Books I’ve read recently…..

Fresh Scratch, Paper Towns, John GreenI think that Paper Towns is my favorite of all of John Green’s books, because I don’t know about you, but I sure could relate to that desire of wanting to be with one of those cool guys that everyone loved in school. And I had a very distinct vision of what that would be like. Our buddy Quentin feels that way about his next-door neighbor Margo. She seems to have it all. Then one night she comes to his bedroom window and recruits him for a wild night of vengeance against all the other popular kids who, apparently, have wronged her. It sounds a little like Heathers, but I promise it has a sweetness to it.

He so badly wants to be right about her – right that surely she is still the same girl with whom he played as a kid, right that maybe this is the beginning of a meant-to-be kind of relationship. When she disappears the next morning, leaving behind clues meant only for him, he goes on an epic quest to bring her home…because surely he understands her better than anyone.

Fresh Scratch, An Abundance of Katherines, John GreenWhile I loved Quentin in Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines has a main character that I found a bit annoying. Colin has had only Katherines for girlfriends his entire life – like nineteen of them. When the last one totally breaks him down out of nowhere and right when he graduates from school, he has a melodramatic breakdown that involves puking. Honestly. His irreverent buddy Hassan comes to his rescue, taking him on the road trip of a lifetime. He meets a girl named Lindsey, moves to Tennessee for a while, and works on developing his algorithm to predict the success of any relationship. He learns that girls named Katherine do not have to be the center of his universe. Because, duh.

Fresh Scratch, Looking for Alaska, John GreenOut of the three books here, this is the one that sucker-punched me. Things happen in Looking for Alaska that I didn’t see coming. This book has some raw, raw storytelling, and it stands apart from the other two. And it’s won a big award!

Alaska is a girl met by our main character Miles. I really like Miles. Miles is a real dude. He has flaws. He makes mistakes, much moreso than Quentin and Colin. He is obsessed with people’s last words – he seriously knows the last words of like every famous person {this is where I also tell you that each book teaches me real stuff! John Green is wicked smart and curious about many things. I often use his Crash Course in Literature vlogs with my English students}. He’s a small fish in his Florida town. He decides to apply to his dad’s old boarding school in Alabama, thinking it will be fancy and different and will get him closer to “the great perhaps” – which is his phrase for the possibility of, well, anything exciting happening in his life, but mostly something big.

Dad’s boarding school is sparse, un-fancy, and more closely resembles a prison than the kinds of places Miles had had in mind. But Alaska is there. Alaska, with her love for Boone’s Farm wine and for books – her room is literally stacked with them. She’s wild and – to quote Dylan McKay of 90210 – “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” So, naturally, Miles adores her. He just wants to be close to her in any way he can. Alaska makes him feel like he matters. Until she doesn’t.


91lUeBR2G1LThe Girl on the Train is the Gone Girl of the moment. You’ve got Rachel, a woman who cannot seem to keep it together due to her alcoholism. She has made up a life for the perfect couple she spies each morning from her train into London as they are sitting down to breakfast together. Just as the jacket says, one morning she sees something she shouldn’t have seen and for which she has no context. From there, it gets nuts.

I’ve heard people describe this as the perfect plot of a Hitchcock movie, and I must say that they are absolutely right. All we need is Grace Kelly to play a role. Apparently it is actually in the works as a film, rumored to be starring Emily Blunt, Rooney Mara, and Rosamund Pike {gulp – she scares me.}.

The story is all first-person, which is my favorite, and chapters are split between Rachel {our unreliable narrator – you may want to smack her!}, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife Anna, and the girl she sees from the train, Megan {though Rachel likes to call her Jess because she is weird that way}. The ways in which they become connected will make you cringe.

It was the kind of book that, by the last quarter, I was carrying it on errands, reading in every parking lot between stops until I finished.

Yup. It was that much of a page-turner.

Pride and Prejudice, Fresh Scratch Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

I am a sucker for the Victorian era in England. I don’t know what it is – the language, the opulence, the moody weather – but I’ve been hooked since I first read Wuthering Heights in middle school. And, while this is not my favorite from the era {I prefer the very gothic-ness of Jane Eyre}, I truly delighted in reading this as school wound down and summer began.

Even though, come on!, we all know that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy will wind up together despite him acting like a jackass and despite her embarrassing mother and younger sisters, there is still suspense. I mean, it takes forever for that will they/won’t they question to be answered. It’s like Matthew {r.i.p.} and Mary in Downton Abbey – you hang in there because you’re just not 100% sure.

Speaking of Downton Abbey, I highly recommend pretending the Bennetts are the Granthams – let Elizabeth just be Mary in your mind and let her dad be Lord Grantham, etc; hear their voices in your mind while you read, and this book will move right along. You won’t get lost in the thithers and tithers.

I first had to read this in college, and in my memory I was given a week or two. I skimmed, I Cliff-Noted, and all I remember was “Elizabeth Bennett, blah, blah, blah. Mr. Darcy, blah, blah, blah.” It was a delight to take my time {a month!} with this, reading it between grading final essay and projects and getting ready to leave for Europe. In fact, I finished it on the flight to London, annoying everyone with my reading light on while their window shades were down and they were trying to sleep. The feeling I got when closing the cover for the last time was awesome.

Hausfrau, Fresh Scratch Hausfrau: A Novel
by Jill Alexander Essbaum

The honest truth is that I saw this book on the shelves at my favorite local book store, Browsers Bookshop, and I fell in love with the cover. It’s more gorgeous in person because the title is actually cut into the cover – texture, people! Andrea admitted to buying it for the shop because of how pretty it is, and that is one reason why I like her.

I started the book on our camping trip at the end of July, and I finished it three days later. I had a lot of trouble putting it down – quite the page turner. I mean, it pretty much begins with, “She was a good wife, mostly.” I had hoped that our main character would somehow be on the trajectory of some sort of redemption, but I had that knot in my stomach that maybe there would be no tidy bow at the end of this story.

Anna is an American living in a country town outside of Zurich in Switzerland. Her husband works at a bank, and they have three kids together. Though she’s been there for a decade, she has completely isolated herself from everyone back in America, from the other school moms, and from her husband. She just doesn’t seem to have the energy to enjoy her life. Except-

… except that she begins a string of affairs that somehow fill her void her for a time, only to have the lies and loneliness start to pile up. And you know where this is going to end up, don’t you?

Reading this was as easy as leering at a grisly accident, but also just as difficult. I knew this wasn’t going anywhere good, but I had to watch it unfold, just the same. Having been to Switzerland the last two summers helped me picture everything perfectly in my mind, and I couldn’t resist vicariously going back there via these pages. It’s a good, though heavy, summer read.

The Book of Speculation, Fresh Scratch The Book of Speculation: A Novel
by Erika Swyler

Oh, this. This book has had me gushing for nearly a week now. I’m expecting big things from this novelist – this was her first book after having some poems published, and she has got the gift, for sure. I would’ve read this all in one sitting if I could’ve! Seriously, this is one of the most engaging, well-written, delicious reads I’ve had in a few years. Not since The Night Circus have I gotten so lost in a story.

And it’s right up there with The Night Circus, if you’ve read that. The chapters alternate between our present-day narrator, Simon {a librarian in his late 20’s living on Long Island}, and a late-1700’s traveling show of performers. An old, leather-bound book arrives on Simon’s doorstep one day from a book seller who found a connection between Simon and a woman’s name in the back of the book. Simon finds that it’s the log of an old traveling show, and there begins his shocking discovery that he is from a long line of mermaids – circus performing women who could hold their breath for unfathomably long periods of time.

Simon’s mom taught him how to do this when he was a boy – just before she drowned herself in Long Island Sound in front of their home. He soon discovers that his grandmother died the same way, and her mother, and her mother, etc, and always on June 24th. His sister – who reads Tarot cards – works for a carnival and is coming home for a visit…and June 24th is six days away.

The imagery is beautiful, and I loved that there were twists and turns I didn’t see coming. To finish this last week, I stayed up til 1 am with about forty pages still left when I awoke. I stayed in bed until I was done the next morning – and I was so engrossed that Matt had to send Emily up to our bedroom when she stopped by to bring me that delicious jug of sangria – the perfect thing with which to celebrate the end of this awesome story {though not that morning – I waited until I was making dinner!}. There I was: jammies, sleepy-eyed, hair a crazy mess, raving about the book in my hand like an insane woman. That’s how you know.


A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

OMG, y’all! I finally finished Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food, which I had bought at The Book Larder in Seattle last summer. I waited for a sunny Sunday morning, let the girls watch an epic amount of cartoons, and just drank the entire thing in. If you love to cook and love to keep it simple, if you love NYC or Paris, or if you enjoy entertaining and all things beautiful, you will adore this book. I wish I could just become someone’s personal chef for a while and try out everything. Wait. Reading that back makes me laugh. Aren’t I a personal chef to a dude and two girls? Look out. Anyway, there’s truly not a better way to spend a lazy morning than reading something that makes you happy. Can I get an amen? Ruth Reichl, you never let me down. This book has been my absolute escape over the past week. I finished my grading last Sunday at 11 am, 13 hours before the deadline, and just dove into this world in NYC – a world of family-run food shops, a food magazine that goes bust, colorful characters who felt like my new friends, and a little bit of historical fiction surprisingly tossed in there. I just finished it, and I am so sad it’s over. It’s that good. If you love food and reading about food and cooking and you also just love a good, juicy story with lots of twists and layers to it, this is your jam. Ruth, if you can hear me, please write a sequel. I must find out what’s next for Billie. If you don’t, I may have to start a new kind of fan fiction – the foodie kind – and that seems kind of weird. I know that everyone who is cool {like Tina Fey, for example} loves this collection of essays on coming-of-age by Lena Dunham. But, you know what? I didn’t. You could read, like, the first twenty pages and basically say you’ve read the book. It’s pretty much like, “This one time, I had unprotected sex….And then this other time, I did it again. And then…” I can be pretty judge-y sometimes, though, so if you’re interested, you should give it a try. When I finished A Moveable Feast, I think it was the hardest I’ve ever been jolted after finishing a book. I wanted Hemingway’s memoir to keep going and going and going for the rest of his life. His writing style is so simple, and I have always admired it. This is the one book, though, that I put down after maybe a third of it in college. I just couldn’t understand his writer’s lifestyle, or his marriage, or what the heck he meant. But now I do. I’m so glad I gave it another try. And I think, even since high school, I have always sensed that burn he had beneath the surface, one I think all writers somehow have. When I’m with one of his books, I always feel like I am a part of the story – a friend who’s tagging along. I also think it was hard to let go at the end of the book because I’ve been savoring it ever since I returned from Europe in July. That re-entry was also jolting, and somehow those months are all tied up in this book. Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park I have to admit that what drew me toward Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park was the cover. It is such a raw read. It takes place in 1986 Nebraska. An unlikely relationship develops on the school bus between Park – a guy who likes Punk music and eyeliner – and Eleanor – a girl who comes from a very sad home life and who is just this side of homeless. Their connection is born over mixed tapes and comic books. It’s about first love, bullying, domestic violence, and friendship. We wonder if they can ever find a way to just be a typical teenage couple. It’s heavy at times, but really worth it. Divergent Divergent It took me a while to jump on the whole Divergent bandwagon, but I finally did. I could. not. put. it. down. It’s definitely in the vein of other distopian novels, but it has it’s own spin. I’m sure you’ve heard a ton about it by now, especially since it’s already a movie. I’m excited to read the rest – the book is full of great descriptions and imagery. Gone GirlGone Girl: A Novel had been on my to-read list for a while. My friend Marie had raved about it, and I’ve got to admit that the cover really freaked me out and intrigued me. During the last week of school, I finished it up in a mad-dash to be ready for book club…which didn’t end up meeting. Which royally sucked because I really, REALLY needed to process this book. It’s very much a he-said/she-said, wild and crazy ride. At the end, you might think you’ve gone crazy and read it wrong. But no. I can’t tell if it’s brilliant or a cruel joke, but I do know that I am ready to see my man Benny Affleck play the lead in the film this fall. Before Sunrise, Before SunsetI bought the screenplay duo Before Sunrise & Before Sunset at Shakespeare Book Company in Paris this summer {um, I bought a lot of books connected to Paris in someway at that book store this summer. As in, someone had to carry my books in their luggage on the way home!}. By now you guys know I sort of have a thing for these stories, plus their most recent installment, Before Midnight. I’ve loved seeing it come to life on the screen since I was seventeen and came out. But seeing all the beautiful lines in print? It gave me butterflies. I love Jesse and Celine’s love story. And I love that the beautiful places where they connect come alive when they’re there, but are just places when they’re gone. Did you know that Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and Richard Linklater write the story together each time? The Girl with the Dragon TattooOkay. So I am very, very late to the game in reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I know. But what a delicious read. I spent many a hot afternoon this summer lying on the grass in the shady parts of my backyard, soaking this all in. It’s a mystery, a love story {on many levels}, a crime novel, a legal thriller, a disturbing read – all wrapped up into one book. My brain painted a whole place to which I’ve never been because the descriptions are that good. I can’t wait to read the other two. If you’re on the fence about reading this one, believe the hype and pick it up. The Sweet Life in ParisDavid Lebovitz is one of my favorite food bloggers because of his great wit and his recipes that always turn out just how they’re supposed to. He’s written lots of cookbooks, but I love his memoir, The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City, which tells what it’s like to be an American living in Paris, complete with recipes and tips about where to go and what to eat. He doesn’t romanticize living in Paris, but he sure finds delight in all of its quirks. When I’m in Paris next summer, I am definitely hitting up some of the establishments he mentioned. the fault in our starsI finished The Fault in Our Stars with nary a tear. Because I am the ice queen, apparently, and the only person who did not need one single kleenex while reading this awesomely written story. Believe the hype and give it a read. You will fall in love with a teenaged boy named Augustus Waters – not to creep you out, but just to warn you. You will wish you were 17. A Homemade Life by Molly WizenbergA Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table: This is probably my favorite food memoir. For every chapter, there’s a recipe. Not a crazy recipe, but the kind you can whip up confidently and that you’ll actually want to eat. Molly tells the story of her life through the food that was meaningful during all the moments, little and big. It’s not like her life is all that different from any other normal gen-x-er – it’s the telling of it that makes it special. I am especially attached to this book because of how she describes her relationship with her dad, who passed away from cancer just a few months ahead of my dad. She tells about all of it – the disbelief, the heart-crushing sadness, the denial, the relief – just the way I remember it. Even all these years later, it helped me feel better to read it and know that someone else knew just how it was. The memoir ends with marrying her husband, Brandon Pettit, who started off as a reader of her blog… Delancey by Molly Wizenberg…and that’s where Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage picks up. Brandon’s interest in pizza and desire to open a pizzeria seemed like just another passing whim to Molly, but this time she was wrong. This memoir tells of the craziness that lead up to the opening of their Ballard restaurant Delancey, how it almost destroyed her – how it almost destroyed them. How the thing that brought them together – home cooking – all but disappeared, but that she lived to tell the tale. She offers up fabulous recipes for things like brownies and meatloaf – things you can really sink your teeth into; things that sustain us when the going gets tough. And it always gets tough. Plus, this is probably the most visually-appealing book cover I have ever seen. Don’t you think? I read each of these books in two days. Two days, people. That is saying something. The Goldfinch The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) by Donna Tartt: A nearly 800 page book is not general par for the course in my book club, but I tackled this tome, nonetheless. It was my first book by Donna Tartt, and I can honestly say that it got its talons into me early on. She is a master of plot and plot twists and description. Our story takes place around the present day, mostly in NYC. After spending so much time with this book, I feel like you could drop me off anywhere in the city and I would be fine, though, in reality, it’s been over a decade since my last visit. We follow Theo Decker from middle school through mid-twenties. We meet him at the end and then go back to the beginning – when his mother died in a terrorist bombing while they were at a NYC museum to see a special painting. The book gave me pause over and over. At the heart, it strikes me that one’s life could so dramatically shift from the trajectory it’s been on to a completely different path in one instant. But that is what happens to Theo. He goes from prince to pauper, from adored to tolerated, from Manhattan to the outskirts of Vegas. From care to malnutrition. From rich friends to Boris, a Ukranian boy who introduces him to true friendship, vodka, cigarettes, and drugs. But through the whole crazy ride, a thread of hope pulled me along. Through an odd twist of fate, Theo found two people who really cared for him: an old furniture maker who loves him unconditionally and Pippa, “the golden thread who ran through everything.” The story is so much simpler and so much more complicated than everything I’ve said. It is certainly worth the almost-800 pages. I learned more about drug habits and the seedy underworld of stolen art than I ever cared to, but I also learned about the human spirit and its need to carry on and find beauty in the midst of tragedy and self-loathing. The last two hours of reading is edge-of-your seat good, kind of like a deeper Dan Brown novel. Bonus: reading this book has got to be akin to lifting weights. It is so. dang. heavy. Glitter and Glue: She’s written about her relationship with her dad and with her two daughters, but in this book Kelly Corrigan delves into the intricacies of her connection to her mother. Her mom’s a no-nonsense gal – the glue to her husband’s glitter, she says – from whom Kelly grew up itching to break away. But it’s in the very breaking away she did during a year of travel with her college roommate in the late ’80s that she starts to understand her mother. After running out of money in Australia and with many months left to go and sights left to be seen on her travels, Corrigan took a job as a nanny in Sidney. She’s charged with transitioning a widower, his two young children, and a couple of other live-in family members after the death of their young mother to cancer. She finds her mother coming out of her mouth at every turn – gasp! We see her mom through flashbacks – her reaction the time she shoplifted, etc. We see her closer to the present as she cares for the author during her battle with breast cancer. And we see Corrigan wrestle with the thought that she was put in that house in Australia to nanny that family in order to prepare her for her own battle with cancer as a mother. Kelly Corrigan is an author whom I love because she writes in the voice of a spunky friend. She doesn’t sugar-coat and she isn’t shy. She’s frank and refreshing and the kind of girl with whom I’d feel comfortable sharing my short-comings – parental or otherwise. She has a youtube channel that is awesome, a spot with excellent personal essays on medium, and a totally kick-ass Ted Talk on the importance of reading. I want to have a glass of wine with her so badly I can taste it! Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook { I am not a huge fan of the memoir or the self-help genre, and I have never wanted to read a book about business or about women in business. Not even a little bit. I like to read for escape, and fiction is my best buddy. But, man, it was like a magnet. By the middle of the first chapter {and each chapter is short enough to read before bed}, I was nodding, laughing, and getting a little take-away for my own life. It was a book I ended up devouring over winter break, and no one was more surprised than me! I am now a super-fan of Sheryl Sandberg. She has changed the way I think about my career and the way I think about my partnership at home. Each chapter has a big theme, such as thinking about your job as a jungle-gym and not a ladder that you climb – there’s more than one “top” and there are lots of ways to move sideways and expand your skills, rather than climbing the ladder and looking at someone’s butt the whole time. Love that! And this particularly applies to a high school teacher’s career – I can grow a lot at work just by teaching new classes, not necessarily by becoming head of my department or having aspirations to be an administrator {if you ever hear me talk about doing that, please know I have been taken over by aliens!}. She talks about how literally sitting at the table can do wonders for you; essentially, take part and let your voice be heard. She also talks about how a successful career for anyone depends upon an equal partner at home. Ever notice how women may work the same hours as their partners, yet are up way later at night, doing chores and managing the house/kids? Imagine how much earlier we’d get to bed if we expected our partners to split the work when we’re at home! Oh, my – such a concept! I’m not gonna lie – work has felt different for me in the last couple of weeks. I have spoken up without fear of being deemed “bitchy,” and I have not been ashamed to do so. I have called upon more girls in my classes. I’m thinking of showing her TED Talk to my seniors before they go off into the world. I have even told Mister Fresh Scratch, “I need you to be an equal partner!!” {That may or may not have worked in my favor…} I think that this book should be required reading for all adults. I’ve drank the kool-aid.} The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. {The thing is, the characters are interesting in the way that you and your friends are interesting; it’s the little things and then the big things and the things we keep hidden from other people. This book is basically about peeking into the friendship of a few fictional people who met at a summer camp in the 1970’s and stayed close. The heartaches, the petty stuff, the generosity – it’s all there against the backdrop of NYC through the last four decades. At the center of the story is Jules, the plain girl who could never understand what this pack of privileged city kids saw in her. At the center with Jules is Ethan Figman, the nerdy kid from camp who loves animation and who comes from a background similar to Jules’. While Figman thinks this is a reason they belong together, Jules thinks it’s the exact reason they don’t. Through everything, though, he looks after her, and it’s heartbreaking. I cried at the end, as Jules finally realized that a soul mate doesn’t necessarily need to be the person that you ended up with.} The Healing by Jonathan Odell  {I absolutely love stories that take place in the South – doesn’t seem to matter when the setting is. This one, though, is set on a Mississippi plantation in the middle of swamp country before the Civil War. The master has bred his own slaves for so long that they don’t remember any life outside of the plantation. He hasn’t bought a slave since he started, so no new ideas {or old ideas} have gotten in. One night his wife goes off her rocker and calls for a newborn slave to replace the daughter she has recently lost. Granada gets raised in the house and loses touch with where she came from. Enter Polly Shine, the slave the master paid an unheard of $5000 for, as she is known as a healer and he desperately needs her help to cure his slaves from a mysterious illness. With Polly comes an awakening across the plantation, especially in Granada, who is sent to live in Polly’s “hospital” to receive her training, as Polly sees “the gift” in her. There are twists and turns in this story that I just couldn’t have seen coming, making it difficult to step away from its pages. I finished the story absolutely satisfied, only to find that the author’s note at the end was just as good as the novel.} The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls {Did you love To Kill a Mockingbird? Then you’re going to love this. And if you got hung up on how kind of – well, boring – the first third of Harper Lee’s classic can be, this will get you hooked much faster. Instead of having the characters laid out and described in great detail before the story gets going, Jeannette Walls fills in the details as she goes, which feels much more natural. The story opens in the 1970’s with Bean (fiesty middle-schooler) and her older (bookish) sister being abandoned by their flighty (bipolar?) mother out in California. She’s left them before, but never for this long. They decide they can’t make it forever on their own, so they hop a bus back to Virginia where their mom grew up. They show up on the doorstep of their reclusive uncle. Being in Virginia finally gives the girls the roots they have craved, a connection to individual people and to the town itself. Though they are bullied at school, they have a support system for the first time in life. While Bean immerses herself in finding out who her father really was, her older sister spends more and more time working under the table for the thug who runs the mill and all of its workers, both inside and outside of work. Their quests collide in a moment that will make your chest tighten, but never fear! There is a Boo Radley in this book, too. Lots of people adored the author’s The Glass Castle: A Memoir, but I was not one of those. I found this story much more engaging.} Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan {This book grabbed me because it said on the jacket that it was for readers who loved The Night Circus, and you know I adored that story. Plus, the cover glows in the dark! Our tale takes place in modern-day San Francisco. After the business which he helped to start actually failed, our main character finds himself grasping for any sort of employment. He becomes the night clerk of the mysterious Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, where he is asked to keep a detailed log of every patron. When he begins to notice that the same people keep coming in to borrow books from the mysterious stacks in the back of the store, and that there are more of those people than those who come in to actually purchase the more recent releases out front, he starts to bend the rules of his employment to find out just what kind of business of which he is a part. Using his massive skills in technology, he crafts a 3-D image of the library and of all the books the strange individuals have been checking out, and in which order. He begins to see a pattern and, accidentally, he solves a puzzle that takes most patrons a lifetime to crack. This has great implications for him, Mr. Penumbra, and the patrons themselves. He and his sidekicks (nerdy best friend, creative roommate, Google-employee girlfriend) find themselves in a race against time to save Mr. Penumbra, his library, and to crack the ultimate code while they’re at it. They find themselves up against people wearing dark robes, a subterranean library, and a printer’s 500-year-old mystery. It worked itself into such a page-turner that I spend our recent camping trip sitting by the fire, devouring every word.} Inferno by Dan Brown {If you loved the other two books by Dan Brown starring our favorite professor, Robert Langdon, you simply must read this. And don’t let the fact that Tom Hanks starred as Professor Langdon in two movies mess with you. I mean, though I adore Tom Hanks, he was not the right pick. Are you with me? Bet you can’t guess who I think should be playing that part instead, and whom I therefore picture when I’m reading (hint: first name rhymes with “hen.”)… The story starts in one of my favorite cities – Florence, Italy – totally in the middle of the action. Robert has found himself in a hospital room with a gunshot to the head and no idea how the heck he has come to be there. And there’s a crazy biker chick storming down the hall with guns blazing! What?! A nice female doctor gets thrown into things with him by being there at the wrong time (because he needs his Girl Friday), and they set off on a crazy trail of riddles all connected to Dante’s Inferno. Don’t worry; you can totally still understand the book even if you have never touched Dante’s text (though it’s an awesome piece of work that I totally recommend getting your paws on at some point), as Robert explains everything. Because, you know, he’s just so wicked smaht. There are incredible near-misses and stunning descriptions of some amazing places, both within Florence and elsewhere. And the end will leave you pondering some of the most serious problems of the human race. Really, why would you not pick up a copy?} Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella {Here is where you learn something new about me: I love Sophie Kinsella and own each and every one of her books. True! I take up an entire book shelf with these shenanigans. I have been hooked ever since the first Shopaholic book that my friend Amanda loaned to me probably like 13 years ago after she picked it up at the airport. I am such an uber-fan that I buy each book the day it comes out and then devour it. Usually they take me a day or two to read, depending on what is happening at that moment. Kinsella’s books are my guilty pleasure, for sure. This summer I plan to tackle her books by her pseudonym, Madeline Whickham {or is Sophie Kinsella her pseodonym??}. Can.not.wait. The books all follow a formula for can’t-put-it-down-ness: there’s a woman of around thirty. She makes/has been making a bad choice(s). She gets herself in a peculiar situation that makes me really glad I am not her because I can see no way out. She meets a nice man whom she thinks is a jerk. Turns out, he is always a nice man in the end, and she saves her skin regarding said problem. Barely. In this book, our main gal is jilted by her boyfriend of many years, so she decides to take her first love up on their pact to marry one another if both are still single at this point. She has a level-headed big sis who is trying to dissuade her from this hasty marriage, but she gives her the slip by flying off to Greece for her honeymoon after getting married impromptu at the court house. Big sis thinks that if she can only get to Greece before they consummate the marriage, little sis can get an annulment and not end up a bitter divorcee like herself, so she uses her trusty travel magazine connections at the resort to ensure that the mis-matched couple gets no alone-time. Hijinks ensue. Lots of them. It’s crazy! So if you’re needing a book to help you escape from the end-of-the-school-year insanity, or wanting to throw one in your travel bag for the summer, this is it.} Baby Proof by Emily Giffin {What do you do when you and your spouse are united in your desire for a child-less life, only to find one of you has changed your mind? Yikes, right? Right. Giffin tackles this all in a light-hearted way, but I came out on the other side very glad not to be the main character. As with all of Giffin’s books, this was totally a beach read, but still a little thought-provoking. Enjoyable. And for one penny, used, on Amazon? Okay!} The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven, all by Carlos Ruiz Zafon {Collectively, these books are known as “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books Series.” Not because they are forgettable, but because it’s a top-secret place to which we are taken at least one time in each novel – sometimes on a slow journey, sometimes in a panic while being pursued by bad guys, and sometimes on the night of someone’s bachelor party. But we always find ourselves a visitor to the crazy, padlocked house crammed with books in every nook and cranny. Let me be the first to say that I have absolutely devoured gothic literature of many sorts in the last decade or so, a truth that always brings me pause. It’s like reading the Harry Potter series and realizing, “I do love fantasy books! What?!” I had no idea I could be a fan of the dark and mysterious. These books are delectable. They are not scary. Sometimes they take you to the edge of creepy, but you still want to turn the pages. Another cool thing is that you don’t have to read them all or read them in any particular order to enjoy each on its own. But let me assure you that the experience is so much richer when you can string them together and read a paragraph and gasp out loud because it just made a huge connection to an earlier book or just shed light on a previous mystery. I totally recommend starting at the beginning. It’s a wild ride. The setting is in and round the decades of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, Barcelona. Our protagonist, overall, is Daniel Sempere. From the outside, Daniel’s life is simple: a young man who lives with his sweet, simple dad above the book shop which they own. His mom died when he was young. Oh, but that is not all, my friends; that is not all. There are secrets about his life that Daniel is only beginning to discover, even at the end of the third book (leaving room for more – yay!). In the first book, he is trying to figure out why someone is trying to destroy every copy of every book by his favorite author. It leads him to dangerous, near-death experiences, a corrupt cop, a scary attic apartment, a spooky basement, and his friend and guardian angel, the lovable Fermin Romero de Torres.  The second book goes back in time a bit to an author who is compelled to write by a mysterious benefactor, and he drives himself mad doing so. We find near the end that he this author has a connection to Daniel’s mom. The third in the series is the one I read almost completely on my birthday, and one which we will be discussing at my book club tonight. In this one, Daniel is compelled to ask Fermin some hard questions about his past, and we find that the sweet, goofy Fermin has a dark history of his own, and it’s all wrapped up with Daniel’s. His revelations will turn Daniel’s world upside down, leaving the door open – just a crack – for a fourth book. Thank God.} The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern {I recently finished this book, having finally opened it long, long after my book club had finished reading it in July. For the first time in my life, this fall I took a hiatus from reading books. I can’t believe I am saying it, but I got burned out on reading after spending the entire year prior reading all the books that I was teaching my sophomore honors students. No wonder why a lot of kids don’t like to read! This was the first time in my life I experienced this kind of reading fatigue, and I felt very off-balance. I was so excited to crack this open and be hooked by the first sentence: The circus arrives without warning. The entire story was rich with mystery, intrigue, magic, tension, and vivid imagery. At times, different chapters focused on different characters who somehow had a role in the running of this particular circus, giving you an almost-omnicient view, but never quite. It always felt like anything might happen next. The story is set in and around London in the late 1800’s. Two illusionists are magically connected together at a young age and trained to outwit the other, only neither knows who the other is, where this challenge will take place, or how they will know they have “won.” Enter the Circus of Dreams; a magical circus that springs up with no advertisements in a field near you and stays for about a week, opening at dusk and closing at dawn. All the tents are black-and-white-striped, and the performers are also wearing black or white. Things exist in the tents that one could never have imagined, and visitors form a sort of cult following, showing up wearing a red scarf to signify that they are a circus groupie. And what will happen when our two illusionists finally discover not only that they are opponents, but that they are also in love…and that they are magically and painfully bound to the circus? I was so enthralled with this story that I found moments in my day to read that I had not known existed. And, when it was over, I felt the satisfying feeling that I’d just spent my time well, coupled with a feeling of melancholy because I’d never get to know what happened after the last page . You know that feeling? I hope so. It’s rare and delicious. The whole vibe of this book really reminded me of another book I loved and got sucked into probably ten years ago, before I got married and my life became a circus – ha ha! It was Carter Beats the Devil. Anyone else read it? I have been pleasantly surprised by the joy I find in reading books about fictional magicians in the early 1900’s, just like I can’t believe I like fantasy books. Ain’t life grand?} The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky {After reading my high school students’ reviews of this book for a few years, I was curious. Then my friend Amanda recommended it to our book club. This is how I found myself – on Christmas day, relaxing in a bubble bath {it’s my personal tradition} after all the presents were opened – reading the entire novel in one sitting/soaking. I will say up-front that I would’ve loved this as a teenager. As an adult who spends a lot of time with creatures teenagers, reading this book was not a good way to spend my time over Christmas break. It’s a great book, just for young adults. It is told by Charlie, our main character, in the form of letters that all begin with “Dear Friend.” Charlie is mentally unstable due to the recent suicide of his best friend. He falls in with a crowd of lovable outcasts, and I thought he was going to be okay. But then there was a twist that I didn’t see coming {good writing!}. And the end broke my heart in all the good and bad ways that it could. Reading this book, along with working with young people, made me realize that I would not be a teenager again for all the tea in China. And I really love tea. There are moments of high school that I think I’ve really romanticized in my memory, but, mostly? It’s a tough old time in life for anyone. There’s no way to navigate those years gracefully. In closing, I’d recommend this to your own teenagers. Then….watch the movie with them.} Crush It!: Why NOW is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk {This book came highly recommended by my blog guru and fellow teacher, Scott. He came over to help me work on my blog one day and to sort of show me all the secrets to WordPress, and he made me write this title down. I am so glad I did, because this is a must-read for every blogger. First of all, we bloggers are extra-busy, what with documenting so much we see around us, so this book is not very long at all. Not intimidating. Secondly, it’s straightforward and energetic, so it is absolutely not boring. Third, is is totally relevant if blogging is your passion. I read this on my Kindle app for the iPad, which was a first, and it was awesome because there were video clips from Gary in every chapter. He is in-your-face and very confident that his suggestions will help you monetize your online presence, plus he commands you put your family’s best interests first. Good guy, right? Who is Gary Vaynerchuk? Well, he’s a guy who brought his parents NJ wine shop from a mom-and-pop store to a two-story, department store-sized mecca for all things wine related, called  The Wine Library. He has Wine Library TV, a very low-key wine-tasting weblog, and he made his parents’ business into a multi-million dollar one by using the internet’s social media. His motivation is making enough money to buy the Jets. The big message behind all of the smaller details in the book is to take control of your personal brand. If you have an on-line presence (and, eventually, everyone will. Come on.), you’ve got to be promoting it. I love that his ideas of self-promotion are not sneaky or uncomfortable; they involve things like answering every comment on your blog and FB fan page, visiting other blogs all the time that relate to your content and commenting, commenting, commenting. He basically suggests leaving a trail of breadcrumbs back to your blog. Another take-away I had from this book was to buy my kids’ domain names so that they’re available to them in the future, because they’ll need them. The last big thing that stuck with me was to always go above-and-beyond for each customer – throw in extra of whatever it is you’re selling. I love these ideas – they all make sense, are easy to do, and are also not things that take me out of my comfort zone. Fellow bloggers: buy it now! You can find it used on Amazon for around $2! Food Rules by Michael Pollan {Did you know that Michael Pollan is Michael J. Fox’s brother-in-law? He is! Just a bit of trivia for you today. I devoured In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, but I was eager to read this book because I knew it would be a straight set of rules I could follow for a healthy diet. Like a lot of people, I buy organic everything, but lately I have been thinking about how organic doesn’t mean good for you. I mean, there are fruit snacks for your kids (those weird, gummy creations), but then there are organic fruit snacks. It doesn’t suddenly make them healthy. This book drives that point home. While there are at least sixty “rules,” these are the ones that are revolutionizing things around the Fresh Scratch household: * Drink a glass of red wine with dinner each night: okay! No problem! I even am buying the nice stuff. I mean, if you’re gonna do it, you might as well commit all the way. * Do  not buy stuff that has some form of sugar in the first three ingredients: This is hard. Try it. * Stay away from processed foods: Also a hard one, especially if you have kids. It takes away the possibility of most packaged snacks, organic or not. I now have a snack area in the pantry that consists of mason jars filled with dried mango and stuff instead of boxes of bunny crackers. This really gets you to eat real food. It feels good. The bulk section of the store and I are really good pals. This rule was actually something Michael Pollan talked about in his other books, and we have been a pretty much cereal-free family for a couple of years now. I just make a batch of granola every few weeks. * No high fructose corn syrup: This is pretty much something that hasn’t been allowed in our home since before we even lived together because it does terrible things to me almost immediately. I’m finding it’s in less and less of what’s out there, so that’s good. * Don’t eat ingredients that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize. * Have as many sweets and as much “junk” (French fries, etc.) as you want… long as you make it yourself: The idea here is that most people won’t take the time to make these things very often. I laughed at this rule, I must admit. I mean, did he consider the bakers who might read this book? Seriously, the Mr. and I had a long, hard laugh at this one because it pretty much means we are going to be eating this stuff almost daily. So what do you think? Are you willing to give some of these a try? Let me know!} The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. {I will admit that I had to read this for work. I was supposed to have taught this to my sophomores last year, but there are five gagillion books they have to read, and we just didn’t get to this. So this was part of my summer homework. I will also tell you that it took me a month to get half way through. Turns out a seven-year-old and a three-year-old are not conducive to summer reading! Huh. Good to know – crummy, but good to know. Then we went on vacation last weekend, and I just had the kids play in the woods while I sat on the deck and absolutely devoured the rest of the story. This book is amazing. It takes place in South Africa around the time of the second World War, and we follow Peekay from the age of five to about nineteen. Peekay is of English ancestry, and he is severely, brutally bullied as a young kid away at boarding school with a lot of Dutch kids. While this experience drives him forward in life, it does not plant a bitter seed of vengeance. It does not extinguish his bright flame of kindness and goodness that is burning within him. I would say this book is about he triumph of the human spirit. I found it particularly moving how it often took just one person’s kindness toward him – just one person who believed in him – at a time to propel him toward embracing his self-worth and toward achieving his dream of becoming welterweight champion of South Africa. I’m not a big fan of boxing, but I didn’t need to be to appreciate all the descriptions of it here.  Like a Dickens novel, there are twists and turns and tons of characters who come in and out of the story, but they are all important and all tied together neatly and powerfully in the end, in a way that had tears of happiness rolling down my cheeks by the last page. This was truly one of the best books I have ever, ever read.} Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch {I feel so lucky to call this author a friend. He is a great source of bolstering-up for a writer and is so un-stuffy. I completely adored his two other books,The Highest Tide and Border Songs, and this one caught me in its web, as well. I’ve mentioned it here and here previously, but why not talk about it one more time? The story is historical fiction and is set alternately during the Seattle World’s Fair in the early 1960’s and in the early 2000’s. The story follows fictional Roger Morgan, “Father of the Fair” and designer of the Space Needle. We see him during the hubbub of the fair and as an elderly man making a run for mayor while a hot-shot reporter with something to prove tries to dig out the skeletons in his closet. When I went to the book reading and signing, I read the first two chapters while waiting in line. I felt like I understood Roger. It was fun and an exciting departure for me to connect to the male character instead of the female (reporter). I really relate to his sense of urgency in life. I learned a lot about what Seattle was like during this time of transition, and I totally enjoyed the cameo by Elvis. I don’t want to say too much and give anything away, but this book is worth the ride. By the end, you wonder if you ever really knew the characters much at all, which is exciting. Plus, if you are a PNW native like me, you’ll find yourself asking all the older-ish people in your life all about their time at the fair, which is pretty interesting in and of itself. Thanks for a good read, Jim!} Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James {My first inclination is to say, “Ick.” I realize this will possibly ostracize those of you who, like a lot of my FB friends, read this in one day and rushed out to buy the rest of the series. But my aim here is to be honest. So….if you, like me, notice type-o’s or just poor grammar/writing in general, this book will be a little hard to stomach. If you, like me, hate fake-sounding dialogue, this book will be a little hard to stomach. And if you, like me, think that weird erotic stuff involving hurting another person and physically punishing them is abuse, you may find this book a little hard to stomach. I will say, though, that the juicy parts made me forget points one and two! Even though this book totally leaves the reader unsatisfied and hanging, I am going to pass on reading the rest. There are just too many books out there that I know I will enjoy more. I’m just going to have someone tell me what happens in the other two so I can move on.  Again, sorry if I’ve offended; I know this book is super-popular!} One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey {This is another example of a book I have found myself having to read just before I teach it to my students. Another tale I somehow missed growing up with my nose in, apparently, other books. This is a disturbing story, people. It’s hard to read because it’s so sad. But it’s also so good, as most tales with those qualities are. If you’ve seen the film and think it counts as having read this, it doesn’t; there are lots of differences, and my students who tried to go that route failed miserably on their essays and tests (insert evil cackle here!). First off, the tale is told by a schizophrenic, so you never really know what’s truly happening. The basic premise is that we’ve got a batch of dudes in the loony bin during the mid-twentieth century for one reason or another – many of them having committed themselves voluntarily because, though not mentally ill, society just has kicked them around (homosexuals, stutterers, etc.). In walks McMurphy, a man who got his work farm sentence switched to time in the mental institution on purpose because he thought it’d be a cake walk. You can imagine that he was pretty wrong about that. If you’re not familiar with this book, you’ve no doubt heard about Nurse Ratched. She runs the ward with manipulation and humiliation like you’ve never seen. McMurphy is a wonderful, dynamic character in that he comes in with swagger and selfishness, but he quickly reveals compassion and empathy; he’s almost like an undercover agent in a sting operation, trying to show these guys how normal they really are. Its setting is during a time of electro-shock therapy and lobotomy, so there are some sections that don’t sit well at all. By the end, though, I was cheering. Somberly. If there is such an act.} I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella {As you know by now, I love some hilarious Brit-lit chick-lit. Love. As in, I read it in one day even though I have two small children, a job, and a June Cleaver-esque persona to keep up on the home front. Okay, okay; I did read this while I was on vacation, but, really, it’s a page-turner if you are at all like me. I adore all of Sophie Kinsella’s books; I buy each one the very day they are published and promptly enjoy them and then lend them out. This one is about a young lady who is engaged to someone who isn’t who she thinks he is. She’s having a flirtation with a man whose phone she has ended up with in a weird, it-would-never-really-happen batch of shenanigans, and she’s completely confused. The perfect storm. If you, like me, enjoy a light read from time to time, or if you were a fan of Bridget Jones, you will absolutely sink into any of Sophie Kinsella’s tales.} A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens {I will admit, I had to read this because I was faced with having to teach it to a bunch of sophomore honors English students this year. Somehow, I had made it through my own high school AP classes and a college career focused on literature, not to mention seven years of teaching English (!)….all without having been asked to read this big old tome. I was dreading it. My students knew I was dreading it. But from the very beginning, when I first met Mr. Lorry and Lucie Mannette, I was ensnared. With each chapter, it got better and better. By the end -no lie!- I found myself sobbing on a plane ride to Maui, completely choked up by the generosity and endurance of the human spirit. It was a challenge to read, I freely admit, because it’s Dickens. It’s wordy. It’s overly-descriptive. But it’s also a very complicatedly-woven story with huge surprises and twists and turns. The reader doesn’t really know who the main characters truly are until a bunch of big reveals. The story takes place in both London and Paris (those would be the “two cities”) before and during the French Revolution. It focuses on a family of ex-pats living in London, but we aren’t completely sure what their ties to Paris were – or are – until much later, which is a lot of what pulls the reader through the story. Eventually, they are embroiled in the Revolution, and the truth all comes out. The themes of this classic novel are very powerful: the power of love over hate, redemption, and vengeance. It’s intimidating, sure, but if you, like me, have somehow made it this far without having read it, you will only be doing yourself a favor by picking it up. Promise!} State of Wonder by Ann Patchett {I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I read the jacket of a book by Ann Patchett, my first inclination is to not read the book.  The setting and plot never sound appealing to me.  But her books are a favorite of my book club, so I keep cracking them open, thinking I am not going to like them.  That is never the case! Quite the opposite, really; I always get lost in her characters and in the journey she beckons me to accompany them on. I don’t know why I continue to resist and then continue to be surprised when I find I can’t put her books down. It’s a crazy cycle!  I unexpectedly loved Bel Canto, Run, and then this one. She is one of the rare authors I read while simultaneously tending to my children, literally walking around my house with my nose in a book!  This particular novel is about a pharmacologist who is sent to the remote Amazon to find out more details on the recent, mysterious death there of her lab partner. She gets attached to the village, the tribe, and her old mentor, who is conducting some pretty zany research.  Patchett’s real talent is for slowly and subtly weaving in detailed descriptions of everything.  She doesn’t lay it all out at once, but keeps you glued to the pages for more. She is, thankfully, very un-Steinbeck that way. If you are looking to escape, as I was when I read this during our power outage after our crazy snowstorm, this novel will surely take you far, far away.} Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins {I find it fitting that I am writing this while on a train with moonlight gliding in through my window.  As the car gently sways on the track beneath me, I can sort of imagine Katniss Everdeen on her Victory Tour through the districts after the Hunger Games.  Thankfully, the only similarity is that I am riding a train. I finished the series last night, at long last.  I really think they are a very smart collection of books. They reach a wide audience because of the themes: sacrifice, pride, survival, love, friendship, family, power, manipulation, nature…a list of things that most can find more than one with which to connect.  I love when an author creates a new civilization, with new rules, new borders. I especially love that this particular setting is sort of a post-apocalyptic North America. It’s unsettling because it forces the reader to put the book aside and have in mind that one day things may not be the way we have always known them to be.  I reminds me that rarely do we ponder the future-future.  My strong desire to see what would become of Panem, along with my desire for Katniss to end up with Peeta, kept me turning pages. Crazy twists. Sickening twists.  I just love being on my toes with a novel!  My friend Wendy recently sent me an article about how kids read such dark, heavy material now, and whether this was a point of concern.  I think it’s the world we live in.  Kids are watching “Survivor” every week with their parents. We get off on the discomfort of watching another’s adrenaline rise, wondering what they will do.  So kids these days – everyone, really – can easily relate to the psychology behind the people of this fictional Panem, tuned in to these horrific reality shows where they go a step past “Survivor” and battle til the death. I think Suzanne Collins makes a very timely, cautionary parallel between our reality tv and their Hunger Games, and between our pillaging of the earth and their living in that wasteland. If you haven’t caved yet and read this series….it’s time.} Alphabet Weekends: Love on the Road from A to Z by Elizabeth Noble {Ahh.  LOL on nearly every page!  If you love some Brit-Lit, this is for you.  It was sweet, funny, silly, and romantic.  It was also kind of sad at times.  It took me about 50 pages to really get into it (so not as good as those by Sophie Kinsella), but once I did, I was hooked.  It’s about a 30-something girl whose big relationship with a dirtbag has ended, and her best male friend from growing up proposes that he is the one for her.  To convince her and to help her forget the ex, he suggests they spend the next 26 weekends together, doing things according to the letters of the alphabet in order to really get to know one another as adults. He picks the activity one weekend, she picks the next, etc., and they surprise each other.  Some examples were “kids,” “Paris,” “absailing” (new word for me!), “hotel,” you get the picture.  The story also zeros in on her parents’ relationship and his brothers’ relationship, but I’m still not too sure how effective that was.  Anyway, it was a fun, fun, fun light read!} The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards (who wrote The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, if that helps!) {I was hooked on this book from the first page.  Don’t you love it when that sort of magic happens?  It tantalized me with a “that-was-the-night-Haley’s Comet-came-and-things-changed-forever” sort of gist.  The story takes place in the finger lakes region of New York in a fictional town called “Lake of Dreams” in present day.  It’s about a young woman who comes home to said-town for a visit after years in Asia working as a hydrologist and running from her father’s mysterious and sudden death just before she left for college.  Her family has a funny trait that sometimes gets passed down, which is the ability to pick locks.  Kind of a reach, but entertaining!  Anyway, she finds that a window seat in the house she grew up in, that’s been in her family for years, has a lock and a compartment she’d never noticed.  Inside, she finds letters and papers dating back to suffragette times and a family member she’d never learned about. This all leads her on a quest through local churches, historical societies, and museums as the shroud is lifted and a family secret is exposed.  I loved it! A lot was told through letters, allowing the reader insight into the long-dead characters through their voices.  I learned so much about the suffragist movement and am now appalled that we don’t learn more about it in our history classes.  The way those brave women were treated and shunned by their families and communities is just inexcusable. The one flaw, I’d say, was that the pacing was just a tad slow for my eagerness, and I did find myself skipping ahead at points.  A bad habit!  This was a really satisfying read and I totally recommend it!} Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult {It took me about half of the book before I really was invested, I must admit.  This book wasn’t written with quite the same sophistication as Picoult’s more recent novels (it was published in 1993), but it still pulls you along through someone’s gut-wrenching “bad thing” in life.  This time, it’s about a woman who marries young, was abandoned by her mother at the age of five, and can’t seem to see that she is so much more than those two facts. She loses herself in her marriage and leaves when her son is just 3 months old.  The story follows both her journey and her husband’s.  Picoult, as her readers know, has a bit of a formula to her writing, and it is certainly present here.  You know that it will kind of work out, but it won’t be a solid happy ending.  You know that something really awful will happen to tie it all up at the end.  And all that is present.  I, for one, struggled a lot with this novel because her descriptions of the first months of motherhood were just a little too close to home.  Clearly, she knew what she was writing about!} Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins {I will gladly shout to the world, “I am a fan of The Hunger Games!” I loved the first book.  It was such a crazy idea of a futuristic society that Collins thought up, and the Games were the icing on the cake.  Though I am only 2/3 through the series, I can say I am hooked.  As in Harry-Potter-hooked.  I love the smidge of teenage angst the main character, Katniss, feels.  I love her fellow tribute in the Games, Peeta.  I love how it is a true page-turner, escapist type of book.  And I love that the series is being turned into films.  This book spanned a much greater time period than the first, and it really skipped over something on which I thought more time would be spent, but Collins again succeeds in painting a vibrant picture of a world out of control and a country on the brink of revolution, just looking for a leader. There were so many twists in the latter half.  Mmm.  Delicious. No wonder all my students can’t get enough!} Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford {This was such a sweet, eye-opening story.  To me, it felt a bit more in the waters of young adult literature, as it was a coming-of-age story without too many complexities.  I should note that the main characters are 13. It has a “Wonder Years” feel to it, but with a greater sense of urgency. It was just a lovely read.  I didn’t feel rushed – as evidenced by the fact that it was a book club pick from my dear friend Chris, and I wasn’t finished by book club…again! It is the story of Henry, a Chinese-American, and Keiko, a Japanese American, and their doomed puppy love (anyone ever experience a first love that wasn’t doomed?).  It is set in Seattle’s International District during World War Two.  Henry’s father hates the Japanese, but Henry, on the other hand, sees things through the eyes of love.  When Keiko’s family goes to two internment camps – first at the site of the Puyallup Fairgrounds, then to Idaho – Henry risks everything to follow his heart.    The story is told from the past and also from the present, with the two time periods meeting near the end.  The grown Henry has a cloud over his head for much of his adult life, until he starts opening up to his son, telling him, “…sometimes in life there are no second chances.   You look at what you have, not what you miss, and you move forward.” I loved the heart-breaking practicality of that statement. I also loved that this story took place a stone’s throw away from where I live.  I learned so much about the history of downtown Seattle.  Sadly, I also got quite an education on the Japanese Internment in our state. I say “sadly” because I never even knew about this part of American history until I saw “Snow Falling on Cedars” years ago.  Can you believe it?  I graduated from high school in the 1990’s, and it still wasn’t part of Washington State History class.  In college, again, nada.  No mention of it.  That is an abomination if ever there was one.  I would bet I’m not alone in this, though.  I will absolutely view the Puyallup Fair through new eyes when I take my family this fall.} The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels – A Love Story by Ree Drummond {My, my.  I laughed so hard at this book that I nearly wet myself!  It was a total page turner, like it is when you’re reading a good, juicy letter from a girlfriend.  I love The Pioneer Woman, or P-Dub, as she calls herself. I read her blog daily, and she writes with such wonderful voice that I just am dying to be her new best friend.  While her website is about just about everything in her life – life on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma, homeschooling her 4 kids, her outfits, her hair, her photography, her dog, her cooking….the list is long!- the book focuses on how she met her husband.  She was a mid-twenties girl who had just left LA and moved back home to Oklahoma.  He was a rancher who lived twenty miles from a grocery store.  They met in a bar.  He took four months to call her.  She became a woman who never thought twice about cowboys to one who couldn’t forget his Wrangler-wearing behind.  The story is about a life that was fixin’ to zig, but instead…zagged.  Don’t most of us know the feeling?  I mean, I was addicted to GAP-clad young men, and then I married a man mostly on the hippie side of life from The Evergreen State College, you know? Life offers us interesting choices! She describes taking cows’ temperatures and her surprise honeymoon pregnancy.  It’s all relatable and genuine, which I love!  It left me wanting to visit her on the ranch, but, until I win one of her free trips there, I will have to go buy her cookbook and her children’s book next!  Totally recommend.  As Ree says, “Like, totally.”} Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte {Yes, it is about 500 pages long.  Yes, it’s pretty old.  Yes, it’s a “classic” novel.  Yes, most of you were required to read it at some point in your schooling and likely pretended that you did, but really you read the Cliff’s Notes.  Well, in your face!, because I read the entire damn thing.  I use “damn” endearingly here, fyi.  This was the unabridged version, and I really loved every page.  What?!  Seriously.  Like, totally.  I mean, I say to this novel, “You had me at hello.”  This sums it up right here, folks: I would be dead tired and it would be time to turn out the light and I would have just finished a chapter….but, instead of closing the book after inserting my Marilyn Monroe bookmark…I’d start reading ahead.  I just couldn’t wait to find out what she would do next.  Okay, I was also awaiting the juicy parts with Mr. Rochester.  Whatever.  I would love to know how I made it through my entire education as an English-head with no one ever assigning this book to moi! Part of my Mother’s Day gift was getting to sit alone in my big leather chair while the chaos of two little girls romping around with their daddy swirled around me, yet I was oblivious as I finished reading the last 100 pages.  Ahhh…what a feeling of accomplishment.  Plus, now I know what the heck everyone is talking about when they make references to the book or the main character, and, as a high school English teacher by morning, that means a lot.} Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Seattle native Claire Dederer {FAAAAHHHHBULOUS!  I totally loved this book. It was a book club pick, and when my friend Carie suggested it, I was skeptical, I admit.  I wondered how a memoir linking one’s life to some yoga poses would entertain me or connect to my life (not a yogi), but it totally did…and it really wasn’t all about yoga!  For me, I got a lot about motherhood out of it.  And I can so relate to that!  It also is about “moms who leave,” to an extent.  I’ve seen that, too, and this really offered me a lot of insight into the thinking that goes on behind those kinds of decisions and, dare I say?, some compassion toward these women who just can’t take it anymore.  I totally recommend this.  And if you are lucky and live nearby, she’s doing book signings at libraries and bookstores right now! I haven’t done this in a while, but I actually was moved to dog-ear my pal’s copy because I just really dug a few key passages: When I needed information, I went to the source: novels.  That’s where they keep the feelings. {that’s what I’ve been trying to say for years!} and this one: Being with a three-year-old is like constantly being in the middle of a very bad breakup.  Irrational tirades and operatic flights of rage are tempered with appeasing manipulation. {uh, check! yes!} and on the subject of the moms who do things like have an affair they really don’t necessarily want to have in order to get out of their marriages and find themselves: When the first thing no longer works, you have to get away from it somehow.  You need something to set you free.  And everyone knows that in order to leave a marriage, in order to change a family, you need a disaster.  Not the kind of disaster that just falls from nowhere onto your head, like a cartoon Acme anvil.  Not a huge disaster, maybe more of a mini-disaster.  The kind of disaster you have to build with your own two hands.  (Like you have to do everything else in this goddamn family.) You have to blow up the palace where you’re the queen. {Heavy stuff.} And, on a more light-hearted note, I loved this simile saying the vanilla scent of a ponderosa pine is as sweetly sexy as a straight-A student at the prom.  {Guess who was a straight-A student?  That’s why I like that one!}. And so a big thank you goes out to my buddy Carie for choosing a book club selection that I honestly loved through and through.} How to Sew A Button…and Other Nifty Things your Grandmother Knew by Erin Bried (this seemed like it was meant for a girl just starting out, not a thirtysomething with a family like myself.  However…you know what I took away from it?  I was not sewing on buttons correctly, all these years!!  So I guess the title held true for me, but the rest…meh.  But I would’ve loved it if I were a decade younger.) Divining Women by Kaye Gibbons (the 3rd book of hers I’ve read.  I love them!  They are very Southern.)

9 Comments on Books

  1. Yeah, I made a posting! :). Glad you enjoyed the book – I really enjoyed book club with everyone. Thanks for inviting me oh so many years ago….

  2. Thanks for the great suggestions – I’m adding a few to my must-read list, and will definitely keep these in mind to suggest to our book club!

  3. I felt the same way about “Pride and Prejudice” LOVED EVERY PAGE!!! I wanted a sequel and was actually bummed as I was getting to the end. Now my mission is to read as many ‘classics’ as I can because I was obviously missing out on the great reads 🙂

  4. loved every sentence Kel, but really really loved ‘as a high school English teacher by morning’ it made me imagine you with a cool cape off saving the earth by afternoon or at least by early evening.

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