"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Salon, May 31st

Another photo of beautiful Alaska
Weather: Lovely and warm. Spring in the NW. Ah!

Today: Our church celebrated the paving of our parking lot. You scoff!? We have suffered through years of a gravel lot with potholes and puddles. Now we are starting a building project at church with a welcoming parking lot. Next phase, a new office wing, lastly a new kitchen (which was the most needed project of them all!)

Yesterday: we hosted a party for National Guard friends who are leaving for a year-long course (War College) in Alabama. We ate and ate and ate and still had a ton of food left over. Ribs, brats, pork shoulder, shrimp, salads, cookies, chips, and beer. Tonight leftovers!

This coming week: textbooks, textbooks. textbooks. The end of each school year is mostly about the collection of and repairing the textbooks we've collected. This year we are boxing up, for surplus, all the math textbooks. No small number of books. You know what that means? Where do we find the number of boxes we need?

Grace Abuse: My friend Theo and I are teaching a class for adults during Sunday School hour. The topic is the grace of God. Today's lesson, which is worthy of a thought, asked the question--- is there a point of being good if you know that God will forgive you later? We really had a thoughtful discussion on this topic. (Read Romans 6 and 7, and Colossians 3 for some help with the answer.)

Books read this week:

  • Audacity by Melanie Crowder---written in verse; historical fiction; an immigrant story---from Russia to New York; poor working conditions in the sewing factories prior to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. I loved this book. The poetry was superb. The history handled expertly.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold---I'm pretty sure that I just finished an award-winning book. This book is amazing. Audiobook.
Currently reading:
  • The Same Sky by Amanda Ward---my current audiobook; a book club selection.
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough---set in Seattle; another historical novel, set in the 1930s.

Deadheading: I love rhododendrons but hate deadheading them. But if I don't do it each year after the blooms are spent then the bush looks so ugly all year. So outside I head to deadhead a few of the bushes. Maybe I can talk my daughter into joining me.

Have a good week.  Can you believe it is June tomorrow?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Friday Quotes, May 29

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader
The Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's Voice
Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now: 

Book Title: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

Book Beginning:
The figure in the fine gray suit materialized in the nursery and stood over the sleeping infant, inhaling the sweet, milky night air.
Friday 56:
His was the exhaustion built of nights listening to jazz music and dreaming of Flora. He'd been every night for weeks. He still hadn't worked up the nerve to speak to her again.
My thoughts: Set in Seattle in the 1930s, Henry (the baby in the first line) and Flora were destined to meet, seemingly pawns in a game between Love and Death.  But since I've only read three chapters I am not sure if I have the story all sorted out yet. Everyone is talking about this book with its fabulous reviews and I look forward to digging in.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Want to play Reading Bingo with me?

Shall we play BOTNS Book Bingo together?

Here's what you do:

Go to the BOTNS Website (Click the link.) You will get a unique Book Bingo Board. You can even highlight the squares for books you have read already.  It will look something like this:

Each time you click on the link it will create a different board so even if we happen to have read the same books we wouldn't get to highlight the same boxes.

Now, since we are all busy, let's give ourselves a head start. Go back and fill in boxes for books you have already read this calendar year (2015). Now the task doesn't seem quite so daunting, huh?

Go to the website, get your board, and let's play. First to get five in a row wins! That's it, you win. That will be your prize.

(The BOTNS website sets it up to be some kind of BINGO game that could be played and won in a very short session, but what kind of fun is that? It doesn't involve actually reading the books, which I might add, is the real fun and the prize really.)

So we read and play!

Join in by adding your name to my comment section.

Have fun.

I want to warn you. All I have left is a 800 page book and I win. No problem!

(BTW- I don't know what a booktopia author is. Can anyone help me out?)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Salon, May 24

Photo by Don Bennett
Weather: Overcast and cool.

Projects: Don is working on expanding the rose bed which involves moving the sprinklers, screening dirt, and moving heavy bricks around. After working in the yard all afternoon he finally came in for dinner with this announcement: "This is hard work. I was a lot stronger when I built the wall sixteen years ago." One more thing to add to list about aging.

Babysitting a cat: Carly is spending the week-end at her sister's house babysitting their cat. Who has ever heard of a cat that needs to be babysat? Apparently Elfie does because she will eat and eat and eat and not stop so they cannot leave a big bowl of food out for her if they are gone for the week-end.

Victoria, BC: Rita and Dan went to Victoria for her birthday week-end. We will have a little birthday party for her when they return home Monday. Is she 27 or 28? I can't keep track!

Student Led Conferences: Our advisory students held SLC for their parents this past week. Since I am a senior adviser my students had to present their culminating project and a passing score was necessary for graduation. Nineteen of my students were successful. Yay, one more thing done on their march toward the final days of high school. Two of my students, unfortunately, hadn't done enough work to even qualify to present their project. It is sad when students don't put all the pieces together to graduate on time.

SYNC Audiobooks: I want to remind you audiobook lovers about the FREE audiobooks available from SYNC this summer. You get two free audiobooks per week but must act within the week or you will lose out on that week's choices. This week's choices are two fabulous audiobooks about the African-American experience in America: X: a novel by Kekla Magoon and Here in Harlem poems by Walter Dean Myers. (This set expires 5/28/15 at 7 AM EST.)

Quiet week-end: Don and I are staying close to home this Memorial Day; just a quiet week-end for us. Pentecost Sunday is today. This is the day on the church calendar when we celebrate God sending his Holy Spirit to live inside believers empowering them to do his work on Earth. Everyone in our church is encouraged to wear red as a symbol of flames of the Holy Spirit. I had to search high and low to find my red sweater, finally finding it among my Christmas sweaters hanging in the guest room.

Books read this week:
  • At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins---a new little, nonfiction book in my library about an old tomb (200 BCE) found in China. It is a fascinating look at the way Lady Di was preserved and the treasures within the tomb.
  • Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein: an audiobook selection about the Italo-Ethiopian War. I learned a lot.
  • Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers: another audiobook selection. This was a perfect book in the audio format. Poems were read by a cast of actors.
Currently reading:
  • The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma...I'm almost done with this mystery/horror novel.
Praying for a friend who is struggling with depression.

Memorial Day: Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Review: Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus Sedgwick is one of the most talented YA authors alive today. The guy can write! And his books are so inventive they make almost every other book seem humdrum or just plain ordinary in comparison. Two years ago Sedgwick won the Printz Award for his book Midwinterblood. In that novel of seven interwoven stories, traveling backwards in time, take the stories of Merle and Eric whose souls have been searching for one another for hundreds of years. Each of the seven stories occur on the date of a special moon (harvest moon, harvest moon, blood moon) and just when the two lovers recognize each other something happens and that story closes. Sedgwick got the idea for the book after he viewed the painting called "Midwinterblood" by artist Carl Larsson which hangs in the Swedish National Museum.

Two or three years before Midwinterblood, Sedgwick's book Revolver was honored by the Printz committee.  In this psychological drama a young boy sits alone in a frozen cabin with the corpse of his father and his father's killer. His only protection is the colt revolver. The gun is so integral to the story it seems to become a third character. The writing is so taut one can feel the tension through the pages of the book.

Now in 2015 Sedgwick gives us another completely unique book in The Ghosts of Heaven. Goodreads refers to the book as genre-bending and I would agree. Is it historical fiction or science fiction? Or perhaps it would better be described as horror fiction. Whatever it is, it is different. Four linked stories chronicle obsession and madness. Are there ghosts or not? The reader never knows. A common thread that runs through all the stories is the spiral pattern. This pattern is ultimately an endless design so it carries it's thread through time for prehistoric days when the main character starts thinking about the possibility of a written language, through the witch hunts of the 17th century, an insane asylum in the early 20th century, and finally many years in the future aboard a spaceship which is traveling in a spiral pattern to seek out new worlds for habitation. Readers are instructed before the first chapter that they can read the stories in any order they like. I didn't try it, but now my mind is working on how different that would have made my experience with the book.

The book was a fast read for me, taking less than a day to read. While I was in the middle of it I was already betting myself that this book would be in solid competition for the next Printz Awards. Once again Sedgwick has given us a book that has broken down literary barriers in design and creativity.
Reviewers from the NYT and the Guardian weren't so sure that the book was his best as they both felt it left the reader dangling a bit too much; left too many ideas up in the air. I can see their point but disagree on the criticism. One of the reviewers (I can't remember which and I don't feel like going back and checking) said there were other books which did the interconnected-stories-through-time thing much better and then used adult books as examples to prove the point. Hello! That is not even a fair comparison. By the very definition of YA literature, less characters and less complicated plots, it is not fair to compare. If that reviewer had cited another YA novel then I would look at his crticism more seriously.

Honestly, I really liked the book and will recommend it to my teen readers and will add it into the mix for our Mock Printz list of books come Fall. It has also caused me to look for spiral shapes everywhere I go. Pictured below is a fiddlehead fern my husband found in Alaska when we were there last week.

Rating: 4.5/5

Fiddlehead fern. Can you see the tight spiral shape?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Quotes, May 22

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader
The Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's Voice
Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now: 

Book Title:The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Book Beginnings: 
We went wild that hot night. We howled, we raged, we screamed. We were girls---some of us fourteen and fifteen; some sixteen, seventeen---but when the locks came undone, the doors of our cells gaping open and no one to shove us back in, we made the noise of savage animals, of men.
Friday 56: 
Here was another thing I'm not sure D'amour knew: The second fence was electrified.
My thoughts: The Walls Around Us is a murder mystery with a horror element. I am currently halfway through the book and I do not have a clear idea of the crime or even the key players. Both of these quotes are from one narrator, Amber, a girl in the detention facility. She appears to play the role of observer. Though this book is not my usual cup of tea I am reading it because it has good reviews and I may want to include it on a list of YA books for a school project. I haven't decided yet.

(This is my second book in e-book format. The page numbers may not correspond to the pages in the print edition.)

Monday, May 18, 2015

TTT: YA books that just might win an award this year

My choice:

YA  books published in 2015 that, according to the reviews, just might be good enough to win an award at the end of the year. (I have not read all these books but I have read the reviews.)

1. Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick---
Four interconnected stories that all have something to do with the spiral shape and the possibility of ghosts. Sedgwick is a multiple-award book author. Keep your eye on this one. (3 of 5 starred reviews.)

2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin---
Two very damaged teenagers, Violet and Finch, find and help each other. An intense novel about pain, redemption, and healing. (6 out of 7 starred reviews.)

3. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby---
"Bone Gap marks Laura Ruby as one of fiction's most original voices. She is capable of moving you to tears, terrifying you on deep and dreamlike levels, and making your heart shout with happiness. This book is magic realism at its most magical."—E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars (4 of 6 starred reviews)

4. Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman----
About a teen with schizophrenia, with illustrations by Brendon Schusterman which add a meaningful dimension to the story. "Haunting, unforgettable, and life affirming all at once."---Booklist (5 of 6 starred reviews)

5. Mosquitoland by David Arnold---
Another book about mental illness issues. "When she learns that her mother is sick in Ohio, Mim confronts her demons on a thousand-mile odyssey from Mississippi that redefines her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane"--from the publisher. (3 of 6 starred reviews)

6. The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks----
This book won the Carnegie Medal in UK last year. Will it be a winner here in the US this year?  "People have simple needs. Food, water, light, space. Maybe a small measure of dignity. What happens when someone takes all that away? This pulse-pounding, award-winning novel explores what happens when your worst nightmare comes true.---from the publisher (3 of 4 starred reviews)

7. Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein---
Historical fiction set in Ethiopia in the 1930s by a multiple-awarding winning author. (3 of 6 starred reviews)

8. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough----
Also set in the 1930s, this one in Seattle. "... the fully realized setting and characters make this more than just a modern fairy tale. It’s a poignant reminder of how far we've come since the 1930s in terms of race, class, and sexual orientation , and how far we still have to go."---The Horn Book Magazine  (3 of 5 starred reviews)

9. X: a novel by Ilyasha Shabazz and Kekla Magoon----
From the Publisher: "Co-written by Malcolm X's daughter, this riveting and revealing novel follows the formative years of the man whose words and actions shook the world." (7 of 8 starred reviews.)

10. The Tight Rope Walkers by David Almond---
A coming-of-age story set in England. "The novel is Shakespearean in its breadth, earthiness, and emotional pitch. A mysterious tramp who wanders in and out of the narrative -- unspeaking, benevolent, holy ..."---from the Horn Book Magazine  (6 out of 7 starred reviews.)

and the one I am reading right now....


11. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma---
"Suma excels in creating surreal, unsettling stories with vivid language, and this psychological thriller is no exception. Along the way, Suma also makes a powerful statement about the ease with which guilt can be assumed and innocence awarded, not only in the criminal-justice system but in our hearts—in the stories we tell ourselves. A fabulous, frightening read."---Booklist (5 of 6 starred reviews)

Review sources: School Library Journal; Booklist; Kirkus Reviews; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; New York Times; Voice of Youth Advocates; Publisher's Weekly; Horn Book Magazines; Publisher's Weekly Annex. Every book hasn't been reviewed by all the sources.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Salon, May 17th

View of Seward, Alaska from Resurrection Bay
Weather: Overcast and cool but pleasant outside.

Alaska: A week ago Friday Don and I flew to Alaska to visit friends for a few days before Don had conference to attend near Anchorage. Our friends have lived in Alaska for thirty years and this was first time we visited them. Shame on us. Anchorage is surrounded by snow-capped mountains that are just breath-taking. And, even though we knew about this on an intellectual level, we were shocked by the twilight. Our flight got in around 9 PM and by the time we got our rental car and drove to our friends house it must have been after 10 PM and it was still light outside. Amazing.

Seward and beyond: The very next morning we hopped onto a train heading across the Kenai Peninsula to Seward, Alaska which is on Resurrection Bay. While on the train we saw all kinds of sights including several glaciers, waterfalls, bald eagles, moose, dall sheep, and lots more snow-capped mountains. Once in Seward we boarded a boat for a cruise out into the Gulf of Alaska and up into another bay and the Kenai Fjords where we got to experience our very first tidewater glaciers and witnessed ice breaking off and falling into the sea.

A Tidewater glacier and me clinging to the boat in awe.
Rough Seas: While the waters in the bays were relatively calm the water of the Gulf of Alaska was very rough with swells of over eight to ten feet (maybe more). Most people were very uncomfortable or even sick. But not me. I enjoyed the bumpy ride back from the fjords. It reminded me of a huge and thrilling whitewater rafting trip and I reveled in the fun.  (But I had to keep my fun thoughts to myself since everyone else was so green in the gills.) I never knew this about myself. Apparently I don't get seasick! While out on the boat we saw more wildlife: sea otters, humpback whales, lots of groups of dall's porpoises, sea lions, kittiwakes (gulls), and even a few mountain goats.

Alyeska Resort (aka: The Site of the Attack of the Moose): Don's conference was held at the Alyeska ski resort. Unfortunately the tram to the top of the mountain was closed for repairs while we were there but I still had a spectacular views of the surrounding mountains as I investigated the area while Don attended his sessions. I even happened upon a female moose and in trying to get close enough for a good photo of her she became irritated and charged me.   The scene must have looked quite humorous---an old lady running away from a much bigger and faster moose. I am able to laugh because she gave up the chase and went back to grazing. People who know moose say I was lucky not to be trampled. Whew!

The shot I got of the charging moose before running away
Using the telephoto lense I caught of shot of the moose once she decided I wasn't a threat, but I am further away than it appears and my heart was pounding.

Flowers: We bought our annuals/flowers for our baskets yesterday and worked until 7:30 PM and still didn't get them all in. Today Don and I will go back out, if the weather holds, and finish up planting the impatiens, zinnias, and marigolds. Love the summer colors these happy flowers provide the yard.

Book read the past two weeks:
  • The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick---my fourth book by this author, this book deals gently with the issue of mental illness and with accepting oneself.
  • The Silver Linings Playbook also by Matthew Quick--- an audiobook selection. This is Quick's most famous book since it was made into a movie a few years ago. The book is different than the movie in parts.
  • Imagined London: a Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City by Anna Quindlen---Quindlen visits places in London that coincides with references in literature. The book was published in 2004. I purchased my used copy in 2010 and have been carrying it around since then, so it is nice to have it read at last.
  • A Woman in White by Wilkie Collins---My Classics Club spin book. I completed this mystery and enjoyed almost every minute of it. It goes onto books I recommend everyone reads.
  • The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B Teresa Toten---a new YA book about a boy with OCD and his therapy group of misfits who are all taking on a new persona, that of a super hero. Audiobook.
  • The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick--- I predict this will be another award winner by this talented YA author. This one contains four interconnected stories and maybe a few ghosts.
Currently reading (listening):
  • Black Dove and White Raven by Elizabeth Wein---set in pre-WWII Ethiopia, a part of the world I know little about. Audiobook.  I finished The Good Luck of Right Now in bed last night and haven't started another book yet, though I have downloaded two YA novels onto my new iPad.
New Piano Guys YouTube: Evynne and Peter Hollens are friends of my sister Kathy. Enjoy


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Summaries and a few thoughts

Quite often I read books for which I don't really want to write a whole review but I do have a few thoughts. Today I decided to jot down a few of these thoughts.

Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City by Anna Quindlen.
     Quindlen takes a trip to London and visits or attempts to visit places described in books by by famous London authors.
     Having read several books by Quindlen in the past and being a person who considers herself a reader I thought this would be the book for me. But I learned that a) I haven't read as much British literature as I thought and b) it has been so long since I've been in London I couldn't really picture the places she described. Now I am resolved to read something by Dickens, which has been a goal for several years, and to visit London again. (I went to school in London in 1979 for a term. I'm sure things have changed a lot.)
     Ms. Quindlen writes the following in her "Acknowledgement" pages. Having just finished The Woman in White, I feel the same about classic literature in general.
I could not imagine living life without the writers mentioned in these pages. in a world that seems increasingly senseless and graceless, they bring intelligence to bear on the human condition.
Quindlen, Anna. Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. 2004. Print.

Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
     Having seen and enjoyed the movie Silver Linings Playbook and having read several other books by Matthew Quick I looked forward to listening this audiobook. A future book club selection, I jumped to check it out from the library when it became available.
     Who wouldn't want to read a book with this promo line: "An enchanting first novel about love, madness, and Kenny G." Here is proof why someone should always read the book before seeing the movie...they aren't identical. Instead of being delighted with the differences I was disappointed that a few of my favorite scenes in the movie weren't actually from the book or were so changed as to be almost unrecognizable. If I had read the book first the criticism would have run the other direction.
     In the movie Pat Peoples, the main character, is a very fit but mentally unstable man coming to terms with his life. In the book, at least the audiobook, it felt like Pat Peoples was not just mentally unstable but maybe mentally handicapped or even autistic. Those differences vastly changed the tone of the book for me. I'm curious to see if other readers feel the same way.

Quick, Matthew. Silver Linings Playbook [sound recording]. Ashland, Ore.: Blackstone Audio. 2008.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach
     Another book I read AFTER seeing the movie, (which is not a good idea) I kept picturing the faces of beloved actors, Judith Dench, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, and trying to match them up with the characters in the book even though they didn't match exactly.
     In the book the owner and proprietor of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an older gentleman who is married to a woman who is bitter and angry. He is miserable with his living arrangement but still very gracious to his guests.  In the movie, if you've seen it, you know this character is played by Dev Patel, a young Indian man who is trying to make something of himself and to impress his mother and girlfriend. Death plays a much more prominent in the book where folks in their 70s are so OLD they must be ready to die at any second. Sigh.
     Another audiobook selection for me, I sure enjoyed the way Juliet Mills read it. She did both the British and Indian accents so well.

Moggach, Deborah. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [sound recording]. Random House Audio. 2012.

Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford
    I hold a weird fascination for celebrities whose lives didn't end well. Billie Holiday is one of those celebrities. Holiday was extremely talented so one has to wonder why she squandered her talent on drugs and alcohol. I thought this book, written in verse for a younger audience, would appease my curiosity. And to some degree it did. But it also left a whole lot of unanswered questions in my mind.
   This book was donated to my high school library by an elementary librarian in the district who felt the subject matter was too old for her audience. I took and processed the book, placing it on the shelf without really looking at it. As I was doing inventory this Spring I pulled it out to decide if I should even keep it. After reading it I decided that the book wasn't really too old for an elementary audience, it is just too difficult to pull out information when it is written in verse. Don't get me wrong.  I liked the poems. They were well-written and lyrical. It is just that when a book is about a person who really lived and the poems are about actual events it renders the information a bit inaccessible. I am still trying to decide if I will weed the book from library or not for that reason. should probably just move it over to the poetry section and allow reader to discover its beautiful poems and lovely illustrations.
     Sample poem from the introduction---

What Shall I Say?
The way mama toted around
that magazine with my photo inside,
who'd have thought
I was Woman of the Year.
I don't blame Sadie. Wasn't every day
that a colored face, let alone
her only child, appeared in Time.
I was so proud too til I read
what that two-bit critic wrote.
Called me "roly-poly"; said I wouldn't diet,
was stuck on my own voice,
and cared for tunes but not the words.
What did he know
about my taste in food or music?

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Becoming Billie Holiday. Honesdale, Penn.: WordSong. 2008. Print.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Friday Quotes, May 15

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader
The Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's Voice
Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now: 

Book Title: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

Book Beginnings
Dear Richard Gere,       In mom's underwear drawer--- as I was separating her"personal" clothes from the "lightly used" articles I could donate to the local thrift shop--- I found a letter you wrote.
Friday 56:
      "You've spent the first forty years of your life taking care of your mother. You've been on your own for two months before a man much older than you moves into your home. Don't you see a pattern developing?"      I had no idea what she was talking about, which made me feel like a Neanderthal. I'm sure you, Richard Gere, know exactly what she means and probably saw the problem two or three letters ago.
My comments: Bartholomew's mother dies. Afterwards he finds a letter, a form letter, in his mother's things. From that moment forward he starts writing letters to the movie star recounting his thoughts and feelings.

I just finished another Matthew Quick book yesterday, Silver Linings Playbook. I've read two YA books by this author, also. I like his writing style and his complex, sympathetic characters.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins...update, the last.

A little over five weeks ago, on April 6th, I participated in the 9th Classics Club spin. The rules were fairly simple: write down and number 20 titles of classic books. The books should represent not only books that one thinks would be easy to read but also should include books one considers a challenge. The spinner stopped on #2 which meant my selection was The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.

At first I was fairly anxious about the book. All I knew about it was it was a mystery and, after picking the book off the shelf, that it was long, over 600 pages.

The Woman in White illustration by John McLaren

After setting myself some weekly reading goals, I did a bit of research about the author and his writing style.The Woman in White is one of the finest examples of sensation fiction, "– a genre distinguished by its electrifying, suspenseful, and sometimes horrific plots, as well as its unsavory themes of intrigue, jealousy, murder, adultery, and the like –"(Guardian) very popular between 1860 to 1880. The sensation genre draws on aspects of several different genres of novels: horror, Gothic romance, mystery, and detective novels. Though perhaps a bit tame according to today's standards, The Woman in White did indeed cause quite a sensation when it was first published in 1860 both in Britain and in America.

I was delighted to learn that Collins, who was a friend and contemporary of Charles Dickens, first had The Woman in White serialized in Dickens' weekly literary magazine. Apparently readers lined up to buy each next issue to find our what would happen next. Descriptions of the public's reaction to the book reminded me of the craze over Harry Potter a few years ago. The Woman in White became a marketing sensation with clothing, household items, and toiletries all created to take advantage of the book's popularity.

I don't know what portion of the book was written before the first installment was published in the literary magazine but I do know that Collins was a master of the cliff-hanger. I frequently didn't want to stop reading at my self-imposed 20 pages a day and I was eager to get back to the book the next day to discover all the twists and turns in the plot. The pacing couldn't have been better.

In 2010, in honor of the 150-anniversary of The Woman in White, a project was put together to digitize the original installments of the book from the literary magazine, All the Year Round in Britain and the original artwork from Harper's Weekly, its counterpart in the United States. I enjoyed looking around the site and reading a bit of the story in its original format.  Take a look at the project here.

Though The Woman in White didn't make it on 100-books-to-read-before-you-die list, I did find it in 501-Must Reads, a book about books that one must read. Ha! The only difficulties I encountered reading it were bits where the riff-raff were speaking and their dialogue was written in vernacular. Not being British myself (or living in the 1860s) I often couldn't read these parts word-for-word but I could understand the main points made by the characters.  This didn't happen often so I am not sure it is even worth mentioning. Other than this I found the book delightful and exciting, a real page-turner.

As far as plot goes I don't want to give anything away. I had no idea what the big SECRET was right up to the its revelation. Characters got what was coming to them but I never was able to predict what that would be ahead of time. I was continually left on the seat of my pants which made me run back to the book and even squeeze in some reading time at work. All-in-all I was quite delighted with A Woman in White and will recommend it to strong teen readers who are assigned to read a piece of classic literature.

 One more remarkable thing happened to me with the reading of The Woman in White: I overcame any residual fear of tackling the classics. As I closed the book I felt my brain opening to new reading possiblities. What's next for me: Middlemarch, Great Expectations, East of Eden, The Sound and Fury? Who knows, but I am ready.

The edition I read:
Collins, Wilkie. The Woman in White. New York: Knopf. 1991.

The original was first published in All the Year Round, a literary magazine, from Nov. 26, 1859 to August 25, 1860, in 40 serialized installments. (Simultaneously published in Harper's Weekly in the US.)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Happy Birthday Hunger Games!

Happy Birthday Katniss Everdeen and the whole cast of the book series Hanger Games. 
Seven years ago today the first book in the series, Hunger Games, was published.

We have all fallen in love with the books and the movies! 

Thank you Suzanne Collins for your wonderful stories! 

I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun.

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

Teen issue books are quite the thing these days. Some of them seem to be just crammed full of every issue imaginable (bullying, divorce, suicide, depression, pregnancy, abuse) and characters are required to run the gauntlet from one issue to the next. And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard deals with teen issues of unplanned pregnancy and suicide with a deftness not often seen in YA lit.

Emily Beam's boyfriend Paul commits suicide during a moment of desperation. Emily witnesses the event and is obviously traumatized. When her parents decide to enroll her in a boarding school for the remainder of the year it seems like a good, sound decision. She is moved to a school in Amherst, Massachusetts, the birth place of Emily Dickinson. As Emily attempts to fit in and to adjust to her new reality she finds that poetry is practically bubbling out of her. It is as if she is channeling Emily Dickinson, the prolific American poet who wrote so many poems in her lifetime she didn't bother to name them. She just numbered them. 1775 in all.

Most of Emily Beam's poems deal with the raw issues she is dealing with. She doesn't want anyone to see these poems. But just like Emily Dickinson's poems that were published after her death, Emily Bean's poem want to see the light of day and her classmates and teachers encourage her to publish them.

The real star of the book are the poems. Through the poems the reader gains insight into the events that led up to that fateful, awful day and to the mindset of Miss Beam as she grappled with her issues.

The sad mother
the sadder father
the saddest daughter
the saddest saddest brother
have holed
themselves off
from one

They are each
their own 
and outer

                            Emily Beam, Feb. 28, 1995

I remember liking her poetry when I read Jenny Hubbard's first book, Rock Covers Paper. And We Stay has more poetry and it is even better stuff this time around. I suspect this is why And We Stay won a Printz Honor this past year making it one of the best books of the year. I would guess that is also drew attention of the award committee for the gentle ways it dealt with tough subjects. Emily Beam, with the help of Emily Dickinson, grew as a character and started the process of emerging out of a very dark place.

I listened to the audiobook read by Erin Spencer. It is a short book and I enjoyed it in this format.

With the completion of this book i also have completed the Printz Challenge for the year---reading all the Printz Award winning books for that year. Woot. Woot.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Audiobook checked out from the public library: Hubbard, Jenny. And We Stay. Listening Library. 2014.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Friday Quotes, May 8th

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader
The Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's Voice
Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now:

Book Title: The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten

Book Beginnings:
The boy inhaled as the door opened. It was as if he knew. The girl stepped into the room, and within the space of a heartbeat, he was lost.
Friday 56:
Green Lantern, thank God, had a superior story about having to keep driving back to a school crosswalk several times a day, all week, because he was convinced that he had run over someone last Tuesday...Green Lantern listened to newscasts on the radio and TV, read for a report of an accident on the corner of Chestnut and Walmer. Nothing.
My Comments: I just finished the book yesterday and enjoyed it quite a lot. The main characters are part of an OCD support group. Their psychologist suggested that they may do better in treatment if they take on a superhero alter ego. The main character is Batman, his love interest is Robin, and others are Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Thor, etc. The book is surprisingly thoughtful and touching.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


This past week I finished a book, A Month in the Country by J.L Carr, which had been sitting on my bedside table unread for three years. A friend loaned it to me, telling me how much she enjoyed it and she thought I would, too. I accepted it against my better judgment because I am pretty terrible about reading books people give me. I know that about myself. This small paperback book finally peculated to the top of the pile and when I finally cracked it open I was surprised (and delighted) to see that it was full of faint pencil underlinings.

I found myself pausing at each underlined phrase wondering at what my friend was thinking and why this passage was particularly meaningful to her at the time. I tried, probably very unsatisfactorily, to get into her mindset, to walk in her shoes for a moment. Slowly the book took on new meaning and really opened up to me in a way I'm sure it would not have without the underlinings. I knew at the time of the loan that my friend was struggling with problems at home and was contemplating a move professionally. It made me smile to see the passage on professionalism highlighted.
You know how it is when a tricky job is going well because you're doing things the way they should be done, when you're working in rhythm and feel a reassuring confidence that everything's unraveling naturally and all will be right in the end. That's about it: I knew what I was doing---it's really what being professional means.
I can also related to this quote she tagged about how we are one person at work and another person the rest of the time.
Our jobs are our private fantasies, our disguises, the cloak we can creep inside to hide.
Many of the things she highlighted had to do with living in the moment and recognizing that everyone doesn't see things from the same point of view. The phrases, though very gentle, held important truths or kernels of truth that all of us can use, not just someone struggling to find equilibrium in life.
 Well, we all see things with different eyes, and it gets you nowhere hoping that even one in a thousand will see things your way.
The book, though fiction, was written as a retrospective. The narrator was looking back on an event from his life long before when he had just returned from the Great War and was employed to restore a fresco on a church wall. From the great vantage point of fifty years he was able to see that time period and its lessons for his life more clearly. In this underlined passage the narrator is talking about the hell of war.
...there might be something to be said for seasons in hell because, when we'd dragged ourselves back from the bloodiness, life had seemed brighter that we'd remembered it.
I'm afraid that my friend was viewing her current situation as a war, or at least a battle, but was taking comfort that after the "bloodiness" things would be brighter for her. I took comfort in these words, too.

At the end of his time in the country the narrator returns to his life elsewhere. But the time he spent working on the art and among the people he met had a very restorative impact on his life. He never went back to the little town. He doesn't know what happened to the art or to the people yet he can reflect on his days in the country with crystal clarity.
We can ask and ask but we can't have again what once seemed ours for ever---the way things looked, the church alone in the field, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They've gone and you only wait for the pain to pass.
Not long after the loan my friend did make a move professionally which required a move physically to another town, a fresh start. I haven't seen her since then but I do know, thanks to a little used resource called Facebook (ha!), she is doing well and the pain indeed has passed.

Thanks for the underlinings, friend! They helped me know you better and appreciate the book more.

Book: A Month in the Country by JL Carr, New York Review Books, 1980. Print.

Question: Do you underline in your own books? How to you respond to others' underlinings?