Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery Books, 1999. Print.

My Thoughts
I'm not sure yet what I think of this book. I read it Thanksgiving Day and am still processing. I think I'm conflicting in what I expected from the book and what I got. The story itself is OK, and I know it is going to release soon as a movie. I kept wondering "how?" --"How will they show this?" and "How will they keep the chronology of the story line?" and "How will the movie be rated?"

The inside cover doesn't tell much about the story, but does offer some quotes from various reviews. The first review likens this book to The Catcher in the Rye. This may be why I am still processing this book. I'm still processing Catcher from 25 years ago! As I was reading Perks, I often thought of Catcher, so it wasn't a surprise to read the comparison.

Charlie writes a series of letters or diary entries to an unnamed "friend" that tells the story of himself. At first, I wasn't sure if Charlie was a girl or boy. It took a few pages to picture the character. I also was confused as to who the "friend" is--I'm still not sure I know.

One thing I really did love about the book was the many references to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. As my sister worked at the cinema, I was allowed to see this movie (and even played parts) many times. Reading about the book characters doing the same was enjoyable. However, I wondered if my teen readers would understand what was happening. Have they ever experienced this movie (because it is an experience!)? Does any theater still show and perform Rocky? Ahh...something to research.

The title reference is on page 37.

I will probably go see the movie, just to have the movie experience. However, I'm not sure that I will recommend this book to anyone.

BLOG UPDATE 2/26/13: I watched the movie this weekend and enjoyed it. It made me rethink the book. Perhaps I will reread the book to give it another chance. I don't know exactly why I didn't like the book--maybe what I expected was not what I got, but the movie did do a good job of showing the characters and wasn't too graphic (like the book).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are

Harris, Alex, and Brett Harris. Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are. Colorado Springs: Multomah Books, 2010. Print.

My Thoughts
Once I finished their first book, Do Hard Things, I knew I had to read this one. This is the book that allows you to see how you can begin to do hard things. I was so inspired by the stories of small things creating big change.

I marked a couple of things in this book that I found thought provoking. One is "Our goal as Christians is not to avoid getting into trouble. It's also not to try to get into trouble. Our goal is to get into the right kind of trouble" (Harris 99). This really makes sense with the example of how we should care more about what God wants and how we are drawing others to God rather than what others think. Sometimes trouble is exactly what we need.

Another thing I marked discussed how things that young people find "cool" are controlled by middle-aged advertisers who are just trying to get money and "don't just address [teens] at the level of social expectations; they dictate those expectations--and drive them lower" (Harris 101). WOW!

There is an appendix of "100 hard things" that "people like you have done" (Harris 139). I read the list and picked out a few that I could immediately do myself. I also recognized some things I've already done. I'm glad that the Harris brothers shine a light on the idea that small things can be hard and by doing them, I can still make a difference in the world.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Do Hard Things

Harris, Alex, and Brett Harris. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2008. Print.

My Thoughts
I read this book to give a report to my United Methodist Women's circle as this title is on our 2013 reading list. While reading, I kept thinking of specific students that I'd like to give a copy of this book to because I think they are rebelutionaries! (This word is a combination of rebellion + revolution).

The premise of the book is the two authors, twin teenage boys, set out to change the mindset of teenagers. This period of development is not just for lazy days of recklessness. It is a training ground for the rest of one's life. Teens should not succumb to the world's expectations (i.e., of being a "lazy teenager"). Rather they should seek out new avenues to shine and honor God. They explain, "We're not rebelling against institutions or even against people. Our thinking is against a cultural mind-set that twists the purpose and potential of the teen years and threatens to cripple our generation" (Harris 25).

The book is divided into three parts: Rethinking the Teen Years, Five Kinds of Hard and Join the Rebelution. The authors explain early in the book that this is a "different kind of teen book" (Harris 3). It is a "book for teens by teens who believe our generation is ready for a change" (Harris 4). To be successful, the teens have established three pillars of the Rebelution: character, competence and collaboration (Harris 22). The subsequent chapters go into detail of what these three pillars mean and give real life examples of these pillars in action around the world.

The title reference appears often in the book and the rationale comes in explaining, "Doing hard things is how we exercise our bodies, our minds and our faith" (Harris 138). I liked the analogy. They proffer that "true courage is not the absence of fear. It is refusing to allow fear to control your actions" (Harris 77).

After reading the book, I did look at the website and can see that these two boys are making a difference in our world. Bravo to them for not accepting the fear of, "what can I do? I'm only a teenager," and deciding that many small acts create a great wave of change. "Our uprising won't be marked by mass riots and violence, but by millions of individual teens quietly choosing to turn the low expectations of our culture upside down" (Harris 25).

Monday, October 29, 2012


Sims, C. Bailey. Candlewax. Newton, CN: Terabyte Press, 2012. Print.

My Thoughts
Normally, I don't consider myself a fantasy reader. However, I heard about this book and actually won a copy at library harvest and felt like I should read it. I enjoyed the story. I did find myself smirking and rolling my eyes a bit at the stereotypical "fantasy" elements, such as Catherine's connectedness to ancient prophets that roll into the story at convenient times.

Catherine has a beautiful necklace from her grandmother. She doesn't realize the power it has until it saves her life. She then begins her heroine's quest to find out the rest of the prophecy. The story is complete with super magical powers, talking fairrier cats, a bloody battle between two forces and a love story.

I liked that Catherine is portrayed as a strong figure with an opinion. She has other ideas for her life than what her father decided for her. She is clever and able to devise strategic plans. She does cuss twice in the book, which I think could have been omitted and keep her tough-girl character.

Sims layers the story by allowing the reader to learn of the prophecy just as Catherine learns about it. There are many levels of her enchantment. This became a bit contrived for me, but it didn't take away from the story. The magical creatures, such as trodliks, and enchanted forests are a necessary part of the story.

On page 355, a new character emerges. I think this is a layering for the second book.

Overall, I read the 366 pages because I was captured by the story and needed to go on Catherine's quest. I'm looking forward to reading the next part of the story.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Beneath a Meth Moon

Woodson, Jacqueline. Beneath a Meth Moon: an Elegy. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012. Print.

My Thoughts
Since the word "meth" is in the title, I thought I'd better take a look at the book in case there were any challenges. I'm glad I did. This book was incredible. I think Woodson captured the characters and made them memorable. This tale follows Laurel's path down the road of using meth. Along the way, she mets Moses who "delivers" her out of trouble.

I don't want to say too much, as the story needs to tell itself. Woodson's writing is descriptive and true. She uses vivid metaphors to describe Laurel's experiences. This is a work of fiction, but how true it really seems.

Don't Sing at the Table

Trigiani, Adriana. Don't Sing at the Table: Life Lessons from my Grandmothers. New York: Harper, 2010. Print.

My Thoughts
I knew I was going to love this book when I read the author's forward: "This book is a work of nonfiction based upon my conversations with and observations of my grandmothers, Yolanda Perin Trigiani and Lucia Spada Bonicelli. This is a portrait of my life with them as I knew it. I have told these stories on these pages from my point of view, painted with a personal brush, in colors I chose, for the purpose of sharing my personal experience. Any resemblance to others, living or dead, is completely coincidental."

I have not read Trigiani before this book, but I think I will enjoy reading her fiction because I enjoyed her style. There are so many lessons we learn from others---even when we don't realize we are learning the lessons. Trigiani does a wonderful job creating vivid pictures of her grandmothers. Even though both were from Italy, each woman's personality was unique.

As I read this book, I couldn't help but think about my own grandmothers---two women who led vastly different lifestyles. For example, one of my grandmothers was a member of the garden club; the other grandmother worked in a garden. Both loved me and taught me.

I marked several "lessons" in this book to post on this blog. The title reference is on page 164.
  • "Nobody has to see how many times you rip out the hem" (Trigiani 74).
Now, I'm not any kind of seamstress, but I understand this lesson. "Details mattered. The results of your hard work should appear effortless" (Trigiani 74). Keep doing something until it is done correctly.
  • "The first rule of savings is sacrifice. Before you pay any bill, pay yourself" (Trigiani 85).
The very first job I ever had, my dad tried teaching me this concept. I'm still learning this lesson.
  • "Begin each day in a state of calm" (Trigiani 102).
Oh, I wish I could each day. I notice that when I first wake up, I am calm and enjoy the quiet time of the morning. However, once I get to school, the madness begins, and it is a roller coaster of calm and crazy.
  • "There is nothing we can say to comfort the grieving, but there is definitely something we can do. We can show up" (Trigiani 151).
Enough said.
  • "Do what you can and know that it's just right" (Trigiani 165).
I struggle with this. I try to do what I can, but is it my justification or truly all that I can do? Is what I feel I can do living up to the expectations of others?
  • "When you can, walk" (Trigiani 169).
I love walking. I often think about how life was before society became spoiled with vehicles. I should walk more. Walking does clear my head and when I walk with a buddy, we solve all of the world's problems.
  • "When you truly love someone, you want the best for them, and their happiness is more precious to you than your own" (Trigiani 172).
Three other moments that I marked reminded me of honoring my own grandmothers. They are gone forever, and I miss them every day. Memories pop in my head of different moments spent with each of them. If I let myself think too much about missing them, I cry. If I let myself think about how my child won't know them, I cry. Sometimes I let myself cry. Reading this book, especially the last few chapters, made me cry. I know that Trigiani was writing about her own grandmothers, but I captured and shared her emotions in the reading.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Franklin, Tom. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. New York: Harper, 2010. Print.

My Thoughts
I was captured in the opening paragraphs because I visualized my grandparents' home. Franklin absolutely put me in "my happy place," and I kept reading.

"Scary Larry" still lives with his parents until his father dies and his mother is moved into a nursing home for Alzheimer's. His character is believable, and I wondered if there was something a little "off" about him because he still lived at home.

When Larry was in high school, a young girl disappears, and he is the last one to see her. He becomes suspect #1. Twenty five years later, another girl disappears, and Larry is once again the prime suspect.

The story flashes back and forth which was a little confusing, but once the characters became "real" to me, I could follow the story. I was surprised at the unfolding of the past. Franklin does a good job teasing the reader and layering the story so that the plot is not as predictable as it might seem. A friend of mine described this as "traveling through the stories." I liked that expression.

Silas "32" Jones is the constable and gets "hunches" which are not quite out of the blue. His police work actual saves Larry's life. We find out later in the story that Silas has carried a huge secret and perhaps it is his guilt that guides his hunches.

Larry is a sympathetic character because in spite of his reputation, he's managed to live. He knows what is true and plods along in spite of the rumors, stares and vandalism. He is not the simpleton the reader (me) assumed he is.

This was an enjoyable story set in M-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-hump back-hump back-i.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dreams from the Monster Factory

Schwartz, Sunny, and David Boodell. Dreams from the Monster Factory: A Tale of Prison, Redemption and One Woman's Fight to Restore Justice to All. New York: Scribner, 2009. Print.

My Thoughts
It only took me only a day to read this powerful book. Sunny Schwartz writes of her personal experiences working in the San Francisco penal system. She began as a legal intern who helped fill out paperwork for prisoners' complaints. She later created a new version of prison life called RSVP (Resolve to Stop the Violence Project).

She is honest about the realities of prison life.

What she writes makes sense to me. Why do we, as taxpayers, spend so much money to incarcerate people just to give them time in jail to stew and only to release them to continue the patterns of crime? Why aren't we trying to really make sure criminals are given the skills and systems to guide them to become more productive citizens upon release? Why aren't we trying to make better people of them even if they won't ever leave jail?

As I read, I kept thinking about my students. Did I do everything I could in my classroom to help them become good citizens of my community? Once they were "released" from my care, did they go away as a better person or did they just let old habits continue?

As a librarian, do I want to have this book available? If a teen reads this, will it make a difference in his or her actions and behavior?

This book has made me think about myself and my attitudes and my assumptions. Sometimes we must keep trying even when the situation seems hopeless.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bad Girls Don't Die

Alender, Katie. Bad Girls Don't Die. New York: Hyperion, 2009.  Web.

My Thoughts
I liked the mystery of this book. There were some moments that foreshadowed what might be happening, but Alender didn't force the plot. As I read the story of Alexis (Lexi), her family and the house that truly became a character, I thought about how it would be neat to merge this story with Miss Peregrine's that I read earlier in this summer. Creepy places, abnormal happenings and distinct characters fill both book's pages. This book has a interesting doll that takes an important part of the plot.  

I read this book on my phone and found myself book marking pages that I thought I would include on the blog. Looking back on some of the marks, I realized I missed some foreshadowing moments.

"Home is where the heart is" is not just the Homecoming motto.

The Doom Squad is a group of kids who fit in together because they don't "fit" anywhere else (61). I visualized students that I know who feel the same way. As Lexi explains, "That's the pathetic thing about high school. Everyone tries so hard to be something they aren't" (60). Amen! Lexi has her own opinions about the different high school cliques. "Preps are like cheerleaders, only with less jumping" (70). I liked Lexi's humor and her insight. When her world begins to merge with a cheerleader, she explains, "Alexis's universe, Megan's universe. One is over here, and the other is waaaaay over there. Completely separate. And that's how I liked them" (300). I can hear her. I like how Alender doesn't just use the stereotypes to create flat characters, but she tries to dig into the idea that we are all the same and can put aside our differences when the time comes to help one another. She uses this story to help defend the idiom that you can't judge a book by it's cover, just as you can't judge a person by their appearance or who they eat lunch with at school.

I liked that Lexi made use of her school & public libraries. I found the episode with the school librarian to be humorous and true (294). I am dreading my first run in with a CPA  (Concerned Parents Association) group questioning a book. They might even question this book.

Alender had her characters use outdated technology (a microfiche reader). I wondered if my students would get the same visual I had while reading this. Thanks, Alender, for trying to memorialize a piece of equipment that helped me through many research projects!

The entire cast of characters seemed relevant to the story and helped the mystery unfold. As in real life, pieces of information come to us from various sources and don't always make sense until the entire mosaic is created.

I know that is it necessary, but I didn't like how I read to page 553 to find "Seven months later" and the story gets a summarization to propel us to the current evening of Prom. That visual was pretty cute, and I realized that a YA novel would not be complete (perhaps) without a nice prom scene with a movie ending.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Savage Grace

Despain, Bree. The Savage Grace: A Dark Divine Novel. New York: Egmont, 2012. Print.

My Thoughts
This was the worst written books of the trilogy. I think Despain figured that she had a readership, so she didn't have to try hard to sell this book. I was very disappointed!

There were some very unrealistic scenes (despite the fact that Grace is an infected werewolf) that I just didn't buy into. Again, it seemed that Despain was forcing the story. The entire set up for the challenging ceremony seemed too cliche, "let's kick some butt girl power!"

Some things are explained in this installment, like what a perfected urbat is (Despain 188). We learn more about Daniel's genealogy and the new character Talbot appears (and reappears and reappears). The clues pointing to his character were too obvious.

The title reference is on page 470. Ironically, I was at Disneyworld when I was reading the Peter Pan reference (page 382).

I kept thinking that I probably would like this book more if I didn't feel like I'd read it before now or if I was a 17 year old girl looking for a 17 year old heroine story.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Looking for Alaska

Green, John. Looking for Alaska. New York: Dutton Books, 2005. Print.

My Thoughts
I am so thankful I didn't choose to teach this novel to my summer classes. It is a good read, but I don't think I'm ready to face the controversial topics with students as a required reading assignment.

The book starts with a countdown to "before" and the reader doesn't learn what the event is until page 139. After this event, the chapters are divided by so many days "after."

Miles is a loner. He doesn't have friends, he's not athletic, but he does have a special talent: he memorizes famous people's last words.

The Colonel (Chip) is Miles' roommate. The Colonel hates rich kids and tries to prank as many of them as possible just to prove his (perceived) superiority over them.

Alaska (who named herself at the age of 7 because "it was big, just like I wanted to be" is the campus free spirit. She is an avid reader who claims not to have a home (Green 53).
Takumi rounds out the friend quartet. He is the "Asian kid" that is not a computer genius (Green 103) but defines himself as a rapper.

Lara is the Romanian love interest to Miles.

These five characters go to school at Culver Creek, where all the usual high school drama surrounds them. Except, they have more drama!

Green explores many of the questions and issues that face teenagers. I think he does a great job capturing the reality of teens' lives and how one decision can absolutely change a person.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Lost Saint

Despain, Bree. The Lost Saint: A Dark Divine Novel. New York: Egmont, 2011. Web.

My Thoughts
This is the second installment of the Grace Divine story. She is searching for her lost brother Jude and must unravel the truth behind her special abilities. The timeless questions of what is truth, who should I trust and what do I believe are addressed in the story.

There were several twists in this story that helped make the good versus evil story more plausible. Sometimes what we believe to be true isn't and those we trust shouldn't be trusted.

There are some new types of mystical animals introduced. Gelals and Akhs (pronounced like socks) are part of the Shadow Kings paranormal teen gang. I thought this part of the book was a cliche. Caleb leads a pack of "unwanted" teens to do his bidding.

I was happy to see that Despain's Christian messages were still showing through the story. She writes about Grace and Daniel being so close, yet not having sex because Grace wants to wait for marriage (Despain 283). Later in the book, Daniel proposes (giving hope to Grace while she faces insurmountable odds), so I think book three will unite them in marriage. I hope Despain doesn't get too steamy for my YA audience.

Another major character that appears in this story is Talbot. It was interesting to see how Despain tied this character to her first book. The family tree link might be contrived, but I was glad to see it (337).

Near the end of the book, we find that Daniel was black wolf and now is white (586). I'm sure this is color symbolism (I will always be an English teacher) that will explain itself in the third book. I can't wait to read it and find out what happens to the Divine Family. Dad was left out of the last part of this book, so I'm anxious to see when he surfaces again. I'm thinking he's more wolf than it appears.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2011.

My Thoughts
This book is kind of creepy. Jacob has heard his grandfather's stories of living on an island, escaping death from the Nazi's. His grandfather's dying words give a cryptic message that Jacob feels compelled to understand. His quest sends him to a remote English island where he finds the old house that his grandfather described.

Last night I had nightmares because of this book! There are some very strange characters and occurrences that I saw in my dreams. Perhaps I won't read this before going to bed anymore.

I think this book would make an excellent movie! I'm not sure how all of the special effects could be done, but the writing has my brain seeing the action. This book is part action, part mystery, part fantasy and overall well written. It includes photos that the author claims are real.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Dark Divine

Despain, Bree. The Dark Divine. New York: Egmont, 2010. Web.

My Thoughts
This was my first attempt at reading an e-book. As I flicked to the next page, I felt unsure if I was actually getting the entire book (What exactly does a "page" mean on a phone screen?). I liked that I could read anywhere...I always had a book with me if I had my phone.

The story itself is very YA. A young girl falls in love with a "bad boy" only to learn that she holds a special power that will allow the bad boy to be hers.

There were times when I was reading that I felt the believability of the story was forced. Did Grace actually have these experiences in such a fast timeline? The fight scene between Jude and Daniel seemed contrived. It seems like I've read this story before..oh wait, I read Twilight. Girl falls in love with werewolf. (Do we really need more werewolf stories? Is there a huge following of girls who want to fall in love with a magical creature?). Love triangle between who she is supposed to love and who she does love.

I liked the spiritualness present in the book. It is a classic good versus evil story. The mom was a flat character and the father in the story was sometimes there, sometimes not. Perhaps that's the way teens view their parents.

I will probably finish this trilogy just to see what happens to the Divine Family. I will call this "research" to recommend (or not) these books to my students.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton Books, 2012. Print.

My Thoughts
Everyone knows someone who has cancer, had cancer or died from cancer.

When I was growing up, I heard about the "C" word but it was always a nebulous "someone" who had it that I didn't know. Also, cancer = death. There was no hope, but I jumped rope and various other fund raising activities to raise money for research. Then cancer hit my family. My aunt was diagnosed my senior year of high school. My vocabulary expanded with medical technology.

Since then, I have had family, friends and former students taken by various cancers. They are not all the same!

Reading John Green's book made me realize that cancer fights to live and our attitude can really make a difference about how we choose to live. Will cancer be the story of our lives or merely a chapter? Is humor gone just because there are tumors present?

The protagonist of the story is Hazel Grace Lancaster. She has spent more time in hospitals than any teenager should. At thirteen, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She finds solace in a book entitled An Imperial Affliction. (I looked; it is not a real book). This book within a book becomes a major plot line, as Hazel writes to the author to find out about what happens to the characters in the book. I was afraid this was foreshadowing that Green would leave me with multiple questions. It would be appropriate because we don't know what happens after our "mark on the universe" is made.

When Hazel meets Augustus Waters he's in remission. As the story unfolds, they become a support to each other. They are sarcastic and honest and frightened and brave. They treat each other normally, in spite of the "bad days" and medical equipment. They can joke about things that only someone with a shared experience will understand. They choose to live in whatever time they have left.
[Side note: At one point Hazel recites William Carlos Williams' poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow" to Augustus. This is a poem I used in the classroom, so I thought it was funny that this, of all poems, was used in the book. It's a personal chuckle moment.]

These are dynamic characters. I became involved with them (twice crying while reading) and rooted for their remission.  I wanted them to live happily ever after, but that is not real life. Our "world is not a wish-granting factory" as Hazel often explains. Sometimes the happy ending doesn't come to us on earth.

This book captured me as a reader. I laughed, cried, thought about the "bigger picture" of our existence and questioned those platitudes I have heard myself say. I look forward to reading more books by John Green.

Oh, the title reference is on page 111.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Baseball Codes

Turbow, Jason, and Michael Duca. The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, & Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime. New York: Pantheon, 2010. Print.

My Thoughts
As a baseball spectator, I didn't realize there were so many unwritten rules to "America's pastime" game.

There are 23 chapters in this book, each dealing with a different aspect of the Code baseball players are to adhere to (even if they don't know the rules).

I knew I'd like this book when the opening chapter begins with the infamous Nolan Ryan/Robin Ventura head lock. Ryan stories appear as examples several more times in the book, including the statement of how Ryan let batters know he didn't appreciate bunts (Turbow 99). Although I didn't know or remember every example described in this book of how the Code is broken or enforced, I did enjoy learning about the Code.

Last night, as I visited the Ballpark, I kept thinking about how easy it is for a runner on 2nd to steal signs or of the Kangaroo court (a clubhouse version of justice) that often raises money for charity. I looked at the game and the players a little differently.  I also thought about how the game has changed and often spectators don't root for teams, but support individual players. However, it felt last night that MY team was being encouraged all the way down the roster.

The book is researched and shows examples from all over the League (including a few reports of things happening in the minors). It was fun to remember the legacy, how the game changes and how some things in the game will always stay the same.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back

Hamilton, Josh, and Tim Keown. Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back. New York: Faith Words, 2008. Print.

My Thoughts
WOW! This was an awesome read! I didn't want to finish reading, and yet when I did finish, I felt this urge to write to Josh Hamilton and encourage him. Hamilton is very honest about his addictions to both tattoos and drugs. He doesn't blame anyone but himself for the downward spiral his life took after signing on the the "Big Leagues" in baseball. I was surprised to learn that Josh was a baseball phenom (the opening chapter talks about his skills from the early age of 6 when he played with 11 year old kids). I also didn't know that Hamilton could pitch, but he chose the outfield to ensure that he could play every day instead of being on a rotation.

I knew I liked Josh Hamilton the first time I saw him play. Reading this made me like him more. I feel like I have the "back story" of who this great baseball player really is. He is humble and his teammates respect him. I got goosebumps on my arms when I read the chapter where his Texas Rangers teammates (Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Hank Blalock) came to listen to his press conference--to hear his story. The team, to me, seems like a family and they play well together. However, I also know by reading this part of the story, they are more connected than just on the field. They really care for one another.

The book was published in 2008, and since then, Josh had a drinking relapse. The media crucified him and there were questions of whether or not the Rangers would keep him on the team. I can understand how it happened, but I don't know why the Rangers would even consider cutting him from the team. Contract negotiations are happening this year, and I hope the Rangers will keep Josh. Every day is a struggle and a triumph.

Another thing I kept thinking about while reading this was Shannon Stone. Last season (2011), Shannon and his son were at a game, and Hamilton tossed up a ball to them. Shannon fell over the rail trying to get the ball and ended up dying. [On a side note, Shannon's wife Jenny and I worked at Winn Dixie together many years ago]. As I read Beyond Belief, I thought about the Stone Family. I thought about Josh's faith and what he must think each time he goes outfield. I thought about how God has carried him through so many trials. Josh truly gives God the credit for his recovery. His mantra is James 4:7 "Humble yourself before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

I wish Josh the best!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Decision Points

Bush, George W. Decision Points. New York: Crown Publishers, 2010. Print.

My Thoughts
This was an interesting read. I did bog down a bit during the foreign policy chapters, but I pushed through and made it to the end.

The format was interesting to me. Bush didn't start with day 1 of his life and continue to the present. He divided the chapters by fourteen decisions (hence the title of the book) that he felt most affected him as a person and in his role of president.

Having read many biographies and autobiographies, I do know that there is a slant in the writing. I think Bush is trying to write accurately and honestly in this book. He admits to making bad decisions, but he tries to learn from the mistakes. He states there are sometimes he'd like a "do over" and would handle situations differently. I enjoyed his perspective on 9/11 and Katrina. He answers some questions that I personally had about both events.

There are two sections of pictures in the book, most coming from the White House official photographers. Seeing them made me think about how living in the public eye must be tiresome, but I also questioned how staged some of these photos might be.

With its almost 500 pages in length, this is not a quick read. However, I feel more informed about my country by having read it. As Bush states in the last sentence of this book, "Whatever the verdict on my presidency, I'm comfortable with the fact that I won't be around to hear it. That's a decision point only history will reach" (477). I think history will decide that Bush did what he could with the information he had and, indeed, he did try to make a positive difference in the lives of not only Americans, but people of the world.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

Drummond,, Ree. The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. New York: William Morrow, 2011.

My Thoughts
I read this book over the weekend and could hardly put it down because it is such a cute love story. The book chronicles Ree & Ladd (Marlboro Man) Drummond's courtship and first year of marriage.

This biography begins when Ree decides she's moving home for a brief period before staring a "new" life in Chicago. Little did she know how much her life plan was about to be altered. She meets "Marlboro Man" at a local bar. She's smitten, but he doesn't call for four months. When he does call, Ree's heart melts at the sound of his voice. As I've watched her show, I can hear the raspy, deep cowboy Ladd's voice, and my heart melts a little, too.

She's got a plan, but Marlboro Man takes control. He asks her not to leave for Chicago. She doesn't. Their love grows and eventually they are married. It is amazing how they drove back and forth for each other. I feel like I know this couple. I feel like I can hear Ree explaining to Ladd over the phone how much of a morning person she is. He plays along with her. You can feel their love.

I can sympathize when she goes to a Drummond Family wedding and ends up in the bathroom for twenty minutes. What are the rules of etiquette here? When her facial goes awry and she spends her honeymoon throwing up, I thought that these things can't really be happening to her! Unfortunately, they did.

I loved traveling down memory land with Ree. I hope her children will one day appreciate that she took the time to write down her love story. She's very honest and doesn't sugar coat her thoughts and feelings. I hope that one day, she'll pick up where this story ends and write about how she's overcome some of her idolized views of living on the ranch and how she became famous for being an "accidental country girl"--what put her on the literary/cooking map?

One ironic thing about her story is that she was married on the same day as a friend of mine, one year later. (I had to do some research about when ASU beat Nebraska to figure this one out).

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Sex Lives of Cannibals

Troost, J. Maarten. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific. New York: Broadway Books, 2004. Print.

My Thoughts
Well, if the title was actually what the book was about, it might have been more interesting! This work is non-fiction (could everything he writes really be true?) about a man who is aimless in the world and decides the remedy for his situation is to live on a tropical island. Well...the island isn't quite the paradise Troost had in mind. He confronts the reality that "paradise" sometimes is full of people pooping in their own water and dogs that truly exemplify the survival of the fittest theory.

There were a few humorous parts that I found myself chuckling out loud. For example, the most popular song on the island is "La Macarena" which is played loudly all of the time. I could imagine the author's reactions as authentic. Chapters 14 & 18 were funny. They need to be read.

This book was one way to travel abroad while keeping the comforts & traditions of home.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Profiles in Fashion: Vera Wang

Petrillo, Lisa. Profiles in Fashion: Vera Wang. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds, 2011. Print

My Thoughts
Finally, a designer that still owns their product! Of this entire series, Vera Wang is the only one (as of the book's printing) that did not sell their name.

It was interesting to know that Vera Wang actually started out in figure skating and even tried out for the Olympics. When that didn't happen, she began designing bridal gowns. Her father was not convinced that his daughter should do this, but eventually backed her financially. Her business was born and she has now spread out to many lines besides bridal wear. She even created figure skating outfits for Nancy Kerrigan. Her knowledge of the ice skater's needs helped her clinch this market.

Like the other books in this series, the photos correlate in some way to the story, but they might not be personal pictures for the topic. The book itself was only 100 pages.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011. Print.

My Thoughts

This should be required reading for all of humanity! This book is not an easy, fast read, but it was a very interesting read! I kept finding myself agreeing with Carr in how my personal brain works (or sometimes doesn't), and now I have a better understanding of why.

The early chapters discuss the brain forming and the history of brain research. When I was reading these chapters, I was actually at a technology conference. I was amazed at how often something was mentioned there that I thought, "I just read about that!"

Chapter Four discusses writing. I didn't realize that in the early days of print, words ran together just like in speech (Carr 61). As more people learned to read, there was a need for more books. More books equals more literacy (Carr 70). "The reader becomes the book" proves that reading is not a passive activity (Carr 74).

I thought Chapter Five was interesting because it discusses the progression of the Internet. I found myself remembering my 8th grade computer literacy class. Chapter 7 discusses how the Internet and our constant scattered attention makes us have, as the title is so aptly named, a "Juggler's Brain." (Carr 115). "When our brain is overtaxed, we find 'distractions more distracting'" (Carr 125). We are not reading in a linear fashion, spending only about 19-27 seconds looking at a page on the Internet (Carr 136). Carr proclaims that our brains are engaged less directly and more shallowly and "skimming is our dominant mode of reading" (137).

Chapter Six was about books. When newspapers became mainstream, people warned that books would go away. As the Internet and ebooks/readers become more mainstream, there are those warnings coming out again.

Chapter 8 is entitled "The Church of Google." The entire chapter is devoted to Google's history & goals. Pretty interesting.

Chapter 9 made me realize why I have trouble remembering anything. I don't have to remember! I have an "external" memory (my computer) that will store information for me. No longer must I use my brain. However, when we store new memories, we strengthen our brains (Carr 192). So, I really should rely more upon my brain than my computer. It's hard. I had a recent example when my daughter asked me a multiplication question. I honestly didn't know the answer. I've come to rely upon a calculator to do my "ciphering" nowadays. Carr explains that the Net is "technology of forgetfulness" (193). I agree! Carr warns, though, that as we rely upon "outsourc[ing] memory [to a machine]" that "culture withers" (197). Yikes!

The final chapter of the book warns that as we become more involved with our computers, "we'll lose our humanness" (Carr 207). The more we use a keyboard, the less we will write in cursive.

Hmmm....all of these things make sense. Like I said, this is not a fast, easy read. In fact, I took notes as I read to help me stay focused. I think every person should read this book (soaking in a chapter at a time). After all, the Internet is changing our brains.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Hopkins, Ellen. Fallout. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010. Print.

My Thoughts
This is the final book of the Kristina Snow trilogy. I had to read it and find out what happened. Hopkins continues the story from the viewpoint of Kristina's three oldest children. Hunter, who is now 19, begins the story. We learn of two girls, Autumn and Summer and then of two more boys. So, Kristina has five children from four different men. She never takes responsibility for her life.

Autumn is the baby she had with Trey. Thankfully, Aunt Cora, at age 17, took Kristina's responsibility and raised Autumn. Autumn lives in Texas and never knew she had a family in Nevada. Once Aunt Cora gets married, Trey returns to the scene and takes Autumn to meet the Snow side of her family. It is one memorable Christmas drive. Trey is going to rekindle something with Kristina. Autumn is going to meet her family for the first time.

Summer is a child that resulted as a night spent with one of Trey's friends. Summer has spent most of her life in foster care because her dad can't stay out of trouble, and of course, Kristina can't either. Summer reminded me of Kristina when we first met her--"good" student/AP classes. I figured Summer's life would take one of two turns. She would either follow her mom's lifestyle or do something different to spite her mom. Well, her life path actually turned into a hybrid of these paths. Summer runs away with her boyfriend (also a junkie) Kyle. On their road trip to teenager freedom, a Hummer forces them off the road. They are rescued but must have a reason for their trip. Ah...going to see Grandma.

We don't see much of the two youngest boys' story except to learn that they are holy terrors! Thank goodness that Kristina's mom, once again, is helping.

I am glad that I read this trilogy and only had to ride vicariously the roller coaster that mirrors Hopkins' real life drama. Hopkins explains, "while these books are rooted in our real life, they are to a large degree fiction" (Hopkins 665). To be as real as these books seem, I would say that she knows what she's writing about!

Friday, February 3, 2012

In the Garden of the Beasts

Larson, Erik. In the Garden of the Beasts.

My Thoughts

Even though this was a non-fiction book, it read like a novel. We follow William Dodd's appointment as Ambassador in Berlin and learn of how Germany was changing as Hitler gained more power in the government.

Dodd tried to warn the U.S. Government, but the warnings fell on deaf ears. I wondered how history would have changed (if at all), had the United States done something. I'm not sure what they should have or could have done, but when repeatedly warned about the conditions of life, it seems plausible (of course, looking back this is easy to say), that something could have be done.

Dodd's daughter Martha was quite a character, and I wondered how my perception of women differs from the actuality of Martha's life. She goes with her father for adventure. She is naive and thinks what is happening in Germany is for the greater good. It's not until a certain weekend that Martha begins to question her belief in this new Germany.

The author does a good job giving us the history of Germany. I have a better understanding of Hitler, the Gestapo, and the "real" Germany during this time. I enjoyed reading this book.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Profiles in Fashion: Marc Jacobs

Branscomb, Leslie Wolf. Profiles in Fashion: Marc Jacobs. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds, 2011. Print.

My Thoughts
Why do people follow this inane nut? Now that I have read his story, I will not be so impressed with his label. He is credited for making the grunge look fashionable. Strike one. He is a drug addict. Strike two. He makes absurd comments that make him seem humble (or at least are trying to) when they just scream for attention. Strike three.

One example is when he describes a "dumb blouse." "'I love a blouse that's dumb. I love to use the word "dumb." It's not knowing, and the word "blouse" is so out of fashion that I love it: a blouse that's dumb'" (qtd. in Branscomb 87). What is he saying? Yeah, I don't know either.

An amusing note about Marc Jacobs' awards is that of the Parsons award. He only received it because Tom Ford quit Gucci right before the awards were given. One requirement of receiving the award is to be employed. There isn't a Tom Ford book in this series, but I would read it if there was.

One thing I'm learning about reading this series Profiles in Fashion is that many designers don't even work for their own label anymore. Very interesting. Only one more to read: Vera Wang.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Profiles in Fashion: Isaac Mizrahi

Petrillo, Lisa. Profiles in Fashion: Isaac Mizrahi. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2011. Print.

My Thoughts
I found it interesting to read about this person who, to me, just "hit" the market, only to learn that he's actually been in the fashion business since the 1980s! This book was just a scratch on the surface of his life and didn't really include much about his designs (a disappointment). I also didn't think the pictures, they seemed relevant, but also space fillers (for example, there's a picture of "tailoring tools" and two pages later, a different picture of the same thing). (pages 20 & 22). The pictures also repeat in the book.

There is also a printing error because page 73 begins mid-sentence.

The book mentions a documentary made that follows Mizrahi as he tries to prepare for a fashion show. "Though fifteen years old, the file remains so popular it is still widely available...It is considered among the best movies about fashion ever made" (Petrillo 39). Hmmm....I can't buy it from my book vendor. How popular is it really?

I learned a little about how is Isaac Mizrahi, but I'm disappointed that I didn't get a feel for his designs. I would not recommend this book to others unless they are desperate for a source.


Hopkins, Ellen. Glass. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007. Print.

My Thoughts
Oh my! Kristina/Bree's story continues as she spirals more and more out of control because of meth. I did learn that there are other names for meth (glitter, sugar, ice and glass) (Hopkins 145). I didn't know that the title of the book was a reference to the drug. D'uh!

I want to SCREAM at this girl, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" You are throwing your life away because of some high you get? You are making bad decisions because you can't stay sober? Your family (at least your mom and step dad) care for you more than anything,and you push them away for drugs? What about your son? How is he supposed to build a relationship with the most important person of his life when YOU AREN'T THERE? My heart aches for this girl and her mother. I imagine what I would do given the same circumstances. I'm not sure (and I hope I don't ever learn) how I would deal with this. SPOILER ALERT: I was so happy when she finally got busted and so mad to learn of her new pregnancy.

Hopkins definitely has me on this ride because I've already picked up the third book of the trilogy (entitled Fallout). I know that not everything ends happily ever after, but I hope for my sake Kristina wins the war, and Bree is put out of her life for good in the next book. I don't know how much more I can read and how much more I can connect to a fictional character. Thankfully, I am learning a something through a book instead of my own or a close family member's experiences.

Hopkins's writing is engaging and memorable. I'm not sure if I will start another of her series or not. Part of me wants to because of the realness of the material and part of me doesn't want to feed my brain anymore about sitauations that I don't live.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

People in the News: Johnny Depp

Grabowski, John. People in the News: Johnny Depp. Detroit: Lucent Books, 2011. Print.

My Thoughts
This was written for a middle school reader. The author "dummies" down the vocabulary or inserts simplistic definitions for words or concepts. Overall, the book was interesting, and I did learn some about Johnny Depp. I also, through the text, recalled some of the "news" stories that followed Depp like his being arrested for swinging a bat at some photographers or his very public romance with Winona Ryder.

One thing I found interesting was why and how he created the character of Jack Sparrow. According to Grabowski, Depp "based his characterization of Captain Jack Sparrow on Keith Richards" and Pepe Le Pew (Grabowski 70). Perhaps this explains why I could hardly make out what was being said in the third movie!

Another thing I didn't know about Depp was that he played in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies as well as Platoon. I've seen almost all of Johnny Depp's movies (at least the movies released in the United States), and he usually plays some odd ball character. I think that's why I really like him. He's not afraid to take risks.

The book does contain many pictures of Depp over the years (although all since he began acting)and insert boxes of related information.

Post script: The week I read this book, People magazine had the same cover picture as the book reporting that Johnny and his girlfriend were breaking up. Strange coincidence!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Profiles in Fashion: Jimmy Choo

Sapet, Kerrily. Profiles in Fashion: Jimmy Choo. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds, 2011.

My Thoughts
It was interesting to read how a poor shoemaker from Malaysia could become such a coveted status symbol. I didn't realize that Jimmy Choo actually hand made each pair. As I read this, I considered ordering a pair for myself, until I learned that most of these shoes start at $500 and go up in price. Perhaps the hand-made aspect makes them worth that money, but I can think of SO many other things that $500 could do for me and my family.

An interesting fact that I didn't know was the history of the shoe. At first, they were purely utilitarian. Then shoes evolved into status symbols. People actually had such high heels that they required two people next to them to help them walk. RIDICULOUS! Jimmy Choo's philosophy is that shoes can look gorgeous and feel good, too. It shouldn't be a chore to walk around in them. He claims that four inch heels are the optimum height for balance and posture and this height has become his signature style.

Like most people in fashion, the demand for the product begins to consume the maker's time. Jimmy Choo wanted his brand to expand, so he partnered with Tamara Yeardye to help. She worked the business end of the partnership and he designed and made the shoes. This partnership did not have the same goals, so in 2001, Jimmy sold "his portion of the Jimmy Choo Ltd. to concentrate on his couture business" (Sapet 101).

As I will probably never own a real pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, I enjoyed reading about how they were made, who buys them (Princess Diana was one of the first high profile clients) and how humble Choo seems to be in spite of his recognitions.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Thirteen Reasons Why

Asher, Jay. Thirteen Reasons Why: A Novel. New York: Razor Bill, 2007. Print.

My Thoughts
This book is about a girl who commits suicide, but before she does, she records her reasons why on 13 tapes and instructs the listeners of the tapes to pass them along to the next person. In the tapes, she explains what these listeners did or didn't do that helped her make the decision to end her life. The listener we hear the story from is named Clay. When his story comes up, Hannah explains that really, he shouldn't be on the tapes, but he needs to know how all of these other people and events shaped her decision.

This is a powerful book. It really makes the reader think about how a small comment or action (or even lack of words and actions) can affect others. I think Asher's message to the reader is you just never know what others are going through and how you affect them. Very powerful message.

UPDATE June 27, 2013
I taught this novel to my Upward Bound students. I thought it would take us the full 4 weeks. My students DEVOURED this book! It spoke to them on many levels. We all know the people on the tapes; the names & gender might be different. I'm so glad for the opportunity to reread this book and share it with teens. They got it, and we didn't have to pick it apart for that to happen.