ROBOT – review one book on Thursdays- Divergent by Veronica Roth

robotI’ve mentioned Divergent several times on this blog. Thing is, it’s on the top of my mind- next week I begin teaching it. So, I thought, why not review a book I am teaching? Especially since I am rereading it right now, making notes in my kobo and designing/modifying a unit of study for my students to complete on it. My brain is all divergent right now!

Divergent by Veronica Roth is a modern dystopian novel. Set in future Chicago, the world outside of the fence has been destroyed by war. Those who were left set about building a society, each with different ideas about why the last society went wrong. Some felt cowardliness, some felt dishonesty, some thought it was because people did not value knowledge. Others still felt it was because people did not help enough and more felt it was because people were not accepting enough. So they formed five groups – Dauntless (the brave), Candor (the honest), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless) and Amity (the friendly). Each faction lives apart, but each contributes to the well being of the society. When a child reaches the age of 16, they choose which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives – do they stay with their parents or seek a different way of life? Divergent hc c(2) They get tested, a test which is supposed to help them understand who they are. Our main character, Beatrice, was born into Abnegation. She is questioning if she belongs there -and then is tested. Her results are inconclusive – a dangerous result in their society. She is deemed divergent by her tester and told to never speak of it. She knows she could choose from any faction – stay with her family, as they are expecting, go to Dauntless or Erudite, the other two factions that came up as results for her. I will give a spoiler – she chooses Dauntless and becomes Tris, the first jumper and the “stiff” who is trying to be brave.

Divergent follows Tris through her training and we see her building relationships with her fellow transfers. She has to try to fit in to a faction that is perhaps the polar opposite from how she was raised and has some struggles. The biggest struggle, however, is suppressing her divergence – hiding that she can be more than one thing. This comes to a head in the end as she is forced to make choices and determine where she fits and what she feels is right and fair.

Divergent is a great book for teens, especially in the grades seven to twelve category. They are figuring themselves out – where do I fit, do I need a faction of support or can I survive without a group of people like myself? When you are forced to decide on one characteristic that defines you, sometimes you are hard pressed to determine what it might be – can I not be brave and honest? Caring and wise? When is it brave to be selfless or selfless to be brave? In teaching this novel, teens find themselves questioning these issues, which is a huge part in their development.

This novel is not perfect. It’s a little simplistic at times and there are characters that could be more developed. There are questions that you might have as a reader that are not addressed in this book – is there more to the world? Where do they get some of the things they can’t make? However, it is the strongest of the three (well, three and a set of novellas) that make up this series. And it does get you thinking, even as an adult – where do I belong and why?

I have read this book too many times to count,  in hard cover, soft cover and on my kobo app. The ISBN is 9780062024039.

Ten for Tuesday – Favourite Series

My top ten book series are hard to pick. And ever changing. Currently, this is the list. And, for the purposes of this list, I’ve considered not just series but books written as connections to each other – if a group of books could be read as stand alones but you find out what happens to other characters in books the author wrote, I’m going to count it.

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Anna Dressed in Blood series by Kendare Blake

1. It’s funny, I dislike horror books. I recently read ‘Carrie’ by Stephen King and am haunted by the story. However, the ‘Anna Dressed in Blood‘ series by Kendare Blake is one that I really enjoy. It’s just spooky enough but original enough – ghost hunter falls in love with a ghost. Personally I felt a little better with the concept of ghost hunters and loved how this one presented that profession as an accepted fact. Nicely written, great characters and action makes this series one I recommend to kids all the time if they like ghost based supernatural.

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And the…. series

2. This is one of those series that has major characters appearing as minor characters in books that follow theirs. I shall call it the ‘And the…‘ series by Stephanie Perkins.  Each titular female – Anna, Lola and Isla – has a story of their own. However, we see them and their companions in other books, sometimes in the circle of friends of the main character, sometimes referred to as people from the past. Anna graduated from the school where Isla goes and now works with Lola. They all end up in the same place at the end and we get a bit of resolution to all of the stories at the same time. Each book can stand alone, but together, it’s a beautifully connected story of romance and self discovery. At times, a little overly sweet but nicely done.

3. The Cinder series by Marissa Meyer is a mix of many of my favourite things – a retelling of a popular tale in a fresh new way,

The first three Cinder books.

The first three Cinder books.

a series where all the title characters have their own story that mixes with that of the others, strong females who kick butt. It starts with a retelling of Cinderella, in a futuristic world. It then moves to Little Red Riding Hood and her version of a big bad wolf and then to Rapunzel. The fourth book comes out next year to complete the Lunar Chronicles and hopefully bring Cinder to the place where she is meant to be. ‘Cinder’ is a book I book talk often and is one that is an option for our grade tens to choose for their book group study.

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Divergent.

4. Of course, of course, of course. The Divergent series by Veronica Roth. This series is not the strongest in terms of writing, it is one of the most popular and one that I enjoyed immensely. Sure, the second book is a placeholder to get to the third and sure there were issues in what was presented in terms of their world. But it has stayed with me and continues to bring me enjoyment as I revisit the world of Tris every fall when my grade ten classes study ‘Divergent’.

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Hunger Games!

5. If I mention Divergent, I have to mention The Hunger Games. I teach ‘The Hunger Games’ to my third year class. However, I love all three books. When I first read ‘The Hunger Games’ I didn’t know it was a series – finding out that there were two more books to experience the world of Katniss was a beautiful gift. I do think that Gale is a… well, I don’t like Gale. I do like the ending – it’s not a big ending, not a huge ending but it’s the right ending for Katniss and I like that. I can’t wait to see the third movie!

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Harry Potter

6. Harry Potter. Harry Potter. Harry Potter. I have written before about how Harry Potter  impacted me and my reading – how I came to it late but embraced it wholeheartedly. I think that it’s an excellent example of how one character can be a hero through a series, but each story can have their own hero arc. I love how the relationships develop. I love the memes and graphics that have come from it and the emotions that so much of the world has for these series. My favourite book (besides the last one, out of necessity of story conclusion) is the third book – ironically it’s my least favourite of the movies. I love theories about how one gets into Gryffindor. It’s a wonderful series.

Percy!

7. Percy Jackson is a series that I enjoy, but that my son enjoys as well. It’s great being able to talk about series with my son. He plans to be Percy for hallowe’en and we’re having a fun time finding a costume for him. We both love that there’s spin off series (Heroes of Olympus! Last book out on the 7th of October!) and that there are characters who mess up, try hard and eventually find their way home. I like the portrayal of all types of learners and the validation that we all act, think and learn differently. As a kid I loved studying Greek Mythology – it’s so fun reading a series that incorporates it so well in to the story.

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Chocolate illegal? Ack!

8. The Birthright series – All these things I’ve done and Because it is my blood. Different view of society, different view on “the family” – a mafia style family with a teenage girl at the helm, running the illegal chocolate business that belongs to her family. It’s an interesting view of a world – imagine caffeine was illegal – and how there are always people able to fill a need. But what of the needs of those people? This series examines those concepts and more and presents one of the more interesting female protagonists I’ve read in a while.

 

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Five of the Kenneally books

9. The Kenneally Books. Not a series name. Not even a series – a set of novels that could each stand alone but weave together to form a community. I read two without realizing the connections, then when searching for other books by that
author, read more and realized how they all hung together. Characters appear in one or the other and then might disappear. A wedding attended by a character in one might be the conclusion to a relationship in another. A standout athlete might appear as a coach to a later generation of the towns athletes. While the

My Favourite

My Favourite

books themselves were not the best literature out there, the way that they were intertwined and woven together spoke to me and I sought out all of them. My favourite was ‘breathe annie, breathe’, but they all presented a nice story. A lovely set of characters in a quaint town, learning and connecting with each other. It was nice to see some characters grow up – almost two generations of students, and reminded me of my life and seeing kids grow into adults in the span of a few years.

 

10. And finally, perhaps my favourite series. I hunt killers. Nature vs nurture, good vs evil, learning from your father and trying to learning how to not be your father. Suspense, thrills, relationships, cliffhangers (grrrr!), great supporting characters and a vibrant town. I really love this series and if you’re at all into thrillers or psychological studies, this series is for you. Read and enjoy them all – and try not to get a little scared!

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ROBOT – Review One Book on Thursdays – ‘Openly Straight’

robotThere are times that a concept of a book makes you think. It could be a questioning of the ethics of entertainment, such as ‘The Hunger Games’, or a look at values and nature vs nurture, such as ‘I Hunt Killers’. In this case, for me, ‘Openly Straight’ by Bill Konigsberg, made me think about what it would be like to be tired of being ‘that person’ in their lives and want to experience the world. Unsure what I mean? Read on….

Rafe is a normal American teenage boy. He’s got parents that he loves dearly and who love him dearly. He writes, he plays soccer, he’s won skiing prizes. And he’s gay. For him, that’s just part of who he is – he’s the guy who likes to do what he straightdoes and that’s him. But to others, he’s the GAY guy. And not in a homophobic way. But in a way where that’s all that is noticed about his personality. His parents made being parents of a gay child their lives – starting support groups, encouraging him to have boyfriends, fighting the fight against homophobia and discrimination. But for Rafe, being gay is only one part of his life while everyone around him thought it was all he was. Time for a change.  His goal – a “label-free life”. To accomplish this, Rafe transfers to an all-boys school in New England. His goal there is not to lie about himself but not to define any parts of his life either. He’s still planning to be who he is but he wants to be able to develop all facets of his life without any of them defining him.

And it works! Well, for a while. He gets a great writing teacher who knows what Rafe is trying to do. He has friends, teammates, party companions. He gets to just be Rafe and it’s great. He pretends he has a girl friend back home, which takes care of some of the dating concerns. And he gets to write and play soccer and be everything but gay. But is that enough? He can still fall in love – and does. And the truth is still there – gay may not be all he is, but it is a part of him. As his best friend points out, “How do you take a break from who you are?”. Rafe has to determine who he is and how he can make all parts of his life balance so that no one part of him threatens to take over the others.

This book does a great job discussing tolerance vs acceptance. That is one of my biggest linguistic issues with social justice – when you teach tolerance you’re saying that there are bad things that you’ll put up with. Acceptance means you’ll be good with the person for everything they bring to the table. You are good enough. While Rafe is learning how to present himself so that he is accepted by all, he learns that sometimes the issues are different from he thinks – perhaps not telling people means that when they do learn about it, they won’t accept him. Not because he’s gay but because he’s dishonest. Because he’s presenting a different side of himself then they are expecting and is in a different place in his life than he’s saying he is. But the lesson that when you deny who you are to others, even through omission, you deny who you are to yourself and lose that part of you is a strong one and one Rafe has to learn, through trials, tribulations and acts of tolerance. It’s a story about a boy who came of age and then had to do it again to truly learn who he is.

Messy hair, great book!

Messy hair, great book!

Sometimes the characters are a little shallow or stereotypical. However, they are written in a smart, funny and often in realistic situations, so that can be forgiven. Konigsberg does a great job balancing the story of Rafe and showing how a character and develop, learn and grow. There is some “language” and a few sexual situations, which makes it realistic for a book about teens. For YA readers interested in LGBTQ issues or ones who work with social justice, this book is a great addition to a collection.

Plus, it has this quote, one of my favorites:

We were dancers and drummers and standers and jugglers, and there was nothing anyone needed to accept or tolerate. We celebrated

I read this book August 18th and 19th, 2013 in a real, live hardcover copy. The ISBN is 9780545509893. It now lives in my classroom library.

 

ROBOT – Review One Book on Thursday – Sisters in Sanity by Gayle Forman

robot‘Sisters in Sanity’ was an unexpected, beautifully titled little gift. I had craved a familiar read the other night and found myself adding ‘Where She Went’ by Gayle Forman to my reread shelf on Goodreads. While there I noticed this title, a fiction publication of hers that I had previously not read. I couldn’t sleep, I had wi-fi and next thing you know, I’m immersed in the book and ‘couldn’t sleep’ became ‘not sleeping due to reading’.

‘Sisters in Sanity’ is told by Brit, a sixteen year old who loves playing with her band and has a free (and kind) spirit. When she was a child, her parents were free spirits, running a coffee shop in Seattle. She can say she coloured with Kurt Cobain, had did book studies with a tattoo artist named Reggie and held court from her reserved table with the musicians and artists who filled her childhood world. Her parents met at a U2 concert: Dad was a roadie, Mom was an audience member who was pulled on stage to dance with Bono. Their artistic spirits extended to their parenting – they would and did go on adventures with Brit, like running away for a month to live on the beach or simply making meals with all purple food. Her mom was the instigator of most of these adventures – dad was the doctor appointment making, lunch packing solid parent. Mom was always freer with her thoughts and feelings. Until one day – as this freeness became oddness and the oddness became paranoia and the paranoia became paranoid schizophrenia – Mom was no longer there. She left them and lived apart with her disease, shattering their family, closing down their coffee shop and leaving Brit without her mother.

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Taken from Goodreads

Eventually Dad divorces Mom, marries ‘Stepmonster’ and has another child. And Brit – magenta streaked hair, punk rock Brit – is left feeling alone and underappreciated in her family. Told by her father she can’t stay home by herself during a family trip to the grand canyon, she and her dad take a road trip, with the thought that Stepmonster and her half brother will join them. Instead, dad drops Brit at Red Rocks, a teen rehab facility, supposedly to help her be more friendly and open with her new family.

What he doesn’t realize is that he is dropping Brit at not a rehab but a boot camp. Run by Sherrif and Clayton, as well as other pseudo psychologists and professionals, girls are brought there by their families – or taken from their homes by “escorts’ from the camp hired by their families – and put through rigorous activities and demeaning therapies all in the name of healing them. Girls are there because of their sexuality, because of their eating habits, because they don’t quite fit and their parents want a quick fix. If you’re an insurance case, you’re magically progressed through the levels from one to six in three months (the maximum time insurance will pay). If not, you’re there until you make your way through the levels and fully accept yourself as the flawed and messed up person that you are.

Brit is in shock – she may not have wanted to go to the Grand Canyon but she didn’t want to be there! She doesn’t see anything wrong with her lifestyle. Luckily she meets the titular sisters – the rebellious V, Bebe the sex crazed daughter of a fading star, Cassie the lesbian from Texas and Martha, the overweight former beauty queen. They come together during quarry duty – moving rocks from one place to another – and begin to meet at night to support each other through their incarceration.  While their friendship does not always run smoothly, they are there for each other, through thick and thin, breakouts and breakdowns. As they try to fight the powers that placed them into this place, they learn more about who they are and what they can mean to each other.

This book was a wonderful view of relationships and friendships. It made me appreciate the relationships I had as a teen with my parents – no matter how challenging I was, I was never placed in a facility such as Red Rock. But it also made me look at friendships and the power that they have to help a person endure trying times. Each girl is a bit of a stereotype and plays to that, yet each one fills a place in the ‘Sisters’.

If I had a critique of ‘Sisters in Sanity’, it would be that it’s unbelievable. Yet, the sad truth is that places such as Red Rock do exist. There are kids ripped from their beds or tricked into going to places where they will be reprogrammed into “good” children. Some of them, like Brit, are in a situation where they are true to how they are raised, it’s just the people doing the raising changed. Others, like her friends, are in situations that overwhelm their parents. Very few of them – if any – need to be there as much as their parents need to put them there. In terms of a discussion piece, this particular book could open discussions on the existence of these places and their purpose.

This book was a great find. I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend it to  other Gayle Forman fans as well as those looking for a ‘Ripped from the Headlines” tale of woe and friendship. I read it on September 15th on my Kobo. ISBN is 9780060887476.

 

Overdrive

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Checking out a book through overdrive.

I use Kobo for a lot of my e-reading. However, sometimes I realize that I am spending all kinds of money on ebooks. Sometimes lots of money, money that could go elsewhere. Plus, I like supporting librarians and libraries (seeing as I spent so much time as a librarian and in a library). So I use ‘Overdrive’, an app that allows me to check out books from the public library as ebooks. It’s quick, easy and all I need is a library card from my public library.

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Search results for term “John Green”

Once you set up the library in the app (you choose the library you want to access, theoretically, if you have access to a number of libraries that use overdrive, you could choose from them all). You can choose your category (fiction, non fiction, teen fiction, etc) and then see what there is to check out. You can choose to see just what’s available now, if you’re looking for something to read now, or you can see all that’s being offered, if you’re looking for something specific. You can also search for a specific title or author. In addition, overdrive will feature their most popular titles on the front page, as well as popular titles in specific categories.

I find I usually go into the teen fiction section. Then I choose to look at available titles only and pick some books that I wouldn’t have thought of. This means that I get to read books that I may not have thought of had I relied on just Kobo. I select the title and then choose borrow (I can also choose sample, more or wishlist). If I chose sample, I would have been brought to a sample of the book,Checking out books

Checking out books

more takes me to a description of the book with the opportunity to choose all those items and wishlist adds the book to a list that overdrive keeps of wishes of mine. Once I choose checkout, I’m taken to a page to type in my library card number and my PIN. You need to set those up through your public library. Then, when that info is in, you choose to down load the book to read in your browser and boom! You have a book borrowed from the library for 14 days. Yay!

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Putting a book on hold.

But what if they list the book you want but someone else has it? Those cads! You can put it on hold. Essentially, where it normally says borrow you can choose to put it on hold. You put in your e-mail address and overdrive will e-mail you when the book is ready. You have to check it out fairly quickly or you lose your claim on the file. So, this won’t work if you already have your limit on books checked out. But it does work if you want a book and are willing to wait for it – and return other books if it means having space to check that one out.

You can play with the settings and chance your checkout times from 7 to 14 days. You can check out pdfs, ebooks and audio books. You can read the books in the app. If you don’t return the book, it returns automatically.  It’s all fantastic.

Well, except for one point. Publishers do not always make books available to libraries and overdrive. Their fear is that they’ll lose out on money as you don’t need to replace ebooks. At times, they’ll make it so an ebook can be checked out a limited amount of times, but most others make it so that their books are not available. Not cool publishers. Not cool. So, if there’s a book you really want to eread and the library doesn’t have it (to borrow or to put on hold), you may just have to buy it. However, if it has the books you want, overdrive is a great alternative to spending the money and helps you support your local library while you do it! Win-win-win!

The images of overdrive were taken on my ipad. I use the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Library (NLPL) as my library of choice.

ROBOT – Review One Book on Thursday – Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

robotThis week I’d like to review a book I read a few months ago. It was a book with a concept that I found fascinating – ‘Dear Killer’ by Katherine Ewell. The premise is thus: Kit receives letters addressed ‘Dear Killer’. Each one requests that she murder a specific person and gives the reasons behind the request. She then decides who to kill and when she does, leaves a letter with the body. A prolific serial killer operating on her own societal standards. Well, the standards of her mother , the original ‘Dear Killer’ and the person training Kit. Murder is the only way of life Kit has ever known and the only way of relating to others her mother has taught her.

The rules are simple (taken from the book):

Taken from Goodreads

Taken from Goodreads

Rule One—Nothing is right, nothing is wrong.
Rule Two—Be careful.
Rule Three—Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body. Your arms are the weakest.
Rule Four—Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible.
Rule Five—The letters are the law.

Kit lives by these rules and others die by them. She gets paid to do this by the letter writers and essentially sees it as a service she’s doing, one that fits her nihilistic morals. But then, things get complicated, the rules don’t fit and Kit has to examine what she’s doing and how she feels about this turn of events.

I have to say that I found this concept a very interesting one. What do we learn from our family and what do we learn from society? When do we begin to fill a role because it’s expected vs filling the role because it’s what we’ve chosen. All of the relationships in this novel center around Kit and her role as killer. The reader is left wondering what would be happening in her relationships if she wasn’t so stuck in her world – if she had not be brought up to be a trained killer, who could and would she be? On a side note, it’s interesting to see a female character who kicks such butt in a realistic world (eg, non dystopian).

I found the service she provides fascinating. I don’t think I’d ever be in the position to request some kind of serial killer, but the fact that there are people so desperate they would request someone in their life to be killed was intriguing. The way Ewell builds the world, it seems totally believable that this could happen – that the services of an anonymous serial killer could be requested so often and for so long – a multi generational dear killer family.

This book is not for everyone. I have recommended it to students who tell me they like books about killers, crime and that fall a little more into the thriller genre.

I read this book on my kobo on April 4th, 2014. It was published by Katherine Tegan Books on April 1st, 2014. The ISBN is 9780062257802.

ROBOT – Review One Book on Thursday – Like No Other by Una LaMarche

robotThe book I’m reviewing this week is ‘Like No Other’ by Una Lamarche. In many ways, this novel is an updated Romeo and Juliet. Devorah is a devout Hasidic Jew who never questions her life or her parents. Jaxon is a book smart West Indian boy who walks the line between pleasing his family and finding fun. Devorah is not allowed to be alone with any males who are not part of her family in public areas, one of the many rules by which she lives her life. However, she finds herself breaking the rules by accident when stuck in an elevator with Jaxon during a power outage. Devorah is at the hospital helping her sister who is having her first child while Jaxon is there with his friend who had an accident while skateboarding. While stuck in the elevator they both feel a connection, a connection that both want to act upon, even after they leave each other. Through some detective work, they find each other and despite the odds and customs ingrained in them, they begin a relationship. While Jaxon has to lie to protect Devorah as his family would not have a big problem with the relationship, Devorah has to lie to her family to protect her place within it. She has always been the good girl, the one who they never have to worry about; now she’s spending time alone with a boy, has

a secret cell phone and is starting to question her path in life. Devorah faces a major obstacle in her brother in law – he’s not just observant, he’s righteous and demands obedience from all. When he begins to suspect their relationship, he will not stop until Devorah is set back on the path of right doing. Their romance comes to a dramatic head and Devorah is forced to confront her family and her faith as she deals with questioning and realizing what her life goals actually are and how they relate to her faith and her family.

This book is bittersweet and charming. The relationship reminds me of the quote from ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ – “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”. Once the relationship has begun, it is a runaway train as both come together and experience a relationship that neither ever anticipated. Devorah is a more complete character than Jaxon – she goes through the biggest changes and the most questioning. In many ways, Jaxon serves as the impetus and springboard for the change. It is his prodding that causes her to break many of the rules of her faith – rules that were part of how she has always lived and ones that bind her with her family and community. At times this is annoying – show some respect Jaxon! The girl has faith! – but it does serve the plot well and carry it forward to the ultimate conclusion. While many readers may relate more to the character of Jaxon, they will find the journey of Devorah one that is familiar.

As a reader with some knowledge of Jewish culture, I had some understanding of the Hasidic culture. This preknowledge served me well as I read about the world of Devorah. I did not have much knowledge about the community in Brooklyn where they lived or the tension that has developed between the two groups portrayed in this novel. Knowledge of both the Hasidic culture as well as the cultural history would be useful for readers. While they will understand from information presented by the characters why their relationship is not allowed, understanding the bigger picture would be useful.

I enjoyed this book – diversity was present, a relationship that was edgy while being a familiar story. Readers who enjoyed ‘Eleanor and Park’ or ‘Say What You Will’ will appreciate this take on a modern romance.

I read this book on my Kobo on August 3rd, 2014. It was published by Razorbill on July 24th, 2014 with an isbn of 9781595146748.