January 30, 2014

Conducting Student Led Conferences

A few weeks ago we had our second round of conferences for the school year.  I've blogged before about how I prepare for and conduct my parent conferences, but at my school our spring conferences are a little different.  They are student-led and conducted in more of an open house style.  Here's how they work:

For my traditional conferences, I schedule each family for a 15 minute time slot.  For student-led conferences I schedule two families to a 30 minute time slot.  I let families know that these times are more flexible, and don't kick them out right at 30 minutes, although most families stay for about 20.  At any given moment, there are as many as four families in the classroom at a time.  It actually makes scheduling WAY easier than traditional conferences.  (In past years, if I had a student who I know had a particularly tricky conversation ahead of him or her--behavior issues, etc, I'd be sure to schedule him or her for a time without other families and shut the door for that conference.)

Preparing the Kids
In order for student led conferences to be successful, it is so important that the kids are prepared.  I'm talking seriously well-rehearsed.  I start by having them fill out the same Conference Report I do for all conferences, as well as updating their MAP goal setting sheets.  (Both are explained in more detail in this post.)
In addition, I have the kids organize several items to put in a construction paper portfolio.  Here's what we included this year:
I give the kids a copy of this checklist, and we put them in the front of each folder.  Then comes the fun part--rehearsal!  I choose a student to help me model a conference for the class.  The two of us sit together with the rest of the class gathered around.  Then, I pretend I'm the student and the student is my parent.  :)  The kids love this, obv.  I model using the checklist to help me explain each piece in my folder.  Then, I have the student model with me pretending to be the parent.  Once we have explicitly demonstrated what to do, I have the kids find a partner or two partners to practice a conference with.  I have the kids practice twice at MINIMUM, meanwhile circulating and make sure the kids know everything from what to say to how to page through their folders without getting papers EVERYWHERE.  (You know the disorganized darlings I'm talking about!  God love em!)

Before leaving school on Conferences Day, I have the kids clean extensively.  Then, they put their folders out on their desks, including their writing notebooks and a book they are currently reading.  Last, we set up a "science station" with materials from recent science labs.  This is a favorite part for kids--getting to demonstrate our experiments and show off their science knowledge for their families!
Conference Day
Conference day is actually relaxing and wonderful in comparison to the nonstop go go go of traditional conferences.  I greet families when they come in, let them know that their child is in charge of leading the conference, and invite them to sit down and get started.  I typically let the kids facilitate the beginning of the conference on their own before popping over to add my 2 cents and answer any questions.  For some students and families, a quick check in is all that is needed, where with other families I will sit with them for longer periods of time to discuss their child's progress.  It's great to have this flexibility. 
After the kids finish the checklists in their folders, I invite them to take time to show parents anything around the room they wish to share, and to take their time before heading out.  The kids love this chance to play tour guide and show off.  :)

Thoughts on Student Led Conferences
I had a lot of anxiety about running conferences like this my first year teaching, but after getting the hang of them, I love them.  We only do conferences like this in winter--fall conferences are a traditional format where I meet with each family one at a time for 15 minutes.  By winter, I think the students are ready for this.  Even the little ones!  Our 1/2 teachers successfully run student led conferences too.  Even though this is a long day, I always find it rewarding and fun.  It's great to check in with families and share student growth and goals, but it's also amazing to see the kids take OWNERSHIP over their progress and share it with their parents!  So exciting to see my little babies feel proud and confident in front of their families.

Do you do Student Led Conferences?  Any tips?

January 29, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Alien Invasions + Big Brother is Watching

Being sick last week got in the way of my WIRW posting, but I did get a lot of reading done!  I have two great books to share with you today!

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancy
Rating: 4/5 stars

Sci Fi is not usually my favorite genre, but this book had so many good ratings that I decided to give it a try.  In The Fifth Wave, teenager Cassie tells about what happens to her and her family when an alien spacecraft descends from space and hovers over Earth.  First, all power on Earth is killed.  Second, a horrific plague kills the majority of the population.  Then, the children are all rounded up and taken away, including Cassie's little brother.  Cassie vows she will get her brother back and finds herself in a fight for both her brother and her life.

I have to say, I had a hard time getting into this one.  I don't love anything with aliens (which makes it strange that I read this in the first place), and I had a hard time connecting with Cassie as a character--she is pretty intense, and her biting sarcastic tone was a bit abrasive.  The first half of the book dragged for me...but I am SO GLAD I stuck with it!  Somewhere around the halfway point, I really got into it.  The book jumps between characters, and I loved trying to connect the dots and figure out the truth about what was happening with the aliens who'd yet to show their faces on Earth.  I could barely put it down--as slow as the first half was for me, the second half was that fast!  I definitely recommend it, even if aliens aren't normally your thing.  Trust me, they aren't mine!!

The Circle by David Eggers
18302455Rating: 4/5 stars

I was intrigued by this book since I first heard about it awhile back.  Set in the not too far off future, protagonist Mae is offered a dream job working in Customer Experience at the technology company that has come to dominate the modern world, The Circle.  The Circle has taken over Google, Facebook, Paypal...basically everything on the internet and then some.  Mae feels like she has hit the jackpot...until things start to get weird.  The more you read, the more you realize how creepy the extreme surveillance at The Circle is, and how any sort of privacy has disappeared.

I flew through this book, getting more and more creeped out by the lack of privacy and the insane new "initiatives" introduced by The Circle.  One of the criticisms of The Circle is that it's one big soap-box-cautionary tale.  It's a little over the top at times, but I still thought the message was an important one.  It would make a good book club book--there are so many questions raised by this book, especially regarding the line between good technology and too much technology.  Very interesting read!

What have you been reading this week?

January 28, 2014

My Lazy Snow Day by the Hours

Another "Cold Day" here in Chiberia!  Brr.  Yesterday was a LAZY day for me!  I could get used to these three-day work weeks...After tackling laundry, groceries, errands, and grading Saturday and Sunday, yesterday was a gift of a restful day!  Nature must have known I'm still getting over being sick and could use another day in leggings and bulky sweaters under blankets... :)  I decided to document the day in pictures by the hour.  This was so fun to do one day over the summer!

7am: Wake up after crashing at my parents' house last night.  (I was over there to watch the Grammys + Downton Abbey and decided it was too cold out to go home.  Plus, their guest room has a king sized bed.  WIN.)  Remember that I don't have school.  Smile and go back to sleep...
King sized bed = amazing.
 9am: Finally leave my warm and comfortable bed.  Head downstairs to raid my parents' kitchen.  Settle on PB & banana oatmeal which I devour while watching last week's Modern Family in front of the tv.  

10am: Bundle up and brave the cold to drive home to my apartment.  Shower and make coffee.  Catch up on email.

11am: Settle in with the Bon Iver Pandora station and my lesson plans.  Anyone else hate writing Guided Reading plans?  I love teaching Guided Reading, but planning for all of my groups every weekend is the bane of my existence.  Plan for two of my groups.

12pm: Get the call that school is cancelled again Tuesday!  Celebrate by pressing pause on my guided reading plans and gathering the fixings for my favorite lentil soup.  Cook a big pot--much better than lesson planning!

Finish up the soup and make lunch.  Trader Joe's Pizza Veggie Burger on a WW English muffin + celery with greek yogurt and kale dip.  YUM!

1pm: Curl up under a blanket and get some blog posts written for the week.

Watch Switched at Birth in the background.  I am so hooked on this show--it's totally my new guilty pleasure.  It's pretty awful, but one of the main characters is Deaf, and there is tons of signing on the show.  I'm telling myself it's fine that I'm watching it because I'm practicing my signing.  Totally makes it ok, right? :)

2pm:  Search for and book a flight to Austin, TX for a spontaneous weekend getaway next month!
My best friend has been in grad school in Texas working on his pHd for the last 5 years...and I have yet to visit him!  When we talked on the phone Sunday and I complained about the frigid cold here, he said I should come down for a weekend.  Later that day when I was procrastinating my grading, I started casually browsing flights.  Then I kind of just decided, why not?  I haven't taken any personal days yet this year, and it would be so nice to go somewhere warm and see my friend.  So today I went for it!
So excited to go for a run together in the Texas sun!
Oh, and I wish I could say I didn't watch even more Switched at Birth, but I totally did...I can't help myself. :)
3pm: Read and try to warm up under a blanket
Oh, and discover this amazing gem thanks to one of the interpreters at school!  Frozen + ASL...dreamy.
4pm: Read some more and enjoy a snack
Take a PARCC sample test...and become terrified about the fact that this will be our new standardized test next year.  I struggled with a couple of the 3rd-5th questions!!!
5pm: Errands and my 3-month follow-up appointment with my Lasik doctor...good news, eyes are 20/15 combined!!  Bionic vision HOLLA!
Okay, okay, this is a recycled photo...but I felt creepy taking a pic in the waiting room.  #badblogger
6pm: My first day back to working out since being sick with a boring hour-long ride on the bike trainer...obv watching Switched at Birth in the background...(addictive personality much???)
7pm: Bike trainer continued...this is getting really boring!
Bike selfies to pass the time...bike trainer minute = longest minute ever.
Dinner = lentil soup + red wine
8pm + 9pm: Catch up on a little more email, finish another blog post, treat myself to another 1/2 glass of wine (come on, double snow days deserve a celebration, am I right?) with a little tv in the background.

10pm: Book + early bed.  :)

And that's it!  Laziest day ever, right?  Love it.  Unfortunately today will not be as lazy.  I'm tutoring/babysitting this morning followed by a workout and finishing up my school work.  Gotta say, it was nice to have 4 days to complete the grading and planning I needed for the week instead of 2!

Stay warm, guys!

January 27, 2014

Tommie Copper Winner + Sick Days

Hi guys!  I'm sorry I am so late posting the winner of my Tommie Copper giveaway.  I have been battling a sinus/respiratory infection that just won't quit.  All last week I cut out right after school to rest up, and needless to say blogging was not at the forefront of my mind.  I feel sooo much better, but am on round 2 of antibiotics to clear up all the yuckiness in my head and lungs...I am officially done with winter. Speaking of done with winter...we are on school cancellation day #3 of January with school called off again tomorrow!  Not that I'm complaining about days off from school, but seriously, winter, ENOUGH.

Phew, that felt good.  ANYWAYS, thanks so much for the great response to my giveaway!  The winner is...


Amy, email me at juiceboxesandcrayolas AT gmail DOT com to claim your prize!!

Stay warm, all my midwestern and northeastern friends!!

January 16, 2014

Tommie Copper Review + Giveaway!

I recently had the opportunity to try out a few new products from Tommie Copper.  You might remember my posts about Tommie Copper calf compression sleeves and compression shorts in the past couple years.  I looooove compression wear, and I have really liked everything I've tried by Tommie Copper so far, so I was pumped to have the opportunity to try out a few of their new products.
First, Tommie Copper sent me a pair of their compression capris.  They are officially my new favorite capris.  I have never had compression capris before, and these are great--the perfect amount of compression while not being so crazy tight that you can't move.  I have worn them for yoga and around the house, and they are super comfy.  I love the wide waist band, the mid-calf length, and best of all the feel of them--super smooth technical fabric.  Definitely a win.
Second, I got to try a tank top from Tommie Copper's new active fit line.  These items aren't compression wear, but still include TC's signature copper-infused fabric.
Yay for selfies in the kitchen!
I am kind of particular about the fit of my running shirts, and I refuse to wear anything tight.  I ended up needing a large in this top (I am a size 4, and wore a size small in the capris, so this was a little surprising), as the medium I was originally sent was much more fitted than I prefer.  Now that I have the proper size, I can happily report that this tank passed my picky workout top inspection.  I like the suuuper lightweight feel of the material as well as the long length (a non-negotiable IMHO).  I wore it on a treadmill run the other day, and the feel was nice and light.  The only thing I would change would be to give it a racerback, but now we're just getting persnickety.  ;)  (Of course another downside is that clearly this top runs SMALL, so its sizing options may not be able to accommodate everyone.)
Awful self-timer pic...but you get the idea :)

Now, the giveaway!  Tommie Copper has generously offered to give one lucky reader their choice of either a pair of compression capris or an active fit tank from Tommie Copper!  Here's how to enter:
  • Leave a comment below sharing your favorite fitness activities (oh, and it'd be awesome if you'd become a follower of my blog too...;)  (+1 entry)
  • Visit the Tommie Copper website and let me know which of their items you'd most like to try (+1 entry)
  • Like Tommie Copper on facebook (+1 entry)
  • Share this post on your blog, facebook, or twitter (+1 entry each)
*Please leave a separate comment for each entry :)

This giveaway will end Wednesday, January 22nd at midnight.

Disclaimer: I was provided with these items in exchange for writing this review.  I received no additional compensation, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. :)

January 15, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Allegient

I have to admit, I finished this book last week...I'm having a hard time getting into my current book!  I'm reading The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancy with my book club girls, and while I knew it was about aliens when I started it (ok, I will even admit it, I picked it for us...), I just keep remembering why I'm not super into books/movies featuring aliens.  Or into them at all.  Anyways, we'll see if I even finish that book by next Wednesday...  Buuut anyways, I did finish the Divergent trilogy last week, finally!

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)
Allegient by Veronica Roth
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Allegient is the third book in the Divergent trilogy by 20-something Chicagoan Veronica Roth.  If you haven't read Divergent yet, stop reading this post and start reading it.  Especialyl if you are experiencing dystopian withdrawal after seeing Catching Fire over the holidays and need something to fill that void.  Just a brief intro without giving too much away--Allegient begins right after a shocking video is played at the end of Insurgent, informing all of the citizens of the city that the entire community had been founded as a sort of experiment.  What follows is Tris's decisions about how to deal with that information, and of course a little revolution.  I mean why not.  

The reviews about this book were pretty mixed--many people loved it best of all three, others hated it.  I think I fall somewhere in the middle.  The good: I loved the unique twists and turns throughout the book.  I also loved that there was no clear right and wrong path for the characters--because in real life, right and wrong is so much more complex than black and white...Allegient really spent some time focusing on the gray areas as Tris and Four and the others evaluated different plans of action and faced each path's subsequent consequences.

Of course, along the same lines, something I didn't love was just how many plans there were going on at any given time.  I felt for awhile in the middle like I couldn't quite keep track of who the revolutionaries were, which plan was which, etc.  I also didn't love the jumping perspectives between Tris and Four.  Normally I LOVE this in books, but I didn't feel that Roth did a good enough job differentiating between the two in her writing style.  At times I had trouble remember which character's side I was reading.  I mean really, are we expected to believe Tris and Four have the exact same inner voices?  Doubtful.  Just a sign of writing that is good but not great.

Last, the ending.  Oh that ending.  I promise no spoilers, but I just didn't feel that Roth's grand act in the ending was necessary.  More importantly, I didn't feel that it added anything to the story except annoyance on my part.  I am all for a shocking or surprising twist in books if it enriches the plot.  In this case, I think the big statement resulted in several chapters of dull falling action whereas I was totally hoping this series would end with a bang.

Sooo, while I flew through Allegient (obv) and truly enjoyed reading it, it was probably my least favorite in the series. (Insurgent  being my favorite.)

Dying to hear others thoughts if you read the series too!

What have you been reading this week?

January 13, 2014

Motivating Kids to *Finish* Books

I don't know about you, but one of the things that drives me just plain bananas is my kids starting 50 different books and finishing NONE of them.  Have you experienced this phenomena in your classroom?  I have no problem with my kiddos reading a few books at a time--I do this too!  But when they're not finishing any of them, clearly reading comprehension is not happening the way it should be.  I've tried a few different things over the past few years to try to get my kids motivated to actually complete books from start to finish.

I had tremendous success a few years back with my Reading Record Books.  I modeled these after Beth Newingham's Reading Notebooks and had kids set monthly reading goals, record the titles they read each month, and graph their genres.  I collected the Record Books and graded them each month.  I really, truly loved them, and my kids were motivated and accountable.  The only problem was that this process took some time!  While the kids could record their titles independently during Daily 5 time, we took class time to set goals and reflect on them at the end of the month.  It was only about 15 minutes each time, but as things became more and more scheduled to the minute in the past couple of years, I found that I was no longer able to successfully utilize the Record Books.  Last year I gave them up. :(

I tried a few different systems early on last year to get my kids tracking their books--logs, genre bingos, etc.-- but wasn't too successful.  In Spring, I went a different direction. I brought in a clear glass jar and a bag of glass stones and told the kids that for each "just right" book that we finished, we could add a marble to the jar.  Then, every day after our morning announcements, I took 30 seconds to have the kids turn and talk to their neighbors and tell them a little bit about what they read last night.  Then, any student who had completed a book could share the title and add a marble to the jar.  This literally took 1-2 minutes each day.  When the jar was filled, we celebrated by having a "reading party."  I brought popsicles, and we brought our books outside to read on the field.  So much fun.  I did this again this fall, and we celebrated with another reading party, this time with pillows, stuffed animals, and popcorn in the classroom.
Of course, like anything, the novelty of this wore off after we filled the jar the first time.  I decided to change things up in December and rolled out a new reading challenge.  Each student's goal is to complete 4 "just right" books each month with a couple of exceptions: Picture Books count as 1/2 of a book, and books that are over 300 pages count as two books.   
This time, I decided to create a classroom display for kids to record their finished books.  This way, they are motivated to share what they've finished with classmates, and I can easily check in who is finishing books and who is not.  I laminated the cards, and the kids love using vis-a-vis markers to write their books down.  At the end of month, each student who reached their goal gets a reward.  (Our school is participating in Book It through Pizza Hut, so those are currently my prizes.  Would love to have a reading-related prize when Book It ends...maybe Scholastic coupons??)  
Additionally, students can decorate a slip of paper with the title of their book and some illustrations.  I then attach it to an on-going chain we have hanging from the ceiling.  I challenged the kids to make the chain reach all of the way around the room by the end of the year.  I really like the way this is going currently--as long as the kids are motivated, we'll keep it up!  

What strategies do you use to keep kids motivated to read and finish books?  I know a lot of people use the Forty Book Challenge--I haven't done that before but am interested in trying it at some point and would love to hear your thoughts if you have tried it successfully!

January 12, 2014

Race Recap: Frozen Gnome 10K Trail Race (+ Carson Dellosa Giveaway Winner!)

First off, the winner of the Carson Dellosa Common Core Connections Giveaway...
The winner is...Miss Emily!  Miss Emily, email me at juiceboxesandcrayolas AT gmail DOT com to claim your prize!  Thanks for participating everyone!

And now...a race recap!  Yesterday I ran the Frozen Gnome 10k trail race.  My friend Julie and I have been wanting to do a trail race together for awhile now, so when I heard about this one we signed up right away.  We didn't think too much about how January weather might affect the race...didn't think about cold or snow or slush puddles...just signed up.  Perhaps we should have given it a little more thought!
Photo: Home base.
Source: Frozen Gnome Facebook Page
Chicago has had some freaky weather lately.  "Polar vortex"-induced scary cold temps, multiple feet of snow, freezing rain...the list goes on!  But when we showed up on race day, the weather was beautiful mid-30s and dry.  I mean, there was a ton of snow, but perspective, people.  We strapped on our yaktrax, layered up, and got going!  It felt so good to be lining up at a starting line for the first time since October.
The race was definitely technical! It was mostly single track trail complete with lots of hills and a mix of icy, slick patches, deep slush, and good old fashioned snow drifts. Woohoo! Julie and I huffed along at a snail's pace, chatting non-stop (mostly about school...) the whole time. 
Around mile 4 we ran into this sign...
Yup, that says "butt slide hill."  And that hill was no joke!  It was steep, icy, and we literally had to slide down on our butts.  I'm telling ya, I was wishing I'd had another layer of pants on because sliding down an icy hill in running tights is...um...not super comfortable!  Even so, it was totally awesome.
We trudged our way through the last few miles of the race, enjoying the weather, scenery, and each other's company, and not worrying one little bit about time.  Aside from my soaked feet, the race was wonderful, and I can't wait to come back and run this trail again sometime in spring!
Have you ever run a trail race?  This was my second trail race, and the first was also in the dead of winter!  Maybe I should try trail racing again sometime when there aren't two feet of snow on the ground! :)

January 9, 2014

Things I'm Loving Thursday

The fact that January is going to FLY BY at school!
Between winter break last week, not one but TWO snow days (cold days?) this week, a short week for conferences next week, MLK day after that...oh my!  Love that we get to eeeeease back into this whole school thing before the February craziness of standardized test prep begins. :-)

Kale, kale, kale!
Kale is seriously my new favorite food.  Well, at least anything with kale in it is my new favorite food.  I shared in my 13 in 13 post that I am totally addicted to this lentil soup with kale.  That was only the beginning.

Since my kale discovery (I know. I am so late to this party.), I've been making kale with spaghetti squash, sauteed kale with eggs, whole wheat pasta with kale...yum.
I am officially registered for two June triathlons: Esprit de She sprint tri in Naperville, IL on June 8th and Pleasant Prairie Olympic tri in PP, Wisconsin on June 22nd.  Woohoo!  With triathlons on the calendar and on the brain, this means a return to regular swimming (and cycling...but let's not talk about that right now...this is a "things I'm loving" post after all, right?) Anyways, even though the weather outside is downright scary here in Chiberia as we've recently renamed ourselves, the pool is still delightful.  I am determined to swim freestyle at these tris (I swam breast stroke during my first 3 tris...), and I'm pumped that I'm already seeing an improvement in my freestyle stamina.  Form, that's another story. :)
Anybody else still have a huge pile at home from student Christmas gifts???  No complaints here.  I put a pretty good dent in it during my snowed-in time on the couch, but there is still more to be eaten... #firstworldproblems.
Almond milk with coffee ice cubes
I saw this one on pinterest the other day and immediately had to try it out.  I poured my leftover coffee into an ice tray, froze it, then poured almond milk over a handful of cubes for an amazingly delicious post workout beverage.  So. Good.  Now, what else can I use these coffee ice cubes for??  Thinking they would make a pretty delicious addition to PB banana smoothies...hold me.
And last but not at all least...the fact that I am going to be an aunt again!
Yup, big brother and sis in law (aka parents of my sweet little niece) are expecting a little boy in May, and I couldn't be more thrilled!  We just found out the gender yesterday, and I'll admit I was hoping for a nephew!  So excited for my wonderful brother and his growing family.  
Soon there will be two little cuties to spoil!

What are you loving this week?

January 8, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday Linky: A Whole Lotta Books

Don't forget to enter my Carson-Dellosa giveaway!

Hi friends!  I'm thrilled to be back with What I'm Reading Wednesday this week!  Since it's been ages since my last WIRW post, I'm going to post short summaries and reviews of a ton of books instead of just ones that I've read this week.  Hope you'll link up with a post on what you've been reading this chilly winter!
Snow Day Blanket Reading :)
935264Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
Rating: 5/5 stars (teen realistic fiction/middle school appropriate)
I have to thank Carrie at Being-Ladylike for this first recommendation!  I read this book start to finish in the span of a Sunday, most of it curled up in bed.  This is just one of those quick-read books that you get hooked on and can't put down.  Steven is a gifted drummer with an adorably annoying little brother whose world completely changes when little brother Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia.  Yes, this is a cancer book so get the tissues ready.  What I loved about it was the middle-school perspective we get on the sitaution.  Narrator Steven is an eighth grader, and he talks and acts like it.  I loved reading this coming of age story about an older brother dealing with the tough stuff in the only way he knows how, and learning so much about himself and his family along the way.

6693329After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
Rating: 4/5 stars (teen realistic fiction/middle school appropriate)
At the risk of *mildly* spoiling Drums, I'm reviewing the sequel...feel free to skip this part if you'd prefer!  After Ever After takes place about 7 years after Drums's ending, and is narrated by post-cancer Jeffrey, Steven's little brother.  What I loved about this book is that it shares a side of cancer that many of us have never even thought about: what happens AFTER cancer.  When I was in college, one of my best friends was staring down death in a battle against cancer, and when she thankfully went into remission, we were told that a new part of the battle was beginning--dealing with what life is like when you are no longer fighting cancer, and the hardships it invovles.  In the book, Jeffrey faces physical and mental side effects of having his body poisoned during cancer treatment as a child--I guess I should have thought of this, but I had no idea that that was a reality for some cancer survivors.  The book is a totally different kind of cancer story, and I truly became attached to the characters.  The only reason I rated it 4 stars instead of 5 is because I felt like Sonnenblick relied on many of the same plot elements in this book as in its predecessor.  Would have liked some different twists and turns.

16099180Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
Rating: 3.5/5 stars (adult fiction)
I read Prep by Sittenfeld back in college, and I absolutely LOVED it, so I was pumped to get my hands on Sisterland.  The premise of this book was pretty interesting, and I was hooked right away--Sisterland jumps between past and present, telling the story of a set of twin girls with ESP.  Cool, right?  As they've grown up, narrator Kate has settled into her role as a sensible mother and all but squashed her "senses" out of her, while twin Violet has embraced them and made a career as a medium.  Sisterland is not just a story about ESP, but it's also a story about siblings learning to find how they still fit together in their very different lives as adults.  I have to say that I devoured this book and was all set to give it 4 stars until about 50-100 pages from the end when the plot took a direction that I really just didn't love.  Bummer, right?  Still worth a read.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Rating: 4.5/5 stars (teen fantasy/mystery)
I was thoroughly disappointed by my first Libba Bray read, A Great and Terrible Beauty, but I am SO GLAD I set those feelings aside long enough to give her another chance.  I LOVED The Diviners!  This (incredibly long) book is set in the 1920s and chock full of 20s slang.  Having been enamored with the 20s since I was a flapper for Halloween back in eighth grade, you can imagine how this peaked my interest from the first pages!  The Diviners is a story from the perspective of about 5 or 6 different people living in New York City, all of whom have some mysterious supernatural gifts that make them "diviners."  During the plot of the story, the characters use these gifts to, among other thigns, help track down a serial killer involved in some kind of cult ritual.  Fascinating, right?  And super, super creepy.  Be careful reading this one at night!

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Rating: 4/5 stars (teen realsitic fiction, heavy material)
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is definitely not an uplifting book, but it is an improtant one.  The novel starts with protagonist Leonard telling readers about his plan to, on his birthday, murder his former-best-friend-turned-bully before taking his own life.  Light stuff, right?  The whole book takes place in the span of one day, intermixed with both flashbacks and letters from the future to Leonard, telling him why he needs to hang on.  This book would make a fabulous starting point for a conversation on bullying and kindness with high school-aged teens.  Get your kleenex ready.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
Rating: 3/5 stars (adult humor)
Being a huge This American Life/NPR fan, I have loved David Sedaris's humorous monologues for years.  I thoroughly enjoyed his book When You are Engulfed in Flames, so I was excited to read this collection of holiday-themed short stories over Christmas.  Some of them were very funny, especially his story about his time working as en elf at Macy's, but others were a little slower, hence the 3/5 rating.

Allegient by Veronica Roth
18710190Rating: 4/5 stars (teen dystopian scifi)
This book is the third and final installment in the Divergent trilogy, and I have to say I have some mixed feelings about it.  I don't want to give any spoilers (I managed to wait until this week to read it without having it spoiled for me!), so I'll keep it pretty vague, but I must say this: I was completeyl wrapped up in the action of the book and appreciated the answers provided by Roth to some of the logistical questions about the factions and civilization that I've had since Divergent.  However, the ending...I just didn't understand Roth's choices.  I felt that the direction she decided to take was comlpletely unnecessary, and that the dramatic events added little (if anything) to the plot.  Instead, they resulted in an unnecessary amount of lame falling action and a story that just, well, ended lamely.  Kind of a bummer.  I still rated it 4 stars because I thoroughly enjoyed it up until the end, and because the trilogy was just such an enjoyable one.  Fans of Hunger Games should definitely check out Divergent, especially before the movie comes out!
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What have you been reading lately?  
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