Book #16 of this year was Ashen Winter, by Mike Mullin, the sequel to Ashfall. This second in a trilogy continues the adrenaline-filled, heart-thumping story begun in the first book (reviewed here) with the eruption of the volcano that underlies Yellowstone National Park. Like the first book, this one is almost unbearably intense, but also very realistic. That might seem a strange thing to say, given that it includes roving gangs of cannibals, but in the terrifying, post-apocalyptic setting, I did find this believable. Alex's growing relationship with Darla is also realistically portrayed, as is the disbelief from adults around him that their love is something real and lasting. While there is sexuality in the book, it was refreshing to me to see a teenage male presented as motivated by love and loyalty, and he even resists temptation, instead of blindly following his sexual impulses. This book really is the stuff of nightmares, so I'd exercise caution with sensitive kids.
Book #17 was Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need to Become Lifelong Readers, by Teri Lesesne. This book discusses middle schoolers and their reading habits, or lack thereof. It is full of great ideas for getting kids to enjoy reading, including alternatives to book reports and lists of high-interest titles. The naked reading of the title refers to the author's granddaughter, who was sneaking time to read while getting ready for her bath. Lesesne wants to help us get all middle schoolers to the stage where they are sneaking time to read instead of needing us to force them to read. This was a quick, helpful, and very encouraging read.
Book #18 was a free download for my Kindle, The Most Important Thing Happening: A Novel in Stories, by Mark Steele. I downloaded it because the author is a Veggie Tales writer, and I am a big Veggie Tales fan from way back, having enjoyed them along with my kids, probably more than my kids did in some cases. This book is very clever and thought-provoking, with its view of free will and choice and how it fits in with the "author" of everything. Each story is bizarre and weird, and at the end they all fit together. I wanted to reread it as soon as I was done, since I felt I missed some of the connections along the way (possibly because I read it over quite a long period of time, whenever I had a few free minutes in my classroom). I expect to see more from this author.
Book #19 was Rachel Held Evans' A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband "Master". I have been reading Evans' blog for a while, and I very much appreciate the fearless way she attacks difficult issues, her ability to bring in many voices to a discussion, and her sense of humor. Like me, she grew up in the evangelical church, and like me, she has wrestled with many of the church's prescriptions for women. She decided she would take a year and study what the Bible really says to women, and then attempt to live it out as literally as possible. While this sounds gimmicky (and before the book even came out, she was being criticized for mocking the scriptures), her style is so engaging and honest that you end up enjoying the ride with her. I recommend this book, and even bought it for my mother for Mother's Day.
Book #20, Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke, was a disappointment. While there were some great passages, I had already read most of them quoted elsewhere. The rest of the book was fairly muddled, abstract, and confusing, I thought. However, I could imagine how thrilling it must have been for the recipient of these letters, spread out over years, and written with such close attention to the questions asked by the young poet. Do you remember what it used to be like to get letters in the mail? It's an experience younger people won't have, and getting an email isn't at all the same thing. Email is wonderful, don't get me wrong, but there's just something about a letter on paper.
Book #21 was one I picked up at the IRA conference. It's the second novel by Ruta Sepetys, whose first book, Between Shades of Gray, I reviewed here. (Yeah, it's not THAT Shades of Gray book.) This one is called Out of the Easy, and is completely different from the first. This one is the story of Josie Moraine, the seventeen-year-old daugher of a prostitute who works in a brothel in New Orleans. Her mother is heartless and not at all maternal, but Josie has many complicated relationships with others who care for her. I enjoyed the character development here, and found the book believable and unpredictable, all the way to the satisfying ending. I really enjoyed hearing this author speak at the conference and look forward to more of her books in the future.
Book #22 was from last IRA conference, but I hadn't read it until now. It's called The Drama Years: Real Girls Talk About Surviving Middle School - Bullies, Brands, Body Image, and More, and it's written by Haley Kilpatrick, who founded the organization Girl Talk. Kilpatrick has a threefold plan to help girls who are in middle school, and it makes a lot of sense to me. The components are an "anchor activity," something the girl is good at and enjoys outside of school, a "helping hand," meaning that the girl is involved in volunteering, and an "adopted older sister," meaning a high school aged mentor. Girl Talk trains these mentors and holds regular meetings where the girls can talk honestly about what's going on in their lives. The book goes into a lot of detail about what it's like to be a middle school girl today (the publication date is 2012). There are quotes from middle school girls, from the mentors, and from parents. This is full of great insight for parents and teachers, and includes a lengthy list of resources for further study. Check out the organization's website here.
Book #23 was Anne Lamott's Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. This was my least favorite of all her books that I've read, but there were still wonderful gems in it. The essay I liked best was one called "Samwheel," about her complicated relationship with her teenaged son. I loved this:
"I dozed off again, and when I woke up, he was asleep, the dog on the floor beside him. He was sweating - he always gets hot when he sleeps. He used to nap on this same couch with his head on my legs and ask me to scratch it, and before that, he would crawl into bed beside me and kick off all the covers, and earlier still, he would sleep on my stomach and chest like a hot water bottle. He and the dog were both snoring. Maybe I had been, too, all of us tangled in one another's dreams.
Everything in the room stirred: dust and light, dander and fluff, the air - my life still in daily circulation with this guy I have been resting with for so many years."
I am still plugging away at Middlemarch, and enjoying it more than "plugging away at" makes it sound. Hope to be back again with more reviews before two months go by!