One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

16 Feb

Not often, but every once in a great while, I dreamed about running away from home.  I knew that life wouldn’t be better – that in fact, I knew it would be downright awful.  I knew I could never really do it, never really wanted to, but still, there it was.

So when I was offered an ARC of One Step Too Far, by Tina Seskis, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  Emily Coleman has it all – an amazingly wonderful life with a husband, a child, a home, even a dog.  And yet, one morning she walks away from it all to begin again.  She runs away from home!  That’s where the story begins.  But where it takes you before it ends is nothing short of amazing.

I’ll warn you – this is a hard one to put down so don’t start it unless you are willing to stay up way too late, to ignore chores and duties and to become part of another world.  It’s a world of high energy, glittering people, amazing jobs, friendship, drugs, agony and surprising tragedy.

Emily’s (oh, right, she’s Cat now) struggle to find her way in the world – a new world – is riveting.  Tina Seskis does a masterful job of drawing us in – getting us to cheer for Cat’s successes one minute and scream in frustration at Cat’s poor judgment the next.  We walk with Cat as she rises in her new career.  We celebrate her success with best friends and lovers.  We struggle with her in her relationship with her twin sister.  But we never see it coming.

I love books with an unexpected twist, although I am pretty good at figuring them out ahead of time.  Not this time.  This time I had absolutely no clue about what made Emily/Cat leave.  But once I found out, I was filled with nothing but compassion for her.  And I had to wonder what I would do given, heaven forbid, similar circumstances.

Months after I read this book for the first time, I read it again.  It packed quite a punch the second time around.  But my book hangover, you know the one you get when you finish a book but can’t stop thinking about it, may force a third read sometime soon.

Disney’s Planes – Fire & Rescue = Amazing!

13 Jul

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarly Saturday morning I joined the queue at the back of the AMC theater in downtown Disney so that I could see a sneak preview of Disney’s Planes – Rescue & Fire. Thanks to Disney Vacation Club, not only was I treated to the movie, we also got a delicious breakfast of popcorn and pop.

As the line snaked further and further around the building, we were given red wrist bands and a goodie bag, along with our vouchers for popcorn and pop. A DVC rep told us that since this was a sneak preview, no cell phones, camera or recording devices cold be used during the film. Security was present to make sure that all complied. This is serious business – they even had night vision binoculars which were used to scan the audience.

My expectations were pretty low for this movie. I was not a huge fan of Planes. There was nothing wrong with it.  It just seemed too predictable to me.  I didn’t think this sequel would be better.

I was wrong.

Before the film started, we were treated to a short talk by Ferrell Barron and Bobs Gannaway.  Bobs stole my heart when he asked who was the first person in line.  Once identified, he ran through the audience, to the middle of the row.  He hugged the man and said “Thank you.”  OK – so now they had officially won my stomach (I love movie popcorn) and my heart (the hug) but getting my mind – well that’s a tough job.  Bobs told us that although this movie is a sequel, it has been in the works for 4 1/2 years.

They did their homework.  Fire, smoke and water – the 3 biggest animation challenges – looked so real that I was glad before the movie they reminded us where the exits were in case of an emergency.  Having survived a middle of the night house fire with three children under 10, I found it was so realistic, I turned to my husband to ask if he smelled smoke.  My heart pounded and I was actually very nervous.  I had to keep reminding myself that this was animated and a movie.  But, yes, the animation is that good.  Better.

They made sure the science was correct.  Over 100 consultants were used in the making of this film. Cal Fire was extensively involved to assure the sights, sounds and firefighting behavior was realistic.  Realistic it was.

The story line is done well – enough to keep kids and parents alike interested and entertained.  Dusty Crophopper leaves Propwash Junction so that he can train to be a firefighter.  In Piston Peak Park, Dusty makes new friends.  His trainer is a helicopter named Blade Ranger, voiced by Ed Harris.  Julie Bowen is the voice and personality of Dipper – who is a welcome and delightful addition to Dusty’s friends.  All of you John Ratenzberger fans out there (and I am one) won’t be disappointed.  He’s back!  The lovable Hal Holbrook is hysterical.  And it was great to “see” Stiller and Meara as loveable RVs.

Brad Paisley fans will be thrilled to hear his new song “All In” – written for this films as a tribute to firefighters.

As I watched the movie I couldn’t turn off my teacher brain.  I thought of the myriad of ways that I can (and will) use this film to teach science.  Living in Arizona we are prone to wildfires.  To have an entertaining film that allows kids to learn a lot of science is wonderful.

The red stuff that the planes in the film drop to contain the wildfires is called PHOS CHek.  It’s a fire retardant which stops the path of the fire.  Kids can learn all about it, and they will learn that fires aren’t put out, but rather they are contained.  They will learn about SEATS (single engine air tankers) and how planes that drop water on a fire can refill on the go.

But more than that they will learn about compassion and making mistakes and setting things right.  They will learn about heroes and jerks (and karma). And the whole family will be entertained in the process.

Teacher Extraordinaire – Woman Extraordinaire

28 May

When we are in school, our teachers are usually part of our lives for a 10 month period.  That’s all. 10 months.  Sometimes we remember our teachers – things they said or did or stuff they taught us.  Sometimes we are glad to forget.

But every once in awhile, if you are very, very fortunate, a teacher like Fran Glowinski is part of your life.  And you are forever better because of it.

Fran was my 6th grade science teacher.  Yes, that was more than 40 years ago.  I am still benefiting from her wisdom and enthusiasm.  I was a quiet girl – with few friends and fewer aspirations.  Fran came bounding into my life and while she was petite, she was a giant in my eyes.  Her love for life and science was contagious.

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  Nancy in 6th grade

She taught about the moon through “Where is the Moon?” and chemistry through a “Mystery Powders” unit.  She taught me that science was to be explored and investigated and recorded and treasured.  Kind of like life.  She planted a seed in my brain – a seed that would bloom into an insatiable desire for knowledge, a deep love of science and a need to be an educator.

But I didn’t know that then.  All I knew was that she was fun, and nice. A nun who did not wear a regular habit. (Nuns have HAIR!)  She played volleyball and was the cheer coach and grabbed life with both hands a wrung as much enjoyment out of it as she could. 

All these years later, I am a teacher myself. Several years ago I found Fran on Facebook.  We rekindled our friendship over a 6 hour lunch.  She’s still feisty and joy-filled.  She still loves life.  She still is intensely curious and driven.  And, because of her, so am I.

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Nancy and Fran, 2012

The seed that she planted all those years ago has brought much fruit.  I was an Industrial chemist for a bit and for the last 26 years I have been an educator.  Using Fran as a model, I have planted seeds in my students, many of whom are now educators themselves. I’ve worked with thousands of students in person and hundreds of thousands through my You Tube channel.  Every one of them benefits from Fran being an amazing educator.

Thanks, Fran, for teaching me to love science, and to love life, and for teaching me to pass it on to my students.  We, each and every one of us, are all better people because you were in the life of one little girl for 10 months.  And you made a difference.  Thank you Fran.

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Fran, today

The Tyrant’s Daughter

10 Apr

tyrants daughter

The Tyrant’s Daughter

J. C. Carleson

 

I never really thought about the children until I read this book.  I mean, the kids who survived their father’s death, assassination.  What happens to the wife and children left behind when a father, a dictator, is killed in a coup?

 

Laila is 15 years old when she and her mother and younger brother are relocated to the US.  Laila has many challenges as she adjusts to a new culture, a new language, new social norms, new school.   It fascinating to see our society through her eyes.  We touch.  We show skin.  We have cereal readily available.  But it is witnessing her understanding the truth of her father’s role in their country that we see Laila struggle and mature.  Her father comes crashing down off the pedestal she put him on.   Things she never thought about, like money, alcohol, and peer pressure, become front and foremost in her thoughts.  Through it all we hear Laila’s voice and we share her struggle.  Laila has to figure out dating norms when she falls for a boy.  She has to decipher prom – what’s OK to wear and what’s not.  She has to figure out when her friends are being sincere and when they are making fun of her.

 

In many ways, Laila reminded me of what it was like to be 15 years old.  She taught me what my grandparents must have gone through when they moved to America when they were young.  She taught me that there’s a lot I take for granted that I shouldn’t.  She taught me about family and loyalty and survival.

 

I recommend this book to students in middle school and up.  I enjoyed it. I hope you do too.

 

I received a copy of this e-book free from www.netgalley.com but that did not influence my opinion.

The Swap

10 Apr

the swap

The Swap

Megan Shull

 

Jack and Ellie are two typical tweens. In 8th and 7th grades, respectively, they are struggling with adolescence, school, friends.  They are typically typical.  And predictable.  Or that’s what I thought when I began to read this book.  Jack has lost his mom, Ellie’s parents are divorced.  And both kids think the other gender has it easy.  So they are swapped by an interesting school nurse.  Jack become Ellie and Ellie become Jack.  The Swap gives them insight and they see that the grass isn’t always greener.  We gain that insight too.

 

This book had my interested from the beginning.  Although it was predictable it has enough twists and turns that it kept my attention.   More than just keeping my attention, I found it difficult to put it down.  I began this book on a flight and although I arrived at my destination late in the evening (actually it was early in the morning) I continued to read long after I should have been asleep.  It’s a fun book with a lesson that all parents could benefit for hearing. Kids will like this book too. I’m sure they will be able to relate to it.

 

I recommend this book to kids age 12+.  There is one brief reference to an erection. The girls in the book are, understandably, concerned about menstruation.  Neither of these concern me.

 

I received a copy of this e-book free from www.edelweiss.com but this did not influence my opinion.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

10 Apr

ophelia

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Karen Foxlee

 

 

While I’m not a big fan of science fiction or fantasy, this book, which is a little of both, was delightful.  It’s a combination of A Night in the Museum, Rumpelstiltskin and all stories with evil queens.  This book is a quick read and is sure to entertain both young and young-at-heart.

 

Ophelia and her sister, Alice, move to a new home after the death of their mother.  Their father’s new job is to curate a sword exhibit at a famous museum.  It is while wandering through the museum that Ophelia finds the Marvelous Boy.  She has challenges that resemble quests, mysteries to solve and a sword to find.  She also needs to protect her older sister, and convince everyone that she can and will save the world from the Snow Queen.

 

I was moved by the flashbacks of Ophelia and her mother.  Her mother always told Ophelia to “be brave,” which is one of my mantras. I tell my children, grandchildren, students and pretty much anyone who will listen to me that they need to be brave.  “Be brave for 30 seconds, just 30 seconds, and you’ll see amazing things happen.”  I didn’t invent it, I heard it somewhere but I can’t remember where.  It’s the truth, Ophelia’s mom reminded me that bravery is important, and so is knowing there is someone who believes in you.

 

I wish there were more positive interactions between Ophelia and her father.  That’s the only thing I would change.

 

I recommend this book to all readers.

 

I received a free copy of this e-book from www.netgalley.com.  This did not influence my opinion.

The Here and Now

10 Apr

here and  now

The Here and Now

Ann Brashares

 

A dystopian novel that set in the present time?  I have been addicted to dystopian voles, like most everyone else, but this one is different.  Prenna (what a cool name) is your typical 17 year old, except that she’s not.  She falls in love with Ethan, but she not permitted to do that.  It isn’t because her family won’t allow it, it’s because her society won’t allow it.  Prenna is from the future, a survivor of a pandemic who is chosen, in spite of her asthma, to time travel back to 2012.  The goal of the time travelers is to save the world, the future world, that is.

 

Prenna and Ethan are star-crossed lovers.  I found myself cheering for them, encouraging them and desperately wanting them to end up together.  I want them to find a way to make it work in spite of the obstacles and societal objections.  Because time travel is complicated, one wrong move can wipe out your own existence.  We’ve all seen Back to the Future.  We know how it works.  And yet, in spite of knowing this, I needed it to work out.  I wanted Prenna to fix the future and the present too.  That’s a pretty big order, but I knew that if any author had the skill and gift to make it happen, it was Anna Brashares.

 

I LOVED this book and was sorry when it ended.  This is one of the few books that gave me a book hangover. It’s been a couple of weeks since I read the book and I still think about Prenna and Ethan.

 

Give this book a read.  It’s not too long so it won’t take you forever to get through it.  If you’re like me and unable to put it down you won’t have to stay up half the night to finish.  One word of caution:  there is a minimal amount of sexuality but nothing graphic of blatant.  I would recommend this book to mature middle schoolers and all high school age + readers.

 

I received a free copy of this e-book from http://www.netgalley.com.

Far Gone

10 Apr

far gone

Far Gone by Laura Griffin

 

 

 

A moment’s hesitation, a second of compassion mixed with doubt, causes Andrea’s career to derail.  While on leave pending an official investigation, Andrea gets a call from her kid brother who needs money.  While that’s nothing new, Andrea soon finds that her brother might be involved in terrorist activities.  Unable to believe that of him she struggles to uncover the truth while clearing her brother’s name.  Andrea’s love interest comes in the form of an FBI agent, Jon North.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It was interesting and the main characters were well developed and realistic.  This was not a book I obsessed about, nor was it one that I was unable to put down.  Still it was entertaining and I am glad I read it.

 

There is some graphic profanity and some sexuality.  Because of this I would not recommend it to my middle school students.  Their high school siblings, however, will enjoy it.

 

I obtained a free copy of this e-book from www.netgalley.com.

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

10 Apr

Continue reading

Torn Away

17 Mar

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Torn Away by Jennifer Brown was one of the books that sucked me in and didn’t want to turn loose (pardon the pun). From the opening page, I was hooked. Who can’t relate to a pesky little sister bugging you when all you want to do is watch TV? But using past tense “I loved my little sister” and reading the publisher’s synopsis of the book made me realize that this book would be full of regret.

I actually considered not reading it when I got my advanced readers copy from NetGalley. There’s so much depressing stuff going on in the world right now, I didn’t need any more tear-jerkers. I told myself I would just read a couple of pages, that’s all. But I found myself devouring the book. Having lived in Chicago for half my life and in Phoenix for the other half, I knew all about tornadoes. I knew about the tornado alarms. I knew about going into the basement. I knew about opening the windows a bit so your roof wouldn’t get sucked off (at least, that’s what they told us when we were kids). But I couldn’t remember actually being in a tornado. We don’t have them in Arizona, although we do have other bad weather experiences. When I teach the tornado section of my curriculum to my science classes, I always kind of fake it. Now I don’t have to. My students are going to have Torn Away on their reading list for next year.

Jersey survives her run-in with the tornado. Not everyone else in her town, in her school, in her family is as lucky. Jersey’s description of what it is like to be in a tornado is uncanny. (Since I have not had that experience I asked someone who had. They said her description was spot-on.) This description is a perfect way to get my students to really understand not only the physiological impacts of the tornado on the body (the sound, the ear pressure, the hair-raising electricity, the smell) but also the psychological effects. If Jersey was not a real person before the tornado, she came alive after it. Her struggle to meet basic human needs – shoes, food, water, a bathroom – made me want to go and find her and bring her here so that she could be taken care of.

After the tornado, amid the chaos and destruction, Jersey is a lone, lost soul. She is sent to live with a father she never knew (along with the wicked stepmother and ugly step-sisters) and later with grandparents she didn’t know any better. She’s tougher I first thought. Through it all she learns much about her mother, her biological dad, and a lot about herself. She redefines the word family. Just like I have learned family is not just the people who share your blood, they are the people who share your love so does Jersey learn the meaning of the word “family”. (In my family we say that genes are inhaled.)

When we hear that someone lost everything as a result of a tragedy out in most cases, something is gained too.

For a long time I have been searching for a book like Torn Away for my science classes. I wanted some good, scientifically accurate fiction that is be entertaining, will teach a life lesson and keep all of the science straight. Torn Away by Jennifer Brown hit the target again and again. I can’t wait for it to come out in print on May 6, 2014.

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