Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber

“By the way, do you two know what ‘hobo’ really means?”
“No, ma’am.”
“It means ‘homeward bound’.”

Fifteen-year-old Iris Baldwin is alone. Her mother died when she was five and her father has spent the years in-between providing for Iris, but not caring for her. Now he wants to open up a new shoe store in Kansas City but unbeknownst to Iris, she will not be joining him and his young girlfriend. Instead, she will be shipped off to rural Wellesford, Missouri, where she has been hired out to serve as housekeeper and companion to Dr. Avery Nesbitt’s elderly mother. Slowly, Iris allows herself to be drawn into this warm and compassionate little family. But as is too often the case in Iris’s short life, tragedy strikes again and she must find a way to make peace with her past in order to carve out her future. Set in 1926, Stuber’s debut novel is a quietly beautiful tale of love, loss, family, and growing up.

Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber
Young Adult | 240 pages | Margaret K. McElderry | July 2010 | 1416997032 | Library copy
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Top Twelve of 2011

It’s that time of year again.  List time.  Even though I haven’t been blogging regularly anymore, I still can’t resist a good list.  So here, in no particular order, are the best books I read in 2011.  I couldn’t keep it to just 10, so I figured 12 was ok without overdoing it – 12 months, 12 books…you get the picture.  🙂 

  1. The Night Circus by Erica Morgenstern :  An atmospheric, spellbinding debut about magic, illusion and love that I couldn’t put down.
  2. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett :  I’ve been a fan of every one of Ms. Patchett’s books that I’ve read and this was no exception.  An intriguing look at personality, loyalty and ethics set in the Amazon jungle.
  3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett :  Still can’t believe it took me this long to actually read this book!  One of my favorite ever!
  4. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning :  A down-to-earth look at what the Gospel is really about.
  5. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese :  A sweeping family saga about doctors in an Ethiopian mission hospital.  So, so, so different from a lot of what I’ve read and so, so, SO, good.
  6. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys :  The gripping story of a family ripped from their home in 1941 Poland and their struggle to survive being shipped off to Siberia.  I’ve read a lot about this time period, but never knew much about the Siberian work camps.  Have the Kleenex on hand for this one.
  7. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain : An evocative look at Ernest Hemingway’s life through the eyes of his first wife, Hadley Richardson. 
  8. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park :  One of the best and most compelling books I’ve ever read.  Don’t be fooled by the slimness of novel – it packs a HUGE punch.
  9. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King :  This book took me by surprise with how much I loved it.  It’s a complex and nuanced exploration about the complicated nature of love.
  10. I Will Carry You:  A Dance of Grief and Joy by Angie Smith :  Cried my way through this one.  A heartrending story about grief, faith and how the love of God can get you through even the most painful of circumstances.
  11. I Married You For Happiness by Lily S. Tuck :  A fresh and honest look into all of the things, good and bad, that make up a marriage.
  12. The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan : Another poignant exploration about the complexities of relationships and love.

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2012 TBR Pile Challenge

2012 To Be Read (TBR) Pile Challenge:


The Goal
Once again Roof Beam Reader  is issuing a challenge to finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile, within 12 months.  I’m not signing up for the official challenge, but hopefully this will be motivation for me to finally pick up these books!  (*Note: some of my choices are books I read in high school but have been wanting to re-read for years).

01.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
02.  One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
03.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
04.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald*
05.  Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier*
06.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte*
07.  Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
08.  The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
09.  Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
10.  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
11.  The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
12.  The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Alternates:
01.  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
02.  The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

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Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

In this darling and beautifully illustrated biography, Melissa Sweet introduces readers to the creator of the floats we all know and love that parade around New York City on Thanksgiving Day.  Tony Sarg began his career by making marionettes that were known for their incredibly lifelike movements.  His work attracted the eye of R.H. Macy’s department store in Herald Square and Sarg created holiday window displays for them.  When Macy’s decided to have a holiday parade for their employees, they knew Sarg was the man for the job.  Sarg worked with a company that made blimps to bring his ideas to life.  After some design tweaks, Sarg was able to create stunning balloons that have dazzled audiences since 1928.

Balloons Over Broadway:  The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet
Picture book | 40 pages | Houghton Mifflin | November 2011 | 0547199457  | Library copy

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

“Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled.” (p. 35)

A Monster Calls left me breathless.  Speechless.  And completely incapable of producing a coherent review.  All I had were a bunch of words tumbling around in my head, an ache in my heart, and one charge:  READ IT.  Below, see my best attempt at captivating what this book meant to me.

 A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Young Adult fiction | 224 pages | Candlewick | September 2011 | 0763655597 | Library copy

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Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

“This is what happens on journeys – the things you find are not necessarily the things you had gone looking for.” (p. 235)

Hazel and Jack are best friends.  Highly imaginative and having both suffered loss in their home lives, Hazel and Jack seem inseparable.  Until a shard of glass from a magic mirror falls in Jack’s eye and pierces his heart with an impenetrable coldness.  Suddenly he wants nothing to do with Hazel and soon he disappears into the woods with the White Witch.  Despite Jack’s brush-off, Hazel goes after her friend, for this is what best friends do.  In the woods, things are not what they seem.  Hazel encounters wolves, wizards, and woodsman, all of whom try to distract her from her mission.  After trudging deeper and deeper into the cold, Hazel finally finds the Witch and the slightly underwhelming showdown (but a showdown nonetheless!) begins.  Based on Hans Christian Andersons story, “The Snow Queen”, Breadcrumbs is a fairy tale retelling that blends contemporary and traditional tales, along with realistic and fantasy elements.

I just have one word to describe Ursu’s writing:  enchanting.  I thought the writing was brilliantly beautiful, with passages that beg to be read aloud.  I found Hazel to be a believable and relatable character and her issues with her parent’s divorce, fitting in at a new school, growing up (and growing apart) were realistic.  I was completely drawn into the first half of the book…and then lost a little bit of interest in the second.  Maybe it’s just the fact that I prefer realistic fiction over fantasy that I had a harder time swallowing the second half.  I also thought the story got slightly repetitive and that the climax was a bit anti-climactic, but even with those hang-ups I was still overall delighted by Breadcrumbs and would recommend it to young and old alike.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Juvenile fiction | 313 pages | September 2011 | Waldon Pond Press | 0062015052  | Library copy

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Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

“‘Master Jefferson has done a lot of great things…he was a leader in the war.  He wrote that declaration thing.  He made us a new country.  And then he went to France, and he was president…so, does all that mean he’s a great person?  White folks seem to think so.  If you’re great enough in some areas, does it make up for the rest?’

Maddy asked, ‘Would a great person sell someone else’s son?'” (p. 254-255)

How would you feel if your father was the President of the United States, but no one could know about it?  Or if your father was also your owner?

In Jefferson’s Sons, Bradley tells the story of Thomas Jefferson’s other children-those he had with his slave, Sally Hemmings.  Beverly, Harriet, Maddy & Eston get better treatment than the other slaves at Monticello, but they are still slaves.  Beverly, Harriet & Eston are light-skinned enough that at age 21, when they receive their freedom, they’ll be able to enter white society, but it’s a decision that will mean never seeing their mother or Maddy again.  Bradley explores complex issues of slavery, identity, equality, freedom, and family while maintaining a certain measure of innocence by telling the story through a child’s eyes.  The story dragged a bit towards the middle, but press on through that because the ending is incredibly powerful and brought tears to my eyes.

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Juvenile Fiction | 368 pages | September 2011 | Dial | 0803734999 | Library copy

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