Saturday, June 29, 2013

Almost Home

Ok, first off:  no sarcastic comments about how long it's been since I last blogged.  I probably don't need to worry though because who knows if anyone even checks this blog. But no worries! I like reading and I like writing about what I read, even if there's no one to read it.  :)

Joan Bauer is one of my most favoritist authors. Ever. I think she's incredible. This post might turn into an author spotlight. I admittedly haven't read all of her books, but I've read a good number of them. She specializes in coming-of-age stories. I am a sucker for a well-written (notice the emphasis there) coming-of-age story.

I just finished her most recent novel: Almost Home. It's a story about 12-year-old Sugar Mae Cole. Her gambling-addicted father, whom she calls Mr. Leeland (that's his first name), has been in and out of her life for as long as she can remember. Her mother, Reba, is doing the best she can while she waits for Mr. Leeland to come back and keep all the promises that he keeps breaking. After losing their home, Reba suffers from a nervous breakdown and is put in the hospital. This lands Sugar into foster care, but luckily, she is put in a great situation where she is surrounded by people who care about her and realize what she has to offer. Most importantly, they help Sugar come to realize what she has to offer. And through it all, she gets to keep her puppy, Shush, who endured an abusive home before finding Sugar.

What I love about Joan Bauer's writing is the strong voice she gives to each of her characters. I felt like I had known Sugar for years after reading the first five pages of the book. Bauer's characters really come alive and I find myself thinking about them long after I finished the book. She also puts a big focus on families and what they can do to help each other heal and overcome whatever they are facing. She also has a skillful way of exploring tough topics that can help broaden a reader's view of the world. In Almost Home, it's homelessness. Other books she has written have covered terminal illness, alcoholism, and divorce.

Here's a link to Joan Bauer's website with her own brief description of her books. I have read Close to Home, Stand Tall, Hope Was Here (Newbery Honor), Sticks, Thwonk, and Squashed. Thownk is the most fluffy of her books that I've read (it's been a while since I've read it). Every time I read Hope Was Here or Squashed (yes, they are that good that I have read them multiple times), I always think I like that one the best. And now Almost Home has entered into that race and made it a three-way tie.  

I can't wait for Joan Bauer to write another book.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Good Reads & Good Eats

As much as I love children’s and YA lit, I love finding a good adult novel to read.  Mainly because they’re longer and it gives me more time to enjoy them :)  But we all know how hard it can be to find a worthwhile adult novel.  You know, one that doesn’t say the f-word over and over or have people ripping each other's clothes off (though I had to read plenty of YA novels like that for school).  Here are some books I’ve read recently. Two adult books and one children’s book. 

The Help
By Kathryn Stockett

If you haven’t heard of this book, where have you been?  If you’ve heard of this book and haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?  If you’ve read this book and didn’t like it, you’re weird.  Hahahaha, just kidding – you’re entitled to your opinion.  I, for one (along with a WHOLE LOT of other people), loved it.

It takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, at the beginning in 1962, when the civil rights movement has just begun to take off.  Skeeter (a nickname that stuck) just finished college and wants to be a writer.  An editor gives her some advice and tells her to write about something that “disturbs you”.  Skeeter decides to write about the help: the black women of Jackson who care for the white children of the families they work for.  With help from Aibileen and Minny and several other black women, Skeeter anonymously writes about their experiences and perspectives, putting them all in a lot of danger if they are discovered. 

I didn’t want to put this book down.  When it was over, I couldn’t think of what to read next because I couldn’t imagine anything that could top it.  Luckily, I found something that I liked just as much. :)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
By Jamie Ford

It’s 1986 and Henry just lost his wife, Ethel, to cancer.  As he tries to move on without her, he learns about items found in the basement of an old hotel in his hometown of Seattle that is being restored.  A particular parasol takes him back in time to when he was growing up as an eleven-year-old during WWII.  His father and mother, immigrants from China, dream of a better life for Henry by combining the opportunities in America with their Chinese traditions.  They are quite oblivious to what Henry’s life is really like at school as a Chinese-American just after the Pearl Harbor attack.  His father makes him wear a button that says “I am Chinese” on it so people do not mistake him as Japanese.  His father hates Japan and its people for not only what they did at Pearl Harbor, but for what they did to China.  So things get complicated when Henry befriends Keiko, a Japanese-American, at school.

The book is a series of flashbacks to 1942 and weaves together to explain Henry’s life story and why he is the way he is; something his son has had a hard time understanding.  I cried at several points during this book.  World War II is one of my favorite times in history to read about.  People have done horrible, terrible, awful things to each other throughout history.  But there are always stories of incredible people who sacrificed in order to help those in need.  I always say: God can’t stop people from doing bad things, but He can inspire us to know how to help each other get through the horrible, terrible, awful things, no matter what they may be.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
By Jeanne Birdsall

This is the third book in the Penderwicks series.  I’ve written about them before.  I love the Penderwick sisters.  This one picks up right where the second one leaves off.  Skye, Jane, and Batty are off to Point Mouette in Maine to vacation with Aunt Claire while their father is gone (I won’t say where in case you haven’t read the second one :) ) and Rosalind is in New Jersey with a friend.
They are joined up by Jeffery and have many-a-wonderful adventures together.  With Skye as the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick), she’s really feeling the pressure and is terrified that Batty is going to blow up (literally).  Jane isn’t much help as she falls in love for the first time, which should be tremendous help since she is trying to write a love story involving the infamous Sabrina Starr.  Batty stays busy between moose-watching, golf ball collecting, and private piano lessons from Jeffery and Alec (a man who lives next door to the cottage the Penderwicks are staying in while on vacation).

This book did not disappoint.  I was a little sad at first that Rosalind wasn’t really involved in the book, but Skye did a great job stepping up as OAP.  Like the other books, it was pretty predictable as far as the storyline goes but the Penderwicks keep me laughing.  The best word to describe these books is charming.  The author has five books planned for the series, and I will be buying each of them when they come out.  As one reviewer put it with the first book: the Penderwicks are exactly what we need in this mean-girl world.

On to the food:

Lentil Salad with Tomato and Dill

My roommate, Janae, made the most delicious lentil salad I’ve ever eaten.  Here’s a link to the recipe.  Janae doubled everything but the oil.  She ran out of green onions so just added some white onion.  It was divine.  We ate it cold, but it would probably be good warm.

Caribbean Jerk Chicken

My boys, Shawn and Gus, (no, I don’t have secret children. I’m referring to Shawn and Gus from Psych), are always talking about how much they like jerk chicken.  So I’ve been looking for a recipe to try and found this one on Kraft Foods.  I’m a little skeptical about how “Caribbean” it actually is since it calls for Italian dressing mix ;) but it was SO GOOD!  I marinated it for about 24 hours even though the recipe says just to do it for an hour.  I like my meat to be flavored to the core.  And I always pound my chicken really thin.  After trying it, I think I would only put in a half teaspoon of cinnamon rather than one teaspoon.  I like the spiciness of the red pepper, but if you’re not into that (Mom) then you could cut it in half or even just put in ¼ teaspoon.  To give you a spiciness gauge, my lips were tingling and my nose got a little drippy - - just the way I like it! :D  Grilling it on the bbq put a nice char on it, especially with the brown sugar.  I ate it with jasmine rice and a cucumber and tomato salad.  Delicious!a line

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dead as a Doornail

I was at a library conference last month and went to a session on books for boys.  It was a great session and I came away with some great titles to check out.  The first one I went for was this one:

Does that scream BOY, or what!?  Each chapter takes a famous person from history and discusses their death in gory, gross, and grisly details.  Some of the awfully famous people covered in this book are: King Tut, Henry the VIII, Pocahontas, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte, Darwin, and Einstein.  There are nineteen people total. 

Each chapter is only a few pages long and end with a more in depth look at something mentioned in the chapter, such as Steps for Successful Leeching, or the Secret Service Timeline.  The writing is quick, witty, and above all, gross.  Did you know that Darwin threw up 4 million times before he died?  Proven fact  because he kept a log of it all. 

I feel it is a definitely a book parents might want to read on their own first to make sure they want their child reading it.  The only part that actually made me think this was in the chapter about Marie Antoinette.  It mentions that it took seven years for her marriage to Louis to be “consummated”.  If I was a parent, I think I would prefer to not be taken completely by surprise when my ten year old comes to ask me what consummated means.  But maybe I’m dumb :)  

One of my favorite parts of the book was the chart of connections at the end.  It shows how most of these people were connected in some way.  For example, Marie Antoinette’s grandniece was Napoleon Bonaparte’s second wife.  Bonaparte’s men discovered the Rosetta Stone, which helped decipher the hieroglyphics on King Tut’s tomb.  

I thought it was a great book because not only did I feel a little bit smarter after each chapter, but it left me wanting to learn more.  It has a great bibliography along with suggestions for “Further Reading and Surfing”.  I checked out one of the websites the author recommended:  It is a very fun website.  You can look up a famous person’s name and it will bring back information about the person’s gravesite, along with pictures of the location.  You can also leave “flowers” and a note on the grave if you would like.  :)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Callie Vee, The Incorrigibles, and Mr. Thornton

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
By Jacqueline Kelly

Set in Texas at the turn of the twentieth century, Calpurnia Virigina Tate (Callie Vee to her family) is the only girl in a family of seven children.  She’s more interested in the natural world around her than she is in learning the “science of housewifery,” much to her mother’s horror.  Callie Vee develops a close relationship with her granddaddy as he discovers her interest in Darwin’s theories and science in general.  She finds herself having to evolve with the changes in herself, her family and the world around her. 

I really enjoyed this book every step of the way.  While I was reading though, I wondered how the author was going to wrap everything up.  I found the ending…perfect and extremely satisfying.  :)  Callie Vee is hilarious and it’s a great coming-of-age story.  And I’m a sucker for those ;)

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: 
The Mysterious Howling (Book 1)
By Maryrose Wood

Riva Pollard of School Library Journal summed this book up well when she said “Jane Eyre meets Lemony Snicket.”   Penelope Lumley is a 15-year-old girl who is the newly hired governess at Ashton Place.  She soon learns that she is in over her head when it is revealed that her three young charges are not actually the children of Lord Frederick and Lady Constance.  The children were found on the expansive grounds at Ashton Place and seem to have been raised by wolves (literally).  Gathering her courage, Penelope forges ahead to show the Lord and Lady that the little wolves can not only become tame, but civilized and loveable children. 

There are two books in this series; I’ve only read the first one.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the second one.  The narrator interjects comments of what we would say “now-a-days” compared to what they did during Penelope’s day (it’s set sometime in the 19th century).   I love a book that makes me laugh out loud. 

North & South

P.S.  This is the best movie.  Ever.  I saw it for the first time last weekend.  I’ll take Mr. Thornton over Mr. Darcy any day.  Now I just need to read the book.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spotlight on Karen Cushman

I thought I would do a spotlight on one of my favorite authors.  Karen Cushman is a historical fiction writer.  We put a lot of trust in historical fiction writers to give us an accurate portrayal of a particular time period and event. I think that Ms. Cushman has proven herself over and over again.

Ms. Cushman started writing books at the age of forty-nine.  Now at age sixty-nine, she has written seven books to date and is currently working on another one.  She says she’s planning on writing books until she’s at least 100 (see author’s website).  I’ve read three of her seven books (I own two more of them, so I need to get cracking).  

The Midwife’s Apprentice (1995)
The Midwife’s Apprentice was the first Cushman book I ever read and I loved it.  Set in medieval Europe, the orphan known as Brat is taken in by the village midwife when she recognizes that the girl has brains (the midwife finds Brat sleeping in a dung heap for its warmth).  Brat becomes the midwife’s apprentice and begins her transformation into Alyce.  She starts to recognize her own strength and courage, only to have it crushed when she fails at an important assignment given to her by the midwife.  

The book is about digging deeper and realizing your potential, no matter who you are or where you’ve been.  The book won the Newbery Medal in 1996 (And it faced tough competition.  I’ve read two of the runner-ups who got the Newbery Honor in 1996 (The Watson’s Go to Birmingham and Yolanda’s Genius) and both are wonderful).  

I’ve also listened to this book on cd and thought the reader (Jenny Sterlin) did a great job.

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple (1998)
Much to Lucy California Morning Whipple’s chagrin, her family is leaving her beloved Massachusetts to head west to California during the Gold Rush.  She hates everything about the situation and doesn’t hesitate to tell her mother this.  The best thing about Lucy is her spunk.  Dag diggety!  And it’s her spunk that pulls her through this coming-of-age story as she realizes what is really important.  

Alchemy and Meggy Swann (2010)
It’s 1573 and Meggy Swann has been summoned from her small village to London by her father, a man who deserted her and her alehouse mother before Meggy was even born.  Born a cripple, Meggy has faced scorn her entire life and this has caused her to view the world as a place where she will never belong. She may be weak physically, but not mentally.  She is great at thinking up insulting names and curses (Ye toads and vipers!  Gleeking swag-bellied maggot!). 

Her father, not realizing his child had been born a girl or a cripple, summoned her to help him in his alchemy work.  Meggy soon discovers that his work consumes him and he is willing to do anything to have the funds to continue.  She comes to realize her own abilities to be brave and strong, but also to love and be loved by all kinds of people.  

This book is an excellent example of how Cushman is able to give a clear picture of what a time period was like and intertwine that with a brilliant coming-of-age story.  I didn’t think I would ever like any of Cushman’s books more than I liked The Midwife’s Apprentice, but Meggy might have nudged ahead a bit.  

I originally tried to listen to this on cd when it first came out, but couldn’t do it.  It felt like the reader was shouting at you.  Granted, Meggy shouts a lot, but it was a bit much in my car :)

Other books by Karen Cushman with links to her website:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's good to be done...

It’s official…I’m done.  My diploma came in the mail last week.  It feels really good, but I’m finding that I’m having to rediscover my hobbies. I got so used to coming home from work to start on my “second job” these  last two years that I think I’ve forgotten what I like to do for fun :)  The first thing I rediscovered was curling up with a book that *I* want to read.  Not a textbook.  Not even a YA novel that I was assigned to read.  I had a couple of children’s and young adult lit. classes and no, not all of the books we read were horrible…I just think it makes a difference when it’s something you are being forced to read for an assignment vs. something you want to read.

So I’m going to try and get back to this blog and posting about books I’m reading.  I also want to post about some that I read for my classes…but I’ll have to find where I stuck my flash drive with all my assignments before I can do that.  Hahaha – can you tell I was ready to be done?  I came to despise the sight of that flash drive.  Anyway, I did come across plenty of good books in my classes that I want to share.  Some of them I hated and would never recommend to anyone.  Others, I was surprised how much I liked them due to their tough content and would therefore recommend some of them with caution.  Not all books are for everyone.  For example, my sweet baby sister couldn’t even get to “The Games” in The Hunger Games because she started having nightmares.

Here are a couple of books I've read since graduating that I’ve really enjoyed.  And there should be lots more to come now that I’ve got my soul back from the graduate school gods :D

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
Ages 8 and up

Yes, this is by the same author as The Hunger Games. But this series is geared toward a much younger age group.  It was actually Suzanne Collins debut in children’s literature and is the first book in a five-book series.  I’ve read the first two and have the third one on hold at the library.  I liked each of them equally well - - and a lot!  

Gregor is eleven and his dad went missing a few years ago.  Actually, Gregor  can tell you how many years, months, days, hours and minutes ago his dad went missing.  There’s no trace of what happened to him, and Gregor doesn’t believe his dad would run out on them, despite what the cops say.   His mom has to work a lot to make ends meet, which means that during the summer, Gregor is stuck in their tiny, un-air conditioned apartment in New York City for most of the day, taking care of his youngest sister, Boots (her real name is Margaret), who is two, and his senile grandma.

Things take an interesting turn when Gregor is doing laundry in the apartment building’s laundry room.  Boots goes head first through a hole in the wall for her bouncy ball and without thinking, Gregor dives after her.  They keep falling….and falling…and falling…Until they find themselves in the Underland, where they encounter creatures that they are used to encountering at home, except in the Underland, the creatures are as big (or bigger) than the humans.  Cockroaches (crawlers), rats (Gnawers), bats (fliers), spiders (spinners), just to name a few.  Gregor and Boots are initially rescued by the Underlanders: pale-skinned humans with violet eyes who think that the appearance of Gregor and Boots is fulfilling a prophecy made by their founder hundreds of years ago.  By fulfilling the prophecy, not only will Gregor save the Underlanders from being destroyed by the Gnawers, but he’ll also have a chance to save his father who is being held prisoner by the Gnawers.

I couldn’t put these books down and am excited to read the third one.  It’s definitely a page-turner and Gregor’s humor, as well as adorable Boots, kept me laughing out loud.  Suzanne Collins said she got inspiration to write The Underland Chronicles from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  She wanted city kids to be able to relate more to a story like that.

Time Stops for No Mouse by Michael Hoeye
Ages 10 and up

Hermux Tantamoq is a mouse who takes great pleasure in the simple things of life: a good doughnut, his pet ladybug, and reading a good book at home at the end of the day.  His world is turned upside down though when the beautiful and charming Linka Perflinger, “dashing daredevil aviatrix and adventuress”, comes to his watch shop and asks him to fix her watch.  She stresses that it must keep time perfectly (it is a matter of life or death) and will be back the next day to pick it up.  It was love at first sight for Hermux and he eagerly sets to fixing the watch.

When Ms. Perflinger doesn’t return to pick up her watch, Hermux becomes worried and starts trying to piece together what happened to her.  He is soon in way over his head as he uncovers a trail of kidnapping, betrayal, murder, and cover-ups.  “He must be daring.  He must be vigilant.  And he doesn’t know how.  But as sure as corn is sweet and cheese goes moldy in the rain, Hermux must rescue Ms. Perflinger and, in the process, find out just what kind of mouse he really is.

Time Stops for No Mouse is the first of four books in the Hermux Tantamoq Adventure series.  I’m currently reading the second one and haven’t been disappointed.  I think it is Hermux’s genuineness and inquisitiveness that I like most about the books.  The chapters are short and therefore lead to that problem of…."Well, I’ll just read ONE more chapter before I go to bed…Okay, maybe two more…”.  You know how it is.  :)
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Friday, April 30, 2010

Copper Sun

I'm back! I'm pretty sure that my mom and sister will be the only ones still checking this blog, but I'll post anyway. :) I just finished my last final of the semester (Cataloging is the pits, in case you were wondering) and am now free until June 7!!!

I was also in a Young Adult Lit. class this semester. I wish I could just post the reading list from the class, but that's not going to happen. I could not believe how many trashy books I had to read! The professor selected 21 books that we had to read and have class discussions about and then we selected 20 of our own. I always knew that YA lit can be questionable, but HO-LY COW! I'll spare you the details and just tell you to trust me, you don't want to read most of the books I had to read. :P Some of them created quite the moral dilemma for me and there was one that I decided not to finish, so we'll see if/how it affects my grade. But let's not get into a discussion about moral relativism since Elder Christofferson has done a great job of it already (I used his talk as a base for some of my arguments in class; I didn't quote him directly or anything, just used it as a guide. Most of my classmate just thought I was a prude (so be it) but it got some of them thinking).

But I digress... This book by Sharon Draper might not be for everyone. It deals with slavery and can be somewhat graphic, but I think the author does an excellent job of balancing the good and the ugly. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres (probably my most favorite :-) and this is definitely a well-researched, well-written book.

The story is about two girls: Amari, who is stolen from her village in Africa, and Polly, who is an indentured servant who ends up on the same plantation as Amari. When I was taking notes for my class while reading this book, one of the first things I wrote was "What human beings are capable of :(". Again, this book is not for everyone -- it deals with rape, severe beatings, and murder, including a newborn baby (I just want you to know what to expect if you decide to read it). As I got a little further into the book though, I decided that my thought about humans and what we are capable of can be viewed from the other end of the spectrum too. Amari and Polly both overcome horrific things and come out better human beings because of it. I cried at the ending because it was really inspiring to see them rise above the schmuck around them (schmuck that I can't even fathom) and decide they were going to try and make the world just a little bit better.

I'll post other books that I actually did enjoy reading and think are quality pieces of literature. That's what I don't understand: there are so many GOOD books out there; why did my professor only choose books that use drugs, sexuality (in all its forms...), swearing (one book we had to read said the F-word about every third paragraph; I'm not exaggerating either) as a crutch to capture teenagers' attention!?! I think teens should be insulted/offended by this. But what do I know?