Archive from December, 2015
Dec 31, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on My Last Book of 2015

My Last Book of 2015

Because really, I’m planning on playing games tonight.  Yesterday was my 17th wedding anniversary, however, and so when my hubby brought me home a late lunch (a vendor took him out before he left work, so he’d eaten already), I finished May B. over Panda Express while he vacuumed out my just-emptied closet and assembled the closet organizer that matches his.

(And yes, we are totally at the age and stage in life where time to organize and complete projects without the kids is a completely valid way to celebrate.  If that worries you, you clearly don’t have four children, one of them a crawling baby; rest assured, however, that we also ate ice cream, watched shows, and slept in.)

Here’s the thing about May B.; I can’t tell if I liked it but didn’t quite love it, or if it merely suffered from the ending being read in frustratingly small portions.  I rather suspect the latter, although I did struggle to relate to May’s way of handling her unexpected abandonment in a dugout on the Kansas prairie.  If I’d read it as a child, I think that would have seriously gotten in the way of me enjoying the book.  After all, I’m a bit too much of a worrier to understand May’s periods of lassitude; I might not have known what to do, but I would have sought some measure of reassurance by throwing myself into the kinds of daily tasks that still needed to be done.  My hubby, however, responds differently to stress than I do, and so I could understand May far better as an adult.  (I could also respect how her learning disability affected her sense of self, which in turn also affected her response.  Again, not something I would have understood as a child.)

Ultimately, May makes the brave choice and (with help!) finds her way home; the way she faces the future is, again, something I can respect but not relate to, but it still makes for a good story.  If you like historical verse novels, this is worth your time.  (But try not to read most of it in big chunks, and then finish the last part in tiny bits because of a crazy schedule.  That never enhances your reading experience!)

May B.


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Dec 29, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Indescribably Delightful–Literally

Indescribably Delightful–Literally

Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters is the sort of book that’s hard to classify.  Can a book be macabre when it’s all about, you know, dreadful sweaters?  Can being a curiously speedy knitter be menacing?  Can a children’s story about clothing be creepy?

Possibly, yes.  Imagine a boy slightly reminiscent of Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory.”  Imagine an indeterminate cousin Clara who may well be Ralphie’s aunt of the same name from “A Christmas Story”, given the sort of gifts she delights in giving.  Now, picture what happens when she moves in with Lester’s family and has (apparently) nothing to do but knit.  Throw in abundant alliteration and a bit of a Tim Burton-y feel, and voila!  Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters.  If the ending were different, it could be a children’s horror story; as it is, it truly is delightful.

Put another way?  I put it on hold at my sister’s library in Colorado so that her family could enjoy it.

Her youngest is 12.

Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters


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Dec 27, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on I Hope Your Christmases Were Merry!

I Hope Your Christmases Were Merry!

I’m assuming none of us are shocked that I missed a blog post on Christmas, right?  If I’d thought about it soon enough, I would have posted a brief ‘Merry Christmas’ message, but I didn’t, and I’m okay with that–I was busy being a Mommy and doing family things, which is how Christmas should be!  I hope you all felt as blessed as I did.

In other news, I actually managed to finish a book the day after Christmas–mostly because I had about 6 pages left but couldn’t finish it Christmas night because I was falling asleep.  I picked up Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck:  And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman for my free book from the library’s summer reading program; it came out while I was working at Borders, and it looked funny enough that it’s been on my list ever since.  I got around to it finally, and I have to say–it WAS funny.  It was so funny that even when I couldn’t relate to her subject matter (I’m not really old enough to be the perfect audience), I didn’t care–it was worth it for the writing.  (Ephron, after all, wrote the screenplays for “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” and co-wrote a slew of others.  She’s earned her funny label.)  It was also brief–under 140 pages–which made it kind of a perfect holiday read.  I put it on hold for my sister at her library in Colorado (in large print, no less!), I’m passing my copy on to a friend to read, and I’m recommending it to you.  Go to it!

Dec 23, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on An Art History Mystery

An Art History Mystery

Technically, I picked up Under the Egg for my oldest; I saw it at the library and knew that my mystery-loving, artist daughter needed to read it.  Truthfully,  I wanted to read it just as badly, and it’s only now making its way down to my daughter’s to-read bookcase.  (Free time isn’t exactly abundant this time of year, and it took a month or two before I decided to try reading it on the treadmill.  It took longer than it would have otherwise, but it happened!)  I’m betting she’ll love it, because really, it’s an art history mystery.  It’s MADE for her.

The story begins with Theodora Tenpenny, whose artist grandfather died a few months previously. Thirteen-year-old Theo is left to care for her house, her in-some-way-mentally-ill mother, and herself, with the princely sum of $463 and her grandfather’s dying promise that there’s a treasure ‘under the egg.’  Theo is competent and resourceful, but her worries are starting to overwhelm her by the time she discovers what her grandfather meant; that discovery is the beginning of a summer filled with new people, new experiences, and at least one priceless work of art.  There are twists and turns in abundance, but Theo ultimately learns the story behind her grandfather’s life and legacy, gaining a few friends–and a fresh outlook on life–in the process.

(Okay, there were some cliches there, and I’m sorry–there’s always a lot on your mind the week of Christmas!  Basically, everything comes together in a perfectly lovely way at the end, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  SO worth it.  Try it and see!)

Under the Egg


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Dec 21, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on The Companion to Graphic Novel #3

The Companion to Graphic Novel #3

My oldest really enjoyed Smile (remember the graphic novel project?) and was excited to read another book in the “series,” and so we checked Sisters out of the library.  You can’t really call it a sequel, since it’s got a lot of flashbacks and many of them take place before the events in Smile, but companion works.  (I’d say companion novel, but they’re autobiographical, and that feels wrong.)  Raina is still the main character, but Sisters is more about the evolution of her family and their relationships with each other.  The “present” chronicles a road trip she and her siblings took with their mother when she was 14; her relationship with her sister, Amara, is covered in flashbacks until that point.  My oldest said she enjoyed it, and so did I.  Why?

Here’s the thing.  Three of my four children were up in the night last night, and I’m feeling decidedly under the weather, so organizing my thoughts isn’t happening so well.  Here’s hoping a list of thoughts works for you…

1)That is one ornery younger sister.  I wonder how true-to-life the book is that way, and what Amara thinks of how she’s portrayed?

2)Gotta love the snake.

3)The open-ended aspect of the ending made me a little nuts, but if you go to her website and look at the frequently asked questions, there’s actually a good reason.

Hmmm.  I thought my list would have more thoughts, but the weirdness of the day is getting to me. Bottom line?  I possibly liked Sisters better than Smile.  Read and enjoy!

Sisters


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Dec 20, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Brief Report

A Brief Report

Low points of the day?

The first six minutes of the Las Vegas Bowl.

A particularly frustrating parenting situation.

The rude, profane, and (probably) drunk men behind me in the line at Kohl’s.

High points of the day?

My three-year-old son’s preschool concert.  (He didn’t sing much, but he was cute!)

A Star Wars date with my hubby (thanks to my amazing tending aunt).

The employee at Kohl’s who chose to help check people out (the line started moving!).

 

What were yours?

Dec 17, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Harder Than I Expected

Harder Than I Expected

I’ve read quite a few Holocaust narratives over the years.  My father can’t deal with them–the injustice of it all overwhelms him, and he can’t understand why anyone would read something so depressing–but I’m drawn to them, perhaps because they are, ultimately, survival stories.  When my friend told me about Mister Doctor:  Janusz Korczak & the Orphans of the Warsaw Ghetto, then, I put it on hold almost immediately; I’ve had it out for a while, but its number finally came up, and I finished it the other day.  I wondered at first why I found it so much harder to read–by the end–than I expected.  After a day or two, however, I figured out why.

Mister Doctor, you see, isn’t a typical Holocaust narrative.  It’s based closely on a true story–I think all of the people in it may be real people–but it is not a survival story.  The good doctor of the title refused to leave the orphans he was responsible for, and so he accompanied them from the orphanage to the Ghetto, and from the Ghetto to Treblinka, where their story ends.  The narrator who describes what ‘Mister Doctor’ was to those orphans WAS, in fact, one of the orphans in question.  The book was harder to read than I expected because the (child) narrator was doomed.  He knew it, and I knew it.

But.

Yes, I found it harder to read than I thought it was going to be.  I’m still glad I read it.  The art is haunting, the story is lyrical, and its length made the difference between “harder” and “too hard.” (Think of it as a very text-heavy picture book.)  Lately, song lyrics for every occasion have been popping into my head, and this particular story keeps reminding me of the end of “Camelot”–

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.

We mourn for the man, for the children he loved, for the world he created for them–we mourn for the loss of all of them–but we also celebrate the fact that they lived.  Janusz Korczak was a significant force for good in the world, and this book is a beautiful record of that.

We need more books that remind us of the good in the world.

Dec 15, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on That’ll Do Nicely

That’ll Do Nicely

When I read When the Sergeant Came Marching Home in October, I knew it was a book my dad would enjoy; I’ve planned to give it to him for Christmas ever since.  His birthday, however, is not even a month after Christmas, and so I opted to go ahead and read the sequel this month, with an eye to giving it to him for that birthday if I enjoyed it as much as I did the first.

Out in Left Field begins with another life-ruining event for Donald–instead of making the catch to win THE game, he ends up getting more or less knocked out by the ball instead.  When he finds out that his team lost the game, he’s sure that he’ll never live down the disgrace, and vows never to play baseball again.  Instead, he spends the book thinking of new ways to win back his honor and redeem himself in the eyes of the town; predictably, none of them work out quite the way he hopes they will.  On the other hand, his year of disgrace also turns about to be a year of growth.

This sequel to Lemna’s first book has the same amusing, not-quite-naive tone that When the Sergeant Came Marching Home does, and while Donald as a narrator flirts with being a little too annoying once or twice, I ended up really enjoying this one as well.  The ending actually felt more natural, and the scenes with cousin Annie made me giggle.  I liked the background of reading the other book first, but it’s not a necessity; Out in Left Field works perfectly well on its own.  It’s a humorous look at being a boy on a farm in post-war Montana, and it’s absolutely worth your time.

 

Out in Left Field


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Dec 13, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Apologetically Grateful Treats

Apologetically Grateful Treats

In case you’re wondering, those are the kind of treats  you make when your six-year-old describes how her church class went for the day, and it sounds like no one was listening, the teacher absented herself for a time to make a point, and then there was (possibly remorseful) crying.  (These are six-year-olds, after all.)  Since my six-year-old was up late because of a family Christmas party last night, I’m sure she was just as much a problem as any other child in the class; I therefore checked my Pinterest board when we got home from church and found some fast-and-easy treats to throw in the oven.  A satisfyingly short time later, I was able to pop over to the teacher’s house with these Lemon Brownies, because nothing says ‘I’m sorry for whatever my child did today and I appreciate you teaching a group of giggling six-year-olds every week’ like lemon brownies, right?

Anyway.  I was generous with the lemon zest–NO ONE who knows me will be at all surprised by that–and I enjoyed the result.  They were quite thin, but that may have been partly because one of my eggs was smaller than it should have been; it wasn’t really a problem.  I preferred the cake-y texture to the lemon bar sort of texture, so that was a win.  Bottom line?  I want to make these again.  The problem is, no one in this house loves lemon the way that I do, and so I’m likely to eat most of them myself if I do. Maybe I’ll bring them to a potluck…

Dec 11, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on I Didn’t Want to Know That…

I Didn’t Want to Know That…

One of the consequences of living in a first-world country is that I don’t always know which diseases are no longer a real problem here and which diseases are no longer a problem at all. I’m sure about smallpox, I suppose, but what else?  Until I read An American Plague:  The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, I had no idea that there is still no cure for yellow fever.  There’s a vaccine, thankfully, but once you have it?  Treat the symptoms and hope for the best. Invincible Microbe:  Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure was even scarier; not only is the currently available vaccine for TB only sometimes effective, there are multiple-drug resistant strains of it, and treatment involves months of antibiotics.  My most recent foray into the world of infectious disease was a blend of fact and fiction, but again, it left me a little freaked out; I had no idea that tens of thousands of people still die of cholera–the ‘blue death’–each year.

Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble:  A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel describes an actual outbreak of cholera in London in 1854.  Eel is fictional, as are most of his friends and associates, but the doctor who worked to prove the outbreak was caused by contaminated water was very real, as was the Reverend Henry Whitehead, who was initially skeptical but eventually came to believe the good doctor’s theory.  The fight to find the proof to convince those in authority to remove the pump handle from the contaminated water pump is riveting, and the book’s young narrator and fast-paced narrative make it accessible to relatively young readers.  I’m excited to give this one to my 3rd-grader.

Even if I didn’t necessarily want to know that cholera is still so terribly abroad in the world.

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