Please browse here to find books that I think are worth your time.... or are real stinkers. I will let you know what I REALLY think of what I am reading. You might not find the newest and most popular books here, but I would LOVE it if you find something unexpectedly great!

I will indicate on each post the Lexile level of the book.
To find out more about Lexile levels, go HERE.

Use the labels list on the right side of the screen to find a title about something you are interested in. You can also search by Lexile levels.

Happy Reading!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Belle: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast

By Cameron Dokey
Lexile = 740

If you are a fan of Fairy Tales with a twist, this is the series for you! Written by several different authors, "Once Upon a Time is Timeless" is a series with about 20 titles. I purchased most of them for Ridgeline. Although I plan to read more, I started with Belle. Likely I chose this one because the Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson was recently released. I also remember Beauty and the Beast being one of my favorite fairy tales when I was just a kid.

This particular retelling follows a slightly different plot line than Disney's version. Belle has two sisters, a mother and a father. There are no angry villagers and even the castle isn't enchanted. Belle is a brave, plucky heroine with a gift for wood carving. In fact, it is her carving that takes her the Beast's home in the first place.

Overall, this is a sweet retelling of the classic tale. Lots and lots of back story here; She doesn't arrive at the Beast's castle until a bit past half way! Less romance and more inner reflection. This isn't my favorite version of Beauty, but it was a fun, quick read. Enjoy the entire series! Obviously, they don't have to be read in any particular order.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

By Gabrielle Zevin
Lexile = 720

I've always thought it would be fun, or perhaps at least very interesting to have amnesia. It would be like starting all over again. That is what happens to Naomi in Memoirs of a Teenage Amesiac, except she has forgotten just the last four years of her life. Wouldn't that be strange? You would remember your bestest friend from seventh grade and expect that same relationship to be there. Except maybe it's not. In Naomi's case, she is told that "Ace" is her boyfriend, but with her memory gone, she can't imagine why she ever even liked him. Instead she is drawn to people and situations that are very different from what she is TOLD her new reality is. And her parents? That situation is very different from four years ago.

Naomi is a bit of a manipulator; she uses her diagnosed amnesia to dodge situations and to control people around her. I expected to like this book better. It is written by the same author as The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, which is more literary. Memoirs opens up a lot of questions, but the answers were a little thin. I plan on trying another by this author, Elsewhere. Watch for updates!

And now here is a twist: Memiors was made into a 2010 Japanese movie! HERE is the the trailer...in Japanese!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Everything I Never Told You

By Celeste Ng
Lexile = 870

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.”

Opening Line.... so nothing I can add would be considered a spoiler. But I did want to know how Lydia died. I was expecting a crime/detective novel. Nope! This is about WHY Lydia died. And it is super painful. In fact, I didn't... couldn't finish this. Lydia's death is every mother's nightmare.

Everything I Never Told You is all about the characters. Lydia is the favorite child of a Chinese American Family in Ohio in the 70's. James, the Chinese father, suffered a great deal from prejudice while growing up and even now as a professor of western literature. Marilyn, Lydia's mother, almost became a doctor. Her family rejected her when she married James.

Lydia's story is how messed up her family is. And it is super painful.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife

By Diane Ackerman
Lexile = ?

I so wanted to love this book! I liked it.... but I didn't finish it.

Actually, I thought it was fiction but was happy to find out that it is the true story of the Warsaw Zoo during WWII after the animals were mostly gone and then it became a haven for hidden activists and refugee Jews. The Zabinskis cared for people as well as they had cared for their animals, often right under the Nazis' guard.

The author is a naturalist with an impressive resume of scientific works. The Zookeeper's Wife expertly describes the habits and quirks of the many animals that come into the care of the Zabinskis, but the author often diverts into random tangents and thus the book lacks a narrative story line. Ackerman would describe the antics of a household pet at length and then mention that there were bombed out buildings or "guests" from the house that were killed.

I found a great article online about the Zabinskis that included some photos of refugees in the cages:


















Don't get me wrong. The Zookeeper's Wife has a heroic story to tell. Perhaps because I am not an animal person, I wanted more history and human characters and less furry stuff. I look forward to the movie; I am sure it will include more of a narrative arc instead of merely an ark.

Watch a trailer for the movie HERE.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Two Old Women

By Velma Wallis
Lexile - 1030

Another title that I am quite surprised by the Lexile level! This is a rather straightforward and simple retelling of an old Alaskan legend. I would suggest that this 136 page novel would be appropriate for a 7th grade classroom. Perhaps thematically it is a bit more complex.

The two old women are named Chickadee and Star. Their native names are, of course, not that simple, but in my head I went with the English equivalents. Anyway, during a particularly hard winter, these two women are abandoned and left to die by their tribe. The old ones cannot keep up with the rest and are not providing any help to the group. According to stories told in the group, this has been done before.

So, the tribe moves on and the women must decide how to face certain death. They are braver and stronger than anyone knows, even themselves.

I typically do not like Native American tales, but I enjoyed this quick read and it gave me some subjects to ponder.

A Separate Peace

By John Knowles
Lexile = 1110

A Separate Peace is considered a classic; it is often assigned reading in high school. That is actually why I read it the first time, and this time. I'm preparing to present selections for students to pick as assigned reading.

First, I am surprised by the "high" Lexile number of 1110. I imagine that is because of sentence length because I don't recall having my vocabulary challenged here.

Knowles' classic was published in 1959. It's a World War II story, but not not really. Set at an exclusive boys prep school in the East, the students are grappling with the coming war and the fear that they will be drafted. Gene and Phinneas are best friends, at least that is what Phinneas tells Gene often. Gene is quiet and studious. Phinneas is a boisterous class clown who is always organizing a game or challenge of some sort. The whole book is pretty much a study in the contrasting characters of the two boys. The biggest criticism I have heard about A Separate Peace is that "nothing really happens". Others claim it is the "best book ever".

The review online calls it "harrowing and luminous". Huh.... I would NOT call this harrowing.

Monday, April 24, 2017

I Had Seen Castles

By Cynthia Rylant
Lexile = 950

Oh. My. Goodness. Love this book. So many paragraphs that I want to copy and paste here. This is seriously beautiful writing.

I Had Seen Castles sounds like a memoir told by a boy that turned eighteen and went off to World War II in Europe. It is fiction.

It is now over fifty years later. I am becoming what I once thought of as an old man. And I want desperately to have that sunny afternoon in 1939 back. I want to have that morning. The walk to school with the guys, the banter, the wisecracking, the cuffing and shoving that boys must do to claim ownership of each other. I want to have Science and History and English and Gym, and I want to sit among my friends eating soggy sandwiches and making wild claims of one sort or another.


So we know that he survives the war. But he is changed. Perhaps students won't see what I see in this slim volume. Much like the protagonist, they are anxious for the adventure and excitement that war promises. I see this as a protest book. Obviously, war is bad. Ryland shows the reader how each character is changed: the Mom who stays at home and takes a factory job, the sister who promises herself to more than one GI, the Father who leaves his University job to develop weapons, and the little boy who had dreamed of seeing castles and then did.

I could not stay in America because America had not suffered. I needed to be with those whose eyes looked like my own, who had covered their faces and lain in the darkness as bombs fell.

New favorite book!