Monday, October 29, 2012

A Heartbeat Away by Michael Palmer

We're getting ready for Hurricane Sandy here in RI...and that will probably mean losing power for awhile. To East Coast readers: stay safe! 

Read while home alone? sure
Tissues needed? nope
Overall rating: 4.5 stars

President James Allaire’s first State of the Union address of his second term of office is off to a great start when he and everyone else in the Capitol is exposed to a deadly virus. Allaire has to be a leader rather than a politician and make some tough choices for national security, including thwarting a domestic terrorist group, looking for a cure, and dealing with a power-hungry Speaker of the House. Allaire’s Homeland Security Secretary is the “Designated Survivor” who is NOT at the Capitol and finds himself A Heartbeat Away from the presidency. Will he step up to the role?

There’s a lot of action packed into this political thriller! There were some intriguing stories intertwined to make a full picture of a worst case scenario. A few parts were a bit slow-moving, but overall A Heartbeat Away was a page-turner for me, especially since I’m pretty interested in American politics. I also enjoyed it because my friend Amy gave me this book a few months ago when we had a girls’ weekend. She finished reading it, loved it, and passed it along…thanks, Amy! She found it at a used bookstore, so I’m not sure how available it is, but if you like politics or action fiction…definitely seek out A Heartbeat Away!

Do you ever think about the “what if” during the State of the Union addresses? Can you imagine being #18 in the line of presidential succession…and then being thrust into the #1 spot? Do you like political stories as much as I do?? 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

This month's featured author for the Virtual Children's Book Club is Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I own three of her books:

The books are very clever:

  • a pea who is supposed to eat candy but prefers a dessert of  spinach
  • a pig who is supposed to be, well, a pig but prefers cleanliness
  • an owl who is supposed to stay up late learning to be wise but prefers an early bedtime 
Who wouldn't enjoy this twist on things? When I was teaching, I thought about having students create their own story in this style, but didn't quite get to it. I'm keeping the idea in mind for when Toddler Train Man is older or if I have a chance to use it in a classroom again. Skunks who want to smell nice? Lions who don't like to be loud? The possibilities are endless!

Toddler Train Man enjoyed reading these books, but I'm not sure he quite understood the irony of them. In his world eating candy, being messy, and staying up all night is a dream world--what's funny about that?

We also picked up a few more of Rosenthal's books at the library:

Bedtime for Mommy was another one I really liked, but TTM didn't see as much humor in a child putting her mom to bed as I did. Alpha's Bet was a great story about how the order of letters in the alphabet was formed. This is also one that I think older children would have fun with--creating their own letter order and name for it.

Planting a Kiss is a sweet story about a girl who plants a kiss, then instead of hoarding her harvest she shares it with everyone...and finds that there's plenty to go around. We happened to go to a cranberry festival the same week we read this book and were able to plant a few things while we were there. 
sunflower seeds 
 a mini-cranberry bog

We've been watching them grow and thinking about Planting a Kiss. Hopefully we'll have some sunflowers and cranberries to share! (If you're looking for a fast-growing plant, our sunflowers sprouted very quickly!)

What great children's books have you read lately? What activities have they inspired?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark

Read while home alone? probably
Tissues needed? nope
Overall rating: 3.5 stars

Professor and archaeologist Jonathan Lyons may have found the only letter written by Christ. And he may have been killed for it. Suspicion for his murder falls most heavily on his wife Kathleen who has advanced Alzheimer’s, but daughter Mariah and friends Alvirah and Willy Meehan are out to prove Kathleen’s innocence. What dangers await them?

Mary Higgins Clark is a masterful storyteller and I love how she introduces myriad characters who eventually intertwine themselves into the narrative. I’ve read most (all?) of her books, so I’ve become pretty adept at predicting the outcome, but I still look forward to her newest release. The Lost Years was a quick, enjoyable book, but unless you’re already a Mary Higgins Clark fan it isn’t the book I’d read first.

A letter written by Christ would be an amazing archeological find; what artifact do you think would be the most incredible? 
Do you often solve the mystery before the characters? Does that make the book more or less enjoyable for you? 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg

Read while home alone? definitely
Tissues needed? probably
Overall rating: 4.5 stars

After their marriage dissolved many years ago, the main thing Irene and John have in common is their love for their daughter Sadie. Sadie is now 18 years old and making her own decisions, including some that put her in challenging situations. Somehow the “family” of three works through their problems while each grows as an individual.

I really like Elizabeth Berg’s writing. She weaves such a nice story with characters I can relate to and who I want to be happy. This book doesn’t disappoint, though Sadie’s first problem seemed to get solved a little too quickly and easily.  The time frame of this event was also odd to me, in that Sadie didn’t get information to her parents fast enough in my opinion. All the same, I could overlook those blips to enjoy a terrific story that explores family challenges as well as the personal problems we bring into relationships.

How much do you think your family of origin impacts marriage/family of choice? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

Read while home alone? absolutely
Tissues needed? not really
Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is a memoir with lots of messages for people of any age, though Quindlen highlights that you can’t really learn about an age until you’ve lived it. She makes her way through life in her family of origin, including her mother’s death when Anna was still in college, through marriage and early working years in newspapers, having and raising children, and to the point where she is now: adult children, a home in the city and country, and a good number of friends. The story isn’t exactly in that order—Quindlen has arranged it into lessons she’s learned, and then uses her life stories to illustrate them.

I’ve read several of Anna Quindlen’s books and enjoyed them, so when I saw a new book out I requested it at the library, not realizing it was her memoir. Although it was a little different to read than her novels (obviously!), I enjoyed it. Quindlen’s writing style is pleasant and I liked the way she was able to impart words of wisdom without seeming preachy. It made me stop and think, which is always good, right? 

One of my favorite quotes from the book was from a letter Quindlen received while writing a newspaper column about being a mom of young children. An older woman wrote to say, “We like to imply that children before our own had been raised by wolves.” This was a lesson that really resonated for me: each generation thinks they’re both more advanced than all previous generations, while also experiencing a more difficult time. There may be some truth to that, but for me it’s also important to recognize those who came before and their contributions to my advancement.

What would your memoir be titled? What life lessons have you learned that would be key in your memoir? 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Read while home alone? yep.
Tissues needed? only if you laugh too hard
Overall rating: 5 stars

Tina Fey tells her story in Bossypants in a way only she can. Fey grew up in Philadelphia, had a stint at Chicago’s Second City, then moved to NYC to work on Saturday Night Live, her own show, and being a wife and mother. Wow, it wears me out just recapping all of that! Bossypants recounts lessons learned along the way, including how to be a boss without being a “bossypants.”

I laughed my way through Bossypants. It was fun to read about some of Tina Fey’s SNL colleagues, including Lorne Michaels, and the lessons she learned from him. I also enjoyed her tales of motherhood; we seem to have many common experiences there. In fact, I think Tina and I generally have a lot in common: we both have brown hair and glasses. We've both lived in the middle of the country and on the east coast. My sister and I both think I'm hilarious; Tina is paid to be funny. See what I mean? We're practically twins. If you like Tina Fey’s humor, you’ll love this book.

Whose autobiography would you like to read? What would the title of YOUR autobiography be?