Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Best of 2009

I started this year with the goal to get back to reading and I was very successful. Not only did I read more books, but I read better books. I discovered new genres and authors. Most of this growth I can credit to the wonderful book blogs I discovered this year. I read 41 books in 2009 and I have chosen eight I consider to be the very best of that lot. They are linked to my reviews (in no particular order) below. Enjoy.

  1. The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner

  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

  3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

  4. Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

  5. The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood by Dr. Sears

  6. The Shadows of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

  7. Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Neffeneger

  8. The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall
I also started this blog in an effort to keep up with the books I read and to review them. As a first time blogger and book reviewer, I think I was successful with these goals as well. I reviewed 24 of the 41 books I read. I posted on a semi-regular basis as my school schedule allowed and I successfully completed the 2 reading challenges I joined. All in all, not a bad reading year. I look forward to what 2010 has in store.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mailbox Monday 12/28

This is my first time participating in Mailbox Monday, mainly because around August my husband put me on a book-buying ban. I made just one too many high dollar trips to the local Barnes and Noble and he had a fit. Well, he did not put a ban on Santa buying books for Christmas, so I am linking up the wonderful assortment of books I found under the tree on Christmas morning.

People of the Book by Geraldine Broooks
I have been talking about reading this book for some time, at least a couple of years. This year I finally put it on my Christmas wish list. The book centers around a rare book expert and an early Jewish volume with illustrations. The book's mysteries trace the history of not only the book, but the people who owned it.

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran
This is my first Michelle Moran novel. I am looking forward to reading story of Selene, daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Antony as it takes place in imperial Rome.

Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
I have seen this book reviewed in several places on the Internet. I had it on my TBR list awhile ago, but read so many Middle Eastern novels that I was a bit burned out and put this one on the back burner. The novel takes place in Iran before the revolution and is a story of forbidden love as well as revolutionary dangers.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson and I can't wait to dive into her novel on Josephine. It takes place during the last phases of the French Revolution through the Napoleonic Wars, chronicalling the role of Josephine not only in politics, but also her personal life.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fall Into Reading Wrap Up Post

We were out of town Christmas Week and I did not get a chance to post my Fall Into Reading Wrap Up post. The challenge is hosted by Katrina at Callapidder Days and it is one of my favorite challenges, mostly because it is low pressure, it encourages me to read from my ever growing TBR, but also allows me to change my list as new and fascinating books come my way or my reading mood changes. You can find my original list and goals here.

I was not as involved in the Fall Challenge as I was the Spring one. School has just been too crazy and hectic. I have however, been reading more as the semester progresses. I am feeling more at ease with my AP European History class and have been able to read for pleasure instead of studying all the time. Although, I have to say by reading everything I have assigned my students in real time with them, I have gained a new appreciation for how hard some of my advanced students work.

I did not stick to my list very well, but some great books have come my way to distract me and there were a couple I just had to re-read. From my original list I read (reviews are linked):
World Lit Only by Fire
Sex With Kings
The Dowry Bride
The Lost Queen
Portrait of an Unknown Woman

Books I read off my list (linked to reviews):
Time Traveler's Wife
Breaking Dawn
The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico
The Complete Persepolis (my very first graphic novel, but not my last)

I am still reading The Girl from Junchow and will probably finish it in the next couple of days. I am also reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor with the intent of completing it before the end of the year.

I don't think I can pick a favorite book from this challenge. I really enjoyed The Lost Queen by C.W. Gortner and Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I also read my first graphic novel for this challenge, at the suggestion of my students who read it for their advanced English class. I liked the book and the genre, so I will probably read more in the future.

All in all, I did well for this challenge considering the pressures from school this fall. I had hoped to read 15 books and I ended up reading 10, with 2 more from my original list in progress. I will certainly be on the lookout for the Spring Challenge sign ups!

The Last Queen

By C. W. Gortner

I found this book through 2 of my favorite book blogs, Hist. Fic. Chick and The Burton Review. After reading both their reviews here and here I put it on my TBR list.

this book takes place during one of my favorite historical periods -- the very late Middle Ages - Early Renaissance. Whiel I ma very familiar with the history of England and France during this time, the history of Spain is another story. I found this a fascinating read. This is the first time I have read anything about Juana, the 3rd daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the monarchs that united Spain and pushed the Moors into North Africa.

Juana, through a series of unfortunate events, becomes heir to the throne of Spain. This proves to be her undoing. Her marriage to Philip , heir to the Hapsburg throne is destroyed by her husband's desier to claim the throne that is rightfully hers. The nobles of Spain have their own ideas on who should rule Spain adn even Juana's own father, Ferdinand of Aragaon, fights her claim to the throne. In an attempt to gain control of Spain, Juana returns to Spain with her husband. While there, she gives birth to a child, conceived and born on Spanish soil, creating another Spanish heir.

Juana endures more stress and heartache than any woman should. When she leaves Flanders, she leaves behind her 4 children, who in essence forget who she is and when she is finally reunited with them, they are strangers. Her husband dies while in Spain, under mysterious circumstances. She is betrayed by her husband, father and son, all over inheriting the throne of Spain.

History has painted Juana as crazy, calling her Juana, la Loca, or Juana, the Mad. C. W. Gortner weaves the most infamous historical examples of her irratic behavior with his ideas of why she would have acted this way -- preservation of Spanish sovereignity, her family and herself.

I liked the twists and turns the author incorporated into the story. His writing style -- vivid descriptions, interesting dialogue and accurate history pulled me thorugh the story. This is one of those books I did not want to end. I look forward to his new novel about Catherine de Medici which will be published in spring 2010.

Rating A+

Saturday, December 12, 2009

2010 Reading Challenges

This was my first year to participate in any reading challenges. In fact, I only created this blog so I could participate in them. As the 2010 Reading Challenges start popping up across the Internet, I want to join so many. However, I am trying to be realistic, picking only a few and focusing on ones that involve books I am interested in as well as ones that stretch my reading selections. I also am aware that I can only read so many books, so without further ado, these are the 3 - year long challenges I am joining this year.

The Take Another Chance Challenge is hosted by Find Your Next Book Here. There is a list of 12 challenges to use to pick the books you are going to read. There are 3 participation levels.

A Small Gamble - complete 3/12 challenges
A Moderate Gamble - complete 6/12 challenges
Gambling it All - complete all 12 of the challenges

Now, my husband will tell you am quite the gambler, but for this challenge I am going to try for the Small Gamble level. My plan is to use 3 of the challenges to read books that I never would have picked up on my own, after all I do believe this is what this one is all about.

My second challenge is A Royal Review's Historical Fiction Challenge. Now, this one is just screaming for me to join. If I could only read one genre of book, it would be historical fiction. Again, this challenge has multiple levels of participation.

Curious - 3 books
Fascinated - 6 books
Addicted - 12 books
Obsessed - 20 books

I am going to jump into this one at the Obsessed level. I think I can easily read 20 historical fiction books next year. 12 of my 37 books I read this year were in the historical fiction genre and I believe I can read more, especially with a conscious effort. I also plan to challenge myself to read only books already on my shelves or from the library for this challenge.

Some books I am putting on the challenge for this list are - The Girl from Junchow by Kate Furnivall, The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory, Pope Joan by Donna Woolfold Cross, Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant and Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund.

My final year long challenge is the Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge hosted by Ready When You are, C.B The ideas behind this challenge is to read a book, watch the movie based on the book and then review both. You can also see the movie, then read the book. There are several different levels for this challenge as well.

Matinee - 1book/1movie

Double Feature - 2 books/2 movies

Saturday Movie Marathon - 4 books/4 movies

Film Festival - 8 books/8 movies

Festival Jury Member 10 books/10 movies

At first, I was going to sign up for the Double Feature, but then when I started looking at all the books I could read for this challenge, most off my own shelves, I decided to up my participation to the Film Festival Level. The following books are on my list: Time Traveler's Wife, Revolutionary Road, The Duchess, Lovely Bones and Persepolis. Each of these are already on my shelves or I have asked to borrow. That leaves me 3 more to choose during the course of the year.

I am excited about these challenges. I really think I have a shot at completing all 3 in addition to some other shorter challenges that I am sure will attract my attention over the year. In case you are wondering how I found all these great challenges, I DID NOT spend hours surfing book blogs to find them. A Novel Challenge is a great blog of nothing but , you guessed it, Reading Challenges! If you can't find a challenge there that piques your interest, then well, you will just have to start your own!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

Yet another book I am the last literate person to read. I ignored this book, thinking I wouldn't like it at all, not my genre, not even remotely interested. ( I am one of the few people who just don't get the Outlander series.) Then my assistant principal, whom I often share books with and trust her book sense, brought it to me and gave it a glowing recommendation, so I read it.

Wow, not at all what I expected. I was prepared for some off the wall, fantasy time traveler saga and this book is certainly not that. It is a passionate love story between two people, one of whom jumps back and forth in time at inconveniet times and how they deal with it.

I love that when they meet in Claire's adult time, Henry doensn't know her and they have to fall in love all over again. I love that eventhough Henry knows what the future holds, he never tells Claire. I also love that Henry disappears at very awkward times - it makes the story very interesting, even if it does get a little predictable. I love how Niffenegger portrays time travel as a burden, when so many of us think it would be fabulous to know the future and visit the past.

Then, there are the parts I didn't like -- not because they were bad or poorly written, but because the brought out such emotion in me, mostly sadness, fear and anger. Claire's struggle with infertiliy, the dangers Henry suffers during his travels, that he knows when and how he is going to die, and that Alba can travel and see Henry, but Claire cannot, that Claire sits and waits for him, day after day.

All the parts, the ones I liked and the ones I did not come together to make one excellent story -- one full of passion, humor, heartache and lonliness. I lived and breathed every word of this book and I was terribly sad when it ended. Niffenegger weaves a complex story that engulfs the reader. I kept expecting a wrinkle in the chronology or an inconsistency in the story because of the jumping back and forth. I was convinced I would be confused at some point by an out of place event or an unexplainable occurance, but that never happened. This is a superbly written novel. The movie based on the book was released in August 2009 and the DVD is scheduled for release in February 2010. Her next book, Her Fearful Symmetry is on my wish list.

Rating - A

Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Rating System

I have a book rating system now. As I have reviewed more books, I found this necessary. Now let's be clear, this is just my personal opinion, which may or may not agree with yours. After hours of trying to decide what type of symbol I wanted to use, the teacher in my just could not get past a grading system, so here it is....

A+ - One of the best books I have read. I want a sequel! This one I just might re-read. Makes my list of best books of all time.

A - Highly recommended - well written with a capitvating storyline (fiction) or interesting topic (non-fiction)

B+ - Interesting and enjoyable. Would recommend.

B- Enjoyable read, flaws in research or story flow. Lacks depth, but would recommend to people who like the topic or genre

C+ - Average as a whole, but parts are good. Could have been better written.

C - Very average. Would probably not recommend.

D - Not enjoyable at all, wish I had used my time to read something else.

F - Terrible, so bad I did not finish the book

The Dowry Bride

by Shobhan Bantwal

The Dowry Bride is another book I discovered from a student recommendation. It addresses a serious issue in India --- dowry deaths. Dowry deaths are the "mysterious accidents" that occur when girl's family cannot pay the promised dowry to her husband's family. Megha finds herself in this situation. One night she overhears her mother-in-law and her husband plotting her death and how to make it look like a kitchen accident. In a panic, she runs. The only place she can think to go is her husband's cousin who has treated her very kindly in the past. He takes her in, regardless of what the consequences will be for them both.

This book was a very good overview of India's controversial dowry system, but it lacked depth. The novel eventually becomes more of a love story and the social and moral issues get lost in the story. The novel takes on a "sweetness", rather than focusing on the horrors of the issue. Everything seems to work out just too perfectly in the end, with there being very few ramifications for the characters. Ramifications are mentioned briefly, but neither of the characters ever really "face the music" for what they have done. In the real world, several characters would have suffered consequences, some of them severe. One review on Amazon compared this book to the Kite Runner, hoping it would bring the same awareness to India's dowry system. I am afraid that will not be the case, simply because the issues take a backseat to the love story.

The author does do an excellent job of showing the growth of Megha, from an insecure girl who has been beaten down by her husband's family to a more confident student who suceeds in finding a real life and choosing her own path. She is a good role model for young girls of all backgrounds. All the characters are believable and well developed. The descriptive writing techniques employed by Bantwal are wonderful. I enjoyed the story and the writing. The best part of the book was the insight she gives into India culture, especially that of conservative Hindu families. Arranged marriages, dowry payments, traditional dress and allegiance to one's promises regardless of the situtaion or outcomes. The portrayal of Indian culture was quite good and makes the novel stand out.

This was Shobhan Bantwal's debut novel and she has two other novels I look forward to reading, The Forbidden Daughter and the Sari Shop Widow. Both of the books take a look at some of India's darkest traditions, female infanticide and treatment of widows.

Rating B

Sunday, December 6, 2009

FREE BOOKS from NCSS Conference

I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to attend the National Council for the Social Studies Conference when it was held in Atlanta a few weeks ago. With budget cuts and almost no staff development funds, this was a huge deal.

While the conference sessions left a bit to be desired for my subjects - very little Geography and almost no European History, there were several benefits from attending...

1. I saw several AP Human Geography reader friends from all across the US.

2. I got to participate in a focus group with 2 authors who are writing a new Human Geography textbook -- this was a GREAT experience! Only 12 were invited and it was a great chance to talk about what we want in a textbook and where our subject is heading.

and the best part....

3. FREE BOOKS! I picked up 13 free books, several of them not available to the public yet. Now that is a book lovers dream!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Lady Elizabeth

by Allison Weir

Review #2 from my written book journal for 2009.

Reading this book was like talking to an old friend. Having read so many books on the Tudors, many of them by Allison Weir, I know the history forward and back. What I liked about the fictional work is the author took many of the rumors about Lady Elizabeth and weaved them in to the story. It made for an interesting life. She also took liberties with a few of my favorite historical characters in Elizabeth's life, Kat Astley and William Cecil, both of whom I liked a great deal in this book. My one complaint is the trivial role Sir Robert Dudley played in the novel, showing up only in the last 10 pages. HOw I would love to see what Allison Weir would do with a relationship between Elizabeth and Sir Robert. Maybe in her next book...

Rating B

19 Minutes

by Jody Picoult

Before I began blogging about the books I read, I kept a written book journal. Since my goal was to review all the books I read this year, I am posting the reviews I have in my book journal for the 3 books I reviewed before my foray into the world of book blogging. This is the first of those books.

I did not expect to like this book. In fact, I resisted reading it for a long time, until a student made me promes I would read it over Winter Break. the main character, shoe does the school shooting, was bullied from the first day of Kindergarten. His only friend deserts him, joing the popular crowd, the ones who bully him. As the story unfolds, you begin to see why he felt this was his only option. As the mother of a child who was bullied at school, I lived and breathed with the mother of the main character. This book created sleepless nights for me as I explored the "what ifs" of our own situation. Upon completion of the book, I found myself empathizing with the boy and felling more than a little sympathetic for the mother. I'm not sure I would say I liked the book nor am I glad I read it, but it did have a profound effect on me.

Rating - C+

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand - October

Eventhough I am a few days late, I just had to post because for the first time I finished everything on my nightstand! Last month I was reading 3 books and I finished them all this month. I have even reviewed two of them and expect to post the third in the next day or two.
This month I am reading -
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
My assistant principal and I share books all the time. This one came from her with high recommendations.
The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner
The story of Juana of Castile, the last Spanish blood queen of Spain
Vive La Revolution by Mark Steel
A series of anecdotes about the French Revolution. This one is research for my AP European History class.
Stark Raving Bibliophile mentioned this book on her blog this summer and I just had to have it. My hope is it will help me explain literature and its importance better to my students as well as make me a better critical reader.
Hopefully, this time next month I can claim to have finished all these too!

Portrait of an Unknown Woman

by Vanora Bennett

Portrait of an Unknown Woman tells the story of Renaissance portrait painter Hans Holbein and Sir Thomas More through the eyes of one of More's adopted children, Meg Giggs. Taking place during the turbulent years of Henry VIII's obsession with Anne Boleyn the book protrays the uncertainty that surrounded the time. At the beginning of the book, the More family is on the rise, having recently moved to their grand country house from London. It is in this light that Hans Holbein arrives to paint a portrait of More and one of his family. Holbein is drawn to Meg and fancies himself in love with her. Meg however is blinded by the return of her one time tutor, John Clement. Meg, having been in love with John for years, quickly finds out her affections are returned and eventually they marry. John's past however is clouded in secrecy. These secrets eventually have an effect on the relationship between Meg and John.

By the end of the book, 5 years later, when Holbein returns to again paint the More family, thier fortunes are on a downward spiral. As Henry seeks a annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragaon and is more drawn to the new "reformed religion", More's strong Catholic beliefs and his campaign to destroy heretics puts him in a precarious situation with the King. Secrets among More's children, wards and their spouses also come to light, putting a strain on the family from within.

What I enjoyed most about the book is the liberal poetic liscence the author took with the historical facts. Amidst the very accurate timeline, social climate of the time and a very historically accurate cast of characters, she creates some very interesting twists, many of which involve they mystery of the Princes in the Tower. While I had most of them figured out , long before they were revealed in the story, it was a very interesting twist on an age old historical mystery.

What I learned most from the book however was just how fanatical More was. He feared the rise of the reformed church so much so that he kept and tortured heretics at his country home. He actively sought out heretics and as a servant of the Crown, brought back the burning of heretics. One of the most memorable scenes from the book involves Meg witnessing a burning and being accousted by the crowd. When she realizes her own father was responsible, her world begins to fall apart, mirroring the destruction of her own family.

Rating - A

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

A World Lit Only By Fire

By William Manchester

I assigned this book to my AP European History class. It is a great, interesting history of Europe’s transition from the Dark Ages through the Renaissance and Reformation.

Manchester takes the reader from what is left of European society after the Black Plague to the completion of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe in a story like fashion. He does not mince words or gloss over the worst part of this time period. He is especially harsh on the Borgia’s, probably with good reason. Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia pope was known for his wild Vatican parties.

“Borgia’s enjoyment of the flesh was enhanced when the woman beneath him was married, particularly if he had presided at her wedding. Breaking any commandment excited him, but he was partial to the seventh.”

Another unusual accomplisment of Pope Alexander VI was his illegitimate daughter, Lucrezia. Lucrezia was an example of the hard life a Renaissance woman faced, especially if her father held any sort of political power. She was married and divorced several times to create alliances that benefitted her father. It is also rumored that she was one of her father’s own mistresses for a time.

Manchester follows the historical path of Martin Luther as he, through his attack on the selling of indulgences, sets the fire that will create the largest schism Europe had seen to date.

“In defying the organized church, Luther had done something else. He had broken the dam of medieval discipline. By his reasoning, every man could be his own priest.”

He addresses how without the protection of Frederick of Saxony, Luther would have been burned as a heretic and the Protestant Reformation we know today would not have happened when and how it did.

He is also not complimentary of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, blaming a great deal of the religious wars that followed on his inability to rule Spain and the Holy Roman Empire at the same time. As he ignored the conflict between Luther and the Pope, he allowed the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire to embrace Luther’s ideas and bring a slow end to an institution that had existed since Charlemagne.

“…the political vacuum being left by the ebbing Holy Roman Empire was being filled by a new phenomenon: the rising nation-states.”

And finally, he is infatuated with the exploits of Ferdinand Magellan.

“In the long lists of history it is difficult to find another figure whose heroism matches Magellan’s.”

I agree that Magellan’s achievements were extremely important in technological advancements, globalization and human achievement; I do not believe he is the greatest hero of modern times.

I chose this book for my class because it is easy to read and Manchester writes in a conversational, interesting style. He sprinkles history with just enough “interesting” facts to hold the attention of high school seniors. But, I also chose it because there is some controversy about his writing of the book. He uses many secondary sources, rather than primary sources from the time and he sprinkles his history with his own biases at times. I really wanted to use this book to teach my students to be critical readers and not just accept whatever is written in a book, especially non-fiction books as the final authority.

Rating - B+

Fall is by far my favorite season. Cooler weather, bright blue skies, changing leaves, football, mums and pansies everywhere, just make me smile. Going to the pumpkin patch and our Halloween Hayride two of my very favorite family traditions. I don't know about everywhere else, but in Georgia, the air just smells better in the fall!

I also love foods associated with fall so when My Friend Amy announced she was hosting a Fall Recipe Challenge I knew I had to participate, not only to share my favorite recipes, but to steal some from others. I just could not decide between a pumpkin recipe or an apple recipe, so I am including both.
The first is an OLD family favorite that my mom made when we were kids. It is an easier take on old fashioned apple dumplings wrapped in pastry.
1 c sugar
1/8 t nutmeg
2 T margarine
2 t baking powder
2/3 c shortening
6 apples, peeled and sliced
1 c water
1/4 c cinnamon red hots
2 c sifted flour
1 t salt
1/2 c milk

Combine sugar, water, nutmeg and cinnamon candy; cook over low heat until candy dissolves. Make dough of flour, baking powder, salt, shortening and milk. Roll to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into strips. Cover bottom of 13 x 9 pan with dough strips. Add apples and sprinkle with more sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Dot with butter. Cover with dough strips. Pour cinnamon syrup over all. Bake at 375 for about 35 minutes. Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream if desired.

The second recipe is from a 1998 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. It is easy and makes enough to share, so I take to school quite often.

2 c all purpose flour
2 c sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t ground cloves
1 15oz can pumpkin
4 large eggs
3/4 c vegetable oil
1 c raisins (good with dried cranberries too)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 c powdered sugar
1/3 c butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 15 x 10 1/2 inch baking sheet. Stir first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Add pumpkin, eggs, and oil and beat until blended. Mix in raisins. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar and butter in medium bowl to blend. Spread frosting on cake in thin layer.

Must be refrigerated. Makes 24 bars.
To add your own favorite fall recipe, link your post here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Sunday Salon - October 11th

This Sunday brings a beautiful, sunny fall day to my corner of the world. The perfect day to sit out on my porch and read. I plan on reading Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman today. I am about 1/3 of the way through this entertaining book about the various mistresses of the kings of Europe over the past 500 years. My one complaint with this book so far is the fact this it is not chronological, but organized by themes, types of mistresses for example. With the number of King Henrys, Charles and Philips through out history, I am having a difficult time keeping track sometimes, and I teach European History, I can imagine that this book would frustrate someone with little knowledge of the chronology behind the book.

This week, I finished Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Verona Bennett. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It follows the family of Sir Thomas More during his rise and eventual fall from grace through the eyes of one of his adopted daughters, Meg Giggs. Not having read much on More, I was very interested in how much actual history was intertwined with the fictional story. Look for my review later this week.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

THe Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood

By Dr. William Sears et all

My children have food sensitivities. They are not diagnosed and their pediatrician and psychologist think I am nuts, but when my kids eat certain things, they act a bit crazy. They are short tempered and emotional and family life is not all that much fun sometimes. Couple that with the fact that my 10 year old son is on medication that makes him have almost no appetite at all and you have a mother that is going crazy trying to get her kids to eat all the right things.

Enter Dr. Sears…. This is one of those books I found just browsing the book store and it seemed like an answer to my prayers and in a way it was. Dr. Sears bases his nutritional advice on his own battle with cancer as well as many, many years as one of the most successful pediatricians in the United States. While all of his strategies do not fit with our way of life, eating styles or preferences, I have made many positive changes in our eating habits that have made a huge difference.

Substituting ½ whole wheat flour for white in recipes
Serving “colorful” vegetables
Protein smoothies for breakfast
Less processed foods
Grazing is healthy
How to read labels correctly

These are just a few of the changes we have made since June and I can tell a difference. With our crazy schedules we sometimes get off track and end up eating out several times a week. When this happens, I can tell a difference in how my kids behave.

My kids are great eaters. They always have been. They love fresh fish, vegetables like asparagus and broccoli and every fresh fruit known to man. The problem was me, not taking the time to feed my family like I should. This book showed me it really is not that hard to feed them food that is healthy.

Rating - A+

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Russian Concubine

by Kate Furnivall

The Russian Concubine is a complex, beautifully written story about a young Russian girl living with her mother in exile, in Junchow, China. Eleven years after the Russian Revolution, the same turmoil threatens China and Lydia Ivanova is caught in the middle of it.

Her mother drinks away her memories of grand old Russia, while Lydia pickpockets their way to survival. She moves easily between the European and Chinese worlds, saved by her street smarts and how easily she is accepted into polite society. She attends a prestigious private school, but just how her mother affords it, is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the book.

Lydia meets a young Chinese man who is involved in the communist movement. They fall in love, and of course danger is always just around the corner. But, the plot of The Russian Concubine is so much deeper that a simple story of forbidden love. The many layers that make up the story keep unfolding; drawing the reader in, wondering what twist the story can possibly take next. The intertwining of Russian and Chinese history and culture makes this a fascinating book. The characters and the tangled webs their lives form makes for an unforgettable story. The final piece to this wonderful book -- the story is based upon the experiences of the author’s own mother as a Russian refugee in China.

I enjoyed this book so much, I made a special trip to Barnes and Noble the day the sequel was released, just to get it. I was thrilled there was another installment to Lydia’s story, as I was not quite ready to let her live happily ever after.

Rating - A

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Sunday Salon - September 27th

Today is a BEAUTIFUL, sunny day and it is much welcomed after the 2 weeks of rain and flooding in Georgia. Most of the day I spent watching my daughter paint. She is determined to enter the school art contest this week and she had devoted hours today to creating a variety of water colors to choose from. She has quite a variety, from owls to flowers to steaming cups of coffee. I am not sure which she will choose, I however have a favorite, but I am trying REALLY hard not to push her towards my choice. We shall see.

My back porch did call to me for a couple of hours today where I finished A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester. I required my AP European History students to read this and I am just finishing the last part on Magellan's voyage and the impact it had on European thought. The book itself is an intriguing look at the transition from the Medieval world to the Renasissance and Reformation. It it an interesting read, even my students will admit that, full of little known tidbits about life in the Middle Ages. Manchester is the author of several other books and his historical research is, I believe, impeccible. His writing style is conversational and easy to follow, even when the history is complicated.

Next on my list is to finish Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Can You Keep a Secret?

by Sophie Kinsella

Can You Keep a Secret is true “ckick lit”, not my usual genre to be sure. In fact I can count on one hand the number of “chick lit” books I have read in my life. But, I was looking for an audio book to download for a seven hour solo trip (one way) and since the options on iTunes are limited, I ended up with this one.

Emma Corrigan, seems to have the perfect life, great job, perfect boyfriend, all the right clothes, until a business trip goes wrong. Her plane experiences turbulence and she spills all of her terrible secrets to the anonymous stranger sitting next to her. Once the crisis is over, she returns to her job, only to find that the “anonymous stranger” is actually the owner of the company she works for. Hilarious events ensue and Emma’s world is turned upside down.

I actually liked Emma, she was funny and the situations she found herself in were actually a bit believable and if they had happened to me I would have been truly horrified. This book exceeded my expectations. It was perfect to listen to while driving as I didn’t have to focus on the plot more than navigating the interstates. Would I run out and by Sophie Kinsella’s books? No, but I will consider downloading one again for traveling.

Rating - B

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - September 23rd

Happy 6th Birthday my Sweet Girl!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand - September

It is that time of the month, the time when I tell you what's on my nightstand to be read. Since today is the official start of the Fall Into Reading Challenge hosted by Katrina at Callapidder Days, this is just a big redundant, but I missed last month and was determined not to miss another one.

Currently I am reading...
World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester
This is a non-fiction book chronicling the history of Europe from the Black Plague through Magellean's voyage around the world. It is a rich, vibrant look at the time periods and the author certainly does not mince words about corruption and lack of morality of the time. This is required reading for my AP European History students, so I are reading it with them.

Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman
Again, research for my AP Euro class. I am really enjoying this irreverant look at the Kings of Europe through the associations with their mistresses. If I had lived during this time, I certainly would have been a mistress, not a queen!

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett
This novel centers on Hans Holbein, portaitist to the royal families of Europe during the Reformation, as he travels to Europe to paint for Sir Thomas More, advisor to King Henry VIII. The story focuses on one of More's wards, Meg. I am just beginning this one and can't wait to read more of it.

Hopefully, next month will find other new titles on my nightstand.

Fall Into Reading Challenge

Today is the first day of fall, my favorite season. I love the colors, smells, holiday, temperatures of fall. I also love fall because it means it is time for Katrina’s Fall Into Reading Challenge! (I have a confession to make, I only began blogging so I could participate in Katrina’s Spring Fling Reading Challenge. It just looked like so much fun.)

I have spent days putting together my list of books to read – I really am a geek – and I’m still not sure I like it. See, Book Blogger Appreciation Week was last week and as I discovered so many new, amazing book blogs, I also found so many more books I wanted to read. Compound that with the books I need to read for school, and the fact that my family will demand clean clothes and food to eat over the next 3 months and you see my dilemma.

Well, anyway here is what I am starting with … I reserve the right to change this list at anytime -

Required for School –
A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester ( I am almost finished with this one)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (started, but it is slowwwww going)

Book Club Books –
September - The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
October - The Mulberry Tree by Jude Deveraux
November – TBD
December - TBD

Fiction –
The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner
The Girl from Junchow by Kate Furnivall
The Dowry Bride by Shobhan Bantwal
Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett
The Brothers Boswell by Philip Baruth
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Non-Fiction –
How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster
Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan
Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman (started)

And, that’s it. For me this is rather ambitious and I hope I can read most of these - to be honest, I really don’t think I can finish A Tale of Two Cities. There are several books on this list that have been sitting on my TBR shelf for too long and I am determined to read them. Good Luck to everyone participating. I look forward to your reviews and adding some of your suggestions to my ever growing list.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Booking Through Thursday 9/17

It has been a while since I had the chance to participate in Booking Through Thursday...
What’s the most enjoyable, most fun, most just-darn-entertaining book you’ve read recently?
(Mind you, this doesn’t necessarily mean funny, since we covered that already. Just … GOOD.)

I LOVED The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall. In fact I liked it so much I made a special trip to the bookstore to buy the sequal, The Girl from Junchow, on the day it was released. Then, school started and I have not had time to read it, but I will!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

First Blog Award!

I was thrilled to get the wonderful award from my friend Steph at Stark Raving Bibliophile. I have only been blogging since March, 2009, so to have people actually read my book reviews is GREAT!

The Lemonade Award is a feel good award that shows great attitude or gratitude. Here are the rules for accepting this award:

  • Put the Lemonade Award logo on your blog or post.
  • Nominate at least 10 blogs that show great attitude or gratitude.
  • Link your nominees with your post.
  • Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
  • Share the love and link to the person from whom you received the award.

Here are some of the blogs I read on a regular basis that inspire me and make my life a little easier.

  • Katrina at Callapider Days---She was the first blog I discovered and fell in love with. Her Spring Reading Challenge is the reason I began blogging.
  • Heather at Age 30+... A Lifetime of Books--- Love her reviews and her book club blog is an inspiration.
  • Marie at The Burton Review --- I share her love of historical fiction and her Friday Fill-ins are great.
  • Allie at Hist-Fic Chick --- I have to visit her blog sparingly or I end up at Barnes and Noble with a bag full of historical fiction books she has reviewed.
  • Jennifer at Snapshot --- She reviews wonderful books for kids and young adults. My son's reading list is richer because of her blog.
  • Laura at I'm An Organizing Junkie--- I have time to read because of Laura's great tips and especially her Meal Plan Monday.
  • Carrie at It's Frugal Being Green--- She makes me pay attention to frugal, environmental size of me that tries really hard to hide! I have found lots of inspiration on her site.
  • Ashley at Make It and Love It--- She makes things I can only dream of. Wish I had her talent.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

In honor or BBAW, I wanted to share some of my very favorite book blogs. These are the ones I try to read on a daily basis.

Hist-Fic Chick
My Cozy Book Nook
My Round File
Lost in Books
The Literate Housewife
Stark Raving Biliophile

Wordless Wednesday September 16th

Chinon, France - June 2008

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Sunday Salon

For teachers, school started on August 3rd. The last book I finished was on August 2nd!! I was so glad this week to find time to pick up a book and really READ.

This week I started and finished Philippa Gregory's The Other Queen. I also read part of The Prince and I am working my way through A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester. The last two are for the European History class I am teaching, so they really don't "count" as pleasure reading.

Today, I spent a great deal of time outside planting my fall/winter garden, but I have also managed to read Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman. This is a fun, eye opening read about royal mistresses throughout history. I am hooked! Not much in here I can share with my European History class, but I am sure enjoying the exploits of Europe's royal families. Our American politicians look really dull and puritainistic (is that a real word?) next to the kings of Europe.

And finally, my most exciting news of the day.... I received my first blog award from my friend Steph at Stark Raving Bibliophile. Thanks!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Finally!!! I finished a book! The Other Queen

by Philippa Gregory

Finally, I found the time to read a book. This is the first book I have finished since school started on August 3rd. Let me tell you, I MISS reading!!! I made myself a promise I will not do this again. Yeah, right. Grading papers, making lesson plans, staying one step ahead of my European History class, 13.5 hours per week at the ball park, dinner, laundry, homework, time with my wonderful husband and dear children… yeah, it might be awhile before I finish another book, so I will just enjoy this one.

Philippa Gregory is one of those authors I love because of where I discovered her. In the summer of 2004 I took a group of 5 girls to England and Ireland. I had picked up a copy of The Other Boleyn Girl at the airport. All 5 of us traded this one copy back and forth all during the trip. Reading this book as we discovered the beauty of England was magical. Touring Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey and The Tower of London all while reading and incessantly discussing the book made it come alive in a way no other book had before. In Westminster we found the tomb of Mary Carey and her husband. We discovered the tomb of Anne Boleyn in the chapel at the Tower of London. Tower Green, the Crown Jewels, the Royal Apartments and the dungeons of the Tower made the story so real. The fascinating place that is Winsor Castle was amazing. Thus began my love affair with the books of Philippa Gregory. Say what you will about historical inaccuracies in her books, her descriptive, imaginative writing draws me in every time.

Westminster Abbey

The Other Queen is Gregory’s story about the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots by Elizabeth I. During this time, Mary is kept under the guard of George, Earl of Shrewsberry and his wife Bess at a variety of their homes and castles. It is a disaster from the start. Bess is a self-made woman. She has made marrying well an art form and through her 4 marriages has earned the title of Countess and amassed property and treasures in her own right. Mary, an ordained Queen has been raised in the French court, married to the King of France and is a Scots Queen on the run. She seeks shelter from the Scots rebels in England and finds herself the prisoner, although in a very luxurious prison, of her cousin, the Queen of England.

The book follows the intimate relationships that develop, the hardship of supporting the court of an exiled queen as well as the various plots to free Mary. Gregory does a good job of telling the story from the viewpoints of Bess, Mary and George, without favoring one character over another. I could easily view each side and understand the actions and reactions of the characters.

Prior to this book, I had not read much about Mary, Queen of Scots, but now I am very interested in learning more about her. Off to see if Alison Weir (my favorite Tudor biographer) has written about Mary….

Rating - A

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fall Into Reading Challenge Is Coming

The start of school always stops my reading progress in its tracks. I have not even opened a book for 5 weeks! My husband asked the other day why I was so grumpy and I really didn’t have a good explanation. After thinking about it, I really believe it is because I have not had time to read - relax and escape – in such a long time. BUT, I have just the event to remedy that! Katrina at Callapidder Days announced the Fall Into Reading Challenge is coming next week. Immediately, I began collecting a list of books I can’t wait to read and review. So, if you need a reading jumpstart, head over the Callapidder Days this week and join the fun.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury

I am not sure how I did it, but I managed to make it to 41 years old without having read this book. Unbelievable. My high school students could not believe I had not read it and challenged me to read it over the summer. My book club chose it for our August read and I can’t wait until we meet to discuss it.

I think I liked the book so much because I read it in Ray Bradbury’s “future”. The book was published in 1953, written during the era of McCarthyism, just after Hitler’s burning of books in World War II and at the beginning of the nuclear arms race. It addresses how society has become listless, uninvolved, self-centered and drugged by the media. It is illegal to own or to read books. Firemen, instead of putting out fires, set them, to destroy that which could destroy society. Montag, the main character is a fireman and happily goes about his business, until he meets a young girl, Clarisse. Clarisse is considered quite mad because she refuses to submit to the restrictions of society. When she suddenly disappears, Montag begins to see his world differently, even stealing books from fires and reading them.

Ray Bradbury’s “future” really is so much like our present. He alludes to the Ipod, big screen TVs, the importance of the media, reality tv, wars no one really pays attention to, high use of medication, and the lack of importance on education. As I read the book, I realized he could be talking about us. While we don’t burn books and it isn’t illegal to own them, there are so many people who self-censor themselves by simply choosing NOT to read. To ignore the knowledge and ideas of others. To ignore the past, when we could learn so much from it. To ignore the beauty of words and instead feast on the abbreviated, abridged drivel of movies and television.

There is still a lesson to be learned from Fahrenheit 451 – society is a reflection of what we allow to happen. The importance of education, including self-education, is critical to the growth and development of both ourselves and our society.

Rating - A+

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Sunday Salon - Summer Reading Review

Tonight is my very last night of summer vacation. The students arrive tomorrow and the lazy days with lots of reading time will be over. Instead of boring you with all the millions of things I did this week, which did not include much reading, I want to take a look at the books I read this summer.

I read 15 books this summer, which is really pretty good for me. The best part is that there is NOT ONE romance or quick mystery on there. Because I have discovered the wonderful world of book blogs, my reading choices have broadened. Now, I have always read a variety of books, but they just leaned a little heavy on the quick, easy to read variety.

I read 3 classics that I had not read before, Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (well, I read it in high school, but I didn’t really READ it) and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I loved all of them, especially Fahrenheit 451. How did I make it to 41 without having read this book??? However, I think I liked it so much BECAUSE I read it in 2009. Bradbury’s ideas of what would be futuristic and far-fetched are now common place. The seashell ear piece = the Ipod, the viewing of his flight from the city on TV = reality TV and big screen TVs and home theaters are so similar to his ideas of the wall to wall TV. It makes you think….

I had a World War II theme going without even trying. I read The Reader, Snow Falling on Cedars and The Book Thief. This was after I read Skeletons at the Feast and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in April. I enjoyed the many different perspectives each novel ____ on this period of history. Of these, The Book Thief was my favorite, how can you not like a book narrated by death?

I was surprised to see how many non-fiction books I read this summer. I usually read a lot of non-fiction during the school year to supplement my historical and geographic research, so imagine my surprise when I realized that 5 of my 10 books were of the non-fiction genre. I liked Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson. Thank you Stephanie for the recommendation.

I discovered one new author, Kate Furnivall, the author of The Russian Concubine. I enjoyed the characters in this book so much I made a special trip to Barnes and Noble to get the sequel, The Girl from Junchow the day it was released. I look forward to reading many more novels by this author.

And that is a quick review of my summer reading experience. While I did not get reviews written for each book, I promise, they are coming, just as soon as I write a few lesson plans.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - July 29th

I had a lovely beach picture from our vacation all picked out for today, but last night we picked up this cutie pie and my plans changed!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand - July

July has been a busy reading month! I finished 7.75 books. That is a lot of reading for me, even during the summer. Going back to school next week is really going to slow my reading pace and I am going to miss my mornings sitting on my back porch with a cup of coffee and my books.

This month I finished:
Salt - A World History
Snow Falling on Cedars
To Kill a Mockingbird
In the Wake of the Plague
The Russian Concubine
The Book Thief

I am almost finished with (my .75 book)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Next on my nightstand
Vive La Revolution by Mark Steele
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella (this one on audio for my trip to KY this week)
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (my book club pick for September)
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston - this is a re-read to prepare to teach it in class the second week of August
and if I can squeeze it in...
The Girl from Junchow by Kate Furnivall - this the sequel to The Russian Concubine

What's on your nightstand this month?
For more great book lists visit 5 Minutes for Books.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak

It seems I am the last person on earth to read this book! Somehow I missed this one and just recently picked it up at my favorite place in the world… Barnes and Noble. When choosing my books to take on our beach trip last week, The Book Thief just kept calling to me from the shelf,….”Take me, read me, you will like me….”, so I did. And The Book Thief was right, I did like the book.

For those of you living under a rock, like me, the book is set in Munich during World War II. It follows the story of a Liesel, a 10 year old girl and the people who touch her life during the war. The book is narrated by Death. This in and of itself makes the book different, but what makes it amazing is the writing. The story is beautifully written and pulls you along with beautiful characters that make you ache with sorrow and smile at the love shared between the most unlikely people. This is a story of what it was like to live in Germany during the war and it pulls no punches. Hunger, fear, inhumanity and death all play a prominent role, but so does love and compassion, friendship and learning.

As a reader, the central theme of Liesel learning to read and the way she acquires the books she reads, thorough stealing them, really hits home. The world that opens up for her thorough books is what keeps her going though the war. The relationship she builds with the mayor’s wife and her library takes some amazing turns. The comfort her books bring to others is just another thread that draws a group of unlikely people together, to survive.

The best part of the book however was the author’s style. The book is full of interjections from Death as the story goes along. He will explain things, including himself and his duty, as well as give you teasers of what is to come. In a book that should be dark, drab and depressing, Death uses colors and the most beautiful imagery to tell Liesel’s story.

“It felt as though the whole globe was dressed in snow. Like it has pulled it on, the way you pull on a sweater.”

“The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper streaked across the redness.”

Now, who wouldn’t want to read a book written that beautifully? I am just sorry It took me so long to read this book.

Rating - A+

The Sunday Salon

This week found my family at the beach sharing a beautiful beach house with our neighbors. It was a fantastic week. Our kids are all the same age and get along wonderfully. Our husbands are friends and have similar interests, but the best part of the trip was that my neighbor Julie is a reader. Leaving hours of beach and pool time open, not to mundanely talk about the too small bikini on the lady next to use, but to read fabulous and wonderful books!

During the 4 perfect days we spent on the Emerald Coast, I finished The Russian Concubine by Kay Furnivall, started and finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and begain Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It was a very successful reading trip. Reviews of all books will follow soon, but I enjoyed The Russian Concubine so much I went out and bought the sequel, The Girl from Junchow to read next. The Book Thief was an excellent read, so much so, I am thinking of making it required reading in my AP European History class this fall. Fahrenheit 451 is my book club selection for this month. My students can’t believe I have not read this classic, but I am enjoying it so far. I do not read futuristic novels, but this one has grabbed my attention. We shall see. My goal is to finish before I start back to school on August 3rd.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Booking Through Thursday 7/24

From Booking Through Thursday

Which do you prefer? (Quick answers–we’ll do more detail at some later date)

Reading something frivolous? Or something serious? Serious
Paperbacks? Or hardcovers? Hardcovers
Poetry? Or Prose? Prose
Fiction? Or Nonfiction? Fiction
Biographies? Or Autobiographies? Biographies
History? Or Historical Fiction? Historical Fiction
Series? Or Stand-alones? Both
Classics? Or best-sellers? Best-sellers
Lurid, fruity prose? Or straight-forward, basic prose? Basic
Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? Plots
Long books? Or Short? Long
Illustrated? Or Non-illustrated? Non-illustrated
Borrowed? Or Owned? Owned
New? Or Used? New

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My "Little" Literary Shopping Spree

I was a very bad girl today! I went book shopping for our upcoming beach vacation. Not that I needed any books, but my historical fiction tbr is seriously lacking and I really wanted to take a good one on vacation, soooooo I visited some blog friends.... big mistake! Marie at The Burton Review had reviewed Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant and after reading her review, I just HAD to have it. On Marie's blog, I also found Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross and The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner. Stephanie at Laughing Stars, listed How to Read Literature Like a Professor on her blog today and well, that went on my list too. In addition to these, I picked up 6 more books, for a total of 10!! My husband it going to take away my Am Ex card, but at least I will have enough to read until I get it back!

Booking Through Thursday 7/16

Follow-up to last week’s question:
Do you keep all your unread books together, like books in a waiting room? Or are they scattered throughout your shelves, mingling like party-goers waiting for the host to come along?

I keep my TBR books in several locations and each has it's own purpose...

  • The books I am planning to read next are stacked up on the table beside my bed - usually no more than 5 or 6, if it is more, I feel like they are going to topple over on me while I sleep.
  • Books I need to read for research for the classes I teach are on a shelf in my office.
  • There is a basket of books in my bedroom that I should read, but I am just not in the mood and may never be...
  • There are also some in my closet, can't remember why they are there and not with the others????
  • All others, and there are many, are on the book shelves in my great room. This is where I go to pull books for my stack by my bed when it is getting low.

How about you, where do you keep your TBR books? For more interesting answers, go to Booking Through Thursday.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In the Wake of the Plague

By Norman Cantor

I selected this book to read for background on the plague in Europe in the 14th century. The European History course I will teach in the fall begins with this catastrophic event. It was not quite what I expected. Norman Cantor is a respected medieval historian and I expected a detailed historiography of the events and the consequences of the plague on Western Europe. There was some of this, but also so detailed stories of individuals and how their deaths may have changed history. One of my favorite theories discussed in the book is that the death of Princess Joan before her marriage to the Prince of Castile was the beginning of the end of the Plantagenet rule of England. His arguments are strong and he makes an excellent case. Overall I learned a great deal about Europe after the plague and how politically and religiously it had changed. Although it dragged in some parts and I felt he repeated himself a great deal, I have some great information to share with my students in the fall.

Rating - B

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Sunday Salon

My book club met on Sunday. As usual it was a great get together on a typical southern summer night - great food, inexpensive wine (and lots of it), singing tree frogs and one HUGE thunderstorm. As we sat on my back porch eating way too much and watching the rain come down, we discussed Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. (You can read my review here.)

I spent time reading In the Wake of the Plague – the Black Death and the World It Made by Norman Cantor to prepare for the European History class I will be teaching in the fall. I am also reading Freefall by Anna Levine. My big project for this week is to collect books to take with me for our beach vacation next week. I wonder how many books I can read sitting by the pool for 4 days?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reading Lolita in Tehran

by Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi conducted a class in her home in Tehran, Iran for 2 years. During this class, Nafisi and seven of her former female students studied forbidden western classic literature. Nafisi writes her memoir through a series of four books they read, each paralleling a particular time in the turbulent uprisings in Iran during this time period. She also flashes back to her time as a student in the US, her return to Iran and the time of the Iran Hostage Crisis. She laments the loss of freedoms for women, especially the loss of university education. She details her part in student protests as well as her own refusal to change her teaching or to wear the veil. She explains the events of the revolutions in Iran from a personal perspective, but without a fanatical approach. It is a very believable story.

I felt one of the most effective ways she portrayed the different views on the revolution was through her discussions on the different perspectives of her students regarding the wearing of the veil. One of the ladies wore the veil before the laws requiring it. She and all the women in her family had worn it as a symbol of their religious beliefs. She felt the laws requiring all women to wear the veil were belittling to her religious beliefs, it not longer had significance to her. While, at the other end of the spectrum, you have Nafisi, refusing to wear it while she taught and always being reprimanded for wearing it incorrectly.
The best part of reading this book for me what the timely manner in which my book club chose to read it. I finished the last chapters in the book just as the protests against Ahmadinejad’s election began. At the end of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi comments that the younger generation in Iran is ripe for change. Maybe this is the beginning.

Rating - B+

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Fill-Ins

1. The last thing I ate was Zaxby's Zensation Chicken Salad and a Coke.

2. Two pairs of Cole Hann shoes is something I recently bought.

3. When it rains, it is cause for celebration!

4. My husband was the first person I talked to today.
5. Hugs are best when they come from your kids.

6. A homemade quilt is extra comfort.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to Bunco, tomorrow my plans include not much of anything and Sunday, I want to enjoy my book club meeting!
For more great answers, visit Friday Fill Ins.

Salt - A World History

By Mark Kurlansky

Salt – A World History traces the production of salt through history, from the first recorded salt production in China in 800 B.C. to 1997, when Morton Salt officially becomes the largest salt company in the world. Kurlansky addresses salt production on all continents (except Antarctica) paying particular attention to the ways salt is mined, evaporated, transported, taxed and used both in cooking, medicine and chemical production. But, the best parts of the book deal with how history has been shaped by salt. For example, when the Greeks and Romans conquered a territory the first thing they did was either take over or build a saltworks. The medieval trading superpower, Venice was built first on the trade of salt, then on other spices, fabrics and exotic goods. The first revolts of the French Revolution were over the taxation of salt. Gandhi started his campaign against the British rule of India by purposefully breaking the British salt laws. These are just some of the interesting historical facts the are based in the trade and production of salt.

This is the second book of this type I have read. The first was And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. It is one of my favorite books of all time. The author is in fact one of my Facebook friends. I enjoyed this one almost as much. It is interspersed with OLD recipes using salt, such as how to make salt cod and herring, proscuitto de Parmi, parmesano reggiano and even soy sauce. In a sea of boring world history books, this one is unique, offering a very interesting perspective on what might have caused history to take some of the turns it has.

This is the third book I have finished for My Cozy Book Nook's Summer Vacation Challenge. Read my list of books and other reviews here.

Rating - B+

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Booking Through Thursday 7/9

An idea I got from The Toddled Dredge (via K for Kat). Here’s what she said:
“So here today I present to you an Unread Books Challenge. Give me the list or take a picture of all the books you have stacked on your bedside table, hidden under the bed or standing in your shelf – the books you have not read, but keep meaning to. The books that begin to weigh on your mind. The books that make you cover your ears in conversation and say, ‘No! Don’t give me another book to read! I can’t finish the ones I have!’

I am almost embarrassed to post this list (almost). There are 27 book on my immediate must read list. This does not include at least 30 others sitting on my shelves that I have no idea when I will get around to reading. This quite an eclectic list, I teach geography which explains all the geography related books. I am also teaching Advanced Placement European History for the first time this year, so there are several books to help me research different time periods I will be teaching. Others are just a random selection of recommended books as well as those that were just too good to pass up at the book store. And, the one sci-fi-ish book, Fahrenheit 451 is my book clubs pick for August. Now, I need several days (weeks) to just read!

Why Geography Matters by Harm de Blij
The Sea Monsters by Rick Riordan
In the Wake of the Plague by Norman Cantor
Vive la Revolution by Mark Steel
Freefall by Anna Levine
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario
What to Read When by Pam Allyn
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Sisters by Mary Lovell
Land of a Thousand Hills by Rosamond Carr
The Diplomat’s Wife by Pan Jenoff
Delivered from Distraction by Dr. Edward Hallowell and Dr. John Ratey
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
The Romanov’s – The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie
The Essential 55 by Ron Clark
Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman
The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman
Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan
Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund
Teaching Geography by Phil Gersmehl
The Annotated Mona Lisa by Carol Strickland

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Snow Falling on Cedars

by David Guterson

I read this book as part of My Cozy Book Nook's Summer Vacation Reading Challenge. Here is my original list and other reviews for this challenge.

In 1954, on San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, a Japanese American is on trial for the murder of a local fisherman. Coming so soon after the events of World War II, specifically, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the evacuation of the island’s Japanese descendants to interment camps, the proceedings are just a little twisted. Add to this a long ago romantic connection between two people closely related to the case and you have a story.

The story jumps from the trial to the investigation to events occurring before and during the war. This is the only thing that keeps the story interesting. I could not get into the story at all, probably because I did not like the characters very much. In fact, I really didn’t care what happened to them in the end. They seemed lifeless and passionless for such important events to be taking place. One of the reasons I kept reading was because I knew something dramatic just had to happen, but it never did.

The writing however was excellent. I enjoyed the descriptions of the scenery of the Pacific Northwest. I specifically enjoyed how the author set the stage for the snow storm that takes place during the trial. The flashback scenes were some of the best in the book. From the Manzanar interment camp to the island battlefields of the war, the descriptions and writing were what kept me reading the book.

Rating - C+