Saturday, January 24, 2015

National Readathon Day

I've participated in many readathons since I've started this blog, but jumping in today was a last minute decision. Penguin Random House has started this movement of National Readathon Day and they're encouraging readers all over the world to make time to stop and read for 4 hours today. 12pm-4pm in your own time zone. 

My pile:

Together, we can raise money for the National Book Foundation and remind ourselves that we can make #timetoread. Donate here

Friday, January 23, 2015

Migratory Animals

When Flannery, a young scientist, is forced to return to Austin from five years of research in Nigeria, she becomes torn between her two homes. Having left behind her loving fiance without knowing when she can return, Flan learns that her sister, Molly, has begun to show signs of the crippling genetic disease that slowly killed their mother. 

As their close-knit circle of friends struggles with Molly's diagnosis, Flannery must grapple with what her future will hold: an ambitious life of love and the pursuit of scientific discovery in West Africa, or the pull of a life surrounded by old friends, the comfort of an old flame, family obligations, and the home she's always known. But she is not the only one wrestling with uncertainty. Since their college days, each of her friends has faced unexpected challenges that make them reevaluate the lives they've always planned for themselves. (Goodreads)

I admit, I struggled to get into this. I'm in the middle of another book that contains several of the same themes (returning from Africa after 5 years, past secrets, difficult family relationships) and this one is not nearly as readable. It takes some patience to understand Flannery and the way the author wrote her story, but once I got into it, I wanted to see where the story would go. 

The effects of the disease Molly is diagnosed with are devastating to the family and the circle of friends, yet I didn't necessarily feel that emotion like I wanted to. The passages describing her downward turn were moving, yet not as powerful as I had hoped and I always closed a chapter wanting more. 

If you'd like to check out the rest of the stops on the tour, go here

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Elliott's Picks: Weather and Seasons

It's been cold and cloudy here in Northern Virginia and our family is currently working with just one car. This means Elliott and I have been spending a whole lot of time inside our house trying to make the days pass. Lots of playing with trucks and trains and, of course, lots of reading.

We've been making our way through piles and piles of picture books, both review copies and library books, and these are the ones Elliott really loves and seems to request over and over.

Blizzard by John Rocco is the true story of the author's experience during the Blizzard of 1978, which brought over 50 inches of snow to Rhode Island. Simple text and Rocco's amazing illustrations helped my 3-year-old truly understand what was happening on the pages and exciting him about the prospect of "so much snow, Mama!"

On each page spread we talked about what the boy was doing during the blizzard and what happened once the snow stopped. We talked about how he performed a good deed for his family and neighbors by walking through all the snow to pick up supplies and how the plows would eventually be able to do their jobs and life would go back to normal.

A great story to read together during these cold, dreary days.

After the story about too much snow, I was anxious to read about spring, so we picked up Finding Spring by Carin Berger (out on 1/27). The illustrations are what initially drew me to the book and the story was just as charming.

A sweet bear named Maurice really wants to find spring. It's all his friends can talk about and, despite being almost time to hibernate, Maurice is determined to find it. What he finds and believes is spring is completely adorable and resulted in lots of giggles from Elliott. He also noticed the illustrations being different than "typical" illustrations. Mixed-media, made into beautiful collage scenes, they definitely are different then paint or drawing illustrations and I was impressed with his noticing.

The story allowed for us to talk about the different seasons and why winter was different than spring and why Maurice was silly to think that what he found was a sign of spring. It also made this winter-weary mama desperate for some spring sunshine!

Caldecott medalist Beth Krommes illustrated Elliott's next pick: Blue on Blue by Dianne White. This one is perfect for reading inside on a stormy day, whether that storm is snow or rain, as in the story.

The illustrations are perfection, depicting each rain drop, cloud, and puddle beautifully. The text is incredibly simple - just a few words on each page to describe the scene - allowing for the illustrations to really tell the story of this family and the thunderstorm on their farm.

For me, the mark of an amazing book is pacing and the author and illustrator absolutely got it right with this story. I read it aloud slowly, letting each page sink in before turning to the next, and we then went back and started right over again. When we were finished, we immediately picked up our library copy of Rain by Peter Spier, one of our absolute favorites, and spent time comparing the two storms.

Caldecott winner, maybe??

More picks to come soon!

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster for the review copies!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Sister to Honor review

Afia Satar is studious, modest, and devout. The young daughter of a landholding family in northern  Pakistan, Afia has enrolled in an American college with the dream of returning to her country as a doctor. But when a photo surfaces online of Afia holding hands with an American boy, she is suddenly no longer safe - even from the family that cherishes her. 

Rising sports star Shahid Satar has been entrusted by his family to watch over Afia intros strange New England landscape. He has sworn to protect his beloved sister from the dangerous customs of America, from its loose morals and easy virtue. Shahid was the one who convinced their parents to allow her to come to the United States. He never imagined he'd be ordered to cleanse the stain of her shame... (from publisher)

A timely story and a well-drawn main character made this a fascinating read. I loved the alternating perspectives, allowing a glimpse into the minds of everyone involved in the story. Honor codes are something we learn about here in the U.S., but are rarely faced with the reality of, and though fictional, this story brought those cultural aspects smack into my face. 

I thought the story authentic, with its exploration of culture and faith and was fascinated with the decisions these characters, and so many across the world still, are faced with, due to traditions within their cultures. For them, it's not as simple as refusing to participate in these roles. 

I'll definitely read whatever Lucy Ferriss writes next. Thank you to Penguin Random House for the review copy. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

All the Bright Places review

I had to take a break from teen fiction for awhile. All of the stories started to blend together for me and nothing really unique was on my radar. When All the Bright Places showed up, I was pretty sure it was going to be just another book about teens with depression, lacking in anything truly special, but I picked it up -- honestly, because I loved the cover. Well done, cover artist. 

What I found in this story was two teens that seemed so incredibly real, I was instantly connected to both of them. Violet and Finch are a pair of kids screaming for help, but so silently that no one can hear them, except each other. 

Jennifer Niven wrote a beautiful story about finding first love, what it means to save someone, and how depression can infiltrate every portion of someone's life without anyone else ever knowing. The grief Violet was suffering from and her manner of dealing with it were realistic and pure and had me tearing up several times. She was a broken girl, yet people just let her pass through life like it was ok, always believing she would just snap out of it. 

Finch was absolutely fascinating and just might make the list of Fictional Characters I'd Like to Have Dinner With. He had enough quirks that I couldn't wait to see what he would do next, but also an underlying sadness that showed the truer side of depression. Amazing characterization. 

As someone who has suffered from depression on and off for almost half my life, Jennifer Niven got it. She wrote a beautiful story with fabulous characters, all while getting to the depths of what depression can mean, especially when in the years when you simply don't understand the resources available to you and that there really can be light in the darkness. This is an incredibly important book that I hope gets into the hands of lots of teens. 

Comparisons have been made to John Green and I definitely get the reference. The love between these characters, though slightly more awkward, is reminiscent of Hazel and Gus, which is obviously one of my favorite teen love stories of all time. If my words above don't convince you to read it, maybe a Hazel/Gus comparison will. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

A new reading year...

Well, it's 2015. I had grand plans for a big end-of-year post with the typical list of all my favorite books and reading stats, but my December was filled with parties and family and travel. In 2014 I vowed to be more intentional with my time and I think I fulfilled that resolution all the way to the end of the year. I spent the last few weeks catching up on titles Book Riot recommended on their Best Of 2014 list, which proved to be some great (and intense) reading.

This year, I really hope to just read more. Last year I wanted to read slower, but really, I didn't like that. I'm back at the bookstore (lots of galleys) and will be ending my time leading MOPS in a few months, so I hope that leads to more reading time on a daily basis. Elliott is getting older and that also means less of being right by his side all the time and more time to stick my face in books. I managed a pretty good number this past year, but would often find myself with the same book for a week and that's just too long for me. 

I also plan to be blogging more than I did the 2nd half of 2014 and have already read a few excellent books coming out in 2015. Stayed tuned! And Happy New Year from this sweet face:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What We're Reading: Christmas Edition (and some others)

I was determined to have this holiday season be slower than years past. To be more intentional in our time and not crazy stressed trying to get last minute gifts all purchased as wrapped. For the most part, my wish has come true and Elliott and I have spent a lot of time reading by the light of our Christmas tree, wrapped up in warm blankets and sharing stories. 

This year, I wrapped 25 Christmas books for E to open throughout December and that's been a blast. He has a mini-tree in his room and each morning wakes up to a new book under the tree. My environmentalist side felt guilty using all that wrapping paper, but the look on his face each morning is worth it!

These two have been read over and over:

Little Blue Truck's Christmas by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry

A short counting story complete with twinkle lights at the end! We've had fun counting all the Christmas trees Blue loads into his truck and describing the shapes of the ones he unloads to each of his friends.

It's the perfect size for little hands and if your child isn't quite ready to listen to the longer Little Blue Truck books, this is a great intro. A bit shorter and, of course, the twinkle lights!

Star Bright by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that Peter Reynolds is a rockstar in my children's book world. I love everything he illustrates AND writes, but my favorite books are those he does with Alison McGhee. Now there's a Christmas one and my life is complete!

The story of a small angel who doesn't know what gift to send for the Savior child. He goes through a list before finally landing on what could quite possibly be the perfect gift - becoming the Star of Bethlehem and leading others to Christ. 

The illustrations are, of course, AMAZING and the story is sweet. I love books that can be entertaining and cute, yet might spark a conversation about Jesus. This one will definitely be added into our yearly Christmas book pile!

For me, I've been in the middle of two fantastic books by women I truly admire: Liz Curtis Higgs and Ann Voskamp. I've been doing Bible studies and reading books by each of these women for years, but had yet to pick up their Advent books. This was the year and I'm so glad I dove in.

The Women of Christmas gives a play-by-play of 3 women vital to the story of Christ's birth: Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna. The way Higgs displays their stories opened up whole new meanings to seemingly simple lines of Scripture and I truly found myself looking at them in a completely different light. Especially Mary. What an amazing young woman. 

Higgs style of writing is perfect for reading with a cup of tea in the evening, as it reads just like a conversation with a friend. She makes even complicated thoughts easy to understand and leaves me feeling like I really do know more than I thought. I'll definitely be gifting this book next year. 

The Greatest Gift is a true Advent book, taking each day from December 1st - December 25th and pairing a Scripture reading with a devotional. The writing is incredibly poetic and also includes space for reflection and an activity to complete for each day. The book pairs wonderfully with her Jesse Tree ornaments, which you can download from her website. 

I will always be an Ann Voskamp fan, as she makes me think deeper than any other Christian author I've come across, but I always walk away from her work wondering how a busy farm wife and mother to 6 homeschooled children can possibly write that poetically. And why did I not get an ounce of talent like that? Ha!

 Other than Christmas titles, I've been flying through some other books that I've had on my shelves for awhile. These are just a few thoughts on what I've read the last few weeks.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is one I picked up back in January and really loved. In the middle of my never-ending stomach bug this week, I reread it and loved it just as much. The setting and time period are so well-described and the story just draws you in. If you're at all a fan of historical fiction, I cannot recommend this one enough. 

The Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore is a book one of my book clubs read earlier this year, but I missed that particular meeting. From what I heard, all of them loved it, so I'm kinda glad I didn't have a chance to talk about it - I really didn't care for it at all. 

The actual plot was interesting, but the characters did not feel authentic. I found myself rolling my eyes more than once and feeling frustrated that the powerful white man was portrayed as such a better Christian than anyone else. Not cool. 

The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather was also read in the middle of being sick and it was the perfect read for only being able to focus for small periods of time. I love memoirs of people moving from a busy life to smaller homes and slower schedules and Mather's story fed right into my own desires. 

Though much of the book focused on food and eating locally, I loved the portions about moving into a tiny cabin, living on a tight budget, and starting a smaller, more all-around locally focused life. It was a great read!

I would love to just sell our house and move to a tiny cabin on a lake somewhere like Heather did, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. For now, I'll keep reading books like this and being inspired to buy local. 

This is my last review post of 2014, but I'll be back in a few days with my best of 2014 list. I'm looking forward to getting back into regular blogging next month!