Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hair in All the Wrong Places: A School Library Journal Book Review

Published August 2016 Issue

Gr 5-8
-- Like most 13-year-olds going through puberty, Colin Strauss has to deal with extra hair, body odor, and growth spurts, but turning into a fledgling werewolf makes things a lot more complicated. Forced to live with his bitter grandmother because his high-powered lawyer parents couldn't be bothered with him, Colin slumps through eighth grade, constantly bullied, harassed by figures of authority, and convinced that he is a total loser. A turbulent and hazy night changes all of this when he gets bitten by a werewolf. Fellow middle schoolers will commiserate with Colin's life challenges. Secondary characters are well-developed, as are the supernatural elements of the story. However, the pace of the first half of the novel often makes it difficult to understand what is happening, requiring frequent rereads. Once the plot is established, though, it is a real page-turner right up until the satisfying end. Several unrealistic characters border on hyperbolic, such as a hired principal who has "absolutely no qualifications," a teacher who has "a particular hatred for students and other teachers," and the only doctor in town, "a notorious drunk who [is] just as likely to fall asleep during an appointment, as he [is] to diagnose the common cold as Ebola." There are explanations for some of this behavior revealed later on, but most of the adults encountered in this work are cruel and incompetent.

VERDICT Hand this one to students interested in supernatural creatures of all kinds, light romance, humor, and action.--Carina Gonzalez, Lawrence High School, NJ

BUCKLEY, Andrew. Hair in All the Wrong Places. 237p. ebook available. Month9Books. Jun. 2016. pap. $15. ISBN 9781942664987.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pinned to the Cause

Every night, before I go to sleep, I lay out the jewelry I'm going to wear for the following day on my jewelry box.  I'm organized like that.  Guess that goes with the whole librarian stereotype.

This morning I realized that the only piece of "jewelry" I had selected to add to my ensemble last night was a lone large safety pin.

I dithered.  I've read both sides of the arguments: for and against wearing of the safety pin.  I was at first excited about the concept, but then the potential magnitude of the statement I would be wearing for all to see gave me pause.

Was I ready to step in if I saw someone being mistreated?  I've learned through experience that the theory and practice of such are very different things.  You like to think you'll stand up for your principles and defend other's rights to their own, but it's not that easy for many reasons.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Inspiration Behind Your Procrastination

When I began reading The Big Thing I was expecting organizational charts, schedules, and/or tips on how to be creative like people who do it well.  I was expecting a convert, but was instead amused to learn that the author herself still struggles with her creative process on a daily basis.

The Big Thing by Phyllis Korkki, on How to Complete Your Creative Project Even If You’re a Lazy, Self-Doubting Procrastinator Like Me, was a fascinating read.  Mostly because I am not lazy, neither am I self-doubting, nor a procrastinator.  I suppose that means that I am also not humble, but the point is that The Big Thing  was not written for people like me.  If I say I’m going to do something, it gets done and it gets done well and it gets done quickly.  That’s just the way I have always operated and I never quite understood why people ever struggled to get things done…

...until I read this book.

My husband, like the author, has been struggling with a “big thing” of his own.  He too is trying to write a book and it’s incomprehensible to me how much of a challenge it is for him for stick to a schedule and just write, especially when it’s something he claims to be so passionate about.  

According to Korkki, the obstacles to creative project completion aren’t really about time management.  At the core, it’s about psychology, as well as a smattering of other surprising suggestions like posture, breathing, and recognition by cognitive authorities in your medium.  In other words, it’s mostly in your head!  Not to demean these challenges, by any means.  The struggle is certainly real, as Korkki clearly demonstrates in this memoir-style account of her trying to complete this very book.  But it’s all about defeating the naysayers of your subconscious.

I found some parts of the book to be a bit too tangential though.  Some of the reasons behind laziness, self-doubting and procrastination that Korkki explores I found to be a stretch; more of a stream of consciousness thought experiment than proven methods to overcome these obstacles.  As long as you keep this in mind, this book is definitely helpful, to those who call themselves procrastinators, as well as the people who attempt to live with them.  Less of a manual on HOW to complete those projects, as why you didn’t complete them in the first place.

About The Big Thing

• Hardcover: 256 pages
• Publisher: Harper (August 9, 2016)

New York Times business journalist explains why it’s important for people to pursue big creative projects, and identifies both the obstacles and the productive habits that emerge on the path to completion—including her own experience writing this book.

Whether it’s the Great American Novel or a groundbreaking new app, many people want to create a Big Thing, but finding the motivation to get started, let alone complete the work, can be daunting. In The Big Thing, New York Times business writer and editor Phyllis Korkki combines real-life stories, science, and insights from her own experience to illuminate the factors that drive people to complete big creative projects—and the obstacles that threaten to derail success.

In the course of creating her own Big Thing—this book—Korkki explores the individual and collaborative projects of others: from memoirs, art installations, and musical works to theater productions, small businesses, and charities. She identifies the main aspects of a Big Thing, including meaningful goals, focus and effort, the difficulties posed by the demands of everyday life, and the high risk of failure and disappointment. Korkki also breaks down components of the creative process and the characteristics that define it, and offers her thoughts on avoiding procrastination, staying motivated, scheduling a routine, and overcoming self-doubt and the restrictions of a day job. Filled with inspiring stories, practical advice, and a refreshing dose of honesty, The Big Thing doesn’t minimize the negative side of such pursuits—including the fact that big projects are hard to complete and raise difficult questions about one’s self-worth.

Inspiring, wise, humorous, and good-natured, The Big Thing is a meditation on the importance of self-expression and purpose.

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HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Phyllis Korkki

Phyllis Korkki is an assignment editor and reporter for the New York Times Sunday Business section.

Follow Phyllis on Twitter.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

You Don't Need Religion to Raise Good Kids!

Grace Without God cover
I wish this book had existed ten years ago when I was starting my family.  Parents are often vilified for choosing to raise their children secularly, but this book provides a wonderful grace-filled guide on how to do it thoughtfully.  Katherine Ozment, a former Christian, and her husband Michael, who was raised Jewish, knew they didn’t want to raise their children in religion.  They knew the negatives of a religious upbringing, but were surprised to discover how much was lost by having made that choice.  They discovered that their children missed biblical references when reading literature in school, had little sense of community, and lacked the family traditions that accompany religious holidays.  

There was something missing.
In this chronicle of Ozment’s search for “meaning, purpose, and belonging in a secular age,” we are exposed to her fears, bravery, failures, and successes.  Ozment also delves deeply into the psychology of why religion is such a popular choice and how to make those connections in other ways.

Grace Without God is brimming with practical suggestions and resources for people of all faiths (or not-faiths) on how to navigate our burgeoning secular worlds without depriving our children of the joys many of us experienced growing up within a religion.  It IS possible to provide children with a moral compass, and answers to their spiritual questions without compromising your beliefs.  This book is a must read for anybody struggling to define themselves religiously, or looking to raise their children secularly.  I already have a list of friends to whom I will be handing this one too!

About Grace Without God

• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (June 21, 2016)

Meet “the Nones”—In this thought-provoking exploration of secular America, celebrated journalist Katherine Ozment takes readers on a quest to understand the trends and ramifications of a nation in flight from organized religion.

Studies show that religion makes us happier, healthier and more giving, connecting us to our past and creating tight communal bonds. Most Americans are raised in a religious tradition, but in recent decades many have begun to leave religion, and with it their ancient rituals, mythic narratives, and sense of belonging.

So how do the nonreligious fill the need for ritual, story, community, and, above all, purpose and meaning without the one-stop shop of religion? What do they do with the space left after religion? With Nones swelling to one-fourth of American adults, and more than one-third of those under thirty, these questions have never been more urgent.

Writer, journalist, and secular mother of three Katherine Ozment came face-to-face with the fundamental issue of the Nones when her son asked her the simplest of questions: “what are we?” Unsettled by her reply—“Nothing”—she set out on a journey to find a better answer. She traversed the frontier of American secular life, sought guidance in science and the humanities, talked with noted scholars, and wrestled with her own family’s attempts to find meaning and connection after religion.

Insightful, surprising, and compelling, Grace Without God is both a personal and critical exploration of the many ways nonreligious Americans create their own meaning and purpose in an increasingly secular age.

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Katherine Ozment AP photo by Chris KirzederAbout Katherine Ozment

Katherine Ozment is an award-winning journalist and former senior editor at National Geographic. Her essays and articles have been widely published in such venues as the New York Times, National Geographic, and Salon. She lives in Chicago with her husband and children.

Find out more about Katherine at her website, and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

PARCC is NOT a graduation requirement for the Class of 2016!

IMPORTANT: PARCC is NOT a graduation requirement for the Class of 2016

On Friday, May 6 the NJDOE and the Education Law Center reached a settlement on a case that has far reaching implications for graduating high school seniors. The settlement provides important protections for students in the Class of 2016 who have met all other requirements for a diploma, but have not fulfilled the new testing requirements imposed by the NJDOE.

Key points of the settlement are as follows:
  • By this Friday, May 13, Districts should provide information about the portfolio process to parents/guardians of all students who still need the portfolio review to graduate. 
  • The portfolio process is available to all students, regardless of IEP status. 
  • Districts have been granted the power to oversee the portfolio review process. Districts may: 
  • Determine whether or not a student has met the graduation proficiency standards. 
  • Set portfolio requirements OR collect previous classwork to fulfill the portfolio requirements (or a combination of the two). 
  • Administer portfolio assessments in a student’s native language. 
  • Allow students awaiting final review of portfolios to participate in graduation ceremonies. 
  • Districts must provide staff assistance for students completing portfolios. 

Full details of the settlement are available here. The Department of Education’s guidance on the settlement is available here.

If you have additional questions about the implications of the settlement for students in your school, contact Stan Karp of the Education Law Center at

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Dangerous Place: Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

A Dangerous Place is Jacqueline Winspear's 11th book in the Maisie Dobbs series.  It is spring, 1937 in the British garrison town of Gibraltor.  Late 30's Gibraltar is a place of "between," full of transient people, clashing cultures, and dangerous opinions.

Maisie Dobbs, the lead character, is also "between."  A woman of many talents, principal of which is as an investigator.  However, personal tragedy has led her to flee her profession, or at least she tries to.  Trouble seems to have a way of following her.

Murder, lies, and wartime propaganda make this a page-turning read, but without the extreme highs and lows of typical suspense thrillers.  This book, obviously written by a seasoned author, seems to flow effortlessly.  The characters and setting are all so well detailed that the reader is quickly immersed in the history of this tumultuous time; a definite recommendation for anyone studying the underlying emotional motivations behind World War II, and the economic impact that still arrested much of the world after World War I.

The reason I gave this book three stars instead of more is because of the ending.  The entire plot is a slow burn of untangling twists and revealed truths.  However, what would be the climactic reveal felt like it was delivered as an afterthought to the main character's next venture.  This may be a customary  tactic for Maisie Dobbs novels, I don't know.  This is my first.  But rather than hungrily making me want to read the next book, I instead just felt robbed of my "aha" moment that I had been climbing towards.

Either way, if you are a fan of historical fiction, Winspear is definitely an author you should add to your list.  She is a very talented writer.

Author Links: and Facebook

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

City of Blades: A Divine Read

City of Blades is the second book in The Divine Cities series by Robert Jackson Bennett.  It tells of the continuing war between two peoples:  the Saypuri and the Continentals who once enslaved them.  While reading book one, City of Stairs, isn't required to enjoy this book, it is recommended to fully understand some of the motivations behind the main characters.

Saypuri General Turyin Mulaghesh - a secondary character in City of Stairs - takes center stage in this novel.  She is a blunt, gritty, seasoned veteran who constantly struggles to reconcile her duty as a soldier with the unimaginable amount of blood that she's seen, and spilled.  Hailed as the "Hero of Bulikov," for an impactful battle that occurred in the city of the same name, she presents a constant contradiction of self.  Is she the hero that everyone claims her to be or is she the monster that she recognizes from her own past?

Mulaghesh enters retirement at the beginning of the book but, through a direct request from her old friend Shara Komayd, (who is featured in book one City of Stairs), serves her country for what she believes will be the last time.  But the catch is...Shara won't tell General Mulaghesh what the mission is.

City of Blades is a story of dying gods, religious fanaticism, terrorism, and the red tape of bureaucracy.  While categorized as an epic fantasy, I felt that this book had a heavy amount of mystery to it as well.  Much of the story revolves around relentless attacks in back-water Voortyashtan, which is occurring the same time that the administration is also trying to rebuild their harbor, as well as their economy.  What General Mulaghesh must discover is who is behind the attacks, whether or not the divine are involved, and how many more people are going to die under her watch.

Robert Jackson Bennett not only has a female as the main character in an epic fantasy story, but she is a soldier in her late middle years.  This is not generally typical of epic fantasy and I know because I've read a lot of it!  Yet Bennett nails it and has created a strong and complex character who can serve as a role model for readers and a template for future writers.  You've definitely never met anyone like Turyin Mulaghesh!  The author actually presents many female characters throughout the book and constantly breaks stereotypes.  It is so refreshing.

Recommend this book to fans of military fantasy, (such as author Myke Cole who consulted on City of Blades), epic fantasy, urban fantasy, fantastic mystery, dystopias, and even science fiction.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.