Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reading Roundup!

I've been reading up a storm since the beginning of the month.  Here are my reactions to what I've read so far:
 Book #1

Savage Run (Joe Pickett, #2)Savage Run by C.J. Box
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a page-turner.  Joe Pickett once again raises the hackles of his superiors when he tries to charge an influential rancher with poaching.  At the same time, Stewie Woods, the head of a militant environmentalist group, is apparently murdered in a freak explosion.  A series of freak accidents kill other environmental leaders.  Things come to a head when Joe discovers that his wife once dated Stewie, and that perhaps he's not really dead.

This is the second in the Joe Pickett series.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the mountains, and the fast pace of the plot, kept me glued to the book.

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Book #2

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood graduated from Smith College in the early years of the 20th century, and after a yearlong Grand Tour of Europe, returned home ready for more adventure.  The two women are hired as schoolteachers in a rural school in northwestern Colorado.  This fascinating book recounts that particular adventure.  I am fascinated by the time period of our history - the opening years of the century just prior to WWI.  Although the east coast of the US has long been established, our west is still largely unsettled.  Life is hard, but the 2 women meet it head-on with great enthusiasm.  It was also interesting to read about teaching a century ago.  Communities showed their appreciation for education and for teachers in very concrete ways, and those who taught were held in great esteem. As is still true today, teaching was not easy, and it consumed a great deal of the teacher's personal time - not just in lesson-planning and grading, but also with involvement in their students' lives.

This isn't a very long book.  The acknowledgments, notes, and bibiliography are almost as long as the narrative!  It is well-researched by Dorothy's granddaughter, and it's also a loving tribute to both women.

Book #3

This one I listened to rather than read, but I'm counting it!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was one of the most chilling books I've encountered in a very long time.  Experiencing it as an audio book was also an interesting experience.  I think in some ways, it added to the creepiness.  Eleven-year old Dillon Raines, also known as Butcher Boy, is sentenced to the Drummond Youth Center after his conviction for murdering his parents and baby sister with an ax.  He has no recollection of the the night other than terror, and he battles to keep his sanity as he comes to grip with the horrific crime.  Pollyanne Deschamps, growing up in a trailer park in Mississipi, runs away from home at 15 and winds up in New Orleans.  Many years later, she meets a fascinating man, Marshall Marshand, and they eventually marry.  However Marshall is surrounded by mystery, and he has an almost suffocating relationship with his older brother Danny.  Almost from the start of their marriage, Marshall begins to act oddly, and Polly begins to suspect that her husband isn't who he claims to be.

I've read a lot of other Nevada Barr books (Anna Pigeon series) and this standalone novel is a total departure from her usual storytelling.  The reader kept me glued to my computer all Sunday afternoon so that I could finish listening to it!

Book #4
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fast-moving, creepy, suspenseful, scary, kept-me-on-the-edge-of-my-seat kind of book!  This is the first "Jane Rizzoli/Maura Isles" book in a series that has become a TV program.  I picked it up because I've been watching and enjoying the show on TV and wanted to see where it came from.  Although it's been billed as a "Rizzoli and Isles" novel, Maura Isles doesn't appear in it at all.  That doesn't matter.  Rizzoli is a Boston homicide detective, the first female detective in the department.  She carries a huge chip on her shoulder because of this and because of family history.  The detectives are investigating a gruesome series of murders which may be connected to a presumed-solved case in Atlanta, Georgia.  During the course of the investigation, a mutual respect between Rizzoli and another detective has been growing, but that is completely shattered when Rizzoli makes a questionable shooting.  Because Tess Gerritsen, the author, is a physician, the medical details are graphic and accurate.  If you're a squeamish sort, you might choose to skim or skip some of them!  I find the TV Jane Rizzoli softer and gentler than the original, and easier to like.  But the grittiness is what makes the book work.  I've already started the 2nd book, The Apprentice.

Book #5

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm not sure why I like this so much.  It's gritty, depressing, and Jane Rizzoli isn't the most likable protagonist.  In this second installment, Jane has physically recovered from the injuries inflicted by Warren Hoyt known The Surgeon, a serial killer.  Now a copycat killer seems to have emerged.  Because she hasn't yet dealt with the emotional damage, the case becomes a mental battle.  And then Warren Hoyt escapes from prison and teams up with the killer.  This is a tense, fast-moving story and it doesn't leave much to the imagination.  

Book #6

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I think I've read all of the Elm Creek Quilts novels.  I might have missed one or two along the way.  I was not enamored of this one.  It's set in the future.  Sarah and Matt's daughter Caroline is now 25 and it's the week of her wedding.  Most of the book consists of Sarah's reminiscences of her life at Elm Creek Manor.  Not much of a plot exists, and quite frankly, it was on the boring side.  It feels like a "wrap-the-series-up" novel.

Book #7
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was one of the best Inspector Rutledge books yet.  An influential diplomat has been attacked and left for dead and the main suspect is the diplomat's ex-fiance Stephen Mallory.  Mallory served at the front with Rutledge, and despite their shared negative history, Mallory asks Rutledge to prove he's not the perpetrator.  Once again, Rutledge battles his supervisor and his past, represented by Hamish.  I especially liked this installment because I was misled as to the true perpetrator.  I also liked how Rutledge was forced to deal with his past.  

Book #8
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Rafe Kardashian's first day of middle school is worse than he ever imagined it.  Killer Miller, the resident bully, singles him out from the very start.  Rafe however, has a plan suggested by his sidekick, Leo the Silent.   Rafe will go out of his way to break every single one of the school's rules.  This is a humorous, yet poignant view of middle school seen from the perspective of a kid who doesn't fit in.  His homelife is troubled, and academics are not Rafe's forte.  The book is peppered with drawings reminiscent of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and these drawings figure into the grand conclusion.  This was an exremely fast read (about 45 minutes) for me, and I can't wait to share it with my 6th graders.  It definitely belongs in the classroom library!


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Making Lemonade

We were supposed to take our students on a field trip to the Boston Museum of Science yesterday.  We were going specifically to see the traveling exhibit of Pompeii artifacts since we study ancient Rome and volcanoes in our social studies and science classes.  We were also going to view an IMAX movie about Greek archaeology, again since we also study ancient Greece.  But alas!  Late Thursday afternoon the superintendent asked us to cancel our trip because of an impending ice storm.  The storm arrived on schedule . . . . BUT . . . warmed up a whole lot faster than anticipated, and we didn't even have a delayed start!

So that meant quite a bit of scrambling.  When our trip was canceled we were certain that we'd have at least the delayed start, so we planned a short day.  My teaching partner wanted to show the kids Apollo 13 since they were finishing their study of space exploration so we decided that a shortened day would be a perfect time to that, plus give the kids a "fun" day since we were all disappointed about the trip.  He called me at 6 am Friday to let me know that he hadn't been able to locate a copy of the movie - his wife had lent their copy to a teacher at her school!  So 7:15 am found us both combing the school media collection for a curriculum related video.  Then, because we had a whole day rather than the abbreviated day (2 hour delay) -- we had 2 more hours to fill than we'd planned.  So I pulled out some "emergency" activities for social studies and he did the same for science.

The lemonade part of the day was due to my husband.  (He runs the bus company that supplies the school transportation).  He felt guilty that he'd told the superintendent the roads were clear enough for his drivers but knew that we were scrambling.  (The roads were barely adequate in my opinion!)  He arrived at my classroom door armed with coffee for my partner and me, and enough donut holes for all our students!  What a guy!

Overall, we were pretty stressed, but most of the day was fine.  I did have one incident with a student who called me a jerk because I asked her to move her seat.  She is a very troubled adolescent, and we are working hard on respect.  Fortunately she decided to rethink her response!  Unfortunately she found herself in trouble with another teacher because when she left my room (with a pass) to use the bathroom, she decided to fling soap foam all over the hallway.  On the big plus side:  I had done some midyear testing with my students - the Scholastic Reading Inventory.  When I gave the test at the beginning of the school year 12% of my students scored below basic.  At mid year, only 6% of them are below basic, and the percentage of student who are proficient or advanced has gone up 10% . So despite the poor performance of a number of students on day-to-day assignments in reading, they are progressing and learning something!  I can't tell you how happy that made me feel!  I know if you are or were a teacher, you understand the feeling, especially in this day and age of high-stakes testing.

We ended the day going out to dinner with friends which made for an extremely pleasant end to the day.

P.S.  I am fully recovered from my spill down the stairs earlier in the week!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

And I Went Tumblin' Down

It's been an interesting week.  Monday began my week of lunch/recess duty and I grabbed my yogurt and coat and headed down the stairs to the cafeteria.  About 3 steps from the bottom of the stairs, something happened, and the next thing I knew I was on my knees at the foot of the stairs.  I landed hard on both knees, including the knee I've had problems with for several years due to a previous injury, and the wind certainly got knocked of me.  After a few moments, I realized nothing was broken and I managed to rise to a standing position and continue down to the cafe.  Once I got there, limping and somewhat dazed, I sat in the first available chair ---- only to discover that somebody had spilt something in it and hadn't wiped it up!   So not only was I hurting, now I had a very wet seat!  As soon as the other duty teacher arrived, I went down to the nurse for "injury" review --- icepacks, ibuprofen, and paperwork.  I took it easy the rest of the school day -- my students were quite soliticitous all afternoon, and I left school early.  Tuesday I woke up feeling a bit battered, and as the day went on I felt sorer and sorer despite the Advil regime.  By the end of the day I could barely walk!  Today thankfully, I am much less sore.  My knees luckily seem to be fine - most of the pain has been in my back and quadriceps!  Instead of my water aerobics class tonight, I stretched in the warmer therapy pool.    I do not recommend falling down stairs as a way to get out of recess duty!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

This and That and Not Much of Anything

The weekend started out with promise.  We went out to dinner Friday night with good friends and had a good meal and great conversation.   When we got home, my husband announced that he wanted to go the movies Saturday afternoon, and we could combine some errands with the movie.  This is a momentous occasion, because he RARELY wants to go to the movies.  I, however, love to go and don't get to go very often.  So I looked forward to Saturday.  Unfortunately I woke up Saturday morning feeling horrible -- scratchy throat, headache, exhaustion.  I never made it out of my pjs and in fact, went back to bed at 9:30 am and slept til almost 1 pm.  However, even if I had felt fine, we wouldn't have made it to the movies because of the weather --- about 4 inches of slippery snow surprised us.    I did manage to get up and make a homemade (kind of) chicken pot pie with the help of prepared foods  --- leftover rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, some frozen mixed veggies, some cream of celery and cream of mushroom soup, fresh onion, a small can of mushrooms, and a ready-made piecrust.  And I did muster up enough energy to watch "Death and Dust" - an episode of my favorite series Midsomer Murders."  I did knit a few rows of a sock and I read a couple of chapters of The Apprentice by Tess Gerritsen.  This morning I woke up feeling fine, and went to church.  We are planning to leave shortly to fulfill the errands we didn't do yesterday, and then hope to see "War Horse" at the movies.    So with luck, the weekend will end on a high note.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Sweater for All Seasons AKA Lace Notes

I FINALLY finished this sweater on the first day of the new year.  I started it in Jan. 2011, abandoned it to complete some gift knitting, then when on to summer knitting, and finally picked it up again in December.  It is published in two Family Circle books:  Easy Plus Size Knits where it's called Lace Notes, and in Easy Family Knits where it's called A Sweater for All Seasons.  That's how it's listed on Ravelry too. I used Valley Yarns Goshen from Webs in colonial blue, and I knit the 2nd smallest size (plus size pattern).

It took me a long time to seam --- and that's a finishing skill I need to improve!  Patience would help.  I am very happy with the fit and length.  Because Goshen is cotton, silk, and modal, I'm hoping it won't be too hot to wear in classroom.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

An Approximate Total

Just for my curiousity, I added up the number of pages I read this year.  I use to keep track so  the number of pages for each book read come from that resource.  And there were 4 books with no page counts -- I think they were only available through Kindle, and not in print.  I didn't add those pages, although  since they are all by the same author I could estimate that each book was about 140 pages long.  I haven't gone back to previous years totals to compare . . .and I don't plan to at this point.  So I don't know how this total compares.  So here it is  ---- 47258 pages.    The average book length (108) was 437.57 pages.  (Includes the 4 books with no page count, and all of the George RR Martin books.)  It means I read an average of 13 pages a day. . .   So I plan to keep track of both books and pages this year to see how 2012 compares.

My goal --- 125 books AND 50,000 pages.

A Book Review

My first entry for the new year is a review of book #108, the last book for 2011.  I didn't make my goal of reading 125 books, and I missed my 2010 record of 109 by one.  Oh well.  A new year, and another chance at the goal.  This is the first book of a new-to-me series.

The Last Kashmiri Rose (Joe Sandilands, #1)The Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleverly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joe Sandilands is looking forward to returning to England after a tour of duty in India.  Just as he about to leave, he's asked to postpone his trip to investigate a series of mysterious deaths.  Five Anglo women have died under odd circumstances over a long period of time.  As Joe investigates, he uncovers an intricate web of deceit, and at the same time, meets Nancy Drummond and falls in love with her.  This was an interesting novel set in 1920's India.  My only "complaint" was the use of a lot of Indian words to describe places or situations.  A few were explained, and a few I could figure out from context.  My vocabulary lack didn't interfere with my comprehension of the story, but my teacher brain was annoyed that I couldn't check references or that there wasn't a glossary.  Neither my Kindle dictionary, nor my physical dictionary had the references either.  I am looking forward to reading other novels in this new-to-me series.

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