Summer Reading Suggestions

Book Page Heart

I was sharing some book recommendations the other day with friends on Twitter as I’d hit one of those moments I love as a reader which is finishing a great book and then wanting to find my next target.  Perhaps you are the same way?  All of these should not really have long hold times at the library since they’re not particularly new.  I limited myself to 5, in no particular order, and tried to have fantasy, fun fiction, serious fiction, and non-fiction represented.  I tried to avoid spoilers and give general impressions.  Would love to hear if you have suggestions for me in turn and if you’d like to read more recommendations on the blog in the future!


The Chosen (amazon affiliate link) by Chaim Potok – I was on our “Battle of the Books” team at Wasilla high school (yes, that, Wasilla for those of you that follow politics).  In case my husband is reading, this was in addition to having been in the Stamp and Coin club at one point and Business Professionals of America so my nerd tendencies run deep.  With Battle of the Books you read a set book list along with teammates and then are quizzed about them.  So a question might be “in which book does the author write about buttons?” or something like that and the answer has to include the title of the book and the author (for that one I think the answer was All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque).  The Chosen is a book I came upon through the Battle of the Books book list and I would have never picked it up otherwise.  The blurbs all say it is about a friendship and a secret but what a friendship and what a secret.  This is a riveting book about two boys in similar but different worlds.  One is being raised in a Hasidic home (his father is a Rabbi) and the other is being raised in a home with a father that is a teacher and referred to as a “Zionist.”  There’s a sequel that catches up with the boys years later called The Promise (amazon affiliate link) that I enjoyed as well.  Everyone I’ve given The Chosen to as a gift or a recommendation has reported back that they couldn’t put it down.  I even recall reading it on a shaky school bus en route to a field trip because I wanted to find out what would happen to Danny and Reuven.


The Graveyard Book (amazon affiliate link) by Neil Gaiman – This is technically a “young adult” book but who cares about such distinctions anyway?  It is a fantasy book and considerably less scary than Neil Gaiman’s Coraline or American Gods (what can I say, I scare easily!) despite being about a boy that is adopted and raised by ghosts in a graveyard.  And if you find you like Gaiman’s style there are so many awesome books that await your discovery.  It helps with that minor sadness that comes with finishing a wonderful book – how will another book take me on a similar journey away from my surroundings?  By the way, have you ever been reading and then realized that you forgot yourself for a while?  That time passed and you obviously were living/breathing during that time but you forgot to pay attention because you inhabited the words in front of you?  I love when that happens.


The Last Dragonslayer (amazon affiliate link) by Jasper Fforde (read an excerpt here, I found this from a note at the end of NPR’s summer reading suggestions for teens) – I think for me the interplay between real life and magic is a hard one for fantasy books to get just right – if you have a world that is too complex with so many made up concepts and words and names the reader gets lost.  If you have just enough of the familiar, though, to let the reader follow along with the action and absorb some of the new ideas (dragons, magic, the idea that marzipan is mined but then makes people drunk when consumed) as they go, you have a winning book.  That may account for a lot of the way the Harry Potter series (which this book is compared to in many reviews) is so beloved.  You have our world with a magical one running parallel.  In The Last Dragonslayer, much like Jasper Fforde’s Jurisfiction/Thursday Next series (beginning with the fantastic The Eyre Affair) we have an England we quickly realize is not our England but there are houses and streets and cars so we can pretend we know what is going on for a little while.  That is, until a team of magicians hired out to do odd jobs change a house’s plumbing without raising a single saw or forming a single weld…oh, and they do it in an afternoon.  An old favorite book of mine is Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede and if you liked the way dragons were depicted in Wrede’s series you’ll really enjoy this book.  The ending had a twist that I didn’t see coming and I loved it for that as well.  There’s a sequel to The Last Dragonslayer coming out September 3, 2013!  Can’t wait!


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (amazon affiliate link) by Rebecca Skloot – I don’t like when summer reading lists include sad fiction but this is non-fiction and as much about the journey of the author in investigating an untold story as it is about that story.  I could not put it down.  Even when there was a power outage and I should have been conserving my phone’s battery life I read long into the morning on my kindle phone application.  I had to know more about Henrietta Lacks, the unconsenting source of cells grown in labs worldwide and only known as HeLa for so long.  I also know enough of some of the background cases provided by Skloot to know she really did her homework on the law so you can rely on her for the science explanations featured as well.  She makes it very accessible and you finish the book really feeling that as human beings we should all treat one another better.  I sought this book out after reading The Help for our book club because The Help made me feel like much of the dynamic of what it was really like to be African American during segregation in the United States was not brought through (or dismissed as background information).   If you are on twitter, be sure to follow Rebecca (@RebeccaSkloot) for updates to the story and tweets about science and medical rights generally.


The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (amazon affiliate link) by Alexander McCall Smith – What is summer without a good series to read through?  This particular series has 13 (14 in November 2013) titles and if you end up liking the first you will certainly enjoy following the rest.   I will say the first title is the strongest and some of the others are appealing more because of the familiar characters versus the mysteries being “solved.”  Also, I don’t always agree with the protagonist, Precious Ramotswe, in how she resolves some cases (sometimes letting people go instead of reporting them) but the setting (Botswana) is worlds away from here.  The stories follow Precious as she sets up her agency and opens her doors, following in large part the advice of a book about “Private Detection” that is periodically quoted.  If you are an attorney by trade you’ll like that the author is an attorney because he throws some funny bits in here and there on the subject of lawyers.  At any rate, the prose is distinctly restful and contemplative while at the same time a source for a number of actual out loud laughs.  I think if the Anne of Green Gables series is one you enjoy, you’ll like all the main and supporting characters in this book (and series).

Food Allergy Awareness Week 2013

I think it breaks the fourth wall of blogging to comment in a post about the lack of posts on a blog but it has been almost a month since my last post so I thought I’d acknowledge that and give some updates on life with food allergies of late.  Oh, and work has been busy of course.  I’ve been back to active lawyering for a year now and to echo a concept in the book I am reading and enjoying right now, “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg (amazon affiliate link), work/life balance is a self defeating concept:

Framing the issue as “work-life balance”— as if the two were diametrically opposed— practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013-03-11). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Kindle Locations 354-356). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

So life is life and work is a part of it but cliche as it may sound, my family is my priority and that includes everything from managing this food allergy journey of ours to getting to forget about litigation for moments here and there to watch my children enjoy a splash pad on a sunny day.

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May 12th marked the start of Food Allergy Awareness Week 2013.  With everything having a “day” or a “week” or a “month” I can see how sometimes a day can’t just be a day, however, the positive energy that comes from making a concerted effort to raise awareness is encouraging.  I have increasingly taken up the cause of advocacy in food allergy.  Just a few things that make recurring appearances on my daily written to do list are the 2013 Las Vegas FARE Walk, the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, the Food Allergy Parent Education Group, and Nevada Senate Bill 453.  In the meantime, we have also been doing new food allergy testing and food challenges for E and R (so far egg, milk, corn, and soy are officially off of the “avoid” list and we have an upcoming challenge for wheat – so we’d be left with peanut, tree nut, sesame, and oat as food allergies plus E’s severe cat and dog allergies).  I have to say I once felt jealous of parents who’d speak of their children outgrowing food allergies just as I’d also get frustrated with the refrain of many people when I’d tell them about food allergies: “kids outgrow those, don’t they?”  And yet.  Here we are now, with new doors suddenly open to us and the prospect of being able to instruct my daughter’s future teachers on a few less seemingly innocuous food items that could do her harm.

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I am on the walk committee for the 2013 FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) Walk here in Nevada and we have monthly conference calls to catch up on progress getting sponsors, team sign ups, and just general advocacy.  During last month’s call, one of our walk directors, Dana Gordin, told me she had some “Be a P.A.L. [Protect a Life]” bookmarks (about 100) that she could give to me to share at the school we’re sending E to this fall.  I contacted the school and they were delighted at the prospect so Dana very generously shipped the bookmarks to me (I think she understands how hard it is for a busy mom of two kids under 5 to just zip over and pick something up – it was very much appreciated!) and E and I went to her school to give the bookmarks to the school nurse.  There was a time when I planned to homeschool E, even though I personally did not enjoy homeschool as a 7th and 8th grader, and now we are making plans for her kindergarten experience.  With other children!  She only attends preschool once a week right now for 2 1/2 hours so switching to half day, daily kindergarten will be an adjustment for us all.  I hope to be an active classroom mom as much as my schedule can allow, though, and have been trying to get her used to the idea of this new place and new friends.  She loved taking the bookmarks to the school and when the nurse asked her about her allergies she spoke for herself.  A surprising development in that I am used to being her voice.  When we left I asked what she liked most about the new school and she said she liked that there was a nurse.  My inner voice worried that this meant my daughter was fearful about her allergies and being safe but then that was countered with the sense that my daughter felt encouraged by the safeguards in place for her, and other children, to have a positive experience at school.

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A few weeks earlier, I brought the children with me to view, here in Las Vegas, the televised hearing regarding Senate Bill 453, which would allow for stock epinephrine in Nevada schools.  You may recall that my involvement (though minor) with the progression of this legislation reaches back into late last year.  Caroline of Grateful Foodie has been working non-stop at each stage of the legislative process to keep momentum and support for the bill strong so it is through her e-mails that so many of us knew to come to the Grant Sawyer Building to rally in support of the bill when it was before the Senate committee and later the Assembly committee.  The bill has passed both committees as well as a vote of the full state senate so next up is the Assembly floor vote and hopefully Governor Sandoval’s desk!

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Everyone I tell about the bill says it sounds like something they would support, but you can’t take common sense for granted when it comes to the legislative process.  Bills die without voices to hold them aloft and this bill would be no different.  I wanted the children to know that this is how you make a difference, by being present even if it is just to cheer on the policy makers and wear light blue to let them know who you’re with.  Even watching the livestream of the Senate vote from home, from afar in Vegas while in Carson City history is being made, is exciting.  I explain to the children that we have to make sure children who can’t afford epinephrine or don’t know yet that they have allergies can get help fast if they need it and it really is as simple as that.  Now, as a friend recently pointed out to me, it can’t stop at schools because there are many more people, such as adults in workplaces, that need injectable epinephrine that is readily available and the wherewithal to administer it, but this is a start.  Laws often work in narrow areas before they grow and change to wider implementation.

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SB 453 is about as serious as things get on the advocacy side, but the fundraising of things like the FARE walk or the food free easter egg hunt hosted by FAPE or the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference all have a place in the order of things as well.  I was approached by Jenny at Multiple Food Allergy Help earlier this year because she wanted to put on a conference to bring the online food allergy community together.  You can read more here or even find out about registering and buying tickets to hear fantastic speakers, meet with company representatives for allergy aware products, walk with the blog conference team on November 2nd, and so much more.  It has grown and blossomed to be an event people are looking forward to and justified the feeling I had early on that I could make a positive contribution.  We have the support already of a local FARE walk grant, sponsors, ticket buyers, speakers, our host hotel the South Point…it is coming together.  Devin at Nom Yum & Free even gave us a very kind shout out so word is getting out and I will get to meet many in my support network in person when November rolls around!  I’m also hopeful that the local food allergy community will love what we have in the works.

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Speaking of the food allergy community…. Jennifer at Food Allergy Buzz hosted the fourth annual Food Allergy Awareness Week twitter party tonight (well, if I get this post done in the next few minutes that is – more fourth wall breakage going on!) and one theme that resonated among participants was the level of support we get and give on the internet.  I have been able to find research, news, support, recipes, and more through the blogs of others dealing with food allergies when the allergists we tried out one after the other just weren’t offering the guidance we needed.  And so during this twitter party, which is kind of like a chat session open to anyone that searches for a particular topic marker called a hashtag for those unfamiliar with twitter, a few exciting things happened.  First, there was a great energy among participants and second, we “trended” on twitter!  That means that enough people were talking about #foodallergy that the hashtag was displayed to other twitter users (see the screenshot above).

Now as I sit here pondering all of the goings-on of the past few months, I wonder if I focus on the advocacy and awareness aspects of food allergy because I don’t want to think about the real threats to E’s safety.  Of losing her.  I’m not sure.  I actually had my first reaction related nightmare the night before Mother’s Day, that she was hurt and I couldn’t save her, and it unsettled me.  Am I devoting time to other pursuits that ought to be dedicated to my children?  This week has been one of a string of reflective ones for me as I contemplate whether working on things like a blog or going to hearings or looking at the computer screen for anything other than a “have to” instead of “want to” is the best thing for the people that depend on me directly.  I’m not sure I have an answer.  I read a fantastic post by Rosie Molinary (an author and blogger that the lovely Tami Hackbarth introduced me to), that outlines “honor[ing] your rhythm […] values […] and time” to achieve some sense of balance.  I was able to ask her some follow-up questions after reading the post and she suggested making a set time on the calendar open for saying “yes” and once that slot was full I should be comfortable saying “no” or deferring someone to the next available slot of time.  Does this strike anyone else as brilliant?  It struck me that way and I am trying to implement it.  I don’t want to come across as being ungrateful for the opportunities I have to help or be of service but as my children move into new phases and need different aspects of me, I need to be attentive to that.

None of this is flowing particularly well but it is authentic and it is me and I hope some of these updates are of interest.  I do know that I feel invigorated by time I spend nurturing my mind with reading and connecting with others so I see those things as helping me in my capacity as a mother and a wife.  There is so much to be thankful for and so much to keep striving for.  Thank you for still reading.

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Elsewhere…my latest Vegbooks.org Posts:

Hilda and the Bird Parade 

The Penny Books

Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah

Treasury for All Seasons

Baby Shower Gifts for Veg Moms

The 2012 Vegas Valley Comic Book and Children’s Book Festivals

Last year we attended the Moapa Valley Art Guild Pomegranate Festival (I guess November is festival month in Southern Nevada) but wanted to do something different for 2012.  I signed up in advance for a VIP ticket (the event is free, if you registered early you received a few perks, however) for the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival over at Clark County Library.  The event included panels and tables both inside and outside – it was a beautiful day and the kids and I had fun exploring on the morning of November 3rd.  We headed straight to Ralph’s Alternate Reality Comics Booth and who should walk by but Spider-Man and Iron Man cosplayers (pictured at another table below).  “Spider-Man” gave E and R little plastic spider rings that made their entire week.  Actually, R is still talking about it!  Spidey is one of my favorites so R will have plenty of reading material when he is old enough to be allowed to peruse my comic book boxes.

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The event, though welcoming to kids (a number of free children’s comics were being handed out and E recognized her Owly books at the Top Shelf booth), did not have too much for E and R in the morning (they needed to be home for lunch and naps) so we hit the road for downtown Las Vegas to check out the Vegas Valley Children’s Book Festival!  I had heard friends rave about the event and was not disappointed.  It was strange to drive downtown for something other than work, though.

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My husband and I used to eat lunch near the water feature pictured above. Seeing families enjoying the shade made me hope that someday downtown is a more vibrant place. The economic downturn hit just as the area was getting attention from investors but I’ve read recently that Zappos has made a commitment to improving conditions downtown.

We weren’t able to find parking except at some meters with a one hour limit – not a great amount of time – but even with spending most of our time at the Lowe’s booth (they had free wood crafting kits for kids to hammer away at) and the PBS booth (for puppet making) we still caught a presenter at the storytelling area (she was coaching the audience with the song “Did you feed my cow?”) and came away with an armful of new (and free) books.  We would have loved to stay to see David Shannon but our time was up at that point.  Running into Maggie Verderame of Kids Do Yoga on our way to the car had E so excited so I guess our timing was just right.  R fell asleep in the car while clutching his wooden fire truck.

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I enjoyed seeing the inside of Fifth Street School.  It opened right after E was born but I remember walking to Federal Court and watching the construction work to revitalize it with interest.

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Also, seeing so many families passionate about reading with their children was fantastic.  Anyone who says Las Vegas does not have a lot to offer families with children is simply not looking hard enough.  Add both events to your November calendar for 2013!