Sunday, January 24, 2021

Unearthed and Keeping Corner

 "Unearthed" by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

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     I received this as an advanced reader copy.... in 2018. Eek. My apologies to the authors. I don't read a lot of science fiction so this was a nice change from my usual reading. After the Earth has depleted many of its natural resources, a message is intercepted from an extinct alien race. The planet Gaia may hold secret technology that may help replenish Earth's resources. The news of these new technologies led many people to have the desire to study the new culture, but also the desire to scavenge the planet for profitable materials. 
     Like many books I enjoy, this is told through alternate perspectives- Amelia- a scavenger who is attempting to "buy back" her sister from her employers on Earth, and Jules- a scholar hoping to learn more about the mysterious messages sent by the Undying. There were parts of this book that were a little repetitive and predictable, but it was a new enough concept for me to like the story. I might be interested in reading the 2nd book.
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     I got this book from our former middle school librarian, who is a good friend of mine. It tells the story of Leela, a Brahmin girl who had been engaged at 2 and married at 9. Just before her anu, where she would leave her parents' home and go to live with her husband's family, her husband is bit by a snake and dies.  The story tells of the customs of being a widow and how it affects Leela and her family in a time where society and culture was changing. I really knew nothing about a lot of these customs, or even about some differences between some of the castes in India, so this was engaging and thought provoking to me. There was a lot Hindi (? I think) words in the story, and a glossary at the end of the book that defines those words. This is a great book for people interested in other cultures or about how different generations see the same issue.
 
 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Bluest Eye

Very rarely do I really dislike a book. This is my first disliked book of 2021. "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison. 

The Bluest Eye
        I'm having a difficult time putting into words why I don't like this book. This is my first Toni Morrison book so I was disappointed that I had a hard time with is. I've heard she's such an amazing author and I was really looking forward to experiencing her writing. The subject matter was problematic to me- incest is not something I'm often reading about and I felt like Pecola's (one of the main characters) world was just hopeless. On the other hand, I have read books about serial killers and other topics that didn't make me feel as gross as this book. I read this for my book club made up of women from town. Maybe after decompressing with them I will be able to put my finger on what bothered me so much. 
       In the Afterword, Morrison writes " One problem was centering: The weight of the novel's inquiry on so delicate and vulnerable a character could smash her and lead readers into the comfort of pitying her rather than an interrogation of themselves for the smashing. My solution- break the narrative into parts that had to be reassembled by the reader- seemed to me a good idea, the execution of which does not satisfy me now. Besides, it didn't work; many readers remained touched but not moved." I'm not even 100% sure what THAT means, but the different snapshots of the lives of the characters didn't really tie things together for me. On to the next book...

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Big Lies In a Small Town

     I finished my 2nd book of 2021. I read the book "Big Lies in a Small Town," by Diane Chamberlain for my Book Hive Book Club. If you're a new reader on this blog, the Book Hive Book Club is pretty different. There are 12 people in a group. We all choose a book we want to read and buy that book and a journal. We read the book, journal about it, then send the book and the journal through the mail to the next reader. I've read so many books I never would've even considered picking up and I have met some really interesting people as well. Here's a link to The Book Hive Book Club on Facebook in case you might want to check it out. So, the book....

Big Lies in a Small Town

      This story, told from alternating perspectives tells the life of 2 artists and their involvement with a mural. The first artist, Anna, is the painter of the mural. After applying for the post office mural contest across the US, Anna was initially told that she could not paint the mural she applied for, but she was given the opportunity to paint one for a small town in North Carolina. She temporarily moves to NC to get a feel for the town and quickly discovers the positive and negative aspects of being there. 
     The other artist, Morgan, is a young woman serving time in prison for a DUI charge. She is given the opportunity to be released from prison and put on parole to help restore the mural painted by Anna years before. A local artist had taken an interest in Morgan and, in his will, has given the directive that she should be given the opportunity to restore the mural for his new gallery opening.
       I have never read anything by this author, so this book was a pleasant surprise. I really enjoyed the character development, the plot, the relationships that developed over time and the story being told through multiple perspectives. 
     Also, because I'm a total nerd, I became interested in the post office mural aspect of the story because I had seen the post office mural stamps released by the United States Post Office in 2019.  Apparently, in 1933, a friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt suggested that the government try to help artists in need of work by commissioning artwork for public buildings.  This led to the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). About 3,700 artists were hired to create work depicting American life and modern trends.   After that project, the Section of Painting and Sculpture was formed, which was later called The Section of Fine Arts.  This group commissioned over 1,000 murals to be painted in post offices across the US between 1934 and 1943. These are what the stamps look like. #GoNerds
Post Office Murals stamps 
    In my next post, I anticipate talking about how I'm currently tanking most of my January goals. Ugh. I've learned a lot about myself and about life in the past year.

Monday, January 4, 2021

2021 Reading Goals

 Happy New Year! New Year, new goals. My reading goals this year will be somewhat reduced from last year. I would like to read more books, but do less challenges. I wasn't going to participate in any reading challenges this year, but then a woman from my book club tagged me in this group and I thought, "Wow, that looks fun." (Except for the steamy read. Not a huge romance fan.) 

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For my Goodreads challenge this year, I would like to read 75 books. I didn't read quite as many in 2020, but I was also emotionally and mentally exhausted at times. I'm hoping to read a lot this year. We all know we'll have some time this year when there is not much else to do.

Book 1:

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"The Secret Keepers" by Trenton Lee Stewart 
     I got this book for my younger son after he loved The Mysterious Benedict Society books, written by the same author.   "The Secret Keepers" is about an eleven year old boy named Reuben, who lives with his mom in the city of New Umbra. While his mom works hard to try to support the two financially, Reuben often spends his days exploring his new neighborhood. This is not something he is really supposed to be doing, but he is curious about places around him and finds it a challenge to hide somewhat within plain sight. He is weary of a group of men called The Directions, who spend the day scanning the city and talking to business owners. He knows they answer to The Counselor, who works for The Smoke. Nothing happens in New Umbra without these men knowing about it.
     One day Reuben stumbles upon a pouch that had been hidden inside a brick wall, on a ledge, about halfway up an abandoned building. Inside the pouch, he discovers an antique watch, property of P. William Light. He brings this watch to a few people to see if they can tell him the value and quickly learns that this is a very valuable watch, and far from ordinary. There is a problem though, there have been  other people who have been searching for this watch for a very long time. 
       Throughout his journey to find out more about the watch, he meets the Meyer family, who have secrets of their own. This story is filled with adventure and was a good read. The characters were enjoyable and the book had a few good lessons about character, family, friendship. greed and honesty. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.  If you enjoy illustrations, this book has at least one quote illustrated in each chapter and an illustration for the chapter title. I liked them a lot. The illustrator is Diana Sudyka. 
 
      I'm hoping that writing reviews on one book at a time will allow me to be a little more detailed than last year and will help me keep up with my blogging.   

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Closing out 2020.

                 2020 Balloons

     2020- What a year. I have been scrolling through Facebook today, reading a mix of positive and negative aspects of the past year. For my family, it was a very different year, but not altogether bad. Here are some of my thoughts as we end the year.

- We are lucky that none of the people we know have died or been gravely affected by Covid-19. Obviously all of our lives have been affected, and a few people we know were sick, but everybody we know is okay, which I'm grateful for.

- Our blessings could not have been more evident. We moved 10/2019 from a small, run down apartment into a house that doesn't need a lot done and is more than spacious for our family.  Both my husband and I have jobs. We have a happy family and enjoy spending time together.

-Two of my favorite hobbies are penpalling and reading. These are great hobbies to have in 2020.  Penpalling kept me connected to other people across the world and helped to feel not so isolated. Reading could take me to other worlds when I wanted to be alone.

- This doesn't mean 2020 was always easy. I'm pretty conservative so I've felt comfortable staying in while some people were really suffering from the fear of missing out on things. I don't think I was particularly scared that I was going to get the virus from being out in public, but I'm kind of higher risk and I figured it's kind of like wearing your seat belt in the car- if you can do something to help keep you safe (even if you're not in full control of that), why wouldn't you? So, being home when we wanted to do things like travel, see friends/family, drive to another state, etc has been inconvenient and sometimes hard. People across the US were divided about so many issues. It was hard to go online to any social media platform without seeing negativity, disagreements and disrespect. Racial tension, political tension, coronavirus issues, mask issues, education issues- it was all too much for me. I can understand people having differences in opinions, but I struggle with lack of decency amongst people. 

 - I lost a good friend of mine in August. Her name was Mary. We met in  our book club and became fast friends. Very close to the start of quarantine, she found out that she had liver cancer, which then led to the discovery of pancreatic cancer. It was a quick decline and heartbreaking. She tried Chemo but reacted badly. She passed away right before school started. I miss her very much. Although I would've never expected a friendship to blossom between us when we first met, we were sort of kindred spirits.  Secondly, teaching music online- not a fan, though I have grown as an educator and learned new skills. 

-I have made my faith a greater priority. I've been attending a church online and I feel like it's making me think about my life in some new ways, not that the old ways were necessarily bad, but it has been good for me. I have also joined a women's group online, kind of like a Bible study. That has provided me with some new friends and fellowship. I'm very thankful for all of this. 

-I have also learned to sit still- with God, with myself, with an empty schedule. I miss being busy every second of the day, but I have enjoyed slow times with my children, completing my thoughts without feeling totally frantic or rushed and taking joy from observing the world around me. 

      As always, I have lots of goals for the new year. Perhaps I'll come back tomorrow and write about some of them. I have not been blogging much because I'm not 100% sure if anybody is getting anything out of this blog, or even reading it. I thought about starting a new one, on a more secure site, but I'm not sure. I'll see how blogging goes over the next few months. I anticipate writing about various subjects- my goals, reading, penpalling, life in general. I really like connecting with new people, so if you're a person who just stumbles upon the blog by chance, please feel free to say hello. 

     Happy New Year!

Monday, August 31, 2020

August Reading

 August Reading:

     Hello! As school is approaching my mind is all over the place.  Maybe later I'll write a post about teaching during the time of a pandemic, but I just can't right now. To say I'm conflicted about how I feel about returning to school in an understatement. I hope you all know that I truly love my job and my students, and miss them dearly, but I also have concerns for myself and my own family. Sigh. I'd appreciate your prayers about this. On to books, which are way less scary...

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    This was a book on Tim's options for required summer reading. As I mentioned in my July post, I like to read at least 1 book with the boys and talk about it with them/see what they're being asked to read. This is the book Tim chose, which was a bit of a surprise to me, but it ended up being a good choice. Frank Li is a Korean-American whose parents came to the United States from South Korea. They own a store where the father is always working to try to provide a good life for his family. Monthly, they attend "The Gathering," where all of the Korean families who came to the US around the same time meet for dinner at one of the houses of the families. Frank is a kid in his senior year of high school- dealing with preparing for college, learning how to manage relationships and, in his case, struggling to distinctly feel both Korean and American at the same time. In addition to these struggles, Frank also runs into a problem when he starts becoming interested in a girl named Brit. She seems like the perfect girl, except for one thing-she's white. He's fine with it, but his parents would not be since they expect him to marry a Korean girl, most likely a Korean American girl, which were pretty scarce in his area.  He knows this will be a problem because his sister, Hanna, was already disowned for dating and then marrying a black man. To complicate his feelings even more, Frank's best friend is Q, a black boy in his grade. His parents like Q because he's "not like other blacks." One night at The Gathering he realizes that a lot of his acquaintances, who might even be able to be considered friends, have some of the same problems. For example, his friend Joy has been sneaking around dating a Chinese guy named Wu for the past few years. He and Joy decide to pretend to be dating each other to mollify their parents and also allow them to sneak out with their significant others for dates.

         This book provided a lot of opportunity for discussion, especially during these times were racial tension is so obvious. We talked about racial issues at school, expectations for certain cultures, how Tim thinks we'd react if he brought home a girl that was from a different culture, parental expectations, dating (which he hasn't done), pressures of being a teen, honestly, how the events of the story may feel from the teen's/parent's point of view, etc. It was actually pretty cool to hear his opinions. We had a socially distanced dinner where 2 of my former students came to visit. They are Indian and the topic of arranged marriages came up. Tim heard that conversation as well so we also discussed that. We both thought the ending kind of wrapped up too quickly, but there's a second book so maybe that's why it was done that way. 

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This was a book for my Bee Hive Book Club. The main character, Weylyn Grey, is quite unusual. First of all, when his parents died in a car accident, he went into the woods and was raised by wolves. Secondly, he seems to have a connection with the weather.  When he was a teenager, he became friends with an 11 year old named Mary, who met him while she was delivering meat to him from her father's butcher shop. This relationship drives a lot of the book. The story is told from the perspectives of different characters that meet Weylyn throughout his life: Mary- whom I've already mentioned, Roarke- a teenage boy who meets Weylen as an older adult. He meets him after a dare from some of his friends. Lydia- Whose family were foster parents for Weylyn for a while. Bobby Quinn Jr- The mayor of a small town who contacts Weylyn to see if he can help with preparations for hurricanes in the area, and Duanne Fordham- a logger in Montana. Then there's Merlin, Weylyn's horned pig and a few other likeable characters (and maybe 1 or two unlikable ones) thrown into the mix. I thought this book would be a little too "fantasy" for me, but I found it kind of touching in some ways. I actually stopped reading for a few days because I didn't want the story to be done. There are some questions I still have about the story and some things you don't ever get answered but it didn't stop me from liking the book. The other people in my book club who read the book before me also really enjoyed it.

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Have you ever wondered what it would take for you to be happier in your everyday life? Well, Gretchen Rubin spent a lot of time thinking about improving herself and seeing if she could increase her level of daily happiness. She decided to take a year to focus on 11 different areas, one per month. (The last month she was implementing all the rules/attempts from the 11 previous months together.)  Some of the areas she examined were her marriage, parenthood, work, eternity, etc. She laughed at the fact that she wasn't really unhappy, but she also realized her moods affected everybody around her and she could probably improve on how she related to people.

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       I'm reading this book with David. It is about 3 kids who discover 3 kids with their same names and birthdays have been kidnapped. They think this is very strange, but get very disturbed when their mother then needs to take an emergency trip from work and leaves them with a family they don't really know at all. It becomes obvious that something is not right and the kids, along with the help of Natalie Morales (the girl whose mother they are staying with), try to figure out the whole situation. This book was pretty good. It might be bad for kids who are afraid that something could happen to a parent because one parent has died and the other goes missing. Natalie's parents are also split up. This is the first book in the series. David has already started the second book and is enjoying it a lot.


 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

July reading

July Reading


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 I have a "to read" shelf in my bedroom. It houses any books I've picked up anywhere and deemed readable. This one has been there for a while. I have no idea where I got it, but I finally got around to reading it. It tells the story of Harry Clifton's life through various characters who are intertwined somewhere along the way. When I picked it up, I had no idea that it was the beginning of a series. I will definitely consider reading the rest of the series. 

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 I do remember where I got this one.  A few years ago we went up to York, Maine. We were eating out at a restaurant with my parents and Timmy saw a basket of books that you could take/leave. He immediately grabbed this out of the basket. He read it and thought "it was okay." Me too. It was about a set of siblings who spend the summer at their grandmother's inn, which is supposedly haunted.  They figure it might be fun (and good for business) if they bring the old ghosts back into play so they set up some pranks to liven the place up. Unfortunately, their behavior sets other things into motion and the real hauntings begin again. Not really my type of book, but it was okay. Nothing too scary or graphic for a younger audience compared to books written now.

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I always enjoy a good Harlan Coben book. The Bayes are a couple who are concerned about their son, Adam, after his personality changes after the suicide of one of his best friends. Despite their best efforts, they feel like they are losing the kid he used to be. He has closed off and they decide that they need to dig a little to be 100% sure that things are okay. So, they install software on his computer and phone that gives them access to everything he is doing. The Bayes realize fairly soon that things are not okay and he is involved with some things that they never had even considered. 
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Lisa Scottoline is another one of my favorites. Mary DiNunzio has just been promoted to a partner in her law firm when a 13 year old girl approaches the firm to hire them to solve the murder of her sister. There are a few problems with this. The first is that the case is already solved. Someone who already confessed to the crime is already convicted and serving time, but Allegra (the girl) believes that they have the wrong man. Another problem is that Allegra's family, the Gardners, do not agree with this investigation and do multiple things to prevent it from happening, including having the young girl committed. 
 
I received this from NetGalley. This is a memoir about growing up in a segregated community of Mill Creek. I thought about this book as a snapshot of a certain period of time for this family. I got a good sense of who this family was and some of the things that affected their lives, but there was something else I wanted in the book. Maybe I was missing some background information that would've made me appreciate the book more or maybe I was hoping for more explanations, I don't quite know what it was. This book was just alright for me. I read this for my Keyword Reading Challenge.
 
Strength of character is something that is important to me. I'm always curious to read books about character to read stories about people of character, opinions of what creates good character and tips for working with other people.   This was another book I received from NetGalley. There were things I liked and disliked about this book. I suppose it was less "disliking" as much as not being able to relate. The authors of this book both have military backgrounds and connections with West Point so many of the points in this book and examples have do to with the military.  I have very little experience with the military and, although I appreciate the people who serve and enjoyed reading some stories that I had not previously heard, I just couldn't really relate 100%. I agreed with how they broke down character into many different traits- strengths of the head, heart and gut. There were other examples that weren't based in the military that were more relatable to me. I also like that they have suggestions for how to work on your character and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. I might buy this for a friend, but it wasn't really a great book for me.
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 Every summer I try to read at least 1 summer reading book with my boys. This was a choice from my 12 year old's book list. I will say that I have one of the most innocent 12 year old boyss on the planet. lol. We read this together and enjoyed it. It is about a girl names Violet who was found as an infant, abandoned in a hotel at Eerie-on-Sea. The disappearance of her parents is somehow tied to the mysterious sea creature, the malamander. She enlists the help of Herbie Lemon, also an orphan, who is working as the Lost and Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. This is the first book of a series. We will most likely read the second book to see what happens next with Violet and Herbie.
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 It has been a long while since I read "World Without End."  Would I be able to return to the story? Admittedly, I couldn't remember a lot of the story off the top of my head, but as soon as I started reading and Kingsbridge was reintroduced, much of the last 2 books came flooding back. I was immediately pulled back into this time period and into the lives of these characters. Ken Follett is just a master storyteller in my opinion. In a time where my mind is racing with all the "Are we going back to school?" thoughts during Covid... I loved plopping a 900 page book onto my lap and knowing that my mind could be in another place for a while. 
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        I had read about this book in a blog post about "feel good stories" or something like that, maybe "books that won't completely depress you during a pandemic." Ha ha. Soon after I read the post, this book popped up in a book exchange group in my town and I snatched it up. The book is about a man who decides he wants to walk the Appalachian Trail when he discovers a trail leading to the Appalachian Trail near his house. He does some research and offers the opportunity of hiking with him to some of his friends. The book follows his travels, challenges, successes and inner thoughts during the whole process. Tim read this before I did because he ran out of books. He said it was just "ok" and that the author "tried too hard to be funny/cool."  When I started reading it, I thought he was hilarious but noticed that his opinions of people were sometimes unfiltered, which I think is what slightly offended Tim. I thought the information about the trail itself, the environmental issues, information about the park services, and specifics about individual locations (including some near me) made this book very interesting.

Goodreads Reading Challenge: 48/60

Keyword Reading Challenge: 7/12