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Monday, January 16, 2017

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the United States! In honor of the day, I wanted to share some of my favorite MLK quotes!

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”  

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Do you have any favorite MLK quotes?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: Matilda by Roald Dahl

Title: Matilda
Author: Roald Dahl
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Puffin
Publish Date: 1988
Source: Owned (finally!)

What's the Story?:

From "Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she's knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she's a super-nerd and the teacher's pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda's world. For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there's the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Mrs. ("The") Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.

She warms up with some practical jokes aimed at her hapless parents, but the true test comes when she rallies in defense of her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, against the diabolical Trunchbull. There is never any doubt that Matilda will carry the day. Even so, this wonderful story is far from predictable. Roald Dahl, while keeping the plot moving imaginatively, also has an unerring ear for emotional truth. The reader cares about Matilda because in addition to all her other gifts, she has real feelings."

My Two Cents:

One of the best things about being an adult is that I can buy all of the books I want. Okay, maybe not all of the books because there would just not be room for my family and I if I bought ALL OF THE BOOKS but I can buy my favorites from the different seasons of my life. Growing up, I was lucky enough that my dad would take me to the library whenever I wanted. One of the books that I checked out countless times was Matilda by one of my favorite authors, Roald Dahl.

If you're a book lover, this book will resonate with you, even if you are an adult. Matilda is a book lovers' character. She breathes books. She believes in the power of books to change her life and they definitely do. I loved her as a child for many of the same reasons that I love her now. She is secure in her own power even with her family constantly telling her that she's worthless because she speaks her mind and is interested in more than just "watching the telly." She isn't afraid to be different and she believes in herself. She's a great, strong character and one that has stood the test of time.

Roald Dahl is still one of my favorite authors. His books, including Matilda, are incredibly inventive and entertaining. I love how vivid his characters are. He knows how to write in such a way to get kids to want to read and to be interested in what is happening to the characters throughout the book. Not only is our main character, Matilda, amazing but it's hard to forget secondary characters like Miss Honey and The Trunchbull. This was such a fun re-read for me!


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Leaving for Las Vegas! Help!

I feel bad complaining about the cold since it's going to be really warm here in the DMV by the end of the week. I am counting down the days until I can hop a plane and go to Las Vegas this weekend with the Husband. This will be the first real vacation that we've had since having our girls. This will also be my first time in Las Vegas and I always love exploring new places!

Now Las Vegas has never been high on my places-to-travel list. I am not a big gambler. I have nothing against it but I only really know how to play blackjack and slot machines feel a little boring to me. We are going out to support my best friend and her husband as they officially launch their company. I'm sure we'll have a good time!

So I need help! What should we do in Las Vegas? Have any of you ever been? What are some of your not-to-be-missed sights?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

Title: A Perilous Undertaking
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: January 10, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries...

London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime."

My Two Cents:

"A Perilous Undertaking" is the second book in the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn. I loved the first book in the series and was very excited to get back to Veronica's adventures in Victorian England. I was not disappointed with this book! While this book can largely be read as a standalone, I wholeheartedly recommend reading the first book as it is a good one. Also, it'll give you greater insight into Veronica and some of the other characters in the book.

Veronica is such a good heroine. She is whip smart and funny throughout the book. She uses her wits to solve the mystery at the center of the book. Lady Sundridge wants Miles exonerated and Veronica is down for the job and will find satisfaction simply solving the mystery. However, Veronica also wants to figure out more about Lady Sundridge and whether or not she holds the key to shedding light on exactly where Veronica came from. I really liked following Veronica and Stoker as they solve the mystery. They have a great banter that kept me entertained.

In this book, we get more insight into her character and where she came from. Since she is the product of an illicit relationship, her full origin is still shrouded in a good bit of mystery. We also find out more about Stoker and why he doesn't have the warmest relationship with his family. I really liked how the author built the characters with a bit more detail in this book. It made me feel more in tune with them. I am anxious to see what future books hold for these characters!


Monday, January 9, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges

Every turn of the year, I try to make some reading resolutions for the upcoming year. When I started thinking about 2017, one thing that kept coming up for me is that I wanted to read a little more out of my comfort zone and I wanted to push myself a little further. I came up with several challenges that I want to really push myself with.

Here they are:
And as always, I'm on a quest to read more of my own books. I did terribly with this last year but 2017 is a new year, no? So here I go again!

To keep me honest (and on track), I will be posting updates on my progress at the beginning of each new month. I am hoping that this will help me be a little more successful than I was last year!

Are you participating in any book challenges for 2017?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Review: Flying Lessons and Other Stories by Ellen Oh (Editor), Sherman Alexie, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Walter Dean Myers, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin

Title: Flying Lessons and Other Stories
Authors:  Ellen Oh (Editor), Sherman Alexie, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Walter Dean Myers, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: January 3, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?

From "Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories."

My Two Cents:

One of the things that initially got me into reading as a youngster was the ability that books had to let me see through new eyes and walk that proverbial mile in someone else's shoes. I think it is so important for everyone but for children and teenagers to have access to a wide variety of books that reflect all different walks of life and experience. That is just one reason that I am such a big supporter of the "We Need Diverse Books" movement. It's an important step forward for the book industry and I'm happy to see anthologies like this come out to take the movement forward!

If you read middle grade fiction, it is easy to see that the line up of authors included in the book is truly a powerhouse. Each author brings their own unique voice to the collection. I had two favorite stories in the book. First, I loved the story about a boy who finds a fantastical story that his father secretly wrote about the boy and the boy takes the idea and turns it into a story for a story contest. My other favorite was about a boy who gets dragged to Europe by his crazy grandmother and discovers how to break out of his shell.

There is a lot to love about this collection. All of the stories are incredibly different and will introduce readers to memorable characters. If you don't know some of these authors already, it will also introduce you to some of the brightest voices in middle grade fiction today. This is a great collection and one that I know that I will be recommending a lot. It would make a great gift for the middle graders in your life.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Author Guest Post: Andrew Joyce on Sand Paintings

My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. Meg has allowed me on her blog today to promote my latest, Yellow Hair. It’s a fact-based work of fiction about the Sioux Nation. Yellow Hair is an epic tale of adventure, family, love, and hate that spans most of the 19th century. But instead of taking up your time with a commercial, I’d like to talk about a personal experience I once had concerning another tribe. Because of space considerations, I’ll have to be succinct. Here is my story.
I ran into Jimmy of The Dené in the summer of 1967 when I was seventeen-years-old. I was hitchhiking, trying to get to California from my home in Miami, Florida, but I got sidetracked along the way and ended up in Peoria, Illinois. I only mention this because I found myself on the fabled Route 66.
I had no map and I was rather lost, but a kind man that I met at a gas station told me to keep on 66 and it would lead me right into Los Angeles. What it did … was lead me into one of the most profound experiences of my life.
A day later, I was standing by the side of the road outside of Gallup, New Mexico, just before sunset, hoping to catch a ride at least as far as Flagstaff before it got full dark. As the sun kissed the rim of the earth, turning the western sky a bright, fiery orange, an old beat-up, blue pickup truck screeched to a halt; the driver leaned toward the open passenger window and said, “Where ya going?”
“I ain’t going that far, but I can get you down the road a bit.”
I threw my kit in the back, opened the door, and got inside.
The guy hit the accelerator, lurching the truck back onto the asphalt—spewing rocks and pebbles in its wake.
Before he hit second gear, and with his eyes still on the road, he said, “My name’s Jimmy. Glad to meet ya.”
I told him my name and we settled into a comfortable silence as we raced toward the setting sun. When you’re hitching, you go with the flow. Most people pick you up because they want someone to talk to, but this guy seemed to like things quiet, which was fine with me.
About fifteen minutes later, he spoke up. “I turn off up ahead and it’s getting dark. You wanna crash on my couch? I’ll drive you back to the highway in the morning.”
I didn’t have to think twice about it. A couch sure beat sleeping on the side of the road. It gets damp out there in the early morning hours.
Jimmy then told me he was a Navajo and lived on the reservation. We turned off the highway and headed north down a bumpy dirt road. Eventually we came to a trailer sitting all by itself.
“We live in a corner of the reservation, away from the others. The reservation is 27,000 square miles, so there’s plenty of room. The only problem is, there’s no electricity out here,” said Jimmy.
As we walked up to the trailer, Jimmy informed me that he lived with his grandfather. “He is a medicine man and he speaks very little English. His name is Ti՜éhonaa՜éi Lizhini—Black Moon in English. I will interpret for him.”
I followed Jimmy into the trailer. It was dark inside, the only light coming from a lantern that sat on the kitchen table. Off to my right, I saw an old man standing at a propane stove, stirring something in a large kettle. Jimmy said, “Yá'át'ééh, Análi.” He turned to me and kind of apologized for not speaking in English by saying, “I just said, ‘Hello, Grandfather’.” Then he added, “Why don’t you go sit on the couch and I’ll explain to him that you will be joining us for dinner and staying the night.”
I made myself comfortable on the couch, my only thought: Whatever the old man is cooking sure smells good.
I’m gonna cut out all the small talk that passed between me and Jimmy while his grandfather prepared the dinner and take you to the scene as we sat around the kitchen table.
As we started eating our deer stew, I said to Jimmy, “I never met any Navajos before.”
“We call ourselves The Dené. It means The People. We got the name Navajo from the Spanish. They called us Apachu de Nabajo. It means “Apaches Who Farm in the Valley.”
When I had eaten a good portion of the stew, I smiled at Black Moon and pointed to my bowl. “Good,” I said. He smiled back and nodded his head. Then started talking a mile a minute in the Navajo language. Of course, I could not understand what he was saying, but Jimmy listened and nodded his head. Turning to me, he said, “Grandfather wants me to tell you how the Navajo came to be on the earth. I’ll tell you the short version because I don’t want to bore you.”
“You won’t bore me. This is why I’m on the road. I want to meet new people and learn things.”
“I may not bore you, but the whole story is too long. We’re gonna have to hit the hay soon. My grandfather needs to be at the Sacred Mountain before sunrise. I’ll drive him there and then take you to the highway.”
As I ate my stew, Jimmy started in on his narrative.
“Basically, our creation story goes like this: The first world is, Nihodilhil or Black World. The whole world was pitch black, but there were four clouds in the sky: the Blue Cloud, the Yellow, the Black, and the White Cloud. The Blue and Yellow Clouds came together and formed First Woman. Then the Black and White Clouds did the same and formed First Man.
“Seeing First Man’s fire, First Woman made her way to him. He asked her to live with him and she agreed. They did not want to live in the darkness forever, so they searched until they found the path to Ni՜hodootl՜izh, the Blue World. They climbed the mountain path until they emerged into the new world.
“Once there, they found many animals that were at war with one another. Coyote also lived there. He traveled in the four directions of the four winds and saw that the beings who lived there were not happy and wanted to leave the Blue World. This he told First Man.
“First Man made four wands. One of black stone, one of turquoise, one of abalone, and one was made of shell. Using those wands, the beings of the second world followed First Man and First Woman into Nihaltsoh, the Yellow World. There they found the Four Sacred Mountains.
“First Man planted a reed and it grew to the sky. First Man, First Woman, Coyote, and the other beings used the reed to climb into Nihalgai, the Glittering World. That is the world in which we live.”
When Jimmy had finished speaking, his grandfather reached across the table, patted my hand, and said something in the Navajo tongue. Jimmy translated his words.
“My grandfather likes you. He says you are young and you will live a long time. He wanted you to know our creation story so that you can tell other white men. He has also invited you to watch him build his sandpainting in the morning. He is almost finished. It is an honor that he has asked you, but I will tell him that you must be on your journey.”
“Not so fast, Jimmy. I’ve got nowhere I gotta be and no one waiting for me when I get there. I would love to see him build his sandpainting. Although I do have one question. What is a sandpainting?”
“I will tell you in the morning. Now we sleep.”
The next morning, Jimmy shook me awake before dawn. “Are you ready?” he asked. I was still half asleep and had to think for a minute. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee brought me around. “Sure. As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Then help yourself to some coffee. The cups are on the counter. Sorry, we have no milk or sugar.”
“I’ll live.”
“Good. Grandfather is getting dressed. We’ll be leaving in about ten minutes.”
I poured myself some coffee and took the cup outside to take in the cold desert morning. The stars in the sky blew me away. Having been raised in a city, I had never seen so many stars. I drank my coffee and enjoyed the view.
Soon the door opened and Jimmy and his grandfather came out.
We piled into the truck with Black Moon sitting between Jimmy and me. We took off down the same worn dirt road that we had come in on. But this time we were going farther onto the reservation. After a few minutes, I asked Jimmy to tell me about sandpaintings.
“They are used in our curing ceremonies to attract The Holy Ones. They are made with crushed stone, ground minerals, and pollen. And sometimes, flowers. Oh yeah, and, of course, sand. The ground is prepared first and then the medicine man sets about building his painting. Once it is complete, he will chant to sanctify it. Then the sick person sits on it, and the medicine man does a ritual chant, to bring forth the healing powers of The Holy Ones. That’s all there is to it.”
I nodded like I understood what he was talking about. Just to say something, I asked where we were headed.
“We are going to Doko'oosliid. It is one of the Four Sacred Mountains. Nowadays, most medicine men build their sandpaintings in a hogan, but my grandfather likes the old ways. He says that doing the ceremony in the cave of a sacred mountain hastens the curing process.”
We pulled up to the base of a mountain and Jimmy announced that we were at our destination. Black Moon smiled at me as he got out of the truck and took me by the hand. He led me off to the right. Jimmy yelled after us that he would catch up as soon as he filled the lantern with oil.
When we got to the mouth of the cave, Black Moon pointed to the ground and said, “You stay.” He then went inside. Less than a minute later, Jimmy walked up holding a lantern.
“I feel like a dog. Your grandfather told me to ‘stay’.”
Jimmy held out the lantern in my direction. “Hold this,” he said.
As I held the lantern and Jimmy lit it, he explained. “The paintings are on the floor of the cave. It would not be good to walk over one of them. My grandfather knows his way around and there is a lantern in there that he will light. By the time we go in, bringing this lantern, there will be plenty of light. Also, he needs some time alone to say his prayers before he starts his work. We will give him a few more minutes and then go in. And when we go in, please do not talk. It will distract my grandfather.”
Five minutes later, we walked into the cave. There was a yellow light reflecting off the walls about fifty feet in. I was behind Jimmy, who held the lantern. “Step where I step,” he instructed in a whisper. “There are two paintings up ahead. One is completed; one my grandfather will be working on.”
I followed Jimmy, being careful to walk in his path. Before we got to the back of the cave, he stopped and held the lantern out to his left and pointed. And there it was—a finished sandpainting. I couldn’t believe the detail, the vibrant colors, the majesty of the thing. I was speechless. And here it is five decades later and I still don’t have the words to describe what I saw that day, which is ironic, seeing as how I make my living with words.
We continued on to where Black Moon sat on the ground, focused on his art, with seven small bowls within arms’ reach—each filled with a different substance, and each substance a different color. For two hours, I sat across from him and watched him work. As I said at the beginning of this narrative, it was a profound experience.
Presently, Jimmy nudged me and tilted his head toward the cave entrance. It was time to leave. The whole time we were there, his grandfather did not once acknowledge our presence. Outside, Jimmy extinguished the lantern and started to walk toward the truck. But after a few steps, he stopped and turned to me. “My grandfather told me to tell you this. He wanted you to see the paintings and how they are built. You are the first white person he has ever allowed to see him work. He wants you to bring the word to your white friends that we are not savages, that our religion is as strong as yours, and that we worship the same god.”
“I will remember that, Jimmy. And I will spread the word. But what happens to the paintings once the ceremony is complete? They are so beautiful.”
“They are destroyed and the materials collected and returned to the earth. They are only meant to exist for a few days.”
“It is our way.”
Jimmy got me back to the highway, we shook hands, and I continued on my journey a different person than I had been twenty-four hours earlier. But is that not the way of life? At the end of each day, should we not be a person different from the one that started the day?
With this missive, I offer a few examples of sand paintings so you can see for yourself why words fail me.

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