A few excellent reads

City of Thieves by David Benioff, historical fiction, 4.5/5 stars, 258 pages, pub. 2008

This novel takes place during the Siege of Leningrad during WWII. I probably wouldn’t have picked this up on my own, but I bought it as a blind date book at a fundraiser. I’m so glad I did!

This coming of age story about the friendship between Russians, one a young looter and the other a seasoned soldier, is riveting. Lev and Kolya are sent out in search of a dozen eggs for the wedding of and official’s daughter. I’m not a huge fan of WWII fiction, but the siege of Leningrad books always fascinate me. The inhumanity up against real people and their will to live is always a story worth reading.

It’s at times harsh, crude, and absurd. I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it!

I listened to the audio and picked up the book to read the parts I wanted to think about a little more. The cannibal scene alone will have your heart racing.

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka, 4.25/5 stars, thriller, 323 pages, pub. 2017

The Last Place You Look is set in the Columbus area, so that was a big draw.

Roxane is a private investigator dealing with grief and a drinking problem. This is not unique in this genre, but the addition of her relationships with both men and women added a new layer to her personal story.

She was hired to get her client’s brother out of jail and she’s pressed for time because he’s set to be executed in two months. When she starts nosing around the problems with the local police begin.

This was a fast paced mystery with a flawed lead character and dysfunctional family and I liked it I see that this is the first of four books (so far) about Roxane so there’s hope for her yet.

Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain, 4/5 stars. YA, 432 pages, pub. 2021

This was a fun, swampy, mystical thriller. Eleven teens bound together in the Louisiana bayou town known for its seers and those with special powers. When one of them disappears the one who got away, Grey,, comes home to find her.

The audio performance was great and I really liked it. It’s not a planned series, but I can see another book being written about these kids.

This Week – Banned Books Week

It’s Banned Books Week. I hope to get at least oft challenged book read this week.

This past week my book club met in person and we were all there! I don’t remember the last time all 10 of us made it to the same meeting. We discussed two books, but I only finished one, The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki. It’s a very interesting historical fiction about a woman who inherited a fortune and had better business sense than men sense. I liked it quite a bit, but would have liked it more if there had been more of a focus on her as a woman outside her four failed marriages. I’d still recommend it to historical fiction lovers, I learned a lot!

I posted about how our homeschooling is going so far this year here. These are the books we read for Peru. The two picture books and Where Is books were great.

Sharuko: Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello by Brown and Chavarri is a fantastic picture book, with the story told in Spanish and English. Tello is still much beloved, even all these years after his death in 1947.

Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme by Stewart and Jenkins shows the 14 monkey species that live at Manu National Park, one of the most diverse parks anywhere in the world. 

Where is Machu Picchu? by Megan Stine not only told of the country’s favorite destination, but also of some of the history of the Incas and the Spanish conquistadors.

Gage and I are also listening to The Series of Unfortunate events series and finished 3 and 4 this week. He’s addicted. Fiction isn’t his favorite so to see him excited and wanting to talk about them makes me very happy.

I’ve read 220 books of my 300 yearly goal.

On the Screen

Jason and have been watching the Sandman series on Netflix when we’ve had time, but hat hasn’t been often so I think we’re only halfway through.

We watched the first episode of Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power with Gage.

This gave us all of the laughs we needed last night!

Plans for the weekend

Jason is staining our deck and then we’re headed to Lake View Cemetery at Gage’s request. Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree 🙂 What’s going on with you this weekend?

Homeschool Happenings

We started our third year of homeschooling about a month ago and this year feels different. We started because I didn’t like the plan Gage’s school had in place for Covid and I thought I could manage 4th grade at home. We did, but due to Covid it was isolating. There were still Covid issues last year so we thought we’d do another year at home. Thankfully he was able to join a weekly nature group, but as a whole it was still isolating. For that reason I contacted Gage’s previous school in the spring to see if he could go back this year, but there wasn’t an opening in his grade unless we wanted to travel 30 minutes away to a new school they just opened. That was an easy no.

Am I still concerned about Covid? Sure. We still wear masks inside if there are a lot of people. Am I more concerned about my son’s mental health? Yes, I am. So, this year homeschool looks different. He goes to tutoring everyday at an office (not at home), he still has his weekly nature group, he takes a homeschool art class at the local art center, he just started chess club last night, and there are a few more in person activities I’ve signed him up for in the next few months. I planned a game day with other homeschool kids at our library last month and 22 kids showed up so I’m going to make it a monthly thing. He’s in two Outschool Zoom classes with the same kids week to week. It feels like a new homeschool beginning.

This year I wanted to make what we learned interested Gage so I’m letting him choose a country each week and I base our learning time on that country. I ask him for 3 countries then I go to the library and request everything I can. I start reading/searching usually the Thursday or Friday before and plan our activities and learning for the week. Not only does he learn about the country and its history and geography, he learns some of the language (he’s done French and Spanish so far) we also cook something, listen to the music, and do some kind of art. I can include math by having him do currency conversions and word problems.

Our homeschool days are more fun and varied this year and we’re both having a lot of fun. After three weeks of the countries of his choice, he spends a week doing a project from something we learned. This way he delves a little deeper into something that interests him. (Also this gives me a week where I don’t have to start a country from scratch!) His first three countries were Canada, France, and the UK and for his project he researched British high teas, wrote about the history, planned a menu, and put on a tea for his dad, grandma and me with minimal supervision and he did a fantastic job.

I know this is long, but I feel like the blog needed a little TLC and this is what’s happening in our lives right now, so I hope to do more of these, either long rambling thoughts like this one or just what we’ve studied for the week. As a bonus for making it this far I’ll share the recipe we made yesterday for this week’s country Peru. Gage loved learning how to use our zester and garlic press. This was a super yummy dish.

from The Big Peruvian Cookbook.

This Week – NYC

I tagged along with Jason to NYC this past week and had a great time, even though I came home a sneezy congested mess. I tested negative for Covid on Wednesday night and yesterday, but still being careful around the kid. I don’t feel like I’m getting worse so I’ll just assume I came home with the big city crud that my body isn’t used to, lol.

I was able to visit The Strand, my favorite NYC bookstore, for visit #12 in Zibby Books 22 in 22 bookstore challenge. I love this place. Eighteen miles of books makes for a magical morning.

Charles Dickens writing desk.

I also visited the New York City Public Library Treasures collection, a perfect activity for a rainy afternoon.

We did more of the usual NYC things and a few that were new to us. We’d never taken the tram over to Roosevelt Island so that was fun. From there we took the ferry to downtown and we’d never done that before either. We lived there in 2000 for almost 6 months and we visit every 5 years it seems. The last two times we’ve taken Gage so it was kind of fun to just make it the two of us this time.

I never posted about my August favorites. I read 26 books, but only 5 adult books. Homeschooling has begun so it’s been a J book parade over here!

My 6 favorites were
When You Are Mine by Michael Robotham
Year One by Nora Roberts
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle
Walking To School by Eve Bunting
The Mutter Museum by Anna Dhody
A Giraffe Goes to Paris by Mary Tavener and John Harris

In the next few weeks we’ll be learning about Peru, Australia, and Egypt, so if you have any book or movie recommendations please send them my way.

We’re headed to a battle of the high school bands tonight since it’s right in town at the football field. What are just up to this weekend?

July & August Movies and Money for Charity

You know the drill, add your 5 words (or less!) to mine in a comment and earn $1 for charity. Once we get to $100 the person with the most reviews will choose the charity. Click here to see the past winners, the charities they chose and the other reviews you can add to. Anyone is welcome to join in at any time. Click here to see past movie posts.

We’re at $85 right now.  Your charity could be next 

We watched the Terminal List, it was okay, but not great, and finished up the second half of season 4 of Stranger Things, loved it!

Top Gun Maverick, 2022 (Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Glenn Powell, Jon Hamm, Val Kilmer, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris) Grade A

All the feels of original +

The Age of Adaline, 2015 ( Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker) Grade B

Lightning and aging connection, lol.

I Want You Back, 2022 (Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Scott Eastwood, Manny Jacinto, Clark Backo, Gina Rodriguez) Grade B-

Dumpees team up for mischief.

Hampstead, 2017 (Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, James Norton, Simon Callow) Grade B-

Sweet romance for older set 🙂

The Man From Toronto, 2022 (Kevin Hart, Woody Harrelson, Kaley Cuoco, Jasmine Mathews, Ellen Barkin, Lela Larkin, Pierson Fode) Grade B-

Funnish buddy mistaken identity comedy.

Minions: The Rise of Gru, 2022 (Steve Carrell, Piere Coffin, Taraji Henson, Michelle Yeoh, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Alan Arkin) Grade B-

Cute addition to the franchise.

The Duff, 2015 (Mae Whitman, Robbie Arnell, Bella Thorne, Bianca Santos, Skyler Samuels, Romany Malco, Ken Jeong, Allison Janney) Grade C-

No one to root for.

This Week – School Days

From last week’s travels to Michigan.

Summer is effectively over as Gage started 6th grade this week. As his teacher, I’m giving him an A for the week! There are a few things I still need to put in place, but feeling good about where we are right now.

We’re doing things a little differently this year and part of that is structuring an hour or so of our day with a focus on a country of his choosing. This last week we learned about France. We read books, tried a few French recipes, drew landmarks and colored classic paintings, learned a few French words, played with maps, listened to music, watched a few videos, and, of course, the more time consuming things like writing out timelines and facts. He picks the country of the week and I do the research, lol. Next up, the UK so feel free to leave me any great recommendations for the week!

Books I read this week

50 French Phrases. *****stars. Did a great job of making learning fun with games on each spread.
Love Warrior. ****1/2 stars. Glennon Doyle’s earlier memoir of the breakdown of her marriage. Her vulnerability and honesty always draw me in.
A Giraffe Goes to Paris. ****1/2 stars. A super cute picture books for younger kids based on the true story of Zarafa the giraffe.
The Mutter Museum. ****1/2 stars. If your kid likes a little bit of gross this is the book for you!
Coco and the Little Black Dress. ****stars. A fun picture book for the little fashionista.
The Paris Apartment. ***stars. ho-hum thriller.
Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma. ***stars. The day he played at the US-Mexico border.
France: Enchantment of the World. ***stars. It was textbook-like.
France: Country Insights. **stars. Outdated.

I read 9 books this week. I’ve read 205 books of 300 yearly goal.

Movies & TV

Jason and I have watched the first 3 episodes of The Sandman on Netflix. We also watched The Age Of Adeline last night.

Plans for the weekend

Well, it was going to be school planning, but I just saw on the news that it’s One World Day at the Cleveland Cultural Gardens and I LOVE this event so I may have to go. Do you have plans for the day?

A couple of books worth mentioning

I’ve been so out of sync this summer that I’ve neglected talking about books that should have been mentioned. I’m hoping to get back on track in the next few weeks, but Jason just threw a mini-vacation to NYC for the two of us into the mix, so don’t hold me to that 🙂

The Airship Pirate by Minerva Pendleton, 85 pages, 2022

How fun is it when you know the author of a book before said author writes the book? I’m lucky enough to know Minerva Pendleton, aka someone I know whose name is not really Minerva, and they are fabulous people.

Verity Wheelwright lives a life of luxury but boredom. She is the only daughter to the widowed Lord Wheelwright, and he keeps her in his manor on New Lutetia, where she meets with tutors to learn classical literature and music. Verity craves adventure and often escapes to the pages of livre rouge—cheap, paperback books with crimson covers that contain sordid tales of lust and adventure. When New Lutetia is invaded by the infamous airship pirate Cavalier Eli Callahan, Verity is forced to make a choice. She can run and hide, or surrender herself in exchange for the safety of her city, but at what cost?

Verity is a pampered lady who longs for more excitement in her sheltered life. One day that excitement arrives on her doorstep with the arrival of pirates who whisk her away aboard their airship. Can she trust the captain of the ship, the renowned Eli Callahan, to keep her safe while awaiting the ransom? Does she even want to be kept safe?

I really liked Verity, Eli and his first mate Screw. There were even some spicy bits if you like that sort of thing in your romance (and who doesn’t?).

This was a short read, only 85 pages, and my only complaint was that I wanted more.

The Precious Jules by Shawn Nocher, 350 pages, 2022

This ARC was sent to me months ago and forgotten about and misplaced by no fault of its own. The premise of a daughter who isn’t the norm being shipped off appealed to me. It felt personal.

After nearly two hundred years of housing retardants, as they were once known, the Beechwood Institute is closing the doors on its dark history, and the complicated task of reassigning residents has begun. Ella Jules, having arrived at Beechwood at the tender age of eight, must now rely on the state to decide her future. Ella’s aging parents have requested that she be returned to her childhood home, much to the distress of Ella’s siblings, but more so to Lynetta, her beloved caretaker who has been by her side for decades. The five adult Jules children, haunted by their early memories of their sister, and each dealing with the trauma of her banishment in their own flawed way, are converging on the family home, arriving from the far corners of the country—secrets in tow—to talk some sense into their aging parents and get to the root of this inexplicable change of heart. from Goodreads

Precious Jules is the story of a family. The Jules family is picture perfect, but one of the children has live at Beechwood Institute since she was 8. Now the parents want her back and the girl’s caretaker says no. The rest of the kids, all five of them, come home to convince their parents to leave their sister with the caretaker.

It’s a great examination of what’s good for the family isn’t always the best thing for any one of the individuals. The secret guilt, the alternate realities, the vilifying, and the eventual acceptance make for some thought provoking stuff.

There were a lot of characters. My biggest problem was keeping track of all of the characters and their past and present stories. It was a lot. I think there were 10 characters who each had a chapter from their point of view. I wish there had been less so that I could have been drawn into the story a bit more.

This Week – Paris is July Fail

This whole month has been something of a anxious mess for me and Paris in July had to be left behind for sanity’s sake. I’ll try and give it a go next year.

Gage finished his sixth, and final, week of camp, so it’s been a fun summer. I went to my yearly family weekend with 12 of my aunts and cousins for the first time since covid. We rented a B&B in Jeffersonville, Indiana and it was a great weekend, but also a bit stressful since I had to walk the fine line of having a blast and trying to make good covid choices. The time with the women of my family was much needed.

Tomorrow we start half days of homeschool and I still need to come up with our concrete schedule and activities. On Tuesday, I’ll work at our primary election so my mom will take over substitute teacher days two days in. I’ve been called for jury duty next week and the week after that we’re on vacation to Michigan. Today will be spent trying to figure out our school schedule in all that mess.

On to the books! I finished 17 books. Six adult books and 11 kids books with Gage or in preparation for school.

Gage and I started reading this series together and it’s my favorite book of the month. Why? Because Gage still looks at reading as a chore and this book actually had him looking forward to our reading time. The whole book is a foreshadowing of terrible things happening to three orphan siblings and my kid can’t resist a train wreck. We’re reading book 2 now.

Time is too short for more. Hopefully, calm will prevail this week. Has your July been crazy too?

Paris in July, first week with puzzle giveaway!

Hosted by Thyme for Tea and Readerbuzz.

My first week has been slow to Paris, but busy here on the homefront. If you are participating in Paris in July this year and would like to try your hand at this puzzle, I’d love to send it on to you. Leave a comment telling me you want it and I’ll get it sent out next week!

On the 4th of July I finished The Third Girl, the first of the Molly Sutton mystery series set in a small French town. Molly is 38, a recent divorcée, and the new owner of a property near the village. As she settles into her new country and new job renting out the cottage on her property, a local art student goes missing and casts a spell over her new home. I liked it. An American goes to France and falls in love with small village living. I plan on reading the next in the series soon.
1,000 piece Hinkler puzzle while drinking tea from Paris and listening to The Little Paris Bookshop. Sammi loved Paris too 😻

The Little Paris Bookshop has such a great premise. Monsieur Perdu has a floating bookstore in Paris where he interviews customers to chose just the right book for what ails them. He’s a book doctor! That’s not the plot, but those parts were my favorites. After chapter 6 or 7 I had to stop and think about my reading habits. He really made me want to elevate my choices, which went along well with Read Dangerously that I read last month. I read to escape, but choosing quality choices for me is also important. The story wasn’t what I thought it would be, but I did really like it and some parts were pure magic.

I’m hoping for more Paris and more posts (reading and writing) this week while Gage is at camp.

June Movies and Money for Charity

You know the drill, add your 5 words (or less!) to mine in a comment and earn $1 for charity. Once we get to $100 the person with the most reviews will choose the charity. Click here to see the past winners, the charities they chose and the other reviews you can add to. Anyone is welcome to join in at any time. Click here to see past movie posts.

We’re at $85 right now.  Your charity could be next 

Shows I binged this month… We finished the first season of the network comedy Ghosts (so much fun!), watched the first half of Stranger Things, season 4 (started slow, but looking forward to series finale next week), and the mini series The Night Manager with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston.

The Devil All the Time, 2020 (Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlan) Grade A

Dark, post war, backwoods, all-star cast

The Kissing Booth 3, 2021 (Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elori, Taylor Perez, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Molly Ringwald) Grade B

Fitting soapy end to trilogy.

The Wrath of God, 2022 ( Macarena Achaga, Diego Peretti, Juan Minujin) Grade B

Dark psychological thriller from Argentina.

Revenge is a dish served bold. Tony

American Hangman, 2019 (Donald Sutherland, Vincent Kartheiser, Oliver Dennis) Grade C+

Murder trial by social media.

After, 2019 (Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Selma Blair, Pia Mia, Dylan Arnold, Jennifer Beals, Peter Gallagher) Grade C

Trilogy perfect for insomnia binge.

After We Collided, 2020 (Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Dylan Sprouse, Selma Blair, Charlie Weber, Rob Estes, Louise Lombard, Candice King) Grade C-

Insomnia solution, not much else.

After We Fell, 2021 (Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Louise Lombard, Rob Estes, Arielle Kebbel, Mira Sorvino) Grade D

Worst of the bunch.