Friday, July 31, 2015

Books Read in June

Yes, you read that title correctly - it is now the end of July and this is just my June summary! Trying to catch up after a month away.

Anyway, June was a good reading month. Here's what I finished:

I enjoyed all of these books. I read a nice mix of middle-grade, teen/YA, and adult books but all fiction. OK, I tried, but I seriously can not choose a favorite from June - I really loved all of these. It was a spectacular reading month!

Update on 2015 Reading Challenges:
For my 2015 Where Are You Reading Challenge, I added just 1 new state to my list. I read just one book from my own shelves for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2015 - really need to work on that! I listened to two more audio books for my 2015 Audio Book Challenge, and added no books to my 2015 Nonfiction Reading Challenge. No classics last month, either (need to work on that one, too). No new countries for my Travel the World in Books Challenge, either. However, I read two big books in June for my own Big Book Summer Challenge - hey, that's the important one, right?

What was your favorite book(s) read in June?

Join the Big Book Summer Challenge!

Middle-Grade Review: The Baby-Sitters Club

I completely missed the popular The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann B. Martin in its original format – I was almost finished with college when it first came out, and my two sons had no interest in it. I was interested, though, when I saw that one of my favorite graphic novel authors, Raina Telgemeier, had adapted the first book, Kristy’s Great Idea, in a graphic novel format. I thoroughly enjoyed this fun, realistic drama.

Twelve-year old Kristy lives with her mom and three brothers. At the start of seventh grade, as her mother and other parents are scrambling to find baby-sitters, Kristy gets the idea to start a Baby-Sitter’s Club with her two best friends, Claudia and Mary Anne, and the new girl who just moved to town, Stacey. Together, the four friends form a baby-sitting co-op so that parents can call just one phone number to find a sitter who is available.

The girls deal with all kinds of baby-sitting issues and challenges, from scheduling problems to difficult kids, but this novel is also about their own lives and their friendship. I expected the book to be sort of predictable because clearly the girls fit certain character stereotypes: the brainy bookworm, the creative artsy one, the NYC transfer who is into fashion. I was pleasantly surprised, though, by the diversity and depth in the novel. Besides the typical preteen problems you might expect, the girls also deal with some serious challenges, including divorce, blended families, and even chronic illness. Amid these very real issues, there is also a nice sense of humor in the novel that is enhanced by the graphic novel format.

The characters and dialogue felt real to me and the situations and plot felt fresh (even though it was written in 1986!) Telgemeier’s characteristic drawings, seen in such recent graphic novel hits as Smile, Sisters, and Drama, are fun but realistic and add to the engaging storylines and sense of humor. Together, the classic novel and the updated format are a winning combination!

181 pages, Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Middle-Grade Review: Revolution

Revolution by Deborah Wiles has been sitting patiently on my shelf for the past year (like so many other books!). I finally made time to read it last month as part of my own Big Book Summer Challenge, and I was blown away by this amazing mix of fiction and history. Forget the fact that it was written for middle-grade readers – everyone, no matter what their age, should read this powerful book.

Revolution is about The Freedom Summer – the summer of 1964 when college students and other volunteers from all over the country traveled to Mississippi to help end discrimination and segregation in a part of the country that was outright ignoring federal laws to that effect. Wiles tells this remarkable tale by combining an engaging fictional story featuring both white and black young people with real-life photos, newspaper excerpts, quotes, and other documentary material.

Twelve-year old Sunny is ready to enjoy another summer in Greenwood, Mississippi, like all the rest – filled with days at the pool with her step-brother, Gillette, riding her bike, going to see scary movies in the town theater, and memorizing new Beatles’ lyrics with her best friends, Polly and Mary Margaret. But nothing seems right this summer. The adults in her life are all upset, though she doesn’t quite understand why, and the newspaper says that Mississippi is being invaded. Everyone seems angry or scared and is choosing sides. What is happening to her beloved town?

Meanwhile, in Greenwood’s Colored Town, Raymond is another young person who is confused by what’s happening this summer. There’s a white college girl at his dinner table, and everyone is talking about the Freedom Summer. Raymond just wants to play baseball and swim in the town pool that is off-limits to him. Like Sunny, the adults in his life are choosing sides – deciding to register to vote or being too scared to get involved – and Raymond must decide what he thinks.

Much to Sunny’s surprise, she and Raymond – who had previously never crossed paths – seem to have a strange connection, and she keeps seeing him in places she doesn’t expect. As the events of the summer unroll and the danger and violence build, their quiet lives are upended, and they both need to decide what they believe and how far they will go to protect those beliefs.

I have to admit that I knew nothing about the Freedom Summer before reading this remarkable book. I was born in 1965, so I missed all this – and certainly learned none of this in history class growing up! The fictional story is engaging and compelling, with characters who feel real and whom I came to care about. Interspersed with fictional chapters are real photos, quotes, posters, and news stories that are sometimes hard to believe really happened. They add to and support the story, bringing it to life and reminding the reader that the danger and threat of that summer were very, very real.

These two interwoven pieces make for an incredibly moving, powerful book. I was riveted from the first page to the last, as the tension and suspense built to a terrible crescendo. I couldn’t put this book down. I can’t wait to read the first book in Wiles’ The Sixties Trilogy, Countdown, and whatever the third book will be. She is a talented writer, and these are incredibly unique and important books. Highly recommended.

544 pages (that go by in a flash!), Scholastic Press

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?