Nonfiction November: My list of potentials

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It’s back! Lu (Regular Rumination) and Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), along with two new co-hosts are bringing back one of my favorite blogging events, Nonfiction November! I’ve been getting ready for this event for the past month. While a slim majority of the books in my stack are written by men, I tried to make my reads almost even when it came to including minorities either as the subject or author.

My stack of potential reads:

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Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince
Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse
Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist
Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson

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The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huag
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs
Multiplication is For White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit
Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion by Gary Webb

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Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow
All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
It’ll probably take me until December to read it all.

What are you planning on reading for Nonfiction November?

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson #diversiverse

20660824brown girl dreaming
Jacqueline Woodson
338 pages
Published in August 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Source: Public Library

The first time I write my full name

Jacqueline Amanda Woodson

without anybody’s help
on a clean white page in my composition notebook,
I know

if I wanted to

I could write anything.

brown girl dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s wonderful and poetic memoir about her “very complicated and very rich” childhood. Shortly after her birth in Columbus, Ohio in 1963, Woodson’s family moves to South Carolina, her mother’s home state. The author and her two siblings live with their maternal grandparents for years as their mother travel back and forth to New York, trying to make a life for them. It’s there in the South that Saturday nights “smell of biscuits”, Jacqueline gets her hands dirty in her grandfather’s garden, and sit-ins are happening downtown. In New York, rainy days now mean staying in the house and being introduced to a new baby brother. Written in verse, brown girl dreaming is a book that both young readers and adults can enjoy.

There are many things that make brown girl dreaming so special that it’s hard to even write about it. Woodson has this wonderful way of writing from a child’s point of view. Readers see a young Jacqueline fall in love with stories even though she struggles with writing and is compared to a brilliant older sister by teachers. Thrown in with these moments are the huge events that were going on in the country like the end of segregation and what that meant as she and her grandmother shopped downtown, watching the Black Panther Party on TV from across the country, and the Vietnam War.

brown girl dreaming was just nominated for a National Book Award in Young Adult Literature, a nomination it rightly deserves. You won’t regret reading it, so buy this book, don’t borrow it. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday Salon: Have I Got a Book for you! #diversiverse

sunday salon

Happy Sunday! Instead of telling you what I’m up to, I decided to do something different. A Diverse Universe event is coming up and I thought I’ll write a list post for anyone who’s thinking about joining the event and don’t know what to read.

Bloggers like Aarti and Nymeth have eloquently written about why more people should read diversely. I’m not going to do it. I’ve realized that exploring works of art based on an author’s race means being open to something different. And either you are open to that or you’re not. Readers love the adventures that books can take them on, like new worlds light-years away or a dystopian version of the world they live in. Looking at race can be a different and harder thing to do. But it doesn’t have to be.

It’s an ongoing process, one that means making a decision book by book. It doesn’t mean suddenly changing the way you read overall. I, myself, have been guilty of not reading many books by people of color over the years. Or, I’ll read them but don’t review them. This year has been fantastic with books by people of color dominating my reviews, but I still have work to do.

Some critics have stated that by purposely choosing to read a book written by a person of color, you’re excluding whites. Well, that’s true. When you’re in the mood to read science fiction or fantasy that means excluding all writers who don’t write in that genre. Race isn’t any different. Nor is it any different when choosing to read books that won certain awards or set in different countries or translated from other languages. I hope everyone who reads this post makes a decision to pick up a book by a person of color. Like I stated earlier, that choice is up to you.

The books on my list were all published this year. I decided to give newly released books more bookish love than those that were published in previous years. By buying, borrowing, or reviewing new releases shows the gatekeepers that books by people of color are desired by readers.

Note: Most of the links to the titles below will take you to Goodreads. Several will take you to my reviews or the reviews of other bloggers.

Looking for a short read?

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I don’t read short stories often enough though I love them. The great thing about them is that you can often find amazing ones online via Tor and other online publications.

Novels

Diverse Collage 1

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Diverse Collage 3

 

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Diverse Collage 5

Nonfiction

Diverse Collage 6

 

Have you read any of these books? What newly released books would you recommend?

Review: The Day I Became an Autodidact

698417The Day I Became an Autodidact: And the Advice, Adventures, and Acrimonies that Befell me Thereafter

Kendall Hailey

288 pages

Published in January 1989 by Delta

Source: Public library

A few days ago, I started reading The Day I Became an Autodidact by Kendall Hailey. Hailey, the daughter of a playwright and novelist, decided to graduate from high school a year early at the age of 16. Her turning point came when days after tenth grade ended, her school sent out a mandatory summer reading list. I don’t blame her. After being told what to read, what to write about, and what classes to take, the last thing anyone wants to do is slave away during the summer. I remember not wanting to do that during the school year.

So Hailey calls it quits with school and decides to become an autodidact, learning everything she needs to know through books. She reads Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, Vile Bodies and Great Expectations. She takes trips with her family, reads, and takes more trips.

It’s great and all but I soon found myself wanting more. Part of the problem has to do with the fact that Hailey doesn’t do anything but read. Coming from a well-to-do family, the author doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to but it doesn’t make for a good story. I DNFed the book after reading sixty pages, so I can’t tell you if she ever does anything out of her comfort zone. Within the pages I read, she doesn’t volunteer, search for others like herself, or anything. What’s the point of educating yourself if you’re going to stay in a bubble? Granted, the memoir was written in the late 1980s and Google wasn’t a click away.

Maybe the problem is that I’m not the right target for this book. I mean, I love reading. If I could, I would read all day long, except I can’t. That’s why read-a-thon days and various breaks are like Christmas to me. Even while writing this post, I had to stop and play Legos with one kid and make a snack for another one.

It doesn’t matter.

Hailey’s thoughts are insightful at times and I found a few paragraphs that I want to photocopy. That wasn’t enough for me to want to finish this book. My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s okay.

Books read in April

April has come and gone. Thank God. It was just a stressful month. My neck is still sprained and I’m starting to understand – really understand that I’m getting older and it’s time for me to start taking better care of this body.

Now on to books.

I read an amazing 20 books last month. The books were in a variety of genres and for the most part, it was a good reading.

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  • Cress by Marissa Meyer
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (reread)
  • Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham
  • Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

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  • Duffy and the Devil by Harve Zemach
  • Brimsby’s Hats by Andrew Prahin
  • Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman
  • Here I Am by Patti Kim

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  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers by Michael Brian Bendis
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • Saga Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  • Delancey : A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg

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  • Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates
  • Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein
  • Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock
  • The  Fantastic Art of Jacek Yerka

I decided to include the children’s books for those of you who read and enjoy the genre.

An Untamed State was the best book I read last month with the third volume of Saga a close second.

How was your reading in April?

Review: Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham

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My copy from the library. Do you see all the post-its?

Why Don’t Students Like School? : A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions about How the Mind Works and What It Means For the Classroom

 Daniel T. Willingham

180 pages

Published in March 2009 by Jossey-Bass

Source: Public Library

In Why Don’t Students Like School?, psychologist Daniel T. Willingham shares with readers nine principles of cognitive science that can be applied to classrooms everywhere. From why thinking is hard for all of us – kids and adults alike – to the importance of repetition and motivation, to debunking the theory of multiple intelligences, Willingham’s book is one that should be in the hands of educators, parents, and administrators everywhere.

In each chapter, the author focuses on one of the principles and shares with readers the research behind the principle and gives examples. At the end of each chapter, there’s a summary and ways to implicate the research into the classroom.

One of the best chapters has to do with factual knowledge and critical thinking skills. Willingham argues that for students to critically think about a subject, they have to have background knowledge. That knowledge allows student to hold more information which means they can comprehend more. It also makes students better readers. The whole thing is a cycle.

It’s also why it’s important for parents to start early with their kids by reading to them. If a child doesn’t have the same background information as their classmates, they’re always going to play catch up, but they will always be behind.

Another one of the book’s principles has to do with intelligence being malleable. What’s just as important is a person’s mindset about intelligence. Intelligence can be changed through hard work but a person has to believe that they can get smarter. When a person believes they can become smarter, they seek out challenging opportunities that help them become that way. If a person believes intelligence is fixed, challenging opportunities are avoided as a way not to fail.

There is so much to learn and while I enjoyed reading this book, I had a few issues. This book is less than 180 pages and it is dense. There’s so much information coming at readers. It’s a book you have to work at but it’s well worth it. There’s also illustrations in each chapter to help with the examples given. Towards the end of the book, the illustrations became a distraction and weren’t needed.

If you’re an adult who’s interested in bringing out the best learning experiences for children, you can’t go wrong by reading this book. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi

9780062202635L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food

Roy Choi with Tien Nguyen and Natasha Phan

320 pages

Published in November 2013 by Anthony Bourdain Books, an imprint of Ecco Books

Source: Public Library

 

Up until that moment, I just didn’t see it. I didn’t realize how much food was a part of my family, a part of me. I was almost too close to it all, too close to the screen to really see the big picture. But the moment Emeril waves those herbs at me, my whole world clicked into place and I saw what had been in front of my face this whole time. Food. Flavors. Sohn-maash. I saw myself in the kitchen. I saw myself at home.

Roy Choi takes readers on a ride through L.A. and beyond with his debut, L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food. Born in Korea before immigrating to the United States at the age of two, Choi went through a chaotic childhood as his family moved from place to place. Years later as a teenager with his family settled into Orange County, California, the chaos was really just starting.

Choi is famously known for breathing new life into street food. He’s the owner of Kogi BBQ, which started back in 2008 and has since baptize people with its Korean tacos. Seriously. Food trucks are a huge deal in SoCal and Kogi BBQ has been known to have crowds waiting for its food.

Now back to the book.

L.A. Son is a raw and honest account of Choi’s life from his childhood to right before he started his business. He described his entry into the world as,

a baby with a big Frankenstein head, drenched in his own blood, with more spewing out through his upper cleft like lava erupting from a volcano. Wailing, crying. . . One hell of a hectic entry into this world, huh?

Love.

Once in the United States, Choi’s parents tried their hand at a number of businesses from owning a liquor store to running a restaurant. It wasn’t until they started their own jewelry business that they found success. But while his parents were chasing their American dream, Choi was a lost kid who was trying to find where he fit in. Wherever he went he found friends, other misfits, but not his purpose. It wasn’t until years later after hitting bottom that he realized his purpose, cooking, was right there all along.

The recipes in L.A. Son coincide with various events in Choi’s life. The dumpling recipe reminds readers of family time every day in Silver Garden, the Choi family restaurant. The comfort of buttermilk pancakes is featured in the same chapter that the author experiences heartbreak. I love that there’s a story behind every recipe.

The diversity of the recipes is also another thing to enjoy. Readers get recipes for horchata right along with recipes for pork fried rice and French onion soup. There’s also a few surprises like ketchup fried rice and windowpane smoothies. You want a homemade recipe, it’s in the book. You want something that’s not strictly homemade? You get that too.

L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food is a fantastic foodie memoir. If Roy Choi writes another book, I’m buying it with no hesitation. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

 —–

Cardamom Milk Shaved Ice

Serves 6

  • One 14-ounce can condensed milk, plus a little more for garnish
  • 3 ½ cups of water
  • One 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 tablespoons cold brewed coffee
  • 1 teaspoon roasted and crushed sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • Grated zest of 1 lime

Garnish

  • Fresh or canned lychee
  • Fresh mint leaves

Combine the condensed milk, water, coconut milk, cardamom, coffee, sesame seeds, lime juice, and zest in a big bowl and give it a good whisk. Run the mixture through a sorbet machine or freeze it in a pan, running a fork through it every 30 minutes until frozen.

Scoop and serve the shaved ice in a bowl with the lychees, the mint, and a little more condensed milk drizzled over the top.

 

The Perfect Score: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by Debbie Steir

15796717The Perfect Score: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT

Debbie Steir

238 pages

Published in February 2014 by Harmony Books, an imprint of Harper

Source: Publisher

So here I was, five months in and back to square one: confused, confronting too many options, and feeling overwhelmed and borderline frantic.

I picked up Debbie Steir’s The Perfect Score after years of following her blog and reading about her journey to earn the perfect SAT score. Steir is not some teenager who’s trying to get into her dream college. She’s a middle-aged, divorced, single mother of two teens, who came up with the idea of taking the SAT in hopes of inspiring her son to start studying for the test. She didn’t take the SAT once. She took it seven times over the course of a year.

Steir is passionate, enthusiastic, and focused as she went through her year learning and testing. I love reading someone’s journey as they learned a new hobby or area of expertise.  Steir’s journey was no exception. She asked from help from friends, strangers online, and researched as much as she could. The author also combined her experiences with what she learned about the history of the SAT and tips that will help parents and students who have to take the test in the next few years. No stone was left unturned as she learned as much as possible, trying out various techniques from hiring tutors to trying Kumon to using the College Board blue books.

Halfway through this book, I stand to myself “This shit is crazy.” No seriously.

What I thought was crazy is the pressure that is put on high schoolers (and some middle schoolers) to get high scores to get into decent colleges. There were times that I needed to take a deep breath.  The author herself realizes that the key to doing well on the SATs is mastering math and English before time. Way before time. Mastering a subject means having a strong foundation first. This was something that not everyone has including Steir herself.

The author manages to inspire her son and learns a thing or two about herself in the end.

The Perfect Score is an eye-opening and engaging read that stands out among memoirs about an author’s “special” year. If you have a kid who will take the SATs in a few years, this is the book you need to read. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Thoughts: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

patchettThis Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Ann Patchett

320 pages

Published in November 2013 by Harper

Source: Public Library

…You will take bits from books you’ve read and movies you’ve seen and conversations you’ve had and stories friends have told you, and half the time you won’t even realize you’re doing it. I am a compost heap, and everything I interact with, every experience I’ve had, gets shoveled onto the heap where it eventually mulches down, is digested and excreted by worms, and rots. It’s from that rich, dark humus, the combination of what you encountered, what you know and what you’ve forgotten, that ideas start to grow. (I could make a case for the benefits of wide-ranging experience, both personal and literary, as enriching the compost, but the life of Emily Dickinson neatly dismantles that theory.)

from the essay, “The Getaway Car

I didn’t know what to think when I first decided to read Patchett’s collection of personal essays. I tried reading Bel Canto, one of her most popular books, but failed to get through more than a few pages. Oftentimes, I find when I can’t get through a writer’s fiction, I’m successful at their nonfiction and vice versa. I was right again with this collection.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of personal essays from Ann Patchett, many of which have been previously published in various publications. With topics ranging from the author’s relationship with her grandmother to the failure of her first marriage and the blossoming of her second one, readers find themselves being pulled along by the Patchett’s relaxed voice.

The title essay about Patchett’s first marriage and how she came to remarry is so personal, so well-written, that I had to read it in its entirety out loud. That’s how wonderful it is. I had no idea that Patchett originally wrote and read the essay for Audible. It’s an essay that’s meant to be listened to.

While I don’t know if I would ever give the author’s fictional works a try again, I do know that I won’t hesitate to pick up her essays. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Nonfiction November: Graphic Memoir/Biography

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Lu of Regular Rumination and Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness are hosting Nonfiction November, celebrating the power of nonfiction. Each week, the duo ask a particular question and participants are encouraged to answer the question and even post reviews of nonfiction.

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about reading nonfiction is watching the emergence of graphic non-fiction. To be clear, graphic non-fiction is nonfiction narrated in a graphic format. The really nice thing about nonfiction in this format, is that there’s pretty much something for everyone. New topics and experiences are being shared in really unique ways that aren’t dictated by any rules. Below you can find a few of my favorite graphic nonfiction reads with a focus on memoirs autobiographies.

Graphic Memoir

telSmile by Raina Telgemeier (2010) I read Smile years ago after reading Telgemeier’s adaptation of the middle school classic series, The Baby-Sitters Club. When Raina was in the sixth grade she fell, severely injuring her two front teeth. As if sixth grade isn’t awkward enough for most people, she had to go to a lot dentist and orthodontic appointments because of the fall, while also trying to figure out who she is and where she fits in. Smile was one of the first middle school graphic memoirs I had ever seen or read. After you finish reading it, you can hand the book over to your middle schooler. My daughter enjoyed the book as much as I did.

satrapi

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. (2004) Persepolis is one of those rare books that if you haven’t read, you need to go out and buy it. Now. Satrapi retraces her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq. We see a young fierce girl who’s trying to stay sane in a country that was changing sometimes overnight.

smallStitches by David Small (2009) Small has been one of my favorite illustrators for years as he often teams up with his wife, Sarah Stewart to create wonderful children’s books. Stitches is nothing like the light children’s books he’s co-authored. As a teen, the author was told that he needed to have surgery to remove a growth from his throat. What he wasn’t told was that his parents and doctors thought he was going to die. Secrets played a huge role in the Small family as his parents hide things from their children and each other. After the surgery, David is a mute. With the help of a therapist and new found freedom, he’s able to slowly recover and make sense of the silence of his childhood. Stitches is a powerful memoir about resilience even after being surrounded by dysfunction for so long.

lewis

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (2013). It always amazes me how simple an illustration can be drawn, yet still remains powerful. In March, the first book in a trilogy, Congressman John Lewis recounts his childhood as a boy living in Alabama to becoming a young man who participated in sit-ins during the Civil Rights era.

katin

We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin (2006). I kept going back and forth with whether or not I should add this book to my list. I finally decided I should after remembering the strong feelings I had for it. We Are On Our Own recounts Katin’s childhood as she and her mother escaped Budapest during the Nazi invasion. Drawn in pencil and told decades after the events took place, readers don’t get a full picture of everything that went on. Much of it is because Katin was just a child during this chaotic and terrible time. I found this book to be raw and powerful.

Graphic biography

rednissRadioactive Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss (2010). Has there ever been a song or book you wished you created? Radioactive Marie and Pierre Curie may be one of those creations. This isn’t your typical biography. Redniss writes about the lives of Marie and Pierre Curie but also includes anecdotes from people who have survived Hiroshima, the aftermath of Chernobyl, and other issues about the effect of radiation on people. Add that to the book’s cyanotype illustrations, photographs, and ephemera and readers get an enjoyable biography.

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani (2011) I like this book so ottaviani feynmanmuch that I usually reread it every year. Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist, adventurer, and breaker of safes. Ottaviani takes a lot of information from Feynman’s books and give readers who haven’t heard or read about the physicist, a nice introduction.

There are many books I could have added to this list but didn’t because this post is long enough as it is. Notables include: Maus by Art Spiegelman which won a Pultizer, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley, Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi, and Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney.

Have you read any of these? Are there any graphic memoirs/biographies you would add to this list?

Short review: Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman

hoffman survivalSurvival Lessons

Alice Hoffman

83 pages

Published October 1, 2013 by Algonquin Books

Source: Publisher

. . .Then I knew. Good fortune and bad luck are always tied together with invisible, unbreakable thread. It happens to everyone, in one way or another, sooner or later. The loss of a loved one, a divorce, heartbreak, a child set on the wrong path, a bad diagnosis. When it comes to sorrow, no one is immune.

When Alice Hoffman was diagnosed with breast cancer, she searched for a way to remember the joys of life as she went through treatment. She found it in good friends and family, along with the small things that are often unnoticed or taking for granted. Fifteen years later, Hoffman has decided to share what she’s learned with readers.

I picked this up because I’ve really enjoyed Hoffman’s work in the past. At only 83 pages, you could read this book in an hour or two. But don’t let that fool you. The author’s writing is still as beautiful as ever.

In the chapter “Choose Something New,” Hoffman writes,

Every woman is only one bad boyfriend or one bad choice away from the street. And she’s only one good choice back to the path that will lead her home. 

Survival Lessons is a short, sweet book that both new readers and long-time Hoffman fans will enjoy. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life by Karen Karbo

karbo juliaJulia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life

Karen Karbo

240 pages

October 2013 by Skirt!

Source: Publisher

In the summer of 1946, Julia McWilliams and Paul Child drove across America. A bottle of vodka and a thermos of mixed martinis rolled around the backseat of Julia’s Buick. It was a time before air-conditioned vehicles and open-container laws. . .

Though she’s known around the world for her cookbooks and TV shows, Julia Child wasn’t just a world-class chef. Coming from a well-to-do family in Pasadena, CA, she could have settled for her only suitor and lived a life of obscurity. Instead she worked for the United States government during WWII, traveled to India on a whim, and met the love of her life, Paul Child. Did I mention that Julia didn’t find her passion of cooking until she was 37? 37! There’s hope for me yet.

With Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life, author Karen Karbo doesn’t just focus on Child and her cooking. She brilliantly illustrates to readers what has made Child such a fascinating person even years after her death. This is where the rules come in. Each chapter starts with a rule; some important lesson gleamed from Child’s life. One of my favorite rules of the book is the very first one: live with abandon. According to Karbo,

Part of living with abandon is giving oneself over to one’s circumstances without any expectation that things are going to be to our liking anytime soon. We can hope that things will improve, but it shouldn’t prevent us from doing what we’ve set out to do. Julia had an astonishing capacity to be content with what was in front of her, whether it be a cooking school run on spit and a string or a less than perfect hunk of meat. She made do and moved on and rarely regretted it.

From reading that passage, you can tell that this isn’t your average biography. Karbo gives us the essential Child instead of every single detail about Child’s life. Along with details of Karbo’s own life, readers get a biography with a personal touch. It’s one that feels more like a great conversation with an old friend about a wonderful woman.

Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life is a wonderful addition to Karen Karbo’s Kick Ass Women series. It follows biographies about Katharine Hepburn, Coco Chanel, and Georgia O’Keefe. It’s also the rare biography that foodies and non-foodies alike will love. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings

cummingsThe Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling

Quinn Cummings

230 pages

Published in 2012 by Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin

Source: Public Library

I was hiding in the laundry room fighting off a full-blown panic attack. If long division with remainders hadn’t been invented, this would not have been happening.

So begins Quinn Cummings’ memoir, The Year of Learning Dangerously, documenting her first year homeschooling her daughter, Alice. Alice is like any other kid: she loves cats, playing outside, and reading. When it comes to math, there’s this huge struggle every year. At the end of the school year, Alice usually doesn’t advance much in the subject. Cummings sees herself in Alice and knows that if she doesn’t intervene, the situation won’t change. What comes next is a hilarious and honest account of Quinn’s quest to homeschool her daughter, explore various homeschooling approaches, and just figure out what she’s doing.

Homeschooling has been going on for decades in the United States and one of the biggest reasons parents take their children out of school is for religious or moral instruction. That’s not always the reason why we decide to take our kids out of school. With Cummings, we know that she just wants Alice to love learning and to become willing to tackle things even when they’re not easy for her.

What makes the author’s story different from other memoirs about the same subject is the humor. Cummings is hilarious and honest about her shortcomings and her search to make Alice’s first year memorable. Or at least not traumatic. While tackling homeschooling, Cummings also finds the time to examine several approaches to homeschooling such as the classical method and unschooling, attend a Christian homeschooling prom, and learn as much as she can about the history of homeschooling. None of this is new to any veteran homeschooling parent. But if you’re curious about the subject or new to homeschooling, this book is really helpful.

While reading The Year of Learning Dangerously, readers see how privileged Cummings is. In her search to learn more about other homeschooling groups like Fundamentalists and Gohardites, she’s flying all over the country. Unless these same groups are living in my community, there’s no way I’m going to find out about them. These sections of the book are interesting because I had no idea what some of the groups think or believe, but it takes the focus away from Alice and her adjustment (which went well) to homeschooling. Some people may be offended by these sections since Cummings pretty much lied her way through most of these conventions. I wasn’t offended at all.

I found The Year of Learning Dangerously to be one woman’s hilarious take on her year of homeschooling and all that she’s learned. My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Faced with a very foggy road ahead of us, we are probably best served by understanding there is just so much we can predict, and so much we can’t. We need to acknowledge that we’re all trying our best−homeschoolers and brick-and-mortar schoolers alike. After that, we need to embrace the uncertainty and just hope everything turns out better than bad. 

Short review: Primates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

ottavianiPrimates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas

Written by Jim Ottaviani

Illustrated by Maris Wicks

Published in 2013 by First Second Books

139 pages

Source: Public Library

In Primates, Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks tell the stories of researchers Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas; three women whose obsessions with primates lead them to famed anthropologist Louis Leakey and their life’s work. The book starts with Goodall’s childhood fascination with Africa and nature before detailing the lives of Fossey and Galdikas along with some background information on Leakey.

What makes all three women so fascinating is their determination to do their research despite the challenges. Goodall’s mother was her chaperone when she first arrived at Nigeria in the 60s while Fossey had her appendix removed before her trip to the Condo. The hut that Galdikas and her husband lived in while she did her research on orangutans was in such bad condition, it would probably been better to just live in a tent. I loved this type of detail about the women. Readers see that their research wasn’t easy but the women managed.

I do have a few issues with the book. I was confused a few times about who I was reading about. Being a graphic novel, the women were drawn differently but still similarly enough for me to be lost. Goodall being a blonde helped but with Galdikas and Fossey as brunettes, I had to look at them really closely. Since this is a book aimed at middle grade readers, there isn’t any detail about Fossey’s death just a panel explaining that her life was tragic in ways and an illustration of her headstone. If you don’t know, Fossey is famous for her research on gorillas and her book Gorillas in the Mist which was adapted into a movie. She was murdered in 1985 and her case is still open.

Even with those issues, Primates is a fantastic book to read. It’s also a great introduction into the lives of these three women for readers young and old.  My rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars.

Back to School Reading Challenge

Back-to-School-logoWhen I saw that the wonderful Joy from Joy’s Book Blog was hosting the Back-to-School Reading Challenge, I didn’t hesitate to sign up.

August and September are a favorite time of year for me — back to school season! I love the early apples, store displays of school supplies, and my first sighting of a big yellow school bus. I would love to send each of you a bouquet of sharpened pencils. My reading orientation turns from the purely pleasurable beach book to another kind of pleasure: learning something new. To give myself and others a little structure during this transition, I’m starting the Back to School Reading Challenge and Wednesday Book Club to run during the months of August and September.

No one fails at the Back to School Reading Challenge, so choose a level that works to challenge you but not so much it causes stress. Here are the levels:

Freshman: 1-2 books

Sophomore: 3-4 books

Junior: 5-6 books

Senior: 7-8 books

Read books on one topic or eight different ones or anything in between. Fiction is fine. I’ve learned a lot of history from novels set in other times and a lot about other cultures from novels set in other places. As long as you’re reading the book to learn something new, it counts for the Back to School Reading Challenge.

I love learning and it’s always nice to share what you learn with someone else. I’m signing up for the sophmore level and plan on reading books in two areas: education and social sciences.

My book list:

kaufman1. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto (almost finished)

2. Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman (already started)

3. The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life by Grace Llewellyn OR Guerilla Learning: How To Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver

4. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

5. Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Brief Insight by John Monaghan and Peter Just

6. Classic Readings in Cultural Anthropology: essays edited by Gary Ferraro (already started)

There’s also a read-along taking place of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed. Anyone can participate in the read-along. Plus, it’s a really good book.

Feel free to join us in the read-along or reading challenge. It’s not too late.

High Summer Readathon and Just One Paragraph

high summer ratThe High Summer Read-a-thon officially started last night but I decided to wait until this morning to begin my stack of books. My reading isn’t going very well so hopefully this week-long read-a-thon is what I need to make a dent in ARCs and library books before August gets here. August is my birthday month and I want to spend it re-reading some of my favorite books. Below is my stack of potential reads for this week. You can click on the titles to learn more about them.

Print

Bleeder by Shelby Smoak. I picked this up last week at the library. In Bleeder, Smoak talks about his life as a hemophiliac and getting HIV as a child because of a tainted blood product that saved his life.

ottaviani feynman

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick. This is a reread of the life of Richard P. Feynman. He’s such a fascinating person to read about.

duprau

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. I think Carrie (Books and Movies) loved this one.

lanagan yellowcake

Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan. I love Lanagan’s previous works so I can’t wait to read (and finish) this one.

graff

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff. I’ve heard whispers about this book as a potential Newbery winner next year, so I’m adding it to my tbr list now.

tamaki

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. I’ve been waiting years for this book. Literally. No library in my area had it and graphic novels are expensive. Now that a local library has it, I can finally read it. I can’t wait.

otsuka

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka. I love The Buddha in the Attic, Otsuka’s last novel, so I can’t wait to read this. I might even add Buddha to my stack too.

babbitt

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. I try to read this book every year in August because it’s a seasonal read and also because of the first sentence, “The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.” I love that line. But there’s nothing wrong with reading comfort reads now.

clark

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark (ARC). I think this book is coming at a perfect time when so many people are writing online.

I doubt I will get this entire stack read but it’s nice to look at.

30Days30Posts1Paragraph_badge

The lovely Bryan (Still Unfinished) told me about an informal 30-day blogging challenge that starts today. It’s called Just One Paragraph and the challenge is just to post a paragraph every day for thirty days. It doesn’t matter what you post. I’m joining the challenge in hopes of getting my blogging mojo back.

So, will you join me for either event? What are you reading this week?

Library Loot

Library Loot is one of my favorite weekly events hosted by Marg (The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader) and Claire (The Captive Reader). It’s a meme where bloggers share what they’ve recently checked out from the library. 

Today I went to the library just to pick up my holds, nothing else. But once I got there and let the kids loose, I had to browse the new arrivals. I came home with more books than I planned!

My stack:

brown cinnamon and gunpowderCinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown. I heard about this book from Candace over at Beth Fish Reads. I pick it up as a “maybe” read: maybe I’ll get to it before the due date, maybe not. I started reading it and I haven’t been able to stop!

It’s 1819 and Owen Wedgewood a.k.a. The King of Sauces has just been kidnapped by Captain Mad Hannah Mabbot. Mabbot wants Owen to cook her own delicious meal every Sunday if he wants to live. The only rules is that he doesn’t serve her anything disappointing. If he does, he’ll be sent home in pieces. I’m loving Mad Hannah already.

baxter the long warThe Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I picked this up because I read the first book in the series, The Long Earth, and loved it. The Long War is set a decade after the first book but with the same characters. I can’t wait to start reading it.

lanagan yellowcake

Yellowcake: Stories by Margo Lanagan. I started reading this book earlier this year but my copy expired. The first book in the collection, “The Point of Roses”, was just so well-written that I had to read it twice. I have high hopes for the rest of the stories.

lambin

An Ecology of Happiness by Eric Lambin. Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan. This title makes me think of Deb (Readerbuzz) so I had to pick it up.

loewenGaining Daylight: Life on Two Islands by Sara Loewen. Picked it up because of the cover but I do love essays.

kaufmanUngifted:Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. I love reading books about creativity, intelligence, and talent so it was easy to add this book to the stack. There has been so many books published about the same subject matter, I hope this book has something to add to the conversation.

What have you picked up from the library lately?

Just Finished: Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott

Saying and meaning “Thanks” leads to a crazy thought: What more can I give? We take the action first, by giving—and then the insight follows, that this fills us. Sin is not the adult bookstore on the corner. It is the hard heart, the lack of generosity, and all the isms, racism and sexism and so forth. But is there a crack where a ribbon of light might get in, might sneak past all the roadblocks and piles of stones, mental and emotional and cultural? 

We can’t will ourselves to be more generous and accepting. Most of us are more like the townspeople of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” than we are like the Dalai Lama. I know I am . And this is what hell is like.

It obviously behooves me to practice being receptive, open for the business of gratitude.”

-Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott

I remember reading Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies years ago when my life was in tatters and loving it so hard that it was almost a physical ache. I still have my copy, which is a mess filled with highlighted passages and dog-eared pages. I later read her next two books on faith but Traveling Mercies has stayed my favorite until now.

In Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne Lamott explores the three prayers that help her appreciate life’s beauties and get through life’s griefs. (There’s actually a fourth prayer about not being such an ass. Hey, why not?) “Help” is for those times we feel like we need some assistance from a higher power, “thanks” to give gratitude, and “wow” for all those times when the beauty of life leaves us unable to say anything else.

Help Thanks Wow is a short book, only 102 pages, but Lamott packs so much in. As usual with Lamott, there’s plenty of humor and so many beautiful passages. I found this spiritual book to be a nice addition for Lamott fans and a great introduction for those new to her spiritual non-fiction.

lamott helpHelp Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

102 pages

Published in 2012 by Riverhead

Source: Public Library

Book Review: Marbles by Ellen Forney

 

forneyMarbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me

A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney

256 pages

Published in November 2012 by Gotham Books

Where did I get this?  Public Library

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me chronicles illustrator Ellen Forney’s years-long struggle to find balance with her bipolar disorder while maintaining her passion for art. Right before her thirtieth birthday, Ellen was diagnosed with biopolar 1 disorder. Highly manic at the time, she had tons of ideas on how to keep working creatively before her depression hits. When it does, things change. Through this chaotic time, Ellen seeks comfort from the fact that many gifted artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Sylvia Plath, and others have gone through similar mental challenges. She also explores the relationship between creativity and mental illness. Told with brutal honesty, Marbles is a book that will appeal to many people.

Marbles starts with Ellen getting a back tattoo. It was something she thought about and the many ideas for her tattoo are coming at her at once. She even kisses the tattoo artist (a stranger to her) after the tattoo is done. Readers see the mania of it. Throughout the book, the author brilliantly illustrates to readers what manic and depression looks and feels like. Readers watch as some of Ellen’s friends distance themselves because she’s so manic and others who help her when she’s depressed. Throughout this four-years struggle, it’s drawing, Ellen’s passion, that helps her.

If the name Ellen Forney sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because she’s the illustrator behind Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In Marbles, Ellen has a similar drawing style. The black and white drawing adds to Ellen’s writing without bogging down the story in any way.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Something that stayed with me about this book is Ellen’s journey as she tries different medications in various combinations. The side effects for these pills range from anything like hair loss, low blood platelet levels, tremors, memory loss, to skin breakouts. It takes weeks for these pills to work and if they don’t, the person has to start over with a different pill in a different combination. I also learned that most health insurance companies don’t cover prescriptions for these types of medications. Ellen breaks down the costs of her pills while she’s going through this. It was shocking to find out that a month’s worth of one pill could cost her almost $1000. That is ridiculous. So not only is there a pretty good chance that this prescription won’t work, but it’s also so expensive. I would think that insurance companies would know that if a person can’t take care of their mental and emotional health, they won’t be able to take care of their physical health. You can’t have one without the other. I felt frustration about this, right along with Ellen.

With the right pills, her passion of art, and the support of family and friends, Ellen finds balance in the end.

Marbles is a fantastic read. It’s a book that will appeal to people who’ve had their own mental struggles, older teens, lovers of the graphic format, and anyone who likes a good story. My rating: 5 out of 5. I need this in my personal library.

Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

 cainQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Susan Cain

368 pages

Published in January 2013 by Broadway

Source: Bought it

If it wasn’t for a Twitter chat a few months ago, I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to read Quiet just yet. Don’t get me wrong. It was already on my reading list but there are so many books to read and well, not enough time. It’s a good thing for me that Joy (Joy’s Book Blog) decided to host an online discussion about this book.

In Quiet, Susan Cain describes just what makes introverts who they are. She describes the difference between being introverted and being shy; being introverted is the preference for quiet environments while being shy is a fear of being humiliated or feeling disapproval in public. Using some of the latest psychological research, she also shows how stimulation and biology has a lot to do with whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part deals with society’s focus on extroversion as an ideal and includes a quiz for readers to see where they stand on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. The second part deals with biology and how much of it influences our environmental preferences. Part three describes the Asian American experience in America while part four bring it altogether with work and relationship preferences.

As an introvert, it was nice to learn more about the differences between the two preferences. Cain writes about how “the culture of personality” in America has blossomed and changed what American society values. In the early 1900s, there was a shift from individuals having character to having an extroverted personality. We still discuss and praise people with character like Warren Buffet and George Clooney for the charity work they do but the people that stay on the tongue of society are people who talk first and think later. Not every extrovert acts this way though.

I also learned about the orchid hypothesis. Some kids are orchids and need a lot of time and attention while other children can bloom anywhere they’re planted. It made me realize that my oldest and youngest are definitely orchid kids. I knew that but I didn’t have a name for it. If you have a quiet child, I think the chapter you really should read is chapter 11 which is all about bringing out the best in introverted kids.

Cain, while praising the strengths of introverts also shows how both personalities can stretch to act more like the other. But she admits human beings are rubber bands and are able to stretch only so far. I found Quiet to be well-written and greatly researched. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Here’s Susan Cain’s TedTalk called The Power of Introverts

Short Children’s Book Reviews: We March by Shane W. Evans and I Have a Dream by Kadir Nelson

evans we marchWe March

Shane W. Evans

32 pages

Published in 2012 by Roaring Brook Press

Source: Public Library

In We March, author Shane W. Evans take readers to August 28, 1963, the day that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Readers follow a family of four as they start their day to get ready to march until they hear Dr. King’s speech. Evans’ writing is simple with just a few words on each page. The book is plain enough that young readers can read it to themselves but why the march and the speech itself is important will have to be put in context by adults so kids can understand it. I found this book to be a great introduction for younger readers. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

nelson kingI Have a Dream: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Paintings by Kadir Nelson

40 pages

Published in 2012 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Source: Public Library

Lord, I love Kadir Nelson’s paintings. He’s one of my favorite illustrators and is easily one of the most talented artists working on children’s books. His paintings are so good that you want to buy two copies of his work: one book to read and the other book to cut the pages out to hang on your walls.  Nelson takes Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and illustrates it. The result is a beautiful book that readers old and young will want to read. At the end of the book, Nelson adds the speech in its entirety. The book also comes with a CD recording of the speech as it was delivered in 1963 by Dr. King.  My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Zora: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

fradinZora: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

Written by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin

192 pages

Published in 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Source: Public Library

Zora: The Life of Zora Neale Hurtson follows the critically-acclaimed author and anthropologist from her birth in Notasulga, Alabama to her death in her sixties, penniless and almost forgotten. In between these years, the authors show readers what made Zora Neale Hurston special and just how much life she packed in her years.

I really enjoy reading memoirs and biographies about people who spent their lives doing what they loved. From the journals of Frida Kahlo to memoirs about Georgia O’Keefe, if a person followed their passion, I want to read a book about it. So reading a book about Zora Neale Hurston, the writer of the classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, was a no-brainer.

It’s said that Zora Neale Hurston packed more lives in her sixty-nine years of life than most people ever do. From her troubled childhood after the death of her mother to having to drop out of school many times to work, Zora rushed head-on. The authors pack so many details in the book to illustrate how rich Hurston’s life was. She lied about her age so many times for different reasons like getting a job to going to school for free. Being young, black, and smart, Zora ran into problem after problem but figured out ways around or through them. This book was written for middle-grade students and up, but I think anyone who reads this will find inspiration from Hurston’s life.

I loved learning about Hurston’s friendship with Langston Hughes, her inspiration for Their Eyes Were Watching God, and her life as an anthropologist traveling throughout the south for black folklore.  Even I could picture her standing on a sidewalk in Harlem, measuring strangers’ heads to prove racists wrong about the link between intelligence and the head size.

There are so many interesting tidbits to learn about Hurston but the problem is this book is so dry. The book is less than 200 pages but it took me over a week to read. Hurston’s life isn’t the problem but the author’s writing style. It became a chore to read this. If I, a reader who was already interested in the subject, had a hard time getting through this book, I can just imagine the experience a young reader going through this book will have. I don’t think they would finish it.

Hurston’s life was rich with adventures and this book proves that, but I’m reluctant to recommend it. If you’re already interested in Hurston’s life, I think you should give this book a try. For readers who don’t know much about the author, I suggest picking up something else about Hurston. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Children’s Books on Famous Artists: Me, Frida, It Jes’ Happened, and Chuck Close Face Book

Me, Frida

Written by Amy Novesky. Illustrated by David Diaz

Published in 2010 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

I love beautiful art. I also love reading about Frida Kahlo, so when Jill (Rhapsody in Books) wrote a review about Me, Frida, I had to get my hands on it. Me, Frida is a non-fiction read about the short time in Frida Kahlo’s life that she spent in San Francisco, California with her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera. Novesky stays with the details that we know about Frida’s life. Of course, not everything is detailed but it doesn’t have to be since it’s a children’s book and space is very limited.

The artwork by David Diaz is very beautiful. In her review, Jill wrote that there were pages that you want to tear out and put on your walls, and she is so right. You also see through the artwork how Frida thought of herself at this time. She wasn’t known as an artist but as Mrs. Rivera. At the beginning of the book, almost every page has the couple together. It’s not until Frida explores San Francisco that she comes out of her shell and starts to paint again, finding herself. The pages of just Frida are breathtaking. Young readers will enjoy this book especially the artwork. They’ll probably want to read more about the artist. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Page from Me, Frida

Chuck Close Face book

Chuck Close

Published in 2012 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

If you didn’t read my read-a-thon posts, I should just tell you now that this book was a hit with my kids during the event and for good reason. Chuck Close Face Book features the artist, his artwork, and the questions of children who wanted to know more about him. Through the questions and the artist’s answers, readers learn a lot about Close including the fact that he was “severely” learning disabled as a child growing up in the 1940s and 1950s. He was dyslexic and diagnosed with prosopagnosia, also called “face blindness”. People who have the disorder can’t remember and therefore, can’t recognize faces.  Close has been drawing since he was a child. It was the only thing he was really good at and his parents encouraged him.  Something that’s really inspiring is that his disorder didn’t stop him. Close is famous for making portraits and he also share his techniques. You could say that this is a book for kids but I think this is a book for the whole family. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw

Written by Don Tate. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

Published in 2012 by Lee & Low Books

Source: Publisher

When Bill Traylor was in his early 80s, he started drawing. Alone and living in the back of businesses, he would draw using whatever materials he could find: the stubs of pencils, scraps of paper and cardboard. It didn’t matter that he didn’t really know how to draw. He just started and taught himself, drawing pictures from his memories of living on a cotton farm near Benton, Alabama. It wasn’t long before a young artist by the name of Charles Shannon saw Traylor’s work and took an interest in it. Developing a friendship that lasted for years, Shannon saved some of Traylor’s drawing, even hosting an exhibit. It wasn’t until almost forty years later, in the 1970s that others took an interest and appreciated Traylor’s “outsider” art. Tate’s writing along with Christie’s illustrations does a fantastic job of bringing Traylor’s story to a new audience. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

All books in this post, unless otherwise stated, were acquired via the public library.

Review: American Grown by Michelle Obama

American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America

Michelle Obama

272 pages

Published in May 2012 by Crown Publishing

Source: Library

And the more I learned about this problem, the more I came to believe that we could solve it. This isn’t like putting a man on the moon or inventing the cell phone. It doesn’t take some stroke of genius or feat of technology. We have everything we need, right now, to help our kids lead healthy lives. Rarely in the history of this country have we encountered a problem of such magnitude and consequence that is so eminently solvable. So instead of just talking about this issue, or worrying and wringing our hands about it, we decided to get moving.

In March of 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama, along with various White House staff and volunteers, broke ground on the White House Kitchen Garden (WHKG). The purpose of the garden: to be a learning center for the public, a source of fresh food for those at the White House, and an example of what was possible for others.  This isn’t the first time that a vegetable garden was started at the White House, but the latest in a long history. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Edith Roosevelt are among the group of White House occupants who loved gardens and planted edible plants on the White House grounds.

These are some of the many facts that I learned while reading American Grown.  Horticulture in America has changed a lot since the first White House garden and not always for the better. American Grown is about what has changed and also the beacons of light that are shining throughout the country.

When I started reading this, I didn’t know what to expect. Would this book be mostly about politics or all the things that the administration has done? Nope. I was happy to say that though the author is a very famous American, the people and places she highlights aren’t.

 The book is divided by seasons and readers learn all about the WHKG including the people who help to maintain it like the White House beekeeper and chefs, National Park gardeners, and volunteers. Readers learn from this group what exactly they do for the WHKG and how they do it. The book is filled with photos of the volunteers and how the garden changes through the seasons.

American Grown focuses a lot on the WHKG but the book is pretty much a three-in-one: history book, how-to manual, and profile of community gardens in America. The how-to part of the book gives advice on things like starting a garden, making compost, along with seasonal recipes that can be found in the back of the book.

My favorite section turned out to be the profiles of community gardens around the country. Through the profiles I learned that the P-Patch Garden in Seattle gave away more than 20,000 pounds of fresh produce in 2010 while The Rainbow Beach Park in Chicago is one of the oldest community gardens; it was first started as a victory garden during World War II. The book also made me want to pick up urban farmer Will Allen’s book, The Good Food Revolution, after learning about all the good he’s doing in Chicago. With so many negative stories in the media about virtually everything, I think it’s great to read about so many people who are inspired to help their communities thrive.

You probably can tell from reading this long review, that I really enjoyed this book. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Highly recommend.

Review: No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

Written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, artwork by R. Gregory Christie

192 pages

Published in 2012 by Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books

Source: Public Library

I think there’s been a war on independent bookstores. It’s a crime because books are more than just books in the African American community. Literacy and education were once the hopes for getting away from slavery, out of the ghetto, into power. Bookstores have been cultural crossroads, information centers. The bookstore is where we meet, where we talk. In the sixties, in Harlem, at 125th Street and Seventh, it was Lewis Michaux’s bookstore.  –Poet Nikki Giovanni

No Crystal Stair is a celebration, a celebration of the written word and one man’s dedication to it. As avid readers, we know how life-changing and earth-shattering the affect that reading can have on our lives. In Harlem during the 1930s, Lewis Michaux asked a banker for a $500 loan but was turned down. According to the banker, “black people don’t read”. Determined, Michaux started his bookstore with five books and a cart. He would walk up and down the street, shouting about the books he was selling. Over three decades, those five books turned into more than 200,000 at Michaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore. The bookstore became a place for people to meet, talk, and educate themselves. Through the years, famous people were spotted browsing through the store like Zora Neale Hurston, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and others. Told through interviews, photos, and documents, No Crystal Stair is the fictional account of the life of Lewis Michaux.

When it comes to telling you how I feel about this book, I’m almost speechless. If it wasn’t for the author deciding to spent years writing Michaux’s story, I probably wouldn’t have ever heard of this man and his influential bookstore.

We are in a time where indie bookstores are closing all over the country and it’s becoming harder to find a neighborhood bookish spot to patron. It was a similar atmosphere in 1930s Harlem when Michaux got the idea of starting his bookstore. Though at the time, there was a huge population in Harlem, there wasn’t a bookstore (or any mention of one in the book). Michaux believed that for people to understand the world around them, reading was the answer. He went up against so many people who didn’t believe in the power of reading or that Michaux would make any money. And at first, they were right. For the first several years, he didn’t make any money. He washed windows and did odd jobs around the neighborhood.

Finally, business finally picked up and people came in droves to buy books. If customers couldn’t afford a book, they were free to read it in the back. To Michaux, knowledge was power and it was important for everyone to have the opportunity to read books by and about people that looked just like them.

There are details missing about Michaux’s beginnings like what year he was born in or exactly when was his bookstore started, so Nelson turned this biography into a fictional account. But she did give readers photos and newspaper clippings from that time along with transcripts from interviews with people who knew Michaux best.

I’m so grateful that Nelson, who is the great-niece of Michaux, decided to write her great-uncle’s story.  I’m also grateful to the publisher, Carolrhoda Lab, for taking a chance on this subject and publishing No Crystal Stair. If you like reading about books, or always dreamed of owning your own bookstore, this is the book for you. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Spring Reading Thing 2012

March 20, 2012 – June 20, 2012

Hosted at Callapidder Days

If you didn’t know that today was the first day of spring, you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking out my window. It’s nice and cold outside, perfect winter weather. So it seems a little funny to be making a list of books I want to read for spring. I missed last year’s Spring Reading Thing, a seasonal “challenge”, and I refuse to miss it again this year.

I decided to dedicate this year’s SRT to my many stacks of unread books. This idea came to me yesterday after “finding” an under-bed shoe storage filled with books. I think that’s one of the great things about Spring Reading Thing is that participants are encouraged to make goals. It’s not just the amount of books to read but anything else you can think of.

One of my goals is to read at least fifteen of my own books within the next three months. It doesn’t have to be the fifteen books on this list but it needs to be fifteen. I’ve own The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot since its publication in 2009. I even pre-ordered it and still haven’t read it. If I don’t read it by the end of this challenge, I’m going to give it away to my local public library. Which leads me to my second goal:

  • Give away at least ten books by June 20th. If I don’t miss the 30+ books under my bed, I won’t miss the ten that I plan on giving away. I’m thinking of this as my own bookish spring cleaning.

Last but not least is to have at least one read-along with my daughter. She’s ten and hasn’t read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett yet. It’s been a reading tradition of mine to read it every spring. I already bought her the book and movie version. Now it’s time to read it to her. Maybe I’ll give her a package of seeds to go with it. I think she’ll like that. If the read-along is a success, we can add Natalie Babbit’s Tuck Everlasting in June. It’s one of my favorite summer reads.

My pool of books:

  1. Head Off and Split by Nikki Finney (poetry)
  2. Land to Light On by Dionne Brand (poetry)
  3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (non-fiction)
  4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (non-fiction)
  5. Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (middle grade)
  6. The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
  7. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
  8. Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech (poetry)
  9. The Humming Room by Ellen Potter (middle grade)
  10. Sula by Toni Morrison
  11. Alcestis by Katharine Beutner
  12. What Looks Like Crazy on An Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
  13. No Regrets Parenting by Harley A. Rotbart (non-fiction)
  14. The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman
  15. Among Others by Jo Walton (young adult)
  16. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
  17. Wonder by R.J. Pollacio (middle grade)
  18. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (young adult)
  19. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (middle grade)
  20. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (middle grade)
  21. The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon (middle grade)
  22. Cousins by Virginia Hamilton (middle grade)
  23. An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor (non-fiction)

So that’s what I’m planning this spring. Have you started thinking about your spring reading? Are you joining Spring Reading Thing this year?

DNF: Something Like Beautiful

Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother’s Story

asha bandele

208 pages

Published in 2009 by HarperCollins

Source: Bought it

Something Like Beautiful is almost a collection of snapshots of poet/writer asha bandele’s life as a wife and mother before her life was dramatically changed.  After being married for several years, she learns that her husband, who’s been serving time in prison, was denied parole and will be deported back to his native Guyana, a country he hasn’t lived in since his early childhood. Almost overnight, asha becomes a single mother.

I really wanted to love this book but after fifty pages, I knew it wasn’t for me. It had nothing to do with the subject matter but the narrative. I was expecting a story told pretty linearly and not one that is more a stream-of-consciousness.

Here’s a passage:

There are times I have to force myself to remember to breathe when I think of all my mistakes, my slips of judgment, and the way they have tracked me and my baby like some madman stalker all the way through, not just moments, but years that I would recall if could, years for which I would beg. Can I have a do-over? I would beg because how can a mother not beg to erase anything ugly, anything wrong that entered the life of her child?

Weekend Cooking: Books for Young Foodies

Weekend Cooking is a meme hosted by Candace at Beth Fish Reads. Anyone with a food-related post can join.

My kids love books about food. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cookbook or a picture book, so lately we’ve been going out of our way to find more books with kid foodies in mind. It’s been a little hard finding fiction with recipes for kids but what we’ve found so far has been pretty good.

Cook-A-Doodle-Doo

Written by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

Illustrated by Janet Stevens

48 pages

Published in 2005 by Voyager Books

Source: Library

Big Brown Rooster is tired of eating chicken feed all day, every day. As the great-grandson of the famous Little Red Hen, he decides enough is enough. If the stories are right and Little Red Hen was as great a cook as people say, then he can cook too. With the help of a few friends, Rooster decides to try and make his great-grandma’s strawberry shortcake. But will the shortcake turns out the way it’s supposed to?

What I really like about this book is that the authors illustrate beautifully that not everything you make will turn out well but the key is to keep trying until you get it right. Kids will laugh at the animals as they try to figure out Great Grandma’s instructions while learning how to measure, sift flour, and other things.  Included at the end of the picture book is the recipe the characters use. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Pizza: How to Make and Bake More Than 50 Delicious Homemade Pizza

Written by Carla Bardi

128 pages

Published in 2011 by Reader’s Digest

Source: Library

If I were to describe Pizza, I would say “cute”. The book is shaped like a pizza. Bardi includes recipes for making pizza dough from scratch including whole-wheat and gluten-free dough. There are plenty of pictures for step-by-step instructions for the dough and for the various types of pizza the author included. As a mom with three picky eaters, there aren’t many recipes in this book that I could make and my kids would eat.  These aren’t your typical pizza recipes instead there’s eggplant pizza, bell pepper pizza, and even pizza with apple and Gorgonzola. There’s nothing wrong with the recipes but this isn’t a book I can really use. I’m still recommending it for those with a more “sophisticated” palate. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Easy as Pie

Written by Cari Best

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

48 pages

Published in 2010 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Source: Library

Jacob loves watching his favorite TV chef, Chef Monty, makes his famous recipes. When Jacob decides to make a peach pie, it’s a good thing he remembers all of Monty’s rules about cooking. There are a few mistakes and setbacks but Jacob’s determined to make his pie.

I thought this was a lovely book about making a goal and seeing it through until the end. With illustrations by Melissa Sweet, (A River of Words and Carmine), Easy as Pie is a book that will leave young foodies hungry for more. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Have you read any of these? Are there any books you would recommend for young foodies?

What’s on My Nightstand

We’re six days into the New Year and I haven’t posted a review yet. Part of it has to do with having a fuzzy memory on the books I read during the end of the 2011. The other part of it is that I’m in a reading slump. I don’t know if it has to do with the fact that the semester starts on Monday or that I’m in the middle of so many books right now.  There’s so much I want to read before everything school starts but I doubt that it’s going to happen. Here’s what’s currently on my nightstand:

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman. I received an advance reading copy of this for the Chunkster Challenge. It’s our featured chunkster for January. The book is about the lives of two men in New York and how those lives intersect. So far, so good.

I decided to join the Essay-A-Day Project for 2012 hosted by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) and Ash (English Major’s Narrative) because I love essays but I don’t read them often enough. I think the best stories and essays make you want to re-read them, to figure out how they work. The Best American Essays: College Edition edited by Robert Atwan is my essay read for this month.  I’ve already read “In the Kitchen” by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Now I’m reading “Hair” by Maria Aldrich. I can recommend both essays.

I recently picked up The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Maria Tatar, after reading Polly Shulman’s middle grade fantasy, The Grimm Legacy. I started reading the story, “The Twelve Brothers” and felt like a kid again.

Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners is another book I’ve been reading in bits. The collection’s first story, “The Faery Handbag” is weird and lovely at the same time. The second story, “The Hortlak” is a little too strange for me so I’ll probably read the last story “Lull” and put the rest of the book down.

Peter Hedges’ What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is a book I’ve re-read almost every year. It’s just like the movie but better.

I’m also reading Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin for this month’s Game of Thrones read-along. It’s a dual reading in audio and print. I might just ditch the audio version though I love listening to George Guidall’s voice.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson is a story that I failed to read last year though I hosted a read-along for it! It’s another chunkster but reads like a novel.

So that’s what I’m reading. What are you reading this week?

TSS Review: Fante by Dan Fante

Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking, and Surviving

By Dan Fante

400 pages

Published in 2011 by Harper Perennial

Source: publisher

A darkness had come to my life, a despair that only those who have known the unendingness and bottomlessness of their own psyche can understand. No matter what I did or what female hostage I took in a relationship, I knew hat sooner or later I would die from suicide.

The subtitle of the book, A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking, and Surviving, gives readers a glimpse of the Fante’s history of alcohol and literature. Dan is the middle son of influential American writer John Fante, a man who had a raging battle with alcohol. John’s own father was also an alcoholic while Dan was four the first time he tried alcohol. I don’t know about you but though I was surprised at how young the author was, I’m not surprised that his first time was trying it at his parents’ house because of easy access. It’s also telling that the author describes that first time as being his “first spiritual experience”. It was decades before Dan was able to stop drinking for good but so much happened before he was able to.

While reading the first 100 pages of this book, I almost called it quits. Fante writes a lot about his father who has a bad tempered alcoholic and prone to mood swings. In the beginning John Fante was a monster of a husband and father, who for years didn’t think much about married life and less about his second son, Dan. At first, I felt like I was learning more about John than Dan. I understand that Fante is an influential American writer and he has a huge presence in his family’s lives but I wanted to know more about Dan and less background information on John. It made me think that this memoir might be better suited for people who’ve already read John Fante’s books.

I love that Dan doesn’t hold back from the ugliness of addiction. The author describes days of wicked hangovers, rages, paranoia, and intense sexual appetites. This book isn’t for the faint of heart. The great thing is that most of what’s described is necessary to understand Fante’s life at the time. He helps readers see what pushed him to start drinking when he was sober and what made him continue even though everything around him told him he needed to stop.

Brutal self-judgment clogged my mind and failures began replaying endlessly in my head, dogging me for days at a time. I was convinced that my brain was out to kill me, and would, if it didn’t have to rely on my body for transportation, More and more I removed myself from people, and fuck it became my daily marching orders. My life, my thinking, was now about keeping the secret that I was crazy. On the outside I appeared reasonable normal but the inside was a firestorm of madness. I felt as though there were a coiled spring in my head that I had to hold down, day and night.

In the end, it’s writing that saves Dan Fante and gives him peace. Gritty and honest, this book doesn’t hold back about the chaos of Fante’s earlier life or the pitfalls of addiction. Bruised, battered, and almost broken, Dan Fante shows readers that addiction can be fought and they too can survive. Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.