Fall Preview

Who’s ready for cooler weather, Halloween candy, pumpkin spice lattes, and a pile of new books?  I just shared one of my favorite books of the summer, but if you’re looking forward to Fall like I am, there a few new books look for.

9780399172960_p0_v1_s260x420Two of our favorite series have new books set for a fall release.  Jan Karon has another addition to her Mitford Years series,  Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.  We’ve mentioned before that we’re fans of the Mitford series, it’ll be interesting to see what Father Kavanagh and his wife Cynthia are up to.

We’ve been longtime fans of Anne Rice, since high school when we passed around a copy of Interview with the Vampire.  Prince LeStat follows the drama her last book left off with the vampire world in upheaval – and many vampires had been massacred.  LeStat has been a star of the series from the very beginning, can he bring order and stability back to their world.  If anyone can, it’s LeStat.

9781476770383_p0_v2_s260x420I will read anything Stephen King writes, so of course I’m looking forward to Revival.  It’s set for release in November, and I’ve already pre-ordered it.  After reading the preview for the book, it has a hint of witchcraft, and it’s set in King’s favorite location: New England, a region with a history of accused witchcraft and the dark arts.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, will hopefully satisfy King fans until Revival comes out later in the fall.  King himself gives this book a great review (which is a good enough recommendation for me).

9780062365446_p0_v6_s260x420Dennis Lehane has The Drop coming out next week.  I read A Drink Before the War and really enjoyed it.  Lehane is also the author who wrote Mystic River, a book I loved and a movie that I’ve watched a hundred times.  This book focuses on crime in NYC, a struggle between organized crime and the NYPD.  Apparently there’s a love story in the middle – I’ll be interested to see how that works in the story.

For my inner historian and political junkie there’s The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein (who also wrote Nixonland, which I loved).  Bridge focuses on Ronald Regan and the nation’s rise in modern conservatism.  I’m certainly not a conservative – but I am always interested to learn more about its modern roots.  Even those who lived through the 80s (like me) are surprised to see these connections.

These are just a few of the books I hope to read this fall.  First, maybe I should read those books that were on my summer list that I didn’t exactly get to.  I’ll be enjoying these with a warm blanket, on the couch, hopefully sipping a pumpkin spice latte (yum!!).


Beautiful Ruins

9780061928178_p0_v6_s260x420As Labor Day approaches, there is one more long weekend left to the summer.  We’ve have some unseasonably cool weather here this week, which I’ve really enjoyed – it’s a fall preview!  I’m hoping to soak up the most pool and beach time possible over the next week before we go back to school.  Over the long weekend, there’s still time to enjoy one last beach read.  Today I’m sharing one of the best books I read over the summer.  Beautiful Ruins was on my to-read list last summer, and I somehow didn’t get around to reading it.  It’s now out on paperback, and it is the perfect summer read!

The beginning of the book focuses on a young American actress vacationing in southern Italy who meets a local named Pasquale, whose family owns a small hotel along the Mediterranean coast.  Dee Morray was a starlet with a small part in the Cleopatra movie starring Elizabeth Taylor.  The movie was being filmed nearby, in 1962.  Dee is taking a break from the set, and has been sent by producers and studio execs to Pasquale’s hotel.  The novel switches from the present day to back to that year, and the second chapter switches to present-day Hollywood, in the office one one of Hollywood’s most popular and successful writers and producers.  Focusing on a young woman who had been working as an assistant in a producer’s office.

It’s not until later in the book that these two stories intersect.  Dee had been sent to this remote beach town after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.  Listening to her symptoms, and the way she was handled by studio execs, I was wondering if she was actually pregnant.  But, she is young, and ironically her mother had actually died rather young of stomach cancer herself, making this diagnosis really tough to take, Dee doesn’t seem to question it at all.

There are very few guests in the hotel, and Pasquale cares for her patiently and lovingly.  A local doctor comes, whose bedside manner is much better than the one that had been hired by the studio.  He realizes she is pregnant.  This explains why studio execs wanted her off the movie set – one of the biggest attractions of the movie was Burton’s ongoing affair with the movie’s star, Elizabeth Taylor.

There is an introduction to a musician in another chapter and it’s not at first clear how he fits into the story.  The musician is the product of an affair between Dee and Richard Burton, after she finds out she’s pregnant, she leaves Italy behind.  The assistant who is mentioned earlier in the book turns out to have been working for the producer who orchestrated Dee’s exit from the Cleopatra set.  I really loved this book – and can’t believe I waited so long to read it!!  I loved the imagery, and could totally picture Dee and Pasquale hiking along the rocky Mediterranean coast.  Pick this up if you plan on lounging on the beach this weekend – or just wish you could!!

Best books for preparing kids for deployment

IMG_2520So you know we really love books around here.  One other thing you should know about me, I am a military spouse.  My husband has served for almost 22 years.  On Monday he left for a 10 month deployment.  Let that sink in a minute…  This will be his 6th deployment, his 4th since we’ve been together, and his first since our daughter was born.  This will be the toughest one yet, and unfortunately the longest.  Back in May he left for a 5 week trip, and my daughter asked me where Daddy lives.  I teared up, but was able to keep it together and tried to explain to her that he lived here with us, but was on a long trip.  How in the world would I explain to her to her that he would be gone for almost an entire year??

I remember reading so many books to her, preparing her for all of her short life’s major moments and milestones.  Saying goodbye to the pacifier, potty training, getting a big girl bed.  Living in Virginia Beach, where there are 5 major military bases within 15 minutes of our house, our library has a few books about military life.  There were a few great books that I found, that could explain deployments so much better than I could have in my own words.

While You Are Away by Eileen Spinelli follows three families, with three military members who are serving in different ways.  All three are deployed, and their children talk about the things they will do while their family members are away.  Doing all of their favorite things helps them to remember the fun they have together, and help them feel connected and close even when their mom or dad may be far away.

The Wishing Tree by Mary Redman and Christina Rodriguez focuses on one little girl named Amanda.  Her father is away for a year, and finds a special way to mark his absence and to look forward to his return.  She ties a ribbon to a small tree, each ribbon has a wish, a prayer, a memory written on it.

I loved When Dad’s at Sea, by Mindy Pelton.  It related best to our upcoming deployment, and was about a Navy pilot who is preparing to deploy.  He and his daughter decide to make a paper chain to mark each day they will be apart.  Out of frustration and anger she rips the chain apart, this is the feeling we can really identify with.  There is always fear and sadness, but what you can’t really imagine is the anger that also comes.  After ripping the chain apart her parents stay up late the night before he leaves and makes another one.

IMG_2525My daughter’s favorite was The Paper Hug by Stephanie Skolmoski.  This sweet little boy is heartbroken that his father is deploying, and decides to make a paper hug by tracing his hands and cutting them out and attaching them with a string that is the measured length between his two hands outstretched.  After reading this, there was an immediate request to make “the hands”.  This is the result, and it will be in my husband’s first care package that we are preparing to send tomorrow.

Separation and deployments never get easier.  I’m sure we’ll survive, but it won’t be easy.  We’ll find special ways to stay connected while he’s away.  We’ll pray for him daily, and he’ll always be in our hearts.  I love these books, and what they do for a special group of children.  For any other military families out there, what are your coping strategies?

Return to Sender

9780375851230_p0_v1_s260x420Last week I finished reading Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez.  A Latina author who now lives and teaches in Vermont, this YA novel was inspired by her own experiences and written from own unique perspective.  After reading a recommendation for this book, I picked it up at the library and couldn’t put it down!  The book is told from two persepctives – that of a 12 year old girl whose parents have come to this country illegally looking for work, and that of a boy the same age whose family has hired her family to work on a farm in VT.  The two soon become friends, and it’s the boy’s feelings that begin to change.

At first Tyler has only a basic understanding of illegal immigrants, believing that they may be good people – but ultimately they are breaking the law.  He soon realizes that there may be a flaw, and begins to understand the complexity of illegal immigration.  Witnessing what Maria and her family have gone through is a life-changing experience for Tyler.  It’s interesting that his parents welcome the workers onto the farm – they know they need help in order to keep themselves afloat.  The recent loss of his grandfather, and his father’s accident on a tractor, has led the family to seek help.  Without the help of Maria’s family, they would be forced to sell the farm.  His grandmother his surprisingly openminded, and encourages Tyler to change his outlook.

“Actually, dear, your uncle Larry’s had Mexicans for a while over at his place,” Grandma explains. “Your dad wouldn’t hear of it, until, of course, the accident made him reconsider.  But when your uncle Larry told us, you know what Gramps said?  He said, ‘We Paquettes came down from Canada back in the 1800s.  Nobody but nobody in America got here – excepting the Indians – without somebody giving them a chance.’  That’s what he said.  ‘Course, he would have preferred that Uncle Larry wait till it was legal.  But the cows can’t wait for their milking till the politicians get the laws changed.  They’d still be waiting.”

In his growing relationship with Maria, he hears the story of their struggle.  Her family are living in constant fear of “la migra”, immigration police who at any time could have had them all deported.  Her mother disappeared while attempting to go back to Mexico on her own, and hasn’t been seen in over a year.  About halfway through the year that Maria and her family stay at the farm, her uncle is arrested and is facing deportation.  Maria is an incredibly strong girl, living in a strange place, away from her mother, she is expected to care for her two younger sisters.

At the end of the book there is an author’s note that mentions a raid by ICE of the same name of the book that happened in 2006.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement had raided several locations across the country, rounding up hundreds of illegal immigrants to be sent back to their home countries.  Because it focuses on a pair of  12 year old kids, the book also relates to today’s border crisis.  I love that the book, written for a young audience, might help kids better understand that situation.  Anyone – even those who are not in the book’s target audience – will enjoy this book.  Alvarez puts a human face on this ongoing crisis, and is pleading for sympathy and understanding.

New Fiction Friday: Still Foolin’ Em

9781250051844_p0_v2_s260x420So many celebrities have tried their hand at writing (many that I suspect weren’t actually that involved with the writing process, just had really good “co-writers”).  We were pleasantly surprised by Still Foolin’ Em, which is just now being published in paperback.  I love Billy Crystal but I hadn’t heard of this book until my mom started reading it and talking about it, and talking and talking and talking.  Needless to say I went to pick it up from the library.  This is one of those books by someone famous where you can almost hear their voice in your head as you read.  Billy is funny and insightful and honest.  I literally laughed out loud several times.

As Billy tells his life story he alternates between near rambling about present day life at 65 and his past.  We learn about him growing up one of three boys.  We learn about his father’s death at a fairly young age and how his family reacted to that.  Billy it seems from a young age knew a lot of celebrities and he talks about how he met them.

He takes us through his life decade by decade.  His life as a newlywed, new father, and stand-up comedian.  This book was really easy to read and I just couldn’t put it down.  Interspersed throughout the book rather than in one section at the middle as in most biographies are pictures of Billy, his family, and those he knows and loves.  There are numerous stories about Muhammad Ali who has become a good friend of his.

In one chapter towards the end he kind of goes off, we get that grumpy old man rant.  I found myself either nodding in agreement or shaking my head wondering if this was just an old age thing, if it was a different lifestyle point of view, or just what in the world is he thinking?

I think my favorite part of the book is when he talks about hosting the Oscars, he is still my favorite Oscar host by far.  I wish he would do it again.  We see him go through ups and downs in life and Hollywood.  His stories about playing Jodie on Soap are particularly interesting to me as I remember watching the show as a kid.  I’d give you more details but I just can’t tell it the way he does besides it’s his story to tell and I’d rather let him do it.  This may be the shortest review I ever write, sorry about that I just can’t say more than you really should read this book.  I own 700 Sundays, bought it for my classroom library and somehow never read it so I’ll be picking it up to read shortly, maybe I can give a better review of it.

9780061450570_p0_v2_s260x420This actually isn’t his first book, he has a couple of children’s books which about his experiences as a grandparent.  I remember the first time I saw one of his books, I was browsing Barnes and Noble with my daughter who was just a few months old at the time.  My Dad had just passed away, and I knew I wasn’t really ready for this book.  I read it anyways, and absolutely loved it.  I Already Know I Love You was so sweet, it’s about a grandpa who just can’t wait to meet his grandchild.  It’s still on my daughter’s book shelf, and it’s one of many things that have helped me heal.  In his movies, his comedy, and in his books Billy Crystal is able to make us laugh!  Right now, I think we could all use a little laughter in our lives.

Breakfast Served Anytime

9780763667917_p0_v2_s260x420For so many kids and parents, summer is soon coming to an end.  Not here in Virginia, students don’t go back until after Labor Day.  My daughter will be starting preschool this year, I want to say that it snuck up on me, but picking a preschool and getting registered was a serious process!  There’s still more time for summer reading, and today I’m sharing one of the best books I’ve read this summer.  Breakfast Served Anytime follows Gloria, a creative, smart and independent 17 year old, to what she calls “geek camp”.  The story spans the summer before her senior year, the camp is for gifted kids, it’s something fun for them – and something that will hopefully look good on their college applications.

This summer isn’t exactly transformative, though she does make some really great friends.  It’s what came before summer that changes Gloria profoundly.  Raised by a single father after her Mom leaves, her beloved grandmother passes away.  She takes the loss hard and seems to be reaching out for something.  Bringing a group of unlikely friends together, this summer camp experience reminds me so much of The Breakfast Club.  The title comes from a restaurant Gloria and her friends routinely meet at throughout the summer.  It’s a greasy spoon diner that serves cheap food, and breakfast 24/7.

When I first started reading this book in the beginning of the summer, I was thinking of a few friends of mine who were prepared to send their kids away to camp for the first time.  Gloria is a little older than some of these kids I had in mind that were heading off to camp, but it his her first time going away.   After her arrival, she is signed up for a class called The Secrets of the Written Word.  It is here that she encounters the unknown, and unexperienced.  Gloria is drawn to another camper named Mason, who she is partnered with.  He is funny, smart, and handsome.  About halfway through the camp they realize that they are both children of single parents.  This is one thing they have in common – which kind of explains why they’re also drawn to Calvin, another member of their group.  Calvin is a farmer’s kid, who is so unlike everyone else at the camp – yet Gloria and Mason love spending time with his family on the farm.  It’s a type of life they love and subconsciously crave.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Gloria talks about a conversaion she has with a new friend from camp.  After reading it for the first time, I had to pause and let it digest.  It’s something I should remind myself of often.

“How long had it been since I’d talked with someone this way?  Not just say words out loud to enjoy the sound of my own voice, but really talk, and listen back?  It seemed like such a small thing, but I seriously couldn’t remember the last time it had happened.”

I really loved this book.  Even though my teenage years ended a while ago, I loved the characters, and could identify with Gloria searching for friends and just someone to connect with.  Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?  Coping with the loss of her grandmother, and being alone for the first time, she is in unknown territory.  She bravely embraces new people and new experiences, much more bravely than most adults would.  If only we could be as brave as she is!!


Just a Geek

9780596806316_p0_v1_s260x420I should preface this review by telling you I am a big Star Trek fan, I am also a Star Wars fan, yes it is possible to be both.  I grew up watching the original Star Trek series in reruns and was one of those just thrilled when Star Trek: The Next Generation came out.  When I saw the first episode I nearly jumped up and down at the thought of someone not much older than I was on the ship.  As the season continued and Wesley became a member of the crew I just loved it.  It was so awesome to me that someone so young could be on a ship in space, flying the ship and solving problems with the adults.  I became a Wil Wheaton fan, somehow never connecting him to his role in Stand By Me until years and years later.  A while back we shared our review for Memories of the Future, which I really loved.

Wil disappeared for a while and many people lost track of him.  Over the past few years with the help of a friend of Amy’s and mine, I have found Wil’s blog and his podcasts and then his books.  Just a Geek is the story of him coming to terms with his low status in the world of Hollywood, his fear of failure, his fear that quitting Star Trek was the biggest mistake he ever made, and his being bitten by the writing bug.

This is the story of just another guy, a guy who happens to be a geek and who also just happens to have acted in some pretty big things.  The book is told in part through old blog posts that by Wil’s own admission are hard to read as they are a horrible example of the English language.  The book is not long  but filled with personal stories that show how he deals with fear and rejection, his love for his family, and sometimes some just plain funny stories.

As Wil tells stories about various auditions where he went in and felt he did his very best but still ended up as a runner up, I wholeheartedly felt for him.  I feel the same way every time I go for a teaching interview and don’t get the job.  The book starts with him being asked “Didn’t you used to be an actor?” and him replying rather forcefully “What do you mean used to be an actor.  I’m still an actor!”  Oh yeah this sounds a lot like me when students ask “You mean you used to be a teacher?”  UGH!!!  “Just because I’m in a classroom assistant position does not mean I’m not still a teacher.”  It’s connections like this though that have made Wil’s books and blogs so popular.  He still has his detractors some left over from the days of “Wesley sucks!” but ignore them!

If you were a Wesley or Gordie fan read this book, if you weren’t read it anyway you may change your mind.  Go to Wil’s page wilwheaton.net for more recent blog entries and check out this video with Wil at the Calgary Comic Expo explaining why it’s awesome to be a nerd http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_BtmV4JRSc