book reviews · Reading

December 2020: Recent Reads

A piece of nostalgia…the nativity scene I grew up with.

I’ll be honest, after reading so many FABULOUS books in November, this past month was a bit of a let down. I guess I’ve been in a some kind of a slump. Makes me want to go read some Anne of Green Gables just for a solid read that I know won’t let me down. What’s your comfort read?

Never fear, though: I still have some reviews for you this month, PLUS, I am working on some Top Books of 2020 posts to share with you as we get closer to kissing 2020 goodbye (and good riddance?!).

Nonfiction

Nonfiction selection for this month: personal finance with Chris Hogan. (Plus I’m working on another finance book that I haven’t finished yet.)

Retire Inspired by Chris Hogan

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As Dave Ramsey would say, “my man Chris Hogan” is quite the coach. His writing style is not my favorite, being as there are pep-talk-induced exclamation marks all over the place, but he gets his point across clearly and in a down-to-earth manner that helped me get a better grasp on financial terms that can feel pretty out-there to a layperson. I’m not an investment pro, and I barely know anything about estate planning, but he makes me want to double down on saving and investing for retirement – which, according to Hogan, all of us should be doing if we are working adults and have paid off everything but the house. (Let’s be real, I don’t have a house, but…you get the picture.) While the writing style brings it down a notch for me, I still recommend it.


Fiction

A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden

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First of all, thanks for the author for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review of this dystopian, post-apocalyptic book. The main characters are on the run after contracting a mysterious illness when they travel through land that is outside the bounds of the law. They have to find a cure, while also staying out of the hands of the government, who want to “take care of” their illness.

As I said on my Goodreads review, there were things I liked about this book and things I didn’t like. I wanted to like it more, because there were many aspects that fascinated me, but the parts I didn’t like make me think I probably won’t read on in the series. I go into more detail on my GR review, so head there if you want to hear more. Here are some key thoughts on the book

  1. Use of profanity throughout: in some books, the use of profanity makes sense and lends authenticity; this was not one of those books. Especially since variations of f*** and s*** were the words of choice.
  2. Presence of secondary characters who are homosexual: while they didn’t play a huge role, I wonder if they will later in the series. Just fyi for those who like to know these things before reading books.
  3. Weirdness of people being naked in front of each other and it being seemingly platonic. I’m not sure if the first time that happened in the book was just something editors didn’t catch or if that’s part of the post-apocalyptic world.
  4. World-building – equal parts confusing and fascinating. I couldn’t quite tell if the world-building wasn’t finished in the author’s head or if it was purposefully not clear due to the characters’ own lack of knowledge.
  5. I really liked the premise and the world-building document at the very beginning.
  6. If I were to read more, I’d be fascinated to find out more about Nate’s background, as well as his brother’s. I appreciated the nuances in relationships in this book, including the ones between families, as well as the relationships amongst strangers, those in authority, etc..

I gave this three stars . . . I don’t necessarily recommend it, but it was still an enjoyable read, in and around some of the weird parts. Hope that helps y’all make up your minds!


Children’s Lit

This is what I am excited to write about this month. I’m back in Ecuador now and working my way through the new 5th grade ELA curriculum that we got this year, which includes 48 different titles of picture and chapter books I am trying to read. I like to have an idea of what I’m putting in my students’ hands before I do so. I think I’ve read three of the titles so far. I’ve got a ways to go 😆

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

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FIVE STAR READ. HANDS DOWN. Oh my goodness, I gobbled this down in one afternoon, and it is one of the best middle grade books I’ve read all year. It’s about two girls, one being raised by grandparents, and the other a daughter in a family of migrant workers, who meet over summer break. They each have goals and different abilities and end up forging an unexpected and solid friendship. Deep, relevant themes, yet presented in such a way that I feel perfectly comfortable putting this into the hands of any of my students. I love that Cynthia Lord writes books about people who tend to be marginalized and misunderstood and helps us see them as they are: people. Once again, my GR review says it best, and says more, so check it out. But read this book. You won’t regret it.

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

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I have to say, while I enjoyed this historical fiction, rural-setting book and the author’s style, I am a little confused about how curriculum developers thought this would be a good book to put in the hands of fifth graders.

While the questionable moral decisions of the grandma would make for great literature circle discussions, I am still scratching my head over the fact that there’s an entire scene that involves a snake, a woman posing in the nude for an artist, and teenage kids who witness her running back through town stark naked. I teach my students to visualize, but I don’t need them visualizing that! I kept thinking, “well, maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe it won’t last that long.” But no. It did. Anyway, I think this would better for maybe 7th or 8th grade and up, for more than just that reason, but that was the clincher.

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

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I found this book because I was looking for something for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading challenge category of “nominated for an award in 2020”. It was nominated for the Newbery Medal this year, and I’m so glad I found it.

I listened to the audio version, which I liked since I have no clue how to pronounce the Arabic words in there. But since this book is written in verse, I want to re-read it so I can see the print on the page. I find my eyes get hungry to see things when they’re written in verse, instead of just hearing them.

In any case, I highly recommend this book – to some, but maybe not all 5th graders, but definitely 6th on up to adult. The main character, Jude, and her mother have to flee from Syria to America. They stay with her uncle, and her mom is expecting a baby. Jude learns how to adjust to life in America, along with growing up things, like getting her period and getting to wear a hijab, and making friends in a new school. I had to laugh out loud in solidarity at some of her observations about life in a culture different from one’s own . . . and then say, “oh my gosh, I never thought about that!” about some other cultural observations. I love that this author communicates the experience of being a foreigner in such an accessible way, and also conveys the pride she feels in her faith and customs. This is not the first book I’ve read this year that involves Muslims, and I’ve loved learning more about their culture!

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

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The protagonist-narrator in this story is Rose, a girl with high-functioning autism – and a not-so-high-functioning father. He doesn’t understand her and her fascination with homonyms, yet he doesn’t want his much more understanding brother to help more than he does. He also drinks a lot, and, trigger alert: does hit her dog one time, though Rose and Rain are afraid of his anger well before then.

This wasn’t my personal favorite to read, but the structure of the book, as well as the voice of Rose gives readers a peek into the mind of someone with autism. Or, perhaps, a peek of what it might be. Her constant use of homonyms in parentheses was a little distracting, but then . . . if someone would have to think past those things as she’s learning, it would probably be distracting for her too.

I can see why this would be a great book in the hands of a fifth grader, with teacher guidance: it has the potential to teach empathy and broaden their view of the world. And they for sure need more of that!


While I do plan to plow through a bunch more of the 45 titles in our ELA curriculum, I’m also looking for some uplifting, clean reads for my Christmas break, more along the lines of adult novels, rather than kids’.

Any suggestions?

If not, I think I’ll just re-read Anne. 🙂

P.S. Don’t forget: Top Books of 2020 posts, coming soon!

P.P.S. – Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s monthly Quick Lit, as usual.

2 thoughts on “December 2020: Recent Reads

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