Back to school 2015

…and I found myself with a tickle in my throat. The tickle shifted to a cough, then to a sniffle, and by the time the First Day of School rolled around, I was full on Sick. The sick shifted into pneumonia and just when I thought I had recovered, it morphed into a chest infection. So, for most of September, I was in bed, tired, droopy and coughing something awful.

The saving grace was: I got to get through a lot of the books on my Pyramid of Priorities.

I’m ever so grateful for NetGalley and how they provide advance reader copies of titles soon to be published. The request and download process can take a little patience, but reading books in advance does set me up so when students ask for recommendations, I have fresh titles to offer in addition to older titles I can dust off from the shelves.

If I haven’t promoted it enough, NetGalley offers book completely for FREE. Yes FREE. Read more about how it works on my post here.

I’m grateful too, for current authors who continue the tradition of writing books with strong female characters. For most of September, I was deep in the worlds of the following books:

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirEmber in the Ashes

The chapter sampler from NetGalley was so engaging, I had to download the rest of the book and keep reading. Fans of Legend will appreciate the back and forth perspectives, and as such it’s appealing for both genders. But don’t let the comparison fool you because the novel is written on a completely different level. Set in a lush world inspired by ancient Rome, the writing is intense, engrossing and difficult to put down. It is also dark, wickedly so, and best read by those more mature.

Selling points:

  • The Martial Empire’s Blackcliff Military Academy where soldiers train with a mask that melds to their face. (Think an entire academy for Slytherin students).
  • The rebellious spirit of Scholars, the lowest in the Empire—illiterate, poor, enslaved—trying to rise against the Empire.
  • Blackcliff’s top soldier, Elias, trying to defect from the Empire he detests.
  • Laia, a Scholar girl, who has no choice but to become a spy within the Empire for the evil Commandant: known for maiming her slaves as well as anyone dear to them.
  • Book 2, A Torch Against the Night is due out around April, 2016.

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

The cover makes it seem the book is a dark thriller, when it is really more of a murder-mystery set during the turn of the century in New York. Well to do 17 year old Josephine Montfort finds the suicide of her father suspicious and she goes “undercover” to investigate the truth. Remember, this is a time when young ladies are to be prim and proper (when are the not?), so Jo’s decision to seek the unchaperoned help of a reporter (Eddie Gallagher) and traipse around the city — visiting morgues, going to the docks, visiting bars/brothels and digging up graves — all put her at risk of being publicly exposed or ousted.

Selling points:

      • Donnelly gives readers an amazing amount of attention to detail: you are thrust right into the heart of the city: gritty, dangerous and full of inequalities between the classes.
      • As well, Donnelly offers a thoughtful perspective on how women in that era deftly navigated within limited or constrained roles (the business of matches/weddings).
      • There is a good deal of chemistry between Jo and Eddie leaving one to wonder if their star-crossed love will ever work out.
      • A likable group of supporting characters adds to the story as it unfolds.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

BenjaminRecommended by a bookseller who used the phrase, “looking for a  challenging book” I approached this novel with both interest and trepidation. The interest stemmed from my fascination with jellyfish (I can watch them for hours) and the trepidation came from the fact that most reviewers mentioned walking away from reading the book with a box of tissues.

True to their word, the book does lead to sentimentality for older adults knowing full well how difficult it can be to survive middle school and all the drama it involves.

For main character Suzy, she wants nothing to do with drama and wishes best friend Franny would feel the same. She knows though, that change is coming: in fifth grade the girls start to drift apart, by sixth grade, Franny has become a different person and they are no longer on speaking terms. It’s over the summer before 7th grade, when Suzy learns that Franny has died.

Selling points:

        • Suzy decides not to fill the world with words after Franny dies, which is not the same as refusing to talk.
        • She has a journal where readers gain a wealth of facts about jellyfish and “jellyologists”
        • The contents of the book are broken into stages in the scientific process and flashbacks detailing, bit by bit, how Suzy and Franny’s relationship deteriorates
        • Benjamin does not sugar coat the cruelty that children can inflict, but she does write with grace and beauty and compassionate understanding for what it’s like to endure the changes borne from growing up.
        • There is that one teacher who sees, understands and encourages.

My next read is Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak and I think— full on books with brave, daring, strong young women—I’ll turn my attention to books with equally resilient young men.