Summer book report

Ah, the lazy days of summer, the perfect time to curl up in the sun on your favorite lounge chair and get lost in the pages of a good book. I’ll admit there weren’t nearly enough of those moments this past summer, but I managed to devour a handful of delicious reads. Here are a few of my faves:

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker
Youngest and I began this audio book on a nearly hour long trip to one of his soccer games. We were immediately hooked. Normally I’d continue listening alone, but he felt strongly that I wait for him to be in the car so that we could listen together. It killed me, but I love my boy and love that we had something to share. After we finished, he asked to borrow the CDs so that he could play them in his bedroom before he went to sleep. Hopefully there weren’t subliminal messages contained within because I’m relatively certain he listened to the book another four or five times. Pax tells the story of a boy and his abandoned fox, and it is beautiful and heartbreaking. I strongly recommend it for children (those able handle the painful themes of war, death, and loss) and adults alike.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Another excellent audio book, this one listened to during my work commute. It is a must for bibliophiles and those who enjoy rich character development. Somewhat of a spoiler alert (although the reason I stumbled upon this book in the first place) — there is an adoption story line that I felt the author handled well. I’m always on the lookout for books that take on foster care and adoption from a somewhat unique perspective, books that aren’t simply about a child searching for his/her birth parents but one that embraces the uniqueness of a family created not out of blood.

I’ve renewed my commitment to reading more with my boys at bedtime. Sometimes when life gets crazy we let that slip, but it is such a wonderful time to bond and explore literature together, especially with my twelve-year-old, who has entered the “Don’t mind me I’m just going to lock myself in my bedroom and watch YouTube videos all night” phase. We finished Postcards from Venice by the fabulous Dee Romito. It is a follow-up (but can be read alone) to her debut, The BFF Bucket List and equally sweet. Then we read one of my childhood favorites, and a must read for all those in the throes of adolescence, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. We laughed until our sides hurt at the part, “You must, you must…” (especially after I told him that yes, my sister taught me that chant when I was his age and I may have believed it could work. It didn’t. Also, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, well, then I guess you need to go read the book.)

Youngest and I read the third book in Todd McClimans’ American Epochs series, A Time to Heal. I recommend the series for elementary-middle schoolers who enjoy history and adventure. Then we read Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park and are now about halfway through White Fang by Jack London. He saw the preview for a movie version on Netflix and we decided to read the book first (because you should ALWAYS read the book first). I’ve never read it before and perhaps should have given pause when I found it in the YA section of the library instead of juvenile. It is a wonderfully crafted book, but the language is a bit high for him and the content rather intense. We stop after particularly rough scenes to discuss them, and I’ve been using it as a way to teach difficult vocabulary in context as well as reading comprehension. Oh, the teacher in me.

A few other recommendations from my summer reading pile:

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen. Had a very Lifetime TV movie feel and was the perfect escape book for a day at the lake. (Warning: it does deal with a disturbing concept that may be difficult for some readers)

Every Little Bad Idea by Caitie McKay. Debut verse novel by my friend and editor. A wonderful book aimed at struggling readers that would appeal to teens experiencing first love (or those of us who remember our first love!)

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. Very well done book about a trans-girl trying to find her place.

I am still over two years behind on my TBR list, a list that is constantly growing because there are so many wonderful books out there! Fall is the only time of year when we have a reprieve from soccer, but scouts is in full swing, and hubby and I are both very active on the committee. Translation: time I could be reading and/or writing is spent organizing spreadsheets, planning activities, and sending emails. Alas, I love being involved in my sons’ lives and know that it will all end one day when they leave the nest.

(Of course I totally plan on being like the mom in I’ll Love You Forever and sneaking into their houses to read to them.)

Spring book report

What’s that they say about best laid plans? I set out to do monthly book reports, which became bimonthly (I totally just googled this term to double check, and it does in fact mean “twice a month or every other month” because that’s not confusing at all), which has now become seasonal. Because soccer.

Yup, that’s my excuse for everything these days. Soccer takes up EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We ate dinner as a family Monday night and my children forgot where to sit. THEY FORGOT WHERE TO SIT.

I digress. This post is about books. I like to read them. I haven’t read very many in the past few months and therefore could not share my favorites as often with you, fine blog followers. But here are a few I’ve enjoyed since my last book post. Coincidentally perhaps, these books would make excellent summer reads for young and old alike!

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Our elementary school librarian recommended this book to me, and I listened to the audio version. Like any war story, it has its share of heartbreak, but I loved the innocence of the main character and how she grew to love and trust the people who cared about her. It is more about her journey to acceptance than the war, but the setting provides a powerful backdrop.

Science Fair by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Speaking of audio books, this one is hysterical. And so corny. But sometimes we need that in our life, right? A great road trip book – 8 and 12 year old boy approved.

Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen
I taught this book to 7th graders and believe every middle schooler should read it. It tells the story of a young boy who lies about his age to fight in the Civil War. It is a quick read and one that is best done out loud if possible – I enjoyed reading it to my classes, and recently read it to my oldest son. We both ❤ Gary Paulsen, and you should too. Hatchet was on oldest’s mom-required summer reading list last year. He loved it.

Flying Leap by Judy Budnitz
If you are looking for a book you can read in bursts – say at the pool/beach/soccer field – then this is a good pick. It is a collection of short stories that is slightly odd and is sure to give you a furrowed brow that will prevent people from interrupting you while you read at the pool/beach/soccer field. I recommend it to fans of Shirley Jackson and Roald Dahl (his short stories, not his children’s books) because of the dark, off-kilter themes.

What’s on the nightstands right now? you ask. Oldest and I are reading Postcards from Venice, the newest release from the lovely and talented Dee Romito, youngest and I are reading the final book in the American Epochs series, Time to Heal by Todd McClimans, and I just started Stay Sweet by Siobahn Vivian, recommended to me by an editor at the Pennwriters conference. Feels like the perfect pool/beach (sigh… who am I kidding – soccer field) read.


The story behind the seven

Recently a friend on social media tagged me in a post about books. It asked to post the covers of seven books I loved over the course of seven days. No review of any sort or an explanation as to why I loved them. Just the covers.

BOOKS? I’m in.

NO EXPLANATION? You’re killing me, social media.

I played by the rules. Posted the covers of seven of my favorite books with no reason as to why I love them. But I couldn’t let it rest. I needed to tell people why I love those books and why it was difficult to narrow it down to only seven.

So here are my choices, in the order they appeared (which was originally supposed to be in the order I read them, but I messed up at the end).


JImage may contain: one or more people and textames and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

I love nearly everything by Roald Dahl and have read his books to myself, to my students, and to my kids. They are fun to read and full of quirky examinations of humanity. James has always held a special place in my heart. In first grade we had a student teacher named Miss Church. She read the book to us and I fell in love. It is a story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds with a bit of magic and a fantastic swirl of adventure.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Most people recognize author Shirley Jackson from her short story, The Lottery. I can’t remember if it was the story that led me to her, or the collection of books in my grandmother’s basement. I read the book in ninth grade, loved the dark, twisty tale, and went on to seek out every Shirley Jackson book I could find. She died young, so unfortunately there aren’t many. And back in the early 90’s when there was no world wide web to browse, I would spend hours in second hand bookstores searching for her work. I love everything about Shirley Jackson; her wry wit, the way she satirizes suburbia, and the darkness that creeps its way into her stories. My personal copy of the book is worn and well-loved, and I will never part with it.

Image may contain: textCat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Atwood is another author on my top faves list. I dare you to read one of her books and not be completely taken in by the voice. I was first introduced to her in AP English with The Handmaid’s Tale. Hubs was actually surprised I didn’t pick that one as one of my favorites. Maybe because when I read Cat’s Eye the words spoke to me so clearly, as if Margaret Atwood had taken up residence in my brain. I read it in college during a time when I was discovering who I was as a woman and as a feminist. It is currently on my TBRA (To Be Read Again) list–I’m curious how life will have changed my perspective.

Image may contain: outdoor and natureWalk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

I talked about my love for this book in my post, November book report. It is heartwarming, and sweet, and sad, and it reminds me of my former middle school students who are all in their twenties now and I wonder how they’re doing and look I feel like crying again.

Image may contain: textHunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Text message from sister back in 2009: Have you heard of Hunger Games? So good.
Me: Can’t talk, reading.

I remember calling it The Lottery meets Survivor. I remember devouring it. I remember hiding my copy of Catching Fire so I could read it before my husband. There’s not much else to say. If you haven’t read the series, what exactly are you waiting for?

Image may contain: 3 people, textMacbeth by William Shakespeare

There are fights in my house over the merit of Shakespeare. (Hubs doesn’t read my blog. He admitted that in front of a bunch of our friends last night. So he won’t read that he is wrong when he says Shakespeare is not worth reading. Dead wrong. There is a reason Willy S is still taught in high school and performed all over the world.)

The Scottish play is my favorite. I loved it when I first read it in high school and even more when I got to perform as one of the witches in college, and even more when I taught it to a bunch of high schoolers and we turned individual scenes into mini stage plays and performed them for other classes. (If you look closely you can see the pink post-it notes indicating each class’s section.) I can recite full passages from memory. And in an alternate universe where I decided to become a stage actress, I would perform as Lady Macbeth and the audience would be moved by my portrayed insanity.

Image may contain: one or more people and textHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

The seventh cover was SUCH A DIFFICULT DECISION. I walked over to our bookshelf and pulled down book after book that I loved. Held them against my chest and thought fondly of our time together. I’m weird, okay?

I chose HP4 because even though I’m not exactly crazy about this cover, I remember staying up all night at my friend’s cabin reading it. The series was amazing, but book four is the one that sticks with me the most. I love how Hermoine works to figure out who she is and what she wants, and the tournament makes it a complete page turner.

There were a lot of runners-up, and I’m always on the lookout for the next book that will shift my perspective and make me think about it long after I close the cover.

Jan/Feb book report

I’ve decided to change things up a bit this year with my book reports — instead of writing about all the books I’ve read in a given month, I’ll highlight my main recommendations. You can still follow my reading pile on Goodreads, and I do try to write reviews now and then over there if something really moves me, but I’ll post my faves here every month or so and try to focus on one audio book, one read aloud, and one recent release.

In January I listened to In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park. A friend of mine had recommended it, and I am drawn to memoirs of survival, particularly when they involve breaking free from an oppressive culture. I love books that are difficult to read and stay with you long after they end. This was no exception. Parts of the book made me cringe as I listened to Park detail the hardships she faced while living in North Korea and then being forced into human trafficking in her attempt to escape. It is impossible not to be moved by her perseverance and resiliency, and of the sacrifices made by her mother. I appreciated the fact that she explained the history of her home country, the honesty with which she told her story, and the bravery required to openly speak out against a place that is known for its treatment of traitors. Park’s story is only one. There are no doubt other stories, some more extreme and painful. And as global citizens, it is our duty to listen.

My younger son and I read the second book in Todd McClimans’ American Epochs series, a book called Time Underground. I met Todd on Twitter when I won a copy of his first book in the series, Time Traitor, which I read aloud with my older son. The series follows two boarding school friends who discover a time machine and travel back in American history. McClimans, history teacher turned principal, knows his stuff, and I love the fact that I can use literature to bring history alive to my sons. I even recommended the series to our school librarian, who loved it. Time Underground is about the Underground Railroad, and when one of the main characters discovers a distant relative did not survive his attempt to escape slavery, she goes back in time to try and save him. The present day chapters in the beginning were a little slow, but once she travels in time it was definitely a page turner, and the boy let out a loud, “NOOOO” each night I closed the book and said it was time to go to sleep. A sure sign of a good read.

Lastly, a new release I stumbled upon and enjoyed was Brave Deeds by David Abrams. I’ve started a new writing project and the main character works as a funeral guard for the Navy Reserves. I discovered the novel while searching the library catalog for research materials. I’m a sucker for a good, gritty military story, especially ones that showcase war’s effect on humanity. Brave Deeds follows a group of men on a day long journey to the memorial of their leader, and what I liked most about the book was its unique use of first person plural narrative. I’ve only seen that done once before (in The Weird Sisters) and it was the perfect way to show how the men were separate individuals functioning as one unit. I noticed some reviewers complaining that the narrative was disjointed, jumping around from present to past, but I think that was a deliberate and effective story telling device for this piece. The language is raw and realistic, and Abrams does a wonderful job weaving in each character’s back story wound. I will definitely be checking out his other work.

As always, happy reading everyone!