Monday, May 28, 2012

Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand

Read while home alone? yes
Tissues needed? probably a few
Overall rating: 4 stars

Brenda, Melanie, and Vicki along with Vicki’s two young children decide to spend the summer on Nantucket. The three women are each experiencing a personal drama: Brenda recently lost her job teaching at a university in a spectacular fall from grace, Melanie’s husband has been cheating on her and she just found out that she’s pregnant, and Vicki will spend her summer getting chemotherapy at the small hospital in Nantucket. Josh, a young writing student who is an island native, also becomes a thread in their story. The summer includes many ups and downs in everyone’s lives and by the end of the summer each has grown and learned from the others.

The book cover captured my attention as I perused the library shelves: it shows a beach, ocean, and sky—a perfect summer read! I enjoyed the stories of the women in Barefoot—each had her challenges and handled them in her own way. The story drew me in and I finished it pretty quickly. However, I was slightly disappointed in the ending (thus the “4” rating). All the major issues were resolved and it gave a snapshot of where lives went following the summer, but it wasn’t quite enough for me. I wanted just a little more detail. Overall, though, I devoured the book and would definitely read other titles by Elin Hilderbrand.

Discussion Questions:
  • With which character did you most identify? Who would you most/least want as a friend?
  • Have you had experiences with a friend of a friend that were similar to Brenda and Melanie’s relationship?
  • If you were in Brenda, Melanie, or Vicki’s situation, how would you have handled it differently?
  • What place most reminds you of your childhood?
What do you like in a summer read?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

Read while home alone? yes           
Tissues needed? probably not
Overall rating: 5 stars

Elegy for Eddie is the 9th installment of the Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie, investigator and psychologist, grew up poor in early 20th century London. A group of workers she knew growing up approach Maisie to investigate the death of Eddie, a young man who was a little older than Maisie, but from the same neighborhood. The truth of Eddie’s demise takes Maisie down some unexpected roads and is ultimately a bit unsatisfying. Elegy for Eddie also gives some insight into Maisie’s own identity and love life.

I love this series! Jacqueline Winspear’s books are well-written mysteries that sometimes include rather heinous acts, but they’re shared in such a “proper” way that the discoveries are the highlight rather than the gore. I especially enjoyed this book because Maisie had some self-doubts that made me like her even more; in previous books I’ve seen her as lovingly perfect. Maisie is dating the son of her former employer, and their story was woven into the bigger story well enough that it didn’t seem like an added bit of romance just to make things interesting. The conclusion was also clever—of course Maisie solved the crime and wraps things up, but the story doesn’t end all neat and tidy. That’s usually a problem for me, but I didn’t mind it in this case. All in all, a book I highly recommend!
**If you haven’t read this series, it might be nice to start with the first book: Maisie Dobbs.

Discussion Questions:
  • Maisie was told by a few people to be careful with her generosity since no one likes to be beholden to someone else. What do you think about that?
  • How true-to-life do you think the portrayal of Churchill and other characters was? Do you think there were people in England preparing in the ways mentioned in the book?
  • Many in his neighborhood looked after Eddie throughout his life. Do you know of similar situations?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Early Literacy

I love to read. I used to get in trouble sometimes for reading too much (Really, Mom? The dishes can’t wait until I finish one more chapter?). Books are my portal to new worlds, my escape, a source of information, a joy. 

I want my son to feel the same. He has books in every room at our house and we go to story time almost every week. He loves to go to the bookstore (though the train table COULD be some of the allure there!). He delights in picking out new books at the library and is sometimes sad when it’s time for a favorite to be returned so we can share it with other kids.

There is a lot of research out there about the importance of early literacy: its effects on intelligence, school performance, and language development. There are recommendations about how much “lap time” (time a child sits on a care giver’s lap and reads books) is necessary for future school success. According to many, television, the anti-book, is definitely not helpful in developing all of these desired outcomes.

I haven’t read too much of the research about early literacy, though I understand and agree with what I have read. I haven’t felt a need to convince myself or even to grasp the myriad benefits of exposing my little guy to books, starting before he was even born. I think all of those things are fantastic, but mostly, I just want my little guy to be like me…I want him to love books.

Why do YOU think early literacy is important? What are the outcomes you think are most significant? 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Green by Laura Peyton Roberts

Read while home alone? absolutely
Tissues needed? no
Overall rating: 5 stars

When Lilybet Green turns thirteen her birthday is quite different than she planned. She finds herself in a world of leprechauns who want her to be part of their village, but she must first pass a series of tests to prove her ability, cleverness, and loyalty. Lilybet must quickly figure out the ways of the leprechauns if she is to have a chance at passing the tests and honoring her beloved grandmother.

This book was written for children, and it was a delight. Lilybet is a girl who moves often and isn’t classically attractive or athletic, so she has trouble fitting into each new school/town. Being so lonely, the idea of the Green clan is a relief. I liked the various tests Lilybet had to face, and I liked that she struggled enough to make the end worthwhile. She had to use more of her own resources than she knew she possessed, which was a great lesson. Green kept me guessing, making it an exciting read.

Discussion Questions:
  • What would your wish be if you were given one?
  • What fairy tale creatures do you believe/wish were real?
  • What tests could your friends/family complete to show their cleverness or loyalty?
  • Have you been the “new kid?” What makes that experience easier? More difficult? How can “old kids” help? Hurt?
  • What magical power would you like to have?

Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky

Read while home alone? definitely
Tissues needed? no
Overall rating: 4 stars

History repeats itself as the 17-year-old daughter of the unwed 35-year-old high school principal (you can do the math!) gets pregnant. The news shocks their small Maine town, but when two more pregnancies are announced, an uproar ensues. Consequences of the girls’ actions go far beyond the babies they dreamed of raising together.

Not My Daughter captured my interest right away and the pace of the story kept me involved. Family relationships—past and present—are untangled as family roles are redefined. It was interesting to see how all the characters handled the realities of teen pregnancy up close. I liked that the end of Not My Daughter wrapped up loose ends, but wasn’t an unrealistic picture of the results of teen pregnancy.

Delinsky is masterful at fleshing out characters who engage me. She then weaves lives together in such a real way that I feel like I’m part of the community in the book. I love that!

Discussion Questions:
  • How would your community react to 3 high school seniors getting pregnant?
  • Does it matter if the girls are college-bound athletes? From “good” families?
  • How much blame goes to parents in this situation?
  • How would your family have responded?
  • What events happened in your family that changed roles and relationships?
  • How do television shows about pregnant teens/young mothers impact public opinion?