Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Wrap Up

I started this blog in order to participate in the 52 books in 52 weeks blog.
I read a total of 160 books that I reviewed according to the 52 book blog guidelines.
I read other books, but they were shorter than the requirement so I did not include them in this count.
I read 74 young adult/ middle grades fiction books,
12 memoirs,
28 non-fiction,
20 religion,
25 fiction,
and I missed one in my counting somewhere.
I learned about heaven, polygamy, astronomy, metaphysics and quantum physics, modern day slavery, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, autism, memorization techniques, social groups in high schools, Christian Science, 911 and blindenss, Poland under communism, and meditation - among other things. 
My favorite genre is young adult fiction if you could not tell, and some of my favorite books in that group that I read include: Enchanted Glass,  Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror, everything by Shannon Hale and James Patterson and Alex Flinn, The Monsters of Morley Manor, Un Lun Dun, Alcatraz versus The Evil Librarians, Beauty Queens, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children , Thirteen Reasons Why, and The Son of Neptune.
As a result of this blog, I joined Goodreads, which is great!, and I get free books to review from them and booksneeze and some other groups. 
I look forward to continuing this blog and to continuing reading!
Happy New Years!

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
A really good book is one that you don't want to stop reading once you start.  It is worth staying up way to late to finish reading it.
I read this book late last night.  Loved it! 
Eleven year old Cecelia's parents are the king and queen of Castle Glower, which is alive and changes it's floor plan upon whim - usually on Tuesdays.  The castle chooses it's kings and while her older brother Rolf is the crown prince, Cecelia is the castle's favorite person.  When her parents leave to attend their oldest son's graduation from wizard school, they are attacked by bandits and presumed dead. Young princes from two rival countries come in to "pay their respects", and one of them tries to take over the country and the castle.  But, the castle has a mind of it's own, and it protects Cecelia and her brother and sister as they try to help the castle to eject the evil prince.  This is a delightful, fun, magical tale!  I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Learning To Breathe by Priscilla Warner

Learning to Breathe: My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life
Like Priscilla's first book, this book also made me think.  I found the book to be well-written, interesting, funny in parts, sad in parts and open and real.  Priscilla shares her story of her yearlong quest to find tranquility and a cure to the panic attacks that she has suffered from all of her life.  She shares her experiences with meditation, yoga, different therapies, massage, Buddhist teachings,and getting to see the Dali Lama.  I find it encouraging that she was able to use these various techniques to overcome her anxiety and become a calmer person.  I think that other people may find it encouraging too.  It sounds like her quest lead Priscilla to meet some fascinating people and to have some interesting and memorable experiences.  I like the acronym for the word "sigh" meaning "Sitting in God's Hands" that her therapist shared with her.  When I was in college, I took a philosophy class and I learned that Buddha's great enlightenment was that "all is suffering" and I just thought "duh - of course everything is suffering - but where does acknowledging that get us and how on earth does that help anything?" As I have grown older, I have realized even more that everyone and everything is suffering - even though we may not see their suffering.  We all want to find calm and peace from our anxiety. Priscilla explored and shared many ways that she has found to find a sense of calm.  It reminds me of some of my favorite Bible verses - "Philippians 4:6,7 In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses every man's understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus."   I love those verses because it does not say to pray and God will give you stuff.  It says to pray with thanksgiving, and that God will guard our hearts and our thoughts and will be our peace. We are all on a journey to find peace.  I am glad that Priscilla shared hers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cemetery Girl by David Bell

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus, #2)
This book is totally Riordan's best book so far! Although gorgons acting as Bargain Mart greeters giving out tasty samples of Crispy Cheese'n' Wieners try to destroy Percy, he escapes to camp Jupiter to join the Roman demigods and fulfill his destiny. Joined by Frank Zhang, who can be anything he wants to be, and Hazel, who has died and lives again, Percy's adventures take him across the US with a few detours, like the one with the screaming and the weed whackers, through the headquarters of which is of course, run by Amazons, to Alaska, where the gods have no power, to kill a son of Gaea, restore death and - oh, by the way, the gods now have i-Pads and skype - and to save camp Jupiter from an assortment of monsters and grain spirits and another son of Gaea. This is a fantastic and rather funny adventure and I really think it is Riordan's best book that I have read yet. I look forward to the next book in this series!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Eight Keys
When Elise starts middle school, a mean girl bullies her, kids make fun of her best friend, Franklin, and her life does not change automatically when she turns 12.  Her Aunt Annie and Aunt Annie's baby Ava move in, and Elise begins finding keys to the rooms above the barn.  Each room was prepared for her by her father, who passed away when she was 3.  He has left messages for her in the rooms that help her to learn more about him and her mother, who had died when she was born, and, she also learns more about herself, makes a new friend and learns that she can make what she wants out of her life.

Mason Dixon Knitting by Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner

Mason-Dixon Knitting by Ann Shayne
This is a nicely written book with beautiful photographs. It is funny and I got a few good ideas from it. I have been knitting for several years, but am still at the beginner level and perhaps a bit above that. The patterns in this book look too difficult for me for the most part, although I do like the rug ideas and I want to try them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

how to save a life by Sara Zarr

How to Save a Life

Jill is a senior in high school.  Her father, who was her best friend,  has died and now her mother wants to adopt a baby. After some e-mailed conversations, Mandy, a pregnant teenager, move in with them until the baby is born. Jill is suspicious and wonders if Mandy is lying to them. She is. Jill works through her grief for her father and begins to put her past behind her. Mandy has been abused and does not seem very intelligent. I understand Jill's character, but am not too sure about Mandy. I liked the book though and read it in a day and a half. The author is a very good writer. I look forward to reading more of her books.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos - and a free book giveaway!

Night of the Living Dead Christian: One Man's Ferociously Funny Quest to Discover What It Means to Be Truly Transformed
Matt is the only member of his Neighborhood Watch group.  He meets a robot and a mad scientist and learns that his neighbors include a werewolf and a vampire.  In an attempt to help his friend Luther Ann Martin, the wife-beating werewolf redeem himself and restore his marriage, Mike takes the werewolf to church and finds that it is full of zombies – the living dead.  The zombies sport giant study Bibles and believe everything that the study Bible’s author says, thus making it easy for them to continue being dead while having the appearance of being living. They “think they are following Jesus but are actually following a moral system. “  Vampires suck the life out of others, only caring about themselves.  Mad Scientists run around trying to help everyone else while ignoring their own families.
This book is funny and it points out some interesting things about the Christian religion. 
I received this book free to review from the Tyndale Publicity Team
I also received a certificate for a free copy of this book to give away to a follower of my blog! 
Please follow my blog and leave a comment to enter my drawing for a free copy of this book! 

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Anne Ursu is a master story teller. With references to Narnia and fairy tales, Hazel goes into the woods to rescue her best friend Jack after a sliver of glass falls into his eye freezing his heart leading him to go off with the White Witch. This is a delightfully slightly creepy tale. Hazel reminds me a bit of Charlotte from the Chronos Chronicles, especially as she trudges through the cold on the way to the castle. The story is fun and well written and I really enjoyed it a lot!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Beastly by Alex Flinn

This is a totally fantastic, wonderful modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Kendra, a witch, who is the Forrest Gump of fairy tale land, has changed the handsome, rich, self-centered Kyle, whose parents are equally self-absorbed, into the beast that he is inside. He has two years to find a girl who will love him as a beast and who will kiss him to remove the curse or else he will stay a beast forever. Punctuated with chat room dialogues of people who have been transformed including a frog and Snow White - "no, not that Snow White", and Mr. Anderson, whose initials must be H.C., this modern day fairy tale flows seamlessly and is a fun, sweet romance filled with the love of books, as Beauty and The Beast should be.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Noah Zarc Mammoth Trouble by D. Robert Pease

Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble

Twelve year old Noah has lived a secluded life traveling through space and time with his family collecting two of each animal from various time periods on earth to repopulate the planet once it again becomes habitable and to save the animals from the extinction they once went through.  On their time traveling space ship, the Arc, they encounter trouble from Haon, a nefarious man who kidnaps Noah’s mom and thwarts them at every turn trying to destroy the animals and to allow the humans who are living on Venus to repopulate earth rather than saving earth as a wildlife habitat.  With unexpected twists in the plot, the addition of a brilliant cave girl, parallels to Star Wars and The Hitchhiker’s Guide, this was a book that I could not put down!  I read it in two days and enjoyed it thoroughly!  I look forward to reading more books by this author!
I received this book to review as a part of this blog tour

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bewitching by Alex Flinn

Bewitching (The Kendra Chronicles)
I got the book Bewitching free to review through Goodreads. It is a fantastic book! I totally loved it! It is well written and filled with humor, fantasy and a bit of romance. Kendra Hilferty, a witch, tells how she found out she was a witch and how, kind of like Forrest Gump, she has been around for most of the major events in history. Remember the witch who made the gingerbread house? Kendra knew her. While telling how she helped Ella, a modern day non-wicked stepsister to deal with her rather wicked poor stepsister, Kendra also tells a few other twisted versions of tales we all know. The plot is filled with unexpected twists and funny events and is just a joy to read. I always feel kind of sad and empty when I finish reading a really good book, because it is over, and I have to leave the world that it created in my mind. Luckily for me, this author has written other books and I have not read them yet! I look forward to reading more of Alex Flinn's books

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Grace Effect by Larry Alex Taunton

The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief
I felt like this book was telling two different stories.
The author begins by letting us know that he is friends with Christopher Hitchens and that they discuss and debate Christianity vs. athiesm together. Then, he goes on to tell the story of his family adopting a little girl from an orphanage in the Ukraine.
He tries to sell the point that the Ukraine is an unfriendly corrupt country due to the influence of athiestic socialism - which may be true, and that the US is a friendly, loving, non-corrupt country due to the Christian influence. I think that might be a debatable point to many people.

I really enjoyed his story about his daughter's adoption and all that they went through in order to adopt her.
I found his version of Ukranian history interesting and humerous - especially the part where Prince Vladimir crossed his legs after hearing about the Jewish practice of circumcision, decided not to chose the Muslim religion since they did not allow vodka and picked Greek Orthodoxy since he could keep his nether regions intact and drink vodka and because he had heard tales of how beautiful the Haigia Sophia was.
I also thought it was funny that they have a bumper sticker with a high heeled boot on it on cars with women drivers to warn other drivers in the Ukraine.

The book is well written and interesting and I enjoyed his story about adopting his daughter, but I think that there are many people who would disagree with his concept of the "Grace Effect" of the Christian religion on society. I don't think he gives much support to that concept.  If being a Christian nation makes us less corrupt and more polite and caring, then what about what happened in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit - how horribly people behaved, compared to how civilized and polite the Japanese were during and after the recent earthquake and nuclear meltdown?  I don't think that the "Grace Effect" helped the Americans to behave well and the Japanese who behaved so much better are not Christians.  I am not sure that the US government is any less corrupt than that of the Ukraine - they just admit it and have it out in the open and we hide it.  I don't think that the "grace effect" has eradicated slavery and treating other people badly in the US - we just hide that better too.  There are plenty of slaves in the US; most of them picking produce and most of them don't speak English and are not here legally. We don't see them or know about them so that makes it ok.  And our whole society is built on products that are made by people who live in slavery or sub-standard conditions in other countries.  But since we don't know about it, we don't feel responsible for it.  That "grace effect" just seems to hide things, not make them go away.
I got this book free to review from Booksneeze.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Free-Range kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy

Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)
This is a funny book full of serious advice about child raising.  Today's parents have become overly cautious about our children fearing that they will be abducted at any moment, largely due to the media frenzy that surrounds such rare events, and we have become so over-protective that we do not allow our children the freedom to become responsible and mature on their own.
Despite the increase in media coverage, there has not been an increase in child abductions since I was a kid and I was allowed to run and bike ride all over the neighborhood by myself with no cell phone - they were not invented yet - and my parents had no idea where I was and I survived.  Do I let my kids do that?  No way.  And, according to the author of this book, I am stiffling them and harming their future and self image and independence which will lead them to a lifetime of therapy.  Or maybe not.  But, there is hope for me and my children!  The author has filled her book with free range baby steps, brave steps and giant leaps to help us to give our children the independence that they need.  This book is funny and practical and I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Marzi: a memoir by Marzena Sowa

This is the first graphic novel that I have read. I thought I would read through it quickly, but it took me longer to read than a regular book because I enjoyed looking at all of the pictures.  It is a memoir, Marzi's story of growing up in communist Poland during the last 10 years of communism.  She shows what it was like to live under the communist regime from the viewpoint of a child.  She tells about standing in long lines at stores when they got one product in, and hoping that they did not run out before it was her family's turn to buy it.  She wonders about the constant grumbling of the adults and their unhappiness due to the political situation.  They had to sign in with her parent's bosses and march in the Labor day parade and smile and pretend to be happy. It was very frightening for her when her father went on strike with his company and did not come home for many days.  She illustrates her day to day life in Poland as well, of going to the family garden plots and orchards and harvesting produce and bringing it home and selling it.  She tells of visiting relatives and playing games and going to school and trying to find out what solidarity was and what it meant to her country.  She describes the quiet end to communism in her country followed by the others of the soviet bloc and the falling of the Berlin wall. 
I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it!  I think it could be used in schools and that students would relate to Marzi and it would make history more real to them.
I got this book to read and review from Goodreads.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child

Throw away the reading logs, novel reading unit activities, and reading comprehension worksheets.  Do not require your class to all read the same book at the same time.  Forget book reports. 
Allow your students to read books that they want to read and they will become life-long readers and have higher reading comprehension test scores.

The author of this book requires that her 6th grade students in a Texas school read 40 books in a school year - with a requirement that there be a certain number of books from selected genres. 
They do book commercials and write their own teasers for the books and communicate about their reading with the teacher through a journal and frequent book talks.
The author shares her enthusiasm for reading with her students and they share their enjoyment of reading with one another. 
It sounds so wonderful!
I really enjoyed this book! I think that the author is totally correct in her assertion that students should be allowed to read books of their own choice in reading class and should not have to answer meaningless questions about them and read class sets of novels that they may not be interested in.
I taught middle school in Texas for 13 years. For the first 9 or so years, I taught reading - 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. I also taught some remedial classes for students who had failed the reading portion of the state test. I was successful. Those students all passed the test after my class except for one who raised his grade from a 27 to a 57, which is still pretty goood. But, I did it by drill and kill. I was not allowed to let my students just read books the way the author does. I had a certain number of worksheets that my students had to do each week and I had to document it. One year, I was told that I could not even assign reading for book reports until after the state test - in May.  I finally begged to be allowed to teach social studies instead of reading.
I taught that for a few years before quitting to stay home with my own children.
I am currently substitute teaching in two Texas school districts.

I was amazed that so much of the research that the author cited that proves that students need to read actual books to improve their reading skills is from from years and years ago, yet none of the schools that I have been in have ever allowed teachers to do what the author does in her classroom. The author repeatedly states that she is sad that other teachers don't encourage free choice reading the way that she does. I think that she is in a unique situation to be allowed to do that. Her situation works well also because she only has 55 students. In middle schools if Reading is taught as it's own class rather than as part of Integrated Language Arts, teachers have about 130 to 180 students. If it is taught as part of Integrated Language Arts, they have about 80 to 90 students or so. That makes it a bit more difficult to do some of the things she does.
The author also has a huge classroom library of books that she has bought mostly with her own money.  I used to do that too.  It makes me sad to walk into a reading classroom that has very few or no books in it.

I wish that principals, superintendants and curriculum planners would read this book. I think it would be fantastic if all reading classrooms were libraries where children could choose their own books to read and learn to love reading and share it with one another.