The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Confession: I started this book and thought two things: 1) I like books that make me feel good about my Spanish and 2) this book is going to take a lot of brain power.

I started this book for no other reason that I want to read more non-white authors and many readers I respect (who read the “literature” on top of just other stuff) rated this one highly. I also started it one day on the deck in the sun in my favorite reading spot. It is a stark contrast to all the YA lit I have been reading lately.

Let’s see…how do I describe Oscar Wao? Well, the book is fiction, but it also has some magical realism. The narrator is third person, seemingly omniscient, whose actual identity isn’t revealed until about halfway into the book. The story is about Oscar and the curse that is on him and his family called the fuku. The book starts with Oscar’s childhood, but talks about his mother’s childhood and formative years in the Dominican Republic, his maternal Grandfather (where the fuku started), and his sister, Lola.

The narrator is incredibly conversational using Spanglish and Dominican slang to tell the story of the de Leon family.There are quite a few footnotes (which are just as conversational) to give the reader history and background of The Dominican Republic that will help understand character motivation or the environment the characters found themselves in.

The book is beautiful. The writing is glorious and true and moving. I kept thinking of my students as I read it…how many have such journeys in their family history–maybe not with a curse attached–but who have parents who have come from another country and they are first generation in the US. About the struggles and the reasons for coming.

It’s just an extraordinary book. I can’t compare it to anything because I have never read anything like it. And I read a lot.

Me Before You

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This was a book I didn’t think I really wanted to read, but I caved to the pressure. I was certain I would quit this book because it would be too “Chick Lit-ish”.

Louisa is a twenty-six year old who gets laid off from her job at a cafe. She lives with her family (mother, father, younger sister, nephew, and grandfather). They don’t have much money. She gets a job caring for Will, a quadriplegic man. A wealthy quadriplegic man. An attractive quadriplegic man. The thing is, Will doesn’t want to live like this. He was very active before the motorcycle accident, and now lives in constant discomfort and pain. Lou makes it her mission to show him just how beautiful a life he can still have.

See? Sounds incredibly sappy, right?

It’s not though. I don’t know how JoJo Moyes did it, but Me Before You is fast-pace, witty, and even suspenseful. I found myself worrying about the characters when I wasn’t reading. Yes, there are a bunch of cliches and the premise itself is pretty sappy, but somehow Moyes made me care about the characters. She made me root for Louisa and Will…and not that they would get romantically involved, but that she would be successful in showing him a wonderful life. On the other hand, the book also made me seriously think about my own views on assisted suicide.

It was a deep topic that read like a light beach read.

That is writing talent, right there.

Even before I was finished with the book, I recommended it to someone and promised to bring her my copy the next time I see her.  I don’t do that with many books.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book that you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving?

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Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.

Landline

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Last fall I read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I adored it. I couldn’t talk it up enough in my classroom, and for the rest of the school year there was a wait list for it. I meant to read Fangirl next, but due to the popularity of Eleanor & Park, it was also checked out all year, so I moved on to other books and other authors.

This summer I was perusing the “new in paperback” section at the book store and saw Landline. I picked it up even though I had a pile at home of other books to read.

I will admit the premise of a telephone that calls the past was weird, but I trusted Rowell. I knew if anyone could make it work in a quirky, witty way, it was her.  And I was not disappointed.

Georgie McCool is a writer for a TV comedy series with her best friend since college, Seth. She spends a ridiculous amount of time at work, leaving her husband, Neal, home with their two small daughters. Georgie and Neal love each other, but there is always a tension. It comes to a head when Georgie chooses to spend their Christmas vacation home working with Seth rather than travel Omaha with her family. Over the time her family is gone, Georgie discovers that the phone in her childhood bedroom at her mom’s house can call Neal–not present-day Neal–but Neal from when they were in college. Her phone is like a time machine.  Now she has to figure out how to make things right with him by talking to the past.

I don’t tend to pick up a book if I think it might be a sappy love story. This is not a sappy love story. It is funny and ridiculous and a little sad in places, but not sappy.

Rowell tells the story from Georgie’s point of view. It bounces back and forth from present-day to her memories of meeting and dating Neal when they were in college, when they were first engaged and married, and to when their daughters were born. Rowell’s characters and dialogue quick and spot-on. She even manages to make me a bit nostalgic for the 90’s.

I think I even liked this book more than I liked Eleanor & Park. And that is saying a LOT because I gushed about that book.

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Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.

We Are All Made of Molecules

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I am on the biggest YA Lit kick since I was a teenager myself, I think. I am going through them fast and furious this summer. I never set out to do that either. In fact, before this summer I would claim to not really enjoy YA Lit that much other than the occasional stand out like Winger by Andrew Smith.

This summer I am finding myself not just enjoying YA Lit recommendations, but seeking out titles for myself. While searching for new reads a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Neilsen. I had never heard of the book, but I read the inside flap and thought it was definitely for me.

The story has dual narrators: thirteen-year old Stewart and fourteen-year old Ashley. While I am getting a bit tired of the whole “two points of view” trend, I decided the story seemed like one my students (who are also in the 13-14 year old age range) would relate to: a blended family.

Stewart loses his mom to cancer. Ashley’s parents divorce. Stewart’s dad and Ashley’s mom date and move in together. It’s like the Brady Bunch. Only it’s not at all like that because there are only two kids and it seems they have absolutely nothing in common. At all.

Stewart is, well, he’s different. He’s taking all ninth grade classes (even though he’s technically an 8th grader) now that he is enrolled in the public school after transferring from the Little Genius Academy.  This means he is in some of Ashley’s classes.

Ashley is not interested in school. Or books. Or learning. She is interested in fashion, boys, and herself. I spent most of the book hating Ashley. But I liked Stewart. He was my kind of kid–totally nerdy. He’s got the brains of Sheldon Cooper, but he is nice and thinks of others.  I mostly love the way he loves his mom and his relationship with his dad. I also love how he truly seeks to find the good in everybody. Even Ashley. Even when she gives him no reason to.

I think I gave the book three stars on GoodReads. I think it’s one my students would really like. The characters have very authentic voices–especially the teenagers.  I enjoyed all the characters (well, Ashley was pretty awful and so was Jared, but you will have to read to find out about who Jared is). It took a while to get to any real action though, and once there was finally something going on, it all ended quickly. I felt like 3/4 of the book was a day by day narration of how things were going being a blended family and then BAM 1/4 of the book was about bullies and other stuff and then it wrapped up.  My head was sort of spinning at the end.

It was a quick read though, and like I said, lots that teenagers can find to relate to from blended families, to bullies, to the hierarchy of popularity in high school, to deciding to stand out or blend in.

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Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.

 

We Were Liars

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I didn’t even realize We Were Liars was a YA novel until I went looking for it in the book store. I was scouring the fiction and literature section for E. Lockhart, and I was annoyed I couldn’t find it. I was going to ask at the desk, but I wanted to check out the YA section first to see what I might nab to read that I could add to my classroom library. And there it was.

(This should tell you how much I need to know about a book before I will read it. Hint: not much.)

It seemed like every time I posted a new “review” people would follow by asking “Have you read We Were Liars yet? So I caved and read it.

The book is told from the point of view of Cadence, a seventeen year old who is part of an East Coast family of “Old Money” Democrats. Her mother is one of three sisters in the family and Cadence is the oldest grandchild, so she stands to inherit much of the Sinclair legacy which includes a private island complete with houses for her grandparents, her family, and each of her mother’s sisters’ families. Cadence is very close with her cousins, Mirren and Johnny and Johnny’s mom’s boyfriend’s nephew, Gat (yes, it’s that complicated and weird). The family has nicknamed them The Liars. Every summer, the entire Sinclair family lives on the island. The family is very rich and very entitled and very snotty.

Anyway, Cadence has some sort of accident on the island when she is fifteen. Because of it, she suffers migraines and complete amnesia about the summer it happened. When she is sixteen, her dad takes her to Europe rather than go to the island, something that bothers her. When she is seventeen, she goes back to the island and is determined to figure out what happened two year previous.

I will say none of the characters were particularly likeable, however the plot was very fast-paced and I read the entire book in about 48 hours. Even though I found the teenagers entitled and full of themselves, I still wanted to know what the heck happened, so I was drawn into the story. I think my students will definitely love it.

The ending is…well…the ending is why you read the book. Everyone who asked me if I read it said, “I won’t say anything, but when you finish? Let me know. I want to know what you thought of the ending.”

I am of the “I liked it” camp with the ending. Rumor has it, Lockhart wrote the book after reading Gone Girl because she loved the plot twists. Since I can’t give my students Gone Girl, I like We Were Liars as an example of a fast-pasted novel full of twists.

I also sort of like that it’s hard to relate to any of the characters. I think a book can still be good and the writing done well even if you don’t like the characters. The Great Gatsby is a wonderful example of that. However, I think Fitzgerald and even Flynn purposefully wrote unlikable characters. I’m not convinced that Lockhart wanted her readers to dislike the teens in her novel, given the ending. But maybe.

Either way, I liked the book. It was a great quick read for the summer and I know my students will love it, so I look forward to adding it to my pile of Book Talks this fall!

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Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.

 

The Chosen

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I had never read The Chosen by Chaim Potok. Apparently I am in the minority since even Cortney–the self-proclaimed “not-a-reader” has read it.

After I posted about not wanting to be a sheep, my soul sister, The Pastor’s Wife, recommended it to me. After I started reading it, I texted her, “I think I get why you recc-ed this book to me. I really love it. Thank you.” In reply she said, “It’s like a rich dessert.”

Yes. It is like a rich dessert.

It small and easily devour-able in a short amount of time, yet it’s much more enjoyable taken in small bites and savored.

The novel takes place over the course of six years starting in 1944 with the death of president Roosevelt, World War II, D Day, the revelation of the Holocaust, and the struggle for the creation of the state of Israel in the forefront of the story. The story is told from the point of view of Reuven Malter, a Jewish boy living with his father in Brooklyn, New York. Reuven and Danny Saunders, an Hasidic Jew, meet when they are fifteen years old during a softball game between their two school teams. Both boys go to Jewish schools, but Reuven’s is very strictly Hasidic and the softball games quickly becomes a religious war-zone.

During the game, Danny hits one of Reuven’s pitches right into Reuven’s eye shattering his glasses and sending him to the hospital. Against those odds, the boys become friends. Best friends.

You know what a friend is, Reuven? A Greek philosopher said that two people who are friends are like two bodies with one soul” (74).

Reuven quickly realizes that Danny is extraordinary. He has a photographic mind, remembering word-for-word everything that he has ever read. His father, Reb Saunders an Hasidic rabbi, doesn’t speak to Danny except when they are discussing the Talmud. He is raising Danny in silence. This is something neither Danny nor Reuven understand, and Reuven grows to hate Reb Saunders for how he treats Danny. Danny, however, respects and trusts his father.

Reuven’s father, a Jewish scholar and writer, gives Danny book recommendations even though he knows Reb Saunders would not approve of his boy reading secular works.

I will admit I had to look up some of the Jewish references. I didn’t know what the Talmud was or what some of the Hasidic garments were.

I loved that the story was told from Reuven’s point of view even though it was as much about Danny as it was him. It allowed the reader to be amazed by Danny as Reuven was. To watch Danny’s story unfold and be explained by Reuven’s father to us as well.

As I read, I kept thinking about the title, The Chosen. The Jews are known as “The Chosen People” by God in the Old Testament. They are the ones who will inherit the kingdom of God. No one in the book seems to have “chose” Judaism; it is part of who they are. Danny and his father strictly practice the Hasidic tradition, and that means Danny will take his place as a rabbi., even though he doesn’t want to. There is no choice in Danny’s future, unless he gives up being a Hasidic Jew.  Reuven, on the other hand, is free to choose what he wants to be, and while he excels at mathematics, he is choosing to become a Jewish Rabbi.

I don’t know that my question about needing to be a sheep was answered, but I was able to see the idea of choice and following a faith in a new way.

you will discover that the most important things that will happen to you will often come as the result of silly things, as you call them–‘ordinary things’ is a better expression. That is the way the world is” (110).

The Chosen is as much a thought piece as it is a beautiful read. It’s a rich dessert for the mind.

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Some links are affiliate. That means if you click through and then buy? I get a little kickback from Amazon to put towards books for my classroom library. Find me on GoodReads to check out what else I’ve been reading!

4 More Books for You and Your Teen

A while back I did a post about books I recommend to teens (and their parents). I also told you about these five books that you and your teen really need to read.

Well guess what? I keep reading, so I have more recommendations! Yay!

Here are four more to add to your To Read Pile and which I have added to my classroom library.

Books for You and Your TeenThe first on my list is Butter by Erin Jade Lange.

Butter is a high school junior and he weighs well over 400 pounds. Miserable and on a quest to take control of the gossip about himself, Butter sets up a website where he announces he will eat himself to death live on the Internet on New Year’s Eve.

He expects pity and gossip, but he really never expects this announcement to gain him acceptance with the most popular kids in school.

As the deadline approaches, Butter has some decisions to make: go through with it or live with what people will say if he “chickens out”.

This book is cleverly written and humorous, while at the same time emotional and dark. Lange captures teen angst coupled with the sorrow of being an outcast perfectly, while giving Butter a strong, witty voice. I laughed out loud at the way Butter tells his story, but I also found myself wishing I could dive into his world and either hug him or shake him.

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Books For You and Your Teen

Next up is All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

Oh this book. This is a book about Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. They are high school seniors who run with totally different crowds.

Finch is a “freak” who is fascinated by death–and how he might die. He is constantly striving to stay awake and alive. He looks for a reason each day to stay in this world.  Violet is completely focused on graduation and getting out of their tiny Indiana town. She feels defined by her sister’s death and is finding a hard time going back to her old friends and hobbies.

Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of a bell tower at their school and ultimately save each other. They end up partners in a Geography project that has them “wandering” all over the great state of Indiana and then report back to their class. Clearly they are thrown together in love…but their story is so heart-wrenching and beautiful.

If you liked Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, you will LOVE this book. If you didn’t care for Eleanor & Park, you will still love this book. It puts suicide and mental illness in a new light.

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My next pick is Paper Towns by John Greene.

Like a metaphor rendered incomprehensible by its ubiquity, there was room enough in what she had left me for endless imaginings, for an infinite set of Margos” (173).

Quentin and Margo have lived next door to each other in Orlando, Florida their entire lives, but run in different crowds (notice a theme here? Come on, it’s YA lit). Quentin hangs out with mostly kids in band and likes his self-proclaimed boring routine. Margo is exciting and popular and pulls all sorts of crazy stunts like running away and spending the night in Disney World.

One night, Margo shows up at Quentin’s window and takes him on a ridiculous night-long adventure, but then disappears. It seems she has left clues, but they are for Quentin to figure out. What happened to her?

I read this book over a weekend, but if I had not had children needing me, I could have easily read it in one sitting. It’s fast-paced and hard to put down. I wanted to know what in the heck was going to happen! I also love the way John Green portrays teenagers. Some criticize him for making characters that are not believable, but as someone who has taught teenagers for twelve years, I can say that teens like these do exist. And they are my most favorite.

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My last pick is Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews.

I grabbed this book from Barnes & Noble because I had a 20% off coupon on top of my membership discount. And the back of the book said it was the “funniest book about death” ever. Sold.

Greg is a high school senior who gets along with everybody, but has no actual friends. Well, other than Earl. And Earl is not so much a friend as a “co-worker”. They make films together. Terrible films that they show no one because they are terrible.

Greg’s mom makes him hang out with Rachel, who is dying from Leukemia. And that’s when things get weird.

The hilarity of this book is how honest and self-deprecating Greg is. He lets the reader know right off the bat that this is not a heart-warming “cancer book”. He does not fall in love and he claims not to learn anything. In fact, he thinks he may be worse for the entire experience. I don’t know if I agree with him, but I think the story is more of what might happen in real life than say, The Fault in Our Stars. There is some bad language and sexual humor, so reader beware if that is something that offends you.

4 YA books that you will enjoy as much {if not more than} your teen!

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What is your favorite YA book? What are you (and/or your teen) reading this summer? I want to know what to put on my reading list/classroom library list next!

If you’d like to donate to my classroom library, I just updated it with a bunch of junior high titles. Almost 500 books to choose from to donate, many under $8 each. I also created a DonorsChoose profile that collects donations toward my project–50 books for my classroom library.

Book links are affiliates. That means if you click and buy, I get a couple cents. Just trying to earn some Amazon dollars to buy books for my classroom library!

The Potty Mouth At the Table

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I like to laugh, so I decided to read a Laurie Notaro book. It’s really that simple.

I have only read one other book by Notaro,There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble, and it was funny. It was REALLY funny. So I figured if Notaro’s fiction is that hilarious, her memoir stuff was going to be even better.

Plus people told me, her memoir stuff is even better.

So I picked the most recently published of all of them,The Potty Mouth at the Table despite the fact that all the GoodReads snobs users seemed to think this was not her best.

If this is not her best? I need to make sure I am not drinking anything while I read her earlier stuff because liquid WILL come out of my nose.

Potty Mouth is a collection of personal essays that made me say to my husband, “I am pretty sure this sort of thing only happens to extremely funny people who can tell a good story. Otherwise these sorts of things would be lost. Why have someone get in a cab with someone with the worst breath ever if they can’t weave that into a story that makes you gag and laugh your face off?”

The essays range in topic from opera about Anne Frank to lists of the worst Foodie words and phrases ever. Because I was constantly chuckling out loud, I ended up reading a bunch of it out loud to Cortney. He loves when I do that. Ok he does not really love it, and he usually doesn’t really listen, but this time he actually chucked too and said, “what book is that?”

It’s totally a quick, easy read too. I basically read it over a weekend. And it was a busy weekend, so take it to the beach or to the pool or even just to the couch and get your giggle on.

Then come back here and thank me.

And you’re welcome in advance.

What authors make you giggle right out loud?

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I bought the book myself. The links are affiliate though and if you purchase the book through one of those links I may some day earn enough to buy one of my children something from the ice cream truck. No. Nevermind. That thing is creepy.

Open Boxes by Christine Organ

Book coverThe book Open Boxes by Christine Organ is not just another feel-good book meant to tell you how to connect with your inner spiritual flower child. It is an inspirational collection of essays that demonstrates how our every day lives are filled with beautiful grace, amazing wonder, and incredible miracles.

I will admit when I read the description of the book, I figured it would be one of those hippie-dippie books that gives me instruction about how I can meditate and self-love my way into a happier, calmer life. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it wasn’t so much didactic as it was inspirational.

Organ postulates that our lives are like a series of tightly sealed, organized boxes that we file away, keeping separated from other parts of our lives. In order to lead a more connected, spiritually peaceful life, we should open those boxes and make connections. She organizes the personal essays in the book into the three ways she imagines the boxes being opened and shared: Grace, Wonder, and Miracles.

Early in my reading, I found myself grabbing for my pencil, marking up the book as I read, dog-earring pages to come back to. Rarely do I identify so much with someone else’s spiritual journey. Mine has always felt very unique in that it all took place–is taking place–in my own head. Organ’s journey is very similar in that she embraces her doubts.

“We have doubts and questions. We see inconsistencies, and there are times when we don’t know what to believe. But there is no shame in admitting the presence of spiritual doubts. In fact, acknowledging doubts is a critical part of an authentic faith” (73).

She also recognizes the need to be vulnerable and take chances in order to be our best and produce our best. I struggle with this in my writing as well as in my teaching, mothering, and wife-ing I know that in order to do the great things I have dreamed about my whole life, I have to open myself up. I have to allow mistakes and criticism. But it’s so hard. Organ says, “The prickliness of vulnerability is a touch of pain accompanied by the feeling of freedom that comes from having done something truly authentic, personal, and unabashed” (61).

The other areas of the book, Wonder and Miracles, are no less inspiring.

“Sometimes the weight of wonder is just too much, the awe too overwhelming, for me to grasp” (127).

From her faith journey to her struggles with vulnerability to her miscarriage and learning to embrace self-care, I kept finding more ways to personally connect with Organ. But probably the most significant connection I felt to her was in the way she describes wonder and miracles.

Every day I marvel in wonder at a million things, but at the top of the list are my children. Not a day goes by that I don’t run my fingers over Alice’s sleeping face or Charlie’s fingers or through Eddie’s hair. The fact that I have them is a miracle, and watching them grow and learn is a wonder.

She even touches on prayer in the Miracles section, but it’s not in the way you think. Organ does not talk about times she prayed for miracles and they happened.  Nope. Instead she discusses the “tricky” nature of prayer–who is it really for? What is it supposed to do? She muses that prayer is not for changing circumstances, but for giving the person doing the praying a different perspective on those circumstances. For providing a peace. She even likens prayer to a form of therapy.

I could go on and on. This book is beautiful. I personally connected to so much. Not everything, but enough that it kept me reading and nodding and marking up the pages with “ME TOO!”

If you are in a funk emotionally or spiritually, I recommend Open Boxes. Even if you are not, it’s a lovely read that will reaffirm what you know and help you to believe in the miracles and wonder of this world we live in, this life we have been graced with. It will help you mentally open boxes and see all the ways we are all connected.

Open Boxes is available at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, nor are the links affiliate links. I was sent a copy of the book to read and review, but all opinions are my own.

The Shakespeare Conspiracy

51OXR+YUIIL._UY250_I’ve mentioned before that part of my story as a reader includes the years I was into mysteries. I haven’t really picked up a good murder mystery since Dan Browns’ The Da Vinci Code, so I was ready for one.  Plus, mysteries are just good quick summer reads.

I was sent a copy of The Shakespeare Conspiracy by Jeffrey Hunter McQuain to read and review which is perfect because A) mystery and B) Shakespeare!

Christopher Klewe and his best friend Mason Everly, a fellow Shakespeare expert, were about to make a ground-breaking announcement regarding the Bard at The Globe Theater in London when Klewe finds out Everly has been murdered in Washington D.C. by a secret society. As Klewe finds out about the murder a reporter, Zelda Hart, loiters around and ends up joining him as he searches for answers about the killer. The search leads the pair from D.C. to Paris, London, and Stratford Upon Avon.

I will admit that when I started reading the book, I found the names of the characters pretty cheesy, but as I continued to read, I really didn’t care. The Shakespeare Conspiracy is just a great, traditional murder-mystery that keeps you turning pages. All the chapters are super short, but end on some sort of cliff-hanger that makes you say, “eh, what is one more chapter? They’re short!” Before you know it, you’ve blown through the whole book in a matter of days.

McQuain has a PhD in Literary Studies from American University and is an expert himself on The Bard. The information he injects in the story is fascinating and helps to move the plot along. The information both Everly and Klewe have about Shakespeare and the announcement they planned to make about him is fed to the reader as it is fed to Zelda via Klewe. Like other historical or literary conspiracy-based fictional mysteries, this one is chocked full of research, but it’s not weighted down by it.

The only part I find lacking (besides the goofy names) is that the characters lack an emotional connection. The reader gets that there are friendships and romantic feelings, but it isn’t done very well. It’s not distracting, however, since few murder mysteries focus on the emotions, rather they feed on the logic of the reader.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it as an easy, light summer read. Especially if you want to learn a little something about one of the world’s greatest writers.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. The book was sent to me for review, but the opinions are all mine. Links are affiliate which means if you click and buy I will get a few dimes thrown my way.

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