Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mediocre Reads

Over the span of this past month I have finished a few other books that I ended up not writing reviews on. All were OK, but not great.

Far From Normal by Kate Klise is the sequel to the middle grade novel Deliver Us From Normal. I read the first book a few years ago, but remembered right where this story left off. Far From Normal was entertaining and it was good to see what happened to Charlie and his family since when we last saw them they were planning on living on a run-down houseboat. A few years have passed and the family has been living on a houseboat, but now in this new novel, Charlie and his family find themselves working as family representatives for a large warehouse type company, promoting its products. This is the last thing the family wants and Charlie has to find a way out of this for them.
On The Road Again: More Travels with My Family by Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel is another sequel. The first book, Travels with My Family, I have not read. I liked the family's story of moving to France and the details about various aspects of French life. The book ends up being kind of educational without really trying or seeming like it.

I am almost finished with Michael J. Fox's Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist. I like Michael J. Fox and don't mind this book, but I have managed to set it down for a week now and am going to make myself read the rest. While I prefer books that are about a person's relationships, family, friends, this book is more about Fox's work on his foundation for Parkinson's and his political beliefs as well as a recounting of different meetings and events that have taken place in this aspect of his life. There are a few tidbits he shares from his personal life, but that is what I wish this entire book was about.

And, I finished The Piano Man by Marcia Preston this morning. The book begins with the tragic death of Claire's son Nathan in a car crash. His organs are donated and his heart given to Mason a professional violinist. After three years Claire still grieves for her son and tracks down the man who received his heart. Mason is no longer the successful musician he once was, but is instead down on his luck, playing piano at a bar. Claire begins to befriend him and the two eventually establish a relationship. Nathan's absentee father, his girlfriend, and a few other minor characters are a part of the story as well. Some parts of this book I found enjoyabe, but many things about this story I felt were rather trite. When I came to the last page I could hardly believe the book ended. It seemed that the story shouldn't be over.

None of these books were awful, they just weren't the ones that I sit there and think about after I have read them, or the ones that I anxiously tell my friends to go and read. I am happy to be starting on a few new things that I am really enjoying.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lonely Monday

I can't remember the last time I was lonely. Usually I have three little girls surrounding me and wanting my attention or help or something! However, today I sit here in the librray by myself, and since I am used to a lot of commotion, it seems lonely. Yesterday I dropped my oldest daughter off at camp. She is only there until Wednesday morning and I am hoping she is having a great time, but it is strange not to have her around. My middle daughter wanted to bake cookies with my mom and didn't think running errands with mom sounded fun, so she went with Grandma. And my youngest daughter is at daycare for a while so she can take a much needed nap. I could really use my time wisely and clean, but instead I am at the library looking at books. The cleaning will be there for me, I'm sure.
Last night I finished the book I keep with my on my elliptical bike: The Girls From Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow. This is a non-fiction account of eleven friends who are now in their mid-forties and have known each other since they entered elementary school. Their story is not extremely exciting or dramatic - someone could have written a book about you and your friends much like this one. It is interesting to see how lives unfold and I did especially enjoy how close these friends remain over time. My mother has a group of college friends that continue to get together every couple years now that their children are grown and they have more time to do that, so it is my mother and her friends I thought of as I read this book. Zaslow perhaps makes everyone seem a bit too perfect - they are all beautiful, they all have wonderful husbands, etc. - the drudgery of real life is not really revealed. I liked knowing the setting from personal experiences of my own, and I am guessing that many book clubs will want to read this title about friendship enduring through time.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Summer on Blossom Street

Summer on Blossom Street is the latest in Debbie Macomber's Blossom Streets series. Reading it has been like a visit with old friends, and one I enjoyed. While it always takes me a bit of time to refresh myself on where I left off last, Macomber has created a cast of characters that are so likeable that it is enjoyable to visit them.
Lydia, the owner of A Good Yarn yarnshop and her husband Brad are ready to adopt an infant. Over the summer they take in Casey a twelve year old foster child who is in need of a home. Phoebe has just broken up for the final time with Clarke, her no good fiancee, after he was arrested for soliciting for a second time. She meets Hutch at a knitting class and the two hit it off, even though she initially deceived Hutch by telling him her fiancee died. Anne Marie and Ellen have just returned from their trip to France when Anne Marie has an unexpected visitor at her book store - a man who claims he may be Ellen's biological father. And Alix is busy trying to quit smoking so that she and her husband can start a family. A few other characters take a backseat in this book, but do make brief appearances as well. While this is not considered Christian fiction, it reminds me very much of Jan Karon's Mitford series, or Thomas Kinkade's Cape Light series. From time to time I feel that these books are too predictable, or too "nice" but sometimes it feels good to read a book where the characters are all good people and living ordinary lives.
Another exciting feature for me in this book is the quotes that begin most chapters are from various well known knitters. A personal friend of mine, Karen Thalacker, is quoted at one chapter's beginning. How exciting to see her words in print! Karen is also the author ot two childrens' knitting books.
I am sure Macomber is not finished with this Blossom Street series, and as always, I look forward to the next installment.
Visit Karen Thalacker's website
Visit Debbie Macomber's website

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Escape Under the Forever Sky

The UPS man just delivered this book yesterday, which I received via the Picnic Basket, and since I was just finishing a book up, it came at the perfect time. Eve Yohalem's first novel is set in Ethiopia, featuring Lucy, the US Ambassador's thirteen year old daughter. Lucy and her mother live in a residence inside the US compound in Ethiopia. Lucy feels like her mother is too overprotective - she isn't allowed to do anything fun while they are living in this beautiful country. Lucy is especially attracted to the interesting wildlife- lions, monkeys, hyenas - that all live in Ethiopia, but her mother refuses to let her go on trips to the bush as she wishes. Finally Lucy convinces one of their domestics that he does not need to wait at her friend's house during a visit and can just return after a few hours to pick her up. Lucy and Tana, her friend, then go to the mall by themselves. It is on this trip that Lucy is kidnapped. The entire time she is held captive only spans a few days, but Lucy is especially disheartened to find out that the embassy is unwilling to negotiate with her captors. After hearing this Lucy realizes she must take things into her own hands. Despite the wildlife, weather, and other dangerous aspects of being alone in remote Ethiopia, Lucy feels as though her best chance at survival is to escape and attempt to find her way to some civilization. Her voyage is full of suspense as well as interesting tidbits about life in Ethiopia.

This is a great suspense filled realistic fiction book for tweens. I was especially interested because the story features a child of US Ambassador. One of my uncles works for the US Embassy and my cousin, much like Lucy in this story, has spent his entire childhood abroad. And, just as in this story, my uncle was also stationed in Africa at one point. He has wonderful stories about the animals and way of life I have enjoyed listening to.

I will be looking forward to any other work by Yohalem.

Amanda's review of Escape Under the Forever Sky at A Patchwork of Books

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If I Stay

Mia is a senior in high school, has a boyfriend, Adam, parents she gets along with and a younger brother, Teddy. Really, she has everything going for her including her musical ability and talent playing the cello which has allowed her to audition to be accepted at Julliard. In one second Mia's entire life changes. Her family is killed in a tragic car accident on their way to visit friends. Mia has life threatening injuries as well. She tells the story in this entire novel while having an out of body experience. This book has been talked about and reviewed many places. I think I must have skimmed the reviews at best, knowing I had it sitting on my pile of TBR books and not wanting anything revealed before I read it. I have complained at various time about books taking place over just the span of one day. Mostly I don't like reading books like that. However, in this case, If I Stay works perfectly this way. Mia is able to include enough backstory that it doesn't feel as though time is dragging at all. And mostly I would avoid books being told by someone having an out of body experience -it's just a little too weird for me- but it works perfectly in this instance as well. Mia spends the entire novel battling her life threatening injuries and deciding if she will stay (live) or not. Leaving those she loves on earth would be hard, but continuing to live without her parents or brother would be devastating. I won't spoil the end....you truly won't know what Mia chooses until the last page.
To visit the authors website, click here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti

I love a good memoir, and I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti is that with a bunch of recipes thrown in. Giulia Melucci's book is a tribute of sorts to her many boyfriends and how food has played such a vital role in her relationships with men. An Italian American, Melucci grew up in a house where her mother was an excellent cook and enjoyed preparing pasta, meatballs, and other traditional Italian dishes for her family. As an adult Melucci also enjoys cooking and often finds herself cooking for her boyfriends. She began writing this book after her breakup with Lachlan, although she states in a video interview on Amazon, there have been other disappointments since him. When she initially began this book she wasn't really sure where it was going, but as she started writing about Lachlan, other boyfriends started entering the picture as backstory, and Melucci realized that the one thing they had in common was the fact that food played such an important role.

I loved looking at the recipes, some of which I could attempt with success, and others I fear I could never find the ingredients for in small town Iowa. I would also love to find out what happens after Lachlan is out of the picture. I know from interviews I have read about Melucci, that she is still single. But, has she found someone else to love? Is food still such an integral part of her relationships? This was an entertaining and fun memoir to read, and perhaps a bit different than others with all the recipes thrown in. I have a few other memoirs waiting for me that are about cooking and feature recipes as well that I am now looking forward to reading.

To find out more about Melucci and her book, go to her website.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reading and Re-reading Bedtime Stories

There are two bedtime stories that we have been doing re-readings of. My two year old insists on most nights, "read 'gain, read 'gain" to almost every book we finish, but even my two older girls have liked Natalie and Naughtily by Vincent X Kirsch and Topsy Turvy Bedtime by Joan Levine.
Natalie and Naughtily are sisters, and the title suggests that one might have a hard time behaving. While this is depicted in the pictures, it is never overtly stated in the text. In fact, I had to go back and re-read it myself and look at the pictures to really see if Naughtily was naughty. These girls live on the top floor of a department store their family owns, and they have some fun adventures on each floor. We have checked this book out from the library twice now and it is still being chosen as the one we should read before bed.
Arathusala in Topsy Turvy Bedtime gets to act as the parent, and her parents the children. She discovers what it is like to try and put children to bed when they whine, complain, and generally waste time in the process. Maybe my children can see a bit of themselves in the parents as they try to avoid bedtime. And Arathusala's annoyance with them is also comical. Tony Auth, who illustrates Topsy Turvy Bedtime has created pictures we have had a lot of fun looking at....Arathusala is awfully small and her parents quite tall--something both my older daughters have commented on at different times.
I have been working on a few other grown up books as well as looking over my stack (or stacks there are sooooo many) of books I brought home from school and checked out from the library. The problem is now that I have too many choices. I am hoping for a little leisure reading time tonight, and probably another re-reading of some favorite picture books.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Yes, I Know the Monkey Man

I have had quite a bit of free reading time today as I sat at the pool and watched my kids play. This always makes me very happy and it's even better when I am reading a book that I just can't put down. Dori Hillestad Butler wrote Do You Know the Monkey Man? that I read this past fall since it was a contender for the Iowa Children's Choice Book Award. I loved the suspense in this story. In this book Sam and her mother live in Clearwater, Iowa. When Sam was just three years old her twin sister died in a boating accident. After that her parents divorced and she never saw her father again. Sam's mom never talks about what happened and Sam longs to know more. She also doesn't quite believe that her sister is dead. So, she starts doing a little snooping on her own. As an adult reading this book I could anticipate what the outcome of this story would be - I am not sure kids will be able to do that quite as quickly- but I loved the suspense Butler created.
Yes, I Know the Monkey Man is the sequel to this first book and just as interesting as the first. This time the story is told in TJ's perspective - I hate to be a spoiler- but TJ is what Sam's twin sister, Sarah, goes by. The T stands for Tara. TJ and her father live in Minneapolis where they finally seem to be living with some sense of normalcy. Her dad has a reliable job, they are living in a real house, and her grandmother is in a nursing home there. When her father sustains a disabling injury at work he asks TJ to lie for him so that they can continue to be together. During the time her father is recovering in the hospital TJ leaves for a scheduled visit to her newly located mother, Suzanne, who is getting married and wants her long lost daughter with her for her wedding. While she is gone TJ has to decide if she is going to continue lying about her situation at home, or whether she will let her new family try and help her.

This story ended leaving me still hoping for another book to carry on Sam and TJ's story. I read almost the entire thing in one sitting and then have quickly sat down to read the rest this evening. Do You Know the Monkey Man? was very popular in my school library and I can hardly wait to send this home with the students who loved Butler's first book.

The fact that Butler is an Iowa author is also a bonus - I love supporting local talent - and enjoyed the fact that the story takes place in a setting with which I am familiar. Visit her website to find out more about her work.

To find out more about the Iowa Childrens Choice Award, visit their website.


I just happened to read two books since Tuesday that both deal with immigration. Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle is a novel written in verse about Daniel, who has escaped Nazi Germany, ending up in Cuba, after New York turns his ship away. He is alone, not yet an adult, without his parents who saved to buy him his ticket to leave the country. While this story is told mostly from Daniel's perspective, Paloma, a Cuban girl also narrates for a time. She tries to help the refugees despite her father's interest only in how much money the refugees will make for him because he charges them money to enter his country. David, an older man also narrates about his own arrival in Cuba many years ago. While Daniel can hardly fathom living his entire life in Cuba, David does show him his eventual acceptance of Cuba as his home.

I have read other reviews of this book, and all have been glowing. I enjoyed it as well, especially learning more about the European refugees that fled to Cuba, as I had never heard about that chapter in history. I think my students will especially like that it is written in verse - the text won't overwhelm them, yet they will have gained understanding of something that is not found in lower reading level books.
Denied, Detained, Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration by Ann Bausum is a National Geographic book covering the topic of immigration. I enjoyed this nonfiction selection a great deal. This book includes an introduction and closing as well as a chapter on three different immigration issues in United States history. The first happened to be the European refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and featured one family in particular who was on a ship that the United States refused entry. This ship had also tried entering Cuba ony to have almost all of the refugees refused entry into that country as well. Considering I had never heard of European refugees fleeing to Cuba before Tuesday, it was especially noted. One chapter discusses Japanese immigration and how the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent deportation of Japanese Americans to camps occurred. The final chapter centers around the immigration of Mexican Americans and how this has changed over the course of years. A timeline is included in the back as are a resource guide and index. The black and white photographs are wonderful to look at and helped me connect a face with the story each chapter tells. This book will be a great resource in my elementary library for students interested in immigration. While the reading level will be too high for some of them, I could see them being very interested in the topic.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cheaper by the Dozen and Eight is Enough

A few weeks ago Janssen at Everyday Reading wrote about the book Cheaper by the Dozen, written by Frank Gilbreth, Jr., and his sister Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Reading her post about how much she enjoyed having this book read aloud to her as a child made me long to read it myself. I own the book, but it is somewhere packed away in a box, so I quicky checked it out of the library. I am pretty sure that I never realized this is a non-fiction book, and up until yesterday had never read it. While I don't have the strong connection to it that Janssen does, I thoroughly enjoyed this book about a dozen children growing up in the early 1900s. As I was reading a similar book from my childhood came to mind: Eight is Enough by Tom Braden. While most people remember the TV show about a family of eight children, there was also a book written by Tom Braden on which the television show is based. When my hometown public library weeded that book I happily snatched it up and re-read it. My daughters seem completely intrigued by large families - we seem to watch Jon and Kate Plus Eight constantly (not for the controversy, but so we can see how a family with sextuplets lives) so both of these books I am saving up on my "future read alouds list" for my girls.
To find out more about the Gilbreth family, check out this website.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dessert First

Dessert First by Hallie Durand and Christine Davenier is a great new chapter book targeting the Amber Brown/Judy Moody/Junie B. Jones crowd. Dessert is good at finding trouble, which makes for some good entertainment to read about. She is one of many children in a large, restaurant owning family, and there are plenty of things to laugh about throughout this book. One indication of its popularity may be that my seven year old took the book while I was reading it and added it to her own pile of things to read. I spent two days looking for this book in all the logical places before finally locating it. I love that there are illustrations included for readers who still need them and am hoping this is not our only glimpse at Dessert and her antics.

Reading at Grade Level or not

I have enjoyed reading the numerous posts about children reading at their grade level or not. From the posts I have been reading, those of us book lovers all seem to be in agreement - it is not a race. People of all ages can enjoy picture books, and you really don't have to outgrow them. When I was growing up I distinctly remember expressing some concern that my sister, who is two years younger than me, didn't read chapter books yet - and at the ripe old age of seven. My mother was quite firm in her lack of concern. And, lo and behold, this has not held my sister back at all. While I would never admit it to her, she might even be smarter than me. Today she reads chapter books all the time. I also had a high school co-op student working for me a few years ago in my school library. She was a precocious reader and absolutely loves books. However, she does admit that she may have enjoyed some of the books more had she not decided to read them at such a young age. For example, she read To Kill A Mockingbird in second grade. Enjoyable, yes. Did she get everything that the story offered? No. When I pick out books to read to my own children I hope that I am not pushing them to hear a story they would enjoy when they are older, or enjoy reading to themselves more than they enjoy listening to me read to them. It seems at my school I rarely have the problem of children trying to read things too far above their grade level, so while this is something to consider, I feel like I am constantly trying to push kids beyond Junie B. Jones so they can find books that are more challenging. If you want to read more about this issue, visit the following blogs: Jen Robinson's blog, Here in the Bonny Glen, and Booklights.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Georgie's Moon

When I saw Georgie's Moon by Chris Woodworth at the library I knew as soon as I read the first few words in the front flap that I wanted to read it. As the front flap states, Woodworth's book is set in September of 1970. The Viet Nam War is raging and Georgie and her mother have relocated again because of her dad's job in the Air Force. Dad is in Viet Nam and Georgie and her mother carry on their lives without him, waiting for his return.

I really found Georgie to be rather unlikeable. It seems that in most books I read I do like the main character, or can at least relate to that person. Georgie just did such mean things to people sometimes that I really felt like I just didn't get what motivated her. Georgie finds a friend, Lisa, at her new school. While Lisa is a "good girl", there are some things going on at Lisa's house that she tries to keep to herself. When Georgie finally figures out what they are she isn't sure the two of them can continue being friends. Woodworth's book has an ending that is worth waiting for....I totally didn't see it coming, and it is perfect. It also makes Georgie much more likeable, finally realizing what may have been her motivation for some of her actions.

Georgie's Moon reminds me a bit of Shooting the Moon by Francis O'Roark Dowell, another Viet Nam era book, if you are looking for more titles that center around this time period.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Red Blazer Girls

I grew up on Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, saved my money so each summer I could buy a bunch of books while on vacation and those two series were always on my list of purchases. When I read some of the reviews about Michael D. Beil's Red Blazer Girls they reference both Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden a few times as comparisons are offered up. Much as I loved the super sleuths of my era, the Red Blazer Girls are such a step above the mysteries I read. I loved this book. I loved how smart these girls are and the real clues they had to go on. I loved that bits of literature (Dickens in particular in this book) and math are thrown in. I am so hoping this is the beginning of what could be an incredible mystery series. I devoured the entire book today after what was initially a slow start (so don't give up on this one after the first chapter). I will be waiting for the next installment quite anxiously.


I stayed up late last night reading Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz. I liked this book from the first page and only was frustrated while reading because I could never find enough uninterrupted time to make any real progress in the book. Portia Nathan is an admissions counselor at Princeton. She travels from school to school talking to interested juniors and seniors about their college options, returning from her travels to take up life with her partner, Mark. The two have been together for sixteen years, yet never married. Eventually Portia's well organized, picture perfect life starts to unravel. She is forced to remember her own college days when she encounters John Halsey, a fellow Dartmouth graduate. While Portia has no recollection of him, he was in the same fraternity as her college boyfriend, Tom. John is now working at an alternative school, Quest, where Portia finds a student that intrigues and excites her. She encourages Jeremiah to apply to Princeton despite his abysmal grades and track record at the local high school. After discovering where and when Jeremiah is born Portia realizes her own connection to him. Meanwhile her relationship with Mark comes to an abrupt end when she finds out he has taken up with a new Princeton hire and is expecting a child with her.

Korelitz's novel contains so much more than I can convey in a short posting about it. I was reminded of Curtis Sittenfeld's novel Prep while I was reading, and while each page took me a while to read, it was only because of the superb writing that I didn't want to miss a word of. I have thought about the ending for a while now, and while I was at first totally satisfied, or at least content with the ending, I am now hours later wondering exactly how things turned out. Perhaps we could check up on Portia and John and Jeremiah in a few years' time and see if they are happy.
I have heard the advice "write what you know" repeatedly. Korelitz follows this well. She is a graduate of Dartmouth (where Portia attended) and has been a part time reader for Princeton's office of Admission in past years. This book, although fiction, gives an interesting perspective into the competitiveness to attend an Ivy League college.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The First Day of Summer Vacation

Oh, joy! The first day of summer break. I tried to force myself out of bed at my normal time (4:30 AM) to exercise, but just couldn't quite do it. I did manage to get up early-ish and work out and then proceeded to prod my children out of bed so we could make it to a piano lesson on time. The big thrill of the day was going to see Up in the theatre in 3D. The girls wore the glasses part of the time at least and I thought it was a great movie. The part I didn't like was the cost ....$27 for the three of us. They failed to inform us on their movie hotline that going to a 3D show is an additional $3 per person. UGH. Popcorn is a mere $6. So, this is probably the one time all summer we will go to a theatre that is not the dollar theatre variety. Maybe we can view this as our first day of summer vacation celebration, which makes me feel not quite as guilty.

And, one would think I would have free time now so I could get a lot of reading done. Hmmmmm....I haven't really seen free time at this point. I just discovered this evening that Dessert First, the kids book I have been working on was hijacked by my seven year old yesterday and was left at my parents' house. I spent a good amount of time wondering where I had set it and thinking I was losing my mind. So I can finish that up tonight and then keep reading Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz which I am enjoying a lot, too.

Monday, June 8, 2009

When I Crossed No-Bob

Margaret McMullan's When I Crossed No-Bob has been on my radar for a while, but finally I found it at the library so I could read this book I have seen many reviews on. When I Crossed No-Bob is set after the Civil War in Mississippi. Addie O'Donnell is twelve, living with her Momma after Papa disappeared. The O'Donnells' reputation is not good- they are known for being mean, troublemakers. When Momma disappears, having decided to go and look for Poppa, Addie is taken in by Mr. Frank and his wife Irene. Mr. Frank is not too happy about this arrangment at first, but over time he comes to understand Addie and her family. Poppa eventually returns, claiming Addie as his own. Within this book Addie loses a friend, an African American boy, after she watches the Ku Klux Klan set their church on fire. There are many twists and turns in this novel, and as things progressed I was entirely taken in to the storyline.

To find more information about McMullan, check out her website here.

Cakes for Booklovers

I have been directed to this website twice now and each time enjoy looking at the cakes that represent different childrens books. Check them out at cakewrecks.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Home Safe by Berg and No 48 Hour Reading Challenge For Me

This weekend is the forty eight hour reading challenge...something I enjoy reading about on other blogs. Each time I read about this challenge I think about how cool it would be to spend 48 hours of solitude reading. Then, I think a bit more about how unrealistic this is in my life with 3 small children. This weekend in particular my parents are hosting an open house for my sister's wedding, which was a small, family affair. I still have to make two desserts for this, along with getting everyone's clothes laid out and giving baths and hairwashes. Realistically the only way I am going to have quiet is if I check into a hotel and just sit in my room and read. I did manage to meet up with Peaceful Reader at the library and by some miracle our children played nicely for a LONG time and we were able to talk about books and catch up. The only reason I had to call an end to our party was my youngest child decided she wanted a nap and it was already after 1:00 in the afternoon and we had yet to eat lunch. I seriously could have sat at the library all day catching up and talking about books.

This morning I read the last half of Elizabeth Berg's Home Safe, her latest book. What a good women's fiction selection. I thoroughly enjoyed it....I usually read all of Berg's books as they are released, liking some more than others. This one is right up at the top, I think. Helen Ames is fifty nine and recently widowed. She and her husband had a good marriage and she is just starting to move on. Dan had always told Helen that he had nearly a million dollars saved for their retirement, so money has not been something she feels she needs to worry about. When her accountant breaks the news to her that Dan withdrew $850,000 from their account prior to his death, Helen begins to wonder what kind of double life Dan was leading. As soon as I read this I felt I could already guess where Berg was going to take this story. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that I am happy that Berg's story takes an entirely different path, one that is ever so much more interesting. Helen continues throughout the book to try and move on in her life, achieve some independence, let her adult daughter, Tessa, become independent, too. She works to revive her writing career that has remained dormant after Dan's death.

This is another author Oprah introduced to many readers with her book Open House, and one I continue to look forward to reading as her books are released.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Little House Update

A few weeks ago, or maybe it has been more than a month now, I posted about reading the Little House books to my girls before bed. At that time we were working on On The Banks of Plum Creek and planning to add in the book by Cynthia Rylant that chronicles the years Laura chose not to write about. Since then we have managed to read By The Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, and are now a good way into Little Town on the Prairie. I have loved the Little House books since I was growing up reading them to myself. I usually ended up reading and re-reading the first three or four in the series and not these later ones that the girls and I are now into. So, reading these books is sort of new to me, too. I honestly don't recall a thing about Little Town on the Prairie from previous readings. This past week and a half I have been so amazed by parts of this book that I have told many, many people about it. When this book takes place the Ingalls are living in the country, having moved back to their claim during the summer months. At one point Laura writes about mice being in the cupboards and getting into their food supply. This was obviously a problem for everyone at the time because the mouse population was out of control and there were few cats to keep it in check. One night Pa and Ma were sleeping and Pa began talking out loud. Ma kept telling him he was dreaming. In fact, Pa's dream was not a dream at all...he actually had a mouse eating his hair in order to make a nest with it. He felt something up on his head, grabbed it with his hand and threw it against the wall. When they woke up in the morning there was a dead mouse by the wall. Needless to say, after that Pa managed to fork over the whopping 50 cents it cost to purchase a cat. Sounds like a fine investment to me.

I thought by now the girls would want to take a break from Little House and read some of the other books that are stacking up. This does not seem to be the case, however, and we are still going strong...just last night we started the chapter in Little Town in the Prairie where Nellie Oleson shows up at school. It was so fun to see the girls' reaction and hear their groans when they realize that Laura will have to put up with more of Nellie.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Right now I am reading Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting by Michael Perry. Normally I would write about it after I was finished reading, but Perry is going to be in Iowa City tonight speaking at Prairie Lights bookstore. Tomorrow he will be speaking at the Barnes and Noble in West Des Moines. If anyone who keeps up with this blog has time, he would be worth going to see. Unfortunately I live a bit too far from either place, so will not be able to meet Perry, and am quite jealous of those who get to see him.

I have been a fan of Perry's work since I read Population 485 several years ago. I also read Truck: A Love Story when it came out and enjoyed it a great deal. Right now I am happily reading Coop and loving every minute of it. Perry's memoirs appeal to me because as someone from the rural midwest I "get" the people and places he talks about. As my husband pointed out after reading Population 485, "he has beautiful prose." While I am still stunned my husband used the word prose, his evaluation of Perry's writing is right on. Perry also is able to write things about his life that make me laugh out loud. As Coop unfolds, Perry is busy waiting on the birth of his first child. He has much to say on this topic. He also shares his adventures in getting his farm up and running. Somehow I forgot that Perry's upbringing took place in a fundamentalist religious family. While he no longer practices this faith, his lifestyle remains a bit different than the norm. He laughingly complains of his wife's spending habits - a $7 check she wrote to Goodwill. They grow their own food (as much as they can), acquire pigs that they will butcher for meat, and generally ignore popular culture for a simpler life. While I am not sure I want to go to Perry's extremes, I am amazed and encouraged that there are people able to live in this way, and try to take these examples to heart.

I have also enjoyed reading Perry's website, sneezingcow.com. If you have not read any of his books, I am highly recommending the three I have read, and will be eagerly anticipating his next book, whenever that day may come.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Best Story

This picture book by Eileen Spinelli was another before bed book I enjoyed reading to my girls. The girl in this story sees a sign at the library: "Write the Best Story and Win First Prize" and immediately sets out to do just that. As she begins she notices that writing is a lot harder than she thought. Lots of people offer her advice. Her brother thinks good stories have a lot of action. Her dad likes stories with humor. Her aunt likes stories that make you cry. It is her mother who offers her the best advice of all - a good story comes from the heart. It doesn't really make a difference if you win a prize or not.

I really liked Spinelli's message and can see teachers using this book when they are helping writers start out. I also read an article about Spinelli this past weekend in the June issue of Book Page and enjoyed the insight about her childhood and all the time she spent in the library while she was growing up. For more information about Spinelli check out her website.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Secrets to Happiness

Sarah Dunn's Secrets to Happiness was such an enjoyable read. I read Big Love by Dunn a few years ago and was mildly entertained, so I must say I was happily surprised by Dunn's latest book.

This novel centers around Holly, a woman in her late 30s as she tries to find happiness after the breakup of her marriage. Holly begins a relationship with Lucas, the twenty two year old brother of a friend, even though she refuses to believe the relationship is serious. Amanda, a friend of Holly's (married to Mark and mother to Jacob, still an infant) begins an affair with Jack. Eventually the two break it off and Holly, with Amanda's blessing, begins her own relationship with Jack. Supporting characters: Beth (Lucas' older sister) andLeonard (Holly's gay writing partner) are also searching for happiness.

This book was a step up from chick lit and so very hard for me to put down. I enjoyed the resolution to each character's story, except one. For that one person, I am hoping Dunn continues writing so I can see if she has unlocked the secret to happiness.

Pet Sitter series

The Pet Sitter series by Julie Sykes is one of my recent acquisitions from the Picnic Basket. These books fall into the beginning chapter book reader category that Magic Tree House or Junie B. Jones also fall into. These books have a bigger font and more pictures than either Magic Tree House or Junie B., making them even more readable by those just starting out with chapter books.

The premise of the first two books is that Max has been hired as a pet sitter for some very interesting animals. There is a bit of magic in these books that I think kids will enjoy. As with most series book of this level, there is not much character development. For me as an adult, I can't say I enjoy these types of books a great deal, but I can definitely see my early chapter book readers enjoying them a lot.