Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel
This book begins with an 8 year old boy who has lost everything in the flood waters of the Mississippi, including his family who no longer felt they could care for him. The story follows the boy as he grows into a man and how he feels he's been marked by the devil, who follows him every step of the way through his life. Although I've seen some critiques stating that it's obvious that this novel wasn't written by a southerner, I felt those were off-base. I mean, the author is obviously Asian-American and the book jacket states that he's from New York, so clearly he's not from the South, but that didn't make the novel itself less enjoyable. So, he's not Harper Lee--very few are. I still enjoyed that story that was woven of Robert's life, the ways that thematically, we all have our own devils, though some less dramatic than Robert's, but keep trudging through life, one way or another.

The People of Sparks: The Second Book of Ember (Books of Ember)
This book picked up where The City of Ember left off and was a great continuation in terms of YA dystopian lit. Like City of Ember, I felt it would be a good pick for a strong elementary school reader as well as a middle school reader. Much moreso than City of Ember, this book underscored a great lesson about human nature and how quickly as humans, we tend to turn against "outsiders," instead of remembering how we should all band together.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel
This was a book that I wavered on, because I don't know much about Chechnya and I wasn't sure if I really wanted to read a war book. But at the same time, there are very few books on Russia that don't often leave me feeling like my heart is beating outside of my chest, so I went with it. I am so glad I did. This is one of the best books I've read this year. The title refers to the medical definition of life and the novel weaves together the lives of three people in war-torn Chechnya: Akhmed, a doctor so bad he graduated in the bottom 4th percentile of his class; Havaa, his young neighbor whose father was taken to the Landfill (exactly what it sounds) and who is being searched for by the Russian soldiers); and Sonja, a surgeon running a hospital meant to be staffed by 500 by only herself and a long-retired nurse. Inexplicably, their three lives are far more connected than they realized and the story evolves into something really beautiful and sad all at once.

The Wilding: A Novel
As an English teacher, I love the lesser used conflict of man vs. nature, so the premise of this novel, three generations of men on a hunting gone wrong, spoke to me. While not necessarily a horror story, there were definitely parts of this story that set me on edge in that I wasn't sure what was going to happen next. My only complaint is that there was one character, an Iraqi war veteran, who was initially developed then fizzled at the end. He began as a strong character and seemed like he was going to add a component... then fell apart a bit. Aside from that, I really enjoyed this story.

The Woman Upstairs
Apparently, a woman upstairs is the unmarried, woman without children always on the fringes. The one who is a reliable friend and always there for others, but who others aren't always there for first. This is Nora. Nora is an elementary school teacher and from page one, Nora's voice is loud and angry. Nora's anger pulled me in immediately. I wanted to know why she was so angry. Much of the story is spent developing Nora's relationship with the family of one of her elementary school students, the mother a fellow artist. As the novel grows, so does the complexity of her relationship with this family, until the end when you finally learn the root of Nora's anger. This was definitely a page-turner and Nora's voice was strong throughout the novel.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Oh, hey neglected blog. I didn't do a What I Read Wednesday week because I had the stressful week from hell last week. Seriously, I had to go back to the school twice in the evening, strep throat hit our house AND I was in an out-of-town wedding. In short, it was a whirlwind and I only read one book. But don't worry, in the meantime, I've read A LOT of books.

The 5th Wave
This book is a YA book about an alien invasion that slowly begins killing humanity off in waves. With each wave, humanity is left wondering how to survive to the next and if it's even worth surviving. The main character is a strong female, but the author doesn't skimp on strong secondary males, which I like. It was a really compelling read and I definitely didn't want it to end. Like many sci-fi novels, you're left wondering what's scarier: the attacking force or humanity itself.

Silken Prey
I discovered John Sandford's Lucas Davenport novels last summer and read my way through the whole series, so I was excited earlier this year when I saw a new one was coming out. This one focuses on dirty politics, computer hacking and murder and is engaging as the rest. The good thing about the Davenport novels is that although most of the main characters overlap, you don't really have to read them in any particular order.

The City of Ember (Books of Ember)
My students just finished an essay on the book Matched and one of the topic choices was to compare and contrast Matched to another dystopian YA lit novel. When I gave them the prompts and listed off several YA dystopian novels, someone asked about this book. Although I'd heard of it, I hadn't read it and wanted to so I could grade any essays on it. The book is about a group of people living in the City of Ember, an underground city that is running out of food and light. Two young kids are searching for a way out and a reason for why they're in Ember in the first place. I really enjoyed this book and although it's YA lit, I could definitely see an elementary school student who is a good reader being able to handle this one easily.

The Secret Keeper: A Novel
A teenage girl witnesses her mother commit a shocking crime. Years later, as her mother is on her death bed, she tries to piece together exactly what happened. The book flashes back through various decades as it weaves the mystery of what led up to the mother's crime. This was an ending that caught me unaware and left me reading the last few pages of the novel again to make sure that I understood. It was brilliantly written and woven together. This story captured me.

Red Moon: A Novel
When I first started reading this book, I thought it was a werewolf book. Or lycans, as they're referred to throughout the novel, but then as I read on, I realized it was so much more than that. I started to think it was dystopian, but then it became dystopian as the novel progressed, but it was also kind of a parable. Regardless of what genre it is, it was incredibly engaging. In the society created by Benjamin Percy, there are two classes of people: lycans and non-lycans. Lycans can transform into wolves. It's a disease that can be transmitted via blood or sex, like AIDs, and those who are lycans live amongst normal society. Yet, they're treated somewhat as second-class citizens. They're forced to take medicine to suppress their urge to transform and there are universities just for lycans. Without giving too much away, the novel was fascinating in the overall themes and messages that the author managed to weave in beneath the surface. This is a must-read.

Extinction: A Thriller
One of my co-workers was reading this novel and told me I would enjoy it. The main character is a main who makes prosthetic arms that respond to the neurons in the brain on their own, as well as have weapons concealed in them. His daughter is a computer hacker, who becomes to target of a sub-sect of the Chinese government who has created a computer that is run via the brains of lobotomized humans. What can go wrong there? Except... everything. This was a great sci-fi thriller!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tommy's Team 2013

Last week was an exhausting whirlwind of a week. This week proves to be even more of a whirlwind. I'm steeling myself for it with the promise of June and SUMMER. I can do this. You will not beat me, May.

Saturday was the Epilepsy 5k, which we did last year. I feel guilty because I didn't throw myself into fundraising like I did last year. My attention was on campaigning for the referendum that our school was trying to pass (which we lost. by 4 votes. DO NOT GET ME STARTED) and I will admit that fundraising fell by the wayside. Life is just so busy now. Luke is playing t-ball. His science fair was Friday night and that was honestly our focus all week. Although we did the research well in advance, we left the poster board until this week (rookie mistake). Since it was his science fair project, I let him do most of the poster board, except that he obviously couldn't type. Friday was hectic. I left work, ran to the grocery store to get stuff for his science fair and sides for the picnic to have after the walk, then straight to Luke's school to set up for the science fair. We didn't get home until 7, then I had to get things together for the walk.
I didn't find us a sponsor for shirts this year, so I bought shirts out of my pocket for the newcomers to the team. In hindsight, I probably could've found us a sponsor. I just didn't try and that's my fault, but buying shirts is the least I can do for those who do so much for us. Who give to a cause where their only connection to it is my son.
Like I said, I was so focused on campaigning for the referendum that the walk became secondary. Still, we managed to raise $1305. This is a lot less than we raised last year, but last year, I was very much actively fundraising and Tommy's epilepsy was not as managed as it is now. We also had more team members, many of whom raised a couple hundred dollars each. I'm proud to have raised over $5000 for the epilepsy foundation in the course of these two years.
I am beyond proud that despite how busy our lives are these days, despite two members of our family being at a t-ball game, we still made time to walk.
Maybe next year the weather will be nice?

When I started training for this 5k, I really wanted to race it. Even though it's untimed, I wanted this to be my comeback with regard to my injury. However, my feet have flared up for the eleventy-billionth time and have been an absolute wreck for the last week and a half. It hurts to walk, let alone run, so I haven't been running at all. I wasn't even sure if I was going to run, but I decided to give it a try and walk if I needed. The course was at beautiful Cantigny Park and wound past trees and flowers. Once I settled into an easy pace, I was so happy. There weren't many runners, just hundreds and hundreds of walkers, so it was peaceful. My feet were sore, but seeing kids in wheelchairs who are unable to walk at all because their epilepsy is so bad puts it in to perspective. So what if my feet hurt? I can RUN. The course was hilly, with a really steep hill just after the halfway point. A few people dropped to the side to walk, but I pushed myself up it and kept going, only to find out that the course looped around and made you go back up the hill. The second time I was mixed into walkers and a woman hit me in the face while she was taking off her sweatshirts. This made the hill even more fun! Soon, I was out of walkers and rounding the corner toward the finish line. Since I was going at such an easy comfortable pace, I wondered if I even wanted to push it, but I did and gave a double fist pump at the end. It was, by far, my most enjoyable 5k. I didn't race it. I didn't push myself. I didn't care at all about the numbers on my watch. I just enjoyed it. I watched the scenery go by. I read the facts about epilepsy on the signs throughout the course. I learned what the money raised for the 5ks does. I thanked all of the volunteers, which I don't usually have the breath to do during a 5k. Maybe I need to do more 5ks like this.

Afterward, I walked back to the last turn in the course and waited for the rest of our team, where I was stalked by wild turkeys (did you know that I'm afraid of turkeys? Cuz I totally am). Shelli, Martina, Lily and Tommy were the first to arrive, so I finished the course (again) with them and we waited for everyone else with cheers, then had a very cold picnic, followed by the kids playing on playground for, oh, four hours due to my sister falling and requiring an ER trip and stitches (she's fine!).

With the walk yesterday and for awhile now, I kind of felt like, should we be there? Because we've been over a year seizure free and he's no longer on seizure medicine, but then I saw a team with a sign that said seizure free since 2010 and I smiled. Of course we should be there because even though we it may not be a part of our daily lives NOW, we will always be touched by epilepsy. Always. We will always be a part of this community, a part of the community of parents who know what it's like to be so powerless against a disease you cannot predict. I will always remember the moment that I first held my seizing child in my arms and my heart stopped and stopped and stopped, and even though you never know what each day will bring, I realize that my God, we are the lucky ones.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

I read one book this week. Yikes!

Touch & Go
Lisa Garder is one of my favorite mystery authors. I like that her books keep you guessing until the end. This focuses on a family who is kidnapped and the how and why of it is slowly unravelled throughout the book, making you wonder just who is good and who is bad. I love detective novels and this was no exception. It would make a great beach/vacation read. Or in my case, standardized testing read.

What are you reading?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

**on Thursday. I don't know. It's been a WEEK.

I'm not really a gamer, although back in the day before kids, I really enjoyed beating people up on Grand Theft Auto. I highly recommend that for stress relief. That said, even though I was lost of some of the gaming aspect of this book, I was still drawn into the story of the misfit band of kids who found each other in high school were games were rudimentary on Apple IIEs, one drifted apart, then he found them again and was thrust into a gaming mystery that threatened to bring down a huge company. I enjoyed the characters and the storyline.

Six Years
This mystery book was about a man who loves a woman, until she suddenly marries a man then tells him to leave them alone--no matter what. Until six years later, when he reads the man's obit, shows up to the funeral, only to find that the man apparently had a whole different family. What follows is an unraveling path of clues that leads every which way, most of them dangerous. I like books like this. They are fun and keep me guessing.

Life After Life: A Novel
I really wanted to love this book and the premise was fascinating. On the same night, two babies named Ursula Todd are born. Both have their cords wrapped around their necks. One lives by the snip of scissors, the other strangles. The surviving Ursula Todd lives constantly on the edge of almost death, somehow always surviving, always knowing what to do to change her fate. I loved the premise, but the actual writing was so tedious, so hard to follow. One moment she was in WWII Germany, best friends with Eva Braun (you know, Hitler's mistress), then she was a child again. It skipped around a lot and was difficult to follow. The last thirty pages of the novel were really beautifully written and I loved them, but most of the novel was a chore for me. It was an Amazon best book of the month for April, so I may be in the minority here.

Whirlwind (Dreamhouse Kings)
The second to last book in the Dreamhouse Kings series. It was good!

Frenzy (Dreamhouse Kings)
This was the last book in the Dreamhouse Kings series. It was good, but had an open ending to an extent. I don't normally mind this, but after six books, unless you're going to continue... tie it up!

What are you reading?