Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In A Rocket Made of Ice

The photographs in this book were enough to make me fall in love with the children of Cambodia.

When added with Gail Gutradt's account of her time spent at the Wot Opot Children's Community, I was totally engrossed.

Sadly, many children in Cambodia suffer from HIV/AIDS, orphaned by parents who also suffered with this disease, or sent away because of their disease. Wot Opot provides a home for these children - a place where they can laugh and play and love without judgement.

Wayne Matthysse, a former Vietnam medic, created this safe haven for these children, and Gutradt was fortunate enough to experience it herself, getting to know the children and tell their story as she spent many months over several years at Wat Opot.

Gutradt shares stories of individual children at the orphanage, and it is easy to see the kindness and concern she has for these innocent boys and girls. 

Although this book is sad as many children suffer and die from HIV/AIDS, Matthysse's desire to help others and to give his life to creating a home for these children shows hope as we see how much good one human being can do.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is a memoir of sorts.  Jeff Hobbs met Robert Peace when the two shared a dorm room in college.  At the time they lived together Hobbs felt like he knew a bit about Peace, but he certainly did not fully understand how Peace's life before college differed from his own.

Peace grew up in the 1980s with his mom barely making ends meet. His parents had never married, and his dad was serving a life sentence in prison for murder. His father was a presence in his life before he was imprisoned, and Peace continued to visit him and write him, always looking for ways to help his dad prove his innocence for the rest of his life.

Despite the hardships of his upbringing, Peace was a great student and attended Yale University, earning degrees in molecular biochemistry and biophysics.  He visited guys from his neighborhood when at home, still staying connected to his roots.  

And Peace did more than just stay connected to his roots. Eventually Peace became involved in his own drug trade, making a lot of money by providing drugs to college students and his friends. 

Although Peace was a master at bridging both worlds, and a brilliant young man, eventually the risks he takes catch up with him.

Hobbs is stunned to learn of his friend, Robert Peace's death.  By interviewing a wide range of friends and family members, he has managed to piece together a fuller picture of Robert Peace than the portion he had been privy to as his roommate.  

Hobbs' book was nearly impossible to put down, and despite knowing how Robert Peace's life played out, I couldn't help but hope the ending would be different. In addition to Peace's life story, Hobbs has managed to portray how difficult it is for a black man from Peace's neighborhood to truly disassociate himself from the friends and family he has grown up with.

I read this book as an ARC from Netgalley months before its publication, and I am still thinking about Robert Peace and his short and tragic life.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Salon: The Three Day Weekend

So maybe at your house it never feels like things are spiraling out of control, but that's a bit what I've felt like as the school year begins and the house gets messier and no one can find the clothes they want to wear, and we try to come up with something for supper at the last minute, and then dash off to soccer practice. When we get up in the morning we are barely ready in time to get on the bus, and the rat race continues.

What I'm trying to say is that this three day weekend comes at the perfect time so that I can try to get us on track and feeling organized.

I have a totally organized pantry, every stitch of clothing washed and folded, and soon-to-be vacuumed carpets.  Tomorrow the girls will have to clean their rooms and I am going to make a few food items to get us through the week.  And on Tuesday, I will be ready to go back to work.  Doesn't that sound good?  Hopefully things won't be going to hell in a hand basket by Tuesday night.

I can't believe it's almost September already.  This weekend we have had hot and humid weather and it feels wonderful.  I'm not ready to think about cold weather yet.

Little Sister celebrated birthday #8. My in-laws got her another American girl doll and we bought her a bow and arrow that she is just dying to use. 

In celebration of her birthday we went out to Old Chicago and then went bowling last night.

Tonight we'll be eating her Oreo ice cream cake from Dairy Queen an celebrating for another day.

I've got a few books I've managed to get done in the midst of my attempt at organizing my life, and would love to sit down with my Kindle tonight.

Hope everyone is enjoying their Labor Day weekend.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Five

The weeks are feeling busy and rushed so far this fall.  Can't believe it's Friday already, but am very excited about the three day weekend.

We've been hearing a lot of this song around our house. It's stuck in my head now.
I love Boden, but don't order from them often.  I am liking this tunic over a pair of leggings. Boden's Must Have Tunic

And shoes....I love this pair now, too.  I haven't ordered them yet, but they're in my cart!

I was eating these a few weeks ago and my mother-in-law looked at them with great interest.  I love these chips that make me at least feel like I am eating healthy, and have a little spice to them as well.

I've had my shoes that I use for the exercise class I take for over a year, and despite the fact that I don't want to spend money right now, have been looking at different shoes.  These Under Armour training shoes are the pair I've got my eyes on.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Name is Parvana

Each year I read Deborah Ellis' The Breadwinner with my fifth grade book club kids. And nearly every year that is the book they choose as their favorite one we discuss.

I always encourage them to continue reading the series themselves, and show them Parvana's Journey and Mud City, also by Ellis.

Despite the fact that the fourth book has been out for over a year AND my book club students always ask how things end for Parvana, I have held off reading it, waiting for just the right day.

Over the summer I read The Breadwinner aloud to my girls before bed.  What they resisted at first, they became totally engaged in.  And of course, like my students, wondered about sequels.  Middle Sister was able to discern from reading synopses of the second and third books that she didn't need to read them, but the fourth book is one that she requested to read.

Trying to keep one step ahead of her, I picked it up the other night.

Although it has been years since I read Parvana's Journey or Mud City, my yearly refresher of The Breadwinner has kept me thinking about this story.

As the book begins, Parvana has been arrested, or captured.  It took me a while to get things figured out, but I quickly determined that Parvana is refusing to speak to the people that have taken her.  

As Parvana sits in silence in a cell, parts of her past are remembered.  She and her mother and sister Maryam are together, running a school for girls. Nooria has gone to New York to attend college.  Men have objected to the school.  

As the story nears the end, Parvana's most recent struggle and how she came to be in prison are revealed.

Shauzia and Parvana planned to meet at the Eiffel Tower in Paris twenty years after parting in The Breadwinner.  Life has been full of twists and turns for both of them.  Their reunion is not what the planned, but Ellis has written an amazing book about Parvana (and I hoped not totally closed the door on adding another book in this series).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

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

This week's pick: Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Due out: October 7, 2014

Product Information taken from Amazon:

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres: a heartwarming, deeply engaging new novel-the life and times of an American farm family over three transformative decades-certain to become an instant classic.

On their farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon abide by time-honored values that they pass on to their five wildly different yet equally remarkable children: Frank, the brilliant, stubborn first-born; Joe, whose love of animals makes him the natural heir to his family's land; Lillian, an angelic child who enters a fairy-tale marriage with a man only she will fully know; Henry, the bookworm who's not afraid to be different; and Claire, who earns the highest place in her father's heart. Moving from post-World War I America through the early 1950s, Some Luck gives us an intimate look at this family's triumphs and tragedies, zooming in on the realities of farm life, while casting-as the children grow up and scatter to New York, California, and everywhere in between-a panoramic eye on the monumental changes that marked the first half of the twentieth century. Rich with humor and wisdom, twists and surprises, Some Luck takes us through deeply emotional cycles of births and deaths, passions, and betrayals, displaying Smiley's dazzling virtuosity, compassion, and understanding of human nature and the nature of history, never discounting the role of fate and chance. This potent conjuring of many lives across generations is a stunning tour de force.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting Life

I've read various news accounts of people wrongly convicted of murder finally being freed after spending years in prison.

Getting Life: An Innocent Man's 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace by Michael Morton is Morton's own account of spending twenty-five years in prison for the murder of his wife.

In 1986, Michael was happily married with a three year old son, Eric.  After a night out with his wife, he left for work the next morning. By the time he returned home that night, the police were at his home, collecting evidence for the murder of his beloved wife.  

Morton cooperated with police, wanting them to find the person who committed this horrible crime.  However, because of a variety of factors- a police chief who had already decided Morton was guilty being a major contributor, Morton realized that police were not looking at anyone beside him.

Morton's account of his life is harrowing - something too horrible to imagine. And what comes through is that Morton is a person just like you or me.  That he could spend twenty five years in prison for a crime he didn't commit is terrifying.  

Morton's writing is easy to read.  He can tell his story well.  And, he manages to hit the major points, allowing the twenty five year time period to pass without belaboring what must have seemed to him the exceedingly slow passage of time.  

Morton has accepted his life and what happened to him.  He does not preach at the reader or offer religious advice, but it is evident that his faith in God-  achieved during his prison stay- is what has allowed him to move on. 

Getting Life is a book that will amaze you and make you think twice about what you believe.

Monday, August 25, 2014

All Fall Down

Jennifer Weiner's most recent book, All Fall Down, is one I devoured this past weekend.  

My friend, Kristin, read it earlier this summer and since both of us have read every book Weiner's written, I knew I would get around to it eventually. However, her endorsement did help bump it up on my TBR.

Allison Weiss has the life many people would envy.  A handsome and charming husband, a precocious daughter, and a job as a blogger on women's issues.  

However, despite all of that, or perhaps because of all of that, Allison feels overwhelmed.  When she injures her back and takes pills to help with the pain, Allison realizes that the relief she feels by taking these pills is helping her deal with the stresses of her life.

And soon the pills she is taking for the pain become a habit.  Allison finds ways to get pills from multiple doctors for a variety of reasons  She is tired al the time, her marriage suffers. But when she puts her child's safety in jeopardy, Allison begins to realize she may have a problem.

Allison's story is one many people may be able to relate to.  Seeing Allison self destruct was hard to read about, and I felt as though I was holding my breath each time she would take another handful of pills.

All Fall Down is a great quick read, and as a fan of Weiner's this one ranks near the top as one of my favorites she has written.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Salon: This Will Be Fast

The weekend has flown by, something that I'm adjusting to once again, and which means that I'm nearly ready to think about bed and have yet to blog or work on lesson plans.

With that being said... this post will be quick.  Big Sister and I spent the day running errands and birthday shopping for Little Sister who turns 8 on Friday.  We also attended a birthday party for my co-worker and friend, Crystal, who turned 50 yesterday.

We rushed home to throw some turkey burgers on the grill, start the nighttime routine, and get everything ready for the morning. 

Tomorrow Little Sister starts soccer, so soccer cleats, socks and shin guards had to be located and tried on.  

Big Sister has an early morning (6 AM) cross country practice tomorrow to avoid the afternoon heat....the rat race has begun.

I did find time to read two books this weekend, and would still like to get a few posts written before bed.  

Hope you had a relaxing weekend...although mine felt busy, I'm ready to go back to school and meet my classes again.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Story Hour

Lakshmi has moved from India to the United States to be with her husband, as the two work side by side in their grocery and restaurant.  An arranged marriage, Lakshmi's husband treats her more as his own personal servant than a wife. Lonely and depressed, Lakshmi attempts suicide one day.

When Maggie meets Lakshmi she is drawn to the woman.  Maggie's own husband Sudhir is from India, so she knows a little about the culture.  As her therapist, Maggie tries to keep her relationships with her patients professional, but this is nearly impossible with Lakshmi, who is lonely and needs a friend.

As Maggie treats Lakshmi for free, the two develop a friendship of sorts, and Maggie helps Lakshmi feel empowered- teaching her how to drive, helping her find a way to earn money on her own.

While Lakshmi's life is looking up, Maggie continues to involve herself in an affair with Peter, a photographer who travels the world.  Although Maggie knows in her heart that Sudhir is her true love match, she can't fight her attraction to Peter.

Lakshmi is willing to share her deepest secrets with Maggie, but when Maggie's own secret is revealed, the friendship these women have forged is jeopardized.  

The Story Hour is a novel of friendship, of love, of two worlds coming together.  Umrigar is able to skillfully alternate narrators as Lakshmi and Maggie each tell their stories, and has created a story that I am thinking about long after I am done reading. There is a little suspense as secrets are revealed that kept me turning the pages as quickly as I could.  Every characters is multifaceted and well developed, real humans that are so complex, each with their strengths and flaws.  

Umrigar's The Story Hour is a must read for fiction lovers.