The Other Alcott

November 17, 2017

My favorite book to review: a woman author’s debut novel about strong, independent women! The author says that she is “drawn to historical figures, especially women, who linger in the footnotes of history books yet have fascinating stories waiting to be told.”

Was Little Women one of your favorite reads as a younger reader? I think Little Women was my first “book hangover,” and I felt so accomplished reading a “long” book!

The Other Alcott
by Elise Hooper

The Other Alcott 2

Genre/categories: historical fiction, women’s fiction, biographical, sisters

Summary:

If you’ve read Little Women, you are familiar with the author, Louisa May Alcott. It’s also well known that Miss Alcott’s family provided inspiration for the book and its colorful characters. While many readers loved spirited Jo March (the character based on the author Louisa May Alcott), Jo’s younger sister Amy March was not quite as popular with readers. In Elise Hooper’s new release and debut novel, The Other Alcott, the author reimagines the world of the Alcotts from the perspective of Louisa’s real life younger sister, May (Amy in Little Women). Hooper’s story explores the relationship between Louisa and May which might have been fraught with jealousy, competition, and sibling rivalry.  Through Hooper’s story telling, we follow May as she studies and travels abroad to carve out her own career as an artist in a man’s world at a time when women who wanted a career often had to forgo dreams of a family. Although the publication of Little Women substantially helps the struggling Alcott family financially, May experiences conflicting feelings about the way she was portrayed in the book through the character of Amy. Eventually, this causes May to want to distinguish her own life from the selfish, spirited, and spoiled character of Amy. So in real life, the optimistic, stylish, outgoing, and creative May pursues art in Boston and in Europe. At first, she is convicted about not working too hard (as she’s seen her sister do) because she also values happiness and enjoyment of life. This is a story of art, ambition, and of a brave, determined young woman finding her voice and establishing her identify. Amazon Rating (November): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

Like returning for the reunion of the Gilmore Girls or Full House or other beloved shows, I am drawn to the Alcott story because Little Women was one of my first positive literary experiences with a “long” book. As I indicated above, it was probably my first “book hangover.” I’m sure I’m in good company in being captivated by Jo’s  independent and feisty spirit; thus, peering into the Alcott family through reading The Other Alcott is enticing.

“At a certain point, you just have to move forward and hope for the best. You have talent. For more than just art. I envy your ability to rise along over the waves that threaten to tug the rest of us down. You’re unsinkable.”   ~Louisa to May

Although the relationship between Louisa Alcott and her sister May is highly imagined, the story is well researched and the historical details are evident in the various settings and fascinating event descriptions.

If you’re an art student or artist, you might enjoy reading about the years May spent in European art studios, competitions, and communities establishing friendships, skills, and her artistic reputation.

I appreciate important themes of determination, making difficult choices, complicated sibling relationships, feminism in the late 1800s, reconciliation, and forgiveness. In May’s words, “The bar has been set high in my family for what a woman can achieve.”

“…You have to work endlessly to make your visions a reality. Stake a claim to your ambitions. If you wait around for other people to define you, you’ll be saddled with their expectations–and that’s dangerous territory for a woman.” 

In addition, I appreciate the author’s extra information in the Afterward. Sometimes readers forget about the extensive research that is required of authors writing historical fiction.

While I rate this a solid 4 stars, there are two areas of weakness for me. One, I would have enjoyed more action to propel the story forward. And two, I would like to have felt a deeper emotional connection with the characters. These are minor concerns as I enjoyed the overall reading experience. It almost felt like reading a sequel of my beloved Little Women.

The Other Alcott is recommended for readers who appreciate themes of how women achieved careers and independence in an earlier time, sibling relationships, and ambition.  Of course, The Other Alcott is also recommended for childhood fans of Little Women. Last, I recommend this for readers who are looking for a solid, easy reading historical fiction selection, and for readers who might be looking for a “clean” read (no cautions for language or violence).

My rating: 4 Stars

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The Other Alcott

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Elise Hooper

Elise Hooper

Although a New Englander by birth (and at heart), Elise now lives with her husband and two young daughters within stone-skipping distance of the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound. When she’s not writing, she’s in her classroom trying to make American history and literature interesting for high school students.

She’s drawn to historical figures, especially women, who linger in the footnotes of history books yet have fascinating stories waiting to be told. THE OTHER ALCOTT is Elise’s first novel.

Please learn more: http://www.elisehooper.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elisehooperauthor/
Instagram: elisehooper
Twitter: @elisehooper


Extra:

Little Women

Some readers love to reread Little Women during the Christmas Season because the story begins at Christmas time. This would also be a great time of year for a first read.

If you’ve never read Little Women or would like a reread, get it FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited (Amazon Prime) or at 99 cents for Kindle.

Purchase the Kindle Version of Little Women Here for 99 cents.

 

 

 


Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Looking Ahead!

The Deal of a LifetimeI’m eager to read Fredrik Backman’s newest novella release, The Deal of a Lifetime.

Backman is author of Beartown,  A Man Called Ove, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and  Longer (novella), and Britt-Marie Was Here. 

I’m anticipating this will be the perfect read for Thanksgiving week. Will you “buddy read” with me?

Purchase Information Here.


Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. We recently reached 2,000 views (and counting). Every share helps us grow.


Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear if you read the classic Little Women in your younger years. Or perhaps you read or reread it as an adult? Or maybe you haven’t yet read it and it’s on your TBR.

I’d also like to know if you are on the Backman bandwagon. If so, which of his works are your favorite?

 

 

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Top Ten Books I Want My Grandchildren to Read

November 14, 2017

Do you have “books” written on your Christmas shopping list? If you’re looking for books as gifts for middle grade through YA readers this season, this post might give you some ideas.

Top Ten Tuesday

We’re linking up today for Top Ten Tuesday with The Broke and the Bookish (above meme belongs to Broke and Bookish). Their prompt for this week is “Top Ten Books I want my Future Children to Read”…. that boat has already sailed, so I’m adjusting that to grandchildren….but this is a great top 10 list for any child in your life! Also linking up today with Modern Mrs Darcy for Quick Lit November 2017.

These 10 books are separated by age range but are in no particular order, and links to my reviews are included. These are books I recommend that parents/teachers/grandparents read alongside their children because of the rich discussion and teaching opportunities, and great literature can be enjoyed by all ages. Although specific themes are listed for each selection, the larger overarching themes for all selections include “diversity, building compassion, and understanding.” Follow links for full reviews.




“Top Ten Books I Want My Grandchildren to Read”




Middle Grades (grades 4-8, ages 9-13)

Wonder by R.J Palacio

Wonder

Join hundred of thousands of other middle grade readers across the nation in reading this best seller!

Themes: kindness, compassion, friendship, acceptance, bullying, fitting in

My Full Review Here

Purchase Information Here

Movie Releases November 17! (trailer here)


Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again

Read about the refugee/immigrant experience from a Vietnamese perspective. Beautifully written in free verse.

Themes: new culture, leaving your homeland, friendship, bullying, fitting in,
family loyalty, traditions, finding your voice

My Full Review Here (scroll down to second review on page)

Purchase Information Here


Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

Stella by Starlight

If you’re looking for an appropriate diverse and historical fiction selection for a middle grade reader (ages 9-12), I recommend this poignant story of Stella’s experiences with racism and finding her own voice as an African-American girl living in the segregated South (1932, Bumblebee, North Carolina to be exact).

Themes: prejudice, racism, finding your voice, writing, family loyalty,
community support

(I did not do a full review of this book but you can check out the Amazon summary using the link below)

Book summary and purchase information here.




Mature High School through Young Adult

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

dreamland burning

Historical Fiction selection for mature high school through YA which culminates in the Tulsa, Oklahoma race riots of 1921.

Themes: racism, prejudice, finding your own voice, determination, bravery

My Full Review Here  (Scroll down page to find review)

Purchase Information Here


Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee

In this mature middle grade through high school historical fiction selection, we live the refugee experience from three perspectives. (a note of caution: even though this is shelved as middle school, I suggest this selection for mature middle grades because of its difficult themes of war and survival)

Themes: refugee experience, survival, leaving your homeland, kindness of strangers, family support, children forced to make adult choices

My Full Review Here

Purchase Information Here




Young Adult (YA)

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Glass Castle

Young adults might find this poignant memoir of homelessness and neglect engaging.  This book first came to my attention when my high school grandson shared with me that his class was reading it and that it was meaningful to him, and of course I wanted to share that reading experience with him. The movie was released in August and is now available on DVD.

Themes:  homelessness, family dynamics, sibling support, overcoming difficult circumstances, survival

My Full Review of Book and Movie Here

Purchase Information Here


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Book Thief

World War 11 historical fiction from a young German girl’s perspective.  This is appropriate for older high school students through YA. An excellent movie was released in 2013. I have not written a full review of this book because I read it years ago, but you can find an Amazon summary by following the link below.

Themes: Holocaust, survival, kindness of strangers, sacrifice, friendship  

Amazon Summary and Purchase Information Here


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate You Give

This very current and relevant read deals with difficult racial themes, and also allows us a glimpse into Starr’s life as an African-American teenager living between her mostly white private school and her poor black inner city neighborhood. (***caution: language) I recommend this book for YA or especially mature older high school students who might be interested in a story they could see on the nightly news involving a confrontation between a police officer and an African-American male.  This book is currently in movie production.

Themes: racism, prejudice, friendship, family support, finding your voice,
code switching

See the Movie Promotion Here

My Full Review Here

Purchase Information Here


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea

For YA or mature older high school readers, an intense World War 11 historical fiction story from four different perspectives.
(note: serious survival themes)

Themes: World War 11, intolerance, survival, friendship, loyalty, 

My Full Review Here (scroll down page to find review)

Purchase Information Here



Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig


Ginny Moon

For YA or mature high school readers, a highly engaging and page turning story of a 14 year old girl who is on the Autism spectrum. Ginny Moon was recently listed on Amazon’s list of 20 top editor picks for 2017.

Themes: Autism, adoption, persistence, determination, differing abilities,
finding your voice

My Full Review Here

Purchase Information Here





Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

Looking Ahead!

I’m on track to review The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper on Friday’s blog.

The Other Alcott

Information and Buy Here

Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. We reached 2,000 views this week. Thanks! Every share helps us grow.

Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear if you’ve read any books from the Top Ten list? Do these look like reading selections your children or young adult would appreciate? Do you search out diverse reads when buying books for your children?

Ginny Moon

November 3, 2017

Do you appreciate reading stories from a differing abilities perspective? Do you know someone with Autism or would you like to experience what that would be like? Are you a professional whose work involves persons on the Autism spectrum? If you wonder what life looks like from the perspective of Autism, please continue reading and be encouraged to add Ginny Moon to your TBR.

Ginny Moon
by Benjamin Ludwig

Ginny Moon

Genre/categories: Contemporary Fiction, coming of age, autism, family life, adoption, differing abilities

Summary:

Ginny is fourteen, adopted, autistic, and is committed to saving her “baby doll.” In her fourth home since having been removed from her biological mom’s care, she has now been adopted by her “forever mom” and “forever dad.” For years, Ginny has been troubled about something that happened the night she was taken away from her biological mom and cannot think about anything else until she makes it right. Her “forever” parents and her counselor don’t seem to understand the extent of Ginny’s commitment to her past, so Ginny is left with no choice but to attempt an escape.  Amazon Rating (November): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

As you discover the cause of Ginny’s preoccupation and consuming worry, you will love Ginny and your heart with break for her as she sacrifices everything and risks it all to make it right.

The author speaks from an authentic voice because he also adopted an autistic child. Ludwig does a phenomenal job of unlocking Ginny’s inner world for the reader. Ginny loves Michael Jackson, eats nine grapes for breakfast, needs lists and rules, always notes the time, takes things literally, and is “special” in more ways than her autism….she’s a “smart cookie,” determined, compassionate, an innovative problem solver, loyal, a survivor, and brave.

Frustrating parts of the story for me were the adults who could have dealt more effectively with the abuse and trauma that Ginny had experienced in her first home, and they could have focused more on communication and understanding the desperation behind Ginny’s actions. It saddened me that Ginny had to act in extreme ways to deal with her anxiety and worry, and I wish she had received more support.

Overall, this is an important and meaningful read. Readers will fall in love with Ginny and be touched by her deep desire to belong (can’t we all relate?!), her struggle being stuck on the “wrong side of forever,” and her desperation to get back to make things right.

If you work with or know of children with autism, you appreciate that each one has different needs and that there’s a great deal to learn about working with communication challenges and rigid and literal thinking. As a teacher, I’ve had some experience with students on the autism spectrum and Ginny reminds me so much of a former student. I kept visualizing my student through Ginny’s actions, expressions, and thinking. They were eerily similar and I immediately cared a great deal for Ginny.

For me, a small weakness in the writing was (in Ginny’s words) the “tedious” use of certain words/phrases such as “forever mom,” “forever dad,” “forever home,” and “baby doll.” I realize this was an author’s  technique to demonstrate a certain exactness and rigidity in Ginny’s thinking; however, because I enjoyed an audio version of the book the repetition of words was a bit bothersome. If I were reading, I probably would’ve skimmed more over these words.

Recommended for all readers who appreciate reading books from different perspectives, who care deeply about autism, and who root for characters with lots of heart.

My rating 3.5 stars (founded up to 4 stars on Goodreads).

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Ginny Moon

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Benjamin Ludwig

Benjamin LudwigA life-long teacher of English and writing, Benjamin Ludwig lives in New Hampshire with his family. He holds an MAT in English Education and an MFA in Writing. Shortly after he and his wife married they became foster parents and adopted a teenager with autism. Ginny Moon is his first novel. His website is available at http://www.benjaminludwig.com, and he tweets @biludwig.

 


Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes


Extra:

I promised last week that I would read and review Young Jane Young. I read it but decided to lead the post with Ginny Moon because I rated it higher and for me it was a more meaningful read.

Young Jane Young
By Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young

Genre/categories: contemporary women’s fiction, feminism, politics

Summary:

Monica Lewinsky reimagined.

Still with me? This story is about a woman who is reinventing her life after interning for a congressman as a college girl and gets into a Monica Lewinsky type scandal. The story is told from five distinct female voices: younger Jane (Aviva), older Jane, Jane’s mother, Jane’s daughter, and the congressman’s wife.

Amazon Rating (November): 4.2 Stars

My Thoughts:

Even though contemporary fiction with a feminist focus is not my go to genre, I was enticed to give this a try because (1) Zevin is the author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, a favorite read; and (2) it was selected by the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club as the October read, and I trust their recommendations.

Strengths:

The five voices through which this story is told are certainly distinctive. Sometimes my experience with multiple voices/perspectives is that they all sound like the author. In Young Jane Young, the voices are refreshingly different. Also of note is that the voices do not move the story forward, rather they retell the story from their unique perspective. It’s interesting that two of the voices are her younger and older self.

I’m always looking for important themes in books. One important theme in the book is the importance of one’s good name. We hear from younger Jane’s mom, and I’m sure you’ve heard this wise advice from your own parents, too, that your good name is all you have.

“In this life and the next one, all you have is your good name.”
~Rachel Shapiro

Your good name has always been important but even more so in current times because your online history lives on forever.

Another theme that would lead to good discussion involves the double standard. In young Jane’s experience, she has a relationship with an older married congressman. She gets shamed and is forced to rebuild her life, while the man apologizes, is forgiven, and continues with his career and recovers his public image.

In addition to a couple of relevant themes, another important strength of the story for me is that it ends on a redemptive and hopeful note as Jane is found rebuilding her life, gaining confidence, and finding her voice.

Weaknesses:

I will always give you my honest opinion, so I do need to address some weaknesses (which affect my rating). First, I felt like some of the writing choices were gimmicky. For example, the young Jane chapter is told in a choose-your-own-adventure format and second person point of view. Choose-your-own-adventure books are popular in elementary school (you or your children most likely have read a few). In a way, it’s a clever connection and metaphor for those times in life when we reflect on our previous choices and wonder what would’ve happened if we’d made a different choice; however, to have the entire structure of the chapter shaped around this concept seemed gimmicky. In addition, I thought the second person POV was difficult to read for an extended amount of text in that it was a jarring departure from more traditional first or third used in the rest of the book. You know what I mean?! An additional weakness for me also involved structure in that we find the daughter’s entire chapter written in email format as she communicates with a new pen pal from Afghanistan. This was not only distracting because it added en entirely new cultural context and character to the story, but it also seemed like an impersonal glimpse into serious events that were happening, as we hear only the daughter’s side of the conversation in a second hand way. Continuing with a couple more weaknesses, it seemed to me that at times the author was checking off her list of political agenda items to address, and most of these issues are not a match with my issues. Furthermore, I would have appreciated an epilogue. Specifically, I felt more resolution needed to happen for the daughter. Finally, I was disturbed by the lack of good men in this story. With the exception of young Jane’s intern friend, the men were not upstanding role models. I didn’t appreciate the portrayal of generally badly behaved men. The above concerns affected by rating and ability to recommend this book. My Rating: 2,5 Stars (Rounded up to 3 Stars on Goodreads)

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Young Jane Young

Buy Here

Many readers give this book high ratings, so I encourage you to read more reviews before deciding whether or not to read the book. Readers who are looking for a light and engaging vacation/beach/plane read focusing on feminism and politics might enjoy this. For a really exciting vacation read, I might suggest an alternative Castle of Water (reviewed here).

Meet the Author, Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle ZevinGabrielle Zevin has published six adult and young adult novels, including Elsewhere, an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, which has been translated in over twenty languages. She is the screenwriter of Conversations with Other Women (starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart), for which she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination. She has also written for the New York Times Book Review and NPR’s All Things Considered. She lives in Los Angeles.

 


Looking Ahead!

I’m sorry….I haven’t yet made a final decision about what I’m reading and reviewing for this next week. Sometimes it depends on what’s available at the library! However, The Other Alcott is high on my TBR list! What are you reading or thinking of reading?

The Other Alcott

 

 

 

More Information Here.

 

 


Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.


Let’s Discuss!

Have you read Ginny Moon or Young Jane Young? Is either one on your TBR?  How do you feel about reading a book from a differing abilities perspective? I’m curious what you think about the portrayal of Ginny if you have an autistic child. What are you reading this week? What book are you most looking forward to reading this fall? I’d love to hear from you!


***Linking up today with Puppies & Pretties/Reading Lately.

Wonder

October 27, 2017

You were probably an ordinary kid. Did you ever experience a terrifying first day in a new school?

Consider Auggie. He feels ordinary inside but no one else sees him as ordinary. As he expresses: kids don’t scream and run away if you’re ordinary….they don’t stare.

This is the advice 10-year-old August Pullman receives from his parents on the first day of school:

“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie,” she said, looking at me. “But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.”

Because the movie Wonder releases in theaters on November 17, 2017, it seems timely to provide a review of the book.

Movie Trailer here.

Wonder
by R. J. Palacio

Wonder

Genre/categories: Middle grade through adult contemporary fiction,  growing up, difficult discussions, family life, friendship, character traits

Summary:

On the inside, ten-year-old August Pullman feels very ordinary. But as he says, ordinary kids don’t make other kids run away screaming and they don’t get stared at wherever they go. Auggie was born with a rare genetic abnormality that affected the formation of his face. Because of extensive surgeries and an attempt to protect him from cruelties of the outside world, Auggie’s parents have home schooled him. The reader meets 5th grade Auggie as he’s being enrolled in a traditional school for the first time. Will he be accepted? Will he find friends? Will he find a hostile or friendly environment? How will adults in his life support him? The story is told from six perspectives (August, Via–his older sister, Summer–a friendly caring peer, Jack–a student leader who struggles in his role as friend, Miranda–his sister’s best friend and a close family friend, and Justin–Miranda’s boyfriend) plus a bonus chapter from Julian’s point of view (Auggie’s nemesis).  Amazon Rating: (an amazing) 4.9 Stars

My Thoughts:

If you plan to see the movie, don’t miss out on reading the book first!  It’s an easy, engaging, thoughtful, inspirational, and meaningful read with valuable discussion possibilities for the entire family.

As we venture to school with Auggie, we feel his daily apprehension and celebrate his courage and determination. Even though he thinks of himself on the inside as an ordinary kid, we know he doesn’t look ordinary and his severe facial abnormality could cause him to be the object of unkind actions by his peers and to experience bullying.

Throughout the story, the narrative changes perspectives with each chapter. This helps us get a 360 degree understanding of Auggie’s world and also allows us to see the nice circle of people who care for him and support him. In addition, it allows the reader to understand that everyone battles something. Because this is written for a children’s audience, it does have a happy ending where ‘good” people are rewarded and the “bad” get their punishment. I like that there is an epilogue (extra chapter) in the current version of the book that follows Auggie’s nemesis Julian and we see how Julian changes and grows in empathy and compassion

The story takes a dramatic turn when Auggie overhears his friend Jack’s derogatory remarks about him; he is discouraged and devastated, and everything changes as he has to fight to rebuild what he’s lost. Through these authentic middle grade voices, we learn about true friendship, risk, and the importance of kindness.

I especially admire Auggies’s English teacher who each month presents the idea of precepts to live by and encourages students to write their own…an example of a precept he presents is “When given the choice between being right or kind, choose kind.” In an attempt to establish the habit of writing precepts as a lifelong practice, he encourages students to email their precepts to him in the years after graduation. Auggie’s 5th grade  precept is “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation once in their lives because we all overcometh the world.”

The following is a sampling of the types of quotes you will find from the adults in the story:

“Kinder than necessary,” he repeated. “What a marvelous line, isn’t it? Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed. Why I love that line, that concept is that it reminds me that we carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness. And what does that mean? How is that measured? You can’t use a yardstick. It’s like I was saying just before: it’s not like measuring how much you’ve grown in a year. It’s not exactly quantifiable, is it? How do we know we’ve been kind? What is being kind, anyway?”

“….If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary–the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”

“It’s not just the nature of kindness, but the nature of one’s kindness. The power of one’s friendship. The test of one’s character. The strength of one’s courage–” 

Don’t miss out on this inspirational story filled with heart, heroes, and humor and which inspired the Kindness Movement. I expect that Wonder will become a beloved classic in upper grade classrooms and in family libraries. Highly recommended for every reader who believes in the power of teaching through a story and for every family who is in the process of building empathy, compassion, and kindness. I believe good literature can be enjoyed by all ages!

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”

My rating: 4.5 stars (I tried to read this and rate it from a kid’s perspective. As an adult reader, however, I lowered the rating by half a star because it could have included more beautiful writing and some adults seem stereotypical and could have been more fully developed.)

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Buy Here.

There is an additional book, Auggie & Me. It’s not a sequel, rather a companion read and an extension of Auggie’s world with three additional points of view.

Auggie & Me

More Information about Auggie & Me Here.

The Kindness Movement and Sign the Pledge Here.

The author interviews kids about kindness here.

Movie Trailer here.

 

Meet the Author, R. J. Palacio

R. J. Palacio

R. J. Palacio was born and raised in New York City. She attended the High School of Art and Design and the Parsons School of Design, where she majored in illustration with the hopes of someday following in the footsteps of her favorite childhood author-illustrators, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Maurice Sendak, and the D’Aulaires. She was a graphic designer and art director for many years before writing Wonder. We’re All Wonders, which is based conceptually on the themes of her novel, represents the fulfillment of her dream to write and illustrate her own picture book. R.J. is also the author of Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories and 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is surrounded by magical water towers, with her husband, their two sons, and their two dogs, Bear and Beau. Learn more about her at rjpalacio.com or on Twitter at @RJPalacio.


Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
Denise J Hughes


Extra:

In my last post, I indicated that I would read and review If the Creek Don’t Rise. I did read it; however, I decided that Wonder would be the primary focus of my review this week so that I can encourage you to read it before the movie releases. Here’s my brief review of If the Creek Don’t Rise.

If the Creek Don't Rise

If the Creek Don’t Rise
by Leah Weiss

Genre/categories: Literary Fiction, historical fiction, small town, rural, Appalachia, hillbilly culture

Summary:

Young Sadie Blue lives in the North Carolina mountain town of Baines Creek and suffers abuse at the hands of her drunken husband, Roy Tupkin. When a new teacher comes to town, Sadie begins to think of finding her voice and of a life that doesn’t include Roy.

Amazon Rating: 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

Harsh and hard realities of life in this remote Appalachian community make If the Creek Don’t Rise a gritty and sobering read. Young Sadie Blue is pregnant, abused, mistreated, and struggling to find her voice. Only a few chapters are from Sadie’s POV. The story is told from multiple viewpoints giving readers a good perspective of her life and the hillbilly community. Some characters offer hope and healing while others are despicable. Sadie does find her voice in a way that surprised me (but maybe it shouldn’t have given her situation and the hillbilly culture). As a teacher, I hoped to learn more about the new teacher’s contribution to the youth of the community….I’m always looking for hope and redemption in a story….but after the teacher’s strong introduction, she fades into the background of the story. This is also disappointing because she is important to Sadie. Overall, I enjoyed the read and the excellent writing; however, I hesitate to recommend it because I don’t think it’s a read that everyone would enjoy. It’s gritty and a bit dark but certainly an impressive debut novel. I would encourage you to read additional reviews.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Buy Here.


Looking Ahead:

My library hold of Young Jane Young finally came in so I think I’ll read and review that for next week. I’m a bit apprehensive because it borders on “chick lit” and that’s not my  usual genre. However, it’s a selected read for my online book club at Modern Mrs. Darcy and will be a good break from some heavier reads.

Young Jane Young

 

 

 

More Information Here.

 


Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.


Let’s Discuss!

I’m curious if you’ve read Wonder! Do you have children that have read it? I’d love to hear your (or their) reflection. Do you plan to see the movie? How do you feel about teaching character traits such as empathy and kindness through literature? What are you reading this week?

 

Refugee

October 20, 2017

Trust me: This is a great read!

See us, he thought. Hear us. Help us.

Refugee
by Alan Gratz

Refugee

Genre: Middle Grade through Adult Historical Fiction, global issues

Summary:

Refugee is the story of the refugee experience from three unique perspectives:

  • 12/13-year-old Josef and family are Jewish and attempt to escape Nazi Germany in 1938 aboard a ship bound for a country(Cuba) that will accept them.
  • 12-year-old Isabel and family are Cuban and flee riots and unrest in Cuba in 1994 on a homemade raft pointed toward safety in Miami, Florida.
  • 12-year-old Mahmoud and family are Syrian and seek to escape war-torn Aleppo in 2015 and relocate to Germany.

Even though these families are separated by continents and decades, their stories share certain similarities. Each journey is fraught with harrowing adventures, frustration, courage, resiliency, heartache, injustice, persecution, dangers, children assuming adult roles and responsibility, loss of childhood innocence and joy, and loss of family members. However, the families have hope that drives them forward. Amazon Rating (October): 4.8 Stars (this is a very high rating in which 88% of the stars are in the 5 star category)

My Thoughts:

Refugee is an important story because it gives refugees a face and a name, and the timeliness of the Syrian refugee family is relevant to current events.

I appreciated the tightly woven plot and seamless transitions between points of view. As the author worked to tie the stories together, the reader notices that all three journeys to safety involve a boat and that children are forced to take on adult responsibilities and worries. In addition, the kindness of strangers and glimmers of hope keep them going forward in each story.  Interesting parallels involve Josef fleeing Germany in 1938 and Mahmoud’s family escaping to Germany in 2015; furthermore, Josef’s family tried to gain entry into Cuba in 1938 and Isabel’s family sought to flee Cuba in 1994.

This story is engaging from page one and unputdownable. I never felt like I was reading a middle grade selection except to reflect on how middle grade readers might react to certain parts of the story. Yes, the story has 12-year-old narrators, but it’s the story of families and how they support each other in the most difficult circumstances. Even though adults will enjoy this story, it’s easily accessible for middle school readers (appropriate language, straight forward writing style, and not overly graphic or violent). That being said, the content is difficult at points (some events can be emotional and some historical perspective is probably needed). I recommend this for mature middle graders who are able to read this with a parent or teacher, and it will easily hold an adult’s interest as well and lead to excellent discussion opportunities.

The most powerful parts of the story include the author’s unique structure and smooth transitions between points of view of three refugee families. The POV from innocent children was especially powerful and moving, especially as the oldest children were forced to handle adult responsibilities and make difficult decisions. One powerful idea in the story was Mahmoud’s understanding of being visible or invisible. He learned through his life in Aleppo that being invisible helped him survive and avoid bullies; however, he quickly realized that refugees couldn’t stay invisible if they wanted help from the world. It’s only when people are visible (make waves, rock the boat) that people will notice them and take action. In his own words:

“They only see us when we do something they don’t want us to do,” Mahmoud realized. The thought hit him like a lightning bolt. When they stayed where they were supposed to be–in the ruins of Aleppo or behind the fences of a refuge camp–people could forget about them. But when refugees did something they didn’t want them to do–when they tried to cross the border into their country, or slept on the front stoops of their shops, or jumped in front of their cars, or prayed on decks of their ferries–that’s when people couldn’t ignore them any longer.

Even though some readers might consider the ending slightly contrived as two of the families intersect, I appreciated a somewhat uplifting ending.

Refugee rates as one of my most memorable reads of the year and highly recommended for readers age 12 through adult who are searching for a riveting histfic read, for parents and/or teachers who are looking for diverse reads to build global empathy and understanding of the effects of war and oppression and the refugee crisis, for book club members who are interested in discussing challenging themes.  *Caution: It’s my opinion that even though this is shelved as middle grade (grades 5-8), younger children in this range might find the occasional violence and harsh realities too much for them. It’s actually perfect for high school readers who already have helpful historical knowledge of the events. I would encourage parents to “buddy read” it with their younger children. It might be an especially interesting read for any families who have relatives that came to America as a result of being “sponsored.”

My Rating: 5 Stars

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A book for younger middle grade readers (but also enjoyable for adults) with a similar refugee theme might be Inside Out and Back Again (reviewed here as an “extra” in this post).

Refugee

Buy Here.

Meet the Author, Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz

I’m the author of a number of books for young readers, including Refugee, Ban This Book, Prisoner B-3087, Code of Honor, Projekt 1065, the League of Seven series, and The Brooklyn Nine. I live in the mountains of western North Carolina with my family, where I enjoy reading, playing games, and eating pizza.

 

 

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Extras:

Turtles all the Way DownIn last week’s blog post, I indicated that I would review Turtles all the Way Down by John Green this week. I read it, but then I read Refugee after that and loved it so much more that I changed my mind on the blog’s focus this week–because, above all, I’m committed to bringing you recommendations for the best of what I read. I’m including a brief reflection of Turtles All The Way Down here in the extras in case you were looking forward to the review and are a John Green fan!

 

Genre: YA, social and family issues, mental illness, coming of age

Strengths:  This book deals with a very important subject and I’m assuming the author represents an authentic voice…..I appreciate that the reading experience allowed me to gain additional understanding of OCD and I loved Aza and was deeply moved by her thoughts, angst, and experiences. It is important to know that the inspiration for this book came from John Green’s own personal experiences with OCD.

Weaknesses: There is a lot going on—which probably is typical of a teenager’s life and the YA genre (mother/daughter relationship, best friend, school, coming of age, boyfriend, lizard, crime solving, astronomy, abandoned/neglected boys, etc); and the plot was meh because there were too many things happening on multiple fronts and many details that didn’t make sense in the story (e.g. a high school kid gets $50,000 and doesn’t tell her mom?). Other readers have highly rated this book and/or love John Green so I encourage you to read it and form your own opinion.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars rounded to 3 Stars

For the Amazon rating, summary, and purchase information click here.


Reminder: This Christian histfic Kindle book is FREE in the month of October! (*note: I haven’t read it, but it seems interesting … and I have Viking heritage! For free, I’m trying it!)

God’s Daughter
by Heather Day Gilbert

God's DaughterAmazon Rating (October) 4.4 Stars

Amazon Summary: In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a journey to North America. But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself–and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart. Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God’s Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir–daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America. This novel is based heavily on the Icelandic Sagas and is written from a Christian worldview. Get the Kindle version FREE Here.

Looking Ahead:

I have a couple of ideas from recently published titles regarding my next read, but I haven’t finalized my selection. I’m waiting for Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (contemporary chick lit fic) to become available on Overdrive (library app) and I recently bought If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss (Appalachia settinh) which looks promising. Subject to change if I find something better! What are you reading this week?

Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear in comments if you’re planning to put Refugee on your TBR. Does the topic of refugee crisis interest you? Do you enjoy reading diverse books? Do you seek out titles that differ from your go-to genres? Do you think middle grade and/or YA selections can be appreciated by adults? Or would you rather that I not alert you to outstanding fiction for different ages?

The Hate U Give

September 29, 2017

A multiple recommendations post for diverse reads!

Today I’m offering a challenge for some of us to read outside our comfort zone. Does reading from a different point of view appeal to you? Do you wish you could include more diversity in your reading life? Would reading fiction that mirrors what you sometimes see on the nightly news interest you? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I urge you to consider reading The Hate U Give. All books  reviewed and recommended in this post focus on the theme of diversity, especially from the African-American perspective.

The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

Genre/categories: YA fiction, racism, prejudice, social and family issues

Summary:

Our sixteen-year-old main character, Starr, lives in a poor inner city neighborhood and her mother drives her to an upper middle class private school miles across town for her education. Starr’s parents can afford to move out of the poorer neighborhood, but her dad, a former gang member and convict, believes it’s important to stay in the neighborhood to help solve the problems there and to be a role model and support for the young African-American males who desire to leave the gang life and pursue better options. Starr’s mother would like to move across town to the middle class more diverse neighborhood where Starr and her siblings attend a (predominately white) private school and where the family attends a “diverse” church “(she nicknames it “the diverse church). Starr manages to live between her two worlds of the Williamson private school crowd and her neighborhood friends. This causes her some stress because she feels she can’t totally be herself in either place. One night Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood best friend by a police officer. The officer involved shooting and her friend’s death make national headlines. Starr is faced with opinions and actions from both sides. Some reporters and private school friends say that the victim was a thug and perhaps a gang member and drug dealer and deserved to die. Friends in the neighborhood, including Starr, who really knew the victim defend him. As Starr faces her role as a witness, interrogation by the DA, involvement in protests, and publicity, she and her family also endure intimidation by the local drug lord (because if she testifies, she might incriminate him). Starr summons up all her courage so that her testimony and answers are honest and truthful to the best of her ability. What she says could endanger her life and cause further protests in the community. How will she use her voice? Amazon rating (September): 4.8

My Thoughts:

This is a difficult review to write as this book is full of controversial and complex issues which require lots of thought and that combined with the circumstances (and profanity) make it a difficult read. Also, even though I enjoyed the book and was challenged by it, I had to think seriously about recommending it.

Do I recommend this book?

Absolutely YES!

In bullet format, you will discover the reasons I’m recommending this book (in no particular order):

  • The story contains likeable, memorable, and multidimensional characters. Starr’s parents’ relationship is especially encouraging and inspiring.
  • This is an unforgettable, fast paced, heartbreaking, thought-provoking, inspiring, tragic, and unputdownable story told from authentic voices.
  • I think it’s important to challenge ourselves to read diverse literature and to listen well.
  • The issues in this book occasionally appear in our nightly news.
  • Experiencing a situation from the perspective of others that are different from us and hearing their voices informs our opinions and deepens our understanding.
  • It gave me a new perspective on the allure of gangs.
  • The story presented an interesting dilemma (as presented by Starr’s father and mother): should African Americans leave their inner city neighborhood if they have that option or should they stay (and risk the consequences) to help their communities?
  • I thought the author did an exceptional job of helping the reader understand code-switching. I was challenged with accepting Starr just as she was and wondered if I would have tried to change her if she were a part of my community. Particularly, I wondered as a teacher how accepting I was of African Americans (or my other students from other cultures) who brought their unique cultural expressions into my classroom. How much code-switching did my students feel was necessary? Did I try to change them to fit my (white middle class) idea of an ideal student? Or did I promote acceptance in my classroom and among their peers for them to be their authentic selves (hairstyle, clothing, expressions, etc.) ? In Starr’s own words, code-switching is exhausting and she was an expert.
    “I should be used to my two worlds colliding, but I never know which Starr I should be. I can use some slang, but not too much slang. Some attitude but not too much attitude, so I’m not a sassy black girl. I have to watch what I say and how I say it. But I can’t sound “white.” Sh*@# is exhausting.”  ~Starr
  • The story contains important and hard-hitting themes such as responsibility to our neighborhood, bravery, finding our voice, loyalty, racism, violence, poverty, helplessness, privilege, family values, anger, and hate.
  • I think from news reports of similar situations we often are not getting the true stories from both sides. Although this story was told from Starr’s first person point of view, I thought both sides were represented. In particular, Starr has a white boyfriend and it was interesting to have his interactions and perceptions as an integral part of the story.
  • I thought religion was presented sincerely and authentically in this story and included as ordinary, natural, and meaningful in the life of the family and community. This was refreshing because often an author’s bias against religion is apparent.
  • In the story, there is an incident of a mild and offhand racist comment made to a Chinese girl, Maya. As a result, she was more sympathetic to Starr’s situation because she had been a victim of a thoughtless racist comment. This illustrated to me that if we’ve never experienced racist comments personally maybe reading about it happening to a beloved character can build empathy, understanding, and awareness. Starr’s reflection that came from that experience caused me to think about all the times I’ve heard something and said nothing:
    “We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” ~ Starr
  • This book is categorized as YA and I think it’s an important read for mature young adults, and adults of any age. It opens the door to many important discussions and hard thinking about relevant topics. I think diverse literature is a great way to build compassion, understanding, and empathy for others.
  • There will be ideas you disagree with in this book and content that’s uncomfortable and that’s ok! I still think they are ideas with which we need to wrestle. If the language doesn’t offend you, I think this would be an excellent selection for your book club. Perhaps the intent of the book is to start discussions.
  • No matter how you feel about the Black Lives Matter movement, this book remains a worthwhile read. It’s important for us to hear from the African-American community in their own voices. #dontletthestrugglersbecomeahashtag
  • Finally, it’s going to be a movie….and don’t most of us want to read the book first?!
    The Hate U Give has started production.

*Alert: language (profanity), racial tension

Although I don’t consider this great literature in a literary fiction sense, I can highly recommend this for mature young adults and for all adult readers as a discussion starter, a diverse literature pick (for many of us), and a contemporary and relevant topics/themes selection.

My Rating: 5 Stars

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The Hate You Give

Buy Here

***This post is linked up with Puppies and Pretties.

Meet the Author, Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.

Flight Picks:

Following is a sampling of other diverse literature with a focus on racism. I’ve read most of them recently and highly recommend them. If I have reviewed it here on the blog, I’ve included the link. I’ve also included the Amazon link for additional information.  To see my ratings for each book, you can visit my Goodreads page (historical fiction and/or favorite reads shelves).

Dreamland Burning by
Jennifer Latham

dreamland burning

Genre: YA historical fiction

My Review Here.

More Information Here.


Small Great Things
by Jodi Picoult

small great things

Genre: adult fiction

My Review Here.

More Information Here.


The Gilded Years
by Karin Tanabe

The Gilded Years

Genre: Women’s Historical Fiction

This important and compelling story is about the first African-American woman to attend Vassar (passing as white), and it’s written in a biographical style. It causes one to think seriously about options for African American women in the late 1890s and inspires you to consider what you might have done to follow your dream and achieve your goals.

More Information Here.


Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction

An ambitious multi generational story tracing the impact of slavery for 2 sisters and their families from generation to generation from Ghana to America over a period of 300+ years.

More Information Here.


Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd
(author of Secret Life of Bees)

Invention of Wings

Genre: adult historical fiction

An unputdownable story of the Grimké sisters (Sarah and Angelina) and their slave, Hetty, as the sisters wrestle with the ideas of slavery and join the early abolitionist and women’s rights movements in the North. One of my favorite reads of recent years and a great book club selection.

More Information Here.


The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House
by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House

Glory Over Everything

Genre: adult historical fiction

In The Kitchen House, a 7-year-old orphan from Ireland is placed with the slaves on a southern plantation. They become her family and she is raised in the slave culture. This gives her a unique perspective and voice. Glory Over Everything is a sequel of sorts (but it can be read as a stand alone) and it follows the life of her nephew (from her black adopted sister) as he leaves the South and passes for white.

More Information Here and Here.


Stella by Starlight
by Sharon M. Draper

Stella by Starlight

Genre: Middle School historical fiction

If you’re looking for an appropriate diverse and historical fiction selection for a middle grade readers (ages 9-12), I recommend this poignant story of Stella’s experiences with racism and finding her own voice.

More Information Here.


The Warmth of Other Suns
by Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns

Genre: Adult Narrative Non Fiction

Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson shares the stories of three individuals representing the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South from 1917 to 1970 for northern and western cities in search of a better life. This is known as the Great Migration. My husband was a history major and thoroughly enjoyed this story.

More Information Here.

Extras:

Refugee

I’d like to quickly draw your attention to one more diversity read that’s getting a lot of buzz right now for Middle Grade readers….if you have a 9-12 year old, this might interest them. Keeping with our theme of diversity and hearing from authentic voices, I’d like to recommend Refugee by Alan Gratz. This is a story from the perspectives of three young people as they leave their countries of origin (Nazi Germany, Cuba, and Syria) as refugees to seek safety. Recommended for mature middle grade readers and above. Good literature can be enjoyed by all ages!

Buy Here.

 



Those of you who have read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, might enjoy this excellent review I stumbled upon this week!

Read Review Here.

Do you like polls? Book Nerd Poll just for fun!

One Last Recommendation!

Untangled

I thought Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood by Lisa Damour sounded really good for parents or guardians or mentors/teachers of teenage girls!

 

More Information Here.



Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J. Hughes

Looking Forward:

If you’d like to “buddy read,” next week I’m thrilled to review Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (Author of Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray). In two weeks, I’ll review Little Fires Everywhere, the new release by Celeste Ng (author of Everything I Never Told You). **Schedule subject to change if my Little Fires Everywhere hold becomes available from the library sooner than expected.

Out of the Easy

 

More Information Here.

 

Little Fires Everywhere

 

More Information Here.

 

Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Let’s Discuss!

In the comments I’d love to hear your thoughtful and respectful reflections on The Hate U Give or any of the other selections. I’m always eager to hear about what you’re reading and your thoughts about diversity in your reading life! Did you add a new book to your TBR list?

Castle of Water

September 22, 2017

fall

Happy first day of fall everyone!

Every now and then do you enjoy an escapist read? Are you looking for a vacation read? Do you need to get away from tragic histfic, need a break from heavy nonfiction topics, a relief from diverse literature where we work hard to climb into the perspectives of others, or a time out from text books if you’re a student? Then this may be your next read! Sometimes you find a book at just the right time, and this is when this book found me!

Castle of Water
by Dane Hucklebridge

castle of water 2

Genre/categories; fiction, survival, action & adventure, romance

Summary:

“And so it came to pass that two utterly disparate lives happened to overlap … bound together on an uninhabited island some 2,359 miles from Hawaii, 4,622 miles from Chile, and 533 miles from the nearest living soul.
Crap, as Barry liked to say.
Putain de merde, as Sophie was known to exclaim.”
― Dane HuckelbridgeCastle of Water

Sophie, an architect and honeymooner, and Barry, disillusioned with his career in finance and seeking inspiration for his love of art end up on one very small island when their plane is hit by lightning and crashes in the middle of the South Pacific. Strangers and sole survivors and as different as night and day, Sophie and Barry wash up on a small uninhabited island and survival becomes their primary objective. Sophie and Barry draw from each other’s strengths and skills and through harrowing experiences keep the hope of rescue alive. Eventually, Sophie and Barry resign themselves to beginning a new life and creating a home on the isolated island. Amazon Rating (September): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

This book found me at exactly the right time as I needed a break from reading tragic and heavy histfic. It is truly an escapist and/or vacation read! At first glance, this might seem like a classic castaway survival story, and it is….yet it’s so much more….. it’s a charming, witty, poignant, engaging, and beautifully told story that explores themes of home, love, loss, sadness, perseverance, heartbreak, hope, resiliency, and desperation. Furthermore, the history and geography that the author weaves into the narrative is informative and interesting.  The story is easy to get into with memorable characters, unexpected humor, and it’s full of heart. The story alternates between present and past timelines, and I devoured it in one day. Unputdownable. Even though Mr. Hucklebridge has a unique style of writing that was refreshing and at times exquisite, the story has a slightly impersonal feel to it and at times I wished that I could know what Sophie and Barry were thinking and feeling from a first person point of view. The author’s decision to write from an impersonal viewpoint is at its most effective when he speaks directly to the reader because it allows us to become true cohorts in the adventure and we can appreciate all their joy and sorrow. The impersonal viewpoint is a minor concern because overall I enjoyed his masterful writing and simple telling of a complicated situation and relationship. I could easily reread this book and that is rare for me.

“He smiles and shakes his head, a smile that’s bewildered and content and still pursed by that same tender sadness that visited him by the arch, that trails him as doggedly as his gratitude and his guilt … the wonder of it all, the unknowable mystery, to serve as fleshy custodian to such a fragile flame.”
― Dane HuckelbridgeCastle of Water

Recommended for all adult readers who are looking for a masterfully written tale of adventure, escapism, or a vacation read. Rating: 5 Stars (rounded up from 4.5).

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Castle of Water

Buy Here

 

Meet the Author, Dane Hucklebridge

Dane Hucklebridge

Dane Hucklebridge

Dane Huckelbridge was born and raised in the American Middle West. He holds a degree from Princeton University, and his fiction and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Tin HouseThe New Delta ReviewThe Wall Street Journal, and The New RepublicCastle of Water is his first novel, although he has also authored two historical works on American whiskey and beer, respectively. He lives with his wife in Paris, France, and New York City.

Extra:

Read an interview with Dane Hucklebridge here.

(Thank you to Top Shelf Text.)

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J. Hughes

Looking Forward:

Next week, I’m eager to review The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (a YA diverse literature pick dealing with racial issues currently in the news) if you’d like to “buddy read.” Lots to discuss here. *Language alert

The Hate You Give

Get more info and/or buy here.

 

Sharing is Caring:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Discussion:

What have you been reading lately? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments on Castle of Water if or when you read it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glass Houses & Inspector Gamache Series

September 8, 2017

Do you love a gentle mystery filled with memorable characters placed in an idyllic Canadian setting? Do you love immersing yourself in a good series? Do you admire a kind, honest, thoughtful, moral main character committed to integrity and filled with compassion for others? Do you appreciate irresistible descriptions of food and cozy settings? If you answered yes to some of these questions, you might already be acquainted with Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache Series, admire the beloved Armand Gamache, and dream of living in the imaginary setting of Three Pines. If not, please allow me to introduce you!

First, the Series

Glass Houses is the thirteenth installment in the series. The books in chronological order are as follows:

Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
The Brutal Telling
Bury Your Dead
A Trick of the Light
The Beautiful Mystery
How the Light Gets In
The Long Way Home
The Nature of the Beast
A Great Reckoning
Glass Houses

Buy the Complete 13 Book Series Here

Ratings:

I have not rated any of the books in the series below a solid 3 stars. Some I have rated 4 stars. As typical with any series, I think some are stronger than others. In general, readers consider that she hits her stride with book #4. Her most recent release is one of her strongest yet, which is amazing for a 13 book series! You can check my goodreads account (my “read” shelf) for my specific ratings. Amazon ratings vary between 3 & 4+ stars.

Strengths:

The stories are so much more than good mysteries, they explore unique and complex characters who are a mixture of good and less desirable traits. The stories examine motivation, ethics, honor, courage, and compassion for others. Through reading the series, the characters become like friends. Some readers have loosely compared the setting of Three Pines to Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls). The setting of Three Pines is symbolic in that its a place of comfort, safety, and solace for those who are hurting or who’ve lost their way (except when there’s a murder of course!). As with any good series, when a reader receives the next installment, it’s like coming home. It’s interesting to me that during a recent interview, Louise Penny reveals that she created the main character Armand (Inspector) Gamache to be like someone she’d like to marry (CBS Interview). Inspector Gamache is honorable, kind, courageous, nonviolent (except when others’ lives are at stake), thoughtful, well read, and an astute judge of character and motives.

Brief Overview of the 13 Book Series

Chief Inspector Gamache is head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec. He lives by a code of the highest ethics and seeks to provide justice for victims of crime. His team consists of people that he has hand selected that have experienced failure in some aspect of their law enforcement career but in whom he sees great potential. Gamache adores and deeply loves his wife and soul mate, Reine-Marie, and they have two grown children. When we meet Chief Inspector Gamache in the first novel he’s a seasoned professional who sometimes clashes with his superiors at the Sûreté. Nevertheless, he has a reputation of solving even the most difficult cases. In Still Life (the first book of the series) at the scene of his current investigation, Gamache is surprised to discover Three Pines, a tiny, unmapped village in the forest. Throughout the series, Gamache returns again and again to Three Pines for various reasons, establishes friendships with the colorful locals, and eventually he and Reine-Marie move there and become an integral part of the community. Gamache is skilled at observation, determining motive, and at examining the emotions that lead to a crime. Author Louise Penny is a master at establishing a setting, describing delicious food, examining ethics and character, bringing us colorful and unique characters, and creating atmosphere and tension.

Can I read the books as a “stand alone” or out of order?

Reading the series in order isn’t absolutely necessary because each novel presents a unique crime that is solved within its pages; however, there is an overarching issue with the leadership of the Sûreté which is explored bit by bit throughout many books in the series. Also, a reader would miss out on the character development that occurs from story to story. For a richer reading experience, I highly recommend reading them in order.

Do I have a concern or criticism of the series?

Readers including myself are generally very happy with the entire well loved and recommended series  (as evidenced by ratings) and Louise Penny has a huge following. However, some have mentioned and I sometimes feel that Louise Penny is somewhat antagonistic toward the church. In her recent release, for example, a character states, “No one goes to church any more.” It seems to me that Penny’s own feelings about organized religion leak out from time to time in her characters words and views. Penny doesn’t write from a Christian worldview but, even though I notice it from time to time, it isn’t enough for me to not read and enjoy her books. This is a personal concern and observation and it may not bother other Christians at all. It’s something I tend to notice.

Glass Houses
by Louise Penny

Glass Houses

Genre/categories: fiction, mystery, detective, thriller, suspense

Summary:

A mysterious figure appears in Three Pines one cold November day. Even though Armand Gamache and the rest of the villagers are curious at first, they soon become wary. The figure stands unmoving through fog, sleet, rain, and the cold, staring straight ahead. Chief Inspector Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, suspects the mysterious figure has a unique history and a dark purpose. However, Gamache’s hands are tied because the figure hasn’t committed a crime, so he watches and waits. The villagers are tense hoping that Gamache will do something. The figure’s costume is historically tied to someone who acts as a “conscience” and comes to put pressure on an individual to pay a debt. Naturally, people in the village, including Gamache, start to examine their own conscience and wonder if the figure has come for them. Suddenly, the figure vanishes overnight and a body is discovered, and the investigation commences. This story is told in two timelines: the November timeline when the murder took place and later in July as the trial for the accused begins. In typical Penny style, more is going on a larger scale than just the trial. Gamache wrestles with his own conscience, the decisions he has made, and the personalconsequences he will pay. Amazon Rating (September): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

This is a riveting story and is one of my favorite in the series. Whereas in other stories, Gamache analyses the motivations and actions of others, this story finds him also analyzing himself and we observe him taking actions that are not in accordance with his highest ethical standards. Something larger is at stake here, and Gamache and his team have to take great risks and be willing to endure severe personal consequences to bring about justice for the greater good. Interesting ethical dilemmas!

Symbolism of Three Pines

In Glass Houses, the following excerpts provide a bit of evidence for the symbolism of Three Pines as a safe place for the lost or hurting:

  • “People mostly come upon Three pines because they’re lost.”
  • “And then he went home. To Three Pines. To sanctuary.”
  • “I think everyone in this village believes that all shall be well,” Armand was saying. “That’s why we’re here. We all fell down. And then we all came here.”
  • And in the author’s own words: “The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines.”

3 pines

Recommended for readers who would love to find a good series, for those who like mysteries and detective stories without a lot of violence or disturbing descriptions, for thoughtful readers who might want to consider character, motivation, and ethics. My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Read a free excerpt here.

Glass Houses

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Louise Penny

Louise Penny

LOUISE PENNY is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels. She has won numerous awards, including a CWA Dagger and the Agatha Award (five times) and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. She lives in a small village south of Montréal.

Click Here: CBS This Morning Interview With Louise Penny

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week I’ll review America’s First Daughter By Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie if you’d like to “buddy read.” In two weeks, I’m thrilled to review Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge, a likely contender for one of my favorite reads of the year!

America's First Daughter

Buy Here

Castle of Water

Buy Here

Sharing is Caring:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Discussion:

I’m curious if you’re a Louise Penny fan or would consider checking out this series! Have you read any of her books? Please share your reflections on the Inspector Gamache series in the comments.

Extras:

This post is linked up with Modern Mrs. Darcey’s Quick Lit for September.

Check out Top Shelf Text and her blog post: Best Books of Summer 2017 here.

My husband recommends!

As reviewed in this post, my husband just read News of the World and really enjoyed it! In fact, as we were at breakfast this morning, we discussed and debated who should play the lead in the film version (should there be one)! I need to also mention that he especially enjoyed the excellent reader for the audio version.

 

Before We Were Yours

September 1, 2017

Before We Were Yours

by Lisa Wingate

Before we Were Yours

Genre/categories: historical fiction, adoption, family

Summary:

Two timelines reveal this sad and heartfelt story which is based on one of America’s most tragic real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped, mistreated, and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.

In 1939, twelve year old Rill and her four younger siblings live with their free-spirited parents aboard a Mississippi River shanty boat near Memphis, Tennessee. They were poor but surrounded by fireflies and well loved by their creative parents. One stormy night, the children are left alone when their father rushes their mother to the hospital. Strangers arrive and forcefully take the children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, misleading them that they will be returned to their parents. The children quickly realize the disturbing truth and fight to survive and to stay together while enduring the cruelties of the facility’s director.

In the present day, when Avery returns home during her father’s health crisis, she is disturbed by her encounter with a woman at an assisted living facility. This event leads to her determined journey through her family’s long and hidden history for the answers to some uncomfortable questions. Amazon Rating (August): (an impressive) 4.8 Stars

My Thoughts:

Although this is an emotional and difficult read (it’s always difficult when innocent children are involved), it’s receiving great reviews and is a well told gripping story recounting the documented capture and mistreatment of children by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage around 1939. What it lacks in beautiful writing (the narrative seemed stiff at points and involved a lot of “telling”), it makes up for in inspiring themes of family loyalty, caring for the elderly, privilege, and truth-telling. In addition, this page turning story is filled with memorable characters. Of the two story lines, I thought the past story line was the better written and more engaging. Overall, the story was riveting, the characters are memorable, and the ending was redemptive and uplifting.  Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction and stories of redemption. My Rating: 4 Stars

Before we Were Yours

 

Buy Here

 

 

 

Meet the Author, Lisa Wingate

(love her emphasis on kindness and her tribute to teachers)

Lisa Wingate

“Lisa is a journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the author of a host of literary works. Her novels have garnered or been short-listed for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Utah Library Award, the LORIES Best Fiction Award, The Carol Award, the Christy Award, Family Fiction’s Top 10, RT Booklover’s Reviewer’s Choice Award, and others. The group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with six others for the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who promote greater kindness and civility in American life. She’s been a writer since Mrs. Krackhardt’s first-grade class and still believes that stories have the power to change the world.

IN THE WRITER’S OWN WORDS: A special first grade teacher, Mrs. Krackhardt, made a writer out of me. That may sound unlikely, but it’s true. It’s possible to find a calling when you’re still in pigtails and Mary Jane shoes, and to know it’s your calling. I was halfway through the first grade when I landed in Mrs. Krackhardt’s classroom. I was fairly convinced there wasn’t anything all that special about me… and then, Mrs. Krackhardt stood over my desk and read a story I was writing. She said things like, “This is a great story! I wonder what happens next?”

It isn’t every day a shy new kid gets that kind of attention. I rushed to finish the story, and when I wrote the last word, the teacher took the pages, straightened them on the desk, looked at me over the top, and said, “You are a wonderful writer!”

A dream was born. Over the years, other dreams bloomed and died tragic, untimely deaths. I planned to become an Olympic gymnast or win the National Finals Rodeo, but there was this matter of back flips on the balance beam and these parents who stubbornly refused to buy me a pony. Yet the writer dream remained. I always believed I could do it because… well… my first grade teacher told me so, and first grade teachers don’t lie.

So, that is my story, and if you are a teacher, or know a teacher, or ever loved a special teacher, I salute you from afar and wish you days be filled with stories worth telling and stories worth reading.”

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, if you’d like to “buddy read,” I’ll review Louise Penny’s Glass Houses, the recent installment (#13) of the Inspector Gamache series. In two weeks, I’ll review America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (also my IRL book club pick!).

Glass Houses

 

Buy Here

 

 

 

America's First Daughter

Buy Here

Sharing is Caring:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Discussion:

Please share your reflections of Before We Were Yours or share what you’ve been reading lately or plan to read next in comments.

EXTRAS

Check out Top Shelf Text’s post where she queried 21 bloggers (Reading Ladies participated!) about their favorite reads of the summer. Click here.

If you are interested in challenging yourself to read more diverse books, Top Shelf Text has created a Diverse Books Club. Check it out here.

Do you want to take a fun reading personality quiz? Modern Mrs. Darcy has a new book coming out soon called Reading People: how seeing the world through the lens of personality changes everything, and she has created a fun free quick quiz to determine your reading personality (with no obligation to purchase the book). When you complete the quiz she will email you your results (then if desired you can choose to unsubscribe from her mailings) along with 5 recommended titles for your personality type. Try it here. 

 

A “Shout Out,” a Review, & the “Buzz”

August 25, 2017

Today’s format is a bit different as Reading Ladies gives a “shout out” to two women who cultivated my love of reading, revisits a favorite from last year, and notes two books that are receiving some buzz.

How did you grow to love reading?

is

Mom

Similar to many of you, my love for reading began when I was very young, Mom read to me, modeled reading, and took me to the library, and Dad read also.  I remember reading everything including cereal boxes during breakfast. The first book I remember loving was an illustrated book of children’s poetry. Learning to read independently, I was enchanted by a beautifully illustrated simple poem about a gate (a wide country gate that swung across a rural driveway….there must have been a house at the end of that driveway but I don’t remember it being in the illustration). I read that poem over and over and over and imagined myself sitting on that country gate, and I made up stories about an imaginary life around that gate.

mom and me reading

Mom and Me

Today at 90, my mom remains an avid reader and we share many titles back and forth. She got me hooked on Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and I got her hooked on Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series.

Myla

The next memorable event in my reading history is the day my family sold everything on our farm in South Dakota and set out for new adventures in California.

move-to-ca.jpg

On our way to California

penny nicholasAs we climbed into our car for the journey, my Aunt Myla presented me with a gift of a book, Penny Nicholas and the Black Imp. Because that book is connected to the emotion of that day of leaving the farm, friends and family, I’ve always recalled that title and my aunt’s memorable gift. Aunt Myla is also a reader and knew just what would please and occupy me on the long drive. I reread the book multiple times and kept that book for years and years, into my adult life and though many moves.

 

 

myla reading

Myla is a lifelong and avid reader. Last year, we see her pictured here reading by candlelight when the farm lost power and heat for days due to a severe midwest blizzard.

My childhood favorites are probably the same as many of yours and  included The Bobbsey Twins, The Triplets Take Over, Little Women, Heidi, and of course, Nancy Drew (I kept the entire set for years and years into my adult life). What were your childhood favorites?

 

Bobbsey Twins

 

This is my copy of The Bobbsey Twins at School which has miraculously survived multiple moves! Copyright: 1913! (it was old when I received it! Lol!) Its original cost is listed as 40 cents.

 

 

 

As an older teen Gone With the Wind captivated me. Young adulthood brought titles such as Michener’s Hawaii and Rand’s Atlas Shrugged into my life.

Books have been my best friends.

I owe my lifelong love of reading to Mom and my aunt. Who are your reading mentors?

I love reading for many reasons but most important it builds empathy for others and allows me to see the world and other cultures from different perspectives (embracing diversity). In addition, I love that reading bridges generation gaps (in fact, age is not a deterrent among readers). Multiple ages reading the same selection adds to the depth and richness of the discussion and discoveries! One of my favorite reads this year was a Young Adult selection, and I’m far from that demographic! Why do you love reading?

A quick review of a favorite from last year:

The One-In-A-Million Boy
by Monica Wood

one in a million boy

Genre/category: fiction, family

Summary:

A unique 11-year-old boy is sent to help 104-year-old Ona every Saturday morning as part of a community service project. As he refills the bird feeders and helps with other odd jobs, he and Ona share cookies and milk and Ona tells him about her long life. He records her responses as part of a school interview project.

One Saturday, the boy doesn’t show up. Ona starts to think he’s not so special after all, but then his father arrives on her doorstep, determined to finish his son’s good deed.
Amazon Rating (August): 4.6 Stars

 

My Thoughts:

This is a character driven, unique, sad, memorable, quirky, heart warming, amusing story with important themes such as unlikely friendship between generations, loneliness, grief, and second chances. It earned a spot as one of my favorites of 2016, and I’m urging you not to miss it! My rating: 4 Stars

one in a million boy

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Monica Wood

Monica Wood

“I was born in Mexico, Maine, to a family of devout Irish Catholics, a family of paper mill workers. My father and my mother’s parents came from Prince Edward Island in Canada, and brought with them the island tradition of storytelling. Although my sisters and I were the first generation in the family to go to college, I think of my background as a literary one. My father had a lilting island brogue and beautiful grammar; the notion that stories had to be told in a certain way was something I learned early. My grandfather used to sing long, melodramatic, novelistic ballads, another island tradition. I am not one of those writers who claim to have been weaned on  Proust, but I did read a lot, a happy habit for a child, I think, no matter what the material.  http://www.monicawood.com/

The Buzz

I have NOT read the following two books and I hesitate to bring them to your attention except to mention that I’ve heard a lot of buzz about them both in case you’re looking for a new release to read. These are definitely on my radar for the future.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

Read the summary, reviews, and Buy Here

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

Castle of Water

Read summary, reviews, and Buy Here

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, I’ll review Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate if you’d like to “buddy read.” In two weeks, I’ll review Glass Houses, a new installment in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny (release date 8/29, happy birthday to me!).

Before we Were Yours

Buy Here

Glass Houses Buy Here

Sharing is Caring

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog. It helps us grow.

Discussion:

Please share your reading story. Who inspired you to read? What were your early favorites or childhood memories of reading? Do you have any really old books or special collections? Have you read One-in-a Million Boy? What are you currently reading?