Thursday, March 31, 2011

Alphabet Glue and Other Inspiration

Books are sacred in our house.  Noodlebug doesn't have much choice when it comes to being a booklover.  At almost three, he has a book collection to rival any adult's.  I am always looking for ways to engage him in reading and I was excited to see that Annie over at Bird and Little Bird has created the first issue of an e-zine called ALPHABET GLUE that includes "activities and inspiration for kids who love books." 

Annie is a special education and literacy teacher and has come up with some really fun activities for kids in the first issue including Mix and Match Story Cards and a Library Scavenger Hunt. I bought a copy of the first issue and can't wait to try some of the activities out with Noodlebug. I consider this inspiration a bargain at $4.  Get your own issue here.

I also picked up a copy of PEAK WITH BOOKS which is part of the Moving Beyond the Page homeschooling curriculum.   It is a literature-based interdisciplinary program for preschoolers.  Although some of the activities are too advanced for Noodlebug right now, we are starting to read the books from the program so that he will be familiar with them. I am also trying to institute a monthly visit to the library to pick out books. We won't be homeschooling but I love looking for ways to do enrichment at home. These will be great activities in that in-between time between coming home and eating dinner.  (when we aren't outside, of course!)

How do you get the children in your life engaged with books?

I owe you some reviews and I promise they are coming.  I got derailed by Spring Break but I DID get some reading done.  Hope you are all well!

Monday, March 28, 2011

SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

It is 1980s Atlanta and Dana Lynn Yarboro has a secret.  Her father is a bigamist. James Witherspoon met Dana's mother, Gwen, when he was already married and fell in love with her.  When Gwen became pregnant, James took her across state lines and married her illegally. Now, Dana and her mother are James' secret family. They know about his legitimate family but the legitimate family doesn't know about them. James married his legitimate wife as a teenager when she got pregnant.  Although they lost that baby, years later they had a daughter named Chaurisse born four months after Dana.  Dana watches Chaurisse from afar year after year envying her the public family life and advantages that she has. Although James works very hard to keep his two families separate, the girls almost inevitably meet and strike up a friendship.  Chaurisse still doesn't know the truth but the friendship forces things to a heartbreaking climax and conclusion.

This is a story about two African-American families in Atlanta during the 80s who face very different truths about their lives. The choices that James makes has far-reaching consequences for everyone involved as they confront inequalities on many different levels. The first part of the book tells the story from Dana's point-of-view.  By the end of the first half, the reader is highly sympathetic to Dana and her mother. The second half of the book is told by Chaurisse and the change in perspective forces the reader to confront his/her view of the situation. Nothing is black and white.  No one will escape this situation unscathed.

This book is highly readable.  I couldn't put it down. I was fascinated by the situation and how everything was going to pan out. I was a little disappointed that the author didn't delve more into why each individual made the choices that they did. The story mostly stays on a surface level and the ending seemed to wrap up too quickly. I'm not sure I really believed in how everything turned out. However, the story really interesting and original and often heartbreaking. 

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  This is a very different kind of book with a truly original story to tell. I thought the characters of Dana and Chaurisse were both really well done.  My only frustration was that I felt there was much more to tell. Especially in terms of the characters' motivations.

Friday, March 25, 2011


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

As regular readers of my blog know, I am sucker for books about family secrets and mysteries wrapped up in books and letters.  SANDALWOOD TREE promised to offer both.  In 1947, right before the end of the British rule of India, Evie Mitchell and her young son join her husband in India as he pursues a Fulbright scholarship.  Evie looks at this trip as both an adventure and an attempt to save her marriage to her tortured husband who came home from the war damaged. When Evie explores the bungalow they are renting, she discovers a packet of letters that chronicle a friendship between two women nearly ninety years before.  Evie becomes desperate to know more about these women and attempts to find more information as she uses this mystery as a form of escape from the dissatisfaction she feels about her life and marriage.  As Evie attempts to untangle her Victorian mystery, she must also confront the dangers of the India that is collapsing around her and the secrets that her own husband carries.

This book started off very slowly for me.  For some reason, I just wasn't being drawn in by the characters. I loved the idea, however, so I pressed on.  Initially, Newmark gives a voice to both Evie and to the Victorian friends named Felicity and Adela. About halfway through, however, we lose the perspective of Adela and Felicity and only learn of their stories through the clues that Evie finds.  This is when the book became more enjoyable to me. I found the Victorian story much more compelling when it was revealed through the clues that Evie found.  I also loved the many sides of India that Evie discovers in her search. It is such an interesting period of Indian history and I love how Newmark revealed the complexities of this time. 

While the beginning wasn't promising, I ended up loving this book. I admit that I cried more than once.  Evie, Felicity and Adela were all very different women and they each threw off the conventions of the times they lived in in their own way.  I loved their independent spirits and the way they valued the relationships in their lives.  Evie's relationship with her husband and young son were also very compelling.  Overall, I loved the story and find myself underlining several passages.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. After a rough start, this ended up being a wonderful book. A compelling story about two very different periods in Indian history and a look at some independent women who defied convention in order to live their lives without reservation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

There have been many wonderful young adult novels written about WWII. However, I cannot think of any that address what the Baltic countries went through under Stalin.  I was so pleased to get a copy of this fictional account of the forcible relocation of some Lithuanians after the Russian invasion of their country in 1939.  16-yr-old Lina and her mother and younger brother are taken from their home by soldiers and taken to a Siberian labor camp. Lina tries to maintain her dignity and sanity by using art to chronicle her harrowing journey and tell the story of what happened to her family.  I don't want to give too much away about the plot of this wonderful book. The journey of Lina and her family is incredibly moving and tragic.  Their endure unspeakable hardships and try to cling to shreds of hope that help them to survive.  The book highlights a group of people that history has tended to sideline and reveals the story of what happened to many of the people who were forcibly displaced from their homes under Stalin.

This is a beautiful book and often had me crying.  My only complaint was that it wrapped up too quickly.  I couldn't believe it when the ending came.  There were so many unanswered questions and things I wanted to know. We never learn the fate of several of the characters in the book and that was frustrating for me.  Still, it is a minor complaint in an overall excellent book.

*PARENTAL ADVISORY with spoilers* This book is appropriate for high school age young adults and some younger readers with supervision.  There is a great deal of violence and several characters are killed including a newborn baby and its mother.  There is the threat of rape although it does not actually take place. Some of the images may be difficult for young readers.  However, the book reveals truths about a horrible time and place that I feel it is important for young adults to know about and understand.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Extremely well done.  Excellent characters and a story that pulls you in and doesn't let you go.  A very powerful work.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

THE TIGER'S WIFE by Tea Obrecht

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

While on a humanitarian mission,  Dr. Natalia Stefanovi's crosses the border in search of answers about her grandfather's sudden death.  As she delves into his life, she recalls stories her grandfather told her about his childhood.  One of the stories was about the Tiger's Wife, a deaf-mute woman who seemingly befriended a lose tiger in his village.  Her grandfather also often spoke of his encounters with the deathless man named Gavran Gaile.  He encountered the deathless man several times throughout his life and Gavran had a profound effect on him.  Natalia begins to believe that there is a connection between her grandfather's stories about the Tiger's Wife and the deathless man and her grandfather's death.  While Natalia ponders these questions, she works to provide medical care some orphans left parentless by the ongoing war while dealing with a family of superstitious gypsies looking for the buried body of a family member.

Obreht is an excellent writer and storyteller. She easily draws the reader in and her descriptions of war and its effects on these communities are very well done. I loved the stories of the Tiger's Wife and deathless man and only wish there had been more.   In the end, I felt more confused than ever about the truth behind her grandfather's death and what really happened with the Tiger's Wife and with Gavran Gaile. I felt I was only just getting into the story when it ended.  Obreht does a really wonderful job of capturing moments in time and place and her characters are compelling and interesting.

BOTTOM LINE:  RECOMMENDED. This is a very difficult book to describe and review because of its complexity.  It is one of those books where you anxiously wait for someone else to read it to see if they understood what happened better than you did. I'm not really sure I understood this book but I enjoyed the ride!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

THE UNCOUPLING by Meg Wolitzer

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I really enjoyed Wolitzer's TEN YEAR NAP so I was really excited to hear that her newest book was a modern-day version of LYSISTRATA.  A sleepy New Jersey town is thrown into disarray after a new drama teacher comes to town and beings staging a high school version of the Greek tale of LYSISTRATA.  In the classic tale, the women of Sparta withhold sex from their men in order to stop a long-standing war. In Wolitzer's version, the women within the high school community are overcome by a "spell" that causes them to lose all desire for sex.  This affects everyone from Dory Lang, a popular teacher in a solid marriage, to Leanne Bannerjee, the school psychologist currently dating three men, to the teenage girls of the school. The effects of this unintentional sexual strike have far-reaching consequences within this little community.

Wolitzer came up with such a great premise but it just didn't work.  Instead of being edgy and humorous, it came off as sad.  The women of ancient Greece voluntarily chose to give up sex in order to achieve an important goal.  The women in New Jersey lost their sexual desire against their will and, more importantly, all forms of intimacy with their men. One women even loses the desire to be caressed by her young sons which absolutely broke my heart. The whole town is made absolutely miserable and for no noble reason that I can see.  When Wolitzer finally reveals what is happening to this town, it feels contrived and ridiculous. The experience created pain where there was none before and the solution cannot be so tidily achieved as Wolitzer would have us believe.  The story plods along and the characters aren't really that interesting with a few exceptions.  It could have been so much better!!!
BOTTOM LINE: NOT recommended.  This book held so much promise but ended up being both boring and ridiculous. Instead of a humorous look at sex and relationships, Wolitzer gives us a tragedy. The ending is especially silly and disappointing.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

So Proud

My husband called me this morning at work to tell me something wonderful.

When he dropped off our almost 3-yr-old son at preschool today, the teacher took him aside.  She wanted to tell him that on Tuesday, Noodlebug gathered about 4 children after lunch and held an impromptu storytime.  She said she looked over and Noodlebug was sitting on the little couch with a book "reading" it to the other children gathered around him.

I am so proud.  Maybe he'll be a librarian someday!  (wink)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I loved both the premise and the cover of this book.  Marylou Ahearn is ready to finally get her revenge on Dr. Wilson Spriggs after 50 years.  She assumes an identity (straight out of a Hollywood B movie) and moves into Dr. Spriggs' Florida neighborhood to put her plan into action.  In the 1950's, when Marylou was a young woman pregnant with her first child, she was given a radioactive cocktail as part of a government experiment on radiation. She did not give her consent and had no knowledge that this was being done to her.  As a result, her child died young of bone cancer and Marylou has been plagued with a lifetime of health problems. At 77, she will finally get her revenge on the doctor who ran the experiments, Wilson Spriggs.  When Marylou finally finds Dr. Spriggs, she is taken aback to find out that he is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. She amends her plan and decides to take revenge on Wilson's extended family and begins befriending the family members in order to gain their trust. As most revenge plans do, this has has unexpected consequences on everyone involved.

This was an incredibly readable book. I loved the idea of an older woman trying to get her revenge after 50 years. The whole government radiation experiment provided an interesting backdrop for the story. Marylou's revenge plan was a bit thin but I loved all the characters. They were all very interesting people with well-fleshed out stories.  However, the story fell apart towards the end of the book.  The ending was unbelievable and everything was tidied up too nicely. Plus........

.......the use of a youth pastor as a secret sex offender seems pretty cliched at this point. 

I would have enjoyed the book much more if it hadn't been for the silly ending. I am going to recommend this one as a beach read.  Light, fluffy and very readable but with a ridiculous ending that kind of ruins the whole book.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  A fun read but the ending is far-fetched and unbelievable. I wish Stuckey-French had taken the book in a different direction. The premise was so good but the execution left a little to be desired.