What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Having finished all the books I got for Christmas, I acquired a bunch more for my birthday!  Not only did I receive some books as gifts, but I found lots of low-priced books at the Regent Square Yard Sale, I bought a few books at Balticon, and after reading one of the titles below I swapped it for one of the others at a Little Free Library in my neighborhood.  I’ve got enough new-to-me books to last all summer!  Here are the highlights of my past month’s reading:

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler

This is a classic Anne Tyler novel: A bunch of quirky characters form a family in Baltimore, someone goes through some self-evaluation and yearning, there’s an off-and-on romance involving misunderstandings, somebody runs an unusual business, and there are some gems like these:

“That first night you telephoned, I had just about hit bottom.  It was so incredibly providential that you called me when you did, Rebecca.”  He reached across the table and gripped one of her hands.  Unfortunately, it was the hand that held her scrunched-up napkin.  Also, she felt an instantaneous, nearly overwhelming urge to wriggle her fingers frantically, like some kind of undersea creature.

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4 Great Poetry Books for Young Children

Our two-year-old Lydia loves poetry!  Most young children enjoy hearing rhyming, rhythmic words, but Lydia is particularly fascinated.  We have many picture books with rhyming text–like the wonderful works of Dr. Seuss–but we’ve also found several longer poetry books that she enjoys and so do we.

Poetry is very helpful in getting children interested in books and understanding how language works.  Our first child, Nicholas, went through a long phase of pointing out “matching” words on the page–words like rough and tough that look the same except for the first letter–and he was intrigued to learn that such words usually rhyme but sometimes don’t, and that words that rhyme sometimes don’t match visually.  Poems that don’t rhyme are educational in a different way, demonstrating the power of language to express feelings and perceptions.  Both rhyming and non-rhyming poems are more memorable than prose, enabling children to quote favorite portions and to “read” their books to themselves as the pictures cue them to recall the words. Read more of this post

Secrets to a Happy Road Trip with a Two-year-old

When our son Nicholas was 2 years old, we drove from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma, stayed a while, and drove back.  In each direction, we spent 3 days in a row on the road for about 8 hours a day of actual driving time, plus rest stops.  My cousin who has older children gave me two very helpful tips, and I thought of another idea that proved even more useful than those!

Tip #1: Bring a Magna-Doodle or similar self-contained drawing toy, instead of crayons/markers and paper. It’s much less messy!

Tip #2: Plan for an extended rest stop every 100 miles.  Look at the map for a park, museum, or other pleasant spot.  You will not stop at all of these places.  Just have a list handy in your travel folder (or wherever you organize the information like directions and coupons).  When your child becomes restless, then you can say something like, “Just hang in there for another 20 miles, and we can hike in Englewood MetroPark!”  (That’s one of the stops we made, a very nice park off I-70 near Dayton, Ohio.) Read more of this post

What I’ve Learned By Reading Too Much (and 4 other books!)

In addition to finishing the books I got for Christmas in time for my birthday, I’ve read a few other new-to-me books recently, including one that actually has the alternate title What I’ve Learned By Reading Too Much!  I learned something from each of these books.

The Dance of Anger by Harriet G. Lerner

This is one of the most helpful self-help books I’ve ever read.  It explains several ways that anger typically functions in women’s relationships (with men, family members, friends, and co-workers) and how our handling of anger often keeps a relationship stuck in frustrating patterns.  Although the book focuses on women and makes some generalizations about what women do vs. what men do, it’s more insightful than stereotypical, and some of the strategies could easily be useful to men, too, when they find themselves stuck in the same situations.  A particularly helpful section talks about the formation of triangles in which “we reduce anxiety in one relationship by focusing on a third party, who we unconsciously pull into the situation to lower the emotional intensity in the original pair.”  I’ve sometimes realized that I was doing this, or that two people had pulled me into the middle of a conflict that was really between them, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to get out of it.  The book explains how to figure out why it’s happening and how to get out of it by “staying calm, staying out, and hanging in”–none of which is especially easy to do, but the clear explanation of steps makes it sound possible, at least!  I also appreciate this book’s clear explanation of a pattern in which one person consistently “over-functions” (does too much) and the other “under-functions” and why both people find this difficult to stop.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

This dystopian techno-thriller starts with a fascinating premise and goes on into a saga that seemed kind of muddled… Read more of this post

Books from Other Cultures: Japan, Sweden, Louisiana…

I didn’t specifically plan to read about foreign cultures in 2016, but the books I got for Christmas happened to include three translated from Swedish, one translated from Japanese, one set in rural Louisiana, and one about houses around the world–so these are what I’ve been reading!  I reviewed the other two Swedish books last month.

Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, translated from Japanese by Dorothy Britton

This is the best-selling book in Japanese history, but I had never heard of it until Cocoon of Books reviewed it.  Totto-chan was the childhood nickname of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, who grew up to become a popular television personality in Japan.  In the 1980s, she wrote this memoir of attending an alternative elementary school in the early 1940s.  Totto-chan started first grade at a typical elementary school but was considered an incorrigible discipline problem.  Her mother took her to visit Tomoe School, where the headmaster believed that children learn best from following their own interests and having plenty of field trips, conversations with adults, real-world projects, exercise, and music.  Totto-chan thrived in this unusual school, held in a cluster of retired train cars.  The book is a series of sweet anecdotes of childhood, many of which make serious points about educational practices and social norms.  Tragically, Tomoe School was destroyed by American bombs during World War II and was never able to reopen.  Kuroyanagi concludes the book with an essay about how the Tomoe experience shaped her into a successful person rather than a lifelong troublemaker (the core issue I’ve been studying in my work), and she gives updates on what some of the other alumni were doing in their forties.  This is a very charming book that really made me think.  It would be suitable for children over age 8 or so.

The Natural House Book by David Pearson

My partner Daniel picked up this used book, published in 1989, as a Christmas present for me because of my interests in architecture and environmentalism.  It’s dated but still interesting.  It explains how “natural houses” traditional in various parts of the world utilize environmentally-friendly principles and how the same ideas can be adapted in new construction.  It also promotes the idea that a more natural house leads to a more natural life that’s more comfortable and healthy.  I didn’t learn a whole lot from this book, but I did enjoy looking at it.  It’s funny how the traditional stuff is as true as ever, while some of the advice about how to avoid toxins in new construction is outdated.

Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells

This novel is related to the well-known Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which I’d started to read a few years ago but abandoned after a couple of chapters because the protagonist seemed like such a whiner, her mother seemed like such an evil bitch, and I just couldn’t stand people with terrible names like Siddalee and Necie y’alling each other all over the place.  Daniel got me this book because, at a glance, he saw that part of it is about Girl Scouts and the author’s name is Rebecca and it seemed pretty well written.  Well, it is–there are some exquisitely vivid passages, and everything seems very real, and at times that’s sweet and wonderful.  The book is made up of interconnected short stories with different narrators, giving you a series of perspectives on a central Louisiana white Catholic family and their black maid and hired hand, first in the mid-1960s and then in the early 1990s.

I particularly appreciated the story in which Siddalee’s father, Big Shep, serves on the local draft board.  He starts off feeling inspired by this patriotic duty, but as the Vietnam conflict goes more and more wrong, he begins to have doubts, particularly when it’s time to consider the draft status of boys he’s known since they were born whose value to their families is painfully obvious.  In every debate, he’s crushed by the prejudices of the clean-handed businessmen who don’t understand his perspective as a rice farmer.  The Vietnamese peasants are rice farmers, too.  Big Shep, who in other people’s stories seems like such a tough guy, really struggles with his feelings here–and you, the reader, are the only one to hear about a lot of it.

But Siddalee’s mother is, in fact, a truly terrible and/or horribly damaged person.  There were moments when I felt some sympathy for her, but mostly she’s dreadful.  It’s no wonder Siddalee felt traumatized and fled and had years of therapy–and although the final story is supposed to be about how her healing process is working so well, now that she’s understood that God is really a woman and that she needs to treat herself like a baby forever, it mostly just made me wince.  I don’t think I’ll read this one again.

Trigger warnings: Alcoholism and associated appalling behavior.  Drunk driving.  Child abuse, both violent and sexual.  Unbearable dialect.

Shadows in the Twilight by Henning Mankell, translated from Swedish by Laurie Thompson

This book disappointed me by not being what I expected, but it’s really a very charming novel about an almost-twelve-year-old boy, suitable for reading by kids that age or even younger.  Joel lives in small-town Sweden in 1957 with his father, and they miss his mother, who left them years ago.  Joel wants to have an adventure and tries to get lost in the forest on purpose, but he realizes the foolishness of this before it’s too late.  Then he does have an adventure: Crossing a street in a hurry, he gets hit by a bus at just the right angle so that he falls between the wheels and is completely unhurt.  As the excitement of this Miracle fades, Joel begins to feel an uneasy sense of obligation: He must have been saved for a purpose; what is it?  He finally decides that he must do a good deed.  He makes the choice of what the good deed will be and figures out how to do it entirely on his own–with unintended results.  Reading, you’re inside Joel’s head, seeing things as he sees them and being talked through all his reasoning, as well as enjoying the various types of imaginative play that lure him away from his mission temporarily.

People have been recommending Henning Mankell to me for years, so I picked up this title when I saw it cheap (and let my one-year-old daughter give it to me for Christmas) without realizing that although Mankell is generally a writer of suspenseful crime fiction, this isn’t an example of it, despite the promisingly creepy title and cover.  I started reading it when I was in the mood for a mystery, and that’s what made it seem painfully slow, as if nothing was happening.

I’ll read this again sometime when I’m in the mood for following an eleven-year-old on his mild but really rather entertaining adventures.  I mean, he gets to wander the steam tunnels under his town, masquerade as an aspiring saxophonist, and sneak into the telephone office in the middle of the night–what’s not to like?

Visit the Quick Lit linkup for more book reviews!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

It’s been a difficult year for me so far, but you know what I can do when I’m sick, when I’m hanging around the hospital waiting for things to happen, and when I’m recovering from surgery and have to rest a lot?  I can read!  And it happens that I received a lovely stack of new-to-me books for Christmas!  Here are my reviews of the ones I’ve finished:

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

For the first half of this book, I was enjoying the story well enough, but I was a little disappointed that this book wasn’t grabbing me like Morton’s The Distant Hours (reviewed here).  Then it started to do things that really impressed me structurally as well as making the plot more exciting!  The most amazing thing I can explain without giving you any spoilers is that a conversation between two main characters which starts around page 30 appears again around page 440 but from the other character’s point of view; the third-person narration giving you the viewpoint character’s unspoken thoughts and perceptions of the action, combined with the fact that background noise prevents each of them from hearing some of what the other says, combined with what you’ve learned about the plot in the intervening 410 pages, gives the conversation an entirely different meaning!  Wow.

Anyway, about the story: Laurel was hanging out in her treehouse, being an angsty teenager, when she saw a strange man approach her mother and heard the few words he said before her mother fatally stabbed him with the birthday-cake knife.  The official story is that her mother was defending herself against a dangerous vagrant, but Laurel isn’t so sure…but (for rather weakly explained reasons) she doesn’t attempt to figure it out until fifty years later.  The story of Laurel’s investigation is interwoven with flashbacks to World War II London, when her mother had all the interpersonal drama that she then left behind to become Laurel’s wonderful, nurturing mother at Greenacres Farm.  Twists and turns galore bring us to a roller-coaster ending in which it all finally, astoundingly, makes sense.  There are some dragging moments in the first half, but it was well worth reading carefully in order to appreciate the rest!

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, translated from Swedish by Rod Bradbury

Allan Karlsson is alone in his room at the old folks’ home and doesn’t feel like going to the party that’s about to begin celebrating his 100th birthday, so he climbs out the ground-level window and shuffles off in his slippers.  Read more of this post

Book reviews coming in 2016

I’ve been very busy this year so far, but I’ve been reading anyway!  Here is a hasty iPad photo of the wonderful stack of books I received for Christmas, all of which I expect to read and review over the next few months.  [UPDATE: I added links to the reviews when I posted them.]
stack of books

I’ve already read three of them and parts of two others!  Can you guess which ones?  Which would you read first?

Having new-to-me books to read works for me!  Stay tuned for reviews, coming soon! Meanwhile, visit the Quick Lit linkup for other writers’ book reviews!

Books for Adults, Preteens, and Toddlers

I’m starting a new “preteen” tag with this post because my son Nicholas, as he approaches his eleventh birthday, has started to ask for “more young-adult-type books” and has been appreciating most of what we’ve been finding for him, including a book I picked up used and read aloud to him without having read it myself–a potentially risky move, but it worked out fine.  (Don’t miss the book reviews Nicholas wrote last month!)  My recent reading includes books I’ve read to myself, a book I read to him before his dad and I switched who’s doing the bedtime reading, and books I’ve been reading over and over again to 19-month-old Lydia.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

This novella, translated from Japanese, is a sweet and perceptive story of two Generation X college students who have more in common than the narrator, Mikage, initially realizes.  She doesn’t understand why Yoichi is being so kind to her after the death of the grandmother who raised her–they are only acquaintances, and he already has a girlfriend–but by giving Yoichi a chance, Mikage finds something she didn’t know she needed and eventually is able to help him in return.  The prose is so vivid and absorbing that I felt like the story was happening right this minute, until Yoichi walked in with a new word processor–the book was published in 1988!  Taking that into consideration makes Mikage’s acceptance of Yoichi’s transgendered mother all the more interesting.  Mikage and Yoichi’s relationship and working-out of their futures, combined with the very Japanese details of their daily lives, made Kitchen just the kind of parallel-world experience I was looking for when I picked up a book from Japan.

The book also includes “Moonlight Shadow”, a short story with some similar themes but a more magical style.  It was a little too heavy on the wistfulness, and some ideas were repeated too many times, but I liked the way it reminded me of Japanese folktales about mysterious young ladies who turn out to be something else in disguise.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

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Book Reviews and Giveaway!

The silver lining of being mildly disabled for months after a car accident is that I’ve had lots of time for reading!  I’m grateful that I had the type of concussion that makes computer work difficult but isn’t hampered by reading on paper.  Here are some of the books I’ve read.

I’m giving away my copy of Last Call in the City of Bridges because, although I mostly enjoyed the book, I don’t feel like I’ll need to read it again.  [UPDATE: Laura Reu is the winner!]

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Two infertile couples each adopt a little girl from Korea.  They meet at the airport, where Bitsy Donaldson has an elaborate plan for enthusiastically welcoming her new daughter and capturing every memory, while the Yazdan family has a quieter approach.  Bitsy sees this other family as connected to hers by the shared experience and organizes annual shared celebrations of Arrival Day for years to come.  The gradual accumulation of Arrival Day traditions is very sweet and realistic, the interplay between various members of the two families is fascinating, and the eventual romance between two of the grandparents is superbly poignant and unique.  One of the most interesting things about this story is that, while the Donaldsons are typical white Baltimore natives, the Yazdans are Iranian immigrants, so they have their own non-American culture in addition to the daughter from Korea.  Anne Tyler’s long marriage to an Iranian-American surely helped to inform and inspire the Yazdans’ customs and attitudes.  This wonderfully immersive story of very real people gives Saint Maybe (reviewed here) some serious competition as my favorite Anne Tyler novel!

The Minotaur by Barbara Vine

Read more…

Book Reviews by a 10-and-11/12-year-old

This is a guest post by Nicholas Efran.

Key:  =1 star     ⭐︎=1/2 star


The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

This is a book about a mouse who gets sent to the dungeon for being different.  He is in love with the princess in the castle he lives in.  Then he discovers that a rat and a girl named Mig are planning to trap the princess in the dungeon.  Go read the book to find out what happens next!☆☆☆☆☆

Woof by Spencer Quinn

This is a book about a girl who adopts a dog, and the dog tells the story from his point of view.  WARNING: I did not finish reading this book because it’s not the best of mystery novels, in my opinion.  Her relative’s prize fish plaque has been stolen!  That’s the point I read up to. You can read the book to find out what else happens.☆☆⭐︎

Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary

The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary is about a girl named Ramona and her adventures with her sister Beezus and her friends, including Howie, her neighbor.  In many of the books, Howie has a sister named Willa Jean.  In Ramona and Her Mother, Willa Jean is given a box of tissues, which all in all she throws around the Quimbys’ living room.  In this book, Ramona has many other funny adventures, and I don’t want to spoil it all for you…so read the book!  WARNING: If possible, buy an older edition of the book with less snooty illustrations than the current one.☆☆☆☆☆

I Survived: The Attacks of September 11th, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis

The I Survived series is a series that I have heard about for a long time, but this is the first book I have “read”.  (My teacher read it to the class.)  The book is about a boy who loves playing football.  Then one day he sneaks out and takes the train into New York City because he wants to talk to his uncle about a serious event that may prevent him from continuing to play football.  His uncle and father are both firemen, and they rushed to the scene after a plane hit one of the twin towers.  It was very good, and you should read the book to find out what happens next!☆☆☆☆⭐︎

The Earth Dragon Awakes by Laurence Yep

This is a book that we read together as a class at the beginning of fifth grade.  It is about the tragic events of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. There are 2 main families that are focused on in the book and you follow these families through the struggles and happenings of the many days in the struggle. Read the book to explore the wonders of this tragic day.☆☆☆☆☆

Visit the Quick Lit Linkup for more book reviews!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

Book Reviews: Guys and Womanhood, Grown-ups and The Child’s Child, and Tripods!

Different kinds of people and their different ways of living are among my main interests, and I’ve been reading about a variety of demographics in the past two months.

The Book of Guys by Garrison Keillor

I remember really enjoying this book of short stories the first time I read it, several years ago.  This time around, I didn’t like it as much–too many of the stories spin off into excessive absurdity in a way that kind of stops being funny to me.  Still, it has some really great lines, some vivid, some silly, and some philosophical:

It was one of those ugly and treacherous springs in the Midwest, when winter refuses to quit, like a big surly drunk who heads for home and then staggers back for another round and a few more songs that everyone has heard before.

“Try dessert substitutes, such as erasers. A plate of erasers served on a slice of sponge contains less than two calories.”

After all, he cared for her, she was his wife, and when your wife has an affair, don’t you want it to be a good one, a great experience for her?

And the overall premise, that guys (males) sometimes struggle with their identity and that it isn’t the same struggle for all of them, is a fine one.  I enjoyed hearing from some of these guys again.

The Long Shadow by Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson

This book summarizes a longitudinal study of almost 800 people who started first grade in Baltimore public schools in 1982 and were interviewed for the last time at age 28. Read more of this post

Book Reviews: 4 British Books

Although I’ve never been to Great Britain, books by British authors have been on my shelves since I was very young.  The first ones I read to myself were from the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, when I was in first grade; I remember that after the first few pages, I stomped off to find my mother and complain, “The quotation marks in this book are all wrong!  And they spelled color wrong!  And what’s a lorry?”  Once I understood that there are places in the world where people speak English but use different spelling and punctuation and vocabulary, I was intrigued by this parallel universe, and I’ve read several British books every year since.  The books I’ve read in the past month happen to be a spontaneous clustering of Britishness.

No, wait–does Ireland count as Britain?  I know the government is separate.  But it’s right there on the same island with Northern Ireland. [irrelevant link deleted] But it’s not on the island of Great Britain, and my mind is echoing with the shout of the Mike Myers character from two decades ago: “Here’s Scotland! Here’s Ireland! Here’s the bloody sea!!!”  Oh dear.  I hope I’m not offending anybody….  I already set up the title of my post, and I’m running out of time for writing, and I’d better just get on with my reviews….

I’m a Stranger Here Myself and Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

These two books went onto my list–the list that I give to people who ask what I want for gifts–at different times.  I didn’t realize that they are the U.S. edition and the U.K. edition of the same book!  Bill Bryson grew up in Iowa, lived in England for twenty years, then returned to the United States.  The first of his books I encountered was The Lost Continent, about traveling around the U.S. ten years after he’d moved away, and I was interested to see how an additional decade would affect his perspective. Read more of this post

Book Reviews: Mysteries and Mars

These aren’t the only books I’ve read in the past few months, but I noticed two themes that led me to group these reviews together.

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin

P1020132This classic mystery was written in 1953, and reading it in the original edition (courtesy of Daniel’s mother) helped me get into the mood.  I’ve never seen either of the two film versions, which is good: This story is best if you have no idea what to expect from it, and some of the twists just simply wouldn’t work if you could see who’s who rather than relying on the viewpoint characters’ perceptions.  I won’t give away the plot except to say that you may want to avoid this one if you’re pregnant or have a new boyfriend.  It’s really fantastically written, with plenty of clever tricks that prevent you from noticing that you’re making assumptions until some of those assumptions are suddenly overturned.

Although the story is set on Earth and all characters are humans, the book will be enjoyed by readers from all worlds, as indicated by this symbol on the cover of the Inner Sanctum Mysteries hardcover. Read more of this post

10 Book Reviews by a 10-Year-Old

This is a guest post by Nicholas Efran.  His book reviews are a lot more succinct than his mom’s! If you want to know more about the books, you can ask Nicholas in the comments.

key:⭐️=1 star  🌜=1half star  😥=so sad  😠=makes me so mad  👎=thumbs down  🆒=cool book  💯=100

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

This is the story of kids who won a writing contest and got to go to the pre-opening of the new library before it opened to the public. They played many games there, but they found out that the last game they were going to play was “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”. I don’t want to spoil too much of this book, as it is a good book, but I really recommend you read it—and there is a surprise at the end of the book!⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

Elephi, the Cat with the High IQ by Jean Stafford

Elephi is a cat who looks out his window one day and sees a little white car that a man is abandoning in the deep snow. He manages to get the little car into his owners’ apartment. He talks to this car—which I find a little strange, but things in stories can be personified. Eventually the car’s rightful owner comes back and everything is good.⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

Elizabeth Rew is a girl who discovers magic in a place you wouldn’t expect: The New York Circulating Material Repository, which is like a library of objects. She has adventures with her friends, and they discover who is working with bad or dark magic.⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander

We got this book at the library book sale, and since it was about a cat I thought I would like it—but I was almost 💯% wrong. 😠  The book is about a cat who can time-travel and has a strange white mark on his belly. Apparently the cat can talk to his owner, and the owner wasn’t surprised at all when the cat started talking, and apparently all cats can talk and time-travel. Instead of having nine lives, they can live nine lives in nine different time periods. The cat takes his owner places (I only got through two before I quit reading the book) and they have adventures, almost all of which involve getting kidnapped and taken away. Nothing seemed to be explained enough, and their adventures seemed quite repetitive.🌜👎

Redwall by Brian Jacques

This book involved a lot of fighting and things that I thought were just terribly sad, like a mouse and his family getting trapped and forced to do things and being threatened with death.😥  Apparently, when the mice found a fox that was on their side lying injured, they just took him inside their castle, and he could walk up their stairs with no difficulty, which seems strange because mice are a lot smaller than foxes.⭐️⭐️🌜👎

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

This was an extremely good book with many twists and turns in the plot. I really enjoyed reading it, although I think it was a little strange and hard to understand.  Mr. Westing chooses his heirs, and his will describes things they’re going to do as it’s being read. He gives them a puzzle to solve that leads them to the name of his murderer. There are many explosions, and overall I give this book⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

I really enjoyed this book. I remember my dad tried to read it to me when I was about 5, but I didn’t remember any of it, so I wanted to read it again. Claudia and her brother Jamie run away from home to live in the art museum in Manhattan, where they have adventures trying to figure out who made a statue called Angel.⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Miranda had a friend named Sal.  However, another boy punched Sal—apparently just to see what would happen.  Every day when Miranda walks home from school, she has to pass the laughing man, a homeless guy who seems kind of crazy.  It’s all explained in the end, but I don’t want to ruin it!  This is a very interesting book, as it involves time travel, and I give it⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

Ghost Cat by Helen Rushmore

Ghost Cat is a book about a girl named Glory who finds a cat she thinks is a ghost, although she doesn’t really believe in ghosts; however, the legend said there was a ghost who looked like the cat.   Overall, I think this was a very good book, and I think you should read it.  I would give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer

The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer is a book about a family who moves into the country in their family’s trolley car.  They had a lot of fun after finding out that they had neighbors who were very nice.  They grow a garden and have a small farm and have other cool adventures.  I liked this book, and overall I would give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

Visit the Quick Lit Linkup for more book reviews!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

The Barb Curlee Memorial Bookmark

Barb Curlee was my friend.  She died last year, of cancer, after fewer years than she deserved.  Barb and I met at church, where we eventually served on the vestry together during three difficult years when the vestry had a lot to do!  Barb was wise and strong and mostly cheerful through it all.  Barb also coordinated our church’s coffee hours and many special meals for nine long years, until she was very sick.  That’s my job now, and remembering Barb helps me keep my determination to keep things going so that we all eat well.

Barb’s memorial service included happy reminiscences from her siblings, and I think they’re the people who produced this lovely keepsake.  I never before attended a funeral that had anything to take home other than a leaflet with a little information about the departed.  It turns out that a bookmark with photos is a perfect thing to take home!

Barb in the oceanI’ve been using this bookmark, and that means that every time I open my book, I remember Barb and think about her for a moment.  It keeps her memory alive.

I really like this picture, and I appreciate that they put the date on it, because it reminds me that Barb had some good times as well as some really awful times in her last months.  Although she had to do a lot of boring responsible stuff, getting her affairs in order and arranging for her sister to take custody of her 14-year-old daughter, Barb also made time for one last vacation.  It’s wonderful to have this reminder that she got to walk in the waves and enjoy a lollipop!

The bookmark also reminds me to pray for Barb’s daughter, Evie.  She’s a great kid, and I’m sure her aunt is doing a fine job of parenting her, but it’s got to be hard losing your single parent to a devastating disease.  Evie moved to the suburbs with her aunt and isn’t coming to our church anymore.  We miss her!  I hope she’s okay.  I hope she still can feel her mom’s love.

Barb and Evie
Yes, my bookmark is showing signs of wear.  But it only works because I’m using it.  If I put it away in a drawer, I wouldn’t think of Barb nearly so often as I do.

A memorial bookmark might sound like a silly idea, but it really works for me!  If you’ve lost a loved one, please consider this easy, affordable way to help people remember her fondly.

Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more budget-friendly ideas!

What I Read Recently: Adult, Tween, Baby, and Architecture Books

I’ve only read two books to myself in the past month, but I’ve been reading to both of my kids, too, and looking at some floor-plan books, so here are two book reviews in each category.

Books I read to myself:

  • The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards begins during a snowstorm in 1964, when Norah and David’s child is about to be born.  They can’t get to the hospital, but luckily David is a doctor, and his nurse Caroline is able to meet them at the clinic and administer anesthetic that makes Norah semi-conscious during the birth (as was the style at the time).  Baby Paul is perfect, but he’s followed by a twin sister whom David immediately recognizes as having Down Syndrome.  He directs Caroline to take the baby girl to an institution, and then he tells Norah that their daughter died at birth.  He wants to spare his family the pain of raising a disabled child, but Norah is devastated by the loss, and it affects their family life forever.  Meanwhile, Caroline finds the institution unbearable and decides to move to another city and raise Phoebe (giving her the name Norah had said she would give her daughter) as her own child.  The plot then unfolds over 25 years.  This is my favorite kind of book, about people who seem very real getting into interesting situations and having feelings that make sense even if you, the reader, would react differently.  Almost every moment has a vivid clarity.  I also love the depiction of Pittsburgh, where Caroline raises Phoebe, because that’s where I live and I’m familiar with their neighborhood and the other places they go.  This book was just as good the second time around as when I first read it several years ago, but I’m glad I waited to reread it until my own daughter was safely born–stories of birth defects and complications are not ideal pregnancy reading!
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.  Just when I think nothing new can be done with the structure of novels, something like this comes along!  Ursula is born in 1910 and dies without taking a breath.  Ursula is born in 1910 and drowns at the seashore when she’s five years old.  Ursula is born in 1910, has a terrible feeling of foreboding at the seashore when she’s five years old, and then at age eight ventures onto the icy roof, after her brother throws her doll out the attic window, and falls to her death.  Ursula is born in 1910 and at age eight hides her doll under the pillow, but then she catches the Spanish flu….  It’s like a time-travel story, except it’s always the same stretch of time; what matters is what she does with it and what else happens, the effects of the proverbial butterfly fluttering its wings.  WARNINGS: Some of Ursula’s lives are pretty grim, even graphically horrifying.  The nature of the story is going to force you to think about all the ways a little girl could die.  But if you can handle it, this is a fascinating book!  I especially like the points when the cumulative effects of Ursula’s multiple lives come almost to the surface of her consciousness–which in some of the timestreams gets her sent to a psychoanalyst who is hilariously clueless about how to talk to a child!

Read more…

Books I’ve Been Sharing with My 10-Year-Old

I wrote Great Chapter Books for Kids when Nicholas was four years old, thinking I’d add to it later or make it the first post in a series…and I keep meaning to get around to it…but meanwhile, I’m going to use the Quick Lit Linkup as motivation to write about what I’ve read to Nicholas, and recommended that he read, just in the past couple of months around his tenth birthday.  Some of these will eventually make the “great” list, while others might not.

Although I don’t spend as much time reading to Nicholas as I did when we commuted by public transit to his preschool, I still read to him for about half an hour at bedtime; we have been firm about keeping up that tradition even now that baby sister Lydia is on the scene!  My father continued to read bedtime stories until I was 14, and I think it’s a great way to experience books together.  Nicholas also gets to read a different book to himself in bed for a while after 8:30.

These are some of the books he’s heard or read since November:

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

This is one of the less-well-known Chronicles of Narnia, but I think it deserves more acclaim. Read more…

28 Book Reviews!

For some reason, growing a new life makes me want to read books I’ve never read before.  Starting last fall during my exhausted queasy phase and continuing up until now, when Lydia is seven months old, I’ve reread only a few books and read many more that were new to me.  Only a few of them are recent releases, but perhaps you missed the older books, so they’ll be new to you, too.

This list includes several books that my life-partner Daniel recommended when I was casting about restlessly with no immediate opportunity to go to the library or a used-book sale, as well as some from the stack he handed me when I said, “What science fiction would I like that I haven’t read?” a few weeks before attending Capclave.  If you are in a long-term relationship, try asking your partner for books he or she would like you to read: They’ll give you something new to talk about, which can teach you new things about each other, and they’ll give you even more in common.

Anyway, on with the books!  (They are in alphabetical order by author and then by title.)

Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine

This travelogue of Earth by the author of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and a zoologist co-author) was obviously right up my alley, yet for some reason I’d never noticed it on our shelf until Daniel recommended it to me.  Adams and Carwardine visited a bunch of endangered species in their exotic habitats and wrote about it with a highly entertaining blend of interesting zoological facts and, well, Douglas Adams.  WARNING: Do not read the part about the Komodo dragons when you are struggling with nausea and/or all alone downstairs in the middle of the night, let alone both. Read more…

Things Not To Do: Fiction Writing Edition

Well, I was really hoping to write a nice long post for the What I’m Reading series at Modern Mrs. Darcy, where Anne and her readers talk about the books they’ve read recently, on the 15th of each month.  I’ve read a whole lot of new-to-me books this year, because having viral bronchitis for the entire month of January, then having a new baby in May and doing lots of breastfeeding, gave me plenty of time for reading–and it seems that a new baby makes me want to read books I haven’t read before.  But now that I’m back to work at my full-time job, as well as taking care of my baby and 9-year-old when I’m at home, I don’t have a lot of time for writing!  Maybe next month…

Meanwhile, I’m going to rant about two things that happen far too often in the novels I read.  (I won’t rat out specific books, though, because both of these are late-in-the-plot twists, thus spoilers.)  If you are an aspiring author, please avoid these irritating cliches! Read more…

3 Good Books on Civil Rights

I happen to have read three books that deal with the rights of African-Americans just before Black History Month.  Two of them are bestsellers I hadn’t read before, but the one I’ll mention first is a less-well-known book I’ve read a couple of times before and suddenly felt inspired to reread.

The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown by Louise S. Robbins is the story of a white librarian who was fired in 1950 because of her personal involvement in advocating equality for African-Americans.  The official reason she was fired was that she had provided “subversive materials” in the library–books and magazines that were thought by the most paranoid conservatives to be advocating Communism–but that was greatly exaggerated.  Really, the people running the town were afraid that her pro-integration activities would embarrass them and/or threaten their status.  There was a long and convoluted campaign to get rid of her, complete with a sudden replacement of the library’s board of directors, outrageous rumors, secret after-hours sneaking into the library’s storage room to photograph books (which, in fact, had been removed from general circulation), and so on.  It’s a great story!  For me, it’s especially interesting because I grew up in that town (Bartlesville, Oklahoma) and this story is both a reminder that things were worse before I was born and a spookily familiar tale of “community leaders” who make policies based on their own stupid prejudices and force out everyone who disagrees with them, and of honest citizens afraid to speak up for what’s right in a culture where personal choices can have mysterious, gossip-driven effects on people’s employment and social lives.  Most of the institutions and a few of the people who are major players in the story are familiar to me.  But even if you know nothing about Bartlesville, small-town politics, or that part of the country, this is a really interesting story!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Read more…