Read: November 2017

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Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

After finishing Anne of Green Gables on Audible, I wanted to try my public library’s Overdrive audio book selection. I downloaded the app, searched for available Newbery winners, and selected this 2012 medal recipient. Easy!

Narrated by the author, this semi-autobiographical story of Jack Gantos’ childhood is a fictitious glimpse of a child’s life in the post WWII 1950s with quirky characters, two parents with differing styles of love and discipline, the care taken to write a quality obituary, a neat (and true) connection to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Book read via: Overdrive audio

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The Encore by Charity Tillemann-Dick

Sixteen years ago I was a vocal music education major in my junior of college and after an extended period of having difficulty producing sound, I was placed on vocal rest by my ear, nose, and throat doctor. The diagnosis of a cyst on one of my vocal chords was the culprit, which I combated with vocal rest, consistent hydration, a modified diet, and medication to combat acid reflux. After approximately 3 months, I was able to begin singing again – a praise for which I continue to give thanks to God Almighty.

Thus when I came across Charity Tillemann-Dick’s story of undergoing a double lung transplant as a young opera singer, I immediately empathized with a fellow soprano and was intrigued to read her account of overcoming a much more serious and life-threatening hurdle.

I flew through this memoir over a weekend and found her story approachable, honest, and filled with faith, hope, and the desire to truly live and be thankful for each personal and musical achievement. Even for those who have not studied classical music or medicine, her story is relatable and entirely inspirational.

Her 2010 TED Med speech/performance gives a condensed synopsis of at least part of her story. Watch her TED Talk here.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

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84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This has been on my TBR list for ages and after receiving it from ILL, I was astonished how slim an epistolary novel this was – only 71 pages! Had the adjustment back to standard time not thrown my internal clock for a loop, I could have easily read the whole thing in a day.

This collection of real letters exchanged over several decades between Hanff, an avid reader and writer in New York City, and the employees of Marks & Co. antiquarian booksellers at 84, Charing Cross Road in London, was as endearing as I hoped this book would be.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

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Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

The recipient of the 1984 Newbery medal, this is an outstanding example of the timelessness of well-written children’s books that includes themes of reading and writing, the difficult impact divorce has on the life of a child, and the longing to be understood, listened to, and loved.

After reading 84, Charing Cross Road and Dear Mr. Henshaw, I started thinking about other epistolary novels I’ve read and enjoyed, which led me to blog about other books in this style of writing. Read this blog post here.

Listen to Ms. Cleary’s Newbery acceptance speech here.

Read more about my Newbery Reading Project here. 

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

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You’re a Genius All the Time by Jack Kerouac

Currently the shelf organization of our main collection allows me to walk out of my office and see this immediately outside my door. I’ve often walked by it, meaning to pick it up for a quick read, and I finally did so on a recent Friday afternoon.

This slim volume contains brief but deep phrases and ideas about the process writing from one of America’s most famous beat poets. My favorite was, “No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language & knowledge”

Book read via: my academic library

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Camino Island by John Grisham

I read The Innocent Man by John Grisham in April of 2016, but prior to that, Skipping Christmas in 2002 was been the last time I read anything by him newly published. (The Firm remains my favorite of Grisham’s writing.)

I’ve been aware of his more recent publications, but when I heard this book’s premise of a heist planned to steal original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton (academic library!), a black market book seller (book store!) and an inquisitive writer (author!) seeking inspiration in Camino Island, Florida, I couldn’t help but request it from the library!

This was a fun read and reminded me why John Grisham (and other authors like him) are so popular – they draw readers in with an intriguing story, likable characters, short and easily digestible chapters, and a tidy conclusion at the end.

Book read via: public library

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In This Moment by Karen Kingsbury

While this is listed as a part of the Baxter family saga, the Baxters and Flanigans are only supporting characters in this newest release from Karen Kingsbury.

The key story revolves around a new character, a Christian high school principal whose students are exhibiting increasingly troubling and dangerous behavior. As a way of providing an alternative, he forms an after school Bible club which results in lives changed…but also a religious freedom lawsuit. Thus themes of standing up for religious liberty are heavily woven throughout Kingsbury’s latest installment.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC. https://www.netgalley.com/

 

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Refugee by Alan Gratz

A highlight of my fall semester is helping out at our Scholastic Book Fair fundraiser, where a portion of the proceeds go to enhance and support our academic library’s youth collection. When I saw Refugee was included, of which I had heard good reviews, it piqued my interest into a very timely topic and I bought a copy for myself.

Told from three children’s perspectives, each of whom face exile from their homeland: Josef – a boy who is Jewish during Hitler’s oppressive rise in 1930s Germany, Isabel – a girl from Cuba fleeing during Castro’s reign in the 1990s, and Mahmoud – a boy from Syria facing modern-day atrocities.

This would spur wonderful conversation for middle and high school readers, yet due to the intense nature of these three stories, I wouldn’t recommend this for sensitive or younger readers without guidance or an adult reading partner.

Book read via: personal library


I’ve just received several festive Christmas novellas from various library sources and am looking forward to these enhancing my already festive Christmas mood! (Look for a blog post about that soon.) Are you also getting ready to read seasonally? Feel free to leave comments and suggestions below.

 

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Read: January 2017

A new year, new month, new books read! Here’s my January recap.

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I kept reading reviews from bookish bloggers who read this near the end of 2016 and it piqued my curiosity. My formative years and my current geographic location were/are entrenched in living in a small town surrounded by very rural areas. But my impression of “hillbillies” received such a startling wakeup call through the eyes of Vance, who grew up in the rural Rust Belt of Ohio. His memoir shines a very personal light onto the everyday lives of those living in poverty, violence, and without a lot of hope. This cycle continues today in all parts of our country, evidenced by certain educational and political statistics, but Vance is a living testament to the fact that change and a bright future is possible.

This recent article/interview from The Guardian has more details about this best seller.

Book read via: public library Overdrive


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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay

The Optometrist surprised me at Christmas by giving me the boxed set of the Harry Potter movies on Blu Ray! We’ve since worked our way through all eight, which was a lot of fun to see the actors age (with improved acting skills) quickly, one movie at a time. This spurred us to begin re-reading the series aloud to each other, this time from the beautifully illustrated edition by Jim Kay. If, for some reason, you still haven’t journeyed into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (either through the books or movies), what are you waiting for?!

This video provides a glimpse into Kay’s home art studio and some of his artistic inspirations.

Book read via: home library

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March. Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell

This YA graphic novel autobiographically recounts Representative John Lewis’ (D-GA) youth growing up in rural, segregated Alabama, and the eventual and pivotal role he played promoting the social gospel and Civil Rights movement. It’s the first of three graphic novels in this series and would be a terrific inclusion for any discussion about Civil Rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Black History Month in February. And March: Book Three won the Printz award last week, so I am especially excited to read installments two and three!

Related: This video clip showing Lewis, Aydin, and Powell accepting the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for March. Book One will bring a tear to your eye.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

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Stranded by Dani Pettrey

Third in the Alaskan Courage series (previously read books 1 and 2 in December), Pettrey plots another inspirational mystery, this time on a cruise ship headed from Alaska to Russia with an unaccounted for disappearance at the heart of the story. The McKenna siblings, along with other recurring characters from the first two books, are featured once more as they open their hearts to God’s leading, find love, and rely on one another to bring about justice to those who have been victims of evil.

Book read via: public library

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Take the Key and Lock Her Up by Ally Carter

YA author (from Oklahoma!) Ally Carter resumes her Embassy Row series with this third installment, which continues with Grace needing to be on the run to preserve her safety, finding out who her true allies are, and discovering the answers to long-held secrets. Grace possesses a lot of youthful angst, but the plot and mysteries are compelling, inviting the reader to journey with her and find out what she learns, especially in light of the historical pressures her character faces.

Read more: my review of book 1, All Fall Down, and thoughts about book 2, See How They Run.

Book read via: public library

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A sneak peak into my February reads…H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Audible streaming), Self Talk, Soul Talk by Jennifer Rothschild,  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, and more!

Books: December Edition

Several sick days during finals week (when the library was busy with students, but slower for me not having to provide any instruction) afforded me lots of glorious time to stay at home to rest, drink tea, and read, read, read! And then, with the semester ending and visiting family over Christmas, I had even more time to read! And somehow, I forgot to post this before 2017 rolled around…so here is my December reading recap!

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Good Behavior by Blake Crouch
Oh how I love anything by Blake Crouch! The Pines trilogy was so engrossing and Dark Matter was my favorite book read in 2016 (twice). Now, after finishing Good Behavior, I realize why I enjoy Crouch’s books so much: he writes descriptively and draws the reader in, which helps vividly envision scenarios and characters’ mannerisms, allowing the stories to mentally come to life and remain with you long after the last page is turned.

Comprised of three novellas stories, “The Pain of Others,” “Sunset Key,” and “Grab,” we meet Letty Dobesh, a seasoned criminal who is smart but her past choices and addictions haunt her life post-prison and influence the decisions she currently faces. The stories each stand alone, so there really isn’t a cohesive flow between the three. Yet, after each short story/novella, Crouch provides additional commentary about the story, its creation, and/or how it was adapted for TV; a neat, insider’s glance behind the scenes, allowing the reader to understand this slightly disjointed structure.

While I haven’t seen the TNT series, I’m curious about it simply because Michelle Dockery, Lady Mary from Downton Abbey, plays Letty. Talk about an actress not wanting to be typecast and playing a diverse range of characters!

My thanks to NetGalley for the digital ARC!

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Greenglass House by Kate Milford

I saw this listed as a Kindle daily deal in early December, and as I always do, first looked to see if my library had this in the youth collection, which we did (which means I probably ordered it…)! Free beats a Kindle deal any day!

This is an inviting story, perfect for cold, snowy weather, drinking hot chocolate nestled near the Christmas tree, and escaping into a world where two children are solving ongoing thefts and mysteries in a unique, snow-bound inn. Although this is a children’s book, the reading level is advanced (upper elementary for sure) and the plot requires some attention to remember different characters, various names, and details about the mysteries that unfold.

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What Light by Jay Asher

I received a three-chapter preview of this Young Adult novel from NetGalley, and it propelled me to request it from our public library. Jay Asher is best known for his book Th1rteen R3asons Why, which has become a well known, go-to YA story about the tragic impact of bullying.

In comparison, this Christmas story is much more positive and sweet. Sierra’s family owns a Christmas tree farm and each year they travel from Oregon to California to sell their trees, so she has two lives and two sets of friends divided around the holidays. This year, however, she meets a cute boy whose past is shrouded in speculation and rumor, and she must decide whether to accept him as he is, or be fearful of his past. This YA novel includes positive messages of acceptance, fresh starts, and openness towards the future.

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Submerged by Dani Pettrey

While I’m pretty familiar with Inspirational Fiction authors, Dani Pettrey had never been on my radar until seeing one of her books as a Kindle daily deal. Again, I opted for checking my public library first to see if any of her books (especially starting with Book 1 of a series) were available. Thankfully, several were, including Submerged, the first in her Alaskan Courage series.

Although I’ve never been to Alaska, I was easily whisked away to the small, fictitious, coastal town of Yancey where Cole McKenna and his adventurous siblings work together with a friend from years past to uncover the motives surrounding a series of interconnected murders. This Christian fiction story includes themes of forgiveness, letting go of the past, the bonds of family, and an assurance in God’s faithfulness.

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Shattered
by Dani Pettrey

After devouring Submerged I grabbed Shattered, the second book in the Alaskan Courage series, at my public library and enjoyed it equally as much as I did the first! The McKenna siblings return once more, with sister Piper and family friend Landon being featured as the main characters in this installment, as they collectively work to prove the true identity of someone who has killed their brother’s friend.  Themes in Shattered include dependence on God, being open to love, truth prevailing, and loyalty among family members.

I’ve also realized my favorite books are written with a strong sense of place, which allows me to fully immerse myself in the writer’s world, and this series definitely whisks me away to an inviting, fictitious place!

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A Baxter Family Christmas by Karen Kingsbury

I began reading stories surrounding the Baxter family in 2008 and have read every.single.one.of.them (this is the 24th) over the years – wow!  This is definitely the longest series I’ve read and endeavored to keep up with, but the characters leave imprints on your heart and it’s always cozy to return to beloved friends found between the pages.

However, Kingsbury shares a brief backstory about all the characters in the preface, so you can be completely new to the Baxter family and still enjoy this sweet story of love, honesty, forgiveness, family relationships, and the birth of Jesus at Christmastime.

My thanks to Edelweiss for the digital ARC!