Currently…

currentlyI’m pretty sure that if I can make it to the end of this school year and still have a blog to speak of (and my sanity intact) it will be something of a miracle. I’m still here, just struggling. But here.

Loving: The fact that I’m about to be on spring break–only four more work days and then a whole week off. We’re going to the beach, and I cannot wait.

Thinking about: How all I wanted for this new year was to find a job, and now that I have one all I want is to NOT have this job anymore. I need to be more self aware and make choices that are not based on pure logic and my perpetual need to do what is “right” instead of what is right for me. I need to listen a little better to my inner voice.

Anticipating: Spring break (yay!). Hopefully getting in some long walks on the beach and spending some quality time as a family.

Watching: ‘Parks and Recreation’. SO MUCH LOVE for this show. Leslie is my new idol. I’m in the middle of season three and she’s just been approached about potentially running for office and even though I know it’s going to wreck things for her and Ben and break my heart, too, I can’t help but be so proud of her for being a role model for strong women everywhere. Yes, I realize this is a comedy and I’m taking it way too seriously, but it’s just that awesome.

Listening to: Coldplay. I borrowed the latest one from the library and really liked it, which led me to realize that I had actually bought the one before the last one and never listened to it. Huh? So I’ve been breaking it out in the car.

Eating: Anything and everything to try and keep up my energy levels. I’m probably snacking way more than I should be.

Wishing: That there were more hours in the day. That I could somehow do everything that I need to do and everything I want to do, too. That weekends could last a little longer…*this is basically a repeat from my last currently post, but it’s still so very true*

Hope you’re enjoying your weekend as much as I am!

Review: Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

among-the-madLength: 319 pages

Publication: January 1st, 2009 by Picador

Source: TLC Book Tours

What it’s about:
It’s Christmas Eve 1931. On the way to see a client, Maisie Dobbs witnesses a man commit suicide on a busy London street. The following day, the prime minister’s office receives a letter threatening a massive loss of life if certain demands are not met—and the writer mentions Maisie by name.

After being questioned and cleared by Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane of Scotland Yard’s elite Special Branch, she is drawn into MacFarlane’s personal fiefdom as a special adviser on the case. Meanwhile, Billy Beale, Maisie’s trusted assistant, is once again facing tragedy as his wife, who has never recovered from the death of their young daughter, slips further into melancholia’s abyss.

Soon Maisie becomes involved in a race against time to find a man who proves he has the knowledge and will to inflict death and destruction on thousands of innocent people. And before this harrowing case is over, Maisie must navigate a darkness not encountered since she was a nurse in wards filled with shell-shocked men.

 What I thought:
I love Maisie Dobbs so joining in a tour for any of the books in this series is a treat. Among the Mad is the latest one I’m reading, but there are many others that precede and follow it. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Maisie through reading about her adventures, and this one was no exception.

Beyond the setting of the interwar period in Britain (a particular interest of mine), the character of Maisie is fascinating as she represents such a strong, honest, and yet deeply empathetic woman, an unusual combination. She consistently puts others’ needs before her own even as she remains staunchly her own woman and doesn’t let others take advantage of her.

In this novel we see Maisie working with her Police Inspector as well as Scotland Yard and even the Prime Minister’s office as they attempt to prevent an act of terrorism. Winspear’s writing is as enjoyable to read as ever, and I found myself checking out the next book in the series from the library even before I’d finished this one.

Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction set during the interwar period or anyone who likes a well-written detective story that will appeal to the mind as well as the heart.

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to be part of this tour.

tlc book tours

Spotlight & Giveaway: Scent of Butterflies by Dora Levy Mossanen

Scent of ButterfliesLength: 282 pages

Publication: January 7th, 2014 by Sourcebooks Landmark

Source: TLC Book Tours

What it’s about:

Such audacity she has, Soraya, a woman who dares to break free of the diamond-studded leash of her culture. A woman who refuses to accept the devastating betrayal her husband has perpetrated. A woman who refuses to forgive her best friend.

Soraya turns her back on Iran, fleeing to America to plot her intricate revenge. The Shah has fallen, her country is in turmoil, her marriage has crumbled, and she is unraveling. The cruel and intimate blow her husband has dealt her awakens an obsessive streak that explodes in the heated world of Los Angeles.

Yet the secret Soraya discovers proves far more devastating than anything she had imagined, unleashing a whirlwind of unexpected events that will leave the reader breathless.

 Giveaway:

I’m giving away one copy of Scent of Butterflies to a lucky reader (U.S. or Canada only, sorry). To enter, just leave a comment with your name and email address. Good luck!

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to be part of this tour.

tlc book tours

 

Review: The World’s Strongest Librarian

Format: Hardback

worlds-strongest-librarianLength: 291 pages

Publication: May 2nd, 2013 by Gotham

Source: Library

What it’s about: 

Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7″ when — while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints — his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman — and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison — taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s.

The World’s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability — and navigate his wavering Mormon faith — to find love and create a life worth living.

What I thought:

You know that feeling of satisfaction you get when you read just the right book at just the right time? That was what the experience of reading this book did for me. I finished it a few nights ago and I actually cried when it was over because I was so relieved to have found it now. I’d heard good things when the book first came out in 2013, but now was exactly the right time for me to read it.

My oldest daughter was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome earlier this year. It was something I’d suspected for a while, but having the official diagnosis made it real in a way that I’m still struggling to accept. I’ve been reading nonfiction books about TS and looking for more information online, but reading a memoir of someone with the disorder who writes about his experiences with such earnestness and humor gave me something that all the medical books and articles couldn’t–a sense of peace.

That may seem strange considering just how hard Hanagarne’s life has been because of Tourette’s. He doesn’t pull any punches (literally), and I read about his experiences with a mixture of sadness and admiration for how he persevered in spite of being dealt a tough genetic hand. I think part of why I found the book comforting was that despite the extreme nature of his Tourette’s condition, he manages to eventually carve out a fairly normal life for himself. He has a good job, friends, a wife and son, and perhaps most importantly he doesn’t seem bitter about all that he has had to endure.

The biggest factor in Hanagarne’s success seems to have been a very loving and supportive family, and that gives me hope that our daughter’s outcome can be the same. I want more than anything for her to be accepting of herself and proud of all that she can do, none of which having Tourette’s can take away from her. I want her to find a sense of peace with her diagnosis, too, and to know that no matter what, her family will always have her back. She’s still very young and I don’t doubt that there are harder days ahead, but Hanagarne’s story gives me hope.

Highly recommended.

Review: The Red Road by Jenni Wiltz

red-roadI posted a spotlight on this book a few weeks ago and finally had a chance to read it, so I wanted to share my thoughts. Just to recap:

What it’s about:

Honor student Emma knows more about galvanic cell diagrams than guns. College is the only way out of her gang-ridden hometown, but her parents can’t afford it.

When her unemployed dad lands a job as a census taker, things start looking up. But he’s sent deep into East Malo Verde, where gang members rule the streets and fear anyone with a badge who knocks on doors. One night, a gang member mistakes him for a cop and beats him savagely, leaving him for dead.

Her best friends, her chem lab partner, her mom, and the detective assigned to the case all try to convince her to focus on school. But school won’t prepare her for a world that ignores a crime against a good man. Emma must decide what’s more important: doing what’s expected, or doing what she feels is right . . . even if it leads her down a dark and dangerous path of revenge.

What I thought:

First of all, The Red Road is a book that is immediately accessible. The character of Emma is recognizable. She’s the girl who is always trying to do the right thing, to be the good girl even in a difficult situation. She’s the girl who still buys into the idea that if she just keeps her head down and her nose clean, she’ll get what she wants. She’s Veronica Mars before Lily dies, minus the easy popularity and the stunning good looks.*

When a crime is committed against her father and nobody seems able or willing to do anything about it, Emma becomes obsessed with making things right. She becomes more negative and outspoken, which turns off her so-called friends. She starts looking for answers in dangerous places, getting in fights, and skipping class. She challenges her friends, her parents, and even the detective assigned to the case.

I think part of the reason that Emma becomes so preoccupied with the crime is that she feels somehow responsible. Her father gave up his job in order for her to stay at her high school and in their town, which leads to him being in the wrong neighborhood. It’s as if Emma thinks that by solving her father’s problems she can repay him for his sacrifice. She seems oblivious to the fact that she is only a young girl in a situation that is way, way over her head–one which even the police won’t touch.

I felt bad for Emma because I could see her consistently making the wrong choices (even if they were for the right reasons) and yet there is nothing that will make her turn back from her course. Even the potential for happiness with a new boyfriend is easily given up for the larger purpose of avenging her father. All of the things that once seemed so important to her are subsumed by her need for justice.

Even though it seems inevitable, the ending of the book is hard to read and harder to accept. The fact that not a single adult in the book has a real, forthright conversation with Emma about what she is going through is so sad to me. Her parents just seem to be sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling “la la la la, I can’t hear you!” while the teachers at her school don’t react to the fact that she is skipping classes and acting differently. No one intervenes, which drives Emma to the point where she takes extreme action.

The Red Road is a good read and I definitely enjoyed it, even if the characters are frustrating and oblivious most of the time. It is a more authentic portrayal of a teenager than is usually found in YA fiction, as Emma is portrayed as both still young and vulnerable and seriously lacking in judgement. Recommended.

*For those who haven’t watched the tv show Veronica Mars, it was the most obvious parallel that came to mind when reading this book.

Review: What is Found, What is Lost by Anne Leigh Parrish

what-is-foundFormat: Paperback

Length:  253 pages

Publication: October 14th, 2014 – She Writes Press

Source: Spark Point Studio (publicist)

What it’s about: 

Freddie was raised on faith. It’s in her blood. Yet rather than seeking solace from the Almighty when she loses her husband of many years, she enters a state of quiet contemplation until her daughter, and then her sister, each come home with a host of problems of their own, and her solitude is brought to an end. As Freddie helps her daughter and sister deal with their troubles, her own painful past a wretched childhood at the hands of an unbalanced, pious mother begins to occupy her thoughts more than ever, as does Anna, the grandmother she’s always wished she’d known better. Freddie feels that she and Anna are connected, not just through blood but through the raising of difficult daughters, and it’s a kinship that makes her wonder what unseen forces have shaped her life. With all that to hand, a new family crisis rears its head and it forces Freddie to confront the questions she’s asked so many times: What does it mean to believe in God? And does God even care?

What I thought:

Last year I read and reviewed Parrish’s book of short stories, Our Love Could Light the World. As I enjoyed it, I was happy to be offered the chance to read this her most recent work. The novel begins with Freddie, a middle-aged woman who has recently lost her husband and finds herself alone. Gradually her life begins to expand once more as she welcomes first a stranger and then her prodigal daughter and grandson into her home.

Over the course of the novel, the focus shifts from Freddie’s story to that of her grandmother, Anna, who escaped religious persecution in Turkey to start a new life in the U.S. Anna’s story was the more compelling one to me as it contained elements of historical fiction and showed character growth as Anna made choices which took her farther and farther from her early beginnings as an immigrant. Anna’s daughter, Lorraine, has an early religious conversion and leaves home to become a sort of itinerant preacher and missionary. Her story is revealed as it involves her daughters, Freddie and her sister Holly, who are treated to a harsh and neglectful upbringing at the hands of their evangelical mother.

Although male characters have their roles to play in the novel, this is essentially a story about women–the four generations of one family and, peripherally, the women with whom their lives intersect. It is also about religion in that each of the women struggle with the effect that religion has had on their lives and how their faith (or lack thereof) makes them who they are.

While these themes are obvious and present throughout the novel, they failed to make a real impression on me. Something about the portrayal of religion in the novel rang hollow. Maybe it was the author’s intention to convey a sense of emptiness at the heart of it all, but it left me feeling dissatisfied as a reader and unable to make a real connection to any of the characters. I didn’t sense that the women’s religious struggles were anything more than everyday angst; there was no real fire or conviction behind it.

In short, this novel left me cold.  Parrish’s writing is very competent but fails to arouse any strong feelings in the reader. Although this is a relatively short novel, the lack of action and emotional growth in the characters left me both wanting it to be finished and wanting something more.

Thanks to Spark Pointe Studio for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The January Wrap-Up

monthly-wrap-upWhat? You say it’s been February for over a week already? Surely you jest.

Actually, I feel like I’m doing pretty good by getting this up at all, considering the cray-cray craziness of the past few weeks. I finally started to get some response about jobs I had applied for, including one for teaching in a public school (which is what I would really like to be doing). To make a long story short, I had the interview, got a positive response the next day, and have been jumping through hoops ever since. Although I have many years of teaching experience overseas, I’ve never been certified in the U.S., so I had to take (and pay for, ouch) several tests before I could be officially eligible for employment.

After a week’s worth of cramming, I aced my content assessment (woo hoo!) and now I just have to wait a few weeks for the official results to be sent. In the meantime, the principal of my new school wants me to start as a substitute because apparently they are a bit desperate to get me in the job, which is flattering but a little unnerving, too. It’s all happening so fast, and while I don’t relish the idea of bringing home a substitute teacher’s salary even temporarily, it should be worth it in the end when I can make it a permanent gig.

In between all this scrambling, I got a call about ANOTHER job I had applied for, so I’m going to at least go to the interview because I feel like I should.

So that’s my life at the moment, and suffice it to say my reading has suffered as a result. I started off the month strong but the past couple of weeks have just been a blur and I’ve had a hard time focusing on any one book. In January, I finished five books, two of which I read with my daughters and one that’s a graphic novel:

  1. Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
  2. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
  3. The BFG by Roald Dahl
  4. Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale
  5. A Matter of Mercy by Lynne Hugo

My favorite was definitely Relish, which I found really fun and inspiring. I’ve checked out two of Knisley’s other graphic novels (French Milk and Age of License) and I highly recommend her to anyone who is a graphic novel newbie and looking for a fun way to dip their toes in the pond.

So far February has started out very, very slowly but I’m hoping that once I’ve had time to settle in to my new job I’ll be able to get back in the swing of things.

I hope everyone had a great reading month in January and that February is shaping up nicely for you as well!