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Helen is an accomplished author, but when her husband dies suddenly, she finds herself unable to write.  Because she needs money, Helen agrees to teach a writing class.  Through teaching her class, Helen gains an independence she never thought she could obtain.

Although I wasn’t particularly drawn into this story, I always enjoy Berg’s books for one simple reason.  She can write about life’s little luxuries in a tangible way.  A simple pot of coffee or a Christmas cookie comes alive in Berg’s books, and every day life becomes something to celebrate.

I’ve come to the point in my blogging life when I just simply have to make a list of books.  I’ve read some great ones lately, but I don’t have the time to write posts about them all.  So in no particular order, here’s what I’ve been reading the last few weeks:

Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop:  A great juvenile historical fiction about the anti-child labor movement in the U.S.

The Bright Side of Disaster by Katherine Center: The perfect chick lit for a new mom.  Center writes with humor and honesty about being a new mom, yet somehow manages to throw in some romance at the same time.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See:  Explores women’s friendship, secret writing and foot binding in China.  Even though the book is about so much more than foot binding, what will stick with me are the graphic descriptions of the foot binding process.  I had to skip several pages because I was feeling nauseous just reading about it.

Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice From the Holocaust: A newly discovered journal, kept by a 14 year old Jewish girl, living in Poland.

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller: Made me want to go back to teaching.  Can’t wait for my own kids to read!  Pre-teachers and current teachers should read this book to regain perspective on what our job as teachers is all about.

Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddons  A love story.  Mostly good, but the ending was just strange.  I wouldn’t bother with it.

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect us From Violence by Gavin DeBecker:  Absolutely fascinating.  A must-read especially for women.  De Becker is a well known security professional, and writes knowledgeably about how to protect yourself by listening to your intuition.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon:  Set in Spain.  Young Daniel unravels the mystery of a stranger who is roaming through Europe, burning every book he can find by Daniel’s favorite author.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos:  A companion book to Belong to Me.

Where the River Ends by Charles Martin:  Look out Nicholas Sparks.  Martin’s southern romance is much sweeter and deeper than anything Sparks has written recently.  Doss and Abbie battle cancer together through a river journey.

Henry Day is stolen by some changelings when he is 6 years old.  Henry goes to live in the forest with the other changelings, and becomes “Aniday.”  Meanwhile, a changeling takes Henry’s place in life.  No one knows that the boy who was “Henry” has disppeared.  No one knows that the boy who is now Henry is really an imposter.

But a simple synopsis of this book cerainly doesn’t do it justice.   Donohue’s book is rich with detail and depth.  He explores the parent-child relationship; the power of books, reading and writing to bring meaning and understanding; the beauty of friendship; the myth of the changelings; and the freedom of forgiveness.

My favorite quote comes when a changeling observes a human boy reunite with his mother after an hour playing at the park.  The changeling observes:

A thin smile creased [the boy’s] face when she arrived, and without a word he jumped down from the swing, grabbed her hand, and off they went.  Their behavior and interaction baffled me.  Parents and children take such everyday moments for granted, as if there is an endless supply.

The changelings spend hundreds of years longing for a human family.  Too often I feel as if I spend the time I have with my children wishing it was naptime!  The reminder that the moments I have with my precious children are finite is a timely and necessary one.

Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who came to Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance in 2001.  She soon met an Afghani bookseller named Sultan Khan.  After visiting his bookshop and getting to know him, Seierstad decided to write a book about Sultan and his family.  In order to gather the information necessary to do this accurately, she moved into Sultan’s home and lived the life of an Afghani woman with Sultan’s family.

The Bookseller of Kabul is not Seierstad’s story.  It is the story of Sultan Khan’s family, as seen through their own eyes.  As a Western woman, it was hard for me to read.  Although Sultan’s family is relatively well-off for a family in Afghanistan, the women in his family are treated as slaves in my mind.  It’s hard for me to imagine letting my father, mother, brothers and male cousins decide when I could leave the house, if I could get a job, what job I could get, whom I could like, and whom I could marry.  The hopelessness that some of the women expressed is heartbreaking.  This is not a “happily ever after, against all odds” type of story.  It is a simple account of life as it really is for one Afghani family.

The Diamond of Darkhold: The Fourth Book of Ember (Books of Ember) The fourth in DuPrau’s Ember series.  I very much enjoyed the first book, The City of Ember.  I can’t remember much about the second two books.  In The Diamond of Darkhold, Lina and Doon are back, this time searching for a way to make life easier for the people of Sparks.  They come across an old book that seems to be leading them back underground, to the city of Ember, where they will find a treasure to bring back to their new city.  A great book until the last chapter.  There, DuPrau apparently wants to quickly wrap up this series, so she writes a nice neat fairy tale ending for everyone, while adding to a random subplot that is just weird.  If you read this book, just stop at Chapter 26 and you’ll enjoy it so much more!

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