Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

I only read two books this week. Not for lack of wanting, but because I have six books on my library hold list and none of them are in. This always happens. They'll all come in at once and I'll be overwhelmed.

Allegiant (Divergent)
The last book in the Divergent trilogy. It's hard to discuss this because I don't want to give away any spoilers. I will say that I was mostly happy with it, though a few things bothered me. I don't think anyone will really ever be happy with the last book in a trilogy that they love because they don't want it to end. I will also say that through virtue of spending the last month teaching Divergent, I felt that I had a better grasp on the ending and some other plot points because much of it seemed very thematic to me--and there's nothing I love more than beating theme into my students with a giant, symbolic hammer. That's really all I can say about that, but if you've read it, please feel free to email me and we can discuss it further.

The Rosie Project: A Novel
I loved this book. Don Tillman is a genius, but incredibly socially challenged. Although the book never explicitly states it, he is most definitely on a spectrum somewhere. In his social awkwardness, he's yet to find a wife, so he sets out to do so, but first every applicable woman must meet his very rigid guidelines through filling out a questionnaire he's put together. I loved this book because it was quirky and different, but also because Don's voice was very strong. I teach many students who are autistic or Asperger's and Don reminded me so much of some of them that I felt like I was getting a glimpse into their adult lives. I tore through this book.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

MaddAddam: A Novel
The final book of the MaddAddam trilogy. This picks up where Year of the Flood ends and while I was drawn into it, it's definitely a gentle read for a dystopian novel. I enjoyed it because it was a storytelling of the world before it ended and the hopeful world after it ended and whether it can be rebuilt into something better. It was definitely a good conclusion to the trilogy.

Becky pointed out to me that the author of Eleanor&Park has a new book out. This somehow missed my notice, so I added it to my library list as soon as possible because I loved Eleanor&Park. Cather and Wren are twins who go to college. Wren dives right into the drinking and partying college scene. Cath struggles, staying attached to her fanfiction and not wanting to leave her dorm room (outside of classes). Her older roommate Reagan takes sardonic pity on her and tries to help Cath grow, despite Cath's resistance. I loved this book. I stayed up late reading the first half on a school night, then finished the second half the next night. I wanted to finish the book because I couldn't put it down, but I didn't want to finish it because I didn't want to say goodbye with the characters. I loved it so much that when I saw one of my students walk into class carrying it, I couldn't stop myself from gushing, "Isn't that just the best book?"

The Silent Wife: A Novel
Another Becky recommendation! I was not a huge fan of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (not to say that I don't love the author--Sharp Objects was awesome). This book was what I wanted Gone Girl to be. The novel makes no secret of the fact that Jodi will kill her husband Todd, so you're left wondering how this can be marketed as a thriller. Yet, when it's told from the dual perspective of Jodi and Todd and opens as Jodi is preparing an appetizer plate in their condo overlooking Lake Michigan, you're immediately left wondering how? How does Jodi get to the point where a seemingly mild woman kills her husband? The dual perspectives really worked in this novel, as each character revealed more and more of a flawed marriage.

Burial Rites: A Novel
This is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland in the 1800s. Although her story is true, this should be considered historical fiction. Agnes was convicted of the murder of two men, Natan and Petur, along with two accomplices. Until her death, she's sent to be housed at a farm because there's a financial issue at the prisons. Although they're initially wary, and who wouldn't be at housing a murder, the family comes to accept her. This was one of those books that gripped me slowly, then really grabbed me by the end, so that I had tears running down my face as I read the last page. It was stunning and beautiful. It isn't a fast moving novel and the end wasn't a surprise, obviously, but the stories in this book held my head and heart for quite awhile.

Unravel Me (Shatter Me)
The second book in the Shatter Me series. I liked it because you learn more about Juliette's dystopian world and the war that's being raged both inside and outside the compound in which she's currently living. This isn't my favorite as far as YA dystopian lit goes, but it definitely held my attention.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Thank You for Your Service
I didn't read David Finkel's previous book, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect of this one. I knew that it would be moving subject matter, but I also thought maybe it would be on the clinical side. Instead it reached into my throat and tore out my heart, while also rendering me unable to put down the book. It hurt to read it, but I didn't want to stop reading. The author humanizes the soldiers and their families, without making any excuses for who they are. In some parts, you don't feel sorry for them or you want to shake them, but in other parts, your heart just breaks. While we certainly do more for our soldiers now than we did after VietNam, there's always the question of whether we're doing enough... or if we ever can.

Shatter Me
A student loaned me this book because it's dystopian and she said it's her favorite. Juliette, the main character, hasn't touched anyone or seen another human in 264 days. Locked away because she has a bizarre defect that causes her to accidentally kill people she touches, her life changes when a boy is placed in the cell with her. Unsure of why this boy is in the cell with her, Juliette is cautious and, of course, doesn't touch her. In Juliette's dystopian world, everything is so polluted the birds no longer fly, real food is scarce and life seems bleak. I was definitely hooked, though as far as dystopian YA lit goes, I've read better. I wish the author would've developed her world a little better, but it's part of a trilogy so that may come in later books. Juliette's powers were the main focus of this book, along with her love interest.

The Year of the Flood
I wasn't sure if this was meant to be a sequel to Oryx and Crake or a prequel, so I looked it up and Margaret Atwood wrote it as a "Meanwhile..." book, which is brilliant because that's exactly what it was. It basically continues alongside Oryx and Crake, then ends exactly where Oryx and Crake left off. Once again, the reader witnesses the slow destruction of the dystopian world Atwood sets forth. First, the dying of endangered species, followed by gene splicing of various animals to create new species, those with wealth/prestige living in heavily secured compounds, those without living on the outer reaches of society, criminals being sent into the "Painball" arena to fight it out on television and the eventual virus that wipes out most of humanity. There's some implausibility in this novel, but I loved it. It's good dystopia and I can't wait to read the final one.

Counting by 7s
Thanks to Corrin for blogging about this one, because I completely missed it. The protagonist of this story, Willow Chance, is the 12 year old kid we all wish we could've been. A genuine genius who struggles to fit in, Willow decides to wear gardening clothes to her first day at her new middle school because the middle school name is the Sequoias and so, why wouldn't she? Even her parents know this is a bad idea, but Willow is not to be stopped. Still, Willow is the least of the misfits in this book. As the story progresses, Willow loses both her parents on the same day and has to rely on: a bumbling guidance counselor, the Vietnamese owner of a nail salon, her two children and a taxi cab driver to help her navigate the waters of grief. Willow is lost, but so is just about everyone else in the story and somehow, they all find themselves in helping Willow heal. Is the story realistic? Probably not entirely, but it made me feel good and happy and whole and sometimes that's all I want out of a book.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

I read a lot of books this week, thanks to my stupid sprained ankle.
A House in the Sky: A Memoir
Brief disclaimer: When I read things like this, there is a tiny little mom voice inside of me that says, "But you shouldn't have been in Somalia in the first place. You're not Anderson Cooper!" Mom voice aside, this memoir was stark, brilliant and another in a long line of absolutely must-read memoirs that have come out this year. Amanda Lindhout spent her somewhat discombobulated childhood living through National Geographic magazines. As an adult, she travels through the countries she only saw glimpses of in magazines, though some of them are not safe, especially for women. Emboldened by visits to Pakistan, Syria, India, where she's denied hotel rooms on account of traveling without a husband, she travels further and further off the beaten path, writing small stories about what she sees. After a visit to Iraq and subsequent articles written there, she convinces an old boyfriend to travel to Somalia with her, thinking she'll write stories of the war-torn country.
And she does--but her story came later, after the two of them were kidnapped and imprisoned for an unfathomable 460 days. Although the ending was obvious since she clearly lived to tell the story, I was gripped. She managed to humanize her captors, even at points where they were dehumanizing her. I cannot imagine surviving what she did and making anything good of it, but somehow she has. Whether or not she should've been there in the first place, that's admirable in itself.

The Lowland
This book starts out as the story of two brothers: one who decides to leave India and find college and career in America, the other who stays and becomes part of a militant movement. As the story unfolds, it becomes about more than just the two brothers and about a generation of families, about loud heroes and quiet heroes and heroes who really aren't. This was, at its surface, not a happy book, but it was moving, in a very quiet way with themes about the choices we make and how deep those choices go.

Those Across the River
I read this book in one sitting because I have a sprained ankle and what else am I supposed to do with my time? I didn't realize that it was a horror story, but as far as horror goes, it was pretty good. Frank Nichols and his wife (but not really, they're only pretending to be married because it's 1935 and to do otherwise would be scandalous) return to his inherited family home in Whitbrow, Georgia, after he lost his professorial job for having an affair with a student (Eudora, obviously). His dying aunt warned him in a slight incoherent letter to not take the house, but he ignored her and moved in, planning on writing a book about his great-grandfather Lucien, a slave owner who made killing his slaves a sport. As Frank and Eudora settle in, they slowly notice that Whitbrow has its nuances... the locals seem afraid to go into the forest, making it hard for Frank to find Lucien's abandoned plantation. Once a month, two pigs are sent in the forest--for who? Or what? This was one of those books that slowly unfolded and kept me hooked because I wanted to know what was going on until the very end and to be honest, I wasn't quite sure where it was going to go.

The Invisible Ones
This was one of those dual perspective books that was confusing at first because it was not only switching characters, but it was also subtly moving ahead a few weeks. Once I got the gist of what was going on, though, I really fell into the story. The narrators are a young Gypsy boy, JJ, and a middle-aged, somewhat self-loathing private investigator (who happens to be half-Gypsy). Both are, at times, equally as clueless to the bigger picture of what is going on, but both become intertwined in each other's lives. The PI, Ray, is hired to search for a Gypsy woman who has been missing for seven years. It's a frustrating search because the non-gypsies seem to not notice the gypsies at all (hence the title of the story) and the Gypsy community in which she lived is clearly harboring a secret. As Ray digs deeper into the community, it becomes clear that everyone will go to great lengths to cover up what truly happened--which is far more complicated than Ray and JJ realize. There were parts of the book that I found a little unbelievable, but overall, I enjoyed the storyline and format and read my way through it pretty quickly, eager for the conclusion.

The Maid's Version: A Novel
I was really looking forward to this book because the premise sounded so great: Alma, a maid for a prominent family, loses her sister Ruby to an explosion in a dance hall that kills 41 others. No one knows what causes the explosion, except Alma thinks she knows the answer. It sounded so good, but I could not follow the book. It started out good. Alma working as a maid, serving the family, making a second dinner for kids who refused to eat the first time, thinking of her own children at home hungry, leaving to find her sister waiting in the trees. And then, it just fell apart for me. I could not follow it. At times, I wasn't sure who was narrating it. It would talk about the explosion, then flip to someone else, then back to the explosion with very little character development. To be honest, if it was a longer book, I probably wouldn't have finished it--and I rarely leave books unfinished.

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools
It's no secret or surprise that I'm a fan of public education. While I believe that everyone should school their children the way they see fit, the public education bashing that I see on a regular basis drives me crazy for a few reasons. One, I don't bash these same people for choosing to educate their children in other ways, so step off the way I educate children. Two, I strongly believe in public education as a whole. I don't actually believe the system is broken. Are there ways it could be fixed? Yes, but I also believe that public education "reformers" are doing more harm than good. While I could go on and on, I believe that you're either going to be interested in this book or you're not, but I do want to share one interesting statistic on a fact that's often lobbied around as proof that the public education system in the US is failing, the statistic that children in other countries are outperforming ours. Finland has a child poverty rate of 5.3% (I mention Finland because it's the country that commonly comes up in education reform conversations), compared to the child poverty rate in the US: 23.1%. If you look at US schools with a low poverty rate (less than 10%), those students' test scores are equal to students' test scores in Shanghai and *significantly better than* Finland, Republic of Korea, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. With a child poverty rate second only to Romania, an overall comparison to these high-performing countries is not accurate. But, looking only at low-poverty schools shows that we are doing well. Child poverty is an uphill battle, one that sets children behind before they even enter schools, which means that teachers are trying to make up for an achievement gap that starts before children step foot in classrooms. I took six pages of notes while reading this book and found it fascinating and frustrating all at once.

What are you reading?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sole Provisions | Orthaheels [review]

If you've been following for awhile, you know that my feet have been in a constant state of disarray since a fall half-marathon last year. Along with that constant state of injury comes a loss of all the pretty shoes that I used to wear. With injured sesamoids and plantar fasciitis that does not want to die, heels are out of the question and actually, flats are, too. I can't even wear cheap flip flops anymore, which is probably the saddest thing of all. I spent three months at work when my injury was the worst wearing running shoes every day and dressing every morning killed a little piece of my formerly cute soul because there's just no way to make yourself look cute like that. No way.

I resigned myself to the fact that I was 31 and going to wear old lady shoes for the rest of my life, because my feet wouldn't have it any other way. Then I discovered Orthaheels. They make shoes that are orthotic, but they're actually cute. Like, so cute that when I wear them, people compliment me, ask where I got them... then can't believe that they're orthotic shoes, because although they have all the trademarks of an orthotic shoe, like a raised arch for support and a cushioned footbed, they don't LOOK it. They are cute.

Take for example, my newest pair, the Mia Pewter. Aren't they fun? They're silver and strappy and they fit work dress code guidelines. I definitely believe that I wouldn't be able to run again at this point with my plantar fasciitis if I couldn't wear Orthaheels to work every day, because standing on my feet for eight hours in regular shoes was leaving them a serious mess. Even if you don't have an injury and you're someone who works on your feet, you probably need to look into one good pair of orthotic shoes just because it's going to feel better at the end of the day. But if you have a foot injury and you're still wearing regular shoes? Knock it off!

The downside to Orthaheels, like any orthotic shoe, is that they aren't cheap. I think they're worth every penny and they're a heck of a lot cheaper than custom orthotics. With that said, I would definitely recommend purchasing from Sole Provisions. Although I've purchased Orthaheels from a few different places in the past (including the Orthaheels website), I'll be purchasing just from Sole Provisions from now on. Why? They have a huge selection of Orthaheels and other foot friendly shoes, many of which are discounted, making Orthaheels a more affordable purchase. All items come with free priority 2-3 day shipping--who wants to wait for new shoes (especially when your feet hurt)?! They also offer free returns, which is big for me. Sizing certain shoes, especially shoes you can't find in the stores, can be difficult. I like knowing that if they don't fit, I don't have to suffer through too big or too small shoes. I can easily return and order the right size for me. In short, Sole Provisions is interested in customer satisfaction and that's a huge deal. I will definitely be purchasing more Orthaheels from their website soon, especially since it's going to [sigh] get colder and I know I can't pull off strappy sandals much longer.

I was provided with a pair of Mia Pewter sandals for my review, but all opinions expressed are my own

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Remember this summer when I was reading six books a week? Those were the days...
Alex: The Commandant Camille Verhoeven Trilogy
I almost didn't request this book because I sometimes have trouble with books that have been translated into English, but the premise sounded interesting so I went for it. I'm so glad I did. A young woman has been kidnapped and the clock is ticking. The senior detective on the case lost his wife to a kidnapping, so he unwillingly takes the case. What follows is a story with so many twists and turns that I truly didn't see what was going to happen next. It was one of those books where my sympathies shifted a million times and it was brilliantly done. This is not a 'who done it,' book but rather, a 'why was it done' book.

Doctor Sleep: A Novel
I love The Shining, but I hate The Shining because it scared the hell out of me. Like, didn't sleep for a whole night scared. Still, I love that Stephen King chose to write a sequel because someone asked him whatever happened to the kid from The Shining. And it's an interesting question because a kid who went through all that surely can't come out unscathed. The answer to that is no, he can't. He still has the shining, but as an adult, he's learned that one way to dull it is to drink. A lot. But that brings about its own level of trouble, of course. While there are echoes from The Shining, this book isn't about crazy Jack Torrence and the Overlook Hotel. There's some continuance, but mainly it's about the little boy who grew up into an adult and how there are things in this world scarier than the Overlook Hotel, that threaten adults and now little girls with the shining. So scary that when I was running at 4:30 in the morning after finishing this book, I spent most of the run peering over my shoulder. I liked this one. Stephen King can be hit or miss, but this one was good.

What are you reading?