Saturday, July 27, 2013

Book Review: Navigating Early

Clare Vanderpool's first novel, Moon Over Manifest, was awarded the Newbery Medal.  I will have to check that book out soon.  This novel, Navigating Early, is her second novel and an assurance that we will see more of this fine author.  She has a great power for weaving emotion into an absorbing story.

Early Auden is an interesting character.  Nowadays, he would be called an autistic savant.  But the story is set at the end of World War II, so instead he is labeled "the strangest of boys."  The narrator, Jack Baker, has just lost his mother and been placed in a boarding school in Maine.  He feels so displaced that the very sight of the ocean turns his stomach and causes him to throw up.  But he quickly encounters Early Auden and embarks on a friendship fraught with excitement and adventure.  One day, when they find themselves alone at the school, the two set off on a quest as Early searches for Pi, a character he claims has sprung in story form from the number.  Early sees numbers with colors and textures and brings forth a whole story to accompany the concept of pi.  The boys' adventure leads them on the Appalachian Trail, where they discover pirates, a great black bear, rattlesnakes, and an assortment of odd individuals.

As I read, I felt compelled to suggest this story to a close friend of mine.  She is a math teacher who lost her own mother at an early age.  Plus, she has two boys who would clearly enjoy the adventures within this tale.  I believe she will come to love Early Auden, with all his eccentricities, and will be moved by his story.

Personally, I did struggle with the adventure waxing out of proportion.  It seemed the trials loomed over-the-top.  But, I did still really enjoy the book and will happily recommend it to other readers, especially those with young boys.  It has a quest, a strange boy, constellations, dealings with death and displacement, pirates, a gigantic black bear, an ancient woman pining her missing son, and a missing war hero.  It stirs emotions and draws the reader into the story.  Plus, I thoroughly enjoyed the section at the end of the book, where the author comments on the story idea and the research behind it.  This section also contains a fact or fiction quiz concerning the number pi.  This was a highly enjoyable read.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

CBLI Bound

Ahh - that wonderful feeling of excitement and preparatory exhaustion that comes as we get ready to embark on our trip to CBLI, our annual 10 day Bible camp!  Actually, this year they've shortened it to 9 days (running from Saturday to Sunday), but we plan to spend one night at Grandma's and one night at our friend's house in DeKalb to break up the trip a bit.  I spent a good part of yesterday packing, but am still not ready to go.  My brain keeps thinking I will forget something important.  Last year, I forgot to bring a check to pay the fee.  John had to mail the payment, but they were gracious and understanding.

Trevor and Sean are quite excited.  They will probably be on my last nerve for the next two days because of their enthusiasm - ha.  They checked to be sure I remembered to pack the fishing poles.  I'm supposing Trevor is hoping to win the biggest catch again this year.  We shall see.

My biggest hope is that our time at camp proves to be spiritually edifying and physically relaxing.  We requested one of the cabins on the far side of camp (because it offers the most space to spread out in) which will mean a fair amount of walking.  We have our books packed for the Little Free Library (something my friend, Cheryl, is doing again this year).  And, of course, we have our Bibles.

There will be down time on my blog, unless I manage to snag some time near Internet access (usually only available in the chapel or class areas) without the constant barrage of little boy voices.  Alas, I did not prepare more than one book review to post in advance.  Rest assured, we are probably having a wonderful time and I will plan to provide follow-up posts when all is said and done.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Review: Because of Mr. Terupt

What an enjoyable first novel!  Rob Buyea has taken his experiences with teaching kids and poured them into a delightful glimpse at a classroom full of unique individuals and touching moments.  This novel features seven different narrators (each with blossoming personalities) who tell the story of an incredible year with an incredible teacher, Mr. Terupt:  A new girl, a bully, a prankster, a brain, an overweight girl, a girl with a very young mother, and a boy whose life has been altered by the death of his brother.  Of course, central to the story is the wonderful teacher who sees them all as individuals and helps them, even if by accident, to become better people.

This novel certainly nails the voices of distinct characters and draws you into the plot fairly quickly.  As you watch events unfold, leading up to a telling accident which puts everything on pins and needles, you begin to see how each action provides a ripple effect into the lives of everyone else.  Moreover, this book holds important lessons for young readers.  I was appreciative of the faith interwoven through the story, despite being published by a secular publishing company.  I was also appreciative that the individuals with faith were shown to be human, with their share of faults and failings.

This was a wonderful story.  Well written and well worth the telling.  It would make a wonderful read-aloud for a classroom of young students in grades 3-5.  You can find lesson plans and quizzes for the book on-line.  Plus, I was thrilled to see a sequel to the book, called Mr. Terupt Falls Again.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Indiana Dunes Vacation



I'm basking in a contented weariness.  It is the weariness that comes after an enjoyable vacation.  It was short and mostly sweet and full of wonderful family memories.  Especially so, since we insisted that our teenage son accompany us on this brief trip.  Actually, he didn't complain much.  It was more our sensitivity to the idea that he might be bored beyond belief.

We left Thursday, in time to arrive at the start of our Merrillville hotel check-in time, in hopes of securing a first-come-first-served cot.  We snagged one.  Score!  The little boys took a quick jump in the hotel pool while John and Bryce unloaded our minimal luggage and took a breather.  Then, we headed off for the Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Indiana.

Sadly, as we arrived at the gate to pay our $5 entrance fee, we were informed that the beach-front closed for swimming at 6 p.m. (it was already 5:30 - thanks to a huge traffic jam where we inched in traffic for almost 45 minutes compliments of an over-turned semi taking up all three lanes of traffic and forcing traffic to merge into one lane on the shoulder to pass). 

Still, we had a wonderful time there.  The lake was beautiful.  The little boys and I were already suited up, so we went in the water.  After the lifeguards left, we decided to tackle the big hill near the gates (I believe this was Mount Torn, a dune that "towers 192 feet above Lake Michigan," according to the activity guide).  Talk about a challenging hike.  I think I'm desperately out of shape. I was huffing and puffing and stopping repeatedly (although I couldn't stop for long because the hot sand felt like it would scorch off the bottoms of my feet).

After showering off at the hotel, we went to Outback Steakhouse for a marvelous (if expensive) dinner (to the tune of $107 - Yikes).  I enjoyed the Spinach-Artichoke Flatbread and a side of steamed broccoli.  John ordered the salmon and had to share quite a few bites with our chief salmon-lover, Trevor.  The boys were most fond of the Oreo shakes for dessert.

On Friday, we arrived at the dunes just as the beach was opening for swimming (11 a.m.).  The water was cool and the sand was, again, frighteningly hot.  The boys had a blast swimming, while I tended to spend most of my time in a chair with a book, fighting the blowing sand battle.  The thing was, it got boring pretty quickly and we were all frying (despite a generous coating of sunscreen), so we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the concession stand and then made our way to a nearby water park.

The Seven Peaks Waterpark was a bit of a disappointment.  We arrived at 2:30, just an hour and a half before the prices would have reduced.  Thus, we ended up paying $14.95 per person to get in.  Having paid that much, one would assume that inner tubes for the rides would be included, but alas, we discovered an additional fee of $20 to rent three inner tubes for the experience.  Moreover, it was disappointing to discover so many things advertised but not available. The ad mentioned a 500,000 gallon wave pool, which was not working, and a quarter-mile lazy river, which was apparently not built yet. Plus, several of the 15 water slides were shut down.  At first, thinking all the lockers were taken (we wrongly expected the keys to be in the available lockers), we hauled all our stuff to a picnic table (thankfully, under a pavilion) and I sat by the stuff while the boys all went off to ride the rides.  By the time we discovered the office where you rent the lockers (another $4), the back of my swim-suit broke, rendering it unfit for any riding on my part.  Groan.

Still, there were some positives to the water park experience.  The boys were super stoked about the 70 foot tall free fall drop-slide.  They wanted me to give it a try and it was as I was walking over to the behemoth slide that John noticed the clasp on my suit snap off.  Schwew!  Saved by the suit misfortune.  Thus, I ended up going back to the van to retrieve my glasses and my book and I sat in the breezy pavilion watching our stuff and reading to my heart's content (I wouldn't have probably wanted to do the slides anyway - too bad they wouldn't let me in the park without paying, since all I did was sit there).

We were amazed at the cleanliness of the facilities.  While I sat reading, workers must have come by 5 or 6 times to wash down all the tables, regardless of whether they had clearly been used or not.  John said the bathrooms were immaculate.  The park was very family-friendly.

The guys also really enjoyed the tube slides.  They said they were especially good when ridden backwards.  They seemed to be having a really good time, but did quickly grow bored. We only lasted about 3 hours.  I think if we come to the dunes again, we will try to spend noon to 4 at the dunes and then 4 to 7 at the water park (securing the cheaper entrance fee).

After a quick clean-up, we ended the evening with dinner at Denny's.  Our drive home this morning was less than pleasant because of bumper-to-bumper traffic and yet another accident to get around.  But, all-in-all, it was a wonderful family trip and we are so grateful that Bryce came along.  He is an excellent big brother to Trevor and Sean and really spent some quality time with them both at the dunes and at the water park.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: What Alice Forgot

Liane Moriarty's novel, What Alice Forgot, was a captivating read with a thoroughly fascinating premise. What if, after a blow to the head, you woke up with no memory of the past ten years? I continually put myself into that equation as I read this book. While the character in the book jumps from a less peaceful to a more peaceful time, my ten year loss would put me back in a more stressful, less peaceful time. No thanks!

Alice Love wakens after a head injury thinking she is still 29 years old and is expecting her first baby. She traumatically discovers that she has lost ten years of memory and is actually 39 years old, with three children and a disintegrating marriage. She is shocked by the jump to having responsibility for three children and is bewildered at the idea of ill-will toward what she considers her loving husband. She finds that her personality has completely shifted. She is no longer a laid-back, care-free individual. Instead, she is a driven, suburbanite-mom. Relationships she once relied upon have shifted and she no longer knows where she stands with others.  Moreover, she is apparently reeling from a tragic circumstance surrounding a woman named Gina, who was supposedly her best friend during the previous decade.

At first, I was skeptical of the idea of the main character changing so significantly over the space of ten years. I thought to myself, "Would she really have changed from a laid-back, chocolate-eating, na├»ve thing into an uptight, health-and-fitness-driven, PTA mom?" But, I stopped to consider my own alterations over the past ten years and decided to willingly suspend my disbelief.  There are certainly personality changes in my own life, triggered by events like the birth of my third son.  Ever since his birth, I have lost my internal compass of courage. Things I used to take on without hesitation now cause great anxiety.  Of all the things that can change a person, having children must be high on the list.

Moreover, it was interesting to think about the ways our choices in friendship can alter the things we believe and the people we become. (Perhaps, I need to find some brave, extroverted friends to bring me back to that center I used to know.) All of these things were fully believable and led to much introspection. 

However, the book still fell a little flat for me.  Even though the ending resolved in the way I was rooting for, it felt like a bait-and-switch tactic in the end and not terribly satisfying.  Plus, I'm not sure I liked the method of interspersing journal entries from the infertile sister and letters from the pseudo-grandmother.  I usually find this appealing, but it felt intrusive and unnecessary at times.

I did feel like I couldn't put the book down.  I wanted to know how things turned out when her memory finally returned (or if it ever would return).  I was desperate to jump in and shake some of the characters and give them a good talking-to!  I think the author certainly succeeded in drawing an interesting story from a fabulous premise.  I will not soon forget this book.  Pun intended! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: Desperate

After putting my name on the long hold list at the library for this book, Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe, I almost returned it without reading it.  I guess I was feeling like I'm not really in the right place to need this book.  I'm beyond those exhausting years when I had little ones consuming every minute of my day. I remember those desperate days (I didn't have help and I didn't have a spiritual mentor cheering me on from the sidelines) and when I forget, I can always look back on my first blog posts to see how frazzled life often was in the chaos of small children.  I'm not exactly "desperate" now, but then again, it is summer, so I have boys around all day long and the days can be longer than when I get the reprieve of school.

Even though the chaos has calmed for me, I still struggle with the demands of motherhood.  I suppose my heart longs for something more fulfilling than keeping a house clean and bodies clothed and fed.  Life's daily tasks feel too boring and my heart desires a larger goal. Despite a clear calling to be there for my children, I find it hard to throw myself into my mothering role wholeheartedly.

I think the book holds a great message for any mother, whether she finds herself in the throes of mothering very small children or not.  The most significant message for frazzled mothers (and a message I repeated as a mantra to myself back in the days of small children chaos) is "this too shall pass."  The days of weariness and constant vigilance, when the demands our children place seem to never end, will indeed give way to an easier rhythm, a time when the children can fend for themselves more and even help with tasks.  Alongside that message, is the message that "you are not alone."  All mothers with small children experience the exhaustion and the mental, emotional, and physical depletion that comes with giving of one's self to such an intense degree.  I remember those days when I seldom got away for any down-time and stayed up way too late into the evening grasping for moments alone where I could find some sort of personal identity apart from my small children.

There were also messages for mothers in general.  I think the two that hit me the hardest centered on avoidance and intentionality.  I felt deeply convicted about my habit of avoiding my mothering role.  The chapter was entitled, "Escaping," and I saw myself in the pages.  There are numerous ways of attempting to escape from the pressing needs of our children, but my primary method of escape is to run to the computer to write a blog post, check on Facebook, or check my mail (as if I often get important mail - ha!).  Even though I tend to do this in the early morning hours, as my children are just waking up and not quite in the needy stages yet, I still choose this method of escape during the day when I am sick of hearing "Oh, but Mom ..." (my youngest son's favorite phrase - he uses this in the form of "hey Mom," not in a rebellious tone or anything, but it is constant throughout the day).  After reading that chapter, I felt a real need to re-assess my need to run to the computer throughout the day.

Moreover, I really felt convicted about the need for intentional mothering.  I don't approach my role with goals of what I hope to accomplish in forming my children.  After reading this book, I want to be more intentional.  I want to take the time to consider what it is I truly want to enrich into my children's lives.  I think I do a really good job of blessing them with the love of learning and reading.  They get that from me in droves.  But there are other areas I need to be more intentional about.

While Sarah Mae's passages were honest and vulnerable, it was sometimes hard to read the passages by Sally Clarkson because it made me feel inferior.  She seemed to be on a pedestal with perfect parenting.  She's the mom who played music and lit candles for dinner time (never allowing them to sit in front of the television eating, just so she could have a quiet meal with her husband), had her children write on a variety of subjects to ensure they became thinkers, provided them with character-building and spiritual enrichment books, etc.  It was almost too much, at times.  Still, I understand that her role in the book was to provide mentoring passages.  You can't exactly mentor if you aren't at a higher level of experience, so ...

I think a final take-away from the book was an encouragement to practice being more content in the role God has given me.  Sally writes, "We get caught up in the hectic cycle of endless tasks and often end up finding our lives to be a barren wasteland of burdens....  Living a life of joy and contentment and imitating Him in our homes requires a willingness to see our lives through the lens of God's eternal perspective.... To move from feelings of desperation to delight requires that the eyes of your heart and the attitude that you express be ones that exemplify God's own heart and attitudes."  Aligning myself more to His vision can only strengthen my ability to see my role with greater purpose and fulfillment.

Thus, I would recommend this book to any mother who feels overwhelmed with mothering.  What an important role we play in the lives of our children.  I am truly thankful to God that He has blessed me with three entirely different individuals, who are in my care for the moment and who have the potential to do great things for the kingdom of God and for our struggling society.  I cannot do my part on my own strength, but need to daily lay my strengths and weaknesses at His feet, so He can move within me to make me a better mother and to do what He wills in the lives of my boys.

Personal disclaimer:  Shortly after the birth of my third son, I sank into a debilitating depression.  If I had encountered this book at that point in my life, I would have thought there was something wrong with me because I could not shake the depression by a firmer reliance upon the Lord.  There are times when medication is, indeed, necessary, and I would not want a young mother who is facing such a depression to think they should somehow be able to spiritually lift themselves out of depression.  I almost didn't make it through those desperate years because I failed to admit (at first) my need for medication.  If the struggles are so deep that you don't want to go on, please seek out medical help in addition to the spiritual encouragement offered in books!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Excitement with the Boys

I have been so grateful for the library's summer reading program.  It is such a wonderful incentive for my boys to read (or listen to me read).  They relish heading off to the library on a Monday or Tuesday to receive their prize for achieving their weekly goal in reading and picking out new books to read.  (One prize was even a day pass to Indiana Beach.  Awesome!) We've been reading our Day-by-Day Bible along with other chapter books.  Plus, Daddy has been reading one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books to them.

But, this morning our excitement was raised even higher when I opened the library's newest acquisition e-mail.  We discovered that the library has ordered two books we have been waiting for: Book 10 in the Ivy and Bean series and Book 8 in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  The boys are so excited.  We put holds on both and will probably get the Ivy and Bean one first (to be released Sept. 24, 2013), since we are at the top of the hold list and it comes out sooner than the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book (to be released in November, I think). It is really quite an achievement on Annie Barrows' part to have created a series featuring two female protagonists but equally appealing to young boys.  I love the fact that my boys feel such enthusiasm for books that they await the release of new books in series they love.  I love seeing their eyes gleam when told we will be first to get a book they have been wanting to get for months.

Plus, I noticed Amazon's listing of some new books I can't wait to try with the boys (or alone, as might happen): Navigating Early, by Clare Vanderpool, The Sasquatch Escape, by Suzanne Selfors, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein.  Each of these sound very promising.  I'm sure the boys will especially gravitate toward the one about Sasquatch.

They are already complaining about our upcoming trip to our 10-day Bible camp at the end of July.  They bemoan the fact that there will be no television or computer available there.  I am hoping I will be able to find some really engaging chapter books to keep us entertained in the evenings before bed (or on those days when it rains during the afternoon free time).  I have great memories of books read to Bryce during those CBLI trips of the past (I especially remember enjoying Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tiger Rising). Do you have any suggestions for really enticing reads for 6 and 8 year old boys?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book Review: Clean Gut

I'm not sure why I read so many of these "clean-eating" books and then fail to implement the knowledge into my habits and lifestyle.  My head fully believes their claims, but my actions never back up what my head believes.  I want to improve my health ... lose weight ... get off medications for depression ... do a better job, in general, of taking care of the body God has given me.  Yet, I never seem to make the essential changes suggested.

This book, Clean Gut: The Breakthrough Plan for Eliminating the Root Cause of Disease and Revolutionizing Your Health, by Dr. Alejandro Junger, suggests that the root cause of all disease and ill-health stems from an injured and irritated gut.  He outlines numerous difficulties which he claims are the outcome of a damaged or compromised gut.  Inflammation, heart disease, cancer, depression, allergies, autoimmune diseases, back pain, infertility, and gluten sensitivity are all tied to problems with the digestive track and the food we are eating.  Yet modern doctors continue to approach illness and disease with the classic "pill for an ill" mentality. 

Like so many others, Dr. Junger encourages his reader to consider making changes in their diet to eliminate the toxins and build-up of bad bacteria in the gut.  His suggestion?  He advocates a 21 day elimination diet and then a 7 day reintroduction diet to determine which food items are causing the most difficulties for an individual (for some it might be gluten, for others it might be dairy).  I appreciate that he emphasizes the need for supplements while on the elimination diet.  I embrace the findings he claims.  Somehow, I cannot seem to implement these suggestions into my day-to-day living. 

In fact, as I write this post, I am enjoying a Keebler Pitter-Patter cookie.  Why?  Because it is mid-morning and my body is craving a sweet snack.  Because I lack the will-power to reach for a banana or a handful of nuts instead.  Because I must not want the results badly enough to stop eating the things I know are harmful.

I do believe the success stories listed.  I know that I would benefit from a diet more solely dependent upon green leafy vegetables and animal or vegetable proteins.  I agree that there is probably some trick to combining our foods in a better manner for optimal absorption.  The diets just seem so extreme.  I look at the Clean Gut Diet Food List (both eat and don't eat categories) and feel overwhelmed.  I watch my husband eat many of the acceptable foods and know that his diet is key to his wonderful sense of well-being and good health.  So, why is it so difficult for me to make the changes and get away from the foods I know are destroying me?

I will say that I found the recipe section to be wholly unlikely for me to follow.  I'm not saying others would have difficulty with it.  I just know that I would seldom, if ever, attempt the recipes listed.  For one thing, so many of them (smoothies included) start with some form of coconut oil or coconut milk.  Coconut? Yuck!  Moreover, most of the recipes call for numerous ingredients.  I think I would stand a better chance tackling whole foods as suggested in Mary-Ann Shearer's book, Perfect Health.  I can't see myself taking an hour to whip up a batch of Chicken Pot Pie or Turkey Chili.  Still, if I had access to a cook who would devote the time and energy to making this diet available, I would whole-heartedly follow the program.  I guess it is too much effort and that is SAD!  My health should be worth the effort, no?

I plan to make a copy of the page listing the eat and don't eat categories.  I hope to attempt to eliminate some of the things deemed harmful.  I doubt I will go whole-hog and follow the elimination diet entirely.  As a result, I probably won't see the dynamic changes Dr. Junger promises.  But, if you are fed up with ill-health and want to start clean, you can't go wrong reading Dr. Junger's book and attempting to clean up your diet with this month-long program.  If you do, you have more dedication and motivation than I do!  Good on ya!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: The Librarian

I accessed Eric Hobbs' book, The Librarian: Book One - Little Boy Lost, for free on Amazon.  I had difficulty with the numerous typos in the book.  It seemed like the author could have used a good editor to clean it up before presenting it to the public.  At one point, instead of the word "taut," it used the word "taught."  Proof again that you cannot rely on spell-checker to proof-read your work.  I feel nit-picky pointing this out because I often read back over my own blog posts and discover overlooked typos.  It can happen, but it seems like when you launch an e-book, you should be more careful to go over everything thoroughly.

The book tells the story of a young middle-school student, Wes, who is regularly bullied by another boy, Randy.  It begins with Randy stealing the boy's story for the short story contest and submitting it as his own.  They enter the halls of an elaborate old library (I loved the descriptions of this!) and await the judging of the head librarian (a person shrouded in mystery).  The library contains intricately carved panels which open into the worlds of various classic books (Peter Pan, Wizard of Oz, etc.).  Wes and his one friend, Taylor, discover a Lost Boy from Neverland and attempt to help him.  At the same time, the head librarian must battle Randy's father, a man determined to tear down the historic library and kill all of the secrets within its walls. 

The story was interesting and engaging.  It kept a good pace and was full of adventure.  Still, the characters were fairly typical (down-trodden nerd, feisty bully, etc.) and the lesson a bit trite (stand up for yourself).  I will be interested to see if my boys like the book.  For myself, I didn't exactly like it enough to want to purchase the second installment, despite the fact that the book ended with a cliff-hanger.  I would give it 3 stars.

I do applaud the author for cleaning up some foul language in the original publication.  It seems several reviewers took issue with the extensive use of four-letter words and the author removed them.  Kudos for listening to the readers.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I picked up this book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, with great eagerness.  I loved Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.  For some reason, the fantastical world really gelled for me in that book.  I embraced the main character and his trials and bought into every aspect of the supernatural element in that book.  This book, however, didn't snag me wholeheartedly like The Graveyard Book did.

The story follows a middle-aged man who returns to his childhood home for a funeral.  He finds himself wandering down the lane to an old farmhouse where he once met the magical girl, Lettie Hempstock.  As he stands by the pond, what she calls an "ocean," he begins to bring back long-buried memories of a time when he was seven and one of their borders committed suicide in his father's car.  This event triggers a crack into the supernatural world and evil enters with a vengeance.

I loved the idea of exploring how our childhood memories influence our adult lives.  I love thinking about how memories can be different from person to person.  We definitely embellish our memories more than we probably realize.  The touchstone for the novel was a worthwhile germ.  But, it didn't pan out to anything worthwhile for me.

Perhaps I am only drawn to Gaiman's children's literature.  Perhaps I was hoping the story would hold greater meaning.  I don't know.  I just know I didn't like it as much as I anticipated.  It was well-written.  The writing carried one into the story but didn't deliver an absorbing adventure or develop the characters quite as well as I would have liked.  I didn't feel drawn to the characters or the story.  The fantastical elements seemed too fantastical.  At one point, the boy pulls a long worm from a hole in his foot and later the hole in his foot holds the portal to the evil world his new nanny has sprung from.  What?

I appreciate a good story of good versus evil, but this didn't appeal to me for some reason.  I'm not even sure why.  I did glean one interesting thing from the book.  It made reference to a science experiment my boys would love.  Something about blackening an egg with a candle flame and then putting it in a clear container filled with salt water.  Supposedly the egg will hang in the middle of the water and will appear to be silver.  Now that's something my boys would enjoy seeing.

I am still a fan of Neil Gaiman's writing.  He has a particular voice and style.  Besides his writing voice, I love his actual voice as he reads passages of his writing.  It is rich and full of suspense and mystery.  I loved hearing him read his wonderful little children's book, The Blueberry Girl.  I often found myself hearing his voice reading the rich sentences of this book.

I will probably re-read The Graveyard Book again some day.  Plus, I fully intend to check out another one of his adult novels to see if it is merely a matter of only liking his children's literature.  If you've read more of Gaiman's work for adults, which one would you suggest?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review: Another Year or Two

I accessed this novel through Story Cartel for free in exchange for an honest review.  Honestly, it wouldn't have mattered to me if I had skipped reading this.  It wasn't bad.  The characters were engaging and the story unfolded in an interesting series of blog posts (a method I generally enjoy).  But, if I think like Sheila of The Deliberate Reader, I would have rather spent my time reading something else.  It wasn't a bad effort.  The author wrote a story that kept me reading - that's a positive sign.  It just didn't edify or uplift me in any way.  It had no lasting take-away value.  It was just the story of several individuals whose lives intersect over pets, jobs, and work-outs.

Wendy is a single mother to 15 year old Kyle.  Kyle blogs and gets his mother into blogging, as well.  She ends up meeting Casey, a single father separated from his daughters (who is also blogging on the side).  Kyle is enamored with Lara (blogging) who is enamored with Chad (not blogging), but Chad is in love with Taylor (the horse trainer who works with both Lara and Wendy and eventually Casey).  Madison is a substitute teacher who falls in love with her work-out instructor and eventually leaves teaching to open a coffee shop.

Even as I try to describe the book, I can't pinpoint a particular theme or lesson to draw from its pages.  It was very much like eavesdropping on a small community, but to what end?  Everyone has a story, it's true.  But does the story bring something of value to the reader?  That's the telling question.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Review: The Moon and More

When trying to familiarize myself with current popular trends in YA literature, I quickly came across the author name of Sarah Dessen.  The Los Angeles Times proclaims "Sarah Dessen is something of a rock star in young adult fiction.  Her bestselling coming-of-age novels are warmly written explorations of teens in transition that  are, by turns, questioning, humorous and hopeful."  That was an apt description of this novel, The Moon and More.

This summer tale centers on Emaline, a young girl who's headed off to college soon.  In this final summer at home, she shakes off a long-standing relationship with Luke, her boyfriend of four years, for a relationship with Theo, a New Yorker who is there filming a documentary.  While Luke was comfortable and reliable, Theo is exciting and new.  Pulled by a father who wants more for her but is largely absent, Emaline begins to discover what she really wants out of life and college.  She navigates the waters of conflict and ends up blazing her own trail.

While I enjoyed this novel, it did feel somewhat disjointed because I read the first 2/3rds prior to leaving for camp and finished the final bits after returning home.  I can understand Dessen's appeal.  She presents a believable main character, provides a bit of romance, and carries her character into new ground well.  This was a perfect summer read and one sure to appeal to female teen readers. I was surprised to see many reviewers on Amazon saying that it isn't Dessen's best book.  I will have to look out for another one to try.  If this wasn't her best, then I'm pleased to think there's even better out there under her name.  If you've tried Sarah Dessen's books before, which one would you recommend as her best work?