are some authors whose books you buy no matter what?
(I don't know what it says about me that there is only one male author on this list, but I don't dislike whatever it is.)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Future Favorite Friday July 19

I take the 2nd Friday of every month to highlight some upcoming releases I am looking forward to that I hope are Future Favorites. Feel free to do your own post, just please link back to my blog and tell me about your post in the comments.

Jason Reynolds has a new MG coming out!!!!! The premise is a fascinating one too. It sounds complicated, but Reynolds is a waste at voice and storytelling, so I'm sure it will be so well done.

This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen. They were all too busy—

Talking about boogers.
Stealing pocket change.
Wiping out.
Braving up.
Executing complicated handshakes.
Planning an escape.
Making jokes.
Lotioning up.
Finding comfort.
But mostly, too busy walking home.

Jason Reynolds conjures ten tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings, and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life.

Release Date: October 8, 2019 from Atheneum

 A list of pretty spectacular YA writers are teaming up to bring us a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's stories. I am here for this. (And according to the cover, the originals are also included.) 

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

Contributors include Kendare Blake (reimagining “Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morge”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).

Release Date: September 10, 2019

If the phrase "suffragist squad" is not enough to entice you to read a book, then I don't even want to know you. This also happens to be the first in a series called "A League of Extraordinary Women". (Give them to me. I want them all.)

England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women's suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain's politics at the Queen's command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can't deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.

Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn't be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn't claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring...or could he?

Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke....

Release Date: September 3, 2019

What upcoming releases are you looking forward to? 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

TTT: Childhood Favorites

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly themed blog hop created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl.

This Week's Topic: Childhood Favorites

For the purposes of this list, I'm ending my childhood at 6th grade, which was the end of elementary school for me.

We begin with the books I apparently made my parents hate by demanding they be read so many times:

Now the ones I read independently beginning in 2nd grade and reread until they fell apart. (In the order in which I read them.)

Out of these independently read books 5/8 are still favorites. Any guesses as to which three are not? (Two I'm nostalgically fond of even if I realize they are Not That Great™️.)

What's your favorite childhood book? Did you have a favorite that makes you cringe to think about it now?

Monday, July 1, 2019

June 2019 Stats

June has been busy busy, and I've been doing a ton of school prep. I have found some new favorite reads however.

Here They Are:

June in Numbers:
New Reads: 5
Rereads: 1

MG: 0
YA: 1
Adult: 5

Fiction: 6
Non-Fiction: 0
Realistic Fiction: 5
Fantasy/Sci-Fi: 1

So....June was supposed to be a "read the books I own month" and it WAS. Buuuuutttt...I went on vacation and bought more books, so this shelf is still out of control. July will also be a "read the books I own month".

Do you see the difference from previous months? No? Me either.