Monday, September 30, 2013

It's Monday 9/30! What Are You Reading?

Today is our 24th wedding anniversary! We had another busy week but a nice weekend, and I'm looking forward to our dinner out together tonight. It's especially nice when your kids are old enough that you no longer need a babysitter!

Some good reading at our house last week:
  • I worked steadily on Dreams of My Russian Summers by Andre Makine, but then I wasn't well enough to go to my book group discussion on Wednesday evening (my chronic illness was flared-up). I was about halfway through the novel and enjoying it, but I decided to set it aside and go back to the book I had to set down to read this one! (are you following this?)
  • So, I picked up my Kindle and finished I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. This first memoir by the famed poet just blew me away - it is warm, intelligent, funny, and heart-breaking. I loved it and can't wait to read her other memoirs. I read this book in honor of Banned Books Week.
  • Now, I am reading another book for Banned Books Week, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky. Another gem! This YA novel is fabulous so far.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading Time and Again by Jack Finney, a classic time travel novel that I enjoyed.
  • Craig, 15, is still working his way through Beowulf for his British Literature class.
To celebrate Banned Books Week last week, I posted:

An Introduction to Banned Books Week

List of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000-2009

Review of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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.)

24 years ago today!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Snapshot Saturday 9/28

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

I love watching the changing seasons.

Here in the mid-Atlantic region, the weather has been perfect (in my view!) - highs in the 70's and lows in the 50's. The calendar and the cooler temps say that it is now fall, though our neighborhood still looks quite summery. Here are some photos I took this week with early signs of fall right next to late evidence of summer:

Beautiful fall color sandwiched between lots of green.

A dogwood turned reddish-purple alongside a flowering tree still in bloom.

The little trees in the front of the neighborhood are colorful.

One neighbor has these lovely rose bushes still in full bloom.

And this tree has almost no leaves left already!

Hope you are having a fabulous weekend and enjoying the lovely weather!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Memoir Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

To celebrate Banned Books Week, I chose to read Maya Angelou’s famous memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I can’t believe I never read it before! This intelligent, witty memoir of her childhood just blew me away – I loved every minute of it, and I never wanted it to end. In fact, I can’t wait to read her other memoirs now.

Although this memoir is specifically the story of Maya’s childhood, first in Stamps, Arkansas, and then in San Francisco, it also describes – like the best memoirs – some universal truths about life, in this case, specifically life as a Black child growing up in the United States in the 30’s and 40’s. And what a story she has to tell! It begins with she and her brother being sent by train (by themselves) across the country to live with their grandmother:

“When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed – “To Whom It May Concern” – that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson, Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas, c/o Mrs. Annie Henderson.”

Don’t you just want to keep reading? She and her brother lived through some incredible challenges and unusual circumstances, but the book is also about everyday life and the universal experience of growing up. As you might expect from a famous poet, she has a way with words. Her writing just pulled me right into the center of the story, right there in the small southern town with her where Blacks did not go to the white section of town, and whites rarely entered the Black section.

Not only does she tell an interesting story, but Angelou also has a way of getting to the heart of things. She often shares the wisdom that her silent but strong grandmother taught her, like “…I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy.” As much as I thought I knew about the history of prejudice and segregation, seeing it from a small Black child’s perspective was eye opening and often startling, as here when a special occasion is ruined by a well-meaning but ignorant white politician:

“It was awful to be Negro and have no control over my life. It was brutal to be young and already trained to sit quietly and listen to charges brought against my color with no chance of defense.”

Her story was heart-warming, entertaining, and at times, heart-breaking. I was laughing out loud through many chapters (so much so that my husband kept asking what was so funny!) and close to tears while reading others. She has an amazing knack for capturing what it is like to be a child, putting herself back in those innocent moments when some of the things adults talked about were totally mystifying and a first friendship was transforming. I never wanted the story to end. Despite the fact that I have stacks of books waiting to be read, I want to run right to the library to read her next memoir and find out what happened in the next stage of her life. It’s a terrible shame that this emotionally powerful book is one of those most frequently banned.

304 pages, Ballantine Books (though I read the Kindle version)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000 - 2009

In honor of Banned Books Week, here is the American Library Association's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from the last decade (from 2000 - 2009). I have read 27 of them so far and plan to read two more this week (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Perks of Being a Wallflower).  How many of them have you read?

(Seriously? Someone banned In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak? Apparently a lot of someones - crazy).

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby: The First Graphic Novel by George Beard and Harold Hutchins, the creators of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Celebrate Banned Books Week 2013!

Banned Books Week is this week, September 22 - 28, 2013, so join in the fun!

The American Library Association explains this annual weeklong celebration:

"Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular."

I like to join in the celebration by choosing a couple of frequently banned books - one for adults and one for kids/teens/YA - and read and review them this week. I chose my books last week but am running a bit behind now because I had to switch to a book club group book to finish up for Wednesday!

The books I chose for this week are:
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Aneglou
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky
These are #6 and #10, respectively, on the ALA's List of Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009. I am about halfway through Angelou's memoir and can't believe I've never read it before! It is just wonderful so far, and I hated to set it aside.

You can also look at Top Ten Banned Books lists by year at the ALA website, so check those out, too, and then choose YOUR book to read to celebrate these fabulous books and the freedom to read anything we want.

What are you reading for Banned Books Week?

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Monday 9/23! What Are You Reading?


Rough start on a Monday. I came downstairs this morning to start my day, and the power went out! Beautiful clear day with sunny skies. My oatmeal was only half-cooked, and I didn’t have time to make my tea. I need my Tangerine-Orange Zinger to start my day! I keep starting to do something and then realize it requires electricity – no laundry, no tea, no internet!! Besides, Cher was on the Today Show this morning with her big comeback concert – I was planning to watch that while I ate breakfast.

Anyway, we had another crazy busy week, with soccer practices and games and another houseful of weekend visitors. So, not as much reading time as we’d like, but we managed some:

  • I finished Hold Fast, an amazing middle-grade novel by Blue Balliet. It combines a mystery with the story of a family who unexpectedly becomes homeless – a clever, warm, suspenseful book that I loved.
  • Next, I decided to choose a couple of books to read for this week’s Banned Books Week celebration, so I started I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou’s famous memoir. I am loving it and can’t believe I waited so long to read it! This is also my very first book downloaded to my new Kindle.
  • Unfortunately, I had to set the memoir aside this weekend and get started on the book for one of my book groups that meets this week: Dreams of My Russian Summers by Andre Makine. I’m having a little trouble getting into this one, possibly because its pace and tone are so different from Angelou’s memoir and maybe because I really hate to switch books before I finish one! I need to get moving, though, because I have to finish it by Wednesday and so far, my progress has been very slow!
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading Time and Again by Jack Finney, a classic time travel novel that I enjoyed.
  • Craig, 15, is working his way through Beowulf for his British Literature class – he says it isn’t too bad so far!
  • Jamie, 19, was home from college this weekend to see his grandparents - he says he hasn't had any time at all for fun reading, but there are so many books he wants to get to!
I had little blogging or writing time last week, with our heavy schedule, but I did squeeze in two reviews on Friday:

Review of The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh, a historical novel set in 1877 South Africa.

Review of Hold Fast by Blue Balliet, a powerful middle-grade novel.

I also managed a Weekend Cooking post before everyone got up on Sunday morning!

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.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Weekend Cooking 9/22

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

I didn't cook much this past week. We are in the thick of soccer season, so our evenings have been hectic. Most of my son's games are at 5 pm (definitely not a mom scheduling games at dinnertime!) and some are up to an hour away, so I'm not coming home at 7 or 8 pm to cook! We did make a few simple meals and ate out or got take-out a lot more than we normally do.

A few good homemade meals stand out from this week, though:

On Monday, I made a super-quick family favorite after a 4:30 home game: Chorizo-Tortilla Tortilla...or simply Mexican Frittata, as we call it! This is one of the few Rachel Ray recipes I use, and I've adjusted it a bit - fewer eggs (she uses 12 eggs for 4 people!), fewer tortilla chips, less cheese - but generally, I follow the recipe. It's my family's favorite kind of frittata and perfect for a busy weeknight.

Between that meal and this next one, Southwestern Shrimp Taco Salad, I used up the last of the summer tomatoes, bell peppers, and jalapenos from our CSA, plus some delicious late-season lettuce we picked up this week there. We all love this particular taco salad recipe (the shrimp helps with my seafood-loving son!), and it was a nice, quick, summery meal during this warm and busy week.

And, though the end of the week was even busier, with two more soccer games and houseguests for the weekend, I made use of a lovely bunch of kale from the CSA on Friday to make myself Roasted Sausage with Warm Beans and Kale for lunch and then had the leftovers Saturday night when the rest of my family went to a football game. This is a delicious and super-simple recipe that I got from a previous post at Beth Fish Reads, host of Weekend Cooking. This one has become a favorite - thanks, Beth!

Tonight, I think I will make use of some of the fall veggies we got at this week's CSA and make Roasted Turnips, Sweet Potatoes, Apples, and Dried Cranberries as a side dish That's as far as I've gotten so far in planning.

Hope you are enjoying some good food and cooking this week!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Snapshot Saturday 9/21

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

I noticed a few glimpses of fall last week while I was walking in my neighborhood, though it is still very green here:

The first few maple leaves on the ground

Japanese maples lose their leaves early here.

But we still have plenty of flowers blooming!

And lots of green in our neighborhood!
 Hope you are enjoying the weekend!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fiction Review: The Fever Tree

I read The Fever Tree, Jennifer McVeigh’s first novel, last week for my neighborhood book group. Most of our members enjoyed this historical novel set in South Africa in the 1870’s, at the start of the diamond mining era there.

The book begins in 1877 London where seventeen-year old Frances has been brought up in a very sheltered life of privilege. All of that changes when her father dies unexpectedly, and she finds out that he recently lost all of his money in a bad investment. The wealthy part of Frances’ family are her mother’s relatives, who never accepted Frances or her father (who was Irish) as a part of their world, and now see her father’s death as an excuse to drop all support. Left penniless and alone, Frances has few options. She does not want to go live with her father’s sister, in a poor, crowded household where she would work as nursemaid to 3 young children and be forever labeled as unsuited for marriage or society.

Frances reluctantly accepts her only other option: a marriage proposal from Dr. Edwin Matthews, a distant cousin who lives in South Africa. This young woman who has never ventured beyond the confines of London society sets off alone to an unknown world. While traveling on the ship, Frances meets William Westbrook, an attractive and charismatic diamond trader who seems to be everything that Edwin is not.

South Africa turns out to be a desolate and rugged place, and her new home with Edwin has none of the luxuries and amenities with which she is accustomed. She is lonely and isolated and pines for William, who lives in a distant town. Frances encounters all sorts of challenges (some of her own making) and battles illness, loneliness, and extreme weather. Eventually, she begins to open up to the new world around her and learns more about herself as well.

I found the historical context here fascinating, since I knew nothing at all about South Africa’s more distant past. The descriptions of the towns, the desert, the mining operations, and even the politics of the time held my rapt attention. However, like many others in my book group, I had trouble with Frances. She was just so helpless and so na├»ve and seemed  - from my modern perspective – to be taken in so easily by those out for their own needs. Of course, much of this was common for that time in history, but it made it hard to relate to Frances or empathize with her. Other readers in our group didn’t have that problem. Overall, I was glad to have read the novel, Frances grew on me a bit as the story progressed, and I learned a lot about South Africa’s history.

432 pages, Amy Einhorn Books (Putnam)

Monday, September 16, 2013

It's Monday 9/16! What Are You Reading?

We had a busy week and a fun weekend. My dad and his wife came to visit this weekend, and we enjoyed watching my son's soccer game Friday night, playing games with the kids, and eating lots of good food! The guys played golf on Saturday, while my step-mom and I visited a lovely natural garden that features local flora.

We also enjoyed our books last week:
  • I finished The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh for my neighborhood book group and enjoyed discussing it. Most of us liked it but didn't love it, though there were some outliers on each end of the spectrum! It's set in 1877, about a young British woman who must emigrate to South Africa. I found the historical context fascinating, as I knew nothing at all about South Africa's distant past.
  • Now that I am caught up (temporarily!) on book group reads, I am reading Hold Fast by Blue Balliet, a middle-grade novel that is part mystery and part realistic story about a family that suddenly find themselves homeless. It is an amazing novel, with plenty of emotional depth and suspense.
  • I started - and finished! - a new audio, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It normally takes me a month or more to finish an audio book, so this is remarkable! True, it is a short novel, but it is also riveting and kept me listening during every spare moment. It helped that my own (old) car was in the shop last week, so I was driving the newer car with the iPod dock.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Time and Again by Jack Finney, a classic time travel novel that he gave me one Christmas.
  • Since they were here this weekend, I'll include my dad and his wife in our weekly update. They were reading novels by Lee Child and Sandra Brown on their Kindles this weekend. They left with a stack of books rescued from my charity give-away box on Saturday! We all love to share our books.
  • Craig, 15, is reading Beowulf for his Brit Lit class. I remember my older son having trouble with this one at that age - I've never read it myself! Maybe I should download it onto my new Kindle and give it a try while my son is reading it.
I didn't have much writing or blogging time last week but managed a few posts:

Review of Charlie Bumpers vs. The Teacher of the Year by Bill Harley, a great start to a new series for younger middle-grade readers.

Wrap-Up of Two Writing Challenges

Books Read in August 2013 summary

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.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Books Read in August 2013

August was a good reading month, with plenty of relaxing vacation time, but I didn't read a lot of books. That's because I was focused on longer books for my 2013 Big Book Summer Challenge, so I spent half of the month just working on one book! I also see in looking back at my July 2013 Summary that I cheated a bit (gasp!) - I included an audio book that I ended up not finishing until mid-August.

So, here is what I (really) read in August:
  • The Twelve by Justin Cronin, the Big Book that kept me busy all during my vacation (Iowa)
  • The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, Book 2 in Chaos Walking trilogy and another Big Book
  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, on audio - that was my cheat - oops! (England)

And that was it for August, just four books. I spent most of the month reading those first two books. They were both well worth the time investment! My favorite? Hmmm...tough one...probably The Ask and the Answer because I am really enjoying that series - can't wait to read Book 3!

Update on 2013 Reading Challenges:
I added only one new state (Iowa) to my 2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge. I read two more books off my TBR shelves (my Big Books all tend to be from the TBR shelves because I set them aside until I have time to read them!), bringing the total up to 13 so far this year for my 2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge.

Which books did you most enjoy reading in August?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wrap-Up: Two Writing Challenges

At the start of September, I decided to jump-start my fall writing season (kids back in school!) by joining two writing challenges. I'm a bit late with the wrap-up, but here's what I accomplished:

The Monster Review-a-thon focused just on writing reviews. It was  just one week (when I had only two days with the kids in school), so my goals were modest:
In all, on my book blogs that week, I managed:

Review of Defending Jacob

Review of The Ask and the Answer

Post on Book Adaptations on TV

Weekend Cooking Post

So, not quite as many reviews as I'd hoped, but the challenge did serve as an extra motivator to get back into my normal blogging routine. And I wrote another review, plus the Big Book Summer Challenge Wrap-up Post the following week.

I also joined Sit Down and Write 4 Challenge, hosted by Stories Inside: the Writing Blog of the True Book Addict. My goals were:

  • The book review goals listed above, plus two more reviews and/or book blog posts next week.
  • Write and publish 3 new posts for my chronic illness blog, Learning to Live with CFS, which has been badly neglected this summer.
  • Write and send 4 new pitches, including 2 for travel articles.
  • Finish the first draft of chapter 1 of my book on living with chronic illness.
  • Edit my article on CFS into brief guest blog posts for a supplement website (paid work!)
Wow. Yeah, OK, I might have been a bit overzealous! But again, joining the challenge sort of gave me permission to focus mainly on writing last week. I finished:
  • The reviews and book blog posts listed above, plus a review of The Time Machine the next week.
  • I wrote four posts for my chronic illness blog.
  • I wrote and sent four pitches, and yes, two of them were for travel articles.
I didn't have time to work on my book (that always seems to be the case!) and I still haven't received the background materials for the paid job, but I felt good about the progress I made in those two weeks. Next time, I think I may try to focus on one area of writing at a time to see what I can accomplish that way.

The only problem is that I put priority on writing last week and let everything else now I've spent most of this week running around, catching up on all the household necessities and to-dos I put off last week! As a result, I've had no time for writing at all. Sigh. There must be a way to find a nice balance!

Anyway, I enjoyed both writing challenges and found them helpful in re-focusing my writing work. Have you tried any writing challenges? Or do you have any tips on finding time for writing along with all the other things that must be done?

Monday, September 09, 2013

It's Monday 9/9! What Are You Reading?

Ahhh....Monday, and all is quiet here at home. I enjoyed my first week alone last week, with the kids back at school and tried hard to keep the stress levels down and the vacation mindset alive! I did a lot of writing (check back tomorrow when I will recap how I did in two writing challenges) and tried to get caught up on a lot of things that I got behind on during the summer. I also spent a lot of time out on our deck, manages a couple of walks, and finally began watching some of the TED talks my husband has been telling me about - I'm hooked!

We enjoyed plenty of reading last week:
  • I finished Hope's Boy by Andrew Bridge, an excellent memoir about a boy who grew up in foster care. It was an emotionally moving book, and I can't wait to talk about it at my library's book discussion group this week.
  • I also finished A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer, the teen/YA audio book I've been listening to this summer. It's a post-apocalyptic tale of a teen girl and her younger brother making their way across the country after a viral pandemic kills 95% of the population. I really liked it and enjoyed the audio production.
  • I am now reading The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh for my nieghborhood book group, also this week. It's about a young British woman in the 1870's who emigrates to South Africa to marry a man she barely knows. I'm enjoying it so far, but I better start reading faster if I want to finish it by Wednesday!
  • My husband, Ken, finished Break No Bones by Kathy Reich. This was the first Reich novel that any of us have read - this series is the basis for the TV show Bones - and Ken said it was very good though different from the TV show.
  • He just started Time and Again by Jack Finney, a classic time travel novel that Ken gave me for Christmas one year. I hope he likes it as much as I did.
  • Jamie, 19, probably hasn't had much personal reading time at all lately - he is busy with college and friends!
  • Craig, 15, got his reading list for this year's Brit Lit class. He's not too excited, but I am! Lots of excellent novels on the list, both classics and modern, and I think he may actually enjoy some of them (though he'd never admit that). So far, they are discussing their summer reads, The Lord of the Flies and The Housekeeper and the Professor. And guess what? His first writing assignments are blog posts for their classroom blog! I like this teacher.
My writing challenges kept me busy with other writing projects, but I managed a few book blog posts:

Review of The Time Machine, a new audio production of H.G. Wells' classic story.

Snapshot Saturday, in case you want to see pictures of my recent vacation in Cape Cod and Maine.

Wrap-up of My Big Book Summer Challenge - if you were participating in the challenge, be sure to link your own wrap-up post to the challenge page. There is also a separate list of links for reviews of Big Books. If you didn't participate, check out some of the reviews listed to get some ideas for your own Big Book reads!

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.)

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Snapshot Saturday 9/7

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

As promised, today I will post part 2 of our recent vacation photos - a few of my favorite photos from our recent trip to Maine. I absolutely love Maine, and Acadia National Park, where we spent most of our time, is one of my favorite places in the world. We've traveled all over the country and seen some amazing places, but I love coming back to the Maine coast.

Acadia coastline from the top of Beech Mountain.

My son is beside himself with joy over his 3+ lbs lobster!

My husband and I on the Beech Mountain Trail, with Acadia's lakes in the background.

My sons kayaking on Echo Lake.

Ahhh...there's that rocky coastline that I love so much!

My husband and sons climbing on the rocks.

Sunset from the top of Cadillac Mountain - highest point on the eastern seaboard

Hunter's Beach at dusk

Another beautiful sunset, from Hunter's Beach

My husband and sons on top of Great Head - we think - it was very foggy!

Hope you are having a wonderful weekend and enjoying weather as nice as ours!

Friday, September 06, 2013

Fiction Review: The Time Machine

For the last several years, I have wanted to read more of the classics that I somehow missed in school or since, and that goal fit in perfectly with the Those Books I Should Have Read 2013 Reading Challenge. I also love novels with a time travel plot, so I don’t know how I missed reading H.G. Wells’ classic, The Time Machine, for so long. When I saw a new audio production had been recently released, I knew it was just the thing for me. My husband and I listened to it together over the course of several car trips this summer, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it!

The basic plot of The Time Machine is quite simple. A gentleman scientist living near the turn of the century invents a machine capable of traveling through time with its passenger able to control when it stops. The scientist tests out his invention, moving more than 800,000 years into the future. There he finds the Eloi, a race of small humans, living peacefully and contentedly among meadows, forests, and very old, crumbling buildings. The people live on a simple diet of mostly fruit and seem to have no purpose in life and no challenges to solve, though the scientist later discovers another race, the menacing Morlocks, that live underground and prey on the Eloi at night. The scientist has many adventures and encounters plenty of danger while exploring this world, but he eventually makes it back to his own time.

The whole story is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who simply refers to the scientist as the Time Traveller. He’s a frequent guest at the Time Traveller’s home for dinner, where he hears of this fantastic invention and, later, the amazing journey. The rest of the dinner guests think that the Time Traveller has made the whole story up, though the narrator is more inclined to believe him.

I was fascinated by the details of Wells’ imagined far future world. For a time, many future-predicting books presumed that humanity’s ever-advancing technology would someday produce a utopia of sorts. More recently, dystopia is all the rage, with most futuristic novels imagining a devastated and doomed earth, created by man’s ever-increasing greed and consumption. Wells wrote this novel (originally published as a serial) way back in 1895, and the future world he foresaw was one where humans have created such a perfect society that eventually, they evolved to a race that no longer needed intelligence or strength because there were no challenges left to solve (granted, this is 800,000 years into the future, much further than most authors delve). I read that Wells was a socialist, so perhaps this was his view of socialist perfection.

Of course, the novel later reveals that this new world is not as perfect as it first seems. There is plenty of action and suspense here, as the Time Traveller and his Eloi friend, Weena, explore the future world and strive to stay safe from the Morlocks (now I understand why Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory TV show has nightmares about Morlocks!) I enjoyed listening to Wells’ imaginative descriptions and adventures, but what I most liked was the thought-provoking nature of the novel, as I tried to imagine how Wells came to this unusual interpretation of the future. It was fun listening to this classic along with my husband; now I want to see the movie adaptation!

Listening Library

Listen to a sample:

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

My Big Book Summer Challange 2013 Wrap-Up

I am running a few days behind, as always, but Labor Day is past, so it's time to wrap-up my 2013 Big Book Summer Challenge.

You can see on my introduction post from May (and in the photo here) that I planned to read 5 Big Books this summer (each over 400 pages). I did meet my goal and read 5 Big Books, but I made a swap at the last minute, skipping over Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon for now, so that I had time to read The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness because I was enjoying the Chaos Walking series so much! I won't wait for next summer's Big Book Challenge to finish this trilogy!

I read and reviewed these 5 Big Books this summer:
I can't wait to hear about YOUR Big Book Summer! How many Big Books did you end up reading? Please leave a link to your wrap-up post either here or on the main challenge page (the lists are the same). Also remember to leave links to your Big Book reviews on the challenge page - I will leave the page up for a while.

I thoroughly enjoyed tackling these Big Books this summer, and I hope you did, too. If you didn't participate this summer, there is always next year!

Monday, September 02, 2013

It's Monday 9/2! What Are You Reading?

Happy September! Fall is my favorite season, so I am happy that September is here. We had another very busy week, capped off by a frantic Friday after my college son spent much of the previous night/early morning in the ER. Just stupid college stuff! Thank goodness, his injury isn't quite as bad as first thought, and it looks like he won't need surgery, but he has a torn tendon in his finger that needs to be kept splinted for 6 weeks. Both he and his brother spent the holiday weekend at the beach with friends, so my husband and I had a lovely, quiet respite for a few days - just what we needed! They both return today (college son only long enough to do laundry and refill his medicines), so we will be returning to the real world, but we enjoyed our quiet downtime together.

Not a lot of time for reading last week, but we all managed some:
  • I finished The Ask and the Answer (see my review) by Patrick Ness and loved it as much as the first book. This Chaos Walking YA trilogy is fabulous! I can't wait to read the third and final book.
  • I squeezed in a short middle-grade novel before turning to my book group obligations for September. I read Charlie Bumpers vs. Teacher of the Year by Bill Harley, one of our all-time favorite authors/singers/storytellers. It was excellent - reading it was like listening to Harley tell one of his stories from his own childhood.
  • I am now reading Hope's Boy by Andrew Bridge, a memoir for my library's discussion group. The author was taken from his young, mentally ill mother at the age of 7 and grew up in foster homes and horrible child welfare institutions. Amazingly, he grew into a caring, intelligent adult who is devoting his life to helping abandoned and foster children. I'm a little more than halfway through, and it is both horrifying and hopeful.
  • I am still listening to a teen/YA audio, A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer, the post-apocalyptic journey of a teen sister and her younger brother across the country to find their remaining family. It's been excellent all the way through - I'm on the last CD now!
  • My husband, Ken, finished Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag and enjoyed it.
  • Ken is now reading Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs, one of the novels that inspired the TV show Bones (a favorite in our house). We've been meaning to try the series for ages and found a couple of Reichs' novels in the bargain bin on vacation.
  • Jamie, 19, is still reading Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling, book 1 of The Nightrunner series. I doubt he had much reading time this weekend at the beach with all of his best friends! Now that he's back at school, his reading time will be filled with chemistry and calculus instead of fantasy.
  • Craig, 15, finished The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa just in time before school started on Wednesday! He didn't love it, but he said it was OK- I want to read it when he's done using it for school. He won't read anything unless it is assigned to him, so I am hoping his Brit Lit teacher this year will come up with some good novels for his class!
Thanks to school starting up again, I was able to get back to some writing this week, including these posts:

I signed up for Two Writing Challenges to help jump-start my fall writing season (kids back in school - yay!)

Book Adaptations on TV - looks like a good season coming up!

Weekend Cooking, with a couple of quick, healthy dinner ideas for back-to-school time.

 Review of Defending Jacob, a suspenseful and disturbing legal drama.

Review of The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, book 2 in the Chaos Walking YA trilogy.

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.)

If you have been participating in the Big Book Summer Challenge, summer is officially over after today! Be sure to add your links for any Big Book reviews to the review link list on the challenge page. Later today or tomorrow, I will post a summary post with another link list for your own wrap-up posts. 

Fiction Review: Defending Jacob

My Big Book Summer Challenge gave me the push I needed to finally read Defending Jacob by William Landay. I’d heard all the rave reviews and bought it for my husband for his birthday last fall. I’m glad I made the time to read this riveting and disturbing legal thriller.

As the novel opens, Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber is assigned to investigate a shocking crime in the wealthy Boston suburb where he and his family live. A fourteen-year old boy has been brutally murdered, and the community wants the horrifying case solved quickly. The boy was a classmate of Andy’s son, Jacob, but they weren’t close, so Andy sees no conflict of interest in his role…until his own son is accused of the murder, and Andy is taken off the case.

It all seems surreal to Andy, as he suddenly finds himself in the role of helpless parent instead of powerful prosecutor. He and his wife believe in their son’s innocence, and Andy does all he can to help in his defense. From there, the novel follows the boy’s case and is in turns a courtroom thriller, murder mystery, and every parent’s worst nightmare.

The reader goes on a rollercoaster ride with Andy and his wife. New evidence comes to light, and you wonder whether Jacob might actually be the killer. Then, in another scene, you see him as a scared little boy and think it must be a set-up. Landay takes you back and forth again and again, as the story continues, until you don’t know what to think. The courtroom verdict is not the ending; Andy is brought up on charges of obstruction of justice (this is actually how the book opens), as the family’s saga continues. The final ending is a shock that I never saw coming.

Besides being a compelling and fast-paced suspense novel, Defending Jacob is also a thought-provoking book. As a parent, it is impossible to read this story and not think, “What would I do?” It’s an unthinkable situation for any parent, and Andy and his wife each react differently. All in all, it’s a very disturbing, thoughtful novel that kept me reading long past bedtime.

421 pages, Delacorte Press 


Sunday, September 01, 2013

Weekend Cooking 9/1

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

September 1! Woohoo! I know most people are mourning the end of summer, but I am excited for the start of fall. It is my favorite season, I love the cooler weather, and the kids go back to school so that I can get back to writing and get more rest (it's tough juggling family demands when you have a chronic illness).

We had another very busy, exhausting week, so I stuck to super-easy meals again - and we actually ate out a lot more than we normally do! The kids are both away at the beach with friends for the weekend, so my husband and I closed the kitchen and are taking a well-deserved break. Food-wise, we still have all the fabulous fresh produce of summer here - tomatoes, sweet corn, local peaches. My oldest son is back in college, so it is mostly just the three of us again.

Monday night, I made a quick past meal that is perfect for summertime, Shrimp and Squash Penne. This simple dish is perfect for all that extra zucchini and summer squash coming from the garden and CSA now, with simple but tasty flavors. I added a bit of fresh parsley from the farm at the end, and it was delicious.

All I had left from last week's CSA was lots of juicy tomatoes and some jalapenos, so on Tuesday, we had an old favorite school-night recipe, Chipotle Bean Burritos, with the addition of fresh homemade salsa instead of plain tomatoes. Very quick and easy...and very tasty.

My Mom reminded me that I used to make the kids a special surprise on their first day of school, like this School Bus Cake (directions from Family Fun magazine) - ours didn't look quite like the one in the magazine, but the kids loved it! So, when my youngest son started his sophomore year of high school on Wednesday, I decided to make him a favorite dinner. Then, I realized that all of his favorite meals revolve around seafood! So, I surprised him and ordered a dozen steamed and seasoned crabs for dinner (we live near the Chesapeake Bay, so blue crabs are a tradition every summer). The fresh sweet corn from our CSA were a perfect accompaniment, with some simple boiled red potatoes. He was thrilled, and we all enjoyed the treat!

My sons on the first day of school 2001
The next night, with both boys gone for the weekend, I used the meager 3/4 cup of leftover crabmeat to make some crabcakes for my husband and I, along with leftover potatoes, and some lovely yellow beans from the farm. I loosely used this Maryland Crab Cakes recipe but cut by 4, left out the milk (I'm dairy intolerant), replaced it with a small spoon of olive oil mayo, and added some Old Bay seasoning. And, since then, we've been eating out! I love to cook when I have the time and energy, but I am enjoying this little break.

Hope you are enjoying the end-of-summer food this week, too!