"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=========

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Summary: Alice and her mother have been running away from bad luck her whole life. She has moved more times than she has stayed put. And the whole time that she and her mother have been on the run, she has never, not once, met or visited her grandmother who lives on an estate called The Hazel Wood and is famous for writing a deeply-dark volume of fairy tales, Tales from the Hinterland. Alice hasn't even read her grandmother's book, because her mother has forbade it. But also because she can't find a copy. They all seem to have vanished into thin air. When the mother-daughter team learn that the grandmother has died, they dare to think that their bad luck has finally come to an end. They move to New York City. Alice's mom remarries and they move into a high rise apartment. One day when Alice returns from school she discovers that her mother and her step family have been kidnapped. In order to find her mother before it is too late, Alice turns for help from a classmate, Ellery Finch, who is a fan of her grandmother's book. The only clue they have is the table of contents page ripped out of book and a note scrawled in her mother's handwriting: Stay out of the Hazel Wood. So that is exactly where the pair head.

Review: By the end of 2017 people who like to be in-the-know were already talking about The Hazel Wood and it wasn't even published yet. The book seemed to be on eveyone's list of books they were looking forward to in 2018. I am always shocked when people seem to know more about an unpublished book than I do about books which have been around for years, but that it beside the point. Because of all the pre-excitement, I added The Hazel Wood to my reading list, too. Heck, I didn't want to miss out of the best book of 2018, if indeed it was the best book. When it was my turn for the library copy, I made a quick jaunt to pick it up before leaving on a short trip/family reunion. Before I settled down to read I went to Goodreads to add it to my account and couldn't help noticing that it only had 3.65 stars. That is pretty low for "the best book of the year." I dug a little deeper, (I know. I shouldn't have) and discovered that a whole bunch of readers hated the book. H.A.T.E.D. it. I was shocked. Should I abandon it now or read on in hopes I was among those who liked it. I opted for the latter choice and that was a good decision. I actually liked the book a lot.

There are a lot of similarities between The Hazel Wood and Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland. Many are no-brainers. Alice/Alice; Wonderland/Hinterland; they both travel through a door or hole to gain access to the world; once there, everything is distorted---time, space, odd characters. Though Alice in Wonderland has its dark moment, Hazel Wood is almost completely dark, creepy dark. It is as if the author wanted to rework the old fairy tale and make it as sinister as she could.

Perhaps this is the rub. Maybe all those folks who were excited about the book really just wanted a fairy tale. You know the kind that start with Once Upon a Time and end with They Lived Happily Every After. Though most fairy tales have dark portions and scary aspects, they also include positive aspects: Snow White is happy living with the dwarfs; Cinderella has fun at the ball; the ugly duckling is actually a swan! Caitlin Paxson, writing a review for NPR points out that
"There is never a moment where we are allowed to look around the Hinterland and enjoy it. We don't get to wonder at its magics, or see any of its stories that have happy endings. And to me, that is the true power at the heart of fairy tales and beloved childhood fantasy books alike: They show us how to win against the dark" NPR.
I was all caught up in the action, adventure, chases, and near-misses as I read the book. I cheered for Alice to find and free her mother. I was enamored with the story in front of me, but if I step back and look at it through the lens provided by Ms. Paxson, I have to stop and agree. Many researchers over the years have talked about the value to reading fairy tale to children...so they learn that good triumphs over evil. Perhaps they provide children with the solace to believe in a better future. And The Hazel Wood? Does this story fulfill that requirement of fairy tales? I'll leave that for you to answer for yourself, which means you'll have to read the book to decide. Perhaps what you will decide it that the book didn't end up the way you wanted but it ends the way Alice needed.

btw- My daughter, who read the book right after I finished it, LOVED it and she is much more "into" fairy tales than I am.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Summer Reading Challenges

This summer I hope to read for three summer challenges. Since summer has really just begun for me, I won't even mention that it is July and a little late to be joining up.

1. Big Book Summer Challenge
As in past summers I am joining the Big Book Summer Challenge which gives me an excuse to read at least one big book, over 400 pages, during our warmest months. All I have to do is read at least one long book, write an entry post (this one) and an exit post in September with my updates. I am going to attempt to read three or four big books, which won't be that hard since I've already read one. Ha! Join in the fun. Click the link above for more details and to sign up.

My list of possible selections: 
  1. Going Bovine @480 pages...OK, I know. I have already read this one, but I reread it this summer, so I am counting it,
  2. All the Light We Cannot See @ 531 pages...this will also be a reread, if I get to it. We are doing it for book club in August.
  3. Suite Francaise @431 pages...not a cheery, lighthearted subject for summer reading, though. The author was killed in the holocaust. 
  4. Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman @544....a prequel to Seraphina, a book I loved.
2. Paris in July Challenge
Sign up at Thyme for Tea. So many of my blogging friends read for this challenge and I am so jealous of the titles I see on their lists. The rules include other activities than just reading:

There will be no rules or targets in terms of how much you need to do or complete in order to be a part of this experience – just blog about anything French and you can join in! Some ideas might include;
  • reading a French themed book – fiction or non-fiction, 
  • watching a French movie, 
  • listening to French music, 
  • cooking French food, 
  • experiencing French, art, architecture and travel

Here are few books I may try to knock off in the next two weeks
  • All the Light We Cannot See...half of the story is set in Paris, , so it counts. I know you see this book on the Big Book Challenge, but double-dipping is good in my book.
  • The Piano Shop on the Left Bank....I just saw this book at the library on the SALE shelf. I will race back tomorrow and see if it is still there.
  • The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris...I love books by this author, David McCullough. If he reads the audiobook, better yet. I'll see if it is available on audiobooks from the library.
  • 13 Paintings Children Should Know by Wentzel....It is a children's book but is right up my alley. I found it on the list of books about Paris so I am assuming it will talk about pieces of art which are in Paris now.
  • Suite Francaise....this has long been on my TBR list. Why not finally read it now?
  • "50 Years of Beatles: The Beatles Take Paris"...an essay by Kenneth Womach
  • Paris for One: collection of short stories by JoJo Moyes...just found out about this one.
In addition I'd like to watch a movie in French with subtitles, try my hand at making a french dish I've not tried before, and listen to more French music.

3. Austen in August
Not sure if anyone will be hosting this Jane Austen Challenge this summer or not. If so, I am in. The goal is to read anything by Jane Austen or about Jane Austen. Since I have finished all six of her novels I usually read something about her, or a Jane Austen retelling. Here are some options I might consider:
  • Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid...part of the Austen Project. It is a retelling of Austen's work by the same name.
  • Prejudice and Pride by Lynn Messina...a twist on the original with the men the ones without money and the women to the rescue. Sounds fun.
  • Unequal Affection by Lara Ormiston....Lizzy accepts Darcy's first proposal, not out of love, but out of obligation. He then grows to become the man we love by the end of the original but because of unequal affection.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review: Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

When a YA book gets starred reviews from five professional publications it is time to take note. That is exactly what happened with the new YA novel, Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert. Reviewers have been crazy about the book for good reason. Here is what they are saying about it:
It’s easy to pigeonhole books: this one’s an immigrant story, this will appeal to readers who have lost someone to suicide, here’s a doomed love story, and so on. Gilbert includes all these elements and more in this novel, masterfully negotiating plot twists and revelations while keeping the focus on her characters. -Publisher's Weekly
Family, art, love, duty, and longing collide in this painfully beautiful paean to the universal human need for connection. -Kirkus Reviews 
With grace and respect, Gilbert manages to address the existential quandaries of both second-generation American teens and their immigrant parents who must make profoundly life-changing choices to give their children the best life possible. The result is both exhilarating and tortuous—Gilbert methodically lays bare her characters’ secrets as if she was slowly pulling a cloth off a fine painting. -Booklist 
The author demonstrates exquisite facility with tech-savvy teen-speak in every scenario and balances the authentic dialogue with elegant prose. -School Library Journal 
All together, it's a heady concoction: a compelling story of all kinds of love and all kinds of heartbreak overlaid with the unveiling of all kinds of secrets.  -BCCB
When Danny Cheng's father, a first generation immigrant from China, loses his job working as a lab assistant at a nearby college, everything in Danny's life starts to unravel. Though he is clearly one of the least wealthy students at the high school in Cupertino, California, Danny's life had been looking up. He had just learned that he had won a full scholarship to attend the arts school of his choice once he graduates. Then his dad loses his job and suddenly everything he thinks he knows about his parents, he realizes he doesn't know. In fact, it is really obvious that there are some very big secrets they are keeping from him. Also he is sad about events that have tainted his life since the previous year, which Danny feels are likely his fault. He is also worried about the relationship between his best friends.

The book opens with an early memory for Danny. He and his mother accompany his father to his lab on a weekend day. The father demonstrated the experiment he was working on concerning quantum entanglements.  "In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed on one affect the other, even when separated by great distances. The phenomenon so riled Albert Einstein he called it 'spooky action at a distance.'" Danny's father was doing experiments on humans and found that they could also be considered in quantum entanglements. Even when he and his mother were separated by a whole classroom, if one looked a picture of their loved, their heart rate and blood pressure would change in response to the photo. But here is the weird part, their loved one down the hall, who didn't see a photo, would have the exact change in body processes at the same time. This concept of quantum entanglements became the metaphor for the whole rest of the book. Danny couldn't untangle himself from his parents and what they were feeling. We was all tangled up with what was happening with his friends. Even a long dead sister was another entanglement. 

“Because if you're tangled up in someone else, if your futures are tied that way, if that's real and if you know when it happens - then it means you know who you belong to, and you know whose fates are tied to yours, whether you like it or planned it or not, whether they still exist in the same world with you or they don't, and I think that's where everything begins and ends. I think that's everything.” 

I always like it when authors find a way to connect with me, the reader. Years ago I saw a musical/drama event about quantum entanglements but they were calling "withings". In it we saw the entanglements between people and how they helped in healing and connections. It is as if we cannot untangle ourselves from our loved ones. We are "with" them wherever we are. The threads that hold Danny are both tight and loose at the same time yet, he senses, also fragile. He wants his parents to tell him about their secret, but he doesn't really want to know because it will upset the equilibrium. As first generation immigrants, he worries that they may be sent back to China. He also worries how his actions affect his friends yet he can't seem to stop himself from doing things which may sabotage their relationship.
“Other people don't exist just to be your happy ending, you know?” 
I had a hard time gaining traction on this book. I know it had more to do with me than with the book because I was so busy in my personal life and this is not a book which allows itself to unfold slowly, at only a few pages per night. I needed to devote a good chunk of time to reading to gain purchase, and when I finally did just that, the story unfolded before me and I saw the brilliance that the professional reviewers found. The story is also very timely. Just because the immigrants were from Central America doesn't mean that their situation wasn't anymore perilous. Though the book only implied it, we certainly need to look at the laws we set about immigration, and what to do when the rules are broken. Is it always the right response to take a hard line?

There is a lot in this book and a lot to like.

Monday, July 16, 2018

TTT: Favorite Short Stories

Top Ten Tuesday: 
Titles of some short stories I have read and enjoyed.

1. "Cannibalism in the Cars" by Mark Twain. It can serve as a satire for our political system and politicians who seemingly eat each other up. Written in 1868. My mother read it aloud to us, her assembled children, one time during a power outage. We sat in the dark, transfixed by her voice, and the silly story. It has remained an all-time favorite of mine since that time. Want to listen it? Click the link.

2. "Reader, She Married Me" by Sally Vickers, found in a collection of stories edited by Tracey Chevalier, called Reader, I Married Him. Fans will recognize the title of the book as the last line of Jane Eyre. Sally Vickers writes the Jane Eyre story from Mr. Rochester's point of view. It was a sort of clearing the record for him. He wanted the record to show that he no longer loved Jane Eyre and didn't want to marry her but did it because he'd been such a lout in the beginning. Tee-hee. I love stories which stand the classic on its head.

3. "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," by Flannery O'Connor, found in a collection of short stories by the same name. The opening line of this story sets the stage for bad things to come: "The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida." O'Connor is famous for her writing style, Southern Gothic. The stories are so creepy, but she prepares the readers a long the way so by the conclusion we are ready for what happens. If you haven't read any O'Connor, I encourage you to change that as soon as you can. 

4. "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor. This story, found in the same collection, is as hilarious as the above one is horrifying.

5. "Breaking and Entering" by Sherman Alexie, found in War Dances, a collection of essays, short stories, and poems. B&E forces us to face the many angles of racism. A young African American teenager breaks into a home to steal whatever he can. The homeowner, a Native American, is working from home and surprises the burglar armed with a baseball bat for protection. The would-be thief lunges at the homeowner, who swings the bat and connects with the young man's head, killing him. Suddenly the victim becomes perpetrator...an assumedly white man taking another black teen's life. When the man attempts to correct the record about his own race, he appears calloused and self-centered. Everything goes wrong.

6. "A Christmas Story" by Jean Shepherd. We all love this "story" because of the movie we watch every year at Christmas time by the same name, but actually the story/novella is made up of several stories found in different collections by Shepherd: In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters. This mash-up of stories to make a new thing we know as "The Christmas Story" is very, very funny. (I bet the originals are too!)

7. "The Department of Nothing" by Colin Firth, found in a collection of short stories edited by Nick Hornby called Speaking With the Angel. The project was designed to make money for a school where Hornby's autistic son, Danny, attended. Firth, yes, the actor who played Mr. Darcy, has been "writing and putting stuff in a drawer" for years but The Department of Nothing is his first published piece.

8. "Nipple Jesus" by Nick Hornby, is a hilarious story also included in the Speaking With the Angel collection. Even though I wouldn't call it a favorite story, I had to mention it because of the title. As you can imagine the story is quite memorable.

9. "No Room at the Inn" by Leo Buscalia, from Seven Stories of Christmas Love. This sweet Christmas story just melts my heart. The author spends Christmas in Bali where the natives are aghast when they learn that there was no room for Jesus and Mary in the inn the night that Jesus is born. There is no way someone from Bali wouldn't just scoot over and make room for everyone. This story is worth a yearly reread.

10. "Jane Austen Over the Styx" by Victoria Owens. This short story is in a collection called Dancing With Mr. Darcy:Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House. I loved this whole collection. This story just makes me smile because in it Jane Austen is having to plead her case for the way she wrote her characters to the judges: Mrs. Norris, Catherine duBourgh, Mrs. Ferrars, Mrs. Bennet, and others. It is very clever. I read this collection while on a European trip which, I think, increased my pleasure in it.

11. "Moses Found Among the Rushes" by James Herriot found in his book called James Herriot's Cat Stories. I could actually put all of James Herriot's books and stories on this list. They are all based on his experiences living as a country veterinarian in Britain in the early part of the twentieth century. They are all such simple, loving stories. This collection includes only stories about cats. But the original books included all types of animals. In this story, a cat found alone and near death in the reeds (rushes) is named Moses, a Biblical reference, based on the similarities to where they were both found as babies.

12. "The Best Christmas Pageant" by Barbara Robinson. Before this story adapted into a fairly well known book, it was published as a short story in McCall's magazine (circa 1967.) My mother got a copy of the magazine and read it aloud every Christmas to the family until the book was published. Then she read the whole book aloud. I sometimes still repeat phrases to my family that are not in the book but were in the original short story. Very funny and charming.

13. "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx, from Close Range:Wyoming Stories. This is such a heart-breaking story about two men who are not allowed by societal mores to be together even though they love each other. 

14. "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I probably read this is high school, it has deeply touched me because of its feminist message of what happens when a woman is dominated by a man.

15. "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe. Okay, I am still creeped-out about this one. In fact, all of Poe's stories scare me.

16. "The Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick. I saw the movie, starring Tom Cruise, first then went back and read the short story. They are different enough it is worth taking a look at the original. It is found in The Complete Stories by Philip K. Dicks.

I hadn't realized, until I compiled this list, just how much I do enjoy reading short stories. I often travel with short stories collections because I can consume one story a day and not get bogged down in a long, detailed book. 

Do you have any favorite short stories or story collecitons I should consider reading?

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Wonderful Series for Advanced Middle Grade Readers, Especially Boys

A few weeks ago a friend with a son who is an advanced middle grader reader asked for my book recommendations. I spent the majority of my professional life teaching and then in the library at the high school level but decided I was up for the challenge. Here are my recommendations for middle grade series:
1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I suppose this goes without saying but I was always surprised when high school students told me they hadn't read the series. The movies are good, but the books are better. Seven book series. Average lexile level, 950.

2. Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. These books are really written for middle grade students but high school students, both boys and girls love them, too.  Riordan has six series. His books will ignite a curiosity about Greek and Roman mythology so you might want to find a guide that talks about Greek Gods and their relationships to one another. Once your child is done with this series he will have a lot of other series to move to directly. For a list of all his series click link: Goodreads. Five book series. Average lexile 710.

3. Gregor the Overlander (The Underland series) by Susan Collins. You've heard of The Hunger Games series (which are excellent) but before Collins wrote that blockbuster series she already had another winning series published. Gregor enters another world by crawling through a vent behind his washing machine. Very creative. Five book series. Average lexile- 700.

4. The Queen's Thief by Megan Whelan Turner. I've only read the last book in this five book series, Thick as Thieves,  which can stand on its own but it was excellent and so well-written. In fact, the first book in the series, The Thief, won a Newbery Honor. The series is about an incorrigible and charismatic thief, Eugenides, who finds himself in the service of the queen. Lexile 880.

5. Pendragon by D.J. MacHale. This series was wildly popular my first few years as librarian. The protagonist, Bobby Pendragon, is fourteen when the series starts and he is out to save the world. Ten book series. Average lexile 660.

6. Redwall series by Brain Jacques. Younger advanced readers often are not mature enough to handle high school themes that match their reading levels and may still like themes directed at younger readers where the heroes are animals. This LONG series, 22 books, will appeal to those readers. The legend begins with a mouse who is a monk who attempts to recover the special sword. My nephews, now grown, loved the series, but I am not sure if they will read all 22 books! Lexile 800.

7. Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle). Several boys at my high school would read through this series once a year. Once a year! Most of them started reading it in junior high. The series begins with a boy, Eragon, finding a dragon egg. In a world where dragons are no longer allowed this was a very dangerous and risky thing. Once the land was ruled by dragons and their riders and the two have a very special relationship. This series is all about their attempt to regain the former glory. This fantasy series is not for the casual reader. Each book in this four-book series is long, over 500 pages and the lexile average is 1000.

8. Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente. This series wasn't particularly popular in my library but I think it is charming and so-o-o creative. Twelve year old September is living an ordinary life in Omaha until one day she is met by the Green Wind and told she is needed to save Fairyland. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (and don't you just love the title?) Five books in the series. Lexile 920.

9. The Giver Quartet series by Lois Lowry. Most school children are required to read the Dystopian novel, The Giver, but few know that there are three other books in the series. The series involves four protagonists set in the same futuristic world as in the Giver. (Lexile 760.)

10. Ender's Saga by Orson Scott Card. The first book, Ender's Game, in this series is so good. It is perfect boy-book. It is so exciting. A young boy, Ender, is identified as a good candidate to save the world through a video game type scenerio. The book can easily be read as a stand-alone but many kids want to read on in the series which includes four-seven book, depending on how you count. (Lexile 800.)

11. The Ranger's Appentice by John Flanagan. This was by far the most popular series in my high school library with boys. After finishing one book they would wait impatiently for the next book in the series, which was undoubtedly checked out by another fan. I am not sure about the appropriateness of this series for younger readers, though the note on Amazon.com says it is for readers, age 10 and up. Will is selected as an apprentice to the Rangers who have earned the fear of the people but who actually are the protectors of society. Twelve books in the series. Lexile 800.

12. The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula LeGuin. I just finished the first book in this series by a celebrated fantasy author. This series was her first series for children, after a career of writing for adults and it shows. The plot is intricate and the characters are fully flushed out. The writing is spot-on. The series starts by introducing the readers to Ged, the greatest wizard of all time, but here we know him as Sparrowhawk. Six books in series. 850 lexile.

13. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman. Some wonderful books are nearly wrecked by the movies that are made from them. This may the case with The Golden Compass, the first book in the trilogy. Avoid the movie, starring Nicole Kidman, and jump into the books instead. Set in Oxford, Lyra is a precocious child and roams the campus with her daemon, or her special soul animal, when she learns that her mother is doing dangerous experiments. My family consumed this whole series on audiobooks and loved the format. Try listening to it while on a car trip or as a read aloud! Lexile 950.

14. The Tiffany Aching Series by Terry Pratchett.  Pratchett wrote an elaborate, multi-book series called Discworld. It had many offshoots and several mini-series within the grand series. The Tiffany Aching series is one of the mini-series and the only one written for young adults. It is delightful, funny, and full of Pratchett wisdom. I listened to the series on audiobook so was double delighted by the British accented reader. The last book of the series, The Shepherd's Crown, was the last book published by Pratchett before he died of Alzheimer's Disease. I cried at the end, knowing that a beloved author and series had come to an end. Even if you don't think this series is what your child would like, you should consider reading some Pratchett for yourself. His books are in a league of their own. Five book series. Average lexile around 800.

If nonfiction is your child's thing, give these series a try:
A. Spy of History by Workman publishing. So far I have found three titles: Anna Strong and the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring; Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army; Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring.

B. Assassination series (my name for these books) by James Swanson, published by Scholastic Press:
"The President Has Been Shot!": The Assassination of President Kennedy; Chasing Lincoln's Killer; Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Junior's Killer. The author appears to write about famous assassinations for adults and then publishes a version of the same book for younger readers. I have read two of the three and found them fascinating and illuminating. Lexile 1000.

Readers of all ages want to read what other people are reading, what is currently popular. The books I've listed, with the exception of the nonfiction titles, all have been around for a while. They aren't the latest and greatest titles, they are the tried-and-true books which have stood the test of time. But because these books aren't currently on the "most popular" list, you may have to ask a librarian to assist you and your child in locating copies of all the books in the series. They may even have to request copies for you from other libraries. Do your homework on where to find the books and be patient.

Since I haven't worked with middle grade students for such a long time, I'd be delighted to hear from other librarians and readers who can recommend other book series that would be of interest to advanced middle grade readers, especially boys! Please leave your comments below. Thank you.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday Quotes (and a review) for The Prince and the Dressmaker

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 Prince and the Dressmaker a graphic novel by Jen Wang

Book Beginnings:
Prince Sebastian is turning 16 and there will be a royal ball in his favor.
Friday 56:
The Prince likes to wear women's clothing. He asks the dress maker to make him something spectacle to wear to the Marmalade Contest. while there he decides to enter the contest. On this page the dressmaker is looking at all the wonderful gowns entered in the contest. When the prince appears he is disguised as Lady Crystallia (not shown here.)
Summary: Prince Sebastian is miserable. Why? Because he has a secret---he likes to dress in women's clothing. When he is clad in beautiful gowns, he feels like a different person. But he must keep this a secret from everyone, especially his father, the King. When he meets a dressmaker who doesn't judge him for his choices, they embark on creating and wearing her creations out in public as Lady Cystallia. As you can imagine, this doesn't last long before the Prince is found out. But before he is, the gowns Lady Crystallia wears in public become the fashion craze of the day. The dressmaker is frustrated that she can't be recognized for her creations without giving the prince's secret identity away.

Review: This is darling, darling tale about being true to yourself and about friendship and loyalty. The illustrations are so colorful and fun. Everything about this book is charming. It is being marketed to young adults, but I think it would be appropriate for middle grade students as well as adults, anyone who cheers for people who want to live their authentic lives. If you have a child who is a budding artist, I recommend this book as an inspiration. Jen Wang talks about her craft at the end of the book---the tools she uses, how she creates her storyboard, and time-saving techniques she uses. Everything about this book is wonderful. I highly recommend it.

Comment: I know a lot of adults don't read graphic novels, but I encourage you to give them a try. The story is told is such a colorful way, often the diagrams themselves tell the story without using any words. If you feel daunted by reading graphic novels but want to give one a try, this would be a wonderful book to choose for a starting point. It is a charming story with wonderful illustrations.

Wang, Jen. The Prince and the Dressmaker. First Second, 2018.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Feeling ripped off...

Last week, on a trip to move our daughter to California for her first job in her chosen profession, my husband and I listened to three audiobooks: The Little Friend by Tartt; The Virgin Suicides by Eugenides; and Hillbilly Elegy by Vance. Today I decided to write up a review of The Little Friend, thinking I could knock it off quickly because it was the shortest of the three audiobooks. I started, as I often do, reading professional reviews of the book which help me crystallize my thoughts. I was especially interested in finding the answer to the question of who was the little friend referenced in the title since I didn't recall any mention of it while we listened to the book. I quickly figured out why...the short, little audiobook we listened to which contained only 6 1/2 hours worth of material was clearly an abridged version of the book. It is actually a very long book, at 624 pages long, if it were available in audio format it would clearly 25+ hours worth of material. We only got less than one fourth of the book, just the highlights really. No wonder I didn't know the answer to my question, undoubtedly that part of the story was lobbed off in the abridgment.

Calm down, Anne. Clearly this is your own fault. When you picked the CD set from the library and noted that it only had 6 CDs you should have been suspicious. And, obviously, it must have said it was abridged somewhere on the case, though as the photo shows it is not mentioned on the front side. And, I'd like to remind you, that both you and Don enjoyed the listening experience. So why not tell your readers what you did like about the abridged version you listened to? Some time in the future, if you are still feeling ripped off, you can locate the print edition of the book and you can read the whole thing without skipping a word. There. Feeling better? Now you can proceed with the review, be it what it is a review of an abridgment.

Here is the summary of the book, supplied by the publisher:
In a small Mississippi town, Harriet Cleve Dusfresnes grows up in the shadow of her brother, who - when she was only a baby - was found hanging dead from a black-tupelo tree in their yard. His killer was never identified, nor has his family recovered from the tragedy.
For Harriet, who has grown up largely unsupervised, in a world of her own imagination, her brother is a link to a glorious past she has only heard about in stories. Fiercely determined, precocious far beyond her 12 years, and steeped in the adventurous literature of Stevenson, Kipling, and Conan Doyle, she resolves, one summer, to solve the murder and exact her revenge. Harriet's sole ally in this quest, her friend Hely, is devoted to her, but what they soon encounter has nothing to do with child's play: it is dark, adult, and all too menacing.
Harriet is determined to find out who murdered her brother and sets about solving it with only the smallest of leads and with a misguided single-mindedness. Her lead, spoken aloud by the older brother of her friend Hely, implicates a n'er-do-well, Danny Ratliff. He is the youngest brother of a clan of petty criminals. He and his older brother make illegal methamphetamine and use part of their product. The middle brother, who found Jesus while in prison, runs a shabby mission and hosts a visiting snake handler and his snakes on occasion. Against these criminals Harriet and Hely plan on extracting revenge.

In the abridged version we listened to, The Little Friend, is very much a mystery and almost an adventure story. Harriet and Hely attempt to hurt Daniel Ratliff which obviously isn't a fair fight, kids verses adults. But tell the kids that...let me just say, it gets pretty exciting!

In the reviews I've read of the full print version of The Little Friend, I learned that the story isn't mostly a murder mystery. It is described as a Southern Gothic tale and a coming-of-age novel. Along that line a lot of time is spent comparing the two families, the Cleves and the Radliffs. The Cleves are from old money and the Radliffs are what some would call white-trash. The Cleves used to live in a magnificent mansion. The Radliffs live in a trailer. Harriet and her sister are essentially raised by their grandmother, Edie. The Radliff brothers are raised by their grandmother, Gum. Apparently, as the story unfolds the southern racism also played into the themes. We heard just a little bit about that in the audiobook, but not enough to report it as a theme. Obviously, we experienced a different aspect of the book than was intended in its original form.

Donna Tartt, the author, was also the narrator of the audiobook. Obviously she knew that her book was highly abridged, which made it into a whole new book. I wonder what led to the decision to abridge the book so much and what she thought of the product? I will never know, but I should say this---as a murder mystery, The Little Friend is a very good book, very exciting, and hang-onto-your-seat scary. Tartt, a southerner herself, does a wonderful job with the setting and the characters. Her writing reminds me of the short stories I read by Flannery O'Connor. If you've not read any of her work, I challenge you to read one of her stories and not think about it for months afterwards. I don't think it is possible. Listening to Tartt read is another rare treat. I've heard her read another audiobook, True Grit, which I felt was done just perfectly.

By the way, I still don't know where the title of the book, The Little Friend, came from. Does anyone know? Also, I just looked it up and full audiobook is available. If you have a lot of time and want to tackle it (25+ hours), would you let me know what you think of it? Thanks!

I feel better.

Monday, July 9, 2018

TTT: Favorite books read in 2018, so far

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Books Read in 2018, So Far

Favorite sequel book in a series:
  • Goldenhand by Garth Nix---the fifth book in the Abhorsen series. I LOVE this series and this book was very satisfying. Read January 4th, published in 2016.
Favorite re-read (tie):
  • Going Bovine by Libba Bray---a YA book which is both zany and poignant. It takes the protagonist on a heroes journey where he discovers so many things about himself, about life, about friendship. I originally read it in December 2009, and June 8th this year, published in 2009.
  • Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline---this is just a fun book, for anyone who remembers the beginning of video games. I reread this book on March 29th in anticipation of the movie coming out. I originally read it in October 2012, reread it in March, and it was published in 2011.
Favorite book about The Beatles:
  • Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World by Rob Sheffield---believe it or not, I have read more than one book about the Beatles so far this year, and the year is just half over. Read on January 14th, published in 2017.
Favorite audiobook:
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders---this amazing audiobook was narrated by cast of 166 unique voices. It was an amazing experience to read this story set in a cemetery after the death of Abraham Lincoln's son. This is the format you should use to consume this book. Wow. Listened on March 1st, published in 2017.
Favorite audiobooks as a shared experience:
  • Going Bovine (see above)---Carly and I listened to this book during our cross-country car trip. We both ended up crying as we discussed it afterwards. It is a very moving book. 
  • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance--- Don and I listened to this book which got so much attention during the 2016 campaign for what it had to say about disillusioned people in our country. It gave us a lot to talk about together. Listened on July 1st, published in 2016.

Favorite book club selection:
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann--- a nonfiction account of a series of events in US history we knew nothing about. Very interesting and maddening. This book generated an excellent discussion. Read February 6th, published in 2017.
Favorite YA novel: 
  • The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert---I would pick Going Bovine (I love the book so much!), but since I have already mentioned it twice, I picked this story which is a twisted fairy tale with a bit of Alice in Wonderland thrown in. Very creepy and atmospheric. Read June 27th, published in 2018.
Favorite Middle Grade novel:
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill---OK, truth be told, it is the only middle grade novel I've read this year, but I loved it.  LOVED it. Read June 28th, published in 2016.
Favorite adult novel published over 30 years ago:
  • True Grit by Charles Portis---I find as I age that I can finally go back read or reread books published along ago and finally understand why they have stood the test of time. This book has a remarkable narrator, Mattie Ross. I highly recommend it. Read March 18th, published in 1968.
Favorite graphic/illustrated book:
  • Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu ---These YA graphic biographies are so important for today. Women who made a difference in the world. History should be just about what the men did. Read May 22nd, published in 2018.
Book I have talked about the most:
  • Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach---whenever I read a book authored by Roach I spend the next several months telling everybody what I learned from it. This book is no exception. If you haven't read any books by Roach I should tell you that she takes serious subjects like digestion and reports about all kinds of issues related to it, and lots of the topics are gross, but does it with a great sense of humor. Read May 1st, published in 2013.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Friday Quotes, July 5th

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---

Book Title: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Book Beginning:
"On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide---it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese---the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope."
Friday 56:
"As soon as she had permission, Cecelia made for the stairs. She kept her face to the floor, moving in her personal oblivion, her sunflower eyes fixed on the predicament of her life we would never understand." (Page 27)
Comment: Not a very cheery topic, huh?  Surprisingly the book isn't really about suicide, though all the Lisbon sisters do kill themselves, as we see in the foreshadowing in the very first line of the book. It is really a a coming-of-age novel which gropes with the trials of adolescence and how we come to understand ourselves and other people, especially of the opposite sex. Written in 1993, this book has been around for a while. I liked Eugenides' Middlesex a lot and heard this one was very good, too. My husband and I listened to the audiobook together on a trip home from California. I wanted to talk about the book as soon as we finished it, so I was glad he listened, too. It is a very unique book. The narrator, who we come to understand is one of many neighborhood boys, refers to "we" as he tells the story of the life and death of the Lisbon sisters. I became obsessed with wanting to know who "we" referred to. Eugenides' writing is simply luminous.  Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sunday Salon...San Francisco Version

Ian and his mama at the wedding. So dapper!
Weather: foggy, windy and cold. Ha! What a cliche. How does the oft misattributed Mark Twain quote go?  “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Last stage of launching Carly: Don and I are currently in San Francisco helping Carly move into her new digs prior to the start of her first job as a genetic counselor working for Sutter Heath. Of course, as all parents know, we have been preparing Carly her whole life for this moment but this last leg has taken a lot of our attention. We couldn't be more proud of her right now. I confess to feeling a bit weepy, however. I am happy for Carly, but will miss her tremendously, too.

35 nights away from home: Launching Carly and other family concerns have taken a lot of our attention these past two months. First, we attended Carly's graduation ceremony from Sarah Lawrence University in mid-May. We spent a week with her in New York, mostly celebrating with her but also starting the moving process. After returning home, I spent a week in Eugene with my parents, then returned to New York at the end of the month for the actual move and the cross country car trip. After being home for less than a week, Carly and Don flew down to San Fran to find and secure her an apartment. They found one the first day so cut their trip short by three days. By the middle of that week we were on the road again, this time to attend a family wedding and reunion in Oregon. Less than a week later, Carly was heading out with a full car for her move to California. We chased her a day later in Don's pickup truck full of the other half of her stuff. We stopped for a night mid-journey at Jon and Laura's home in Grants Pass, Carly was just one day ahead of us. Thank you for hosting us, J and L! By the time we get home on July 5th, I will have spent 35 nights away from home over the course of the previous eight weeks. That's a lot of nights sleeping on bad pillows!

"I Do Care" as compared to Melania's "I don't care. Do you?"

Carly and Don at the rally.
FAMILIES BELONG TOGETHER: Our first official San Francisco thing we did together as a family was attend the Families Belong Together Rally at the steps of City Hall. We didn't get our act together in time to participate in the march that happened before the rally. In our opinion, the Trump administration's policy of separating families who are seeking asylum in the USA is not only illegal but tragic. We cannot stay silent.

Dinner at the Pacific Cafe: the second official meal we had in San Fran was at the famous Pacific Cafe where mainly delicious fish items are on the menu. We dined with friends Ken and Carol, who are visiting the area from New Jersey. We just happened to be in San Fran at the same time. Thanks for dinner, K and C! We enjoyed it but loved the conversation and time spent with you more.

Bride Rachel and Kathy
Rachel and Michael wed: My niece Rachel wed Micheal in a lovely and fun wedding on June 23rd. They made a whole weekend full of pre/during/post activities for family and friends so we had lots of time to celebrate with them. The ceremony was held at Mt. Pisgah County Park, which was a lovely, nature-filled setting. The capper to the long but fun reception was music by a Zimbabwean marimba band. It got everyone up and bopping! My sister Kathy, Rachel's mother, looked lovelier than I've ever seen her. What fun to celebrate good times with family.

The family reunion: was held in Florence, Oregon. Dad was able to make it, which makes my heart just sing, as well as his only surviving sister, Betty, and her daughter. Two of my three sibs and portions of their family totaling sixteen people were able to attend and the weather was lovely. Rita, Dan, and Ian joined my branch of the family. (Don and Carly had to go home after the wedding.) Ian was the little star, allowing almost everyone a chance to love-up on him at one time or another. At one point he sat in the middle of the room on the floor and looked up, way up, as my tall nephews walked up and talked to him as they we passing by on the way to supper. Kathy shared leftovers from the wedding, including a lot of the yummy wedding cake (carrot!)

Books I've completed since my last Sunday Salon post (June 10th):
  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandyha Menon... Carly and I listened to the first half of this book on our cross country trip and finished it on our trip to Oregon a few weeks later. This YA book about Indian-American teens who meet at a camp about computer programming the summer prior to their freshman year of college. Honestly this book had so much potential but it just didn't live up to the hype for me. I rolled my eyes so many times as we listened. I wanted more about the computer programming and the summer contest to develop a great computer app. What we got was mostly a rom-com (romantic comedy). YA. Audiobook.
  • Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch...set in two time periods, 2001 and 1962, the book tells the story of the Seattle World's Fair and one (fictional) man who made it happen. I enjoyed it, but it was oddly written in a style which kept the reader at a distance from the action and the characters. A book club selection. Print.
  • The Place Between Breaths by An Na...a high school senior lives alone with her widowed father who is obsessed with finding a cure for schizophrenia, the disease which took is wife away. The girl is worried that she, too, may be succumbing to the disease. I can't recommend this book in good conscience because it is SO confusing. I was never sure who was talking and what time period was being represented at that moment. It is a short book and I am sure it makes a good point about how confusing mental illness is, but I think there are less confusing books which make similar points. YA. Print.
  • The Leavers by Lisa Ko...a timely book about the frustrating and terrifying consequences on families of illegal immigration. I kept thinking, also, about the importance of parental blessings if children are to grow up with healthy self-concepts. I recommend this one. Another book club selection. Audiobook.'
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill---a lovely, delightful middle-grade fantasy. This would be a perfect book to read aloud with upper elementary-aged children. Read my review (hyperlined title). MG. Audiobook.
  • The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert---this is the YA book everyone is talking about but I am not sure how many people actually like. It is about fairy tales and I would categorize it as horror genre. I liked it and passed it on to Rita, who loves fairy tales. I wonder if she will be able to finish it before it is due back at the library. YA. Audio and print.
  • The Little Friend by Donna Tartt---I checked out seven audiobooks for our California trip. I knew we couldn't listen to all of them but wanted to give us some options. This is the one we picked first. It is a mystery, a coming-of-age tale, and a superbly written book. Tartt, the author of The Goldfinch, is a not-to-be-missed writer. Even though this book wasn't my favorite of hers, I did think it was quite suspenseful and well-done. Audiobook, read by the author (another treat!).
Currently reading:
  • Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance---about time, huh? Insightful and disturbing. It explains a lot but makes me frustrated at the same time. Audiobook. 75%
  • Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert---this is my Mock Printz read for June (oops, it is July and I'm not done.) So far I am confused about what is going on but I haven't gotten very far. Pint. 11%.
  • Three different poetry books. What can I say?
IKEA: Today we spent hours at IKEA helping Carly select and purchase some furniture for her room: a dresser, a small desk and file drawer, a desk chair, and a comfy chair. Every time we go to IKEA I come away feeling overwhelmed. Today was no exception. Carly and Don are about halfway through building the dresser, the first item they decided to build. They make a good team. I am staying out of the way. It will be a long night if they think they are going to build all the pieces today. It is 7:30 PM right now. HA!

Enjoy this remake of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie's We Are the World by Broadway performers. (Thanks, Kathy, for sharing this with me.)


Ashland and Grants Pass: tomorrow we point our car toward home. We will stopover in Ashland to see two Shakespeare plays, we will spend one more night Grants Pass to spend the 4th with Don's brother and wife, Jon and Laura, then home. I confess that I am ready to spend time at home just puttering around and sleeping in my own bed. I've had enough traveling for a while!