cricketmuse

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Debatables: March–What’s So Funny?


Time for another round of Debatables, where Mike Allegra, my partner in literary pettifog, and I take on meritable topics such as “Who is the Most Appealing Mouse of Middle Grade Fiction” and make quite a fuss. Sometimes Mike wins, and sometimes I do. Like last month. Just saying.

This month we take on the serious topic of “The Funniest Picture Book.” Now, I could be at a disadvantage because Mike is truly a funny guy. His family stories are a hoot. I shall strive for another win. Like last month. (oh dear, I promised Mike I wouldn’t crow).

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).

For my Funniest Picture Book entry I nominate:

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Yes, this book is so funny it’s been a play at the Kennedy Center, a TV special, AND a Disney movie.

 

Mike suggests:

Image result for stinky cheese man

Okay, fine–it won an award

Cricket’s Turn:
Some days just start out wrong, and keep getting worse. Having a bad day, especially from a kid’s point of view, is what Judith Viorst’s classic picture book is all about. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is just that–a really bad day in the life of six year old Alexander.

This is one of those books that is a perfect blend of text and illustrations. Viorst succinctly states with comic vaudevillian timing the woes of Alexander’s day. Ray Cruz’s illustrations deliciously capture Alexander’s expressions. Like this one:

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrations

Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, he trips on his skateboard, and drops his sweater in the sink. And that’s just the start of his day. He’s smushed in the car pool, his friends snub him, he leaves out 16 in counting, and there’s no dessert in his lunch. And the day just gets worse. There is also the running gag of moving to Australia.

 

Alexander’s no good day is relatable. This is a book anyone from 6 to 96 can enjoy. The story is funny. The illustrations are funny. Alexander’s bad day is a good funny, because all bad days come to an end. Viorst knows this and doesn’t sugarcoat the terrible, horrible of the Alexander’s bad day. They just happen. And when they are done we can laugh about it.This is a book that parents and children can read and laugh about together. Bad days happen. They just do. It’s cathartic to laugh about them. A book, a play, a TV special, a movie–people can’t get enough of this story.

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrationsMike’s choice of The Stinky Cheese Man is commendable, yet its satirical humor leans towards mean. The gentle humor of Viorst and Cruz is family friendly and it’s made for kids. TSCM? Do kids, little kids, the ones picture books are supposed to be for, really get that crazy, hyperbolic humor? Hmm, to each their own kind of funny. Alexander is cute. The cheese man is, well, stinky. What’s so funny about a stinky cheese man?

Mike’s Argument:
“Gentle humor” and “funniest” aren’t synonyms. Not even close.

Is Alexander And The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day a good book? Yes. It is an excellent book. It may even be a better book than The Stinky Cheese Man.

But hardly anyone could say it’s funnier. And this debate is all about the funny.

AATTHNGVBD generates warm, nostalgic smiles. But Stinky Cheese gets laughs. When my son was little, I read him both Alexander and Stinky. He liked them both, but only laughed at Stinky. Heck, the book still makes him laugh. It still makes me laugh, too.

In this compendium of “fairly stupid tales,” an ugly duckling grows up to be really ugly. A “frog prince” is is fraud, one who just likes smooching (and cares little about the slime he leaves behind on princess’ lips). The titular Stinky Cheese Man, like The Gingerbread Man, runs away to avoid being eaten; but nobody is chasing Stinky Cheese because, well, he stinks something nasty.

Lane Smith’s illustrations greatly contribute to the book’s comic tone. His ugly duck, for example, is not just a dippy, drooling disaster; he is a happy, dippy drooling disaster. He’s ugly. He knows it. And he’s cool with it. What could’ve been a cruel story in the hands of a lesser illustrator, is hilarious, for Smith’s duck seems incapable of hurt feelings.

Image result for stinky cheese man ugly duckling

And let’s not forget the character that ties all these ridiculous tales together. Jack the Narrator accidentally drops the table of contents on Chicken Little’s head. He spoils the ending of “Little Red Riding Shorts.” And, in a great running gag, he tangles with a very belligerent giant.  

Nope, no “gentle humor” here. The Stinky Cheese Man is brash, wildly original, and comic gold.

Cricket’s Rebuttal:
Some people like obvious humor that’s a bit loud:

Image result for stinky cheese man cow

This cow is flabbergasted that a stinky bit of cheese is remotely funny

Others enjoy the subtle comedy of a facial expression or comment can evoke:

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrations dad office

It comes down to what’s funny to an individual. In a world that dwells on harsh and mean, I much prefer the gentle humor of a boy coping with a bad day where delightful illustrations accompany witty commentary. It’s relatable, enjoyable, and resonates with good vibes long after I’ve read it. I smile just thinking about Alexander. He lightens my bad days. I choose him over slimy frogs and the stink of rude, cheesy banal jokes.

Mike’s Rebuttal:
You’re right, Cricket, one’s interpretation of “funniest book” will always be subjective. But you’re not making an argument for The Funniest Book; you’re making an argument for The Most Relatable, Resonant, Warm, Fuzzy, Good Vibe-ist Book.

C’mon, you! Yes, I’m looking at you, Cricket—with your smart aleck ways, plethora of puns, and encyclopedic knowledge of weird cow jokes. Let’s get real.

You might love AATTHNGVBD—and you should love it—but you know which book generates more honest-to-goodness laughs. Stinky Cheese pulls out all the stops. One page is upside down. Another page contains a Surgeon General’s Warning. Another page is blank because the diva-ish main characters walked out of the story in a huff. Stinky Cheese is a layered, visual and verbal feast of funniness.

The book blazed a new trail in no-hugging-no-learning meta fiction. And readers laughed. So did critics. So did the Caldecot judges. So did I. And—admit it—so did you.

 

Well, there you have it. You, our most marvelous readers, now have the opportunity to add in your own commentary about which of the two books is the funniest. And while we appreciate your suggestions, we really, really want you to stick with what you see here: either Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good Very Bad Day  or The Stinky Cheese Man.

Thanks for stopping in and thanks even more for your comments and votes.

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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

Movie Musings: The Birder’s Guide to Everything


I learned to appreciate birds from my parents, mainly my father. I have his set of adequate binoculars, purchased from J.C. Penney, which obviously indicates their vintage status.

I learned to appreciate quirky indie films from my days of attending the University of Washington in Seattle and frequenting the variety of theaters in the fair city of the Space Needle.

As for Sir Ben Kingsley, ever since his performance of Ghandi I have been a fan.

So–an indie movie about watching birds with Ben Kingsley? That was a quick grab off the shelf for movie night.

The trailer pretty much sums up the whole movie: boy loves birds, because his mom shared her love of birds with him, mother dies, father moves on, boy is passively resentful, boy goes on a Bildungsroman road trip.

There is more than that formula plot, of course. There is the humor of watching the provided stereotypes, knowing they know they are set up as stereotypes. There is the quirky enjoyment of watching people watching birds. And there is the brief appearance of Sir Ben, adding in the perfect blend of pathos. There is also a swear word about every two minutes.

We watched most of the movie muted due owning a DVD player installed with Angel Guard, a device that catches profanity before it’s uttered and mutes it. This is a leftover from our days of raising children with a conscious effort of protecting them from harmful influences in the world. Right. Somewhere there must be a study out there correlating whether this measure of parental watchfulness truly has any significant impact on protecting children.

The children are long flown from the nest–oh, an unintended birder metaphor, but the Angel Guard lives on and the Hubs and I haven’t a clue how to reprogram it. Then again, we’re not fans of profanity and muted potty mouth works. With no subtitles, in this PG-13 film, we filled in the blanks. There were a lot of blanks. What was available, though, was a thoughtful, sensitive, often humorous coming-of-age movie of living with loss and discovering that the pain of losing someone cherished doesn’t ever truly go away, but one can learn to cope with the pain.

One of the best features of the film, beyond the commendable performance of Kodi Smit-McPhee, witty script, and Sir Ben, was the bonus feature of a Cornell bird identification insert. A winsome plug for their site: All About Birds  . 

This film helped me to better understand the culture of birdwatching, although I haven’t decided where I am in categories. I am beyond the casual bird feeder crowd, not quite the dedicated birder, and definitely not a lister, checking off spottings of avian treasures. An appreciative fan? I know just enough about birds to sound like I know something about birds.

This film falls in the category of adapted John Green novels showcasing awkward adolescence pain mixed with humor populated by quirky people and moments:

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

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.

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 Round Up: October


There is an unmitigated pleasure about fall sneak reading whilst propped in a backyard hammock. Bundling up against the wisp of autumnal breeze as it tries to nip at exposed flanks, the remaining warmth of the retiring sun definitely adds to the pleasure of a good read.

October marks the acknowledgment that summer reading as ended. By the time I get home from work the backyard is surrendering to shadows and I drag my hammock around on its reluctant stand trying to find patches of sun, reminiscent of a desperate sunflower. The lure of reading outdoors is different to suppress.

Here are October’s picks:

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It comes as a surprise I had not heard of Wallace Stegner until recently. I’m a bit embarrassed by that actually, especially when he is both a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner.

So glad I made the effort. But my first book encounter ended up with three pages in and a return to the book bag.

Spectator Bird remained on my list and while waiting for it to arrive I read All the Live Little Things, the companion novel, which turned well since it helped to understand the back story referenced. Quite the drama, and The Spectator Bird makes all the more sense having read about Joe’s dilemmas with becoming older and living with regrets he can’t or won’t bury.

A definitive story on living the present based on the past.

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Wonderful. Delightful. A novel that I found myself sneaking moments to read while trying to work. Dear Mrs. Bird is wartime drama that has provides lighter moments, providing a terrific balance of humor and stunning realism. WWII novels are thick upon the shelves, yet this debut novel is a stunner in how the details create a sense of being in the moment. Emmy and Bunty need a series, and it’s hoped this is a start.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Recommendations from librarians rarely fail. Knowing I appreciated dystopian genres one of local librarians suggested I find Earth Abides. No easy task. Even with its solid reviews and reputation, I could not land an ILL and ended up reading a free e-book that sorely tried my appreciation of Stewart’s novel due to the numerous transference typos.

Similar to the Omega Man, a pandemic dramatically eradicates the world’s population and one man emerges who will make a difference. This man is Ish. He becomes what he refers to as the last American.

An excellent story, made all the more interesting since the technology is centered on what is available in 1949, the publish date.

All the Live Little Things by Wallace Stegner

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written during the pulsing sixties, Stegner writes of the various ideals that existed together with deft, insightful prose: older establishment meets with hippie youth who mingles with alternative, creative lifestyle who befriends optimistic outlook. It all makes for a memorable, even compelling dramatic story. Joe, a gruff, outspoken literary agent and his forebearing wife, Ruth, escape the hectic city and retire in the placid hills of California. Their peace is shattered by a interloper Peck who becomes the serpent in their garden, as he interacts with each of Joe’s neighbors and touches each of their lives in irrevocable ways.

Stegner’s prose is impressive. Not only does he relate a complicated story, he evokes such smooth passages of imagery that one cannot rush through the story without pausing to savor his craft.

“For a long time that evening we sat on the terrace, while the swallows and later the bats sewed the darkening air together over the oaks…” p. 226

Lovely.

The story tended to switch forward and back in time sequence as Joe related events, which created a somewhat uneven flow of continuity, yet it might have emulated how Joe’s mind switched from present to past as he attempted to reconcile events.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Stewart

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society answers much about the mysterious Mr. Benedict met in the first book of the popular series. While less engaging than the first book, due to a rather boggy middle, the ending once again shows the cleverness of Trenton Lee Stewart.

The Rule of Three by Eric Walters

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The world ends with a whimper, isn’t that what T. S. Eliot suggested? In Eric Walters novel, the first of a series, he explores how this present world might end once computers and other technology shuts off. Adam and his family, along with his neighborhood cope with the aftermath of what appears to be a global EMP strike. A bit bogged down in details, yet this supposition of how people would reaction in such a crisis situation creates an engaging read.

Smile by Raina Telegemeier

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This book was recommended to me by a young patron while I was shelving books at the local library. His enthusiasm and assurance that it was a “very good book” intrigued me enough to check it out.

A memoir of the author who suffered a traumatic ordeal with her teeth as a teen, in the format of a graphic novel, turned out surprisingly better that I anticipated.

My short tour with braces was nothing compared with her procedure! I think tweens going through all the drama of middle school will appreciate Smile as it explores so many other issues besides getting braces.

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

“To much is given, much is required” is aptly applied to this fantasy story where the gifts bestowed upon individuals can provide both life and death to others. Two recipients of these gifts, Selene, who can enter people’s dreams, and Damien, who is able to manipulate water, must determine how their gifts will best benefit the people of their land while they struggle to combat the threat of dark alliances that threaten the overall peace.

Engaging and fast-paced, with an intriguing allegorical theme of choosing darkness or the light, Morgan Busse’s The Ravenwood Saga promises readers a series to anticipate following.

This book was provided by the publisher, and all commentary is mine.

Author Spotlight: Brian Selznick


I confess: I’m a binger (interestingly spellcheck kept turning that into “bungee”–flexible strength in reading? hmm, maybe…).

Once interested in something I latch on and absorb as much as possible. Sample binges include: Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, the educational geography game, the reboot of Dr Who, and of latest interest, Brian Selznick’s works.

I can’t remember which I read or watched first concerning The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Both the film and the book and the audio book are stand alones, yet complement each other emphatically.

The bonus DVD disc in the audio book is an engaging interview of Selznick explaining his creative process. He is quite personable and his enthusiasm for his craft is inspiring.

The next book I read is his first published title: Houdini’s Box. His understated humor in both his drawings and story are evident and it’s hoped he writes more of these shorter humorous stories.

Selznick’s trademark seems to be a unique approach to storytelling in which it’s a bit of graphic novel, somewhat of a fable in text, that leans toward a wordless flip book. His talent for story and illustration is equally balanced–quite the gift.

Speaking of illustration, Selznick has illustrated for numerous authors besides his own writing, including Ann Martin Pam Muniz Ryan.

Having recently finished Wonderstruck, I, of course, needed to watch the film adaptation. Turns out he wrote the screenplay. This man’s talent and energy is astounding.

I rounded out my reading-fest with The Marvels, which I had mixed feelings about due to the graphic story being far more interesting than the accompanying text. I look forward to his next title.

I came across an enlightening New York Times interview with Selznick that revealed some interesting facts:

  • Yes, that Selznick. He is related to the legendary David O. Selznick of Hollywood fame.
  • Ray Bradbury sent him a fan letter.
  • He researches extensively.
  • Splitting his time between three homes in three different parts of the country is a norm.

If you are not familiar with his works, I suggest starting out with Houdini’s Box, moving onto Hugo (do listen to it while you read it–such a double treat), then watch the Scorsese film of Hugo (the book is the book, the movie is the movie). From there? Explore, enjoy, maybe even binge a little.

Movie Musings: The Librarian


Someone finally got it right: they created a movie that showed how librarians are more than capable of saving the world from evil doers. I discovered these movies long after they had first been released, but enjoyed them nonetheless.

Noah Wyle from ER fame, established himself in that long running role (11seasons!) as the likable character who was a bit different from others due to background and interests, and sets the tone by choosing what is beneficial for others. This appeal transferred well into the Librarian series.

In the initial movie, Quest for the Spear (2004), Flynn Carsten is a poster boy for failure to launch. He has 22 degrees, lives with his mother, doesn’t have a job or any relationships going (never has, and doubtfully ever will), and would rather spend time with his books because they “speak to him.” His professor signs him off, telling him to go live in the real world. Flynn looks for a job, but then a job finds him. Sent a personal invitation to apply as The Librarian (notice the emphasis), Flynn joins the que of perhaps a hundred applicants.

Thumbnail: he gets the job, he discovers his penchant for all the knowledge that he amassed comes in handy, and that the most important knowledge is not what is in the head, but is found in the heart (great mom advice).

While the movie’s initial production quality is a bit thin, it does have a campiness that is fun. There is a combination of all those jungle adventure movies, mixed in with some Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, and James Bond. Sometimes there is a hint of Doctor Who, as Flynn gains experience and status as the “fixer” of what is strange and how it affects the world. Fairly clean family entertainment, except for hinted love scenes, and tame fighting sequences.

A total of three movies plus a TV series meant The Librarian has a fan base of reckoning. Noah Wyle’s character grew in each movie and TV episode until he became a legend in his own time.

His Librarian skills transferred well to Falling Skies, a Steven Spielberg TV series about life after aliens have invaded the planet.

If you haven’t seen The Librarian and are looking for some easy going entertainment, check out the movies. If wanting a more developed, continuing sequenced plot look into the series.

Quest for the Spear” (2004), “Return to King Solomon’s Mine“ (2006), and “Curse of the Judas Chalice“ (2008).Nov 12, 2009

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.


Reading Round Up: May


May provided a mixture of titles. It was a grab and go find time to read as the month was filled with AP testing and finishing up curriculum units. Brain in a blender is how I refer to those mad days of teaching in overdrive mode. Sometimes it’s difficult finding enough energy to peruse a few pages without falling asleep. Book whap in the face is embarrassing.

Greenwillow by B.J. Chute

An enchanting tale with a warmth about it that makes it suitable for a cozy wintertime fireside session or as a drowsy summer hammock companion.

Reminiscent of Tuck Everlasting in how true love is shadowed by a family curse, with a bit of the charm found in D. E. Stevenson’s novels. Gently told and full of quaint characterization and imagery. I hope to find other novels by the author. A delightful five star read.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

A bit of Benjamin Button mashed with Dr Who timey-wimey stuff. The idea of someone who ages incredibly slow is intriguing as it has so many plot possibilities. Unfortunately, most of the story centers on how miserable Tom Hazard is concerning his condition. He is over 400 years old though he looks to be in his forties. Falling in love is problematic, as is staying in one place for more than eight years. The flip flop of Tom’s backstory mixed with present day is the stuff of novels these days, so that wasn’t the issue as much as the over-dramatic ending with serious plot holes. The overall premise is quite clever, the storyline fairly entertaining despite Tom’s grousing. The inclusion of Shakespeare garnered the four stars, otherwise a middling three.

First Impressions by Debra White Smith

While some readers may appreciate yet another spin off of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it is a universal truth that providing a refreshing retelling is difficult. This is the case for First Impressions by Debra White Smith, who begins her series of Austen retellings with the familiar love story of Darcy and Elizabeth. White attempts to freshen up the story by placing it in a contemporary Texas small-town. Some of the characters have changed, yet not so much for the better. Darcy is Dave, a millionaire hiding from his fame, Elizabeth is Eddi, a sassy lawyer, Jane is Jenny, ambivalent about the men in her life, and Bingley is Calvin, endearing, yet somewhat bumbling in his attempts at admiring Jenny. Lydia is Linda, the promiscuous sister. The Bennett parents still play their assigned roles of mother with no filter and passive father. The other two sisters didn’t make the cast. Wickham is a police officer gone wrong, and Connor becomes the awkward smitten cousin. Overall, the dialogue and attempts to match key dialogue and plot points comes off forced, such as making Connor a third cousin, with several reminders that it’s okay to marry cousins in Texas.

Retelling such a well-known story can be problematic, partly since readers have high expectations the characters and plot will provide similar vitality. Unfortunately, First Impressions did not impress, and it is with regret, as it held promise in its chosen format, but tried too hard to emulate Austen’s story and earns a two star.

The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrell

Piper loses her best friend Lydia, and is determined to find out what happened to her. This is no easy task for an eighteen year old society girl living the crime-prone era of 1920’s Chicago. As Piper begins her investigation into Lydia’s disappearance, she begins to jeopardize her own safety. Fast-paced, with notable era details, this is an engaging read. Odd, that it is labeled as a YA, since its history-mystery format is more inclined towards an adult audience interest-wise.

One off-putting aspect of the novel is the way Piper is presented: tomboyish, clever, yet emotionally immature. Her overly-dramatic behavior makes her seem much younger than eighteen, more like fifteen, which makes it surprising that a mature police detective like Mariano would be interested in her. The ending definitely hints at sequels, as there are a couple of loose ends that need attention. A four star in spite of Piper’s tendency towards being irritating in her enthusiasm in solving problems.

Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell

One of those books that turn out to be a not what I thought after reading a trade review. I liked the cover and was initially persuaded this would be quirky graphic novel. The idea intrigued me of illustrating published stories, a blending of text and visual interpretation. Somehow the stories didn’t quite work. The art kind of did. But they didn’t necessarily work together. “Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m.” is the best pick–fresh and funny. A middling three. A side note is that Niffenegger is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

After next week I am free to read anytime I care to since school obligations will be over. I already went shopping at the library and have a shelf of reads ready to go. I look forward to feasting with my reading sessions instead of the peck and nibble I contend with. As much as I enjoy teaching, it does get in the way of my reading.

Happy June–the gateway to summer. Aah, yes…

book cover images: Goodreads

hammock image: Pinterest

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