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Reading Round Up: February


For a short month February provided ample time to plow through a bevy of satisfying and diverse books. Two snow days from school helped in getting some serious cozy cocoa and recliner reading done. So many great titles and discoveries to share with you!

 

The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson
4 stars

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A reimagining, rather than a retelling of the Chinese folktale of Mulan, Dickerson’s version is set in 15th century Lithuania. In this version, Mulan is the illegitimate daughter of Mikolai, a warrior father who has died. Mulan serves as a warrior to save her mother from becoming homeless, and to escape from an unwelcome arranged marriage.
The first half of the plot relates Mulan’s adventures as a soldier. With realistic detail, Mulan struggles to meet the demands of fighting amongst men, while trying to hide her identity. During battle she meets and becomes friends with Wolfgang, a duke’s son. Inevitably their friendship develops into something deeper once Wolfgang discovers why he is attracted to and is protective of the young soldier known as Mikolai.
Unfortunately, the second half of the story becomes enmeshed in being more of a romance novel than the adventuresome first part. Attention to historical detail and the smooth rendering of the multiple points of view, lean this more towards a four star than a three star review.
This title refers to characters from the previous book in the Hagerheim series, yet it can be read as a standalone.

NOTE: received as review copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review

The Long Game (The Fixer #2) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
4 stars

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Sequels are tough. For the most part The Long Game continues the energy from The Fixer, and weaves in enough referrals to keep new readers abreast of previous action. The Long Game focuses on action instead of characters and character dynamics is what made The Fixer such a riveting story. There is not a mention of Gramps in The Long Game and considering how important he is to Tess and Ivy, it seems an injustice to drop him from the plot. Tess is one amazing young woman, yet she is a high school teen not Jason Bourne. Still, the writing is superb, the plot twists darn right surprising. Just wee bit too intense with a few plot holes holding it back.

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson
4 stars

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I am not sure how this book escaped my attention as a kid. Best to make up for lost time. It is a classic and has all kinds of charm—YET—I’m not sold out on Amos. I can’t get past how only Ben could hear Amos talk, and all those other plot holes, like how does a mouse buy a hat?  The illustrations are the best part of the story, and they were actually better than the story. Just saying.

NOTE: I had to scurry and read this for our February Debatable–which was a doozy of a debate. What? You missed it? Best check it out [my choice of best mouse won with Reepicheep of Narnia series fame]

At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald
4 stars

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This one of those literary novels that are Joycian in how there is no plot, rather it’s one long character study with a tableau of characters. Nothing really happens, yet there is an urgency that something might. And it takes ever so long to realize it doesn’t. Brilliantly written, of course.

NOTE: since the library doesn’t own The Bookshop, which I hope to read before watching the movie, I grabbed this instead. If this were made into a movie I would envision Bette Davies as Freddie.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
4 stars

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Avoidance of Holocaust books is my usual modus operandi, yet a based-on-a-true story about a library in Auschwitz? I pulled it down from the shelf with anticipation.
The beginning is absolutely riveting as the young Dita attempts to hide a couple of books during a spot inspection. Will she be caught?  From that auspicious start the plot veers into a medley of different characters with historical facts woven in for good measure. The omniscient present tense creates a distance, making it difficult to fully embrace the story. Dita is amazing, but she is not truly the focus.  The atrocities began to burden the story until it began to be a reading of endurance instead of interest. Of course a book set in a concentration camp is going to have tragedy; however, I was drawn in by the title—a librarian at Auschwitz? That sounded like a story based in hope.
The research and details are well-done and this, perhaps, is what creates a barrier from establishing a solid connection with the characters—a bit of a textbook mingled with a dynamic storyline is the result. It almost works and maybe it worked better in the author’s original language. Translations sometimes do lose some of the story’s essence.

The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
5 star

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YA usually comes in the flavors of dystopian, supernatural, romance, strong female protagonist, sci fi, high school drama, adventure; however, the newest menu choice is political thriller. The Fixer is surprisingly addicting and amazing in how it takes the high school drama trope, mixes in some adventure, with a strong female protagonist, and tops it off with political intrigue. Unexpectedly refreshing.
Tess, who hails from Montana, suddenly finds herself planted in Washington DC in a life far different than her previous. Although shoveling muck out of horse stalls and brooking a strong intolerance for bullies are skills that serve her well in DC.
The writing is superb, as is the pacing, and the plot twists are to be applauded. This is a reluctant 5 star due to the difficulty of totally accepting the maturity and capabilities of this group of teens. Then again, living in DC is not for sissies.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
5 star

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Santos had me at Cary Grant. All the mentions of classic black and white films was a bonus to the imaginative plot, dynamic characters, and lyrical prose. To be perfectly honest though, this is more of a 4.85 rating as the ending half began to unravel a bit with tying off of loose ends. The author’s background in poetry serves her well, since the descriptive imagery practically sings, yet doesn’t overshadow the plot. A couple of unexpected plot twists, a winsome little girl, and a mystery mom, along with unconventional storytelling techniques makes this a memorable read. And it’s her first one–looking forward to more.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
5 star

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Harbor Me is in the vein of Wonder in how it brings people together with its message of acceptance. Although it is a middle read, its prose is rich and well-crafted and is, quite frankly, thoroughly amazing. A niggling concern is how in the world could a school legally get away with having an unsupervised “chat” room for students? Definite artistic license superseding legal responsibilities. Setting that aside, the conceit of ARRTful sharing works in how it opens up the world of a diverse group of children on the verge of becoming teens in a world becoming more and more complicated.

The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
5 star

634747A solid classic. Strong, memorable characters, engaging storyline, and enriching details come together to purport the tale of a young, penniless doctor who rises out of the obscurity of backwoods coal mining towns to becoming a rich, well-respected London physician. His trading out of idealism for a comfortable life comes with great costs, yet the story just falls short of moralism. Due to the style found in the time period of publication,some of the story techniques are a bit antiquated, as in the tried and true, “tell rather than show” instead of having the story evolve from the characters themselves. There is also some melodramatic moments. Nevertheless, it is still well-written and a meritable read.  It’s not surprising that the book was made into a film and a BBC series.

Don’t Close Your Eyes: A Silly Bedtime Story by Bob Hostetler illustrations by Mark Chambers
5 star

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Playfully engaging, the rhyming text teams up to the whimsical illustrations to coerce its audience to NOT fall asleep. That’s right. Instead of the usual drone of encouraging young listeners to gently enter slumber, this book keeps cheerfully reminding its readers to stay awake. The reverse psychology is fun and children will no doubt enjoy the gentle nudge to keep their eyes open wide open instead of closing them for the night.
One of those books that invite multiple reads.

NOTE: received as review copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review

The last entry is not so much a dissapointment, but it just didn’t fulfill the hope of being better:

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman
3 stars
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Historical novels set around WWII easily catch the interest, especially when it’s a unique view of the war effort through work done at the Springfield Armory. The jacket blurb indicates family drama: two sisters who cannot reconcile petty jealousies and misunderstandings that fill their relationship from childhood to being adults.
What could have been a deep study of family relationship interaction became a bouncing point of view telling with several women each telling their perspective. The intermittent timeline weaving and flashbacks made it difficult to truly connect with the characters. Multiple viewpoint stories run towards the problem of thinly spreading the plot too wide. Well-placed setting, though, as it is obvious the author did her research
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Debatables: Mouse Appeal


Another round of Debatables starts today. Mike and I are both pro-rodent (although I am not a rat fan since Ratigan and Willard *yikes*). And we celebrate the arrival of Mike’s new book:

So–it makes sense to make our February Debatables all about mice, particularly the Most Appealing Mouse of Middle Reader Literature.

Mike’s vote is for Amos from Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me.

I am promoting Reepicheep from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Voting takes place at Mike’s blog. This shall no doubt be a lively round. Stop by and cast your vote (for Reepicheep, of course).

Word Nerd Confessions: February


Reader’s Digest is a fave to browse while in the numbing hold pattern of doctor office waiting or gym treadmill walking. I came across an article by Bill Bouldon, that cheered my lexiconal heart, one that involved new words that fit the times.

athlelargy: when the call of the recliner wins over the call of treadmill

blamestorming: the process of trying to pinpoint who is the reason for failure

cellfish: that person who make public their private phone conversations to all within listening range

destinesia: when you forget where you were going

ephinot: while it seemed like a bright idea it truly is not

fauxpology: the fake apology

illiteration: the mistaken knowledge of rhetorical devices

metox: taking a break from updating on social media

nonversation: meaningless chatter

pregret: knowing full well the course of action you are about to take is going to one of regret–but do so anyway

*sonergy: the energy that suddenly bursts from within upon seeing the sun after a period of gloomy weather

textpectation: the waiting for a text reply

*uberjoyed: getting a ride with a driver who gets you to your destination with expediency and courtesy

*my contribution

What new words can you think up that fill the bill for our changing times?

Reading Round Up: January


January. If I could somehow whisk myself away to a warmer clime, one with no snow, and a proclivity towards blue sky. Just for January. That’s right–January is my least favorite winter month. The day job requires I stick around, so I combat my winter blues with copious book reading. January racked up 17 books. I’ll highlight the hits.

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Absolutely provoking, yet falls short of being truly inspirational due to a tendency to bring in too much personal angst. While the author’s experience has meritable points, that an elite education tends to prepare graduates for being stellar at certain aspects, such as being lawyers or being English professors, it falls short at mundane abilities i.e. talking to tradesmen. But that isn’t everyone’s experience, and the point he makes unravels into an unfortunate profanity-laced rant in the last few chapters.

The first half of the book is the most effective, and by the numerous sticky notes I flagged in this section, made the most impact. An abundance of worthy passages on what a college education should be in found the first half; however, the second half of the book becomes more or less conjecture, and loses traction.

Overall, an effective thesis concerning the value of an elite education, give or take a few moments of ranting. No shame in a state university diploma after all.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Continuing right from where the first book left off, Ada relates her story of adjusting to life in Kent during WWII. Much stays the same, the hardships of war, the loss, the deprivation; however, Ada sees many changes as well: her foot surgery is successful, Susan becomes her legal guardian, they must live with Lady Thornton in one of the estate cottages, and Ruth, a German Jewish girl, comes to stay with them.

Ada still struggles with the shadows of her past life in London, but is slowly learning to open her heart to the good things that come her way.

A bit faltering in the beginning, yet once the strong characterization and plot take hold as in the first book, Bradley’s sequel is just as riveting. It’s hoped Ada’s story will continue.

The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

A reimagining, rather than a retelling of the Chinese folktale of Mulan, Dickerson’s version is set in 15th century Lithuania.

In this version, Mulan is the illegitimate daughter of Mikolai, a warrior father who has died. Mulan serves as a warrior to save her mother from becoming homeless, and to escape from an unwelcome arranged marriage.

The first half of the plot relates Mulan’s adventures as a soldier. With realistic detail, Mulan struggles to meet the demands of fighting amongst men, while trying to hide her identity. During battle she meets and becomes friends with Wolfgang, a duke’s son. Inevitably their friendship develops into something deeper once Wolfgang discovers why he is attracted to and is protective of the young soldier known as Mikolai.

Unfortunately, the second half of the story becomes enmeshed in being more of a romance novel than the adventure story of the first part. Attention to historical detail and the smooth rendering of the multiple points of view, tip this more towards a four star than a three star review.

This story refers to characters from the previous book in the Hagerheim series, yet it can be read as a standalone.

The publisher provided a free copy in exchange for a review, with all opinions being mine.

Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

What of the boy Sherlock Holmes? So little is known of who or what he might have been like, that it is fair game to improvise, and maybe take liberties in creating his backstory.

This is the case in Eye Of The Crow, the first in a series about Sherlock Holmes as a boy. Shane Peacock, an obvious admirer of Doyle’s famed detective, has provided a fast-paced supposition of young Holmes.

Smartly written, and full of action, as well as memorable characters, Peacock provides a worthwhile read.

Prince Not So Charming by Roy L Hinuss

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

What happens when you cross a reluctant prince with a reluctant dragon? Answer: You get a book that fractures the fairytale motif with humor and fast action.

Mike Allegra, writing under the nom de plume of Roy L. Hignuss, presents the first book in a series highlighting Carlos, a prince of a kid who would rather grow up entertaining the court than ruling it.

Throw in some potty humor (because what kid doesn’t appreciate how “duty” sounds like, well you get the idea) and a dragon who shirks his fiery calling, along with royal parents who totally don’t get their son, and a new favorite is shelf ready.

This is a recommendation for those young readers transitioning from early readers to chapter books. A fun read with whimsical drawings.

Rewired by Ajay Seth

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Providence can be the only explanation for the series of events that starts with an infected raccoon bite and leads to an experimental procedure that changes the field of prosthetics.

Dr. Ajay Seth. a professed small town surgeon from Ohio, relates the case of Melissa Loomis through a conversational narrative which includes personal anecdotes that add a warmth to his story. What really stands out is the quiet faith that radiates through Dr. Seth’s writing, as his patient puts her trust in him, and as the doctor acknowledges how the events were beyond coincidence.

More than another medical miracle book, this is a story of exploring options and celebrating victories when defeat seems imminent.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided this book exchange for a review, with all opinions being mine.

Author Spotlight: C.S. Lewis


January’s Debatable brought a favorite author to the forefront of fond reminiscing: C.S. Lewis.

Known primarily for his classic allegorical tales of Narnia where Aslan represents Christ, Lewis did not start out as a children’s author.

Growing up without a mother (she died of cancer), he spent his early years in boarding school. Proving himself an superb student, he attended Oxford University and eventually began teaching English at Magdalen College, Oxford from 1925 to 1954.

Lewis brought up in the Protestant Church of Ireland, strayed from his beliefs as a teenager, and he might have been further influenced by his childhood tutor, an atheist.

However, as Lewis studied and taught, his readings brought him to the understanding of how Christ was at the center of many of the old writings. His further involvement with “The Inklings,” a group of academics and writers, which included Tolkien, Lewis converted to theism, a belief in God.

With his found discovery of religion, Lewis began a solid reputation as an apologist, with books such as The Screwtape Letters. He refrained from making specific references to a particular denomination in his writings, and remained an Anglican.

During World War II, three evacuee children came to stay with him, and he appreciated their joy of childhood. Combining this experience with his interests in mythology, Lewis decided to write a story based on his long held image of a faun carrying an umbrella and packages.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe started the popular Narnia Chronicles, and the seven book series remains popular, having influenced generations of readers.

There is more to C.S. Lewis beyond his unexpected popularity as a children’s writer. There is his relationship with Tolkien, his commitment to taking care of Mrs. Moore, his devotion to his brother, and his marriage to Joy. His story is a worthwhile study of how someone can survive loss and embrace a sincere appreciation of restoration.

I first met C.S. Lewis in a summer cabin as teen in high school. Somewhat bored, I picked up a book lying on a table, since the cover had caught my eye.

It reminded me of A Wrinkle in Time, that hinting of cosmic adventure awaiting a set of children. I casually began reading it, ignoring my friends, and only slightly feeling self-conscious about reading a book belonging to my friend’s kid sister.

I was hooked and sought out the series.

Read them all. Began reading the other works of Lewis (though not as enamored of them), watched Shadowlands, wrote a college paper on the influence of Medievalism in Narnia (had to convince my instructor on that one), and anticipated a movie that did the series justice (umm, not the BBC version), and rejoiced when one finally did arrive and was able to share that joy with my children, having waited ever so long for Mr. Tumnus to arrive. It was a memorable experience to pass on my joy of Narnia to my grand kiddo one summer visit as we read the book out loud together. The joy doubled when I realized my daughter was casually eavesdropping and added in her comments about Mr and Mrs Beaver. Generational book bonding is bliss!

C.S. Lewis died the same day JFK was assassinated. The interest in Lewis and his works continues to influence readers, academics, believers, and those who wonder “what if” about traveling to other worlds, other places to discover the end place is only the beginning.

Debatables: Ominous Winter Scene


The usual monthly Debatable format shall be slightly different this month. Mike Allegra, that talented, and becoming increasingly prolific writer, is off on a month-long fellowship diligently working on his book. This means he does not have the time, nor can he spare the creative pundit, to dabble in quibbling and debating. In his stead, he has asked Jilanne Hoffman, a capable author in her own right, to quibble and debate upon a chosen topic. He likened it to her being a tribute. I promise no life-threatening survivalist tactics will be forthcoming. Instead, I offer a warm welcome for Jilanne. Please feel free to trot over and check out her blog. I suggest signing up her updates and such while you are there. She has a fascinating bio:
Jilanne Hoffmann has been a zoo train engineer and a “real” engineer, but switched to freelance writing 20+ years ago and now enjoys writing stories for kids and adults. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, has read at Listen to Your Mother – San Francisco, and is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. One of her stories is included in a forthcoming anthology (Feb 2019), “She’s Got This: Essays on Standing Strong and Moving On.” She is currently at work on a new adult novel and many, many picture books.


Today’s Topic: What is the most ominous winter scene from a juvie book?

I have selected the passage from the C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Edmund meets the White Witch upon his entry into Narnia.

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That’s right, Edmund–think twice about talking to that lady in the sledge.

Jilanne has decided upon the scene where Scrooge meets up with Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

The same guidelines apply: we each have 300ish words to state our case, and then another 150 to counter argue.

Let the quibbling begin!

First off, a definition of ominous is needed:

om·i·nous/ˈämənəs/adjective:giving the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen; threatening; inauspicious.

Cricket:

For those not familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, the first book introduces readers to the Pevensie children: Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan. Lucy finds her way into the enchanted land of Narnia, yet her siblings disbelieve her.

In chapters three and four Edmund follows Lucy into a wardrobe during a game of hide and seek, and unexpectedly enters Narnia, where it is winter. His paradigm has definitely shifted. A stranger in a strange land, he decides “he did not much like this place.” Tension builds. He can’t find Lucy, he is freezing cold, and wonders how to get home. Desolation increases–that feeling of”something bad or unpleasant is going to happen” is about to happen.

In the distance a sound of bells. They come nearer. What can be approaching? A threat forms. Suddenly a sledge drawn by reindeer driven by a bearded dwarf appears. This is not promising. What’s really startling is the formidable woman seated in the sledge, who holds a wand and wears a crown. Her severe manner startles Edmund into stuttering out his name. She demands information from him. The interview’s only bright spot is the Turkish Delight she provides. But wait! Readers are informed that the candy is tainted with her evilness, creating a craving for more, to the point of Edmund promises to turn over his brother and sisters to this imposing woman to satisfy his craving.

Minutes later, Lucy and Edmund reunite and Edmund discovers he’s been fraternizing with a witch, the dreaded White Witch. Edmund is sick with his realization (not to mention the overindulgence of Turkish Delight).

This scene is truly frightening: a lost child, cold, made more miserable upon understanding how badly he’s messed up. Lewis knows how to capture the fears of childhood, and creates an absolute memorable ominous scene.

Jilanne:

I nominate Jacob Marley’s chilling scene from A Christmas Carol. It has always terrified me. Scrooge feels a “strange, inexplicable dread” as bells clamor in his gloomy house and then stop, followed by “a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant’s cellar….the cellar door flew open with a booming sound…the noise much louder on the floors below, then coming up the stairs, then coming straight towards his door.” I cowered behind my mother as she read, my head under the covers, hoping this ghost would take only her and let me live.

Jacob Marley, a “bristling” specter drapedwith the miserly chains of cash boxes, ledgers, and purses he forged in life,has “death-cold eyes” and a handkerchief wound round his head like a bandage.Although he sits still, his “hair and skirts and tassels were still agitated asby the hot vapor from an oven.” When Scrooge doubts his vision, Marley removesthe bandage, releasing his lower jaw onto his breast. Aghhhh! Dives below theblankets yet again, and stays there.

Marley hears “sounds of lamentations and regret, wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory” outside the window. He joins in “the mournful dirge” before floating “out upon the bleak, dark night.” Scrooge peers out the window and sees “phantoms wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went.” Each wore chains like Marley’s ghost. This scene could turn anyone but Voldemort into a philanthropist.

Ah, even in Mike’s absence, quibbling is still a part of the format. So—

Cricket’s Rebuttal:
Quibble point #1: Yes, ghosts are scary. Yet, does winter really play into this scene? Ghosts can appear any time of the year. Marley’s ghost is not even associated with Christmas specifically; he’s just the forerunner of other visitors. And is Scrooge actually intimidated? He is doubtful and doesn’t become a philanthropist at that point. A scary scene, but not really ominous.

Quibble point #2: Did Dickens write this for children? Wasn’t he actually trying to soften the hard hearts of adults?

Main point: The cold, foreboding setting of the perennial winter forest creates an unpropitious mood. Add in that austere White Witch and her toxic Turkish Delight, and a menacing winter scene designed just for children is created. Lewis imbues an impactful lesson: taking treats from wicked witches can lead to all sorts a serious trouble beyond tummy aches–becoming a traitor is indeed ominous.

Jilanne’s Rebuttal:

Winter plays a HUGE role. Scrooge’s rooms are bitterly cold and dark, like his heart, a stark contrast to generosity and warmth. PLUS Scrooge does fall to his knees, asking for mercy when Marley raises “a frightful cry.”

 

Ditch authorial intent. It’s like asking Maurice Sendak if he really wrote for children. By the time kids reach the age of reason (seven), they know this story and its meaning: be generous and compassionate toward those less fortunate.

 

My quibble for you:

Edmund’s not scared. He’s cold and in a strange place, but he spies a bearded dwarf (Santa!), a sleigh, and reindeer. Fun! The queen’s just a brittle genealogist seeking to identify Edmund’s siblings. Plus the promise of a title! Who doesn’t want to be a prince and eat sweets, bellyache notwithstanding? Marley’s ominous promise, OTOH, led me to save my quarters for charity before I was five years old!    

 

And there we have it–two scenes that should elicit feelings of something threatening or bad about to happen.

Readers: as a child reader, which is more ominous to you?

Let the voting begin–and, of course, comments are always encouraged.

Reader Review: Such Good Reads


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The Goodreads elves sent out their annual Year in Books report earlier than expected this year. Although I surpassed my reading goal of 101 books, I’m still reading! I hope to reach 135, and I just might.

Because I know you are interested, here are the highlights:

The Golden Mean by Nick Bantock Shortest book–46 pages/4 stars

Part of a series I discovered at the library. Very creative format.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Longest book–655 pages/3 stars

I read most of Brian Selznick’s books, having

enjoyed The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This title, although an interesting, wasn’t quite as compelling as his other stories.

The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsMost popular read: 1,790,319 readers can’t be wrong? Right?

I read it simply to see what the fuss was about, and why so many of my students were reading it. An idea Hitchcock, no doubt, would have explored. Or did he?

Literature Made Easy the Merchant of Venice by Ruth ColemanLeast popular read: 0
–that does not bode well for my upcoming unit…

Highest rated on Goodreads: a warm tribute from a son to his well-known, beloved father.

Through My Father's Eyes by Franklin Graham

First review of the year:

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman A four and half star read that contained an intriguing plot twist (or two). A find at the library sale.

Last review of the year:

A fun, and surprisingly informative introduction to Shakespeare I found while shelving at the library. A solid four stars.

I will continue setting my goal at 101 for next year. We’ll see what happens. And I am open to suggestions for reads.

And if you are really interested the elves might be willing to show off their colorful Goodreads chart work by clicking here.

Reading Roundup: November


The flurry of December’s Debatable Reindeer vs Penguin sidelined my usual attention to reviewing previous monthly reads. Here’s the scoop for November:

Pilgrim’s Progress by Gary Schmidt

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic appreciated for its allegory of the walk one makes in faith and belief. It would be difficult to improve upon it, yet Gary Schmidt creates a version for contemporary audiences that deserves noted acclaim for keeping the original message intact while providing a more approachable format.

Barry Moser’s agreeable, stunning watercolor illustrations aptly and deftly accompany Schmidt’s retelling.

Appropriate for middle readers, yet probably more appreciated by adults who remember the original Bunyan version.

Nowhere to be Found by Emily Thomas

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Irresistibly drawn to series that combines creating a library in a renovated house plus a cozy mystery. An enjoyable, undemanding read that combines Christian values with a well-paced plot.

Whisper by Lynette Noni

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is one of those books that is so captivating that finding a place to bookmark for the night is difficult. Best to start earlier than later in the day.

The first 100 pages are spellbinding. Jane, as in Jane Doe, a young woman is being held prisoner in a secret facility. She suffers silently because she refuses to speak to anyone. This is not only because of sheer determination, but because JD is afraid to do so. In her case, words do have power.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It’s a quick, quiet, uneventful cadence of vignettes with the theme of a grandmother and her young granddaughter circumnavigating each other’s quirks while living on an island for the summer. Being Finnish in original intent changes some of the dynamics of the characters, yet the bond between the adult and child holds well.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written by a son and mother team, this is #8 in an ongoing series about Bess Crawford, a nurse who likes to solve mysteries.

An intriguing idea to have a WWI nurse solve a tangled mystery involving a wounded soldier of dubious identity. Unfortunately, the plot becomes muddled with confusing details such as too many suspects with similar names, and the device of Bess, the protagonist, running around annoying people with her questions while healing from her wounds received at the front. The mystery itself proved intriguing, yet the solving was drawn out

much too long. The characters are agreeable and the writing is accomplished enough to look into other books in the series at some point.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

One problem with experiencing the movie before the book is that so many book scenes become overlaid with cinematic scenes. Clare is Rachel McAdams and Henry is Eric Bana while I read and I’m annoyed when the author changes things up character and plot wise. Then again, she had it all mapped out first. Lesson: read the book first.

Review wise: interesting beginning, muddled middle, and melodramatic ending. Not a romance book fan, and without the time traveler gimmick this would not have kept my attention, as the plot device of a woman constantly waiting for her ideal man to return to her is a metaphorical irritation after awhile.The swearing and sex scenes detracted instead of added to the plot. At one point the characters ask if their sex life is normal. Well, if you have to ask…

Alba, their daughter, makes it worthwhile to finish out the ending. I’m rooting for a sequel with Alba working out her own time traveling agenda.

Author Spotlight: Ezra Jack Keats


Back when I began college, I enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program because I could earn an AA after studying little kids for two years. One of my better education decisions.

One of the highlights of the program was Children’s Literature. No kidding. The class was all about reading books for children. Every children’s writer should take such a class. We learned all about what makes for a successful children’s book, read all kinds of books, even learned how to run a proper story time. There is an art to reading a book out loud. I am so ready for the day when my book gets published and the local librarian invites me in to read it to wiggling masses of kiddos. That day isn’t quite here, but my AA in ECE has me primed and ready.

One author I briefly remember studying was Ezra Jack Keats. Mike Allegra’s recent Debatable (and *sigh* win) about Peter in The Snowy Day got me reminiscing about my Keats encounters. He wrote several books about Peter, and I remember we studied what a trailblazer he was for his colorful collage style combined with simple, yet meaningful text. There was also the fact that back when Peter first appeared he was among the first picture book characters of cultural diversity. We noted it, but I don’t remember dwelling on it. We instead focused on the appeal of Peter as enjoyed a snowy day, discovering how to whistle, finding goggles–just enjoying being a nice kid growing up with friends and family in the city.

One thing we didn’t touch on was Ezra Jack Keats. Looking him up, yah, Mike got me curious. I was surprised. I had made assumptions, and Chef Boyardee did I learn a lot. This article presents Keats so much better than I can. He is definitely an author deserving a spotlight.

So–go enjoy your inner child and read all about Peter. He is Macy’s Parade balloon worthy–almost as much as Tigger.

Debatable Recap: Defeat


Macy’s Parade has come and gone along with the November issue of Debatable. This month’s topic was filled with more than the usual amount of hot air as Mike Allegra, that rascally writer fellow who is loved and adored by his thousands of followers, won the round with his pitch of nominating Peter of the Snowy Day as a future Macy Day Parade balloon.

Admittedly, it is s good choice, yet I still contend the parade is all about the lightness of being and Tigger certainly fits that description.

Personally, I think Tigger and Peter would enjoy a snowy day together. Who knows? Maybe they’ll both be balloons one day.

So, congratulations, Mike. For once all your glorious and uplifting promotional ballyhooing rose up to to even greater heights.

Stay tuned for December’s Debatable edition in which Mike and I contest our choices for seasonal specials.

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