Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Diamond in the Desert

Kathryn Fitzmaurice's first book The Year the Swallows Came Early was one of my favorites a few years ago. I was excited to see the synopsis for A Diamond in the Desert a few weeks ago, and was even more excited to see that Fitzmaurice was the author.

This novel is set during World War II when Tetsu and his family are relocated to an internment camp at the Gila River. Although this book is about baseball, there is also a lot more this story encompasses. How Tetsu and his family deal with their relocation is impressive - with quiet dignity they face a new life, waiting for Tetsu's father to be released to join them.

Fitzmaurice's novel is based on the real life baseball game between the Japanese Americans relocated to the Gila River camp and the Arizona state champions, a match-up that the Japanese Americans won.

Although life for Tetsu has changed dramatically with their relocation, I am impressed with his maturity as he urges his mother not to buy him new shoes and marks his birthdays with no gifts. As the book nears its end, I am happy that Tetsu and his family will be moving on with their lives, no longer restricted to staying in the camp. However, the bond he has formed with his fellow teammates makes it difficult to see them moving on alone, without the camaraderie they now have.

I loved reading about Fitzmaurice's research for this book. Her story touches on a little known event in history - another aspect of internment camp life and how baseball helped pass the time and shape the lives of a group of young men.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Another Piece of My Heart

A few days ago I was talking with a friend about books we had read in our childhoods. Both of us recalled reading Danielle Steel books in high school, and neither of us read them now. In fact, I can't imagine wanting to read a Danielle Steel book anymore. So, yesterday while I was reading Jane Green's new book, Another Piece of My Heart, I was contemplating whether these books are different from Steel's or not. In some ways they seem to fit the Danielle Steel mode. They are fairly repetitive. There is a happy ending. The characters always seem to be beautiful and their lives picture perfect (except for the drama they are going through). Yet, for some reason, I still enjoy a Jane Green book, and rank it higher on the list of "quality reading" (although not by much) than Danielle Steel's books. Am I being too harsh to Danielle Steel? If anyone has read both authors what comparison would you make?

Another Piece of My Heart is a fast read, engaging, entertaining, and very much Jane Green's usual fare. Emily is seventeen and giving her stepmother a lot of trouble. Andi has looked forward to marrying Ethan and being a mother to both Emily and Sophia but Emily's attitude and ability to always be the center of attention is wearing Andi out. She is also desperate to have her own baby and has dreamed of being a mother.

Andi narrates the beginning of this book, and I'm not sure whether it was the fact that I was used to her voice, or the fact that I could relate best to her because I am also a mom, but Andi was for me the easiest character to relate to. Emily narrates a portion of this book, but I had a hard time understanding her viewpoint, and her negative comments about Andi did not help me to develop a better understanding of her or feel compassion for her. Andi's assessment of Emily seemed very much spot on.

Green is always good at giving readers a good story, and Another Piece of My Heart is a good addition to her collection of work.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

So Pretty It Hurts

Bailey Weggins is a favorite character of mine. I have read every book that Kate White has written and still look forward to each installment. This mystery series is fast paced and fun with enough suspense thrown in to satisfy me. (I never can figure out who committed the crime. Sad, I know).

This latest book is another fast read. This time Bailey is dealing with commitment issues with her boyfriend, Beau. (Unfortunately it has been a while since my last Bailey Wiggins book and I just could not remember enough about their relationship or her previous boyfriend, Chris). Of course, Bailey finds herself in the middle of a murder. On a weekend away with a girlfriend, a model also staying at the same place turns up dead. Although it appears that she died from complications of her eating disorders, Bailey isn't so sure. There are enough questions that she feels like doing some investigating on her own. And, when she is the target of someone trying to sabotage her career at Buzz and she is removed from the case, Bailey is sure there is a cover-up going on.

I know that by book's end Bailey will have solved the crime and closure will occur. But I have a lot of fun reading these books. And I am always furiously turning pages to try and get to the end and have the crime solved.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week's pick: The Good Dream by Donna Vanliere
Due out July 3, 2012

Synopsis taken from Amazon:
From The New York Times bestselling author comes a poignant, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting novel about an unlikely path to motherhood, and of two lost souls healing each other. 1950 Tennessee, a time and place that straddles the past and present. Ivorie Walker is considered an old maid by the town (though she’s only in her early thirties) and she takes that label with good humor and a grain of salt. Ever since her parents passed away, she has hidden her loneliness behind a fierce independence and a claim of not needing anyone. But her mother’s death hit her harder than anyone suspects and Ivorie wonders if she will be alone forever.

When she realizes that someone has been stealing vegetables from her garden—a feral, dirty-faced boy who disappears into the hills—something about him haunts Ivorie. She can’t imagine what would make him desperate enough to steal and eat from her garden. But what she truly can’t imagine is what the boy faces, each day and night, in the filthy lean-to hut miles up in the hills. Who is he? How did he come to live in the hills? Where did he come from? And, more importantly, can she save him? As Ivorie steps out of her comfort zone to uncover the answers, she unleashes a firestorm in the town—a community that would rather let secrets stay secret.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Color of Rain

Sometimes I don't quite know why I keep selecting sad, depressing books. The Color of Rain by Michael and Gina Spehn is one I wasn't even sure I could start when I read the inside flap. The first line states that two childhood friends die of cancer within weeks of each other. Because of my own experience with cancer, I just was not sure I wanted to read a book like this, and initially I thought the two friends were children that had died. I was somewhat relieved to find out that the two people who died were adults, married with children. (Although why that is comforting, I am not sure).

This is a book about Gina Kell and her husband Matthew and his battle with cancer. And it is a book about Michael Spehn and his wife Cathy's battle with an aggressive brain tumor. It is also a book about the two remaining spouses, Gina and Michael, and there relationship. Initially it began as a friendship as they dealt with their grief and being a single parent. Eventually they fall in love and marry. This is also a book about their faith and the faith of their first spouses.

The Color of Rain was uplifting and not the sad story I anticipated. Yes, there were very sad parts. Reading about Matt and Cathy's battles with cancer, their having to say goodbye to their children was devastating to read about. But their faith in God's plan never wavered.

Michael and Gina have gone on to honor the memory of their spouses, creating a foundation to support other children who lose a parent to cancer.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Expats

Chris Pavone's novel The Expats was full of suspense and intrigue. As I read I couldn't help but picture Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies, one of my favorite movies. There was crossing and double crossing and triple crossing, so much that it nearly made my head spin.

Kate and her family are moving to Luxembourg for her husband, Dexter's job. Dexter's job is a bit of a hard thing to pin down. He does something with computers and making sure people can't hack into them. Kate's job is also a bit hard to pin down. Although readers know that Kate has been with the CIA until moving to Luxembourg, Dexter is unaware of his wife's profession. The move to Luxembourg provides her with a reason to leave her job behind, but when she meets another expat couple, Julia and Bill, Kate's spying ways kick into high gear as she questions their motives for being in the country. Are they after her? Or perhaps Dexter? Something about Dexter's new job doesn't sit well with Kate, and she finds herself investigating her husband for the first time ever.

There are a lot of clues and a lot of trails to follow in Expats, but I found myself racing to the end, wanting to know how things work out for this family abroad.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Salon

Another beautiful Sunday here! Seems that is becoming the norm for our weekends, but I'm not complaining. I had a nice run outside after church, although I am not enjoying the hills in our neighborhood. Then I decided to really outdo myself and did the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred DVD. I can already feel it, so tomorrow could be even more fun.

Big Sister does not have anything to wear anymore. She has finally grown just enough to need the next size up. Her church outfit was iffy at best, so this afternoon we made a trip to Old Navy. I ended up witha few things too, as did Middle Sister and Little Sister, so the total bill was more than I liked. But, I do have a really cute new skirt and a new white denim jacket that I think is a staple piece I can wear for years.

The rest of the weekend has consisted of:

* Watching I Don't Know How She Does It - an enjoyable little chick flick, although I loved the book more.

* Working at the library yesterday

*Trying to decide how to spend a very large Amazon gift card. Ideas, anyone?

*Taking part in the elementary school Family Fun Night where my children attend.

*Going through tub after tub of spring/summer clothes and trying to pack away winter clothes

*A little bit of reading - The Expats by Chris Pavone- review to come.*Big Sister baked a cake yesterday for her grandpa's birthday, but we were so engrossed in our movie that we never heard the timer go off,and 90 minutes later had a very very well done cake/brick to show for her effort.

I have something on the calendar for every single night this week. Sigh. Time is flying by!

What about you? What's up for your week?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Carry The One

Carol Anshaw's Carry The One has been receiving a lot of buzz lately. Beginning in the early 80's at the wedding of Carmen and Matthew, a group of friends leaves the wedding that night and are involved in a tragedy that follows them for the rest of their lives. A young girl was crossing the road at the exact moment they were driving on this very same road, ending the girl's life and altering theirs.

The rest of this book is devoted to following three siblings affected by the accident. Carmen, the bride and her husband Matthew plod along in their marriage, having a child together. Nick, her brother, who had been in the car at the time of the accident, struggles with a life of addiction. Their sister, Alice, is involved with Matthew's sister, Maude, a woman who seems to have a hypnotic hold on Alice.

Spanning decades, I was reminded of Jean Thompson's 2011 novel, The Year We Left Home, another book about a Midwest family's joys and struggles. Although the novel begins with the death of the young girl, the accident is really just a catalyst for the story- which to me seems to be about Carmen, Nick and Alice more than the accident.

Carry the One should be a popular choice for book clubs and was a great women's fiction read.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Chance In the World

Steve Pemberton's memoir, A Chance in the World, deals with the topic of his tragic childhood in foster care. But, this is not merely a book about the problems with the foster care system (although there are some), but rather Pemberton's search for his biological family and the desire to learn what happened to his parents that led him to be removed from their care when he was very young.

Pemberton recalls what little he can from the time he is removed from his biological home. He then endures a few foster care placements. One with a family who left him home alone for a long period of time, and a final placement with the Robison family where he suffered physical and emotional abuse. Although Steve was still in the foster care system, he was not visited by a social worker for several years and the case workers assigned to him seem oblivious to his torment. Despite the many things stacked against him, Pemberton continued to shine in school. He recalls a few people in his childhood who took the time to tell him they were rooting for him, giving him some hope for his future.

Eventually Pemberton manages to attend college, experiencing freedom for the first time ever. He dates a few women and marries and is now a father - an amazing feat considering the dysfunction he witnessed. However, something was still missing. Pemberton decides to find out who he really is - first finding out the identity of his father and meeting his father's family. He then sets about locating his mother and her family. In the process he discovers several siblings he meets.

Pemberton has done a wonderful job in writing this memoir. Although I found the first part difficult to read because of what Pemberton was forced to endure, I still loved this book. Steve Pemberton's success is a miracle - a true testament to his character. This is certainly not "another foster care book." This is a memoir of a boy and his search for his family.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Mixed Up Berry Blue Summer

Jennifer Gennari's middle grade novel My Mixed Up Berry Blue Summer was one of my recent Amazon Vine picks. The Vine program has introduced me to many books I may not have otherwise learned about, and this latest tween novel is just one of those great books that I am so glad to have discovered.

I will admit to only skimming the blurb on this book before I requested it and wasn't sure of what this book was about. Had I read the entire blurb I may not have selected it, yet once I started reading I realized what an important topic Genarri covers and how much a book like this is needed at the middle grade level.

June and her mother live in Vermont where her mom runs a shop that specializes in homemade pies and cookies. Summer looks to be full of pie baking as June looks to enter her first pie baking contest, until June begins to see signs posted around town protesting Vermont's civil union laws. June knows that people in town know about her mother and her mom's girlfriend. She has heard them talking before. While June is having her own tough time accepting that her mom has found someone she wants to spend her life with, ending the arrangment of it always being June who received her mom's undivided attention, the focus on her mom's lifestyle choice and other's reaction to it creates additional confusion.

Genarri handles this subject so sensitively, showing how June is affected by all of this, and shares her struggles to understand why others are so cruel. While June would like nothing more than to get out of the spotlight, others challenge her to stand up for herself and what she knows is right.

Whether or not you agree with civil unions, this is a wonderfully well written book that tackles a timely subject. I have not read another middle grade book in the perspective of a child with same sex parents. Because I think there are great discussion points in this book, I plan on reading it aloud to my oldest daughter.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Lost Wife

I remember a time not that long ago when I had totally no interest in reading books about the Holocaust. And now, I just can't get enough of books set in this time period. I will admit that it is hard to read about this topic, and reading about the atrocities the Nazis visited on people horrifies me. But, the amazing stories of survival and the way so many people worked together is hopeful.

I raced through Alyson Richman's novel The Lost Wife last night. Based on a true story about a husband and wife who were separated for sixty years during World War II, this is a love story of Josef and Lenka, a young couple much like their real life counterparts who are also separated during the war.

Richman deftly switches between Josef and Lenka as narrators, and we discover the history of their lives. From their childhoods in Prague to their courtship and rushed nuptuals. This couple tragically was separated during World War II. Lenka went to a concentration camp and Josef and his family had secured passage on a ship taking them to England. However, although both survive the war and look for one another, they never see each other again. Until the night their grandchildren marry.

There are some parts of this story that seem a bit trite, yet knowing this is based on a true story makes me believe that sometimes stories really do have happy endings. The history of these two young adults at a time of great fear in Prague is amazing to read about. Although I feel like I have read a large number of books set in concentration camps, this is the first I have read detailing the way that artwork was created and hidden about the horrors of the concentration camps.
The Lost Wife is another great read about a terrible event in history.

Waiting on Wednesday

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

This week's pick: What Women Want by Fanny Blake

Due out June 19, 2012

Synopsis taken from Amazon:

A heartwarming debut brimming with humor, richly drawn characters and a tender exploration of female friendship
Bea, Kate and Ellen have always known that they can depend on each other no matter what. But when Ellen, a widow who has devoted herself to her children and her art gallery for the last ten years, falls head over heels in love with Oliver, the long-term bonds of these three friends is put to the test. Bea and Kate are driven away from their friend and from each other as they react differently to this unfamiliar stranger in their midst. What Women Want is a novel about love and life and the challenges of female friendship that face women as they try to decide what they want—and come to realize what they really need.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Little Bit of YA

I'm not sure what I was thinking on a recent library trip. The number of books I came back with had no real hope of all getting read. As I looked online to see what is due tomorrow, I am saddened to see that three or four will go back unread - only to be placed on hold again by me.I did get the chance to read two quick, fun YA novels over the weekend.

Notes from An Accidental Band Geek by Erin Dionne is a nice, YA read focusing on Elsie, who is forced to sign up for marching band in order to have a "group ensemble" background to put on her resume for an application to a much more prestigious musical program. Although she is skeptical of this group at first, Elsie ends up enjoying her time in the marching band. Her relationship with her father, a professional musician, also endures a great deal as she tries to determine how much involvement she wants from her father and how much she wants to have this accomplishment be her own. As a marching band geek myself, it was fun to remember some of the good times from my own marching band days. And while Elsie's experience seems much more intense than my own, the marching band focus is sure to resonate with many readers.
Girls Don't Fly by Kristen Chandler was another great YA read. Myra is from a big family and her role is often mothering her younger siblings. There is not much time for Myra to do anything she wants. When her boyfriend, Erik, breaks up with her Myra's outlook seems even more bleak. Until she hears of a scholarship opportunity to study in the Galapagos Islands. Although it is expensive, Myra goes about trying to earn money for this trip and ends up being pitted against her ex-boyfriend to win a scholarship. Myra learns a lot about herself and her family, who for once come through for her. There are a few laughs in this one, and I was cheering Myra on from the first page.

I love realistic YA fiction and these two books certainly satisified my need for an entertaining read.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Immortal Bird

I remember reading somewhere that Immortal Bird was a father's memoir about his son's health issues and I thought I read that it was also about him overcoming them. Not to be a spoiler, but that is only partially correct. It is a father's memoir about his son and his son's health issues and the innefectiveness/incompetence of the medical field. But it is not about his son overcoming these issues. I am lucky I read enough of the flap and then breezed ahead to the end of the book and read the author's notes. It helped prepare me for the heartbreak ahead.

Maybe I had a stronger reaction than most because I could very much identify with Doron and the hand he was dealt - having a child with a life threatening illness. I could identify with almost everything Weber said. Each time Damon has an ache or pain, Weber worries and puzzles over it. (Been there, done that. Still do that). Weber spent hour upon hour researching the medical treatments recommended for his son, searching out specialists, travelling for second, third, fourth opinions. I, too, have spent many hours talking to other parents in the same situation as mine, finding support on the internet along with additional resources. And while we were happy with the care our daughter received at the hospital from her doctors, I can at the same time relate to Weber's frustration and anger as he feels his son slipping away while doctors take time off and forget to return his calls.

While I very much understood Weber's side of the story, this book is also a tribute to Damon, a boy who just wants to be normal. A budding actor, a teenager who enjoys spending time with friends. A boy who created his own blog (parts are included at the beginning of various chapters). Weber includes not just his son's health crisis and the parts of their life that centered around that, but also the other bits and pieces, a variety of anecdotes.

Weber is a writer, so it should be no surprise that in addition to this being an interesting memoir, it is also well written. Several years ago, I read another father/son memoir written by a writer - Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. Immortal Bird reminded me very much of this memoir, partially because of the father/son connection, but also because of the superb writing and my inability to put these books down.

Immortal Bird is profoundly sad, yet at the same time it is a beautiful tribute to one boy and the love of his father.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring Break Recap

Hard to believe that in just 48 hours I will be back at school. Sigh. The weather here has been record-setting - absolutely beautiful and warm. It feels like summer, which makes the idea that we have a lot of school left this year unbelievable.

I didn't have any exciting plans for my week off and my girls still had school the whole week, but this is my brief recap of what I managed to do to fill my time:
Monday- Shopping for a bit. I managed to get a new pair of Jambu sandals and a new pair of jeans. I also visited the library. Ran on the treadmill

Tuesday- Ran on the treadmill. Got the oil changed in my van. Made a nice meal of manicotti with watermelon and zucchini

Wednesday-Dental appointment for Middle Sister, followed by a very brief stop at the mall. Ran outside for the first time this spring.

Thursday-Family trip to Dairy Queen, a morning massage and a trip to Sam's Club

Friday- went with my girls and a co-worker/friend and her daughters to the Mall of America. Lunch at Rainforest Cafe. Supper at the A&W Drive-In in Spring Valley, Minnesota. The girls are posing with the "little big man" as I called him when growing up. This was a usual stop for my family during car trips to Minnesota. My own girls have never been there, but I enjoyed this nostalgic stop.

What I didn't get done?

Watching The Help which is one of my favorite books. I just couldn't justify sitting inside when it is 80 degrees outside.

Catching up on Downton Abbey. I did start Season 2, but am no further than the first episode.

Cleaning. I could have done so much more.

School work. It is now calling my name.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mister Death's Blue Eyed Girls

Mary Downing Hahn's books have always fallen into two categories for me - her suspenseful, creepy stories such as Closed forthe Season, and her historical fiction books like Stepping Through the Cracks. Mister Death's Blue Eyed Girls is a combination of both of these types of books.

Set in 1955, Hahn fictionalizes a storythat occurred in Hahn's own teen years- the murder of two acquaintances in a nearby park. No one was ever convicted of the crime and Hahn recalls this as a pivotal event in her teen years, a time when she was already examining her religious beliefs.

Nora, the main narrator, tells of hanging out with friends, experimenting with cigarettes and beer, and partying with friends the night before the last day of school. She and Ellie are running late the next morning, and never bump into their friends Cheryl and Bobbi Jo, who it is later discovered are shot on their way to school in the park.

While the novel centers around who may have committed the crime, most people in town are certain that Buddy Novak, Cheryl's ex-boyfriend, is the murderer. Nora isn't quite as certain of Buddy's guilt. There are several reasons why she is sure Buddy is not the killer, and Hahn herself recalls from her own memories on which this story is set that a young man was a suspect, viewed by all as guilty, but never charged. Because of this, Hahn does a good job of exploring the way such a reputation would impact Buddy's life for many years.

I especially enjoyed Hahn's notes at the end explaining her own connection to this story. The 50s references within this book -from music to clothing to cars made me feel like I was truly back in time. Mister Death's Blue Eyed Girls does contain suspense, yet it is more of a coming of age book as Nora's beliefs are explored and she deals with loneliness and grief. While I loved this book, it is not one I will purchase for my elementary students, as the content is more suitable for young adult readers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

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

This week's pick: Summer Breeze by Nancy Thayer

Due out June 26, 2012

Synopsis taken from Amazon:

New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer never fails to imbue her novels with warmth and wisdom. In Summer Breeze, the author of Beachcombers and Heat Wave tells the wonderfully moving story of three women who forge a unique bond one sun-drenched summer on New England’s Dragonfly Lake. Morgan O’Keefe feels trapped in a gilded cage. True, the thirty-year-old mother agreed to put her science career on hold to raise her young son while her husband pursued his high-powered job. But though Morgan loves many things about staying home with her child, she misses the thrill of working with her colleagues in the lab. She’s restless and in dire need of a change. Fed up with New York City’s hectic pace, Natalie Reynolds takes up her aunt’s offer to move to the Berkshires and house-sit her fabulous lakeside house for a year. Passionate about applying brush to canvas, Natalie is poised to become the artist she has forever longed to be. But life on Dragonfly Lake is never without surprises, and for a novice swimmer like Natalie, the most welcome surprise proves to be the arms of a handsome neighbor pulling her up from the water for a gulp of air. When her mother breaks her leg, Bella Barnaby quits her job in Austin and returns home to help out her large, boisterous family. Among her new duties: manning the counter at the family business, Barnaby’s Barn, an outdated shop sorely in need of a makeover. While attractive architect Aaron has designs on her, Bella harbors long held secret dreams of her own. Summer on Dragonfly Lake is ripe for romance, temptation, and self-discovery as the lives of these three women unexpectedly intertwine. Summer Breeze illustrates how the best of friends can offer comfort, infuriate, or even—sometimes—open one’s eyes to the astonishing possibilities of life lived in a different way. This captivating novel displays a prestigiously gifted writer at the height of her storytelling powers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Once Upon a Secret

Mimi Alford had a secret that she kept for decades. In 2003, her secret was found out, and the world knew that Alford had been just nineteen when she had an eighteen month affair with President John F. Kennedy.

Now, in Once Upon a Secret, Alford shares what she remembers about that time in her life. As someone who loves reading about the presidents and especially enjoys the Kennedys, Alford's book was one I knew I would enjoy. Now, after I have finished I am in awe by several things: first, that the President would have found a naive nineteen year old someone he was attracted to and carry on a relationship with. I am amazed that this was kept a secret -from Mrs. Kennedy, from Mimi's family, from her friends. And I am amazed that Mimi didn't feel as though she was doing anything wrong. Despite Alford doing a good job of letting readers identify with her- showing how her youth and inexperience allowed for some poor decision making as well as providing background about her upbringing, I am still totally amazed.

While I don't condone her decisions, I could easily identify with Alford's inability to speak up to the President. She had not been taught to be assertive and the President's status alone left her at a huge disadvantage. So much of what occurred later in her life directly related to her relationship with JFK.

Alford has provided a very unique glimpse into life inside the Kennedy administration. Her writing style instantly entertained me; this is the second book I have read over spring break in one sitting.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

Although I was skeptical about reading a book narrated by a gorilla, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is a new favorite of mine. I began this book right after my girls left for school this morning, and didn't make it off the couch until I finished it up. (I am on spring break, and my children, who attend school in a different district are not, thus giving me hours of time by myself to read - and perhaps clean).

Ivan is a gorilla living alone without other gorillas in a small zoo at a local Washington Mall. He has one friend - an elephant named Stella. The two of them are supposed to attract customers and make money, yet business isn't going well. As a last ditch effort to revive the mall, a baby elephant, Ruby, is purchased.

These three animals interact with each other, and also with Julia, the custodian's young daughter. Julia draws pictures and sits outside the animals' cage while her father works at night. It is she who realizes that Stella is sick, and she that finally understands what Ivan is trying to communicate in his paintings.

While I went into this book a bit doubtfully, sure that I would not fall in love with it, there were two things that totally changed my mind. The first is the way in which this story is told - narrated by Ivan. I loved Ivan's voice, and while Applegate can only guess at what Ivan is thinking, I am betting she has come pretty close to what the real Ivan thought. Yes, there was a "real" Ivan. Which is the second thing that totally sold me on this story. Applegate has based this book on a gorilla who really did live in a small Washington mall for three decades without seeing another gorilla. In fact, he was featured in National Geographic. I absolutely love when authors can take real events and base stories on them.

The One and Only Ivan is a must purchase for my school library. I am also anxious to read this aloud to my own girls, sure that they will fall in love with this book, too.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The World We Found

Thrity Umirgar's The World We Found is my first experience with this marvelous author. I have read several books now centering around Indian characters, and I love the fact that Umrigar's book tells the story of four college friends now reuniting years later.

While three of the women have remained in India, their friend Armaiti has moved to America, married, raised a daughter, and divorced. Now, after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, she wants to reunite with her best friends from college before she dies. While miles separate them, the fourth friend in their group, Nishta, adds another complication to the idea of seeing each other again. Nishta has been disowned by her family for marrying Iqbal, a Muslim. Laila and Kavita set out to try and locate their friend- who they have not seen for twenty-five years. Their search leads them to a poor section of the city and eventually to their friend Nishta, who has become a Muslim and now goes by the name Zoha. It seem the young woman they once knew has changed dramatically.

Meanwhile, in America, Armaiti struggles with the progression of her disease, anxious to see her friends once more. Although Laila and Kavita share a portion of their story, much of this book is devoted to Nishta and her choices about becoming a Muslim and her desire to reclaim her life.

I smiled to myself as I read, because these characters who seem to be the epitome of Indian life would suddenly sound so American- such as Laila's praise for her husband "You're a good man, Charlie Brown," as he offered to help her with her trip to America. Umrigar is able to give a glimpse of what life was like for these university students in the 1970s, as well as the different political viewpoints and changes that have led them to their current place in life.

After having read Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a look at the poverty in India, Umrigar's novel explores a life of wealth and privilege in this complex country.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


To state it simply - this book was a wonder. R. J. Palacio's novel is a great read, but will also be a great tool for discussion to teachers and parents who read this with their children.

August Pullman is ten years old and about to attend school for the first time. He has never been able to do this because of the many surgeries and recovery time needed for his facial abnormalities he was born with. Aside from his outer appearance, Auggie is smart, funny, and into things other boys his age enjoy like XBox and Star Wars. If people can see beyond what his outside looks like, they will know what a great boy he is.

Of course school presents its challenges and Auggie is well aware of what people think of him and the snide comments they make behind his back, yet he is in for a surprise when his class goes away for a 3 day camping trip.

While it felt like this was Auggie's story, other characters narrate this book, too. Via, Auggie's older sister is one narrator. Growing up with Auggie, she has been affected by Auggie's appearance herself. Now starting high school she doesn't want to be known as the girl with the freak brother. Via's boyrfiend narrates a small portion as does her former best friend. They, too provide a lot of insight into Via's attitude and how other teen agers might respond to Auggie.Now attending school, Auggie has made a few friends: Summer and Jack. Their narration gives more background on why they chose to get to know Auggie.

This book has been getting some attention for a while. I have never read a book quite like this aimed at the upper elementary/middle grade age group and it provides a wonderful opportunity for readers to really think about how kids treat each other based on their appearance. While Auggie's problems were extreme, there are many ways kids who are different are excluded or made fun of. By sharing Auggie's point of view and feelings readers will easily see how comments affect him and be saddened for him.

Again, Wonder is an amazing book - a wonder!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Not In the Mood

It has been noted that I have been absent from blogging these past few days. I can assure you I will be back. Over the past five years this is the biggest reading slump I have encountered, much of it due to my job situation. Someday I will be able to fill everyone in on what is going on, but it has been disheartening as well as consuming my thoughts lately.

I am reading, but slowly. I still have two books to review that have been done for a while. I have also spent several sleepless nights in a row pondering things which has caused me to skip my morning workout routine. I hate when that happens since it means I have missed the quiet time of my day when I can read and catch up on email and get ready for the day ahead.

Next week is spring break - much needed! The weather here looks to be lovely and I am planning on running outside and doing some spring cleaning. I have a trip to The Mall of America planned with my daughters and a co-worker and her girls. The American Girl store and Rainforest Cafe are a few highlights my children are anxious for. Me? I am looking forward to IKEA.
Hopefully I can get some reading done. I have so many great looking books on my TBR stack and I am sad that I can't focus enough to really enjoy them.

So that's what's up with me. As soon as I can share more, I will. Any moment I feel like spending some time reading and blogging, that's what I'll do. Otherwise, I will be running outside, cleaning my house, and watching season two of Downton Abbey.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

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

This week's pick: Gone Missing by Linda Castillo

Due out June 19, 2012

Synopsis taken from Amazon:

Rumspringa is the time when Amish teens are allowed to experience life without rules, but everything changes when a child goes missing
In the newest chilling thriller from New York Times bestselling author Linda Castillo, Chief of police Kate Burkholder is called upon to assist when an Amish teenager disapears without a trace.
A missing child is a nightmare to all parents, and never more so than in the Amish community, where family ties are strong. So when a body turns up and another young girl goes missing, fear spreads through the community like a contagion. Kate and state agent, John Tomasetti, delve into the lives of the missing teens and discover links to cold cases that may go back years. But will Kate piece together all the parts of this sinsiter puzzle before it's too late? Or will she find herself locked in a fight to the death with a merciless killer.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The New Kids

The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens by Brooke Hauser is a great non-fiction read - a look at a high school in New York where its entire population is made up of immigrants.

My elementary school now boasts 27% of its students are English Language Learners. While that is a far cry from the school featured in this book, I could see some of my students in the ones Hauser featured. Although many of my students have lived in the United States for a while, each year we enroll some that are new to America, without any English at all.

The New Kids is a look at students from various walks of life - all who end up at the same high school. They have come to America for various reasons, yet all have a few things in common: they are looking for a way to make a better life, and they are all struggling to do this.

Jessica, one of the students, finally reunites with her father, only to find he has a new wife (her mother is still waiting to come to America) and two young children. Her father chooses his new family over his daughter, so she rents a room of her own elsewhere and manages to work to support herself while going to school. Another girl, a Muslim, marries in an arranged marriage, hoping her husband allows her to finish school. Mohamed, from Sierra Leone, has arrived in New York mysteriously after coming to America to spend just a short time in this country through a church sponsored program. These are just a few of the stories Hauser captures in the pages of this amazing look at immigrant education in America.

The New Kids is not a dry, boring look at immigrant education, but reads like a story sharing the personal accounts of students and teachers to show how a system like this works.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Weekend Cooking

For the last several weeks I have not had much time to cook. Today, even though I had to work, I came home and quickly made a batch of Cheeseburger Soup. It is chilly and windy out, so this is the perfect cold weather food.

Last night my mom had one of her brothers and his wife over for supper. In addition to Janssen's recipe for Crockpot Chicken Chili that I passed on to my mom, she made a great salad. I have thrown together the basics of it, with the idea that I will mix up the dressing and just add some to the lettuce/cauliflower base as needed since adding dressing will make it all soupy and the lettuce soft and mushy.
Here's the recipe:

1 head lettuce, chopped
1 head cauliflower, chopped

1 sliced red onion

2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

2 c. seasoned croutons (adding later)

2 c. cashews (I'm adding these later, too)


1 c. Miracle Whip

1/2 c. sugar

1/4 c Paremsan cheese

fresh ground pepper

Combine dressing. Add croutons, nuts and dressing just before serving.

I'm looking forward to having this for supper during the school week. I think it sounds just about perfect and would be a great side for a piece of fish, chicken or even steak.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Happy Read Across America Day!

Once again Dr. Seuss' birthday (and Read Across America Day) has fallen on a day that our school has conferences. However, I still had the opportunity to read to some students. A former teacher moved from my school back to his native Los Angeles. We have been Facebook friends for a while and I was excited when he asked me to read aloud to his class via Skype in honor of Read Across America. We practiced yesterday just to make sure we had things working and then today I met his class and read aloud to them Everything But the Horse by Holly Hobbie. I know, I know...I didn't read them a Dr. Seuss book, but after talking he mentioned that he had read them a lot of Seuss already, so I opted for a different favorite read aloud. It was so fun to have this way of connecting across the miles and his class was so cute and friendly! I admit to feeling a bit dorky as teachers milled about the library listening to me read to a virtual audience, but I had a great time doing this and hope to try it again with a class of my own present.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Blast From the Past

March of 2002 was not a particularly hefty reading month, but what I did read was good. I can't believe it's been a decade since I read and loved the Nanny Diaries. The Girls of Canby Hall series was my favorite series in my tween years. I've re-read this series many times, and every time it takes me right back to my childhood. I can't wait to introduce my own children to Dana, Faith and Shelly. This was also my first encounter with Gennifer Choldenko. Who knew that I would so enjoy her Al Capone series and get to meet her myself.

February Recap

February whizzed right by despite the extra day this year, yet my reading was the slowest I've had in a long time. I blame job stress for this a great deal. Unfortunately I still can not really share more about it, but I will say there have been several sleepless nights and probably more to come.

I only managed a pitiful twelve books this month:

1. A Train In Winter by Caroline Moorehead

2. The Obamas by Jodi Kantor

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

4. The Fault In Our Stars by John Gree

5. Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

6. The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas

7. Love's Long Journey by Janette Oke

8. Home Front by Kristin Hannah

9. The Bell Bandit by Jacqueline Davies

10. Past Perfect by Leila Sales

11. The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani

12. Looking for Me by Betsy Rosenthal

3 of these books are non-fiction, 9 are fiction

5 of these books were my own 7 were library

6 books were YA or middle grade, 6 were adult

1 was written by a male, 11 by females

Upon looking over my list, I can at least be happy that the books I did read were all really good - not a dud in the bunch. I hope I can get through more books in March, but also hope I can continue to read quality books like I did the past month.

Think Spring!