Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

For a change, I decided to mix it up and read all adult books this week. I am sure my students were disappointed at the lack of recommendations, but some of you will probably be happy.

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys
Sarah nicely loaned this one to me, after a desperate email asking her if my children were normal. And after reading this, I'm happy to report that it seems that they are normal. At least, they're normal boys. I know so many moms of girls that lately, it's been hard for me to rationalize Luke's behavior. Although he was fairly calm as a toddler, he became explosive as a 5 year old and I didn't or couldn't understand it. What struck me early on in this book is that it explained that boys don't have the emotional literacy that 4, 5 and 6 year old girls do, so they will often yell or hit when they are frustrated or upset or sad about something, because they lack the words to explain what's going on. I read that and hugged the book close to my chest, because wow, my son is normal. Although I didn't agree with everything in this book, it was incredibly enlightening not only as the mom of two boys, but as the teacher of middle school boys. It was definitely a good read.

Although I, like most people, find Elie Wiesel stirring, I've never read any of his fiction. I'm glad I gave this book a try. It's about a Holocaust survivor who is kidnapped and held hostage by two terrorists who hope to use their hostage as leverage. In his capitivity, he survives through telling stories and through his memories of his life during World War II.

Winter Garden
One Crazed Mommy recommended this book and warned that I would get a little teary. She was right. This book explores sibling relationships and somewhat, mother-daughter relationships, but it goes so much deeper than that. There are some elements of historical fiction within the novel and heavy themes on love and forgiveness. It's really beautifully written. It's also hard to talk too much about it without giving anything away, but you should definitely read this one.

Mr. Bridge: A Novel
Barb mentioned a few times that she was reading these paired books and I was intrigued by the idea, so I checked them out. I decided to read Mr. Bridge first, because it was longer. What I liked about the format was that for the most part, the chapters were kind of choppy so you didn't have to follow along too much. Mr. Bridge was a pretty insufferable human being, though I suspect that he was pretty common for most rich white men of the time. I was kind of hoping that at some point in the novel, he'd get hit by a bus. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it, because I did.

Mrs. Bridge
Mrs. Bridge is slightly less insufferable than Mr. Bridge, but can probably be considered one of the original desperate housewives. What's interesting about her book versus his is that you see much more of the kids and less of her than you did in his book, which is reflective of how flat her life seemed to be. It was also interesting to see how different events different in her point-of-view from his. I've never seen an author do two novels like this and really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories
I think I've mentioned before that I really don't like to read short stories. Every time I get a book of short stories, I always question what I was thinking. In this case, I was thinking that I liked the title. Fortunately, this book proved me wrong and I loved it. Loved it. The stories were all supernatural in some form, whether they were silly supernatural or creepy, they were all unreal in some aspect. My favorite story involved a bunch of dead Presidents who came back as horses sharing the same barn, all trying to figure if they were in Heaven or Hell and how they were remembered in history. What I loved is that the stories were laid out in a way that you had the silly supernatural like the aforementioned ones after some of the stories that were more unsettling, so the book kept up a good pace. Whether or not you enjoy short stories, I'd recommend this one.

The next few books were all in the same series and all Young Adult dystopian lit, so I apologize if you're not interested in either. I just happened to tear through this series!
The Maze Runner (Book 1)
I've wanted to read this for awhile after seeing my students with it, but I just haven't gotten around to it. Last weekend, we were in the children's section of the library with the boys and I walked past it on a shelf while taking Tommy over to the puzzles. I reached out and grabbed it before I could put it off any longer. Through the first half of the book, I was pretty ambivalent. Truthfully, sometimes in dystopian lit, the slang words made up for a post-apocalyptic world can annoy me and this book was really heavy with it. But then I got into the story of Thomas and the rest of the boys in the maze and it started to remind of Lord of the Flies with a twist. I was hooked and requested the rest of the trilogy from the library before I was done with this one.

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner, Book 2)
Sequel to the Maze Runner. It's really hard to talk about a sequel because I don't want to give anything away. I will say that I loved this more than the Maze Runner. It was grittier and you got a better idea of the forces behind the maze in the first book. You also got a better look at the world outside the maze. While book one was pretty narrow, this had a wider scope. What I really like about these books is that throughout it all, you're not really sure what is what and who is on the right side--or what the right side really is.

The Death Cure (Maze Runner Series #3)
The final book in the Maze Runner trilogy. As with the last book, I preferred this one to the first in the series because it shows you a wider world and it's also a lot grittier than the first. I liked it, though parts of the ending were a little muddled. Overall, the ending worked for me.

The Kill Order (Maze Runner Prequel)
This is the prequel to the Maze Runner that explains how the world gets to the situation that leads to the maze. Although none of the characters from the Maze Runner are in this book until the very end, I still enjoyed seeing the world before and the explanation of all the events that led up to everything that happened in the trilogy. Although this doesn't give anything in the trilogy away, I'm still glad that I read it after the trilogy.

What are you reading?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Three Days

Three day weekends are lovely. So full of potential. It's hard to top a three day weekend, aside from the elusive four day weekend. Or spring break. This one was much anticipated because Shane and I had maybe lined up an overnight sitter for both boys Saturday night for a belated Valentine's Day celebration. You might recall that we almost pulled this off over Christmas break, until we all came down with the plague. I was holding my breath on this one, when out of nowhere, Luke threw up everywhere Thursday night. I saw our three day weekend plans go out the window, but it turned out that he consumed too much red juice and red candy and well, red everything at this Valentine's party and was just fine, after all. Thank you, gods of the three day weekend. You are too kind. So as scheduled, Shane's dad picked up the boys and took them their favorite train restaurant for dinner, while Shane and I headed to our favorite local restaurant where I proceeded to have the best meal ever of truffle fries and shrimp with cheesy grits and sticky toffee pudding. Basically, it was a 15,000 calorie meal. As you do on three day weekends.

Really, what I was most looking forward to was waking up on my own the next morning. Tommy is still on an early wakeup spree, so if we make it past 4AM, we consider ourselves lucky. The thought of waking up as my body wanted was delicious. I stayed up a little later than usual reading (I really know how to rock my kidfree nights) because I was in the middle of a good trilogy and because, hey, I got to wake up on my own, right? Of course, I woke up around 4AM and took awhile to fall back asleep because I'm tragically used to waking up at that time. And then... and then. The phone rang at 6:45 because never, ever will we get to wake up without being jolted awake. Yes, I know that's not true, but our one and only kidfree morning! And it wasn't our kids calling us, nor was it an emergency, which would be the only two excuses for a 6:45 phone call. Sigh. Relaxing wakeup ruined. Still, we made the best of it and went out for a delicious, gluttonous breakfast. Well, mine was gluttonous. Shane was boring and had an omelet.
Then the boys came home and the house was noisy again... as it should be.

This morning, I got up and ran, after an extended break last week to rest some ridiculous tendon pull on my foot (in case you're wondering, foot injuries are a domino effect and are very, very stupid). After that, we took the boys a bounce place. We haven't been in awhile and it was great to see how much bigger Tommy is. Last year, he couldn't get up most of the slides or he was too cautious to do so. This year, he was right behind Luke on everything!

Aside from the fact that they're germy and can get crowded, I love bounce places and mostly wish that we had them when I was a kid. All we had was one bounce house at a carnival and they were always called Moon Walks. And you never got unlimited bounce time. Kids these days have it so good. Anyway, because of that, I never hesitate when the boys ask me to go in with them, as long as it isn't crowded.
After we bounced for an hour and a half, it started to get crowded, so we headed out, grabbed lunch and went home. Tommy is napping, Luke is watching TV and I'm doing laundry and thinking about maybe getting the house in order.

As far as three day weekends go, this one was a good one.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Warm Bodies: A Novel
I requested this one from the library because Amazon said that it was about zombies and I was going through Walking Dead withdrawal at the time. I didn't read that much into it, but the actual story was fascinating and different than the usual zombie lore. These zombies, of course, eat humans. They especially seem to like brains, but they like brains because the brains give them glimpses of the memories of the person they ate. So in those few minutes, they get relive being human again and in some ways, they're able hold on to some of this humanity--which begs ethical the question, are they really dead? This is definitely not your typical zombie gore book. I would recommend it.

Little Wolves
In the wake of school shootings and the questions of what drives a quiet, loner type kid to pick up a gun and kill, this book that begins with a sudden murder committed by a teenage boy was incredibly topical and haunting. Interwoven with life in a small town, riddled with superstitions and stories and one woman's journey to find her mother and how it relates to the boy and how he was driven made for a really fascinating story.

The Bone Lady: Life as a Forensic Anthropologist
This was a quick and easy read by a female forensic anthropologist who runs FACES, a lab primarily dedicated to facial reconstruction on skulls to help close cases with unidentified bodies. Though sad, it's admirable that someone would dedicate her life to helping families find closure and some of the cases she's worked on are fascinating. Each chapter was dedicated to a different case, which was a little choppy but made for an easy read.

Flash Point
This was an easy, engaging YA lit read, but not as strongly written as I'd hoped (or edited--at one point, the word "co10uldn't" appeared... how does that slip through?!). Amy lives in a somewhat dystopian world set in 2016, following a collapse of the economy. In an attempt to earn money to support her sister and very ill grandma, she applies for a job and ends up on a reality TV show where teens are put in different, dangerous situations each week and the viewing audience votes on how they will react. Not quite as brutal as the Hunger Games, but still an engaging premise, nonetheless. While I enjoyed the overall premise of the story, the characters were somewhat flat and underdeveloped, especially for a 400 page book. There are things built up through the entire book, then dropped or never explained at the end. The overall society after the collapse of the economy is never really explained in that much detail which is, in my opinion, one of the more fascinating aspects of dystopian literature. That said, it was still an enjoyable read and I can see it working well for a lower middle school reader.

I loved this novel. Most period pieces about slaves or slavery seem to center around the Civil War or the Reconstruction, but Wash takes place earlier--after the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The main character, Wash, is used as a "stud" by his owner, a man who treats his slaves better than most, yet sees no wrong in using one to breed like a prized stallion. I hesitate to call Wash the main character because the book is woven from the perspectives of many characters, sometimes switching from first to third person point-of-view and retelling scenarios from different perspectives. Yet, with all of this, it never seemed choppy or confusing, instead it was flawless and heartbreaking and you felt a real connection to each of the characters. It was beautiful and heartbreaking.

What are you reading?

Monday, February 11, 2013

That Week

Do you ever have that week? Where it just doesn't stop sucking, no matter what? That was my week last week. It started with Luke misbehaving at home on Sunday and not stopping. Luke is our kid who usually behaves, so this was confusing. Granted, he's become more of a handful in his fifth year in terms of defiance, but he's been getting better as we're nearing six and I really thought we were about to turn a corner. I guess I jinxed myself with those thoughts because, wow. He proved us wrong. After promising us he'd behave better after poor behavior over the weekend, he got in trouble in school on Monday. When your parents are teachers, this is not a good move. Thankfully, his classroom behavior is still excellent, but he and a friend decided it might be cool to synchronize flushing of the urinals in the bathroom. Oh, Luke. Now, as a teacher, I know that we have to step up bathroom supervision because even 8th grade boys will do ridiculous things while unsupervised in a bathroom, but this is no excuse. As a result of his misbehavior, we took away TV for the week. The next day, he and two friends got in trouble for lifting each other up in the bathroom. Sigh. THE BATHROOM IS NOT A JUNGLE GYM. At this point, he'd lost pretty much everything and I lost my sanity because he continued to misbehave at home. Fortunately, he stopped misbehaving at school and learned to leave the bathroom once he was done going to the bathroom. On Wednesday, Luke behaved at school but his teacher emailed me that he had an itchy spot on his arm that was making it difficult for him to concentrate while doing his work. When I got home, we put cream on it throughout the night and that seemed to calm it, but he was pretty frantic. Do you ever get a really itchy patch of dry skin in the winter? It was like that and he just couldn't focus or do anything but itch his arm, until it got to the point where he was itching so much that it was red and swollen. Thursday morning, I was once again late to school and crying because of misbehavior, but fortunately, again... something seemed to click Thursday morning and although we still have our usual five year old defiance, it's nothing over the top like it was earlier in the week.

In the midst of all this, my normally calm and well-behaved students decided that this week they weren't going to do their work. They were going to argue constantly and whine and not want to do anything. They were going to make me want to tear out my hair. Friday, I went to school with too much of a spring in my step over Luke's good behavior Thursday afternoon and Friday morning and slipped and fell hard on the ice in the parking lot at work after getting out of my car. I fell hard on my left knee and foot and now sport a very colorful full-knee bruise. Friday afternoon, my students were in the Media Center taking an online standardized test that we have to do three times a year when a sixth grader was near us being loud. I said, "Can you be quiet? We're testing." and he walked away and mimicked me UNDER HIS BREATH, only I very clearly heard and rocketed out of my seat (which killed my poor swollen knee and already sore feet). Sixth graders usually aren't so rude, but this gave me a fearful glimpse of what I get to teach two years from now. My students all said, "I can't believe that kid just did that!" I can, kids, because this is the kind of week I've had.

I'm sure there are a million or more people out there who had worse weeks, but it was definitely one of those weeks that just kept on going and would not quit. Finally, Saturday morning was good. I ran four miles with a 9:39 pace. My longest, steadiest run since being diagnosed with sesamoiditis. After my run, we went to the grocery store, then to the library, where Tommy played with puzzles while Luke browsed the books. Now that he's reading, the library is even more fun. For dinner, we had bacon wrapped filet and Dairy Queen for dessert. It was a really good day. I hope it continues. I suppose we have really bad days (or weeks) to make the good seem even better, but if maybe the universe could not give me a whole series of them like that anytime soon? I'd appreciate it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Me Before You: A Novel
I took a brief (very brief) break from YA Lit with this book. I loved it. This was one of those books where I found myself hoping that the author would stay the course and avoid a typical Hollywood ending, but at the same time, hoping that she wouldn't. This book goes beyond a typical love story and raises some powerful questions about ethics and how far you would go to help someone you love get what they needed and wanted to make them happy. It definitely struck a chord and made me think about the quality of a life worth living. Put this one on your list.

A Million Suns: An Across the Universe Novel
Back to YA Lit! This is the sequel to Across the Universe. It's really hard to write about books that are part of a trilogy because I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that in reading the second and third books of the Across the Universe trilogy, I definitely felt that it became more dystopian. Book One felt more science fiction to me. The next two books felt more dystopian.

Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel
I may have stayed up way too late reading this book because I was dying to know the conclusion to the Across the Universe trilogy. I was tired in the morning, but it was worth it. Like A Million Suns, this definitely felt more dystopian than science fiction--much more. I don't want to give anything away, like whether or not they reach Centauri-Earth and if they do what happens when they reach it, but it was good and when I was done, I wanted more.

I've seen my students carrying this one around lately and Barb mentioned it as well, so I decided it was time to read it. I was hooked pretty quickly, as it reminded me of a more modern version of The Giver. While The Giver will always be relevant, the technology in Matched makes it seems a little more realistic. I can see that some people would find the whole love story angle off-putting in a dystopian novel, but I think that when it comes to YA lit, you're going to hook in otherwise reluctant readers with the love story angle, so that didn't bother me--I'm more about getting kids to read and less about staying 100% true to form when it comes to YA lit (except for Twilight, don't get me started). In a society where everything, including who you marry, is controlled, Cassia's confusion over who she loves is significant. I also liked this novel because the lexile level is lower, which makes it easier for struggling readers, though it's not short by any means.

Luckily, I was able to get book 2 in the Matched trilogy quickly because I was anxious to follow Cassia's journey. This one is more action packed than the first and you get a better look into the Society and the powers that don't agree with the Society. Unfortunately, I'm 8th on the wait list at the library for the last book in the trilogy, so now I am anxiously tapping my foot and dying to know how it all ends up!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Monsters, Inc with My Monster

When we started to wean Tommy off his seizure medication (so far, so good--crazy to think that he's on the same dosage now that he was at 15 months old), he stopped sleeping at night. He's never been a good sleeper, but he usually makes it to some point between 4:30 and 5:30 before he gets up. However, after we cut back on his medicine dosage, he started to get out of bed at 1 or 2 every single night. A week of this and we were exhausted, because getting out of bed at 1 or 2 didn't mean that he slept later in the morning. No, he was up just as early. And we both work full-time, so it's not like we were getting to ease into the day, anyway.
One morning out of desperation, I promised Tommy that if he stayed in his bed every night for a week, I would take him to see Monsters, Inc in the theatre. It's been his favorite DVD lately. I didn't think it would work, but somehow, it did. He made it through every single night for a week. If you count 5AM making it through the night which around these parts, we do. Now, when Luke was Tommy's age, I'd already taken him to a movie, but Luke was a different kid. I knew he would sit still through the whole movie, but Tommy can't sit still on our couch for an hour, so I knew it would be a miracle if we made it through the entire movie, but a promise is a promise.

So away we went to the movies. The whole way there, I talked about how you have to behave at the movies. I also talked about how we could get popcorn and a slushie, so that was our first order of business.
When we walked in, the theatre was completely empty (intentionally, I took us to the earliest show, hoping it wouldn't be very busy) and Tommy said, "Where are all the people?!" I told him he could sit wherever he wanted. He walked up a few rows, then decided he was happy with a seat right off the aisle. I figured this was good in case we had to make a quick exit.
I explained to him that because this movie was in 3D, we had to wear these special glasses to see the movie. He didn't want to take his off.
Until 30 minutes into the movie when he turned to me and told me that he could see just fine without them and no longer wished to wear them. I guess he didn't quite understand the concept of 3D.

He did pretty well, all things considered. Luckily, there were only about ten other people there. My only annoyance was that despite it being an empty theatre, a guy and his 9 or 10 year old son sat RIGHT behind us, which made me feel like when Tommy was rocking back and forth in his chair or flipping the arm rest up and down, I had to stop him. This in turn made Tommy more antsy, whereas if I could've just let him do it, had the guy sat anywhere else in the empty theatre, he would've continued to watch the movie while flipping his arm rest up and down and hadn't bothered anyone. Of course, each time I told him to leave his arm rest up and down, he reacted loudly because he didn't understand why it was so bad. Luckily, there was another little boy there who totally hadn't mastered his inside voice yet, either, so Tommy wasn't the loudest one. But, we made it through the whole movie with very little incidents, except for the one time that Tommy decided he wanted to sit in the row in front of us and tried to climb over the seats. I quickly squashed that one. Since he did a much better job than I thought, I let him play the hook game after the movie.
He didn't quite get the whole play til you win thing and thought he won this green puppy dog all of his own skills. I let him think that. He's been sleeping with it ever since.

Then we got a Happy Meal, after some disappointment in which I explained that the Dairy Queen next door was closed for the season (I know, buddy... I wanted ice cream, too) and on the way home, we got stopped by a train! He asked me to roll down his window so he could listen to the train go by.
All in all, I would say he had a great day. So did I.