December 26, 2014
Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King
This is the best book I've read this year. It's also the last book I read in 2014. Remember that resolution to read 1 book each week for the year? Well, I didn't quite make it. I read 30 books in 2014. (I've started another, but am still trying to finish it.)
Glory is a high school senior on the verge of graduating. She goes to public school and is the daughter of a man so afraid of living he works from home and a woman whom killed herself (she put her head in an over) 13 years ago.
Glory's only friend, Ellie, lives in a commune right across the street. Glory is always pondering ways to lose Ellie's friendship. Following a crazy-weird experience, Glory and Ellie become able to see other people's histories and futures by looking in their eyes. Ellie is overwhelmed by it, but Glory decides to write down what she sees. She authors, "The History of the Future."
With masterful skill, A.S. King captures the voice of a charming and brilliant Glory O'Brien. I could not put this book down. I mourned when it ended. I truly hope a movie is in the works! I must read more from this author.
For a more thorough review (warning: SPOILERS!) head over to the NY Times.
What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey
Me at the beginning of this book: Shut it Oprah. It's so easy for you to tell people how to live their lives when you're a gajillionaire, living a life of luxury and floating the skies in your own private airplanes.
Me at the end of this book: Oh, Oprah. You get me.
There are many things Oprah knows "for sure." She knows life in 2014 Illinois/California/Hawaii is far better than the 1954 Mississippi she was born into. She knows each of us should live to be happy. We should not be burdened with all the world's worried. Carpe diem! She knows women, the world's caregivers, are often so overrun with duties that they have little, if any, time to nurture themselves. (I hear you, Oprah!)
I had an emotional experience midway through this book. It felt like she had written this for me, as if I was her subject. I began to ponder what the consequences would be if I decided to start nurturing myself before others. Here's the excerpt from page 168 which effected me so profoundly:
On the following page, Oprah compares taking care of your own needs to the appropriate practice on an airplane. If your oxygen mask comes down, you must put it on yourself first so that you will be able to help others next. Likewise, mothers, you must nurture yourself first so that you may better nurture those who depend on you.
I'm glad I got over myself and my jealousies to finish this book. I needed to read this. I need to follow some of her advice. I need to nurture myself...because I far too often leave myself behind.
Sometime in October, 2014
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
I had the privilege (and often burden) of teaching this novel with my 11th grade English classes I long-term subbed in. It is a Young Adult, coming of age novel set during WWII. The lead characters, Finny and Gene, are juniors at a well-to-do private school in New England.
The novel is fiction, but I can't help but wonder if the author didn't actually base it on his own personal experiences. Knowles actually attended a private boarding school in New England during the 1940s. In interviews, he denied there was any truth to the novel, but I wonder if he and his schoolmates created a secret society like Gene and Finney's "Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session."
Finny is a charmed boy. Everyone loves him. He is athletic, handsome and a smooth talker. He talks his way out of every sticky situation he puts himself in. Gene is not so charmed. He is less athletic and works hard to be the best student he can be. Gene is jealous of Finny's "luck" and often paranoid. The story that develops between the boys and other students on campus is realistic and incredibly interesting.
The language was difficult for my students to get through. It is highly descriptive and metaphoric. The author fills pages with personification that youngsters (and many non-reader adults) get lost in. However, once you strip the difficult language away and concentrate on the true story, something beautiful and tragic emerges.
It's worth the effort. For a better review, pop over to The Independent.
AUGUST 19, 2014
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
To be honest, this was the third time I've read this book. I am teaching it to a group of Senior English students and wanted to read it one more time in order to be sure I was prepared to teach it. This is a powerful book.
It's nonfiction. Usually, that means being bogged down with the boring details on someone's life. Not here. It is beyond interesting. Jeannette Walls' recount of her childhood is almost unbelievable.
Jeannette's father was an alcoholic. He was incredibly intelligent and could have done great things, but his addiction prevented him from going places. He was a loser. Her mother was completely nuts. She put up with her husband's alcoholism and even encouraged the children to accept him for what he was and embrace it. She and her husband were usually more concerned with their own wants to be bothered with what their children needed. Jeannette and her siblings suffered because of their selfishness.
Jeannette knew hunger, abuse, neglect and fear. She was often cold in the winter. Her childhood was not ideal. But she also wrote about knowing love, acceptance and how all the negatives motivated her to find her own success. And she did. At one point, while her parents were homeless, she lived on Park Avenue in NYC. She made it.
I related to this book more than an adult should, although (thankfully) my own memoirs would not be filled with this level of damage.
If you haven't read it yet, get your hands on a copy of this book. For a more thorough review, pop over to the NY Times. To watch (and I recommend you do) Jeannette Walls' 2009 National Book Festival speech about the book and her family, click here.
AUGUST 9, 2014
Awkward Family Photos, Awkward Family Holiday Photos and Awkward Family Pet Photos by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack
I have been on a reading rampage lately. I needed a break from fiction to laugh a little. Hilarious photos can be found in these three volumes!
Each photo is titled by the authors. There are also messages written by some of the people who submitted photos for inclusion in the books.
My favorite was the pet edition. Weird pets. Pets in costumes. Pet/owner lookalikes too! Cleverly assembled.
If looking at silly, what-were-they-thinking photos is your thing, check out any of these 3 books. They're so funny.
Here's a review of the original book from Goodreads. You can also visit the Awkward Family Photos webpage. If you truly enjoy the books, there's a boardgame available for purchase at Amazon.
JULY 31, 2014
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Young Adult is my favorite genre. I like it because it is easy reading and the books can usually be completed in one or two settings.
In the YA genre, this book is as good as it gets. The main character, Caitlin, was a 5th grade girl with Asperger's. Everything in her world was black or white. Color was confusing. Her brother, Devon, helped her understand things that confused her. He called her 'Scout' from their favorite movie, "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Caitlin and Devon lost their mother years before the beginning of the story. Devon was the one person who understood Caitlin and could help her function more normally. She was deeply connected to him.
The book began just after Devon was killed in a school shooting. Caitlin's father was destroyed. Caitlin struggled with defining her feelings. She learned about "closure" and set off to find it.
The book focused on how Caitlin dealt with the loss of her brother, overcame social obstacles, convinced her father to find closure and learned to live in color. It's funny, sweet, tragic, beautiful and so much more. This is a must read.
For a very thorough review, check out this one by Simon Mason for The Guardian.
JULY 29, 2014
Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding
I love Bridget Jones. She is funny, clumsy and plagued with bad luck. I identify with the character and wish I was a lot more Bridget and a lot less me.
It's been 14 years since we last read about Bridget's adventures. By the end of the last book, it looked as though Bridget's life was finally coming together. She married Mark Darcy and was about to have it all.
Of course, this is Bridget Jones, world's most unlucky lass. Life cannot simply fall into place for her. This newest installment focuses on Bridget trying to survive without Mark. Spoiler Alert: She's a mother to 2 young children and in her early 50s!
I can't imagine becoming a mother in my late 40s. I was 28 when my daughter was born and sometimes I feel like a very old mom. But, this is wonderful, delightful, seriously hilarious Bridget. It's laugh out loud funny, folks!
Crack open this book and laugh your socks off as Bridget adjusts to single parenting and dating life. You won't regret it! I demand a movie be made (with the original actors, if Renee Zellweger is willing to play a 53 year old Bridget!)
For more information or to read another review, click here. (Warning: this review is very thorough. Spoilers!!!)
JULY 23, 2014
Summer Island by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah is one of my favorite authors. I am consistently impressed with her ability to capture human emotion in her novels. Her characters are so well developed they feel like old friends.
Summer Island is a great read! The book is about Ruby, her sister, Caroline, and their mother, Nora. When the girls were teenagers, their mother left home. She walked out on her marriage and never returned. The sisters felt abandoned and their future relationships with their mother were strained.
After divorcing her husband, Nora took a job as an advice columnist at a local paper. She was very good at it and eventually landed a nationally syndicated radio show and her column became wildly popular. She became a millionaire. The girls believed Nora traded their family for money. Ruby was especially angry with her mother and hadn't spoken with her in nearly a decade.
But things were about to change for Ruby and Nora. They would soon be stuck together for an entire week in their old family home. The women were given a chance to forgive each other, to forgive themselves and to somehow forge a relationship. But, would a week be enough time to heal old wounds?
This book speaks to me. The mother-daughter theme breaks my heart. It's hard for me to read about strained relationships between mothers and daughters because I identify too closely with the daughters. My mother was a lousy mother. She tormented me. I was convinced she was the devil. When I would tell her how much she hurt me, she used to say, "At least I didn't leave you!" To this day, I wish she had.
But Ruby would give anything to have her mother stay. Her abandonment shaped who she became: a woman afraid to love because she was convinced she wasn't good enough to keep. Perhaps a new connection with her mother could change the way she felt about herself.
For a more information about the book or to read a more thorough review, read this by Good Reads.
JULY 19, 2014
Confessions of the World's Best Father by Dave Engledow
I first heard of this book after Dave Engledow's Tumblr photos went viral and he and Alice Bee were interviewed on the Today Show. Then I forgot about it. Earlier this summer, I was reading a Book Page magazine. It was a recommended read! I immediately ordered it from my local library and, within a few weeks, it was here for me to enjoy!
Essentially a photo book, Confessions of the World's Best Father is written journal style. It's so funny. Engledow's photos with his daughter are beyond clever and entertaining. It's a delightful, largely fictional, record of growth. It's a treat to witness Alice Bee growing through the first 2 years of her life.
The book is also a witty representation of fatherhood. Engledow's wife is in the military. Duty sometimes takes her away from her family. He captures a unique way of coping with single-parenting. I truly hope there are more volumes to come.
For a really good review, click here. You can also follow Dave and Alice Bee on Tumblr.
JULY 15, 2014
A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket
Since I really liked the first book, I moved quickly to the second. This is book 2 in a series of 13 books written for the average 9 year old. I found it just as interesting as the first.
If your child struggles with vocabulary, read these books with him/her. Lemony Snicket uses "big words" and defines them in every chapter. It's not just entertainment, it's educational too...and cleverly disguised.
The story picks up with the 3 Baudelaire orphans moving into another distant relative's home. Unlike Count Olaf, the children's new guardian, Dr. Montgomery Montgomery (yes, that is him name) is a sweet and generous man thrilled to have the children live with him. Dr. Montgomery, or Uncle Monty as he prefers, is a herpetologist, which is a fancy word for "one who studies amphibians and reptiles." He has recently discovered a new snake and is planning a trip to Peru for further study and to present the newly discovered snake. Shortly before leaving for the trip, Uncle Monty becomes the children's guardian and his assistant suddenly quits. His plan is to take the children to Peru along with his newly hired assistant, Stephano. The children are excited for the trip.
It all seems so wonderful. Too wonderful. We know that the three Baudelaires are very unfortunate children and their newly-found happiness will surely not last long.
This book is clever. A good read. I look forward to picking up the third.
For more information or to read a more in-depth review, check out this one at Publishers Weekly.
JULY 14, 2014
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
If you are to read only one book this summer, let it be Elizabeth is Missing. Wow. Just wow. Emma Healey' debut novel is phenomenal.
I thought I would be reading a suspense mystery, and I guess it somewhat is. However, the novel is really about an elderly woman's decline into her own mind and a 70 year old mystery she longs to solve.
Maude is around 80 years old. She has progressive dementia. Maude gets very confused and often finds herself inside her past, unable to distinguish a flashback from the present.
When Maude was a young girl, her older sister, Sukey, went missing. The family had suspicions regarding Sukey's fate but kept hope that she was alive and well somewhere.
As an elderly adult, Maude becomes obsessed with her friend, Elizabeth's, whereabouts. She believes Elizabeth is missing, just a Sukey was. Although she has been told several times where Elizabeth is, she can't seem to hold onto that reality. The connection between Elizabeth and Sukey becomes clear in the final chapter. It pulls the entire book together and explains Maude's crazy obsessions.
I enjoyed this book. I was pulled in immediately. I cannot wait to see what Emma Healey publishes next.
For more information, or to read a more thorough review, click over to Goodreads.
JULY 8, 2014
My daughter is getting older. She's moving on from picture books and easy readers to chapter books. I am trying to stay ahead her so that I may be able to suggest books for her to read. (Really, I'm just prepping my kiddos for a family book group. Eeeek!)
I read this book in just a couple hours. It's very clever and interesting. The author, Lemony Snicket, is the narrator of the book. (Yes, I know Lemony Snicket is fictional as well.)
The story is about the trials and tribulations of the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, and inventor, Klaus, a reader, and Sunny, um, well, a biter. Upon the unfortunate deaths of their parents, the children were sent to live with a distant relative, Count Olaf.
Olaf is a nasty man living in a dirty home and is cruel to the children. He also desperately wishes to get his hands on the children's large inheritance. The children are clever and able to outwit Olaf in every dangerous situation he puts them in.
This book is very well written. It's a book the average 9 year old, or exception 7 year old, will enjoy. I look forward to reading the next 12 volumes in the series.
For more information, check out this great review at Catherine Pelosi at Kids' Book Review.
JULY 7, 2014
The Worry Tree by Marianne Musgrove
Juliet is a worrier. She worries she will be picked on at school. She worries her grandmother will fall and no one will be around to assist her. She worries her sister will invade her privacy. She worries she'll have no friends. She worries she'll have too many friends. She worries every argument her parents have certainly means divorce is coming. She worries!
She also argues with her sister, Ophelia (Mom loves Shakespeare,) whom she shares a bedroom with. A lot. For the sake of keeping peace in the family, Juliet's parents decide she needs her own room. Dad's office and junk collecting room, or "Room that Must be Locked When Visitors Come," is cleared out and fixed up for Juliet.
While tearing wallpaper from the walls, Juliet and her grandmother, Nana, discover a painted tree on the wall. The Worry Tree.
Over several evenings, I read this wonderful book to my children. I absolutely recommend that you share it with your children while they are young enough to feel its magic. If you purchase the book, there is a section at the end where the reader may write down his/her own worries to share with the tree's animals.
For more information or to read a more thorough review, check out this one by Vivienne DaCosta.
|The back cover of the book. I wish I was artistic and could paint this on my children's bedroom walls.|
JULY 6, 2014
Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres
Two words: Damn Funny. Ellen's (we're on a first name basis) book is full of not-so-useful, yet hilarious, advice. Every chapter reads like a monologue to her talk show. I could hear her voice in my "mind's ear" as I read along.
The book is written for an audience of any age. It even has coloring pages for the wee ones. (How thoughtful!) It's chock full of medical advice and gambling tips, as well as some really great insight on manners.
She also pokes fun at her life as a celebrity. I felt like Ellen and I aren't all that different. She's just like the rest of us. (Except waaaay different.)
My favorite passage is found in the last chapter. It's also the most serious part of the book.
Find out who you are and figure out what you believe in. Even if it's different from what your neighbors believe in and different from what your parents believe in. Stay true to yourself. Have your own opinion. Don't worry about what people say about you or think about you. Let the naysayers nay. They will eventually grow tired of naying.
Good advice, Ellen.
For more information or to read a more thorough review, click over to NPR Books for this one by Liz Colville.
JULY 5, 2014
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
And the Mountains Echoed is the story of a brother and sister forced apart by their unfortunate circumstances. It's a tale of pain and triumph, loss and luck, hope and despair. The story is told through their voices and through those whom know them best.
The novel begins with an Afghan father telling his son, Abdullah, a fable about father forced to give his favorite son to an evil giant. The man misses his boy so deeply that he sneaks to the giant's compound and watches the boy play. He returns home knowing his beloved child is fine and happy. The story is meant to give peace to Abdullah as he is forced to say goodbye to his sister.
Abdullah, age 10, is a devoted brother and caretaker to his little sister, Pari, age 3. Their mother died giving Pari life. The family is very poor and their father makes a heart breaking decision to sell Pari to a wealthy family. Over 402 pages, we follow Abdullah and Pari as fate attempts to bring them back together.
It is a very good book. The story spans nearly 70 years of Afghan history: from kings, through the Taliban, to the modern 'democratic' society. While the setting is a fictional town, much of the history is factual. Hosseini paints a vivid picture of what life in Afghanistan must have been like. In addition to Abdullah and Pari's story, there is a secondary story highlighting what we owe to one another as human beings AND how we treat our economic class differences. Some people give freely to the poor. Others hide from the poor. Most ignore the poor.
The chapters are long and I often had to stop mid-chapter to attend to my own responsibilities. However, I couldn't wait to get back to this book. It's a very worthy read. If you'd like to preview the book and read a few pages, click here. For a more thorough review, head over to NPR Books for this review by Maria Russo.
JUNE 24, 2014
I was very excited to read this book. I ordered it at my local library. I began reading it as soon as I finished Perfect. It took me 9 days to read this book. NINE DAYS!!!
What a huge disappointment this turned out to be. I thought it would be the best book I read all summer. Bohjalian writes mysteries with twisted endings. His book, The Double Bind, blew me away and left me sleepless for 2 nights: the first night because I read all night long and the second night because I couldn't stop thinking about all the clues I must have missed while reading.
The Light in the Ruins is nothing like Bohjalian's other work. It is set in Italy in the 1940s and 1950s. It is well researched. However, the book is heavily descriptive of the area and historical events to the detriment of the plot and story.
The story centers on the Rosati family: a well-to-do nobleman, his wife, children and grandchildren. In the 1940s, the marchese and marchesa were forced to house and feed German soldiers. The German soldiers took their crops and animals and ruined their home. The soldiers forced them to live in one room of their estate. The Rosati family was also expected to feed the Italian villagers, including those participating in the resistance movement. Under threat of violence, the family had no choice but to succumb to the demands of both sides. Ultimately, this middleman position led to the deaths of most of the family.
When a book begins with a woman's gruesome murder, including the removal of her heart, you expect a certain level of mystery and intensity that this book does not deliver. In fact, I found it boring. BORING. Further, from the moment the murderer was introduced, I knew he was the killer. The author attempted to persuade the reader into believing that it could be other characters, but there really wasn't much mystery involved.
I struggled to finish this book. The last 2 chapters were very good. Getting to them was rough. My advice, skip The Light in the Ruins. For a kinder and more thorough review, click over to the Boston Globe Book Club.
JUNE 15, 2014
Perfect by Rachel Joyce
From the moment I learned Rachel Joyce had written another book, I had to read it. I read her first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I love it.. Joyce seems to have a keen understanding of behavior associated with mental illness.
She follows her debut with Perfect. Again, Joyce proves she's a master of developing characters with mental illness. This is the best book I've read in a long time.
Perfect is about Byron, a child in 1972, and Jim, and adult in the present day. The story alternates between the past and the present every other chapter.
11-year old Byron is told, by his friend James, that 2 seconds will be added to time. He becomes obsessed with what others may think is insignificant. He develops anxiety over how those 2 seconds could change the world. He couldn't be more right.
50-something Jim has a long history of mental illness and has lived in an institution longer than he has the real world. The institution closes and Jim is on his own. He lives in a pop-up camper and practices rituals, like saying hello to all his possessions and duct taping his door shut, to convince himself he is safe. He has no family and no friends. He is employed cleaning tables at a restaurant inside a local supermarket. To the world, Jim appears strange, but they have no idea how he suffers inside his own head.
The story is dark. There is a lot of heartache in Byron's life. Jim has lived in a Hell few others understand. Mistakes have been made by so many. But, love and friendship lead to redemption. With understanding, time and forgiveness, the good comes shining through.
Excellent read. For more information or for a more thorough review, read Christina Rustin's critique at theguardian.com.
JUNE 9, 2014
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
In the YA genre, this book is as worthy as any other to be the "it" book right now. It's interesting. It appeals to teenage girls. It's easy enough to read to keep the average young adult turning the pages. It's a modern day Shakespearean tragedy: star-crossed lovers, fated to be apart.
While I enjoyed the book, I must critical. First, the narrator is a 16 year old girl, however the author falls short of voicing a 16 year old girl. Perhaps that was his intention, as Hazel is far from the average teenager. Had names and genders not been revealed, I would have sworn the narrator was a man. Second, while Gus is every girl's dreamboat, he is far more romantic than any 17 year old boy is, has been, or ever will be. Third, I am bothered by the author's intention to "educate" young adults on his belief that there is likely no after-life. He even includes an author's note at the beginning informing the reader that it is a complete work of fiction, not to be believed, just like all religions. In the novel, Hazel's beloved author believes religion is for those weak in the mind.
Further, for the first time in my life, I could not read through the eyes of a young adult. Instead, I found myself reading as a parent. I shed tears for Hazel and Gus' parents. I thought about my own children's mortality. Chapter after chapter, I gave thanks for my healthy children.
However critical I may be, I do recommend that you read this novel. If you are a parent or work with young adults, pick up a copy quickly. It is important that you read what they are reading. You will enjoy this book. It's full of humor, romance, and human perseverance. I am looking forward to watching the movie.
For more information or to read a more thorough review, check out Good Reads.
MAY 30, 2014
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
No one captures human emotion like Kristin Hannah. Her characters are so well developed you feel you know them and miss them when the book is over. They quickly become old friends.
'Firefly Lane' is a page turner! Kate is a young girl struggling to make friends at school. She's considered 'nerdy.' One day, the most beautiful girl in the world, Tully, moves next door. Tully appears too cool to care what others think and quickly befriends Kate. In reality, Tully is damaged and is drawn to Kate's settled and stable family. She also thrives from the attention Kate gives her and quickly learns how to manipulate her new best friend.
The book reveals the 30+ year friendship between Tully and Kate. No friendship can last that long without its share of drama. Kate and Tully, or TullyandKate (as they see themselves), fight and makeup, hurt each other's feelings, but always find their way back together.
I'm not sure why, but I really identify with this novel. Perhaps, it's because, as a teen, I felt like Kate. Alone. Willing to follow a friend even when it was a bad or dangerous idea. Or as an Adult. Wanting a family of my own and to be an "At Home" mom despite having a college education. Having feelings of inadequacy for making that decision. Being completely overwhelmed and over-involved. Struggling in a relationship with the man who knocked me off my feet and chose me when others were in line. Feeling jealousy.
No matter the reason, I couldn't put the book down. I also 'ugly cried' through the last 3 chapters. Check out a copy at your local library. It's a great read. For more information or to read a more detailed review, check out this one from Book Reporter.
MAY 18, 2014
Sweet Salt Air by Barbara DeLinsky
It's rare that I pick a book I don't like. I read a lot and I usually know whether I will like a book just by skimming the book jacket. I was not sure I would like this novel. It was the May Book of the Month for my local library's book club. I can never attend the book club meetings, but I almost always read their selection. Why? Because, every now and then, I read something like this.
The book shouldn't appeal to me. It has little mystery or politics. There is a lot of drama, romance and sex. It's a 'feel good' story. These are all things I steer away from.
However, I couldn't put this novel down. The story is about two women, Charlotte and Nicki, whom met as children and kept a friendship throughout the years. They were once the best of friends, despite having grown up in families that couldn't possibly be more different, but grew apart after Nicki married.
Nicki was a foodie, wrote a food blog, and was working on a cook book. Charlotte was a journalist whom traveled all over the world to get her story. When Nicki asked Charlotte to help with the cook book, the pair found themselves on Quinnipeague Island, off the coast of Maine, a place they vacationed together as children.
Working together proved to be fun and easy, however, both women had a secret. It would be a life changing project for the both of them.
For a more detailed review, click on this GOODREADS link.
END OF MARCH, 2014
Oath of Office by Michael Palmer
I can't remember exactly when I read this book, but I know it was at the end of March. I apparently forgot to blog about it. However, today, it gets its much deserved review.
This is a really good read. It has everything. Murder, romance, mystery, science fiction...something for everyone. It caught my attention because it is a fictional commentary regarding the food industry's careless employ of genetically modified foods.
The hero is Dr. Lou Welcome. He's a recovering alcoholic, but an otherwise amazing guy. He notices that people in the nation's capital are starting to make crazy decisions. He starts his own investigation which ultimately brings him to partner with the First Lady of the United States. Lou is an incredibly likable character. You'll root for him to solve the mystery and bring down the bad guys.
For more information, or to read a better review, head over to Kirkus Reviews.
MARCH 6, 2014
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
OK, so technically this is a play. However, I'm including it because it is one of the best works I've read in a long time. I've been aware of it's existence for longer than I can say. I've even contemplated watching the movie staring Phylicia Rashad and Puff Daddy, although that just feels weird. Have you seen it? Is it worth watching?
According to scene notes, the play is set in a 'ghetto' neighborhood in Chicago sometime between WWI and the present day (first published in 1959) and follows the Younger family, a poor black family living in a multi-generational home. Mama has just become a widow and has 2 adult children, Walter and Bennie. Walter is married to Ruth and has a son, Travis. Bennie is about to go to med school, something girls didn't typically do.
At the beginning of the play, the family is waiting to collect $10,000 from life insurance for their recently departed father/husband. They are dreaming about what can be purchased with that money. Walter wants to open a liquor store. He envision large profits. Bennie hopes it will pay for her medical school, although she would never dream of asking. Mama has other plans. She takes a portion of the money and buys a house in a nice, white neighborhood. All three have the bettering of their family in mind: Mama through moving to a higher class neighborhood, Walter through business and opportunity and Bennie through education.
Through their interactions, we see a glimpse of the life of a typical Black Chicagoan around the 1950s. Bennie struggled with identity. She has two suitors: one whom believes she hasn't assimilated enough to white culture and another whom cannot understand why Black Americans find it necessary to do so.
Walter struggles with feeling like a servant in a "free" world. He is employed as a chauffeur to white people. His wife and mother work as housemaids. As the play progresses, Walter becomes more and more defeated.
Mama doesn't understand how her children have grown to become adults she wouldn't approve of. Bennie is convinced God does not exist, which Mama would never out up with in her home. Walter desperately wants the Liquor Store, which she could never allow to be associated with her family. She describes her children in terms of disappointment, not quite capable/willing to achieve the dreams she and her husband had for them.
Lorraine Hansberry named her play after a line in the poem "Harlem" by Langston Hughes which asks "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? A deferred dream. The Younger family dreamed of living a better life. Want to know if it happened for them? Read the play.
For more information, or a better review, or to order a book, visit Amazon.
MARCH 3, 2014
A KILLING IN THE HILLS by Julia Keller
I started this book quite awhile ago. I didn't devote much time to reading it. I worked on other things. However, once my project was over, I got back into the book and I'm glad I did.
A Killing in the Hills is about a small town in West Virginia that, like many small towns in West Virginia, has seen significant illegal drug use increase. At the beginning of a book, a gunman open fires in a small burger joint. A county prosecutor's daughter is a witness to the shooting. The rest of the book revolves around the prosecutor, Belfa Elkins, as she attempts to bring the murderer to justice, single parent a teenage daughter, and handle demons resurrecting from her past.
While I did not find this to be a juicy page-turner, parts of the book are very interesting. Belfa and her daughter, Carla, are complex and well developed characters. Keller captures the irrational fears of a teenager stuck between doing the right thing and protecting her social life.
The author gives a vivid description of the little town. I could see mental pictures of the burger shop, the courthouse, and Belfa's neighborhood. She describes the grip poverty has on the community. It feels very real, like she could be talking about my community or a thousand other little towns scattered across Appalachia.
If you enjoy murder mysteries, check out A Killing in the Hills. For more information or a better review, click here to be redirected to Reactions to Reading, a book review blog.
***I checked this book out at my local library. Libraries are a wonderful place to borrow a book, read a newspaper, check out a movie or surf the web. Have you been to yours lately? Go in. You'll find much, much more than dusty volumes on shelves.
FEBRUARY 5, 2014
I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
Ok, so this wasn't the book I intended to read for this week. While at the library with my daughter, I saw it among the stacks and had to check it out. I can't resist Sophie Kinsella. I enjoy British romantic comedies and Kinsella is as good as it gets. Perhaps you've heard of her. She authored the incredibly popular "Diary of a Shopoholic" series. They're hilarious.
Kinsella's heroines are always bright women in bad relationships. The boyfriends are cheaters. Luckily, the heroine always figures out her man is a total dog before the end of the book. And there is ALWAYS another man waiting. The One. Ready to sweep her off her feet and carry her into the sunset.
Although there is a formula to her books that is easily solved AND the ending is clear far before I even reach the middle of a book, I can't pass reading a Kinsella novel. They're so clever. Laugh out loud funny. And "I've Got Your Number" does not disappoint.
Poppy, a physical therapist, is genuine and sweet. She cares deeply about pleasing others and making friends. She's addicted to her cell phone and newly engaged to a professor, Magnus, from a family of geniuses. Poppy feels completely inferior to her soon-to-be in-laws and her interactions with them are deliriously funny.
At her bridal shower, she manages to lose her engagement ring (a family heirloom!) AND her cell phone is stolen right out of her hand by a thug on a bicycle. In complete panic over both, she finds a discarded cell phone in a trash bin and decides to make it her own. Finders keepers, right?
What follows is pure Kinsella hilarity. I couldn't put it down. Loved it. For a book description or to order yourself a copy, head over to Amazon (although, I recommend visiting your library. It's free, people. FREE. Nothing is better than a trip to the library. While you're surfing, click here to like MY local library's Facebook page.)
FEBRUARY 2, 2014
MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins
I finished this book a couple days ago. I've been so busy and sleep deprived lately, I'm just now getting to sharing it with you. Forgive me, readers!
It's fair to assume that those of you whom will take the time to read my book review posts have already read this book. I recently checked it out at our local library. When I brought it home, my husband said, "You've already read that." I said, "No, I haven't. I read the first two, but not this one." He said, "You've already read that."
As it turns out, he was right. I had already read it. It felt very familiar in the first few chapters. Then, something happened with Peeta, one of the main characters (in case you've been living under a rock and have never read the book or watched the movie,) and I knew I had already read this book.
Wow, what a great book. It's the finale of "The Hunger Games" trilogy. Why are good things in 3s? Lord of the Rings. Star Wars (both sets) and, now, The Hunger Games.
To be honest, I really think the second book, Catching Fire, is the best of the three, but this one is a perfect ending to the series. I'm so glad I chose to finish it after I realized I already read it. If you have trouble staying in a book, pick up "The Hunger Games" trilogy. They're filled with action, an interesting story line, and a dramatic look at a fictional future of what was once the United States.
The author uses a lot of description, but most of the action is carried out through conversation. It's an easy read, especially for those whom struggle to keep involved in a story. I enjoyed the series. The characters are so well developed, I can see "movies" of the story in my head.
If you work with teenagers, or are a parent of children of any age, be sure to read these books. It's always a good idea to read what your kids are/will be reading. Sharing books, and openly discussing them, can be a great developer in the parent/child or student/teacher relationship. Want a better review? Visit James's Reviews at Goodreads.com here.
I've already started my next book. It's written for a more mature audience and is more difficult to get through. I hope to share it with you soon.
JANUARY 20, 2014
THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON by Stephen King
I can't stop thinking about this book! If you're looking for a Stephen King horror/thriller, this is NOT the book for you. If you are a fan of more mild fiction novels, like Joyland or The Green Mile, you'll want to check this out. If you're not a reader, but happen to be a Red Sox fan, you'll find this book delightful.
I enjoy perusing the shelves at the used book store, Books-n-Things, in downtown New Philadelphia, Ohio. During a trip quite a while ago, I found this book in paperback for only $2.75. Check out your local used book store for your next book purchase. You never know what you'll find in the stacks!
The novel is about a 9 year old girl named Trisha whose parents have recently divorced and her mother and brother constantly bicker. The arguing makes Trisha crazy. While on a family outing at a New Hampshire portion of the Appalachian Trial with her mother and brother, Trisha decides to leave the trail and accidentally gets lost in the woods. I was enthralled with the tale of Trisha's journey through the woods, her made up conversations with Red Socks relief Pitcher, Tom Gordon, and her determination to survive.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a really good read. It's incredibly interesting and has inspired me to take a similar hike along the Appalachian Trial with my children (when they're much older and less likely to wander off in the woods!)
For more information, or to read a more thorough review, check out this New York Times review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt.
JANUARY 14, 2014
HATCHET by Gary Paulsen
Here's another book I've stolen from my friend, Jen's, reading list. I had not read this book before. I've seen the movie and heard wonderful reviews, but never took the time to read it. It's obviously a book meant for a much younger audience. I've heard of teachers using it in grades as low as 4th, but I'd recommend it to 7th grade students.
It's incredible. An amazing read, really. A survival story about a city boy, Brian, whom finds himself stuck in the Canadian wilderness. While he's trying to avoid death, he learns a lot about life.
I read this book in a few sittings, but it could easily be read, cover-to-cover, in an afternoon. The author is very descriptive, but never uses language to fill pages. Even though it's written in third person, you see the Canadian landscape just as Brian does. You feel his pain. You feel his joy. You make a human connection to the character. I'm convinced the author has much experience in the Canadian wilderness. It's exciting.
If you have a child struggling to find a book to keep his or her interest, give this one a try. It's so, so good. For more information or to read a more thorough review, head on over to Goodreads. (I am not paid to endorse this website. I merely Googled for a review to lead you to and found this to be the most helpful.)
JANUARY 5, 2014
WHY WE BROKE UP by Daniel Handler
A very charming novel that is basically a 350+ page breakup letter. I am amazed with how well the author captures the voice of Min Green, a 16 year old girl and classic movie aficionado, whom has just experienced the loss of her first love. Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, has created an incredibly mature, extremely interesting, lead character. She's deep.
Min's friends are equally interesting. Her love interest, Ed, is a jock from a social click much different than Min's. Ed seems to have an internal conflict between following his heart and adhering to traditional teenage social rules.
This novel is written for teens and an easy read. I like reading teen fiction. It aids in developing rapport with my students. Some of my favorite novels have been found on the young adult stacks. For more information about "Why We Broke Up" or to read a more thorough review, check out THIS article printed in the New York Times.