Winner of This Is Where I Leave You Giveaway

Congratulations to Kellie Rose Wilson, who won the This Is Where I Leave You prize pack!

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The Sunday Salon – September 7, 2014 (a day late; plus, wrapping up August’s reading)

sundaysalon2So, I missed last week’s Sunday Salon, and I missed yesterday’s, too. It is harder to find time to sit down at the computer on Saturdays, now that I share a computer with Kevin and that is his day off. Either we are off doing something as a family, or he is working on web sites or gaming with the boys. We’re going to have to figure out some sort of schedule for the weekends, I think!

So, it’s actually Monday morning. We had a busy last couple weeks of school, culminating in a very busy weekend. On Saturday, I attended the memorial service for a 15-year-old young man from our church. I wrote about him a couple months ago, when he was told that his cancer was back and wasn’t given long. Mercifully, he did not linger too long and his passing was peaceful. I have had a hard time even beginning to imagine what his parents are going through. The service on Saturday was absolutely beautiful, with our small community nearly filling the high school gymnasium. To hear our pastor, his classmates, teachers, and coaches all speak about what an impact Aaron had made on them was simply beautiful. He was a bright student, a gifted athlete, and – most of all – a kind young man who lived with integrity. I am hugging my kids extra tight these days.

This morning marked the first day of our 2014-2015 homeschool year. It is a year of adjustments: Noah’s last year of homeschooling, since he will start college classes through Running Start next year – his junior year; Jonathan’s first year of high school, so an increased work load; and Josiah’s first year of junior high, so ditto for him. Also, I am down to only one student cuddled up next to me on the couch for read-aloud time, as both Noah and Jonathan have opted out this year to give themselves more time to complete academics. Our read-aloud time has been my second favorite thing about homeschooling (first was teaching them each to read), and so it is bittersweet. I am so glad that Josiah still wants to read together, even if it’s only the two of us. He picked Airman by Eoin Colfer as our first read-aloud selection. Which leads me to the bookish portion of my post –

Currently reading: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker; Watership Down by Richard Adams; The Summer of Long Knives by Jim Snowden: and Game by Barry Lyga

Finished reading since my last Sunday Salon post: A Separate Peace by John Knowles; The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver; Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House by M.C. Beaton; The Major’s Daughter by J.P. Francis; I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga; and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Currently listening to: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness and The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Watching: I saw If I Stay in the theater, and in spite of the bad reviews, I thought it was really good and followed the book quite closely. Our last two family movie night picks have been The Amazing Spiderman 2 and Les Miserables – Dad’s pick and mine. We’ve also been binge-watching last season of The Blacklist – what an awesome show! James Spader is brilliant. Oh, and how could I forget – the Seahawks crushed the Packers on Thursday! ~happy dance~

Blogging recently:
~ The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
~ Mini-reviews: A Separate Peace by John Knowles; Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House by M.C. Beaton; and The Major’s Daughter by J.P. Francis
~ Warner Bros. Pictures Book to Film Giveaway: This Is Where I Leave You
~ The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge September Read-along: Watership Down by Richard Adams

What about you? Are you settled into your September yet? Watching or reading anything good?

Books completed in August:
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming – 5 starsmy review
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – 5 starsmy review
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman – 5 starsmy review
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica – 4 starsmy review
Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics, edited by Chris Duffy – my review
House & Home by Kathleen McCleary – 3 starsmy review
A Separate Peace by John Knowles – 4 starsmy review
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – 4 starsmy review
Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House by M.C. Beaton – 4 starsmy review
The Major’s Daughter by J.P. Francis – 3 starsmy review
An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon (audiobook) – 4 starsmy review

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Mini-reviews: A Separate Peace by John Knowles; Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House by M.C. Beaton; and The Major’s Daughter by J.P. Francis

separatepeace2Title: A Separate Peace
Author: John Knowles
Genre: Historical fiction, young adult fiction
Publisher: Scribner
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
Number of pages: 204
First line: I went back to Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before.

Goodreads blurb: Set at a boys boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

I needed to read A Separate Peace before our school year starts, because it is one of the literature selections for Noah’s English 10 Lit & Comp course. It is on the reading list for a lot of high school literature courses, actually. And yes, it is beautifully written and deals with some heavy issues that are great discussion starters. But as I read, I couldn’t help thinking that it is no wonder so many kids leave high school hating to read. This is one depressing book. I understand that curriculum writers are looking for a book that is well-written as a jumping-off point for the students’ own analysis and writing, but are there no enjoyable books out there that would fit the same criteria? Argh. Anyway, yes, it is gorgeously written and I’m glad to have read it, but it’s not the most cheerful book or one that I would necessarily assign to students in whom I am trying to instill a lifelong love of reading. (I remember being assigned Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies when I was a sophomore – again, why?!)

agatharaisinhauntedhouseTitle: Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House
Author: M.C. Beaton
Genre: Cozy mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
Number of pages: 246
First line: Foot-and-mouth disease had closed down the countryside.

Goodreads blurb: Agatha Raisin, snug and warm in her Carsley cottage, has that same old feeling-boredom-until a report of a haunted house sends her and new neighbor, handsome Paul Chatterton, to investigate. Suddenly, middle-aged Agatha is aglow with romance and excitement.

But the glow fades fast. It turns out Paul is a cad. The victim of the haunting is a universally disliked old biddy. And the ghost is most likely someone playing a dirty trick. Then an old lady is soon found murdered. But never fear! For Agatha, solving a homicide is more fun than hunting a ghost. She quickly has a theory and a risky scheme. And she is about to make a startling discovery which can be her greatest triumph … or leave her heartbroken, in trouble with the police, and in danger of losing her reputation – or her life.

For the last two weeks of my summer break, I was looking for some entertaining, fun, and familiar reading. This installment in the Agatha Raisin series fit the bill nicely. I love Agatha. She is acerbic and hard and self-centered, but her sleuthing and romantic exploits make for some very funny books. I am glad I dove back into the series.

majorsdaughterTitle: The Major’s Daughter
Author: J.P. Francis
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Plume
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from Library Thing‘s Early Reviewer program
Number of pages: 400
First line: In April 1944 one hundred and fifty captured soldiers from the German Afrika Korps arrived by train to a detention camp in Stark, New Hampshire.

Goodreads blurb: April, 1944. The quiet rural village of Stark, New Hampshire is irrevocably changed by the arrival of 150 German prisoners of war. And one family, unexpectedly divided, must choose between love and country.

Camp Stark is under the command of Major John Brennan, whose beautiful daughter, Collie, will serve as translator. Educated at Smith and devoted to her widowed father, Collie is immediately drawn to Private August Wahrlich, a peaceful poet jaded by war. As international conflict looms on the home front, their passion blinds them to the inevitable dangers ahead.

I really wanted to love this book. In fact, it seemed like the perfect match for me: World War II historical fiction – one of my favorite genres. The premise was good – if not particularly original – and had some great promise. Unfortunately, the writing simply didn’t work for me. The author was very in love with figurative writing, but many of his similes and metaphors didn’t work at all, and were very jarring, pulling me out of the story. The love story was very shallow, and the description of life at the prisoner of war camp seemed glossy and romanticized. The side plot of Collie’s friend Estelle and her dysfunctional marriage were more entertaining than the main storyline, but not enough to impress me with this book. I gave it three stars because I did like it enough to keep reading, but it definitely did not meet me criteria for a good piece of historical fiction.

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