Aug 21, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Heroes We Don’t Hear About

If a 17-year-old girl from a nothing team had struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig–back to back–during an exhibition game in 1931, don’t you think everyone would know about it?

Yeah, not so much.  Because in 1931, striking out two baseball greats in a row apparently got your contract voided for your own “protection”, baseball being “too strenuous” for a woman.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet that more people have heard of the fictional Roy Hobbs than Jackie Mitchell.  Am I right?

I’d like to get on my soapbox and speak eloquently and scathingly about the unfairness of such things, but my two-year-old was up in the night, and it was my older girls’ first day of school; banal adjectives of outrage just keep floating aimlessly inside my head.  I’ll settle instead for encouraging everyone, everywhere to read Marissa Moss’s Mighty Jackie:  The Strike-Out Queen.  It’s a longish picture book, so it’s not a huge time commitment, and these are the kinds of books that need to be read.  (Recorded history still needs some balancing, not to mention the fact that reading Jackie aloud to my kiddos kept me on the edge of my seat. That’s more than live baseball has ever managed to do.)

Read it.  Heck, buy it–and share it.  More people should know Jackie Mitchell’s name.

Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen


New From: $10.11 USD In Stock

Aug 19, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

When You Momentarily Confuse Your Book Preferences With Their Television Counterparts

Okay, so that was a long and clunky title for any blog post, but that’s honestly what I did.  I read the synopsis of Wendy Walker’s Emma in the Night and thought Hey–two girls disappear and only one comes home? that’s kind of an interesting premise… and so I entered the sweepstakes and won a copy.*  I eventually brought it down to the treadmill to read, and I started it on Tuesday.  Which is when I realized that while I’m all over psychological thrillers when I’m watching, say, “The Mentalist” (back when it was good) or “NCIS” (it used to be better, but still), I’m more of a historical fiction/coming of age reader.  How did I temporarily forget this?

Ah, well.  Yeah, this type of book messes with my head–that’s kind of the point, right?–but it certainly made my treadmill time this week pass quickly.  I’m feeling a bit list-y today, maybe because I stayed up until 2:30 this morning finishing this book, so instead of a traditional review you get, well, a list.  Enjoy!

Pros

  1.  It was compelling.  Which is a LOVELY thing on the treadmill.
  2.  It kept me guessing.  Some of the “who”s were purposely indicated early on (although not all of them), but the “how”s were still a surprise to me.  (That’s awkwardly punctuated…sorry.  It was a late night.)
  3.  The alternating narrative styles–one first person, one third–weirdly worked for me.
  4.  Walker obviously did her homework.  I found the specifics of narcissistic personality disorder fascinating.

Cons

  1.  I personally prefer to like a certain percentage of characters in any given book, and very few of Walker’s characters were all that likable.  To be fair, though, it was certainly intentional on her part, and it is a personal preference.
  2.  The ending felt both more realistic and less realistic than what feels usual to me for a mystery, which is about all I can say without spoilers.
  3.  Some of the early scenes with the sisters and the barbie doll felt contrived for a bit of shock value.
  4.  The description on the back points out the holes in Cass’s story; I was assured that the book “sets a new standard for unreliable narrators.”  I LOVE unreliable narrators–and I think I would have enjoyed discovering for myself the extent to which Cass is–or isn’t.  Knowing her story is suspect from the get-go takes away from the impact, I think.

Could Go Either Way

  1.  How many blended families really have that many seriously-messed-up members?  For a relatively small group of people, there were volumes of potential psychiatric case studies.
  2.  Cass sounds unrealistically adult.  Then again, growing up as she did may make that inevitable.
  3.  Because my childhood was blessedly normal–at least, as normal as anyone’s childhood ever is–I couldn’t relate to most of the emotions going on in this book.  Many of them were completely believable, but some I wonder about, because I just can’t know for myself.
  4.  The ending.  Again, I’m avoiding spoilers.

Bottom line?  If psychological thrillers are your thing, absolutely go for it.  If not, well…you’ll just have to decide how much messing-with-your-head you’re up for and decide accordingly.

*My thanks to Erica Martirano and St. Martin’s Press for sending me an ARE of this book!

Emma in the Night: A Novel


New From: $13.50 USD In Stock
Release date August 8, 2017.

Aug 17, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Eight Things I Love About My Brand New Eight-Year-Old

  1.  Her smile.  With or without the correct number of teeth.
  2. Her sweetness.  She expresses love so well!
  3. Her glares.  Because they’re very impressive.
  4. Her way with younger children.
  5. Her occasional tendency to avoid contractions.  I find this ridiculously endearing.
  6. Her imagination.  Because WOWSERS.
  7. Her resigned willingness to eat all manner of things she’s not a big fan of.  (This should stand her in good stead!)
  8. Her giggles.  Even if they sometimes come with consequences.

Happy Birthday to my second girlie–I love you!

Aug 15, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

A Simple, Tasty Salad

Who doesn’t need plenty of those, right?  What’s more, this Mandarin Salad will taste just as good year round, because everything on its ingredient list is readily available, and nothing is desperately seasonal.  (I love salads with, say, strawberries, but not so much come November.)  I candied the almonds instead of trying her ‘sweet sugared cinnamon pecans,’ because I’d like to keep my oldest daughter around for a while longer, and I used good white wine vinegar instead of plain white (because, well, because), but other than that I pretty much stuck to the recipe.  (Other than my lifelong commitment to being wildly generous with fresh parsley whenever it’s on an ingredient list.)  I enjoyed it so much that I made it twice in one week, actually; once for family night at my in-laws’, and then several days later for a funeral.  Give it a try this summer and then keep it around when it gets colder–it’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year through!

(Please tell me you caught the Christmas Vacation reference so I didn’t just sound unbearably cheesy…)

Aug 13, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Slightly Fantastical Fun

I finished the second installment of The Seaside Adventures of Jack and Benny the other day–Salt Water Taffy:  A Climb Up Mt. Barnabas–and it has the same fun, slightly tall tale-ish feel as the first one.  (More talking animals, a feat or two that seem outside the realm of probability, that sort of thing.  And by the way, I feel like this is a series with two names, so I’m improvising as far as the bolding vs. the italics.  Let me know if I’ve gotten it wrong!)  The story moves along, the drawings are entertaining (although still with the annoying hands), and the family dynamics ring true.  I’m getting quite the kick out of this series; it would be perfect for reluctant readers or earlier elementary schoolers in general.  Grab the first one and see what you think!

 

Salt Water Taffy: A Climb Up Mt. Barnabas


New From: $2.95 USD In Stock

Aug 11, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Another Newbery Down!

Not a current one, of course.  What current ones I have left are all longer than I feel up to tackling this summer.  No, I just finished The Matchlock Gun, winner of the medal for 1942 (that’s the year my dad was born!).  I have to say, it was a lovely little story–simple in the way many books about children were during the first half of the 20th century, but poignant in its simplicity.  It takes place during the French and Indian War–a name, I learned tonight, used almost exclusively by Americans–in upstate New York.  Edward’s father is gone overnight on military service, leaving his mother to wonder if the Indians will come; when they do, she and Edward together must defend their home and protect Trudy, the youngest member of the family.  The characters are simply drawn, the writing spare, and the tension utterly convincing.  (I may or may not have stayed up past midnight to find out what happened when the Indians came.)

Better yet, that simplicity and tension makes it a good story for young elementary school boys who want adventure.  At sixty-two pages, including illustrations, The Matchlock Gun is doable for earlier readers and ought to appeal to kids who want to be heroes.  AND it’s only $2.98 on Amazon!

Just sayin.’

In the interest of full disclosure, Trudy is a poorly drawn character; she’s supposedly six but is generally portrayed with the actions and temperament of a three-year-old.  It doesn’t affect the story much, however, and I found myself not particularly caring.

 

The Matchlock Gun


New From: $2.97 USD In Stock

Aug 9, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

I Laughed Even When I Was Cringing

I have to confess–I started A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius quite a while ago.

Then the summer happened.

The kiddos and I went to Idaho to visit family the last week of June–and then just bounced around more family events in Utah for most of July.  I opted to take short books on our trip, since there’s a limit to the amount of focus and time you find while you’re on vacation with your two-year-old, and then Real Friends finally came in at the library with no chance of being renewable, and THEN I started A School for Brides on the treadmill.  (Not to mention the fact that I had to tuck a couple of books I actually owned in there as well.)  I finally recommitted myself to it, however, and oh! how I laughed!  Arthur Bean is funny, funny, funny; he’s also grieving over his mother, intent on winning a short story contest so that he can be a published author, and pining after the lovely Kennedy Laurel, who possibly ended ONE emailed sentence with a period in the course of 268 pages.  (She favors the exclamation point for any and [almost!] every occasion.)  These three driving forces lead him to a plethora of questionable, unfortunate, and/or downright terrible choices, but they also make for some fabulous comedic writing.   As an English teacher, I frequently cringed at those choices, but it was impossible not to laugh anyway.

Stacey Matson, however, accomplishes more than just comedy; she manages to make a frequently arrogant and selfish main character sympathetic.  (Although to be fair, Arthur’s selfish in the way that most junior high students are selfish.  I imagine a reading audience of his peers are likely to empathize with him.)  She also manages to flesh out minor characters with very few words.  If you’re looking for a comic novel with noticeable depth for your junior high student, don’t miss this one.  It’s an especially nice choice for boys, since it should have appeal in beautifully non-bodily oriented ways, but girls will likely get a kick out of it as well.  I’m currently waiting for my library to respond to my “suggest a purchase” request for Matson’s other Arthur Bean novels…

Aug 7, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

You Had Me At Brown Sugar…And Bacon…And Maple…And Butter

You know those nights when you want to try something new for dinner but don’t want to work terribly hard at it?  Yeah, I had one of those last week (okay, at LEAST one), which led me to Pinterest.  I searched my pins for “bacon,” because I had a memory of one or two biscuit-y bake-ish recipes involving bacon that sounded appealing; I never got to anything of the sort, because when I saw this Brown Sugar Pancakes with Bacon Maple Butter recipe it was love at first sight. Because bacon.  And brown sugar.  And maple.  And butter.  Could a recipe BE any more perfect?  (Just channeling a little Chandler.)

Nope.  Nope, it couldn’t.  These things were AMAZING, folks.  I used half whole wheat, half white flour, and the pancakes were beautiful–everything you could ever want in a pancake, PLUS a lovely little brown sugar undercurrent.  The bacon maple butter was salty and buttery and a little bit smoky and subtly sweet, and I could have used twice what I did on every pancake and loved it still.  (Some small shred of common sense reminded me that butter is pricey lately and my cholesterol isn’t stellar.)  My kiddos made impressively short work of them–as did I–and I’m already dreaming about having them again.

Mmmmmm. 

Aug 5, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Four Ingredient Goodness

Okay, six if you count salt and pepper, but still.  I was expecting this Hawaiian Chicken Bake to be an acceptable dinner, but not amazing, because nothing this easy is ever actually that amazing, right?

Wrong.

Oh, the goodness!  The chicken was moist and flavorful, the melted, bubbly cheese was lovely in its own right, and I got rid of a can of pineapple slices that was older than at least two of my children.  What’s not to love?  I made sure to salt and pepper the chicken itself before sticking it in the pan–the Food Network has taught me that much–and I left Provolone off of one piece of chicken for my oldest, who doesn’t care much for strong cheeses.  (Why waste not-cheap, good Provolone on the unappreciative?)  Bam!  Dinner!  Everyone gave it a thumbs up, too.  Who doesn’t love four ingredient goodness?

Note:  If your chicken breasts are thinly sliced, cut the second round of cooking time down–and enjoy your dinner that much sooner.

Aug 3, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Poetry and Jazz

I picked up Waiting to Waltz for almost nothing at the BYU Bookstore a few years ago, because I’ve enjoyed multiple books by Cynthia Rylant AND she’s a Newbery Author.  (I pretty much couldn’t resist the deal.)  I tend to love memoirs, and Rylant’s free verse vignettes of her small town childhood were well done. All of them were interesting, and I even loved a few of them.  Overall, though, I think contemporary poetry is a lot like jazz for me; except for specific exceptions, I respect it as an art form while not truly relating to most of it.  (Except for verse novels–I love those.  Perhaps because I love novels?)  Poetry lovers should definitely give this a try, and fans of Rylant should enjoy it.  I enjoyed reading it myself–if somewhat more mildly than I expected–but I’m unlikely to read it again.

Okay, that’s a short, stilted review, but it was a short, short book.  If it sounds like your thing, it probably will be–so there you have it!

Waiting to Waltz


New From: $19.99 USD In Stock

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