Saturday, June 24, 2017

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Oh, my! I just finished reading Made You Up by Francesca Zappia and I had to rush over here to tell you about it. I heard about this book a while ago and snatched it up when I saw it at the library. Made You Up is about Alex, a teenage paranoid schizophrenic attempting her final year of high school at a new school. Alex doesn't always know what is real, but she does her best. She meets knew people and even makes a few friends (and a few enemies) all while trying to keep her mental illness a secret. When she suspects one of the boys in several of her classes is the same boy she met when she was seven and her symptoms first began, she worries that her condition is worsening.

This was a heck of a book. Alex is the ideal unreliable narrator. The reader knows she is unreliable, Alex freely admits it, but we also know it isn't her fault. If Alex can't be sure what is real, how can the reader hope to do so? The whole way through the book I kept wondering how much was real and how long it would be before I would learn what was delusion and what wasn't. Alex thinks she sees men in black suits and red ties standing guard along the school's rooftop. She also keeps seeing a python poking its head out of the ceiling in the hallways. She knows she can't always tell what is reality and what isn't so she takes pictures to help, but maybe it isn't always working.

There were some things that were never clear to the reader, but I suppose that makes sense coming from a narrator who isn't sure either. The storyline in this book is interesting, but I also appreciated the look into the life of a young woman with a severe mental illness. Until we treat mental illnesses with the same respect and understanding with which we treat physical illnesses, people will continue to be unable to get the help they need. A YA book about mental illness could be such a service to a teenager who needs it.

Both funny and heart-rending, this book is quite a journey. At one point my shirt was soaked with tears. And when Alex utters this line, I felt her hopelessness:

No medicine would ever be strong enough for this.

Monday, June 19, 2017

the perks of being a wallflower bu Stephen Chbosky

A few months ago, I watched the film version of the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, but I hadn't yet read the book. I really didn't know much about the story, but I like Emma Watson so I gave it a try. The movie took turns for which I was not at all prepared and I found myself often confused so I thought it was possible that something was missing from the movie that would have made more sense in the book.

the perks of being a wallflower, the book, was still not quite what I was expecting despite the fact that I had already seen the film. Set during the school year of 1991-1992, Charlie is anonymously writing letters to someone he knows, but not well. He tells this "friend" about all his worries starting high school and then proceeds to tell this "friend" everything that happens in his daily life. Essentially he uses this person as a journal, though he puts it this way:

...better than a diary because there is communion and a diary can be found.

Charlie struggles finding a place to fit in until he meets Patrick and Sam, seniors who take him under their wing. He's different, he isn't like anyone else. Patrick explains that he's a wallflower:

"You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand."

Some really awful things happen to and around Charlie and it is so hard to watch. He tries to do the right thing, he tries to understand, but he is so young and not really ready for it all.

At first this book bothered me and it took me a bit to realize it was the writing style that I didn't like. As the book begins, Charlie's letters are almost elementary. The sentence structure is choppy and it took me a few pages to understand that is the way a fifteen-year-old boy would write. As the story progresses, his writing improves thanks to the help of a very interested English teacher.

There were so many times I wanted to reach out and help Charlie, to stop him or help him make better decisions. As an adult reader, my perspective is so different from that of Charlie or that of the intended YA audience. This book has been included on the American Library Association's "10 Most Frequently Challenged Books" list a number of times and there were times when I certainly understood why. There is drug and alcohol use, smoking, and some sex that I can understand would make adults uncomfortable. I wouldn't want my thirteen-year-old to read it, but I wouldn't object if my sixteen-year-old were to bring it home. Certainly there are discussions that should accompany this book, but I don't think it should be banned. I won't add it to my "Required Reading" list because I'm not sure I feel that strongly about it, but I can see how it could have value.

Just today, as I was nearing the end of the book, a lady at the library saw me reading it and mentioned what a good book it was. She really liked it. I just liked it. Have you read it? Did you love it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star

This month's book club selection is Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star. Ginger, Mimi, and Callie Tangle are growing up in New Jersey with their brother Charlie and their parents Glory and Solly. It isn't the most idyllic childhood; Glory is not the ideal mother. The children are on constant alert for their mother's mood changes, but when real tragedy strikes and Glory declares it all unspeakable, the real scars form. Years later, Ginger is the mother of a seventeen-year-old daughter who leaves home far too early and with far too few plans, breaking her mother's heart.

Told in alternating timelines, the reader is given glimpses of the lives of the Tangle family both before and after the tragedy and then years later as Ginger struggles with her rebellious daughter and  her aging mother. When secrets are revealed, no one is prepared for the paradigm shift left in their wake.

This book was so frustrating to me at times. Some of the characters made me so angry, but I suppose that was exactly what I was meant to feel. I couldn't stop reading because I just had to find out what had really happened. When it was finally all revealed, I was absolutely shocked and heartsick for what this family had suffered. The writing wasn't perfect and there were parts that dragged while the story seemed to wrap up a bit quickly at the end, but I did like this book. If family drama, in books at least, catches your attention, this is the book for you. It is quick and engaging, making for a good summer beach read.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

What I've Heard- The Chemist

A few months ago, I read The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer and I really liked it. I just finished listening to the audio version and it was oh, so good. Just as exciting as the book, perhaps even more so with the intensity of the reading, the audio version had my attention in its grip. I was reluctant when I needed to turn off the audio book because I really wanted to keep listening. There just aren't any good stopping places- the action moves at such a strong, fun pace.

As I mentioned in my book review, don't let the author's name discourage you from reading or listening to this book. I know Stephenie Meyer may have lost some credibility with readers, especially as time has progressed from the frenzy created by the initial love affair many of us had with Twilight. (Don't deny it- she sold over 100 million books from that series and they weren't all bought by teenagers.) This book is good! It is fun and it moves at lightning speed. I really hope that it is made into a film (thought I hope the adaptation is better than what The Host received). This would make the perfect summer read/ road trip listen. I hope you'll give it a try.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg

Set primarily in the early 1970s, All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg centers around Carole, a loving mother of three, a wife helping run her husband's car repair garage and the oldest daughter of a woman who has spent the last three-and-a-half decades locked in a mental institution. When Carole begins hearing voices, the fear that she is following in her mother's footsteps is more than she can stand. Having seen first hand what happens to people who lose their grip on reality, Carole's only option is to pretend it isn't happening to her and to hide it as best she can. Carole's young daughter, Alison, sees that something is wrong with her mother, but she can't understand what is happening. Though she wants to help and tries talking to her father and her aunt about it, Alison feels helpless.

This book is an interesting exploration of family dynamics, the barriers that often exist between rich and poor, especially in the years following the Great Depression, and the realities of mental illness in a time when so little was understood about it. Told in the three perspectives of Carole, her mother Solange, and Alison, we also see three different time periods. We meet Solange when she is young and are allowed to watch as events lead up to her commitment to the nearby mental hospital. We see Carole as a young child forced to deal with the loss of her mother in a situation that she can't understand and of which no one will speak, let alone explain. And we see Alison leaving childhood, becoming a young woman and not having the motherly support she needs. Written in such a beautiful way, I was touched by not just the words Yoerg used, but their rhythm. For instance, this section when Carole is hearing voices:

Voices pursued her. She couldn't make out the words and was almost inside the side that was in not the side that was out inside out like a sock pulled off in a hurry. Keep your insides in. Keep your outsides out. Sounded simple simple Simon Simon says touch your nose touch your head. Touched head. Dead.

The first section I encountered like this briefly confused me, but it took only a moment for me to find the pace and to understand that the author was bringing the reader into Carole's madness, sharing her thoughts with us. That is what I enjoyed about this book. There were a few characters that seemed almost unnecessary to the story, characters that might make sense if they had more development. There were a few tangents I wish she had explored more deeply, but overall I really liked this book. This isn't a light, easy read (it does focus on mental illness, after all), but neither is it too heavy. Interesting and beautifully written, this is a book I think you would enjoy.

Monday, May 29, 2017

What I've Heard- Before I Fall

It was only a few months ago that I read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I still haven't seen the movie version, but I just finished listening to the audiobook and I really liked it. As with the book, I really hated Sam at the beginning and the narration by Sarah Drew really works. Sam sounds exactly like the spoiled, mean, self-centered teenager she is meant to sound like, but as the book progresses and Sam's personality softens, so does her voice.

This book kept me moving during workouts and make it difficult to turn off when I was finished. This was a really good reading and I recommend it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

I really like Julie Murphy. Her first two books, Side Effects May Vary and Dumplin', were fantastic so I was naturally thrilled when I saw that she had a new book coming out. I reserved Ramona Blue from the library before they even had any copies and the second I had it in my hand I started reading. The title character, Ramona (last name not Blue, hair color blue), lives in a small town on the coast of Mississippi. This is a town that has struggled to fight its way back from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that also left quite a mess of Ramona's family. She lives in a worn out trailer with her hardworking, loving father, her newly pregnant sister, and her sister's useless boyfriend. Ramona is 6 feet 3 inches tall and her world, and especially her home, are beginning to feel small to her. Ramona feels like she has herself figured out- she works two part-time jobs to help out her family and she's very comfortable in the knowledge and openness of being a gay girl in a small southern town- but maybe things aren't as clear as she would like. When a childhood friend moves to town and introduces her to competitive swimming, Ramona starts to wonder if there could be more for her than the beach town she's always known as home and if it is even a possibility.

Okay, SmartGirls. You know how I often complain that a lot of YA Fiction feels too shallow to me, that it just doesn't contain enough depth and can leave me feeling dissatisfied with its quality of writing? This has never been an issue with Julie Murphy's books. When Julie Murphy writes a character, the reader knows that character. We get involved and can't help but keep reading. And her writing makes me laugh. Some of the ways she phrases things make me laugh out loud in that crazy people-are-looking-at-me kind of way. For instance, when Ramona explains why she has to wear a two-piece swimsuit to the Y:

A one-piece on a girl as tall as me...well, that kind of camel toe might be a threat to national security.

She also introduces concepts that make me think of things in a way I haven't done before, while somehow also saying the things I've thought, but not known how to communicate:

It seems to me that childhood ends and adult life begins the moment you stop believing your parents can rescue you. As much as I love my dad, I stopped thinking that a long time ago.

Ramona Blue is wonderfully written and leaves me not at all dissatisfied. It is why I love Julie Murphy. Read it, won't you?

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

I have been married for seventeen years and I love my husband, but if we ever met anyone involved in an organization like what is found in The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond, I would run for the hills! In this new thriller, we meet Jake and Alice, newlyweds who have been introduced to a great new way to keep their marriage strong. The Pact is a group of people extra committed to their marriages and to ensuring the survival of marriage as an institution. It is a group that comes with its own rules, all meticulously laid out in The Manual. "Read it. Memorize it." And no, that's not a joke. But what happens if someone decides The Pact isn't for them, or if, heaven forbid, their marriage doesn't work out? Let's just say that isn't an option. At all.

In this creepy book that details what sounds an awful lot like a cult in the beginning and sounds like it can't be anything else by the end, the reader has the opportunity to explore interesting theories of marriage. Not only has Jake joined this group, but in his professional life he is a marriage counselor so we have access to several different perspectives. Jake shares with the reader studies on marriage and relationships that are quite interesting. Among the rules shared in the book are no talking about The Pact; always answer your phone when your spouse calls; each spouse must buy the other a gift every month and the couple must take a trip together every quarter. These all sound pretty good, but it is when the consequences for not meeting these requirements are handed down through a pseudo court that it starts to get sticky. And there is no room for negotiation:

Fidelity to the Spouse, Loyalty to The Pact. Till death do us part.

I thought this was a very intriguing concept, but I was a little disappointed in its execution. I felt the author did not allow the reader enough of a look into the way the group normally works before things start to get crazy. I also felt that some of the writing seemed amateurish, that it could have used a little more polish. That said, there was a lot to like in this book. I loved the insertions of actual scientific studies on marriage into the insanity of The Pact. And I really enjoyed the descriptions of Jake's practice as a marriage and teen counselor. At one point, we read an interesting exchange he has with a group of teenagers he counsels. When he overhears two of them discussing The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Jake has this to say, which I thought was very interesting in the context of this book:

It is scary, but not for the reason you think. The scary part is that you might find yourself agreeing with some of it.

How much does the reader agree with the protocols of The Pact? How much is right and if it is right, are consequences a necessary part of any organization with strict regulations? How much should Jake and Alice "make peace with The Pact" or should they try to fight against it? These are all very compelling questions. I'd love to hear how you would answer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What I've Seen- The Circle

Today I saw, despite its less than stellar reviews, The Circle starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. And...I really liked it! I don't always agree with reviews, but when the critics and viewers say it's no good, I usually stay away, or at least wait for it to come out on DVD. After all, Rotten Tomatoes gives it 16% from critics and only 24% from viewers. That doesn't make it sound great, but having just finished reading the book, I wanted to see it anyway. I'm really glad I did.

I liked the book The Circle, but there were some things I didn't care for, some characters I didn't like, and the ending wasn't what I would have liked to read, but I understand that not every book can go exactly as I would want. The movie The Circle changed some things and normally I would be all up in arms about that, but a lot of what was changed from the book to the movie, I really liked. That's not to say that they didn't chop out parts I thought were important. Of course they did. That is par for the course in adapting a book for the silver screen. They just can't fit everything in to a nearly two hour film. There were a lot of details that the unread viewer will have missed so I absolutely recommend reading the book in conjunction with the film; preferably reading first, watching second.

One of the reasons that I was so willing to take a chance on this film was the cast. I love Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, but that wasn't the end of the star power. Also among the cast were Karen Gillan (who I LOVE!), Bill PaxtonJohn BoyegaPatton OswaltJudy Reyes, and even Beck. That is a pretty compelling group of actors and I thought the were wonderful.

I absolutely see the irony in blogging about this movie, but wanted to be sure to share, after all, "Sharing is Caring!"

If you haven't seen the film yet, here is the trailer to peak your interest. If you have seen it, let me hear what you thought. I'd love to hear it- zing me! 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle by Dave Eggers has been on my radar for a while, but after reading some mixed reviews I was less interested. A couple of weeks ago, with the movie version being released, my new book club chose it for the May book. I was interested, but cautious.

The Circle features Mae, a new employee at the largest tech company in the world. She is so excited to work in such a supportive, accommodating atmosphere- free gourmet food, fancy offices, a gym onsite, as well as parties and activities every night of the week and plenty of activities all weekend long. It seems like the perfect job and she loves it. As she becomes more deeply entrenched and more visible at the company, some questions are raised for the reader. What Mae thinks of as the perfectly normal progression of social media, what will surely turn the world into an absolute utopia, is quite frightening for the reader. Privacy becomes a thing of the past. "Secrets are lies" is an actual motto for this company and watching it unfold is fascinating and alarming.

Cameras are every where. EVERY WHERE. One of the leaders of the company puts it this way:

"And no matter how many times they try to eliminate the cameras, because they're so small, they'll never know for sure where they are, who's placed them where and when. And the not-knowing will prevent abuses of power."

The company promotes these cameras as a way to end all government corruption around the world. That sounds lovely, but what about the private citizens? Do we really want everything we do recorded?

Also concerning is the dependence on social media. Sure, we all know people who can't seem to step away from Facebook or Instagram, but in The Circle, it becomes all consuming. Mae is required to use her social media as a way to bolster the feelings of everyone who contacts her. A missed party invitation leads to a meeting with her boss where she is reprimanded for not considering the feelings of the party host. Suddenly Mae is spending hours every night going through the thousands of messages in her feeds as though it were her moral responsibility. And then she starts to live for the number of people who follow her, she strives to raise herself in the ranks of social media. It doesn't take much imagination to foresee something very similar in our future.

Most of this book was thrilling and an interesting thought experiment. What would it really be like? Sadly, the last bit of the book seemed to lose steam. It didn't go the way I might have liked, but I don't mind that as much as the way the writing lost energy and then kind of just ended. I would still recommend this book, but I wish it had a little more.

What I've Heard- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

I loved reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and listening to it made me love it even more. It is beautifully written and the audio version is very well read. I cried at the sad parts, even weeping at one point. It hasn't been all that long since I read this book, but listening to it reminded me just how wonderful it is. Listen to it. Read it. Whatever works for you, but don't miss out on this wonderful book.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What I've Heard- The Daily Show (The Book)

I am a huge Jon Stewart fan and I was thrilled when I learned that a book describing the construction of The Daily Show would be published. I quickly put my name on the library reserve list, but when it was my turn to read The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History by Chris Smith, I wasn't thrilled. The book is written as an oral history with each speaker's words preceded by his or her name. This made for a very choppy reading experience. In addition, the book was very large and this choppiness make for slow progress. Normally, I don't listen to audio versions of books I haven't read, but in this case I thought it might be better.

It was better, though not as much as I had hoped it would be. There are transcripts of episodes included within the text that I had hoped would be the actual audio from the show. I'm sure there were all sorts of legal reasons the show clips could not be included, but it would have been so nice to have it.

On the other hand, I learned so much about The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, and about how a show like TDS makes its way through production. The show did not always run smoothly, there were upsets and there were controversies, and the book gives a good sense of the people involved in the creation and running of the show.

I still watch The Daily Show, and I still like it, but I do still always hear the announcer say ..."with Jon Stewart" in the introduction. This is a show that has had a profound effect on the political involvement of so many people. It activated young people in system in which they previously felt unheard. It also changed the way the media approaches politicians and brought so many new voices to the conversation: most visibly Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee, but also writers and producers that are influential outside of the spotlight.

If you're a fan of Jon Stewart, I highly recommend this book. Read it or listen to it, either way I think you'll learn a lot.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

I'm a book nerd and, like all book nerds, I love a leisurely walk through a bookstore. I stumble across so many books I want to read someday. Recently on one such wandering, I stumbled across Tommy Wallach's We All Looked Up. There was something appealing about the cover and it was on a table with other books I had enjoyed, so I picked it up, liked what I saw in the description and added it to my TBR list. I didn't feel the need to purchase it right away, but thought I'd see if the library had it. Just a few weeks later I did find it at the library, at the book sale- my favorite sale in the whole world. I was able to purchase the hard cover edition for only $3! Sure, borrowing it from the library would have been free, but this way I'm donating to the library (I love the library!) and I get a physical book I can share with someone else!

Okay, enough about my library love affair- what's this book about anyway? Well, basically, the apocalypse. Told in the alternating points of view of Seattle teenagers Peter, Eliza, Andy, and Anita, the Earth is staring down the barrel of an enormous meteor that has a 66% chance of wiping out all life on the planet. With only eight weeks to impact, each of these main characters wonders how they should spend their last days. Peter, the All-American jock who had been headed for Stanford, may not want his last moments to be spent with the vapid girl he's been dating for too long. Eliza, the girl with the reputation, intends to document how the world is changing, even if no one will ever really see it. Andy, the slacker with zero plans, is pulled between power and his dreams. Anita, the buttoned-up straight A student aiming at Princeton, is certain she has to live her last bit of life the way she wants and not according to the plans of her ambitious father. Of course, with so little time left, the world goes predictably crazy, but these are teenagers so there is still plenty of social drama.

So did I enjoy reading this book? Sadly, not really. I had an inkling from the start that the writing in this book was going to annoy me and it did. There was some aura, some odor of pretension in the author's voice that I suspected would not appeal to me. I've talked in this blog before about how some YA just aggravates me without my being able to pin down the exact quality it either has or is lacking, but whatever it is, this book had (or didn't have) it. Many of the characters' actions seemed unlikely to me; the mistakes they made just frustrated me. Yet, I finished the book because I wanted to know what would happen. And it ended exactly the way I expected it to do. And I suppose that's fine.

Were there any good bits? Well, there were a couple of quotes that I enjoyed. At the very beginning, Peter is having a discussion with a teacher who asks him if he knows what it is that makes a book really good. Peter doesn't know, but here is the answer the teacher gives:

"The best books, they don't talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you'd always thought about, but that you didn't think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you're a little bit less alone in the world."

And in a conversation Andy, the slacker, has with the school counselor, Suzie, (a great character that needs her own book, actually) about his future, he claims he doesn't need to go to college because he doesn't care about money. She responds this way:

"It's not about the money. I'm glad you don't care about money. I'm talking about boredom. You think school is bad? A minimum-wage job makes school look like freaking Burning Man. Unless you have some kind of fetish for doing the same rote physical task eight million times a day."

When he claims that she is coming down on him too hard and that her job was to help people with the stress they have, not hand them more, she says:

"Strung-out people need to be chilled out. But chilled-out people maybe could use a good kick in the ass."

Much later in the book, in a conversation with Anita, Suzie tries to tell her there are still things she can be doing, that life still has purpose:

"There's still time for you to do things that matter. Even if it's just being there for someone who's freaking out."

Does it say something about me or about the book that the only parts I really liked were the ones that involved two adults at the high school? If YA is your thing, you may really like this one, but it just didn't have that something that I need in a book.

I think the word I'm looking for is depth. Or maybe not. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

From almost the time he could talk, Janie's son Noah has cried for his Mama- his Mama from before. He's violently afraid of baths and won't even wash his hands. And he knows things a four-year-old shouldn't be able to know: the plot of the Harry Potter books his mother has never read him; the names of dozens of different kinds of lizards that he's never seen. In Sharon Guskin's The Forgetting Time, we wonder, is Noah a savant or does he have memories from a previous life?

Janie struggles as a single mother with a child she loves but doesn't always understand. Any mother can tell you how frustrating a determined pre-schooler can be, but perhaps Noah is more than that. As Noah becomes increasingly inconsolable, Janie will try anything, see any doctor, to help her son. When her search leads her to one psychologist researching past lives and the possibility that some children can remember, she is skeptical, but out of other options.

This was a beautiful, and beautifully written, book. Noah's sweet little personality makes the reader hunger for a way to help him and Janie is every mother who has ever wanted to help her struggling child. This book is an interesting exploration of the idea that maybe this life isn't everything. Maybe there is more than we can possibly understand. Without getting into religion at all, this book poses the questions that have been asked since the beginning of time: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where will I go next?

I adored this quote following Janie's observation of a waitress with a YOLO tattoo on her shoulder:

You Only Live Once. That's what people said, as if life really only mattered because it happened only one time. But what if it was the other way around? What if what you did mattered more because life happened again and again, consequences unfolding across centuries and continents? What if you had chances upon chances to love the people you loved, to fix what you screwed up, to get it right?

To me, that is such an interesting concept. We often think that life is more precious because we only get one shot at it, but what if we should be more careful with our actions because those consequences may reverberate through several reincarnations? At one point near the end of the book, Janie looks around at a group of strangers on the subway and wonders if maybe she was related to some of them in a previous life:

Perhaps one of them had been her mother. Or her lover. Or her son, the dearest of the dear. Or would be, next time around. So many lifetimes, it stands to reason that they were all related. They'd forgotten, that's all.

Now doesn't that make you think differently about the people around you? Maybe it will motivate you to treat others a little more kindly and with a little more compassion.

Really, what a beautiful concept.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What I've Heard- The Peach Keeper

I read The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen several years ago because I have always enjoyed her books. In my review then I expressed disappointment that there wasn't more meat to the peach in this story and I'm afraid I still feel the same. I like this book, but I don't love it. The audio version was lovely to hear, the narrator's voice was soothing, but I was still left wanting more.

If you also enjoy Ms. Allen's books, I would never tell you to skip this one. It makes a sweet addition to her work and it would make a nice vacation listen. It just isn't her best, in my opinion.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I love Liane Moriarty's books. They always grab hold of me and I'm always left stunned when I finish them. Okay, I've only read three, but they've all been good. The latest for me is Big Little Lies which centers around Madeline, Celeste, and Jane, three mothers with children in the local primary school. Madeline has been at the school for years with her older children and she knows everyone as well as the ins and outs of all the school politics. Celeste is the shockingly beautiful mother of kinder twins and there may be something she is hiding. Jane is the much younger single mother who is still trying to find her place in the world and in motherhood. When one child becomes the focus of another child's bullying it leads to crisis and scandal in the school and the book begins with the announcement that someone has been murdered. Told in flashbacks, the reader is shown all the little things leading up to the mysterious murder. Every few chapters are a countdown to the night we know someone is going to die which lends a delicious tension and excitement to the book.

Stephen King is quoted on the cover of this book, calling it, "A hell of a good book. Funny and scary." Is the murder part of the book scary? No, but the school politics sure are. I am pretty involved in my children's school and, while I've never seen things get as bad as this, sometimes the parental interactions can get a little sticky. I was amused with the descriptions of some of the mothers at the school.

In addition, this is the first book for my brand new book club. I have such high hopes. There are some interesting topics for discussion such as domestic violence, the roles of women and how we interact with (and sometimes judge) one another, and the carryover of some of those things we thought we may have left behind in middle or high school. I've heard great things about the HBO mini-series, but I haven't seen it yet myself. I liked this book and if you're putting together a stack of vacation reads for summer, I think you should definitely add this one.

What I've Seen- Thirteen Reasons Why

Oh my goodness. I was so excited when I saw that Netflix was producing a mini-series based on the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I read this book nearly six years ago and the impact it had on me was substantial. This was one of the earliest of my Required Reading books and not because I thought my readers would really enjoy it. I think this book should be teen, pre-teen, and parental required reading. I really liked this book so I had high hopes for the series, but I was keeping my expectations low.

Those low expectations were absolutely unnecessary.

It is extremely rare that I feel like the film adaptation of a book is better than the book.

THIS is the BEST book-to-film adaptation that I have EVER SEEN. I know, that's a lot of bold, all-caps, but it is absolutely justified. The timeline of this book takes place over one long night. It is compressed to show the urgency the main character feels listening to the tapes of his friend who has recently committed suicide. The mini-series allows the timeline to expand to a number of days, perhaps even a couple of weeks, though it isn't exactly clear. This expanded timeline allows for so much more character and story development. So many things that were left unexplained and unexplored in the book are shown through the thirteen episodes of the mini-series. The book makes it seem as if the only people in the story are the main characters and only what Hannah says about them. The mini-series allows the viewer to see much more, including the effects of Hannah's suicide on all the people she has left behind. It is this that makes the mini-series so much better than the book; not just because we get more viewing minutes, but because the viewer is allowed to understand so much more.

We can never know what is going on in someone else's life. We can never fully understand how our words and our actions affect the people around us. Be kind. Be kinder than is necessary. Tell the people that you love what they mean to you.

And please, PLEASE, if you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm, please ask for help. If there is no one in your life to whom you can talk, please call for help.


As of now, the only viewing platform for this mini-series is Netflix, though I have high hopes that it will be available on DVD because I would like to own it. If you don't have a Netflix subscription, this mini-series alone is worth it. Subscribe, watch it, then cancel if you want, but you really need to see this. This is required watching.

What I've Seen- An Introduction

"Oh, but the book was so much better!"

How many times have we seen the film adaptation of a beloved book and uttered those exact words? Far too many to count, right? But time after time, we get excited when we see that "they" are making a movie or a mini-series based on our favorite books. We fantasize about which actors will play which characters. We wonder how they will fit in the whole story or what they'll have to cut. Sometimes they do a really good job and sometimes we are  heartbroken with disappointment. For the most part, I try to keep my expectations low and then I'm usually pleasantly surprised, or at least not as dissatisfied.

With this new addition to SmartGirlsRead, I hope to discuss what it is that we like and really don't like about film adaptations. Join me! A dialogue is always much more fun than a monologue.

Monday, April 3, 2017

What I've Heard- My Name is Memory

Three years ago I read My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares and I really loved it. I gushed about it in my previous review and I'm so happy to see that I still love this story. What other strong emotion do I also still feel regarding this book? Impatience! I've seen this book described as the first in a trilogy, but still, seven years after publication- NADA! That might not be such a problem, but this book ends on a cliffhanger! With no resolution!

Ms. Brashares, I'm sure you are very busy and that you likely have your reasons, but you are killing us!

I found lots of comments on Goodreads about how desperate her readers are for a sequel, but we are left waiting. Is it annoying to not know what happens to these fictional characters next? Sure, but this book is still worth it. Read it, listen to it, whatever works for you, but don't skip it.

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

You've finally found the perfect rental. It's a beautiful home in a lovely area and, best of all, the fees are far below what you would expect for a home like this. The catch is that the architect is unbelievably picky about who is allowed to live there. The application consists of pages and pages of questions that seem to have nothing to do with renting a property; questions like these:

You are involved in a traffic accident that you know is your fault. The other driver is confused and seems to think she caused the crash. Do you tell the police it was her fault or yours?

You have a choice between saving Michelangelo's statue of David or a starving street child. Which do you choose?

I have no time for people who don't strive to better themselves. Agree or disagree?

In addition to all the strange questions, all applicants are required to attend an interview and to agree to an extensive list of very strict rules, any of which if broken constitute immediate eviction. Would it be worth it? The Girl Before by JP Delaney follows two women, Emma in the past and Jane in the present, who have decided that it is worth it and even look forward to how living in this strange home may change, and hopefully improve, their lives. It all seems wonderful until each of the women discovers a mystery related to the house. The architect is his own mystery and neither of the women has any reluctance discovering his strange secrets. 

I felt like this book was very well done. While written in alternating chapters, one from Emma in the past, one from Jane in the present, never does the author repeat herself. Separate bits of information are shared through each of the women, but the reader is aware that both characters have uncovered the same information. The author also inserts just enough strange information that the reader knows it must be a clue, increasing the suspense.

There have been plenty of comparisons to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. Sure it has the word "Girl" in the title and it is a mystery featuring women, but you can read my previous rant about calling every new book "the next whatever" in my review of The Girl on the Train. No need to repeat it here. The point I'm making is that if you liked those books, sure, you'll probably like this one, too, but can't we just let books stand on their own?

This book really had me going; I was talking out loud to my Kindle and even had trouble sitting still reading it a few times. The characters are all flawed in some way, and some much more than others. I could occasionally be heard shouting, "Why?! Why would you do that?!", perhaps even by the neighbors. This book was exciting and gripping and a lot of fun to read. One caution that I will offer: there are some scenes that are a bit graphic, not unlike Gone Girl, so take that into consideration if that's something that bothers you. I always hate to recommend a book without mentioning that when it applies.

I think this would make a fantastic book club pick. Plenty of conversation starters and then you and your friends can all freak out together.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

It's not real. That is what the protagonist in Alexandra Oliva's The Last One keeps telling herself. She's only been participating in this extreme Survivor-style reality show for a few days (weeks?) and every obstacle she faces, she tells herself it isn't real. What she doesn't understand is that a few days into the competition, a pandemic has swept the nation. The producers told her that part of the challenge will be spending extended periods of time all alone. She is sure that hidden cameras are following her every move. She's sure that the desolate towns she finds have been meticulously set up by tireless production assistants. She doesn't know that most of them are dead.

Told in alternating chapters and points of view, we see the beginning of the reality show production, told in third-person omniscient so that the reader has a clear view of how it all began. These chapters then trade off with first-person narrative chapters of our main character, of whose name we're never really sure, struggling through what she thinks is still part of a great big game. Part of the fun is in knowing what our heroine does not. In the third-person chapters, the reader gets a "grown-up Hunger Games" feel for the story. This is especially strong when we read about the editors "creating" characters and removing any shots that may disrupt the story about each contestant that they are trying to tell.

This book was intense and so much fun to read! I got a little frustrated wondering how long it would take her to figure out what was happening, but that was part of the suspense. The only thing that I really found irritating was that there were two sets of names- one set that the producers used to refer to the competitors (Zoo, Tracker, Waitress, etc.) and another that our main character uses when she thinks of the people she met on the show. With the alternating chapters, it made things even more confusing, though that could have been the intent as well. This book was hard to put down and I really liked it. This would make a great summer vacation read- be sure to add it to your list!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

My Name's Lyman by Lily-Marie Taylor

Have you ever wondered how your life might have turned out differently? In My Name's Lyman by Lily-Marie Taylor we get to see all the different paths one man's life could have taken. Was he a war hero or a casualty of war? Is he homeless or famous? Each chapter is a different version of Lyman's life and we get to see how one decision can make all the difference in one's fate.

For most of this book, I was intrigued. I was so curious to see what would cause the next twist in his life line. None of his lives were perfect, which I thought made for good writing. No matter the different directions his life takes, he is still subject to the decisions of the people around him. Then, the last two chapters were just too sad, too disappointing. I have said before that I don't need "happily ever after", but to end on such sour notes just about ruined the book for me. It was interesting. You may like it, or even love it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

The woman that we meet at the beginning of The Passenger by Lisa Lutz is not Tanya. Nor is she Amelia or Debra or Emma or an of the other people she tells us she is. But she is interesting. She greets us with this introduction:

In case you were wondering, I didn't do it. I didn't have anything to do with Frank's death. I don't have an alibi, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Our protagonist is on the run, but unfortunately for her, she's not very good at it. She picks up names, identities, in a haphazard, desperate manner that often leaves her holding an empty bag. Along the way, she meets some curious characters, including Blue, another woman on the run that the reader isn't sure she, or our protagonist, should trust. It isn't until the very end that we learn why she's really been running for the last ten years, though it's referenced many times.

Lutz does an excellent job of hiding the twists and turns in this story and keeping it very exciting. Disappointingly, I think the biggest twist that Lutz intended was visible from miles away. Still, it was a fast, fun ride through a mystery that is exciting and well told. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

I know! Never judge a book by its cover, but would you look at that cover?! It's beautiful and I love it. And do you want to know what else I love? The book this cover covers. The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman is the story of Lili, a mother of two adorable little girls; a sister; a textbook illustrator; and a woman nearly four years into widowhood. It's been a very difficult few years for Lili and while her sister and even her in-laws have encouraged her to move on, she just doesn't feel ready.

When he died in a car accident, fifty feet from our front door, I seriously considered dying, too. Not because my heart was broken, though that was true, but because my mind was completely boggled by the logistical challenges of living without him.

When Lili's boss requires her to take a gardening class to prepare her for her new illustrating assignment, Lili takes along her sister Rachel, as well as her two daughters. The eclectic group they meet in class quickly becomes a tight-knit bunch of friends. One of my favorite things about this book is that Lili's sister Rachel, while divorced and somewhat carefree, doesn't conform to the typical crazy- unreliable-sister-of-the-stable-main-character pigeon hole. Rachel is extremely supportive and helpful, proving it is possible for a character to be single and also an asset to a family unit. I also really liked the development of each of the members of the gardening class. Waxman seems to enjoy throwing off stereotypes and I loved that about this book.

This was a book about learning to grow vegetables, but also about learning to grow. It was so sad in some parts:

...every morning I woke up alone was a vicious punch in the throat.

It was also funny and touching. Sure, this book likely would qualify as chick-lit, but it is on the better end of that genre. If you're looking for a fun spring or summer read, this would fit that bill. 

P.S.: I knew I was going to like Abbi Waxman as soon as I read this in her acknowledgements section:

If there's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women, then I hope there's a corollary spot in heaven for women who do. Or free parking. Something.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

I love Jenny Lawson. Her first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, made me laugh so hard I was sore. Her second book, Furiously Happy, did not have any trouble living up to its predecessor. Jenny makes no secret of the fact that she struggles with mental illness.

I am a high-functioning depressive with severe anxiety disorder, moderate clinical depression, and mild self-harm issues that stem from an impulse-control disorder.

Jenny is far from normal, by her own admission. She is also far from boring. She is hilarious and smart and not afraid to be who she is.

If you don't like the book then maybe you're just not crazy enough to enjoy it. Either way, you win.

In her first book, Jenny mostly tells funny stories. In her second book, she still shares plenty of funny anecdotes, but she also shares a lot more of her experience with mental illness. Is some of that bit still funny? Of course it is, because Jenny intends to see the humor in it as much as she can. She also takes it very seriously in an effort to hopefully help her readers understand their own struggles. 

The title of the book comes from Jenny's decision to fight her mental illness as best she can, to be furiously happy as much as she can be.

I am furiously happy. It is not a cure for mental's a weapon, designed to counter it. It's a way to take back some of the joy that's robbed from you when you're happy.

Jenny explains her struggles with mental illness in a what that I've never heard before and that really help the reader understand her. I think a lot of what she says can be helpful to many of her readers that see themselves in her. 

Imagine having a disease so overwhelming that your mind causes you to want to murder yourself.

I remind myself that depression lies and that I can't trust my own critical judgement when I'm sick.

Sure, there were bits that I wish had been edited more. Sometimes it seems like Jenny goes a little overboard trying to be funny and it doesn't always work, but overall, I really love her. I highly recommend her books and also the audio versions of her books. She reads them herself and I think that really enhances the experience. Be aware that Jenny does not hold back on foul language. She's rather generous with it. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

You know those books that you pick up and immediately fall in love with the characters? They're funny and wonderful and sometimes a little crazy and you just want to move to their lovely little town and become best friends with all of them. I love books like that. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson IS NOT THAT BOOK! (Whoa! All caps and bold- can you tell I feel strongly?) I am sure that Johnson will not disagree with me that the characters in her book are flawed, except for me, they are just too flawed- they're awful.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth refers to high school. If you survived high school, you know that it can be difficult with the social expectations and the labels that can follow students for years. Teenagers can be terrible to one another and trying to remember that high school isn't the whole world can feel impossible. Sure high school can be hard, but in Johnson's book it really is dangerous. One student is bullied, literally, to death. Another steals in order to cheat on the SAT. One student is so afraid of what people think of her that she allows a party to destroy her house. Another student is sleeping with a teacher. The reader is given brief glances into the  minds of each student where we are allowed to see what motivates them. Sure, they aren't purely evil, but it isn't enough to make me sympathize with them.

My sister says that my problem is that I don't like dark books or anything that doesn't end, "...and they all lived happily ever after." I do like happy books, but I don't have to have the fairy tale ending, I just don't care for books that make me lose all hope in humanity. Seriously, if these kids are any indication of reality we truly are doomed. I have listed this as YA Fiction, but be warned that there are copious amounts of swearing, drug and alcohol use, and sexual references.
Maybe this book is for you, but is certainly was not for me.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Several years ago, I received The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin as an e-galley, but I couldn't get it to download to my Kindle. I knew that I was missing something really good, but I figured I would just wait until it was published and read it then. And then, as it tends to do, time passed. Finally, after hearing friend after friend, not to mention lots of reviewers, talk about the beauty of this book, I was able to get my hands on it. And I was not disappointed.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is about a recently widowed bookseller in his late thirties. A.J. Fikry owns the only bookstore on Alice Island, a fictional island in the area of Nantucket. He isn't a particularly lovable character, he's rather prickly in the beginning, but that is a bit understandable. His wife, whom he adored, died very unexpectedly nearly two years before we meet him. Then his prized possession, and future retirement, a rare, early edition of a book by Edgar Allen Poe, is stolen. Life does not seem to be going the way A.J. had hoped it would. Then everything changes when someone leaves something very unexpected in his bookstore for him. The isolation that A.J. has spent so much time crafting for himself suddenly evaporates as he becomes more and more connected to the people of Alice Island.

This book is really just lovely. I adored this book and my only regret is that I waited so long to read it. This would make a wonderful selection for any book club as there is so much to discuss. This is the kind of book you will want to hug, to curl up and hold these characters and their words. I am disappointed that I cannot tell you more without telling too much, so I will just reiterate that you really must read this book. I will leave you with a quote from A.J. Fikry, taken from when he describes a book he has recently discovered and loved:

"Every word the right one and exactly where it should be. That's basically the highest compliment I can give. I'm only sorry it took me so long to read it."

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

I love hearing about a book through the grapevine. I love when lots of people that I know from lots of different places like a book that isn't yet mainstream. That is how I found The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. So what were people saying about it that peaked my interest? Not much, actually. I read several things that basically said, "I can't tell you what this book is about, but it is so good." Oh, the intrigue! I don't usually share 'back of the book' summaries, but this time I'll make an exception:

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her "our little genius."

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

I was pretty sure I knew where this was going, but I wasn't positive and sometimes I really like that. And I wouldn't tell you, either, except that a movie version is being released and you're sure to see the trailer (oh, heck, here you go...) and figure it out anyway, I'll just go ahead and let the cat out of the bag. Melanie is a ten-year-old zombie. And do you want to know the other trick of it? She doesn't know it yet. Melanie lives on a military base approximately twenty years after the Breakdown. She is being taught, but she is also being studied. She loves school, but she especially loves her teacher, Miss Justineau. It is a strange world, but Melanie works hard to understand it.

This book was captivating and thrilling. Last night, I stayed up far too late just to finish it. It is a bit frightening (it's the end of the world as we know it), but also very sad. Melanie and others like her are just children and the way they are treated is heartbreaking. This book explores the idea of a greater good. Is evil okay if it will help everyone else? Does that even qualify as evil?

I loved how this book was written. At one point, the words "tropical brainforest" were used and the literary nerd in me couldn't move on until I had said it aloud several times. I also love how emotional this book is. Nothing is purely evil. Nothing is purely good.

Read this one. I think you'll really like it.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson

We love our library. I may have mentioned that before, but it is a truth that bears repeating. We have a wonderful library and the kids and I love to just browse its shelves. During a recent day off school, we made just such a trip to our library and I saw this one, My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson, sitting on the shelf just calling out to me. The cover art is beautiful and no matter how much someone tells me not to judge a book by its cover, sometimes I can't help it. This book features Gracie Lockwood, young girl living in plain, old Cliffden, Maine. You know, just the regular world with school and homework, Dairy Queen and Circle K, dragons and sasquatches. Oh, wait. That last part didn't sound right to you? Well, that is what caught my attention, too.

Gracie lives in a world that sounds exactly like us, shocking in its unremarkableness, except for the supernatural creatures that are viewed the same way we view squirrels and butterflies. Included in this strange world are dark clouds that arrive to take someone away when it is their time to die. Gracie has noticed a cloud making its way down their street and it has her concerned. Her family is sure that the cloud is coming for Gracie's sickly younger brother Sam, so in an attempt to protect him, the Lockwoods leave town. They know the cloud can follow them, but they have a plan for that. They are determined to go all the way to the edge of the world so that they can cross over into The Extraordinary World. Though most people have never heard of it, and those who have believe it is a myth, Gracie's father believes it is another dimension which they can reach after a very perilous journey across their own world. They will risk sasquatches, yetis (larger versions of sasquatches), and abominable snomen (larger versions of yetis); witches, ghosts and ghost ships, and giants. It's not your average family road trip novel, but it sure does have imagination.

I loved this book when it began. There was just something so funny about the way the ordinary was mentioned right along with the extraordinary, like when Gracie casually recalls a dragon burning down a TJ Maxx recently. No big deal. Happens all the time. As the story progressed, I did begin to get impatient and lose interest a bit and there were even times I wasn't sure I wanted to finish it, but I pressed on and by the time I reached the last few chapters, I was glad I had kept at it. Your middle grade reader would love it.

 My favorite quote comes from Gracie's mother:

"Books are the way to stretch out people's souls, and I won't have children with small souls."

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What I've Heard- Talking As Fast As I Can

I loved Gilmore Girls. I have fond memories of watching it while I nursed my first child and I remember how sad I was when it ended. When the new episodes aired on Netflix this past fall, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. Perhaps my expectations and hopes were too high, or perhaps I've grown and changed. Either way, I liked it well enough, but not like I used to.

That all said, when I read that Lauren Graham was writing a book about her Gilmore Girls years, Talking As Fast As I Can, I knew I would have to read it. Right away, I put my name on the library reserve list, but the audiobook actually came in first, so I thought, "Hey, why not listen to Lauren talking as fast as she can?" It was a good choice. You know that I usually don't listen to books I haven't read yet, and this is a prime example of why I have that rule. Wait! Don't get me wrong- it was a wonderful book and a very fun experience. The only problem I have is that I wasn't able to mark the passages that I would like to share with you here. It's a lot harder to put sticky notes on my favorite parts of an audio book.

This book was fun and funny. I loved all the background information about how Lauren got into acting and all the hard work that led up to her success. She makes it very clear that she WORKED her way to stardom; there was no easy path for her and she is very encouraging of anyone working their way toward any kind of dream. I also really loved her writing advice. This is Lauren's second book, her first being a work of fiction, Someday, Someday Maybe. The main takeaway for me was to just keep going. Just keep writing. Set a kitchen timer and block out any distractions and WRITE.

This book also had lots of behind the scenes information about both the original Gilmore Girls and the new episodes. Lauren kept a diary during the filming of the new episodes and has lots of detailed info. The only complaint I had about listening to this as an audiobook is that I missed out on what sounded like some great photos. I believe there was a PDF file on the CDs I borrowed from the library, but I've returned it already and can't check. I liked listening to this and I think you will, too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

I have had Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver on my To-Read list for years. When I saw that the movie version was being released March 3rd, I knew it was finally time to get to it. Before I Fall is about Samantha Kingston, a senior in high school and one of the four most popular girls in school, along with her friends Lindsay, Ally, and Elody. Samantha is having a pretty good day, but it turns out to be her last day. Strangely enough, she then proceeds to repeat this last day over and over again.

Like the after-death equivalent of  Groundhog Day.

As Sam progresses through these days, she begins to wonder if there is a reason for it and if there is anything she can do to change her situation. At the beginning of this book, Sam is just awful. Mean Girl through and through. When her first thought as she is dying is of a girl she and her friends teased for being "fat", this is how she felt about it:

That's just the kind of thing that kids do to each other. It's no big deal. There's always going to be a person laughing and somebody getting laughed at.

Sam's friends are just as bad, or in the case of Lindsay, their ring leader, worse. It is Lindsay who decides who the group hates and, sadly, they unquestioningly follow her. These are the kind of sharks I am afraid my children will encounter when they enter high school. Or worse, that they will be. Sam and her friends know they have power over their peers and they love it. Fortunately, as the story progresses, Sam begins to change. She begins to see other people with a different perspective. She learns more about their individual experiences and understands them more. She is also less likely to blindly follow the group.

I really liked this book and I really enjoyed that it was the kind of book I couldn't wait to read. When it first began, it had a very sour flavor- so mean!- but as I read on, I was relieved by the improvements in Sam. It has been a few years since I was in high school, but much to my surprise, it continues to prove a microcosm of the world. Some people don't really change as they grow up and so it was much more relatable than I expected.

I have marked this as "Required Reading" because I think it could really help bring some perspective to teens who read it. High school feels like the only thing that matters while you are in it. Once you have moved on, it is so much less important. And yet, it is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and hopefully to be kind. This book did contain lots of references to sex (though no actual scenes), alcohol, smoking and drugs so be aware of that if you are sharing it with your teen, but I still think it is a valuable perspective of those formative years.

The only complaint I have is that it didn't end like I would have liked, but the beauty of an imagination is that I can rewrite it any way I would like.

I'll leave you with the movie trailer and this final quote:

Maybe for you there's one thousand tomorrows. or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around in it, let it slide like coins through your fingers. so much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there's only today. And the truth is, you never really know.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

What I Heard- First Frost

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favorite authors for books that are just fun and sweet. I have just finished listening to the audio version of First Frost and I loved it. The narration is well done and the writing lends itself beautifully to being read aloud. Add this one to your audio files. You'll be glad you did. 

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

In Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Ally Nickerson is having quite a difficult time at school. She always has, but with moving every year or so as a military family, she's been able to hide it from her teachers and her family. Ally can't read and by 6th grade it is getting harder to get by without that particular skill. Things just seem to get worse for her until one day she suddenly has a new teacher, Mr. Daniel. Mr. Daniel is exactly the kind of teacher we would all like to have. He is kind, he is understanding and he sees each of his students as they are and individualizes their learning. Ally does what she can to keep her problem from him, but eventually she can keep it a secret no longer.

This was such a sweet, wonderful book. The title, Fish in a Tree, refers to this quote by Albert Einstein:

Ally, like a lot of young people, learns differently. She is certainly not stupid, but it takes one teacher paying the right amount of attention to see that and then to convince her of it. Ally is smart, but not in the ways that are measured at school. She is funny and kind and just the type of character that makes for a good role model in books for children. This book provides plenty of examples of students that don't have an easy road, but the concept of "grit" is well explained and demonstrated.

This book is also excellent for teaching a little compassion. Not everyone has the same experiences and my favorite thing about reading is exploring the life of someone else. Maybe the reader is the "weird kid" at school and is able to see that weird kids turn out to be pretty interesting. Or maybe the reader is the "cool kid" who isn't always very nice and can see the consequences of bullying or exclusion. Or maybe the reader is just a regular kid- is there really such a thing?- who learns that everyone around them has something special, themselves included.

I highly recommend this book, especially for teachers, but I think anyone can enjoy it. My 9-year-old has been impatiently waiting for me to finish so she can have her turn.