Summer Reading Preview

IMG_7945Summer is upon us!  It is still technically spring, but kids are now out of school, pools are open, and we had our first trip to the beach of the season on Monday.  It’s time for summer reading!  A couple of months ago I volunteered to teach summer school.  Seriously, what was I thinking?  I’m already kicking myself.  I won’t have as much time as I’d like to devote to reading and relaxing – but plan on making an effort to keep up with summer reading.  I’ve already worked up quite a list of books to read by the pool!

Here are just a few of the books I’m looking forward to reading this summer

Joshua Ferris is back, after taking a break following the publication of his last book The Unnamed.  To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (which by the way perfectly describes my life right now – waiting for the day my daughter no longer feels the need to wake before the sun) was just released this month and is definitely on my to – read list.  Ferris has a gift for wit, understated humor, and observation.   This latest work follows the seemingly mundane life of a dentist whose life is changed by an online encounter.

I just picked up Midnight Crossroad at the library today.  As a huge fan of True Blood, I’m interested in Charlaine Harris’s new work.  Even though the last couple of books in the Sookie Stackhouse series weren’t as good as some of the first books, I’m still looking forward to Midnight Crossroad.  Harris has made a move from Louisiana to Texas, in an old western town.  Beginning in this mysterious old town, this is set to be a trilogy.

I’m excited to read The Tastemakersby David Sax.  The subtitle to this book is Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up With Fondue.  It examines tastes, food fads, and health food crazes.  As a food writer Sax has the inside scoop on food trends, and this examines some of the most popular ones.  I remember not too long ago reading that cupcakes were out and macaroons were in.  That’s one food trend I won’t be following – cupcakes will always be my #1!!

Another book with food at its core, Delicious was written by Ruth Reichl.  It’s a work of fiction about a young foodie who lands a job at a magazine called Delicious.  Reichl is a former food writer, and once worked as a restaurant critic for the New York Times.  This is his first work of fiction.  Her former newspaper employer gave her a great review, other reviewers have not been so kind.  I’m going to read it anyway!!

Last summer one of the best books I read was Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan, one of my favorite comedians.  Not only did I LOL, I actually laughed so hard I cried in some parts.  This book has a lot to live up to!  Comedian Adam Corolla is out with a new book called President Me.  What would happen if Mr Corolla were president?  It might be fun, but I don’t think I’d want to find out!

I’m looking forward to reading all of these books – and some time at the beach!  What’s on your to-read list this summer??



A Great Loss

Maya_AngelouThe world is mourning the loss of Maya Angelou today.  The literary world has lost a giant.  Women everwhere have lost an important voice.  She inspired so many, and her work transcended race, culture, ethnicity, and time.  I still remember first reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and being incredibly moved.  The book, which is autobiographical, follows her out of the deep south and to St Louis, where at a very young age she is sexually assaulted by an older man.  This was a painful experience, and something that shaped the artist she became.  She eventually makes her way to San Francisco, where her soul begins to heal.  First published in 1969, she spoke of healing to so many who had experienced abuse.  Yet, it’s so much more than that, it’s about healing and overcoming the pain.

Poet, writer, visionary, nobel laureate, Maya Angelou will be missed.  She lived through, and was shaped by, the Civil Rights movement.  She led an incredible life, and inspired so many. Particularly women like her, who had seemingly suffered so much, but was able to blossom, and express herself so beautifully.  The title for Caged Bird is a metaphor for this experience.  My heart is heavy, but I know hers was a life lived well.

“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Chesapeake Bay Saga

Ready for a little secret?  We’re closeted romance fans here.  Kelly and I have been friends for many years – and have shared so many books with each other.  Not many people like to admit that they’re fans of Nora Roberts, but there’s a reason that most of her books end up on the NYT’s bestsellers.  People really like her books!  We’ve enjoyed her Chesapeake Bay series, and they make perfect beach reads.

9780425261330_p0_v1_s260x420This set of books started life as a trilogy but due to the popularity a fourth book was written.  I’m not sure where I first found these books or when I read them.  I only know I reread them year after year.  I love this series.  The Quinn brothers: Cameron, Ethan, and Phillip all abused boys were taken in by a couple in a small Eastern Shore town on the Chesapeake Bay.  The Quinns, a professor and pediatrician unable to have children biologically, adopt the three boys and raise them to be productive members of society.  When the series starts Dr. Quinn has passed away several years before and the boys have each gone their own way in life.

Sea Swept is the first book.  Cameron has been off in Europe racing boats, racing cars, and chasing women when the call comes that his father is dying.  He rushes home to Maryland to find the man he loves dearly, the man who saved him from a burgeoning life of crime, broken and fragile in the hospital.  The Mighty Quinn wakes for just a few moments and extracts a deathbed promise from his sons, that they will take care of the newest lost boy he has taken in: Seth.  Cam has to give up his world galavanting for at least a little while to help out which is driving him crazy until the social worker, Anna Spinelli stalks into their lives.  Anna’s only concern is Seth, she wants to be sure he’s in the best home possible and assumes she’ll be removing him from the care of the Quinns.  The brothers will have none of that so she has to reassess and while she’s at it try to keep Cam at bay.

9780425262764_p0_v1_s260x420Rising Tides is Ethan’s story.  Ethan is the one brother to stay in their hometown and build up a business there.  For years he has fought an attraction to longtime friend and friend of the family Grace while she has pined after him.  Ethan has decided because of his past, his biological mother that he will never marry, never so much as touch Grace but he can’t seem to stay away from her and her lovely daughter Aubrey.

Throughout the first three books the Quinn brothers struggle with the death of their father, with rumors that he ran into the pole on the side of the road on purpose, with Seth’s selfish feral incubator of a biological mother Gloria DeLauter (hmm think I don’t like her much?), with rumors that Seth is their father’s biological child, that he cheated on their mother, and just with living with each other again and taking care of a wary pre-teen child seemingly waiting for them to abuse him like his mother did.

9780425262757_p0_v1_s260x420Inner Harbor is Phillip’s story.  Phillip once a juvenile delinquent now a high power advertising executive is splitting his time between Baltimore and home on the Chesapeake Bay to help care for new brother Seth.  One night on a rare trip to the local bar he comes across well known psychologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and author Dr. Sybill Griffin who tells him she is there doing research for a new book on the small town life.  However she’s really there to check out Phillip and his brothers, her sister has called telling her they stole her son.  Yep, she’s Gloria’s sister.  You can bet that will go over well when the Quinn brothers find out.

For years I read and reread this series, yes there are some logistical things that are out of whack, like Anna and Cam’s relationship despite her being the assigned case worker, but I always looked past it.  The back stories of each of the brothers, including Seth’s break my heart every time.  I know from my years teaching that there are children out there who truly do live these lives and thankfully some of them get out and are adopted by wonderful families, now if only all kids in these situations could find a way out.

The last book Chesapeake Blue came about Nora says because so many readers wrote and asked her “What about Seth? When are you going to tell Seth’s story?”  I’m so glad they did and that she wrote it.  Honestly I think this is my favorite book in the series.  I love Seth, I love seeing who he has become as an adult, seeing the rest of the characters I’ve come to know and love, catch up with them is fun.  Seeing Seth struggle to explain how he feels to his brothers and them struggle to accept it is compelling.  Seeing Seth struggle with his (insert nasty word here) of a mother who has never really left is enough to make you scream but you just know she’s going to get what’s coming to her.

This is a set of books worth reading and rereading.  If you’ve never read them go do it!

Avatar: Aang and Korra


Today we are celebrating our 100th post!  We’re so excited about what we’re doing, and will continue to do, share our love of books!  We’re focusing on the graphic series Avatar, which has transcended genres.

The Avatar cartoons are popular at our house. Hubby was actually the first to discover them, then the kiddo, and finally me. I’ll be honest, at first I was really hesitant because it was a Nickelodeon cartoon, but I ended up loving it.  There are several Avatar books out now and I’ve read at least a few of them.  I would label this post as YA but I think Avatar appeals to all ages, then again so do many other YA books.

The first book I read (actually we read as a bedtime book) was The Lost Scrolls.  From what I saw at the bookstores these were originally released each as their own book: Water, Earth, Fire, Air the copy we have is all four books in one.  Kiddo picked it out as a reward for doing a good job at the doctor when he was sick.  (Yep we bribe with books, I figure it’s better than food lol).  I really enjoyed reading this one, each “book” contains three stories told by various characters (all first season so no Toph sorry), background on the benders of that element, and more details about that element.  It was a combination “non-fiction” and fiction book.  Each of the bending styles has a basis in real martial arts which was really cool to learn.  Definitely a good book to have if you are a fan of the series.

9781595829412_p0_v2_s260x420When the original series ended I know many fans were disappointed they wanted to know more, what happened after?  Well there are now books to answer some of those unanswered questions.  Graphic novels have been released in sets of three the first is The Promise.  Aang and his friends get together again to help solve a conflict between the Fire nation and the Earth Kingdom, specifically between Zuko umm Fire Lord Zuko and Earth King Kuei.  It seems the world is headed toward another war and Aang is set on stopping it, the question is will Zuko help him or stand against him.  I loved the story in this.  I was so excited to see a continuation of the show in book form and this did not disappoint.

Set two of the graphic novels I just remembered not long ago.  We had started watching the new Avatar series Legend of Korra, Korra asks about Zuko’s mom at one point.  I immediately sat up and reached for my iPod.  See there is a tease at the end of The Promise about Zuko going to search for his mother.  I hit the library site and put the set on hold.  When I picked up the books I think I finished them in less than an hour.  Zuko has sprung his sister Azula from the crazy house to get her to help find their mother.  See his father won’t talk to him but he will talk to Azula.  Then off Zuko and Azula go with Team Avatar to find Ursa.  This set was even better than The Promise.  Just awesome, so fitting with the show I wish they would animate it, between these two sets they could easily get at least one more season.

There is a third set due out this year, part 1 in March, part 2 in July and part 3 well ???  As I clearly haven’t read it yet I’m going to do something I never do and give you the synopsis from Amazon:

Avatar Aang asks his friends to help him honor Yangchen’s Festival – one of the highest Air Nomad holidays, which hasn’t been celebrated in over one hundred years. But cryptic visits from the spirit of Avatar Yangchen herself lead Aang to discover a jointly owned Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom refinery – operating on land sacred to the Airbenders! Is this the cause of the pollution Aang finds there or is something more mysterious happening?

Needless to say I can’t wait!

There is also a book out for the new Avatar series. Ok wait I just looked and there are two I didn’t know that, time to check the library site again.  At the fall book fair at my school I found Legend of Korra: Revolution and bought it for my son, honestly it was for my son!!  Ok yes, I read it but it lives in his room on his bookshelf and he didn’t want me to read it at bedtime because he sometimes falls asleep and he didn’t want to miss any of the story.  However while I really like the Aang books this one was just ok.  One reviewer called it the Closed Caption version of the first season of Korra, that’s pretty much exactly what it is.  There are a few small details added but not much.  This book ends before the end of the first season.  To finish the season apparently as I just learned you have to pick up Legend of Korra: Endgame.  Now if you loved Avatar and haven’t been able to see the new show this would be a great way to check it out.  If you’re kiddo is younger or a struggling reader this would be great for them if they’ve seen the series because they already know what’s happening.  All in all not bad but glad I got it at less than full price.  The Aang books are better, so far anyway.

The Heather Wells Series

9780060525118_p0_v1_s260x420We all have a guilty pleasure.  I have a few friends who love anything “Housewives”.  I’ve never seen any of the Housewives series.  I have, however, seen some of the housewives on my favorite guilty pleasure, Dancing with the Stars.  After finishing finals, posting grades, and now preparing for summer school, I’ve been digging the guilty pleasures lately.  These are my some of my favorite guilty pleasure books!

Meg Cabot has written books in a variety of genres.  She is perhaps best known for The Princess Diaries series, but I’ve recently gotten interested in her mystery series.  The series begins with Size 12 is Not Fat, and stars a former teen pop star who is working as an RA (assistant dorm director) of New York College.  This fictional school surrounds Washington Square Park in NYC, and one of the job perks (on top of tuition assistance) is an office in one of the nicest areas of the city.  She starts to rethink these perks after a series of murders in the dorm, the basis of the series.

She had once been involved in a relationship with another teen pop star (remember Britney and Justin??), but is living with her ex’s brother Cooper who works as a private investigator.  When the first book begins, Heather has been out of the music business for a few years, but her ex is just as popular as ever.  After accepting the job, which as a former pop star no one could have predicted, many of the students recognize her.  While still pursuing her music career, her mother had served as her manager, and had access to all of her assets.  Her Mom cleaned out her accounts ran away with another member of her staff to the Caribbean.  This explains why she would have been looking for a job, she also has dreams of going back to school.  The titles in the series refer to her size, which didn’t fit the music industry standard for teen pop stars.  She quickly falls into a murder mystery when two girls in the dorm are killed.  They were at first ruled accidents, but she and  Cooper are drawn into the investigation.

9780060525125_p0_v1_s260x420Although Cooper is a professional, she is an ameteur sleuth and not good at solving mysteries at first.  She has many crazy theories, though she is the only one who seems to believe that the girls were murdered.  Having a better understanding of the building and its residents helped.  While working (unofficially) on the murder investigation she reveals her feelings for Cooper.

Book two, Size 14 Is Not Fat Either, picks up soon after the first two murders have been solved, and things seem to have settled down.  Another girls is murdered in the dorm, and Heather is again thrown into the mystery.  Cooper has vowed to stay out of it – and urges her to do the same.  Now, having been right about the other two girls from the first book being murdered, she feels compelled to solve this recent murder.  This seems like a career opportunity for her, and she daydreams of her and Cooper becoming business and life partners.

Further complicating the second murder investigation is the sudden appearance of her father, who shows up on Heather’s doorstep unexpectedly.  He and her mother had split long ago, and he had been serving time for twenty years.  Adding to the drama, she finds out that her ex is getting married to the newest most popular pop star.  And he’s insisting that she come to the wedding.

I am loving this series so far, there are two other books I’ll save for another post.  They’re great guilty pleasures or beach reads, perfect for summer!

No Safety in Numbers

9780142425978_p0_v2_s260x420No Safety in Numbers is another book I just happened upon at the library, it was on the “Staff Picks” display.  I walked by, noticed this book and turned to walk back and pick it up.  After reading the jacket description I knew I had to bring it home and read it.  As if the cover hadn’t caught my attention enough.

Anyone who has ever seen Outbreak or The Stand or any other movie/tv show about a killer virus will recognize what happens here, only this time it happens in a large (and I mean large, they talk about several thousand people, multiple floors, amusement park rides, a movie theater and an ice skating rink) mall.  Also the story is told from the point of view of four teenagers.  The website for the books has a quote from seventeen magazine: “Think of the heart-racing chase of The Hunger Games, but a giant mall is your arena.”  I think this is meant to describe the second book and while it fits ok I think a better corollary would be Lord of the Flies, at least that’s the book that came to mind when I read No Easy Way Out, maybe that reference isn’t current enough though.

9780142425244_p0_v2_s260x420The book starts on a fairly normal day, Marco is biking to his job at the mall when he starts being chased by a classmate whose car he scratched with said bike.  When he goes to hide in the ventilation area he finds a strange device attached to the system.  Naturally he calls the police and that’s when an absolutely normal day gets shot to hell for everyone in the mall.

Lexi is on a rare family outing, rare because her mother a Senator doesn’t have much time for family these days.  They’re just starting lunch at their “favorite” Chinese restaurant in the mall when the Senator gets a phone call and disappears for hours.  The mall is shut down, no one goes in and no one goes out (and all of a sudden Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is in my head, sorry I’ve been reading it to some of the kindergartners I work with and that line just stuck in my head), anyway back on topic at first it’s strange but no one really worries about the fact that they’re stuck at the mall, there are plenty of places to shop, plenty of food and it’s only for a few hours right?  Wrong.

In the first few hours we meet the other two teens we’ll follow for the rest of the story Ryan and Shay as well as several other teens that appear throughout this book and even more so in the next book.  Things start getting strange the teens notice that a store in the mall, Paper Clips has disappeared, or rather been walled off, suddenly people who are sick are being taken away, then the lockdown stretches into another day and another, people in hazmat suits begin to arrive a medical center is set up, security guards become more obvious, and as the days tick by the occupants of the mall grow restless.

Marco is no longer being hunted by the boy whose car he scratched and his buddies at least not to be hurt, now they want his help, they want him to help them escape.  Lexi suddenly has a friend from the popular crowd at her school and she feels she has someone she can trust and confide in.  Ryan and Shay find they are attracted to each other but have to separate as Shay must be with her grandmother and sister.  Shar’s grandma is one of the first to fall ill and be taken away.  The story alters between being fast-paced and incredibly slow as I imagine time would really move in a situation like this.

No Safety is days 1-6 of the quarantine, No Easy Way is days 7-14.  I devoured the first book in just a few hours and when I came to the end and it said end Book 1, I immediately hopped online to find the title of the second book and see if it had been released yet then off to the library site to put it on hold.  Again as soon as I got it I devoured it in no time at all.  These are really good books I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the third book No Dawn without Darkness in July to see how the story ends, unfortunately my library has not ordered the book yet, I may have to request it just so I can be first in the queue to read it when it’s released.  If you read the Hunger Games trilogy or Lord of the Flies and enjoyed them read this set, Amazon also suggests if you liked Life as We Knew It to read this, and I see the connection there as well.

No Dawn will definitely be on our to-read list this summer!


Chicken Soup

9781623611071_p0_v1_s260x420Teaching can be incredibly difficult, and at the same time incredibly rewarding.  We’ll continue this week to honor teachers, today we’re sharing Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul.  This is a book that anyone could enjoy, and what could be more comforting or reassuring than chicken soup?

I love this book!  Ok now that I have that out of the way 😉  I was on a kick for a while collecting the Chicken Soup books, when this one came out I knew I had to have it.  My husband bought it for me and it has lived in my classroom(s) ever since.  When I have a day where I’m feeling down or frustrated as a teacher this is one of the resources I reach to.  I keep it near my desk so I can reach back and pull it out, all I need to do is open to any story and read and I find myself reenergized, ready to go again.  That sounds really corny I know, but it’s true.

The book is divided into 11 sections much like other Chicken Soup books here the sections are: A Day in the Life, Answering the Call, Love in the Classroom, Defining Moments, Making a Difference, The Classics, Overcoming Obstacles, Beyond the Classroom, Learning by Teaching, Insights and Lessons, and Thanks.

My favorite story in the book, the one I go back to most often, the one that I am able to flip right to is All the Good Things section six The Classics: the story of a teacher worried about her class becoming frustrated with themselves and each other.  She stops and has them write one positive thing about each person in the class.  She takes these and makes each student a list then hands those lists out to the students.  Years later at the funeral of one of the students she discovers they all kept their lists.  This story makes me cry every time!  Actually many of these stories make me cry.  Some also make me laugh or smile.  The comics especially make me giggle.

This is a great book to give to any teacher, student teacher, principal, counselor, basically any school employee.  This is also a great book for parents to read, you want to know what your child’s teacher’s day might be like read these stories.  I don’t think these are stories of just exceptional teachers, there are teachers in every school, in every city, in every country in the world that work hard day in and day out to reach children to help them be the best they can be.  This is what teachers aspire to.  So if you’ve never read this book go check it out and maybe buy another copy to give to an educator in your life be they family, an educator of your child’s or even one of your former teachers.