On Trilogies

Three is the best number of books to read in a series (or movies to watch.)

Controversial thought. Yay or nay?

Many of my favorite book series (and movie series) are trilogies. There is just something about the set-up in the first book. The real drama of the second book. The cliff hanger that brings you into book three. The neatly wrapped-up plot of the three books in the third. On a reread of the series, there is only three books to read.

I know that sometimes a series is good if there are more than three books (but name one…I’ll wait.) Often a series becomes more complex and unbelievable, moving away from the story told in the first few books. Of course, a well plotted series can support more than three books. As a reader, I just find trilogies to be the sweet spot. For me.

Now that I am on summer break, I am re-reading Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy. It is a fabulous YA series that follows the daughter of two brilliant scientists through parallel dimensions to avenge her father’s killer. Of course, there is futuristic London, a version of imperial St. Petersburg, and swoon-worthy heroes. I am not always a sci-fi fan, but this trilogy does not really feel like sci-fi.

Some other favorite trilogies include:
1. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare (do or don’t judge me. Your choice.)
2. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
3. The Summer I Turned Pretty series by Jenny Han
4. The Caraval Series by Stephanie Garber
5. The Little Lady Agency series by Hester Browne
6. The Dark Days Club series by Alison Goodman
Of course there are others. I also have favorite series that have four books or 22 books. Some, I even thought were trilogies and was confused when plot points were not wrapping up at the end of book three (looking at you The Raven Boys.)

You know that there is no shame on this blog. You know that I believe people should read what they like and love. So, get out there and read some of your favorite trilogies. Or don’t. Read a stand alone. Read a book of short stories. Read a series that won’t end. It’s your reading life. So live it.

Leave a comment below with your favorite trilogies or your ideal number of books in a series.

YA Book Review: Mirage

I am allowed to read Young Adult books.

We are all allowed to read this genre. Some of the most moving and interesting stories that I have encountered in my adult life have been about teenagers. There seems to be this freedom in the genre for the authors. Perhaps they don’t feel that they have the limitations of adult literary fiction and they have a less critical audience. Whatever the reason, us benefit from their ability to indulgence in their own imaginations.

I pretend that I read YA for my job. I mean, I DO read YA for my job, but often read it for me. Last week, I read Mirage by Somaiya Daud. Here are my thoughts about it.

 

Mirage

BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 3.5 Stars.

In Mirage, the main character Amani, is kidnapped by an evil regime due to her resemblance to its princess. Amani must try to impersonate this princess or risk the lives of her family and herself. While she does does enjoy the benefits of living in a palace, rather than her poor village, she is always in danger of being discovered and losing everything.

I did not do enough research on this one before I read it and did not realize that it was scifi/fantasy. That one is on me. I am never good with world building and trying to picture a new world always makes the reading experience a bit challenging.

Setting/genre aside, I really like the main character and her gradual development of confidence and sense of identity, even as she was trying to learn to become someone else. The mythology and poetry were gorgeous, as was our main love interest Idris.

I am not great with books that take place on a variety of planets, with new technology, but I enjoyed everything else about this one. I probably would have loved it, if I was more of a sci-fi/fantasy fan.

 

“Guilty Pleasure” Book Review: The Happy Ever After Playlist

Using the term in quotations makes it not real, right? Remember, no shame allowed on this blog!

After Buzzfeed published its list of romance novels to read over the summer (you know, beach reads, mainly targeted at women..which I love,) I immediately put holds on most of them. Buzzfeed does do a great list of books. This particular list was diverse and intriguing to a teacher about to have a lot more time for reading. I have gotten through a few on the list and wanted to spotlight one that many people loved and I found to be just okay.

The Happy Ever AFter Playlist

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 3 STARS

Trying not to give books three stars, but honestly, I found this one to be just okay. The Happy Ever After Playlist starts out with a dog jumping into to the car of Sloan Monroe; a character who lost her fiance in an accident and is having trouble finding herself and moving on. Luckily for her, the dog’s owner, handsome rockstar Jason, is away and she has found herself a new friend in the dog and a flirty penpal in the man.

The plot was fun and predictable. The characters were quirky and mostly well rounded. I really liked the main character’s best friend who was fierce and protective of Sloan, but also hilarious. I really enjoyed the villainizing of the media and music industry. The story does dig into grief, loss, and the toll fame can take on a person’s mental health fairly well. Sometimes it all seemed a little overly dramatic to me and I worried that it made the otherwise strong Sloan seem like she needed saving, but this drama certainly added to the evolution of the characters and their relationships.

Otherwise, I mostly finished it to finish it. Cute, but nothing super special…to be fair, I am very hard to surprise or impress when it comes to this type of novels.

If you are looking for something fun, you can find it here!

On Reading BIPOC: Reviews of The Underground Railroad and There There.

As a reader, I am often drawn to the same genres (mystery, YA, historical fiction) with similar settings (Victorian England) and characters (spunky spinster women that solve crime and end up winning over the tall, handsome, grumpy man.)

I do read everything that I can, but I recognize that I need to expand my reading of BIPOC even further. I always made a purposeful choice to read diverse authors, but re-prioritized this after hearing author Varian Johnson speak at the Boston Globe Horn Book Award Ceremony in 2018. He told the librarians and teachers in the audience that we need to think about who is in our classroom and choose books for them. Children need to see themselves in what they are reading and need exposure to other children that are not like them. Representation and the cultivation of empathy became an even more important goal in my classroom and in my life.

To that end, I started adding even more diverse books, genres, and authors to my reading list. Today, I am going to tell you about two: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and There There by Tommy Orange

The Underground Railroad

Colson’s Whitehead’s book is the story of Cora, who is living as a slave on a Georgia plantation, and follows her from her plantation and onto her journey on the Underground Railroad. This was a book that I had on my ebook TBR list for a few years and kept putting off in favor of paper books. Without my usual provider of paper books (the library,) I finally picked it up last week.

BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 4 STARS.

Structurally, I appreciated the vignettes and multiple perspectives. What a fascinating and horrifying story. In school, we always learned about the Underground Railroad, never in such detail. The danger, the horror, the lack of humanity, and emotions in the book made it difficult to read and difficult to stop reading. Although the book takes place in the 1800s, many of the scenes could have been ripped from the news in 2020. Worth a read, if not just to put human emotions with the facts that you learned in 8th grade history class.

THERe There

Like The Underground Railroad, There There by Tommy Orange uses multiple perspectives to tell the story of another persecuted group: Native Americans. Orange’s book follows the lives of characters that are loosely connected to each other and to an upcoming festival in California.

BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 3 STARS

I know I said I wouldn’t use the 3 star rating, but I feel it is deserved here and not just my own hang-ups regarding honest reviews. At the end of the day, I liked the book. I found the bits of informative text fascinating and disturbing. I was moved by the stories of the characters. I was shocked at the ending. I loved the first half of the book. However, around the halfway point, I felt like there were too many stories and characters to follow. The build up to the end of the book dragged because the focus of the narrative kept jumping around.

Overall, my issues with the book’s structure did not take away from the complexity of the stories and their importance. Everyone should read at least the first third to a half of this book for insight into these characters who are living as many current people of Native American heritage are.

READING BIPOC IN THE FUTURE

For the second half of 2020, a few colleagues and I will be doing a reading BIPOC authors challenge. I am excited to continue to broaden my reading and find some great new recommendations for friends and students.

What do we HAVE to read?

On Recommendations: Continued and Why I Use Databases for Mine

When people find out I “read,” they also want to know my favorite book or what I recommend they read.

This is always a bit of a delicate situation to find myself in. As readers of previous posts know, I am not great at expressing extreme opinions (Libra problems,) I am always loathe to divulge “guilty pleasure” reads that I enjoyed, and I do not want to recommend something that the asker will not like.

So, I tend flip the question back around, “What do you enjoy reading? What is the last book you finished and liked?” Why just recommend a book, when I could recommend something that I know they will enjoy, that suits their tastes, and that might make them think?

The act of recommending books should be a deeply personalized experience. That is why I try to approach book reviews with caution. I want to explain what I liked or did not like, not what everyone will like and dislike. There are many types of readers, just as there are many types of books. What works for one reader, will not necessarily work for every reader. I have been caught up in this pervasive general consensus mentality in 2020 too many times. Everyone has to like the same shows, movies, and books, disliking all the same in those categories. It seems like the only time people are allowed a real opinion is when it comes to food. Our taste buds are allowed to be critical, but our brains are not.

That changes now.

With all of this in mind, I have been attempting to create a database of adult books that I recommend, similar to my book database for students. That way, when I am approached for a recommendation, I can send a link, show them some favorites, and some genres. Thus empowered, they can choose for themselves. They can read what they WANT to, not what they think that they HAVE to.

For now, my database is a Google Doc. Over my summer break, I intend to turn it into a Google Sheet. Check it out here: Kelly Recommends. It is a WIP, with a lot of mystery novels set in England. Oh well, I like what I like.

Also, check out my book database for middle school and high school students. There are some great books for 11-18 year olds and beyond.

What are some books that you always recommend?

On “Guilty Pleasure” Reads and My First Review: Verity By Colleen Hoover

When I was in college, studying great works of literature…mostly by white, dead, British men, a friend endlessly mocked me whenever I picked up a “chick lit” book. They would tell me: “You are better than that. You are smarter than that.” It bothered me. It bothered me a lot. At some level, I agreed with her and started hiding my “guilty pleasure” books from everyone. You know, things I enjoyed, that were not challenging or part of the literary elite.

Why are some books considered more worthy than others? Who decides this? Who decides that an English major at a large private university is reading beneath them if they pick up something that is not in the “canon” or, god forbid, fun? Why do we have to hide our reading of books that we enjoy and call them “guilty pleasures,” as though we should be ashamed to read them? Why is it often women who feel this shame and use this labeling?

**We KNOW who decided this and we KNOW why** But that is a longer and more complex conversation.

In my teen years, I learned more complex vocabulary words and more about history from vaguely historical bodice rippers, than I did from AP European History. To be fair, I did go and research the time periods and the people that the books were about, once the romance was done. I learned about feelings and continue to further my emotional and social growth by reading middle grade books, YA books, and romance novels. Sometimes I even pick up these genres because the plot or setting of a book appeals to me the way some movies and TV shows appeal to other people . Even if the plot, structure, or word choice are not always complex for this 32 year old, the feelings and emotional reactions still can be.

I always tell my students that I do not care what they read, as long as they read something. At the end of the day, a person that reads at least twenty minutes a day will learn a million more words than their same age peers. Whatever they read, article, how-to for a video game, graphic novel, middle grade fiction book, can be enough. If they like it and they will read it, that is the start of a lifelong love of reading…anything.

All books can be valuable, if the reader gets something out of it. No shame allowed.

Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate, enjoy, and read the “canon” (such a problematic term,) various classics, and modern literary fiction. I read books to learn, to see what the buzz is about, to get me out of my comfort zone. And that is all important! But, often, I need something different.

Book Review: Verity By Colleen Hoover

That brings me to my first review. I plan to give my rating and break it down by star. You’ll see!

The literary elites might write off this author and her books as “guilty pleasures,” but I do not. Colleen Hoover is known for her Contemporary Romance and Thrillers. I read them and I am not afraid to admit that I like them.

Cover above. Goodreads Link.

BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 4 Stars

Verity tells the story of down on her luck, one-hit wonder novelist Lowen Ashleigh, who is on the verge of losing everything. Seemingly randomly, she is offered the opportunity to finish the last book of a celebrated thriller novelist Verity Crawford. To do this, she must head to Verity’s remote Vermont home and sort through her papers. What Lowen finds among Verity’s papers and Verity’s home, leaves Lowen and the reader both disturbed and on the edge of their seat.

Why I liked it:
First Star– My emotional reactions to the characters and plot were complex. I loved and hated everyone. I trusted everyone and no one. I was intrigued and disturbed, all at the same time.
Second Star– The plot moved and the text wasn’t super challenging. I sat down for a few hours and devoured it. Never a dull moment.
Third Star- The romance, although I could have done with the circumstances, was hot.
Fourth Star– I cannot stop thinking about what the truth is. What really happened. I am still not certain.

What kept me from giving it 5 stars:
Lowen finds a journal of Verity’s that details some horrifying things that she admits to doing. Some of it was very hard to read, even if it was compelling. Also, I found the main character to be a fairly weak one with almost no agency. I wish that she had been empowered to do more and take more control.

Did any of that stop me from enjoying the book overall? Nah. A reader can critique a book and still be able o enjoy. Myself included.

Conclusions:

In sum, read what you want. Read what intrigues you. Read what interests you. Read what you think is fun. Read what moves you. No shame allowed.

But hey, occasionally, sneak out of your comfort zone and read something different, if you want. The way I see it, if people are reading anything that is a good thing.

What do you love to read, even if some might label them “guilty pleasures?”

On Reviewing and Preferences

Listen, I am a terrible book reviewer. (What a way to start my third blog post on a book review blog.)

That is not strictly true. As a life long reader, with degrees that prove I can read and teach students to read, I am able to form an opinion about a book. I just struggle with writing negative opinions that are meant to be read. I struggle with the ability to show negative emotions anyways and I hate saying that I did not like something that someone worked hard on. I do not want friends/family/students to feel bad that they liked something that I did not and I sometimes I feel badly that I liked something they did not. I have such a tremendous sense of guilt, that I stopped giving stars to books on GoodReads. It felt wrong to condemn an author’s work, just because I didn’t like it.

I am capable of verbally expressing my opinion of a book and explaining why (with evidence. #englishteacherproblems.) However, that opinion is often expressed in a polite and non-controversial way. Now I realize, there are ways to give feedback without being mean. I am a middle school English teacher. I realize there are legitimate reasons that a book might not be good, or that I just do not like it. And that is okay.

So here I am, with a book review blog, ready to review books…even if I did not like them.

Some common reasons why I will not like a book:
1. I guessed the ending of the mystery novel. I still enjoyed it, but the ending did not wow me…therefore, I missed out on the shock that everyone else had at the end. Note: this happens frequently. I have read almost every mystery novel and nothing shocks me anymore. Ex. Gone Girl.
2. It is a best seller/award winner/popular book/becoming a movie/book every one else read and liked and I do not want to be the one negative person saying “I didn’t really like it.” Ex. The Hunger Games series.
3. It is a book everyone loves. This could just be stubbornness and a hold- over from my teenages emo phase. Ex. To Kill a Mockingbird. Don’t get me wrong, the story is powerful and important; the style didn’t speak to me as a fourteen year old. I should read it again…you are right.
4. I read it on an eReader. As a kinesthetic learner, I have to be able to flip a page and oddly enough, it affects my enjoyment of a book. Ex. Most of the Invisible Library Series (and I liked the first one, which I read using a physical book)
5. The world-building was beyond my imagination. I struggle with fantasy books that are set in worlds with imaginative creatures and natural laws. Ex. Children of Blood and Bone. I loved the characters and their relationships, but couldn’t do the magic part…the important part. That one is on me.
6. The book should have been a stand-alone/series should have been shorter. Ex. The Diviners. The first one was imaginative and thrilling. Libba Bray captured the 1920s and created a vibrant and very human cast of characters. I liked the next ones in the series less and less.
7. Chapters are too long. I just prefer short chapters.
8. Too many points of view or characters to keep track of. Ex. Game of Thrones.
9. I had no emotional responses to it.

To be fair, I actually like a lot of books, even ones that no one else liked. That might be my difficulty finding negativity in places and trying to stay positive (to a fault.)

That brings me to my purpose and the title of this blog. I most frequently rate books as three stars. Either, I didn’t like it and I don’t want to admit it or I liked it and I don’t want to admit it. That ends here. That ends today. I will be reviewing books with ratings beyond three stars….unless I feel like it actually deserve three stars.

Final thought: What do you struggle with as a reader or reviewer? I would love to know.

#bookblog #reviews #literature #zerotohero

My First Blog Post

I made a list.

.

I always make a list. One of the best lists I have made is a Google Sheets database of my favorite recommendations for my sixth graders. When the Stay-At-Home order was put in place in Massachusetts, parents reached out to me for recommendations for their students. I asked my usual questions (last book they read? last book they liked? etc.) and appreciated that they came to me. What I wished was that I had a list to pull from and that I had a list to direct them to. I do not want to stop the questions; I want to give better answers. So, enjoy, the work in progress.

Ms. Proulx Recommends

I intend to spotlight some of these books in the blog.

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

But first….introductions

Hi! I’m Kelly (Ms. Proulx to some of my social circle) and I read a lot. I often don’t have the patience to sit and watch TV or a movie, but I usually have the patience to read. By day, I am a middle school teacher. By night, I am an avid reader, puzzler, football fan, baker, runner, lifter, and fashionista (not my words.)

Not to brag, but, according to Goodreads, I have read over 3000 books in my life….I know…that is a lot. So, it is no surprise that I get this question: do you have any book recommendations?

My students ask me, their parents ask me, my friends ask me, my family asks me, strangers ask me. If someone finds out you are a reader, suddenly, you become an expert in all things literary. Luckily, I love giving recommendations and have read a little of everything. I do not pretend to be an expert, but a know a lot of books.

To answer your question: Oh, I do. But, first, I need to know:
-What is the last book you read?
-What is the last book you loved?
-What type of books do you normally choose?

I created this blog to help me to answer my favorite question “Do you have any book recommendations?” To keep reviews and links in one place. Check out my posts for my personal favorites for all ages.