The Great Alone: A Book Review

Title: The Great Alone

Author: Kristin Hannah

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Copyright Date: 2018

*Setting for book challenge: Isolated Location (Kaneq, Alaska)

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The Vietnam War stole Leni Allbright’s father.

He returned in 1974 a former POW and a new man with a violent streak. His love for her mother ran deep, but flipped a switch in him. And that switch hurt her mother. Every episode ended with an apology and every time Cora took him back. Meanwhile, teaching her teenage daughter that to wake up to broken glass, overturned furniture, empty whiskey bottles and a mother speckled black and blue is normal.

News that they inherited a cabin in Alaska brings Leni hopes that the move will help him. They pack their Volkswagen bus and settle on a homestead in the beautiful Alaskan wilderness. Leni’s small family from Seattle learns to live off the land and adjust to life without electricity where their nearest neighbor is miles away.

They quickly become part of their new community in Kaneq. Leni befriends Matthew, the only other teenager in town, and he teaches her how to prepare for her first winter in Alaska. He strengthens Leni’s spirit and shows her that love doesn’t have to mean being a punching bag and letting men walk all over you.

“Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now.”

During their first winter in Kaneq, the citizens face a horrific tragedy that soon brings division. When they need to lean into one another for support the town scatters themselves and builds walls of hatred.

“They were trapped, by environment and finances, but mostly by the sick, twisted love that bound her parents together.”

This was a beautifully written novel about a young girl learning to survive harsh circumstances and weather. Life dealt Leni an unfortunate hand, but throughout the course of her story she learns how to live unbroken.

I haven’t read a book I loved this much in a long time. There were at least five twists in this plot that I NEVER SAW COMING. I love a good, unpredictable read. I found myself constantly wanting to know what would happen next. I cheered for Leni, screamed at her mother, and all but spit at her abusive father.

This year, my goal is read books set all over the world. This is my first book of 2019. As I complete books this year I plan to share some details I learn about different corners of the world.

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I felt like I was in the last frontier as I read this novel. Glacier filled white mountains, cloudless cornflower blue skies, fjords, and northern lights all drew me into the landscape of this beautiful state. Orcas, seals, otters, bears, moose, bald eagles, ptarmigans, and cormorants were all wildlife that appeared in the secluded woods of Kaneq.

“The natural world spoke loudest here.”

I experienced both of the Alaskan seasons. The days where the sun barely set were unusual to me. I found myself wondering how one could fall asleep at midnight with the light of day still bright. Other days, the sun surfaced for only a couple of hours. How depressing that must be to endure! I learned that in many parts of Alaska one must travel over the ice by small planes and that during the winter months casualty numbers were high due to stupid mistakes and poor planning.

I’m off on another travel. Stay tuned to see my latest reading destination.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

 

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Long Way Down: A Book Review

Title: Long Way Down

Author: Jason Reynolds

Publisher: Antheneum

Copyright Date: 2017

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Will’s brother, Shawn, is dead. The rules of his neighborhood say he must avenge his brother. He grabs a gun and enters the elevator with a plan to murder Shawn’s killer.

The sixty seconds that Will rides the elevator help him to see that revenge isn’t his only option. In that time Will is confronted by other victims of gun violence and they help him to see clearly and distract him from his anger.

By the time he reaches the first floor, Will must decide if he is going to add to the count of dead bodies in his neighborhood or if he is going to challenge the rules of the streets.

This book is written in verse and is a quick read. My husband and I took turns reading aloud from this book and finished it in about two hours. Although the story is short it makes lasting impressions on its reader. It is clear to see why this book landed on the honor list for the Coretta Scott King award. I really love Jason Reynolds and the way his works are challenging gang culture and violence in the United States.

Last year year I read All American Boys which he co-authored with Brendan Kiely. That novel took the perspective of two boys who witnessed an act of police brutality. Kiely authored a white boy’s voice as a witness to the crime while Reynolds penned the voice of the African American boy victimized by an officer. I’ve book-talked All American Boys and several students have read it this year. It’s a classroom favorite amongst my ninth graders.

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I highly recommend both books.

The Ameri Brit Mom

2019 Read the World Challenge

Every year I forget how quickly time passes.

I feel like I was just writing my goals for 2018 and here I am days away from 2019. Part of my annual goal setting means creating a plan for reading. Losing myself in the pages of fictional stories has become a daily part of my self-care routine. As a routine-oriented person I love to have a plan or a map of where I want to be at the end of every year.

This year I want to read the world.

Over the next twelve months I plan to visit every region and corner of the planet by reading books set in those locations.

Inspired by my mother-in-law who is currently on a trip of a lifetime around the world I’ve set out to craft a few travel plans myself.

I scoured travel websites and maps. I read lists of book reviews. Then with a bit of travel-envy I let myself be inspired by the travels of Karen Sisley. She is one brave woman who has sold all of her belongings and is currently traveling all over the eastern hemisphere doing humanitarian work and site-seeing.

I may not ever climb to the peak of a mountain, wash elephants in Cambodia, or sun bathe in the Caribbean, but I can always enjoy those adventures from the pages of well written novels.

I’d love for you to join me on a reading journey that takes us around the world. You can choose to read the following books in order or at random.

Reading Challenge 2019

You can do this journey reading library books (and do it all for free) or you can buy them cheap at discount book shops, yard sales, or download ebooks. However you prefer to get the books make a plan now!

If you plan to travel with me please let me know!

I want to discuss where we’ve been and what we’ve seen as we embark on this adventure.

The Ameri Brit Mom

The Bridge of Clay: A Book Review

Title: Bridge of Clay

Author: Markus Zusak

Publisher: Knopf

Copyright Date: 2018

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As the semester came to a close my freshmen students presented a book they read throughout the year thus far. I read alongside my students several days a week and so I kicked off the presentations with one of my own. This book review is actually going to be told through Google Slides that I created for my class…

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I did admit to my students that I had high expectations for this book. The Book Thief, Zusak’s most popular book, is in my Top 5 favorite books of all time. I’ve waited a long time for Zusak to author another novel. To me, Bridge of Clay, just didn’t quite stack up. It was good. I do recommend it. But be warned…if you loved The Book Thief it is very different.

Check out my review of I Am Messenger from 2015.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Books I Read in 2018

I’ve had so many reading adventures to share with you from 2018. I traveled back to Hogwarts, solved the murder of a teen in detention, witnessed the prejudices against minorities, fought countless types of mental illness, united a broken family, visited postwar Europe to save a child, and restored my faith in the human race.

Here is the list of books I read in 2018:

Devotional/Faith Books:

 

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

The Way of Abundance by Ann Voskamp

Anxious For Nothing by Max Lucado

 

Other Books:

 

 

 

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom

Every Day by David Leviathan

One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crawley

When We Collided by Emery Lord

-One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany

I didn’t quite meet my goal of 26 books this year, but considering I had a baby in February I am pleased with the fact that I kept reading a priority.

I am excited to start a new Reading Challenge in 2019. Next week I plan to share with you my plan and I would love for you to join me.

The Ameri Brit Mom

The First Phone Call From Heaven: A Book Review

Title: The First Phone Call From Heaven

Author: Mitch Albom

Publisher: Harper

Copyright Date: 2013

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The city of Coldwater became host to a phenomenon.

For weeks, members of their community received phone calls from their deceased relatives. Katharine was the first to admit at church that she spoke regularly to her sister who had died a couple of years ago. As more phone calls came in, the town became the scene of a media frenzy complete with hundreds of people hoping to connect with their own lost loved ones.

While locals and visitors waited for their phones to ring, Sully Harding, a former pilot, was released from prison. He returned to town full of cynicism and the motivation to prove these miracles false.

As he researches the phone calls and those who have received them he learns more about the tragic day that landed him in prison and his wife’s ashes in an urn. He fights the spirit of faith that has overtaken the town and seeks to uncover the truth behind these unorthodox events in Coldwater.

“Fear is how you lose your life…a little bit at a time…What we give to fear, we take away from…faith.” (Page 117)

Full of poetic language and critical lessons this novel is one of the best I’ve read in a while. I have not read anything by Mitch Albom in ten years and now I feel as though I’ve been missing out. This emotional tale of the extent of the relationships we form gripped my heart at just the right time in my life. I finished this book with a renewed faith in humanity and strengthened faith in the Lord. This is a feel-good read that begs the reader to examine their beliefs about heaven and life after death.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading next!

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

One Was Lost: A Book Review

Title: One Was Lost

Author: Natalie D. Richards

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Copyright Date: 2016

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When Sera pictured her senior field trip she never imagined that she may never make it home. Her school required her to choose a service project and a weekend in the woods away from Lucas seemed like a perfect choice…until he showed up.

A flood divides the school group and Sera’s teacher, Mr. Walker, instructs her team to set up camp for the night in the middle of the woods.

The next morning, Sera and three other classmates awake to a ransacked campsite. Their belongings are gone, their memories wiped, and their wrists have large labels scrawled across them like tattoos. They soon learn that Mr. Walker has been drugged and as they try to reach the rest of the group they learn that someone dangerous is hunting them.

But, why?

As they all question each other’s innocence each of the classmates gets to know the other on a deeper level. Those that Sera thought she’d known for years she gets to see in a new light. In the flooded woods she learns that the labels she’d placed on each one while in high school was unfair.

Jude is deceptive. Emily is damaged. Lucas is dangerous. Sera is darling.

Will the clues left behind help the quarry find their hunter before it is too late?

Over the past year I’ve read almost every book by Natalie D. Richards. I did a review of Gone Too Far and while on maternity leave I read We All Fall Down. Next, on my Natalie D. Richards list is Six Months Later.

Not only is she a great YA author, but she is actually from Columbus too and we both belong to the same SCBWI group out of Upper Arlington, Ohio. One day I hope to meet her at a gathering and learn from her writerly wisdom.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading next!

The Ameri Brit Mom

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Book Review

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Copyright Date: 2008

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London is recovering after the war and Juliet Ashton is looking to change direction in her writing career. She found success writing inspirational pieces during one of the darkest times of British history. Fate would have it that just as she began her search for a book idea that she received a letter from a man who found her address written in a secondhand book. Dawsey Adams lived on the English Channel island of Guernsey which suffered under German occupation in World War II.

Their correspondence piques Juliet’s interest. Dawsey tells of the restrictions placed on the residents of the island and the small literary society formed as a result. Desperate for companionship a group of islanders gathered weekly to share food, drinks, and books. And it was at these meetings that his dear friend, Elizabeth McKenna shone brightly.

The war took so many things from the islanders: wealth, dignity, safety, food, jobs, and worst of all Elizabeth McKenna. Their brave friend was shipped off to the continent leaving behind her daughter whom the society members took upon themselves to raise. Desperate to reunite with their missing member the rest of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society enlist the help of their newfound friend, Miss Ashton.

The letters begin to flood in to Juliet Ashton and before long she commits to visiting her pen pals to witness the devastation herself. She left behind her agent, boyfriend, and apartment to pursue her inspiration on Guernsey.

I first heard of this book over the summer while in England. A movie based on this novel was released recently and every bookstore shelved this title with their best sellers. Once I returned to the states I started to see the book everywhere. Online people were talking about it as well. And then Netflix released the movie in America.

I must say that after watching the movie this was one of those rare cases where I preferred the movie to the book. I did enjoy the book, but I found the format in which it was written to be a little less exciting than the cinematic interpretation. It is written in letter form. The pro–it’s a quick read. The con–because most of the story is a retelling of events from different character perspectives it lacks some suspense and is relatively limited in dialogue. I highly recommend this novel for many reasons, but I do think the movie warrants a viewing after the fact. Major differences do occur between the two, but I found the film enjoyable and I was able to understand the logic behind most of the changes to the plot and characters.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading next!

The Ameri Brit Mom

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A Book Review

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic Inc)

Copyright Date: 2016

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I finally ticked a book off of my to-read list in Goodreads that I’ve put off for two years!

Being a fan of the Harry Potter series and also being married to a man who grew up during the series’ prime I was keen to get a hold of this screenplay. For this book legendary author, J.K. Rowling, teamed up with writers from London’s West End theater to create a new installment in the Harry Potter story, this time nineteen years after the conclusion of the Hogwarts War.

Harry and Ginny Potter are parents to James, Albus, and Lily who are all pupils or soon to be at Hogwarts. Albus, the middle child, has always felt like a misfit in his own family. Growing up in the shadow of his father has Albus feeling like a constant failure. After being sorted into the house of Slytherin, Harry makes it even more clear that he has little in common with Albus. Luckily, Albus makes friends with another troubled child at school, Scorpius Malfoy. Together, the two boys set out to write their own destinies as opposed to accepting the one’s determined by their birthrights.

At the Ministry of Magic, Harry and Hermione uncover a time-turner which threatens all that they know to be truth. In the wrong hands, a time-turner can rewrite history. They go to great lengths to protect their world from the effects of time travel, but forces in their midst threaten that security. Albus and Scorpius learn of this magic and decide to use it to fulfill their own purposes. Caught in a web of the past, Albus and Scorpius must combat dark magic not unlike the quests of their fathers.

At first, I struggled with Harry Potter’s parenting techniques. His harsh demeanor toward the son he struggled to relate to seemed as though he had learned nothing from his own estranged upbringing. I hoped to find Harry fostering a relationship with his own children that opposed the treatment he received from his uncle. Nonetheless, I can imagine it to be a true struggle for parents when they don’t connect with their children easily. While reading I needed to reference earlier books (since it had been such a long time) when it came to some of the spells and magic used in this book. I also didn’t love the fact that this book is actually just a copy of the script for a stage performance. I found that stage directions and speaker switches threw off my immersion in the story. I know that much of that is necessary to perform a play, but I wanted to lose myself in this book the way I did the novels of my childhood.

All of us who love Harry Potter have waited a long time to return to the wizarding world. To be back in the halls of Hogwarts made me feel like a kid again. I have missed the moving staircases, enchanted portraits, and lively Quidditch matches. Being able to catch up on the lives of the characters I grew up alongside really made this tale nostalgic.

I would love to see J.K. Rowling write more about Albus Potter in the future!

The Ameri Brit Mom

Turtles All the Way Down: Book Review

Title: Turtles All The Way Down

Author: John Green

Publisher: Dutton Books

Copyright Date: 2017

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“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.” (Green 283)

Aza Holmes had enough trouble trying to get through high school and battling her own anxious thoughts without the drama of a missing billionaire to complicate things. Just before he was arrested, Russell Pickett went missing. He left behind a fortune, an exotic pet, and two sons (and he ranked their importance in that order.)

With a hundred thousand dollars on the line, Aza’s best friend, Daisy, is convinced that the two can solve the mystery. Daisy enlists the help of Aza because she used to be friends with the billionaire’s son, Davis, back when they spent their summers together at “Sad Camp.”

After reconnecting with Davis Pickett, Aza learns that wealth isn’t everything. Davis grew up fed by a silver spoon yet he experienced grief and loneliness akin to her own. As the two grow closer Davis begins to break down the wall of anxiety that Aza has built around herself. Together with her closest friends, Aza focused on Russell Pickett’s disappearance while also working through her internal demons.

Lately, some of my favorite books have been based on mental illness. When We Collided by Emery Lord and Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley were phenomenal books that dove into issues of anxiety, depression, and grief in an honest way. I felt like John Green also did a good job covering topics that teens wrestle with in an authentic light. In the Acknowledgements at the end of the book he provided resources for those struggling with mental health and admitted to his own struggles that were reflected in Aza’s character.

Mental illness has been a trending topic both in writing and the media. With recent suicides in Hollywood a lot of energy has been focused on getting people the help that they need. As someone with diagnosed anxiety, I found myself relating to Aza on some level while also being inspired to push past my fears in order to avoid situations she faced.

I’m a fan of John Green. I liked The Fault In Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, and Paper Towns. In my Honors History classes, I occasionally show clips from his Crash Course Youtube channel where John Green and his brother explain eras of history in their own quirky way. When I first started teaching, his books were all the rage, but with his movie deals and Youtube Channel it’s been a while since he released a book. Last year when this book came out I added it to the top of my To-Read list on Goodreads. Thankfully, I finally had the opportunity to read this one. It was a quick read, and totally worth every minute. At times, the main character really annoyed me, but it helped me to see what anxiety can be like for the people surrounded by it. Mental illness affects far more than just your mind. Relationships feel the tremors and fallout associated with the internal battles we all face.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading next!

The Ameri Brit Mom