GG Summer Reads

July 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

What I’m Reading This Summer

At the beginning of every school year, I sit down with my reading students, forming a circle – either with our desks or on the floor – and I share every single book I read over the summer.  I lug every single book in and give a little book talk on each one.  Regardless of whether every book is interesting and/or appropriate for them is irrelevant.  My goal is simply for them to understand right away just how much I enjoy reading – yes, I practice what I preach.  If one of the books I describe happens to catch their fancy, wonderful! – They have a book idea for the coming semester!  If not, I’ve hopefully at least motivated them to choose a book they enjoy as much as I’ve enjoyed mine.

Why is summer the most fun time to read?!

WHAT I’VE READ SO FAR (in this order):

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult A:  Jodi does it again – the author’s known for her surprising twists and shocking connections.  This story of a man wrongly accused of statutory rape is a page-turner.  It was a good one for me to kick off my summer reading, and it is definitely in my Top 5 Jodi Picoult books (along with My Sister’s Keeper, 19 Minutes, and Change of Heart).

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hussein A+:  I should have read this a loooong time ago.  Let me tell you, it left an impression.  It is the story of a young boy from the a district of Kabul, who befriends the son of his father’s servant. The story is set against a backdrop of tumultuous events, from the fall of Afganistan’s monarchy through the Soviet invasion.  As a side note, the dirt imagery fascinated me all along.  Men, women, young and old will find this story of redemption so endearing!!!!

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen A:  I already knew that elephants understood emotions but this story helped me appreciate just how smart they truly can be.  This fictional novel focuses on one man’s adventures with a traveling circus he runs away with after his parents’ sudden deaths.  The most poignant piece of this is the narration as flashback:  the protagonist, Jacob Jankowski, is a 93-year old man living in an assisted living facility; the reader catches a glimpse into the agonizing frustration one goes through as faculties fade away.  As he deals with the tribulations around him, Jacob flashbacks to his young self’s adventures.  I’m very much looking forward to the movie starring Robert Pattinson.

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer  B-:   I finished this over-600 page book in 2 days!!  While I appreciated the passion and romance, I quickly grew weary of Bella’s whining. Parts were predictable as well.  The most fun part was shouting out turning points to my daughter as I approached them in my reading.  She finished the series long ago but still holds a passion as she just saw the movie (twice.)  I’m going next week and looking forward to it in spite of Bella’s inevitable drawn-out laments.  I’ll read Breaking Dawn soon before that movie comes out . . . but I can wait.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer B+:   The book’s narrator is a nine-year-old boy, Oskar Schell, who lost his father on 9/11 two years before the story began.  In the story, Oskar discovers a key in a vase that belonged to his father.  He is determined to find what that key opens; his determination takes him through all of New York’s burroughs.  What is so uniquely interesting about this book that will keep you on your toes as you read is that the author brings a multimedia sense to the book.  He uses type settings, spaces and even blank pages to give the book a visual dimension beyond the narrative.  Additionally, this brought back all my nightmarish thoughts about 9/11.

Complications by Atul Gawande A: This is a fascinating peak into the very human side of medicine.  I never was one to put all my faith into every single thing my doctors say – now I won’t for sure!!!  Dr. Gawande, who teaches at Harvard Medical School and is a general surgeon at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, is very VERY candid in his behind-the-scenes portrayals of hospital life.  Very thought provoking.  I may read his other book, Better, as well.

One Day by David Nicholls A-:  Dexter and Emma met on their college graduation day in 1988.  The book depicts a day in their lives (the same calendar day) over the next 20 years.  Dramatic irony takes great form here as the reader watches these two run circles around each other but never quite getting in synce in spite of their apparent strong affection for one another.  I actually exclaimed out loud at one point when reading – and I was outside at the pool.  Books rarely make me do that.  The movie version is already in production.  Run to the bookstore before the movie; you won’t regret it.

Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert B+:  My favorite line from this book talks about our power of thinking – we can choose our way of thinking just as we choose our wardrobes.  It’s up to us how we perceive situations occuring in our lives.  The author takes the reader on her mental and spiritual journey as she travels to Italy, India and Indonesia .  Her revelations are inspiring and endearing.  Plus, her sensory-detailed depictions of the Italian food she feasts on made me want to grab a deep-dish pizza that very second.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick B:  This is a darker novel than I normally pick up but it came highly recommended by two colleagues.  This is definitely NOT a recommendation for students.  Set in Wisconsin in 1907, Ralph Truitt places an ad for a wife.  Catherine Land, a woman with a scandalous past, answers the ad.  She secretly invents a plan to benefit from his riches; but, Ralph is more knowing than he seems.  The twists are shocking, the illustrations are sensual, and the characters are colorful.  The ending, however, was disappointing.  After the preceeding tumultuous events, I was left with an emptiness. 

The Power of Intention by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer A+:  This is one of those books that changes your life after you read it!  Some may be familiar with Dr. Dyer as he appears frequently on PBS.  This book emphasizes the belief that we can find spiritual solutions to problems by “living at higher levels and calling upon faster energies.”  This may sound like The Law of Attraction, but Dr. Dyer takes the belief much further with practical, every day steps to take along with fascinating research to back up the claims.

Boundaries - When to Say Yes & How to Say No by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend A: Physical boundaries are usually easy to discern (fences, walls, signs, etc) but emotional and spiritual boundaries are not.  This book illustrates how boundaries such as skin, words, time, geographical distance, emotional distance, etc. defines us.  It is up to us to make those definitions clear, understand what is within our boundaries (or responsibilities) and what is not.  I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read this.  Well worth the read!!


WHAT I WILL READ BEFORE SUMMER IS OVER (also in this order):  I better get busy . . . . these books are all piled and waiting for me →

House Rules by Jodi Picoult – this is her latest, a story of a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome.

 A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kholed Hosseini – another one I should have read long ago – many told me they enjoyed this more than The Kite Runner.  We shall see . . . it has much to live up to.

The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, MD. – can’t wait!  I heard this offers stunning insights into the “hormonal roller coasters” that seem to rule our lives sometimes.

The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine, MD. – this book promises to show how and why every phase of a man’s life is vastly different from a woman’s.  I’m looking forward to the new understanding. :-)

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – the story of lost love and the journey to find it.  Every woman needs to read at least one great love story over the summer.

comeback by Claire Fontaine & Mia Fontaine – a memoir recounting a mother and daughter’s journey through hell and back. I read a great review on this so I am anxious to see if it lives up to its critique.

Fair Isn’t Always Equal - by Rick Wormeli – this year’s summer read for my English department.  I am particularly interested to read the sections on grades and assessments.


**WHAT I READ EVERY DAY:  Until Today!  Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind by Iyanla Vanzant A:  I  bought this at the beginning of the summer and it now sits on my nightstand as the first thing I read each morning.  It is filled with devotionals for each day of the year.  Each month focuses on a different spiritual principle:  June focuses on forgiveness, July on understanding, August on faith, and so on.  It’s a wonderful tool to ponder over aspects of ourselves and what we can do to transform to help us grow and learn.    GG side note:  I started reading this on June 21st and have already discovered four grammar goofs.  While the words inspire, the English teacher in me cringes when I read such lines as written for yesterday’s devotional:  “When you spend time honoring the dreams of one who has changed, when you continuing standing up for the things they believed in and when you. . . “  Oops!!

WHAT ARE YOU READING THESE DAYS?  PERHAPS YOU CAN GIVE ME SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR MY NEXT PILE TO BEGIN ATTACKING DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR?!

GG Reads – Wesley The Owl

November 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

Did you know that barn owls mate for life?  Are you aware that they are extremely emotional creatures and have many ways to express their feelings?  Could you guess that they practice birth control and will breed only when they perceive an excess of available mice for food?  These are some of the many intriguing facts about owls that readers learn in this little gem of a book.

This book was recommended to me by my sister-in-law.  I enjoyed its message so much that I am recommending this for my school’s next summer reading list.

I found myself laughing aloud reading this book!

I found myself laughing aloud reading this book!

Wesley the Owl by Stacey O’Brien is a book about love and devotion.  It is a true love story about a woman and her owl.  Stacey O’Brien is a Southern California biologist who adopts a baby barn owl with an injured wing.  He could not survive in the wild so she selflessly takes him in, oblivious to the joy that stands before her in raising this creature.  Through the trials and triumphs Stacey experiences with this bird, the reader realizes just what a significant role a pet plays in our lives.  As Stacy states in her book, “When humans and animals understand, love, and trust each other, the animals flourish and we humans are enlightened and enriched by the relationship.”  (O’Brien 202)  Animals are more intelligent than we may give them credit for; this book reminds us of that intriguing reality.

The story chronologically follows O’Brien’s 19 years with Wesley from owl infancy when she weaned him into his “nest box” in her bedroom through the end of his long life with his battle with cancer.   She gives both her scientific, factual views and tender-hearted observations about Wesley.  O’Brien even shares the insides of Caltech and some of her interestingly eccentric colleagues.  I laughed when Stacey brought Wesley to the grocery store wrapped in a blanket as a baby, I gagged when she described how she killed endless amounts of mice for Wesley’s diets (yes, as much as I have much more respect for owls, I won’t be raising one any time soon), I melted when Wesley “held” Stacey with his wings, and I cried when Wesley tried to console Stacey through a horrible dehabilitating disease she contracted during Wesley’s later years.  I could sit here and let my fingers ecstatically fly off the keyboard with all of my favorite tidbits from the book . . . but that would take out the fun of reading this book.  You can definitely read this within a day or two; O’Brien writes her observations and feelings with fervor.  As a bonus, she includes “Some Things You May Not Know About Barn Owls” at the conclusion of the book.

We humans can learn from owls about devotion, trust and love.  I am inspired by Stacey O’Brien’s life philosophies and the devotion she returns to Wesley.  As she proclaims, she made a vow when she was very young to live life not by wading in the shallow water but by diving into the deep end as much as possible, no matter how dangerous.  The way she raised Wesley attests to her commitment to that vow.  As of the book’s print, she was contemplating raising another owl and beginning the whole process again!  If I am ever lucky enough to have a chance encounter with one of these magnificent feathered friends, I will stop and admire this feathered friend and be very grateful for the opportunity.  GG gives Wesley the Owl an A for the heartwarming lessons and touching account of this love story.  Extra credit for the wonderful photographs spattered throughout the book – most of which O’Brien took herself while raising Wesley.  They help illustrate just how funny, complex and beautiful Wesley was.

Color Your World!

August 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

There’s something to this.  I was shopping in Francesca’s boutique, flipping through Michele Bernhardt’s Colorstrology book, and discovered that my personal color is Jaffa Orange.  There is something to this because the cotton tank I already had in my hand to purchase matched the color exactly.   Hmmm . . . Colorstrology tells us that our birthday carries a numerological value and meaning.  That value corresponds to a color palette from which we can draw insight about our personalities.  Wearing, decorating and surrounding ourselveswith this specific color is supposed to bring out our true selves, our best selves.  We are not to confuse our personal color with our favorite color – Bernhardt says that our favorite color can change as we evolve or change our surroundings.  Our personal color, on the other hand, remains constant.

There is something to this!

There is something to this!

This fun book rests on my coffee table.  There is a page for every day of the year.  There are even color swatches in the back to take with you when shopping for your color.  :-) In addition, each color has its PANTONE® Color identification to help find the perfect match.  I like the suggestions Bernhardt gives for using your personal color. 

Want to send an ecard telling the bday person what his/her color is?!  It’s completely free – here’s the link for the ecards!

 Grading Girl gives Colorstrology an A+ for an interesting alternative to traditional zodiac and astrology readings.

I’d say this is pretty accurate . . .

My Personal Color ~ JAFFA ORANGE

Analytical, Responsible, Sensitive

If you were born on this day:  “You love to use your mind.  Your ability to analyze problems and situations is exceptional.  You never really know just how good or talented you are due to your yearning for perfection.  Many of you cover your sensitivity with facts and a composed exterior.  You actually have a very sensitive spirt that needs to be nurtured and recognized.” (Bernhardt)

Colorstrology says that wearing or surrounding myself “with Jaffa Orange helps you live life more freely by integrating your intellect with your emotions and your passion with self-control.” (Bernhardt)

GG Reads – Change of Heart

July 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

A Provocative Picoult Portrayal

A Provocative Picoult Portrayal

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult did not receive quite the notoriety as My Sister’s Keeper or 19 Minutes but not for lack of a compelling story.  The controversial topics of religion and capital punishment are what kept this book off of some people’s nightstands – but not mine!!  Picoult is my favorite contemporary author and she does not disappoint with this one; she carries her characteristic twists to the end once again.

Within each of her 16 novels, Jodi Picoult delves deep into the most troubling contemporary social issues.  In Change of Heart, she examines a convicted killer on death row, Shay Bourne, who has taken the lives of Officer Kurt Nealon and his young stepdaughter, Elizabeth.  When Shay discovers that his victim’s living daughter, Claire is desperately in need of a heart transplant, he sees his only chance for salvation – donating his own heart after his death sentence.  Standing in his way, of course, is the law and a mother filled with anger.  On his side are three unexpected allies:  a Catholic priest (who had a hand in Shay’s sentencing!), an ambitious attorney who is determined to see Shay die on his own terms, and a community that sees Shay as a messianic character who gives them hope.

Picoult’s research never ceases to amaze me.  Her meticoulous portrayal of death row laws along with the book’s attention to Christianity, Judaism, and the Gnostic gospels gave me new insight.  This story is told from four different points of view:  the Catholic priest, the attorney, another death row inmate, and the mother of the victims.  Through their thoughts, the reader is given some very deep food for thought . . . “There’s a big difference between mercy and salvation” . . . “Would you give up your vengeance against someone you hate if it meant saving someone you love?” . . . “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you” . . .  quotations such as these make for a very provocative book.  In fact, Picoult uses several famous quotations here from some of the greatest thinkers in history including Lewis Carroll, Mother Teresa, Albert Einsten, the Dalai Lama, Woody Allen, Albert Einstein, etc.

I enjoy books that make me think, challenge my philosophies, and offer new perspectives.   Change of  Heart does all that and more.  In the story, religion seems at times to bring characters together and at others to drive a wedge between them.  All the while, what defines “justice” is continually challenged.  We all know it’s wrong to execute someone innocent, but what about someone who is guilty?  The book never screams one side or another.  Rather, through the completely varied characters in Change of Heart, the reader is left with perspectives on all sides of these compelling issues so that one closes the book exploring one’s own values and beliefs.

Grading Girl gives Change of Heart a B+.  While this did not make me outwardly cry like My Sister’s Keeper did (something I never normally do when reading), this did leave me with some deep, concerting thoughts.  It’s a captivating story of redemption, justice, and love.

On to more books off of my very high summer reading pile . . . Picoult’s Handle with Care is one of them and I look forward to exploring more thorny moral and ethical issues with this compelling author.

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