Monday, November 24, 2014

The Train to Crystal City

I still remember calling my mom during my freshman year of college, completely upset and confused by a book I was reading that claimed that Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II.  Had this really happened, I asked her?  How had I managed to never know about this? And why was Danielle Steele the person to teach me about it?

In the many years since I first learned of this black spot in our country's history, I have done a lot of reading about the Japanese American experience during World War II.  There are a lot of books out there that cover this topic fairly well - and even many geared toward the middle grades (which would have totally helped me out when I was growing up).  

However, Jan Jarboe Russell's new book, due out in January, The Train to Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II adds another layer to the history of internment camps in our country.

In addition to Japanese Americans experiencing internment camps, Germans and Italians were also sent to Crystal City, an internment camp.  For some wives and children going to Crystal City was a way in which they could be reunited with their husband or father who had been (wrongly) accused of supporting his country of origin.  

Crystal City's internees were unique in that they were in a camp with the idea that they would be repatriated to their own country in exchange for American prisoners of war.  Although this was not explained to them, years later some of them realized that their repatriation helped rescue others from near certain death.

Russell's book is a work of non-fiction, but the narrative reads like a story as Russell tells about several of the Crystal City internees, and their lives both before and after World War II.  

I absolutely loved this book. I will admit to being stuck on the topic of World War II, so this one was high on my list of things I wanted to read, and it is now high on my list of books I will be recommending to others to read.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Salon: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Less Like Christmas

Overnight the snow has mostly melted. Thank goodness!  In fact the temps managed to get into the 50s yesterday, which felt like an absolute heatwave.  

Earlier this week my drive to work looked a lot like what I expect of winter driving.  

And despite there being no real weather to worry about, our electricity went off in our neighborhood on Monday night, not to be repaired until after we ate breakfast, dressed, and left for work.  The house was a chilly 58 degrees when we left for the day. 

I have also been busy with the book fair this week.  Busy is perhaps an understatement. During our family night the book fair was so full of customers I couldn't even walk around.  It's exciting to see, but I was ready to pack it in on Friday.

Little Sister had the thrill of being taken to the Mall of America in Minneapolis with a friend and her parents for the weekend.  They also visited the Macy's Christmas display downtown, stayed and swam in a hotel, and had a lot more fun than the rest of us left at home.

Of course, she's the child who likes to have me right next to her at all times. We've only received one rather tearful phone call. I legitimately believe her friend's mom when she says she is fine (I have seen her turn the tears on for me many times when she has been just fine moments before).  I will be interested in hearing what she has to say about her big adventure.

Without Little Sister, I have found time to read a little more.  It still doesn't begin to touch the stack of books I have waiting for me, but I am happy to X a few off my list.

The work week is a short one - just three days for me, two for my daughters.  I am ready for a little break, a little Christmas shopping, and some tasty, not so healthy food.

Happy Week Before Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 22, 2014


A week ago we saw our first small snowstorm.  Thankfully, this weekend it should hit  a balmy 40 degrees.

However, even though I'm not very excited to see snow in person, I was thrilled to receive Blizzard by John Rocco in the mail the other day. I had pre-ordered this one long ago after having fallen in love with Blackout by Rocco.

Rocco's latest picture book is based on events in his own life- a 1978 snowstorm that hit his Rhode Island hometown and left drifts fifteen feet high.

I will readily admit that often I focus more on the story than the illustrations, but in Blizzard I loved both.  I loved that the snowstorm begins with just one flake.  I loved the fold-out showing where the boy walks when he is sent to get supplies.  I loved tracing his path.  I loved that this was based on a memory from Rocco's own childhood.

Both my eight year old and I exclaimed over this book.  Tonight she is already planning to read it again, this time with her father. 

Sometimes I am disappointed in a book after I have anticipated it for such a long time.  This is not the case with Blizzard.  I can hardly wait to read it to my classes, press it into the hands of my students and give it as a gift to my nieces and nephews.

Rocco has created another winner.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Five


This scarf drew my attention right away as I was looking through the Boden Christmas catalog.  It is almost a sure thing that I will enjoy anything that features London.

So maybe you aren't Christmas shopping yet, but I am starting to pick up stocking stuffers already. This pen is something I found on the Marbles The Brain Store website.  It reminds me of the four color pens of my childhood that all the girls loved to have.

A few years ago my girls had a subscription to Little Passports that they loved. At the time I only purchased it for three months, and I have heard Little Sister ask for this to come again over and over ever since it expired. I have finally relented, because the "stuff" they send is good stuff.  I have had magazine subscriptions that no one reads, but this is something that my girls looked forward to receiving in the mail.  And I loved seeing them working together, heads bent over their maps, enjoying the artifacts and activities that allow them to learn more about various countries.

I have not a creative bone in my body, but my high school co-op is great about trying to help me carry out some of my ideas.  I have already showed her this tree that I'd like to have in the library for Christmas.

I am still trying to decide on a winter hat.  The girls have pretty much taken over any of the winter stuff I have, and I can't pretend that I can just go the entire winter without it.  It was 30 below zero the other night (with windchill).  I really like this hat from Eddie Bauer, and today they have 40% off.

The book fair has kept me busy this week, so the internet browsing hasn't been as easy.  We'll see what I can come up with next week.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Crooked River

I read a few reviews of Crooked River by Valerie Geary and the more I learned about this book, the more I wanted to read it.  

I was not disappointed.

Sisters Ollie and Sam are dealing with the sudden death of their mother and have been reunited with their father, Bear, who lives a minimalist life, shunning most of the conventions of everyday life.

Bear's appearance and lifestyle put him on the radar of law enforcement as most people don't understand his way of living.  When the sisters see a dead body float down the river near their teepee home, the two don't mention it to their dad. But, when the police show up  to ask Bear questions and later find evidence that Bear killed this young reporter, the girls can't ignore the fact that they don't know the entire truth about what went on the night this woman was killed.

The girls take turn narrating chapters, which is interesting since Ollie hasn't spoken since their mother's death.  She is able to see spirits that seem to communicate with her.  I don't much go in for spirits and communicating with the dead, but Ollie's story was still interesting and she reveals more as she narrates than she might if she were able to speak with her sister.

One thing both girls have in common is their steadfast belief in their father's innocence.  Even when all evidence points at their father, Sam continues to try to find out the truth about what happened the night the reporter was killed.

The tangled web she uncovers - about Bear's past, the tragic death of a young girl, Bears disappearance from their lives, all play a part in what occurred with the reporter and who is trying to cover it up.

The end wasn't a big surprise, even though I'm not usually very good at solving mysteries, yet I was totally intrigued by the twists and turns of the story and appreciated the suspense of it all.

I loved this book and will be awaiting more from Valerie Geary.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick:  A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Due out: February 10, 2015

Product Information taken from Amazon:
From the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author--now in the fiftieth year of her remarkable career--a brilliantly observed, joyful and wrenching, funny and true new novel that reveals, as only she can, the very nature of a family's life. 
     "It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon." This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family--their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog--is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red's father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Althea and Oliver

Althea and Oliver by Cristina Moracho is a young adult book, but it easily crosses over into the "adult" category, with an appeal wider than just the teen readers I initially envisioned.

Althea and Oliver have grown up together and always been best friends.  They both come from single parent homes and rely on each other for companionship.  However, as they get older and are in the midst of their high school years, their relationship is changing.  Althea wants more than to be "just friends," while Oliver isn't sure yet.  Although this is not a unique plot, Moracho does a great job of creating two characters that seem so real and human that I was invested in this story from the beginning.  

The addition of Oliver's struggle with Klein-Levin Syndrome, a sickness that causes him to sleep excessively for sometimes weeks at a time with little or no time awake, adds another layer to this story.

Most people will be able to relate to Althea and Oliver and their relationship, and will love this story of a friendship that has grown and changed over a lifetime.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Chance You Won't Return

Alex appears to be just like every other high school girl: thinking about boys, learning how to drive (although this is more of a struggle for Alex than it is for most teenagers). But there is a lot more going on in Alex's life than anyone else can imagine.  

Alex's mother appears to sinking further and further into her delusions, believing she is Amelia Earhart.  Aside from the fact that Alex is amazed by her mother's knowledge of Earhart's life, she is also appalled to have anyone else know about what is going on at home.

However, although things are going badly for Alex's family, Alex is finally enjoying dating a boy she likes and who appears to like her back. Keeping him separate from her family life is difficult, and Alex is dealing with a lot all by herself.

When I first started this book, I very nearly put it down.  I felt like this story might be just not something I felt like reading.  But once I was a few chapters in I was hooked.  I'm not sure someone could really suffer from a delusion like Alex's mom did (but I also admit I'm not in any way well versed in psychiatric disorders) but I was intrigued by this premise a lot. 

I also really liked Alex.  She tried to hold everything together even though things were not going well at home.  When she finally finds a boy who likes her I couldn't help but root for her and hope that she would find the support she was missing out on from her parents.

This is a first novel from Cardi and I'm excited to see what else she has in store.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Salon: It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas

For all of you who don't live with true winter weather, I would be happy to switch places with you for a while.  November 15 just seems waaaaaaay too early to have snow, especially when you know this is what life will be like for the next five months.  However, despite my lack of enthusiasm about the snow, it is beautiful.  And it does get me in the Christmas frame of mind.

Right after church this morning Middle Sister and Little Sister headed outside to enjoy the snow.  

The rest of us stayed inside, nice and toasty warm.

I still need to head out to Sam's Club and get a few essentials, and Little Sister has a birthday party this afternoon.  And when she returns there will be some chili to enjoy along with the Packers game.

Yesterday we celebrated my nephew's birthday and my niece's birthday.  Since the grandchildren won't be together again until Christmas my sister-in-law and I (really my sister-in-law since I am really good at thinking of ideas and she is really good at actually getting them done) directed an art project to give my mother to use for the holidays.

Although our tree doesn't quite look like the one I found on pinterest (below),

it is still pretty cute. Right now we are just waiting for the paint to dry and the star to be added on.  

This week at school is going to be super busy since by book fair runs the entire week.  I stayed late on Friday to get it all set up and the students are excited about it.  Wrestling practice begins tomorrow for my husband. This year Big Sister is a wrestling manager so she will also be busy after school during practices.  And volleyball season has also begun for Middle Sister.  I enjoyed the few weeks we had off between soccer and the busy-ness of winter sports, but now we are right back at it.  

I'm hoping that while everyone else is busy watching the Packers I can find a few minutes to snuggle up with a good book and organize myself for the week.

What's up for your Sunday?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Five: It's Definitely Getting Closer to the Holidays

I hate the mess of winter hats, mittens and scarves.  But, the weather for those items has arrived here in Iowa.  I am almost wishing I could be a kid again and get away with wearing these hats I found on  Love the one with the beard especially.

Growing up, our air popper saw a lot of use. My dad would make a batch of popcorn several times a week in the evening as he was watching basketball games on television.  Microwave popcorn is so easy that we don't own a popper at all. But I love this retro popper from Target, and wouldn't mind having one for our family so that we could enjoy the taste of air popped corn on some cold winter nights.

These mittens from White Sierra seriously remind me of marshmallows.  Soooooo cozy!  I needed  pair of mittens and I am most generally freezing cold all the time, which is a little problem when you get to experience winter in Iowa.  I don't mind the white side of them, but when I get sick of wearing marshmallows on my hands, I can change them over to the brown side, which is pretty much perfect for me since almost everything I own is some shade of brown.

I've got this journal x 3 in my Amazon cart right now. I fell in love with it the other day when the girls and I were shopping for a present for my one-year-old niece, but it is hard to buy presents for the girls when they are with me.  I am planning on giving each girl their own Q & A journal for Christmas.  The questions are for kids: "Have you ever been in trouble?"  "What animal do you feel like today?"  I hope my girls find these books as a treasure (or I may have to force them to write in them daily), because looking back at them after they are grown will be so much fun.

I love these Steve Madden shoes. They've been marked down once already, but I'm waiting a little longer to see if they are further reduced.  These would perk up a lot of my brown clothes that just need a little jolt of something.