Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

I kind of forgot it was Wednesday today because my week is off, due to having an unexpected Monday off work. I remember about midway through the day. Better late than never, right?

One Plus One: A Novel
It's very hard to not judge an author by his/her previous books, although I try. However, when an author starts out with something as incredible as Me Before You, it's very hard to not feel like that set a precedent, you know? I am completely okay with chick lit. I love chick lit when I don't want to think. But because of Me Before You, I don't expect chick lit from Jojo Moyes. This book was absolutely chick lit. Was it enjoyable? Yes, I absolutely enjoyed it. I loved the characters and the storyline, but I couldn't separate myself from the author's previous book.

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad)
On the other hand, this book absolutely lived up to my expectations of Tana French. In the Woods is a book that still chases the corners of my mind, occasionally. This book had a different subject matter but still contained the same sharply written criminal mystery as the author's previous books. Chris Harper is found dead on the ground of a girls' school. Some time later, a girl brings a post card to a detective. The caption says "I know who killed him." Unfortunately for the girl in question, everything points to her or her group of friends. But did they do it? Or was it another group? The author's teenage girl dialogue was sometimes annoying but also, if I'm honest, very spot on. I really enjoyed the mystery and this kept my attention very well.

Fives and Twenty-Fives
When a convoy halts in Iraq, it's a rule to stop and sweep the area, five meters in every direction. Once cleared, the sweep is extended to twenty-five meters. Anything within that zone can and will kill soldiers. Written by an Iraq veteran, this book was a brilliant read, switching between the voices of three men, all returned home from the same platoon. At first, I had difficulty with the character switches but once I caught on, it made sense. Books about Iraq or Afghanistan always tug at me because I feel like these men and women come home so damaged and we do so little for them. All that said, this book nailed it. The internal conflicts, the PTSD, the attempt to settle back to civilian life, the struggles continuing in other countries. It was beautiful and heartbreaking at once.

The Magician's Land: A Novel (Magicians Trilogy)
It's so hard to review the final book in a trilogy! If you like Harry Potter, fantasy, magic, but with a harder edge, read this. You'll enjoy them.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife
I don't usually read books like this, but I didn't have any books to read… and desperate times and all that. Patience Murphy is a midwife during the Depression area. Most of her patients cannot pay, or if they do, they pay in the form of a chicken or some firewood. Patience is also on the run from an incident that happened during a union strike. The author of this book was a midwife for many years and her insertion of birth facts got a little heavy-handed. Example: a woman refuses to leave the bathtub while birthing, Patience muses afterward that her patient seemed so calm and that of course it's good for the baby because they spend nine months in water. I get it. Water birth is safe and healthy for both mom and baby. If I wanted the specific details on why, I would probably read an actual birthing book. It's really, truly okay to allow your readers to make inferences.

The Magician King: A Novel (Magicians Trilogy)
The second book in the Magician trilogy, taking Quentin and others back to the magical world of Fillory. It's hard to review second books, but I enjoyed this--especially the end.

A Man Called Ove: A Novel
Everyone keeps talking about this book! Ove is a grumpy old man who doesn't hold back on telling people how he feels. I definitely respect and admire this position. But Ove, as we learn, has many reasons for his grumpiness, following a life of being dealt a bad hand. Why should Ove trust life? Then one morning, his new neighbors flatten his mailbox--forcing Ove to begrudgingly allow people into his life. I tried to separate myself from this book because it had a lot of feels. And then, I read the last few pages and burst into an ugly cry. So much for separating myself. This is good. You'll fall in love with Ove and his people (and his cat).

What are you reading?

Monday, September 8, 2014

On Working and Mom-ing

I've been a working mom since 2007. In those 7 years, I've just now finally gotten my ish together. And really, getting it together falls under the kind of category.

I feel like there are really no good resources out there for work outside of the home moms to lean on each other or to figure out how to make it all work. And seriously, I am not saying that working outside of the home is harder than staying home. I AM NOT and if you try to make it that in the comments, I will delete you and put a hex on you (maybe not the second part). I am, however, acknowledging that if you're in your house in the evening and it's messy and then you leave for eight hours, guess what? It's STILL messy when you get home--and that kind of sucks.

For two glorious years, I had a cleaning lady and I seriously skipped through my school years without a care in the world, but my cleaning lady no longer cleans and the thought of finding a new one is daunting.

Despite honestly having far more responsibilities this year than when the boys were babies, I desperately wanted to keep it together this year. When the boys were babies, my only goal was to get home and nurse them and kiss them and that was it. Now I have NJHS and department chair and curriculum builder on my plate. Plus, Luke goes to karate three days a week. It's not easy--or rather, I long for the days when I thought I had it hard.

So, it's tough. And I know that people say a happy house is a messy house and blah blah, but I'll be straight with you: I feel happier if my house is clean. Not spotless, mind you. I don't care about the baseboards most days, but I need to feel like I wouldn't be embarrassed if someone stopped by unannounced. THIS is my goal from this point forward. So I've been trying this year, really trying. When I get home, I'm tired. I have a job where people talk at me all day and I just truly want to shut myself up in a dark room with a drink and pretend that the world doesn't exist.

But wait.. if I do that, my house gets even messier?! Crap. So I made myself a chore list. Yes, for me. Every day, I clean a different room or area. One day, I might clean all the bedrooms. The next, the bathrooms. I try to do laundry every couple of days because really, is there anything worse than piles and piles of laundry staring at you? And I always put laundry away before I go to bed--and if it's not dry, I do it at 6 the next morning. I also vacuum the living room and Swiffer the kitchen every single day. Why? These are high traffic areas. If I hit them daily, they aren't as daunting. I'm thinking of investing in a steam mop, like the Shark. Suggestions?
My chore list covers all the days of the week, but it's broken down in a way that it doesn't seem like that much. Clean the bathrooms? Okay, I can handle that on a Tuesday because on Monday, I cleaned all the bedrooms. And I can certainly do it before I have to take Luke to karate or before I have to sit on the floor and play cars with Tommy.

In the past, my weekends were spent yelling and crying and cleaning. Guess how fun that was? JUST GUESS. Now, when I get to the weekends, I've cleaned all the major rooms. I only have to do the main level and do laundry. That's it. I have time for my kids, for my husband and for me. I can't do 20 chore Tuesday or any of the other internet memes that go around about cleaning because at noon on a Tuesday, I'm in my classroom. But what I CAN do is five chore Monday. Five chore Tuesday. Five chore… well, you get the point.

For our students with disabilities, we talk about chunking assignments. Do the first five questions on one day, do the next five another day. Basically what I've done is chunked chores and it works. Are there sacrifices? Sure. I get up at 4:15 in the morning to run so I'm not spending 45-50 minutes an afternoon running. And sometimes I really, really just want to sit on the couch and stare at the wall, but it's a lot easier to fight that urge if I think about how I only have to do three things that night. Oh, and lunches… I have to make lunches every night, but I've started making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Sunday. If you ziploc them, the bread actually stays soft, and then, I just have Luke and Tommy pick their side items and throw them in a lunch box. It works, you guys! Try it!

Is this one-size fits all for every working mom? No, probably not, but it's sure made my life a lot less crazed this year.
What do you do to make things easier around the house? (Working mom or not, I'd love to hear from you!)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

I did not read much this week and that is sad. I also spilled half my lunch on a book (and on an insurance audit, oops), so that is also sad.

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
I believe Lyndsay recommended this one. The author, Marina Keegan, died young. Five days after her graduation from Yale, she died in a car crash. This book chronicles her writing, both fiction and non-fiction. I am not a short story person, but this book grabbed me. Although in some of her stories I could see overlapping themes that might have otherwise become tiresome, she had a voice beyond her years. A voice that could have had the potential to become a brilliant writer, made even more prolific by her death. I think, of course, it's easy to marginalize this book and admit that other young women who die in a car crash who maybe didn't go to Yale or have an upper-middle class upbringing probably wouldn't have their writings posthumously, but in the end, it's still a book that struck a chord with me.

The Magicians: A Novel (Magicians Trilogy)
I love it when I find out about a book series after it's all been published, so I don't have to wait around for new books to be released. This is like Harry Potter (and a little bit of Narnia) with a kick. High school senior Quentin is bored. Bored with life, bored with his friends, bored with the world around him when he suddenly finds himself whisked away to a secret magic college. This book chronicles his four years in college and expands into the adventures of the magic world beyond. While this is a fantasy novel, it's also a book where the characters seem unbelievably human and at times, unbelievably frustrating. I loved it and can't wait to read the other two.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

If you find me
Carey lives in a broken down camper in the middle of the forest with her little sister, Jessa, and occasionally, her mom. Her mom is a meth-addict who stole them from Carey's dad, presumably because he abused all of them. Jessa is selectively mute, from an incident that happened one night when their mom was gone. One day, her mom leaves for good, sending a letter that she can no longer care for the girls. The authorities show and whisk them away to Carey's dad, who is maybe not what she thought. There is, of course, an adjustment period to this new life, as Carey learns to live as a normal teenage girl. While this book was good, it could have been great. I understand that as a YA book, the author didn't want to delve too deeply into child abuse. Yet, I felt that a LOT was glossed over, so much that very few of the characters were developed as fully as they could have been. Good story but could have been better.

Boxers & Saints Boxed Set
This is the graphic novel story of the Boxer Rebellion. It is brilliantly executed. One story is told by Little Bao, who channels the gods of old to form a band to strike back against the "foreign devils" whom he thinks are here to steal his native land. The other is told by Four-Girl, christened Vibiana who runs away from her family after converting to Christianity. The two sides of the Rebellion, told by these two characters, creates a beautiful story that leaves you able to see both sides from a rational point-of-view. I read Boxers first and would probably recommend that because Saints goes a little further into the story, but I would definitely suggest both!

We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel
This book reached into my chest and tore out my heart. This is not a happy book, but it is beautifully rendered. I would, first of all, not read any reviews on this book. Fortunately, I did not before reading but after reading looked at a few, and they definitely give away a major plot point that is better left unknown until you are reading.
Eileen wants better for herself. She is picky with men, to the consternation of her friends and family. Then she meets Ed Leary and marries him, despite her once upon a time wish to rid herself of her Irish last name. As time goes on, Eileen learns that Ed doesn't dream as big as she does, is okay with just a teaching position, is okay with living in the same apartment in which they've always lived. This is a long novel. You follow the Leary family through most of their lives, and you become attached. You feel their sorrow--and there is a great deal of sorrow--and occasional joys. I cried at the end. The characters were real and just as frustrating as real people are... and you so badly want them to have the most in life, even when it's clear that won't happen.

What are you reading?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

*On Thursday. Oops. I thought I had this scheduled to post yesterday, but it did not.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
I requested a bunch of books recently because a school board in Delaware banned its entire reading list. This was the first to be banned, then when they were accused of banning it because of the themes, they responded by banning the rest of the list. Every book I read this week is off of the list.
Cameron Post is the protagonist in this coming of age story. She is also a lesbian, coming of age in rural Montana. The story follows Cameron from the time she's 12 until 17. Cameron falls in love with her best friend, then is discovered and sent away to God's Promise, a religious conversion camp. I loved this book. The voice of Cameron, her overwhelming guilt but also acceptance of who she is and who she always will be is incredible. It had the kind of ending that sometimes frustrates me but was just right for this book. I found myself rooting for Cameron Post beyond the book, basically for all the Cameron Posts of this world, struggling to gain acceptance.

I would call this a coming of age story with a twist, too. Butter is a morbidly obese teen. He has a real name, but everyone calls him Butter. In the beginning of the story, Butter has no friends, except a girl named Anna. Anna goes to his school, but he's created an online persona to get to better know Anna (who has no idea that she's talking to Butter). Frustrated with his life after an embarrassing moment in the school cafeteria (where he sits alone with his spread of food), Butter creates a website stating that he's going to kill himself on New Year's Eve. How? By eating himself to death, of course. Butter's website suddenly gains him popularity, with a group of kids who may be friends. Or who may just want a front row seat to the train wreck.
This book was not a comfortable read. It contains heavy themes of bullying and suicide, but it was beautifully written and well done. The author did an amazing job of making Butter a person, not just a kid who eats too much.

More Than This
This book opens with a fairly uncomfortable scene of Seth, a teenage boy, drowning. In his last moments, breathing in water and trying to fight the ocean, he bashes his head fatally on a rock.
Except that in the next chapter, Seth is alive. He is naked and thirsty and hurts everywhere. He also seems to be in his old neighborhood in England, an ocean away from where he died. Even more, his old neighborhood seems to be a ruined post-apocalyptic world where he's the only one there. Is this his own personal hell? Or is it something else?
The twists this book took were completely unexpected, going into it having no background information. It kept me reading through an entire day.

The Scorpio Races
On the island of Thisby, a race is held every year when the capaill uisce (cap-pall osshke) come from the sea. A vicious breed of water horses who eat meat, attacking other horses, each other and humans with their sharp teeth. Yet, despite the brutality of these horses, it is said that if you can get them from the sea, they make the best mounts--mounts who are violent and will always be drawn to the water. Some race for the money, some for the glory, while some just try to stay alive until the end. Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. Puck Connolly is a girl who gets mixed up in the Scorpio Races, though she never dreamed she'd ride. Sean and Puck clash with their own personal conflicts, but become entwined in one another as the Scorpio Race draws near. This was a longer book, with a steady build-up to the actual race, which left me anxious and ready to see who would survive. I definitely enjoyed it, especially the folklore elements.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Whistling Past the Graveyard
I requested this one based on Corrin's recommendation and loved it. 9 year old Starla runs away from her grandmother, who spends most of her days telling Starla that she's a horrible child and grounded her for fairly minor infractions. Her destination is Nashville, where she believes her absent mother is a star singer. On her way, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman with a white baby. In the 1960s south, Eula is the wrong color, especially with a baby she took from the church steps. As the story unfolds, Starla and Eula become entrenched in one another's lives in a way no one would ever have expected, least of all the two of them. The author did an excellent job developing not only the two main characters, but secondary characters as well. I loved the voice of this story.

Big Little Lies
I love Lianne Moriarty's books because she has a really good handle on how to write a book from the perspective of different characters. I also love them because I can just shut off my brain and get really involved in the story, which is definitely what I did for this book. Written from the perspective of three friends (Madeline, Celeste and Jane), the story starts out in present time talking about a school trivia night that ended in murder. It then flashes back to six months before the trivia night and begins building toward that, interspersed with police statements from other characters. The police statements are never from the main characters or their spouses, so you have no idea who died on trivia night or who was involved, just a twisted web of gossip to unweave. My favorite part of the book was what lays beneath the surface of each person, how a person who may seem to have it all may really be one step away from losing it. Despite this book being over 400 pages, I finished it in one [lazy] day.

Painted Horses
I wanted to read this book based on the comparison to The Son and Lonesome Dove (please read Lonesome Dove if you haven't!!). Catherine Lemay is an archaeology student in the 1950s world where careers for women are still frowned upon by society. She's sent by the Smithsonian to investigate the site of a possible dam in Montana. She's never been to the west before and Native American artifacts are not her thing, but she's willing to ride out into the middle of nowhere to look for artifacts. If none are found, the dam build can go ahead and the canyon will be flooded. In the midst of this, she meets a mysterious man named John H. who lives in the canyon. Catherine's story is told in conjunction with John's and while there were parts that didn't hold my interest quite so strongly, the ending of the story was a series of beautiful twists and turns that made this one a book that I was glad to read.

What are you reading?