Monday, November 30, 2009

Getting Into the Spirit

My oldest daughter was very excited about this youtube video. Makes me wish we actually had a few lights. I feel sort of like Scrooge. Our Christmas decorations are up and I love the way things look, but this house in the video takes decorating to new levels.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Library Loot

Last weekend I had a Library Loot posting where I was lucky enough to find a lot of great things. This week I didn't do too badly either:

Adult Picks
Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde
Suddenly Lily by Deborah Nolan
Mortal Friends by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

Young Adult Picks
Response by Paul Volponi
Smoke by Mavis Jukes
Soldier's Secret by Sheila Solomon Klass
The Orange Houses by Paul Griffin
Larry and the Meaning of Life by Janet Tashjian
I have managed to get through quite a few things this weekend, but have a very busy week coming up, so I'm not sure how quickly I can get through what I have and all the new stuff unless I resort to getting less sleep.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Skunk Girl

I am so sad that today is the last day of our Thanksgiving weekend. We have enjoyed getting together with friends on two different nights, putting up our Christmas decorations and just having time to relax. Tomorrow we begin another week of busy-ness - back to work and school with a night-time elementary Christmas program. The whole week is booked full and mostly I love the hectic schedule and know I will definitely miss this someday, but this weekend has been quite enjoyable.

I was able to read Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim, a middle grade novel that Amanda at A Patchwork of Books had reviewed long ago. My public library finally got it in and I was the first to check it out. Nina, the protagonist of this book, is Pakistani, living in a town with few people who look like her. She feels like she can't measure up to her older, super-nerd sister - in brains or in looks. Her parents also have very traditional Muslim beliefs and she is not allowed to talk to a boy on the phone, much less date one. She cannot attend parties or overnights at friends' houses. These things make her feel at a true disadvantage and like she is an outsider. When a new boy moves in to town, from Italy no less, Nina is interested in him and so is her long time nemesis, Serena.

Nina's feelings resonate with many girls - the idea that they don't quite fit in, or are not cute enough. Nina's ability to see things maturely and think about the long term will hopefully send a good message to readers who can see themselves in Nina.

I really liked this book. Last winter I read Artichoke Heart, another book about self-image. That book focused more on weight issues, while Nina, although not happy with her weight, focused more on looking different than other girls. In Nina's case, her Pakistani background caused her to have hairy arms, legs, and facial hair. I liked that Nina found a group of other Pakistani girls who discussed this together, making her realize she was not alone with her problem.

I highly recommend Skunk Girl and am happy that Karim is at work on her second novel.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Wish For Christmas

Thomas Kinkade's Cape Light series is a nice, entertaining story about the inhabitants of the small town of Cape Light. While not a thrilling read, I continue to check in with the Cape Light residents to find out what is happening in their lives.
It's been a few years since I have read a Thomas Kinkade book, and I think I missed the one prior to A Wish For Christmas, but I found Kinkade's latest during my last trip to the library and was excited for a visit to Cape Light again.
A Wish For Christmas focuses on some familiar character: Lillian Warwick is still up to her old tricks. She is especially upset by the fact that her granddaughter Sara and Sara's husband Luke are moving to Boston. They will no longer be living with her and Lillian's daughters are worried for their mother's safety. Lillian's longtime friend, Ezra remains by her side, while trying to help Lillian realize she must make some changes to her living situation.
Grace and her father, Digger, unexpectedly come into some money and try to find a way to use their good fortune to help others.
Jack, his wife Julie, her daughter, Kate and Jack's son David work at family life after David returns home injured in war. David has physical and emotional problems to deal with. While the rest of the Cape Light characters I remember from previous novels, I was never able to place these characters from my Cape Light memories. David's story was compelling and very timely based on current events.

As always Kinkade delivered another dose of Cape Light stories just as interesting as the very first book I read in this series. As usual, plotlines are tied up neatly by novel's end, but always leave room for another chapter to unfold at some later point.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Prospect Park West

Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn was my Teaser Tuesday selection this past week. This book was a great chick-lit read - a bit of Sex and the City for the mommy crowd. I don't like all chick-lit books, but this one was smartly written, entertaining and clever, a great read.

Sohn introduces us to a cast of characters. First there's Karen who is married to Matty and has a son, Darby. From book's beginning Karen is a little odd, forcing her four year old to wear kneepads to the playground in case he falls. Karen is out to get ahead. She desperately wants to buy an apartment in a good neighborhood and will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Melora Leigh is a famous actress living in Prospect Park West. Aside from being famous, Melora has a plethora of problems - she is worried about her acting prospects, and is busily taking various prescription medications to try and dull her senses and anxiety. Her son, Orion, is four and Melora would love to be able to mother him without needing medication, but that doesn't seem possible.

Rebecca, another mother has a young daugher Abbie and husband Theo. Rebecca isn't sure exactly how it happened, but she and Theo haven't had sex in over a year. She's worried for her marriage and begins a brief affair with Melora Leigh's husband, Stuart.

Lizzie and Jay have a young son Mance. Lizzie often feels neglected because of Jay's job as a musician that takes him away from home for days at a time. Lizzie and Rebecca become friends and Lizzie confides in Rebecca that she was once in a relationship with another woman.

The lives of these Prospect Park West families intertwine many times as the novel unfolds. Sohn has developed four very interesting women in these books representing various urban mommy-types.

This is one of the best chick-lit books I have read in a while. I loved Sex and the City and this ranks right up there with Bushnell's books.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Half Broke Horses

Last night I started Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, not sure what to anticipate. I absolutely raved about Glass Castle, Walls' memoir of her bizarre childhood with her unconventional parents. It amazed me that Walls and her siblings made it through their childhood to become productive citizens; Glass Castle was hard to put down.

Months ago I saw Half Broke Horses in a Booking Ahead publication from Baker and Taylor. The book was categorized as a novel, which made me somewhat skeptical. I didn't doubt Walls' writing ability, just the idea that a novel could even touch Glass Castle. When I read a bit more and discovered that actually Half Broke Horses is a fictionalized version of her own grandmother's life I was interested in why the book is considered fiction and how Wells would pull this off.

Walls writes in her notes at book's end that this book is really a collection of the stories she has heard about her grandmother during her lifetime, and the knowledge and recollections she has of her grandmother who passed away when Walls was only eight. The book is considered a novel because she had to create conversations and details that there is no record of. (This honest approach is something that perhaps the author of A Million Little Pieces should have tried).

Walls' grandmother is quite a character. The entire book kept me laughing wondering what new idea Lily Casey Smith would dream up. From running her parents' ranch while still a child herself, to leaving home at fifteen to ride a horse to a remote teaching position, then moving to Chicago where she knew no one, Lily Casey Smith was an amazing woman. She also shed light on Walls' mother, Rosemary. I found her accounts of Rosemary especially interesting, giving a little more background as to how Rosemary was brought up, and what possibly led her to her unconventional life.

This was a wonderful read. Walls' second book is just as good as her first and one that I will be recommending to everyone.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I have been checking out blogs and reading everyone else's lists of things they are thankful for. I could write an incredibly long list of the blessings I have in my life, but foremost in my thoughts (which it probably always will be) is the fact that four years ago on Thanksgiving Day my husband and I sat in the hospital with our oldest daughter waiting to have a CT scan and then get the results. We were devastated to find out that she had what they later diagnosed as Stage IV hepatoblastoma, a rare childhood liver cancer. Thanksgiving Day has a different meaning in our lives, and while I doubt I will ever be thankful for my child to have to endure chemotherapy and a life-threatening surgery and disease, there were blessings along the way. Today we are extremely thankful for our eight year old daughter and her sisters who are all healthy and happy. Each day we are reminded what a gift they are and how fortunate we are to have them and our friends and family who have been with us through good times and bad.
So, Happy Thanksgiving! We will be hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house and counting our many blessings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday

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

My Waiting on Wednesday pick is Lift by Kelly Corrigan. Due out in March 2010, I know very little about this book, but I absolutely loved her first book, The Middle Place. In the Middle Place, a memoir, Corrigan recounts her battle with breast cancer as a young mother while her father battles cancer as well, being both mother and daughter - caught in that middle place.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"She toweled off, went into the bedroom, and put on a white transparent V-neck with a pair of two hundred dollar gray and black silk panties she'd gotten year ago at La Petite Coquette. She wanted to look available but not too available, and Theo had always liked boyshorts, high, full-coverage underwear that reminded him of old Sears catalogs (331)."

Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn

Check back on Friday for my review of this book.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Snack

I have probably totally distorted this picture, but last week I was visiting Life With Mom and saw this extremely cute idea for making a Thanksgiving turkey.
Supplies you need: cinnamon rolls, biscuits, chocolate chips and sugar sprinkles.
My girls and I tried making these this past Saturday and had a great time. I have a few things I will remember for next year when I make them again (like the fact that I don't really want to use the flaky biscuits) but this is definitely a keeper. Check out Life with Mom to get the whole recipe and see her pictures - this is one of them from her website. Her pictures are much better than mine.

Thanksgiving Read-Alouds

I looked back at last year's Thanksgiving Read-Aloud post and wish I had a lot of great new turkey day books to share with the kids. Unfortunately the one new book I ordered, Turkey Trouble, was cancelled from my last order. I did order a copy for myself, but it still has not arrived from Amazon. A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting is one of my favorites, but even though it has not been checked out, I can't find it anywhere in my library.
Here is what I have been reading to my groups today (and the rest of this week):

Thanksgiving Rules by Laurie Friedman - a cute rhyming story in which Percy Isaac Gifford gives his simple rules to help make Thanksgiving enjoyable. Reading this one made me hungry as Percy shares all the foods he is looking forward to eating.

We Gather Together...Now Please Get Lost by Diane De Groat - I love Gilbert and re-reading this familar story is such fun as Gilbert almost misses his fieldtrip, then gets stuck with Phillip, and locked in a bathroom during the field trip. Even after all that Gilbert is able to find something to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving at the Tappletons' by Eileen Spinelli - This is a good story about finding something to be thankful for, even though the Tappletons don't have the Thanksgiving feast they planned.

I visited Barnes and Noble yesterday to see if there was anything new to pick up that I hadn't seen yet. I ended up with The Best Thanksgiving Ever by Teddy Slater and T is For Turkey: A True Thanksgiving Story by Tanya Lee Stone.

I will be anxious to see Turkey Trouble when it arrives - and I will be prepared for next year already.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Labor Day

Joyce Maynard's Labor Day is a book that I have seen reviewed in a variety of places. After reading the reviews I remained mildy intrigued, but wasn't entirely sold. I was happily surprised by this book and by Maynard's work.

Henry is thirteen years old, growing up in New Hampshire with his single mother. His father is remarried and has a baby with his new wife as well as a step son Henry's age. Henry's mother is fragile - unable to go out of the house on her own. Henry runs many of his mother's errands and the two of them remain isolated from others. When they venture out over Labor Day weekend to buy Henry some school supplies, Henry meets a man at the store who needs their help and asks for a ride from them. What follows is a bizarre weekend where Henry and his mother harbor a fugitive- Frank, who escaped from prison after an appendectomy. Suddenly Henry's mother is alive again, laughing eyes twinkling and life seems normal.

The idea of this occurring may seem a bit implausible, but Maynard made this story work and I never felt as though I needed to question events in this story, or the author's voice.

Writing more of a summary of this story would only give the ending away and Labor Day is worth reading yourself to find out the ending.

Visit Joyce Maynard's website here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Library Loot

I looked back through some of my old posts and noticed that I started 2009 by doing a Library Loot post. I'm not entirely sure why I gave it up, except that I might have the same stash of books for a lot longer than a week or two, so there was little new to report. Today I did get to two libraries, and my stack, while not gone, has been pretty thinned out. I felt like I could check out a few new things and maybe even get to them fairly soon.

Here's what I got:

Adult Selections:

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'Easter by Lisa Patton

A Wish For Christmas by Thomas Kinkade

Age Is Just a Number by Dara Torres

Barack and Michelle: Portrait of a Marriage by Christopher Andersen

Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl

Young Adult Selections:

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

Escape by Sea by L. S. Lawrence

If You Live Like Me by Lori Weber

Just Another Hero by Sharon Draper

Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose

I also started Labor Day by Joyce Maynard today and am hoping to finish it up later tonight.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship

Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel coauthored The Recipe Club, a story of two friends, Lilly and Val who grow up, eventually grow apart, and reconnect after many years pass. Through their childhood and early adulthood they continued to swap recipes back and forth, sharing food and friendship.
While a novel, I feel as though I should mention the overall appearance of this book. While not discernible from the outside, this book is not set up like a regular novel. The paper is a higher quality, and there are colorful recipes alternating with text (mostly emails and letters the girls wrote to each other). My husband thought I was crazy last night when I commented on even the weight of this book, but it is also heavier than a normal novel- maybe that high quality paper?
As I was reading, I didn't always take the time to look over the recipes, which made for very fast reading, but they usually went along with whatever event Lilly and Val were experiencing in their own lives. There is also a recipe index at the end allowing readers to locate a recipe they may want to use.
This book gets applause for appearance and originality alone. The story felt rather trite and predictable to me... two friends who grew up together and had a falling out. Why they had a falling out is not revealed until after you read the letters they wrote each other from childhood to early adulthood. The novel then shifts back to the present when Lilly's father, Isaac, passes away. He had been a very influential figure in both Lilly and Val's lives - and not always in a positive way. The two women meet up once more to talk and sort things out and reconcile. Lilly, who had been looking for love her entire life, finally finds happiness, and she and Val are able to resume their friendship with new understanding toward each other.
I had such high hopes for this book, that perhaps reality just could not measure up to what I expected. Not horrible, just so-so.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Random Friday

I am going to take Lisa's idea from Books, Lists, Life and write my own Random Friday post. Trying to figure out which book to write on seems mentally challenging at this point of the evening. I am still in a blissful state from our high speed/wireless internet hook-up yesterday, anyway. I also got an order from Baker and Taylor yesterday at school which was quite exciting. I am in fear that they will freeze my budget sooner rather than later because of the ten percent cuts all school in Iowa are facing next year, and want to spend my money before I lose it. I know I won't be able to buy some new stuff in the spring, but it is fun to put things in my Amazon cart right now. Today I got to meet with a Baker and Taylor rep for our area and had a great time talking about books and book-ish things. She had listened to the audio version of The Help by Kathryn Stockett and raved about it. The other day I read another fabulous review of the audio version on everything pink, so I am thinking I might enjoy listening to this book this time around.
Tonight my husband took our girls to gymnastics freeing me up to get a run in. It has been a long time since I have been able to get more than six miles in, so tonight I ran ten. It felt great while doing it, but now that I am done I don't feel quite as great.
Tomorrow I work at the public library in the morning. This is actually kind of a nice, peaceful quiet time for me when I can look at some new books, read some blogs, and visit with patrons. I also have a visit to another public library planned, and perhaps some shopping for Christmas.
I am going to read more of The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel tonight before bed. This is a good friendship book with a bunch of recipes thrown in. The look of it is almost like a scrapbook more than a novel and with all the recipes thrown in it is a quick read.
What's up for your weekend?

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Tonight I am actually able to use my school laptop at home - and have internet access. For the two - almost three - years we have lived in our present home we have had internet problems. We were told initially that we could get high speed internet. However, when we moved in we were told our neighborhood was at capacity and we would be on a waiting list. There have been numerous phone calls and discussions with other neighbors in the same situation but we had to be content with dial-up. Then our desktop computer died. It was old and it was not unexpected. We started using our old laptop. That quit, too. For the past couple of months we have not had a computer at our house. In some ways that has been good. We have found other things to do with our time. I still don't feel like I have extra time, anyway, even without having a computer around to goof around with. We also didn't want to buy a new computer just to hook it up to our crummy dial-up service.
Today, lo and behold, was our lucky day. My husband called our phone company again last week and miraculously they paid us a visit today and hooked us up. We are sitting here using two laptops in total disbelief that our internet is actually working.
We still need to buy a better computer, but my school laptop is doing the job for right now, and I am totally thrilled.

Spot the Plot

I love this book! Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis is so much fun! I received this one yesterday from a Picnic Basket request and had such a good time reading it to my girls at bedtime. Each page contains a riddle about a well known picture book along with cute illustrations also giving a clue or two about the book. My oldest daughter was able to guess nearly all the books and I can't wait to try it out on some groups of students today. The only disappointment with this book is that it is too short. I wish there were many, many more of these riddles.

This is a great, fun way to teach riddles and rhyming.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thoughts on Faith, Hope and Ivy June

This isn't really a review of Faith, Hope and Ivy June....I am not quite done yet with this book, but as I am reading I am struck by a few things.

First of all, the fact that Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written 136 books. Really?! How can she write that many and I can't even write one? I also love her Alice series and the Shiloh books, so the work she is turning out is good, too.

Second of all, I really like Faith, Hope and Ivy June....I can see this as a read aloud because there are lots of teachable moments about accepting people as they are, about realizing how much you have in common with others even though you might have some very obvious differences as well.

And, the last thing, is throughout this book Ivy June repeats the advice her Pappaw gave her, "only want what you've got." How wise her Pappaw is. Ivy June doesn't have a lot by the world's standards, but she has what she needs, and is happy. When Catherine's snooty grandmother wants to take Ivy clothes shopping Ivy declines, knowing that she is happy with what she has.

I'll be book talking this one next week to my fifth graders and finishing it up later today myself.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
"Catherine, she noticed, was wearing panty hose, which Ivy June had never worn in her life. But once inside the beautiful theater, Ivy June stood gazing up at the ceiling, which was so high she couldn't imagine how anyone could have put lights there (110)."

Faith Hope and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ron's Big Mission

Since I haven't had time to finish some of the books I have started (I am hopeful that tonight will be the night) I have a picture book to share that my kids are loving at school.

Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue is the fictionalized story of Ron McNair and his quest to be allowed to check out books from the public library despite segregation laws.

First of all, Ron McNair is not someone that most kids have heard of. However, I was extremely interested in the Space Shuttle Challenger while I was growing up, and McNair was one of the astronauts who perished in the explosion.

This story features Ron as a child enjoying his visits to the local public library. He was a frequent library patron yet was not allowed to check out books because of the color of his skin. When he takes a stand about this issue, the librarian, police, and others at the library must decide if they can follow the law, or allow Ron to have his own library card.

My students enjoyed this story a lot. They especially were interested in my knowledge about Ron as an astronaut. I always enjoy exposing my students to people from history that have made a contribution to society that they may not be aware of. It is always exciting to see their enthusiasm and excitement about these people. This was also a hit at home in our bedtime reading, and one I will recommend to a wide range of ages.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right is the latest memoir I have been reading and will finish tonight. This book interested me right away - having been written by the four Welch siblings: Amanda, Diana, Liz and Dan. Their story is sad, inspiring, and interesting.

The four Welch children grew up in the 80s. Their mother was a soap opera actress, and their life seemed idyllic. They grew up with enough money to afford vacations, nice clothes, and a big home. Suddenly life changed dramatically when their father was killed in a car accident. Within a short period of time their mother was diagnosed with cancer, and although she was able to receive treatment and appeared to be doing well, her cancer recurred and was eventually terminal. The four Welch children were split up. Amanda started college, Liz went to live with some friends, and did some traveling. Dan was a behavior problem at the time and was in and out of a few schools, living with their mother's friend, Karen. Diana was taken in by the Chamberlin family who everyone believed would give her a stable childhood where she could receive the experiences that other kids had. However, Mrs. Chamberlin was emotionally abusive to Diana, refusing to allow her siblings to see her and treating her poorly.

I have only ten pages left in this book and am not sure exactly how this will end. Obviously the Welches collaborated on this book and have a strong bond now. Yet, their lives after their mother and father's deaths was such a dramatic shift from the life they had known.

Their teen years are also hard for me to relate to - coming of age in the early 80s in an affluent family they were into drugs and alcohol and share freely their experience with both. The Welches also don't hold back anything- sharing some aspects of their pasts that are very personal. While these experiences may be things that they felt they had to share, as I reflect on reading this book, I don't believe that any of these personal revelations are necessary to make this story better or more believable.

I have not read a memoir written by four different authors, each chapter giving a different perspective on events that occurred in their lives, and as I was reading I realized how well this style of telling their story works for them.

To find out more about the Welches, visit their website:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Christmas Shopping

I know it isn't even Thanksgiving yet, but I have been in the mood to start thinking about Christmas. That means I need to figure out what I am giving people. Of course, I love to get books so I am delighted that my oldest daughter is asking for them as well. I have been checking out various blogs, looking on Amazon, and trying to get an idea of which books will be the ones I choose. Right now my purchases are usually a success, and I dread the day when she turns her nose up at the books I recommend. My middle daughter told me she didn't really need any books, which is what she may think, but I know a few will show up for her as well. And my littlest daughter will get a few as well. I have also created a fairly long list of books I want/need.
Right now I haven't finished anything that I can review. We spent the day at my aunt and uncle's house, eating an early Thanksgiving dinner and then watching the first half of a football game. Hopefully tomorrow I can review Cherries in Winter: My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times by Suzan Colon. I received an ARC of it a few weeks ago and have been excited to see it reviewed in People and on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.
I also have a few other books I am working on this weekend, so if I can find some free time I might be able to get several books done. I just need more hours in my day.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Shepherd's Granddaughter

The Shepherd's Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter was a random selection during one of my last library trips. The cover is intriguing, featuring a shepherdess and her sheep. This book is also the one I used for my Teaser Tuesday post.

I loved this book. I wasn't sure I would at first - the book begins with Amani, the main character at the age of six. However, she quickly ages, and Carter appropriately begins the story at that point when Amani decided she was going to become a shepherdess, taking after her grandfather, Seedo. The family lives in the hills of Palestine and faces escalating tension from the Israelis who are trying to settle their land. Amani's grazing land is taken away as are their olive trees and eventually even their homes. While Amani's father looks for peaceful ways to resolve this conflict, her uncle is angry and willing to fight. Along with the accurate depiction of a current situation, Carter also creates a novel that deals with relationships among families and Amani's coming of age.

One thing also continued to strike me as I was reading. Amani's family lived in the hills, seemingly apart from the hustle and bustle of our modern day world (there aren't many shepherds around these parts), yet despite an obvious disconnect with our modern world, there were points in the book that I was amazed by. Amani and her brother Omar make a trip into the city to use the internet cafe where she then emails a vetrinarian about innoculating her sheep. Her father owns and uses a cell phone, and her mother is an accomplished pianist. All these things initially seem out of character, yet reminded me how this book is not set in some far gone time, but instead is a reminder of what Palestinians are facing currently.

I loved, loved, loved this book.

Check out other reviews here:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Journey of Dreams

Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrinos is one of those books that really highlight for me the differences between my childhood and those of the characters in the book.

Set in 1984 in Central America, this book, although fiction, gives an accurate account of what life was like in Guatemala for one family that is forced to flee to America. While I was busy leading a carefree childhood filled with television shows, playdates and bike rides, Tomasa and her siblings were trekking across countries hiding from guerillas who were burning her village and killing innocent people. She and her family are separated when her mother and oldest brother flee so that they can keep Carlos, her brother, out of the army. They plan to reunite, but the rest of the family must flee to save themselves and end up trying to enter Mexico three times before having success. They eventually are taken in and tranported via a modern day Underground Railroad which helps Central American refugees.

This story is fascinating and Pellegrinos own work in this area gives her book authenticity. I especially like stories that I feel a connection to; aside from the fact that I was leading a trouble-free childhood in America while these events were taking place in Central America, this story takes place shortly after my brother was adopted from El Salvador. At the time of his adoption, in 1983, I remember only my parents discussing the country as being unsafe, but don't recall details. A friend adopted a child from Guatemela a year or two prior to that, and I now wonder if the politics of that country led to my brother being chosen from a neighboring country.

Pellegrinos writing is beautiful, perhaps more appreciated by an adult or more mature reader. I would recommend this book for high schoolers, especially those who are looking for background information on Central America.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

I almost's Tuesday again! That means it's time for Teaser Tuesday.
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"Loaded with soldiers, the jeeps parked between the Palestinians and the construction workers. Dozens of rifles pointed at the human blockade as one jeep pulled close to the wagon. (109)."

Taken from The Shepherd's Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cures for Heartbreak

This weekend I have been reading up a storm. I still have a huge stack of books I need to read and really want to get through, but I did get through three books in the past two days and have a fourth underway as well. As long as I don't load up on books while I am blogging here at the library this afternoon, there may be hope.

Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb is a wonderful young adult novel. I had read some reviews on this book a while ago, and initially thought it might be too sad to read. While this book is definitely not a happy story, it was also not depressing. Mia is a teenager when her mother dies - just twelve days after being diagnosed with melanoma that had metastasized. She and her sister and father form a family of their own, continuing their lives as best they can. In addition to some struggles with school and wishing for more knowledge of her mother, Mia's father has a heart attack and spends time in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. There is a lot of change in Mia's life - her sister goes off to college and Mia's father begins dating Sylvie - and many things for Mia to think about and deal with. I enjoyed Mia's recollections of what life was like before her mother's sickness, helping fill out the picture of what Mia's relationship was like with her mother.

And while I wish sadness on no one, the fact that Rabb herself lost her mother and then her father in such quick succession during her teen years, gives authenticity to Mia's story. Rabb understands the grief of losing a parent and the fact that the grief will never go away entirely.

I would love to check in with Mia as time passes in her life, and hope that I will have an opportunity to read more of Rabb's work.

Visit Margo Rabb's website.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The September Sisters

Jillian Cantor's The September Sisters has been a great read this weekend. (It's too bad that I have so many in my stack that I actually waited until I got the reminder from the public library that this one is due on Tuesday).
Abigail narrates the story sharing the events that unfolded in her life after her sister Becky went missing. While the two sisters were just two years and a day apart in their birthdays, they were not exceptionally close, experiencing typical sibling rivalry between two girls. Their family, however, seemed happy and normal. After Becky is missing one morning (having disappeared during the night) life is never the same. Their mother withdraws into herself, rarely getting out ot bed. Abigail's father tries his hardest to carry on, but is unable to talk about what has happened or his feelings. And Abigail is left to try and cope with things herself. Her friends withdraw from her at school, not seeming to know what to say to her. And her parents do not want her to be alone, so hire an elderly neighbor lady to watch her after school. It is Mrs. Ramirez's grandson, Tommy, who arrives from Florida to live with his grandmother for a while, that is Abigail's first friend after Becky's disappearance.
Abigail is a character that I could easily identify with. My heart broke for her and her parents who were swallowed by grief. And, while the story does not have a happily ever after ending, it is real, and Abigail's ability to go on is inspiring.
This is a great debut novel, and I am looking forward to Cantor's next book, due out in February 2010.
Check out Jillian Cantor's website here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Glee-fully Addicted

I must be in a Random Friday mode today...maybe it's because it is our last day of conferences at school and I am not getting much accomplished. I am also gleefully addicted to Glee, the television show on Fox centering around a high school glee club. I absolutely love the music and am totally addicted to this show. Unfortunately I never get a chance to watch television at night, but am enjoying watching episodes on The CD of Glee's first season just came out this week and I have been singing along as I drive to and from work each day. I rarely find time to watch television, even though I know there are some shows I would like to watch regularly The fact that Glee is something I want to see each week should say something for the entertainment it provides.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire

Two weeks ago I posted my Teaser Tuesday on Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire by Brenda Ferber. I am sorry to say that because I have started so many other books it has taken me until tonight to finish it.

I started reading this book already thinking I was going to enjoy it. I had seen reviews of it on a few different blogs, and I like realistic tween fiction most of the time. As I was reading a good portion of the book today, I realized how much I really did like this story and how much I think girls who read this book will be able to relate to it.

Jemma is looking forward to going to camp for a month where she will be reunited with her best friend, Tammy, who moved away. However, when she arrives at camp Tammy is there, and so is Tammy's cousin, Brooke. Jemma struggles to try and have time with Tammy, and Tammy and Brooke seem to leave her out of their fun a lot. Jemma is not ready to give up the idea that she and Tammy are still best friends, even though that's not really how things seem to be working out. Another girl in their cabin, Delaney, seems a bit odd to Jemma at first. She doesn't want to get stuck with Delaney all the time when they pair off for activities, but realizes when they do spend time together they always have fun. Even realizing that Delaney is a lot of fun doesn't help Jemma forget about Tammy and her wish to be best friends with her. Brooke, the cousin, is obnoxious and mean, yet Tammy always manages to defend her and want to be with her.

There are a lot of things in this book I think girls will relate to. I certainly remember my own friendship struggles from my childhood and the feeling of being left out. While it is sad to see how Tammy and Brooke treat Jemma, it is also hard to watch how Jemma treats Delaney, who is only good enough to hang out with when Tammy doesn't want to be with her.

The resolution to this story is satisfying without it being too happy and unrealistic. The whole time I was rooting for Jemma to pick Delaney for a friend, and Delaney is a class act all the way through, giving some hope to all girls that there really are some nice girls out there who don't want to be a part of the friendship drama most girls have to deal with.

This is a great tween novel, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Sweet By and By

There is so much I have going through my mind after finishing up The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson. This is one book that I will think about long after having read it.

Johnson's novel is told in five voices: Margaret, Bernice, Lorraine, Rhonda and April. Much of it is set in a nursing home where life remains much the same day after day. As I tried to find a way to sum up nicely the entire plot, I visited Johnson website. Taken from his book discussion guide on his site,

In The Sweet By and By, five Southern women’s lives come together in an unlikely journey of courage, hope, and humor. Even when faced with difficult choices and often fragile memories, all five women must learn to reconcile their respective pasts, find forgiveness, and relish in the joy of life.
Of course, this is no easy task: most of the novel is set in a nursing home, where the sameness of each day creeps into every page of the calendar. While Bernice and Margaret confront their increasing loss of faculties, April and Rhonda struggle to define what it means to live fully, and Lorraine finds her identity in compassionate giving. Together, their stories quilt together richly different experiences of aging, childhood, of living and dying, and in so doing, challenge readers to examine how time passes in their own lives, the people whose paths they cross via chance or circumstance, and the impact of these encounters on their own life stories.

I lack any better way of summarizing this moving story. As I read I could see visions of my own grandmother and her time at the nursing home with other residents and the workers who helped her in her final years. I also remember her own recollection one day of eating supper with "this girl that she had known." I looked questioningly at my mom, wondering what "girl" was at the home, only to have it explained, that the girl in question was over ninety years old and had attended school with my grandmother. Even at ninety years old, there was a bit of a child in her, and also a disbelief that her life was passing by and she was no longer the child/young woman/mother she once was. In the Sweet By and By I felt this with both Bernice and Margaret who wanted to recapture some of their independence and fun as they set off on their adventure away from the nursing home.

April and Rhonda and Lorraine all learn so much about themselves in this book, and since the story takes place over a span of years it is interesting to see how they change and grow as well.

I would highly recommend this book to any book discussion group. There are so many things to discuss in this book: friendship, finding yourself, aging to name just a few. This is a wonderful story for people of all ages.
To find out more about Todd Johnson, visit his website.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

"I came home from school and Mama was already home from work, which was strange in itself. She and Grandma were sitting in the living room together, and I could tell they were talking about something serious by the way they looked at me when I burst in the front door with my stack of books (109)." From The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson

Monday, November 2, 2009

Opuestos - The Picnic Basket

I love getting books for review from The Picnic Basket! Last week I received Opuestos: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill, the second in a planned series of four. The first book ABCedarios is one whose title I remember hearing, but have not seen yet.

Opuestos is a great concept book for the young, or for our English Language Learners who benefit from seeing the Spanish and English text to understand a concept. I enjoyed the artwork Weill uses to depict her concepts. Using the wood carvings from the Mexican state of Oaxaca gives students some exposure to Mexican artwork as well.

I enjoyed this book a great deal! I am looking forward to sharing it with my ELL teachers because I am sure they will have many uses for it.

Another Weekend Flying By

Once again it is Monday already. It always seems as though the weekends go by so quickly. And most are packed with different fun activities and cleaning.
This weekend we had trick or treating, gymnastics, church, and attending Mamma Mia, the musical yesterday afternoon.
My youngest daughter is recovering from the stomach flu and has been extremely crabby as well.
So, not much reading going on, although I have started several books now. I have also received a few more ARCs that I absolutely must get through sometime soon.
Mamma Mia was wonderful. The girls loved the movie when we saw it in the theatre last summer and we listen to my ABBA CD in the car all the time. Yesterdays' production was awesome as well. Now I wish I would have bought us tickets to a few more events that are coming to our area, but I am also trying to pay off my credit card and since the holidays are coming, buying more tickets isn't really in my game plan right now.
I'll just have to settle for listening and singing along to ABBA in the car for a while.