On My Bookshelf

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This year I challenged each of my students to read 30 books this school year. It started as just a random, incredible high number that I didn’t expect them to reach. I set it purposefully high so that they would keep reaching for it all year. Well, turns out about 30 out of my 110 students actually DID read the full 30 books already – and we still have five weeks left! They have blown me away with their reading.

I have been inspired by them this year and have been working to keep up with their incredible reading pace. In the process, I’ve read a lot of books myself. Some have been better than others, but most of them I’ve really enjoyed. Here are the most recent books to find themselves on my bookshelf:

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The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb – This was a random book I found at the public library. To be honest, I was in a hurry that afternoon because I had both kids with me, and the only reason I grabbed this book was because it takes place in the rural mountains of Tennessee, which is where my Grandma was born and raised. That’s really the only reason I checked this one out. Turns out, it was a great find because the story is actually really interesting. It’s about this very rural community just after the Civil War. The main character is a poor, morally questionable young woman who goes to live her her even poorer cousin and her husband, and it’s about how their lives all cross paths with Tom Dooley, a young, drunk veteran of the war who manages to ruin everything around him. The characters are not lovable – they aren’t even really likeable – but the story is really well told and the plot keeps you interested.

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Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult – This could be the single-most important book I’ve read as a mother and as an educator. It is an incredibly disturbing, powerful, and moving story about a school shooting. I was hesitant to read it at first, being both a teacher and a parent. But what the book focuses on are the choices our children make and how we can help them make better choices. The boy who kills his classmates was viciously bullied for just about his entire life. It was heartbreaking to read for me because the bullying began when he was just a year or two older than Bean, and it touched such a raw nerve with me. It follows the shooter all the way up through school and shows how hurtful and heartbreaking being a teenager can be. As a teacher, it instantly changed the way I managed my classroom. I talked to all of my classes about the book. We had open discussions about bullying and pushing people beyond their limits. In my own home, it made me more aware of not just how my kids will be treated as they grow up, but also how they treat others. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any kind of interaction with kids – their own, or otherwise.

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A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller – I have explained this book to other people and they just didn’t seem to find it as interesting as I did, so this one might not be for the masses. A friend from church recommended this to me and then organized a group of people to meet for dinner to talk about it. Sort of like a one-book book club. I had to miss the dinner, but I was really bummed because of how much I loved the book. It’s an autobiography of an author who found his life at the center of a documentary. Film makers wanted to turn his life into a movie, but they basically told him that his real life wasn’t interesting enough, so they were going to have to “doctor up” the truth to make it more exciting. The book is about the process of writing that doctored up movie and how somewhere in the process of creating a fake exciting life, he decides to go out and make his actual life exciting. He begins to make better choices, like committing to ride his bike across the country for charity, even though he had never ridden before and was overweight. He also talks about incredibly inspiring people he’s met and why their lives were so powerfully significant. Basically, it’s about living a better, more full life. The guy is a Christian author, but the book isn’t a philosophical or Christian-based book, but he has a really great view of faith, if you ask me. I read this just after the first of the year, and I honestly think that reading this book was the first step towards me becoming a more active, more healthy, more fulfilled person this year. Months later, I still think about the principles of this book on a weekly basis.

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11-22-63 by Stephen King – I read this one on my Kindle while Chris and I were in Costa Rica. It was my first Stephen King book, and I was a little nervous because I don’t like scary books. But some friends at work insisted that this was not a typical Stephen King book, and that it was actually an incredible story about what would happen if the JFK assassination were prevented. The book is about a time travel portal and the man who decides to go back into time to try to stop the JFK assassination. But it’s about so much more than that! He actually goes back and lives in the 1960′s for several years leading up to the assassination, and it’s about the life he builds there and the relationships he makes. I’m not into sci-fi or anything usually involving time travel, but this book was amazing. The plot took twists and turns that I never saw coming, and it’s told in such a masterful way. I am a Stephen King fan and I never even knew it.

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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory – I read a couple of Philippa Gregory’s books in college and had mixed feelings about them. I love historical fiction, and it’s not something you find a lot of in mainstream books these days, but she took the sex part of the stories a little far after her first few books came out and when that happened, I quit reading her books because they became more trashy than historical and I lost interest. But I had heard that this book began a series of hers that was more along the lines of the original type of writing she did. I was so happy to find that was true! This book tells the story of King Edward of York and Queen Elizabeth in the 1400′s. I love the strong, female main character and it is just the right amount of historical fact to make it interesting, as well as entertaining. This is the first in a series of books she calls the Cousins’ War and I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

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Matched by Ally Condie – I started this book today at the recommendation of some of my students. Though it is a young adult novel, it is supposed to be pretty good. I started it this morning, and after sitting down with it a little tonight after dinner, I’m already half way through it, and it’s pretty good. It’s about this futuristic utopian society that matches you to your spouse. It follows the main character as she is matched to her best guy friend, but then discovers that she might have been mis-matched. It’s about her struggle between her assigned match and her desire to get to know the other boy she might have been matched with. It’s a social commentary on free will and what lengths we will go to to keep it. It seems like a great beach book because it’s easy to read and at the core is a love story. It’s the first in a series, and I think I might add the rest of the series to my summer reading list.

So, that’s what I’ve been reading lately. Next on my list at the library is Ken Follet’s “World Without End.” I read “Pillars of the Earth” and it was one of my favorite books ever, so I’ve been waiting for a chunk of time to read the second one. Summer kick off seems to be the perfect time! If you’re interested in seeing other books I’ve read, or following along with what I read this summer, be sure to follow me on Good Reads. My user name is KatieMC.

What about you? Have you read anything good lately?

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