Title: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Author: Prudence Shen and Faith Ellen Hicks
Release Date: 5/7/2013
Genre: YA contemporary
Format: Graphic novel
Source: ARC from NetGalley
Cheerleaders, a robotics team, and a school election? Oh. Do tell me more.
Nate and Charlie have been best friends since grade school, even though they are social opposites. Nate is the geeky president of the robotics team, while Charlie is the captain of the basketball team. When Nate hatches a plan to run for school president to ensure funding for the robotics team, he expects Charlie to be on his side — not to run against him! The cheerleaders have forced Charlie to run so the extra money will go toward new cheerleading uniforms. A prank-tastic battle ensues. Eventually, all forces (including the super organized, but bitchy, cheerleaders) must put their faith in a robot battle competition with a hefty cash prize. Sprinkle in some family and relationship drama, and you’ve got Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, FirstSecond’s latest YA contemporary graphic novel.
There are not a lot of good YA contemporary novels that feature a strong male friendship, so this graphic novel was refreshing. The story is sensitive to jocks and nerds, so it has wide appeal. The story is short, and some of the plots underdeveloped, but the characters are strong. My one criticism would be that the cheerleaders bordered on stereotypical. I kind of expected the novel to surprise me with the cheerleader characters, but they were fairly flat and definitely played the antagonistic role for the first half of the story. Overall, though, the story made me laugh and taught some lessons along the way. Teens will appreciate it, and that’s what matters.
FINAL GRADE: B FirstSecond, you have impressed me again. Your graphic novels always deliver. I’d recommend this for middle and high school libraries, and it will be a hit with both nerds and reluctant readers. Fans of other FirstSecond titles will enjoy this novel, as would fans of YA contemporary. This novel, or any of the other books from this publisher, would make great “gateway” graphic novels for any teachers or librarians looking for an introduction to the genre or titles for the classroom. I know I sound like I work for the publisher (I definitely don’t!), but there just isn’t anyone else out there offering what they offer.
Other 01FirstSecond titles of interest that I have read and reviewed:
Title: The Holders
Author: Julianna Scott
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Release Date: 3/5/2013
Length: 368 pages
Series?: Holders #1
Genre: YA fantasy, paranormal
Source: ARC from author/publisher
[#71 in my 2012 75 book challenge]
Becca must keep a close eye on her ten-year-old brother, Ryland, because he’s different from the other kids. When a recruiter comes from a special boarding school in Ireland with the promise of helping Ryland fine-tune his special abilities, Becca’s not buying it — until she realizes how truly special her brother is. Becca accompanies Ryland to St. Brigid’s, where she learns about powerful abilities, family secrets, and a legend that may turn her life upside down. Along the way she meets the handsome Alex, her charming BFF Chloe, and a whole host of interesting teachers.
The Holders was a pleasant surprise! Fantasy usually isn’t my thing, but I couldn’t put this book down. Comparisons to Harry Potter oversimplify the story and the characters, but it is hard to avoid such comparisons. However, The Holders stands on its own two feet. The budding romance between Becca and Alex plays a huge part in this story (so romance fans, rejoice!) and the supernatural elements are less “magical” than in Harry’s world.
The most surprising part of the whole story was how well Julianna Scott crafts her protagonist. Becca is strong and independent without being annoying or perfect. At eighteen, she’s a little bit older than the average YA protagonist at the start of a series, which means she’s outgrown some of the more obnoxious teen girl behaviors. Becca even acknowledges that she refuses to be fixated on romance or boys over her own goals. Family is more important to Becca than anything, and she’s even a good friend to Chloe throughout the novel. Her constant bitterness toward her father, Jocelyn (yes. that’s his name), was a bit taxing at times. Otherwise, I liked Becca. I think I’ll keep reading when Scott releases the rest of the series so I can see how her character develops.
FINAL GRADE: B Not a top ten book of the year, but close! Any book I read this quickly has to be good. I’d recommend The Holders to fans of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, fantasy, and Twilight. I’d also recommend it to anyone who doesn’t normally like fantasy or paranormal romance. Like Harry Potter, it could either be “gateway fantasy” or fantasy that defies the genre and works on its own. I would feel very comfortable adding this book to a middle or high school library, as the content is PG-13.
How do you feel about fantasy novels? YA fantasy? Love it? Hate it?
This week I’ll be reviewing a professional book I read because it sounded interesting and relevant to my future work teaching college students:
Title: On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching
Author: James M. Lang
Publisher/Year: Harvard University Press/Caravan, 2008
Length: 7 hrs and 14 mins, 319 pages
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Format: Audio book
Source: Purchased from Audible
No book about teaching is perfect, since everyone teaches a little differently. On Course is a great book for beginning teachers on the ins and outs of college teaching for both graduate students and first-year professors. Using the fifteen week flow of the average semester, Lang guides readers through what to expect in planning, teaching, and evaluating students in college-level work without going crazy. Lang also gives specific advice for strategies to try and reasoning behind different choices to be made (papers or exams?), while also suggesting excellent books and campus resources to consult for more in-depth information.
Though the book is organized by weeks in the semester, it is not intended to be read that way. Lang even explains this in the intro. His intention is for the book to be read 1-3 months before teaching the class, and then consulted as a reference throughout the first semester. I really liked how the week-by-week format keeps each topic focused so new teachers can tackle one task at a time without feeling overwhelmed. I also liked how Lang addresses multiple ways of tackling certain tasks, yet often takes time to explain which option he uses and why.
The audio book format works well for this book, even though it is not read by the author (which disappointed me!). I was able to listen on my commutes to work and while walking through campus. It’s a very easy listen, as Lang never throws too much information out at a time and his tone is almost conversational, like that of an experienced mentor. As a former middle school teacher, this was a great read for me to starting thinking about bridging the gap between K-12 teaching and college teaching.
FINAL GRADE: B+ You’re not going to find everything about college teaching here, but it’s a good start. Lang is likable. The resource lists alone make this a good pick or gift for anyone who ever wants to teach at the college level. You may not find anything mind-blowing or world changing here, but that’s not the point — it’s intended to help and comfort teachers without stressing them out!
Assigned Reading: Assigned to all graduate students (Lang tried to keep things interdisciplinary). Check it out from the library if you want, borrow it, skim it, and feel free to say, “Eh, this isn’t for me, I already know this stuff.” But at least give it a try.
Which resources helped you in your first teaching position? If you’ve never taught, which resources helped you as a student?
Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publisher/Year: Blackstone Audio, 2007 (Original: 1925)
Length: 4 hrs and 53 mins
Format: Audio Book
Source: Purchased from Audible
[#72 in my 2012 75 book challenge]
In case you haven’t heard, this classic novel about the Jazz Age is being made into a movie staring Leonard DiCaprio. The movie comes out in May, so I got a head start and re-read the novel in anticipation of seeing it later this year.
The Great Gatsy is the Jazz-Age tale of a bunch of crazy people living in an Egg.
Or at least that’s my one sentence summary.
Seriously, though, our protagonist, Nick Carraway, moves next door to this dude named Gatsby in West Egg (Long Island-ish). Gatsby lives in this fancy-pants new money house, totally playing up his mysteriosity while still having parties every weekend. Nick also hangs around with Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and everyone knows that ole Tom is cheating on Daisy with this lady named Muriel. These folks all live in the East Egg with the old money. Gatsby, the eternal social climber, wants nothing more than to be old money…and to get in Daisy’s pants. Infidelity ensues. Then a lot of people drive their cars around, a tragedy occurs, and the shit hits the fan. Cue curtain.
AND IT’S ALL A METAPHOR.
I get it, you guys, I do. In high school I read this book and I was fascinated by the Jazz Age, the social climbing, the affairs, and the dead people. I could relate to the story more than anything else we were reading that year (except 1984, my favorite book ever), so I decidedly enjoyed it. Round two? Not so much, even though I understand the layers a little bit better. I see the commentary on the American Dream and wealth, the metaphor with the damn green light and the colors. I don’t get it all, which is where I miss having a class to discuss it all with, but I get it enough.
FINAL GRADE: C I didn’t love it, but I’m glad I read it. Reading books as an adult that I read in my childhood is always a fascinating experience, and I don’t think I’m the only person who looks upon this novel differently now that I’m out in the real world. However, I also know some folks who adore this book and will praise it until the cows come home. I guess you have to decide that for yourself — at only 180 pages, you can read it pretty quickly and get back to me on what you think.
Assigned Reading: Read it if you love the Jazz Age, literary fiction, classics, or metaphors. Or if you want to see the movie. It’s really one of those novels that everyone should read, since it’s always being talked about. Maybe that’s what leads to the disappointment?
Recommendations: Librarians, you can buy it for the middle school library, but it’s definitely a must-have for the high school library (do I even have to tell you that?).
Did you have to read The Great Gatsby in high school? Have you read it since? Does it hold up to your test of time?
Title: The Book of Blood and Shadow
Author: Robin Wasserman
Publisher/Year: Listening Library/Knopf, 2012
Length: 14 hrs and 17 mins
Genre: YA thriller
Format: Audio book
Source: Purchased from Audible
[#70 in my 75 book challenge]
The title is true. This is a book about blood. And shadows. Nora is just a high school girl with an above-average love of translating Latin, two best friends, and an angsty boyfriend. When one friend ends up dead, the other catatonic, and her boyfriend is missing, Nora knows she’s not safe. There’s something in the Latin she’s be translating — something ancient, something dangerous — that someone wants. Nora’s questions lead her to Prague, where she follows a path of clues and learns of a secret society that will stop at nothing to get what they what.
Nothing is as it seems, and everyone has secrets. With all the Latin, history, and secret societies, this book feels like a YA DaVinci Code. And that’s okay! It’s been a long time since Dan Brown’s little novel had us all talking, so The Book of Blood and Shadows will feel new to teens. Of course, there’s a healthy dose of romance (though I didn’t really care for Max) and female friendship. But this action-adventure novel is fast-paced and un-put-downable — it’s not all hug and rainbows. People DIE. A LOT.
If they don’t make this into a movie, they’re crazy. (whoever “they” are)
Perhaps the best part about Wasserman’s novel is her kick-ass protagonist. Nora is smart, but flawed, and stands on her own two feet by choice (not by circumstance). She has boyfriends, but she doesn’t depend on them. She also places as much value on her female friendship with Adrienne as she does on her romantic relationships. Nora and I could be buddies, and I find that to be a rare phenomenon. Though, if I were her friend I would probably end up very, very dead. So…I’d have to be careful. Girl power!
FINAL GRADE: A It wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t care. I loved Nora and I loved the setting (Prague). Puzzle novels make my heart sing because, though totally unrealistic, they are so exciting!
Assigned Reading: If you hated The DaVinci Code, you’ll probably want to pass on this novel. You may also want to pass if you like The DaVinci Code too much, because you’ll be disappointed. But if you love Latin, Prague, history, puzzle novels, action, twists, or strong heroines, then you should definitely check out The Book of Blood and Shadow!
Recommendations: For library recommendations, I’d say definitely buy it for a high school or public library, but go ahead and skip it for the middle grades — it’s definitely a 14+ book, mostly for historical themes.
Have you ever been to Prague? Read the DaVinci Code? Read The Book of Blood and Shadow? Any combination of those? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
In my end of year wrap-ups last year, I participated in an AWESOME series called the Faves of 2011, hosted by Nomes at Ink Crush. It appears that she is not hosting this series again, so I went ahead and decided to do it myself! This was originally a five day series, but since I’ve already covered favorite reads and covers I’ve shaved this down to two days of posts.
Part III: The Scenes
1. Best first chapter
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
It didn’t hurt that I heard John Green read the first chapter IN PERSON pre-release in Asheville last fall.
2. Best climax
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
3. Best ending
Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle (it alllll comes together)
4. Best plot twist/revelation (no spoilers!)
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
5. Scariest/most disturbing scene
There’s this one scene in Unwind by Neal Schusterman…I still think about it. Oh. My. Gosh.
6. Steamiest scene
TIE (due to different types of steaminess):
Jason and Kyle in Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez.
Leah and Grayson in Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols
7. Best swoon-worthy moment
Something involving Marcus Flutie, I’m sure.
8. Biggest nail-biting moment
When Kyra makes her plan to escape in The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
9. Most hilarious scene
When AJ Jacobs tells his wife he can’t touch her while she’s menstruating …. while she’s menstruating. She sits on every surface in the house and he has to stand! From A Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs.
10. Most heart-breaking/tear-jerker moment
I know y’all want me to say it’s in TFioS, but it was really when the Titanic sank in The Watch That Ends The Night by Allan Wolf, since I knew that actually happened. Since the story was told through twenty-four voices based on real people, I knew some of them would die before the book was over.
BONUS: Favorite meet cute
Alice and Patrick in the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. She meets him by walking in on him in a department store dressing room!
Part IV: Random
1. Fave first sentence
…I don’t know!
2. Fave book title
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
3. Fave reading experience (ie: created a great reading memory)
Re-reading The Hunger Games on the flight to Denver to watch the midnight release of the movie with my friend. I realized I was leaving the area where Katniss is from (NC-ish, the movie was filmed here) and flying to the general location of the Capitol.
4. Book with the best food in it (made you so crazy-envious-hungry)
All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin (they kept talking about the chocolate, since it’s illegal)
5. Book with the most sensual weather (made you shiver/sweat)
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (set in Siberia!)
6. Most embarrassing book cover (feeling sheepish in public or just plain ugly)
The Dork Diaries 5: Tales from a Not-So-Smart Miss Know-It-All by Rachel Renee Russell
7. Can’t believe you waited this long to read the book (!)
Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
8. Book you’d give your mum/sister to read
I think that she would enjoy the AJ Jacobs books.
9. Book you’d give your dad/brother to read
I’d give my brother Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, since it’s got video games and 80′s nostalgia out the wazzou
10. Book you’d like to give your past-self to read (ie, me, when I was 15)
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (would give it to 16-year-old me dealing with my first major breakup)
11. Book that lived up to (or superseded the hype)
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (they said I would bawl…and I did)
12. Book you stayed up the latest to finish (confess!!!)
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
13. Book you were *dying* to get your hands on the most
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
14. Biggest brick of a book you read (by page count)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
15. Killer cliffhanger award
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver (which we would expect after the killer cliffhanger in Delirium!)
In my end of year wrap-ups last year, I participated in an AWESOME series called the Faves of 2011, hosted by Nomes at Ink Crush. It appears that she is not hosting this series again, so I went ahead and decided to do it myself! This was originally a five day series, but since I’ve already covered favorite reads and covers I’m going to shave this down to two days of posts.
Note: Three books that I read in December come up on this list, but they haven’t come out yet (they are 2013 releases) and my reviews can’t be linked. I’ve linked the book cover pictures to the Goodreads page for each book if you want more information about it.
Part I: Books
1. Always recommending this book award
Every Day by David Levithan
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz (review coming in February)
3. Brilliantly funny
Five Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth by The Oatmeal
4. Best ache-y, heart-breaking, tear-jerker read
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
5. Most beautiful story
Also A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
6. Delicious rainy day comfort read
Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle (okay, it’s more of snowy day comfort read!)
7. Adrenalin-fuelled, unputdownable award
The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman (review coming next Thursday)
8. The beautiful prose award
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
9. Most atmospheric and vivid setting
Bunheads by Sophie Flack (the ballet world!)
The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman (hands down!)
11. Most original and imaginative
Explorer: The Mystery Boxes (a graphic novel short story collection on the theme of mystery boxes!)
12. Best under-appreciated, hidden gem book
Between You & Me by Marisa Calin
13. I-had-no-idea-I-would-love this-so award
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
14. Most haunting story
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
15. Outside my comfort zone but gosh how I loved it
Envy by Gregg Olsen (I didn’t think I liked paranormal books)
16. Series that I’m loving
The Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty
17. Completely awesome premise award
Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything by E. Lockhart
Part II: Characters
1. Favorite female main character
Ruby Oliver. Always.
2. Favorite male main character
Al in Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
Becca and Alex in The Holders by Julianna Scott (review coming in February)
4. Who I so want to be best friends with
Frankenstein’s Monster. He needed a friend and I would have been his friend.
5. Who I fell completely in love with (new literary crush)
You guys, there are just NO GOOD CRUSH-WORTHY ladies in this year’s books. They’re too busy being straight and whatnot. #lesbianproblems
6. Worst (best & baddest) villian
The Sixers in Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
7. Best character twist (who you loved then hated or vice versa)
If I say what I really want to say — or even name the book! — it spoils the book! So I’ll say Marcus Flutie in the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty.
8. Best kick-ass female
Three stood out: Kyra in The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (for escaping a cult), Lina in Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (for surviving and thriving in Siberian WWII work camps), and Nora in The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman (for literally kicking ass).
9. Best kick-ass male
Conner in Unwind by Neal Schusterman
10. Broke your heart the most
Every Day by David Levithan
11. Favorite pet/animal character award
The rats in The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf (I love that they get a voice in this verse novel)
12. Best YA parents award
I guess Alice’s dad in the Alice series. Scanning down my list of books, I just see a long list of really awful parents!
13. Favorite sibling relationship
Becca and Ryland in The Holders by Julianna Scott
14. Favorite best friends/friendship award
15. Best/worst character names
Bonus: best love triangles!!!
Xander –> Cassia <—> Kyle in Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy (still rooting for Xander — haven’t read Reached yet!)
Aspen <–> America <–> Maxon in The Selection by Kiera Cass (rooting for Maxon)
Alex <–> Lena –> Julian in Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver (Julian?)