Friday, December 31, 2010

My Third and Final Best List of 2010: Non Fiction and Memoirs

My Non-Fiction/Memoir "best" list is interesting to me, because despite my love of memoirs, many of the books that made my list are non-fiction titles not memoirs.

Again, in no particular order, this is my 2010 list of the best non-fiction/memoir books I have read:
1. Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt - a slim memoir, I was able to read this in one sitting. Rosenblatt's daughter Amy dies and he and his wife move in with their son-in-law to help raise their three grandchildren. Sad, yet uplifting and hopeful.

2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - While Lacks died young of cervical cancer, her cells provided scientists with some very important information.

3. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore- Two men, both named Wes Moore, both growing up in Baltimore, both without fathers. One goes on to become a Rhodes scholar, ther other is serving a life prison sentence.

4. Ten Minutes From Home by Beth Greenfield. Greenfield recounts the loss of her best friend and her brother in a car accident just a few minutes from her home, forever changing her life.

5. Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Professor Gail Steketee, PhD and Prof. Randy Frost, PhD. This is an inside look at the problem of hoarding, chronicling current cases and those from long ago. A very fascinating look at this disorder.

6. Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French - a non-fiction account of the inner workings of zoo life- from the treatment of animals to employment issues.
7. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick - this was an eye-opener for me as Demick chronicles the struggles of six North Koreans who defected.

8. Outcasts, United by Warren St. John- St. John takes a look at a group of refugees transplanted to a small Georgian town, united by soccer and their coach.

9. What We Have by Amy Boesky- Boesky takes one year in her life, and recounts what has led her and her sisters to have surgery prior to being diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer because of their family history.

10. Open by Andre Agassi- Rarely do I think that a celebrity memoir is well written. I usually pick memoirs by lesser known people. However, this look at Andre Agassi and his thoughts on life and tennis was interesting and well written.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Neil Armstrong in the Nick of Time

Well, there is nothing like waiting until the last minute to finish a challenge. Since I did not succeed at reading all the books I wanted to for the Read From Your Shelves Challenge, the least I could do is finish up the War Through the Generations challenge. This year's focus is the Vietnam War, and while I had different books in mind, actually reading them is another story.
Neil Armstrong is my Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino is set in 1969, just before Neil Armstrong is set to walk on the moon. Tamara is upset by losing her best friend, Kebsie, who has moved away to live with her mother after spending time in a foster home in Tamara's neighborhood. Muscle Man McGinty, Tamara's nickname for the foster boy who has replaced Kebsie, is almost more than Tamara can stand. He exaggerates everything - even claiming his uncle is Neil Armstrong! Tamara can't understand how the other neighborhood kids can stand him.

While Tamara's life seems to be mostly centered on her own struggles - a mother who watches too many soap operas, the annoying Muscle Man McGinty, and losing her best friend, world events soon make a big impact on Tamara. Her brother's best friend is killed in Vietnam. Everyone is affected by this loss in their neighborhood and suddenly hating Muscle Man McGinty doesn't seem so important anymore.

This is a good read. I enjoyed the humor in this book - all of the exaggerations that Muscle Man McGinty tells people were fun to read. And while Tamara wanted people to like her so desperately, it was easy to see why she had a hard time making friends. Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, the events of Vietnam all help shape this book into a look at what it felt like to be a part of this time period. While I will be book talking this to kids at my school, I also think this is one that teachers would enjoy reading aloud, too.

The Second Best List: YA and Middle Grade

Looking through my list of books I have read this year makes it almost impossible to pick the BEST books I have read. There are so many that were great. I know I am leaving something out along the way, but there are ones I continue to remember in great deal after almost a year.

In no particular order, the best YA and Middle Grade Novels I have read in 2010:

1. The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt -set during the Vietnam war this book counted for the War Through the Generations challenge and the Read From Your Shelves challenge, AND it was wonderful! I laughed out loud at so many places and yet there were parts that were sad, too. I can't wait until Schmidt's book OKay For Now comes out this spring allowing me to revisit these wonderful characters.

2. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell - another fabulous YA historical fiction book, set in Florida as one girl uncovers lies in her family.

3. A Faraway Island by Annika Thor- this is the first book by Thor that has been translated into English. Another World War II story, these sisters are sent to live with strangers, away from the persecution Jews are facing. I am anxious to read the second installment in their story.

4. Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards - historical fiction - no big surprise. Written in verse and narrated by various characters tells the story of 1889's Johnstown's flood.

5. Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord - fans of Rules, Lord's Newbery winner, won't be disappointed. Touch Blue's Maine setting is the perfect backdrop for Tess and her family who take in Aaron, a foster child, in an effort by many island families to keep their school open.

6. Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber - YA historical fiction- set in the 1920s. Iris is sent to be a live-in helper to a doctor's aging mother. Her own mother died when she was young and Iris has never felt wanted since, especially as her father has found a new girlfriend. This is a touching book, showing that there are many forms a family may take.

7. The Properties of Water by Hannah Roberts McKinnon - I was so flattered when McKinnon contacted me about reviewing her book, and felt even luckier that I loved it so much. Lace's sister Marni is involved in a tragic diving accident and life is never quite the same.

8. Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer - this is the only selection on my list that is not realistic fiction or historical fiction. Dystopian is how I would classify it....and absolutely thought provoking. When a meteor hits the moon and throws off the world's weather system life on earth is forever altered. This is the first in a trilogy, and since life doesn't seem to be returning to normal anytime soon, I am anxious (and a bit scared) to find out how many more struggles Pfeffer will have her characters endure.

9. The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez - historical fiction- 1960s Cuba. I loved the way this book made the 60s come alive. I loved learning about the Pedro Pan project and I loved learning more about Cubans/Cuban Americans - not just what I have been told in textbooks or on the news.

10. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper- told in the perspective of Melody, a girl with Cerebral Palsy. She happens to be the smartest kid in her class - maybe even her school- but she can't speak or write and is totally unable to communicate with others. This one is amazing!

I Still Dream About You

Fannie Flagg's books are ones I am always excited to hear about and look forward to reading. While I like some better than others, I enjoy the quirky characters, the Southern setting, and Flagg's touch of humor. I Still Dream About You was a great addition to Flagg's collection of work, a book I enjoyed and was entertained by.

Maggie Fortenberry is planning her suicide. In most books this would be depressing, but in Flagg's book, it mostly humorous. Maggie can't find anything to look forward to, so decides that she should just buy a raft, get rid of her personal possessions and money, and disappear. Except things keep happening to make her postpone her plans. Each time as the time draws near, Maggie's "to do" list grows too long for her to leave and she ends up delaying her departure. Maggie's friends at the real estate office where she works have no idea about Maggie's plans. Brenda is more concerned about her diet, trying to sneak food past her sister, Robbie, who she lives with. Everyone in the office is working to keep their real estate company open despite the poor economy and the somewhat unethical behavior of their competitor, Babs Bingington. They also continue to miss Hazel, the woman who started Red Mountain Realty, and despite her 3'4" stature, lived life to the fullest and continues to leave her mark in the world after her death. Flagg throws in a bit of mystery when Maggie and Brenda come across a skeleton in the attic of a home they are trying to sell. Both women decide to hide the skeleton, but lose a foot they must locate before someone else does.

I Still Dream About You is Flagg doing what she does best - creating a great cast of characters and plenty of laughs.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

First Best List

Several years ago my "Best of the Year" list consisted of a list of 10 fiction books and 10 non-fiction books I read during the year. This year I have read my all-time highest amount of books. I have also been trying to incorporate more young adult and middle grade books into my reading diet. I have always read these - and get quite excited when I see what is coming out in future months, but by the time I get my library books read, it often seems that those Middle Grade/YA books don't get read as quickly.

This year my "best" lists are divided into three different categories: Women's Fiction, YA/Middle Grade, and Non-fiction/Memoir. Not all the books that I include in these lists are published in 2010. Unfortunately I am always a bit behind and there are TONS of books that have been published in 2010 that I am still just waiting to read.

List #1 - Women's Fiction

1. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman - Loved this coming of age novel. Set in the South, CeeCee, despite her rather sad home life at book's beginning, is taken in by a wise and caring relative where CeeCee learns many important life lessons.

2. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See- the only good thing about waiting so long to read this is that I don't have to wait so long for the sequel, due out in 2011. Two sisters from China flee to the United States where they have already been married off. While things don't turn out like they planned, their life in the United States is interesting and full of opportunity.

3. The Confederate General Rides North by Amanda Gable - this one was on my radar long before managed to get to read it. Katherine's obsession with the Civil War makes her vacation with her mother to various Civil War battlegrounds look interesting and exciting until she finds the real reason for her vacation.

4. The Red Thread by Ann Hood-I have loved all of Hood's books so far and this is no exception. A novel about couples trying to adopt chidren from overseas, it mimics in some ways Hood's own life, as an adoptive parent.

5. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok- another coming of age novel about a girl and her mother who move to the United States only to be put to work in their family's sweat shop. This one is also somewhat autobiographical as the author herself experienced many of the same things as her character.

6. My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliviera - Mary Sutter wants to be more than a midwife despite the fact that the roles of women during the 1860s don't allow for that. Not one to give up, Mary finds a way to become involved in caring for the wounded during the Civil War.

7. A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer - historical fiction set during the race to discover penicillin. I am now looking for more of Belfer's work.

8. Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel - I loved the Florida setting. I loved following Frances' life through the decades - marriage, motherhood, losing a spouse, while nothing seems remarkable, that is the beauty of this novel.

9. The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber - another historical fiction novel about Rachel, an African American woman, who moves west with her husband as they try to homestead and own their own land.

10. The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard - Suspenseful; Jody Linder has always believed what she has heard about her father's death and mother's disappearance. Finally, after new clues surface, this decades-old mystery is solved.

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wenesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This past year I loved, loved, loved Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. When I read on Kidliterate there was a sequel/companion novel coming out, I could barely contain myself.

OKay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt comes out on April 18, 2011
Product Description from Amazon:

As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who “smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain.” In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.
Click here to read Kidliterate's gushing review.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Palace Beautiful

Sarah Deford Williams' debut novel, Palace Beautiful, is such a gem of a book. Another title I read about on the Cybils list, I have now seen this title a few other places including some Mock Newbery sites. Before reading I had no idea what this story was going to be about. For some reason I had in my mind that it was a fantasy book - and we all know that that genre is just not one I am very excited about. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Set in 1985, thirteen year old Sadie and her sister Zuzu have just moved to Salt Lake City with their father and stepmother to be nearer to their grandmother. While they are sad to have left their home in Texas, they quickly make friends with their next door neighbor, a girl Sadie's age named Bella. Sadie, Bella, and Zuzu discover a small crawl space in their attic and find a journal kept by a girl who lived in their house in 1918 - during the influenza epidemic. Together the girls read Helen's journal which ends abruptly when her family acquires the sickness. Of course they want to know what happened to Helen and her family and do a bit of research to locate any of the White family who may have survived.

Subplots include Sadie's worry over her stepmother's pregnancy and approaching date of delivery. Sadie's own mother died giving birth to Zuzu, and Sadie is naturally worried for Sherrie's health. And Bella, the artistic, dreamy neighbor girl has a hard time conforming to her mother's strict rules and standards, making her feel unwanted much of the time.

This book is one I will order for my library and one I would love for my daughters to read. I was sad to see Palace Beautiful end.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dangerous Neighbors

Dangerous Neighbors is my very first Beth Kephart book. I have read so many different posts about Kephart's work and the beauty of her writing. As I was reading, I, too, took note of the way in which Kephart's words paint pictures in the mind. Her writing is beautiful. Dangerous Neighbors takes place in Philadelphia in 1876, during the Centennial fair celebrating a nation with a future to look forward to. Katherine and Anna were twin sisters - bound together by their twinness. When Anne unexpectedly dies, Katherine doesn't find much to look forward to nad plots about finding a way to end her own life.
This was a fast read - begun last night before bed, and completed this morning. One downfall to being a quick reader is the lack of time spent really letting the writing soak in. I am supremely guilty of this. However, despite the speed in which I devoured this book and the fact that perhaps I would have loved the writing even more if I took my time, I still recognize Kephart's work as superb.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Saint Training

Saint Training by Elizabeth Fixmer is on this year's Cybils list, and immediately caught my eye. Set in 1967, Mary Clare is a sixth grader who has a lot of questions about her faith and about growing up. While mostly about Mary Clare's own questions of faith, the Vietnam war is also a topic in this book, helping me out by counting one more title for the War Through the Generations Challenge that I have not yet finished.

Mary Clare is one of nine children in a large Catholic family. Her plans for the future include joining the convent. Mary Clare doesn't just want to be a nun. She plans to be Mother Superior. Because she has many questions about God and her faith Mary Clare begins corresponding with the Mother Superior at the Saint Mary Magdalene Convent in Minneapolis. She is able to ask her the many things she has wondered about (I am sure the Mother Superior found Mary Clare's letters very entertaining), and gain some perspective on what joining a convent would entail. Mary Clare's own family has many of their own stresses: her mother is pregnant with their tenth child despite not having enough money for the children they already have; Mary Clare is trying her best to help out, but her mother seems unhappy with her life and is busy quoting Betty Freidan's The Feminine Mystique. Her older brothers and father argue about Vietnam, and to top it off, Mary Clare is so busy helping out at home when her mother goes back to school, there is little time for her to spend with friends or just be a normal teenage girl.

I loved this look at the 1960s through Mary Clare's eyes. As I was reading I could envision the television show American Dreams which dealt with many of the same issues that Mary Clare faced in this book. In addition to Vietnam, the changing role of women, and the changes that the Catholic Church faced, the civil rights crusades that occurred in Milwaukee in the 1960s are also chronicled in Saint Training. This is a title that I had not heard about prior to looking over the Cybils list, but is a solid, entertaining historical fiction read. I would love to read more work by Fixmer

Clean Slate

Yesterday as I looked at my enormous stack of library books, I just had the notion of taking many of them back. Of course I haven't read them all, and I can't make myself take ALL of them back, but I did weed through them and eliminate those that are due back soon- and realistically I have no way of reading before then. It would feel wonderful to start 2011 with a clean slate. I think. Or maybe not. I fear running out of books to read and the idea of having nothing sitting around from the library might actually drive me crazy.

Tomorrow is my birthday and my anniversary. My husband has to work and tomorrow evening we are supposed to be getting together with my aunts and uncles and cousins on my mom's side of the family for a pizza party. My husband and I are planning on a dinner out sometime over break, but tomorrow is our only chance to see these relatives, so our dinner will have to be delayed a day or two.

I have a few books underway that I hope to review tomorrow, and then need to take a few minutes to post about the challenges I am planning on taking part in.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Yesterday we received almost ten more inches of snow, guaranteeing a very white Christmas in northeast Iowa. I will admit that I am saying enough already to this winter weather. For the second year in a row my sister and her family have not made it back to celebrate with my parents. However, my brother and his family were there with us yesterday and we had a great time - 7 kids ages 9 and under and the six adults played Minute To Win It games devised by my oldest daughter, ate good food, opened a few gifts, and played in the snow - sliding down hills and spraying the snow with my food coloring and water mixture I put into spray bottles. Last night we attended our church's Christmas Eve service, and this morning opened gifts from Santa. My oldest daughters are happy with their Nintendo DSis, and my youngest daughter is enjoying her horses and trailer she has been wanting. Soon we will head off to my in-laws for lunch. Tonight I am hoping to watch Miracle on 34th Street with my family and read for a while, too.

My reading has been slow over break so far, and I have reviews I need yet to post along with my "Best of 2010" lists, and the challenges I plan on joining for 2011.

Christmas 2010 will soon be just a memory, and I am happy that we are all enjoying some time together relaxing. While I didn't plan on taking a break from blogging like some other bloggers, my posts are not as frequent over this break, either. For anyone who is checking blogs on this holiday, here is hoping you are having a very Merry Christmas, celebrating the birth of our Lord.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday

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

This week's pick:
Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Publication Date: May 31, 2011

See here offers a continuation of Shanghai Girls, in which carefree and beautiful Chinese sisters May and Pearl are married off to two Chinese men from America to pay their father’s gambling debt. Now, Pearl’s distraught daughter, Joy, has fled to what has become Communist China, ready to make a new life for herself—and find her real father. Of course, Pearl follows, determined to bring her home. Shanghai Girls has sold 200,000 copies in hardcover and 350,000 copies in paperback so far, so there will be a big audience for this book, but reportedly it can stand on its own.
I am so excited about this one! I can hardly wait! What are you waiting for this week?

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Few Random Thoughts

Today is my first official day of break, which began with a snowstorm and early out for my children. Luckily I spent the morning wrapping presents, because they were home for most of the afternoon. This evening we have done a puzzle, played Blokus and also played Sight Word Bingo. I finished off a book that I still need to review and started Julia Glass' latest one. My kitchen looks worse than ever after I made another batch of the caramel chocolate crackers I read about on Everyday Reading. .
I have a few errands left to run yet, and I am hoping the weather cooperates by Wednesday. This is also the first year that I will be able to attend my daughters' Christmas parties. I started compiling my list of "bests" since there are only 11 more days left this year, I am pretty sure that I know what books are going to make it into these lists. The number of books I have read - well, it is good. Like marvelously good. As of now I have read 277 books - and I don't count picture books, folks. I think this is my highest reading total for a year ever. I will try to knock off several more before the end of the year as well, so we'll see how things finish for me.
As of now I have not signed up for any challenges in 2011. Within the next week I have a few that I am already planning on joining. Since I have a bit more free time, I should be able to get my lists in order and get myself organized for them.
Tonight I am hoping for some reading time, cuddled up on the couch under a warm blanket. It seems that we have been getting our fair share of snow around here already.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Accomplice - I Was Sucked Right In

Eireann Corrigan's novel, Accomplice, had me hooked instantly. This is an interesting read. Two friends, Finn and Chloe, have decided to stage Chloe's disappearance as a way of getting some attention. Both girls are juniors, trying to find a way to make their names stick out and be accepted to college. The plan they concoct to do this involves Chloe disappearing, and Finn remaining behind to eventually rescue her friend.

In a nutshell, that is the basic plot of this book. But there is much more to this story. While the girls feel that they have thought of any possible scenario that might arise, things don't go as planned entirely. Chloe finds her time hiding in Finn's grandmother's basement to be extremely lonely. When Finn is able to check on her, the two must discuss their plan, and how Chloe will be found. As the end of Chloe's planned disappearance nears, tension mounts between the girls, creating a fracture in their friendship that is never fixed. Although Chloe and Finn were always the best of friends, after Chloe's disappearance, their lives which once seemed so intertwined, begin taking divergent paths. Although time has passed by book's end, it is Finn who is still dealing with the effects of their act.

This story has a bit of suspense, but most of all, I found the idea intriguing that these two high school girls were able to carry out this disappearance without being found out. Although both girls seemed to have everything going for them, the stress of their plan made it more than obvious that one of them was operating with only themselves in mind, making for an interesting character study. Accomplice is told in Finn's voice, and even though I didn't agree with her choices, I could relate to her.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable YA read.

When I was growing up, I remember my mother telling me that the friendships I formed in college would be ones that stayed with me for my lifetime. For a while those friendships felt so "new." These new friends had never been around for my childhood or high school years and didn't know my family at all. Of course over time this has all changed. These are the people that I can call any time and we can resume our friendship just like no time has elapsed. Their friendship no longer feels "new" - we have now known each other for almost twenty years!

Last night my husband and I got together with three other couples - two of them friends from our college days- to go out to eat and then see Tonic Sol-Fa, an acappella group, perform in Des Moines. Some of these people we haven't seen for a few years. But as soon as we begin talking it is just like no time has passed. We all look a little older, but aside from that, much about us remains the same. Now we trade stories about our children and our bedtime is a lot earlier than during our college days, and perhaps are a little kinder than we were back in college. Seeing these friends reminds me of how much I enjoy spending time with them and how little we actually make time to do this. Even though we didn't make it home until almost 1 AM (the two hour drive didn't help things), it was well worth it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove

I am trying to work through a seriously large library stack this month. I am thinking that even though the holidays are here and I have a few more errands to run and different things to get ready for, I also have two entire weeks off of school. While my husband hinted that the house will sure look clean with that much free time for me, I am not thinking along those same lines. Yes, I will try to pick up more and get a few little projects done, but I love getting to stay up later reading, or wake up with a whole day in front of me to read on and off in between laundry and cooking and cleaning. This week I have been very productive in my reading even though I still had school.
The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove, Susan Gregg Gilmore's sophomore novel, was a fabulous overnight read. This entire week I have managed to read fairly late at night, wake up early in the morning, and finish off the book I started just the evening before. I have had this one waiting for me for a while, and am happily returning it to the library today.
Bezellia Grove is named after the first Bezellia Louise, who is part of the story of how Nashville was formed generations ago. As the fifth generation Bezellia, she has a lot to live up to - being from such a prominent family in Nashville. Her mother is grooming her to coordinate charity events and have lunch at the country club. However, Bezellia's family, despite their outward appearance, is quite dysfunctional. Her mother drinks all day long and has had to spend time in a rehab facility from time to time. Her father, a doctor, spends long hours at the hospital where he works. Bezellia's younger sister Adelaide seems a little off and their mother is often trying to "fix" her youngest child. Despite her mother's dreams for her, Bezellia has different ideas about what she wants with her life.
This is a true Southern novel, and Bezellia's family has two African Americans in their employ: Nathaniel and Maizelle. These two help guide Bezellia on her road to womanhood and offer her stability and love. When Bezellia falls in love with Nathaniel's son, Samuel, she dreams of being together one day, not understanding the way the world reacts to interracial couples in the South in the 60s.
Bezellia Grove is an interesting young woman, a great character. I'm not sure why this one languished on my stack for a while - the cover didn't do much for me, I admit. Gilmore's second novel reminded me again of how much I enjoyed her first book, Looking For Salvation at the Dairy Queen. And, again, I will be looking forward to more of her work in the future.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Five

Friday Five is hosted by Kate at Kate's Library.
This week's picks:

1. IndieBound has announced their newest kid picks for winter. I love looking at these lists! This season there aren't as many YA choices I am interested in, but I still enjoy seeing what is getting the buzz.

2. This year I have done more winter baking than in any other year I can remember. I find this interesting because this is the year that I have also started a diet right during the holidays and I have successfully avoided eating all my tasty treats. This latest recipe I saw on Smitten Kitchen, recommended from Janssen at Everyday Reading. Don't the caramel chocolate crackers look awesome?

3. Looking for challenges to take part in in 2011? Visit Novel Challenges to see an assortment of challenges you can join. I'm still trying to decide which ones I want to enter.

4. Today (the last day of class) I had students enjoying the games at It was amazing! No one complained about what games they could pick. There was an assortment that all the students found engaging.

5. The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez was a fabulous read. I was so excited to get an email from her volunteering to skype with a group of students from my school who read this book. I will need to plan something for 2011 and a group of kids. I am also enjoying looking at her website.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Blog Hop

Friday's Book Blog Hop is hosted by Jen at Crazy for Books.
This week's question:

"What do you consider the most important in a story: the plot or the characters?"

I think this one is a tough one. While the plot is pretty important- at least in terms of keeping the story moving, which makes me want to keep reading, the characters are also high up there on my list of things that are essential to my enjoyment, too. I really enjoy books that have characters I can relate to, yet I can think of several books whose characters I didn't enjoy, but because the story was well written and interesting, I still managed to enjoy the book. I'm not sure I could say that I enjoyed a book if the plot was not very good.

As of Friday (tomorrow)at 3:45 pm I am officially on winter break. YAY! I have such a stack of books that I know what I will be doing!

The Red Umbrella

This week I am getting a bit behind in reviews. It is the last week of school before holiday break for me (my kids have to go 3 days next week), and while I have been doing a lot of reading, I also made the mistake of stopping at the library yesterday on my way home. I went there with the intent of returning a book that was due, and ended up with seven to take home. All good loot, but when am I going to find time for them?

Two days ago I devoured The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez. This has been on my radar for a while, and happens to be the second book about the Pedro Pan Project in Cuba that I have read this year. During 1961-1962 while Fidel Castro was staging his revolution, over 14,000 children were sent to the United States as their parents feared for their safety and the teachings that Castro had in mind for them. While many were reunited with their parents, some were not, or had to wait years to see them again. Gonzalez's story is based on her own mother, father, and mother-in-law's stories, having been a part of the mass of children sent out of Cuba. Lucia and her brother Fernando are enjoying their Cuban childhood, and despite the Revolucion, don't see many ways they are impacted by it yet. Their parents won't let Lucia or Fernando join any of the political groups that have formed for children, putting Lucia at odds with her best friend. After witnessing her father's boss being executed, Lucia becomes a bit more aware of what is going on in her country. Several other events occur as well, forcing her parents to find a way to send Fernando and Lucia to the United States. While longing for their family, the two are adopted out to a kind, middle aged farm family in Grand Island, Nebraska. There are many life style differences between Nebraska and Cuba, and the two children find it difficult at first, but realize the kindness of the people that have taken them in. As they wait for their parents, Lucia and Fernando experience snow, the Christmas traditions of their family, and attend school.

I am glad I read this one about Pedro Pan last because it was by far a more enjoyable book for me. As a lover of historical fiction for youth, I enjoyed all the details about life during the 1960s in the United States. Lucia was such a likeable character and so easy to relate to, and the Pedro Pan Project is also such an interesting event. The first book I read on this topic, 90 Days to Havana, was fast paced and contained a great deal of action and suspense, the Red Umbrella, tells the story of a normal family affected by Fidel Castro's rise to power. This book explained in a clear way more about how Castro came to power and about the way in which he started to take control of his country.

This one is going to the top of my stack for recommendations for friends, co-workers, and students.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week's pick:

The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs by Christina Hopkinson
Publication Date: April 25, 2011

Product Description from Amazon:

What's the thing you hate most about the one you love? Mary doesn't know whether it's the way he doesn't quite reach the laundry basket when he throws his dirty clothes at it (but doesn't ever walk over and pick them up and put them in), or the balled-up tissues he leaves on the bedside table when he has a cold, or the way he never quite empties the dishwasher, leaving the "difficult" items for her to put away. Is it that because she is "only working part-time" that she is responsible for all of the domestic tasks in the house? Or, is it simply that he puts used teabags in the sink? The mother of two young boys, Mary knows how to get them to behave the way she wants. Now she's designing the spousal equivalent of a star chart and every little thing her husband does wrong will go on it. Though Mary knows you're supposed to reward the good behavior rather than punish the bad, the rules for those in middle age are different than the rules for those not even in middle school...In THE PILE OF STUFF AT THE BOTTOM OF THE STAIRS, Hopkinson pens a hilarious and acutely-observed novel about marriage, motherhood, children, and work. Readers everywhere will find Mary's trials hilariously familiar as they cheer her on in her efforts to balance home, work, children, and a clean bottom stair!
I have heard this one is likened to Alison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It - a book I loved. So I can't wait to see this one.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Am Number Four

Anytime I read fantasy I know I am totally out of my comfort zone. It is a genre I rarely read. This year I have tried to do a better job of checking out some of these books that I wouldn't normally pick up. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (aka James Frey of A Million Little Pieces fame)is a science fiction/fantasy novel that I actually rather enjoyed. First of all, it takes place on Earth, which is a plus for me. And even though the main characters happen to be from a different planet - Lorien - they appear as humans. They do have some special powers, or Legacies, that develop as they age, which didn't really bother me at all, and still seemed to fit into the story. John Smith (one of many aliases Number Four has used) and his keeper, Henri, are used to a life of moving around. They fled their planet, Lorien, when the Mogadorians defeated their people and took over their planet. The Mogadorians own planet had run out of resources, and they attacked Lorien to get what they needed. John and Henri appear as a normal father/son unit wherever they go as they try to keep a step ahead of the Mogadorians who are not only after them, but are trying to take over the Earth. In fact, many Mogadorians now inhabit the Earth, and it seems it is only a matter of time until Number Four is discovered. Paradise, Ohio, is John Smith and Henri's newest home. Even though there are several close calls, John resists moving on this time. He likes Paradise, and for once John has made friends, and has even found a girl he is interested in.

I Am Number Four ends with fast paced action. I raced through the last one hundred pages. And while much of it was unbelievable (I can totally see this one being made into a movie), I was still quite entertained by it. This is the first of what is intended to be a series. And while science fiction is not my genre of choice, I would willingly read a second installment.

Check out the website for this book.