Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday Salon: June 25, 2017 Greetings from the UK

My life in books:
Reading over the past couple of weeks has been really slow since I spent two weeks ago nursing my daughter through wisdom teeth surgery and this past week we're on vacation so it's go, go, go.
Challenge updates:
  • Read Your Own Damn Books--My goal is to read 25 books from my TBR shelves this year. So far I've read 28, adding one in the past two weeks.
  • Travel the World in Books--The idea is to read books set in as many countries as possible. In the past two weeks I added one new country: Japan.
  • Literary Escapes--Similar to the previous challenge, this one tracks the US states. In the past two weeks I added no new states so I am still at 16 states total.
  • Read all of the ALA YA Award Winners--I only have one book left for this challenge.
My life outside books:
Work is finished for the summer. Well, sort of. My normal job finished as of Friday, June 16 after I ran a couple days of Google trainings for our district teachers, which went well. But I am teaching an online American Government course starting July 1.

Two weeks ago was devoted to nursing my daughter through getting her wisdom teeth out. Actually, it went well with minimal swelling and she just did Advil and Tylenol for pain. Lots of smoothies, scrambled eggs, and mashed potatoes. Talk about a boring diet! Now we're on vacation and her pain med intake is greatly reduced. It is amazing how long the achy-ness continues.
University of St. Andrews
We have been in the United Kingdom since Monday and so far it's been great! We stayed with my brother and his family for the first couple of days in Kent, which is such a beautiful area and it was wonderful to see them all. Since Wednesday afternoon we've been in Scotland with my daughter and one of my nieces. They are only 8 weeks apart so are really enjoying spending time together. I brought them up to Edinburgh and St. Andrews to look at the universities here to see if they want to apply. Neither one was taken with the University of Edinburgh, but my daughter has decided to definitely apply to the University of St. Andrews. The medieval town and university (founded in 1413!) are wonderful. And we were up here for the Summer Solstice, which was really fun; it was dark for only a few hours!


  • I finished all but one episode of Madam Secretary before we left home and I am looking forward to season 3 becoming available on Netflix. I thought I could watch the last episode of season 2, but it isn't on the British Netflix so now I have to wait until I get home.
  • While up here in Scotland my daughter, niece, and I have been watching Designated Survivor each night, which I am quite enjoying even though bits of it are so far-fetched.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

Title: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms
Author: Gail Tsukiyama
Year Published: 2017

Genre: Adult historical fiction
Pages: 422
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)Japan

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): It is Tokyo in 1939. On the Street of a Thousand Blossoms, two orphaned brothers dream of a future firmly rooted in tradition. The older boy, Hiroshi, shows early signs of promise at the national obsession of sumo wrestling, while Kenji is fascinated by the art of Noh theater masks.

But as the ripples of war spread to their quiet neighborhood, the brothers must put their dreams on hold--and forge their own paths in a new Japan. Meanwhile, the two young daughters of a renowned sumo master find their lives increasingly intertwined with the fortunes of their father's star pupil, Hiroshi.

Review: A Gail Tsukiyama book is always a welcome thing. I was headed to the United Kingdom and this book seemed like the perfect book to take on a 10-hour flight and then I didn't read at all on the flight over. Once I did begin to read it, it took me about 40 pages to get into it. There are so many characters introduced so quickly, I think I needed time to wrap my head around all of them.

But, once I got the characters straight in my head and got to know the two brothers better, I was hooked. As with other Tsukiyama novels, this one is rich in setting, character relationships, and story. All the disparate characters come together to weave one engrossing story of love, loss, and history. 

I do like it when I learn from a book and this one taught me so much about World War II and the post-war era from the Japanese perspective, about sumo wrestling and it's importance in Japanese culture, and about Noh masks and theater.

Challenges for which this counts:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review: The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

Title: The Right Side
Author: Spencer Quinn
Year Published: 2017

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 323
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map): USA (WA)

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher via TLC Tours

Summary (from the back of the book): LeAnne Hogan went to Afghanistan as a rising star in the military, and came back a much lesser person, mentally and physically. Now missing an eye and with half her face badly scarred, she can barely remember the disastrous desert operation that almost killed her. She is confused, angry, and suspects the fault is hers, even though nobody will come out and say it.

Shattered by one last blow--the sudden death of her hospital roommate, Marci--LeAnne finds herself on a fateful drive across the country, reflecting on her past and seeing no future. Her native land is now unfamiliar, recast in shadow by her one good eye and her damaged psyche. Arriving in the rain soaked small town in Washington state that Marci had called home, she makes a troubling discovery: Marci's eight-year-old daughter has vanished. When a stray dog--a powerful, dark, unreadable creature, no one's idea of a pet--seems to adopt LeAnne, a surprising connection is formed and something shifts inside her. As she becomes obsessed with finding Marci's daughter, LeAnne and her inscrutable canine companion are drawn into danger as dark and menacing as her last Afghan mission. Thsi time she has a strange but loyal fellow traveler protecting her blind side.
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Review: LeAnne is tough. Physically tough and emotionally tough. She was a gymnast, a pole vaulter, and soldier in Afghanistan where she survived a grenade attack in which she lost an eye. That would make anyone wary, untrusting and angry. Her anger made it difficult for me to like LeAnne for at least the first half of the book. She was mean to everyone she met from brief encounters to longer relationships. I guess I get that, but as a reader it made me not care about her. 

Then LeAnne got to Washington state where she connected with Marci's family. Marci was her roommate at Walter Reed Hospital for military personnel. LeAnne is adopted by a large dog at the same time and I think the dog really has a huge impact on how she feels. The dog makes sure she is always at LeAnne's side, the side with no eye. The dog is strong, protective, and no-nonsense; perfect for LeAnne. But the dog parts aren't gushy, which fits well.

When the book ends I am not totally sure that LeAnne is going to be okay. I wanted to know that she would return for follow-up appointments (both medical and therapy), but I am not sure that she will. I think she is definitely in a better place than at the beginning, but that the road to being "okay" is a long one. The book does a good job at letting the reader into the headspace of a veteran with PTSD and I think it's an important story to tell.

The publisher is doing a Rafflecopter giveaway which begins Tuesday, June 19 at midnight EST and ends at July 16, 2017. Good luck!

Challenges for which this counts:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Salon: June 11, 2017

My life in books:
Reading over the past couple of weeks ...
Currently reading: The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

Challenge updates:
  • Read Your Own Damn Books--My goal is to read 25 books from my TBR shelves this year. So far I've read 27, adding 3 in the past two weeks!
  • Travel the World in Books--The idea is to read books set in as many countries as possible. This week I added Palestine, Jordan, and Vietnam, and Germany which brings my total to 23 countries.
  • Literary Escapes--Similar to the previous challenge, this one tracks the US states. In the past two weeks I added Maine, bringing my total to 16 states.
  • Read all of the ALA YA Award Winners--I only have one book left for this challenge.
My life outside books:
School officially ended on Thursday, but I am now on a 200 day contract so I have an additional 13 days to work this summer. This coming week I am running some Google workshops with a wonderful colleague so that should be fun.

My daughter is back for the summer and the poor thing is spending the first week taking the ACT and getting her wisdom teeth out. Not so much fun. But, in a week we are leaving for the UK so we're both really excited about that!

I have been trying to walk every day in preparation for the real training that begins later this month. I bought new walking shoes, which makes me realize how worn out my old ones are! I've raised all the money that I am required to raise ($1,800) so that feels really good. Now I can focus on the walking.

  • The Amazing Race finished and I think it was a good season. I hope they do another round of it.
  • I am now watching World of Dance because some of my daughter's friends from her time in the LA dance industry are on the show. There is some really great dancing, but I do find myself fast-forwarding through a bunch of it.
  • I tried House of Cards and just couldn't continue after 6 episodes. I've now watched the first season of Madam Secretary and am really enjoying it. I totally loved the episode where Madeline Albright had a part!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Review: The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Title: The Women in the Castle
Author: Jessica Shattuck
Year Published: 2017

Genre: Adult historical fiction
Pages: 353
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)Germany and USA (ME)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany's defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband's ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen in to ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband's brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin's mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. then Marianne locates Ania, another resister's wife, and her two boys now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband's resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, and filled with dark secrets that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war--each with their own unique share of challenges.

Review: A World War II book, obviously I'm going to read it! I saw this book reviewed by Sue on Book by Book and thought it sounded good. For some reason it took me a while to read this one, but I am glad I did.

This book is really a character study of three women and how their lives are affected by being German in World War II. Though their lives intersect in Marianne's castle at the end of the war, we learn about their lives before and during the war as well as how they support one another in the the war's immediate aftermath and the decades after. Each woman brings to the castle her secrets, her children, her loves (lost, dead, and missing), her fears, and her heartache. Each story is so similar, yet very different.

Marianne is strong and sure in her role as hostess and wife of a resister. Benita is quiet and unsure in her role as sexual being. Ania is living the biggest lie. Together they raise their children, fend for the group against intruders, learn to navigate Germany's new role post-war, and move on from the castle and their lives as the war becomes merely a memory for the newer generations.

Once I was really into this book, I was really into it. Each chapter seems to reveal more of the past, more lies, more secrets... more revelations that help the reader to fully understand the actions of each of these women. They have each done the best they could with what they had and I cannot fault them for any of it.

Challenges for which this counts: