Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fragile by Lisa Unger


A friend lent this thriller to me and in between reading YA and elementary fiction, I slipped it in needing a dose of adult fiction. Lisa Unger is a new author to me and I liked her style. This book is about a small tow where everybody knows everybody. And everybody has a secret, and some of the secrets are pretty big.

This book spoke to me in a resounding voice about families and the strength they hold. How willing are you to believe in those that you love, your children or your spouse?  Maggie, a psychologist, and her husband Jones, a detective on the local police force find out that Charlene, their son's girlfriend and the daughter of an old high school classmate is missing and the search for her brings out all manner of long-forgotten ghosts.

There is a wide array of interesting characters involved including Marshall, the son of the town bully, who waits for his dad's approval even as a high school student and even though he's only ever been disappointed and hurt by his father. As the story plays out we discover bits of history and we come to understand that a classmates' disappearance during high school has everyone reflecting on choices they've made. In alternating moments we have the opportunity to hear from several characters which help to paint a good picture of this town.

"She sat in her ticky-tack room, in her ticky-tack house, painting her nails iridescent green. She hated the tract house with all its perfectly square rooms and thin walls, identical to every third house in their development. It was like living in the box of someone else's limited imagination. How could someone reach the height of her creativity in a drywall cage? She couldn't. And she wouldn't. She would be eighteen in six months. After graduation, she was so out of here. College? Another four years of indentured servitude, living by someone else's arbitrary rules? No way. (Charlene, 19)

"Now that Marshall was nearly the same height and almost as strong as his father, Travis didn't hit him often; Marshall wasn't physically afraid of his father. It was the things he said that lay like bruises on Marshall's skin, damaged his organs, poisoned his blood. That voice that was in his head all the time. He just couldn't get it out. Even the competing voices-Aunt Leila, Mr. Ivy, Dr. Cooper-weren't loud enough to drown him out lately." (Marshall, 63)

"Because that was what it was, wasn't it? Not just anger. Not a need to control in a way we most often mean it. Not a lack of love or understanding for their boy. It was fear. Fear that, after all the years of protecting his health, his heart, his mind, setting bedtimes and boundaries, giving warnings about strangers and looking both ways before crossing the street, it wouldn't be enough. Fear that, as he stood on the threshold of adulthood, forces beyond their control would take him down a path where they could no longer reach him. (Maggie, 15)

I don't know how or why some families have a tough road. Each child, each situation is different and it's never easy to know what to do except love them unconditionally, both parents and children. This book is filled with flawed, interesting characters and a story that kept me turning pages. 



Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Dr. King's Legacy


It was 50 years ago; April 4th, 1968 at 6:05 tonight.  It's chilling. I think of how far we've come for there has been progress. Signs for "Whites Only" are gone, people of all races, colors, and genders are given their right to vote, outright segregation is no longer present.  Yet we've not come far enough. There is still segregation hidden by poverty and neighborhood, by opportunity. We're still waiting for a certain amount of change in this country.  At least many of us are. Dr. King did bring us to the mountaintop and I think of the bodies lined along the way; not only his but Robert Kennedy, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X, but Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Stephon Clark, Eric Garner, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Natasha McKenna, and Christian Taylor, just to name a few-the list is too long. 

Last night I attended a staged reading about the last night of Martin's life as he talks with a maid at the Lorraine Motel. It was a good look at Dr. King in a very humanizing way. He wasn't perfect but he was an amazing speaker who loved all people, who wanted to see the good in what could happen. As I talked with friends before the play my friend Rita made an interesting comparison to the weather we are all humbled by-very winter weather at the beginning of April-she said it was like we were in Narnia. Quickly we made the leap to Trump as the White Queen. So much change still to be made and a madman in the White House who considers gun violence a local issue and continues to offer his "thoughts and prayers".

We need stricter gun laws (and we don't mean your hunting or handguns appropriately used and registered. We are talking about guns that should not be covered by the 2nd Amendment. This president ~ not going to do it.

We need better immigration policies, DACA to continue, and this president is going in the opposite direction.

This list is long but I see hope in the students of Stoneman Douglas as they lead the march, I see hope in the #MeToo movement as women insist on calling out those who use power as a weapon. I see hope in the Black Lives Matter Movement as they fight back against police brutality and twisted realities. I see hope in my 15-yr-old daughter as she rants to the radio over Trump's immigration plans and quotas that rush people through an already dismal situation.

Keeping Dr. King's dream alive should be every person's mantra out there every day as you fight for civil rights in your neck of the world and beyond. Hold your own candlelight vigil tonight as 6:05 ticks by...

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Happy Easter


Happy April! Happy Easter!

I hope everyone communed with family and friends today, enjoyed a good meal together, searched for eggs, maybe had a lovely basket delivered by somebunny.

Spring started on March 20th and it is still freezing here. I must be having a bit of seasonal depression (or just depression) because the cold weather is very much affecting me this year. I see what looks like warm sun out there but the moment you walk out the door 33 degrees and wind will hit you. All week long it's going to be like this and I'm not sure I'll make it. I did make more bread yesterday and pizza dough as well. We had a delicious spinach, tomato, goat cheese, pesto and basil pizza last night for dinner.

I'm reading short stories by Flannery O'Connor and while I find them insightful and deep; the "N" word is really hard for me to read over and over. In front of a warm fire, I read and watch the birds (especially this one very bright red cardinal) flock to our backyard birdfeeder which is a good reminder that Spring will show up and the birds' dance and play as they wait patiently just as I should. Happy living everyone.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The simple things in life...

I have quite a few things swirling around in my personal life which are creating this need for me to return to some basic human needs for me; like yoga, meditation, and making bread.

Last Sunday I made 5 loaves of rustic bread. There is something so simple about pouring the four ingredients together.  There's an order to it. You begin with level teaspoons or tablespoons of yeast and you pour cups of soothing warm water over the yeast with a few sprinkles of sea salt. It's almost mystical as you watch it start to bubble and froth after a few minutes.  While it's heating up I start measuring out cups of unbleached flour. One wooden spoon stirs it all together and then I use my hands, covered in some flour, to knead it around a little. My recipe doesn't require this step but I like it. Just don't do it too much. Before you set it aside to let it double in size shake some olive oil around the dough and the bowl. I only kept one loaf here; the rest I gave away to friends at school.  Bread makes people smile and think of home. Sometimes people make chili for their family because you made the bread. It's a win/win for all involved.


Meditation has the same effect. I like to sit on my bed right before going to bed and make some space in my brain. I can do it on my own but I've discovered three cool apps to help me as well. I started with Headspace created by Tibetan monk trained meditation teacher Andy Puddicombe. (read an excellent review here @ The NY'er) I like this app and it's guided meditation with Andy's British accent. I like that it gives me prompts during the day like "your meditation today can't wait until you get home" or other little motivational moments to inspire you. This one has free basics but you have to buy a subscription to unlock more content. I probably won't ever buy more I'll just keep using free because I like what Andy has to say.


During an online conversation with my friend Erica, she shared that she uses Insight Timer to meditate daily so I downloaded that also. This one is totally free. I love that it gives me a more traditional meditation experience through bells, gongs, and wood blocks to begin and end my session. I don't love that if I miss a day (which I do) it starts back over. So if I miss one day but have meditated five other days it still logs me as "day one"; I want it to appreciate that I did the five days. It's still a great app and I've become accustomed to using both at different times of the day.

I met with my friend Lori for a drink and I mentioned meditation and she told me she was doing a 21-day thing with Oprah and Deepak so now I have that downloaded as well. These are longer sessions and to be clear I have yet to finish one but my heart is in the right place and I will get to it.

In between, I have been doing some yoga to keep my bones mobile and stretchy. I especially love how my arms feel after a few downward dogs and planks.

What do you do to stay stress-free? Drinking wine can also be helpful especially if good friends are involved. Salud!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

YA books related to social justice

Recently I've had the opportunity to read a few young adults books with social justice themes.  The Hate U Give would be a perfect example of a book for teens about a shooting of a black teenager.  This is work we are doing to find appropriate texts for 6th grade students and while I may allow my daughter to read a wide variety many parents are not happy about younger students reading about real-life (sometimes scary) situations.  We had a large pool of books to choose from and unfortunately we had to cross many off the list right away. My job was to read a few of the questionable titles and see if any would be appropriate.


1. Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Pena (2005); Matt's debut and it's excellent. This book tells the story of Sticky, a teenager who has fallen through the cracks his whole life. First with his single mom while she suffers from mental health issues and ultimately commits suicide in the apartment with him in the next room.  After her death, he is shuffled from foster home to group home never able to find a good match. While this is an excellent book there is just too much in here for 6th grade students to process.  Death, suicide, teen pregnancy, petty crime, and drugs all play a role in who Sticky is-luckily for him, his passion and skills at basketball help him to escape some of his situations.  I loved Matt's dystopian series The Living and all of his picture books including his brand new Love collaboration with Loren Long.


2. If you come softly by Jacqueline Woodson (2006); Woodson, one of my favorite authors, writes eloquently about first love in this story. Ellie and Jeremiah are from two different worlds and meet accidentally at school. In their first meeting when they bump into each other spilling Ellie's books across the hall they both feel sparks and spend the first weeks of school looking for each other again. Jeremiah is transferred into Ellie's English class and once they start spending time together they find a solid connection. Jeremiah's father is a famous filmmaker and his mother is an author but they no longer live together.  Ellie is the youngest in her family and all her siblings are off in their adult worlds. Twice her mother has left her family and even though she's been reliable for the last few years Ellie has a hard time trusting she will always be there. Everything I've read of Woodson's is filled with truth and this one hits home on love, consequences, family, and what it still means to be black in America today.

3. House Arrest by K.A. Holt (2015); A novel in verse, this story tells the tragic story of Timothy who steals a man's wallet so he can pay for medicine that his baby brother needs to survive. Levi has been very sick his whole little life and lives at home with constant care from Tim, his mom, and a cycle of babysitter/home health care providers. The father has been absent for the past few months and Tim's mom tries to keep it together.  Tim tells us his story through journal entries he writes to his probation officer and counselor as he tries to do penance for what he's done and to stay out of the juvenile detention center. This is my first K.A. Holt book and I like her style. Another title of hers was a hot seller at our recent Scholastic book fair-From you to me which is about a sister's grief.
House Arrest is the only book on our list that is "appropriate" for our 6th grade audience. It has a strong social justice theme w/out sex/kissing/swears.

4. Pinned by Sharon G. Flake (2012); This one I've not read yet but I will. Autumn and Adonis are both differently abled young adults who work to overcome what is stacked against them. Autumn is on her school's wrestling team which is a cool twist. And Adonis is in a wheelchair and has a crush on Autumn. I'm interested to see how this story plays out; I've enjoyed other books by this author such as The Skin I'm in.


I also recently finished Well, that was awkward by Rachel Vail and now I have Groovy Girl reading it. It was a great retelling of the Cyrano story. Not so much a social justice them except it is about accepting yourself in all your own glory; a lesson for many teens (and adults).

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

International Women's Day


The first International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 19, 1911.
This first event included meetings and organized events and was successful in
countries like Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland.
The March 19th date was chosen because it commemorated the day that the Prussian King promised to give women the right to vote. He didn't follow through on his promise and the date was later changed to March 8th in 1913.

In some countries, this is a national holiday and government offices are closed as well as some businesses. It seems that as we continue to push for more equality in this country and around the world that this day would grow in importance. This year the theme is #PressforProgress which combined with the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns make it feel like we are getting closer to gender equality.


There are no major events that I know of celebrating this day in my small
area of Iowa so I plan to talk up and celebrate women’s achievements,
set up a book display showcasing strong female leaders and other achievers and celebrate me and other strong role models.


Check and see if your area features any cool
events, International Women’s Day site And read this excellent article from
The Times entitled The New Vanguard that highlights women writers in this century who’ve helped to change and reconstruct our thinking. The first book on the list is
Chimamanda Adichie's novel Americanah-one of my favorite inspiring reads.


Happy International Women’s Day 2018! I hope this year will truly be a year of spectacular change for humans for as we lift ourselves up men can only become more self-aware.

Post note: Man-what a day to have weird formatting issues.
I had one 1/2 of another blog post disappear and now this one doesn't want to make correct paragraphs.
Oh, how I wish blogger saved like a google doc.



Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The end is always the beginning


It's the end of Kindness Month and Black History Month (check out this link for our youth poet laureate) yet those two celebrations should continue on everyday. You know what else should continue? Kids going to school everyday in a safe environment. Sometimes it is THE ONE place where children do feel safe and increasingly we keep making it scarier.  Practicing for a tornado drill is very different from actually participating in a dangerous intruder drill. It's not remotely fun to talk about a dangerous intruders with lower elementary students (or any student).

The idea that we can't get an assault weapon ban done in this country is really, truly beyond crazy to me. It is a mental health issue as well; I do understand that yet the two go together. Ban assault weapons (not hunting rifles or hand guns, mind you) and make mental health care part of routine wellness care. Both of these items would show that we care for our citizens. We don't want people to be target practice; we want people to feel well in their heads and hearts.

I'm unbelievably proud of the Stoneman Douglas students who've rallied, resisted, and shared their thoughts. I'm happy that Stoneman Douglas students were also able to head back to class today so as to get back to the routine of going to school. This personal account made me cry.  It's disgusting that they will forever have the memory of friends dying near them and the sound of rapid gun fire in their hallways. According to the NYT after Sandy Hook, 400 people have been shot in more than 200 school shootings. That's a terrible statistics for America, for our young people, teachers, administration and parents. People should be even more fired up than they are. I do appreciate Dick's Sporting Goods stepping up and making a change; it could be more but it's a start.

And don't even get me started on the ludicrous idea of giving teachers guns. I'm working with students all day long. They are in and out of the library, my office, the back work room and in this safe and loving environment there is NO room for a weapon to be sitting ready for the next shooter to come strolling in to our space. I think the same for every classroom and office in our building and in every building across the country. Ain't no place for weapons. Now those that represent us; find another way to make schools safe again.  We should be focusing on kindness and learning, thinking, and creating.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Nix by Nathan Hill

I really am ready for spring! I need the snow and ice to melt and the temperature to rise. I want to see green shoots peeking out of the rough ground. I know here we still have a long way to go. 


Reading is one of the ways we get through the long winter and during the month of February I've spent a lot of quality time with one book-The Nix.  Just me and 732 pages of writing from Nathan Hill. It's a good thing I liked it. It's long with lots of characters and a variety of twists and turns. There is A lot going on in this novel. 

Most of the plot lines center around Samuel, a professor at a small midwestern school.  His mother abandoned him as a boy and now as an adult she's suddenly in the news for throwing rocks at a presidential candidate.  Samuel would rather just ignore it except for the book publisher who knows there's an interesting story there.  We travel back in time to see his mother, Faye, as she leaves her small Iowa home with her disgruntled parents behind as she embarks on a new stage of her life in Chicago. 

In between we meet a cast of characters from Samuel's and Faye's early life and travel as far away as Norway.  We meet gaming friends and learn about this complex world of Elfscape as we watch Samuel deal with a humorous yet cheating college student who has an unusual grasp of how the world should work. So much going on yet I was never confused. Everyone's lives are multilayered and every story, every offshoot matters in this tale. 

It reminded me of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara because of its length and detailed writing. Here's a sample of detail from The Nix:
So that day he felt like he needed to cry. He told his mother he was going to his room to read, which was not unusual. He spent most of his time alone in his room, reading the Choose your own adventure books he bought from the bookmobile at school. He liked how the books looked on the shelf, all together like that, homogenous, with their white-and-red spines and titles like Lost on the Amazon, Journey to Stonehenge, Planet of the Dragons. He liked the books forking paths, and when he came to a particularly difficult decision, he would hold the page with his thumb and read ahead, verifying that it was an acceptable choice.  The books had a clarity and a symmetry to them that he found mostly absent in the real world. (83-84)
I've already added it to my shopping list for upcoming birthdays and holidays. This is Nathan Hill's first published novel and he seems like a bit of character himself. I listened to this interview to learn more. Give it a try; any good novel is worth the time you put into it and this one is a huge success for Mr. Hill.



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Happy February!


We are in the middle of some crazy weather here in Iowa.  School is already canceled for tomorrow. I'm excited to sleep in a little bit extra but tomorrow night we have to road trip to Des Moines so fingers crossed the weather will be calm. NO major blizzards. 


Luckily with all this freezing weather I have an excellent book to read; The Nix by Nathan Hill. It's our book club pick of the month and I'm the host for February. I'm fascinated by Faye, Samuel's mother, as she's portrayed as a hippie/radical who questions the politics and policies in the 60's and still. There is also a small Iowa connection.

Other than reading we've been putting together puzzles at our lovely Grandma Bruch heirloom table. My husband's brother and his wife came for a long weekend recently and we put together a cool puzzle of record albums from Uncommon Goods. This inspired us and Groovy Teen said we should always have a puzzle going at this table. We never eat there anymore so it is now deemed the puzzle room. Now we have a puzzle of old baseball cards in the works.


While our family was here I made a recipe I'd made years ago, a sweet potato chili, which we had with loaves of fresh bread. I do love cooking for people and chili hit the spot for how cold it was that weekend.  I've also been binge watching Stranger Things; it's a little creepy for me at times but Groovy Teen (who's watched it all several times) holds my hand at critical moments. I'm also finally caught up on This is Us; always a cry fest for me!  The fire was just too much. We've also had a great time playing Spot it! and Listography. We lead crazy fun lives.

Stay warm out there, wherever you are.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Kwame Alexander's novels in verse


I think of my library students very much as my own. I take full interest generally in what they read so when I had several 6th grade students hugging, Kwame Alexander's Solo, lovingly in their arms-I was intrigued. One such 6th grader sighed and smiled as he relayed the plot to me, ending with "you just got to read it Mrs. Holt." So I did.

I'm in awe of Alexander's ability to write in verse. It flows so freely, fluently and is filled with a gentle jive. I could see why these 6th graders in particular were swooning. It has everything; a little bit of rock & roll, a legend, a rich and famous lifestyle, romance but then a feel good trip to Ghana where another way of life is sought. It concludes gracefully without a perfect ending just like life. 

Two other books keep flying off the shelf in our library; The Crossover and Booked both by Alexander.  I'll have to wait until summer to read them as they check out as fast as they come in.

I hope Kwame Alexander continues to write for elementary as well as young adult. He has a fresh voice that keeps my kids looking for more. I love following him on social media as well; he's out there talking books and literacy like an ambassador!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Let's compare; my 2017 books

It's a fantastic feeling to look at my books from the past year and find so many great titles.  I hope your year in reading was just as exciting. I read a good mix of books from my TBR piles and plan to sign up for Roofbeam Readers' TBR Challenge this year to keep me on track.  I also added in stacks of new books about diverse characters, which made me fall in love with some new authors like Jason Reynolds and Angie Thomas.

Longest book: Eragon-I'm glad I finally read this fantasy tale
Favorite Detective-Cormoran Strike (Robert Galbraith)


Top Twelve

1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (real train, great writing)
2. The Mothers by Brit Bennett (Nadia and Luke, love story but more)
3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (brilliant story of police violence + more, very well written)
4. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (dystopian look at our world if Pence takes over)
5. A man called Ove by Fredrik Backman (sweet story of Ove learning about life)
6. American War by Omar El Akkad (dystopian look at future American w/out oil)
7. Our souls at night by Kent Haruf (sweet tale of neighbors making a connection)
8. To the bright edge of the world by Eowyn Ivey (amazing writing, journal-style about Alaskan exploration, LOVED her 1st book The Snow Child)
9. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (amazing, 300 years of life in Ghana and descendents)
10. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (The Count is imprisoned in beautiful hotel and finds a way to continue living a great life)
11. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (novel in verse, aftermath of Will's brother's death, strong voice)
12. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (1937 New York City, great cast of characters)


Top Elementary Fiction:

1. Shooting Kabul by N.H Senzai (escape from Afghanistan, life in America)
2. Some kind of courage by Dan Gemeinhart (great character western)
3. The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill (well-told fantasy)
4. Save me a seat by Sarah Weeks/Gita Varadarajan (diverse friends have all the fun, after the drama)
5. Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (9/11; well done)
6. The girl who drank from the moon by Kelly Barnhill (well-told fantasy)
7. Eragon by Christopher Paolini (dragon quest)
8. Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes (excellent voice, plantation aftermath)
9. Pax by Sara Pennypacker (pet fox struggles in the wild while boy tries to get back to fox)
10. A wrinkle in time by Madeleine L'Engle (wild, intergalactic ride, introduced it to 5 unsuspecting 6th graders)

Enjoy! What stories made an impression on you in 2017?


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

3 Great Stories

I ended 2017 with three good library books and oddly enough I didn't receive any books for Christmas. Probably good because my own piles are still sky high. Before I share my 2017 stats I thought I'd share these three.


1. The Tie that binds by Kent Haruf (1984): I read this because I loved Haruf's Our Souls at night which pushed me to the library to find his first story of Holt, Colorado. Described as a Greek Tragedy, this story gives us Edith Goodnough, a woman who struggles to make something of her life within the confines of the hand she's been dealt. Her mother dies young and Edith is left to care for her younger brother, Lyman and her abusive father.  The intricate tale of love and loss will make you question how far responsibility carries anyone.


2. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011): I picked this one up after reading A Gentleman in Moscow and found this one as clever. Katey Kontent, a 25 year-old New Yorker with her roommate Evelyn meet Tinker Gray, a wealthy and handsome banker in a Village jazz club.  The three of them set off on adventures, big and small, with both Evelyn and Kate hoping for their own moments with Tinker. Evelyn and Tinker eventually pair up but it's not in any way how they expected.  Filled with twists and turns and memorable characters like Anne Grandyn, this first novel by Towles is just as intriguing as A Gentleman in Moscow.


The Dry by Jane Harper (2016): Set in Australia this murder mystery has its own twists and turns in a short amount of time. Aaron Falk returns to his small hometown after his childhood friend Luke and his family are murdered. Aaron agrees to stay for a week to help the new sheriff as they both have questions about what exactly happened. While digging up clues they find simmering hatred and other secrets harbored by the small town residents. As they dig for clues Luke hopes to solve another mystery involving the drowning of his childhood friend Ellie of which he was the prime suspect. For a mystery with a LOT going on this one handled it all with interesting style. I'm looking forward to the next Aaron Falk tale.