Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Key to Rondo


I had high hopes for this book.  It is about 2 children who discover that the painting on a music box that they inherited from their aunt is a real world that they can enter. The book itself wasn't bad, but compared to all of the other books I've read lately, it was just okay. It would be good for a younger child who is just starting to read fantasy.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Reading in August

Now that school has begun again, I have found less free time to update the blog. You know how sometimes when you have to do 1 thing (like update my reading- in the order I've read it because I'm OCD like that?) and you don't, it prevents you from doing other related tasks? Well, that's me right now. So, I have a little time to dedicate today. Here goes. Here are my most recently read books and what I thought:

     "The Mapmaker's Daughter" by Katherine Nouri Hughes, courtesy of NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media. This is a work of Historical Fiction. It is set in the 16th century and tells of the life of Nurbanu, wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, The story jumps back and forth between Nurbanu, on her deathbed, telling her life story and different episodes in her life. (Apparently there is, or will be, a television series about her that has come out recently or will be coming out soon. Since I don't watch a lot of tv, this doesn't mean a lot to me.) 
      This book was interesting but I just couldn't get into it. Many of the names of the sultan's family are very close (or even the same, if they were named after another relative). I found myself getting confused about who I was reading about and what time that part of the story was taking place. I will say that there was a guide to who the people were but I found that I didn't really check with that since I was reading a digital copy. If I had a paper copy, I think I would've frequently been flipping back to that page and maybe it would've helped. 
      If you are interested in the Ottoman Empire and have some experience with some of the events of this time period, you may really like this book. I just don't have much background information about those times and places and didn't find myself as interested as I thought I would. 

"Love and Other Consolation Prizes" by Jamie Ford- another book courtesy of NetGalley and Ballantine Books. I really liked this one. It's about a Chinese boy who was sold by his mother and brought to the United States. This is another book that switches between the present and the past. In the present time, Ernest's daughter has discovered that there was once a child who was raffled off at the World's Fair, 50 years ago. After some investigating, she thinks that this child may have been her father. She approaches him and asks him if she has permission to tell his story in an article.   The story in the past talks about his journey and experiences from China to the US, his time before the fair and the high class brothel he ends up at after the raffle.  I don't want to spoil any of this book (but if you had any specific questions, I would be willing to answer them privately.) This book was just released in the US on 9/12. Go get yourself a copy.

     This is another book I read with David over the summer. It's a Massachusetts Children's Book Award winner. This book is listed as a 4th grade level, but I felt the subject matter was pretty heavy. My kids are pretty innocent and possibly a bit naive, so I was a little surprised to be reading something that seemed so raw emotionally to one of them. Ada is a young girl, who was born with a clubfoot, growing up with her younger brother and her mom in a 1 room apartment. The relationship between Ada and her mom is bad. Ada has not been taken care of medically or emotionally and that is pretty firmly established right away. (It was the first time I've seen my  son genuinely sad for a character while reading a book.) 
    When war threatens London, Ada's younger brother is going to be sent to the countryside to avoid the bombs. The mother hadn't really thought to send Ada too. Ada overcomes quite a few challenges and basically sneaks out with her brother. The evacuees get sent to the countryside and chosen by all of the volunteers; all except Ada and Jamie. They are brought to a woman named Susan Smith, who hadn't been planning on taking in any children. As the story progresses, you learn how the war has affected the community, see relationships develop and begin to see Ada discover her own strength and worth. What happens when mom comes back into the picture? You're going to have to read it to find out.
      It is a very powerful book. Although there were parts that David was obviously upset by, it was a redemptive book and we both enjoyed it quite a bit. There is a second book, The War I Finally Won, that is coming out in October. (I applied for it on NetGalley. I hope we are chosen to review it). David and I are both looking forward to reading what happens next for each character. 

 This is a book that I began reading in March of last year and apparently put down for some reason. It relays the story of Michael Morton, who was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife in 1986. After serving 25 years prison, DNA testing proved his innocence. I appreciated the honesty of the author. Many of his emotions- his feelings when he realized his son didn't really remember the times that he lived at home, how it's easy to become hardened in prison, the struggle to keep hope when everything seems against you, how positive words can breathe life into someone, the curiosity of driving down the highway after not being outside for years, what you appreciate when you really pay attention to your senses when your freedom is not compromised. This is not a topic I regularly read about and it has made me more likely to read more books that are similar.

You're almost there. Told you I'd been reading a lot. 
  "As You Wish" is another ARC from NetGalley and Sourcebooks. It's about a town in Nevada where everybody in the town gets granted 1 wish on their 18th birthday. Some people wish for love, some money, others popularity or beauty.  The lead character, a boy named Eldon is stumped about what he should wish for. He has tons of ideas of what would be helpful to wish for- possibly money for his family or a solution for his sister Ebba who is brain-dead after being hit by a car. The problem is that he has observed how wishing has ruined the lives of many of the people he knows. With a little help from his friends and his principal, he examines some of the previous wishes that have been made in town and makes his decision. 
      I liked this book. It was creative and I liked Eldon. (He reminded me of some of my students.) This book will be released in January of 2018.

Friday, August 25, 2017

A few highlights of our trip to RI

     Both boys played summer baseball this year and it was a short summer. School begins Monday for me, which left us just a few days to go on vacation. We took a trip to Rhode Island, the smallest US state, from Sunday- Wednesday. We only live 1.5 hours away from where we stayed, but I've never really spent any time in Rhode Island before.  Here are some highlights:

     On our first night there, we went exploring and stumbled by a really nice park called Goddard Memorial State Park. It is right on the ocean and has lots of places you can picnic. There are also trails through the woods, a boat ramp, a stable, and other things I'm sure we didn't even see. We explored the bay area, took a quick walk in the woods and just enjoyed being outside. The boys found lots of mud crabs.

     The next day we spent (getting roasted by the sun at the zoo) at the Roger Williams Park & Zoo. Here are a few of my favorite moments:
The wildest animals at the zoo.. lol
David fed a giraffe. Look at that smile. He loves giraffes so this was a high point of the whole vacation. See his uneven spots? He's a Masai giraffe. His name is Jaffa and, if I remember correctly, he's 6 years old.
We pet an armadillo- which surprised us all by taking a bath in that water. Did you know that (this type) armadillos can jump 4 feet straight up into the air and run at 25 miles per hour when they are frightened?
This red panda is smiling at me. He wants me to bring him home, right?
This is a kookaburra. One of the park security guys was chatting with us and mentioned that he often plays an app that makes bird sounds and these birds start reacting by answering the calls. Before long, all 4 kookaburra birds were loudly "chirping" their "koo-koo-koo-ka-ka-ka." Tim said he loved it and they made him feel happy. I ruled out the chance of ever living where these birds are. So loud!
     One of the workers at the zoo said that the solar eclipse we had on that day was also making the animals act a little differently than normal.
      If you have never been to this zoo and you have the opportunity to, go. There was also a beautiful park with many nice areas that we didn't even explore. There's a carousel, swan boats, etc. They're also making some sort of a zip line type ride that will open later this year.

     The next day we explored the Beavertail Lighthouse in Jamestown, RI and then traveled to Newport to explore The Breakers, a giant mansion built by the Vanderbilt family.
 Beavertail Lighthouse
 Boys exploring the rocky New England coastline. They followed that path down to the rocks.

 The flat surface here is the foundation of a lighthouse that was built in 1749. In 1753 it was destroyed by a fire. It was rebuilt. In 1856, the new lighthouse was built to replace the deteriorating one and in 1938 a hurricane exposed this foundation? I think I got it all. Lol. We accidentally discovered this regatta of some sort. We never found out what it was but there were people at that spot to watch it.

 An artist was painting this next to us. So cool.

 These 4 pictures above were taken by Tim. I love seeing through his eyes and knowing what he thinks is beautiful or deserves attention. He's pretty good! The building above is named The Breakers.
 Dining room. Quite lavish, but I'll take it.
 My favorite part of the building was this half of the music room. If I had a room like this, I would never leave it.
 And part of the library! I totally wanted to bust in there and read what books were on the shelves. #nerdproblems
 Matt took this picture. He works as a candymaker and I think those copper pots and pans were super appealing to him!
 The back of The Breakers. Can you find David and I?

2 more Tim pics.

     All in all, it was a nice trip. I would've liked it to be a bit longer but maybe we'll come back another time. I can't wait for our next adventure away. Oh! I never told some of you, we're getting our passports so we're going to aim for at least 1 international trip within the next year. (If we take 2, 1 will be to Canada, which is pretty close compared to everywhere else.) We'll be talking soon about where to go. Feel free to leave suggestions!

     In other news, school starts Monday. I'm not ready. My "to reply" pile of mail is currently EMPTY! Feel free to send me surprise mail! (or even "not surprise" mail.) I've gotten some nice postcards this week. I'd like to show those off in a post and write about the last book I read too.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Jack-The True story of Jack & the Beanstalk

     My reading is slowing down as I get closer to school starting!!! AH! On a good note, I've been writing more and only have a few letters in my reply pile. My goal is to completely finish my reply pile before school. (And have my house clean, school work prepared, kids ready for school, on and on and on) 

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk  
      Last year, there was a book called Rump on the Massachusetts Childrens Book Awards list. I was really interested in it; Tim, not so much. Well, it turns out that the author, Liesl Shurtliff has written a similar book, but about Jack & the Beanstalk. 

Here is David's review:
Jack, The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk” is a great story. It's an adventurous tale about Jack and his family. He has a mother, a father and a little sister, Anabella. One day giants come down from the sky and steal their village. They steal their houses, a bakery, farms, food and even people. The giants stole all of these things because there was a famine in their land so they needed food. They stole the people to work with the smaller food and animals. Jack's Papa and their cow, Milky White, were stolen by the giants and that's where the adventure begins.
One character I liked was Sir Blueberys. He was a knight who rode an old donkey. He was always giving people advice on how to defeat the giants but he wasn't a person who could save the village, so he wasn't really a good knight.
I would give this book 4.5/5 because although this was a long book, it was a fun one. I read this book out loud with my mom. Some of the things we liked were: the characters, the plot and the different creatures in the story, like pixies and animals.

     I also enjoyed this book. It had a lot of nice lessons for kids. Jack grows up knowing that he has been names after his great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, slayer of giants. He expects to grow up "great," but often feels like maybe he doesn't have it in him to live up to (his own ) expectations. It has some good messages about family and not placing too much importance in "stuff" and riches. 
       The MCBA site lists this as an early 4th grade reading level. David struggled a bit through this one. I don't know if it was that we were reading aloud or if it was just long for him. (He also has some speech issues, which adds a level of complication.)  If you've read this with your kids, I'm curious to hear your thoughts. He really enjoyed the story, but I think I may have liked it more. Maybe he needs more exposure to the original Jack & the Beanstalk story? My older son also came in a few nights to read with us because he could tell it was a fun story. I think I might still try to read Rump.  

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

My Brilliant Idea (and How it Caused my Downfall)

My Brilliant Idea (And How It Caused My Downfall) 

     This is another book that has been on my TBR shelf for too long. I'm reading it for my Mount TBR challenge as well as my Keyword Reading Challenge (My).  I actually felt badly when I picked it up to read because I saw that Goodreads had sent it to me as an advanced reader copy, but the book was published June 2016. So, I apologize for the delay.    This book is about a boy named Jack Dawson, nicknamed Jackdaw, who comes up with an idea to create an app that would prevent you from getting in trouble for daydreaming at school. The only problem is that he doesn't know how to program an app, and the only person who knows at his school is a strange girl named Elsie. In order to get what he wants, Jackdaw makes a series of deals and comes up with schemes to get each deal to work. Unfortunately, many of his plans are hindered by outside forces and don't go exactly how he planned. 
      I gave this book 3/5 stars on Goodreads. This book is geared towards teens but I could tell right away that it was not written by an American author, so I'm not sure if teens here would immediately connect with the book. I think if my son read this book, he wouldn't know what some of the slang meant.  Also, one of the ideas that Jack has is to trick a boy into getting naked in front of a girl, which isn't the most edifying thing for me to pass on to my kids. It fits in with Elsie's weirdness, but wasn't an idea I liked in a book younger kids might be reading. There were some sections that were pretty humorous. As a person who works with teens, I liked Jackdaw's convictions that his "good ideas" are brilliant and his sense of humor.

Happy anniversary

       I am not a girl who "needs" flowers, but every once in a while, it's nice to receive them. Today is my 19th wedding anniversary and I wanted to show off the beautiful flowers my husband sent me.
Image may contain: flower and natureVery sweet! Marriage can be a lot of work sometimes. These were a really nice surprise after taking the boys out to swim at a local river. Thanks, Matt!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Mount TBR update

    I recently took a screen free week and got some reading done too! I've been chipping away at my to be read pile for the Mount TBR challenge. My original goal was 24 books. I'm at 15. So, I'm well on my way. I am planning on telling you about 2 books- The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver H.C. Chester and  Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke.
The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House, #1)

      This book tells about the lives of 4 orphans growing up in Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks. They are the only children as part of his show. Pippa is sort of a mind reader, but she sometimes can only tell what is in your pockets. Thomas can squeeze into small spaces. Sam is a strong man and Max is a knife thrower. Dumfrey's museum is struggling so he brings in a new exhibit- an Amazonian shrunken head. Unfortunately, at the first show that exhibits the head, a woman in the audience dies. A reporter in the audience writes an article and suggests that the shrunken head might carry a curse with it.
        This story was just "ok" to me. (Tim too) We both felt that the story had potential and that the characters were kind of fun, but the amount of deaths in the story seemed extraneous. Don't get me wrong, this is not filled with people killing each other, but we think the story could've been told without some of the deaths.  Neither one of us are interested in reading the rest of the stories in the series.

Inkheart (Inkworld, #1)

     This book has been sitting on my to read shelf forever! I don't even remember where I got it. My guess is that I picked it up somewhere for Tim a few years ago, but wanted to read it first to see if there is anything inappropriate that he shouldn't be reading. (There isn't)
      I don't often say that I love a book, but I might have loved this one- or at the very least, liked it a lot. Who knew I'd spend my summer enjoying middle grade fantasy? I love the premise of this whole book. There is a bookbinder- called Mo by his daughter and nicknamed Silvertongue by some other characters- who has the ability to read characters out of the books that they are written in. Unfortunately, when a character is transported out of their story, someone from Mo's word is transported in. His 12 year old daughter, Meggie, knows nothing about this ability since her father has always told her that he is not good at/doesn't like reading aloud. One night, Meggie is sitting in her room when she hears a noise outside. She looks out her window to see a man, Dustfinger, in their yard. She informs her father and it becomes obvious to Meggie that her dad knows this man.The 2 men talk privately and soon we learn that a man named Capricorn has been seeking Silvertongue and a book that he is in possession of.
     I don't want to give away too much of this book (even though it's from early 2000s so you may have read it!) so I'm not going to write more about the plot. Here's a few things that I loved:
1) The story in general. It's full of love for books and reading. It captures that books can take you to far away places and fill you with wonder, or scare you while you're reading alone in your room. I just felt that everything was really imaginative.
2) The characters- There is one character, Elinor, who I grew to like more within the story. She is Meggie's great aunt. She seems kind of like a bitter, old woman who is obsessed with books. Her books are kept in pristine condition in her massive house full of bookshelves and a special library. (Kind of like how my books are kept in wonderful condition within my messy Elinor sees her books almost like her friends or her children and they are precious to her. Although I am not a person who is easily attached to material things, I get being attached to books.
3) The beginning of each chapter starts with quotations from other great books. I have always loved that. Is it Dean Koontz that does that in most of his books?

Read this book.