Books You Must Put Down and Movies That Transport You Out of This World

To be honest, if I’m reading fiction, I can’t put the good books down. If I’m reading non-fiction I have the opposite reaction. The better it is the sooner I put it down and start practicing what I just read.

Because I chose to take part in NaNoWriMo this month, I’ve read non-fiction, how to books to improve my fiction writing as I write.  Along with that I began blogging again, although not at the frantic daily pace I did three years ago when I started.

Writing the Breakout Novel

The first book I began, and hope I’ll finish is Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. If you write seriously, you’ve probably read it, but I’ve done other things. His writing style is professorial with honest suggestions, examples, and a summary at the end of each chapter, so you don’t forget the main points. The problem is that I get a few pages into each chapter and I go to my new novel, and begin revising – from the beginning.  I may never finish either my novel or the book.  The good news is that this book is making a difference in how I write fiction.

Every Writer Needs a Tribe

This morning I just downloaded a free non-fiction book, Every Writer Needs a Tribe, from Jeff Goins who I know from My 500 Words. One of my favorite writing friends, Tonia Hurst, invited me to this writing group on Facebook.  This book is very short, 42 pages, and talks about building a writing platform. As a blogger, I have a platform that is pretty scattered, and Goins advises against that, but as most of what I’ve posted on this site has been about blogging, I think you all should know about this book.

The two movies I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks I recommend that you not get up in the middle and walk out. Both of them are still showing, at least in Visalia, where we get a smattering of the current movies.

The Martian, unbelievable as a science fiction should be, enables you to suspend reality and live on Mars with the astronaut that gets left for dead when the rest of the crew takes off to avoid certain annihilation by a fierce Martian storm. (Whew, try saying that sentence without taking a breath.) The photography and Photoshop tricks used to make this movie are every bit as enjoyable as the plot and the acting, both of which helped capture this movie a 93% approval rating.

The Intern entertains entirely differently. If you love Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, you will already love the film. No man is as perfect and loveable as the senior intern played by De Niro, but every romantic wants to believe in him.  I saw this chick-flick with four other retired, successful, busier than working-women friends for our birthdays.  We all loved the movie. The Rotten Tomato website rates this movie as a 60%, but if you believe chivalry didn’t die with your grandparent’s generation, this movie is for you.

Those are my recommendations for you. What do you recommend for me to make it through NaNoWriMo?

Reviews and Recommendations

A few weeks ago I read Breathing on Her Own published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas written by Rebecca Waters, a friend in a Facebook writers support group.  This book struck a chord with me because one of my friends in Visalia has gone through much of the same trauma.

Breathing on Her Own

Breathing on Her Own doesn’t sound like a lightweight romance, and it isn’t.  Waters walks us through the difficult healing process of a mother whose married adult daughter is paralyzed after a car accident.  WARNING:  Do not have unprotected sex if you think that parenting ends when your child leaves home at the end of… high school…  college… when they get married…

Molly Tipton, an active church-goer and Christian, battles God as she goes through the healing process after the car wreck.  Her daughter had been drinking, and the weather was bad.  Who got the blame for the accident?  God, of course.  It was HIS bad weather that made the road slick.  Well, maybe it was the “girlfriend” with Laney, she had always been a bad influence, but she died instantly, so it was hard to keep blaming her.

After the weeks Laney lingered in the hospital, Molly struggled through numerous changes and tribulations. That first night in the hospital watching her daughter struggle to breathe on her own, Molly never suspected that the caring officer, Officer Steadman, would later charge Laney with the manslaughter of one of her closest friends.  Molly and her husband, Travis, shared responsibilities for Laney’s children as the road to recovery wound around Obstacle Mountain.   When Laney left the hospital still unable to walk, Molly and her husband had hard financial decisions to make that threatened their retirement plans as they tried to help her daughter’s family cope with living with a disability.

 

Accidents are only a second away from any of us.  As she reached out to help , Molly discovered that her own life needed overhauling.

I recommend this book.  It’s an easy read, but then it’s not!

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A few days ago I told you that I switched to iPage. The switching procedure takes ended up being more complicated than I thought it would to switch, but I wanted to save $200 or so.  The service was great.  Eva called me, and answered my call.  However, I returned to WordPress because I had to transfer my own data to the hosting site.  Because my paid membership expired, I couldn’t do that and take my pictures.  I discovered that WP has a less expensive product to host the website, and give more room for storing my pictures.  I jumped on that train, and I’m back in business at WP.  For my simple purposes the $99 program is enough.  Just thought I’d share.

Book Review: The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Today I spent several hours at Barnes and Noble in Fresno doing market research for both picture books and romance.  I’ll describe that experience later.  Tonight I want to share the most touching book I have read, The Kissing Hand.  Written in 1993, I missed it since I stopped teaching kindergarten in 1985, so it was new to me today.

the-kissing-hand_r

Chester Raccoon does not want to go to kindergarten.  His wise mother tells him that we all have to do things we don’t want to do, but has a secret to share with him.

Chester is sad

Chester stops crying long enough to check out the secret.  Mom kisses his palm and tells him that he can touch his face with his hand and get the kiss any time he feels lonely or afraid.

Mommy and Chester

Chester loves his hand.   In the end Chester takes his mother’s hand and leaves her with a kissing hand to treasure in his absence.  Mom loves his gift and needs it as much as he did.

Trying to limit my books to 500 words is torture.  I was sure this emotional tale used many more words, but no, Penn packed tremendous love into merely 488 words.  However, at the end is a letter from the author, a must read for adults.  It turns out that this story stemmed from her experience observing a mother raccoon and her baby in the wild.  Mommy Raccoon actually imprinted her scent on baby in a touching move as the illustrations show us, twenty years later.

My goal is to write something this touching and helpful.  You must give this book to someone you love, and need to leave, no matter what their age.  The Kissing Hand – remember it!

Chester toy

Book Review: Off the Leash by Rupert Fawcett

Hi everyone,

Manny here, again.  Mom’s still busy.

Manny at home

Mom asked me to write a book report for you today on the book Off the Leash:  The Secret Life of Dogs by Rupert Fawcett.  First of all I have to say thanks to Ute because she sent us this book for Christmas.   I have never seen Mom and Dad laugh so hard in my life.  Here is why they were laughing.  It’s a comic book.  Yeah, my parents read comic books.

Manny reads to friends

My favorite page is p. 26.  This page is so Kalev.  I watch her do this every day.   She lies on the couch on her blue blanket where she is supposed to be.  Then she nuzzles her nose under whatever Mom or Dad is holding.  The next thing you know she is sitting on their lap.

My friends and I loved this book because it was so funny, and it was about dogs.  I love dogs, even Kalev.  She thought Roo was a toy when we were sitting on the floor.  Mom had to take Roo away from her and put all of us up here on the mantle.  This is where we live.  When Mom took Roo away, Kalev actually came after me, and messed up my Hawaiian necklace.  I was scared for just a minute, but Kalev knows better than to mess with me.  I won’t tell you what I did.

Anyway, this is an awesome book.  It makes a great gift for a friend like Mom and Dad and me, and it would probably make a great gift for your friends who like dogs.  Click here to see other books by Rupert Fawcett.

Please respond to my survey below.

One more thing I have to ask you.  I’ve been thinking about doing a blog just like Justin Beaver does.  You are all grown ups, and Mom is a grown up (most of the time).  Would you read my blog?  Would you follow it?  I’ll put another survey up.

Manny relaxing at home

Thanks everyone.

Here is the link to my new blog.  Invite your kids to read and comment on it, too!  🙂

Book Review: Through the Redwood Curtain by Robert Burke

Bob Burke is front and center at the Foundation Bologna Feed.
Bob Burke is front and center at the Woodlake Foundation Bologna Feed.

At a Woodlake High School Foundation Dinner I attended recently, Bob Burke, the 2011 San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social Studies High School Teacher of the Year, told me he had just published his first book, Through the Redwood Curtain.

Through the Redwood ForestI was thrilled for him, and anxious to read it, a story about places and times familiar to me.

McKinleyville collage

The main character, Steve, a long-haired student at the College of the Redwoods, transversed between his home, where he lived in a tiny trailer in an ultra-conservative, poverty-ridden McKinleyville trailer park with his brother and his brother’s wife, to his place of school and employment in Eureka, 13 miles away.  On the way driving south on Highway 101 in his rundown Volkswagen van Steve passed through the now progressive town of Arcata, home of Humboldt State University, just over five miles away from his home.  The two towns couldn’t have been further apart politically.  When folks for the two towns met and talked politics, it was like metal on pavement, driving on the rims.

arcata_420_redwood_park

Through Steve’s naive eyes, the reader sees the battle lines  being sketched between two ideologies, environmentally conscious students, and lumberjacks and fishermen barely scratching out a living as they destroyed some of the most pristine forests in the United States.  The destitution of the residents contrasted with the privilege and unappreciated wealth of the majority of the Humboldt State students from Southern California created a dramatic backdrop of political sparks that fueled this book’s plot from beginning to end.

COR

The drama didn’t end with politics, however.  Steve had his own internal combustion engine when it came to the love of his life, Cheryl, and their lonely times of separation, the abundance of drugs, family differences, friendships, and betrayals.  In addition, the death of Steve’s mother, the lack of support from his drunken father colored his emotions, and his own desperate financial situation added to the intense conflict of forces within the story.

firewood

Finally, the story wouldn’t have been complete without Steve’s $1.65 an hour job at Coastal Gardens Nursery in Eureka.  Steve worked with an assortment of characters, most of whom were paroles, students, or local tooth-free young women looking for good men – in all the wrong places.  Steve seemed to innocently bound through his mixed up world always seeing roses through his fog colored spectacles.

Rusty-VW-Van-for-Ascension-of-Jerry-prologue2

All of the dramatic facets and interludes of Steve’s life seem inextricably intertwined into the life of his rusty, fussy old VW van.   Could it be that the opposing forces in Steve’s life wouldn’t begin to come together as long as he had the troublesome VW?  Or would his troubles only deepen if the old van ever died?  To find that answer you will have to read the book.

Common Core Standards

While this is a work of fiction, I think most high school teachers could use this with their students studying modern U.S. history, and would find Through the Redwood Curtain more than just a fun read.  Of course they could analyze the characters and setting, both of which are part of the new standards.  One of the important aspects of being a historian is to know the author, and understand the lens through which the book is written.  Robert Burke graduated from Humboldt State in the 1970s, so is a primary source when it comes to the issues found in the book.  So did Bob have an agenda when writing the book?  Did he see like as a wealthy college student, or did he, because of his own lack of funds, identify more with the conservatives who also had financial troubles bigger than the Redwoods?  How would the book have been different if written from the perspective of the owner of Coastal Gardens Nursery?  These are topics with which students have to grapple in their Common Core classrooms.  In my opinion this story would be an excellent one for examining perspective.

If you know Northwest California, and love the complexity of the simple life found there, you will love this book.  Read it and pass it on to a friend or two that went to Humboldt State in the 1970s.  They probably knew Steve – even though he is fictitious.  I felt like knew him – back when.

Tuesday Review: Interview with JT Weaver

the interview

As I continue to try to find my voice as a blogger, I find myself drawn into the role of book reviewer.  As I continue on this pathway, a next step that I notice among other blogger reviewers is the INTERVIEW.

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Since I am blogger friends with JT Weaver, who authored Uphill Both Ways, he’s my interview guinea pig.  Thanks JT  🙂

Hi JT,

Let’s begin with an ice breaker question.

jt

What makes you laugh?

I guess I like intellectual humor; the kind of story that has you going in one direction and then at the last-minute gets you laughing at what you missed.  I’ve never been a fan of slapstick Three Stooges type of humor.  The Bill Cosby “Himself” album still cracks me up.  I was raised on the droll tangentially humorous stories of my father and it became easy for me to adapt any of my own stories into the format that he used. 

What do you think contributes to your success as an author?

To be honest, I don’t know what “success as an author” really means.  I wrote some stories and then discovered that, without any approval process from the world of “Big 6” publishing, I could self-publish my book at almost no cost.  Years ago being a published author meant you went through several gateways, signed your rights away, hired an agent, hired an editor, and were accepted and printed by Houghton-Mifflin.  Because of these gateways, the title of “published author” carried with it an aura of prestige that perhaps no longer exists.  While my stories were individually lauded and my book is 5-star rated and reviewed, it is also doing well in the marketplace.  

The impetus of the project was to document the important parts of my life for my children in such a way that they could understand who I am.  At the beginning of the project, there were no ideas or discussions about compiling these stories into a single volume; that discussion came later.  The mere idea that someone outside the family might have the slightest interest in these stories is somewhat shocking to me.  I am, of course, delighted that people enjoy them and even want to buy them, but that was never my intention.

 Since you wrote this book to your kids, what is their reaction to your its publication?

“Congratulations Dad, what’s for dinner?”  I haven’t really discussed it with them.  I have a sense that they may be a bit uncomfortable with it all.  From their point of view, this was supposed to be my “letters” to them.  Now the world has access to it.  It somehow has lost it’s personal appeal to them I think.  Many of the stories in the book are familiar to them already.  Some of them probably make them a little uncomfortable. Just because I was documenting my life for them didn’t mean that they had to read it now.

Another part of the emotions of a document like this is the finality of it all.  I think to them it signals the beginning of the end.  Kids grow up thinking their parents will be around forever and only when something happens, an illness or an accident, do they ever think that their parents are even mortal.  They have both moved away from home and are leading their lives to the fullest.  In their minds, they can visit Dad and Mom anytime they want.  Reading this memoir may signal to them that a time will come when they won’t be able to do that.  And to me, that’s OK.  When they’re 60 and I’m long gone, this will be something I hope they will enjoy reading.  I think they’ll like to reflect back on things and this will help them do that.  Perhaps they’ll even want to read some of these stories to their own grandchildren, who knows?

What part has your wife played in getting this book off the ground?

At first, I just began writing a story.  My wife, Karen, really wasn’t involved.  Then I wrote a little something about Social Security and then something about the 2nd Amendment.  Then I found the picture album my parents had made for me and wrote a story about one of those pictures.  I honestly was just fooling around with it.  As I was writing, Karen and my college roommate John were both reviewing each piece.

 Then a discussion started among John, Karen, and I about what it was I was doing.  They thought these stories were better than I did.  At one point John said that he thought he was looking into my soul, and because he knew me so well, he was a little uncomfortable with it.  From that came the idea came the thought from Karen that this would be a nice gift for the kids and it was then that I wrote the letter that would become the Prologue to the book.  When I published that letter, the blogging community took notice and my readership exploded.  At that point Karen got involved with every aspect of the writing.

What obstacles did you run into as you went through the process?

Generally, the writing was very easy.  All I had to do was remember things that happened and write them down.  It wasn’t like writing fiction where you have to make sure everything fits.  In a memoir, if it happened, then it fits, plain and simple.  The difficult part was the rigorous editing and publishing.  I had no previous experience with any of these things so I had to learn it all for the first time.  I am a consummate researcher so I spent many hours trying to understand everything.

I did have some difficulty with some of the chapters.  Recounting military school and the death of my friend Rick was one, some of the experiences in my teen years were some others, and the last chapter was very difficult.  What I found was that a wonderful healing that occurs when you commit these things to paper.  I was surprised and gratified that the weight had been lifted.

Do you have another book in mind?

As I continue to write, I may consider compiling a large series of essays into a book.  That would depend on the enthusiasm of my blog readers.  If the quality of my writing stays up, and people want it, I can publish another book.

What place in the larger picture of American history do you think your book holds?

 From my point of view, the answer is none.  It’s something that we cannot know.  The wonderful letters home from the Civil War are a perfect example.  They were simple and innocent when they were written however; now give so much insight into life at that time.  I cannot know what people will interest people in 100 years.  To me this is a good look at what it was like to grow up in the 1950s and 1960s.  It wasn’t an ideal life perhaps but then no one knows what that is.  I just lived my life in the best way I could, married a wonderful woman, and raised two great kids.

What was your favorite period in your life?

 The best part of my life began on August 22, 1984 and has continues every day.  That was the day that I met Karen in San Francisco.  

What surprised you as you went through this writing process?

Everything!  I’ve never written anything before.  I’m a pretty good storyteller like my father before me.  In my mind, I simply placed myself in a favorite chair by the fireplace and enjoyed the warmth it gave me.  I would enjoy some fine wine and aged cheese and daydream into the past.  When the children came into the room before bedtime, I would tell them a story.  What you read in my book are those stories; nothing more complicated or fancy about it.  It was extremely easy to write these stories down because I had lived them.  I think the most surprising thing for me was that there are people who like these stories. 

 What would you change if you were going to write another book?

The process would be the same, I think.

What are your favorite songs?

This is the “record” he wore out as a teen.

If you enjoyed learning about John T. Weaver, then you will enjoy his website.  You can go on his site and see what he’s working on now.

memoirs

Have any of you written your memoir?  It’s amazing how little our children actually know about our lives before they were born.  Do JT’s motivations to write his story remind you your own?   Would your children read it?  How did the events in history touch your life? Let me know what you think!  🙂

Tuesday Book Review: The Sea and the Silence by Peter Cunningham

First of all, I KNOW it’s late Wednesday, not Tuesday!  Are schedules made to be pushed around?  Or do they push us? 

I51zgyjnUnLL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-70,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_t wasn’t a murder mystery, but The Sea and the Silence had in it both murder and mystery.  If I told you who was murdered, it would spoil the entire story.  Usually you know the victim, when you read a novel, but in this mysterious page-turner you don’t even know there is a victim until near the end.  So now that YOU know there was a murder, you MUST read it to find out who got axed, how, and why!

Spanning nearly the lifetime of the protagonist, discovering her mysteries, was like unraveling the threads of a carefully hand-stitched king-sized quilt by starlight. I read the book, then started to read it again, to see what clues I missed in the first reading of The Sea and the Silence, and to make sure that I didn’t say anything misleading.

I wish I could summarize the plot, but it would spoil it for you, and besides it is too intricate to tell in only a few words.  Let me just say that Iz Shaw, the first person narrator of most of the story, was tragically beautiful, yet not always appreciated by her family. She loved, married, had a child, lost family members, and eventually died herself, Her story was prefaced and epilogued by her attorney.

Now you might be asking, why did a beautiful woman need a lifetime affiliation with an attorney, so much so that he was the one who shared her story with us?  Was she the murderer?  Did she come to an untimely death?  Did her husband, Ronnie or her son, Hector, predecease her?  Who names their child Hector, anyway, and why did she choose that name?

Common Core Connection:  While this story has a historic Dublin setting, starting in the year 1945, the real core of the story is its literary value.  It requires close reading to understand the intricacies of the plot and characters.  I don’t think a student would necessarily take away much other than ambiance from the book’s historical data, because most of the story took place behind the eyes of the storyteller, Iz.  So I guess I would say, that the value for Common Core standards is to determine what the meaning of the word “Iz” is.  🙂

Peter cunningham

All in all I heartily recommend Peter Cunningham’s most famous historic novel, The Sea and the Silence.

 

 

 

To read more about this author and other books he has written try these blogs.

Tuesday Review: The Great Gatsby

What more can be said about Gatsby,
Than he was, at one time, a has-to-be?
When you went to his house,
He was never a louse.
But his past was just a bit shadowy.

–  Marsha Ingrao

A few weeks ago I saw the 2013 Warner Brothers film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway along with Carey Mulligan as Nick’s beautiful cousin, Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan, played by Joel Edgerton.  I had read the story years ago, and I wondered how well the film followed the book, since often films might be about seemingly another novel entirely.  In my opinion the director and cast captured the essence of the 1925 novel in a mere 2 hours and 23 minutes.  I saw the actors flesh out every page I read.  My opinion differs from most of the critics, as it seems that most moviegoers’ opinions often do.  I wonder why that is.

“The best attempt yet to capture the essence of the novel.”  Top critic, Richard Roeper, came the closest to representing what I saw in the film.

“Almost 100 percent faithful to the novel in terms of plot, and almost zero percent faithful in terms of theme, character, and impact.” Another top critic, Eric D. Snider, remained critical of the movie, disparaging what I thought accurately represented what I read.  Read his review here.

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway
Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway

Snider writes, “Nick is a bore. (His own romances have been omitted.)”  I certainly disagree with that.  I thought Nick/Tobey was charming.  In the book Carraway doesn’t dwell on his own romances, only to say that he needed to break up with his girl back home, and that eventually his tennis friend, Jordan, became as obnoxious to him as the rest of the bunch.

The four main characters.

“Daisy is a simpering weakling,” Snider writes patronizingly.  Duh!  That was the whole point of the book!  Even the good people of the Roaring 20s were seen, by Fitzgerald, as being weak, affected by their own hedonistic life-style.  Of course, the reader/moviegoer might have expected more guts out of the beautiful Daisy, and their hearts ached to punch her brutish husband in the chops.  Realistically, her reaction is much more likely. Abused women rarely leave their husbands, even if a nice guy happens along.  Marriage is hard work at best, but living with a brute, is a mixed bag, and abused women are often afraid to leave.  Her reaction and acting portrayed that dilemma perfectly.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby

“Gatsby is a phony schemer whose phony scheming is so obvious that you wonder how anyone in his social circle ever liked him,” writes the critic.  To Snider I would answer snidely, “Again, duh!”  That was the impression painted of Gatsby in the book.  Carraway wasn’t fooled by Gatsby in the book, and he wasn’t in the movie either.  Nonetheless, Gatsby revealed his likability and appeal when he showed his ignorance to Carraway during this brief interlude, my words in parentheses.

“I am the son of some wealthy people in the middle-west…”  (Gatsby told him.)

“What part of the middle-west?” (queries the midwesterner, Carraway.)

“San Francisco,” (Gatsby replied unsuspectingly.)

I found that line particularly charming, and very funny.  Gatsby was sharp enough to garner all the wealth to impress his one-time sweetheart, but not sharp enough to cover up that he didn’t know where he was from.  Obviously, to me, the book wanted him to appear to be a flagrant schemer to Carraway, if there was nothing else besides this conversation to intimate at his illegitimacy.

The guy you love to hate, Tom Buchanan played by
The guy you love to hate, Tom Buchanan played by Joel Edgerton.

“Tom Buchanan is interesting, but only because he’s such a one-dimensional beast.” MISTER Snider, Tom was intentionally a flat character.  You had to hate him as a reader, and even more as a viewer.  The only way to get characters hated, is to make them bad to the bone.  Using a flat character doesn’t always work to gather hatred and make the good guy look better, but it’s a time-honored technique.  Besides that, Mr. Snider, flat characters are NOT interesting.  They are boring on purpose so that the dynamic characters appear even MORE interesting.  So, sorry, you’re wrong again!

Finally, my last Snider quote, “Gone are the melancholic tragedy and the evocative language that have kept people reading The Great Gatsby for 88 years.”  My question to you, sir, is what language, and where did it go?  It seemed to me as I reread the book that the movie used almost every word of dialogue written in the book.  Any other evocative language was found in the descriptions, and those are never spoken in a movie, but presented.  That is the nature of moving from book to movie screen.

Now I understand why movie critics are seldom in agreement with the general public.  In this case, according to the Rotten Tomato Meter, the critics scored the movie 49% positive, while the average movie-goer gave it a 70%.  Casual viewers rate with their gut reaction to the movie.  I’m not sure what the critics used.  It isn’t always their head!  Sorry for picking on you, Mr. Snider, but yours was the second closest opinion to mine, and I just wanted to better understand your thinking.  So this post ended up being a review of a reviewer.  I’ve never done that before.  Congratulations on being my first reviewed reviewer.  🙂

One educational note, English teachers, The Great Gatsby is a primary source document.  Even though the book is about the Roaring Twenties, depicting and accurately describing the Roaring Twenties using the language of the day that doesn’t make it a primary source document.  However, because The Great Gatsby was written in 1925, it IS the Roaring Twenties.  Students might compare Fitzgerald’s work to other non-fiction documents of the time for language, and events, but it is, as much of a primary source as any non-fiction piece.  Common Core approved by Marsha.  🙂

Book Review: Holding Up the Earth by Dianne E. Gray

Hope, aged 14, became an orphan at age six when her mother died in a car crash.  The backpack they had bought just before the accident became Hope’s hope chest, housing artifacts from her past.  Her most prized possession was her sketchbook.  Hope’s current foster Mom, Sarah, took Hope with her to spend the summer at her childhood home on the prairie in Nebraska with her mother, Anna.  Against her wishes, Hope moved, vowing not to be pressured into adoption.

In Nebraska Anna, Hope’s fun-loving foster grandmother, introduced her to their farm’s history beginning in 1869 when it was first homesteaded. Through a series of diaries Hope learns how three young women, about her age, dealt with the difficulties that faced them across the centuries.  The obstacles in growing crops in first story reminded me of the last book I reviewed, The Worst Hard Times.  It seems that life on the prairie is difficult in any era.

Holding Earth1

Dianne E. Gray weaves 4 stories seamlessly into one novel.  Holding Up the Earth hints at the issues facing foster children, but more than that, it is historical fiction.  As such it is very appropriate particularly for 8th and 11th grade students who study American History.  Its readability level and subject matter would appeal primarily to girls aged 10-14.  Nonetheless, although I’m somewhat older than 14, I enjoyed it as well.

You can learn more about author Dianne E. Gray on her website Prairie Voices.

Tuesdays – Review Day – YIKES!

Today is Review Tuesday. According to my poll TV and movie reviews were much more popular with my voters than books.  Since today is the first day of my Tuesday schedule I thought I ‘d start out by showing you my page on Book Reviews because many people don’t click on pages, but some of you have commented on my organization.  I’m an organized mess – not a Hot Mess, Ralph!  Though not a professional reviewer, I was an elementary teacher then an instructional consultant so I’ve read lots and lots of books, and I continue to read when I’m not writing.  I taught reading and writing to both students and adults for over 25 years.  Currently I post reviews on Amazon as well as on my blog.  If you hate reviews, just stop here and press like, or comment on something else!  hahaha  (I haven’t lost my sense of humor!)

I apologize ahead of time – I approach most books, TV and movies from the standpoint of how they would work either for students or teachers, especially in this era of Common Core Standards.  Fun books I usually read for fun, not review.  Regarding books by blogging friends, I do make an exceptions sometimes often. So if you are a writer/blogger and want me to review your book, feel free to email me at tchistorygal@gmail.com.

It’s my hope that you’ll enjoy my reviews, and they will encourage you or your friends to read the book or see the movie or show.  I am also working on a Resource Page since there are many fine bloggers, whom I love, who also review books, movies – etc.  My slant will be mostly educational, so if you know teachers, please refer them here.

MY PAGE

Books

Most books I read I don’t review.  I don’t know many people who do.  I never used to even keep track of all the books I’d read.  Then I went on an interview once and one of the questions was, “What books have you read this year?”  I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head even though I had read tons.  As a result I started asking people with whom I associated and admired what books they read.   Sometimes it started a great conversation.  Sometimes, they admitted that they didn’t like to read.  If you are a blogger, then you MUST like to read a little.  So this page is for you.

Book Reviews

Book on Kindle

Jillian Hoffman suggested revealing our shelves to other bloggers.  I haven’t taken pictures of my shelves filled up before, and it is difficult to do because my room is small. Here are a few of my shelves.  I do love them.  I have them organized loosely into groups like local history, Civil War, how to teach, dictionaries, general history, and quilting and other stuff.

Civil War Shelf

We have two other book cases in other rooms, one of which belonged to my great-grandmother.

IMG_7882

I joined Good Reads finally.  It can keep track of what I’m reading, as well as what everyone else who belongs is reading.  I have to admit that I haven’t kept it up.  I also removed it from my site because my blog loaded slower because of it.  I also joined Amazon affiliates so that if you see a book you’d like to order, you can do it directly here without leaving and opening another window, and I receive a small commission on each sale.

Book Review: The Worst Hard Time…

Before I start my book review, which I promised you last week, I want to thank you for responding to my poll yesterday.  I will be establishing a posting schedule in a few days based on your advice.

Attention English teachers!!!  The Worst Hard Time:  The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan reads almost like fiction. History and science teachers join forces by using this book as primary source background information to introduce or expand the topics including the Dust Bowl and the environment.

approaching_dust_storm

Hundreds of thousands of people fled to Arizona and California to escape the worst natural disaster in modern times.  This book focuses on those who stayed, and lived in wooden shacks with no insulation to keep out the dust.

LIFE-Dust-7-jpg_222219

 

You will experience the emotional debates raging in the hearts of the hanger ons when their lives blew away.

“In those cedar posts and collapsed homes is the story of this place:  how the greatest grassland in the world was turned inside out, how the crust blew away, raged up in the sky and showered down a suffocating blackness off and on for most of a decade.” p. 2

This book includes shocking facts beside the tragic stories of the nesters who had obeyed their government, farmed the land, and reaped a bowl of dust.

“…Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, … the storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal.  … More than 300,000 tons of Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day. … Jeanne Clark could not stop coughing.  … The doctor diagnosed Jeanne with dust pneumonia, … she might not live long….  Jeanne’s mother… had come here for the air, and now her little girl was dying of it.” p.8

The “great plowup” of millions of acres lasted only thirty years, but the consequences lasted a decade at its worst, and continues today with a cautionary tale for the future.

“The land came through the 1930s deeply scarred and forever changed, but in places it healed. … After more than sixty-five years, some of the land is still sterile, and drifting. … The (nearly 220 million) trees from Franklin Roosevelt’s big arbor dream have mostly disappeared.  … When the regular rain returned in the 1940s and wheat prices shot up, farmers ripped out the shelter belt trees to plant grain.” pgs 309-310

What is frightening after reading this book is the realization that it could happen again, and this time there would be no remedy.

“The government props up the heartland, ensuring that the most politically connected farms will remain profitable. …  To keep agribusiness going a vast infrastructure of pumps and pipes reaches deep into the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s biggest source of underground freshwater, drawing the water down eight times faster than nature can refill it. … It provides about 30 percent of the irrigation water in the United States.”  p. 310

This book is guaranteed to make you more aware of the extreme dangers of continuing in the direction we are going as a nation with regards to what and how we grow.

Dust_Bowl

In Central California where I live, the subject is especially poignant for two reasons:

  1. Many people have relatives still living in the Dust Bowl states.
  2. Central California depends on aquifers and agribusiness to exist.

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I recommend this book for use in Common Core classrooms grades 5 and up.  It covers science as well as social studies topics as it combines environmental issues with historical facts.

Please rate this review.  Thanks  🙂

A Book Review: Wolf Pear

Dianne Gray's intriguing mystery
Dianne Gray’s intriguing mystery

You all know that I’m a Dianne Gray fan, and I just finished reading her 2010 novel Wolf Pear.  The reader has no idea whether or not the two main protagonists, JD Cusack and Esther Crooke will ever meet.  Both characters mistreated as children, you hope that the something in the story will turn out well for them.

Poor Esther, fat, lonely, and constantly tormented, has worked her way into a very successful business with her best friend, Sandy in spite of having a despicably hateful family.  JD, with his special talents to see beyond the normal, has become a top federal police officer.  Both Esther and JD are haunted by their pasts as well as their present circumstances.  Neither of them realize the danger that await them.

The novel opens with Esther burying a man that she has killed.  To hide him, she plants tomatoes on his grave.  The tomatoes grow exceeding well bringing her unsolicited notoriety and fame, and more agitation from her family.  JD’s brother has been murdered, and JD takes time off to “relax”, and runs into to more bodies and unsolved cases away from home as he privately seeks his brother’s murderer.

The pace is fast, and once you start this short novel, you won’t want to put it down until you find out “who done it!”  I did learn what a wolf pear was before the end, but I did not figure  out the mysteries, so don’t cheat and read the end first – that’s not fair.  See if you can do better than I did.  🙂

Book Review: The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony

This book, The Elephant Whisperer, kept me on the edge of my seat the entire two days it took me to finish it.

Considering that I was reading it on my cell phone the whole time because my Kindle needs to be emptied before I can load any more books, it’s amazing that I even stuck it out.   Out of forty-two chapters, there wasn’t a single dud.  I read it because I was intrigued when someone  wrote that when Lawrence Anthony died, the elephants mourned.

We all have problems and obstacles when we follow our dreams, but this man had more than most.  He bought a 5,000 acre game reserve in Zululand, South Africa called Thula Thula.  He had the ability to get, not only wild elephants to listen to him, but also local police, local political leaders including tribal leaders from warring tribes.  He conquered poaching problems, floods, and built a thriving lodge in the midst of this reserve full of all kinds of wild animals, the largest being the elephants.

These desperate, wild elephants uprooted trees weighing several tons and crashed through electric fencing to escape the reserve and run free in towns and countryside where EVERYONE from poachers to police wanted to shoot them.  The logistics of capturing, transporting and keeping animals of this strength and determination were mind-boggling.  His story of training and taming them without domesticating them kept me transfixed and absorbed for about two days.

One of the major characteristics that comes out about Lawrence Anthony besides his ability to work hard in horrible circumstances, is his humility.  He credited everyone for the wonderful ways they contributed to his project, and in so doing inspired immense loyalty.  Possibly just as amazing was his companion, Franςoise.  She combatted snakes, and nursed a dying 280 pound baby elephant in her spare bedroom – well the run of the house, actually.  She ran the lodge, made and served gourmet French cuisine, and finally after living with the man who didn’t mind having elephant slobber all over his body for 15 years planned and executed their surprise wedding.

Elephants and the Common Core

Remembering that the Common Core is all about non-fiction, and integrating science, social studies, and technology, this book will do it all – especially if students are reading it on their iPhones as I was.  In spite of it’s length this is an engaging read for upper elementary students and above.  It is also a great one to engage male readers, who statistically respond both to animals and adventure.

Anthony’s story of survival, love, adventure, drama, and caring for both animals, the environment and culture of the people will inspire and challenge everyone to meet their own challenges with courage and innovation.

Featured Blog

Featured BlogThe perfect blog to feature today is one of another adventurer, Amy at shareandconnect.  I have heaped awards on Amy’s shoulders, and I have enjoyed her company, her uplifting comments on my blog for many months, but tonight I spent time just thumbing through her blog, reading the back pages, and the more I read, the more I liked.  This wonder woman has been everywhere.  If it has a trail, she climbed it.  If it’s beautiful, she’s photographed it.

Here’s a peek.  You are going to want to set aside some time and just go browse in her museum of photos.

You can thank me later because you’ll be richer for it!  Enjoy Share and Connect, you’ll be glad you connected.  🙂  Marsha

 

Book Review: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America

A Black Cowboy's Ride

It’s not every day that a good book about both geography and history comes along, but Lisa Winkler’s non-fiction epic, A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America, guides the reader from New Jersey to California.  Each chapter portrays the real-life adventure of an African-American teacher, Miles Dean, who rides horseback across the United States beginning September 22, 2007.  The mini-biography of Dean spans not only the country, but the centuries of African-American history in various places along the way.

There is not enough room in history books to tell the stories of all the remarkable people who walked this earth.  So they  leave out those folks who do not specifically advance the historical narrative the editors wish to portray.  For example, American children all read about George Washington, the first President of the United States, and they should.  Do they also know about Blanche K. Bruce, the first African-American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate in 1874?  Readers travel with Miles and pick up gems of history where they happened along the journey.

Blanche K. Bruce Mississippi Senator, 1874-1880

In this book the reader experiences the difficulties of the actual horseback ride across motorized America in spite of extensive planning,  along with the exuberance of meeting welcoming strangers in every place.  Readers learn along with Miles about various famous African-Americans, who were firsts in fields that don’t make the history books, such as horse jockeys or cowboys.  Rather than being a chronological history, this is a geographical history.  Every locale has its heroes and heroines, and they fit into various historical time frames.  The focus of this book is on African-American heroes from each stop along the way, so there might be a Civil War hero, and a country singer in the same location.

In truth children learn history, just as they learn their first language, from those closest to them.  They learn about their own ethnicity from their parents and grandparents, and blend it in with their growing life experiences.  They hear the stories of the folks in their home territory.  Then they learn how those stories fit into the broader scope of history.  Somewhere along the way, they begin to pick up an internal timeline.  In this book the reader becomes like a child growing up in each site where Miles stops, and learns a bit about each place, whetting their appetite to follow-up and research more about specific people or events later.

Winkler’s mini-biography easily meets the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, since students will be required to read greater percentages of non-fiction texts.  This is a book that will interest students, particularly ones who like horses and cowboys.  Teachers are often looking for books that will appeal to disenfranchised students.  This book is the perfect hook for African-American males, statistically having the largest percentage of students in this category.  Miles, the rider, is the first hero, attempting this difficult trip at age 57, and overcoming obstacle after obstacle, persevering until he completes his goal.  Then meeting all the unsung African-American heroes along Mile’s historic epic gives these students a sense of belonging and contributing to the history of the United States that is so essential for creating future citizens of this nation.

Miles Dean, age 57 riding across America
Miles Dean, age 57 riding across America

As an educational consultant, I think this book has implications that reach far beyond the written word, and the standards we teach.  It touches the heart, and motivates young people to emulate heroes.  It goes beyond exposing the faults of the country to forgiveness and allows students to see how people of different ethnicities contributed to the success of Miles’ journey.  We don’t forget our history or cover it up, but maturely go beyond its faults and take advantage of new opportunities.  We stand on the backs of heroes who paved the way for our success, and move forward in appreciation of their sacrifices to create a better world.

I featured Lisa Walker’s blog, Cycling Grandma, in my Christmas Sweater Post earlier in December.  You will enjoy visiting her blog as well.  A Black Cowboy’s Ride will make an excellent gift for your child’s teacher, a student in your life, a history buff, or yourself. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.

Romance in Tulare County

horses kissing

If you’ve been reading my blog recently, you’ll notice that several blogger friends are wanting to get together.  Several have suggested that they want to come to Tulare County.  I will just say that it’s a great place!  Romance is in the air.  You’ll be given lots of space

space in TC

So come to TC for your special romantic vacation.  You can’t go wrong!  Boyfriends or girlfriends are not provided!!!

*******************************************************************************************************************Now for some serious business:

I received a present of a book from author Lisa Winkler, Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America.  I started it last night, and it is wonderful.  I’ll be writing a review soon.  Her blog,  Cycling Grandma, was my Featured Blog recently.  Thanks so much, Lisa.

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For some reason my blog was selected to put on a special hotel website.  Here is the email.  They use the words WordPress in the email, so I’m just assuming that it’s legitimate.  Since this has never happened to me before, I’m going to rely on all of you to let me know it is.  Their link is provided in the email.  🙂

Hello,
This is Shiela from HotelShivSaiShirdi.com.
We stumbled on your blog while searching for Hotel. We operate the largest WordPress Hotel blog website featuring more than 30,000+ blogs. Our site averages 200,000+ uniques visitors per month. As a kind note We have featured your blog at http://hotelshivsaishirdi.com.pink.mysitehosted.com/blog_awards/index.php?id=2115 We would be grateful if you could add the following details to your blogroll or in a post
<a href=’http://hotelshivsaishirdi.com/‘>Hotels in Shirdi</a>
Looking forward for your confirmation.
Thanks
Shiela
HotelShivSaiShirdi.com.

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Don’t forget Renee’s Online Birthday Party Coming up Dec. 24th at 12:00 a.m. PST and going through Dec. 26 at 12:00 a.m.

Renee copy

Book Review: Entertaining an Elephant

Thank you and congratulations to Larry Otter, the 30th “LIKE” on my new Facebook page, GOLD STAR!  Thanks to the many others that also pressed “LIKE”

Many of you are teachers, and many more of you have children, grandchildren, or at some point in time are expecting to have them.  A few months ago I went to a Common Core Conference, at which Dr. Bill McBride presented strategies to help teachers implement Common Core Standards.  His presentation style was just as interactive and fun as any I have attended.  I also purchased the book , If They Can Argue Well, They Can Write Well, a step-by step instruction manual on teaching students how to develop an argument. 

Entertaining an Elephant, on the other hand is a fictitious book about education, and I warn the reader to have a Kleenex or two nearby.  (That was clever, I wasn’t sure about how to pluralize Kleenex.  Putting es on the end, just didn’t look right, and ‘s did, but ‘s indicates belonging, so just a simple rewording solved my problem.  YEAH!)

by William McBride
by William McBride

Written by William McBride, Entertaining an Elephant documents the metamorphosis of a seasoned, but jaded teacher who encounters a new janitor that changes his life.

“Reaf wasn’t allowed to leave for a half hour, and he decided not to let the janitor run him out.” p. 7

His tired attitude helps you dislike this teacher right from the start.  He thought he knew what the kids needed, and I can just hear his gruff voice speaking to the peon janitor.

“You see, I’ve been in the business for a long time, and even though these kids have had a lot of schooling, they still don’t have the basics.  I don’t know what those teachers are doing at the lower levels, but these kids can’t tell a participle from a noun.  So I take it upon myself to make sure they understand grammar.  None of the other English teachers spend that much time with it, so it’s up to me to hammer it in.”

If that wouldn’t make a student want to take his class, I don’t know what would!  I’m sure the other teachers loved him just about as much as the kids did.  Every teacher loves to think their teaching taught the kids all they were expected to learn that year plus a little more.  They NEVER like to hear that the kids FORGOT any some of it – or worse, they never had time to teach it, or worse still, they taught it, but NOBODY got it.

The janitor was a wise, wily fellow, though, with some tricks up his sleeve.

“Unfortunately, most of them don’t use the grammar.  That’s why they’re going to be failures, which proves my point.  But that’s between you and I.”

“Me,” the janitor said.

“Yes, you.”

Who else would I be talking to, thought Reaf.  …then suddenly (he) realized the janitor had corrected him.  It is between you and me. … the teacher threw the grammar book he had been holding …

I have to admit that, as a teacher, I want to make sure my kids learn grammar, but I’ve also made MY share of grammar errors as an adult with lots of education.   In fact I’ve made the very SAME mistake that Reaf made.  It was embarrassing the first time I made it, sitting at a dinner table with a movie star, no less – and corrected by HIM.  It was worse the third time I said it.  And I was the EDUCATOR, but the star seemed like a Reaf to me, and he didn’t earn a fan that night.

So where did Reaf throw the grammar book?  What did the janitor do to cause the teacher to change?  What made the teacher so irritatingly uninteresting in the first place?  Why would you want to find out?

I’ll answer the last question for you.  Reaf learns and practices some new teaching and relationship strategies as the book progresses which change his life, but most of all HE changes, and the story is heartwarming.  Common sense strategies are easily employed by anyone, teachers or non-teachers, who want to see improved relationships and motivate others to learn.

The real question is, will YOU cry at the end?

Featured Blog

You must read and enjoy Sierra Foothill Garden if you want to learn more about the plant life in my neck of the woods.  This blog is more focused than my streaming thoughts site.  We really do get snow in the mountains and higher in the foothills than I am.  Sue has a handy list of California bloggers in her sidebar, which I am going to find helpful.  If you want to get more familiar with California, this is one place to start.

If you have already read the book Entertaining an Elephant, how did your react?

  • I threw the book across the room.
  • I cried.
  • I planted the book to see if I could get it to grow.
  • I gave it away at a White Elephant Christmas party.
  • Other responses

Book Review: The Everything Theory

Dianne Gray became my blogger friend four months and three weeks ago now, and we have rallied blogger chit-chat back and forth between our blogs.  As I read her blog the other day, I learned about her book, The Everything Theory,  Browsing the comments on the post, I decided that I definitely wanted to buy the book.  So I headed over to Amazon, made a few clicks, and started reading, and finally put it down because I had to sleep at about one in the morning.

by Diane Gray
by Diane Gray

I am excited to review Dianne Gray’s new book, The Everything Theory, which I just finished in less than a day, but certainly not because it was flat, or simplistic.  Though not to be confused with the Theory of Everything (ToE), which Wikipedia defines as “The “system building” style of metaphysics attempts to answer all the important questions in a coherent way, providing a complete picture of the world. Plato and Aristotle could be said to have created early examples of comprehensive systems,” the reader does get a flavor of those intertwining systems in this book.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_everything

Gray, in her own logical way, unfolded ancient theories, and outlined plausible outcomes to those ancient predictions.  She postulated a plausible answer to the question of the age:  How did the ancients get the knowledge to build the pyramids?  Readers will learn about the way scientists use numbers, referring often to the mathematics of the pyramids, and the books of the Nine Unknown Men.  Recorded on the History of India website, the Nine Unknown Men, according to occult lore, “were a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka 273 BC. …  Each of the Nine is supposedly responsible for guarding and improving a single book. These books each deal with a different branch of potentially hazardous knowledge.”  http://www.indohistory.com/nine_unknown_men.html From another civilization at another time the ancient Mayans predicted that the end of the our world nears daily.  Were they right?  Is this even a possibility?

Scientific facts dotted the story, and at the time I assumed that these stated facts might be purely fictitious, but they seemed plausible.  Last night I checked with Diane, and she said that she spent a lot of time researching and that her facts were all cross checked.  Even though I haven’t researched the many details in the novel, the fact that she didn’t fabricate the scientific references made this book an even better read than if it was science fiction.

The prologue and epilogue book-ended The Everything Theory with men, dressed in animal skins, looking at pictures in a cave.  Curiously, the main characters in the prologue and epilogue had very similar names to the protagonist in the body of the tale, yet clearly the Lukes were not from the same time.  Thus, the Everything Theory mystery began and ended.

Besides the ordinary human bad guys, the primary culprit in this story was a wayward planet named Eris.  As it turned out, Eris is a real planet larger and farther out than Pluto, and Google has hundreds of pictures of it.  Here is one of them.

eris_and_dysnomia_485

The mystery intertwined the lives of archaeologists studying past ancient writings, with amateur astronomers who discovered the rogue planet, Eris.  A couple of murders launched the story, and alerted the reader to the extreme urgency and seriousness of the obstacles facing the heroes.  The lives of these two groups of scientists collided early in the book as they attempted to evade the inevitable outcome of their actions thus becoming the next murder victims.  In the process of survival, the group began to cohere and collaborate to try to deal with the havoc that Eris would bring into Earth’s universe.

Connecting to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards

Most of my book reviews bring up the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.   For the California sixth grade teacher teaching  ancient world history, the Nine Unknown Men would be the perfect place to insert a research project.  Student-generated questions about the end of the world, dangerous knowledge, and an ancient secret society would capture their interest and motivate research.

Without question this book contains academic language making it an effective novel for the language arts teacher to use to support the teaching of science as well.  It corresponds directly with eighth grade Earth in the Solar System (Earth Sciences) .

4. e states “Students know the appearance, general composition, relative position and size, and motion of objects in the solar system, including planets, planetary satellites, comets, and asteroids.”

Are you thinking of a Christmas gift for the reader in your family?  Do they believe that aliens influenced the ancients?  Do they look for answers in astrology?  Do they watch the History Channel or the Discovery Channel?  Do they like Bones, Lie to Me or Fringe?  The Everything Theory appeals to anyone who loves a mystery.

By the way, Dianne did not ask me to buy the book or write a review.  I don’t make money writing reviews either – maybe now you know why!  I just learned yesterday that my website is a “vanity” site because I am not using it for making a profit.  That being said, this review strictly reflects my opinions.

Blog Tip of the Week

When I make a comment, and it doesn’t post and displays a 403 error, I have found that if I close my browser, then open it again, then I can send to that person.  I do lose the reply, though unless I save it somewhere else.

Featured Blog

It only makes sense to feature Dianne’s website.  In it she offers sound advice.

run-from-stag

She shares her philosophy of life, how she writes, and thinks.  She tells you what’s happening in her real life.  Best of all she reads her friends’ blogs and makes comments.  If you don’t already know Dianne Gray, this is your chance.