The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

My graduation present to myself was watching through all seven current seasons of Game of Thrones. So before I post anything about my favorite contemporary author I would like to post my top 10 thoughts about GOT (which I keep wanting to abbreviate as GTO).

  1. Arya Stark is my favorite character and I have decided anyone else can die except her.
  2. Queen Daenerys is my Queen and I will follow her anywhere.
  3. I am weirdly attracted to Ramsey Bolten and I hate it because he is creepy and evil but he has the cutest smile.
  4. However, if I had to pursue someone it would be Jon Snow.
  5. I hated Little Finger since the first time I saw him and was so proud when Sansa sentenced him to die.
  6. Samwell Tarly reminds me of Samwise Gamgee and makes me love him all the more.
  7. Tyrion Lannister and I are soul sisters.
  8. If Jamie Lannister didn’t have the most messed up relationship with his sister I might be able to like him and even forgive him for what he has done.
  9. If I was in the Westeros I would most definitely be a follower of the Lord of Light or become a faceless man.
  10. But none of these thoughts matter because the Night King has a undead dragon which blew a hole in the wall so nothing matters anymore because all my favorite characters die in every single TV show I watch.

Now that I have divulged my feelings about GOT I will move on to what this blog is supposed to be about. I discovered Aimee Bender about two years ago when I read The Girl in the Flammable Skirt in a creative writing class and found my new inspiration. I’ve only ever had one or two other authors really inspire me. Aimee Bender is unlike any other author I have read or wanted to style my writing after her. She writes about the human condition in a way that blends magic with reality in such a way that she is able to talk about mental illness without being obvious. By using the unreal she is able to explore the real. It reminds me of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. As much as I disliked that book I was able by the end of the novel to understand what Kurt was trying to tell us. He couldn’t write about the horrors of the war but he could do so through science fiction. Aimee Bender uses the surreal to talk about people, our emotions, our secret heartaches, our mental illnesses in such a way that we find we do understand.

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake focuses on Rose who one day finds she taste people’s emotions in food. She realizes this after she eats her mother’s lemon cake and tastes her mother’s depression. And thus begins Rose’s journey to understanding why she  has gained this new ability and how it affects her life growing up. I cannot tell much more without giving away information but the book certainly isn’t what one thinks it is. It’s the story of a broken family and how one never truly knows another person. We hide our emotions away where no one can find them but Bender found a way to bring those emotions into the light. It’s a tough read because Rose is eight when she finds out her abilities and reading it through the eyes of a child was not easy. It made it all the more real and gut wrenching. Bender truly is a magician at writing people’s emotions.

-A

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IMWAYR: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

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Well I guess it’s not Monday anymore. I had grand ambitions of posting this yesterday but a day late isn’t too bad.

I picked up an ARC copy of The Hazel Wood at NCTE and honestly didn’t think much of the book because it didn’t look impressive and there weren’t a large group of people charging for a free book. That was until January rolled around, the book was released and hundreds of reviews were flowing in saying it was the best book of the new year. I didn’t have time with student teaching to sit down and read it in two days but that is what summer vacation is for.

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This is not a retelling of Alice in Wonderland in fact the book only mentions AIW once and in passing. In fact if anyone has read The Thirteenth Tale that is what it reminds me more of. Alice Prosperine or Alice Crewe as she likes to call herself is the granddaughter of Althea Prosperine the author of Tales from the Hinterland, except Alice has never read a copy because her mother won’t let her. When Alice’s mother disappears mysteriously one night Alice knows the only place she will find her is The Hazel Wood, her grandmother’s estate except Alice has never been there and has no idea where it is. She teams up with Ellery Finch, a fanatic fan of Althea Prosperine and Tales from the Hinterland, to find the location of the Hazel Wood and find her mother. Except what Alice doesn’t know is she will find herself along the way.

Not going to lie the book was confusing. It is a mystery so that part is understandable but even then I still don’t really understand the ending or the Spinner, or the stories themselves. I do like a stand alone story (I’m not sure if there is going to be another one) but if there were another book I would like some more background about the Hinterland because I still don’t really know what I read.

All that being said it was as good as the reviews said it was. It was mysterious, fast paced, engaging and you really don’t know what is going to happen (hence the paragraph above), but that only adds to the need to finish it. I love a good mystery where you breathlessly turn every page hoping that the author took pity on the readers and left us some more clues or have finally decided to tell us what is going on. This is a definite must read for those who love mysteries and fairy tales. Except the kind of fairy tales Alice encounters are not Disney censored.

Similar books: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Piper by Jay Asher (this is a graphic novel), Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (also a graphic novel), Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman (illustrated story), and Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge.

-A

 

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson and Speak: the Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started this book but something about the title and bright red cover intrigued me. Somehow I ended up with an ARC copy from the NCTE convention and Laurie Halse Anderson kept retweeting tweets about this book and even wrote a review (I think or a dedication not sure which) and I knew I better read it and the sooner the better. This book doesn’t come until June 18 but I would highly recommend preordering your copy now.

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This novel highlights a problem which is hardly ever spoken about and from her author’s note, it wasn’t a known problem until just last year when the hashtag #missingdcgirls went viral. What we too often assume is these children are runaways and leave it at that. While Jackson’s novel doesn’t deal with Human Trafficking it focuses on another issue close to my heart: child abuse. As an educator who has seen and heard about abuse from my students it breaks my heart that often times nothing is done or those parents are given back custody of their children. I understand a parent wanting to change their lives around and get their kids back but often times it is simply because they want the abuse to continue or feel their rights have been violated-they want their kids back because they feel they have a right to them not a right to treat them right, care for them and treat them like human beings.

Claudia and Monday are best friends and often times mistaken for twins so when Monday doesn’t show up for the first day of eighth grade, Claudia knows something is wrong. The problem is no one will listen to her or if they do nothing happens. As Claudia gets more and more desperate more and more of the story is revealed you will find yourself as desperate as Claudia to find Monday, alive and safe.

This story broke my heart because it is all too real and those are the kinds of stories we need to be reading. Dickens wrote about the conditions of the poor house and Jackson is writing about the conditions of children growing up in DC. He wrote about his time just as Jackson is writing about ours and it is time we listened. It is time we stopped pushing the novels of an era gone by and start pushing the novels of this era. Just like Dickens, Sinclair, and Wolf wrote about the injustices of their time period so are the authors emerging right now: Angie Thomas, Tiffany D. Jackson, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Julie Murphy and many many more. It’s time we added a subtitle to Monday’s not Coming: What are we Going to do About it.

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In light of this awesome and amazing book I also finished reading Speak: The Graphic Novel with AMAZING artwork by the fabulous Emily Carroll. I’ve loved this novel since seventh grade and seeing it revamped in such an amazing style was the best graduation present I could ask for. Every little detail drawn is purposeful, beautiful and adds so much to the story. As with graphic novels the pictures are equally if not more important than the words. Even though I love words and think them magical I find myself agreeing again and again with the statement “A picture is worth a thousands words” because it is so true. For the first time we are able to visualize Melinda’s pain, see her metaphors, similes and references in images not just in our heads. We are able to see how Carroll channeled Melinda’s pain and her inability to speak and bring it to life. It truly is one of the best graphic novels I have read and I cannot wait to share it with my students. I already lent it to one student and she came back in two days and told me “This is the first book I have read in two days”. #Proudteachermoment.

Another great graphic novel that deals with emotional pain and trauma is Lighter than My Shadow by Katie Green. Don’t let the size intimidate you.

-A

Graduation and Fairy Tales

It’s been a while since I posted but I was concentrating on graduating from college (which I did!) so reading has been pushed to the back burner for a while. I did however manage to read a few books before I received my diploma and they were all fairy tales in a sense.

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The first book I read between writing lesson plans, journals and finishing up in the classroom was Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva by Eliza Redgold. I didn’t know much about Lady Godiva other than the famous poem by Tennyson, which tells the story of the famous ride through Coventry, naked and covered by her long hair. I had no idea why she was riding through Coventry, who put her up to it or really anything about her story and while this particular novel is simply the author’s imaginings of what she thinks happens I like to think there is some deeper truth to her words.

It’s not technically a verse novel however there are times where I felt like I was reading a verse novel-short clipped sentences that broke into paragraphs-something like one would see in a verse novel. I did however feel like I was reading a fairy tale as I learned of the love story between Godiva and Leofric. It has it’s ups and downs but it brought me back to days of King Arthur and an older England that is rarely seen anymore. It was also a really quick read and left me with that warm fuzzy feeling only a romance novel can.

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Last week as I waiting for my oil change I broke down and bought Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs because I saw he tweeted the cover of his next book and it made me miss Miss Peregrine and all her peculiar children. It wasn’t like returning back to the world of the Peculiars but it was nice to read some stories mentioned in passing in the series. They are interesting stories and would be worth reading if not for enjoyment but for context and information to further understand the world Riggs has created.

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The last book I read in a day and it was during finals week and much needed. I would call it Midsummer’s Night Dream meets The Ice Queen, but that’s just my opinion. The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long is the story of a sister on a quest to find her missing brother. That’s the short of it. However, there is a lot more going on that took me a while to figure out. First of all it is set in modern times, but it would be like if modern day me got lost in the woods and suddenly found myself in the land of the fairies. Similar to what happened to the characters in Midsummer’s, except a lot more scary things happen then just getting lost in the woods. Jenny loses her brother to the woods (literally) and seven years later finds herself once again drawn into those same woods. Except instead of finding her brother she finds Jack and Puck (sound familiar anyone) where she must rescue her brother from Titania and outsmart Oberon. Except these aren’t the noble fairies one encounters in Midsummer’s, who just want to play pranks on each other. These fairies have a different agenda and will use Tom and Jenny as their playthings to accomplish it.

The book wasn’t extraordinary and in fact if I am being honest probably wouldn’t stand out to anyone alone on the shelf but many times those stand alone stories are the best ones. It was a quick read and I read in an day, well more like night but it wasn’t that late. It had my favorite element-fairies-and it wasn’t super complicated. Sometimes when you read fantasy books the plot gets so thick and twisty (GOT) that one can get easily lost and confused. This was just a simple story focusing on a single event and was extremely enjoyable and just what I needed to get out of my reading slump. I don’t know however if I can say I got out of my reading slump because I have like ten million books to read and I tend to find myself playing video games or watching Netflix instead.

I started reading the first Game of Thrones book, I am still reading the latest Court of Thrones and Roses book, my fellow English teaching friend/colleague lent me the Scythe books by Neal Shusterman, and I have borrowed/bought about fifty other books and want to reread at least two others. And all I really want to do right now is take a nap, oh well.

-A

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye and the Man who went on a twenty year journey.

Easter break. It was the best of times and…the best of times. I kept telling myself if I could just make it to Easter break then I could make it to the end of the semester. I have however hit that point in the spring semester where my motivation is at an all time low but I don’t think my cooperating teachers will let me slow down.

I took lots of R&R this last week, starting on Wednesday and while I didn’t go to the beach like my brother and sister-in-law did, I did do some reading (couch reading) and I started watching “Outlander” which was a kind of a mistake. I started reading the book about three weeks ago and I really got into it and then I kinda fell out of it. It’s a good book don’t get me wrong but I used it as a “getting out a reading slump” book and now that I am out of my reading slump I probably won’t finish it. I was honestly more interested in watching the TV show then I was reading the book and now that I started watching the TV show…except my free 7 day trial ends soon and I don’t really want to rent the channel on Prime (probably not until May when I am officially graduated!!) so we’ll see how far I exactly get. It is a fabulous series (well at least the first season is) and I look forward to finishing it and finishing GOT as well.

When I went to my brother’s wedding I borrowed from the library the audio version of the book “The Girl who takes an Eye for an Eye” by David Lagercrantz and lo and behold the fifth disc didn’t work. It just said “ERROR”. I had the physical copy of the book but I figured since I was driving nine hours both ways I would just listen to the book. That obviously didn’t work out so I figured out where I left off and sat down yesterday and read the rest of the book. When I first found out that Lagercrantz was continuing the Millennium series I was concerned because he wasn’t the original author and probably wouldn’t do the series justice however, I honestly could not tell a difference in writing style or material or the direction the books were going. This latest installment was amazing and refreshing. The original three books were heavy on content and in depth and certainly “The Girl Caught in the Spider’s Web” was as well but this was fresh and new and a quick easy read which was just what I needed. It is a book you just don’t want to put down because it is fast paced, engaging, suspenseful and leaves you wanting more. I will be very upset if there isn’t another book because there is no reason why there shouldn’t be.

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This latest book starts right where the last one left off and explores another aspect of Salander’s childhood, while engaging in current politics and national trends. It brings in all our favorite characters as well as some new ones and certainly doesn’t disappoint. While Salander could be argued to be the main character as always the focus is spread out, focusing on several different characters and how their storylines always seem to connect. Another excellent addition to the Millennium series.

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I also finished the graphic novel adaptation of “The Odyssey” by Gareth Hinds and I have to say I wouldn’t have wanted to read “The Odyssey” in any other format (except that I have to). I am currently teaching it to Freshman and I told myself if I had to reread “The Odyssey” it was going to be in a graphic novel form. I was not disappointed and now want to read all classics this way :). Hinds did a wonderful job not only illustrating and bringing to life such a fascinating and spellbinding story but he captured the essence of “The Odyssey” as well…it is a story. It was a story, sung usually, by bards or traveling performers. Before there was TV or theaters this is what people did for entertainment…they told long lyrical stories. I have honestly never been a fan of epics after having to read “The Epic of Gilgamesh” for a World Lit. course but my faith was renewed when I listened to a metrically correct adaptation of Beowulf. I don’t remember exactly who the adapter was but he did it in such a way as to preserve the rhythm and rhyme of the original epic. Epics were usually set to music and therefore had a rhythm to them which often got lost in translation because as usual people are too concerned with making sure everything is translated correctly then they are with making sure it is translated right. Instead of worrying about how it “sounds” they are more concerned with the literal. So my recommendation would be when listening to a translated epic look for a metrically correct version or a graphic novel version :).

-A

Wonder by R.J. Palacio, long car rides and wonderful news!

I feel as if I have neglected my blog a little…or perhaps a lot but switching student teaching placements is not that easy. Especially when you show up and another teacher wants you to teach two classes of seniors and the school wants you to interview in a week! I was super pumped about that interview though :).

So a lot has happened since I lost blogged and as a result not a lot of reading has happened. I did however start another three books since I last finished one, which brings up my current total of currently reading on my Goodreads account to 9. Which in theory I am only actively reading like two of those books. One for school and the other for pleasure.

I finished listening to the audio book Wonder and loved it! I cried at the ending which again I was driving to school when I finished so I was desperately trying to make sure my mascara wasn’t running. I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading Wonder simply because when the book first came out I read a few negative reviews and as a result of that wasn’t really interested in the book. Mainly the one complaint logged against the book was that it didn’t portray being a kid with a disability as having a happy easy life. Which, if I’m being honest life probably isn’t easy when you don’t look like everyone else. If you are reading this and have absolutely no idea what I am talking about I will explain. Auggie or Augustus Pullman was born with a rare genetic deformity that basically makes his face look not normal at all and severely deformed. However, this is the only problem with Auggie as this hasn’t effected him in any other way except he just looks different. He’s just like any other normal fourth grader about to go into the fourth grade.

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Auggie’s face is very noticeable and therefore he does get picked on and the book doesn’t shy away from that fact. To me that was refreshing. The book didn’t sugar coat the cruelty of kids and it didn’t sugar coat Auggie’s reaction to the bullying. Bullying happens whether we like it or not and not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. This book is honest about what kids do in fifth grade to each other especially when one is different than the rest. Another great example of this is Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Another great book about a kid who is different and it doesn’t shy away from how her classmates treat her. It really is a great novel and would make a great read aloud and spark some really great conversations on how to treat classmates.

On the way to my brother’s wedding (St. Patrick’s Day! I did not wear green :)), I listened to the novel The Same Kind of Different As Me. I had bought the book years ago and it sat  on my shelf for years. I had always wanted to read it but I never found the time to and since I was going to be stuck in the car for nine hours I decided to borrow it from the library and finally read/listen to it. It was not what I expected at all and in fact I still don’t really know the point of the story. Turns out it is a true story about a man from down south who ended up in Texas and being helped by a Christian man and his wife. The description on the book in my opinion is really misleading because this book again was not what I expected at all but it was interesting. If I end up finding the book in my boxes I probably won’t keep it but it’s not a bad book.

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That brings us all the way to this last week. After my brother’s wedding I interviewed with the school where I am currently student teaching. I breathlessly awaited a answer to whether or not they hired me because I had another interview with a school as equally close to where I want to live. Well they had good and bad news. The bad news was I didn’t get the position I initially applied for but they really wanted me to work there so they were working really hard to make a position for me. This should have been flattering and it was somewhat but when they first offered me the job it was part time and the principal wasn’t sure if they would be able to get me to full time until Friday, the day of my next interview. So I was told to wait until Friday. Well I interviewed in the morning at the other school and as soon I got back into my building that morning the principal called me down to offer me a full time position! Needless to say I wanted to accept right away but I needed some time to think. I was really torn because if I stay at the school I am currently student teaching at I can work with one of my best friends but the other school has a great speech and one act program headed by another one of my great friends. I thought long and hard Friday and I will tell everyone my decision on Monday (even if it has already been made). Let’s just say one school has a lot more going for it then the other one :).

-A

The Bittersweet of Books and Student Teaching

Yesterday was my last day student teaching in the sixth grade and the term bittersweet was never more true. There were days that I couldn’t wait to move on to the high school and yet when I was sitting alone in the classroom reading letters my students had written me I started crying. Despite the fact they drove me to my limits most days I will miss those kids something fierce. You form bonds with high school kids but it is a different kind of bond with middle schoolers. Even the kids who I knew didn’t really like me wrote me really sweet letters.

I wrote each of those self absorbed sixth graders a personal letter and their responses were why I am a teacher. Almost all of those kids said they were going to keep that letter and that fact alone almost made me start crying. I am not normally an emotional person but saying goodbye to those kids was really hard. They don’t tell you that in college. That student teaching is going to be hardest thing you have to do not only because of the workload and the fact that every night you want to go to bed by 7:30 and that at the end of the eight weeks you won’t want to leave your kids because they are the best thing about your day. They don’t prepare you for these things…nor do they prepare you for interviews or the post interview adrenaline where you to calm yourself down you attempt to read said letters and have an emotional breakdown and then suddenly realize you can’t have your kids see your terrifying crying face so you just force yourself to calm down and then once again you emotionally stunted because you didn’t allow yourself to cry…(I’ll do it later when there is no one around to see me ugly cry).

I only wish I had more time with those kids 🙂

Today I decided to reward myself and get my mind off the interview (they will let me know beginning of the week this next week (insert grimace face emoji)) I decided to finally finish A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Mass. I loved the first book in the series and even though I love buying books I am kinda a cheapskate so I waited until the second one was in paperback to get it and then I waited until like two weeks after the third one came out in hardback to buy it, so that happened. Anyways I started reading this book what feels like a year ago but in reality was only 7 months ago (that doesn’t make me feel any better :/) and just now finished it. I honestly have no idea why it took me so long to finish it because I have had time to read it especially since I started student teaching. As much as I complain about how much work student teaching is it was nothing compared to last semester’s workload (19 credit hours, work on weekends, club activities and packing). So all in all I really should have found the time to finish it before now. If yesterday wasn’t painful enough the last 100 pages of this book were guaranteed to rip my heart out and then slap a bandaid over it on the last two pages. As if that little glimmer of hope at the end of the book really helped my mood at all.

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This book was a complete 360 from beginning to end. One moment you are screaming at Feyre because she is an idiot and then the next you like “Girl, you are totally justified” and then once you are screaming at words on a page because Feyre is once again the dummest fairy to be alive. Despite the emotional roller coaster ride it will put you on this is by far one of my favorite fae book series. I have read two outstanding book series about fairies, in my two decades plus a little on this Earth, and this is number three (The Tithe Series by Holly Black, and The Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr). It is a fast paced, groundbreaking, novel full of sexual tension, true powerful love, strong female characters, and actual love. When I say actual love I am referring to the selfless kind of love that breaks people free and doesn’t leave them feeling trapped and alone. Incredible, incredible book and I am kinda mad at myself I didn’t finish it sooner. I am very pleased with myself however that I have the third book in my possession already but I probably won’t start it till later. I am trying to read Wrinkle in Time, the graphic novel Speak (in preparation for when I teach it to the high schoolers) and a book by an amazing author, Amee Bender, (who is somewhat of my personal idol in the book world) so I’m pretty swamped for the time being, not to mention I am listening to Wonder on audiobook as I drive back and forth.

P.S. if anyone knows of any good Court of Thorn and Roses fanfic floating out there I think I am finally at a place where I would love to start reading some 🙂

-A