Review: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I come from a Disney-fanatic family. We love all things Disney and frequent the theme parks often. We speak in Disney quotes and some of my fondest memories are centered around the brand. I can still remember going to see with my mom when I was a little girl and Belle has always been one of my favorite princesses. I'm not going to lie...I still have library envy every time I see the movie.

One thing I love about fairy tales is reading the original and comparing the stories to their "Disney-fied" versions. I have to admit that while reading this version, I missed some of my favorite characters. There is not Lumiere, Clocksworth, or Ms. Potts. Belle also has siblings and the conflict is simplified. There is no Gaston nor do the villagers attack Beast's castle. However, the heart of the story is there - looking past the physical to the heart and soul of a person and falling in love with that rather than outward appearances.

There is still a happy ending and the story is still a romance. And really, that's all I ask for out of my fairy tales.

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Review: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My students read this novel as part of our justice unit in Language Arts. I liked this book. It is incredibly well written and Taylor is a genuine storyteller. The narrative was descriptive without being verbose. The characters are well developed and accessible to students. The conflict is rich and provided many opportunities for discussion. My students particularly liked discussing the social structure between the African American community and the Caucasian community, as well as the differences within the African American community itself. They were able to make connections between this story and current events in the news, which generated a lot of thoughtful insights.

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Review: The Princess Diarist

The Princess Diarist The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have always been a fan of Carrie Fisher. I appreciate her dry and witty sense of humor. I was saddened to learn of her passing and that of her mother's only a few days later. I had this book on my to-read list for awhile and when the audiobook became available through my local library, I snatched it up.

The Princess Diarist came about when Fisher discovered some long-lost diaries that she had kept while filming the first Star Wars movie. The first part of the book chronicles Fisher's experiences with auditioning for the part and getting cast. She also reveals that she and her co-star, Harrison Ford, had a brief affair while filming the first film. I was glad that Fisher was the narrator for the audiobook. It made it that much more special to hear the stories in her voice. Her unique personality shines through beautifully.

The middle of the book consists of the journal pages, read by Billie Lourd, presumably because she sounds younger and Fisher wanted the journal pages to sound like the voice of a nineteen-year-old, which is when she wrote them. The journal pages consist mostly of entries written in poetic form and reveal the inner dialogue of a young, naive, and vulnerable teen. I found them to be quite good and was impressed with Fisher's writings. I found them to be rather sophisticated, especially for someone who never graduated from high school. Fisher was a very talented writer.

The end of the book explores Fisher's love-hate relationship with her role of Princess Leia. I found this part of the narrative to be particularly entertaining, especially Fisher's description of what she calls a "lap dance" or when celebrities participate in events where they sell their autographs for cash.

Overall, I found the book to be entertaining, funny, witty, and engaging. It made me sad to think that we have lost one of our biggest icons and brighest stars. Fisher's approach to this book makes you feel like you are out to coffee, listening to her tell stories and trying not to cry with laughter. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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Review: Caraval

Caraval Caraval by Stephanie Garber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is quite the fantastical tale. The narrative is imaginative and a delight to the senses. Every page is full of magic, wonder, mystery, and danger. It is well written and the characters are dynamic and colorful. The games of Caraval hosted by the notorious, Legend, make for an entertaining and magical backdrop. Nothing is what it seems in this world that is both wondrous and deadly. The plot is full of twists and turns that kept me guessing and jumping to more than one false conclusion throughout. I am eagerly anticipating the sequel.

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Review: Under the Egg

Under the Egg Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun adventure-mystery novel and I love that it had an art history twist. Theo is an intelligent and precocious character and the characters who help her solve the case are fun and make for an entertaining read. I loved the historical basis and twists of the plot and thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It's definitely a unique YA novel.

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Review: Bystander

Bystander Bystander by James Preller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a middle school teacher, I deal with issues of bullying on a regular basis. Often, bullying continues because bystanders refuse to intervene or report it, but the power of the bystander is one of the hardest messages to get across to students.

I really loved the idea of this book and I think that Preller did a really good job of developing believable characters and realistic conflict for the first three-quarters of the book. I was disappointed in the story’s resolution. I had hoped that the protagonist, Eric, would have taken the higher ground instead of acting like the bully himself.

While Eric does begin to question certain behaviors of his own and his friends, I wish he had gone further. I don't deny that bullying is a complicated issue, but I feel like this book falls a little short of its potential. Nevertheless, I do think that it can be used to generate a good discussion on the issue and I am considering using it as part of my social justice unit with my students.

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Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is just a screenplay but the closest thing to a novel that we are likely to get. I read it after watching the movie and felt like I was watching it play across the screen all over again. Even in screenplay form, J.K. Rowling’s writing remains as descriptive and wonderful as ever. The book is illustrated with fun little designs of the beasts throughout which makes this book a nice collectible and addition to any fan’s HP library.

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Review: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun and imaginative little tale. It was full of humor, magic, mystery, and adventure. A modern-day fairytale. The plot was somewhat predictable, but it was well written and the characters were well developed. The story has heart and is an excellent addition to any children's literature section.

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Review: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Growing up, I loved the movie The Secret of NIMH. It was one of my favorites, up there with The Land Before Time and FernGully, but I never knew it was a book. I recently began preparing for our annual Battle of the Books competition and was pleasantly surprised to see Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH on the list of books.

Reading this book was like stepping back into my childhood for the briefest of moments. The story was just as I remembered, although there are some differences in plot between the movie and the novel, but the characters I loved were still there. As an adult, I was more aware of the darker undertones of the story, relating to the animal research and experimentation, but it was still mixed in with the humor and adventure I remembered from the film. I am probably biased towards this story, as many of us are about stories we encounter in our childhoods, but I still loved it. I look forward to sharing it with my children someday.

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Review: Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely

Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like Lysa TerKeurst's books. Over the last few years, I have read a few of TerKeurst's books and have come to appreciate her straightforward and honest approach. For me, this book lacked some focus. It covered many aspects of rejection but lacked the depth that I have come to expect from TerKeurst. I just didn't connect to this book in the way that I have connected with others I have read.

The overall message, however, is an important one. We will all face rejection. It is inescapable, but we still have a choice on how we face rejection. We can give into it and allow it to become our identity and the lens through which we view the world or we can choose to "live loved" and embrace who we are in God. Neither path is without struggle and TerKeurst does give some helpful advice and verses in the book. While I did not feel as deep of a connection to this message as I expected, I did come away with a new perspective on rejection and, therefore, I think this book is a worthwhile read.

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Review: Legend

Legend Legend by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do love a good dystopian novel and Legend does not disappoint. Set in what was once the United States, the book switches between the perspectives of June, a gifted and loyal soldier of the Republic, and Day, a slum-born rebel determined to undermine the Republic. I loved that these two characters were from such different worlds. The switching of the perspectives kept the story moving forward nicely and Lu does a really good job of developing these two characters. It's the juxtaposition of these two characters that makes the society's problems/realities really stand out. This novel has all the elements that make dystopian literature so entertaining - adventure, mystery, betrayal, and a dash of romance. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will be jumping into the sequel ASAP.

2016 Reading Challenge: A romance set in the future

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Review: The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business

The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really interesting read! The book begins by going through the brain science behind what Duhigg refers to as the "Habit Loop." Our brains make thousands of decisions a day, so things that we routinely do become habits, so that our brains don't have to take up mental "bandwidth" thinking about them. Instead, when we are presented with a familiar cue, our brain goes into autopilot and completes the determined behavior without much thought to get the desired reward.

While nothing in the book was particularly mind-blowing, it was interesting to see behaviors broken down into a fairly simple model or process. Duhigg briefly talked about how to modify behaviors based on the "Habit Loop" and outlined some of his experiments with his own behaviors. The book goes on to explore how habit science has been used with business and other organizations with varying success.

If you are interested in how habits are formed and how they can be changed, I think this is a good book to start with. It is written in easy to understand language and there are several case studies included. It is certainly not the "be all, end all" of habit science, but even someone like me, who really had only a passing interest in the topic, enjoyed the book and found it informative.

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