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Monday, November 28, 2016

Winter Sky


Winter Sky
by
Chris Stewart

Blurb:

"In  a bombed-out Polish village during World War II, a young resistance fighter finds that he is suddenly alone and trapped between two opposing armies. He is one of Poland's 'Devil's Rebels' fighting desperately to save his homeland, but an injury has erased his memory and his only possession is a torn photograph of a couple he assumes are his parents. The woman appears to be holding the hand of a young child whose image has been ripped off. Could the child be him? Caught in the crosshairs of the retreating German army and the advancing Russian forces, the village holds nothing but destruction and despair until a mysterious young woman offers a small glimmer of hope that may represent his last chance--news of a refugee train departing from a nearby town, headed for American installations at the border. But complications arise when the resistance fighter is betrayed by his own countryman and hunted by the German SS officers who are determined to kill him before they retreat. Desperately searching for a home and family he can't remember, he is persuaded to rescue two children who are doomed to die without his help. As time runs out, the former rebel is faced with an impossible choice. Standing at the crossroads of saving himself or risking his life for strangers, what would motivate a young man at the brink of salvation to make one more sacrifice?"

My Review:

I've read many World War II books; some true and others fictional; some about soldiers and some about everyday citizens; some about Jews and others about those who helped the Jews; some about people from Holland and others about people from Germany, Italy, or the United States. It doesn't seem to matter who it is that the story is describing, I'm always fascinated by the strength of the people in these stories. We always hear about "The Greatest Generation," and I think there is a lot of truth to that. The people in these stories seem to be bursting with courage, bravery, determination, a good work ethic, a sense of pride in their country, strong morals, and the ability to do the right thing even when it seems impossible or could have grave consequences. This book is no different. Lucas is an interesting character because he can't remember anything. He doesn't know who he is or where he is from. Why do the townspeople stare at him? Why do they not want him there? Where should he go and what should he do? I can't imagine being in that position. I like Lucas as a character. I think he is well developed and real. I like that he has flaws, and that he also has strengths. It is interesting to watch him as he begins to slowly figure things out a little bit, and to see how that affects him. Is he who he thought he was? Is he who he wants to be? Aron and Cela are also great characters. They too have such great strength. Even though they are fictional, I like to hope that there were children as wise and strong as they are in the story. My kids can be wussies sometimes, but then other times they surprise me with the things they can handle. I hope they'd be as strong as Aron and Cela if they had to be. The story line in this book has a few surprises; I may or may not have figured them out before, but it plays out well. I thought this book was well written. There is such a good moral to this story. It is inspiring and uplifting. I really enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it!

Rating: PG-13+ (There isn't any profanity or "intimacy." There is quite a bit of violence though. It is a war and people are shot at, and shot and killed, with at least one character dying, and that death is graphic.There are also descriptions of the starving and war-torn villagers.)

Rating: 14 years old and up. 
  • I'm debating on this one. I'll let my 15 year-old read it, but I'm not sure about my 13 year-old. I may see how my fifteen-year old handles it first. The thing is, it can't be much more graphic than the last Harry Potter, and he read that when he was in third grade. This is more real though, which is harder to read. 
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children



Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children 
by
  Ransom Riggs

Blurb:

"A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of peculiar photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its decaying bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that Miss Peregrine's children were more than just peculiar. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow-impossible though it seems-they may still be alive."

My Review:

Months ago my book group decided to read this book in October for Halloween. At that point I got on the library's website and there was a very long waiting list for this book. I managed to get the book a few days before book group, which I was really excited about. Then I got sick. And I did nothing but read and sleep for two days. I missed book group, but I finished the book. I love the uniqueness of this book. I love that it's based on real collections of old photos. When I started reading this book I didn't realize that the photographs were real. These photos are old, and peculiar is definitely a good way to describe them! I enjoyed looking through the photos; that was one of my favorite parts of this book. The writing is well done; it is easy to read, flows well, and is interesting. There are twists and turns along the way that keep you turning pages. As you read you become involved in the lives of each of these different characters and you begin to care about them. You begin to be scared, happy, and worried about them. Jacob is a good kid. He witnessed a horrible scene and was thrown into a world that he didn't even know existed. I liked him as a character and thought he was well written. Overall, I enjoyed this book. It's a little dark, a bit depressing, and very peculiar, but at the same time it speaks of loyalty, friendship, and taking care of those who can't take care of themselves. 

Rating: PG-13+ (There is some profanity. There's not a ton, but the words used are a little harsher than just the "normal" ones. There's no "intimacy" besides the hint of romance and some almost-kissing. There is some violence. Animals are slaughtered and several characters die in graphic ways.)

Recommendation: 16 years-old and up. ( I have a 15 year-old son, and I didn't feel comfortable with him reading that profanity, so I decided to make him wait a year or so longer. I know he hears profanity at school, but that doesn't mean I feel comfortable having him read it.)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Real Liddy James



The Real Liddy James by Anne-Marie Casey

Blurb:

"Forty-four, fit, and fabulous, Liddy James is one of New York's top divorce attorneys, a bestselling author, and a mother of two. Armed with a ruthless reputation and a capsule wardrobe, she glides through the courtrooms and salons of the Manhattan elite with ease. What's her secret? Liddy will tell you: "I don't do guilt!" This is the last thing literature professor Peter James wants to hear. Devastated by his divorce from Liddy six years earlier, the two have a tangled history his new partner, Rose, is only just sorting out. But Rose is a patient woman with faith in a well-timed miracle and she's determined to be sympathetic to Peter's plight. Together, Liddy, Peter, and Rose have formed a modern family to raise Liddy and Peter's truculent teen and Liddy's darling, if fatherless, six-year-old. But when Rose announces she's pregnant, Liddy's nanny takes flight, the bill for a roof repair looms, and a high-profile divorce case becomes too personal, Liddy realizes her days as a guilt-free woman might be over. Following a catastrophic primetime TV interview, she carts her sons back to Ireland to retrace their family's history. But marooned in the Celtic countryside things are still far from simple, and Liddy will have to come to terms with much more than a stormy neighbor and an unorthodox wedding if she ever hopes to rediscover the real Liddy James."

My Review:

I think I'm about as opposite from Liddy James as is possible! She's from New York; I've been there once. She's a divorced high profile attorney, and I've been married for 18 years, am a stay-at-home mom/substitute at the school, and I've never been in a court room. She has red hair and I'm blonde (no blonde jokes, please :). However, we are both mothers, and that definitely counts for something, right? Liddy may not be likable or relatable all the time, but she is an interesting character. Even though I don't have much in common with her, there were still a few times that I could relate to Liddy. I thought she was well written and developed. She was not my favorite character though. Rose felt like she could be my friend. She was much more on my level. I liked her a lot. Whereas Liddy felt contrived, Rose felt real. I definitely related to Rose and her concerns for Matty and Cal, and wanting to stay at home. Peter was a great character as well. You could just imagine his eye-rolls a few times with the women in his life and all their drama. He may not have been perfect, but who is? Rose and Liddy weren't perfect either, and that's what made them more believable as characters. I really liked the first 3/4 of this book. I liked the writing and the flow and the characters. I liked the story line and the dialogue. Then the last 1/4 of the book came along. It was ok, but it just didn't seem to fit. It was kind of a whole different story. I get that it was a last minute rash decision that Liddy made, and maybe it was necessary, but it just.....well, it was ok, but anticlimactic. I'm still glad I finished, but I had high hopes for a better ending. This would make a good book group pick, I think. It could make for some good discussion!

Rating: R (There is little to no profanity and no violence. There are, however, some adult themes and issues addressed. "Intimacy" is talked about and discussed, but there are no scenes. There is an affair, divorce, and drugs are briefly discussed.)

Recommendation: Adult (May be ok for some 18+)

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined


The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined 
by Salman Khan

Blurb:

"A free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere: this is the goal of the Khan Academy, a passion project that grew from an ex-engineer and hedge funder's online tutoring sessions with his niece, who was struggling with algebra, into a worldwide phenomenon. Today millions of students, parents, and teachers use the Khan Academy's free videos and software, which have expanded to encompass nearly every conceivable subject; and Academy techniques are being employed with exciting results in a growing number of classrooms around the globe. In The One World Schoolhouse, Khan presents his radical vision for the future of education, as well as his own remarkable story, for the first time. With a shrewd reading of history, Khan explains how the crisis in contemporary education emerged, and why a return to "mastery learning," abandoned in the twentieth century and ingeniously revived by tools like the Khan Academy, could offer the best opportunity to level the playing field, and to give all of our children a world-class education now. More than just a solution, The One World Schoolhouse serves as a call for free, universal, global education, and an explanation of how Khan's simple yet revolutionary thinking can help achieve this inspiring goal."

My Review:

As an educator, finding ways to improve education is important to me. I have utilized Khan's math videos over the years as I have tried to help my junior high kids with their math. Over the summer I was the mean mom who had all four of her children doing homework every day. Yep, even the junior high kids. And this year instead of buying workbooks or printing my own worksheets each day, I had my kids do the Khan Academy math. It was awesome! They thought it was their favorite program out of all the ones I've tried (I've tried a lot). I loved that there are videos and tips for when the kids get stuck.

Anyway, slight tangent....the book! I have always been impressed with Khan Academy, and was really excited to read Mr. Khan's book. Wow. After reading this book I have hope for some great things in education, especially math education. Although I can't say that I agree with everything Mr. Khan presented in this book, he sure does have a way of getting the reader excited about education. He has some great ideas. This book flows so well. He does a very good job of presenting his ideas in a non-boring way (at least that's what I thought). My favorite part about his philosophy is that the kids learn the math material and watch the videos at home the night before and then get the chance during class to do the homework, ask questions, and truly understand the material. This just makes so much more sense to me. I'm dealing with this right now in my house. I have ninth and eighth grade boys, and they bring home difficult math homework. My husband is super smart in math and science. He has two bachelor degrees and two masters degrees, and all of them have something to do with math or science. So usually if my boys have math homework I send them to my husband. Even though he is super smart, they will sometimes be up until 11:00 or later because it's tough and my husband has to relearn it. Even if he remembers it, they are probably teaching it in a new way now, and he'll need to learn how to do it the new way. Switching the process around like Mr. Khan wants to do is brilliant. It eliminates the need to stress parents and kids out by allowing the teacher to help with the homework. The only problem I have is with the early readers. I still think the current model is best because there are more things involved with reading, but who knows, maybe I'd be surprised. I enjoyed reading about how Khan Academy is implementing its philosophy in whole schools, and the successes they've had there. If you like to learn about education and want to hear Mr. Khan's philosophy, this book is for you! I'm definitely recommending it to all my teacher-friends!

Rating: G (It's clean)

Recommendation: High School and up. I don't know if high school kids would even be interested in this, but it could be a good basis for a research project or something. I think adults will definitely enjoy it more.