Archive from July, 2017
Jul 31, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Simple Is Not Easy

Simple Is Not Easy

Only One Year is indeed a simple book in many ways; it’s under 95 pages with multiple full page illustrations, the characters are simply drawn and most are members of one family, and the scenes seem more like vignettes rather than chapters.  On the other hand, Andrea Cheng’s simple little standalone covers a topic unfamiliar to me that was almost heartbreaking for a parent to read about.

Sharon’s father is an architect and her mother works at the local junior high during the school year, which means that no one will be home to take care of her two-year-old brother, Di Di.  Rather than pay for a babysitter or daycare, Sharon’s mother takes him to China to be with their grandparents and other extended family, so that he will be with loving relatives rather then paid strangers.  At first, Sharon and her younger sister Mary pore over the pictures that Nai Nai sends, but as the months pass, their own lives continue on without their little brother.  At the end of the school year, however, Nai Nai brings Di Di home–and there is an adjustment period for everyone.

I loved Andrea Cheng’s The Year of… series, and Only One Year has many of the same characteristics; real issues dealt with in a skillful, age-appropriate way, a Chinese-American family, and illustrations that enhance the reading experience (although I vastly prefer Patrice Barton’s illustrations to Nicole Wong’s).  It’s shorter, however, and while the impact is there, I’m too old of a reader not to want more anyway (who doesn’t want more of a good thing?).  On the other hand, shorter means less intimidating to newer readers, and I’m excited to have this as an option when my younger children hit that stage.  Everything I’ve read by Cheng so far is well worth your time!

Only One Year

New From: $11.87 USD In Stock

Jul 29, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Good Sequel Is Hard to Find

A Good Sequel Is Hard to Find

Happily, Patrice Kindl’s A School for Brides fit the bill quite nicely (although it’s more of a cross between a sequel and a companion novel, if you want to get technical).  Characters from Keeping the Castle play important supporting roles, but the story focuses on the young ladies of the Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy, who are being trained to attract husbands in a town with virtually no eligible men.  (Except for Mr. Godalming.  He’s still single.)  Add one broken leg, several visitors, a couple of confinements, a nefarious governess, and an unprepossessing canine with a heart of gold, and you end up with an ensemble comedy that keeps you entertained to the very end.  The large cast of characters necessitates more emphasis on plot and a bit less on character development, but it works. Rather than an Austen/fairy tale blend, School feels more like Jane channeling bits of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Which is another win-win combo, at least on my blog!

Bottom line?  If you liked Keeping the Castle, don’t miss A School for Brides.  What’s not to love about ‘a story of maidens, mystery, and matrimony’?

Jul 27, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Generational Gaps

Generational Gaps

I told my 10-year-old that she had to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe this summer; it’s up to her whether she wants to continue with the rest of the series, but I didn’t want her to enter 5th grade without at least that under her belt!  She’s enjoying it so far, and bedtime tonight involved a convoluted discussion of C.S. Lewis.  My favorite part?  She kept referring to him in the present tense, and I kept telling her that he’s dead now.  At one point she asked, “Do you think he has a website?”

I stared at her, and then opened up the cover to the publication date.  “Dear, do you know when this book was first published?  1950.   That’s the year Grandpa Barlow was born.  C.S. Lewis died before people had websites.”*

Her eyes widened.  “Ohhh.”

*Of course, now I’ll have to show her the C.S. Lewis website in the morning, but still.




Jul 25, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy

That title has stuck in my mind ever since my mother read Irving Stone’s book while she was finishing up her art ed degree, and I couldn’t resist using it–because it says it all.  I rarely cook with lemon, even though I adore the flavor, because no one else in my family particularly enjoys it; my hubby’s okay when I BAKE with lemon, but not so much with the savory, and my oldest daughter has come around slightly, but only in a small way.  Last night,  however, I decided to make this Lemon Broccoli Tortellini, because I had the ingredients, and it sounded amazing, and even Mommy gets to have her favorite food occasionally, right?

It was HEAVENLY–and OH, how they suffered!  My older girls both gave it thumbs down (although to be fair, my oldest doesn’t love tortellini in general); my son went with thumbs middle, but pointed out that it was “too lemony.”  (As if there could ever be such a thing!)  My two-year-old didn’t love it either–although to be fair, she may have just been being two–and my hubby came home from work after dinner was over and didn’t try it.  (I didn’t expect him to.)

They’re all crazy, folks, because my version was amazing.  I don’t love cooked spinach, and so I opted to drain and chop up a can of artichoke hearts (not the marinated kind, the kind packed in water) and toss that in instead.  I also tossed the broccoli with a lemon’s worth of zest before roasting it–why waste the zest when you need the juice?!–and added the remaining juice of that lemon to the second lemon’s worth of juice, which gets added into the pasta.  I grated real Parmesan over mine (the kids either prefer the canned or don’t care, depending on which one we’re talking about), and let me tell you what–lemony goodness.

It was beautiful.

Jul 23, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on I’m Bushed

I’m Bushed

I really am–it’s been a good weekend, but a long one!–and so I’m totally cheating.  Instead of a composed review, well–go get Ian Lendler’s An Undone Fairy Tale for you and your kiddos.  It’s a picture book for middle to older elementary schoolers, and it’s hilarious!  Now excuse me while I attempt to get to bed at a halfway decent time tonight…

An Undone Fairy Tale

New From: $8.00 USD In Stock

Jul 21, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Before the Dawn of Time

Before the Dawn of Time

Okay, so I haven’t had The School That Was:  A School Marm’s Tale for THAT long–I just wanted the literary allusion–but still.  I’m assuming I bought it for a buck when I was working at Borders, although I can’t remember for certain.  It makes sense that it would be on a non-returnable sale, however, because I couldn’t find it on Amazon.

Seriously.  There’s something a little trippy about looking at a book that Amazon doesn’t recognize as existing.  (Goodreads does, though.  In case you were wondering.)  After reading it, however, I can’t say that I’m surprised.  I love history and I’m a sucker for educators’ memoirs, and what I can honestly say about this book is that it was interesting overall.  Not fascinating, mind you.  Just very interesting on an odd page or three and fairly interesting for about two-thirds of what was left; the rest of it was, well, NOT interesting.  Not to me, anyway.  It would appeal more to those who lived within the author’s school district, perhaps, but even then they would have to be old enough to care about the names of all of her students (in her several one room schoolhouses) and the names of the school board officials for each school.  If you’re passionate about history AND education, you’ll get a kick out of the rules for teachers in 1872 and the descriptions of what was once considered luxury plumbing, but you’re going to need both interests to make this one worth your time.  (Although to be fair, it’s 66 pages plus 10 appendices, so it isn’t as if it’s a big time commitment.)  If you happen to be passionate about both of those and feel a desperate need to read this book, let me know by Wednesday and it’s yours.  Otherwise, it’s getting donated on our next trip to the library.

Jul 20, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Preparations


This year my friend is helping me throw honest-to-goodness birthday parties for my children, because she’s really good at it.  (I’m really not.  But I enjoy gift wrapping, and she hates it.  We’re enjoying the fruits of each others’ labors.)  Last night we made the goodie bags, among other things, and I was apparently too wrapped up in that to remember to post.  Today, however, I am repenting!  Remember how I quite enjoyed Matthew Loux’s The Time Museum?  Well, when I looked into his other books, I found a graphic series entitled Salt Water Taffy:  The Seaside Adventures of Jack and Benny.  I put the first volume–The Legend of Old Salty–on hold and picked it up yesterday; I finished it this morning.

It was short.

It was a lot of fun, though.  I went on family road trips as a kid–some to coastal Maine, actually–and while I didn’t share the boys’ initial attitude, the story still made me feel all reminisce-y.  (Yes, I know that can’t possibly be a word.  Work with me.)  The story is fun and moves right along, and the art is nicely expressive and adds to the plot.  (Except for the hands.  I’ve heard that hands are very hard to draw, and it must be true–I had to stare at an early page for quite a while before I realized what those lines on his lap were.  Once that happened, I couldn’t help noticing the weirdly drawn hands, and that was slightly distracting.)  I was a bit worried at the start that the boys were going to be punks, but that turned out to be more of a “we’ve been in this car forever and we can’t take it and each other anymore” kind of scene.  Bottom line?  Middle to early elementary schoolers who like adventure should enjoy this one.

Jul 17, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on THIS.


Shannon Hale’s graphic memoir was already on my list, simply because it’s Shannon Hale, and it’s a memoir, and what’s not to love?  Then my friend Britt told me that I needed to read it sooner rather than later because it was going to speak to me, and so I put it on hold on my daughter’s card.  (Because really, she was going to want to read it too.)  It took forever to come in–it’s new, and it’s Shannon Hale, and every other library patron in the valley seems to have ALSO put it on hold–but come in it did.

And my friend wasn’t kidding.   This spoke to me, people–the uncertainty of not fitting in as an elementary schooler; the difficulty of finding true friends, as well as of being one; even the difficulty of siblings being too wrapped up in their separate adolescences to realize how to be friends to each other.  (And the redhead struggles!  Even those!)  When I read the Author’s Note, I just thought yes! a thousand times yes!

What more can I say?  If you have a girl between the ages of 6 and 16, get her this book–and then read it yourself.  And then, as Shannon Hale says, “we can say to each other, ‘Hey, me too!  Isn’t that something?  To realize I’m not the only one?”

Real Friends

New From: $7.98 USD In Stock

Jul 16, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Late Night Review

Late Night Review

This still counts as the 15th, right?  I mean, yes, it’s after midnight, but I’m still up!  I thought about not posting, but I’m not yet sleepy, and I’ve missed too many times this summer already; still, since it IS so late, this is going to be a short review of a short book.

So–The Poet’s Dog, by Patricia MacLachlan.  I’ve already talked about how much I love her–the woman can say more with less than almost anybody else writing intermediate fiction at the moment–but I suspect I would have loved this particular book more if I loved dogs.  (Or liked dogs.)  She does, I know; this isn’t the first of the books I’ve read by her that has a prominent canine component to the plot.  As a definite cat person, however, I found this book to be a sweet little story that just wasn’t quite as relatable for me as her books usually are.  That said, it’s still a lovely vignette on grief, rescue, and love, and I’m absolutely going to see if my second girlie wants to read it.

See?  A short review of a short book.  There you have it, folks.  Here’s hoping our tired family all survives the day tomorrow!

The Poet’s Dog

New From: $5.01 USD In Stock

Jul 13, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on ‘A Sucker Born Every Minute’

‘A Sucker Born Every Minute’

I started The Giant and How He Humbugged America quite a while ago but set it aside to read some other things; I finally finished it last night, and I’m still basking in the glow of bringing a long project to completion!  (Which is silly, really–it’s got less than a hundred pages.  But still.)

I’ve read at least five other Jim Murphy books, including two Newberys.  I’m in a stage of life where adult nonfiction requires more time and focus than I’ve got, and so intermediate nonfiction affords me the opportunity to indulge my passion for history in a way that seems, you know, possible.  When I grabbed this one from the library I knew very little about the topic, other than that the Cardiff Giant was a thing–and a hoax of a thing.  Interestingly, I think I enjoyed this somewhat less than Murphy’s others (at least the ones I’ve read) for precisely that reason.  In general, I like reading about people, and the Cardiff Giant being a ‘thing’ meant fewer details about people (not to mention that what details there were to be had are close to 150 years old!).  It’s still a fascinating story, however, and a bit mind blowing as well.  What kind of person puts that kind of time, money, and planning into such a hoax?

One of the best features of Murphy’s book is how he ends it, in my opinion; instead of leaving the Giant to be an isolated incident in his readers’ minds, he takes us through a history of hoaxes and frauds that continues into the 21st century.  Historical context and relevancy are invaluable in a good piece of nonfiction, and Jim Murphy does a fine job of both.  If the idea of an elaborately planned 19th century hoax interests you, try this one; if not, check out his other titles.  You’re bound to find a few that grab your attention.

The Giant and How He Humbugged America

New From: $8.95 USD In Stock