I had surgery on January 4 (disk replacement), so I've been forced to stay home from work and have had lots of time to read and watch movies. It's given me a good start on my 50/50 for 2015. I've mostly read children's books this month, because it's library ordering season and I am trying to keep up with the latest in children's literature.
My January Reads:
Grown-up Book: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
This is not a book I would have chosen on my own, but I read it for a book club I attend with my colleagues. I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I loved the writing. It drew me in. The characters came to life and the book was full of emotion and feeling. But the characters made so many terrible choices that it was difficult to read. Basically, a 13-year old boy named Theo survives a bombing at a NY art museum that tragically takes the life of his mother. The book is the story of how that experience, and a beautiful Goldfinch painting from the museum, shape his future. It's a Pulitzer prize winner. Gritty and heartbreaking, but with a fairly satisfying ending. Conservative readers might have a hard time with some of the more graphic content and language.
Rain Reign, by Ann Martin
This book won the Charlotte Huck award for outstanding children's fiction. It really is outstanding, and it's a much-needed contribution to children's literature. Rose is an autistic 5th grader who is obsessed with homonyms. I loved experiencing the world through her words and her eyes, but it was also heartbreaking and difficult. She has a special relationship with Rain, a stray dog her father brought home for her. I lost count of how many times I cried while reading this book, and I still get teary-eyed thinking about it now. It was one of those powerful books that will stay with me forever. It was especially near to my heart because there are autistic people in my life who I love very much.
Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graff
This book won a Charlotte Huck honor for outstanding children's fiction. A young boy named Albie struggles with learning and feels that he is almost good at things, but not quite. His new babysitter helps him to find his strengths and feel better about who he is. This book was sweet and heartfelt. I absolutely loved it. (I also recommend Lisa Graff's A Tangle of Knots, which I read last year.)
Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine
I've read a number of children's books focused on segregation and the civil rights era, but this one was somewhat unique. Marlee is a 12-year old girl starting middle school in Little Rock, Arkansas. She becomes fast friends with Liz, a new girl at school. Liz helps Marlee overcome her fears and proves to be a remarkable friend. When Liz suddenly leaves school, Marlee is determined not too let dangerous challenges prevent them from being friends. I really enjoyed this book. It has the potential for great discussion about having courage to stand up for what is right. It's also a sweet story about the power of friendship.
One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
One of my 5th graders at school recommended this book to me a couple months ago. "Ms. Laurie, you HAVE to read this BOOK! It's AMAZING!" I promised her I would, and I am so glad I did. The book is about a foster child named Carley who has no idea what to make of her new foster family. The Murphys are just a little too perfect, and Carley isn't sure she can ever fit in. This was another book that made me cry. It was so full of love and healing and hope. Highly recommend it.
The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, by Kristin Levine
It's funny, but I literally just realized this book is written by the same author as Lions of Little Rock. I just happened to read them both this month. The book is set in the 1910's. 12-year old Dit has been hoping that the new postmaster will have a son his age. He is disappointed and surprised when he learns that the new family not only has a prim and proper daughter, but they are African American. Dit and Emma strike up an unlikely, but sweet and loyal friendship. I didn't like this one as much as Lions of Little Rock, but I did enjoy it. It has similar themes of friendship and courage in the face of racism.
Being in Saudi Arabia, I don't get to go to a movie theater unless we travel out of country. But fortunately, there's Amazon Instant Video and Netflix to get me through. Here's what I've watched this month:
This was a 2011 movie starring Colin Firth. I watched it because, well, Colin Firth. It was a bit difficult to adjust to him in such a different role, and using a Texas twang. I can't say I loved this movie. Firth plays a man who is trying to convince a small, struggling town to allow his company to store toxic waste in a warehouse. The movie keeps you guessing as to whether or not he is being honest with the town. It was a slow-paced film and it ended very abruptly. It was well-acted, and it brought up some important ethical issues, but it left me feeling unsatisfied in the end.
This is a 2003 miniseries based on the book by George Eliot. Gwendolyn Harleth is a somewhat vain and self-centered girl who meets Daniel Deronda after losing at the gambling tables. They feel an immediate connection, but their lives draw them in different directions. I like a story that shows good character development, and I enjoyed seeing how Gwendolyn learned from her experiences. Daniel is one of those good, steady, compassionate men that can make women swoon.
2011. A young woman named Hannah is shocked to learn that she was adopted. Struggling to find herself, and wanting to understand issues with her health, she sets out on a road trip with a childhood friend, his not-so-nice girlfriend, and a few other friends. It's a heartbreaking and heartwarming story. I enjoyed it. It you watch it, make sure you have a box of tissues close by.