Thursday, August 28, 2014

Update: Books I've Read {July & August}

Every couple months I look back at the books I've read and reflect on the good, the bad, and the captivating. I've actually found that my reading pace has slowed this year, not surprisingly because I now spend quite a bit more time writing than I used to. Regardless of your reading speed, summer is the time to catch up on your to-read list and I've been making good on those currently coveting wish lists lately. In July and August, I read a total of nine books, bringing my 2014 total to 35 books so far. I'm happy that I got to check off another book for my classics challenge (one that I actually liked!), but my absolute favorites from these months were Euphoria and The Book of Life.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
5 Stars
{Number two of four for my classics challenge...definitely earned a spot on my "forever favorites" shelf!}
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
5 Stars
{Keep an eye out for a post on this finale to the All Souls Trilogy. One word: amazing.}
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
4 Stars
Read my review here.
Euphoria by Lily King
5 Stars
Read my review here.

Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris
3 Stars
Read my review here.
A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch
4 Stars
Read my review here.
The Quick by Lauren Owen
4 Stars
Read my review here.
The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
5 Stars
{This was a re-read, but just as good the second time around!}
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
4 Stars
{P.S. If you read this as required reading in middle school and didn't love it, give it another shot. For me, re-reading it now gave me an entirely different perspective. It was poignant.}

Monday, August 25, 2014

Children's Review: The King of Quizzical Island

{on Goodreads}
The King of Quizzical Island has a question, what's it like at the edge of the world? No one can give him the answer, so he readies his sails and sets out to find it himself. He happens upon a series of fascinating and strange lands, including Jigsaw Land and Vertical Land, "where everything stands on end." As he continues on his journey, barely surviving the Sea of Dreadful Dreams (but prevailing against the Night Mares), his ship is beached upon another sandy shore, where he spies a familiar-looking castle. Could it be that the edge of the world doesn't actually exist?

The King of Quizzical Island is a fantastic tale of curiosity and discovery. The King's biggest realization is that the world is actually round, but his inquisitiveness and can-do attitude are what make him a memorable character. I was smitten with this story from the first time I read it, as it reminds me of one of my absolute favorite picture books. The rhymes are brilliant and illustrations are quirky, and I just love the immense amount of imagination that went into the King's travels; his adventures are sure to have little readers asking question and yearning to discover more about the world around them.

Recommended for ages 4-8 (Preschool - 3rd Grade)
Bottom Line Rating: 5/5

Title: The King of Quizzical Island
Author: Gordon Snell
Illustrator: David McKee
Publisher: Candlewick, 2009
ISBN: 0763638579
Format: Hardcover
Price: $15
Source: Purchased, University Store

Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: The Beekeeper's Apprentice

{on Goodreads}
In a play off the stories of the infamous sleuth (and avid beekeeper) Sherlock Holmes, King devises a whole new environment, with adversaries and allies both old and new. The Beekeeper's Apprentice chronicles the extraordinary relationship between Mr. Holmes and Mary Russell. When they first meet in 1915, Holmes is a recluse, drug addict, and retiree living in the quiet countryside. Russell- a bright, strong-willed girl in a time of emerging female independence- is newly orphaned and living under the watchful (and disapproving) eye of her insufferable aunt. Though they are an unlikely pair, Russell and Holmes manage to cultivate a deeply meaningful friendship, which starts as apprentice and mentor and grows into roles as equal partners in the solving of more than a few high-profile crimes. Russell's deliberate disregard for her expected role as a meek, womanly companion lands them both in some dangerous situations, but her vast portfolio of sleuthing abilities and expansive intellect contribute much to the maintenance of Holmes's reputation as the best detective in the world. As they discover subtle connections linking their many cases, the two must put their talents to the test as they face an unexpected but formidable enemy.

I confess I've had this book on my shelf for years, and simply was not motivated to delve into it until I recently cleaned out my bookshelves. I have always been a fan of Sherlock Holmes and love that his character (much like a Shakespearean play) can be shaped to any new environment, while the defining parts of his character are kept steady (Sherlock, anyone?). It took me a bit to get into the book, but I loved the addition of a younger, equally bright female character (who was not also a love interest for Sherlock). Though Holmes always plays well against strong female characters, King's idea to place him in not only a mentor, but also father-figure role, felt like a fresh take. By the time I reached the last few chapters, I didn't want the book to end. Like a classic Holmes case, I was unable to guess the ending, though of course the pieces of the puzzle were all carefully inserted throughout the story. Recommended for fans of the beloved character, as well as those who simply like a good mystery. 

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5
Title: The Beekeeper's Apprentice
Author: Laurie R. King
Publisher: Picador, 2007
Price: N/A {Available online for a wide range of prices}
ISBN: 0312427360
Format: Paperback
Source: Gifted
Book #33 of 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Back to School Booklist

August has been flying by and it's almost time for back to school! As a college student, my summer vacations start in the first week of May, so heading back to school in September is a nice change after a long break. Plus, back to school means new school supplies (and we all know there's nothing better than that)!

As a child, I was always super excited about the first day back at school. I came home every day after school only to sit my dolls down at their desks, write out their lessons, and assign them homework. The fact that I had both a whiteboard and chalkboard at the ready for "playing school" is proof that the classroom has always been my happy place. However, that's not to say that I never got nervous on the first day back. I still get nervous for the first day of classes each semester, and I'd be willing to bet money that on my first day as a teacher, I'll be a nervous wreck. The anxiousness that many students feel going back to school comes with the territory of new spaces, new routines, and greater expectations.

To help transition from summer mode to the back to school mindset, I've picked a few books that feature the theme of school (and the first day back), some of which feature beloved characters that your child may already love reading about. Reading a few of these books with your child may help facilitate a conversation about the things that they are most and least looking forward to, and could be helpful during those first few days back, as they ease into a new routine!

{Click on the titles to view book descriptions in Goodreads and find links to purchase online!}

The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing
The Night Before First Grade by Natasha Wing
Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick
Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard
Froggy Goes to School by Jonathan London
Back-To-School Rules by Laurie B. Friedman
The Berenstain Bears Go Back to School by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Arthur's Back to School Day by Lillian Hoban
Back to School, Mallory by Laurie B. Friedman
Amelia Bedelia Goes Back to School by Herman Parish
It's Back to School, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz
First Grade Stinks! by Mary Ann Rodman
Second Grade Rules, Amber Brown by Paula Danzinger

Happy reading!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: Euphoria

{on Goodreads}

I wasn't expecting to like this book as much as I did, but it's certainly on my list for best books of this year. It tells the story of three anthropologists in 1930-a time when anthropology was an emerging field and the greats (Boas, etc.) were establishing their reputations and laying claims to their areas of expertise. Inspired by the life and work of Margaret Mead, it follows the newly famous Nell Stone, her husband Fen, and an acquaintance turned friend, Andrew Bankson. The three have been working in the territory of New Guinea, studying tribes and immersing themselves in the culture while feverishly recording their ethnographies. Bankson, having botched his own suicide and at a plateau with his work, happens upon Nell and Fen, freshly traumatized from their time with a bloodthirsty tribe, and introduces them to a new tribe in the hopes of keeping them close. Bankson craves company- and soon the trio are entwined, both professionally and emotionally. As tensions grow and break, Bankson realizes that the jungle holds more than just the mysteries of the native tribes, but also the complicated truths of his own choices and the precarious future of all three anthropologists. 

If you're going to read just a few books this year, make sure this one is on your list. I waited forever to borrow it from the library (for brand new titles, I'm often on the holds list for over a month) and flew through it in just two afternoons. At first, I wasn't completely drawn in, but by the time I hit the middle, I couldn't put it down and was reacting out loud to every big moment in the story. Anthropology is an area of interest to me (I think it comes with the territory of being a psychology student) and the background knowledge on ethnographical studies and the founding fathers of the field were really useful while reading. I'm not exaggerating when I say that this book transported me straight to the setting, and I felt every moment of heartbreak alongside the characters. At less than 300 pages, it's especially good for readers who avoid the typical summer-reading tomes. I can't rave enough about it.

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5
Title: Euphoria
Author: Lily King
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014
Price: $15.81 on Amazon
ISBN: 0802122558
Format: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Book #31 of 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

Currently Coveting {August}

 Lately I've been wanting to do nothing but read, which I think comes with the territory of lazy, late summer days. Reading a book that's genuinely enthralling is the best feeling, and I've been trying to squeeze in more reading time during the day and before bed each night. The result? I've been flying through books like crazy and feel like I might be able to actually tackle the remaining books on my summer to-read list. Besides the (slightly appalling) stack of books that I picked up at the library sale, I've been putting books into my online shopping carts and staring at them for as long as possible before I either (a) impulsively hit the checkout button, or (b) pout about how I shouldn't be buying them and leave them for another day. Below you'll find a few that I am currently coveting...

{on Goodreads}
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain // I know I'm late to the game on this one, but lately it's been the book I've been craving most, partly because of wanderlust and partly because I'm convinced that I'll be in love with it. It's all about Hemingway's first wife, whom he was said to adore beyond anything else. Swoon. Don't be surprised if you see it under my currently reading banner soon.

{on Goodreads}
The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais // You may recognize this from commercials because it's recently been made into a movie starring Helen Mirren (love her!!) and produced by a scroll of celebrities (ahem, Oprah). I stumbled across it a while ago while searching online for cookbooks. There's something about a good novel that can conjure up tastes and smells of exotic places...and this book promises that, plus a heartwarming story of culture and family.

{on Goodreads}
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton // This book caught my eye recently and if I were going to describe it in one word, it would be...intriguing. It tells the story of a young bride who receives an extraordinary gift from her new husband, and spotlights the oppressive role of religion and morality during the golden age of Amsterdam. I've read some reviews of readers that absolutely loved it and compare Burton to Tracy Chevalier, who is a long time favorite of my mom and myself. Definitely going to keep an eye out for it at the library.

{on Goodreads}
Walls Within Walls by Maureen Sherry // I've been spending a lot of time at the library recently with my babysitting kids and love browsing the 9-12 year old section, as it's my favorite subsection of children's literature. This is one of the books that made it onto my to-read list. It's the story of three children whose father's newly acquired wealth turns their lives upside down. In their new swanky apartment in NYC, they discover that the former owner had transformed it into a big puzzle, and set out to find the promised fortune at the end.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Children's Review: Once Upon a Marigold

{on Goodreads}
Christian is a runaway, living in a forest cave with his foster-father (who just happens to be a troll) and two dogs with big personalities. Though the world that he lives in is full of interesting places and creatures, he's explored little and is starting to feel the need to leave home in search of adventure. He spends his free time writing to Marigold, a lonely princess isolated by a curse. With an ailing father and a dismissive mother, Marigold finds solace in her friendship with her mysterious pen pal. Christian loves everything about Marigold, and would do anything to meet her in person, including taking a job at the castle. When they finally get to meet in real life, Christian uncovers a plot that has Marigold in danger, but in trying to rescue her, he gets himself in a whole mess of trouble. Their hopes of being together lie in the hands of the most unexpected of heroes, as everything they know about their own lives comes into question.

I am a big fan of fairy tales and love quirky spinoffs that question the classic roles of prince and princess, hero and damsel in distress. Though this story doesn't depart too much, the characters themselves are so unique and imaginative that the story feels like a fresh take. In fact, my favorite characters were actually the minor ones, like Queen Mab the frazzled and forgetful toothfairy, and Ed the ambitious troll. Ferris did an excellent job of creating a world in which normal wasn't an option, giving her the freedom to bring anything into play. Not only did I like the humor and just plain silliness of the story, but I was particularly taken with the bits of wisdom that were not-so-subtly slipped into crossroad-type moments for the characters. Ferris clearly had some messages to send to her audience, and even for older readers (like myself), the points to take away are definitely worth thinking about. Although I thought the book had a nice, succinct ending, it's part of a trilogy, and I do plan on reading the next two books.

Recommended for ages 9-12 (Grades 4-7)
Bottom Line Rating 3/5

Title: Once Upon a Marigold
Author: Jean Ferris
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (Reprint), 2013
Price: $6.29 on Amazon
ISBN:  0544054008
Format: Paperback
Source: Public Library
Book #30 of 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

Library Sale Spoils

I've been not-so-patiently waiting for the annual Friends of the Library Sale since I arrived home for the summer. Most public libraries hold this type of sale at least once a year and I highly recommend going to them! Not only are the books priced from 25 cents to just a few dollars, but the proceeds go towards benefitting the library (so you can feel good about binging on books). I's a great way for library staff to clear out books that haven't been circulating, as well as encourage people to donate the books that they've already read or didn't like. I'll take any excuse to get an armload of books while contributing to the library's needs, so I was seriously counting down the minutes until the sale started. Below you'll find my picks:

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
{Recognize the author? She wrote The Secret Life of Bees and this year's The Invention of Wings}

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton
{For research purposes, you know, just in case a certain someone makes a big announcement soon.}

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
{This has been on my to-read list for years. So excited that I found it for just a dollar!}

The Doll People by Martin Godwin Selznick
{This was a favorite of mine when I was younger, and from looking it up on Goodreads I just found out that it's the first in a series! Definitely going on my re-read list.}

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
{This has been on my Amazon wish list for months. So glad I waited to purchase it and instead found it at the sale!}

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
{One of So fascinating, and one of the few nonfiction books that I'll always have on my favorites list.}

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl
The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The books are often in new or almost-new condition, and this year I had really good luck in finding books that have been on my to-read list for a while now. For the record, although I came home with a massive pile (and I'm not joking when I say that my arms were sore the day after from carrying such a big stack), I did donate about three boxes of books to the sale to make room for the ones I knew I would inevitably buy. Although when is buying a one dollar book not justifiable? (Rhetorical question.)