Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

I am forever off on my days, thanks to constant days off and delays. Last week, I thought it was Wednesday when it was actually Thursday, hence the lack of a post. I've made up for it because I had a lot of time to read over this unexpected four-day weekend!

And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank
I requested this book from the library because I'm in a reading points competition with one of my top earning students, and this book is worth 57 points. It turns out that it's worth 57 points because it's 600 pages and filled with facts and figures. But it also turns out that it's a really fascinating true crime story of the killing of a young girl, child labor and the time in the early 1900s when the state of Georgia would rather put to death a Jewish man than an African-American man, though it seemed far more likely that the latter committed the crime. If you're interested in crime or history--or politics--this is actually one that I would recommend picking up and reading. The atrocities committed in this case just to continually convict Leo Frank, even though all signs pointed toward him being innocent, his death at the hands of a lynch mob, all add up to a part of US history that I was unaware of. Does this book prove his innocence 100%? No. Much of the evidence that could has been lost or destroyed. But does it leave reasonable doubt? Absolutely.

We Are Water: A Novel
I love Wally Lamb and as always, his books leave me with a punch in the stomach. This is more subtle than others. This is the story of Annie Oh, an "angry" artist who has divorced her husband and three grown children, to marry a woman, Viveca. Her husband and two of her children are amicable about it enough (at least on the surface), but her son, Andrew, a born-again Christian cannot accept it. As the story evolves, there are deeper reasons for Andrew's refusal to accept, as well as deeper reasons for Annie's anger, in a story that flashes back through Annie's childhood, her kid's childhood and even further back in history to weave together a strong, clashing story.

One of my students recommended this to me because she said it's like Divergent. I love student recommendations. Benson applies to Maxfield Academy because he's tired of being a foster child, but as soon as he arrives, he realizes that the prep school is not as it seems. There are no adults and students run the school, some more sadistic than others. Students are split into three groups: Society, Havoc and Variant, and you must choose one to survive. But even if you choose one, you can still get sent to Detention--a place in the basement from which no one ever returns. Although not the strongest YA book I've ever read, this definitely drew me in and kept me interested in the storyline and just what was going on at the school.

Feedback (Variant)
The sequel to Variant. Although I was excited to read on, the sequel kind of lagged for me. I assume this is where it ends because I don't see anything on Amazon about a third book (although I didn't look too hard). The sequel felt contrived and lacked a lot of substance, so that was disappointing. If there is a third book, I'll read it, but this isn't the best YA series I've ever read.

The Kept: A Novel
This was an interesting book because it started out really strong for me. Elspeth returns home after being away working as a midwife. Her first inkling that something is wrong is the lack of chimney smoke from her house. Her next is the carnage that greets her. Everyone in her family is dead, brutally murdered, except her 12-year-old son, Caleb, who in his fear and panic shoots her through the pantry door. Elspeth survives and she and Caleb set out to track down the trio of murderers who killed their family. This is one of those novels that is very dark and very heavy and you plod through a lot of dark and heavy prose through, well, pretty much the whole entire novel. It probably didn't help that I was reading this in the dead of winter, but after awhile, I just wanted it to end. I knew it wasn't going to end happily, so I just needed it to end. The storyline was engaging, but it just didn't hook me in enough to make me devour the book.

Before I Burn: A Novel (Lannan Translation Selection (Graywolf Hardcover))
This was another interesting novel. It was billed as crime novel, but it's not. At no point is it a secret who the criminal is. The author himself writes of a crime, a series of arsons that happened in the year of his birth that gripped his small town. The day before the last house is set on fire is his christening, so as he grows he hears the stories of these fires, of the arsonist and what was done to this community by his act--and how lives were irrevocably changed. It was a unique novel and flashes back between present and past. It isn't really non-fiction, but it's definitely not entirely fiction, either. I enjoyed it, but like The Kept, it was not a fast-paced novel.

Apple Tree Yard
52-year-old Yvonne Carmichael is on trial, a co-defendant in a crime with a man who was her lover. As the novel unfolds, we watch her affair unfold, as well. This is another novel billed as Gone Girl novel. I wasn't a huge fan of Gone Girl, so I'm always wary, but I really liked this one and tore through it. This isn't so much a psychological thriller, as it is a look at Yvonne herself. Her character flaws, her trusting nature that led her down this path and yes, the final question? Is she reliable? I found this book fascinating and the author wrote it tightly enough that parts still surprised me and left me reading back just to absorb what I'd just read. This was a good read.

What are you reading?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Crayon Art

Luke's 100th day of school is coming up--I think, anyway. With all of the delays and snow days, I'm not quite sure where we are, but his teacher sent home a note saying that students needed to create a project involving 100 something. Truthfully, I am not crafty. At all. I am definitely not a crafty mom. I wish I was, but I pretty much fail at it which is where I'm thankful for Pinterest. My idea of a project involving 100 of something would be spelling Luke's name out with 100 Cheerios glued onto a piece of paper. Certainly fine, but I wanted us to do something more fun, so I searched around and came across quite a few really great ideas. The one that really struck me was crayon art, specifically this tutorial. I showed it to Luke and he agreed that he would like to do that, so after his Saturday basketball game, we headed to Michael's to purchase supplies.

Although I followed a tutorial, I also altered it slightly, so I thought I would share what we did. First of all, I didn't buy a canvas because I'm cheap, canvases are expensive and I'm always slightly suspicious of Pinterest projects. Instead we bought foam board, which is much cheaper than a canvas. Since this is a school project, it isn't something I expect to display around the house, so foam board was okay with me. I also wanted to have the number 100 white-d out in the center, so I bought masking tape and applied that to the center. I used two layers of masking tape because I thought that would be easier to peel off, but I'm not sure it was in the end.

Since this was Luke's project, I let him sort the crayons by color order however he wanted before we started. I bought a pack of 120 crayons at Michael's and just set 20 aside. He chose to sort by color groups and chose what order he wanted them to go in before we started.

I used a hot glue gun to put the crayons on the board. It was kind of a learning curve at first, especially with a six year old helping. A thin strip of glue straight down seemed the best, easiest way to affix the crayons to the board. I will be honest--this part takes awhile. If I was doing this just for something to display around the house, I would've just done the crayons around the top. However, since the theme was 100, we wanted to have 100 crayons across the board, so we continued the line of crayons across the bottom to get to 100. (And yes, I could've done 50 across the top and 50 across the bottom to make it even, but no. That wasn't happening.)

Now for the fun part… the actual crayon melting! Luke took this picture, so it's a little blurry. First of all, make sure you put down a lot of towels or newspaper because the wax will splatter. I put down towels, but still ended up having to scrape some off the bathroom floor when we were finished. I started out with the hair dryer on high heat but low blower setting. This seemed to not be melting the crayons and I was thinking, "Pinterest fail," so I bumped it up to high blower. Then the crayons started melting. I had Luke tilt the board to direct the wax run off in whichever direction he thought it should go. Since we had crayons on the top and bottom, we did the top first, then moved on to the bottom. The wax dries very quickly, so you don't have to wait long.

After about twenty minutes of blow drying, we had this. I've seen a few tutorials where people melt the crayons completely, but Luke preferred the splatter effect to the caked on wax effect, so we stopped with some of the crayons still intact.

The wax dries very quickly and we were able to peel off the tape after only about two minutes, so very quickly, we had our finished product!

Although gluing the actual crayons the board is time-consuming, we had a lot of fun doing this. I would love to let each boy choose an assortment of crayons and spell out of their name on canvas to display in the house. It's simple art, but it allows kids to take a major role in it and honestly, I had fun doing it, too.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Welcome Home, Morgan

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you know that we adopted a dog this weekend. I wanted to share the story of how she came to be in our lives because it's a pretty neat story--at least, I think so.

Our basset, who I got when I was 19, died a little over a year ago. He didn't spend all of his time here, which is kind of hard to explain. He was basically a split custody dog. I got him as a puppy, when I still lived at home with my parents. When I moved out, Shane had a pug who didn't really like other dogs, so it made more sense to stay with my parents. Still, later on in life, he spent a lot more time over here, especially when my parents started spending 2-3 months in warmer climates during the winter. The boys got pretty used to having him around and our second winter without him seemed pretty empty. Bassets are, by and large, such a gentle breed. Even as an older dog, he put up with Tommy thinking he was a horse and sitting on him.

I missed a dog like that, but we knew that we wanted to adopt a dog. Shane kept saying when the boys were older, too, and could take on more responsibility.

I followed the Humane Society FB awhile ago because they sometimes share missing dogs, and I often come across dogs while running. Then a Saturday night two weeks ago, a six year old basset hound popped up on the page. I fell in love with her picture and description (housebroken, good with kids and other pets, low energy), but Shane was playing poker that night. I thought about her all night, then showed it to him first thing in the morning and was all, CAN WE GO SEE HER NOWWW? Of course, he hedged. Then it started blizzard-ing. Then we had two days of polar vortex cold, the Humane Society was closed because the roads were a state of emergency and Shane kept saying, "We can't get a dog now and shut her in the next day when we go to work, blah blah." And I was like, "fine. We won't get this dog. Just don't talk to me about it ANYMORE." While pouting.
Of course, he changed his mind a few days later, right about the time she was adopted. He said that it was okay, it just meant that she wasn't the dog for us, but that we would start looking for our dog now, whether a basset or another older dog. I grudgingly accepted this.

Then Monday night, I was on Facebook and Morgan's picture appeared in my Facebook timeline again. You know how sometimes Facebook will glitch and you'll get posts from a week ago? That's what I figured was happening, until I read it and saw that she was returned to the HS because the people who adopted her had another dog who didn't accept her. I showed Shane and he said, "Well, I guess maybe we ARE meant to have her." Then I said, "I TOLD YOU WE SHOULD'VE GOTTEN HER THE FIRST TIME. THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT. CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW SAD SHE IS?!" Because I like to subtly point out when I'm right.

Without discussing it, he called the Humane Society from work the next morning as soon as they opened and let them know we were interested in Morgan. Unfortunately, their hours are such that with after work meetings for both of us on Tuesday, neither one of us could get up there to apply for her (and meet her!) on Tuesday. This, of course, drove me crazy, but I was really hopeful that this would work out because how could it not? Wednesday morning, Shane called back again to let them know that he would be up that afternoon to apply for and meet Morgan. Except. He learned that apparently, she was a product of a divorced home. The husband had kept her, while the wife took the other dog. Unbeknownst to her, he took Morgan to the shelter, and she saw Morgan on Facebook (or someone told her about it--I'm not entirely certain) and was driving from where she relocated that day to pick up Morgan that afternoon. I was crushed but understanding--obviously she should be with her real family. I kept checking the HS FB page, waiting for the reunited picture because that seemed like something they would show. Or update on, at least. Only they didn't.

I asked Shane to call back Thursday morning because I just… you know how sometimes you have a feeling? I just had this feeling that if we didn't call, another week would go by and I'd see a post where Morgan was adopted by some random person or who knows. I just had this feeling. So, he called and by this point, the Humane Society was like, "Yes, we know who you are, sir" because he'd called SO many times about Morgan. Then they told him that her owner hadn't shown up, that she wasn't sure if she'd be able to take her because she was in apartment, already had one dog and didn't know if her landlord would even allow it, so she needed to talk to him first. They asked her to call them back by 4PM that afternoon and let them know because they needed to get Morgan out, one way or the other (insert sad comment about the Humane Society filling up with post-Christmas puppies and kitties here). And seriously, you guys. My heart breaks for her so much. I can't imagine what a colossal awful feeling this is/was, and I accepted that whatever the outcome, she was getting out of the shelter one way or the other. Our phone rang at 4:15 and it was the HS, calling to let us know that she was unable to get Morgan. They told us that they let her know that we had two young boys, a house and that we were teachers (summers off to chill with Morgan?). I pray this all gives her a peace of mind to know Morgan is safe and loved.

Shane told them we couldn't make it in Friday afternoon because of the hours (this killed me), but that we would be in Saturday morning after Luke's game. We hadn't yet told the boys because there was a little part of me not entirely certain that we would end up with her, after this was such a roller coaster ride. I actually made Shane call when they first opened to tell them that we'd be up ASAP. I am sure they were tired of hearing from us! We told the boys after his game ended and headed up there right away. They were both so excited. We got there and the visitation room was in use, so they just brought Morgan out to the lobby to see us. She came trotting right out, tail wagging, as we all bent down to love her. Tommy kept saying how soft she was and Luke noticed that her nails were painted. After seeing that she clicked with us, they told us that all we had to do was pay the fee and fill out the remaining paperwork and she was ours to take home. Finally!

When we left, she trotted happily to our car and jumped in with a little boost. She rode home with her front feet up on the center console.

When we got home, she ran through the whole house, exploring happily, tail wagging. Then she hopped up on the couch and settled in to what is going to be her spot. I really didn't think we were going to allow her on the couch, but I guess she has other ideas… and I'm not really going to argue.

I'm not really sure how she's going to do when we go back to work on Tuesday. It might take some adjusting for all of us, but we'll deal with that when it comes. I know that it's really nice to have a dog around again, and we're so glad she's here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

The Orchid House
It seems like a thing to do in recent years is write a book that is both modern day and a period piece. It doesn't often work for me and I wish books could just be one or the other. This was a case where I really mostly just wanted the book to be a period piece, although I was a little bit interested in the modern storyline. In the modern day, Julia is depressed and dealing with a tragedy that involves that loss of her son and husband, though the reader is only slowly let in on the exact details. She's living in the shadow of a once great English manor home, Wharton Park. After the discovery of a diary in the home, the book flashes back to the WWII era and travels through London society, Bangkok, broken hearts and love affairs. I liked the parts of the novel that took place during the war. I was indifferent, mostly, to the parts that took place in the present and found it to be pretty contrived.

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness
I've wanted to read this since reading Born To Run because the author spoke so highly of Scott Jurek, particularly the way that he will win an ultramarathon and then stay at the finish line to cheer on the rest of the competitors. Can you imagine if the winner of a 5k stayed at the finish line to cheer on everyone who crossed, even the people who finish in over an hour? That doesn't happen, yet Jurek runs for 16 hours and stays at the finish line. I was pretty impressed by this. I enjoyed his book and his stories of how he dug deep in various races and how running has brought him so many places. His diet was also interesting and how he believes it's made him a stronger, leaner runner. No way could I commit to veganism, but my diet and running could probably benefit from more lean protein and less nachos and maybe a smoothie that isn't a milkshake here and there.

The Goldfinch
I've been on the wait list for this book forEVER. I've been anxious to read it because I've heard mixed reviews from people who either loved it or hated it. I loved it (sorry friends who did not). The book opens with the protagonist, Theodore Decker, as a child in trouble at school at the art museum with his mom before a meeting with his principal. After viewing a painting she loves (The Goldfinch), his mom wanders into a different gallery and Theo sidles closer to a girl who caught his eye--until the museum is rocked with an explosion. Theo miraculously survives and the course of his life is set from this moment, sometimes coming together, sometimes falling apart. This is not a short book and not an easy book. Sometimes Theo's life set my teeth on edge and made me want to scream, but I was drawn in to his story. He made mistakes, hundreds, but I still found myself rooting for him.

Radiance of Tomorrow: A Novel
This is by the same author of A Long Way Gone, which I read last week. It's fiction (that could be non-fiction) about return to life after civil war in Sierra Leone. In the village of Imperi, the elders return first, burying the bones of the dead--wondering which belong to them. Slowly, the survivors trickle back in and the village is rebuilt, only to have their beautiful, slowly thriving village destroyed as a mining company moves in. This story is beautifully and painfully written--you can feel the characters' struggles and the way they just want to be, but their country, their birthright just won't let them. This is one that will stay with me for awhile.

What are you reading?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ruff, Tuff and In the Buff 5k Race Recap

After setting a resolution to enjoy more trail running and sign up for trail races in 2014, I jumped pretty quickly into my first official all trail race: The Ruff, Tuff and In the Buff 5k. It was sponsored by Buff Neck Gators, hence the name. No actual running in the buff, because that would've been quite cold.

When I signed up for it, I was expecting a very snowy run. I'm familiar with the trails and know they're pretty sheltered from the wind, so I knew there'd be quite a bit of piled snow. But I forgot that I lived in Indiana and Indiana weather is tricky. Sure enough, after getting somewhere around two feet of snow dumped on us, the weather warmed up and it rained. Then it cooled off a little and got icy, but not before all the rain melted about half of the snow and well, it was a mess. When I got up Saturday morning and looked at my flooded backyard, I knew it was going to be more than just a snowy trail run. And it was. There was snow, mud, ice and water flooding the trails (some great picture can be found here. At points, the water was over ankle deep and you had no choice to run through it. It was also cold. Really cold. My toes were numb before I even hit a half-mile.

Still, despite the freezing cold toes, I had a blast. I started out near the back of the pack (admittedly not a very big pack) and this is honestly not the kind of race where you can pass people. At least, not very easily. It was a double loop and for the first loop, I just fell in line behind other runners because it was slippery and hard to get used to the footing. Also, I wasn't out there to be speedy. I stopped to help up two people who slipped. I wore my watch only because I thought I would stick around afterward and run a few more miles (this is before I realized my shoes would be so waterlogged). I didn't look at it once, though. I don't even remember hearing it beep the miles, funny enough. Unlike a normal 5k where I would keep my head down and think about how I wanted to die, I took in the sights and conversed with other runners (during a 5k!). I laughed at the two young boys in front of me who splashed through the water with absolute glee and abandon. Toward the middle of the second loop, I did start passing people because there was more space and I felt a bit more sure on my footing--although I still had a few slip and slide moments where the snow would turn to water and then to ice, but despite my lack of trail shoes or anything that I probably should've had, I managed to stay upright.

I finished in just over 33 minutes, which is my slowest 5k yet, but not at all bad for a trail run in really tough conditions. I placed 4/9 in my age group. So close to that AG award, but completely okay because I wasn't out there to push it. Mostly, I just had a blast. I was cold and it was hard, really hard. I felt like I'd run much longer than a 5k because those conditions worked my entire body, but it was so much fun.

The race itself was very well-organized. It was small, maybe a little less than 100 people. There was no big back of junk and samples that I don't really want or need given. Instead, they had a table full of Buff headgear and you got to pick which one you wanted. They had portable heaters set out before and after the race, as well as hot chocolate, granola bars and bananas. For a small, inexpensive race, it was really well run and I definitely hope this happens again next year! Maybe the weather could be a little less insane, but I'm pretty sure I got to run in all elements of trail running at once. How often does that happen?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

I thought that with this [very extended] holiday break, I would get more reading done. Alas, the library doesn't typically get book deliveries on Saturday and it was closed Monday and Tuesday due to the weather. This means that tomorrow when I return to work, a giant stack of books will be waiting for me at the library.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
I had a funny moment on Saturday where I realized that I was supposed to make a unit plan for this book and I completely spaced. I'm teaching The Devil's Arithmetic to my students, and I have one who already read it on the other team so I told him I'd differentiate and create an alternate assignment for him. After frantically reading this and creating assignments, we then had three more days of break. Go figure. Anyway, this is one case where I've seen the movie before the book, so I knew the ending (oops), but I still enjoyed it. I felt like the book did a better job of painting just how naive Bruno was toward his dad and the going-ons in Germany, especially as his relationship with Shmuel unfolded. If you haven't read this one, I'd definitely recommend it.

Story of a Girl
A twitter friend said she was reading this and I managed to snag it from the library just before the snow hit. As a middle school teacher, this was a must-read, but I think it's a good read for anyone about snap judgments and the way we treat people, especially if you're a parent of kids who may be teens someday. Kids make mistakes and no matter what we do or try to do, they might be mistakes involving substances or older boyfriends and how you go forth in dealing with those mistakes can make a huge difference.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
We know that in so many other countries, wars are fought by other children. But how? Why? What happens? This memoir is told from the vantage of a child soldier, 25 at the time of this book and now safe in New York. Reading this book was equal parts horrific and fascinating for me because I just kept thinking, These boys are the age of my students… and closing my eyes and picturing my boy students doing what the boys in this book were doing, if they'd been born in another world, across the ocean. This is a human problem and a book everyone should read. I don't know what to do to stop it, but more people need to be aware of what happens to these boys.

Winter's Bone
This is another book that I read after the movie. Oops. To be fair, I thought I'd read the book, but apparently I've just read a lot of OTHER books about meth. Heh. Shane made me watch the movie and it disturbed me so much that I couldn't sleep because I just kept thinking about Ree and the hardships she faced. Ree is a 17-year-old girl growing up in the Ozarks. Her mom is completely checked out and she's left trying to raise her younger siblings while trying to make ends meet (they don't meet very well). In the midst of this, her dad (a meth cook) is released from prison and disappears. This wouldn't be a huge issue, except that he leveraged their house and timber forest against his bond. So if he doesn't go to court, Ree and family are thrown out in the field like dogs. Ree sets out to track down her family, meeting with anger, abuse (physical and verbal) and a refusal to talk at every turn. This is not an uplifting story, but it is in Ree's perseverance and dogged dedication to her younger siblings.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Running Resolve

A year ago at this time, I wasn't running at all. I was counting the days since my last run. It was a number that started with two and I was going crazy, only my foot injury wasn't healing. I tried not to whine, but I'm sure I did. So when this break rolled around, I resolved to run much and often. Except that with the first week of it, I was fighting an ear infection and a sinus infection and felt so awfully run down that I didn't do much of anything, let alone running. Once I figured out what was going on, a week into it, and got to a doctor, I finally got my butt in gear.

At which point, it started to snow. Of course. I really don't like the snow. Sorry, snow lovers. That doesn't mean that you can't like the snow. I just don't. I'm made for spring, summer and flip flops. Still, I didn't let it stop me, and I went out and ran snowy trails, which were actually kind of pretty.

Albeit slippery.

Yes, that's solid ice under the snow. And yes, I need to get taller socks for winter running because the sliver of skin between my socks and tights is no good when I have to wade through knee deep snow.

The temps got colder and it snowed more. Every day that it snowed, I told Shane, "I need to go run today since I probably won't run tomorrow." I said this for five straight days in a row. My running got slower each day because the snow got deeper and my legs got more and more tired, but I averaged 22 miles last week, which I haven't done since this fall when training for a half. There is something kind of addicting about snow running. You don't have to be too concerned about your pace because you're just trying to stay upright. It's actually kind of pretty. It's really kind of cold, although I think I've figured out my perfect cold weather uniform, for anyone wondering.

Top picture: North Face Glacier 1/2 Zip
Lucy Endurance Jacket
Mizuno Breath Thermo Tights (These turn your sweat into heat--I have the Breath Thermo gloves that do the same thing, too. Magic!)
And the best ever finish line swag, a stocking cap from my fall half-marathon.
Second picture I have on the Brooks Heater Hog and the rest of my layers for the run were the same. I bought two cold weather base layers so I wouldn't have to wear the same thing constantly and do constant laundry.

Unfortunately, while this get-up is plenty warm enough in single digits or even negative single digits, it alas does not extend to feels like temps of -40, so I've been stuck inside for the past three days. My legs needed a day or two rest, but I'm ready to run today! If I had a thermal mask, I could, but I can't imagine running with something over my face. I guess I'm not THAT crazy. I have signed up for a trail run this month and next, so I'm already meeting my goal of more trail running this year… and mostly, just being a happier, more in the moment runner.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Happy New Year! I hope you have a lot of new books to read. I read a lot over this last week, due to not feeling well. I read an entire book during a three hour wait at urgent care, actually, so that was fun.

Born to Run
I am basically the last runner to read this book. I've had it for a year, I just haven't had a chance to open it up for various reasons. It was interesting to read this in the aftermath of Micah True's death. It seemed like from some of his comments and some of the author's observations on conversations held that maybe he never knew a long life was for him. I really enjoyed reading this. Ultra-running is fascinating to me. I can't imagine doing it. I can't even imagine running a marathon, to be honest, but I do find double distance runs to be hugely relaxing, as compared to short, fast runs. So I can see how if one had the ability to run for huge distances and just zone out, it would be amazing. Unfortunately, I'm not a writer for a men's health magazine like the author and can't hire someone to train me to run like the Tarahumara. Still, I really enjoyed the book, especially the observations on trail running, which I really want to do more of this year.

This was actually three books in one, all three about the Cameron and Ruben Wolfe. It isn't necessary to read all three books together, but I enjoyed reading all three together. Cameron, the main character, is the younger brother and the youngest in the Wolfe family. He is always trying to get the girl and do right in life, but he always kind of falls short. Ruben, the older brother, is an excellent fighter, the guy who always gets the girl (even when he doesn't want her) and Cameron's sometimes idol, sometimes worst enemy. I loved these stories and the coming of age element that connected them all.

The House Girl: A Novel (P.S.)
This was an interesting novel. It was told from dual perspectives: Josephine, a slave, and Lina, a modern day lawyer. I'll be honest, the Lina chapters read like a John Grisham novel, but the Josephine chapters were incredibly engaging. Josephine is, as the title alludes, a house girl for a very sick woman and her abusive husband. Josephine is also an incredibly talented painter and a century and some decades later, Lina is involved in a lawsuit that includes proving that Josephine was the creator of these beautiful paintings and not the woman who enslaved her. There are other intricacies involved that would give away the plot hugely, but overall, I did enjoy this read and was very much engaged in the character of Josephine and her plight. Is it the best historical fiction book I've ever read? No, not by a long shot, but I still enjoyed it.

Orphan Train: A Novel
This was another book told from dual perspectives, as well as a historical fiction novel. Molly, a Native American teen in foster care, is made to do community service hours to make up for stealing a library book. She fills her hours by cleaning up the attic of an old woman, Vivian. Like Molly, Vivian is also an orphan. The novel switches from the present to Vivian's past, when she lost her family and was placed on an orphan train from the east coast to the midwest, where she was chosen by a would-be "family." The novel intertwines the two characters very beautifully and manages to make both stories compelling, while teaching a history lesson, as well. I had no idea that orphan trains existed and did more reading on them after this novel. ps, it looks like the Kindle version is only $1.99 for those with a Kindle!

This is the book I chose to take to urgent care and I'm glad. It was a light, easy read and a suitable distraction from the fact that I was there for three hours and could only hear out of one ear (middle ear infections are fun!). The premise follows two soon-to-be college roommates who contact each other after receiving their letters and continue to communicate via email throughout the summer. It follows their last summer before college and their burgeoning relationship with one another, as well as the goodbyes they have to say. It was a really sweet book, one I think that anyone who has gone to college can relate to easily.

The Language of Flowers: A Novel
I loved this book, but it was not an easy book to love. It was the kind of book that makes you pretty sad in parts. Victoria is a life-long product of the foster care system and the novel picks up when she's 18 years old and aged out of foster care. Victoria also speaks the Victorian language of flowers, the belief that giving your love a bouquet of roses or baby's breath is a statement more than just giving a pretty bouquet of flowers. The novel alternates between present time and when she was 10 years old, the only time she was in a loving home. Yet, you know it didn't last and you know Victoria is left with scars, so you're constantly on edge, wondering what will happen. Parts of this novel were hard to read. Victoria is drenched in self-loathing and life never seems to treat her right. She makes mistakes. People make mistakes by her, but at the same time, I couldn't put it down and I couldn't get her character out of my head.

What are you reading?