cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Books”

Reading Round Up: August


Well, I am going to breeze by my Goodreads goal of 101 books this year. As of August 31 I have read 98 books. I read 21 books in August. I’m almost embarrassed by that statistic. It sounds as if I am holing up surrounded by books and don’t have much of a life.

In my defense, it’s summer and I am on break from school and this is what I do on vacation: read, read, read. It’s difficult to find time once back into the routine of teaching. August also proved difficult for outdoor activities. I did manage to work in the yard on mediocre air quality days and accomplished some projects. I also did some puzzling, and organized my files. What I didn’t do much of was finish up a couple of manuscripts. A big disappointment in that area. The fuzzy grey skies of summer this year definitely affected my creativity’s forward motion.

On the other hand, reading so many books did inspire at least three new story ideas which I framed. Plus, I did manage to send out three projects to assorted editors and agents–planting seeds with a hope of securing interest and contracts.

As for titles read in August…

A mixed shelf of classic and contemporary and genres jumping all over the place.

I began with H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man and ended with Posted by John David Anderson. From “meh” to “wow”–a nice way to end up my summer reading.

I will detail the highs and lows of my summer reading in an upcoming post. If interested in detailed book reviews you can pop over to Goodreads (search: Cricket Muse)or check them out on my full blog site side boxes.

I will miss the lengthy leisure days of reading, yet I am looking forward to passing on my love of books to my students. Hi Ho Hi Ho it’s back to work I go…

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho it's off to work we go

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Hazy Daze: August Fire Season


August is proving to be a difficult month in our area. For the last three years forest fires have created smoky days so bad that air alerts are issued. Often the wildfires are started with a July lightning strike, although it is estimated 85% of the fires are started by people either through accident or by arson. No matter how the fires start, everyone suffers. At one point the rating was 160–unhealthy is between 101-200, and then moves into extreme.

Red sunrises and sunsets are reminiscent of being in a Ray Bradbury short story as blue skies disappear and the days are shrouded in paleness that is somewhat disorienting. The world as we knew has morphed into one continuous mono sky of creamy grey. The tree topped mountains bear streamers of thickened mist that almost looks like the early morning fall fogs. These mists hover ominously all day with a suppressing heaviness.

With numerous fires burning throughout our area and no relieving rain in sight, changes are apparent in the community’s usual routine: athletic events are cancelled, as are church picnics, tourist traffic is decreased, people are wearing masks. Few people are in their yards. Fewer people are walking and cycling. The beach is nearly deserted. The most activity is at the fairground.

The local fairground is providing campground space for the fire fighters. Colorful pop up dome tents are scattered all over the scruffy yellowed grass. Four wheel drives and diesel trucks line the makeshift fence keeping the row of porta-potties company. A few people wander about, especially in the early morning when I pass by them on my daily walk, when I detect a breeze and go for a quick stretch. I say silent prayers of keeping them safe, and tears of gratitude unexpectedly escape as I reflect on their efforts. I wonder how their mothers are dealing with their sons and daughters risking their lives daily with the flames. Many of the firefighters are volunteers. There is a banner at the front of the parking lot where people are signing their thanks, prayers, good wishes, and leaving uplifting messages.

As our community deals with the smoke and haze, my reading has become an escape since going outside is now a health issue that can’t be ignored. Curtailing my usual walk is a consideration as I am developing a tight chest, sore throat, and find myself clearing my throat and coughing. Running the air conditioner is not advised on some days. Even vacuuming is not advised since it stirs up particles. Barbecue is not on the menu. The lawn is becoming shaggy as mowing it in this soup bowl of haze is not wise. I quickly spritz flowers and my strawberries with water. And this is where it is interesting. Since the haze veils the sun the usual heat of August, the intense 90-100 degree days are nil. Pleasant temps of 75 degrees are the norm. The lack of direct sun means flowers aren’t withering in the heat. The ground is actually staying moist. This has become the best year for strawberries. The plants are still flowering and bearing tasty berries–tartly sweet, small but quite tongue pleasing in flavor. I carefully rinse and rinse again as a guard against particle matters.

So, with outdoor activities curtailed I am reading. A lot. It’s almost embarrassing how many books I have read in August. I could have used this time to work on my own writing projects, yet I need blue sky for inspiration. These days of opaque horizons are suppressing my energy for creativity. Books are my balm and retreat.

Are you living with wildfire threat and hazy days? How is your community coping?

Update: Prior to posting it rained in the night! What a difference!

I can see clearly now (and the air is soooo fresh).

Author Spotlight: Madeleine L’Engle


Although she wrote numerous books ranging from picture books to middle reads and YA to reflective nonfiction to poetry, Madeleine L’Engle is best remembered for changing children’s literature with The Wrinkle in Time. Awarded the Newberry Medal in 1963, the book remains popular and turned 50 in 2013, and became a Disney released movie in 2018. The Wrinkle in Time is one of the titles found on banned novels list, being ironically praised and criticized for its spiritual themes and approach.

A newly released book on Madeleine L’Engle, A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual of Madeleine L’Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Sarah Arthur is not so much a biography as it is an exploration of Madeleine’s spiritual beliefs and how they were intertwined into her writing.

Like C.S. Lewis, L’Engle infused her stories with spiritual metaphors and even direct references to God. However, unlike Lewis, L’Engle often found herself criticized for what some deemed a New Age approach to story telling, that her spiritual beliefs were too bound in a universalism that some thought misleading or confusing for her young reader audience.

Praised or censured, Madeleine L’Engle’s impact is significant, especially A Wrinkle in Time.

I was in fifth grade when I read about Meg and Charles Wallace and tesseracts. The book opened my reader’s eyes wide open. Time travel, intergalactic worlds, good versus evil, scientific concepts, interpersonal family dynamics, and so much more. The landscape of reading changed for me. I had that Dorothy moment of stepping from the barren black and white lands of Kansas to the Technicolor world of Oz. Reading for me did begin with that over the rainbow moment and L’Engle provided a colorful palette of possibilities.

I decided to reread A Wrinkle in Time as part of my Classic Club challenge. Reading it almost fifty years later I marveled how well the story kept my interest, and how much I anticipated certain plot points: Charles Wallace and his cocoa session with Meg in the kitchen, syncopated ball bouncing, Aunt Beast, the complicated plot, challenging vocabulary, along with its scientific concepts–this was way beyond the Homer Price and Henry Huggins fare on the library shelves. I don’t know how well I comprehended the entire story of how a girl could take on space and time and fight evil, but I do know Meg was the first of many underdog protagonists that would be added to my reading dance card.

I’m just discovering that The Wrinkle in Time is one of five books in the series and I am checking out each title and revisiting with Meg and Charles Wallace.

What are your impressions of A Wrinkle in Time?

The cover as I remember it.

Debatable: Worst Picture Book. Ever.–Recap


My first Debatable argument that Gene Wilder was such a vastly superior Willy Wonka than Johnny Depp, as suggested by Mike Allegra, won so amazingly, so soundly, that  I felt uber confident I would easily  win the second round.

I did not.

Image result for sad cat in the hat

See–even the Cat is sad he didn’t win about being such a loser.

Mike questioned my acknowledged labeling of Love You Forever against The Cat in the Hat as the worst picture book ever as a frumpled win. No, I am not a “sore” loser–just a bit of a hair splitter. After all, even Mike admitted LYF isn’t a children’s picture book in that it is more of a picture book written for mothers.
Well, I shall not sour grapes the issue (a shameless plug for my monthly DOWO post). A win is a win. Congrats, Mike.

Next month we go Round III of Debatables. We hope you will continue to bear with our quibbling. Maybe you can help us figure out what to take on next for a topic. Here are the guidelines:

  • Being children’s book writers, we are trying to keep topics close to books children read–picture books up to YA (Willy Wonka actor sparring was inspired by Dahl’s book)
  • The more improbable the better–none of the usual Narnia vs Hobbit fare. Go for the silly, the extreme, the profound. Mike especially likes a challenge.

Do you have an issue of children’s bookery you would like to see Mike and I tackle? Send in your suggestions to either Mike or me in comments.

We’ll post the top picks and see what happens from there.

Debatables:Worst Picture Book. Ever.


Debatables Round Two: The Worst Picture Book. Ever.

New to our blogosphere is the incredible Debatables, where my co-host and debate opponent, is the amazing Mike Allegra.
Mike Allegra is the author of Sarah Gives Thanks (Albert Whitman & Company, 2012), Everybody’s Favorite Book (Macmillan, 2018), and Scampers and the Scientific Method (Dawn, 2019). He also not-so secretly pens the Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series (Macmillan 2018-19, pen name: Roy L. Hinuss). He was the winner of the 2014 Highlights Fiction Contest and a recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts. He also juggles, plays the banjo, and is known to appreciate a well-crafted fart joke.

Over 12, 000 bloggers can’t be wrong, so if you aren’t following Mike’s blog, you are missing out. If you like to laugh, snicker, and outright guffaw, you will want to check out his blog.

Here are the Debatables ground rules:
Each Debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

Today’s Topic: What is the worst picture book ever?

Disclaimer: The debate you are about to read is in absolute good fun. As children’s book writers we both understand the love and labor that goes into writing a book. Please no flames, comments of impending bodily harm, or allegations of shaming the writing community. This is a practice in word hurtling, nothing more.

Mike is suggesting:

love you forever cover

Cricket suggests:

cat hat cover

Cricket:

I like the idea of a critter who helps a sibling pair beat the rainy day boredom blues, but that inherent sensibility I possessed as a child followed me into adulthood. That uninvited cat who creates a multitude of mayhem scenarios makes me nervous. And that’s my gripe with Seuss’s cat: he is the Pied Piper of pandemonium.

First off, The Cat in the Hat breaks basic rules we teach our children: stranger danger (and that is one strange cat); running in the house; playing with breakables; let alone making a mess. This is all done under the guise of “let’s have fun!” Let’s add onto the list how the voice-of-reason pet fish is abused several times, and the cat stubbornly refuses to leave when asked more than once (quite firmly) to depart.

inside cathat

To add to the havoc the Cat releases the naughty Thing 1 and Thing 2. Are these thingsendangered exotic imports? Have they had their shots? Are they housebroken?

The reckless approach to busting boredom leaves poor Sally and her bro in a pickle as Mom approaches the house. They are not having fun. They are stressed out to the max. The only time the children smile is when they see the back of that cat. The real clincher are the ending lines:

Should we tell her about it?

Now, what SHOULD we do?

Well…

What would YOU do

If your mother asked YOU?

This is an invitation for children to be deceitful. Shocking, I know.  Such a playful question is really introducing children to be duplicitous. Just say “No” to cats in hats barging their way into households. Listen to the wisdom of goldfish.

Vote with me that The Cat in the Hat is the worst picture book for children. Ever.

Mike:

The mom in Seuss’s magnum opus is negligent, but at least she doesn’t remind me of The Story of Oedipus.

Love you Forever is about a mother’s lifelong devotion to her son. She sings of this love to her sleeping child when he is a baby and a young child—which is fine—and when he’s a teenager, which is less fine. She doesn’t just sing to him, she cradles the boy in her arms. We don’t see the cradling for the teenager scene; instead the illustration delivers something creepier: a young adult sleeping while his mother, wearing an expression of eager anticipation, crawls into his room on all fours.

all fours

But once the son grows up and moves out, such behavior must draw to a close, yes? Um. No. Refusing to accept this new chapter in her life, Mom grabs a ladder, drives across town, breaks into her son’s house (through a second floor window!), and cradles the sleeping adult male in her arms.

cradling

Scenes like this might have worked if the illustrations were less representational or more playful, but Sheila McGraw’s work is realistic and earnest. This elderly woman nuzzling her grown son is not a metaphor to illustrate the love between mother and child—it’s really happening. This woman really broke into her son’s house and really rocked him in her arms without his knowledge or consent.

Love You Forever is a world free of spouses. The adult son eventually has a daughter, but we never see this baby’s mother. The son’s father is also absent from the story. Where are these people? In the world of Robert Munsch’s picture book, it doesn’t matter. These significant others would only distract from the disturbing, single minded, nearly predatory mother/son bond at the story’s core.

Cricket’s Counterpoint:

While Love You Forever is creepy in its depiction of motherly devotion, it’s impact hasn’t prevailed for over fifty years like Geisel/Seuss’s creation. The Cat in the Hat is dangerous, not only as being an instigator of mayhem, but the fact is this bowtied cat is an industry, an institution of corrupting influence. Sequels, clothing, toys, teaching curriculum, movies, even designated days–this ubiquitous cat has influenced generations of children to ditch household norms under the guise of learning to read. Even Geisel, admitted in a 1983 article how The Cat in the Hat is a revolt against authority. Teaching our children to read at the cost of them totally abandoning all reason and opening their households to felonious felines is much too high a price to pay. Beware of hatted grimalkins in the guise as a reading muse. The campaign of awareness shall begin: #badcat.

Mike’s Counterpoint:

Yes, the Cat is an instrument of chaos, but TCINH’s hero (and audience surrogate) is the unnamed boy. This boy doesn’t invite The Cat in or encourage his “games.” Instead, he puts an end to the mayhem by capturing the Things and throwing The Cat out. These are good character traits (as is the “clean up after yourself” finale).

The Cat in the Hat, also did something very important, it buried the insipid Dick and Jane books once and for all. It showed that easy readers could be fun! And funny! And exciting!

Most importantly, TCITH was always written with kid readers in mind.

Love You Forever wasn’t written for kids. It was written for moms in order to affirm a subliminal hope that their babies can remain baby-like forever. This, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is an unhealthy conception of motherhood. Even a child knows that.

So, dear readers–what is your vote? Which brilliant argument convinced you? Let us know in the comments below. 

Reading Pastabilities


A Prayer for Owen Meany

Jane Eyre

All the Light We Cannot See

The Grapes of Wrath

Moby Dick

The Count of Monte Cristo

East of Eden

The Portrait of a Lady

Dune

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Read any of these titles? Congratulations. You know what it means to make a commitment to a long read.

I should have more titles for this list, and I eventually will, yet here is a small gripe–and maybe you agree with me: long reads are like sitting down to a savory plate of pasta, yet no matter how much you eat, there is so much more that needs to be eaten, and because the pasta is so good you keep eating, but you know you should stop, but you can’t, and get a little too full, and even get a little frustrated because you just keep going. The frustrating part is wanting to sample the other food available, except you are committed to that big plate of pasta.

Does anyone else feel that way about getting involved in a long book?

The Perfect Club (for me)


If you have been following my blog you know I love to read, and that I especially love literature. Being a librarian at heart, teaching literature is pretty close to working in a library. Sigh, to be surrounded by books all day long, in a fairly quiet environment, where people enter in for the specific purpose of learning and reading. Dream job.

Reading. It’s what I love to do. Indeedy. I am always promoting books [see Book Boosters] and my monthly Reading Round Ups, and I am always interested in reading what others are reading. Somehow I discovered The Classics Club, and the main requirement is to create a list of at least 50 classics and set a read-by date. This club and I shall become besties, I know it. They are friendly and flexible and have all kinds of reading activities going on all the time. This is a better discovery than a new gelato flavor.  Here is my list so far, and my proposed read-by date:

Start date January 1, 2018 (they are so flexible they are okay with my list in progress)
Finish: December 31, 2019
*read and reviewed already

  1. Green Willow by B.J. Chute*
  2. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli*
  3. Blue Willow by Doris Gates*
  4. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart*
  5. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl*
  6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl*
  7. Charlie and the Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl*
  8. Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson*
  9. Gilead by Marilyn Robinson*
  10. Princess Bride by William Goldman* (reread)
  11. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf*
  12. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin*
  13. The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier*
  14. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan*
  15. The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty*
  16. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte* (reread)
  17. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn*
  18. Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse*
  19. Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce*
  20. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells (read!)
  21. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisnero
  22. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken*
  23. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving*
  24. From the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  25. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  26. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
  27. Swallows and Amazon by Arthur Ransome*
  28. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
  29. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (read!)
  30. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  31. Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner
  32. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  33. Call it Sleep by Henry Roth
  34. Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  35. King Solomon’s Mine by H. Rider Haggard
  36. One of Ours by Willa Cather
  37. Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
  38. The Empty World by D.E. Stevenson
  39. The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner
  40. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  41. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  42. Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
  43. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
  44. The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
  45. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  46. Native Son by Richard Wright
  47. Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner
  48. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
  49. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
  50. Penelope Lively by Moon Tiger

Whew! It took me longer than I thought to create this list. I usually grab and go when I am at the library. We will see what happens.

Any of these titles look familiar to you? What would you add to the list? Are you going to join me over at The Classics Club?

Image result for december 31 2019

My goal date–am I ambitious?

Reading Round Up: July


July is my designated vacation month. I have turned away from teaching mode (it’s hard to turn it completely off) and I dive into the enjoyment of reading and reading some more. In the words of one of my book’s characters: “I shove my nose into it to have a good sniff and I go.” (Dear Reader)

Since July is my dedicated month of reading it isn’t surprising I read 20 books. Last month I read 14 being in a hybrid of schoolish vacation mode. Selecting highlights from my baker’s dozen plus last month proved somewhat difficult (which pet to trot out for a walkie?) so this month’s Reader Round Up consists of rating groups with a micro précis.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown: The true story of nine working class boys who rowed their way into the hearts of the American people, becoming champions at the 1936 Olympics.

The Princess Bride by Willuam Goldman (25th anniversary edition): This classic contemporary fairy tale comes with everything: heroes,  villians, a princess, duels, giants, wise men, foolish men, dreams, nightmares, happiness, sadness, and clever plot turns. Do not settle on the movie. Read the book.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead: Middle school is the epitome of awkward. 

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: Winner of the 2010 Newberry Medal. Sixth grader Miranda is trying to figure out friendships gone astray as she puzzles out mysterious messages that seemingly know about the future. 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz: Discovering a new friend can mean discovering something new about yourself.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl: A Cinderfella story of sorts where a chocolate factory becomes happiness ever after.

Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal: Shakespeare is as accessible and friendly as beans on toast, (English comfort food?) according to actor Ben Crystal, who provides a witty and friendly guide to the Bard.

Angel’s Rest by Charles Davis: Eleven year old Charlie has his life turned sideways and upside down when his father is killed by a shotgun blast , and everyone says Charlie’s mother pulled the trigger–but did she?

Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson: Orphaned sisters Ruth and Lucille grow up haphazardly under the care of various aunts which defines how each sister chooses to grow as an adult.

Old School by Tobias Wolff: At a prestigious boysboarding school the emphasis on   literature takes precedence over all else, especially when it comes to meeting writing greats such as Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway.

History Year by Year: The History of the World from Stone Age to the Digital World by Peter Crisp: An engaging illustrated timeline grouping  to 2012.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: A modernist tale involving stream of consciousness narrative of several characters over the course of one day.

Dear Reader by Paul Fournel: Robert Dubois, a French book publisher, grapples with the transition of reading paper manuscripts to having them loaded on his electronic reader and begins to see his life in a new perspective–yet, is the new necessarily the better?

The Friendly Shakespeare by Norrie Epstein: A worthwhile resource that one can flip through exploring all sorts of Bardolatry from trivia to play commentary to an admirable list of film adaptations.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin: George Orr realizes his dreams can affect reality and the consequences of this realization changes civilization forever.

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne: Shakespeare probably didn’t think about what would happen if an eighth grade girl were named Hamlet.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl: Being the owner of a fabulous chocolate factory has its ups and downs.

Night Runner by Max Turner: Vampires can be found in unexpected places (especially when the dustjacket does not allude to vampires lurking within the plot).

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline: Vivian, a ninety-one year old former orphan train rider has a secret bound up in her memoirs.

Through My Father’s Eyes by Franklin Graham: A tribute, rather than a biography, of evangelist Billy Graham.


VayCay Away


Summer vacation is one of the perks of teaching. That punchline answer of what’s the favorite part about teaching–June, July, and August–has some truth to it.

I didn’t go into teaching because of summer vacation.* Summer vacation is a lovely benefit after months and months of —oops, I digress. Today’s post involves the art of the StayCay Away. Yes, it’s a sub-category of that recent trend of staying at home while vacationing.

I am not a traveler, although I have done the Lucy Room with a View Europe trip (husband hunting did not occur, although my paradigm did shift about what it means to be American), and I’ve done the exotic locale trip–both the Bahamas and Hawaii (love the ocean, hate the looonnng plane trip). I’ve done short border jaunts to another country: Canada and Mexico. I’ve even done the opposite coast conference trip–twice. Not a lot of traveling, but enough to be able to state that I like staying at home when I vacation.

What is there not to like? I have all my comforts: bed, refrigerator, backyard hammock, and closet (I tend to bring the wrong clothes when traveling). Okay, yeah, it does get a bit tedious the day after day routine of same walls, nagging urge to weed and dust (I thought I was on vacation), so this is when the StayCay Away activates. I pack up and head to Mom’s.

This is not going home. This is going to her condo that she uses only a couple of weeks out the year because she lives year round in the desert (the things we do for marriage), but can’t quite give up the place. I have a key.

A day’s drive, and I have a homish away from home. It’s in my old neighborhood, all the amenities of fridge, recliner, the library is next door, and a pool (something I definitely don’t have at home, and swimming in the lake is not an option). I still pack the wrong clothes, but that gives me an excuse to go shopping.

The hubs stays home. Two days of nothing to do but read books creates restlessness. And that’s what I do at my Away VayCay: I read. And read. The library has a Friends of the Library corner where books range from 35 cents to 50 cents for really great reads. I bring in five dollars and a book bag and load up on classics, contemporary bestsellers, and let’s-take-a-chance titles, plus a few for the classroom library.

In between reading I visit friends and family**, watch a couple of movies, take long walks, and think about not eating since I hope to lose five pounds by not having much food in the refrigerator. Reading is a form of hunger suppressant. Movies require snacks.

The StayCay Away helps me appreciate Home when I return because I really am I homebody at heart–Dorothy knew what she was talking about.

So a vacation where it’s a lot like home works well for me.

Anyone else have a StayCay Away to share?

*That’s for any parents or students reading this post.

**Just in case friends and family read this post–you really are my first priority.

Reading Roundup: June


Summer began for me once I posted grades and locked my classroom door. I don’t travel much except for a weekend trip here and there to visit with family. I used to be embarrassed when I would state my main delight for summer is to read. Surprisingly, that response actually gets nods of approval, almost a smidgen of admiration or envy. Of course I could merely reading into their reactions.

To prepare for my readerly adventure, I start checking off my TBR list, and then grab my books to stretch out in my hammocks–one for the shade and one in the sun. Depends on my mood and the weather.

The Goodreads tally keeper notes I read a total of 14 books in June, if the one rollover title from May to June counts as a June read. That’s a calculation of 4,350 pages or roughly 310 pages per average. I tend to feel a wee bit of fudging occurs when reading children’s books (no shame there) because they are often under 200 pages, then again some books I grab off the shelf weigh in over 400 pages. It tends to balance out.

With such a variety of reads that visited my book bag last month, I thought I would highlight the genres covered:

Children’s

image:Goodreads

Newberry Honor books such as Blue Willow by Doris Gates espouse the ideals of the American Dream: benefit from the fruits of honest work. Janey lives the rough life of an itinerant family who is one step from financial disaster as they move from one harvest to the next. Scant of possessions, yet brimming with hope, Janey longs for a real home, one where she can display her treasure: her mother’s willow plate, a symbol of happier times past, and a promise for better days ahead.

Considering its publish date of 1940, the story still holds interest as it touches on the need to belong and to rise above circumstances. 5 stars

image: Goodreads

Rarely do books that stir up applause, glowing reviews, and generate a movie actually merit those expectations. Wonder does and it is one of the most authentic, genuine stories I’ve come across in a very long time.

Very deserving of its praise. August and his family, along with his friends, create a hope people can learn to get beyond initial first impressions. 5 stars

Inspirational

image: Goodreads

Lisa Wingate knows how to weave a layered story. In this first installment of the Carolina series the plot revolves around Tandi as she tries to rebuild her life. She runs out of gas at the place of happier times, the Hatteras islands, and lives hand to mouth with her two children.

Tandi’s life begins to change for the better when she begins cleaning out the house of her recently deceased landlady, Iola Pool. Tandi comes across Iola’s prayer boxes and gathers strength from Iola’s letters to God.

A story that speaks to the importance of family and friends, and embracing opportunities.

A bit spotty in some of the backstory, otherwise enriching in how faith can change lives. 4 stars

image: Goodreads

Although touted as a retelling of the well-known tale of Aladdin, Melanie Dickerson’s The Orphan’s Wish is more of a reinvention of the classic story. The story takes Aladdin, an orphan who is taught to steal, and transplants him in Germany. From there Aladdin is immersed in a story of trying to overcome his lower status in order to marry his lifelong friend, Lady Krysten. Rescued by a priest, Aladdin faithfully serves God, as do the majority of the characters.

While the story had the potential of being engaging, with all the elements of a intriguing romance, it falls into telling the reader instead of allowing the story to unfold. The characters are flat, as is the dialogue, making it difficult to invest completely in this happily-ever-after story.

The overall plot is fairly predictable, yet provides enough plot twist to carry out the anticipated ending. Those who appreciate fairy tales will enjoy Dickerson’s offering. 3 stars

Received from Thomas Nelson in exchange for a fair review.

Adult

image: Goodreads

Note: Sometimes I succumb to reading the “popular” book. *sigh*

Intense. It felt like I was reading a Hitchcock script with all the under plots and red herrings thrown about. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the characters and ended up skipping through the middle. Rachel was so totally pathetic it became a chore to read her portion. Megan proved to be a disappointment and I felt no sympathy for her. The men definitely had flaws. Even the baby was fussy.

So, I can say I mostly read this book, but do not fill enriched for doing so. I will not bother with the movie.

*another sigh*

image: Goodreads

I made two mistakes reading Olive Kitteridge. The first was thinking it would be like those other curmudgeon novels, ones that portrayed a cranky elderly person with a rim of diamonds that flashed in certain moments. This was my impression having read the reader’s guide first, the “interview” with Elizabeth Strout, Olive, and a nameless Random House Reader’s Circle guide. Olive came off as sassy, opinionated, and singular. Yet, this was no Ove, Major Pettigrew, or even Miss Read. As I got into the stories, as this is not a novel, I realized that Olive has some serious issues. She might be a sociopath even. And that was my second mistake. I thought since it received a Pulitzer Prize, Olive Kitteridge would be a worthy read of merit.

Ah-yuh. Apparently, I was mistaken.

Classic

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Mary Stewart’s suspenseful mysteries with a dash of romance and a flair for adventure in exotic places does not fail to be a go to when looking for a casual read. A perfect hammock companion. Even though the dialogue and situations are a bit dated, the plot is still enthralling, if not surprising at times.

Nonfiction

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The Princess Bride is inconceivably one of the best discoveries I made in college. William Goldman’s book was so amazing I boycotted Rob Reiner’s film when it came out. I did. Why? How could the film do the book justice? Convinced it couldn’t, I refused to watch it for years and years. Why did I wait so long?

The film is a classic now, of course. All those characters: Buttercup, Inigo, Max, Fezzik, Westley, and all those lines “As You Wish” to “Have fun storming the castle” represent a whole generation who have enjoyed this fairytale which is suffused with romance and adventure.

Cary Elwes, who played Westley, presents a loving tribute to the film in his memoir. If you enjoy featurettes, those behind the scenes peeks, then this is the book to sit down with to gain more info about the who and how of Princess Bride.

Sincere, enlightening, filled with quotes from the principal actors as well as the director and producer, As You Wish provides fans, and those who are sure to become fans, more about a film that is now part of the culture.

The book so inspired me I promptly checked out the movie to specifically watch for all those insights Elwes mentions. Fortunately, a copy was in. I decided to reread Goldman’s classic tale, but unfortunately it was not available. Oh, the waiting is inconceivably prolonged agony of anticipation.

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