Monday, June 29, 2009

Maid, I mean, Mom Helpers

There are a few products that just make my life happier when I'm eternally working on getting and keeping my house clean. I have a couple of things that are constantly stifling my efforts. First, I have kids. Enough said. Second, I live in Enoch, where the wind blows all the time. Third, on the south side of my house, the direction the wind blows during the summer, there is about 3-5 miles between me and the next structure - just dirt between. I truly believe that I could sit and watch the dust gather on my furniture. Nevertheless, here are a few of my maid/mom/sanity helpers.

1. The Downy Ball. Many of you may have seen the commercials when this product first came out. It releases the fabric softener into the rinse cycle. You don't have to listen or tune in your ESP or anything. Here's the thing. I have only been using this product for just over six months and I didn't know that sweatshirts could get that "new sweatshirt" feel back after it was lost. Static cling gone, softness back, easy, easy, easy.

2. Pledge Mulit-surface Cleanser. This is a really great product. I used to try to clean the TV and stereo/VCR/DVR and then try to clean the wood surfaces without getting that cleaner on the electronics, etc or reverse the product and somehow I always ended up with a weird residue on something. And then, the next day...dust growing all over everything. With this product I really can clean many different surfaces (not mirrors or windows though...a little streaky) and the best part? It really does repell part of the dust that is battling for permanent residence. I have the wipes too but I don't care for them as much.

3. The newest member of this club is the windex outdoor window cleaner. There are few things I love more than really clean windows, and quite honestly, the whole move the ladder around and negotiate the ground to get steady ground, move it if you have a big window, etc, getting the outside clean is a huge task. This new product is fabulous. My mother-in-law bought it first and was happy so I decided to give it a go. I really does what it says it's going to do. My windows are clean, they aren't streaky and it only took about 20 minutes to get all my windows done. Lots better than the couple of hours it probably would have taken me. And my windows look just like a HDTV screen. Fabulous.

So, there are some of my favorite things that make day to day life around my house better. When you get a sec, if there is a product that you just love, please, share in the comment section. Every little bit helps, you know?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Goose Girl

I was drawn to this book because it was the first that Shannon Hale published. I have heard and read her story about trying to get this published several times and, since I have been such a fan of her other work, I decided it was time to get back to the beginning, so to speak. This was a fun book that drew me in from the beginning and had me cheering for Ani throughout the rest of the novel.

This is the story about a princess who learns how to talk to animals, doesn't communicate well with most people, is a bit awkward for a princess, doesn't measure up to what her mom thinks she should be and is just trying to discover her role in the kingdom. It is a retelling of a fairy tale that I've never heard of, although now I am very curious to go read the original and see how the stories mesh and where Hale develops her own story.

I really liked this book and found myself drawn in from the beginning. The description in this story is unlike any in her other stories, but I loved it. She talks about trees shrugging snow and daylight blinking...just beautiful imagery. I love Ani - she is aware of what she wants but has the weakness in making her wishes and feelings known. She has that character flaw that is only detrimental to herself and her success. She is driven and manages to maintain her identity even when many are trying to eliminate it. I plan on reading the rest of the Bayern books and, if they are as lovely as this one, they will be added to my own personal library.

As a side note - this is my 200th post for this blog - fun, huh?

Friday, June 26, 2009


This book. I truly don't know that there is an author other than Laurie Halse Anderson that could have written this kind of book and on this subject. This book!

This is the story of Lia, an adolescent girl who has a history of battling anorexia. She and her friend Cassie were having a competition to see who could become the smallest. Cassie was found dead, along in a motel room. Lia missed 33 calls from her begore she died.

This is told from Lia's point of view, allowing the reader to understand the constant struggle she is having at trying to keep her weight high enough that her family doesn't make a big deal and leaves her alone. She isn't skinny enough, is never skinny enough. She judges people by their BMI and what she is going to eat by the caloric content.

To say this is a powerful book is not enough to give it justice. I have heard people say they didn't want to give it to daughters because it may give them ideas about becoming anorexic or if it was a struggle, they may get more ideas about how to continue. I don't see it being that way. This is a powerful book that I think many, many girls who struggle with anorexia, bulimia or even cutting would read and find that someone finally captured their voice. This is a powerful, powerful book. I just can't say enough about it to give it the recommendation I think it deserves.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book of a Thousand Days

I have to admit I have an author crush on Shannon Hale. Her stories are enchanting, narrators strong-willed and determined. I heard Shannon talk about her idea for this book when I attended a conference at UVU and loved the book even more, having heard the thought process prior to writing.

This is the story of a maid who is locked up in a tower with her lady for seven years because the lady doesn't want to marry who her father, the lord of the land, wants her to marry. She works to make the life as comfortable as possible, from capturing the rats that sneak in to eat their food storage, cleaning, washing, emptying chamber pots and recording their experiences in her book. There are two men who are come to visit - one is the mean man the lady didn't want to marry in the first place (and he is a JERK) and the other is the one she really loves and wants to marry. They survive freezing winters and scorching summers. The whole tale takes place in an Asian type setting (which I loved) and has some twists and elements of the fantastic that I just did not see coming.

This book was a very fun reading experience. Hale's language is just enough to be detailed without boring, her magical elements seem natural and just flow into the story. This would be fun for anyone who can read this level up through adults. I even think I liked it better than Princess Academy. I can't wait to read other books by Shannon Hale.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Volume One

I started seeing this book pop up on lists of great YA books. It is the story of a young African boy and his mother who are to be part of a social experience in pre-Revolutionary America. They are given a classical education, Latin, Greek, music, science, etc. and their actions are recorded as part of a greater experience. He just believes this is his life until he enters a door that begins to reveal the true purpose of his life.
The premise of this book is really good - and it is based on several different real life experiences. There are some long winded passages that I just skimmed over - complete loss of interest. M.T. Anderson wrote the book from Octavian's point of view and in his language, which is period appropriate, and thus not always clear cut, but more speaking about a topic without stating what it is.

The book was okay. It kept my interest for the most part. The thing that I'm having a very difficult time with is the fact that this was written as a YA book. I just don't see a regular or even smart teen picking this up unless they have an already established interest in history and/or historical fiction. Unlike Chains, which is written in the same period, I have no doubt that anyone would be captivated by Chains and I just can't say the same about this book. I really don't feel this is a YA book - it could be an AP English book, and as a "grown-up" book, I think it is captivating. I will probably read the second book, but I don't see me recommending it to a student because I just don't think it would hold their interest.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dragon Slippers

This is a book that I have heard about from several readers who said it was just plain fun to read. They were so right! From the first sentence I was hooked. "It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon." You're curious now, aren't you...

This is a story about a girl Creel whose parents have died and whose aunt comes up with the idea that if Creel is being held captive by a dragon, some fair prince will have to come save her, fall in love (even if she is self-described as plain, not fair) and the whole family will be rich. Creel thinks it's a stupid idea, negotiates with the dragon to avoid all the fuss and moves on to the future she has envisioned for herself, owning her own dress shop where she can adorn dresses with her custom embroidery. The negotiations involve some slippers, which are unusual yet comfortable; but, as Creel soon finds out, they have a power she didn't know possible.

I really couldn't put this book down and I couldn't read it fast enough. It was exciting, completely believable, well written and overall super fun. Once my kids get a little more advanced in their reading, I will make sure they read this. It will be of very high interest to girls...boys could probably get into it but there is a bit of girly talk about boys, so maybe not. Either way, it was LOTS of fun to read. I am off to see if our library has the sequels - hope so and hope they're as good.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I became interested in this book based on the title and cover alone. When I read the blurb explaining the book I knew this was one I wanted to read.

This is the story about a young girl from Nepal who is sold by her stepfather after a years worth of bad weather both ways leaves them without any crops to live off of or sell. He tells her she is going to work as a maid for a wealthy woman in the city and she will be able to send home money and finally get her mother and younger brother the tin roof on their house that they have always wanted. Only after she arrives at the house in the big city does she realize she was sold to be a prostitute. She is thirteen years old. After being beaten and starved, she finally submits to the lifestyle she was thrown into, thinking that she will be able to save all the money and eventually pay off the Madame who owns her and return back to her family.

This was a fast read. It is told from Lakshmi's point of view and her voice is strong and very powerful. I didn't find this as graphic as it could have been - it was written with very good taste and is classified as a young adult novel, but it leans more to the adult with the young just as an option. If you liked A Thousand Splendid Suns, I really think this is a book that you would find equally captivating. It really is an intriguing book, beautifully written and based on a compilation of stories the author collected. She stated that there is an estimated 12,000 Nepali girls sold into slavery every year. A must read for a mature reader.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Epiphany!!! and subsequent workload

So I had this idea. I'm requiring a certain number of pages read from my students next year and the only requirement is they can't read the same "kind" of book two times in a row. Then I got thinking about how many people have graciously shared their appreciation for my books reviews. Hence, epiphany. I should keep a book in the classroom with all my book reviews for my students to be able to see what I think of the different books. I will probably categorize them by kinds of books so they can see the options when they are branching out of their comfort zone, even if it is only every other book.

Here comes the work load. The only book reviews that I have already done are for the ones I've read over the last year and half - and none of those are the books I've taught. Then throw in any other book that I really think would be of interest to my students that I've read and I think I'm going to be spending a great deal of time on my goodreads account remembering what I've read and trying to get some ideas down and organized that will help guide these young, and for the most part reader-haters see that it doesn't have to suck.

Wish me luck!!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I Am The Messenger

I was told about this book by the fabulous Hardcore Hensel as one that was simply amazing and a must read. Boy was she ever right.

This is a book about a 19 year old boy/man, Ed Kennedy, who really has no life, no prospects of having a life and no desire to have anymore of a life. He is unmotivated, walks with his hands in his pockets with his shoulders slumped, is in love with his friend of years Audrey and plays cards with her and two of his other friends as a cover for his life. Then one day, while at the bank, he accidentally spoils a robbery and gets a card in the mail with three addresses. He realizes he is to do something to help the people at each of these locations, and so continues the story.

After reading Zusak's The Book Thief a few weeks ago and being completely entranced by the story and the writing style, accompanied by a recommendation from one who is well read, I really had high expectations for this book. I can't say I was disappointed. I didn't love it as much or deeply as The Book Thief, but I found that I was fighting my eyes to stay open last night, not wanting my experience with Ed Kennedy to continue more than I wanted sleep. The style of writing is truly captivating.

The reasons for me not liking this as much probably has more to do with wide-spread readability than anything else. This book has a decent amount of swearing in it (granted it is just the same three words in various locations) and some wanderings of a 19 year old boy and his hormonal hungerings, but for those students of mine who just don't care, can't be bothered or proudly proclaim they are the poster child for laziness, this could be the book to change their minds.

It is YA - probably 16 and up unless the reader is edgy or mature (funny how those two descriptions really wouldn't work together except as qualifying for certain readerability) but I really, really enjoyed this book. Really.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I have wanted to read this book since I first saw it appear on Halse Anderson's blog (see the Mad Woman in the Forest link further down...). The idea was captivating to me and I thought it would be a good book to recommend to my students when we study black literature and authors.

I had no idea that it would be so completely captivating.

This is the story of a young slave girl, Isabel, who was promised that on the death of her master, she and her sister would be free. Then she was completely betrayed by the greed of her dead master's nephew and sold to a cruel owner in New York whose allegiances lie with the Tory's in 1776. She is beaten and mistreated, but demonstrates what is meagerly described as an impressive will and capability.

I fell in love with Isabel. She is a very genuine character - not one who is at all filled with the aspirations to end the war one way or another or having lofty ideals to change the hearts of the slave owners and allow them to see the folly of their ways. Just as the main character in Speak becomes very real, Isabel is extraordinarily real. It is mentioned that there is another book after this one, to continue the story of Isabel so I'm not sure if it is a series or just a pair of books, but I will be reading it as quickly as I can when it comes out. One thing is for certain, however, and that is that Laurie Halse Anderson is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, YA or otherwise.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey

This is the second book of the Mysterious Benedict Society and I have to admit I enjoyed it just as much as the first one. I found the characters to be more endearing and the way that the previous information was presented to remind the reader didn't feel overly redundant or frustrating, as can sometimes be the case. The feel of excitement and adventure still rang true, with the necessity of the children to continue using their unusual talents to solve riddles and clues.

This time the children start out with a reunion from when they went their separate ways a year ago. Only, once they arrive at their first destination, they discover their beloved Mr. Benedict has gone missing, along with Number Two (his assistant) and they decide it is their responsibility to go save him. This journey takes them all over Europe and involves numerous different tricks and modes of transportation. And as I said, the action really is perfectly paced so the book truly doesn't feel long at all.

I think I liked this book better. There weren't as many side characters and the plot felt like it moved faster than the first. Again, this isn't a book for reclutant readers as it is long, but for kids who like to read, this is perfect. I have the third pre-ordered in my cart on Amazon :)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How Catie Entertains Herself at Ballgames

I know - a non-reading related post. You really are surprised, aren't you.
Catie is at the point where she is the only child who doesn't participate in sports yet. She has started swim lessons this year with Will and Ellie and will do soccer in the fall, but in the meantime, she just gets hauled from game to game. Needless to say, she gets a little bored. So she creates new things to try. Here was the one I caught on camera.C


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Alcatraz versus The Scrivener's Bones

This is the second book in the Alcatraz series, and I had so much fun reading the first that I had high hopes for the second.

I was not disappointed.

One of the fun things about these books is they are told from Alcatraz's point of view, but along with that are asides and little comments that had me laughing out loud numerous times during this book.

Alcatraz is continuing on his journey and is supposed to go to a safe place when he realizes his grandfather is in trouble and decides to turn the plane around and go save him. Well, actually, it's not a plane but the Dragonaut, a glass structure that flies and has six wings that propel it. Bastille is still there, rolling her eyes at the ridiculous things Alcatraz says and there is great adventure and a well developed story in addition to all the comments that are really, really funny.

This is a YA book - not because of content or inappropriateness of the storyline, but because all the satire and sarcastic asides would not be understood by children and the story would be lost.

But my high school students who read this loved it more than the first - several even reread it a couple times. I definitely agree the second is better. And truly I can't wait for the third in the fall.

(Not sure this pace of reading is going to keep up - the next few books I have planned to read are hard pressed to be in a day reads. Coming Next? The second Mysterious Benedict society book!)

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Graveyard Book

The summer of fantastically fun reading continues! I read this book today - have wanted to read it since I heard about it at the UVU Children's Literature Forum I attended in March and can easily see why it was the Newberry winner.

This is a book about Nobody Owens - but all his friends call him Bod. Oh, and his friends? They are ghosts. So are his mom and dad. He lives in a graveyard, can see dead people and is protected by a man who isn't dead or alive.

I have heard some critics say this is too violent a story for children - afterall, the story starts with Nobody's family being killed. But it isn't graphic. I read that this was based on Kipling's stories of Mowgli - it is easy to see the parallel. Just as the wolves raised him, ghosts raise Bod.

The story is captivating, told incredibly well and a complete delight. I would recommend it for any child with reading ability - I believe it would be a very high interest level reading. I love what Bod learns how to do and believe it could provoke some great imagination experiences for kids as well.
BTW I am really having so much fun!!!