Thursday, October 30, 2014

Belzhar

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer is everywhere right now, receiving high praise by nearly everyone.

So without knowing anything about this book I checked it out.  Which turned out to be a fantastic decision.




Going into reading Belzhar I had a bit of a negative feeling simply because I had my Megs goofed up.  For some reason, I was thinking Meg Rosoff in my head, and not Meg Wolitzer.  No offense to Meg Rosoff, but I recall reading a book by her years ago (highly praised) that I just didn't much enjoy, so when I thought Belzhar was by her I was somewhat skeptical.

Luckily I decided to read the back flap about the author which is when I had my a-ha moment and realized I had the wrong author in mind.

And luckily I didn't read the front flap because there is magical realism in Belzhar which isn't a huge turn-on for me.

Those few things aside, I fell in love with this book from page one.  The magical realism aspect isn't introduced immediately, which I always am appreciative of, because I was totally invested in the characters and story by the time that came into play.

Jam has been sent to a school for teens with issues because of the death of her boyfriend, Reeve.  She is selected for a special English class that will read the works of Sylvia Plath over the course of a semester. These students also receive a journal to write about their issues.  And what they discover is they are able to go back to the time just before the crisis they are trying to deal with and overcome has occurred.  

This special place is called Belzhar, sounding much like Plath's book The Bell Jar.  
Jam's relationship with Reeve and his death are slowly revealed as are the other students' issues.  The group works to help each other, and eventually talk about this special gift of time travel with their English teacher who happens to be retiring.

I'll think about this book for a long time - not because of the magic in it but because of the way in which Wolitzer developed her characters and allowed them to be human.

Belzhar's praise is well deserved and is a book I would highly recommend to high school students and other young adults.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

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



This week's pick: How To Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz
Due out: May 12, 2015



Product Description taken from Goodreads:

From bestselling writer Lisa Lutz, a story of unexpected friendship that spans two decades -- three women thrown together in college who grow to adulthood united and divided by secrets, lies, a single night that shaped all of them, and the irreplaceable bonds of knowing and being known.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Missing: Favorite Authors

I have lots of favorite authors, and there are many whose work I anticipate.  There are a few who I have read, enjoyed, and then never heard from again.  I'm not talking about authors who have only published one book, either.  

Donald Harstad is an Iowa author who I have had the pleasure of seeing speak twice.  I have read all five or six of his books, which feature a police chief in Iowa who solves crimes (loosely based on some of Harstad's own experiences). 



 The last time I heard from Harstad - now years ago - he was having trouble after switching publishers, but had a few books ready to be published and some in the works.  These books have never materialized.  In the days of self-publishing it seems incredible that Harstad hasn't entertained readers with another novel.  What happened?

Jane Heller is another author I loved ten years ago (give or take a few years), but she, too, has dropped off the radar.


Her chick-lit mysteries are fun, fast reads, and I would love to know what happened to this author. 

I've checked both authors' website, which are up and running, but there isn't any information about new books that will be be published on either site. 

What about you? Are there any authors you are missing and would like to hear from again?


Monday, October 27, 2014

Shopaholic to the Stars

I don't read a lot of chick lit anymore, but when I do there's no one I'd rather read about than Becky Brandon, Shopaholic to the Stars.  




I've been with Becky since the very first Shopaholic book came out, and I always enjoy the problems Becky finds herself in, despite her best intentions.  

And I always wonder what Sophie Kinsella will find for Becky to do next. It seems we've run through a marriage, the birth of a child, even finding a long lost sister. What else is left?

A visit to the States, that's what.  

Becky's husband's job is taking the family to Hollywood, and Becky can just imagine herself helping the stars shop. It's a job she'd be great at.  

But of course, there are (mis)adventures along the way, most of which made me chuckle to myself. 

The Shopaholic books are just pure fun.  I don't think I would enjoy reading these all consecutively, but with an installment coming out every year or so, they are just entertaining to me.  And, although this is part of a series, they are also easily read as stand-alone novels.

Kinsella's latest Shopaholic book is worth checking out. It's sure to bring a few laughs.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Salon: The End of October

We have had another beautiful fall weekend which made the all day soccer tournament on Saturday a fun experience.  Last year I remember sitting in our van as long as possible before getting out to watch the girls play in the freezing cold.  This year it was nearly seventy degrees.  Wonderful.  

I didn't have school on Friday due to two late nights of conferences this past week. I was looking forward to the three day weekend, but was glad I hadn't made plans. Little Sister was sick with strep throat.  If you have read my blog for any length of time you  may remember she had strep several times last winter.  We have seen a specialist who tells us the new rule of thumb is that in order to take the tonsils, a child should have strep 7 times in six months.  Well, we didn't quite make that cut-off last winter/spring, but I don't want to mess around with her being sick the entire winter, either, so tomorrow morning I am planning on calling the specialist again.  The meds have kicked in, and although she is a little more tired, seems to be functioning fairly well.

Today we had a little Halloween preview as my hometown (where my brother lives with his family) had their trick or treating.  All the cousins were able to trick or treat together and we have quite the pile of candy here.




In addition to candy, I have been doing a bit of baking.  I whipped up an apple cake earlier today and have an apple crisp in the oven right now.  Won't that be a great treat for my husband and daughters while they watch the Green Bay game?

Although I had three days off I did little reading.  Tonight I am hoping to dive into Belzhar for a while before falling asleep.  And I am still trying to finish up Shopaholic to the Stars, the latest Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic book.

I'm enjoying my last few minutes of the weekend - hopefully you are all ready for the week ahead!


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fall Picture Books

I've added a few picture books to my own personal collection this fall (which is something I'm not advertising to my husband who already thinks I own waaaaaayyy too many books), and have been enjoying reading them to Little Sister at bedtime.  Harper Collins has also generously shared a few fall titles with me, and I have been happily reading these as well.

Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long is a recent book fair purchase for Little Sister.  When she was in kindergarten her teacher introduced her to the Otis books and she loves every one of them.  I was a bit more skeptical, but after seeing her enjoyment, have added them to my library's collection.  



In Otis and the Scarecrow, Otis is introduced to the scarecrow, who always seems to be frowning.  Although Otis tries everything to make friends with it, the frown never leaves the scarecrow's face.  Otis and his friends spend a rainy day together having fun, but Otis notices the scarecrow stuck outside in bad weather all by himself.  So, Otis and friends make their way out in the rainy weather, too, to keep the scarecrow company.  Although it's hard to tell, Otis is sure the scarecrow may have smiled at him.

Aw, Nuts by Rob McClurkan is a nice fall story about a squirrel collecting nuts.  Squirrel loves nuts and spends his days collecting them. It seems there is always a nut that looks the most delicious that squirrel must have.  Collecting nuts isn't an easy job, as Squirrel chases down one elusive nut he loses his shoe, takes a taxi that runs out of gas, pogo sticks for a bit, gets stuck in a manhole, hitches a ride on the back of a delivery van, rides a dog, a boat, a horse, a bike, and finally gets on a big balloon all before he is able to grab this special nut.  The refrain, "aw, nuts," is repeated as the nut's journey continues without Squirrel being able to nab it.  


This is a cute picture book that I'm anxious to share with my lower elementary students.  I can already hear them chanting, "aw, nuts," as Squirrel tries to catch the nut.

I Am a Witch's Cat by Harriet Muncaster is a delightful Halloween book.  The collage illustrations have given my daughter and me something to discuss and look at for a bit longer as we read. The story is just fun, with the girl dressed as a cat, sharing all the reasons she knows her mom is a witch.  From buying jars of eyeballs and green fingers (vegetables) from the grocery store, to growing herbs in her garden, this small girl has found a variety of reasons her mom is a witch.  Little Sister had a good time rolling her eyes at this little girl and giggling at her reasoning.



These would be great additions to any collection, and as I work on lesson plans for the upcoming week these three titles are ones I plan on sharing with many classes.

*Thanks to Harper Collins for copies of both I Am a Witch's Cat and Aw, Nuts.  Although the copies came from them, my opinions are my own.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Five

With conferences this week and working longer hours, I haven't had as much time to surf the internet or shop online.  However, I can always find something I would love to buy! Here's what I've found this week:



Rosegal has a variety of scoop collar sweaters available for cheap right now. This is one I'm adding to my wardrobe for the winter.

I just received the new Boden catalog in the mail and am enjoying looking through it.  Although I hate the cold weather and snow after the first snowfall, I love sweaters.  This is another favorite this season.



When I was in college and even for years after that I bought nearly everything from Eddie Bauer.  I have branched out a bit since then, but still think the quality of their clothes can't be beat.  I will also disclose that I worked at Eddie Bauer during college and always spent more than I made. This sweater is one I love in their fall catalog.


My diet plan that I had the dietitian at my work out class construct for me is going all right.  I am so excited on the days I get to have Triscuits with my meal it is ridiculous.  Normally I could eat probably half a box of Triscuits in one sitting, but with this plan I get to eat a whole whopping 6 Triscuits!  Who knew that 6 Triscuits equal one serving? It just doesn't seem right.  However, I am thankful that I am able to eat any flavor of these that I want.


Eleven years ago I had a newborn in the house and spent quality time in the middle of the night watching the first season of The West Wing.  I loved every minute of it.  But then my daughter began sleeping more, and I was done with the first season.  I never found time to pick it back up again.  Now that it's available on Netflix I can't wait to watch this series - even if I have to start all over with season 1.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Age of Opportunity



The Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., immediately caught my eye because I am now the parent of teenager, with two more soon to join that demographic.  And as the onset of puberty looms, I am looking for a way to understand what is going on in the minds of my children.



Steinberg's book is well researched with scientific information about the way the brain works and develops, yet written in terms I could understand.  He grabbed my attention from the very beginning by noting that our society is confused about the teen years:  we try teens as adults for crimes, yet don't allow them to purchase alcohol until they are twenty-one, decisions that are at odds with each other.  Adolescence is no longer a process that lasts only a few years, but has stretched into a portion of life that can last for up to fifteen years, from the age of ten until twenty-five (from the onset of puberty until marriage).  My own teenage years are still etched in my memory, something that is true for many people. Steinberg is easily able to explain the reason for this.

There is a wealth of information in this book, which makes me regret that I didn't jot down a few notes.  However, in the book's conclusion, there are recommendations for parents, educators, employers and policy makers when it comes to adolescence.  

Parents and educators will find this book explains a great deal about the way the brains of adolescents work.  And, although it might not make the teen years any easier, it gives important insight into what is occurring in the minds and bodies of teens.

Waiting on Wednesday

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


This week's pick:  The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Due out: December 9, 2014


Product Information taken from Bookreporter.com:

From the New York Times bestselling author of THE RED TENT and DAY AFTER NIGHT, comes an unforgettable novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early 20th century.
Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for and suspicious of America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine --- a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love.
Eighty-five-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her 22-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her “How did you get to be the woman you are today.” She begins in 1915, the year she found her voice and made friends who would help shape the course of her life. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the na├»ve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor.
Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Anita Diamant’s previous novels bestsellers, THE BOSTON GIRL is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in 20th-century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Murder at the Brightwell

Amory Ames has been invited by her ex-boyfriend, Gil, to come away with him for a week to a seaside resort where she is to convince Gil's sister to leave her boyfriend that Gil does not approve of.




Amory has been married for five years to Milo, a bit of a bad boy, and is dissatisfied with her marriage.  She is all too happy to accommodate Gil's request.

And the resort is beautiful with an interesting group of friends also there for a vacation.  

Until a murder takes place. It is  Amory who discovers the body of Rupert Howe, Gil's sister Emmeline's boyfriend. And it is Amory who heard Gil and Rupert arguing the night before she finds Rupert's body.

Milo arrives uninvited, and despite her general annoyance with him, Amory does realize that the two make a great pair of investigators and work well together.  Even as they are uncovering clues another murder takes place right under their noses, keeping the two guessing.

Ashley Weaver's novel is a great, entertaining read.  The 1932 setting is perfect and I have read that Downton Abbey fans will love The Murder at Brightwell. I am reminded a bit of the Maisie Dobbs series as well.

Weaver's novel contains suspense and it also contains a little romance.  Although Milo is initially perceived as a rather poor husband, I couldn't help but root for him to make things right with Amory as he quickly appears to help her solve this case.  There is a definite chemistry between the two.

I have found nothing indicating this is the beginning of a series, but I am hopeful that is the case. The novel leaves plenty of room for readers to meet up with Amory again and I would love to see what else Weaver writes.