Summer Reading – Week 3 – Mysterious Circumstances

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        This novel is a great, timely account.  Tariq Johnson is murdered, shot down on the street, after he is stopped by someone who thinks he is a thief (although he is not), and someone driving by gets out of their car and shoots Tariq.  Tariq is 16 and black, and the shooter is an adult white male, Jack Franklin.  The fact that Tariq is dead is tragic, and clear – but almost nothing else is agreed on in the twisting narrative.

Told through various viewpoints, from Tariq’s best friend, to Jack Franklin, to witnesses, almost no one agrees with what they saw.  Whether Tariq had a gun or not becomes clear to the reader, but not to anyone else.  A wonderfully written reflection on an all – too – common occurrence, this novel would be great for a book club discussion, and as a text for multiple perspectives on the same event.

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    A student mentioned this novel to me, and, as a fan of Gone Girl, I thought about trying it out.  Then, I saw it in three stores before finally buying it – both times before I ended up reading part of the book in the aisle. Libby Day, the protagonist, is the survivor of the massacre of her family, the only other survivor, was her brother Ben, and he is in jail for killing her family.  Libby feels that she is bad herself, and has a hard time dealing with adult life.  With her money running out, she agrees to investigate what really happened to her family that day in January when she was seven.

The novel does switch viewpoints between the past and present, and you get the stories of Ben, and well as Patty, the mother of the family.  There are occasionally other characters that get to narrate as well, but it was a triller that had a surprising ending.

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     I picked this up on vacation, and it was different from any other ghost story collection I have read.  The first half was old newspaper articles from the history of Galena, which had references to ghost or other mysterious happenings.  The second half was a more traditional retelling of ghostly occurrences at various houses in the area.  It was compiled by the Galena/Jo Daviess Historical society, and I enjoyed especially the historical newspaper articles.

Tech Tool #2

This week the tool I am looking at is Instagrok.  It is a research tool that is geared towards students.  When you type in a search term, it generates a web for you, and then you can pin, or unpin information.  It encourages you to evaluate sources, and has a journal where you can write the paper.  It also helps with citation.

I am still trying it out, I signed up for a 90 – day trial.  Pricing is not too bad, at $45 per year for teachers, or $65 per year for a librarian and up to 800 students.

Has anyone else used this tool?  What are some of the advantages/disadvantages you have found?

Summer Reading – Week 2

IMG_1395This book is really very funny, and has a fun narrator, who is always making fun of himself, and his awkward encounters with people.  While he is telling the story of what it was like to have a friend that dies of cancer, the book is really about Greg Gaines, the narrator.  The novel is sometimes crass, sometimes touching, but at its core is about an original voice, with an interesting cast of characters.  I really did find myself laughing several times.

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      This was a pitch black tale of a tragic death by murder, and the vengeance that begins next.  The first section is where we learn that the teacher in the story is leaving the profession, partly because of the death of her four year old daughter.  When she tells the class that two of their classmates were responsible for the death, events begin to spiral out from there.  The rest of the novel is told from different viewpoints, a different viewpoint each section, and each section is riveting, and well written.  We also see the path of evil, and what varied paths come from seeking vengeance instead of justice. This is the type of novel that I think will stay with me for some time.

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While at the library with my son the other day, I told him I wanted to get a book for myself, as well as the books we were getting for him.  We were passing the new book display, and he grabbed this one for me.  It sounded interesting, so I gave it a try.  This turned out to be a great random choice, and paired well with Confessions.

Lacy Eye is the story of Hanna Schutt, a woman who, three years ago, survived the brutal beating that killed her husband.  Her daughter’s boyfriend was convicted of the crimes, and Hanna has no memory of that night.  The action of the novel begins when Hanna is told that Rud Petty will get a new trial, and that the D.A. wants her to testify, because it seems that Rud will go free otherwise.  As Hanna struggles to remember that night, she is also faced with derision from people that are convinced her daughter Dawn was involved, and the stressor of Dawn moving back home.  Hanna moves forward with her life, and backward in her memories, trying to grasp the truth.  Hanna is a well- drawn, interesting character; and this is a great mystery/ crime story, but it is generally the story of a family

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      The last novel I read this week was Heartlight, by T.A. Barron.  I found it while I was doing a project in the library that involved adding external labels to series, and T.A. Barron had at least two, if not three series, so I thought I should give one a go.  While this was called Sci – Fi  in the blurbs, I think it reads more like a Fantasy.  It did remind me strongly of A Wrinkle in Time, although this novel, published in 1990, felt more dated than A Wrinkle in Time.  Parts of it also felt familiar, so it is possible I read this as a junior high student when it first came out.

Tech Tool #1

For my summer class we need to turn in a technology tool each week, in a show and share manner.  I did some light research, and found some articles on apps and programs that would work well on chrome books.  Next year we are going 1-1 with Chromebooks 3-12 grades, and as such, I am interested in what will work well for that implementation.   I found a useful article to consult at Tech Republic. 

This week, I started with the app Wunderlist, which I was able to use on my Chromebook, and download on my Mac desktop, and to my iPhone.  I liked this in that I could use it across platforms.  I tried it out by making a grocery list in that column, and I liked that I could type it on my Chromebook, and then have the list to check off on my phone.

What I also really liked, especially for work purposes, is that this would be a great collaboration tool.  It is easy to use, and one someone has the app, you can share lists with them.  You can also add items to lists very easily, and assign due dates, and the party responsible for that task.  These are all great features, and I think they could be useful for collaborative group work in a class, or on a committee.

Summer reading – Week one

My last day of work for the school year was June 5, and I have had the pleasure to read a wide and varied assortment of books this first week off.

IMG_1386The first book I read was Countdown, the first of a planned trilogy on the 1960s.  For those that are interested in paired texts, this novel has non-fiction throughout, which give the readers the context they need to understand the time period.  The novel itself is a coming – of – age story, told by misunderstood middle child Fanny Chapman.  It is set during the Cuban missile crisis, and sets up the Civil Rights Movement as well.  In order for middle school students to understand the historical context, there are frequent breaks where historical nonfiction  is included.  An interesting novel in a mixed medium format.  I did enjoy it, although I admit that sometimes the story felt contrived in order to explain the history of the time.

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The second novel I read was also the first book in a series.  Some of this comes from the fact that I have been pulling series books in the junior/senior high school library, and putting external labels on them so the order is clear.  As a result, several interesting books have come to my attention.  This one caught my attention because of the cover text that said, “Chocolate is contraband. Caffeine is illegal.”  It is set in the near future, about 2 -3 generations away from our present time.  There are shortages in several ways, and Anya, the protagonist of the novel, is the daughter of an infamous crime boss, the leader of the Balanchine family.  This was a fascinating story, full of intrigue, star – crossed lovers, and difficult choices.  I really enjoyed this one, and it was set in a slightly dystopian future, but the focus was really on the characters and their lives.

IMG_1389Novel number three was the fascinating start to the Iron Trial Series.  I am a fan of both Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and this did not disappoint.  I am really excited to see where the rest of the series goes.  While the premise of a magical test and magical school might appear to have similarities to other series, and I was reminded of A Wizard of Earthsea and Harry Potter, I did not see the end reveals coming – and I will leave it at that.

IMG_1390Counting by 7s was the fourth book of the week, and I found it to be rather interesting, although I found some of this to be a re-tread of common ground, in that the gifted child in the book, Willow Chance,  seemed almost to have magical powers.  The characters she encounters after a terrible tragedy are interesting, and interconnect in great ways, but I did find myself wondering about  Roberta and Jimmy Chance on more than one occasion.

IMG_1393 This was the book I was able to take from my local public library after I signed up for the adult reading program.  It was a very interesting tale that alternated between the current time with the quest of Tristan to find out about his ancestors, and the story of Ashley Walsingham and Imogen Soames – Andersson, star crossed lovers from the past.  I really enjoyed the sections from WWI and an early Everest expedition, but I did feel that some parts of Tristan’s story could have been a bit clearer, and I am glad to have the novel, because I think I need to re-read the ending a couple of times. IMG_1392

Finally, I ended the week with a personal indulgence.  I love Agatha Christie novels, and I have a small collection of them.  This was my newest addition, and it is an early Hercule Poirot story.  They mystery was great, as usual, and I even figured out part of it! That is always a triumph for me with a Christie novel.  My favorite part of this was Poirot’s delicious rivalry with a French detective.

What is everyone reading this summer?  I had some extra time on my hands this week, as my car was in the shop on some rainy days, but we shall see how the rest of the summer goes.

A Historical Origin Story

The novel X  was absolutely fantastic, and the type of novel I want lots of people to read so I can talk about it with them.

IMG_1331 (1) X is – a fictional account of Malcolm X’s early years, before he was Malcolm X – but when he was Malcolm Little, in Lansing Michigan, and then when he was Red, in Boston, and Detroit Red, in Harlem, New York.

The novel was written by his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, with the help of Kekkla Magoon.  It details the struggles that Malcolm encountered, and really emphasizes the deleterious effect of systemic discrimination and racism.  With all of the recent movies that are origin stories of superheroes, this is a great historical origin story of a real leader, flaws and all.  This would be a great novel to discuss with others, and I would love to hear from anyone else that has read it.