Thursday, December 29, 2011


Hopkins, Ellen. Crank. New York: Simon Pulse, 2004. Print.

My Thoughts
As I read this, I kept thinking about my own daughter and how much I pray that she never meets The Monster!

Hopkins' book is semi-autobiographical. Her daughter was an honor student, "good girl" and participated in activities until she found meth. As a way to help herself cope, Hopkins began writing this book. What is created is a wonderful description of how this drug can enter a person's life and change them, even creating an alter ego, as well as how the family is changed.

I feel such empathy for Kristina because she wants to be a grown up so badly, but she isn't aware of the how others play this game of life. Because she is naive, she falls prey to bad circumstances that truly are life-changing. I HATE Brendan for using her!

Can't wait to read Glass to learn what happens next.

The Hunger Games Trilogy

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. Print.
Collins, Suzanne. Catching Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, 2009. Print.
Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. New York: Scholastic Press, 2010. Print.

My Thoughts
I liked the first book best, as it made me want more when I finished the book. After reading the second book, I was still intrigued with the story, but by the time I finished the third (really, before I finished it), I was a little bored with how the story was dragging on and not answering my questions.

Book 1: The idea of a futuristic society that requires a "game" of survival to one intrigued me. How could the Capitol think this idea was good? Oh, they used people from the twelve districts to compete instead of their own. My heart raced as Katniss and Peeta "played" in the arena. I kept reading just to find out how would they (if they did) survive? The set up story of star-crossed lovers also interested me. Would that help? Would they actually fall in love with each other? I didn't know. The ending of the book surprised me (no spoilers here).

Book 2: The story continues. I'm still caught up in the what's happening and seeing how Collins twists the story to create a third book.

Book 3: About half-way through this one, I just wanted the story to hurry and end. I know these are science fiction, but Book 3 became more sci-fi than I enjoy. I had to keep reading to learn the outcome of District 13 and the Capitol. It seemed that I slugged through and then Collins wraps it all up in the last few pages. It didn't seem true to the story.

Overall, I'm glad I read the trilogy, and perhaps if I hadn't read them all together, I wouldn't think the same about Book 3. I'm ready to watch the movie and will hope that what I imagined will be on the screen.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Hopkins, Ellen. Tricks. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009. Print.

My Thoughts
When I began reading this book, I was a bit confused why Hopkins started a character's story, then abruptly stopped it to begin a different character's story. I began writing down a character list to help me keep straight information about each character. I'm glad I did this, and after finishing the book, I'm glad Hopkins gave us those mental breaks in between characters.

This story is fiction, but it is not fiction. What happens to all of these characters, sadly I'm sure, is happening in our world today. Teenagers are forced into situations that are not healthy, even when they begin as innocent flirtations. Then the bad decisions just spiral out of control. This is not an easy book to read in that regard. Hopkins is graphic and does not shy away from the sexual content. As a teenager, I made bad decisions (thankfully not as horrific as some of these characters). As a teacher, I've seen the results of bad decisions. As a parent, I'm fearful for my child's bad decisions. This book had me wrapped up in all three places of my life. I'm thankful that my bad decisions did not lead me to Vegas with these characters!

This book stays with the reader. The characters, images & situations that Hopkins describes are true. I wish they weren't.

I look forward to reading more of Hopkins' books.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Captured

Zesch, Scott. The Captured. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004. Print.

My Thoughts
After many years of a co-worker asking me, telling me, badgering me, pushing this book on to me, I FINALLY read it, and I'm glad I did.

The is a non-fiction account of several children on the Texas frontier who were taken captive by Indians in the late 1800s. The writer's own great uncle was captured and lived with the Indians for two years. The author doesn't have much information about him, but in trying to find out more, he wove a story together of other captured children to piece together his own heritage. There is a section of pictures (although none of his relative Adolf Korn) that completes the book.

The writer truly goes in a full circle to write this book. Zesch's journey begins in a graveyard (the end of Adolf's story) and ends at the possible point of capture (the beginning of the tale). Zesch is careful in his writing to not embellish or sentimentalize the story. It does not read as some rewritten, politically correct version of history. He presents the captivity narratives as he finds them (sometimes with editorial remarks of the probability of the original source being embellished or inaccurate). The Indians are neither noble nor savage. They are a group of people who did certain things. The settlers are neither noble nor savage. They are a group of people who did certain things.

There are 30 pages of "Notes" to the accounts that Zesch writes about in this book. I wish I would have flipped to the back more often (and earlier) while reading. The next time I read this book, I will try to remember to flip.

There are 11 pages of bibliography, including a list of book references. These pages are divided by topic (the person captured) and includes references specific to that captive.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Bender, Aimee. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. New York: Doubleday,

Plot Summary
(from the cover) On the eve of her 9th birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents' attention, bites into her mother's homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother's emotions in the slice. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose. Anything can be revealed at any meal.

My Thoughts
I enjoyed the book until the end where it seems Bender just pushed the story into an ending. I could believe that Rose tasted the emotions in food. I also could believe her father's fear of hospitals (to finally discover why late in the book) or her mother's constant search for her own happiness. However, I draw the line at her brother's special gift. NO WAY!

I think the idea of tasting the creator's emotions is clever. Perhaps I remember the story of the wedding cake where the sister cries into the batter and the newlyweds are forever cursed (or maybe just the guests are sad?). I thought the idea of Rose tasting the food and knowing exactly where the product came from was a little far fetched, but I tried to read beyond it. This was an interesting read. However, once my suspicions were confirmed about the brother, I couldn't believe the story anymore, and I mostly lost interest in finishing the book (even though I did finish it because there were only a few pages left to read). I know it's fiction, but I'm still disappointed in the ending. I think the story should have gone another way.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Profiles in Fashion: Kate Spade

Freistadt, Margo. Profiles in Fashion: Kate Spade. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds, 2011. Print.

My Thoughts
Even though the book is barely 100 pages long, I feel like I now know more about who Kate Spade is and what her company tried to do. One thing I didn't realize is how young the Kate Spade line is (she started the company in 1993). I also didn't know that her company is now a part of the larger Liz Claiborne Inc., and she has not worked for them since mid 2007, Instead, Kate is spending time with her daughter, Bea.

This was a quick read giving a glimpse of the designer who tries to create timeless accessories instead of trendy fashions. There is a timeline in the back and photo credits, but I would have liked to see more pictures of Kate's products in the book instead of seemingly random pictures of people barely mentioned (for example, there's a mention of Kate's brother in law early in the book with an accompanying photo).

There are four more books in the series that I look forward to reading, learning more about the designers that I read about in the magazines.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Drummond, Ree. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl. New York: William Morrow, 2009. Print.

My Thoughts
What came first: the cookbook or the cooking show? Well, for me the show did. I started watching "Pioneer Woman" and enjoyed her personality and recipes. That's when I checked out her book from the library. WOW! I could "see" her in the pages. There were several recipes in the book that I remember her making on the show. I've tried them. They are good! I made a note of a few more recipes that I'm going to copy from the book and try. Can't wait to see how they turn out for me.

Because I like her, I'm now following her blog. She makes me laugh. She's authentic. She takes wonderful pictures (the recipes have step by step photographs). She's someone that I could easily be friends with, even if we never meet.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. New York: Bantam, 1992. Print.

Plot Summary
A man answers a want ad: "TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person." This is the catalyst that begins our narrator's spiritual journey into learning about the Takers and the Leavers.

My Thoughts
This book was very thought-provoking. I caught myself feeling lost and, like the narrator, not understanding exactly what Ishmael was trying to elicit from his questions. I wanted Ishmael to tell me the story instead of making me figure it out for myself (and even then I'm not sure I understand everything).

As I read, I wrote down what I call "Life Truths." One such truth is "It's the journey itself that's going to change you (Quinn 39). After reading this book, my thoughts have changed. I'm not sure I can take at face value what I'm told anymore. Not to say I won't trust, but sometimes people perpetuate a lie because that's all they know.

Another truth I copied was "You never really know how you're going to handle a problem until you actually have it" (Quinn 259). That's such an obvious statement, yet sometimes I need to see it. I would like to think I know how to handle all situations, but what I'm finding in my life is that I'd like to have some "do overs" and try again.

I think this is a book I will read again in a few years and find something fresh in it. Right now, I'm still processing what I think I know from my journey through this story.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NuChristian: Finding Faith in a New Generation

Rathbun, Russell. nuChristian: Finding Faith in a New Generation. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2009.

Plot Summary
This is not a fiction book.

My Thoughts
I truly believe books find you when you need them. This book is such an example. As I read, I related to Rathbun's idea that "the average life of a church is about the time it takes one generation to live their lives together as an expression of the body of Christ" (Rathbun 8). He explains that Christians don't need to change the message to reach the new generation. They just need to think of different modes of giving the message. He uses the example of a church he and others started called House of Mercy. This church, at first, met the needs of young families. As the members age, so do the needs of the church. Rathbun explains that God's love didn't change but the way members got the message did.

There were many "oh, interesting" questions brought up by reading this book. Rathbun even has some guide questions in each chapter to help the reader understand the illustrated point and bullet points at the end to reinforce the ideas of the chapter.

My pastor has mentioned during several sermons about "postmodern worship." After reading this book, I understand more of what I think he meant. One thing that connected with me while reading this book is I am a postmodern, as defined by Rathbun. "For today's younger generations, black and white distinctions rarely exist" (Rathbun 17). I have always seen the gray. "Postmodern generations value complexity, rich content, and relationship" (Rathbun 20). Yep. "There are no hidden agendas" (Rathbun 23). Amen!

I like his point that "being a Christian isn't about who we are, but about who Christ is" (Rathbun 24). Eight short chapters that affirm me. I like it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Glass Castle

Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle: a Memoir. New York: Scribner, 2005.

Plot Summary
This is a memoir that follows Jeannette Walls unconventional life.

My Thoughts

I've just been on an adventure journey.

Oh my! I can hardly believe that this writer endured her life and was able to write about it as she did. It is amazing to me that her parents could keep the children without losing them to Child Protective Services.

The kids were just left....left to do whatever--left to fend for themselves--left to be unprotected from the world.

The content of this book is both disturbing (I know there are other parents out there who act just like the Walls) and enlightening (I can't imagine making the same decisions and justifications of the parents). I am mad at Rex and Rose Mary! How could they allow the children such experiences (i.e., riding in the back of a moving van, setting up a rich man for money, teaching them the Skedaddle)?

I read Half-Broke Horses and loved it. I liked this book, too, but for different reasons. The family is absolutely memorable. I have a different picture of survival. These kids are both emotional and physically starved. Thanks, Jeannette for opening my eyes to the dysfunction that served as your childhood.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Summer Reading

I read a few things, not as many as usual, over the summer. One book was The Long Song by Andrea Levy. It seemed to be the LONGEST SONG EVER to read! I did learn a little about Jamaica, but I don't really have anything to say about the book. Horrific events with an unreliable narrator (although at times humorous). Just found a post I started, so I did have something to say about this book. My thoughts are now posted.

Another book I read is called An American Journey: The Oak Ridge Boys by Joseph Bonsall (one of the band's members). As I grew up listening to the Oak Ridge Boys, I enjoyed the history of the group and seeing the pictures, both public and private, of the band's journey. However, at times the author was a bit sappy and preachy. There's not really a plot to the book, other than to relate events from Bonsall's viewpoint.

I tried reading another book (...And the Ladies of the Club), but I just couldn't get into it. I actually started reading it twice, got over 200 pages in, and have decided to quit it. The book is about 900 pages or more.

As I've moved to the librarian role, I've read many "how to" manuals and catalogs. The irony of this is I'm surrounded by books and haven't had time to start reading one yet.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Long Song

Levy, Andrea. The Long Song. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010.

Plot Summary
At her son's urging, July tells the story of her life as a slave on a Jamaican sugar cane plantation.

My Thoughts

I liked the way the narrator engaged the reader through conversation For example, " you might consider whether my tale is one in which you can find an interest. If not, then be on your way" Levy 9). This is given the first page to warn the reader either continue or not, but the tale will be told how July wants it told. However, her son Thomas ofter interjects that her stories are not completely true, or he points out that she's omitted some event that he thinks is important. Cha! says July.

I read this entire book and did learn that slavery in Jamaica seemed very similar to slavery in the United States. However, once the book ended, I just didn't care. I'd spent over 300 pages hearing July's struggle and seeing her life as she wanted us to know about it. Then the story just stopped. The Long Song truly was long!

I understood this book to be a parody, but I guess I didn't get it. Yes, there were humorous parts in it, and July's story telling method seemed believable (even when she confessed to the reader that her story wasn't entirely true). there were caricatures and stereotypes. Was that the only form of parody?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In Cold Blood

Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: New American Library, 1965.

Plot Summary
This is a non-fiction work, so there is not a plot.

My Thoughts
Truman Capote investigated and reported on the mass murder of a Kansas family, The Clutter's. Capote recounts the actions of the two murderers Dick Hickok and Perry Smith. These two men had no connection to the Clutter's, but they chose to murder the entire family for essentially no reason. While in prison, they'd "heard" that the Mr. Clutter had a safe full of cash. They "heard" wrong and got mad, so the family was killed. Capote writes such detail, that the reader feels like they are following along with both the family and the murderers. Once the FBI gets involved, the reader gets to follow along with the investigation (even though the reader knows who did the murder).

I read this book because I love reading and teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. I read a biography of Harper Lee and found out that she helped Truman with his investigation and writing of this book. WOW, are these two author's styles vastly different! I can almost feel Capote's arrogance as I read.

The description of eternity (page 85) is similar to the description used in Bless Me, Ultima.

Title reference on page 343.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Shaffer, Mary Ann, and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. New York: The Dial Press, 2008.

Plot Summary
Occupied during WWII, the Guernsey Islands off of England become the interest of one Juliet Ashton, writer, correspondent and eventual friend to the inhabitants.

My Thoughts
When I first began reading this book, I tried to pay attention to which character was writing and which character was receiving the letter. I wasn't sure I was going to like the format of this book, but as the characters developed, I found myself actually seeing them. I knew from the tone of the letter, almost, who was writing. I enjoyed how the authors created a story that could be heartbreaking and instead of bashing the reader over the head with the horrors of war, the authors chose to let us experience the events through the various perspectives of the island's inhabitants.

The characters are memorable and help move the story along as they reveal their relationship to each other (mostly through the book club) and how they survived the occupation.

This was a great, light read that I enjoyed very much. I kept thinking about Fall of Giants and Bridgett Jones' Diary as I read. Three vastly different books, yet with a common theme: how do we navigate this thing called life?

One thing I really loved about the book is Juliet's description of how she wonders, "how the book [Charles Lamb's] got to Guernsey. Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true" (Shaffer and Barrows 10). I believe books do "find" us and is it delightful.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Three Cups of Tea: Young Readers Edition

Mortenson, Greg, and David Oliver Relin. Three Cups of Tea: Young Readers Edition. New York: Puffin Books, 2009.

Plot Summary (from the back cover)
In 1993, Greg Mortenson tried to climb K2 in honor of his younger sister, but when another member of his group got sick, they turned around, and Greg become lost in the mountains of Pakistan. He wandered into a poor village, where the village chief and his people took him in. Moved by their kindness, he promised to return and build a school for the children. Over the next decade, Mortenson built more than sixty schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has endured death threats, a kidnapping, and more to dedicate his life to building literacy and peace, one child at a time.

My Thoughts
The story is written in the third person, even though it is a memoir of sorts of what Greg did to change a region.

I enjoyed seeing the forward by Jane Goodall. Reading it reminded me of my personal expereince with Jane at Tarleton. She was a guest speaker, and I was in attendance. I actually spoke to her, and she was so gracious. I'm glad I went and became aware of what she's done. Her forward set the mood for me in reading Greg's story.

As I read the book, I was in "teacher mode" of what I could do with this story. I want to read the "adult" version to compare writing styles and what differences in details do the books have. I marked pages that I could use when teaching this book. It was an interesting read, and I am amazed at how a little idea can become a true world changing event! I'm also a little ashamed and guilty that I have not had (at least I don't feel like it) such a legacy.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Shadow of the Wind

Ruiz Zafon, Carlos. The Shadow of the Wind. Trans. Lucia Graves. New York: Penguin Press, 2004. Print.

Plot Summary
As a child, Daniel is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He selects his book and is forever changed. Daniel is compelled to find out more about the writer and the mystery of why Julian Carax's novels are being bought and burned. On Daniel's journey, the reader experiences Julian's journey as well. This novel is set in Barcelona, Spain.

My Thoughts
This book was a bit confusing because the dual plot lines were so similar. Daniel, the main character, feels compelled to find out more about Julian Carax, the author of his now favorite book. As Daniel's story unfolds, so does Julian's. There were some surprises at the end (which seemed a little rushed after reading 300 + pages to get there). I kept notes as I read this book to lessen my confusion and keep up with the numerous characters.

Some sentences I really liked from the book:

"I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day" (Ruiz 4).

"Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not for the merits of who receives them" (Ruiz 77).

"Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you" (Ruiz 209).

"Fools talk, cowards are silent and wise men listen" (Ruiz 291).

"As long as we are being remembered, we remain alive" (Ruiz 446).

This was not a book I was compelled to pick up and read, but once I sat with it awhile, I was lost in the mystery of the story.

Fermin predicts that television will create imbeciles. Looking at the programming of today, I'd say he's right (Ruiz 106).

Friday, January 21, 2011

Scout, Atticus & Boo

Murphy, Mary McDonagh. Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill A Mockingbird. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

Plot Summary
This is not a work of fiction.

My Thoughts
Reading this book made me excited to teach To Kill a Mockingbird this year. I usually teach this novel every other year and this is the year for it. After reading this book, I can't wait to share what I learned from it with my students.

Mary McDonagh Murphy collects people's stories of how this novel made a difference to their lives. She includes notables like Tom Brokaw and Oprah Winfrey as well as journalists and former teachers and others who live or lived in Monroeville that credit Nelle Harper Lee's one published work to creating a change not only for them personally, but for our nation. Was Harper Lee a courageous writer or was she just a great storyteller? Was she trying to advocate for the social injustices she witnessed growing up in Alabama?

The most special treat of the book was including Harper's sister Alice Finch Lee's story. I was delighted to see Mockingbird and the fame and publicity that followed through someone as close to Nelle Harper's sister's eyes. One thing that shocked me was when Alice reveals that "Nelle loves British literature" (Murphy 129).

There is much discussion in this book concerning the movie that followed (with great success) three years after the novel was published. Yes, it is a great movie on its own, but (as in most cases) the book is SO much better!

I enjoyed seeing the novel through the eyes of the myriad of people Murphy interviews. Some you can feel were deeply moved by the novel. There was one person's story, however, that I felt that he was just self-promoting his own writing. That was a bit disappointing. Another interview clearly was from the perspective of a black person living in Monroeville. I'm glad that Murphy included her story.

This book is a great reference book for teaching the novel.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Break with Charity

Rinaldi, Ann. A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Scholastic, 1992.

Plot Summary
This is another story of the Salem Witch Trials. The plot follows Susanna English's role in the hysteria that surrounded Salem in 1692. Rinaldi combines fact and fiction to create an accessible story about this black mark in American history.

My Thoughts
This was a pretty interesting read about the Salem Witch Trials. Rinaldi uses enough factual evidence to make her story seem plausible and true. As I read, I kept thinking about the movie I show my students entitled "Three Sovereigns for Sarah." There are some additional characters in this book that do not appear in the movie, which I enjoyed reading and seeing the story fleshed out even more. In the author's note section, Rinaldi states that she takes some creative license in making Susanna English a "silent voice" to help the stopping of the hysteria.

I think the author explains with great accuracy with how the calling out of "witches" happens. The girls were bored. They were seeking attention and they got it from the magistrates. The girls were trying to "escape [life in Salem]'s suffocating effects (Rinaldi 73). Finally they were given some power in their dull little worlds. "No one our age ever got such attention before" (Rinaldi 97). Boy, did they use it!

The description of Ann Putnam, Jr. is so vivid. She truly believes she's "doing this town a favor" by naming the troublemakers and outcasts as witches (88). She tells Susanna that the girls are "doing the Lord's work" by accusing witches (Rinaldi 153). Susanna realizes that Ann actually believes the fits and afflictions are real.

I found the title reference on three different pages: 88, 136, and 152.

The irony of the entire situation is, of course, that the magistrates did not see the false testimonies the girls gave. The townspeople thought, "Let this matter be dealt with by learned men" (Rinaldi 111). These "learned" men convicted and hanged 19 people and had one man pressed to death.

The take away advice from this book is from Tituba. She is going to save herself (Rinaldi 118) and tells Susanna, "the secret is to know when to speak and when to remain silent" (Rinaldi 119). I wish that I would heed this advice. I often speak when I shouldn't.

Fall of Giants

Follett, Ken. Fall of Giants: Book One of the Century Trilogy. New York: Dutton, 2010.

Plot Summary
This 985 page novel covers the lives of a few principal characters who represent many interests leading up to The Great War. This novel is part history and part human interest.

My Thoughts
Despite the length of the book, I got so absorbed reading that I didn't stop and take notes. Follett creates memorable characters and it was easy to keep up with their stories even when they were not present in every chapter. As I was reading , I felt like I better understood why World War I happened. Follett explains (at least to me) the significance of certain historical events and just what the ramifications were for the rest of the world. I don't feel like I read a history book; I feel like I read mini biographies.

I appreciate the fact that Follett included global characters and not simply the Allies. We have characters from Russia (which helps me understand just how powerful the Russian Revolution was) and Germany. Events are not isolated. Alliances and deals and unofficial diplomacy all play a part of all or our history. As an American, I am connected to Russia's history (as Follett explains).

I really enjoyed reading this book and will probably pick up the next book in the trilogy. I'm curious if Follett will keep this cast of characters or will he flash forward to another set of people in another time during the century. I'm certain that he will be writing about World War II and I look forward to seeing that war through Follett's lens.