Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Snapshot 7/25

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

We took a short trip to the Adirondacks this week - tough timing just after my dad's death, but it had been planned and paid for months ago. Anyway, it was very quiet and peaceful trip, camping at two different beautiful parks. So much natural beauty that I will need to split my photos into several Saturday posts. First up: Kayaking at Meacham Lake -

Beautiful Meacham Lake in the Adirondacks
Kayaking on Meacham Lake

Lily Pads & Flowers

Clouds reflected among lily pads (and my husband!)

Me kayaking - love it!

A family of ducks taking a rest

Hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday Snapshot 7/18

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

We took a break from our days at hospice this week to spend 2 nights camping with good friends nearby at Sugar Creek Glen Campground in Dansville, NY. This is a trip we'd planned long before and it turned out to be a much-needed respite. This is where we camped when I was a kid, so our visit was filled of memories of my Dad. And we camped with my good friend, Amy, who I met at Sugar Creek about 35 years ago - we spent our teen weekends there together! For our kids, it was a return to a favorite spot they hadn't visited in 14 years. Here's just a peek at what makes the Glen so special:

One of several pools in the Glen - perfect for jumping into!

The "Big Falls"

We walked past (and through) cascading falls
My friend and I - 35 years later!
Our 4 kids this week

And the same kids 14 years ago!

Just looking at these photos makes me want to go back! Hope you are enjoying a nice weekend!

New Essay Published

Sorry I have been absent from the blog for a while. My dad just passed away this week, and we spent a week by his side in hospice in my hometown (Rochester, NY). I won't be posting here much for another week or so, as we will be traveling a lot and going to the service. My dad fought a brave battle against melanoma, and we are grateful that we had a full year with him after his diagnosis and spent many weekends together. It's still hard to believe he is gone.

On a lighter note, my essay, 5 Things I've Learned From Living with Chronic Illness, was published on Mamalode this month - it describes some of the silver linings of our family's illnesses, a positive view of this crazy life we lead! Hope you will check it out.

I'll be back to blogging regularly when things settle down a bit.

Dad and I dancing at my wedding

Monday, July 06, 2015

It's Monday 7/6! What Are You Reading?

Another busy week gone by! Whatever happened to the lazy days of summer? My dad is back in the hospital, so that has continued to be stressful - I hate being so far away. We had a quiet 4th of July weekend with a nice cookout dinner with my son, his friend, and my father-in-law, but then my husband and I were too worn out to go to the fireworks! I haven't had much energy this past week (just the ups and downs of my chronic illness), so I'm trying to take it easy.

We've read some great books this week, though:
  • I am still reading One Thousand White Women: the Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus, a historic novel I have been wanting to read for years - and that has been sitting on my bookshelf for years! This is my third Big Book of the Summer. I am totally engrossed in this unique novel about white women going to live with the Cheyenne tribe in 1875 - and outraged at the way our government treated the native Americans. I can't believe I waited so long to read this remarkable book!
  • I have been listening to Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, a middle-grade audio book about a third-generation Vietnamese-American girl who is an all-American Southern California girl. She accompanies her grandmother on a trip to visit her home village in Vietnam and experiences some serious culture shock! It is excellent so far.
  • My husband, Ken, finished A Simple Plan by Scott Smith, one of the books I gave him for Father's Day. It was recommended by Michael on Books on the Nightstand, my favorite podcast. The Chicago Tribune said, "Like watching a train wreck. There is nothing to be done, but it is impossible to turn away," and my husband said that is a very apt description!
  • Ken is now reading Seeker by Jack McDevitt, another book I gave him for Father's Day, a science fiction novel by a multiple Nebula Award nominee.
  • Jamie, 20, is reading Winterbirth, book one in The Godless World series by Brian Ruckley, a fantasy series of the type that he loves.
Lots of posts last week, trying to catch up a bit:
Top Ten Books Read So Far in 2015

2015 Audiobook Challenge 2nd Quarter Update

Review of Nest by Esther Ehrlich, a middle-grade novel I listened to on audio

Review of Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, a historical novel

Saturday Snapshot, with photos of sky and shadows

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers

There are still 2 full months left of summer, so you still have plenty of time to join the Big Book Summer Challenge and join the fun! You only need to read 1 book (though you can read more if you want) longer than 400 pages to participate. And this year, for the first time, there'll be a Big Book Giveaway at the end of the summer for participants!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Saturday Snapshot 7/4

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Happy 4th of July! There is not much interesting or blooming in my neighborhood right now, just lots of bright green, so I focused more this week on sky and shadows:

Feathery green leaves against a brilliant blue sky

Puffy white clouds in a bright blue sky

Shadow of a tree

Shadow leaves against the grass

Our crooked pine tree shadow in the driveway

Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Fiction Review: Orphan Train

As soon as Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline was released in 2013, I immediately added it to my Want-To-Read list since I enjoy historical fiction, and it sounded intriguing. My two main book groups both chose it as a selection in 2014…and I missed both discussions! I finally had the chance to read it this spring when my library’s discussion group chose it. I’m sorry I waited so long! I really enjoyed this fascinating, engrossing novel weaving a unique event in U.S. history with a modern story.

In Spruce Harbor, Maine, in 2011, seventeen-year old Molly is living with yet another set of foster parents, Ralph and Diana. Ralph is OK, but Diana clearly doesn’t want Molly there. Molly is close to aging out of the foster system, but a single impulsive action has made juvie a distinct possibility, unless Molly can complete a number of volunteer hours. Her boyfriend arranges for her to help clean out the attic for Vivian, a 91-year old woman living in a big mansion, for whom his mother cleans house.

Native American Molly – young, Goth, and unwanted – thinks she is completely different from the wealthy, elderly Vivian, but as they work together to clean out the attic and begin going through Vivian’s old memories stored there, the two gradually realize they have quite a bit in common.

Vivian emigrated through Ellis Island from Ireland with her family when she was just seven years old. When she was nine, she lost her parents in a fire. As an orphan in New York City, Vivian was put on an “orphan train,” heading to the Midwest, where she and the other orphans were put on display at each stop until a family chose them. While some of the babies were actually adopted, most older kids like Vivian became indentured servants, put to work for their host families.

Kline interweaves these two stories – Vivian’s coming-of-age story, beginning in 1929 when the train takes her and the other orphans out west, and Molly’s modern-day story – into an intriguing, compelling narrative. I found each of the stories – the historical one and the modern one – equally interesting and couldn’t wait to see how they would finally come together to help heal both of the main characters.

Orphan Train is well-written and engaging. I found the historical backdrop fascinating – these orphan trains really ran in the United States for 75 years, as the author explains in notes at the end of the novel. I love a novel where two disparate stories gradually come together, so I enjoyed watching Vivian and Molly slowly share their secrets with each other. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this unique novel and am so glad I finally found the time to read it!

278 pages, William Morrow

NOTE: One of the other women in my library’s discussion group pointed out that there are a number of nonfiction books about the orphan trains, where you can read about real-life children sent west on them. There are also a couple of movies, one fictional and one documentary, if you want to learn more.


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Middle-Grade Review: Nest

I recently listened to the middle-grade audiobook Nest by Esther Ehrlich and absolutely loved it! It’s a warm, moving story of what happens when tragedy hits, and the power of family and friends.

Eleven-year old Naomi lives on Cape Cod and is known, even at school, as Chirp because of her love of birds. She leads an idyllic life among the salt marshes in 1972 with her psychiatrist father, her dancer mother, and her 13-year old sister, Rachel. Lately, though, her mom has been struggling with strange symptoms – like numbness and pain in her once-strong legs. Chirp and Rachel try to cheer her up by performing their signature dance together in their matching bikinis while their mom watches from the bedroom window. One day, their mom falls down the stairs and is taken to the hospital and everything changes in an instant.

Chirp and Rachel’s mom has been diagnosed with MS, and as her symptoms worsen, she must leave her dance career behind, a devastating loss. Soon, she is dealing with terrible depression in addition to MS, and their household has transformed from a warm, happy place to a dark and somber one. Chirp is expected to keep going to school, but everything feels wrong to her, and she doesn’t know where to turn.

Meanwhile, Rachel is drifting away from Chirp, just when she needs her sister most, going to parties, pining after boys, and wanting to spend more time with her friends. Besides finding solace in nature, Chirp starts to become closer to Joey, a boy in her class who lives across the street. Joey has lots of brothers but seems different than them and is often left on his own. The two kids, each dealing with their own problems, come up with an impulsive plan of escape and adventure.

This is Ehrlich’s first novel, and she has written a very real, touching story about what happens when your world changes dramatically, from a kid’s perspective. She has juxtaposed these dramatic, life-changing events alongside normal adolescent problems in a very realistic way, with an exciting climax and satisfying resolution (though I was still worried about Joey at the end!). She also perfectly captures the time and place, with lots of details of kid life in the 70’s. Being a mom with a chronic illness, I can tell you that she got it all exactly right – the numbing feeling that everything has changed while the outside world continues around you like nothing happened. I loved every moment of this warm, poignant and ultimately uplifting story and can’t wait to read more from this author.

Listening Library

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

2015 Audiobook Challenge 2nd Quarter Update!

It's time for my 2nd Quarter Update of the 2015 Audiobook Challenge hosted by The Book Nympho and Hot Listens. This is the second year I have enjoyed this challenge because I love listening to audiobooks! I usually have one going - very often a middle-grade or teen/YA novel.

I signed up for Binge Listener level, 20-30 audiobooks. So far, I have listened to:
  1.  When Marnie Was Here by Joan G. Robinson
  2. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson 
  3. Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
  4.  I Was Here by Gayle Forman
  5. The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall
  6.  The Law of Loving Others by Kate Axelrod
  7. Finding the Worm by Mark Goldblatt
  8. Mosquitoland by David Arnold 
  9.  Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  10. Masterminds by Gordon Kormon
  11. Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis 
  12. Ask the Dark by Henry Turner 
  13. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
  14. Nest by Esther Ehrlich (review to come this week)
And, I am currently listening to Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai. So, almost 15 audiobooks at the halfway mark means I am well on my way to meeting my goal for the year!

I enjoyed all of these - I was going to pick a favorite, but it's too hard! Lots of great choices on this list.

Do you enjoy audiobooks, too? Which are your favorites so far this year?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top Ten Books Read So Far in 2015

It's Top Ten Tuesday, so head over to the Broke and the Bookish and join the fun!

Today's topic is Top Ten Books Read So Far in 2015. This will be tough because I've already read so many great books this year! I'll try to narrow it down to just ten:
You can see that I favor novels, especially those with emotional depth. Most of the ones that really resonate with me or blow me away are written for adults, though a couple of YA and middle-grade novels made the list. And I included one graphic memoir, too.

These were all amazing books that have really stayed with me. It's been a great reading year so far!

Which books are your favorites read so far this year?

Monday, June 29, 2015

It's Monday 6/29! What Are You Reading?

We spent the weekend visiting my Dad who has stage 4 melanoma and another family member in the hospital. Dad was in the hospital all last week and unable to eat at all, so he was very weak and frail this weekend. We got some of his favorite foods to tempt his appetite back and watched some old home movies. It was good to spend time with him and his wife but tough to see him so weak. Long drives, too, but I hated to leave.

So, some tough times here, but as always, we enjoyed our books this week:
  • I finished my second Big Book of the Summer, Revolution by Deborah Wiles, a middle-grade novel set in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, the Freedom Summer. I knew nothing about the events in Mississippi that summer, so the historical backdrop was fascinating, alongside a compelling fictional story of both white and black kids in one town. This book just blew my mind - a must-read.
  • I also finished the middle-grade graphic novel The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea by Raina Telgemeier, based on the popular series by Ann M. Martin from the late 80's. I was already in college when the original novels came out, but I enjoyed this graphic novel adaptation.
  • Last night, I started One Thousand White Women: the Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus, a historic novel I have been wanting to read for years - and that has been sitting on my bookshelf for years! This will be my third Big Book of the Summer.
  • I didn't start a new audio book last week - instead, I focused on catching up on some of my favorite book podcasts.
  • My husband, Ken, read a teen/YA dystopian novel that my son and I both enjoyed, Sharp North by Patrick Cave (in fact, it was one of my Big Book Summer reads in 2012). He liked it and pointed out that there is a sequel, which my son and I both missed!
  • Last night, Ken started A Simple Plan by Scott Smith, one of the books I gave him for Father's Day. It was recommended by Michael on Books on the Nightstand, my favorite podcast.
  • Jamie, 20, finished a review book we received last year: The Grace of Kings by Ken Lui, book one in The Dandelion Dynasty, an epic fantasy novel (his favorite kind!) and also a Big Book. He liked it very much and is looking forward to the rest of the series.
  • Jamie is now reading Winterbirth, book one in The Godless World series by Brian Ruckley, another fantasy series that sounds right up his alley!
Too busy last week for many blog posts, but I managed two:
Top Ten Favorite Top Ten Tuesday Posts - Some great book suggestions, going back to 2009

Review of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, a novel my book club enjoyed

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers

July is just starting this week, so you still have plenty of time to join the Big Book Summer Challenge and join the fun! You only need to read 1 book (though you can read more if you want) longer than 400 pages to participate. And this year, for the first time, there'll be a Big Book Giveaway at the end of the summer for participants!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fiction Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce has been on my want-to-read list since its release in 2012, when it garnered plenty of rave reviews, so I was delighted when my neighborhood book group chose it for our June selection. Everyone in the group enjoyed this unique novel that starts out light but digs deeper as you read.

Harold Fry leads a very routine, ordinary life. He is retired and lives with his wife, Maureen, in an English village on the southern coast. A letter arrives one morning that shakes up Harold’s routine and changes his life. An old work colleague named Queenie has written to Harold to let him know she is in hospice and to say good-bye. Harold hasn’t heard from Queenie in twenty years, since she left both her job and the area suddenly. Harold is moved by this reminder of the past from an old friend and writes her a short note in reply.

Harold heads out the front door to mail his letter to Queenie…and he just keeps walking. He passes mailbox after mailbox and finally decides – after a fateful talk with a girl working in a garage – to deliver the letter to Queenie in person. For reasons even he doesn’t understand, Harold feels strongly that he must walk the entire 600 miles to Queenie in the northern-most town in England. He feels that somehow she will keep living as long as he keeps walking.

He is ill-equipped for such an expedition, since he just stepped out to walk to the mailbox, but he feels that that is part of his quest, too – to make his walk just as he is, in his boat shoes and light jacket. Maureen is not too happy when he calls her from a couple of towns over to tell her of his intention, but he keeps walking. Along the way, Harold meets all kinds of interesting people. More importantly, as he walks, he thinks and delves into long-forgotten memories.

The most interesting, clever thing about this novel is the way that the tone matches the content. It starts out as a light, fun story, with plenty of moments of humor. Similarly, Harold’s thoughts start out fairly shallow, as neither he nor Maureen have thought about or talked about anything of importance in a long time. As he walks, though, the layers begin to peel away, and he gradually digs deeper into his thoughts and memories to sorrows and pain that he has buried for a long time. Meanwhile, back at home, Maureen gets over her anger and actually begins to miss Harold for the first time in a long time.

The story is filled with the kind of philosophical musings I love in a book, as Harold shares his growing insights. I marked many passages I could relate to, like this one, about human nature and meeting other people:

“He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and this was the dilemma of being human.”

This unique novel has two levels – Harold’s real-time adventures as he walks and his internal musings as he excavates long-buried feelings. Along the way, the mystery of what happened between him and Queenie and why she left is gradually revealed, as Harold allows himself to remember what happened. Meanwhile, back at home, Maureen is similarly facing her own memories and sorrows for the first time in decades.

Our book group universally enjoyed this one-of-a-kind novel about a physical and emotional journey. No one rated it lower than a 7, and it garnered several 9’s and 10’s in our group. Its depth surprised many of us, and we found we had a lot to discuss. Many of us, myself included, are now interested in reading its sequel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey, in which Queenie writes to Harold during his long walk, all about her life and her secrets. Rachel Joyce is a talented author, and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

320 pages, Random House


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Top Ten Favorite Top Ten Tuesday Posts

I haven't had the time to participate in Top Ten Tuesday very often lately, but this week's reminiscing topic appealed to me. Although this weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish now, I actually started my own Top Ten Tuesday feature back in 2009 a year before they began hosting it. So, even without a lot of recent Top Ten posts, I still have a lot to choose from.

So, here are my favorite Top Ten Tuesday posts of the past - some that I came up with and some that The Broke and the Bookish hosted:

  1. Top Ten Books That Taught Me Something - when a book can both entertain you and open your eyes to new things, that is a special book.
  2. Top Ten Authors I've Never Read - the funny thing about this list of famous, sometimes classic authors  that I'd never read back in that I still haven't read 6 of them! But I did read 4 of them in the past 6 years, so I am making progress.
  3. Top Ten Book Group Books - I belong to several book groups and always enjoy discussing what I read - these 10 stand the test of time and are still great choices for any book group.
  4. Top Ten Books I Enjoyed More Than I Expected - one of the best things about book groups is that they often encourage me to read - and love - books I might not have ever tried on my own.
  5. Top Ten Books Read in 2009 - it's always fun to look back and see what I enjoyed reading years ago, and many of these are still favorites.
  6. Top Ten Debut Authors - Some interesting choices here and a bit of clairvoyance on my part, since some of these have since gone on to become very popular authors!
  7. Top Ten Authors Who Deserve More Recognition - still a great list of lesser-known authors/books, though some of these authors are now much more popular.
  8. Top Ten Books I'd Like to See Made Into Movies - well, two of these were made into movies (and I was right - I cried my eyes out watching Still Alice), but Hollywood needs to listen to me on the other 8!
  9. Top Ten Books That Tackle Tough Issues - still a good list, and these would all make great choices for book group discussions, too!
  10. Top Ten Travel-Related Books - just in time for summer, this list included both novels about traveling as well as memoirs with a strong sense of place.
That was fun! I enjoyed revisiting my older Top Ten lists - I think I will try to make time for participating in Top Ten Tuesday more often. This reminded me how much I used to enjoy it!

NOTE: Many of my earlier lists on this list included links to similarly themed lists for kids and teens/YA, back when I used to maintain two book blogs.

What are your favorite Top Ten topics?

Monday, June 22, 2015

It's Monday 6/22! What Are You Reading?

Busy, busy week and then a nice, quiet weekend spent recovering! Both of our sons went to Firefly (a giant outdoor concert here in Delaware with 90,000 people) this weekend, so I am enjoying a little bit of quiet solitude before they both come home in a couple of hours....probably both completely exhausted!

We enjoyed some good books last week:
  • I finished The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce for my neighborhood book group. I enjoyed this unique story about a retired British man who leaves his house on the southern coast one morning to mail a letter to an old friend dying of cancer and instead keeps walking. He decides on the spur of the moment - with no preparation - to just walk all the way to his friend, in the northern-most town of England. The novel starts out light and funny but digs deeper as Harold walks and gradually allows himself to remember some of the traumas he's experienced. It was excellent.
  • With two book group reads behind me, I am now reading my second Big Book of the Summer, Revolution by Deborah Wiles, a middle-grade novel set in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, the Freedom Summer. I knew nothing about the events in Mississippi that summer, so the historical backdrop has been fascinating, alongside a compelling fictional story of both white and black kids in one town. I'm enjoying it very much so far.
  • I finished listening to Nest by Esther Ehrlich, another middle-grade novel. It was excellent, about an 11-year old girl in 1972, coping with her mother's sudden illness as well as more ordinary adolescent problems. It is both heart-breaking and heart-warming and paints a vivid picture of growing up at that time (I've been living in the past this week!).
  • To continue this week's retro middle-grade theme, I am also reading the graphic novel The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea by Raina Telgemeier, based on the popular series by Ann M. Martin from the late 80's. I was too old when the original novels came out, but I am enjoying this graphic novel adaptation.
  • After finishing A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin, my husband, Ken, chose a teen/YA novel that my son and I both enjoyed, Sharp North by Patrick Cave (in fact, it was one of my Big Book Summer reads in 2012). He's enjoying it so far.
  • Jamie, 20, is reading a review book we received last year: The Grace of Kings by Ken Lui, book one in The Dandelion Dynasty, an epic fantasy novel (his favorite kind!) and also a Big Book. He says it is very good so far, though he didn't have much reading time last week with Firefly!
 Blog posts last week:
Review of A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, my first Big Book of the summer.

Review of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, a teen/YA audio book

Saturday Snapshot, with photos of raindrops on our local greenery

Great Books About Fathers, a Top Ten list reprinted from my monthly book column in Vital! magazine

A Tribute to My Dad, for Father's Day

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers

Yesterday was officially the first day of summer, so you still have plenty of time to join the Big Book Summer Challenge and join the fun! You only need to read 1 book (though you can read more if you want) longer than 400 pages to participate. And this year, for the first time, there'll be a Big Book Giveaway at the end of the summer for participants!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Tribute to My Dad

One of my earliest memories is when, at four years old, I ran out to the breezeway and greeted the kind man my mother was dating with, “Are you going to be my Daddy?” I somehow knew even then that he was the perfect father for me, and he officially became my father when my parents got married a short time later.

He’s not my biological father, but that has never mattered to either him or me. He officially adopted me when I was five years old, and he’s been my dad ever since. He is still one of the kindest, most loving men I’ve ever known, and I couldn’t have chosen a better father.
Even back in the 70’s and 80’s – before it was common for fathers – he always took an active role in the lives of me and my sister. We did a lot of things together as a family: camping, hiking, and our annual vacation at the beach. On Saturday nights, we played games together in front of our fireplace. My dad was the champ at Parcheesi and never would have let us win on purpose. He was always fair-minded and kind.
He was just as kind to my friends, greeting them by name when he came home from work and always taking an interest in what I was doing. Whenever he came home and saw my best friend, Michelle (which was almost every day), he would say teasingly, “Oh, no! It’s Michelle!” and she’d erupt in a fit of giggles. She knew, just like I did, that he genuinely liked me and my friends. He had a great sense of humor. He even put up with my annual slumber party of screaming little girls in the basement!
Dad didn’t just get involved in my life; he involved me in his, too. He was in the trucking industry, and for a while when I was a kid, he had his own business and small truck, making deliveries to local stores and businesses. When I had a day off from school, he’d take me along with him for what he called “pick-em-ups and deliveries.” I rode around town beside him in the red truck, and we’d stop for donuts and lunch. I felt so special sitting next to him, especially when he introduced me to his regular customers.
Besides all the day-to-day fun we had together, my dad was always there for special events. We were a family that celebrated everything, and he came to every dance recital and school function, usually with his movie camera. He always let me know that he was proud of me.
At my wedding, Dad and I danced together. I chose one of his favorite songs, “Through the Years” by Kenny Rogers, and its lyrics were perfect for our relationship. My family and friends gathered in a big circle around us, and most of them were crying! Dad and I thought that was funny, as we enjoyed our dance together.
When my husband and I became parents ourselves, my dad became Grandpa. He was just as loving and kind with our two sons as he had been with me and my sister. From the time they were little, he has always been actively involved with them, playing with them on the floor or outside, playing games together with the whole family, and letting them know he loved them.
Last summer, my dad was diagnosed with melanoma, now stage 4. He’s had surgeries, radiation, and immunotherapy, and this past year has been a struggle. My sons, both busy teenagers now, will still drop everything to go visit him and Grandma (a day’s drive away). They play cards with him or watch TV or a movie, and they love his sense of humor. It means so much to me that they love Grandpa just as much I do.
Our relationship began in a loving way when he not only accepted me as his daughter but treated me no differently than my sister, his biological daughter. It has only grown stronger over the years. From my dad’s example, I learned patience, kindness, and tolerance. I have come to recognize and appreciate his influence more the older I get. I feel so fortunate to have him as my father, and he’s taught me a lot about being a parent myself.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Great Books About Fathers

(This article is reprinted from my monthly book column in Vital! magazine)

Father’s Day is on June 21. Give your favorite Dad one of these great books or celebrate the day by reading about fathers:

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – There are several father-child relationships at the heart of this suspenseful, clever book set in Barcelona.

12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time: A Semi-Dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates the Globe by Mark Jacobson – One of my favorite memoirs, by a father who plans a trip around the world with his wife and three kids/teens – thoughtful and funny.

Defending Jacob by William Landay – A novel depicting a father’s ultimate challenge: to defend his son who is accused of a heinous crime.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – A graphic novel memoir that explores the very unusual relationship the author had with her gay father and how it affected her.

Us by David Nicholls – A warm and funny novel narrated by Douglas, a Brit who is struggling to be a good husband and father as his marriage falls apart on a European vacation.

She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan – A memoir by a transgendered father with two children who undergoes the transformation from man to woman.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth – This American classic about the life of a typical American man includes the main character’s relationship with his own father, as well as his difficult relationship with his daughter.

I Sleep At Red Lights by Bruce Stockler – A heart-warming and hilarious memoir of a father’s first years with a preschooler plus baby triplets.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – A novel that explores the fragile relationship between fathers & sons, set in Afghanistan.

The Ride of Our Lives by Mike Leonard – a memoir by the Today show correspondent about taking his parents on a cross-country trip that will make you want to go right out and rent an RV for your family.

Suzan Jackson is a freelance writer who lives in Delaware with her husband and two sons. She writes a blog about books, featuring reviews, book news, and more at You can find reviews of all of the books listed here on the blog.

(This article is reprinted from my monthly book column in Vital!, The magazine for Active Older Adults, available free in public places like libraries and drugstores in Delaware and North Carolina)
What are your favorite books about fathers?

Saturday Snapshot 6/20

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Still hot and humid here much of this week, but on Thursday, we finally had a break in the weather - it rained hard overnight and through the morning, then, as the rain moved away, we were left with cooler temperatures...and a wonderland of water droplets on every surface:

Tiny droplets on a neighbor's shrubs

Water droplets clinging to blades of grass

The waxy texture of rhododendron leaves makes the water bead up

Clover covered with water droplets

Tiny droplets clinging to an evergreen branch

Hope you are enjoying the weekend!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Teen/YA Review: Beautiful Creatures

When Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl was first published six years ago, of course I heard about this instant teen/YA hit, but I thought it didn’t sound like something I’d like (not that I knew much about it). Boy, was I wrong. Beautiful Creatures was my first free download of the summer from SYNC, and I absolutely loved this captivating, unique audio book.

Ethan Wate has lived in Gatlin, SC, all his life, and he can’t wait to escape it. Everyone in town knows everything about everyone else, and though Ethan doesn’t admit it to his friends in high school, he is tiring of the same old stuff and even being part of the “in” crowd. His best friend, Link, is the only person he really truly enjoys hanging out with. But Ethan can’t even tell Link about the strange dreams he’s been having about a beautiful girl he’s never seen before. In the dream, Ethan is always trying to save her from falling, but he never does. The dreams are always the same, and they seem so real.

When Lena Duchannes moves to town and starts going to the local high school, it is the first new and interesting thing to happen in a long time. Lena isn’t like the other girls at school – she dresses differently, she acts differently, she’s unlike any girl Ethan has ever met before. And Ethan thinks she might be the girl from his dream.

Lena is staying with her uncle, Macon, a hermit who lives in an old plantation house who Ethan thinks of as their very own Boo Radley. For this reason – and her differentness – the other kids at school tease and bully Lena, but Ethan befriends her. He feels inexplicably drawn to her and wants to understand the mysterious connection they seem to have from his dreams. The closer Ethan and Lena become, the more they are both ostracized from the close-knit community.

I was absolutely captivated by this unique, well-written novel from the very first chapter, and I loved the literary references built into it (both Lena and Ethan love to read). ). It’s an atmospheric, gothic tale where the southern setting is an integral part of the story. The audio is beautifully produced – perhaps one of the best audio books I have ever listened to (and I listen to a lot of them!). It includes sound effects, music that is an integral part of the story, and two different narrators to voice Ethan and Lena’s parts.

The story itself draws you in right from the start, with mysteries and secrets that keep you guessing. The more that Ethan learns about Lena – and later, the more they learn together – the greater the pull of the story. It’s mystery, suspense, magic, and romance all rolled into one compelling package that is impossible to put down. Though the book is full of surprises, the biggest one is that it took me so long to discover this popular book that started a 4-book series and a movie adaptation. I can’t wait to read more!

Hachette Audio 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fiction Review: A God in Ruins

In case you have missed my constant gushing the past six months, I absolutely loved Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life. It instantly moved onto my list of favorite books of all time. So, although I rarely read new releases while they are still new, I couldn’t wait to read her companion novel, A God in Ruins. My husband gave it to me for Mother’s Day (as soon as it was released), and I devoured it for my first Big Book of the Summer.

A God in Ruins is a companion novel to Life After Life, not a sequel, because it covers some of the same time period but from a different character’s perspective, and you can enjoy this novel as a stand-alone. Life After Life was all about Ursula, who relived her life many times, while the companion novel is about Ursula’s brother, Teddy. Unlike Ursula, Teddy lives his life in a more ordinary way, just once, from start to finish, so it’s a different kind of novel, though Atkinson still has some surprises in store for readers.

Like Life After Life, A God in Ruins moves back and forth in time, showing different parts of Teddy’s life. It begins in 1925 when Teddy is eleven years old, walking with his aunt through the meadow. Life After Life fans will immediately recognize that Aunt Izzie is starting her research for her best-selling children’s series about a boy named Augustus, using Teddy as her model (sort of). From there, the story jumps ahead to 1980 to Teddy’s daughter and grandchildren.

The novel moves back and forth through time like that, with an emphasis on Teddy’s time as a World War II pilot. Teddy was a talented pilot who had some extraordinary experiences during the war and impacted (and saved) many lives of his fellow RAF fliers. The story follows his marriage to his childhood friend, Nancy, their daughter, Viola’s, life, and even the lives of Teddy’s two grandchildren, Sunny and Bertie, all the way through to 2012.

This is an epic tale of one man’s life and how it touches so many other lives. It’s about the effects of war – on one person as well as on whole societies. The novel covers the entire 20th century as viewed from one man’s perspective and how radically the world changed during that time. Most of all, A God in Ruins is about how extraordinary an ordinary life can be. I was completely captivated by Teddy’s story and that of his descendants and grew to think of them as friends (most of them – Viola was a piece of work!). Since these two books are now referred to as part of the Todd Family series, I am hoping to read more about this amazing family from Atkinson. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

453 pages, Little, Brown and Company

NOTE: This was the first book I read for my 2015 Big Book Summer Challenge. A big book is anything over 400 pages, and you only need to read one to participate - so sign up today and join the fun!