Review: Below the Water Line: Getting Out, Going Back, and Moving Forward in the Decade After Hurricane Katrina by Lisa Karlin

518K729yxgL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_It’s been ten years since the unforgettable devastation known as Katrina came ashore. Ten years since families were displaced, homes were destroyed, lives were lost. Such a long time ago, but yet not so very long ago. And although I’ve read many different accounts of the tragedy, every new one that comes along immediately catches my eye.

In this newest telling, we are given an insider’s view of what one family encountered in the days leading up to the hurricane as well as their recovery process. This family is somewhat different from what most of us know from television accounts. They’re white, middle class (at least) and living comfortably. Mom is a nurse and dad is a surgeon. Kids one and two are enrolled in private school. They have a nice home in a nice neighborhood. And most importantly, they have the means to evacuate as Katrina bears down on the city.

I’ll admit, I had to sit on this one for a bit after finishing it. I knew that I wanted to write a review, but I wasn’t quite sure in which direction I wanted to go. The author does provide a very real, honest account of her family’s experiences. However, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for someone whose home escaped mostly intact while so many lost everything they owned. And how does a tree in a pool and rotten food compare with the loss of a loved one?

But the more I reflected on it, the more I appreciated this unique perspective on the Karlin family’s experience. Because who am I to determine what an authentic story is? And I give the author much credit for never minimizing the horror of what others went through. In fact, at several points throughout the story she makes a point of noting that so many others had it so much worse than her family did.

Mostly, I admire the hope and passion for New Orleans that is woven throughout this book. The author makes it clear that there’s no love lost for those who were in power ten years ago. Powerful people who, by the way, dropped the ball in a very big way. She also makes it very clear why she and her family made the decision to return to a city that many felt wasn’t deserving of rebuilding efforts. To quote a well-known phrase: “I’m not a native of New Orleans. Although I wasn’t born here, I got here as fast as I could.”

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Below the Water Line: Getting Out, Going Back, and Moving Forward in the Decade After Hurricane Katrina

Review: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

51gCLikAH0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As another school year winds down, one of the things I’ve been working on is a list of possible books for my kiddos to read over the summer. And no, it’s not a required reading list. Most of you probably know how I feel about those. Instead, it’s a suggested list of titles that I know were good for me, so I can guess that they’ll probably appeal to younger readers as well. And no compilation of such books would be complete for me without The Overlander Chronicles series written by none other than Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games.

Gregor is an unlikely hero, a young boy of just eleven. But when his young sister crawls into an air vent in the laundry room of their New York City apartment building, he doesn’t hesitate before going in after her. So begins their journey into the Underland, a mystical magical land right under the feet of New Yorkers. As magical as the Underland is, however, it’s also a land on the brink of war. And it appears that Gregor is exactly the hero mentioned in the prophecy that guides the Underlanders as they ready themselves for battle.

Oh, and did I mention the giant cockroaches? Yes, that’s right. Cockroaches. Giant ones. And giant bats and rats and spiders. Here’s where some of the story’s deeper messages come into play, as there’s a definite hierarchy in the Underland as well as a lot of prejudices and stereotypes. There are also moral decisions to be made, and there are consequences to some of the choices made by the characters. While some of the books in the series are definitely better than the others, none in the series rated less than four stars out of five for me.

So if you’re thinking about checking out right about now, reasoning that a book of this sort couldn’t possibly appeal to you for whatever reason, please don’t. First and foremost, this is a story that will appeal to readers of all ages. Older readers will appreciate the simplicity and innocence of the story as well as the unbelievable world created by the author. Younger readers will fall into a fantasy world that’s rich in visual imagery and descriptions. And kids who aren’t yet ready to read this one on their own will gladly snuggle up with a grownup for this amazing bedtime story. And fear not, Gregor’s world is nowhere near as scary or as graphic as the one in The Hunger Games. So start with book one, jump right in. And be prepared to move on to the rest in the series one after the other.

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1)

$1.99! What a deal!

I’m doing a little online shopping and I’m tempted by the great price drops on kindle books. Here are four fantastic looking reads that caught my eye – at bargain prices! –calliope

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Review: The Barefoot Sisters Southbound (Adventures on the Appalachian Trail) by Lucy Letcher and Susan Letcher

IMG_1481.JPGIf you’re a hiker or a camper or an outdoor nature lover, you’ll love this book. And even if you’re not (I’m not, really), reading Southbound lets you experience eight months of hiking without *actually* hiking. Which is kinda cool too.

I bought this book for my kindle in November 2011. Three years ago! It got buried under my virtual TBR pile until last week when my friend Maureen said she was going to dig it out of her own TBR pile and start reading it.

The beginning was a little rough reading for me: descriptions of mountains and hills and trails and supplies… Chapter after chapter… Repetitive.

Then about a third in, I mentally hopped on the trail with the sisters, and really felt like I was there. The brutal, bone-numbing cold, meeting up with the Family from the North, rank hiker smell, mountaintops pushing through the fog, and cold streams of water… I could feel it and taste it all.

Southbound is written beautifully, with rich vocabulary, unapologetic candor, and authenticity. I appreciate the gradual piecing together of the journey, the landscape, the relationships. Slow and piecemeal is how real life happens sometimes. The “summit” at the end is much, much less than the sum of its big, glorious, painful, joyful parts.

The sisters yo-yo’d and wrote a book about their trip back northbound. I’ll be reading that next.

-calliope

buy THE BAREFOOT SISTERS SOUTHBOUND

buy THE BAREFOOT SISTERS WALKING HOME
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Review: Happily Ever After by Trista Sutter

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I’ve loved Trista Sutter’s warmth and authenticity since I first saw her on The Bachelorette. I don’t watch the Bachelor franchise anymore, but it satisfies me to see the first Bachelorette marriage succeed.

Happily Ever After isn’t about finding happiness, or filling yourself up with something new to make yourself happy. It’s about taking another look at the life you have — the life you choose each day — and appreciating all of it: the rough, the easy, the sad, the joyful, the frustrating, and the tragic. We can’t see the full picture of our lives, because so much of our own life hasn’t happened yet. But Trista helps the reader look back at some of the bad times in order to see how they’ve contributed to the good things we have in life today.

I have had experiences like that: being upset and jealous that my dad helped the neighborhood children (who didn’t have a dad). I didn’t have a lot of time with my father when I was young. When I did, I wanted him all to myself. But when he was home, he took the time to help fix bikes, pump up soccer balls, and smile at these three girls who didn’t have a father figure in their lives. I resented it.

Fast forward 30 years when my father passed away, and those same siblings came over to shovels the snow from my mother’s huge driveway… In their words to repay my family for what my father gave them so many years before. Who knew that would come full circle?

That’s the kind of memory that Happily Ever After evokes. Not seeing the blessing right away doesn’t mean it’s not there.

*wiping away tears* *composing myself* *deep breath*

Okay, so Happily Ever After takes it one step further: we need to be actively GRATEFUL for the people and events in our lives, trusting that things really do happen for a reason. Trista makes a case for writing thank you notes, letting your children make a mess once in a while (be thankful for their creativity and joy!), and putting in the effort to maintain friendships.

Trista’s anecdotes are entertaining. She tells of the ups and downs in her life with sweetness and peace. Her joy and honesty translate through the pages. Read Happily Ever After and be uplifted.

-calliope

buy HAPPILY EVER AFTER

Musing: Reading and Running

IMG_0209.JPGLast year I read Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. Read my review here.

One valuable nugget I took from the book was that people who ran barefoot – and who were raised running barefoot – had fewer injuries than westerners running on super-cushioned shoes.

Even in my 20s when I was in the best shape of my life and ran half-marathons, I still felt pain when running. Shinsplints and knee pain attacked the most. I was slender, strong, and young. I couldn’t imagine why running was so painful sometimes.

Fast forward 15 years, three childbirths, and five pounds… and the book Born to Run.

I decided to try barefoot running shoes to help me shorten my stride and land on the balls of my feet. (I’ve since learned this is called “running forefoot.”) I picked out some cute Vibram FiveFingers. See some Vibrams here. My husband calls them my Himalayan mountain shoes. And hey, if it helps me run like the guys running 20 miles a day in the Himalayan mountains… Awesome.

Guess what? On my very first longer-than-a-mile run, NO SHIN SPLINTS. I haven’t had shin splints or lasting knee pain from running in the entire year I’ve been running “barefoot.”

I recently trained for 8 weeks for a race. Just 8 weeks. I finished the half-marathon (13.1 miles) wearing barefoot running shoes. My stride is more natural and I am pain free. I even recovered twice as quickly as my sister who has been training longer and further than I have.

I credit Christopher McDougall, Born to Run, and Vibram with my success. Thank you!

To you readers out there I say, Give Born to Run a read. Even if you’ll never run in your entire life, it’s a work of science and anthropology followed by a fantastic, inspirational story.

-Calliope

buy VIBRAMS
buy BORN TO RUN
buy more by journalist CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL

Review: The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

20140516-090046.jpgReading is one of my greatest loves. From as far back as I can remember, it seems as if I have always had some type of reading material at hand. Novels, comic books, even the back of the cereal box at the breakfast table…it all sufficed to satisfy my urge for the magic of the written word. And now as an adult, being a passionate reader is such an integral part of my identity that it’s impossible to separate the two. Books, newspapers, magazines, online articles…I devour them all with the appetite of someone who’s gone without food for too long.

But reading for pleasure is an endangered species, on its way to extinction according to some. The bleakest polls place the number of adults who read for pleasure at around 50%. And some surveys have shown that 30% of adults haven’t read a book for pleasure in the last year. As an admitted bookworm, these numbers make me so sad. And as a teacher, these numbers make me wonder why?

Donalyn Miller’s book addresses this issue. She believes, as do I, that it begins with the reading habits we, as parents and teachers, instill in young children. Her philosophy is simple. If you give them books, they will come. A few basic tenets are required: an environment filled with a variety of reading material, choice in what kids read, time to read, and modeling of passionate reading. Again, these foundational pieces are aimed toward the classroom but why wouldn’t they work at home as well? And can you imagine the effect if this was the standard at home AND at school?

And this author knows what she’s talking about. She has the benefit of many years of classroom experience. She also has a well-known blog and is in high demand as a presenter for professional development seminars. As a side note, she’s also a teacher in my district and has been featured at some of our workshops.

So what did I get from reading this book? In one word, validation. Donalyn speaks to everything I believe as both a parent and a teacher. Young children love to read and are fascinated by the words and pictures that come to life on the page. But something happens to them as they get older. They stop seeing reading as fun and start viewing it as work, something to be done when it’s required but no more. Ask any parent of a child who loves to read and you’ll hear a few common themes, the same ones espoused in The Book Whisperer.

This one’s a departure from my normal reviews, but it’s a good one. Although it’s geared toward classroom teachers, most of the anecdotes and tips given by the author can be put into practice by teachers and parents alike. And when you’re finished with this one, move on to her next one. Reading in the Wild is next on my list!

~Thalia

Buy it Now: The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child