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Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach
Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach
by Megan Scribner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.13
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poems to Focus and Inspire, July 5, 2014
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This is another delightful collection of poems that will speak to anyone who is in education. Carefully selected, they come with personal explanations to their meaning, although they do speak well for themselves. As a mentor for new teachers, I often share a poem at an appropriate time with my teachers, and they've come to appreciate them. I cannot wait to share these!

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel
by Tom Rachman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.08
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4.0 out of 5 stars At first, a bit confusing, but then..., July 5, 2014
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... the story comes together in a fluid, heartbreaking sort of way that made the reading journey there all the worthwhile. After previously reviewing the fantastic book by Mr. Rachman, "The Imperfectionists", I was excited to read his newest creation. Fortunately, he does not disappoint in the slightest.

This is a complex and involved story of a girl named Tooly, and the three important times in her life, and how they've come to affect each other in ways that unfold slowly over the novel. At first, you are unplaced in each story, the only connective tissue between them is the girl, but then, Rachman, a master of his content, unspools each tale and starts to fill in gaps, answering questions posed in one time frame, only to ask more questions in another. All is resolved, and the journey is worthwhile.

A note about Rachman's writing style: it is profound and wonderful. He manages to make the most mundane occurances rapt with interest, purely based on the words he chooses to use in insightful ways. Another author he reminds me of, who also masters words well, is Michael Cunningham, but their storytelling is definitely NOT similar. I appreciated Rachman's handling of all of the characters, even the less than admirable ones, making them pulse with a reality, warts and all.

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee
The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee
by Marja Mills
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.45
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60 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's like meeting her..., May 31, 2014
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.... without ever having the chance to actually do it. When Nelle Harper Lee published "To Kill a Mockingbird", little did she know the impact this shattering novel would have on the literary world, and our world at large. She felt the aftershocks for years, no, decades to come. Because of this, Nelle's private life, and the private life of her family and friends, came under scrutiny, as well as people taking advantage of her notoriety for personal gain. These experiences raised Nelle's guard, and getting to know the woman who crafted one of the best books written became a challenge. Marja Mills' book, "The Mockingbird Next Door" is probably the closest readers around the country who love Mockingbird will ever get to this illusive author, and it is well worth a visit.

A Chicago reporter, Mills gets assigned to cover Lee after Chicago picks "Mockingbird" as their book for everyone to read. Flying down to Alabama, she spends some time in Monroeville, where Lee lives, and dares to knock on the front door of the house she occasionally shared with her sister Alice. Surprisingly, Alice answers the door and invites her in. After impressing Alice, she meets Nelle, who normally distrusts reporters, and a lifelong friendship is born.

I'm sure once this book is published for the public, all of the revelations contained within will be made public. Mills manages to get some inside intel to Nelle's impressions of Truman Capote, which are indeed interesting.Mills also offers insights into Nelle herself, and reveals some information that on the surface may seem unflattering to Lee herself.

However, this book is more than a few bits of juicy information. Mills spends much time painting pictures of southern Alabama in this book. She painstakingly recreates Monroeville, and the many different establishments that she attends with Nelle. The descriptions of the inside of the Lee household are rich and real, as are her recollections of the Alabama roads and countryside. It's through these stories that you feel like you get to know Nelle, not as a world-famous author, but as a person, a real person, warts and all. Mills sometimes recounts meetings over coffee that don't seem to add up to much, but after finishing the book, you realize she is adding it all up to a beautiful mosiac of the Lees, the families, and Alabama.

i devoured this book. These real people were painted in such ways that they felt real. As Mills decides to move down to Alabama to live next door to these women, their closeness and intimacy is evident. An ardent fan of the book herself, Mills bounces between the books, the movies, and the people she encounters with grace and ease. If you are a fan of the novel, of the movie, or just want to read an engrossing book about a literary icon who is all-too-real, this book is for you.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 15, 2014 6:22 PM PDT

The Snow Queen: A Novel
The Snow Queen: A Novel
by Michael Cunningham
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.45
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why You Read Cunningham, May 18, 2014
After reading all of Michael Cunningham's books, starting with the miraculous "The Hours" to today, one thing is very clear. He loves commas. Commas, commas, commas, extending his sentences, so that one sentence can spin, and re-spin, in several different directions, sometimes individually, sometimes all at once, and then, so adroitly, coming back to the point of origin, and somehow, being the same and slightly different than when you first started reading these comma-laden sentences.

Surely, I jest. I am a Michael Cunningham fan. I have come to realize, after devouring his latest work "The Snow Queen", that I read him, not for incredibly compelling storytelling, but for his prose. He commands the language with an ease and deft that makes reading him, and his complex sentences, seem like little reading journeys. He paints New York City unlike any other author I can think of, making the city alive and recent. His gift in the technical skill of writing is not matched by his storytelling abilities.

The Snow Queen is about two brothers. Barrett, a gay sales clerk, sees a vision in Central Park one evening that seems to challenge his understandings about life. Tyler, a rock star wannabe, struggles with the current political scene and the health of his girlfriend Beth, who is fighting cancer. Cunningham, thankfully and successfully, manages to constrain the story to these two, and a few people in their immediate orbit. However, in the course of the story, where things happen to the characters, you are left wondering, by the end of the story, what this was truly all about.

For one thing, I didn't buy Tyler's political rantings through the book. They seemed incredibly misplaced and took me out of the story, or at least his character. The story begins in 2004, so we are treated to some diatribes on the presidency of George W. Bush, which at the time would be welcome but now seem too much like yesterday. I wished they were less prominent somehow.

Another demon that Cunningham seems to place in many of his books is the dramatic tension between gay men longing for straight men, and the thin line that sometimes happens between them. That device, or plot line, seems a bit tired now. It shows unrequited longing, sure, but haven't we been there with him before?

Still, despite the weakness in the plot (no spoilers here), there were at least a couple of parts of the book that were incredibly moving to me. Perhaps of all the characters, Beth is the most real and realized. Her struggle with cancer is real, and perhaps, harkens back to the book that I love so, "The Hours".

And perhaps, that is the source of the vision of light in Central Park that Barrett sees at the beginning of the story. The haunting, spectral brilliance of this novel that set us all on fire, and how it is dimmed now, and we spend years afterwards trying to find the beauty once again. Only we can never find it again, can we? Or perhaps, Cunningham should try to search for a new light. I, for one, will go along.

We Were Liars
We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.06
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The illusive truth, May 15, 2014
This review is from: We Were Liars (Hardcover)
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My first question upon selecting this book to read was, "How can I possibly invest in a story that is told by a confessed liar?". And to be honest, that concept prevented me from fully investing in the story to begin with. I read the first page, on several different occasions, not believing anything that was being said, and therefore, provided a sandy foundation from which to begin. However, I hung on, and was richly and amply rewarded. We Were Liars is a ride, and well worth the time.

Cady is the "liar" narrator, a girl who sets out to tell the story of her family, and in the end, discovers much about herself. Her family, the Sinclairs, are rich and own several houses on a small island near Martha's Vineyard. Cady's mother and two sisters grow up with their parents with much privilege and wealth. At first this fact was off-putting; I tend not to care for characters like these in stories. But as E. Lockhart peels away the layers of the family, and the events that rock their world, there is so much more here, and waiting around is worth it.

Part of it comes from the introduction of Gat. Cady grows up with her cousins, and Gat becomes an "adopted" cousin, so to speak, when he visits the island as a guest and returns each summer. Of Indian heritage, Gat challenges many members of the family who welcome him and his father with a smile, and prejudicial attitudes and actions behind the scenes. Gat is one of the books most compelling characters, with whom Cady falls deeply in love, but since we are seeing him through her eyes, and she is a Liar, is his characterization even real?

Lockhart doesn't pull any punches or play radical tricks on you. You eventually learn, about 5/6 of the way through the novel, what is real and what happens. Parts of it I was able to predict, and much of it I wasn't, but the reveal is real and packs a wallop. This could have been a shallow book or a gimmick, but Lockhart manages to infuse much depth into this story.

I don't tend to read a lot of YA novels, but I'm glad that I read this one. This trippy story is definitely worth your time.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 25, 2014 2:56 PM PDT

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel
All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel
by Anthony Doerr
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.20
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We can see so much more, May 15, 2014
.... now that we can read this breath-taking stunner of a novel. Anthony's Doerr has simply crafted a masterpiece of a novel. Let me explain why.

Marie-Laure is a blind French girl with a wise father who works as a locksmith for a Parisian museum. Werner is a runt of a boy with a gift for the magic of radios. World War II rages around them, as these two souls navigate the political and social worlds that threaten them on a daily basis. Together, they form the compelling core of the novel that is both brilliantly written and a true page turner.

All the Light is a book that marvels in its brevity and clarity. Doerr has crafted chapters, some that are merely a page or two long, which inspires the read to read quickly. But his prose, so perfectly crafted, begs for the read to slow down, to absorb it and revel in the language. So many times I had to catch myself and tell myself to slow down. I wanted the story to spin quickly, to find out about both characters, and sometimes, missing some words and missing the beauty of his writing.

Another revelatory feature is the structure of the writing, the time jumping grouping of chapters that at first was a bit frustrating, but soon I adjusted to it. Doerr does this intentionally to draw you into the story more completely, while doling out the information on an as needed basis as the story unfolds.

I want to comment more on the specifics of the story, but won't, for fear of spoiling something important to this wonderful puzzle of a novel. Rest assured, like Captain Nemo prowling the depths of the ocean, you will discover much secret treasures in this story, if you on'y give yourself a chance. When I finished the last page, I knew I had read something special. You will too.

Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality
Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality
by Jo Becker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.43
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19 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Controversy aside..., May 4, 2014
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... Jo Becker's book about California's Prop 8 marriage case isn't as frightening nor scary as some would want you to believe, nor is it completely without fault.

It successfully conveys the story behind the scenes of the case in a compelling, page-by-page point of view that is insightful and interesting. Becker makes some great decisions about who to focus on, and in what context. The four plantiffs of the story, Kris and Sandy, Jeff and Paul, are featured honestly and prominently through the book, and I felt like I had gotten to know them by its conclusion. David Boies and Theodore Olson are the book's rock stars, and their intellect, oddities, and sincerity shines through. The revelations about Judge Walker and Charles Cooper are also heartfelt and almost representative of the story at large.

The fault of the book occurs in two manners. First, Becker's focus on original AFER leader and current Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin is really too much. A prime player in this drama, he still manages to maintain a much too prominent part of this story throughout the book. In his defense, he has written a thoughtful response to the criticism of the book since its publication. However, I wished his part were lesser. Also, Becker does a less than successful job managing the handsful of people associated with the case. More than once I was reading a name, and couldn't remember the context of that person.

I know much ballyhoo has been issued about this book, and some of it is probably warranted. At the end of the day, Becker did not set out to write the definitive book about the gay marriage movement in America. She merely wanted to spin the story of two couples in love, one conservative legal icon who fought for them, and the court system in America to paved the way to their marriage. And in that respect, Forcing the Spring succeeds admirably.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 26, 2014 7:24 AM PDT

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel
Everything I Never Told You: A Novel
by Celeste Ng
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.04
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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force in storytelling..., April 26, 2014
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How is it possible that this is a first novel? It is so exquisite, so marvelously perfect, so regally quiet and elegant that surely, it must come from the hands of a old soul author. But no. This is Celeste Ng's first novel, and in it, she has painted such a deeply felt, original story. This book shall remain with me for the rest of my days.

Everything I Never Told You is a story of secrets, of love, of longing, of lies, of race, of identity, and knowledge. The story begins with the death of Lydia, daughter of Marilyn and James, which is told in the first sentence and slowly revealed through the book. Why she did it drives the narrative, and yet, this story is bigger, grander than this central mystery. Marilyn wanted to defy society's narrow vision of her life and become a doctor, while James is trying to overcome humble beginnings and a society judging him based on his race. Together, they conventions, marry and create a family. Nathan, oldest son on his way to Harvard, Lydia, the middle sister and favorite one, and Hannah, truly growing up invisible. Together, Ng has created a complex, complicated family that rings so true on every page. There isn't a false note in the story.

Perhaps the power of this book lies in the writing of Ng. Her prose is lyrical and light, allowing you to float in the scenes, often between characters, as if you are a literary ghost spying on these people. She moves her story along when it needs to, and allows certain scenes to linger when needed. The effect is magnificent. She also embues the realities of racism, that appropriately jar the reader, which at first seem to be just a "matter of the times" (she painfully uses the word Oriental to describe people) but in reality plays a bigger role in the story. I appreciated it.

By the time you read the final page, you realize Ng has managed to create such a reality, and that when it ends, there is a sense of loss. Much like the family must deal with the loss of Lydia, we must deal with the loss of these imperfect and real people. This book reveals much, about them, about us, about our country, about our society. It is a book that begs for conversation, that begs to be discussed, interpreted, and argued over. It is a book that will be with you for a long time.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964
An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964
by Todd S. Purdum
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.23
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can passage of a bill be a compelling read?, March 24, 2014
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The answer is yes, with some minor qualifications.

Todd Purdum's "An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964" examines the legislative attempt to address the horrendous treatment of African-Americans, forced to live under Jim Crow rules in a segregated country. As the country began to witness protestors being sprayed with firehoses and attacked by dogs, it began to wake up to the horrors of a life not ever imagined possible in America.

First started by the Kennedy Administration, the president takes a little while to come on board with the issues. Purdum focuses more on the Attorney General during the early part of the book (whom interestingly he chooses to call Bob Kennedy, but not Robert or Bobby) and how, through conversations, begins to change his view on racism and racial realities of some of our country's citizens. Kennedy starts a Civil Rights Bill, whose progress is cut short by events in Dallas.

Enter LBJ, who had tried to warn Kennedy beforehand not to engage a civil rights bills before other measured due to the Senate's use of filibuster to stop any legislation deemed so controversial. As a tribute to Kennedy, he decides to maintain two bills going forward, a tax cut and the civil rights bill, despite advice to the contrary. Perhaps it was because of LBJ's knowledge of the ways of the capitol that allowed him to shepherd the bill through. Much of this story is covered, in somewhat different detail, in Robert Caro's book "The Passage to Power".

Purdum gives us a cast of characters that never becomes too much or too overwhelming, some names lost to the halls of history that deserve to be recognized for their work. Bill McCulloch, Mike Mansfield, Everett Dirksen, Hubert Humphrey, Nick Katzenbach, Clarence Mitchell, among some others, are singled out for their advocacy and work on this issue. Whenever Purdum wants to single someone one, he gives him a quick, two page biography that highlights important aspects in their life, which is a helpful aspect of this book.

The strongest parts of the book are The Administration and the House of Representatives sections. Purdum is laser focused on the subject, and provides much insights to the thinking and process behind the law. He doesn't allow for the swath of people or some legislative terminology or process to overwhelm the reader. Such focus is a bit lost in the Senate section, which sometimes feels a little bogged down with Senate rules and procedures getting in the way.

At the end, the law was passed, LBJ took 70 pens to sign it, and it became the law of the land. It proved to be a fulcrum in the struggle of the 1960's, and spawned another law the following year about Voting Rights. On a larger scale, this book is really about how government, when the parties come together, can pass meaningful legislation that can and will directly impact the lives of Americans.

Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class
Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class
by Ian Haney López
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.05
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, fascinating, March 15, 2014
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Oh racism, what a slippery eel you can be! It's amazing, over the course of history, how illusive racism is in our country, how it appears in so many different forms, that is can be disguised and spoken openly about, without nary a blink of the eye from the average citizen.

Dog Whistle Politics successfully seeks to reveal and dismantle this trend in politics by reviewing the history of politics over the last few decades, to unearth how racism has lead to some quite unfortunate effects in our country of equality.

Don't think for a second that this is a "trash Republicans" book, who have carried the banner of racially coded appeals for most of this time. Lopez doesn't hesitate to single out every politician, of any party, who has chosen to go down this route to grab a few more votes.

While I've down a lot of reading on racism and racial topics over the last few years, I found myself more enlightened and more "on the watch" after reading this truly innovative and powerful read.

A must read!

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