Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Title: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 814
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (NY)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the author's website): A Little Life follows four college classmates--broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition--as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma. A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara's stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves.

Review: I am drained. This story and these characters have been haunting my thoughts for about two weeks as I worked my way through the book. It is 814 pages after all. I will be honest and say that I wasn't sure I was going to get through this book: the length was intimidating and the first 30 to 50 pages were slow for me. But all of a sudden I found myself absorbed in the characters. Because, really, this book isn't about the story, but rather about people and friendship.

The men in this book, the main four friends and those in their extended lives, care about one another so much it is painful at times. They have history, secrets, and love. To have friends that care as much as these friends do is something we should all be so lucky to have.

There are scenes in this book that are not for the feint of heart. Jude ends up being the center of the characters and he has not had an easy life. it takes hundreds of pages for the horrible details to slowly be revealed to both the reader and his friends. But what's interesting is not the details of his experiences, but how they affected his life, his personality, and those people around him. This book is beautiful, I don't really have another word to describe it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: What Light by Jay Asher

Title: What Light
Author: Jay Asher
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA fiction (romance)
Pages: 251
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (OR, CA)

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review

Summary (from the author's website): Sierra's family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. It's a bucolic setting for a girl to grow up in, except that every year, they pack up and move to California to set up their Christmas tree lot for the season. So Sierra lives two lives: her life in Oregon and her life at Christmas. And leaving one always means missing the other.

Until this particular Christmas, when Sierra meets Caleb, and one life eclipses the other. By reputation, Caleb is not your perfect guy: years ago, he made an enormous mistake and has been paying for it ever since. Sierra sees beyond Caleb's past and becomes determined to help him find forgiveness and, maybe, redemption. But as disapproval, misconceptions, and suspicions swirl around them, Caleb and Sierra can't help but wonder if love really is enough to overcome every obstacle....

Review: I loved Asher's novel Thirteen Reasons Why (this is a link to when I met Jay Asher since I read the book before starting this blog) and have been eagerly awaiting his next novel. It's finally here! Yay!

While I didn't love this book as much as Thirteen Reasons Why, I did enjoy it. And they are very different from each other. What Light has such an interesting setting: other than migrant farming families who travel with the seasons, I have never thought about people who spend a finite chunk of each year away from home. Sierra's holiday time in California seems so idyllic in some ways--who wouldn't want to spend the holidays somewhere where you have friends and know the community? And surrounded by Christmas trees and that holiday smell? Sounds wonderful. I love going to my local farm to get our tree each year. I taught the daughters and they are now my colleagues and that sense of community is fantastic. So I got to hold those fond memories in my mind while I read this book.

Besides the interesting and different setting, Sierra and Caleb's story is one that will resonate with many teens: he has a troubled past (well, one troubled incident), she's a good girl, and they really, really like one another. Her parents are worried and caution her against getting too attached. No huge surprises there, but Asher has a way of writing that works for me; I get pulled into the story quickly and it holds my attention. I stayed up late two nights in a row to read.

I think the fact that Christmas is the setting really worked for me as well. I love Christmas: the smells, the lights, the food, time with family, visiting that one house in town that has thousands of lights and decorations. It just makes me feel full and happy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review: Spot 12 by Jenny Jaeckel

Title: Spot 12: The Story of a Birth
Author: Jenny Jaeckel
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult non-fiction graphic novel
Pages: 111
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)Canada

FTC Disclosure: I was given this book for a review

Summary (from the author's website): Spot 12 delivers the gritty details of a mother, a newborn, and a five-month stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in a visually gripping graphic memoir. A routine prenatal exam reveals a dangerous problem, and first-time parents find themselves thrust into a world of close calls, sleepless nights, and psychological crisis. Surrounded by disagreements, death, extended family tensions, and questions of faith, the mother struggles to maintain a positive frame of mind.

Against the anti-septic, mechanical reality of the NICU, the dedicated doctors, nurses and therapists are drawn as sympathetic and wry animal characters. Doctor Eyes and Nurse Gentlehands are two of the care providers that do all they can to take care of Baby Asa. But even the best hospital staff make mistakes, and Jaeckel and her husband's vigilance must be acute. At times they battle feelings of helplessness, but their determination, insight, bravery, and connection ultimately helps keep their little one alive.


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Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Author Links: Website and Twitter

Review: I have signed on for quite a few TLC Book Tours this fall and was looking forward to this one not only for the topic of the story, but also since it is a graphic novel and it's been far too long since I've read one. I love that in a graphic novel you get a good story, amazing artwork, and it's quick. I fit this one in while reading a very long novel (814 pages) from which it felt good to take a one-evening break.

Jenny's birth story is one that I wouldn't wish on anybody; her pregnancy was going fine until week 38 when they discovered she had far too much amniotic fluid. That began the nightmare of 5 or 6 months in NICU with her daughter. I am extremely lucky: I had an easy pregnancy, an easy birth, and my daughter had no health problems (she just couldn't latch). When your own children are born with no problems it is easy to forget that other parents are going through hell just to keep their newborns alive. Jenny's story pulled me in from the first frames and kept my attention throughout.

I think it was effective that the artwork in this book is all in black and white as that makes the starkness and the difficulties seem more real. I think color would have detracted from the seriousness of the story. I also think it was good that the author talked about her relationships with her mother and with depression as she was fighting for her daughter's life. I kept hoping Jenny would get more help so that she could cope. I do think it's interesting that the story happened in Canada to an American couple. They realized that with the Canadian health care system they could afford the care their daughter needed and chose to remain in Canada instead of returning to the US where the bills would have been astronomical.

It definitely helped me read this book knowing that there is a happy ending; Jenny's daughter is alive and doing well though it hasn't been easy. I love that at the end there are photos of the family showing life beyond the trauma of NICU. Kudos to Jenny for writing about such a harrowing experience and for using the form of the graphic novel to do it. I think it's really effective.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday Salon in which I rejoin the blogging world

It has been 2 years since I've done a Sunday Salon post. Wow! For the past two years I've been reading, but not really "blogging." I haven't been good at reading other people's blogs and I have only done review blogs here. In the last month I've gotten a little better about visiting other blogs and now I've actually got it on my calendar to check in on the weekends. So, with my renewed activity, I thought I'd try a Sunday Salon and see how it feels.

My life in books: 
I have read more lately than in the past year or so and I've updated my Where I'm Reading map so that it works better. I LOVE the new Google My Maps!

Here are my top reads (5 stars) from the past two years. It is interesting to see, long after the fact, which books I labeled as 5 stars. I think I would now change some of them, but that doesn't seem fair; I like sticking to how I felt when I read a book. So, without further ado...
  1. September 2016--Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (YA LGBTQ, USA). This one is great and it's main character identifies at gender fluid, which was new to me. I passed this one on to my daughter's school library.
  2. September 2016--The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan (YA fiction, Cote d'Ivoire). This is a story that sucks you in and reveals what it's like to be a child working the cacao plantations. This is another one that I gave to my daughter's school library.
  3. August 2016--Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Rowling, Tiffany and Thorne (Adult/YA fiction, UK). Is this really deserving of 5 stars? Probably not, but it fed my inner Harry Potter need.
  4. July 2016--Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder (adult non-fiction, Haiti, Peru, and Russia). This is powerful stuff about poverty and one man's work to combat it.
  5. July 2016--The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork (YA, fiction, USA). What a great read about friendship and mental illness.
  6. June 2016--Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (adult non-fiction, USA). As someone whose parents are getting older, but not yet old, this was a great read on how we deal with end-of-life decisions.
  7. May 2016--Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (adult non-fiction, USA). This one is very powerful.
  8. March 2016--I am Princess X by Cherie Priest (YA fiction, USA). This is a story of friendship with a bit of a mystery thrown in for good measure.
  9. October 2015--A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller (YA historical fiction, UK). This is a great story about the women's suffrage movement in the UK and another one that I passed on to my daughter. She now tries to get her friends to read it.
  10. December 2014--War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel LaFrance (YA historic, graphic novel, Uganda). This is the story of four friends who are kidnapped by Kony's army. It's intense and very well done.
  11. November 2014--The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama (adult fiction, China). This is the follow-up to Women of the Silk and who are we kidding, anything by Tsukiyama gets a 5 from me!
  12. October 2014--The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (non-fiction, sports, USA). I still think about this book and have seen the documentary as well. It's about the University of Washington crew team in the 1930s and their road to the 1936 Olympics. It's a great combination of history, relationships, and underdogs.
  13. July 2014--We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (YA mystery, USA). I loved this one so much I immediately gave it to my daughter to read and she has recommended it to a number of friends.
  14. July 2014-- Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (mystery, USA). Normally, I am not a King fan as they are too scary for me, but this one was really good. And, I just found out it is number one in a trilogy!
What's going on in my life:
There have been quite a few changes in my personal life over the past two years.

  • My daughter is now 16 and has left the LA dance industry. That felt like a huge decision, but she realized that though she loves dance, having it as her career is not right for her. She has always been super intelligent, but being "teased" (not in a bad way) for always reading in between dance events and auditions finally made her realize that she is more destined for the academic world. She is now attending boarding school and is loving it. It's so great to see her in her element! And I am so proud of her for being the only new junior girl and fitting right in.
  • Having my daughter live away from home has definitely been an adjustment, but I am doing much better than I thought I would. That's probably because I know she made such a good decision for herself and her future. But, that means I have WAY more time to read and blog.
  • I have a new job! I am still doing the Technology Integration Coach job for two schools in our district (one junior high and the continuation high school) and am enjoying it. But, the bulk of my job is now as our district's Social Studies Coach. I just began this job in August so I am still trying to figure it out, but it's nice to be thinking about Social Studies again and I do love working with teachers at all of our secondary schools. This also means that I get to do some traveling for PD for myself, something I haven't done in a long time so I am headed to Sacramento in January and March and also to Palm Springs in March. Fun!!!
  • The mobile Vietnam War Memorial Wall is in town this week and I visited it yesterday. What a moving experience. I have been to the real one in Washington, DC a number of times and this half-size replica is just as powerful.
  • My goal for this month is to make my 2015 photo album. It's a huge undertaking so maybe it will take me into November :-)
I hope everyone is doing well on this Sunday morning! Please do comment so that I can add your blogs to my weekly reading.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni

Title: Death By Meeting
Author: Patrick Lencioni
Year Published: 2004

Genre: Adult non-fiction/fiction
Pages: 260
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the author's website): In his latest page-turning work of business fiction, Lencioni provides readers with another powerful and thought-provoking, this one centered around a cure for the most painful yet underestimated problem of modern business: bad meetings. And what he suggests is both simple and revolutionary.

Casey McDaniel, the founder and CEO of Yip Software, is in the midst of a problem he created, but one he doesn't know how to solve. And he doesn't know where or who to turn to for advice. His staff can't help him; they're as dumbfounded as he is by their tortuous meetings.

Then an unlikely advisor, Will Peterson, enters Casey's world. When he proposes an unconventional, even radical, approach to solving the meeting problem, Casey is just desperate enough to listen. Lencioni provides a framework for his groundbreaking model, and makes it applicable to the real world.

Review: I read this book because we have a new Superintendent in our school district and he is having all his staff at the district office read this book. He was shocked to hear they had weekly all-day meetings every Monday with the "top" staff. He is now implementing the "death by meeting" so they have different types of meetings that serve different functions.

  • A weekly "huddle" that is done standing up and lasts less than 30 minutes. At this meeting each person tells the group what they are working on that week. It's a way to keep everyone informed of what's going on
  • A weekly meeting that lasts up to 1.5 hours. The agenda is created by each person saying their top issues that they are dealing with and the group voting on the issues to pick 2 or 3 to focus on.
  • A monthly meeting of a few hours where they tackle the big issues facing the district
  • A quarterly one-day retreat to evaluate where they are with issues and projects. 
The upper level staff seems pleased with the change; I think they feel included in the process and like they actually accomplish something in their meetings rather than just meeting to meet.