Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick:  I'm Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil
Due out: January 27, 2015

Product Description taken from Amazon:
It's the summer of 1963 and JJ Green is a born songwriter—which is a major problem, considering that her family considers the music business a cesspool of lowlifes and hustlers. Defying them, she takes an internship at the Brill Building, the epicenter of a new sound called rock and roll.

JJ is finally living her dream. She even finds herself a writing partner in Luke Silver, a boy with mesmerizing green eyes who seems to connect instantly with her music. Best of all, they’ll be cutting their first demo with Dulcie Brown, a legend who’s fallen on hard times. Though Dulcie is now a custodian in the Brill Building, JJ is convinced that she can shine again. 

But Dulcie’s past is a tangle of secrets, and when events take a dark turn, JJ must navigate a web of hidden identities and shattered lives—before it snares her, too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First Day of School

Although my girls have a few days left until they head back to school, today is my first day back with students.

There are always a lot of rules to go over but I still make time for reading each group a back to school story.  

And every year, I am always excited to add a few new titles to my growing list of books I can reach for and be happy to share.

Harper Collins graciously sent me four new back to school titles for my review, each one a quality picture book I can share with the lower grades I see.

Chu's First Day of School by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex

Chu's First Day of School is a follow up to the picture book, Chu's Day.  This panda is anxious about going to school, unsure of how things will go.  When the big day finally arrives, students are expected to introduce themselves and one thing they are good at.  Chu thinks hard as other students give their responses.  When he finally gives his answer, it is unique and memorable.

Colorful illustrations and short text make this a perfect book for pre-K students who are just beginning school.  My soon-to-be second grade daughter was excited to see this book as well. At this point, she can read the book herself, but is attracted to the cuteness of Chu and her memories of reading Chu's Day.

Monsters Love School by Mike Austin

Little Sister's first comment as I looked at this book was how much she enjoys Monster books.  This book is fun - brightly colored illustrations draw readers in to the story of monsters getting ready to go back to school. Cute names like Mrs. Warble, the music teacher,  and Mr. Reed the librarian, add a bit of fun to this story as monsters shop for school supplies, learn history, and eat school lunch.   Monsters Love School is a follow-up to Austin's previous book about the monsters, Monsters Love Colors.

Little Lola by Julie Saab and David Gothard is another cute back to school story. Lola is a cat napping on a park bench when Little Lola begins.  She has a few things to keep her busy - one of them being to have an adventure. When she happens upon clothes, glasses and a backpack, Lola quickly dons the outfit, and hops on the school bus.  Lola loves school!  Despite a few mishaps, Lola makes it through the day, returning to her park bench that afternoon, having completed her "to do" list.

Another picture book with few words, preschool and kindergarten students will be able to sit still for this story, and enjoy discussing Lola's school adventures.

Flip and Fin We Rule the School by Timothy Gill and Neil Neil Numberman

This back to school story is great entertainment.  I loved reading the jokes that Flip and Fin tell throughout this picture book.  Although this book may seem like a story for the lower elementary crowd, I am planning on reading it to my third and fourth grade classes, who will be able to better understand the jokes.  Gill also includes fun information about the various fish that are featured in this story at book's end.  In addition to Flip and Fin being a great back to school book, teachers wanting a good introductory/anticipatory set type of book for an ocean/fish unit would find this book fits the bill.

I'll still be digging out some of my good ol' standard back to school books, but these new stories are ones I am anxious to share with my students this week.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Swap

When I was in fourth grade I read Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers- long before Lindsay Lohan starred in the movie based on the book.

The Swap by Megan Shull has quite a few similarities to this novel, yet with its own twists and revelations.

Ellie is finding it difficult in her tween years. Her best friend has dropped her and not only has she found a new best friend, she is making Ellie's life miserable.  

Jack lives with his three brothers and father, who the boys refer to as The Captain.  Their very structured and scheduled lives revolve around hockey which they play and train for year round.  

When Jack and Ellie find themselves in the nurse's office at the same time both think the other person has an easier life. When they wake up they can find out for themselves if this might be true as they realize they are inhabiting a body that is foreign to them.

And they do have some revelations along the way.  Aside from the fact that they have to work hard to make it through the weekend in a home that is unfamiliar to them with rules and people they don't know, there are a few other surprises.  

Jack gets to go bra shopping and have a physical.  Ellie deals with ice baths after training and shrinkage. 

Shull does a great job of leaving things to the imagination, and giving these characters a little depth as well. Both realize that neither person's life is perfect. And both find a way to give the other person a little help in making their lives easier when they return to their own bodies.

This novel is fun.  It is a fast read with a premise that is guaranteed to entertain and get readers thinking a little bit.  

The Swap is a novel boys and girls will both enjoy and would make a great read aloud.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Salon

On Thursday I started back to work. Summer 2014 is officially in the books.  I'm excited to start the school year, although I'm not feeling in the least bit ready for it, either.

To finish off the summer, Big Sister turned 13 on Friday.  We managed to get her birthday party/sleepover in before I returned to work.  She has a great group of girls in her grade and even though sleepovers can sometimes be challenging (and not all that much fun for parents), this one went well.

To cap off the celebration, I took Big Sister to the dentist the next morning, where they pulled two teeth. She had been having problems with an adult tooth coming in above her baby teeth that really weren't all that loose, and the dentist volunteered to "help" those teeth out.

Little Sister lost her second front tooth as well, so the tooth fairy has been very busy at our house.

And this weekend, as we attempt to get ready for a real schedule, Big Sister's BFF, from kindergarten-fourth grade made a return visit.  She's like a member of our family, and I'm happy these girls can pick up where they left off a few years ago. This visit was short and sweet, but last year when Emily visited, we were without water for a week. This year was much more relaxing.

Reading?  I feel like there just hasn't been enough time to really get any books read. And then, when I could read, I am thinking school thoughts.  Hopefully I can get in the groove quickly and get back to attacking my enormous TBR stack.

Cooking? Going back to school should actually help me out because I won't have to worry about three meals a day.  Making lunch and supper gets old quickly.  I already have some pre-made meals in the freezer for suppers that I am looking forward to having, and on Friday I met with a nutritionist who gave me a seven day meal plan to follow.  I spent yesterday snacking because today I am officially on the straight and narrow, following this plan.

Watching?  Nothing. There are so many shows I want to watch, but when it comes right down to it, I would rather read, and my book stacks never seem to get any smaller.

It's a beautiful Sunday out....I'm looking forward to a run a bit later and maybe even a little time outside with a good book.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eating Healthy: Spaghetti Squash, Chicken and Veggies

A while ago my sister shared a recipe with my mom, who then shared it with me. I happened to mention it in a Sunday Salon post, but didn't follow up on that. Of course my sister wondered if I liked the recipe or not since I didn't say anything about it.

So, for her benefit - I liked the recipe. I have made it three times since I first tried it and it has been a hit.  

I meant to take a picture of it while it was still in my skillet, but after everyone ate, this is all that is left - just enough for me to take to school for lunch.

And the recipe:

Spaghetti Squash, Chicken and Veggies

How I prepare spaghetti squash:
- Wash first.
- Take a fork or small knife and puncture the squash several times to allow steam to escape.
- Microwave for five to 10 minutes, until you are able to cut in half.
- Once you can cut in half, scrape out seeds and pulp. Discard innards.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place two halves on a cookie sheet or baking dish covered in cooking spray. Bake for at least 30 to 40 minutes (depends on size of squash). You should be able to easy take a fork and twirl off the pieces of squash to tell when it is ready. 
- Remove from oven, let the halves cool until you can safely handle them. Twirl/scrape out contents.

Spaghetti squash with chicken and vegetables
- Olive oil
- 3 1/2 to 4 c roasted spaghetti squash
- 1 medium zucchini sliced thinly
- 1 red pepper sliced thinly (may use spinach, yellow squash or mushrooms, too)
- 1 cup shredded cooked chicken (I usually a Costco rotisserie chicken)
- 1 tsp minced garlic and/or 2 T minced or finely chopped onion
- Salt and pepper
- Parmesan or mozzarella cheese, shredded, to taste

- Heat a skillet on low-to medium low heat on the stove. Add 1/2 T olive oil to pan. You can also just use an olive oil cooking spray but you need to keep a better eye on the saute.
- Put in garlic and onion. Saute for about 3 minutes.
- Add all vegetables. Saute for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. If adding spinach and or tomatoes, add at the very end after meat.
- Add chicken and allow it a few minutes to warm up with the entire dish.
- Salt and pepper to taste (I have also added oregano, sage, rosemary and thyme, fresh and dried, for different flavors)
- Put mixture in bowls. Sprinkle with cheese as desired.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Five: A Variety of Things

I'm back at work, so this week has flown by!  I have spent plenty of time on the internet, shopping, surfing, finding things to use at school.  Here are a few highlights:

I'm not sure this picture does them justice, but I have been eyeing these urban capris on the Title Nine website.  I'd love to add them to my workout clothes rotation.  

I'm still looking for unique and interesting wall decor.  If it were all cheap, I would have everything hung by now, but it is taking me a while to budget for the items I want, and a bit of creativity as well.  I find myself attracted to these:

White Faux Taxidermy sells a range of animals to add to your collection of mountings.  I can't decide if this is just too weird or sort of cool.  Unique?  Thoughts?

These remind me of elementary school in the 80s.  I think I might have owned a pair almost like this, so it's no wonder I would love to have a pair for myself now. My children guffawed at the sight of these, which makes me want them even more. 

When my sister-in-law was back from Montana I noticed her bag every time we ever left the house.  She got a deal on a Vera Bradley Triple Zip Hipster.   I've been checking out the variety of prints available now.  If I were to get one, this would be my pick, African Violet.

Maybe this doesn't happen to you, but I hate being confronted with eating out and attempting to find a healthy option on the menu.  As the school year starts again we have been given some opportunities on our work days to eat out.  Yesterday we headed to Applebees. I am pretty proud of my selection: Chicken Freshcado - chicken, avocado, zucchini, tomato and rice.  440 calories.  It was delish!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Good Books and Good Intentions

When school ended in June I packed up a crate (or two) full of books and had such good intentions. This was the year I was going to read books I took home from school and have a new group of books to book talk.  

And how did that go for me?  Well, about like every other summer. I have read book after book - until my eyelids had to be propped open late at night a time or two - but I didn't get many read from the stash I brought home.

Yes, I had good intentions. And every single book I selected is still one I think I would enjoy reading.  What gets in the way are all the adult books I want to read. All the great beach books just calling my name.

So, since school is starting up soon, I figured I should at least make a half-hearted attempt to get a few of the books read that I brought home.

Yesterday I started with Ava and Pip by Carol Weston.  And I loved it.  It is a good book. I don't love the cover which I feel will appeal to younger kids and doesn't really take into account that Ava is in fifth grade and her sister is in seventh.

The content of the book is not too adult, but the plays on words would still be something that younger students might struggle with.  Sure they could read it, but I'm not sure they would think it was funny.

Ava keeps a diary where she writes. While her sister, Pip, is quiet, an artist, Ava is a writer and talkative.

Pip struggles with making friends and has always needed more care and attention from their parents. Because of this Ava feels neglected and a bit left out.  Yet, when Pip's birthday party is ruined because new student Bea throws a party on the same day Pip's party was scheduled for, Ava takes up for her sister.  She even writes a story about Queen Bea that she enters into a writing contest. 

Can you see where this is going? Ava's story is read by a lot of other people, and it doesn't take Bea long to realize that she is the Queen Bea that Ava has written about.

Weston does a great job with this story and making it a real learning experience for all the girls.  

I can see this being a great read aloud, and in fact I've marked a few pages to spark some interest when I book talk this to my library students.  Weston's Melanie Martin series is one I enjoyed a few years ago, and I hope to read more about Ava and Pip as well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick:  The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
Due out: September 23, 2014

Product information taken from Amazon:

A heartfelt, and riveting biography of the short life of a talented young African-American man who escapes the slums of Newark for Yale University only to succumb to the dangers of the streets—and of one’s own nature—when he returns home.

When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Robert’s life was rough from the beginning in the crime-ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s, with his father in jail and his mother earning less than $15,000 a year. But Robert was a brilliant student, and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics. But it didn’t get easier. Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, “fronting” in Yale, and at home.

Through an honest rendering of Robert’s relationships—with his struggling mother, with his incarcerated father, with his teachers and friends and fellow drug dealers—The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace encompasses the most enduring conflicts in America: race, class, drugs, community, imprisonment, education, family, friendship, and love. It’s about the collision of two fiercely insular worlds—the ivy-covered campus of Yale University and Newark, New Jersey, and the difficulty of going from one to the other and then back again. It’s about poverty, the challenges of single motherhood, and the struggle to find male role models in a community where a man is more likely to go to prison than to college. It’s about reaching one’s greatest potential and taking responsibility for your family no matter the cost. It’s about trying to live a decent life in America. But most all the story is about the tragic life of one singular brilliant young man. His end, a violent one, is heartbreaking and powerful and unforgettable.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I've never been to Charleston, South Carolina, but Margaret Bradham Thornton's debut novel brought the city to life for me.  

Eliza has always known that at some point she will return home to Charleston. After college, graduate school, and an eventual move to London, a decade has passed before she makes the trip back to her hometown.  And once she is there, Charleston is much as she remembered.  

Her ex-boyfriend Henry is still in Charleston and although Eliza has a boyfriend, Jamie, who lives in England but hasn't traveled home with her, she is drawn to Henry.  Part of the allure is the memory of what they once had.  Part is the setting, which seems so familiar, as though they are picking up where they left off.

And yet a decade has passed. Henry has a son, Lawton, who is nine and is part of the reason Eliza's relationship with Henry fell apart the first time.  As the two try to rebuild a life together, they must decide if they can truly go home again.

One of the strengths of this novel is Thornton's writing - her ability to make Charleston come to life, and to create characters that are alive and human.  I quickly cared about Eliza and wanted her to find happiness.

Even as this novel ended, I could still see Eliza living in Charleston, attending parties for friends she has known her entire life.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I've Already Read This!

Every so often I will read a book and find it more than just a bit similar to another book I have already read.

Just this past week I found myself in the middle of Lisa Scottoline's Keep Quiet, all the while thinking, "this is just like The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley."

There are differences in the stories, but the main premise - main characters involved in a hit and run that they choose to cover up - is the same.

Eve Lattimore's son Tyler has a rare condition where sunlight is fatal to him.  Tyler must remain indoors at all time and Eve has dedicated her life to caring for him and ensuring his safety.  When, on a rainy night, she hits a young girl darting out in the street, Eve initially pulls over and tries to help her. However, the girl is already dead, and thinking of what a prison sentence would mean for her family- and Tyler specifically - she chooses to keep quiet about the crime.

Jake Buckman is trying to forge a relationship with his sixteen year old son, Ryan. When Ryan begs to drive home late at night (after the legal hours his permit allows) Jake agrees.  Despite Ryan's careful driving, in the split second he glances at his father, he hits a jogger.  Ryan wants to admit to his crime and take responsibility, but his father decides the two will cover it up.  

In both books, the web of lies the characters create to cover up their crimes grows more complex as the police look to find the killer.  Both books have some twists and turns along the way. I can't pick one book over the other - each has some good points. I do wish I hadn't read them within a few weeks of each other since I felt like the two stories really were too similar. 

I enjoy both authors' work enough that I will continue to look forward to reading what they publish.  Has anyone else read both of these titles?  Thoughts on their similarities or differences?