The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni (The Golem and the Jinni, #1)The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free.

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection.  Helene Wecker’s debut novel weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

My Review

I almost didn’t finish this one because it had a really slow start for me; there were a lot of characters to meet and some were interesting, others I wasn’t so sure about. There were multiple cultures, eras in time, and settings. At first it took some work to keep it all straight and I wasn’t sure if I cared enough to try. I was curious to see how it would all fit together which kept me reading, and I was eventually drawn in and finished the last 2/3 pretty quickly.

I enjoyed the history, philosophy, and theology woven into the fantasy. By the end I found all of the characters fascinating and intricate. Each gave unique insight into the book’s themes; I appreciated that each had weakness and strength and it was their choices that determined the total sum of each of their parts. When the sequel is available I will likely pick it up.

Age Recommendation: I wouldn’t give this book to my teens. Adult readers with more life experience will relate better to character’s individuals struggles and choices, and the book’s themes.

Appropriateness: Mention of and focus on sex was beyond my comfort level, but not so graphic that it kept me from finishing.  I didn’t find the language offensive.

There is plenty of material for book club discussion regarding faith, religion, cultural tradition, immigration, nature vs. nurture, and responsibility for and importance of agency.

Other Book Recommendations: If this book interests you I think you’d also enjoy The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Magician’s Elephant by Katie DiCamillo, The Time Key by Melanie Bateman, and The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson.

 

 

 

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High Sierra


41x9jzpashl._sx321_bo1204203200_High Sierra
by Adrienne Quintana

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

When Jasmine Fuentes finds herself thousands of miles from home, forced to hike around in the wilderness of California with a bunch of juvenile delinquents, she’s convinced she doesn’t belong.

Forage for food, build shelter, make fire—Jasmine sets out to learn what she needs to do to ace the program so she can go home and salvage her summer vacation. But the more she tries to prove she doesn’t need wilderness therapy, the more desperate her situation becomes. Confronted with life and death, she comes face to face with her past and her imperfections. Will Jasmine ask for help before it’s too late?

My Review

I wish more YA fiction was like High Sierra. It was so enjoyable and refreshing to read through the eyes of a teenage girl that didn’t drive me crazy with her whining. Jasmine Fuentes is still definitely a teenager with the sarcasm and struggles that come with that stage of life, but she has wit and intelligence that help her to continue to function despite the unfairness life left in her path.

There are other teenage characters in the book who turn to more destructive coping strategies, but I love the hopeful message that those choices (whether severely dysfunctional or only slightly less than functional) don’t define them (or us); change is possible, and these teens even at their lowest lows have a desire to change. They just need to see the way to get started, and patient and sincere guides to help them along the way. High Sierra portrays realistically that that kind of change requires hard work and time, but it can happen and is worth the effort when it does.

Wilderness is a great positive influence in my life. I have learned through experiences in nature about strength, confidence, hard work, peace, awe and wonder, and Divinity. So reading about teens starting their path to change through wilderness therapy was relatable and realistic. I appreciated that learning about our place in God’s plan helped Jasmine, as my relationship with God is the most defining aspect of my life. But I also appreciated that High Sierra is not preachy. No one religion or agenda is pushed.

And I have to be clear that while High Sierra surpasses other YA fiction in strength of characters and depth of theme, it also does not disappoint in humor, excitement, and of course romance that I think we all have to admit we are looking for when we pick up a book from this genre. I look forward to giving this one to my daughters to read. I know that like me they will be entertained and enthralled, but also made better for having read it.

Age Recommendation: I think readers 14 and older would enjoy this book most as they would relate best to the struggles the characters face in their lives.

Appropriateness: Characters’ struggles with drugs, eating disorders, and sex are mentioned in the book but without any inappropriate detail or glorifying. Language is clean. Nothing offensive for any age.

Other Book Recommendations: If High Sierra interests you I recommend Eruption and Reclamation also by Adrienne Quintana, The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, Relic by Renee Collins, Out of my Mind by Sharon M. Draper, and Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.

It’s Not Easy Being a Superhero – blog tour

It's Not Easy Being a Superhero: Understanding Sensory Processing DisorderIt’s Not Easy Being a Superhero: Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder by Kelli Call

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

Unlike most superheroes, Clark’s superpowers aren’t a secret. And instead of just one, Clark has five superpowers he must learn to control: super hearing, super sight, super smell, super taste, and super feeling. He uses his five superpowers to defeat sensory triggers, and his arch nemesis Igor Ance. This beautifully illustrated picture book helps parents, teachers, students, and friends understand what it’s like for these superheroes who have sensory processing disorder and the tricks they learn to control their powers.

My Review

I’m so grateful for this book! And excited to be participating in the blog tour.

From infancy we knew there was something “different” about my daughter. The older she got the more apparent it became that she had some unique struggles and strengths to deal with. When a friend told me about Sensory Processing Disorder I started researching like crazy. My daughter has not been officially diagnosed, but what I learned about SPD just fit so much of what we saw in her. Learning about SPD gave us many tools to help her.

So imagine my excitement when I heard about a picture book for kids all about SPD. As a mother and a former school teacher I knew the value of presenting this information in a format that would make sense to kids struggling with SPD and to the children and adults in their lives. So the day the book came I gathered my 4 kids, ages 4-11, and we read it together. All 4 of them were caught up in the ups and downs of the superhero’s powers, and in the illustrations that brought it all to life with exciting colors, movement, and a bit of a classic superhero comic book feel.

When we’d finished reading I asked my kids if they felt like they could relate to Clark at all, or if they knew someone from church or school who maybe reminded them of Clark. I was fascinated that they all could say they related to Clark and having triggers that just set certain feelings or behaviors off. We talked about what things they do now and could do better, just like Clark, to help keep our reactions in check and to calm us down. All 3 of my school age children told me about kids they knew in their current class or in previous classes that they thought had super senses just like Clark, and they felt that the book helped them understand better why they acted in certain ways at times. And it didn’t seem so weird anymore.

My 11 year old, who actually displays SPD behaviors, didn’t stick around too long after we finished discussing. I imagine she felt she was “too old” for picture books, but I loved watching my 7 and 4 year old look through the book again together. When it was time for bed my 7 year old took the book with her. I saw her reading it again in bed. The next morning when I went in to her room she was already awake reading the book again.

I got to thinking about what about it spoke to her in particular. She hasn’t ever seemed to have symptoms of SPD; but she is independent to the extreme. She tends to react suddenly and strongly with her emotions in unpleasant situations, and sometimes even her positive reactions are overly strong or dramatic. We are always working on self-regulation of her emotions, and it struck me that Clark’s sensory superpowers might feel similar to her lack of emotional control. I was inspired to take a new, more positive, approach to her unique struggles; to see her as a future superhero in training, with a lot of strength to offer the world.

I’ll say it again – I am so grateful for this book and the positive discussion it inspired in my family. And for the perspective we all gained. It would be an amazing tool in any classroom or family to help understand the strengths and weaknesses involved in SPD and in all of us. It’s so relatable and understandable. And so very inspiring and positive in a world where we all have hard things, but doing them is what makes us super.

 

Victoria

VictoriaVictoria by Daisy Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria – sheltered, small in stature, and female – became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.

Drawing on Victoria’s diaries as well as her own brilliant gifts for history and drama, Daisy Goodwin, author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria, brings the young queen even more richly to life in this magnificent novel.

My Review

I watched the Masterpiece show first and then picked this audio book up while I was impatiently waiting for season 3 to start. Listening was just like watching the show in my mind but with more detail. Very enjoyable and entertaining.

It also got me wondering about how true to life the telling actually is. So when I finished this one I looked into some other books about Queen Victoria. Ended up listening to Victoria a Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef. Also very interesting, less dramatized but I was still entertained particularly by the quotes directly from the writings of the people who were involved in the events. Reef painted a little different picture of Victoria than Goodwin. Less heroic. She also indicates Victoria’s first impression of Albert was favorable, more of a love at first sight interaction which is very different than Goodwin’s description. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle. I guess I’ll have to do some more reading to see if I can find out.

Victoria: Portrait of a Queen

Victoria: Portrait of a QueenVictoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

Catherine Reef brings history vividly to life in this sumptuously illustrated account of a confident, strong-minded, and influential woman.

Victoria woke one morning at the age of eighteen to discover that her uncle had died and she was now queen. She went on to rule for sixty-three years, with an influence so far-reaching that the decades of her reign now bear her name—the Victorian period. Victoria is filled with the exciting comings and goings of royal life: intrigue and innuendo, scheming advisors, and assassination attempts, not to mention plenty of passion and discord.

My Review

Very enjoyable to listen to. I enjoyed the quotes taken from the writings of the people actually involved in the events. It was a very brief look at Queen Victoria’s whole life and left me wanting more information about what came before and after her.

I felt this book didn’t do a very good job of helping me understand what about Victoria’s reign made her so influential or so loved. I felt the author’s explanation was simply that Victoria reigned for a long time and a lot of changes happened in technology, culture, and rights during her time. I felt the author didn’t portray Victoria as really having been a vehicle for those things. More that she just happened to be alive and the queen as all those changes happened around her, sometimes with no connection to her actions and sometimes actually in spite of her actions. I wonder if another author or a more in depth look at Queen Victoria would be able to show she was more involved in the changes of the times? I’d be interested in a perspective that might be able to show me why her people loved her so much, what good she actually did for them and for the world.

The Magnolia Story

The Magnolia StoryThe Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

The Magnolia Story is the first book from Chip and Joanna, offering Fixer Upper fans a detailed look at their life together. From the very first renovation project they ever tackled together, to the project that nearly cost them everything; from the childhood memories that shaped them, to the twists and turns that led them to the life they share on the farm today.

In The Magnolia Story fans will finally get to join the Gaines behind the scenes. And yet there is still one lingering question for fans of the show: Is Chip really that funny? “Oh yeah,” says Joanna. “He was, and still is, my first fixer upper.”

My Review

This isn’t a literary masterpiece. But it’s not meant to be one. It’s basically just reading an interview with Chip and Joanna Gaines, so if you like them or their show at all I think you will be entertained by their conversation. It was motivating and encouraging to hear their story, the work, risk, and sacrifice that was required to get them to where they are today. They really are pretty normal, everyday, average people, so I felt I could relate to their experience in many ways. I came away thinking that anyone could find the success and happiness they have found if we were also willing to put forth the work.

Most inspiring of all was the credit they gave to the miracles that also occurred in their journey. They tried to stay in communication with God and He communicated back. And the blessings were obvious. I don’t have a TV show, my own business, or a perfectly decorated house. But I too can see miracles and God’s hand in my life especially when I ask to know His will for me and then try to put that above my own plans. I know Chip and Joanna get that. And the Gaines would say the fame, fortune, and fabulous decor is not the point of all that they have worked and sacrificed for. It’s about their family and their faith and being a light in the world. Their imperfect but sincere journey strengthened my resolve to stay true to the people that matter most.

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were YoursBefore We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

My Review

I had never heard of Georgia Tann or the terrible things she did before picking up this book. I was shocked that she was able to get away with kid napping and selling children for so long. It’s heartbreaking to read about, but it was interesting as well. Very well written story with characters I fell in love with and was really rooting for. I felt the author handled the telling of terrible wrongs very tastefully.

Age Recommendation: Harsh realities are presented though with taste. But I recommend this for adult readers.

Appropriateness: Good message, hard story. For some it might be too much and too emotional. But I found it disturbing without being traumatizing. And it is in the end a story of hope and happiness. Definitely full of book club discussion material.

Other Book Recommendations: If this book interests you then you might also want to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

 

Arc of the Scythe Series (books 1 and 2)

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)Scythe by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2)Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and takes great risk so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

My Review

This is one of those series that enveloped me immediately and I didn’t want to put down until I’d read every last word. Having to wait for the third book is torturous. I found the portrayal of human nature in this fictional case study intriguing, disturbing, frustrating at times, and just a great read. The author suspended my disbelief well, creating a world and scenario that felt plausible and the character’s actions and reactions fit too. Despite the amount of death and killing I did not find the descriptions to be gory or gratuitous with violence. If you liked The Hunger Games definitely give these books a try.

Age Recommendation: Some pretty heavy philosophical ideas and situations centered around death, immortality, perfection, and murder that make this book for mature readers.  I would say 16 and older.

Appropriateness: The author is skilled at telling this story fraught with moral dilemma and murder in a way that evokes deep thoughts and emotions without just being gross or praising corruption.

Book Club or Classroom Use: It would be fascinating to see the discussion that these books would spur in a book club or high school English class setting. The story would be an interesting sociology read as well.

Other Book Recommendations: If The Arc of the Scythe series interests you then I think you would also enjoy The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins, The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfield, Eruption and Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and The Winner Series by Marie Rutkoski.

The House with Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken LegsThe House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.
But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences.

My Review

If I hadn’t seen this book in a scholastic book order for only $3 I’m not sure it would have ever caught my attention. But I’m glad it did. The idea of guardians who guide the dead each night to the afterlife combined with aspects of Russian culture was very interesting. What I appreciated most was the look into the struggle it can be to feel like you fit in anywhere, especially in those early teen years. And the portrayal of the guilt that comes when we make choices we know deep down are wrong. Add to that having to deal with the consequences of those choices and take responsibility for them and I feel this is a great read for any middle grade to early teen reader (or for an adult who just enjoys children’s literature). The teaching points are effective without being preachy. The characters are likable and relatable in their imperfections, while also being “good.”

This is not an epic story or adventure, so the rules of the fantasy world are not overly explicit, but that didn’t interfere with the entertainment value for me. However, I think I would have given 4 stars if the ending had had a little more umph to it. It seemed to resolve rather neatly rather quickly, without fully explaining how exactly the change in “rules” was possible. The story has folktale/fairytale/fable feel, or like a or a tale that might have fit in the Russian version of Arabian Nights – cute, entertaining, quick to get into and quick to finish.

Age Recommendation: Perfect read for middle grades on up.

Appropriateness: Death is an integral part of the story which may be a sensitive topic for some, but it’s addressed with such warmth and care that there isn’t anything sensationalized.

Classroom Use: This would be an ideal read aloud from grades 3-6. So much discussion material about death, choices, consequences, destiny, family, friendship, loneliness, love, not to mention the Russian culture and the geographical locations of the various story settings.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in The House with Chicken Legs I think you would also enjoy The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath,  Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, and The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo.

 

Duck, Duck, Moose

Duck, Duck, MooseDuck, Duck, Moose by Joy Heyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Duck’s best friend Goose is gone for winter and Duck is lonely. The animals try to cheer Duck, but Duck, Duck, Pig is too messy, and Duck, Duck, Moose is too scary. Will Duck be alone until Goose gets back? Or can Duck find a way to happily play until Goose gets back?

My Review

Duck, Duck, Moose has all of the elements of the perfect picture book. The story is entertaining for adults and children alike. There aren’t too many words per page and they are fun words to say and hear. The charming illustrations work with the words to tell the full story. Each time we have read this, my kids can’t wait to turn the page to see what problem Duck will find himself in next. I love Duck’s facial expressions. They tell the story in and of themselves.

This book also has a feel good message about friendship and social skills without being annoying or preachy. I love the example duck shows of turning a disappointing situation around with a little problem-solving and a change in attitude. It’s really a plot and message that is relatable to real life. But most importantly, it’s just a positively enjoyable book!

Age Recommendation: I love reading this book over and over with my kids. This one works for the youngest of readers to the oldest.

Appropriateness: Only warm fuzzies and innocence in this one, along with a good dose of wit.

 

Classroom Use: This book would be great inspiration for creative writing exercises.  Students could come up with their own ideas of what traditional games with combinations of animals might look like. What would work well? What wouldn’t?Students could also write about what they thought Goose was doing while he was away. Would be a great study in point of view.

This book is perfect for studying standards related to “main ideas and details” particularly in looking at describing characters in the story.  Because the illustrations are an integral part of showing characters emotions they actually become “text evidence.” The visual text evidence may be more concrete for some learners and help cement the idea of how to find and use text evidence to support conclusions.  This would also apply to teaching standards related to “integration of knowledge and skills.”

Other Book Recommendations: If you like Duck, Duck, Moose or books like it then you should try The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak, any Elephant and Piggie or Pigeon books by Mo Willems, Cindy Moo by Lori Mortensen, and Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea.