Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Grades 9 and up
Teen/Young Adult Military Historical Fiction
Publisher: Vikings Books for Young Readers, January 7, 2014
384 pages
Format: Hardcover
Source: Amazon
My Rating: 3/5

Book Summary from

For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

My Thoughts:

Well, this was a H-E-A-V-Y read...but don't we know by now when we pick up a Laurie Halse Anderson book what we are getting?  

I found this book on my middle school library shelves and as a mom and teacher I feel it is definitely higher than middle school as much of the content, language and circumstances are just not appropriate for a younger audience.  I am going to recommend that this book be shipped to the high school where it has a more mature audience.

I always judge a book by how fast I read it - if I am really into it, it goes fast.  If not, then I usually rate it lower because it just didn't make me want to read it.  This novel falls into that category of "novels that took me a long time to get through."  I didn't hate it but I didn't love it either so it gets a 3/5.

I appreciate how Anderson deals with the real issue of war veterans and how PTSD affects them AND their families when they return home.  This issue was handled in a very real and raw way, sometimes to the point of being uncomfortable (which is what I think Anderson wanted the reader to experience.)  Because of the drug abuse, emotional abuse and very adult content this book is definitely more appropriate for an older audience who can handle these mature issues.

My major fault with novels like this one is that the author spends SO MUCH TIME building the horribleness of the story and circumstance and then everything comes together in a way that doesn't seem realistic given the story told thus far.  I feel like it was tense until the last two pages and then "poof," the main characters get it together and live as happily ever after as they can.  

Overall I am glad to have read this, it was a good opportunity to step into the shoes of a child experiencing their parent's PTSD first-hand.  I look forward to other books that address this issue as well.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys - Book Review

Grades 8 and up
Teen/Young Adult Military Historical Fiction
Publisher: Philomel Books, February 2, 2016
400 pages
Format: Hardcover
Source: Amazon
My Rating: 5/5

Book Summary from
World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson's Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein's Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloffthe greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.
My Thoughts:

First I have to honestly acknowledge that as a U.S. History teacher the Wilhelm Gustloff is something that I knew very little about.  This event is typically overshadowed by some more well-known maritime disasters like the Titanic and the Lusitania.  This novel really brings this lesser-known story to a generation that needs to know about it.

Additionally, the author gives readers a rich historical education on the time period and perspectives (German, Polish, Lithuanian, etc) without the reader even realizing it because it is so beautifully and emotionally presented through the characters.  This book is unique in that it really puts the refugee perspective of this time period in European history front and center.  Having the novel told from different perspectives as a reader I really got a sense of the varying sides approaching this event.  

The author did a phenomenal job balancing the characters evenly and although it took me about half of the novel to really get a good handle on who was who, once I did they became my long lost friends from a different era.  I became heavily invested in their stories, especially sixteen-year-old Emelia who delivers a baby girl while on board.

I appreciated that the author spent most of her time in the novel bringing the characters to the event and although the sinking of the ship is what is most well known of this story it was not the center of the novel.  Her attention to historical detail is impecable and reliable, something that as a history teacher is important to me as I use books in my classroom or recommend them to young people.

I left this book just sad but that does not influence my overall appreciation for this novel and its author.  When I experience those heavy emotions as a reader that is the tell-tale sign that the author has done his/her job.  Kudos to Ms. Sepetys on this novel, it is definitely a keeper on my home bookshelf. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Back into Blogging...

It's time...I have taken a year-long hiatus from blogging as I focused on the kids, my classroom and moving into a new house.  I feel like it is time to get back into blogging WITH A VENGANCE!  I have been reading, canning, quilting and planting up a storm so I am hoping to expand the blog a little to include all of that PLUS my usual book reviews.  Maybe blogging a little about my classroom during the upcoming school year too!
Here's a quick update.  The boys are growing like weeds and this year we will have a kindergartner and a second grader!  Life is good at the new "homestead" as I am calling it.  I have quickly realized that my ambitions are lofty for what I want to do with the new land and I need to pump the brakes a little.  We have so much to I guess baby steps.
I have been reading like crazy this summer.  I just finished The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs - delightful!  I'll have a review coming soon.  I also read a dynamite young adult novel last week, The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel.  I am re-reading currently the My Side of the Mountain series by Jean Craighead George finishing up all three in about two days and pondering how I will incorporate them into my curriculum next year.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
I am working on a four year quilt - yes, I said four years because although that is an exaggeration it FEELS like it has taken me four years to complete it!  I have more fabric waiting for me as I owe some baby quilts to a few nieces and nephews. 
Summertime here in Virginia has been wet so I am patiently awaiting my tomato plants to really start producing, plus they were late getting into the ground since we were moving this spring.  I am relying on the farmer's markets and a good friend's farm right now for all of my produce.  Canning so far has been light, a few jams and jellies but I did experiment with a fine mesh strainer which made for some delicious blueberry jelly!  I have been using the dehydrator for blueberries and raspberries, yum!

To end, what I have loved most about this summer so far is my new life out in the woods.  Each night I find so much happiness in the quiet of the back porch with a great book and a glass of wine.  Our outside cat agrees...the country life is good!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Masterminds and Wingmen by Rosalind Wiseman

Masterminds & Wingmen by Rosalind Wiseman is above all else a fantastic read! After perusing through it over the last few weeks one thought immediately comes to my mind – if you are someone who has any interaction with boys, this book should be continually clutched under your arm as a guide to how to navigate the shark-infested waters otherwise known as “raising boys.”

What I love most about this book is its reference manual style. This is not something that you have to read in its entirety from cover to cover but more a book you can use as a reference point for a particular problem or situation. Son comes home tight-lipped and you suspect it is an issue with friends? No problem, grab a cup of tea and flip to chapter three – Popularity and Groups. Having an issue detaching your son from the ever tightening grip of social media? Chapter nine, “Social Networking” should help direct your intervention. I am a huge fan of parenting books in this style.

One of the more appealing aspects of this book is that it is based in the absolute true reality of day-to-day parenting of boys. This book offers no pretenses and no illusions about just how hard this can be for parents and is quite frank about the lack of support parents of boys get from our modern day culture. I like it…and find its honesty quite refreshing. She really encourages parents to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and start finding solutions since after all, it’s all up to us.

If I had to choose a favorite chapter it would be thirteen, “Redemption and Reconciliation.” Many parenting books focus on the surface stuff. For me, this chapter reaches the depths that parents really need to go. Teaching our young boys that they will sometimes fail, mess up, or find themselves in situations which will require them to really dig deep to get out of. I like that Wiseman encourages parents to teach their young men about how to respond to difficult situations – and everything is in the way you respond. Responsibility, redemption, and reconciliation are the key to her message and I think parents everywhere would do well to really digest that message.

The most applicable chapter for parents today is definitely chapter nine on social networking. Because of social media, parenting today is harder than ever before. The entire universe (literally) seems against us and it is a scary place to just throw our children without adequate preparation. Since cutting them off completely is very unlikely, Wiseman really encourages earning trust and building skills so that they are prepared. As a teacher I see firsthand on a daily basis the negatives of social media and how that can impact our young boys. It is an entirely different world than we grew up in and this book really discusses how to prepare your son for that world – it is something no parent can afford not to do.

 If you’re interacting with young boys this book would be the perfect addition to your parenting arsenal!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sights From This Spring

I am already jumping into gardening, canning and all things spring/summer.  Here are some sights from my spring so far (and if you couldn't tell, I have been playing around with PicMonkey a bit):

Those carrots were left over from last year - I can never seem to grow good carrots so I guess the trick must be to leave them in for a year and a half!

We hatched 30 baby chickens in my classroom this year, this is one just hatched in the above picture!

Spring has sprung and I couldn't be happier!

Keep It Pithy by Bill O'Reilly

I am a big fan of anyone who is a straight-shooter, anyone who isn't afraid to tell the truth, or speak their opinion regardless of how popular or unpopular it is.  I think this is the predominate reason I really like Bill O'Reilly and after reading several of his books, watching his news program, and even following his Talking Points via email, it all reinforces just how much I agree with many of his viewpoints.

Keep It Pithy is a neat book - short, concise, a quick read.  It is conversational meaning that O'Reilly is writing like he is having a conversation with you.  There are many different examples of how he uses bold and italics changes to emphasize his point or pose a question to the reader.  And while I usually find this difficult to read I didn't with this book.  It was very simple to follow along and honestly it made me read more quickly because it was broken up into smaller chunks.

He makes no apologies and clearly states that this read is entirely based on his opinions and he wants to give readers a clear and pithy summary of his viewpoints.  Along with that, he is teaching readers how to keep it pithy in their political conversations.  The subtitle states it all, Useful Observations in a Tough World. 

Great Book: 4/5

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ingenue (Flappers #2) by Jillian Larkin

The first one was so good I just had to delve into the second.  While I appreciate the story continuing, I did find this one a little harder to get through (at least compared to the first.)  That being said, I have read a number of reviews that say the second is the slowest - and it wasn't bad by an means, just slow - of all three so I am definitely still looking forward to reading the third, Diva.

About the Novel:

Power . . . love . . . scandal . . .
There’s never enough to go around.

In the city that never sleeps, Lorraine Dyer is wide awake. Ever since she exposed Clara Knowles for the tramp she was—and lost her closest confidante in the process—Lorraine has spent every second scheming to make her selfish, lovesick ex–best friend pay for what she did. No one crosses Lorraine. Not even Gloria.

True love conquers everything—or so Gloria Carmody crazily believed. She and Jerome Johnson can barely scrape together cash for their rent, let alone have a moment to whisper sweet nothings in the dark. And if they thought escaping Chicago meant they’d get away with murder . . . they were dead wrong.

Clara was sure that once handsome, charming Marcus Eastman discovered her shameful secret, he’d drop her like a bad habit. Instead, he swept her off her feet and whisked her away to New York. Being with Marcus is a breath of fresh air—and a chance for Clara to leave her wild flapper ways firmly in the past. Except the dazzling parties and bright lights won’t stop whispering her name. . . .

INGENUE is the second novel in the sexy, dangerous, and ridiculously romantic Flappers series set in the Roaring Twenties . . . where revenge is a dish best served cold.

About the Author:

Jillian Larkin’s fascination with flappers and the 1920s began during her childhood, which included frequent home screenings of the classic Julie Andrews/Carol Channing film Thoroughly Modern Millie. She lives in New York.

My Thoughts:

Let me first say that this cover is the most appealing to me out of all three.  I just love how sleek and sophisticated it looks, very much a representation of exactly what comes to mind when I think about the 1920s.

This novel was a slight bit slower of a read than the first one but it was still a great novel and I was still enveloped right into the 1920s.  This novel was set in New York after Gloria and Jerome move away together.  An interesting twist was the heavy focus on Lorraine in this novel.  She was the center focal point and the entire storyline was told through her viewpoint which I liked.  Lorraine is an interesting character and very representative of girls out there who have not yet found their niche and sometimes find themselves sucked into the latest and greatest, even when it isn't good for them.

Another interesting part of this novel is the appearance of Gloria's father - he comes in a big way although his role in the second really is just setting it up for his even larger role in the third (the final book opens with a scene involving him and Jerome.)

The only part of this novel that I found somewhat hard to wrap my mind around is how Lorraine managed to find graces with the biggest mobster and then be hired to run one of his clubs.  I realize she was the bait but it still seemed a little farfetched and her naivety really does shine through as she finds herself in way over her head.

The setting is amazing, the fashions fun to imagine and the characters fun to follow, I look forward to seeing what the third and final novel in this series has to offer.