Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Other Half of Life

My weekend has been a bit frustrating to say the least. Here we are - ready for our first weekend after the start of school. This includes our town's annual festival beginning on Friday night, as well as plans to spend Friday evening relaxing with neighbors at a bonfire after gymnastics. We did manage to make it to these events, but on the way home from school after picking up three girls and heading out of town toward home, my van stopped working. When I called my husband he questioned exactly what "stopped working" meant and came to help me out. He soon realized that this meant my van no longer drives anywhere. We are anticipating having to put in a new transmission. We have also had our home computer (which was already past the point of needing to be replaced) die on Friday morning. And, if that isn't enough, our home phone also appears to be broken. We have done some work on our own and had our phone company come out. They contend the problem is in our house and therefore we will get to pay for it. Chris and are skeptical about the problem being ours, but tomorrow they will be coming to check things out again. ARGH! I wish I had time to have read a bunch of books this weekend, but there has been little free time. I did read The Other Half of Life: A Novel Based on the True Story of the MS St. Louis by Kim Ablon Whitney that I received from the Picnic Basket. This is a great historical fiction read about World War II. Thomas Werkman, the son of a Jewish father (his mother was not Jewish) is sent by his mother to what she believes is safety in Cuba where he will meet his half brother, Walter. His time on the boat seems so different from his life in Germany he has left behind where food is rationed and times are tough. The passengers on the boat are treated well, as the captain insists they should be. Thomas is befriended by a young woman, Priska, who is a year younger than he. Together the two manage to unlock some secrets on the boat and learn together that their entrance to Cuba may be blocked. They continue to find their attraction to each other growing, yet must ultimately say goodbye. This book about Jews being sent to Cuba is the second I have read on this topic in the last few months. The first Tropical Secrets by Margarita Engle is written in verse, and while I enjoyed the fresh viewpoint, I will admit to enjoying Whitney's book a great deal more. Books that provide a new look at World War II are hard for me to put dow, and I appreciated The Other Half of Life for providing that. Whitney also allows us to see how Thomas and Priska's lives turn out ten years after they part from each other, and then seventy years later. This book will be a great addition to Holocaust units and an interesting read for anyone.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Homes Around the World Series

Oh, happy day! I had a few boxes of new books arrive yesterday and have been enjoying looking through them. The only thing better about buying books for myself is buying books for the library and not having to pay for them personally.

I hardly ever review non-fiction series books mostly because my budget doesn't allow me to purchase many of these sets. However, yesterday my boxes of books contained the Homes Around The World series by Nicola Barber, published by Crabtree Publishing Company. The titles in the series include Island Homes, Homes on the Move, City Homes, Homes on the Water and Village Homes. I have enjoyed looking through these books already. The photographs are wonderful, depicting various homes around the world fitting the type of home the book is about. The text is also easy to understand and appropriate for younger elementary students. A map of included in the back of each book along with a glossary, list of books to read and websites. In addition there are also some project ideas given in the back of each book. My two oldest daughters both spent time looking at these last night and pored over each page carefully. This series also fits in nicely with our second grade social studies curriculum that includes a unit on homes around the world.

Best Intentions

Emily Listfield's book, Best Intentions it titled perfectly for this post. My best intentions to post the past few days just haven't been fulfilled. I am busy with school now and taking kids to and from places. Nighttime seems to be busy with supper, bathtimes, reading before bed, and sometimes falling asleep myself before I get more than a few pages read. This morning I was able to crank out almost 200 pages of reading (getting up at 4 AM does have its perks) and finished Best Intentions which became increasingly suspenseful somewhere around page 230.

Lisa lives a life of luxury in Manhattan. Her kids attend an elite private school, she lunches in trendy places and seems to have few worries. Despite the outward appearances Lisa and her husband Sam are struggling financially and in their marriage. Lisa suspects an affair and confides in her best friend, Dierdre, who assures her that is not the case. More clues seem to lead to that conclusion, although Sam has an answer for each supposed clue. The supper date of Sam and Lisa and Dierdre and her ex college boyfriend seem to be the catalyst for much of the drama to come as Dierdre begins to believe that perhaps Jack is the one she let get away. When Dierdre is found dead in her apartment there are three suspects: Jack the college boyfriend she reunited with, Ben her famous photographer boyfriend that she has broken up with and Sam who may or may not have had an affair with his wife's best friend.

I liked this book from the second I started reading. I did feel like I had to get really far into the book in order to really get to any action, but from about halfway in, I couldn't put it down. I have never read anything by Listfield before, but would highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What I Thought I Knew

My latest memoir, What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen has been an interesting read. I am not sure that I totally "get" the author's point of view on some things, but I did enjoy reading her story.

Cohen discovered she was pregnant at the age of forty four after she had been diagnosed as infertile and had been taking hormone replacement drugs for years. Cohen has been at a string of doctors by this point - all of them diagnosing anything but pregnancy. When she discovers that she will soon be having a baby, excitement is not the first emotion for Cohen. She contemplates abortion as well as giving her child up for adoption so that she can go on with her life. Also of concern is the fact that she has received no prenatal care and is considered of advanced age to be having a baby. When doctors suggest that perhaps her child will have some handicap Cohen's choices become harder. Eliana enters the world, a petite five pound baby who appears healthy. However, it is quickly noticed that her right and left side of her body are not symmetrical. One leg is roughly five inches shorter than the other. While Eliana's health concerns will not go away, Cohen also falls in love with her daughter. Seven years later Cohen has found her voice to write about that period in their lives.

An interesting and thought provoking memoir.

Monday, August 24, 2009

When You Wish

When You Wish by Kristin Harmel is a cute tween read. Star Beck is a mega-superstar. And, though there are things she does like about her lifestyle, there are also things she is tired of. Like her mother controlling everything she does. And having people always watching her. When she discovers that the father she has not seen since she was three years old has been trying to contact her for six years and her mother has kept it a secret from her, Star decides to take action. Cutting and coloring her hair, along with wearing glasses, Star takes off by bus for Florida to find her father. She ends up buying a cute pink VW Beetle on the way, and once there gets a job waitressing at a restaurant where she finds a nice, cute boy to fall for. Star does find her father and though she wants to believe that he has always cared for her, something in what he says doesn't ring true. And, it is only a matter of time before Star must go back to her real life and who she is.

This book was a fun, fast read. Parts of it were perhaps predictable, but that didn't lessen my enthusiasm for this story. While the characters in the book are in their upper teens, this book has more of a tween feel to me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

If The Witness Lied

I first read Caroline Cooney when I started the Face on the Milk Carton series. I love the suspense she created in these books, and the ability she has to write books that appeal to a wide audience. If The Witness Lied is the latest Cooney book I have read, and while it may not be my favorite, the suspense that I remember from her first book is still in this one.

The family of four children in If The Witness Lied has been orphaned by their parents. First their mother died of cancer because she refused treatment until she gave birth to the fourth child she was pregnant with when diagnosed. Then just two short years later their father is crushed to death because Tristan, the two year old accidentally released the parking brake in his father's car while his dad was looking at something under the front wheel. Aunt Cheryl, the only witness to this horrible accident claims Tristan was responsible. For the first year everyone takes Cheryl at her word. While no one really likes Cheryl, she seems as though she is doing a good thing by taking care of the children. Finally when Cheryl decides to sign a contract to have a television show featuring the four children do the three oldest begin to question what really happened when their father died. Some surprising clues also help them question things.

I could find a few holes with how events played out and couldn't help but think that somehow the story seemed rather implausible. I always have to remind myself that I see these things as an adult and perhaps teen readers wouldn't have a problem with the story. Yet, I also think that we shouldn't underestimate our readers, either. I would be curious to know if teens also pick up on some of these holes in the story.

If The Witness Lied is suspenseful up until the end. I almost turned ahead just to make sure everything turned out alright. Readers will enjoy this book, flaws and all.

Standing By (adult book)

Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War by Alison Buckholtz is the latest memoir I have read, actually looking forward to my treadmill runs to get to read more.

Buckholtz married into the military. Her husband, Scott, is a Navy officer who has had to leave his family for deployments overseas. While away, his wife cares for their family and keeps them going. Not having grown up in the military, this way of life is new to Buckholtz. After beginning her marriage to her husband and the military, Buckholtz is left with many thoughts about this way of life. This is her family's story, but stories of her military friends and their successes and struggles are also portrayed in this memoir. While Buckholtz at first believed she was different than typical military wives, having had a career prior to getting married, she soon realizes this is only partially true. Each woman has their own unique background. Some are highly educated and others are not. It is true that military life makes it difficult for spouses to pursue a career as they are often moving and unable to stay at one job for an extended period. Buckholtz is lucky i that she is able to work from home and can take her job with her. While there are benefits to military life, it is true that the children of those who serve learn some of life's lessons at a young age. Her own children struggled when their father left them for deployments, and a normal family life was something they all craved. However, Scott's service to his country is important to him as well.

Because we have been at war for a long time now, Buckholtz's memoir is one that many military families can relate to, and one that those of us outside the military can learn from. It is easy for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to not make it into my thoughts on a daily basis, while for these military families, each and every moment of separation is felt.

To find out more about Buckholtz, or read her other articles, visit her website

Friday, August 21, 2009

That Old Cape Magic (adult book)

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo is my first experience reading Russo's work. I still have Empire Falls sitting in a TBR stack somewhere. (I'm not sure it can be called a stack anymore if it has been there for a few years). Not knowing what to expect, but reading one blogger's account of being able to read it in one sitting, I had high hopes. And, after finishing it last night, I would agree that Russo's book is entertaining and could easily be read in one sitting if I didn't have three small children and a job.

Griffin, the narrator of this book, recounts his childhood summers on the Cape with parents he believed to be entirely unhappy in their marriage and with their careers. In the first portion of this novel Griffin and his wife Joy are going to the Cape for a wedding. Griffin's intent to scatter his father's ashes while there, never occurs and there is a lingering unhappiness/disatisfaction with his life. In the second portion of the novel a year has passed and Griffin returns to the Cape for his daughter's wedding. In the span of a year his mother has passed away (although he hears her voice frequently talking to him) and he is now separated from Joy. His thought processes that are revealed and his look back at his childhood are what moves this book along as Griffin tries to come to some peace about his life.

While I still have to get through a fairly large library stack, Empire Falls might have to be put on a TBR pile close by because I definitely want to read more of Russo's work.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Two Back To School Picture Books

We are officially back to school at my house. Yesterday was the first day for my girls to go and today is the first day kids are at my school. I am still getting things ready in the library, and don't officially start classes until Monday, but have been pulling books for teachers and putting up book displays, along with trying to start out the year being organized.
I was happy to see a box from Amazon at my house yesterday afternoon since I had ordered two books to share with my classes at school. Of course I tried them out last night on my test audience who enjoyed both books a lot.
Amelia Bedelia's First Day of School by Herman Parish and Lynne Avril is a new look at Amelia. In this book Amelia is just a child, unlike the rest of the Amelia books. She is starting school and is quite confused by many things the teacher tells her to do. When her teacher wants to put a tag on her, Amelia starts running around playing tag. My girls' favorite part was when Amelia was instructed to stay glued to her chair. Being Amelia and taking everything literally you can guess what she does. While my second grader had heard Amelia Bedelia books before, this was my kindergartener's first time and I watched to see if she would "get it." I stopped and talked at various times so she would understand the joke - the colorful illustrations are also great in showing young readers how Amelia's intrepretation of directions is different than what the speaker meant. This is a cute new addition to the Amelia Bedelia collection.
Marley Goes To School by John Grogan is now the third picture book depicting the lovable dog made popular in the adult book, Marley and Me. This time Marley gets out of his fenced in back yard and makes his way to school to find Cassie, his young owner. Of course Marley manages to get into mischief and make some trouble. This book was a hit in our house, although I felt it was perhaps not quite as funny as the previous picture books about Marley. Maybe I am just being picky because my kids certainly didn't seem any less enthusiastic about this book, though.
I predict that tonight I will get to re-read both new books. Yay for some cute new back to school titles on our shelves.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Climbing the Stairs

Probably not very many people take a book with them to Jazzercise class, but I was early and really wanted to keep reading Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman, so I toted it along and did manage to read a few more pages before my workout began. If you have read this blog at all, you already know that I love historical fiction books and this book fits the bill. Set in 1941 in Bombay, India, this book gives a new perspective on life during World War II, showing how another country was affected by the war. Vidya, a teenager during the novel, comes from a life of some comfort. Her father is a doctor who has joined the freedom fighters, taking part in Mahatma Gandhi's efforts to peacefully resolve conflict. During this period, the British have a presence in India which is not regarded as a positive thing by the native people. Vidya is most worried about the fact that she could be married off, when instead she wants nothing more than to go to college. When her beloved appa, or father, is injured her life's plans are forced to change. She and her mother and brother, Kitta, are sent to live with her father's older brother, his family and her grandfather. While there Vidya's life continues to change as does the world when Pearl Harbor is bombed and America enters World War II.

This is a wonderful coming of age story set in an important period in history. To check out the Climbing the Stairs website click here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Twas the Night Before School Started...

Tomorrow morning my two oldest daughters head off to their first day of school. Tonight was the open house where we met the teacher and dropped of supplies. I am excited for them and the year ahead. They are spending their last minutes of freedom watching Hannah Montana: The Movie. School started yesterday for me - at least teacher workdays. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed with some things, and while I like having a schedule and routine, will miss the extra free time that summer allows. I have also noticed a lack of leisure reading time. Sigh. I am too tired tonight to write up any actual book reviews. Late last night/in the middle of the night our electricity went off, and instead of sleeping through it, we were able to listen to the electricians who had been called out to fix the problem talking and digging right outside of our house. This went on all the way through until morning, making my night feel more like just a nap. Maybe tonight I will get a bit read before I nod off.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Emerson Watts is an academic high schooler who struggles against the idea of beauty and fashion that so many of her peers are focused on. Her own sister is totally obsessed by rock stars and models. When Emerson, her friend Chris and Emerson's sister, Frida go to meet one of Frida's idols, Emerson is crushed by a plasma tv that falls on her. At the same moment Emerson is crushed, Nikki a world famous model collapses. When Emerson awakens she realizes that things have changed. While her mind hasn't changed, her body is now that of Nikki, the famous supermodel. For someone who shunned outer beauty in the past, the fact that she is now inhabiting a supermodel's body is more than just a bit of an adjustment. This book is just the first in this new series by Meg Cabot. I like Cabot's other books and this one is another high interest, quick read that will entertain. While the idea of Emerson inhabiting Nikki's body is farfetched to say the least, there are a few other aspects of the story that are entirely implausible. Like how did Emerson's mind get transplanted into Nikki--they mention a large scar that Nikki has, yet her hair wasn't shaved for the surgery? Maybe teen readers won't pick apart those little things, but even though the story is just fun, it would be nice if it were sort of believable.

The next book in this series is already out, and I will definitely have to check out the next chapter of Nikki/Emerson's life.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Informational Picture Books

This past week my daughters have picked out two different bedtime books that have been interesting and informative. With both I have had to look at the spine label just to see where they are placed in the library. While both are picture books, they are both information books as well, full of facts about the topic they cover.
Redwoods by Jason Chin is a book about the famous redwood trees. At the book's beginning the boy in the story is sitting on a bench and sees a book with his picture on the cover. As he reads the book while on the subway the topics he reads about are occurring out the window or right next to him. He (and the reader) learn a great deal about redwood trees. My own children were amazed at their size and that a car could drive through the trunk of one as though it were a tunnel. The boy closes the book at story's end, when a girl comes along and sees a book with a girl's picture on the the book is a story with a little of a twist as well as informative.
Nanuk Flies Home by Christa Holtel and Astrid Vohwinkel is another informative picture book. Nanuk is a polar bear. He and his mother explore various places, which Nanuk finds very boring. He sees people for the first time and is rather interested in the food available in a store. However, he and his mother are shot with a tranquilizer and taken to polar bear jail. My girls and I found this funny, only to find out in the notes at the end that there really is a polar bear jail. Once in jail an older and wiser polar bear explains to Nanuk what is happening. Nanuk, who thinks flying would be exciting, gets his wish as he is taken by helicopter back home. Nanuk has some excitement and decides that he really does like his home after all. Polar bear facts as well as information about polar bears is included at book's end.
Both of these books have been bedtime hits. The picture book format seems to work well for my kids right now because they enjoy learning about "real" things, yet still need a story to go with the information.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When It Happens (YA)

I have been hearing about Susane Colasanti, but up til now had not read anything by her. I enjoyed When It Happens and wish I could lay my hands on a copy of her newest book that was recently published.

Colasanti's first book is narrated alternately by Sara and Tobey. Sara is a brain and looking forward to graduating and going to NYU as long as she is accepted. Sara is also interested in Dave, a gorgeous guy in her high school that she has been eyeing. The alternate narrator is not Dave, however, but rather is Tobey, a musically inclined, not very motivated senior who is intersted in Sara. When Dave asks Sara out and she accepts and the two become a couple Tobey has to figure out how he wants to proceed. Sara originally thought Dave would be the perfect boyfriend but is quickly figuring out that the two don't have much in common and while he may appear to be perfect, that is not reality. Sara also begins to notice Tobey and starts to have feelings for him - the two have many conversations as folder partners in Music Theory class where they both realize how much they have in common. A few other problems arise in the book - whether Sara will get in to NYU, whether Tobey can motivate himself to raise his GPA and get into college, and how serious their relationship will be - Sara hoping to experience her "first time" with Tobey only to find out he has already been with someone else. There is no great climax or major action in this book, but I enjoyed When It Happens and hope that Colasanti continues to turn out more young adult novels.
Visit Susan Colasanti's website.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wildflower (adult book)

I finished another book last night- this one about the life of Joan Root, a famous conservationist/animal lover/filmmaker. Mark Seal, the author of Wildflower, first wrote an article for Vanity Fair about Root after her murder in early 2006. Root was in her home in Kenya where she was murdered. While no one has stood trial for her murder, it is believed that poachers were to blame because of Root's work in trying to save the lake she lived near.

Root is an interesting woman. Having grown up in Africa, she was surrounded by the beauty of nature her entire life, and fell in love with the animals of Africa. She married Alan Root and together the two made documentary films of their work with animals. While Alan got the glory for his work, Joan, his helper was often in the background. Stories in this book include a visitor thinking there was a bed in the corner of Joan's living room, only to be amazed when the "bed" or hippo got up and walked out of the room. Joan spent time with many fearsome animals and befriended them all. She also had a pet caracal she kept in the house; while friendly most of the time, the caracal could decide to bite at any given moment.

Even though I knew nothing of Joan Root prior to reading this book, I did enjoy this book a lot. I liked learning more about Africa, Kenya in particular. I enjoyed the focus on Joan as a person, not simply listing off accomplishments, but about her personal life and marriage. Her murder is a sad final chapter to a remarkable life.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Life's That Way (adult book)

First off, I have so many books that I have read and not blogged on yet, it is crazy. That's a great problem to have, but I need to start writing up some drafts before I forget things. Also, I am going to try and note in parentheses in the blog title if the book is for adults. I originally meant for this to be a childrens book blog, but I read everything from picture books to grown up books constantly, so it ends up being a bit of everything.

Life's That Way by Jim Beaver is a memoir - one that I knew was going to be sad as soon as I read the jacket. Beaver and his wife Cecily discover that their toddler daughter, Maddie, is autistic. Still reeling from that news, a few weeks later Cecily is diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Only forty five, it seems incredible that this beautiful actress could have cancer. Jim starts emailing friends and family each night about the events in their life. The original list of email recipients may number in the hundreds, but over the course of a few months many thousands receive his nightly emails. Unfortunately the world of cancer hits very close to home for many. Beaver is able to write about the activities of their days, as well as the emotions he goes through as a spouse with honesty...or as much honesty as he can, as he admits. His darkest fears may never make it to the page for others' eyes. Cecily passes away just short of five months after her diagnosis, but Beaver continues to chronicle his life as a widow with a young daughter. Maddie makes dramatic improvements in her speech ability and when re-evaluated is even considered a miracle for her lack of any autistic tendencies. Beaver manages to go through time....hours pass, then days, and while he may grieve one day, may feel better the next as sadness hits him in waves. His writing and candor make the book hard to put down, and as I read in a review somewhere, his book should be given to anyone who has ever grieved. Beaver does seem to be able to capture this experience well while also admitting that each person's experience is different.

This book, while devastatingly sad, is also hopeful. I, too, agree that anyone who has grieved will get something from Beaver's story.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Jelly Belly was such a hit with my daughters...what could follow that? Well, I still have stacks of books from school to get through and one in particular looked like one that a seven-almost-eight and five-almost six-year old would like. Sassy by Sharon Draper has been another hit at my house. Sassy is just that kind of girl....sassy. Her mother named her that because when she was born she stuck her tongue out. Sassy has an older sister and brother and is tired of everyone calling her "little sister" instead of by her name. Right now Sassy is the smallest one in her class, but she has a big personality. She also carries a purse, or Sassy Sack, with her wherever she goes. That purse contains everything a person could ever need- and Sassy is always able to help out in crisis by digging something out of her purse. When her grandmother, a successful storyteller comes to school and needs new batteries in her microphone, Sassy comes to the rescue. When her best friend's mother needs some superglue, all Sassy needs to do is look in her Sassy Sack.

This book is fun and one we started reading just two days ago. Tonight my girls are off to grandma's for a sleepover and they took Sassy with them. I will have to finish it on my own. (Luckily this is just the beginning of a series, so I may have an opportunity for more fun with Sassy). I should be relishing this time - cleaning, exercising, or reading...but it's awful lonely here without the constant noise, and I haven't accomplished a single thing.
Visit Sharon Draper's blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Blast from my Past

For one of my elementary reading classes that I took long, long ago we were assigned to create a timeline of our reading life. I have no idea anymore what I included for sure, but I liked the assignment and I enjoyed looking over how my reading life started and changed over time. I am sure I could redo the assignment now and see once again how my reading has changed over the additional decade since I took this class. When I think back to certain books that I remember vividly from my childhood there are many. Looking through my shelves for a read aloud for my girls I came across one of my favorites: Jelly Belly by Robert Kimmel Smith. I happened upon this book by accident at the local public library when I was about ten and fell in love with it. Years later I forced my brother to check it out despite the fact that all he wanted to get were a stack of Garfield comic books. Then I forced him to read the first chapter. He didn't want to admit that he was enjoying himself, but he loved this book, too, and proceeded to check out all the books by Robert Kimmel Smith.

Nathaniel Robbins is fat. His parents have been after him to eat better and lose weight, but he loves to eat. His grandmother loves to cook and since she lives with Nathaniel's family, Nathaniel is always tempted to eat everything she makes. When Nat is sent away to Camp Lean-To for the summer he spends most of his time plotting with his bunkmates and trying to find ways to get junk food. While he does lose some weight at camp, Nathaniel knows he hasn't really given his full effort. His older brother Jamie longs to be a cross country star on the high school team as well. He is a great mentor for Nat and explains to him about how even though he wants that, he hasn't really exerted any effort for that to happen. He doesn't want it badly enough - sort of like Nathaniel and losing weight. Their dad sweetens the deal a bit by promising a family trip to Disney World if Nathaniel can reach his target weight of 75 pounds by Easter. Will he be able to do it?

I honestly wondered if my daughters would enjoy this story. The topic is one I liked at the age of ten, and they are just not that old yet. But there is so much humor in this book that every night I would have to stop reading despite protests for me to keep going. Today my girls are tired and crabby. We didn't stay up late watching TV. No, we stayed up late reading/listening to 64 pages of Jelly Belly so we could find out how the story ends. I love this book and back in the 80s it was one of the only ones I remember about body image and dieting. I don't want my girls to be overly conscious of those things now, but Jelly Belly has some good information about eating healthy, getting exercise and taking care of your body. I always wish I could use this book as a read aloud, or that someone could, but I fear that Jelly Belly would end up hitting close to home for at least one person in every classroom and perhaps cause some embarassment. However, with the growing problem of childhood obesity, Robert Kimmel Smith knew what he was talking about twenty some years ago, and this book is one that large numbers of kids would enjoy.
Visit Robert Kimmel Smith's website.

Talking with a friend this morning she commented on how lucky I was to get to read to my girls every night. Her children are grown up now, and while she reads to her grandchildren, I am sure it is not the same. Even though my kids have been crabby and picking on each other all day because of their late night reading, I am lucky. I love reading to them and talking with them about what we have read and watching them delight in stories I delighted in when I was growing up.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Lemonade War

Every year I look forward to the new Iowa Children's Choice Award list and the prospect of reading some of the best books out there and talking about them with my students. Sometimes I have read a few of the new list we get in the spring, but I always have a hefty stack to take home over the summer. I have so many books yet to get through before school it is going to be impossible, but I am still plugging away at them and decided to read The Lemonade Wars by Jacqueline Davies, one of the Children's Choice books for 2009-10.

First of all, I can't say I am surprised this book is on the list. There are a lot of teachable moment types of things in this book. Siblings Evan and Jessie normally get along well. However, Jessie is going to be skipping a grade and has been placed in Evan's classroom for the upcoming school year. While Evan doesn't come right out and state his disgust with this plan, he does start to leave Jessie out of some of his plans during the summer vacation. Jessie is smart, but she knows she isn't very good at relationships. What she intends to say and what actually come out her mouth aren't the same thing. The two end up battling things out through competing lemonade stands. The winner takes all - Evan is planning on buying an iPod with his winnings and Jessie will donate her money to charity. This book is full of good lessons about getting along, working together, and lots of different math problems as both Jessie and Evan try to calcuate how much lemonade one must sell to win their bet.

This story grew on me as I read. I will admit that my initial reaction wasn't excitement - the whole idea that Jessie would skip a grade and be in the exact same section as her brother seems a bit implausible. What school would think this was a good idea? What parent would agree to this? Didn't their mother know how devastating this would be to Evan? Why was she not clued in? Maybe kids wouldn't find this plot unbelievable, but teachers would. For that reason I am surprised that the book made the ICCA list. So far it's not one of my favorites, but as I said the story did grow on me. I am thinking of having my second grade daughter read it to herself and see what her reaction is. If any of you have read Lemonade Wars, please let me know what you think of it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Most of the blogs I have been reading are all about wanting the book Catching Fire, the sequel to the Hunger Games. I want to read that one, but I have really been waiting for The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson, the sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I loved every single page of this book and could hardly put it down. I picked up Tattoo over Christmas after looking at it for a long time at the library. The cover just totally turned me off. I know that's shallow, but it just goes to show how important the cover is. After reading so many glowing reviews I decided to give it a try and absolutely loved it. Turns out that the second book is getting even better reviews than the first, which is hard for me to believe.

All the characters from Tattoo are back. In this installment Mikael Blomquist and his gang from the magazine Millenium are taking on the Swedish sex trade and planning to expose some of the johns responsible for using underage girls. Before anything is published, however, two people working with Millenium are murdered. Lisbeth Salander, the anti-social, brilliant computer hacker is the suspected murderer. Every single page is full of suspense and clues that are being unraveled. Larsson has also created an ending that both frustrated and satisfied. I wish the third book in this series were already for sale because it seems things are just heating up toward the novel's end.

If you haven't read this book yet, you need to. Both of these books are some of the best I have read this year.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Two More Vacation Reads

As I mentioned in a previous post, we didn't do tons of sightseeing or activities on our vacation, but I did get some leisure reading done, and that made me happy.
I had read Julie Kramer's first book in a new mystery series, Stalking Susan, last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. This series is set in Minnesota, a locale I always enjoy reading about because of its familiarity, and the mystery was suspenseful and hard to put down. Kramer's latest book, Missing Mark, is equally as engaging as the first in the series. It always takes me a minute or two to remember where the last book left off, but after a brief refresher I quickly was able to take up with Riley, the television reporter who happens to have a penchant for locating dead bodies. In this latest installment Riley is looking for a good story to raise viewer numbers and is interested in the story of the bride who is selling her wedding dress without ever getting to wear it. Turns out the groom to be has gone missing and with that Riley is off and running on her next mystery.

The Penny Pincher's Club by Sarah Strohmeyer was another vacation read that I found light and fun, yet with a bit of a message at the same time. I am familiar with Strohmeyer's work because I have read some of her "Bubbles" mystery series, a fun Janet Evanovich-ish series about a hairdresser detective. The Penny Pincher's Club follows Kat, a forty-something housewife with a penchant for shopping. When she comes across an email from her college professor husband's research assistant indicating the two of them are having an affair and he will be leaving her in a few short months, she realizes she has to get her finances in order - especially after she realizes how much a divorce costs. So, Kat, for the first time in her life becomes frugal. She joins the Rock River Penny Pincher's Club which teaches her a lot about finance and becoming fiscally responsible for her spending. Strohmeyer also adds a bit more to the story by bringing in Liam, Kat's ex-fiancee, who is a millionaire and could offer Kat some security for her future. I know this book was just a fun read, but there's a lot of truth to Strohmeyer's story and perhaps in our current economic situation many of us could learn a little from Kat.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Fixer Upper

Mary Kay Andrews' latest book, The Fixer Upper, has been a fun, entertaining summer read. I love Andrews' work and this latest one is one of my favorites.

Dempsey Killebrew is a twenties-something lobbyist working for a Congressman in Washington, DC. When she is caught in a political scandal - perhaps because her boss has set her up - Dempsey leaves DC jobless, stopping briefly at her father's house. While there her father offers her a proposition: she can move to Guthrie, Georgia and refurbish his family's home and then sell it. The two will "flip" the house and make a profit which they can split. Because she has nothing else waiting for her, Dempsey agrees to this. However, when she arrives at Birdsong there is more than just a little refurbishing that needs to take place. And, a little old lady who happens to be a great aunt is squatting in the home, refusing to leave. To make things worse, the FBI also arrive wanting Dempsey to help them with their need to nail her former boss. Small town life, where everyone knows your business is something Dempsey has to grow used to, as is the amount of work necessary to fix up Birdsong. Andrews throws in a little romance for Dempsey along the way, along with a little suspense as Dempsey tries to help the FBI, and the whole reading experience is a lot of fun. Andrews does not disappoint with this book, which is one of my favorites of the summer season.

Bull Rider

I first heard about Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams from Amanda at A Patchwork of Books and was instantly intrigued. Cam O'Mara is from a family of bull riders. Up until his brother Ben returns from Iraq severely injured, Cam has been a skateboarder. However, he decides to give his brother hope to go on with his life by becoming a successful bull rider himself and winning the $15,000 prize money being offered for staying on a famous bull for eight seconds. This book was so hard for me to put down. I loved every page of it, but it is the first one I read on our trip this weekend and since I have read a few others since then, it seems so long ago. I especially appreciated the story about Cam's brother, Ben. I haven't read anything else about siblings of Iraq war veterans, and this is certainly a population that is growing and one that needs to have books out there that helps share the experience these families are going through. Morgan offered some real life issues that accompany having a sibling severely injured in the war. Ben struggles with depression and anger as well as TBI, traumatic brain injury. The rest of the family comes together even more to deal with this tragedy. Cam's mother quits her job to spend time with Ben while he is in the hospital and the financial strain of Ben's needs and diminished income are felt by the family as well. Morgan also keeps the story moving with the suspense she creates around Cam's bull riding. Things would be tied up a bit too neatly if Cam were to easily win the $15,000, and Morgan's twist to this part of the plot added to my enjoyment of this book.

Visit Suzanne Morgan Williams' website.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Where Has Summer Gone?

Tomorrow morning I have my first scheduled meeting at school. This is a special meeting for teacher librarians in the district, so not everyone is back, but I realized today that my last "free" Monday was last week. Tomorrow is booked up with school stuff as is next Monday, and the 17th is our first official contract day. I enjoy school and having a routine, but thinking about it right now is not making me very happy.
I am also tired because we took a quick two day trip to Chicago this weekend where my family stayed with my cousin at his house. The weekend was relaxing because we really didn't do too much. Yesterday we spent four hours at the Museum of Science and Industry which we enjoyed, but four hours might have been pushing things a bit for all of us. We also spent time sitting on the beach at Lake Michigan with the girls being thrilled with finding pretty rocks to collect. Other than that, we had some good food, jumped on the backyard trampoline and watched movies in his theatre in the basement of his house. And, for me, any trip is relaxing if there is the opportunity for leisure reading. I managed to read three books over the course of this trip which was wonderful. I am too tired to write any decent reviews tonight, but tomorrow I will have had time to sort out which ones I want to blog about- maybe all three of them since I liked them all a lot. My only problem right now is deciding what to read next. The piles are huge, but I think I am in one of my moods where I almost have too many choices and just can't make a selection. Usually toward the end of summer I have this problem....I just have to wait for it to pass and then get reading again.