The Red Pencil

Despite all the madness that has been happening in the Middle East and Africa in my lifetime, I don’t pretend to know much about the culture of those who come from these chaotic areas. Thus when I caught sight of The Red Pencil in Barnes & Nobles I was instantly drawn to the premise. This story is about Amira who is a twelve year old girl living in Darfur. Her greatest wish to to learn to read and write, however she lives in a society that believes that women should only dream about becoming wives and mothers. Events take a heart wrenching turn when Amira’s village is attacked by the Janjaweed and they are forced to leave everything behind. It is Amira’s dream that gives her the strength to move beyond the tragedy and hope for a better tomorrow.

This book is written beautifully in prose form and includes unique illustrations. I really enjoyed reading this book and it went by quick. The author’s main goal is to open the eyes of the suffering of those who have experienced war and as a result are left to live in refugee camps with meager supplies. Her tale is one of humanity and gives a face and a name to the hundreds of men, women, and children we see on the news. I am really excited to add this book to my classroom library with the hope that it will help my students open their eyes to the world around them.


The Red Queen

Here’s another book that my students ended up picking out for me. The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard was the number one choice that my after school book club picked out. When I went to pick up the copies for my kids, I noticed that this book was high up there in the YA literature world. It was singled out in almost every book store I went to as a number one pick for teens, and articles online are already starting to call it the next Hunger Games. After reading it, I wasn’t b4bd9bf0bdefccc0873b1e4e900bffb32.jpglown away by it like I was when I read the Hunger Games, but I will admit that it was really good.

It is very reminiscent of Collins’ books (the setting takes place in the future, the weaker members of society are being oppressed by the more powerful members, a strong heroine  is chosen by fate to represent the change for her oppressed people), but it definitely has its own thing going on. Where as HG was purely science fiction with a huge emphasis on the dystopian genre, The Red Queen has a significant fantasy element mixed in with the futuristic dystopian feel. So much so that sometimes you forget that it’s supposed to be futuristic because of all the fantasy lingo that’s going on. You might not think that would work, but strangely it does!

I will admit that at first Mare (our main character) rubbed me the wrong way. I felt like she was written a little too angry. I felt like I was being force-fed her hatred. Over time, her personality seemed to mellow out to a degree and I ended up liking her along the way. She starts off so tough that you think that she is going to one of those girls who won’t ever admit that they were wrong purely out of pride. That changes when you see her using her head to make the best out of a bad situation, especially when she knows she’s been beat. I gave The Red Queen four solid stars. While I don’t think it’s anywhere good enough to earn five stars, the story had me hooked and the intrigue of the world that Aveyard created was fascinating.

Me Before You

The book I ended up choosing for this challenge was Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I had heard about this book and knew that it was getting a lot of hype. I had even6b174c6342ec68ad14ef1cfe134117f5 picked it up a couple of times. The problem was that I’m not usually into contemporary romances. They always end up too formulaic. My mind changed when I saw the trailer for the movie (and not just because Emilia Clarke, who is Khaleesi from Game of Thrones, is going to play Lou). That also never happens. Generally, I go to see (or not see a movie) because I read the book first. Seeing the trailer I realized that this isn’t going to be a typical love story. It’s going to deal with real human connection and the human ability to overcome tragedy. I knew then that I did want to read the book. So when my boyfriend was freaking out over what to get me for Valentine’s Day, I had the perfect solution.

I will admit that at first the story is a little slow. I have a really hard time getting through slow beginnings even though I know that once I get into the book things will start to go by fast. Anyway, it took me a little longer than I wanted but it ended up being great! The main character, Lou, was such a refreshing change for a female protagonist of a romance story. She is fearless and funny and just a little bit broken. She’s an oddity, but she is sweet and smart. I think a lot of women will be able to identify with Lou. Rather than go through a physical change like some woman do in these novels to impress the male lead, Lou goes through an emotional/mental change all while remaining true to herself. I was very happy with this book and even though I know there is a sequel, I’m not sure I’ll pick it up. I think the ending for this book was perfect and I kind of just want to leave it at that.

10 Books that I would re-read if I had the time

As I was scanning the Internet, I happened across a blog in which a woman discusses her top ten comfort books. Despite being an avid reader who consumes books by the plenty she still has specific books she returns to for comfort and the pure joy of revisiting favorite characters (I have included the link to her blog here). This got me thinking, what would my comfort books be? In answer I have complied a list of books that I think would be my comfort books (I say think because I don’t actually re-read books, due to lack of time and too many books to read). These are in no particular order

1. The Help– Oh my god I still remember reading this book five years ago. It absolutely kills me that the author has not written anything since. The characters and the story absolutely got to me. Sometimes I honestly wish I did not have a huge stack of books to read so I could just spend my days re-reading this book. So freaking fantastic!

2. To Kill a Mockingbird– Ok, who honestly doesn’t at least like TKM? I know we are all assigned to read it in school, but admit that this was probably the best damn book you had to read in English class. The absolute genius of Lee to discuss such an important subject through the eyes of such an innocent child! There are times where I can’t imagine any other book topping the pure beauty of TKM.

3. Jane Eyre– Absolute favorite classic! Jane Eyre is my spirit animal. How can you not instantly fall in love with a female protagonist who sticks up for herself when no one else will? She is basically what Cinderella could have been if she had had any guts and not bothered to wait around for a prince to come and save her. Long live Jane Eyre!

4. The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Trilogy– Do I really have to do any explaining here? If you haven’t read the books you’ve at least seen the movies, and of course the books are always better than the movies (and those movies are pretty freaking fantastic). Hobbits, Dragons, Wizards, mighty quests. Nuff said

5. Frankenstein-So I think I had to read this for three classes in college and each time I loved it. I wrote some of the best papers I have ever written on this book. It has so much to offer. Considered the book that basically started the science-fiction genre, written by a woman in a time when men were supposed to be in charge, and a result of a dark and spooky night where a whole bunch of authors gathered around a fire to tell ghost stories- how is that not awesome?

6. Dracula– The only vampire novel I like! This is what vampires were before Stephanie Meyer ruined them with Twilight. Bleh. If you want the perfect book to read around Halloween time this is it! This story is amazing and even though it was assigned work in college, I devoured every page (no pun intended).

7. The Snow Child This one would have to be a winter re-read. This book just seems more magical when the snow is falling outside the window and you’re inside wrapped up in a warm blanket. One of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read. It’s about a love that is so deep and special, that I don’t know if I can even do it just to try and explain it. It’s not just a love between lovers, but between families. More specifically it’s about the product of profound love. The magical realism in this book is so well done that when you finish you’re not sure if what just read is historical fiction or fantasy.

8. The Glass Castle or Half Broke Horses– I really enjoyed the author’s style of writing. The way she could tell her story and make it feel like a novel. I had never given much thought to creative nonfiction until I read her books. If I had to choose just one of them to re-read I’m not sure if I could pick between the two.

9. The Good Earth-Honestly, I didn’t expect to like this one very much. It was going to be one of those reads that I was doing more to say that I did it rather than for enjoyment’s sake, but it turns out that I thought it was great! I can’t say what exactly made me like this book so much, just that I really got involved with the story. I liked Buck’s writing style and the subject matter was very interesting.

10. Their Eyes Were Watching God– Another college read that I spent nights in my dorm room pouring over. I also bought the audiobook and listened to it on my iPod as I walked to and from class on campus. I had never even heard of the book before I was assigned it in class, but I’m certainly glad I got the chance to experience it.

This list might very well change as time goes by, but only for books 7-10. The first six are definite permanents. I have a feeling that I have some books sitting on my shelf right waiting to take a place on this list- A Tree Grows in BrooklynThe Night CircusThe Thorn Birds? We’ll have to wait and see.

Challenge #8 A Book Under 150 Pages


Surprisingly, this challenge was a little harder than I expected. I thought I would have plenty of books that met this requirement, but no. I actually had to search for one. Luckily I was recommended Queen of the Fall: A Memoir of Girls and Goddesses by some good friends. Queen of the Fall is actually a series of memoir essays of the author’s life. More specifically it’s about the author’s experiences with poverty as a woman. Not only does she talk about her experiences, but women’s experiences in general. It serves as sort of a dedication to the female sex. What I found most appealing with this book was the author’s clear talent with language. Damn can she write! For all us wanna-be authors out there, Livingston’s talent is what we strive for. The musicality of her prose transcended genre specific writing. While technically and essay style, sometimes it felt like I was reading a novel, and other times it felt like I was reading poetry. I was so excited to learn that she indeed has another book called Ghostbread and has another one coming out soon called Ladies Night at the Dreamland. Ghostbread is indeed her actual memoir where she gets more detailed about specific events that we witness in Queen of the Fall. I highly recommend both if you loved books like The Glass Castle . Dreamland looks like it’s going to be interesting as well, and the cover is gorgeous!

Challenge #7 A Pulitzer Prize Winning Book

When I picked this book at a local bookstore it hadn’t even won the Pulitzer yet. I remember being intrigued by the story summary and knew right away that I had to read it.#55 A Pulitzer Prize Winning Book:  All the Light We Cannot See is a beautiful novel where the prose lifts off the pages like a song. You can tell that Doerr was extremely meticulous with the language of this novel, telling two different stories from WWII that we don’t usually get in literature. As a lover of historical fiction, and especially WWII novels, even sometimes I can get tired of the same story being told over and over again. That was not the case with this story. Doerr tells of a young blind French girl who witnesses the takeover of her country, and a young brilliant German boy whose only means of escape from a meaningless life is to take the opportunities offered to him by the Nazi party. Both of these young children loose their innocence to the events of the war, both trapped and forced to make difficult decisions. For those of you who might be intimidated by the larger size of the book, I will comfort you that it reads extremely quick. Rather than a more traditional novel, the writing is almost broken up in shorter prose/vignettes. The concentration here really is about the beauty of the language and the experience of the characters related in beautiful and harsh little snap shots. All the Light We Cannot See is a great book for any serious reader to pick up. For those who enjoy lighter beach reads, I’m not sure if this book would have the same kind of calling to you.