Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Year of Books - 2017

A Year of Books - 2017

I read 63 books this year. I am slowing down! My top 10% picks are highlighted in red.

Adult Fiction & Non-Fiction

1. Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding. I enjoyed seeing Bridget in the role as a parent and juggling responsibilities. Being a widow added a dimension to her character that was not there before. There were many laugh out loud moments as Bridget sailed through single-working-parent scenarios with things never quite working out as planned, but often with a better ending.

2. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman. This book was a little different than the things that I usually read - and I loved it. When Elsa's Grandmother dies, she begins the task of delivering letters to others in her apartment building, all with the message that her Grandmother is sorry. Elsa learns that all of the fairy tales her Grandmother has told her has their roots in the lives of all of these people.
3. Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. I really enjoyed this light read about Dumplin' and her journey through high school romance, balancing changing friendships and family situations and entering the beauty pageant her mother runs.
4. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I was surprised to learn how much of this novel was historical. This story follows the life of Sarah, a well-to-do daughter of the Charleston elite and her household slave Handful. While Sarah goes out into the world and discovers Quaker values and fights for the abolition of slavery she also discovers that fighting for the rights of others awakens a discovery that women's rights are important to her. Meanwhile Handful navigates the strict slave laws of Charleston and yearns for a life where she is in charge of her destiny.
5. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. An interesting read on security, privacy, terrorism and freedom. This fictional book describes how a movement among teenagers to regain privacy after a terrorism attach in San Francisco has everyone questioning what is privacy and what is the cost to security.
6. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. While this book started off as goofy, it seemed that the characters will a little too scripted for modern day - I ended up getting really involved in the storyline! This retelling of Pride and Prejudice is set in modern day Cincinnati, OH and has a slightly older cast. Modern issues such as artificial insemination, transgendered spouses and reality tv make their way into the novel as storylines. But, of course, it's Liz and Darcy's story that leaves you wanting to find out what happens next!
7. Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King. I had a little harder time getting into this book than previous in the series. For most of the book Mary Russell does not remember who she is as she is in unfamiliar Morocco with the backdrop of revolutions.
8. The Hope Chest by Viola Shipman. A heartwarming tale of loss, change and family. Don and Mattie find their lives altered with Mattie's ALS diagnosis. Rose enters the story as their caretaker who brings a young daughter into their lives. While Don and Mattie grow to love Rose and Jeri, Rose finds healing from her mother's earlier death.

9. The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams. This book drew me in right from the start. In 1964 Vivian receives a suitcase that her Aunt Violet lost in 1914 on the eve of the first World War - although she previously did not know of this aunt. As she digs deeper into the mystery she has to sort through the intrigue, assumptions, lies, dead-ends and parallels to her own life. I loved the sense of history this book gave, jumping between two time-lines, and especially how women were perceived and treated in two different eras that also differ from my own.
10. Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie impersonates an English daughter trying to get her father back from the German government in pre-WWII Munich and discovers how close to war Germany is.
11. Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown. This was the exception where the movie was better than the book!
12. Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes. When I got this book I was a little concerned that I wouldn't be able to relate to Janey because I thought it would be the journey of a 20-something on her way to the perfect body and therefore perfect life. It turned out that 40 year old Janey, who never had to try to control her weight before, was totally relatable. Janey has reached a point in her life where everything she thought she knew gets turned upside down. She has a falling out with her best friend/business partner and gets the ultimatum to lose weight. Janey explores many wacky weight-loss and exercise schemes and along the way meets colorful characters and reconnects with old friends and family. I enjoyed reading Janey's journey as she discovers who she wants to be on her own terms.

13. Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams. This is the second book I've read by Beatriz Williams and I LOVE them! This book also switches timelines from pre-WWII in France & Germany to 1960s Florida. Both timelines tell about Annabelle from being young and in love to matron who presides over a large family. Pepper Schuyler's life begins to intertwine with Annabelle's when she finds Annabelle's abandoned Mercedes that was used by her family to escape from Nazi occupied Germany. As the timelines flipped back and forth, I couldn't wait to hear how the stories would end up!
14. Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand. This novel shows the life of three women over a summer and how they all handle the looming crises in their lives.
15. Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer. When Martin finds out his life is a computer program he sets out to alter it and ends up in England during the Middle Ages only to find he is not the only person who has figured this out.
16. My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive by Julissa Arce. Book review at https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Book-Reviews/Current-Past-Book-Reviews/My-Underground-American-Dream.aspx 
17. Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams. I read this book out of order and it ended up being my least favorite in the series - however there was a twist at the end I really enjoyed. Tiny is the perfect wife of an aspiring politician in the 1960s, but she comes to realize that she is only what others expect her to be. Can she find her way back to being herself?

18. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. While this book was not a religious books, there were moments in it that I found holy. Ed starts receiving names of people who he must find out what they need. Along the way Ed becomes more connected to those in his town and learns about himself and those he loves more. I didn't really like the ending about who the messenger was - but I loved Ed's moments of connection.
19. The Senator's Children by Nicholas Montemarano. I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book and I really enjoyed it. The Senator's Children jumps around through timelines to tell the story of 6 people all intertwined by their links to the Senator. The chapters almost read as vignettes. The topic of loss is reoccurring. The loss of a privacy through a political lifestyle, death of a child, loss of trust, loss of a parent, loss of health and yet there is hope through new relationships. We see the Senator as he first runs for office, as a seasoned politician running for President, as a father who grieves the death of his son, and as an aging elderly man who cannot always remember what has happened. We get to know his wife, son, daughter and another daughter who was the result of an affair. Each chapter in this book reveals another slice of their life. The Senator's Children does not offer platitudes or solutions, but does offer a look into the Christie family and events that shaped the lives of everyone who was important to the Senator.
20. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman. This book was a little drier than I thought it would be. I expected a more intimate introspection into the zoo's human family. However, the facts about Warsaw's occupation were eye opening.
21. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. I loved this book. Alice awakens after an accident at the gym and finds she can't remember the last 10 years. She last remembers being pregnant, newly married and renovating a house together. She finds she now has 3 children, a fully renovated house and is in the middle of a divorce. Not only does Alice question how she became the person she is, but others around her start looking at their lives in different ways.

22. Savannah Breeze by Mary Kay Andrews. This was an enjoyable fun read! What happens with Bebe's fling takes off with her money? She sets out to get even while also restoring an old motel on Tybee Island. 

23. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. This book brings up powerful topics. What is race? What is racism? Can we "not see color?" Ruth is a nurse who is asked by white supremacist parents not to care for their newborn because of her color -and the hospital honors their request. When the baby dies after a routine surgery Ruth becomes embroiled in a court case which leaves her white public defender questioning institutional racism and what she has taken granted up to now in her life. Not only are these topics timely, but the narrative of the story takes many twists and turns so that you are always wondering what will happen next.

24. Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty. So far I have loved everything I've read by Moriatry, this book is no exception. As the Kettle triplets turn 34, they look back on their past year. A year that has been filled with an affair, a divorce, new love, pregnancies, miscarriage, parenting trials and not to mention their estranged parents dating again. Looking at the lives of these three sisters was entertaining, enlightening and made me reminisce myself.

25. Size 12 and Ready to Rock by
A Man Called Ove by
Antiques Roadkill by Fun, easy murder mystery. What happens when Brandy moves back to her hometown after a divorce and finds her eccentric mother has lost a house full of antiques to an unscrupulous dealer? Of course, they next stumble (or drive) across his dead body and then interfere with the police as they investigate on their own. 

Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life by

Book Club

1. After You by Jojo Moyes. I enjoyed this book so much more than the first. I felt the characters developed more fully and I could see their growth. Life seemed to happen around them while they struggled to keep up and yet their interactions with each other and new people made for a more vibrant experience.

2. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany (Adaptation), Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling. This book was picked for book club and I was not really looking forward to it since I stopped reading the Harry Potter series due to the increasing size of the books. However, the play format made for a very fast read! I also really liked seeing the characters as adults with children of their own.
3. The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman. I liked the Michigan references in this book, but the plot was a little predictable.
4. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. There was mystery upon mystery in this book that lead to a good discussion!

5. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. While I enjoyed reading about the lives of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the ending of this historical book was deeply disturbing.
6. Naked in Death by J.D. Robb. At first I didn't like this book. It seemed so violent, but as the book developed the plot began to make more sense and I devoured the last 1/6 of the book to see what would happen next!

7. The Circle by I read this book for bookclub and it really made me think. Security vs Privacy. And what is your limit as to what should be public information - is it the same limit everyone else has? I actually found myself agreeing with many parts of the book until my line was crossed and that made me go back and question how long it took me to get there.

Children & Young Adult

1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Milo starts the book by wondering why he has to learn about useless information in school but a trip through the Phantom Tollbooth shows him the usefulness of language and numbers.
2. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. My 10 year old and 13 year old boys loved this book. I found it a little slow, but I'm glad they liked it. I did like how it was based on a historical event and how O'Dell imagined life alone on an island may have went for a girl who spent many years alone.
3. Double Down by Jeff Kinney. Classic antics made us laugh again at Greg Heffley.

4. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. This book was really good. As Sal sets off on a cross-country trip with her Grandparents she tells them a story about her friend Phoebe, however Phoebe's story and Sal's own echo each other. A journey across the country also is a journey of grief and discovery. Death, friendship, relationships, secrets and the definition of family are all explored. I loved getting to know the people in Sal & Phoebe's lives as this story unfolded.
5. Little Rock Nine by Marshall Poe. This graphic novel is a great way to introduce kids to history - however, I'd put a disclaimer on what age group this is appropriate for due to racial slurs and messages of hate and killing, so I'd put this as more appropriate for middle school and higher.
6. Evil Spy School by Stuart Gibbs. I think this was the best so far in this series! When Ben gets kicked out of spy school, he has an inkling that Erica arranged circumstances so that he would be available to join the evil spy organization SPYDER. Ben infiltrates SPYDER and makes friends with the "evil spies" his age but is still not sure what the evil master plan is until it's too late - or is it?
7. Countdown by Deborah Wiles. Franny navigates middle school friendship with the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the communist scare.
8. Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank. I read this book with my 10 year old and 14 year old and we loved hearing about Armstrong & Charlie's antics! I enjoyed the historical perspective of the mid-1970's and the social movements of the time - this book focusing on school busing between black and white neighborhoods in California. Armstrong and Charlie both learned that there are similarities that bind us together and differences that make us unique. Not only did they learn from each other, but also from each other's families. We now have a new phrase in our house, "do me an Armstrong!" when we ask someone to get our laundry from the basement like Armstrong bringing in his sisters' clothes from the laundry line. Language alert: this book had quite a bit of swearing for being a book about 6th graders.
9. Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. This short children's book was excellent. Kek describes coming to the US as a refuge who has been separated from his family. He struggles to make sense of his new home and what he experienced. He finds help from his neighbor who lives with her foster mom. When Kek starts to work at a small farm he finds hope and encouragement, but also heartbreak again. This book would be good for upper elementary ages as an introduction to other cultures.
10. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. Suzy struggles to make sense of life and death and growing up.
11. The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan. Magnus Chase and his friends search for the hammer of Thor.
12. The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan. After Apollo falls to earth as a mortal, he must figure out what has happened to all the oracles.
13.The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson. Gilly has to navigate growing up while being a foster child who is always on the lookout for her mother. Just as she grows attached to her foster family, Gilly's biological family re-enters.
14. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella. I laughed my way through this book that addresses serious topics: bullying and mental health. 14 year old Audrey describes her wacky family and how they are all trying to cope, and help her cope, with a bullying event that led to her eventual breakdown and detachment from society. Through the help of a therapist and a new friend, Audrey comes to terms with the ups and downs life brings everyone and how we can all help each other out. Kinsella does a perfect job of describing the families foibles while also endearing each character to the reader. While I enjoyed this book as an adult, this would be perfect for middle-school aged kids, especially as a conversation starter regarding the tough topics Finding Audrey handles.
15. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. Isabel is a slave who finds herself involved in Patriot and Loyalist plots during the Revolutionary War.
16. The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I had just finished reading a heavy historical novel, so this young adult book was a fast-paced break that I really enjoyed. Tess Kendrick unexpectedly moves in with her older sister in Washington DC only to find that she's not exactly sure what her sister does as a job, but she is a "fixer." Tess further gets the reputation at her new school of following in her sister's footsteps, only to be embroiled in a mystery with her new friends.
17. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin. This book was a powerful description of the events that took place at the naval Port Chicago during WWII that shaped civil rights in the military. Having never heard of Port Chicago I was fascinated to read about these historical events. This is a Young Adult book so it is written on a jr high level, which made it a quick read.
18. The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies. Brother and sister Evan and Jessie start a lemonade war to see who can win by selling the most lemonade. Along the way the reader is exposed to business strategies. Perfect for elementary aged children.
19. The Land by Mildred D. Taylor. Paul grows up in the post-Civil War era torn between two worlds. He has grown up on his white father's plantation, but as he gets older he sees the differences in how blacks and whites are treated. While his mother is a former slave, his complexion is light enough to make everyone unsure of how to interact with him. Throughout this book Paul shows a determination to own his own land even though he encounters prejudice and many stumbling blocks along the way. While this book was hard to read at times, I loved Paul's perseverance and the sense of community that develops as Paul allows himself to trust others.
20. Flunked by Jen Calonita. Cute read about envisioning how "the other half" lives in fairy tales. Gillian in a cobblers daughter from a large family who steals to supplement their income. When she is caught one to many times, she is sent to Fairy Tale Reform School and finds the evil villains plotting to take over the kingdom.

21. The Time Hackers by Gary Paulsen. Very interesting short read on time travel. My kids, ages 10 & 14, and I both enjoyed Dorso's adventures as his computer is hacked and takes him through time as the hackers engage in a game that could bring serious changes to the future's timeline.

22. The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. Apollo and his friends seek the ancient oracles and end up in the Midwest. The character of Apollo is still funny with his dry humor. But beware, the book doesn't really end, it just says "to be continued."

23. Charmed by Jen Calonita. This book continues the story of Gillian Cobbler and her array of friends at Fairy Tale Reform School who battle villains in their attempt to take over their town of Enchantasia.

24.The Long Game by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I really enjoyed this series and would love if there were a 3rd book available. In this fast-paced book teenage Tess uncovers conspiracies, plots and discovers that things aren't always as they seem especially in the political capital of the nation.

25. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. The kids and I re-listened to this book, I think it's been 3 years since we first heard it. The characters, plot and mystery are so great that you can come back to this book and still find it fresh and entertaining.

26. Flying Solo by This was a cute book on what might happen if a 6th grade class didn't have a substitute and ran their day themselves. 

27. Tricked by

The Getaway (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #12) by


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Year of Books: 2016

My New Year's Resolution this year was to read more books by diverse authors. I realized last summer my then 8 year old and I were reading a lot of biographies of white men, I thought, "We can do better." Not only can we read about more diverse people, but we can enlarge our view of the world by learning from authors who write from a different background than ours. 

All books in red are written by diverse authors. A star is next to the best in category.

Diverse Authors

1. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Insight as to life as a Muslim teen in Australia. Amal has the usual teen drama in her life with friends, boys, school work and a grouchy neighbor. When she decides to wear the hijab full-time, some things in her life change, but she also realizes that there are issues that anyone can struggle with regardless of religion.

2. Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena. When I first started this book I thought it was just another teenage angst book, but then so many layers unfolded. Danny feels like he doesn't belong at his white private school or with his Mexican relatives. There are family secrets, truths, self-doubt, self-cutting, self-realization, strength, missing parents, broken parents, reforming parents and unlikely friendships. I was left rooting for every single character and cheering as Danny discovers what it is to be himself.

3. Flight by Sherman Alexie. This book was very violent and yet it explored the themes of violence, killing, murder, betrayal, anger, revenge, and oppression. I did like that it recognized that anger doesn't add, it multiplies and revenge is a circle within a circle withing a circle, unending. And yet, there can be people who come along and show goodness and mercy to break the cycle.

4. Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez. Insightful book as the author imagines how her life would have been if her family had stayed for the Dominican revolution instead of leaving just before it happened in the 1960s.

5. War Dances by Sherman Alexie. Interesting collection of short stories and poems, many with a Native American focus. Bonus: the CD is read by the author!

6. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa. Poignant story of a housekeeper who finds herself employed to former Math professor who only has an 80 minute memory as the result of an accident. Not only do the housekeeper and her son find joy in learning, but they find that family isn't always biological.

7. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama. Fascinating insight into Obama's young life through his community organizing days and ending at his acceptance to law school. From childhood in Hawaii to his mother's new marriage and home in Indonesia to college in California and community organizing in Chicago and finally a trip to Kenya to meet his father's family after his death. Bonus: Book on CD is read by the author!

8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. This book was so bad I only listened to 1/3 of it and decided I had better things to do. It revolves around a Dominican family and works back through their family history, starting in New Jersey in the 1980's and when I ended in the Dominican Republic in the 1950's. I found this book slow, crude and depressing.

9. The Great Call of China by Cynthea Liu. A quick read about a student discovering her past, adventure and taking chances.

*10. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely. What a powerful book. What would you do if you were the victim of police brutality? What if you witnessed it? This book raises so many questions - but adds more like the layers of an onion. Shown through the eyes of two young men, both struggle to make sense of the society that surrounds them.

11. NW by Zadie Smith. I did not enjoy this book. Too much drugs and sex, I couldn't relate. I did like the parts of the book that related to culture and the influence that had on the characters lives.

12. When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds. The story of three boys turns into a story of how boy reacts to his brother having Tourette syndrome and how their neighborhood friend views their relationship.

13. The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. The story of a boy who deals with his mother's death by working in a funeral home.

14. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This reminded me a lot of The Lovely Bones. This story is told through flashbacks as to how a family deals with the death of a 16 year old daughter and sister and how being a half Chinese family affects their experiences.

Book Club Books

1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I didn't really enjoy this book. A violent crime that ends in the death of a young girl who continues to watch her family and friends from her version of heaven.

2. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. Excellent biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I was enthralled to see how her life played out - from losing her mom just before high school graduation, working extra hard in college to prove as a woman she could handle it, early marriage, law school with a toddler and a husband facing cancer, her early career and how she became a judge and ultimately sits on the Supreme Court. Even her current 22 year span on the Court is fascinating. I'm glad that her life is continuing beyond the book and I look forward to following her life!

3. The Fifth Vial by Michael Palmer. Fast paced medical thriller that was fun to read.

4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Why wasn't this quote in the movie? "Enough about my beauty," Buttercup said. "Everyone always talks about how beautiful I am. I've got a mind, Westley. Talk about that." Otherwise the movie closely followed the book which made for an adventurous read.

5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck. This book really boils down to thinking positively and viewing "failure" as an opportunity to learn.

*6. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. I am still processing this book, even after finishing last night. It was so visceral. Dana travels back in time to a plantation where her ancestors are slaves. She experiences first hand what slavery was like. Her white husband also travels back during on of her trips and has different experiences. Throughout the whole book Dana strives to understand why she has traveled back in time.

7. The Bridal Chair by Gloria Goldreich. I liked the history contained in this book - Chagall's family escaped the Russian Revolution, settled in France but then became a target of Hitler because they were Jewish. But, I couldn't relate to the family relationships.

8. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I thought this book was only mediocre. It was a little patronizing that the male main character, of course, knew what was best for the female main character and helped her to find her true self - with his money. I felt the characters could have been a bit ore developed, there was a rich field of euthanasia, but none of the characters go very deeply into their thoughts and feelings regarding this.

Fiction & Non-fiction

1. Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich. As usual, this book had my whole family laughing at the antics of Stephanie, Lula and Grandma. Grandma is catfishing with Stephanie's photo on dating websites, a fraternity is missing two of it's members after a run-in with the college administration and a wacky professor has a plan to spread bubonic plague. Mystery, murder and laughs abound.

2. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. Three generations of women reflect on their lives, the impact family has made, and their futures.

3. A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie Dobbs is back, but she's not quite the same. Personal tragedy leaves her contemplating her life while she stumbles upon a murder and begins to put her life back together as she unravels the mystery.

4. Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea. This book had a good premise: the lover of Frederick Engels, sponsor of Karl Marx in England. But the book was so slow and boring I had trouble keeping interest.

*5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I thoroughly enjoyed this book! In 2044 teenager Wade sets out to win a Virtual Reality contest that tests his knowledge of 1980's culture, video games and role playing games. Along the way he makes friends as well as enemies and has to discover life through actual reality.

6. This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — plus plenty of valet parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich. Washington politics from 2008-2012.

7. Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World by Linda Hirshman. I really enjoyed this book and reading the histories of these two great women who had many similarities, but also many differences. How they influenced modern histories, but also how they were influenced by the world around them. As a woman who grew up after the 1970's I take for granted so many things that these women endured, persevered and changed so that not only women but all Americans could benefit.

8. Armada by Ernest Cline. Another great read from Cline. Zack's father died when he was a baby, but he is obsessed with the things his dad liked: 80's music and video games. His video game prowess has him recruited by the Earth Defense Alliance to defend the world from an alien enemy. So many things are not what they seem in this book. The nostalgia will attract older readers, but there is enough action to engage younger readers too.

9. Disconnected by Jennifer Weiner. This was a very weird read. It was hard to figure out what was going on and the drug use lifestyle was something I am not used to.

10. Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner. The story of a mother and her adult daughters as they navigate circumstances leading them into new experiences and changing their lives. Silvie deals with her husbands infidelity after building her entire life around him. Lizzie wants this exit from rehab to stick. Diana has always been in control of her high achieving life until she finds someone she can't say no to. All three find that they must change because nothing stays the same.

11. Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand. The story of two friends trying to put their friendship and their lives back together after the death of a husband the the imprisonment of the other husband.

*12. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I didn't want this book to end - and yet I wanted to see everything resolved! On the surface this book seems to be about the intricacies of parental relationships between kindergarten parents and yet below the surface lurks the lies of bullying, infidelity, and violence. There is a colorful cast of characters, mystery and intrigue, I kept wanting to read more!

13. Looking for Alaska by John Green. When Miles goes away to school he is looking for the "Great Perhaps." Alaska opens up new views for him, but her sudden death has him questioning what he knows about her.

14. Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie Plum is back at it with tons of crazy new characters as she investigates deaths at an ice cream factory.

Children & Young Adult

1. Fair Weather by Richard Peck. Three farm children and their grandfather visit Chicago for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition which inspires not only them, but a influences a generation.

2. Old School by Jeff Kinney. Hilarious as always, Greg manages to get himself into funny situations that lead to a camping trip with school.

3. The Fugitive (Theodore Boone #5) by John Grisham. We've enjoyed reading this series by Grisham about a "kid lawyer." Since both of Theodore's parents are lawyers, he knows the law well for a 12 year old. In this book he finds a sees a fugitive and when he reports it, he helps reel the fugitive in and observes his trial for the murder of his wife.

4. The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1), by Rick Riordan. Another good book by Riordan on mythology, this one focusing on the Norse myths.

5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I re-read this book with my kids. So much to mull over after reading: social classes, death, family, responsibility, friends.

6. Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein. This sequel was every bit as engrossing and exciting as the first book! Both my kids and I loved trying to solve the puzzles and anticipating what would happen next. I personally loved that the focus of this book based challenge was banned books.

7. Unfriended by Rachel Vail. Good book on Jr High drama and the way different kids deal with it. Truly always wanted to be popular, but when she gets what she wants, she finds out things aren't always what they seem. The morals of the book are being yourself and how to be a good friend.

8. The Teacher's Funeral : A Comedy in Three Parts by Richard Peck. What happens when your older sister becomes your teacher? If the writer is Richard Peck, lots of hilarious situations like a burning outhouse, snakes in desk drawers, and lots of other pranks.

9. Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck. I really enjoyed this book about female auto mechanics and race car drivers in the early 1900's! Add in four Butler University library science majors and this small Indiana town is in for lots of changes! Richard Peck's writing style always has you seeing the characters in vivid detail and of course has hilarious plot details.

10. If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth. This book tells the story of Lewis & George during their 7th & 8th grade years in the 1970's. Music brings them together and the bonds they forge help them navigate such life issues as: extreme poverty, physical bullying, racial perceptions and military family life. In the end, those parts of you that you strive to keep hidden from others are the parts that reveal the most about yourself.
11. Raging Sea (Undertow #2) by Michael Buckley. My kids, ages 9 & 13, loved this sequel. I did not. The premise was creating an army of 6-18 year olds who were hybrids that would fight the Alpha and other sea creatures. I just couldn't stomach a whole book focused on war by such young kids.

12. Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis. What happens when you find out your own Mother's business ethics are not always clean cut? Luther learns about himself, life, and what kind of person he wants to be in this book that takes place in Flint, MI.

13. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This book was really dark. Children with peculiar talents hiding out in a time frozen day always under threat of attack. My kids and I decided we did not want to continue the series.

14. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt. I love how Schmidt can say so much by saying so little. This book gave me a lot to ponder: child abuse, delinquency, teen pregnancy, foster care - and yet there is always hope, starting with those who truly take the time to care about others, especially the "others" that start off as hard to care for.

15. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. There was so much to this book: The Great Depression, how minorities fared, learning what it meant to have things stacked against you from how you looked, perseverance, hope, kindness, family. We listened to this on CD in the car and my kids kept begging to turn it back on as soon as we got in again since they wanted to see what happened next.

16. The Scandal (Theodore Boone #6) by John Grisham. Another Theodore Boone book! My kids like the adventures of this 13 year old who titles himself as a "kid lawyer."

17. The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson. We did not enjoy this book. It was dark, morose, and flat out creepy. Octavian doesn't know that he's been born into a social experiment in pre-Revolutionary America. His captors educate him in science, philosophy and music, all the while making judgments on how skin color affects intellect.

18. Who Was Betsy Ross? by James Buckley Jr. Interesting facts about Betsy Ross.

19. The Boy Who Owned the School by Gary Paulsen. A funny book about a boy who thinks he's not good at anything, but discovers he does have a lot to offer.

20. Fins of Fury by Mo O'Hara. My 10 year old picked this book. It was a little silly, the adventures of a zombie goldfish, but contained evil scientists, best friends, camping and mysteries.

21. Spy School by Stuart Gibbs. Read with my 10 & 13 year olds who really enjoyed it. I was a little dismayed at the use of ass and damn, but otherwise the mystery and suspense were good.

22. Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Moving read on loyalty, connection, duty, war, regret and family.

*23. Revolution by Deborah Wiles. Excellent book. This book takes place in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1964 - Freedom Summer. History intertwines with the lives of 3 youth who are figuring out their town, their families, themselves, and their future. The incident that stands out to me the most is when the front porches in town are peppered with fliers from the KKK, because this also happened in my town this summer. While listening to this book with my children I could see how closely the past and the present are woven together. The present doesn't exist without the past and how we view the present has been shaped by the past. Also poignant is the voter registration drive, when blacks are risking their jobs and sometimes their lives to register to vote. As we embark on a presidential election season the candidates are just as important as the voters. Even without the lens of current events, the story line of this novel brings the past to life while illustrating social events of the 1960s such as The Beatles, integration, the Vietnam War, and divorce through relatable characters.

24. As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds. This book starts off with two brothers spending a month with their grandparents. While most of the book is light-hearted fun, family secrets including mental illness and suicide are uncovered.
25 Spy Camp by Stuart Gibbs. Ben is back and he, along with his friends from Spy School, start of at camp, but end up stopping evil villans from taking over the US.

26.The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman. Jemmy and Prince Brat form an unlikely friendship.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Year of Books

I was surprised when Goodreads.com told me I read 90 books in 2014. I decided to keep track of my 2015 books here!

While half the books I read were Children's or Young Adult, I am happy that I met my New Year's Resolution of a Non-Fiction book each month. My "best of" from each category is highlighted in red.

New Year's Resolution: to read one Non-fiction a month!
1. The Ultimate book of Impostors, Ian Graham
This book contained over 100 stories of fakes and frauds, but I think I would have preferred fewer stories that were more in depth. My favorites were William and Ellen Craft who escaped from slavery by Ellen pretending to be a white slave owner, were at risk of being sent back from the North, escaped to England and came back after the Civil War.

2. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan. Wow, so much info in this book! The history of corn and processed food. The evolution of big farming. Organics. Hunting & gathering. Lots of information to digest!

3. Nancy Drew and her Sister Sleuths
ecret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia, Michael Farquhar. This books sounds much more interesting than it was. It took me over a month to read and was basically violence and sex. 

5. Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome, Robby Novak. This book was so much fun to read! Lots of inspirational ideas of how we can treat ourselves and others better.

6. Alan Turing: The Enigma, Andrew Hodges. For everyone who saw The Imitation Game and thought you'd like to read the book behind the movie, let me save you the time. This book was heavy. It was long and filled with mathematical and computing theory. The human elements were few and far between. I slogged my way through for 3 months and only got 5/6 of the way through. But when the book had to go back to the library, I wasn't going to renew!

7. Orange Is the New Black, Piper Kerman. "Prison is quite literally a ghetto in the most classic sense of the world, a place where the US government now puts not only the dangerous but also the inconvenient - people who are mentally ill, people who are addicts, people who are poor and uneducated and unskilled." Great memoir of Piper's year in federal prison. Compelling because she could be you. And not as "sensational" as the tv series.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
8. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed. I have not seen the movie - but I really liked the book! Cheryl is a few years older than me, but I loved hearing how her life diverged from mine as she set out to hike sections of the Pacific Crest Trail following tumultuous personal experiences. This story wasn't just her hiking journey, but told of her life journey and how all her experiences shaped her. This was the hardest to pick because Call the Midwife and Unbroken could both tie for first place also! But, this book is still resonating with me.

9. Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, Chester Nez, Judith Schiess Avila. Imagine fighting for a country that doesn't give you the right to vote and not being able to tell anyone the contributions you made toward winning WWII. While Chester Nez downplays the discrimination he received in his life and in the Marines, he up plays up the honor and integrity of his fellow Navajo's who developed the only unbroken code in modern warfare. From Chester's childhood herding sheep on a reservation, to boarding school that was designed to get rid on their Indian-ness, to being a Marine in WWII and the Korean War, to families and raising kids, Chester's experiences are fascinating.

10. Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s, Jennifer Worth. What I liked about this novel was how Worth combined medical stories with social statistics and human elements. The lives of her patients were juxtaposed against a still war-ravaged England of the 1950s. Worth proves herself a fascinating storyteller as she recounts tales of women and their families who stayed on her mind long after she left midwifing in the London slums.

11. Maus, II: And Here My Troubles Began, Art Spiegelman. The gripping continuation of Spiegelman's relationship with his father and his father's concentration camp experiences.

12. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand. What an amazing story of survival, perseverance, resilience, tragedy and triumph. I was glued to this book from Louie's running days leading up to the Olympics, the start of WWII and how a downed airplane led to over 40 days of floating in the Pacific, POW camps and torture, the war ending - but the after-effects making it impossible for the soldiers to get back their previous lives. And yet, Louie was able to redeem his life and become whole again while inspiring and helping others. Many times this book was hard to read, and yet I laughed and cried during the triumphs.

Book Club Books
1. The Handmaid's Tale, Margret Atwood.
I did not really like this pick with it's disturbing view of the future and the sublimation of women.

2. The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Bank. This book chronicled the dating life of Jane and while it was a quick read, it did not leave me with any lasting impressions.

3. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler. An interesting account of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and their wild lifestyle in the 1920s & 30s.

4. The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel. I felt this book started off a little slow, but as it zoomed through the 60's I was fascinated by this account of Astronauts, their wives and the culture surrounding them as America created the space age.

5. A Knight in Shining Armor, Jude Deveraux. I was a little leery about a book that involved time travel and I wasn't sure about the heroine when she first appeared as a self-centered husband hunter, but I warmed to the story as the characters learned more about each other, their eras and how circumstances can change us and help us grow.

6. The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller. I found this book to be the unbelievable account of a highly exalted affair.

7. The Moment Between, Nicole Baart. My pick, I had read this a few years ago and wanted to discuss with a group. 3 timelines: the present, the recent past and the childhood. The story of two sisters. One who has committed suicide after a life of chaotic mental states and the other sister who is left trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in a way that makes sense. The sister's quest leads her to a vineyard in Canada where she is left with more questions than answers but finds hints toward a spiritual life that she is drawn to.

8. Maus, I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, Art Spiegelman. I was completely skeptical when a "comic book" was assigned for book club. I put off reading it as long as I could - until I was a captive audience on an airline flight. And then I couldn't put it down! This book was so fascinating. A son tells his father's holocaust story through his artwork. The tone of the book is comparable to a kitchen table conversation. And yet, it's impact is incredible. Spiegelman's father retells of his life in hiding as Jew in occupied Poland. The hiding, scheming, always trying to stay at least one step ahead of the Nazis. The horrors of murder, separation, starvation and exposure. And then the effect this also had on the generation born after the War's conclusion. My only complaint is that I only had book one, and when it left off I was desperate to see the continuation. I picked this because I am still so surprised that a graphic novel could be so engrossing and also based on true events.

1. Catching Moondrops, Jennifer Erin Valent. This was an ending book in a trilogy I listened to on CD about race relations in a small town before civil rights.

2. All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner. I listened to this book on CD and this was one I couldn't wait to turn on when I got in the car. It was so engrossing. A fictional tale of a professional mother's addiction to prescription drugs and her journey to salvage her life. 

3. The Job, Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg. Light read about an FBI agent and a felony who combine forces to bring down an evil villain.

4. The Language of Bees, Laurie R. King. Mary Russel and her husband Sherlock Holmes investigate a mysterious new religion that has framed his son for murder. An interesting look at London in the 20's and the rising bohemian society.

5. Grift, Jason Mosberg. The author sent me this book to read for free in exchange for a review! So, here goes: This was a fast-paced read that kept me flipping the pages to see what would happen next!
Piper and her family of teenaged con-artists are living a luxury life in Las Vegas: Custom penthouse, parties, concerts - the best in entertainment and food. But all this comes crashing down when Piper's actual younger sister is kidnapped. They all band together for the ransom. But what happens when the con-artists find they have been conned? 

6. The God of the Hive, Laurie R.King. This book built off the previous in the series and kept me wondering what would happen next.

7. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver. This book was amazing: a fictional account of a man's life ranging from post-WWI in Washington DC, to employment by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Lev Trotsky in Mexico, and back to post-WWII America and the Communist scare. History really came alive and personal as Harrison navigates his way between two cultures and the many ideologies of the 1920's through the 1940's. I am still thinking about this book! And I love historical tie-ins!

8. Small Blessings, Martha Woodroof. This book had a lot of twists and turns in it. College small town, the drama of college faculty and their families. What makes a family?

9. Funny Girl,

Big Girl Panties, Stephanie Evanovich. A love story between an overweight widow and her trainer. Funny and cute, although the details of the best friend's sex life is a little weird.

11. Mr. Kiss and Tell, Rob Thomas. I wanted the mystery to be solved without the book ending! This book read exactly like an episode of Veronica Mars with all the wit and repartee you'd expect. Veronica's investigation into a rape & beating lead her to old characters while the race is on for the sheriff's election which has Keith running into his past.

12. Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple. Funny, smart and lots of twists & turns - this book kept me guessing and kept me coming back to find out what happens next!

13. Shopaholic to the Stars, Sophie Kinsella Becky Brandon once again kept me laughing with her adventures, however this book ends on a "to be continued!"

14. A Good Year for the Roses: A Novel, Gil McNeil. This novel about a newly single mom of 3 boys had me cracking up with her parenting insights as they move to the country to run a B&B.

15. The Next Best Thing, Jennifer Weiner. This book was slow until the end when Ruthie finally stops compromising and produces her tv show creation her own way.

16. The Geometry of Sisters, Luanne Rice. This book explored the complexities of relationships, especially within families. I was always wondering what direction the storyline would turn next. While all the characters grew throughout the novel, often the younger generation was leading the older. And I loved the Michigan connections with parts being set at Mackinaw Island.

17. The One & Only, Emily Giffin. Ugh, did not like this book. It was about football and falling in love with your best friend's father.

18. Younger, Pamela Redmond Satran. Would you pretend to be 15 years younger if you could get away with it? Reeling after a divorce, Alice finds herself without a job and no marketable skills after being a stay at home mom who's daughter is now grown. When she gets a make-over and people thinks she's younger, she doesn't correct them and relives her youth with the wisdom of experience. I love the tv show and thought I'd check out the book behind it. I was not disappointed.

19. Pirate King, Laurie R. King. I love this series with Mary Russel and Sherlock Holmes. This book is about a movie about making a movie about a play. With pirates and kidnapping, it does not disappoint for adventure!

20. Winter Garden, Kristin Hannah. This book was intricate, spanning communist Russia to present day America and shows how our past affects our present. Two daughters who thought their mother never loved them are surprised and shocked to hear of their mother's past and with the telling they begin to examine their own lives and choices.

Kid's books

1. Who Was Ulysses S. Grant? Megan Stine. I was surprised at how excited my 8 year old was to open up this book at Christmas! We read it together and learned more about the man who became the 18th president of the United States.

2. Who Was Henry Ford? Michael Burgan. Living in Metro-Detroit and very close to Henry Ford Museum, we already knew much of what was in this book. But it was a great summarization of this man's life.

3. Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Ginnifer Choldeko. We had read this book years ago, but just discovered the third in the series was out, so we wanted to refresh before moving on. This series follows Moose Flannigan, a 12 year old who lives on Alcatraz because his father works at the prison.

4. Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, John Grisham. This was an interesting book about a boy whose parents are both lawyers and has grown up around courtrooms and the law. He helps out friends and acquaintances whenever he can. The only thing we didn't like was that things didn't wrap up neatly at the end - but that is because there are more books!

5. Summer According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. My kid's love this series about a hamster and his view of the kids in his classroom. In this installment Humphrey goes to summer camp and meets some new friends.

6. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, Frank Cottrell Boyce. We loved the first book, but I was a little hesitant to read a book that was not by the original author. No fear - this author was not only adventurous, but created a hilarious family for Chitty's adventure.

7. Al Capone Does My Homework, Gennifer Choldenko. A great 3rd installment of the capers on kids and convicts on Alcatraz Island. Moose learns some lessons in human nature and strenthens his own integrity.

8. Mysteries According to Humphrey,  Betty G. Birney. Humphrey is back and this time with mysteries to solve. Where did the teacher go? Why does the substitute entertain instead of teach? We all enjoyed learning the answers with this classroom hamster!

9. The Abduction, John Grisham. The second book in this series has Theodore Boone hot on the trail of his friend April's disappearance.

10. Millions, Frank Cottrell Boyce. With England shortly converting to Euros, two brothers happen upon a bag of money and must spend it without raising suspicion before it becomes worthless.

12. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, Ally Carter. My kids liked this book that is about a girl's spy high school and what happens when they try to become "normal" teens.

11. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon, Frank Cottrell Boyce. My kids didn't want to see this series end, but this book did a wonderful job of combining all the previous plots so the story-lines wrapped up.

12. Winter According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. Our favorite hamster is back and he learns about winter holidays, concerts and more lessons on how to be a friend.

13. Theodore Boone: The Accused, John Grisham. This book wasn't quite as believable as the first two when Theo is on the opposite side of the law and is framed for breaking and entering a store to steal electronics and is also the target of scare tactics.

14. The Island of Dr. Libris, Chris Grabenstein. We enjoyed Grabenstein's last book, Escape from Mr Lemoncello's Library, so much I couldn't wait to read this book. And it did not disappoint! Billy is stuck at a cabin with his mom for the summer, but finds that book characters come alive on Dr Libris' Island. I love how the author weaves classic tales and characters into his books that either remind you of great reads - or make you want to discover the books you haven't read yet! The plot had both my kids wanting to know what would happen next.

15. Secrets According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. The class is learning about ancient Eygpt and Humphrey learns that secrets that exclude others can be hurtful.
16. Imagination According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. Mrs Brisbane's class learns how to use their imaginations to write stories.

17. Who Is Steven Spielberg? Stephanie Spinner. This was our first "who is" book about someone still alive! This book is filled with lots of information about Steven Speilberg's life and the movies he has made.

18. Who Was Walt Disney? Whitney Stewart. Lots of facts in this biography of a man who's legacy has affected so many people.

19. Who Was Dr. Seuss? 

20. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet must navigate the tricky line between being honest and being kind.

21. Theodore Boone: The Activist, John Grisham. This book wasn't quite as good as the previous. It seemed to have a few legal loopholes and Theodore has to grapple with ethical issues as he tries to stop the development of a new highway through his town.

22. Who Was Neil Armstrong? Roberta Edwards. Interesting read about the first man to walk on the moon.

23. Who Is Stan Lee? Geoff Edgers. There was so much information about this man who has spent his life in comics and superheros!

24. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie. This book is like "Wonder" for the high school crowd, with cultural overtones. Alexie delivers a convincing account of a 15 year old Indian who breaks away from tribal tradition to attend school in a white town. Best Young Adult, my husband and kids laughed, I loved the socio-economic view.

25. Book Scavenger, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman This book uses scavenger hunts to solve clues revolving around a missing person.

26. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Found this book in my quest to read more non-white authors. Aristotle and Dante start an unlikely friendship and then navigate being gay teens in the 1990s.

27. The Case of the Deadly Desperados, Caroline Lawrence. A wild west mystery for kids!

28. Who Is George Lucas? Pamela D. Pollack, Meg Belviso. A great biography on a man who's movies have touched many lives.

29. A Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck. My entire family loved this book - from ages 9-42! When Joey and Mary Alice are forced to spend the summers with their Grandmother in the country they can't even begin to imagine the tall tale type adventures they are in for! Stories that are funny, engaging and clean cut like this don't come along often! Best Children's. Stumbled upon this book that was wholesome, adventurous and hilarious!

30. A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck. Again my whole family loved this sequel to A Long Way from Chicago. We roared with laughter at the situations Grandma dragged Mary Ellen into, and yet, Grandma shows herself to be an astute reader of human nature and teaches her granddaughter life lessons that stay with her.

31. The Worst Class Trip Ever, Dave Barry. My kids, grades 4th & 7th, LOVED this action packed (fart jokes included) book. When Wyatt and his 8th grade classmates embark on a class trip to Washington DC they encounter spies, terrorists and a presidential assassination plot. Taking matters into their own hands they hilariously foil evil-doers.

32. Crenshaw, Katherine Applegate. This book was a heartfelt tale of a young boy who used an imaginary friend - a giant cat - to deal with his family being homeless, "car camping," when he was younger. After his family has enjoyed some stability, it looks like they may be sliding into the predicament again and Crenshaw the cat comes back. This book is perfect for older elementary and explores truth, trust and imagination.

33. Scavengers in Space, Alan E. Nourse. The Hunter brothers search for their father's killer in the asteroid belt.

34. Who Were the Wright Brothers? James Buckley Jr. The story of two inventor brothers who advanced modern aircrafts.

35. Mary Poppins Comes Back, P.L. Travers. The prim and proper Mary Poppins is back bringing a host of new adventures for the Banks children.

36. The Best Halloween Ever, Barbara Robinson. This book was cute, but did not have the emotional revelation that the previous two did. That being said, it's a fun Halloween read!

37. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, E.L. Konigsburg. I liked this book because it was a bit different than books written recently. The two main characters, young girls, had an elaborate game of playing that they were witches and making up potions and spells. It was refreshing to see children playing make believe rather than caught up in drama.

38. The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate. This book was a moving tale of wild animals in captivity and how they worked for better circumstances.

39. Who Is Jane Goodall? Roberta Edwards. It is always inspiring to read about amazing people who are still alive! From Jane Goodall's start, without a college degree, to her discoveries about chimpanzees, this book kept our interest.

40. Who Was Amelia Earhart? Kate Boehm Jerome. Another inspiring story of a women who worked to break down gender barriers as well as break flying records.

41. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson. Love, love, love rereading this book at Christmas with my kids. It ALWAYS makes me reflect on the Christmas story differently, like how Mary & Joseph were refugees, dirty and tired and probably not like the squeaky clean version we tend to think of. And what if the wise men had gone back to Herod? And all these are brought about by a group of kids who were the unlikely suspects for telling the Christmas story.

42. Undertow, Michael Buckley. I'm a little conflicted by this book. I really liked the storyline, but I did not like the main character. I just didn't feel she was believable. She was rebellious, but obedient. She was independent and dependent. I was disappointed that an author that had written strong, diverse female characters in The Sisters Grimm and written such stereotypes here. All the women and young women we either in a relationship or striving to be in one. They all looked to men/young men for direction. The best friend character was much more interesting than Lyric, the main character.

43. A Season of Gifts, Richard Peck. Mrs Dowdel is back and she is as full of hijinks and life lessons, as usual, when a new family moves in next door.

44. Twenty and Ten, Claire Huchet Bishop. Great short read on 20 evacuated French school children who hide 10 Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of France.

Monday, July 27, 2015


When one of my sons was 7 he asked me, "Mom, can boys marry boys?"
"In some states."
"Good, that's what I want to do!"
Now, having worked with kids my entire adult life, I know that most 7 year old boys think girls have cooties, but I also knew in a split second that if this was not that case, I in no way wanted to plant the seed of doubt that I wouldn't accept my son. So, I answered, "What kind of cake to you want at your wedding?"

Fast forward some years later and due to the recent Supreme Court decision I decide that conversation may need an update.
"Remember when you asked me if boys could marry boys and I said, "In some states" well, now the Supreme Court says that it needs to be in all states."
"That's gay."
Now, I'm not even sure how to take that comment, so I ask for clarification, "Did you mean that as a fact or as an insult?"
"I'm not sure."
"Because if you meant that as a statement, it's okay. If you meant it as an insult, that's not okay."
Now I've totally confused my kid, so I try to save the conversation by saying, "I just hope whoever you marry makes you happy." And after a lull, "Do you think Dad and I make each other happy?"
"Well, I think you make Dad happy, but I don't think he makes you happy."

Dang, where did this come from??? Now I'm analyzing myself, but I come up with the conclusion that my son is right!
Does my husband make me happy? My first thought is that it is no one's job to make me happy. No guy can do that because I am responsible for my own happiness.
Does my husband make me unhappy? No.
Am I happy that he is my partner? Yes.
But can I say that my husband make me happy? That's not his job. His job is to be my partner and when I am unhappy it is my job to either change things or change my attitude.
Life is better together and I am happy for that, but no one else has the obligation to "make me happy."

And now that I've figured out the theory to happiness....

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

30 Days of Thankfulness: 2014 edition

1. While we were turned away from hearing President Obama speak tonight at Wayne State (there were more free tickets than seats), I am thankful for all the experiences I have been able to give my kids. Just recently we've walked across the Mackinaw Bridge with 25,000 other people, we explored Memphis from Graceland to the National Civil Rights Museum, we camped at Michigan's first state park and explored "The most beautiful place in America." I'm thankful for our adventures and looking forward to more.
2. I'm thankful for my home, where my family lives...together.

3. Today I'm thankful for lunch. I'm really needing the food AND mental break today...

4. Today I'm thankful for the opportunity to vote and for all those who sacrificed so that I could have that right. While our nation is not perfect, I think we become great when the current generation puts aside their own desires for the benefit of future generations.

5. I am so thankful for my husband. One of things I have come to appreciate more and more is that he is not the same person I married 15 years ago, or met 21 years ago. He continues to grow and learn and change. I most recently appreciate that when I went back to work full time, he has taken on much more of the parenting duties including picking the kids up from school, making dinner and supervising chores. When we lived apart, I honestly felt like a part of me was missing, so saying that life is better with Alex is a truth that I learned quite well!

6. I'm thankful for Greyson. He is so confident, which I hope he can temper with humility because that confidence attracts others to him and his ideas. I love that he is not in too much of a hurry to grow up and still has an innocence about him, still believing in Santa Claus and the Toothfairy, even though his younger brother does not (although maybe he's feigning for me, and I'm alright with that too). He is also so very helpful, you can count on him when he's needed and even when he's not he tries to lend a hand or whatever is needed.

7. I am thankful for Grant. Anyone who has hung out with him knows he has a sense of humor way beyond his 8 years and he truly enjoys making people laugh. He is such a sponge with information, soaking it up, but because he is such a goofball, people are often surprised at how smart he is. And as my "baby," he has also been the cuddler of the family.

8. I'm thankful that my kids enjoy books, and reading, and learning. We've always read together every night. We started with picture books and moved on to chapter books. We've read the classics (the Chronicles of Narnia, Mary Poppins, Henry Huggins), we've read read new books (The Wednesday Wars, Percy Jackson, The Sisters Grimm), and listened to books on CD on our endless car trips (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has a great narration). I think the variety and depth of these books has helped to start discussions about history, politics and ideologies. And I love it when I see them pick up a book on their own, even when its not something I would have picked

9. I'm thankful for friends. While I met some great people in New Orleans, there was something so comfortable about coming home to friends who have known us 20+ years. Friends who know our quirks, who have seen the good, and offered their help during the not-so-good. I wouldn't have made it through "single parenting" without all the friends who helped out. I appreciate all of you, and while I hope you never *need* my help because your life is smooth sailing, I hope I am there to support you the way you have me.

10. I'm thankful for sunsets and sunrises. We had a gorgeous one tonight!

11. I am thankful for the many freedoms I enjoy, which therefore makes me thankful for all those who fought, sacrificed and worked to make that happen!

12. I'm thankful for my family. I come from a pretty big family that is also fairly close. I saw their love in action today at a funeral, but I've seen it so often otherwise, and on both sides. I can honestly say that I'm friends with the people in my family and I'm glad my kids grow up knowing that love.

13. I'm thankful to be living in a place with 4 seasons. The crispness of fall with the most gorgeous colors nature can paint, blankets of white snow and silence you can hear in the peacefulness of winter, springtime that roars in like a lion to make way for colorful shots of grass and flowers, summertimes that I once heard described as, "you know those magical childhood summers described in books and movies? With hot days and cool nights? Swimming and fireflies? Those actually exist in Michigan!"

14. I am so thankful for weekends. Lately my weekdays have started at 5am and go nonstop until after 9. Even though the weekends are filled with errands and chores, the slower pace is a welcomed change.
15. I'm thankful for life's annoyances. Everything that annoyed me today is something to be thankful for: the grocery shopping means my family has food for the week, the messy house means we have a place to live together, the laundry means we have clean clothes to wear! So, today I'm thankful for the annoyances.

16. I am so very thankful for the discussion groups I've been a part of. Pub Theology in New Orleans, book club and dinner & a movie in Michigan. It amazes me how a group of people can all read or see the same thing but have different views based on their own life experiences. My life has really been enriched by these interactions and I've expanded my horizons through them.

17. Working at a new job can make you reflective about past positions. I am so thankful to have had great work experiences! At Campfire, Judi took a chance on me and allowed me the experience of working on a team, organizing, planning, supervising and how to pitch in where needed. At Detroit Conference Camps I got to explore the creative side I didn't even know I had and I met so many wonderful people who were campers, volunteers, staff and supporters. And I consider how many peo...ple I worked with over those 10 years that I still consider GOOD friends. At GrowthWorks I worked with people who were definitely not in it for the money but cared enough about people to make an effort with every client, even though it was the small majority that let themselves be helped. Those people are some of the most generous I've ever known. Even at Tulane, where the work culture was isolating, I am thankful for the vast amount I learned about childhood mental health and poverty. Some people just have jobs, but I am thankful to have had learning experiences, knowledge, support, growth and friendship.

18. I'm thankful that all my rain turned into rainbows today. I left work late, but that meant I missed the traffic! The kids were supposed to have pizza at the trampoline party, but instead they were refunded the food money & Alex used that to buy Little Ceasar's for everyone

19. I'm thankful that what my kids argued about tonight was...who got to shovel snow. Because they both wanted to. For real.

20. Today I'm thankful that all things come to an end. It's been a loooooong day!
21. I'm thankful for my sister Shelly and her family. This is the 2nd time since we've moved back that they've said, "Come on vacation with us! Just bring yourselves...and maybe a sleeping bag!"
22. I'm thankful for my sister Marie. She lived with us for 4 years while going to college and has been like a 2nd mother to my kids. Since we love the same movies we are always quoting them to each other. She plans trips for us and was great at organizing a birthday trip for me to Las Vegas this year. Plus everyone is always complementing the hand-me-down clothes she sends my way!

23. I'm thankful for my brother Stanley and his family. They have always loved including my kids in activities and it has been great for Greyson to have a cousin his own age!

24. My kids received an advent calendar today and it made me think: I'm thankful for anticipation and having things to look forward to.

25. Last night my 8 year old asked, "Can we get a poinsettia? My art teacher says I'm really good at drawing them!" I am thankful for people who are encouragers.

26. I'm thankful my kids are learning how to cook and clean. Hopefully life skills will help them grow self sufficiency!

27. "This is the thanks for all that's good: home and family and friends and food."
reading This Is the Turkey.

28. "Never say no to adventures. Always say yes. Otherwise you'll lead a very dull life."
I'm thankful for all the adventures I've said yes to.
reading Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

29. I'm thankful for celebrations!
30. Out of all the days in November, this is the day that has me most thankful! My two best friends, Alex and Marie, were born on this day (of course, they were born 8 years apart!) and I am so thankful to have them in my lives!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Have kids, will travel: Memphis

My husband had a training for work scheduled in Memphis and asked if we'd like to come along. At first I was like, "What's in Memphis?" But, you know I'm always up for an adventure, so I started researching things to do with kids.

Day 1: I called this day "Water & Fire Day"
I started the day off by taking the kids to the Civic Center Plaza, which has cool fountains that spray up from the ground, so they could run around just like they were at a water park - but for free ;)
Next up we went back to the hotel pool, which was on the 10th floor and overlooked the Mississippi River, so the kids could get some serious swimming in.
After becoming waterlogged - it was time to warm up with some fire! We headed over to the Memphis Fire Museum. The downside was that we found out most of the exhibits were closed, the upside was that it was free to see what exhibits were open! The museum has since reopened, so I'd recommend checking out the updates!
We rounded out the day with a trip to the Peabody Hotel, which is known for it's duck parade at 5pm. The ducks parade out of the fountain in the lobby, go to the elevator, spend the night on the roof, then come down the next morning to swim the day away in the lobby fountain and do the whole routine over again.
We had dinner at the Blues City Café on Beale Street and I've got to say: the #1 thing I like best about Memphis is that when you say you're from Detroit, people excitedly reply, "Detroit! That's Motown!" which is a lot different from other responses I've heard around the country.  The #2 best thing about Memphis is all the live music! And there is no shortage at the restaurants, cafes and bars on Beale Street.

Day 2: Mud Island
Memphis has a super cool Island, Mud Island. You can walk over for free, but we took the monorail which also included tickets to the Mississippi River Museum. The most famous part of Mud Island is the scale model of the Mississippi River that is 5 blocks long!!! It shows a lot of detail too, including river heights and cities and other landmarks along the river's path. Definitely something to check out if you are in Memphis!
After this long walk in the sun, we headed down the street to Riverfront Bar and Grill. My kids had passed it the day before and wanted to eat there since you could eat outside overlooking the Mississippi. The food there turned out to be YUMMY!
We also toured the Gibson Guitar Factory. And got a fascinating lesson on how their guitars are made.

Day 3: Memphis Museums
So, while poking around on Pintrest, I found that the Memphis Museums offered a FREE family pass for the summer just for signing up! Their largest museum is The Pink Palace, which has a little bit of everything! Fossils, dinosaurs, skeletons, Tennessee and Memphis history, music, and more! There were hands-on exhibits for the kids and the whole museum took up the morning.
After a yummy Mexican lunch we headed to the Lichterman Nature Center, which was also under the free museum membership. There was a small visitor's center with displays and tons of walking paths. However, my kids were pooped from the morning at the museum and the hot Tennessee sun, so we stayed just long enough to get some amazing views of the American lotus pond.
Dinner was at Central BBQ, famous for giving you a ton of food!

Day 4: Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum
After being thrifty and doing free or close-to-free things all week, we splurged and went to Graceland. After living in the Detroit area for so long, and touring the homes of the auto barons from the early 1900s, I was surprised at how small, unadorned and modern Graceland was. Still it was interesting to see the place of legends and to hear more of Elvis' history. The kids demanded we add the jets to the tour, so we saw Elvis' personal airplanes, and there was also a car museum that the Detroiters in us loved.
We ate lunch at the Hard Rock Café in Memphis, yep, we were going all out on the regular tourist thing. Then we went to the National Civil Rights Museum at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. What a sobering time. We've come so far, yet have so much work still to do. I would love to go back to this museum sometime when I don't have two young kids trying to hurry me through! I highly recommend visiting, but make sure you have the time to spend uninterrupted so that you can take it all in.
We ate dinner at The Kooky Canuck, because, you know Detroit isn't close enough to Canada, so we had to get Canadian cuisine while we were in Tennessee!

Day 5: The End
We only had the morning to sightsee, so we went to The Mallory-Neely House, another included in the Memphis Museums! We were the only ones there for the first tour of the day - so we got a personal tour! This house was absolutely AMAZING! So carefully preserved, thankfully because of having few owners. THIS is what I was missing when we toured Graceland. Original woodwork, stained glass, turn-of-the-last-century furnishings. I didn't take any pictures because this place because it just seemed disrespectful, so just take my advice and visit it!!!
So, after not really knowing why I'd want to go to Memphis, I've concluded that it is a WONDERFUL city, with lots to see and do. Yes, I'd visit again!