"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, February 26, 2017

Sunday Salon, February 26th, Oscars edition

Special birthday gifts!

Image result for Oscars iconOscars Edition. As I type this Sunday Salon post I will include a few notes about the Oscars as I watch the show.

Weather: Rain. What more can I say?

Frog songs: It may still be winter but the frogs in the pond in our neighborhood think it is spring. Every evening when I am out with the dog I hear the frogs singing their love song and I know that spring is around the corner.

Image result for Oscars iconThe Academy Awards Show is on TV right now. Usually we see very few of the movies which are up for Best Picture. But this year I've seen two of them and if either win, I will be very happy: La La Land or Hidden Figures. I haven't seen the others, though I've heard that this year the cop is full of greats movies. Fingers are crossed.

Tea for two: My daughter, Rita, took me out to the local tea shop for a belated birthday treat. I am so blessed by my daughters. For two hours she and I sat and talked and laughed and never ran out of anything to say. I love you, honey!

Image result for Oscars iconMaking fun of Meryl Streep. Jimmy Kimmel is having fun with my favorite actress, pretending that she is a lackluster actress, just phoning in her performances. I love it when people allow themselves to be made fun of and can laugh at themselves. On that note I understand that President Trump will not be attending the annual  Corespondent's Dinner this year. I don't think this is a man who knows how to laugh at himself. What a shame.

Honor Society Induction, finally: This year everything associated with our induction ceremony was postponed because of snow. The first meeting about how to apply had to be postponed because we had a two-hour late schedule due to snowy roads. The induction ceremony had to be rescheduled because it fell on one of the three days we were completely off school for snow. This past Thursday, the rescheduled date, I woke up to discover it was...wait for it...snowing. Oh boy, not again! Fortunately, it was lovely to behold but didn't cause a school delay of any kind and the ceremony went off without a hitch, finally.

Image result for Oscars iconBest Costumes: Hey, I saw all the movies nominated in this category and the winner "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" won. What a wonderful movie. Gotta love it....way to go, JK Rowling! Another winner.

Book Clubs: It doesn't usually happen this way, but this past week both of my book clubs met on subsequent days. Tuesday SOTH met and discussed My Life in France by Julia Child. The book wasn't a club favorite but I was very inspired by Julia Child and her love of food and cooking. Wednesday RHS Ladies Club met and discussed Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I liked the book a lot because I thought Patchett did a masterful job of pulling all the parts of the story together. Others in the club felt the book suffered in comparison to some of Patchett's other works.

Image result for Oscars iconMusic: I love all the music on the Oscars. Justin Timberlake as the opening was so fun. The original song from "Moana," written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton). The artists are from New Zealand and the South Pacific. I love the multicultural elements! Now Sting is on deck. And soon, John Legend. Oh my, I love City of Stars! Will it win?

Book completed this week, just one:
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. A distressing look at the lives of men who were POWs in WWII, forced to work on the Death Railroad and the effects the war had on their lives afterwards. I am not sure I would recommend the book because it is so distressing but the writing is really brilliant.
Currently reading and on-deck books:
  • Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. A memoir about love and life and finding one's way. 40% progress. Print.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I just downloaded the audiobook onto my iPod. This is for book club in March. I'll start it tomorrow during my commute.
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. This book is on my desk in the back office of the library. I read it on my lunch if I don't have time to run downstairs and join the other teachers. Print.
Image result for Oscars iconJimmy Kimmel rocks: He just welcomed regular people to the Oscars and gave them a tour then interviewed the little kid from Lion and held him up like he was the lion in Lion King. More candy, too!

Image result for Oscars iconPolitics at the Oscars: So far I've heard comments about inclusion (not exclusion); no wall; honoring our friends from Latin America who pick our fruits and vegetables; The White Hats---the war in Syria need to end; jokes about Trump tweeting and about what happened in Sweden. "I was educated in public schools where the arts are appreciated and celebrated!" I'm sure there will be more.

Image result for Oscars iconWhich actress inspired me as a kid? Since I'm not an actor this is probably a moot point but since the Oscars this year are focusing on INSPIRATION I thought you would probably want to know the answer to this question? I was enraptured by Julie Andrews as a kid. The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins just touched my imagination and held me in their spell. They still do. Thank you Julie Andrews! I still love you. Today my favorite actress is Meryl Streep, who else is there?

6 out of 60: I'm still forging ahead to reconnect with 60 friends/family members in this my 60th year. This week I had three "meetings/events". Thank you Rita, Sharon, and JoLeigh! I love you all and enjoyed catching up with you. (The wine and tea was good, too!)

Dinner: While I was idling in front of the TV, watching the Oscars and writing this blog post, Don made a delicious dinner of steak, potatoes, green beans, grilled onions, topped off with some Cab Sauv red wine. Yum. Spoiled brat! On that note, I should probably get up and help clean up the kitchen, don't you think? brb

Image result for Oscars iconCity of Stars! Best original song.  Yippee!

Image result for Oscars iconIn Memoriam: I always cry when they honor the actors who died during the past year.  I've been thinking a lot about death lately and oddly, the topic hasn't depressed me.  This week I attended the funeral for the husband of a colleague who was 40 years old when he died suddenly. Instead of a wretched, sad affair, it was a wonderful celebration of his life.

Funny: I love to listen to audiobooks, so this week I went to the web pages of two libraries I hold cards for to see if I could get in line for upcoming book club selections. Here is what I discovered...I guess I'll be waiting for months and months on some of these books:
1. Homegoing 10th out of 3 copies on one list; 14th out of 3 on the other. (I had to pay for an audbile.com download because this book is for next month.)
2. Dear Bob and Sue- neither library has a copy of it.
3. LaRose: 1st out of 3 copies on one list, 2nd out of 3 on the other (this should be available now, out of order, of course)
4. This is How It Always Is: 12th on 2 copies on one list, e-book not audiobook
5. A Man Called Ove: 48th out of 13 copies on one list; 75th out of 12 copies on the other. Ha!
Image result for Oscars iconI'm stalling.....We are getting to the good stuff. Best director, best actor, best actress...best picture. Which show will win?... LA LA LAND! Wait...what just happened? Moonlight won.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sunday Salon, Birthday Edition

Happy 60th Birthday to me!

Las Vegas: Don and I jetted to Las Vegas on Thursday for a whirlwind few days of celebrating and ushering in my 60th birthday. We went to two shows, Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson One and Elton John in Concert. dined at some fabulous restaurants, visited with friends Ken and Joanna Stewart, and came home with more money in our pocket than we left with!

Weather: It rained in Las Vegas but we missed the big storm. Everything in the casino was so noisy, who knew a tumult was happening outside? We got home to record-breaking rain here, too.

Death: This week a colleague's husband died of a heart condition. He was only forty. He leaves behind two young daughters and his loving wife. My heart is broken for her. We have become so immune from death it is a shock when it happens to someone who is in the prime of life. Once a student died at school. When I talked to the nurse, trying to understand the "why" she explained that sometimes there are no answers. "Sometimes," she said, "people die without a good reason." To honor John's memory, this quote from Shakespeare came to mind:
“When he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars,  And he will make the face of heaven so fine, That all the world will be in love with night, And pay no worship to the garish sun.”  
― William ShakespeareRomeo and Juliet 
Julia Child: For book club tomorrow we are reading My Life in France by Julia Child. I am now obsessed with the woman who almost single-handedly brought good cooking to America. Now I want to take a cooking class and attempt to make some of her recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

 Books read this week:

  • My Life in France by Julia Child. Written in the early 2000s when Julia was quite old. Based on the letters she and her husband Paul sent home while they lived abroad. An amazing story of love and devotion to food, friends, and each other.
  • Romeo and Juliet: a Chooseable Path Adventure by Ryan North. I wasn't sure when to count this book as read. I read about ten different adventures and decided I had read enough to get the gist of the book. Most of the adventures were pretty silly.
  • This Is What I Did by Ann Dee Ellis. A young adult novel about a boy who is marginalized by rumors about something that happened in his past. Well-written.
Currently reading:
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. This is my current audiobook set in Australia and Burma during WWII. 37% done.
  • Love Warrior by Glennon Melton. The Ophrah Book Club selection. I will start this memoir today.
Cavalcade of Authors West roll-out: I started advertising and rolling out the information on COA West to my students this past week. Enthusiasm is mounting for this wonderful event.

Quotes from a birthday card from my daughter, Rita:
We turn not older with years, but newer every day.      -Emily Dickenson
...Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come... -Alfred, Lord Tennyson 
YOUNG. OLD. JUST WORDS. -George Burns 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Black History Month---Black YA Authors and a perplexing question

Recently I had an ah-ha moment as I was decorating the library for Black History Month. I decided this year to focus on black authors so I started searching around the library for books. When my display still needed a few more titles, I drew a blank on other names so I consulted Google. The list of black YA authors on Google was laughably short with only seven names and one of the authors listed isn't African-American, her last name is Black. That is when it hit me. Ah-ha! Is searching for an author by race an inherently racist thing to do? If I typed in white authors in Google, I'm sure I would get zero hits. In fact, I just did that and the result was what I expected, zero.

So what is a librarian to do? I want to be sensitive to everyone AND I want to highlight the writing achievements of fabulous black authors. Don't the black students at the school deserve to know there are authors who are writing from experiences more similar to their own? How am I supposed to know who they are without looking them up? My own experience tells me that I don't normally know the race of many author unless that author has won an award like the Coretta Scott King Award which is given to African-American authors or the Pura Belpre Award given to Latino authors. I often don't even know the gender of an author, especially those who go by initials instead of first names.

So, my display is up and I hope it attacks the attention of all readers, not just the African American students. I know I am richer if I take the opportunity to read books written by people of other cultures, the same goes for sub-cultures within the American culture.

I'd sure appreciate some guidance or your thoughts on this issue.

P.S. I did dig deeper and many more names of African American authors. Many I have in my library, others I will look for their books.

Walter Dean Myers                Coe Booth                               Octavia Butler
Kekla Magoon                       Sharon Draper                          Sharon Flake
Nicola Yoon                           Kwame Alexander                   Varian Johnson
Jason Reynolds                      Nikki Grimes.                           Bil Wright
Alaya Dawn Johnson             Jacqueline Woodson                 Stephanie Kuehn
Jewel Parker Rhodes              Danielle Paige                          Walter Mosley
Rita Williams-Garcia              Lamar Giles                             Christopher Paul Curtis
Angela Johnson                      Brandy Colbert                         Renee Watson
Sherri Smith                           Brian Walker.                            Dhonielle Clayton

Monday, February 13, 2017

TTT: YA Romance Novels with Compelling Plots

Top Ten Tuesday: 
My favorite YA romance novels which also have compelling plots.

1. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor and Park fall in love in spite of the horrible home conditions for Eleanor.

2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Hazel Grace and Augustus both have cancer. They fall in love knowing that either one or the other may not survive for long.

3. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand
Lady Jane Gray and her husband Dudley fall in love after their arranged marriage. This is a silly alternative history novel.

4. When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
Miel and Sam are best friends first before they become lovers. Both accept the other and the secrets they know about each other.

5. The Memory Book by Lara Avery
Sammie and Cooper have been friends for a long time. When Sammie starts losing her memory Cooper steps up as caring, loving boyfriend.

6. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller fall in love despite the cultural taboos about mixed race couples. Set in the 1930s.

7. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Finn and Priscilla are a sweet, yet odd couple. Finn can't recognize people by their faces, yet her thinks Priscilla is lovely when most other people think she is strange-looking.

8. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13-B by Teresa Totem
Adam and Robyn meet in an OCD support group and fall in love despite his disabilities with his disease.

9. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Cath and Levi meet in college. She writes fan fiction, he is gregarious and friendly. Both are good for the other.

10. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Aristotle and Dante are friends. Aristotle defends Dante who gets beat up for being gay. They eventually discover they have strong feelings for one another.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Title: Scythe
Author: Neal Shusterman
Publishing date: October 2016.

Setting: the future

Conditions: there is no war, famine, disease, the effects of aging, or misery. Humanity has conquered all evils, including death.

The only problem: overpopulation.

The solution: Scythes are the only people permitted to end the lives of others. They do it to maintain population control. They are commanded to kill.

Citra and Rowan are the book's protagonists. They are two seniors in high school who were selected to become apprentices to a scythe. Neither of them want to become a scythe but they have no choice. If they don't go through the training, their families will be gleaned. With their apprenticeships their family members will receive a year of immunity from being gleaned. In addition, Citra and Rowan are set up as competitors, only one will emerge as the winner to be selected as a full scythe. In one year they must master the art of taking a life.

Shusterman, author of Challenger Deep and the Unwind series, won a Printz Honor for Scythe. The book is that good.

Is a Utopian or dystopian tale? Like most Utopian societies there are still lots of dystopian undercurrents running throughout the story. In Scythe that undercurrent is how to kill people and maintain the population. Some scythes are ethical, others are not.

My reading experience: the beginning of the book is so interesting. What a unique and, frankly, dreadful plot. But after about 100 pages I started to lose interest. As calloused as this sounds, I was getting used to the scythe killing people. My reading lagged and dragged. Then, plot twist. Whoa, I didn't see that coming. Not at all. I was on full alert, again. My interest piqued. But once again it dropped until the next plot twist. See photo below. The plot twists were all unexpected and game-changing. my advice to readers---if you find your attention waning as you read, just keep reading. In fact, read faster, if you can.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Edition: Print, checked out from my school library.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Salon, Feb 12, 2017

An early morning view of our front yard after a night of snowfall last Sunday.
Weather: Sunny, blue skies, cold.

This past week: Two events dominated my life---the snow storm and the death of a friend, Debbie. Last Sunday while I was writing my Sunday Salon post it started snowing. By evening it was obvious that the snow was for real and planned to stick around. By morning we had over eight inches of snow on our deck, school was cancelled, and I was stuck in the house. The night before I had posted a celebration invitation for 60 friends to help me usher in my 60th birthday by committing to do something with me during the year. My friend from high school, Debbie, replied that she would love to get together with me. We made plans to get together on Saturday (yesterday) with another friend, Carol. The snow had dumped so much snow, school was cancelled for three days. On the morning of my third day off from school Carol called me to tell me that Debbie had died earlier in the morning. She had a rare and serious disease but I had no idea that she was so ill, so close to death. So instead of getting together with Debbie on Saturday, Carol and I joined her family and around 300 other people for a memorial service to celebrate her life.

Death of a friend: Please read my post "Goodbye to a friend" for more insights about our friendship. I figured out last night that Debbie was one of my longest friends. I met her when I was twelve and she was thirteen. We attended the same junior high school and lived near each other. After our years together in public schools we went our separate ways but always stayed in touch over the years, even if we didn't see each other that often. When we did get together years melted away and we just just two girls who had been friends for a long time. As I hugged her husband yesterday he held me close and said, "You and Debbie were something else in those days when I first met her. You had something really special." We did indeed. It is hard to think about her being gone but she did have a tremendous faith, so I know she is in a better place now.

Admonition: Never put off doing something nice or thoughtful for another person. You may miss your chance!

Books read this week:
  • Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney---a little book I am using as a guide to assist me with the Sunday School class I am teaching on the same topic. (Print)
  • The Prayers of Jane Austen by Jane Austen---I received this mystery package in the mail this week, this book was among the goodies. Apparently Jane Austen was quite devote and she wrote out prayers that she and her family may have read during evening prayers. (Print) Thank you mystery gift-giver!
  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman---a utopian/dystopian novel by a favorite author about a time in the future when disease and aging has been conquered which requires that people be gleaned just to keep population in check. Two teens are tapped to be Scythe apprentices, a job neither wants. (Print)
Currently reading:
  • My Life in France by Julia Child--- a book club selection. A very-readable book by the beloved American food personality. (50%, pint)
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan---another book club selection. Set in Australia (mostly) with recollections back to WWII when the main character was a POW held by the Japanese forced to work on the Railroad of Death in Burma which killed thousands of soldiers before war's end. (20%, audio and print)
  • The Singer by Calvin Miller---a book Debbie gave me at the end of high school in 1975. I am reading it in her memory. (50%, print.)
Prayers for my brother. The treatment for his melanoma has made him very sick. He is taking a break from those treatments and now getting treatments to eliminate his symptoms and to bring his organ functions back to where they should be.

Bob and Shirley Kingsbury at Sweethearts' Ball, 2/11/17, photo by Kathy Kingsbury

Still walking after 65 years together:
I love this photo of my mom and dad taken last night by my sister Kathy, at the annual Sweethearts' Ball in Eugene, Oregon. This past summer Mom and Dad celebrated  their 65th wedding anniversary with a party at their church. As I walked past two ladies, one said to the other, "Isn't that something? 65 years together and they are both still walking." That has become a new family funny thing to say about Mom and Dad, especially since Dad is pretty wobbly these days, but he still gets around.

"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." New battle cry! Take a look at this article/essay/poem by Laurence Lewis titled "Nevertheless she persisted." Think where we would be if these gals hadn't persisted. Think about all the hurdles women have had to cross to get to where we our now, often in the face of great opposition. Friends, we must all persist!
Photo credits: The Skeptical OB

Think about this quote from The Fault in Our Stars:

“That’s part of what I like about the book in some ways. It portrays death truthfully. You die in the middle of your life, in the middle of a sentence.” 
                                                                                                 ― John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saying goodbye to a friend

Debbie Murray Rice, photo taken at the school where she worked as an Administrative Assistant
I moved to Corvallis, Oregon the summer before 7th grade in 1969 and I met my friend Debbie sometime in the early weeks of the new school year. Our houses were only one block away from the other. The first memory I have of doing something with Debbie was walking home from school together with another girl. We hadn't gotten far when her mother drove up and the two girls climbed in the car and drove off, leaving me alone on the sidewalk to walk home by myself. That is a funny (odd) thing to remember because it was so unlike Debbie to leave anyone out. Ever. I must not have taken it very personally since we went on to become very good friends.

This week Debbie died from a rare disease, amyliodosis, which overwhelmed her liver, messing with her blood's ability to clot properly. Today, in a lovely service at the church where her husband Rob is the pastor, we said goodbye to Debbie. The church was packed with many left standing. The service was a celebration of Debbie's life and her devotion to Jesus, her Lord and Savior. Rob spoke first, followed by each of her four children, then by remembrances from many, many friends, other relatives, and colleagues. Deb was loved by so many people.

Because Debbie and I lived so close to each other we became very good friends. She and I used to cut through our neighbors' back yards to get to the other's house more quickly. I think I spent more time at her house than she did at mine. That was probably a function of how things at my house were usually more crazy than life at her house. I remember sitting on the floor in her bedroom one time playing with makeup. I told her I thought her eyelashes were too curly, she promptly gave me her eyelash curler. I still have it. Isn't it funny the things we remember from the past?

In 9th grade Debbie, Carol (another friend who also attended the service today), and I started a Bible study. It was held at Carol's house and Debbie led the study. Carol remembered that we studied the book of James. I remember swarms of kids attending it. As I think back on it I can't believe that three girls without a lick of training would do such a thing. Without Debbie and her deep faith, which was mature beyond her years, it never would have happened.

In eleventh grade Debbie and I had each read the book by Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking. In the book Peale outlined the tremendous power of faith in action. She and I decided to take the lessons to heart. Every day that school year as we walked home from school together (about a mile) we would pray a conversation with God in a dialogue that would look like a conversation between two friends to onlookers. Everything we prayed was grasping onto the positive power Peale promised was available to believers. In many ways those prayers were transformative in themselves, but it was also a year of miracles. It was amazing to learn how powerful it is to pray positive prayers -- prayers one believes with a whole heart -- will come true.

Our senior year in high school we both had boyfriends who were younger than us. The night after the graduation party, which the boys couldn't attend, Debbie and I went over to her boyfriend's house and climbed in the dog door to see him. Another funny memory. Why didn't we just walk in the front door? And, how on earth, did we fit through a dog door?

One of the things Debbie and I liked to do during those high school years was visit the local Bible book store. I remember spending hours in that place poking around in all kinds of books about faith. For graduation Debbie asked me what I wanted for a gift. I told her I wanted a book we had discovered in that store, The Singer by Calvin Miller. She asked me if I was sure and I assured her I did. Debbie gave me that book. I have carried it around with me these 40+ years and sadly never read it. Today as I was sitting in the home office writing a condolence card for the family I glanced up at the bookshelf to see if I still have The Power of Positive Thinking. I didn't find it but I found The Singer. I pulled it off the shelf, vowing that today I will finally read it. Do you know that I didn't even know the book was written in verse? Fittingly, considering Debbie's devotion to Jesus, the book is an allegory of His life. It has become a gift from Debbie twice, once in 1975 and now in 2017.

Debbie and I didn't go to the same college but we decided to communicate in a round-robin letter with Carol, and another friend, Linda. These were the days before email and phone calls were too expensive. The way it was supposed to work was one would write a letter, mail it to the next person on the list, who would add a letter, and so on until the letter worked its way back to the first person, who would write a new letter and remove her old letter. I don't think it ever worked right. Not once. Why? Because Debbie couldn't stand patiently waiting her turn to communicate with the people down the line and would send it back to the person who had just written because she sensed it was important to communicate with that person in a timely manner. She was always so concerned for other people and was so wise in the advice she gave. Often, over the years, she shared her sage advice with me, too.

We never really lost touch with each other, though we would only see each other every two or three years. It was never often enough but Debbie was always so busy with her four kids and being a pastor's wife. I was busy raising my kids and being a teacher. When I learned that Debbie was sick, the gravity of her situation didn't really sink in. I called and chatted with her after she got out of the hospital and was shocked to learn, at the end of the conversation, that she was still on such heavy-duty pain meds. It just hadn't been a conversation where she seemed anything other than her normal, happy self. I thought she was getting better. When I announced my 60 for 60 (doing something with 60 friends for my 60th birthday) on Facebook, Debbie was one of the first to respond. Yes, let's get together, she said. We scheduled that meeting for Saturday (today) with Carol. Three days later Debbie died and Carol and I had our reunion at her memorial service. That wasn't the way it was supposed to be. Today I was supposed to drive to see Debbie and have a good old reminiscing time together. I feel rotten for missing out on one last chance to say goodbye in person. But do you know what? Debbie was my one friend who would be the first to tell me it was OK, that she loved me anyway.

And here's the thing:  I know -- KNOW -- I will see Debbie again. Her spirit is with God now. She told her family on Wednesday that she was ready to go home to be with Jesus. That is where she is now. I believe it. I believe these are the words she heard when she passed from this world into the heavenly realm, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Goodbye, dear friend. See you on the other side!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Friday Quotes, Feb. 9, 2017

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

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---

Title: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Book Beginnings: Why at the beginning of things is there always light? Dorrigo Evans' earliest memories were of sun flooding a church hall in which he sat with his mother and grandmother.

Friday 56: He had been asked to write the foreword to a book of sketches and illustrations made by Guy Hendricks, a POW who had died on the Line, and whose sketchbook Dorrigo had carried and kept hidden for the rest of the war.

Comment: An Australian friend (Hi Claire) gave me this book a while back and I am finally getting to it. It starts on the island of Tasmania and meanders around Australia while mainly focusing on the time Dorrigo Evans spent as a POW building the Death Railroad in Burma under their Japanese captors. The first 30 pages (that is where I am in the book) are confusing. I sure hope the plot quits jumping around so I can figure out what is happening.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel

Rani Patel is the only daughter of the only Indian family transplanted to the island of Molokai (Hawaii). She and her mom work like dogs to keep their family businesses going---a small grocery story and a small restaurant---while her father traipses around the island standing up for the water rights of the natives but mostly going out with a much younger woman than her mom. When Rani catches him with this woman she is understandable distraught. She had always thought she was her father's princess and now this? To make matters worse he comes and asks if his mistress can move in with the family. At this last indignity her mom finally gets the nerve she needs to kick him out for good.

Rani's only solace is rap. She loves it and finds strength in her alter-ego, MC Sutra. She also finds friends at school willing to support her in desire to be a good rapper and who are understanding of how bad her home life is. When she is MC Sutra Rani is strong and determined but when she is just Rani she is insecure making bad decisions about men herself. When she is finally ready to embrace the idea that "love" and "hurt" do not go together, she can finally start truly loving herself.

Author Sonia Patel is a psychiatrist who lives in Hawaii. Her work here demonstrates her understanding what it is like being a teenager coping with traumatic life circumstances. She also liked to rap as a teenager and I'm sure she understands the power of poetry to communicate our inner thoughts and feelings.

What I liked best about Rani Patel in Full Effect was the peek at life on an exotic setting. So many people think of Hawaii as paradise, just traveling to the islands for short vacations, hanging out in resort settings without a clear understanding of local politics or problems. On Molokai the problem is water, not enough of it. The natives want to make sure they have water for themselves. The developers want more water to be allotted for the tourist industry. I also enjoyed the peek at the Hawaiian culture which involved use of  Gujarati words and local slang (with a dictionary in the back of the book to help.) Rani is, to some degree, an outsider since her family is from India. In Rani in Full Effect we see how cruel teens can be to one another. This is something we battle in schools everywhere, I'm afraid.

My criticism of the book mainly centers around the author's decision to reveal details of Rani's relationship with her father very early in the book. This did not allow the reader (me) to build up my own suspicions about the circumstances and to build a case against the father myself. This is Sonia Patel's first book and to some degree it showed. Perhaps if there is a second book, and I hope there will be, she will use more sophisticated writing techniques which draw the reader in little by little. That said I know there is a need for more literature coming out of the Pacific islands and I sure hope Sonia Patel has some more stories in her about life on the Hawaiian islands.

Source Print edition, Cinco Puntos Press, 2016.
My rating 3.5 stars

Monday, February 6, 2017

Commonwealth by Ann Pratchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett is described by LitLovers as [an] enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.

When Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating's christening party uninvited and falls for Beverly, Franny's beautiful mother, it sets in motion a break up of two families and the creation of new, blended family. The story, which takes place over five decades, demonstrates how each life was affected by this one chance event.

With ten characters (and a few others sprinkled in for good measure) and a story which is not linear in its delivery, it is confusing to keep track of everyone. I am going to pretend for a minute that I have been asked to write a character map of Commonwealth, because, umm, it needs one. Here goes---

Location: Torrance, California (1960s)
     Albert (Bert) Cousins is married to Teresa, they have four children:
  • Cal (oldest, male)
  • Holly (female, good student, perfectionist)
  • Jeannette (female, quiet, so quiet she is overlooked)
  • Albert (Albie) (male, youngest, pest)
     Fix Keating is married to Beverly, they have two children
  • Caroline (oldest, female, bossy)
  • Franny (female, easy to get along with)
Bert and Beverly divorce their spouses; marry each other; move to Arlington, Virginia. 

Every summer the four Cousins children leave their mother in California and live with their father, Beverly, and her two daughters in Virginia. The time that the six children spend together during the summer is one of deep bonding. It solidifies their friendships for life.

Over the next forty-plus years we follow the lives of these ten people and learn their stories, or their versions of the same story. In the end we come to realize that the book is more about stories than it is about the plot. In fact, the reviewer for The Washington Post, Ron Charles, commenting on Patchett's spot-on writing, said, "in another world, she could have been one of our favorite short story writers." He goes on to describe the opening scene, Franny Keating's christening party, as a perfect 32-page short story.

I come from a family of storytellers. Every time we get together we tell versions of our growing up stories. Our children know our stories so well they could tell them as they were their own stories. A few weeks ago I told my daughter about an event from my teen years. She looked at me funny and asked, "Why have I never heard this story before?" It is as if our whole lives are consolidated down into the stories we tell about the past. If we don't tell about some event, it must never have happened. 

I started reading Commonwealth thinking it was a book about divorce and the changing trajectory of lives in the wake of it. But what I came to appreciate was the stories told within the book: kids marauding around Virginia in a small gang of six, largely unsupervised; each child's growing up experiences and how they interacted with each other and their parents as adults; and the variations in how the stories were remembered and retold.

Once, not long ago, I complained to my sister how she was always Dad's favorite. The case in point that I used as my example was how he would always drive her to high school when I had to ride my bike. My sister snorted, "He didn't love me best. I just pestered him for rides because I was always late. You rode your bike because you didn't want to be late every day." The stories that we tell ourselves shape who we become and how we feel about our placement in our family of origin. 

Franny, easily the easiest to get along with of the six Keating/Cousins children, does the best at staying in touch with everyone as she grows into adulthood. For this reason we are treated to more Franny stories that anyone else but all are represented at some point. At the end of the book, and I hope this isn't a spoiler for you, Franny happens upon a memory she has shared with no one but her step-brother, Albie. When she realizes that this memory is theirs alone she clutches it to herself, glad that she can horde one thing that belongs to no one else but them. For some reason this ending, which I'm guessing many will feel is unfinished, is tremendously satisfying to me.

Galway Kinnell, in his poem "The Promissory Note", talks about the transference of memories to loved ones when we die. I guess one way to reach a form of immortality is to make sure that our memories are tucked safely into the heads of the next generation.

Ann Patchett has spun a wonderful story here in Commonwealth. A story about the power of stories to connect us one to another.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, Unabridged audiobook by Audible.com, read by Hope Davis.

Rating 4.75 out of 5.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sunday Salon, Feb. 5

Chihuly glass. Tacoma Art museum
Weather: it is 36 degrees and snowing/raining. Nothing is sticking because it is too warm. Snow was predicted for tomorrow but arrived a day early.

I turn 60 this month, please join in the celebration: To celebrate my 60th birthday year I am inviting friends to reconnect/connect with me in a special way some time this year (2017): a movie, a walk, dinner in or out, a long phone call, coffee or a drink, etc. I am hoping 60 people will take me up on my offer to get together with me in 2017. If you would like to be one of those people, put on your thinking cap about what you'd like to do and let's get something organized. Let me know!

It's Gonna be OKAY...this week's news out of Washington and elsewhere in our nation has been pretty discouraging. I am clinging to this mantra today, "It's gonna be OK." There is always hope.

The Plot Against America...this week I wrote a review of the Philip Roth book by this title and the similarities in the book with what is happening today in politics. On the exact same day I published my review, Bill Moyers published an article about Philip Roth and The Plot Against America, too. Check out both links. It is creepy how something written over ten years ago could be so prescient.

Poetry Out Loud: We attended the regional contest for POL yesterday in Tacoma. Our gal from GKHS didn't win but she did very well. My favorite two poems of the day we recited by the two winners: At the Vietnam Memorial by George Bilgere and Caged Bird by Maya Angelou.

From the kitchen: Butternut Squash soup and oat bran bread. I bought Don a soup recipe book for Christmas and we've tried out three recipes from it so far: Curried Cauliflower (good and spicy); Chorizo and potato (better the second day); and Roasted Butternut Squash soup (delicious but very labor intensive. I doubt I will make it again). The bread, on the other hand, was a huge hit. Here is the recipe for it.

Reading: I have been so distracted by the political state of affairs I haven't been spending my normal amount of time reading since the election, having read only three books in January and one this month. But I did finish Commonwealth by Ann Patchett which is fabulous. look for my review later today or tomorrow. I also picked up Romeo and Juliet: a Chooseable Path Adventure by Ryan North. It is lauded as a one of those books where the reader gets to decide what adventure to choose. Will Romeo end of with Rosaline instead of Juliet, will Romeo and Juliet take over Verona and chance the politics of the day...etc. I started this book yesterday and picked my adventure which ended after only five choices. So I picked another adventure , which ended in three. I thought these adventures were supposed to go on for a few more pages and choices than three to five. I'll probably try a few more adventures but I am not sure at what point I will get to count that I read the book. I'm still plunking away (now at 25%) on Scythe by Neal Shusterman.

Prayers for: my eldest daughter Rita who has a bad cold and is having a hard time shaking it. Prayers for her health in general..

It is still snowing and has started to stick. We'll see if anything comes of this. Like all good teachers I always hope for just a school delay, not a school cancellation.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Friday Quotes: SCYTHE

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

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---

Title: Scythe by Neal Shustermann

Book Beginnings:
The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon. Citra was at the dining room table, slaving over a particularly difficult algebra problem, shuffling variables, unable to solve for X or Y, when this new and far more pernicious variable entered her life's equation.
Friday 56:
3) The Scythe's Pets: These were the people who went out of their way to engage the scythe and offer him something, with the secret (not so secret) hope that he might grant them immunity, or at least glean the person to their right instead of them some day.
Comments: Scythe won a Printz Honor a few weeks ago and now I am reading it. A scythe is a person who kills people to cull down the population. there are no longer diseases that kill and the recuperative aspects in the body repair a person if they have suffered from an accident. So the only way to cull down the population is to kill a person purposely. That is the scythe's job. Obviously no one wants a visit in their home by a scythe. And most people avoid them in the store and the public places. When two teens are recruited as apprentice scythe, it is not an honor.
I am only a few chapters in the book. The topic is very distressing, even though it is fiction. But I guess that the relationship between the two apprentices should make for an interesting book.