Don't worry... I won't talk your ears off like I did with Unbroken (even though I gladly would.) But here's a list of what I've been reading and my thoughts on the books. Even though I'm really missing the classroom, I have to admit that it's been nice to have some extra time to read!
1. My Secret War: The WWII Diary of Madeline Beck by Mary Pope- this is part of the Dear America series and I absolutely loved those growing up, so this one was a re-read for me. Maddie lives on Long Island in a boardinghouse with her mom and a rather motley group of strangers during World War II. She worries about boys (one in particular), popularity, and clothes like any other teenager, but she mostly worries about her dad, who's stationed in the Pacific. (Pearl Harbor happens about halfway through.) Maddie and her friends do the best they can to support the war effort but quickly learn that war is anything but a game.
There's just something about historical fiction that brings these events to life. Yes, the stories themselves are made up, but there really were families like the Becks during wartime who made sacrifices and worked hard to support the war effort. If you have kids (oh wait, I don't...oops) and they aren't that interested in history, this series is so great. It includes facts about the time period without feeling like a textbook, and the stories are really well done. Plus, they're in a diary format so it all feels more personal. I highly recommend these (and they're not all girls!)
2. The Giver by Lois Lowry- okay, confession. I know this one's been around for a while and I didn't read it until now because of the movie preview. (Bad girl, I know.) But I was curious, so I checked it out and read it in one night. Jonas lives in a "community" where everyone is assigned a position, clothes, food, etc. Basically, there aren't any choices at all, due to the concept they call Sameness. So when he becomes a "twelve" (12-year-old) and is not assigned a career, everyone knows something's up. But instead of being assigned, the Counsel has selected Jonas to be the new Receiver of Memories. Basically, the former Receiver will transmit all the memories of history to Jonas so that the "community" won't figure out how things used to be "elsewhere." So, Jonas becomes the Receiver and works with "The Giver," but receiving all these memories makes him ask a lot of questions. Some are fairly innocent ("Why don't we have color? Why don't we have snow? Or hills?") but some become dangerous ("Why don't we get to choose our jobs? Why can't we love? Why do they send babies and old people 'elsewhere' when they're sick?")
It's really too much to condense into a brief summary (and the plot is hard to explain since it unfolds in so many layers) but the more Jonas learns, the more he wants to escape and take the Giver with him. I won't spoil the ending but I will say that the movie version looks extremely different but I guess it has to be because I have no idea how they'd end the movie the way the book did. Anyway, it was an interesting plot but I wouldn't say "instant classic!" the way I know others have.
3.I, Saul by Jerry B. Jenkins- I really liked this book, even though the back-and-forth between past and present became a little confusing. It was really interesting, fast-paced, and of course extremely well-written since Jerry Jenkins is the master. It jumps from a modern-day story about a theology professor who finds himself caught up in some international intrigue surrounding the discovery of some ancient documents to the last days of the life of the Apostle Paul, including passages of his own personal memoirs (which, you can probably figure out, happen to be the previously mentioned ancient documents.) I really wasn't sure what was going to happen up until the last minute, which was nice, and there were several little subplots that kept things interesting along the way. But then the last page turned out to be a cliff-hanger... booooo. Now I'll have to buy and read I, Paul which is coming out sometime this year. Well-played, Mr. Jenkins.
Also, I read this while working my way through Paul by Beth Moore, which tells a lot of Paul's story in a similar, narrative-type way so reading them at the same time was really cool. They definitely enriched each other! Like I said about the Dear America series, there's just something about fiction, whether its telling a Bible story or some other part of history, that brings everything to life in a new way.
4. Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel by Judith and Neil Morgan- I tried to like this book; I really did. But not only did it move soooo slowly to me, but it also revealed some things about Dr. Seuss that I didn't like. To address my first grievance: it moved slowly, I guess, because of all the minute details included. I'm a big fan of details that bring a person's story to life, but these were a little dry to plow through. Some parts of it were absolutely fascinating, and then some really dragged. I guess that's true of a lot of biographies but (now on to the second complaint) this one was so revealing of Ted's "quirks" (to put it mildly) that I felt a little disillusioned. I know that's not the biographers' fault, but still. It's a bit disappointing to find out that a beloved children's author had some pretty serious issues, some of which many believe led to his first wife's death. Such a tragedy! Anyway, I guess the person who came up with so many zany, inventive characters had to be just a little "off," but it was still sad to read about.
On the other hand, the parts I did enjoy were really interesting... for example, he started drawing his "Seussian" creatures as a kid, he did fine art paintings as a hobby (April!! That tidbit's for you!) and during World War II he was part of a "Hollywood League" type military group that included Meredith Wilson (of "The Music Man") and was led by the legendary director Frank Capra. Who knew? Overall, I learned a lot about Ted but I prefer to know him as Dr. Seuss. (And even though it was a dismal failure, I still love The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.)
5. My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke- I saw this at Target a couple years ago and flipped through but I haven't seen it at the library until this recent trip, so I snatched it up. I absolutely LOVE Dick Van Dyke as an actor. Mary Poppins was my favorite Disney movie growing up, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was another favorite, and of course The Dick Van Dyke show is an undeniable classic (it's on Netflix if you've never seen it. SO funny, and I'm obsessed with Mary Tyler Moore's wardrobe.) So I was really excited at a peek into his life (it's like literary bonus features!) and I flew through this one in a couple of hours. It was good and I appreciated his work even more after reading about how hard he had to work to "make it" in show business. Many years of doing comedy acts in just about every type of venue and TV show eventually led to the starring roles for which he's known now.
The only thing that left me feeling a little sad was that throughout the book (in addition to the issues that led to the end of his first marriage- sad!), he discusses at length the different times in his life when he has studied the Bible, attended church, and even served as Sunday school teacher. As a teenager, he even contemplated becoming a minister. But it seems like (by his words, not my assumption) that all that spiritual knowledge never really led to a true understanding of the gospel or a relationship with the Lord. I hope I'm wrong, because I sincerely that he really is a Christian. At the very least, I do appreciate the choices he made to make clean, family-oriented movies and shows and the stand he took against most of the junk in Hollywood over the years.
6. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand- after reading Unbroken, I knew I had to read anything else by this woman! She's such a talented biographer. (I know what you're thinking... "Isn't Seabiscuit a horse?" Well, yes. But he still had a life!) I'm actually not quite finished with this one, but it's fascinating so far. Laura Hillenbrand just as a way of weaving together so many details and stories and facts seamlessly so you're learning but it's not at all textbook-like. Anyway, the whole world of horse racing is pretty unbelievable... just the danger that jockeys face was staggering, and it was even more dangerous 70 years ago when there were few rules and even fewer safety precautions.
The serendipitous way that all the events unfolded to bring together Seabiscuit's trainer, owner, and rider were pretty awesome, and I've never been into horse racing as a sport (shocking, right?) but reading this book really makes you feel like you're right there in the middle of the action. I'm currently alternating between really wanting to ride a horse and feeling terrified to ever go near one again. Even if this topic doesn't really interest you, the author is just so insanely good that you'll feel yourself getting into it.
Check these out! And if you do, let me know so we can talk about them! (This happened in the book section at Sam's with a total stranger the other day. We had a jolly conversation about Unbroken and Jonathan is convinced I'm crazy.)