Welcome to my bookshelf

I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Triple Sal-Pow!!

Currently Reading: Swift Edge

When I arrive at the library, the first thing I always do (after returning all my materials of course) is to check out the new fiction table or shelf.  Here I have found many treasures that may not have ever come to my attention without their placement on this shelf.  That's one of the nice things about going to library.  You get suggestions for authors and titles you had never heard from before, perhaps stumbling upon a new favorite.  I'm sure that you are thinking "well bookstores do that too!", but alas, it is not the same.  At the library, I have found that all new books make their way to the prominent area despite not being written by John Grisham or Janet Evanovich or Ken Follet or somebody.  This gives new authors a chance to shine and also allows readers to not be forced into simply reading "name brand" stuff.  The book I will be discussing today is one of them.  Sure Laura DiSilverio has a series going, but she is far from a household name.

I do love me a good mystery every now and then.  It is so much fun trying to figure out who done it and of course being wrong oh so many times.  The stories I enjoy the most not only have engaging characters and intriguing plots, but they are always filled with surprises left and right.  Swift Edge does not disappoint in that regard.  Charlie (short for Charlotte) Swift runs a private investigation firm where she does most of the grunt work.  But Charlie is a far cry from Miss Stephanie Plum, being that she is a round character, falls into far more realistic situations, and of course can keep her pants on most of the time.  Oh and she is not nearly as predictable to boot.

In this novel, Charlie Swift is hired to locate a missing figure skater and in the process ends up stumbling onto an illegal identification scam involving all sorts of lamentable characters.  While we solve the mystery of the missing dancer along with Charlie, we are introduced to the world of competitive ice skating, the Russian mafia and the perils of running a half way house.  But don't worry!  It all comes together at the end.  That is another thing I like about mysteries.  They end.  Now sure, I do enjoy the enigmatic endings of so many complementary fiction novels these days where you are left wondering how life truly does end up for the protagonist, but still, closure is nice every once in awhile too.

So here is the closure on this short piece, if you like a good mystery filled with crazy characters (but no hookers, sorry Janet), engaging plot lines, and witty dialog, look up the Swift series and give it a go.  If nothing else, good reading for the beach this summer :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Learning Curve

Currently Reading: Schooled

Pg 5: "Any desire to rationalize with these people was gone.  They were mercenaries.  They were Republicans.  Supporters of the system that kept the working man (me) from ever getting a break."

Sorry, I just had to add that quote despite the actual plot line of the book ;)  Schooled follows young, idealistic Anna Taggert as she graduates from a prestigious Ivy League school and then decides to become a teacher, optimistically imagining positively influencing young minds and exposing them to the wonders of great literature.  Little does Anna know that working at a high priced private school in Manhattan does not mean expanding minds, but really bowing down to the pressures of wealthy parents.  Lured into the profitable tutoring life, Anna begins to loose her idealism and embrace the status quo.  She gets in trouble when actually writing and implementing engaging lessons and is lauded when allowing students to rule the classroom, giving assignments that can be easily completed by (ironically enough) the tutors of her own students.

While appalling as many of the episodes in this book are, I couldn't help but notice a lot of parallels to my own experiences as a teacher.  How often do you get emails or phone calls wanting this extension or that special accommodation.  What's sad is that it often gets worse the higher the student gets.  Honors level students held to the lowest of standards.  It is so sad.  But of course I won't get into too many details about all that and rather focus on the positives.

Throughout the book, Anna does manage to carry out some very cool lessons and I found myself thinking of ways I could modify them to fit my own subject (Anna is an English teacher).  The books she eventually did cover were fun for me because I had studied them myself in school and thought about how I would have loved to learn about them in the ways Anna presented them (prior to being chided by the administration for not being lenient enough).  I also thought about all the teachers I know who are forced to tutor in order to supplement their income.  It is not all bad, but you have to consider the course of your tutoring session.  I suppose I couldn't relate all that well because all a tutor can do in math is the homework, rather than take the tests for students, but still.  Teachers shouldn't have to do that in order to make a living.

Anna makes an incredible point in the book noting that if it weren't for teachers there wouldn't be anyone around to cure diseases, invent all the cool gadgets we take for granted, and even improve upon existing technologies like making an even smaller MP3 player.  So here's to teachers.  The bravest and most noble of all professions because, yes, it is a profession, not a job to be scoffed at by anyone.  How did you get to be a big famous surgeon?  Well by attending tons of classes presented by hundreds of teachers.  Let's celebrate folks for all they have done and all they have continued to do.  Sure there are some bad ones out there, but for the most part, our children are being nurtured and guided by an impressive group of educators.

PS: I am not tooting my own horn and am very aware of my own failures (some of which were mirrored in Anna's story), but rather applauding those teachers who helped make me who I am today.  Thanks!!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fixations and The Like

Currently Reading: Juliet, Naked

Nick Hornby is obsessed with obsession.  Seriously.  Fever Pitch.  Come on!  Who doesn't love a good football (soccer) game?  About a Boy where Will Freeman preys on single moms.  High Fidelity, well, you know...  And in A Long Way Down, death and suicide bring us all together.  How to Be Good?  Consult your local faith healer.  This one is yet another in the long list of novels about single minded middle aged men, finding personal satisfaction vicariously.

In this book, we meet Duncan, a gentleman afraid of real life, but completely confident when it comes to factoids about Tucker Crowe, a long forgotten musician whose lyrics speak to Duncan in an incredibly profound manner.  So much in fact, that his entire life is totally devoted to the man, a man he has yet to meet.  Of course, enter Annie, Duncan's longtime companion who finds herself a little sick of hearing about, listening to, and simply pondering on Tucker.  When an unreleased cut of Mr. Crowe's most famous album comes into their hands, Annie can't help but hit Duncan where it hurts by writing her own review of the album, completely contradicting everything Duncan had said.  She doesn't mean to hurt him, but just wanted to get her opinion out there too.  When an unanticipated response to the review lands in her inbox, Annie's life is turned upside down.  Who is this reader?  None other than Tucker Crowe himself.

What ensues is a thoughtful and in depth look at life as it is, life as it could be, and life as it should be for all the characters involved.  Tucker and Annie begin a correspondence that leads to his traveling from the States to say hello (in addition to coming to solace one of his many stray children).  At this point in my reading, they are still just getting to know each other, something that is novel for Annie as she has heard of this man and his life constantly, but through a third party.  She is beginning to create her own impression of him, outside of the tale Duncan has woven for years.  I do not know how the novel will end.  It is leading towards a romance for the pair, but with Hornby, everything doesn't always end up the way you'd expect.  I am looking forward to finding out what sort of happiness (or at least contentment) that the characters achieve.  I'm rooting for Tucker though.  He is a very pathetic yet loveable character, another of Hornby's constants.

On a side note, isn't it wonderful to return to the world of an author once loved, yet recently forgotten?  I'm oh so glad I checked out the H's at the library last week :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Currently Reading: Recovery Road

Pg 310: "That's the thing: You can change things.  You can repair mistakes.  You can restart your whole life if you have to.  But some things you never get back."

Recovery Road follows a young woman on her journey through recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse.  We first meet Maddie when she has just finished her 28 days at rehab and is now on her way to a half-way house for a bit.  Maddie is a 16 year old high school student frequently called "Mad Dog Maddie" because of her violent tendencies when drunk.  As Maddie progresses through her milestones of recovery, she discovers a lot about herself.  She likes to read and wants to go to college.  Her parents is there for support, they are not the enemy.  Maddie also discovers that sobriety is hard and actually suffers a relapse after over a year being off any drugs.

What makes this book so enjoyable is Maddie's flawed, yet likable character.  You genuinely want her to succeed and reach her goals.  The reader feels for her when she discovers that her actions cause her to not be able to be accepted into her choice schools, but also applauds her trying to get in at all.  Maddie eventually gets into an OK school and despite a few setbacks, finds success in her college career.

Throughout Maddie's journey, we also pine with her for Stewart, a young man she met in rehab.  He too is worked towards sobriety, but in the ends, finds it too hard to achieve.  He too slips, but cannot bring himself back from the brink.  Maddie does what she can, helping him out and even jeopardizing her own life to help him.  While Stewart realizes what she is doing, he still cannot resist the temptations.

One of the saddest things about this story is that you get to see how one stupid decision or series of actions in one's life can seriously derail any plans for the future.  Each day I see my students making bad decisions and I want to grab them and say "stop!!"  Don't they realize the implications?  Of course at that age, the mind is thoroughly set in the present with no regard for anything past the moment.  Sometimes even interventions and those ubiquitous "scare 'em straight" guest speakers fail to impress upon these kids the seriousness of the situation.  It makes you feel so powerless about it all.

One thing that we can all take away from Maddie's story is that it is not impossible to turn your life around.  The key is to want it yourself.  Sometimes we have to let these kids hit rock bottom, as hard as it is, because that is what will help them finally see the light.  Of course you can't simply give up.  Keep chipping away and one day, at some point, you will get through.  This one was a TAYSHAS book I borrowed from my school library and I intend to return it promptly in the hope that it will inspire at least one of the students at our school to consider how their behavior now affects their live later on.  Will any of them even attempt to pick up a book, who knows, but the lessons hidden in this one are ones to inspire and instruct without preaching to and demoralizing the reader.  Maybe Maddie can be an inspiration to someone.  She certainly was to me.