2012: The #nerdprintz Challenge

I sit here tonight, thinking about dipping my toes into the 2012 challenge waters. I’m just finishing up my greatest year of reading ever; do I want to chance losing that momentum because of challenges I might not complete? Do I want to risk being upset with myself about something reading related? Then a thought crossed my mind:

“BRIAN WYZLIC, ARE YOU TELLING ME YOU’RE AFRAID OF FAILING?!”

Oh, voice in my head. Such a kind guide you are. But you’re right. After constant urging of my students to “keep moving forward” if they fail, and to learn from their mistakes and move on. . .if I backed off from a challenge I had in my head just because I was afraid I might not succeed, how could I face my students when we return in January? Not with an honest conscience, that’s for sure.

My plan: read all the Michael L. Printz winners. Fortunately, there are only 12 (soon to be 13). I can do that. I have read 2 of them already: Monster (2000) and Looking for Alaska (2006). Will I read them again? Yes! Those books are amazing. I consider it a gift to be able to read them again.

“But Brian, what about the honor books? Shouldn’t you read those, too?”

You know, voice in my head, you can be pretty annoying sometimes, you know that? I would love to read the honor books. So sure, they’re in there, too. I’ve read some of them already, but there are a lot I haven’t read. I will be reading the award winners first, though.

“But Brian, what about all the other books you want to read next year? How are you going to have time for them?”

LISTEN, VOICE. Stop bringing up good points! I’m trying to feel competent here, you know? There are people who are going to read this, and I wouldn’t mind it if they were more on the side of “YEAH, let’s do this!” and not “whoa, that’s. . .kind of a lot. . .” But here’s the deal: I am going to try to read them, too. The summer is going to be a big help for this. More than anything, though, my love for reading is going to win out. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, VOICE? ARE YOU?!

. . .

That’s what I thought.

So, here we go. I’m all in. I might not make it. That’s okay. It might take me 2 years. Or 3. That’s okay. I’m in: I’m going to read all the Printz winners and honor books in 2012. Will you join me?

Past Printz Challenge

Top Ten of 2011

Hosted by Broke and Bookish

2011 was a big year for me as a reader. I read 39 books (and counting), which for some people is not much. For me, that’s almost as many books as I’d read in the past 4 years combined. I’m glad it was such a strong reading year, and I’m excited to continue it next year. But don’t let me get ahead of myself. Before I can get into next year, I need to finish this year. So here are my

Top Ten Books I Read in 2011

They are in the order in which I read them, so you can read into that whatever you’d like. I’m pretty sure it means nothing, but hey, do what you want.

1) Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

This was the first book I’d read in a while that I could not stop reading because I was enjoying it so much. Mockingbird jump-started my year of reading, and I haven’t looked back.

2) Looking for Alaska by John Green

I was late to the John Green bandwagon, but I’m not getting off it now. I read this in February, but the characters still haunt me. I’m pretty sure I only stopped reading this one to sleep. I didn’t even eat.

3) Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Pretty much the outstanding novel you’d expect from two amazing authors.

4) Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor

In one word: beautiful. There’s a perfect balance of mystery and wonder overlaying the story of Raine as she finds herself and more at the resort at Sparrow Road.

5) Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I wanted to like this book, and it turns out I loved it. A powerful and masterfully told story.

6) Divergent by Veronica Roth

I’m a sucker for a good dystopian. I’m even more of a sucker for a great dystopian, which Divergent definitely is.

7) The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This book is told like a years-old legend, and the magic it invites the reader to believe in is powerful stuff. I don’t know why I had been putting this one off.

8) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Again, I know I’m late to the party on this one (by a couple years), but wow. I love this book, and I’m glad I finally picked it up and gave it a whirl. Awesome read.

9) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

There’s a reason this is showing up on nearly everyone’s short list for best books of 2011. It’s beautiful, it’s dark, it’s haunting, but most of all: it’s amazing.

10) Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

There is something truly wonderful about this book. Fantasy and reality are mixed together in a beautiful way.

Honorable Mention: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

I couldn’t believe I put my top ten together and this wasn’t in there. Seriously great debut novel. I can’t classify it into one genre: it’s just about everything. If this were a top 11 list, there’s no doubt this book would have made the list.

Happy 2011, everyone! Time to look forward to a great year of reading in 2012.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

With the amount of positive press Breadcrumbs had been getting, especially as of late, I knew I had to take a look for myself. It didn’t take long before I was completely caught up in the world of Hazel Anderson and her best friend and neighbor, Jack Campbell. Or, as he soon turns into, the person formerly known as Hazel’s best friend. The thing is, something got in his eye one day, and it appears to have turned his heart to ice. Now, instead of sledding with Hazel and hanging out at recess with Hazel and making goofy faces at Hazel every morning and riding the bus with Hazel, Jack is doing all of those things. Without Hazel.

Of course, these things happen with boys and girls in 5th grade. Or so Hazel’s mom wants her to believe. . .but Hazel knows that’s not it. Boy or not, best friends don’t just stop acting like you exist. And they certainly don’t just disappear one day. But that’s exactly what Jack had done.

The only person who seems to offer any help to Hazel is her new friend Adelaide’s uncle Martin. He offers a world of fantasy to Hazel; a world she is all-too-willing to be a part of. But hey, she’s in 5th grade! Who doesn’t love a world of fantasy at that age (and for some of us, we never escaped that — but that’s another story for another time)? Hazel soon realizes that she must go find Jack. She must enter the woods where he was last seen. She must rescue him.

I wish I could write a review that would somehow encapsulate the amazing work that Ursu does with this story. Everything is interwoven in a way that I have not seen much in children’s literature. Fantasy and reality meet in an absolutely lovely way seldomly done. I was wondering where the line blurs between our world and the world of this story, and I’m still not sure. That is much of the charm in Breadcrumbs.

If you are at an age where you are comfortable reading chapter books, you should read this book. It really has just about everything: reality, fantasy, tough decisions, parents who just don’t understand, friendships that friends just don’t understand, innocence, experience, that feeling when you forget your boots and the snow is really deep but you’re so hard-pressed to go on that it doesn’t matter that you’re only 5 feet from your door you have to continue on anyway. . .. Read this book. I know my review is lacking. There’s so much to enjoy here, and I can’t say it all. If you’re not convinced, go read a couple other reviews, then go read Breadcrumbs. And watch for this next month when the Newbery Awards are announced! I think it’ll be in the mix somewhere.

Rating: 5 out of 5 fish. No doubt. 

This Time. . .Shall Be Different!

NB: This is an uncommon style of post for this blog. This has nothing to do with books, but has more to do with blogging itself. Don’t worry; this blog will still be about books nearly all the time. My condolences if you’re not okay with this post in the mix.

To start with, I want to make sure we’re all saying that title in the same voice. I couldn’t embed this video, so just do me a favor and turn your sound on, and click here for a 3-second video clip: Clicky clicky!

Okay. Are we all set now? Good.

The thing is, I’ve tried blogging before. A few times. I can’t link them all here, because some are so completely dead that links won’t take you anywhere (though perhaps you’re quite adept at web things and can dig them up. Go ahead. I’m not here to stop you.). Every time, I have, for various reasons, stopped blogging. I didn’t find the joy in it, nobody was reading it anyway, I became too busy. . .excuse after excuse.

But this time. . .shall be different! Here’s why:

  1. This is not like any blog I’ve done before. This is a book blog. It’s not me spouting off my thoughts on teaching or my daily life as a teacher or anything like that. It’s not about me at all, in fact. It’s about the books.
  2. There will always be content for this blog. In my other, now-defunct blogs, I never really had a set thing to write about, so posting became very sporadic and eventually non-existent. Since this is a book blog, I will always have something to blog about. I read a book, and I write a review. This is something I have been doing since the start of the school year anyway, so really, this is mostly just another place to post those reviews. This also opens me up to doing other book-related content. Which brings us to. . .
  3. I will not let myself be overwhelmed. There is a lot I’d like to do with this blog. I’m not going to do it all. I’m not even going to try. I know myself, and I know that I tend to get very passionate about something, put a lot of effort into it, then get bored/distracted/frustrated and just let things sort of fall apart. That’s not going to happen here. I’d like to do a lot of “Waiting on. . .” posts. I’d like to do a lot of “In My Mailbox” posts. I’ll probably do one a month of each. But ultimately, I’m not going to get caught up in that. I have a plan, and that plan is to post book reviews here. The rest is gravy. Too much gravy without anything to put the gravy on might sound delicious (I mean, come on — GRAVY!), but ultimately, will just run all over the place and make a big mess. I’m sticking with the meat and potatoes here.
  4. I care about sharing the content of this blog. In the past, my blogs were sort of a place for me to pretend to be organized but really just rant about things. With this one, this content is important to me. It’s important to me as a reader and as a teacher. I want this information to be out there so I can share it with those who may benefit from it. A post with me going on about how educational research is all fundamentally flawed? Some may find that interesting, but ultimately, it’s just me ranting. This, to me, is more important.
  5. I wanted a fifth item, but I don’t have one. So there’s this awkward moment instead.

Of course, there’s always this possibility: Oh no! I’m going to avoid this.

(all video content owned by Aqua Teen Hunger Force and their ownership companies and creators)

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I’m still trying to recover from this one — and that’s a very good thing. This story — this tale — of Conor O’Malley and the monster he has called (or perhaps has called him) is 2 parts heart-breaking, 3 parts heart-repairing, a couple dashes of enchanting, and garnished with the miraculous. Conor is awakened at 12:07 to a monster calling for him. This monster is the yew tree from outside his window, and it doesn’t frighten Conor one bit. And why should it? He’s seen much scarier monsters.

We find ourselves lost in a fantasy-but-really-reality world of Conor’s mom, who is battling cancer, Conor’s grandma, who is taking care of the house and Conor, and Conor’s monster, who is pushing Conor to tell his own story by telling three of its own. There is a certain magic to the monster, or so it seems, yet it is at the same time nothing special. Therein lies the secret wonder to A Monster Calls.

I could not put this book down, except when I needed to (to sleep, to eat, to teach). It grabbed me from the beginning and I did not let go, until I had to. And when I had to, I was okay doing so. I cannot imagine this story being any better. The flowing language almost reads like a prose poem. The images it creates are astounding. And then there’s the book itself.

Illustrated periodically with pictures and images that perfectly match the tone of the text, the book looked perfect in my hands. The pages are also thick and heavy — so much so that the book is quite deceptively weighty. This is perfect for the story being told. It’s as if everyone — author, story-teller, illustrator, publisher, manufacturer — was working towards the perfection of this book as a book. If they didn’t reach it, they came awfully close.

There isn’t anyone I would not recommend this to. The cancer story may be too close to home for some, but perhaps the ending of the book will be that much more meaningful and needed to them. It is a very quick read, despite being a shade over 200 pages. I cannot imagine someone being disappointed in this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5 fish. 

Legend by Marie Lu

Legend is a book I’ve been wanting to read since I heard about it about a month ago. Unlike most books I’ve been hearing about lately, it’s one I was actually able to go out and obtain within a few weeks! I swear, my “waiting on. . .” list is too long for my own good. But I digress. We start with our hero/criminal Day, who grabs us immediately with the narration: “My mother thinks I’m dead. Obviously I’m not dead, but it’s safer for her to think so.” Hit the ground running? Check. Interested already? Check. Snarky italics? Check. That passes my first-page test.

June is our hero/military specialist, and also serves as our other narrator. She’s not as sarcastic, but just as smart as Day — perhaps more so. After all, Day failed his Trials test (which every ten-year old takes), relegating him to a life away from everyone he loves. Meanwhile, June is a prodigy — the only person ever to score a perfect 1500 on the Trials.

June and Day soon find themselves in the thick of one of the biggest story lines in their futuristic Los Angeles: Day, the mastermind criminal, being pursued by June, the prodigy girl. Did I mention that they’re both teenagers, June’s parents died in a car accident, Day’s family is being stricken my the plague, and there are a ton of awesome plot elements I can’t reveal because I don’t want to deny you the experience? Are you interested yet?

I really enjoyed the pace of this book: fast enough to keep me interested, but not so fast that I couldn’t savor it as it was moving along. I also liked that Day and June’s chapters alternated, and in different fonts. It helped their voices come alive for me, and was also an easy unconscious reminder of who was narrating.

If there is anything I could say about Legend that isn’t positive, it’s that it is fairly predictable. However, even as I was reading, I was saying to myself “Self, you know exactly how this is going to turn out. Yet it’s interesting enough that you don’t seem to care!” Like any good book that follows an established story line, there are times where it follows prediction, and times when it deviates in just the right ways.

I recommend Legend to fans of YA lit, especially dystopian novels. While it doesn’t have the gravitas books like Divergent have, it is a great book in its own right, and I’m very much excited for the sequel(s)!

Rating: 4 out of 5 fish. 

And so It Begins. . .

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, actually. And here we are. It’s that time.

Yes, I finally had Indian food. Delicious!

But also, I need to start a book blog. This is it. I hope you’ll enjoy the ride with me! I’ve had a few short-lived blog ideas in the past, but this one will certainly keep me going. After all, I do read — almost every day — and I do write reviews about what I read — almost every book. This seemed like the natural progression of things.

I’m in this blog all by myself (though there are many blogs out there I’ve enjoyed reading over the years and have certainly gleaned some things), which means that I am completely open to any ideas you may have! Have an idea of something I should read? Let me know. Is there a certain layout you think would be more beneficial to the blog? Let me know! I take all criticism with an open mind. . .but I also reject all criticism that I deem to be unwise. Or should that be unWyz?

Well, in the words of so many terrible beer commercials: here we go.