Saturday, March 31, 2018

March: Sustain

March: Sustain

 I started the month with a great night out at Alpha Epsilon Phi's Silent Auction to benefit Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation. I had a great time with old friends, new friends and my husband while supporting a great cause!

I got to volunteer at my son's middle school for career day! It was great connecting with an age group I don't always see a lot of. 

After attending a Shabbat dinner, my friend Beth and I went out to Chartreuse and the Detroit Institute of Arts. I also had a great dinner with my co-worker Christie and got to try a new Mediterranean place!

And of course, another great book club this month!

We all took a trip to Kalamazoo to see a friend in a concert performance. We all saw A Wrinkle in Time and Ready Player One together which were books we had listened to.

Faith: I read 1 & 2 Corinthians and purposefully prayed each day.

Health: I exercised 37 1/2 hours in a month with 31 days, yea! I did weights at 3 times a week and moved up to 15lbs.

Michelangelo in Ravensbruck: One Woman's War Against the Nazis by Karolina Lanckoronska. This was a really heavy book, so it took me a while to read. But it was also a very interesting account of one woman's experience resisting the Nazis and subsequent imprisonment. Countess Lanckoronska was a University professor in Poland who's social standing and education often gave her preferential treatment once she was imprisoned. One of her most vivid descriptions happens close to the end of WWII when the city around Ravensbruck was being bombed and yet the concentration camp saw balloons lighting the sky and later found out they served as guides so they wouldn't be touched by the bombing. So much history happened during the 94 years Countess Lanckoronska lived, but the defining era became WWII during which she was in her 40's, not young and not yet old.

Books I read this month
The Forgotten Room by I really enjoyed this book and the story of Olive, her daughter and her granddaughter who's lives are intertwined by a room at the top of a mansion that Olive's father designed and who all seem fated to miss their one great loves.
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. I really liked this book, it was different from what I usually read and had varying viewpoints. Tucker Crowe has been out of the spotlight for two decades after abruptly leaving behind a successful music career. Duncan has been obsessed with Crowe's music and his girlfriend Annie is not quite sure why. When their relationship ends, Annie begins an email relationship with Tucker Crowe and all of their lives take turns they weren't expecting.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. I really liked this book about a boy searching for home and the routes he takes to get there. The backstory has him confronting racism in the town he races to.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. What happens when a guest from another country arrives in town and finds her host has died? Sara makes herself part of the community and opens a bookstore in a seemingly dying town. All of the characters in this small town have rich histories that contribute to their growth and changes throughout the book. This is a story about small towns, the love of books and being open to change. 
This is a preview of our upcoming road trip!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Feburary: Sustain

How did I do this month?

Book club is one of my favorite connections! It has it all; friends, discussion, food and books! This month we discussed Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Our discussion mostly centered around book-to-movie adaptations.

I attended a training for Prime Time Family Reading Time. I've written a lot about this program in this blog - I absolutely love it! I am excited that I will be involved in a program this spring. Also, I enjoyed meeting up with people I had known in New Orleans at this training!

I also had a night out with my friend Susan!

Youngest son: This month my youngest and I read Who Is Sonia Sotomayor? by
Oldest son: When a friend got sick, I roped my son into going to the theater with me! First we went to a fairly fancy restaurant in Detroit, Grey Ghost and then we went to the Fisher Theatre to see Finding Neverland. He may have enjoyed the candy at the theater most of all!

Husband: We got in a date night now that youth group has re-started at church on Sunday nights.

Extended Family: I got in a visit to my sister in Traverse City and it was a great visit "Up North." I had a really great time visiting and also walking across the frozen Grand Traverse Bay with my oldest nephew.

Faith: I kept up reading 29 chapter this month in Acts and Romans and purposefully prayed each day. I also started a Lent Photo-A-Day challenge on Instagram.

Health: I exercised 30 hours in a month with 28 days, yea! I did weights at least twice a week. I'd like to do weights at least 3 times a week next month and move up from my little 5lbs!

I got to take a tour of the Reuther Library at Wayne State and saw tons of memorabilia as part of Wayne State's 150th Year celebration.

Books I read this month
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Wow, this book was eye-opening. Trevor Noah tells about his childhood in the 80's & 90's in South Africa as apartheid was ending. His story is also made different from others by his experience of having a black mother and white father. Noah infuses much humor as he tells tales of growing up as well as adding commentary on apartheid, racism and domestic violence. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audio book which was narrated by Noah himself and I also learned more about the experiences of others that happened in my lifetime but were half a world away.

Hunger Point by

The Ship of the Dead by
Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams. I loved this book right up to the last sentence. Williams seamlessly alternates between 1917 WWI France and 1922 bootlegging Florida with a few flashbacks to early 1900's NYC. Virginia became an ambulance driver during the war and fell in love with a man who may not be what he seems. This is further complicated by memories of her early years when she witnessed the murder of her mother. My only complaint is that after things are wrapped up in the end, two characters come to the door needing help and I was confused as to whether I should know how they are. By reading other reviews I can see they are characters from another book which I am now curious to read!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Great Kid's Books

I have a friend who was looking for suggestions for an advanced reader - so here you go! Great kid's books that I've read over the last couple of years with my kids, in no particular order. If they were part of a series, only the first book is listed. All are appropriate for elementary and/or middle school.

The View from Saturday
The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Although this book was long it kept mine, and my kid's, attention! I loved the rich vocabulary of the book and that it was a great mystery without being morbid. Looking forward to the next one! (This book is the first in the series).

Crenshawby 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.

The Worst Class Trip Everby 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.

The Island of Dr. Libris
by 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. This book is great for late elementary through middle school ages.

Things Not Seen 
by Read this book out loud to my kids, ages 10 & 6, and it was surprisingly deep for a younger reader novel. Bobby wakes up one morning invisible and in his quest to figure out what happens he learns a lot about life and what kind of life he wants to lead. He and others struggle with what it means to "be seen." Although my kids did not pick up on the complexities of this, they were amused by what it would mean to navigate the world while being invisible and the scientific aspects of invisibility. I highly recommend this book to others and especially the middle school age group. 

by 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.

The World According to Humphrey
by My kids and I both enjoyed this book about a hamster who learns about life by getting to know the kids, and adults, of Room 26.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library 
by This book was GREAT! My 7 year old, 10 year old, and I enjoyed it immensely. It was based around a game-maker who built a library for his hometown since the library was where he got him game-making start. 12 12-year olds win an essay contest to win spending a night in the new library filled with all the latest technology. The next morning they are asked if they would like to continue their time at the library and enter a contest to see who can escape the library without using the only door. Clues are provided, all based on new and classic literature and based on the Dewey decimal system. This book was just an all around fun read. If you like games, puzzles, or literature - you will love this book!

Bedknob and Broomstick 
by My kids, ages 8 & 11, LOVED this book. But then, what's not to love about a witch, time travel and 3 kids!

by My 8 year old & 11 year old LOVED this book. I think what they liked best was the changing narrators, different voices between 5th grade and 9th grade, with changing perspectives. This was a story of friendship, learning, growing, loyalty, bullying, and change.

The Mighty Miss Malone
by 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.

by Great book! Especially for exploring the effects of our actions on others.

Emily's Runaway Imagination
by My kids and I thoroughly enjoyed the places Emily's imagination took her when it ran away! It was also interesting to see a slice of life in 1920's Oregon and a few times this book led to discussions about how life was different from then to now. The capers that Emily got herself into had us laughing out loud.

A Long Way from Chicago 
by 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!

Walk Two Moons

by 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.

Extra Credit
by This book was a little different from previous ones we had read by Clements. I was a little skeptical at first, but really enjoyed the perspectives of children from the US and Afghanistan. It was also interesting to see how their point of views changed throughout the book.

Here Lies the Librarian
by 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.

No Talking
by I listened to this book in the car with my kids and it started out as a boys against girls contest, but I really liked the underlying themes of civil disobedience, social action and social behavior.

A Week in the Woods
by Another great book from Clements! My kids loved reading how this city kid learned outdoor skills and was able to survive being lost in the woods on a class camping trip.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever 

by 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.

Home of the Brave
by 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.

Twenty and Ten
by Great short read on 20 evacuated French school children who hide 10 Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of France.

Al Capone Does My Shirts 
by We re-read this book since we wanted to freshen our memories before we read the most recent in the series. There is great historical detail in this book - from post-Depression living, San Francisco, Alcatraz, and gangster lore all told from the view point of a 12 year old. There is also the great storyline of having a sibling who is "different" especially in the un-diagnosed era of the 1930's.

by LOVED this book! The kids in this book showed a lot of imagination and learned a lot about how to start social movements. The ending was perfect.

Mary Poppins 
by This book was a joy to read aloud to my 8yo & 11yo. I was surprised that both boys kept wanting to hear what would happen next! Sometimes "classics" become a little outdated for "modern" kids, but not this book!

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 
by My kids, ages 8 & 11, LOVED this book. There is adventure and magic and cars! I was left wishing Ian Fleming had written more children's books! The narrative flowed so smoothly and was interesting for me to read as an adult!

The Wednesday Wars

Thursday, February 1, 2018

January: Sustain


strengthen or support physically or mentally.

synonyms:comfort, help, assist, encourage, succor, support, give strength to, buoy up, carry, cheer up, hearten;
informalbuck up

I saw people posting about their "word" for 2018 and all I could think was, "This Fall was so tough, I just want to sustain." What I want is to be better prepared for the next round of storms, because they always come. What I thought was a simple word and concept took on deeper meaning as I thought about what areas I wanted to sustain, what did I want to strengthen? And I came up with the areas of connection, family, faith, health and intellect.


Connection: Between work and family, it sometimes seems there is not a lot of left-over time, but I know from past experience that it is important for me to have connections outside of these two main components of my life.
I had two really good connections this month: Alumni dinner with my sorority where I got to do a lot of catching up with my old friend Susan and a lunch out with my almost-as-old friends Megann and Heather

Family: Again, life is so busy, I wanted to look at how I am connecting with my family and making time for each person.
Youngest son: I sometimes feel he gets left out in the hustle & bustle of everyone else's lives. We had two Wednesday Game Nights with just the two of us. We also had a Saturday date where we went to the library, got treats at Panera and grocery shopped together.
Oldest son: We participated in a bottle drive together that benefits a mission trip that he has taken in past years. I was also able to watch 5 of his swim meets.
Husband: My husband has been sick lately, so I count it a victory that we did get a lunch alone this month!
Extended family: My sister was visiting at the beginning of the month and it's always nice to spend time with her! I also took the kids for a weekend at my parent's house for my mom's birthday and it was nice to spend time with everyone.
Faith: I've struggled with disconnection in this area. This month I wanted to focus on getting back into the habit of Bible reading and I was able to read 31 chapters in John and Acts. My goal for next month will be to include more prayer time.

Health: I've gotten into the habit over the last year of exercising an hour a day. I kept that up and met my new goal of adding weights at least twice a week! My Wellness Coach at work praised me for losing weight in 2017 and lowering my total cholesterol, however my HDL level was significantly lowered also so I took suggestions and changed my weekly lunch to a salad with walnuts and avocado.

Books I read this month: 
The Wangs vs. the World by
immigration experiences while the teenagers reflect on their childhood experiences.

Hardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich.
had my family laughing as we listened to Stephanie's adventures in bounty hunting - this time including zombies. 

The Sword of Kuromori by seemed to like this book about Kenny who travels to Japan thinking he will visit his professor Father and ends up stopping the destruction of the American west coast by defeating a dragon with an enchanted sword.

The Bookshop on the Corner by I really liked this book that is really about a love of books. When Nina is downsized from her local librarian job she realizes her passion has been to open her own bookshop. To reduce overhead she buys a van and moves to a remote Scottish town where she excels at finding the perfect book for each reader as she frequents local farm markets.

Also, I took a trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts at lunch! 

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 
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.