"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=========

Friday, August 31, 2018

Austen in August---It's a Wrap!

End of the month. End of Austen in August for another year. It was a good month providing me with another opportunity to discover me about a favorite author. Though I didn't read as much as I wanted, when do I? I really enjoyed (am enjoying) what I did get read.

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Qin Leng
A darling picture book of Jane Austen focusing a lot on what life was like for Jane as a girl growing up in the late 1700s/early 1800s. The illustrations are simply charming. This would be a nice book to provide an introduction to authors for children by a librarian or parent because I doubt that young children will have heard of any of Austen's novels.


Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey: a graphic novel by Jane Austen and Nancy Butler, illustrated by Janet Lee.
I've read four of Austen's novel in graphic form, part of the Marvel Adaptations series, and enjoyed them all. I, however, prefer the stories in their original form. The fun aspect of this graphic novel is how the artist was able to capture the Gothic feel that Austen was going for while penning Northanger Abbey. Several darkly drawn panels let the reader know that Catherine thought foul-play was aloft. One beef I have with the artwork is how similar several of the characters look. Catherine, Isabella, and Eleanor all look interchangeable. Now I, being familiar with the story, took my time to figure out who was who, but I not sure that the casual reader would take the time. Reading this graphic novel did make me want to go back and re-read the original and to re-watch the DVD which I own. I've read all of Austen's novels at least once, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion at least three times each, but it has been a long time since I read this one.

The Friendly Jane Austen: A Well-Mannered Introduction to a Lady of Sense and Sensibility by Natalie Tyler
Oh boy, I am having fun with this book. Ms. Tyler has done her homework and gives Jane Austen fans what they want...more information about Austen. To begin with she asks the question, How Do We Love Jane Austen? Let Us Count the Ways. The reader then takes a quiz to determine what type of fan school he/she belongs in: Janite; Gentle Jane; Ironic Jane; or Subversive Jane. Not surprisingly, I am a Janite through and through.

Next up, Part 1 covers Jane's early life and her juvenilia. What was it like living in those days? What about her siblings and parents? Where did she live and why did they move? How did her writing grow and change? All these questions and more were answered in this section. Text would often be broken up with text boxes with information which seemed like little asides. For example, one text box contained the names of famous people who lived during the same time as Austen---Beethoven, William Wordsworth, and Sir Walter Scott being three on the list. Illustrations related to Austen done by relatives are infrequent but add a nice touch. For example, Jane's niece, Anna Lefroy, made a nice drawing of the Steventon Rectory where Jane was born and lived until she was 24. My favorite bits in this section were samples of and explanations of Jane's early writings. Short quotes from her various stories were shared. And a timeline explanation of each of her pieces of "juvenilia" is very helpful to my understanding.

Part II, where I am currently in my reading of the book, explains each of her major works in detail. In addition to her own research, Tyler interviews college professors with knowledge related to Austen. Each interview is recorded in a short dialogue with the professor answering only one or two questions like, Why aren't Austen's novel considered part of Romanticism movement? or Why study Austen? There is a quiz in each of the seven sections in this part. I just took the quiz: Letter Writing in the Novels. The directions were to match the characters that wrote the following letter with its intended character recipient. I did pretty good but didn't know the quote from Sanditon nor did I guess this one. Can you? (Name the book, the character writing,  and the character recipient. No cheating.)
"A poor honorable is no catch, and I cannot imagine any liking in the case, for, take away his rants, and the poor Baron has nothing. What a difference a vowel makes!---if his rents were but equal to his rants." (I will put the answer in the comments section...how'd you do?)
Part III, which I haven't read yet, is about Jane Austen's legacy---the film adaptations, the continuations, sequels, and spin-offs, JASNA, JA retreats, etc. Can't wait to get to this section.

The book is nicely referenced, with an index, bibliography, and illustration credits section at the end. As I type this post, I realize that I want my own copy of this book for further study and delight. It contains too much information to take in at once and I know I want to go back and look up something is it long after I have to return this copy to the library.

I had a lovey August with Austen



Thursday, August 30, 2018

Friday Quotes: Life Inside My Mind

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

This is the book I'm reading right now---


Title: Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles edited by Jessica Burkhart

Book Beginning: from "Stupid Monsters and Child Surgeons" by Maureen Johnson---
"I have had anxiety. I suffered a serious bout of it a few years ago. It hit me like a bolt out of the blue and stuck with me a while."
Friday 56: from "I Am Not This" by Rachel M. Wilson
"A family portrait: I'm visiting the fam over the summer and it's eleven p.m. on the night before a weeklong beach vacation. Dad's instructed everyone to be ready to go bright and early."
Comment: The book is made up of 31 essays by YA authors who share their own, or a story about a loved-one, stories about mental illness. The first essay (Book Beginning) is by Maureen Johnson and she talks about her bouts with anxiety. The Friday 56 essay is by Rachel Wilson. Her story involves her whole family, they are impacted by OCD. Other topics: bi-polar syndrome, suicidal ideation, mental illness stigmas, bulimia, depression, PTSD, and addiction. Click the link here if you want to read my review of this book. Thanks.



Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Readers of The Leavers by Lisa Ko will be left with more questions than answers and will be forced to look outward to our world where similar events are happening every day.

Peilin (Polly ) Gua grew up in a small, traditional village in China. She was a headstrong girl who didn't want the traditional life of being a doting, submissive wife. When she gets pregnant, Peilin doesn't want to marry the father of the child because she knows that is where she will end up. Instead she makes her way to the United States illegally. She and her son Deming end up living in a small apartment in the Bronx with Leon, another illegal Chinese immigrant, his sister Vivian, and her son Michael. The boys are like brothers and enjoy each other's company very much. The adults all work very hard, with long hours, just to be able to eat and to pay the rent. One day Polly doesn't return from her job at a nail salon and never calls. No one knows where she has gone. Did she abandon her son? Or did something happen to her? As illegal immigrants, Leon and Vivian have few resources to help them locate Polly without putting themselves in jeopardy of alerting authorities.

With Polly gone, the heart of the little "family" falters and Leon returns to China. Vivian is left with the two boys she can't afford to care for. Deming is therefore given over to social services to arrange for an adoption to a white family---two professors who live in upstate New York. They change his name to Daniel Wilkensen and expect him to integrate into their society. He is the only Asian at his school and for this he is constantly teased and bullied. "In the city he had been just another kid. He had not known how exhausting it was to be conspicuous." Deming's cultural displacement becomes the central theme of the novel. He can't ever seem to figure out who he is. He tells himself that he is now Daniel but internally he clings to Deming.

The novel is divided into four parts. The first part focuses on Deming and his point of view. The second part takes the point-of-view of Polly and it is here that we learn about how she got to America and find out what happened to her that fateful day she doesn't return from work to her son and their living arrangement.

Parts three and four focus on Deming's attempts at finding his mother and reuniting with his pseudo-brother, Michael. Until he is able to integrate all parts of his life, he can't settle and move forward.

There is a lot to dissect in Ko's novel. Though the book is not actually critical of the Wilkensen's who adopted Deming, they certainly didn't help him by pointing out in a condescending way how they had saved him and what opportunities he had now that he didn't have before. Cultural insensitivity doesn't have to be overt. Polly was never satisfied with her lot in life but found that poverty and ignorance were extreme barriers to overcome. Marginalized people like Vivian and Leon, who want to do the right thing, often are left with no options and are forced to make bad decisions.

The Leavers won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Book Award for socially engaged literature. One of the judges for the award had this to say about their choice,
"The Leavers asks whether a child is better served being raised by adoptive parents with English fluency and economic privilege, or with his family and culture of origin, despite having fewer educational and financial resources. A novel that draws links between economic migration and the adoption industry, The Leavers is, as Laila Lalami says, 'A rich and sensitive portrait of lives lived across borders, cultures, and languages. . . one of the most engaging, deeply probing, and beautiful books I have read this year'"(PEN).
Gish Jen, writing a review of the novel for the New York Times, is not so complimentary. She feels that the story didn't mine the depths of motivations and nuance. Often she felt that information was dumped on the reader in long swatches of dialogue. Remember the old adage for good writing?--- Show me, don't tell me. Jen felt like she was told not shown. But she does acknowledge that the novel is a good launching point for discussions on immigration, culture, and family. Jen sums up her review,  "Lisa Ko has taken the headlines and reminded us that beyond them lie messy, brave, extraordinary, ordinary lives" (NYT).

The Leavers was a book club selection. Oddly most of the gals in the group were rather neutral on the book, neither hating or loving it. Our discussion centered around two themes- leaving and parental blessings. The first theme, leaving, was obvious since the title gave us the clue, but we were able to explore the many ways that people left and the impact it had on everyone. The second, parental blessings, is a theme I've long noticed in literature and in life. If a child does not receive or perceive that they have been blessed by their parent they cannot move forward healthfully and will always try to find something to fill in the gap left by that lack of blessing. Deming was prime example number one. His mother abandoned him. He went through the rest of his teen years adrift without the mooring that her blessing would have provided in his life. It gave us a lot to chew on, which makes for a good book club discussion.



Past Due Book Reviews

13 / 16 books. 81% done!



Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review: Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles

Francisco X. Stork, Sara Zarr, Maureen Johnson, Cynthia Hand, and 27 other contributors to this collection are all YA authors. In their essays they all talk about their personal struggles with mental illness or the struggles of a loved one. Though writers all, many award-winners, some confessed writing this essay was very hard, the hardest thing they'd ever written. One, Sara Zarr, even confessed in her essay to something she has never told her therapist, that she hits herself when she gets anxious. Depression, anxiety, OCD were the most common topics discussed, though some spoke of PTSD, bi-polar disorder, addiction, self-harm, and suicide-ideation. Most told their story from the beginning point of recognition, through the symptoms and chaos of their undiagnosed/untreated illness, to the point of treatment and self-care. While others' essays were more about what it is like to live inside their skin. All were hopeful and helpful and would be a good launching pad for discussion.

A few of the essays really touched me on a personal level. Cynthia Hand, who co-wrote the hilarious book, My Lady Jane, wrote about the near-suicide of a friend and the suicide of her brother. She had important thoughts on what to do if a friend starts expressing suicide ideation and also how she survived the suicide of her brother, though for about "two years after his death, I was really, really not okay." Having lived through the suicide of several students over my teaching career, I think Hand's advice is very valuable and should be widely distributed.

Franciso X. Stork is the author of two of my favorite YA titles, Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. In his essay he talked about his undiagnosed bi-polar disorder and how drinking was his way of treating it, until, of course, the drinking became a big problem. I suspect that is very, very common. People with undiagnosed mental health issues attempt to treat it themselves and their attempts at treatment soon become another problem.

Ellen Hopkins' essay about the fallout of her daughter's addiction to meth, memorialized in her Glass series, was very touching. She is parenting one of her grandchildren now that her daughter can't/won't care for him. This child's troubles are heartbreaking, but Hopkins patience and love it heart-warming.

Usually when I read a book, I know I am reading for myself. I likely won't share anything about the book with anyone, with the possible exception of a blog review. When I started reading Inside My Life, I kept thinking of people who might benefit from reading it, too---relatives, co-workers, friends, students, even my hairdresser. This is an important book with 31 important messages of hope. As Christie Pasquariello, writing for School Library Journal, said, "Perhaps most importantly, the collection's overarching sentiment points toward acceptance and the idea that treatment is a journey. As contributor Tara Kelly writes: 'If anxiety gets the better of me again, that's okay. I give myself permission to fall down and get back up.'" I would say another point of the book is to destigmatize mental illness. How can someone get help if they are ashamed to admit what is going on inside their head?

Inside My Life has earned three professional starred reviews, which you know means a lot to authors. I gave the book 4/5 stars on my rating system. Why not five? I honestly felt that 31 essays was over the top. In fact, around page 200 I decided to skip ahead and only read the essays by authors I was familiar with. Maybe that is the point. One doesn't have to read the whole book to gain value from it. Some essays will speak to a reader whereas others might not. Jessica Burkhart, the author who edited the book, did a nice job curating the project, but I did notice that most of the submissions were by white, female authors, with only a few submissions by authors of color and by men. I'm pretty sure white women don't become mentally ill at a higher rate than other people. That said, the book is still excellent. It should be purchased immediately for every library, public and school, that services teenagers.


Monday, August 27, 2018

TTT: Books with School in the Title

Top Ten Tuesday: 
Books I Recommend with "School" in the Title

Back-to-school is right around the corner. Time to focus on school for another year.

I've read all of these books and recommend them.

Jim Thorpe was probably the best all-around American athlete of the 20th century. Yet so many things happened in his life to taint his reputation. This book sets the record straight. The Carlisle Indian School was one of those awful places where white people tried to wash the Indian out of Indians. YA nonfiction. 2017.

The author worried that today's students are not being introduced to the world's great literature anymore. So he visited three high schools over the course of one school year to see what was happening. He found both encouraging and discouraging truths. Adult nonfiction. 2015.

The finishing school isn't what Sophronia's mother wanted for her daughter. This finishing school teaches the girls how to finish---death, diversion, and espionage. Fun and quirky. YA fiction. 2013.

4. Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison
A picture book that highlights steps taken to integrate American schools. Full of archival photographs. Children's nonfiction. 2004.

5. God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant
God is curious about his creation so he goes out and experiences human things. These poems by Rylant make me smile. The book has been republished with a different title: God Got a Dog. Children's Poetry with crossover appeal for adults. 2003.

This book has been out for a while, but if you haven't read it, do! Adult/teen nonfiction. 2008
.
7. Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortensen, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way by John Krakauer
Debunks the books Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools by Mortensen. It is very alarming how the lauded humanitarian lied to us all. Adult nonfiction. 2011.

8. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
OK. Not current at all but my kids, who are now adults, used to love this series. Middle grades fiction. 1978.

9. The Best School Year Ever by Barbara Robinson
Sequel of a family favorite, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever about the Herdman family. Middle grade fiction. 1994.

It feels like I am missing something big. Oh well. Apparently I don't read many books with SCHOOL in the title.




Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sunday Salon...Puppy edition

Mr. Bingley
Weather: overcast and cool, blessedly so. The wind shifted on Thursday and we are now getting the marine air from over the Pacific instead of from the east, south, or north---directions which brought us terrible smoke from forest fires. It was absolutely miserable here earlier in the week because of the poor air quality.

Puppy update: Last week we became dog owners again to Mr. Bingley, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He is now 10 weeks old and a handful. I spent all week playing with, cleaning up after, feeding, and cuddling with our new "baby." I even took him with me to book club since he wasn't comfortable being left alone yet. Fortunately he slept through the discussion. Puppy care update:

Our living room, furniture prearranged to not allow entry by the puppy (and us)

  • To my knowledge Bingley's only had one urine accident all week, not bad for a new puppy, but he has decided that our living room is where he wantrns/needs to poop. One day alone he had five poo "accidents." Hence we have rearranged our fuiture so he can no longer get into the living room. neither can we, but that is beside the point. See photo.
  • Two cats. Two different reactions to the puppy. Ichi, our old tiger striped cat, has almost abandoned us and the house. We've only seen him a few times since the dog arrived. Demi, our white longhair, has welcomed the dog with limits. She calls the shots.  Rubbing up against the dog one minute, swatting him the next. Bingley jealously watches her as she avoids the floor by hopping from one piece of the furniture to another to avoid him. Pictured: both Demi and Bingley share the couch with me, though the dog is at a safe distance.
Bingley and Demi sleeping next to me but a bit removed from each other.

  • Play, play, play, eat fast, sleep. The life of a puppy. Bingley had a big day helping us figure out  the escape hatches in our new fence, by escaping through them. We spent the weekend filling in those holes with rock, gravel, or dirt. It was so fun but exhausting work for a puppy. It was just exhausting for us.
Books read this week:
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan---a re-read of a favorite book. Audio.
  • Speak: the Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll---Speak is a modern classic, now available as a graphic novel. Print.
  • Life Inside My Mind edited by Deborah Burkhart---31 YA authors share their personal struggles with mental illness. Print.
Currently reading:
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco---this is my Classics Club SPIN book and I confess I am struggling with it, not sure if I will finish it. 55%, print and audio.
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemorfsky---I have wanted to read this book for years. Finally I am getting to it. Audio, 7%.
  • Boots on the Ground by Elizabeth Partridge---America's War in Vietnam. A look at the war through the eyes of soldiers who served there. Print. 10%
Back-to-school: Now that I'm retired I won't be going back to school, so to speak, but I will be going back to babysitting. Tomorrow is my first day back babysitting grandson, Ian, as part of the new school year. Wanna bet I'll be tired at the end of the day? I haven't built up my keep-up-with-a-toddler muscle yet.

Call for Cybils Judging: If you are a book blogger you can apply to be a judge for the Cybils Awards. I participated last year and really enjoyed myself, plus read some fantastic books. If you want to learn more, check out this link. Don't delay. The deadline for signing up is just around the corner.




Saturday, August 25, 2018

Nonfiction roundup---Three short reviews

When it comes to road trips and audiobooks my husband always votes for narrative nonfiction. Well, 2018 has been the year of the road trip for our family, hence we have listened to some really great narrative nonfiction books through the speakers in our car.

Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
       Published in 2016, Hillbilly Elegy made quite a splash prior to the Presidential election because Vance describes the types of people who were ripe to hear Donald Trump's message and resented being called "deplorables" by Hillary Clinton.  "Hillbillies", "rednecks", "white trash" aren't just names to the author Vance, they are neighbors, friends, and relatives. Vance grew up in a steel town in Ohio but his relatives, like many other people in town came from Kentucky or hillbilly country.
       The book could be divided into two, maybe three parts. One part is his family story. How his grandparents (Mamaw and Papaw) moved to Ohio soon after WWII but they brought their Appalachian values with them. Some good values, like loyalty to family and love of country, and some bad (I'd say very bad) like drinking and fighting and terrible verbal abuse. Vance's mother grew up in this chaos and then she went on to have a chaotic life as an adult---addicted to drugs, married or in relationships with dangerous men, neglectful to her children. If not for his grandparents, who cleaned up their act, Vance wouldn't have made it through college, and law school. (That could be the second part of the book, how Vance made it out of the community.)
       The third (or second) part of the book focuses on the troubles within hillbilly communities. And no one but an insider can say the things Vance says and get away with it. He comes down hard on the community and provides a peek at what he means through the examples he shares. He believes that the hillbilly culture "increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it." A few examples really stood out. One was the story he tells about working at a tile company. The work was hard but the pay was good, as were the benefits. The owner, however, couldn't keep people in the job. One boy who he hired because his girlfriend was pregnant would miss at least once a week and when he did come to work would often spend hours in the bathroom. When he was fired, after many chances to improve, the boy moaned about the pregnant girlfriend and what was he going to do now? Another example that floored me, was the statistic about people reporting they go to church when they really don't. The perception of course is these are deeply religious people, which is far from the truth. In fact, it is the opposite. And, as studies have shown, people who attend church regularly are much more likely to be well-rounded, happy people who take care of their family and look out for the education of their young. Everything he describes about the community revolves around despair. How do you help people when they distrust outsiders but don't seem to be able to help themselves? Vance doesn't have any answers but at least he has opened the door for a new dialogue.
       Hillbilly Elegy is an excellent discussion book. Don and I "chewed" on this one together and talked and talked about what we think would be helpful and not helpful. We don't have any answers either. But we are both glad we listened to this one together. By the way, J.D. Vance narrated the audiobook himself. He did a nice job. The word "elegy" is usually defined as a poem of serious reflection, usually a lamentation for the dead. Isn't that sad but fittingly appropriate that he used the word in his book's title?

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach:
       Last year my husband and I attended a book event where Mary Roach was the featured speaker. Her book, Grunt: the Curious Science of Humans at War, was the all-county book of the year and the event was the culmination. Roach was so engaging and funny. She talked a lot about how she involved herself in the research she was reporting on, for example she participated in the studies the Army was doing on uniforms and heat. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening spent with her.
       Each of Roach's books take a subject and report on all aspects of it. In Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal she begins at one end and winds her way to the other end of the digestive system. There are LOTS of gross stories in between, but most of them were weirdly interesting and some were even funny. Most were memorable, too. I suppose the most memorable to me involved Elvis Presley and his famous issues with constipation. Roach interviewed his doctor and learned some new, and truly horrifying details related to paralytic ileus, or a partially paralyzed colon. At his death coroners found food in his colon which had been there for months. Gag.
       Admittedly, one has to have a strong stomach to hear news like this book delivers. But if you are curious, want to learn something, and laugh along the way I can recommend this or any of Roach's books to you. It was narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, She did a remarkable job.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
       On our last road trip our daughter and grandson joined us for 1000+ miles of driving. Obviously we had to select an audiobook that would hold all of our attention but also one that we didn't have to hang on every detail. With a one-year-old in the car, that wouldn't happen. We selected The Lost City of Z. I had read the book, which was published in 2009, several years ago for one of my two book clubs. Now my second book club has selected it so I wanted to re-read it to refresh my memory.
       Back in 1925 a British explorer, Percy Fawcett, his son, and another man went missing in the Amazon. They were on a quest to find the Lost City of Z, or El Dorado. Their disappearance made headlines around the world. For years people worldwide followed Fawcett's career and we certain that he would be the one to finally find "Z". After his disappearnace many other people attempted to find the Fawcett and his party, going on the clues the clues he left behind. Many went missing themselves. By some counts over 100 people died looking for Fawcett over the years.
       When David Grann stumbled upon some old diaries belonging to Fawcett, he too set out to get answers to the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century. But the technological advances in the 21st century were in Grann's favor, like cars, airplanes, radios, and phones. But even with all the advances Grann "found himself, like the generations who preceded him, being irresistibly drawn into the jungle's green hell. His quest for the truth & discoveries about Fawcett's fate and Z form the heart of this complexly enthralling narrative."
       It is hard to imagine, but there are still tribes living in the Amazon that have never interacted with society. The New York Times reported one such tribe was just found this week! Part of the Amazon basin are almost as foreign to us as other planets! I'm pretty sure this is an unintended effect of reading the book but I have determined to NEVER visit the area...way too many treacherous insects, reptiles, and unknown diseases! Ha.
       The audiobook was narrated by David Deakins. We had no trouble hearing him or understanding his narration. That is a big deal when there is a lot of road noise to overcome. David Grann is now one of my favorite narrative nonfiction writers. I am excited to learn he has a new book coming out this October called White Darkness. it is somehow related to Earnest Shackleton. Oh boy!



Past Due Book Reviews

12 / 16 books. 75% done!


Friday, August 24, 2018

Review: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza

Elena Mendoza is unusually unique. She was born to a virgin mother by an unusual process called parthenogenesis. This makes her essentially a clone of her half Cuban/half American mother. Kids at school tease her about it calling her Mary, as if she is the virgin herself. She also hears voices, or more correctly she hears toys and signs talk to her, like a My Little Pony, the Lego Gandalf, and a Barbie doll. In fact, the Siren on the Starbucks poster told her to heal her classmate who was just shot in front of one of the coffee shops. When she did heal the girl, she discovered another unique thing about herself---she could heal people. All the inanimate objects who talk to Elena tell her that it is her responsibility to save the world by healing people. One thing the little creatures don't tell Elena though, is that every time she heals someone several other people will disappear from earth, including the boy who shot her classmate. As time goes by more and more people are "raptured" with every healing. This is obviously a problem and a cause for alarm. Elena doesn't know what to do. Her best friend, Fadil, witnessed the first healing and he believes that Elena's ability to heal is from God. He is a devout Muslim. Elena is not so sure. But something is certainly different.

As Elena ponders what she should do, people come to her for healings, some with good motives and others with bad motives. She is now ridiculed at school for this, too. The gal she originally healed and Elena find themselves bound together through the experience and even begin a friendship and possible relationship. Still the objects scream at Elean to get going, to save the world before it is too late. Argh! What to do?

I liked The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoz. All of the characters were flawed and quirky but relatable at the same time. Hutchinson is able to draw characters who come from different lifestyles, religions, sexual orientations without over emphasizing any point. Elena is bi-sexual. So what? Fadil is Muslim. Good for him. I like that. I kind of hate it when I read a YA book and the author is trying so hard to be inclusive that it feels that way. Hutchinson's characters are who they are just like in real life. Some readers might be critical of the fact that we know nothing about the others who keep telling Elena to heal. I personally liked this aspect of the book. We know she was born from a virgin birth.The religious symbolism abounds. Elena is forced to accept things on faith alone.

I read Shaun David Hutchinson's first book, We Are the Ants, a few years ago and really enjoyed it. In that book the main character believes he is abducted by aliens and told that he has the power to save the world by pushing this red button. He can't decide if the world is worth saving. Now in The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoz we revisit a similar theme---one person being offered the ability to save the world by some other-worldly beings. I beginning to see a pattern here. For this reason I don't think that the Printz committee will seriously consider the book for an award this year, it being similar to an earlier book by the author.

I think that readers will find a lot to like and relate to in The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoz, especially the conflict that Elena finds herself in. Should she heal people when it causes others to disappear? I kept asking myself that question. What would I do? Read it and let me know what you think.

I read a print version of the book which I borrowed from the public library. It has 438 pages, so it qualifies as a book for the BIG BOOK Summer Challenge hosted by Sue @ Book by Book.






Review and Friday Quotes: Speak---A Graphic Novel


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

This is the book I'm reading right now---


Title: Speak: a graphic novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily Carroll

Book Beginnings:

Friday 56:

Review and comments: I read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson over ten years ago. It was one of the first Printz award recipients and when I became a high school librarian I wanted to back fill my knowledge of YA Lit so I read as many of the award books as I could get my hands on at the time. Speak was in a league of its own with such a relevant and heartbreaking story of a young teenage girl, Melinda, having something traumatic happen to her at a party before freshman year. Her reaction to the trauma was to call the police which got a bunch of people in trouble. This caused people to treat her like a peria at school. She was so traumatized she couldn't speak. She spends her whole freshman year in silent torture. Her grades suffer as she sinks into serious depression. Not until the end of the book do we learn what kind of trauma she experienced at the party. By then we learn the value of speaking up in defense of oneself.

Speak: the graphic novel is a wonderful retelling of the original story. In fact, maybe because it has been so many years since I read the original that I think this, a graphic novel is a perfect medium to tell the story. Emily Carroll's illustrations fill in for words and the reader can really experience the loneliness and depression that Melinda is experiencing.

The graphic novel is a bit different than the novel, at least in my memory. The parents seem meaner and more distracted in this version. The art teacher is weirder. The exclusion by past friends more profound. But the impact of the drawings may have brought those aspects of the story forward.

The snapshots are from pages two and 56. In the first snapshot Melinda is on the school bus on her first day of high school. Already the bad treatment from classmates has begun and her self confidence is down: "I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache." The snapshot of page 56 shows her at dinner with her parents. "Dinner Theater: My parents make threatening noises, turning dinner into badly acted performance art."

Can you relate? Have you ever experienced a time when people misunderstood you and no matter what you did or said nothing helped? I can. This book is for everyone who needs to learn it is okay to speak up!

It took me less than a day to read this 350 page graphic novel. I just tore through it. I highly recommend you read it and then go back and read/re-read the original.




Thursday, August 23, 2018

Audiobook review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan


Five years ago I read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore at the urging of several friends. A few weeks ago I ran across the audiobook at the library and checked it out thinking I would share it with my daughter who doesn't get to read much these days due to having a toddler in the house. I figured she may be able to squeeze in an audiobook during all her car trips into town and back. I was right. She finished it and loved it. Her comments made me realize how much I had forgotten. Time for a re-read (re-listen, as it were.)

Here is part of what I said in my first review of the book:

Readers of Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan will be treated to a celebration of books AND technology. They will discover a secret society that is not out to dominate the world, or even kill anyone. In fact, this society is very interested in technology, old technology...the printing press.
Clay Jannon is an unemployed web designer. He ends up working for the odd Mr. Penumbra in his 24-hour bookstore as the only graveyard shift employee. Though few patrons walk through the doors at those late hours, half of those that do are even odder than Mr. Penumbra. All are very focused on the books they want, too, and these books are always from the way-back section of the store. Clay is warned his first day of employment to never look inside these books. Who could resist that kind of temptation? What does Clay discover when he gives in to his curiosity? Books written in code. He and his techie friends set out to help Clay figure out what is going on, maybe even unravel the mystery.
As the "plot thickens" the reader is continually confronted with the question, can technology solve all of the problems that confront us? And, do we really want it to?
Super tech of today meets super tech of 500 years ago. What a premise. And it works!

As I was close to finishing up the book, I turned on the news and heard the commentator use the word "penumbra" in a sentence. Did I hear her right? Is that a word? I had to look it up.
penumbra (noun) is "a space of partial illumination between the perfect shadow … on all sides and the full light" (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary) Legally penumbra is the implied rights provided in the U.S. constitution, or in a rule. Literally, the term penumbra was created to describe the shadows that occur during eclipses, here it is described the implied powers of the Federal Government (US Legal.)
Now I think the the commentator was using it as the second definition, but I am guessing that Mr. Penumbra, the title character in the book, is a man who lives in the shadows between light and full dark. I love it when I find the the little hidden gems that make the stories richer. He tries to employ new technologies in his efforts to find answers and he is met with resistance from the old guard.

Though not a current book which is getting a lot of love right now, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is totally worth it. You can probably find a copy of it on the shelves of your public library in print or in audiobook. Go find it. I guarantee you will enjoy it.

Ari Fliakos was the voice-actor who does a fun and quirky voice very well. Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore audiobook was produced by Macmillan Audio in Feb. 2013.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

50 Classic Club Questions Answered

Classic Club is a website dedicated to reading and blogging about classic literature. I've been a member for several years. Today I am answering their 50 questions. These questions are being asked by the new crew of leaders for the club.

50 Club Questions: 

  1. Share a link to your club list.  My Classics List
  2. When did you join The Classics Club? How many titles have you read for the club? I'm not sure exactly when I joined but I think it was in 2012. Since that time I have read 29 classic titles, which means I am way off the goal of reading 50 in 5 years.
  3. What are you currently reading? The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and Suite Francaise by Irene Nimerovsky
  4. What did you just finish reading and what did you think of it? The last classic I read was Kindred by Octavia Butler. I confess I read a lot of other books besides just classics. (Click on the hyperlink for the review.) The last book non-classic book I finished was a re-read, The Lost City of Z by David Grann, a nonfiction book about the explorer Percy Fawcett and his doomed quest to find the City of Z (El Dorado.) I liked it just as much the second time around.
  5. What are you reading next? Why? Well, I hope to finish The Name of the Rose next since it is my SPIN book for this quarter. A non-classic book I hope to read next is SPEAK, a graphic novel by Anderson and Carroll. It is an important YA story. I read the original years ago and can't wait to see if/how the graphic novel improves upon it.

Sunday Salon...Weekly Update on Wednesday

The Painted Hills, part of the John Day Fossil Beds in Eastern Oregon
Weather: It has been hot and smokey. We were in Eastern Oregon this past weekend and during our drive over we couldn't see any of the mountains in the Cascade Range. Sunday driving up the Willamette Valley into Washington and then home it got smokier and smokier. Ugh. Forest fires everywhere. The meteorologist on TV tells us to beware and NOT go outside it we can help it.

Mr. Bingley, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Meet Mr. Bingley: Our new puppy is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel so we named him a British-sounding name after a beloved character in the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice. He is all play and all sleep. 1/2 hour on, two hours off. Right now my cat, Demi, is attempting to sit on his face as he sleeps. Grandson Ian is just the right size and the puppy thinks Ian is a great big toy. Ian has spent the morning putting his arms up, essentially asking me to pick him up to save him from the dog.

Don and Jon look over the meadow where they scattered their father's ashes
Final resting place: Don's dad, Chet, died almost two years ago while on a vacation in Arizona. He was cremated but there was a slight delay getting the ashes back. Chet had asked Don to scatter his ashes somewhere in Bear Valley where he loved to Elk Hunt, among the trees he loved so much as a forester. Don and I, Rita (our eldest daughter) and son, and Jon and Laura (Don's brother and wife), finally got together this past week to lay Chet to rest. Don found a beautiful meadow at the edge of the forest near the spot where the hunting was always good. We sang songs, told jokes and remembrances, toasted with wine and licorice (Chet loved black licorice.) We said our final goodbyes. Ian, sweet Ian, who never met his great-grandfather, was the comic relief of the day. He laughed long and hard about a joke that Laura told, as if he could understand it. It was a lovely but emotional day.

The rest of the weekend: was spent attending the Grant County Fair and the Lonestar concert in the grandstands there on the grounds; watching the fair parade down the middle of town in John Day. We also made a quick detour to check out the amazing Painted Hills, part of the John Day Fossil Beds, a new National Monument, before we drove to Eugene to pick up Bingley and to visit with my sister/brother-in-law and my parents.

New fence: Our back yard is ours again after a two-week project to demolish our old fence and build a new one...just in time for Bingley's arrival.

Currently reading:
  • The Name of the Rose by Eco. This is my Classics Club SPIN book and it's a toughy. Not sure I would recommend it to anyone. But I'm not quite half way finished. (53%, audio and print)
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Sloan. A re-read. I encouraged Rita to read it and then decided I needed to have a second go round on it, too. (57%, audio)
  • Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Struggles edited by Burkhart. Authors writing about their own experiences with mental illness. This should be required reading. (55%, print)
Books read (last two weeks):
  • The Book of Pearl by Timothee de Fombelle. YA, translated from French. A true fairy story set in both a magical kingdom and out world. I liked this one. (Print)
  • Cries of the Spirit: More than 300 Poems in Celebration of Women's Spirituality edited by Marilyn Sewell. A poetry anthology with a decidedly woman's point of view. Read my review by clicking the hyperlink. (Print.)
  • The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson. YA. Elena is tasked with saving the world by healing as many people as she can. My review coming soon. (Print)
  • Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson. Children's picture book. A sweet introduction to a favorite author. (Print.)
  • Northanger Abbey: a graphic novel by Nancy Butler and Jane Austen. A fun retelling of Austen's least well-known book. (Print)
  • The Lost City of Z by David Grann. A re-read and next month's book club selection. This is a nonfiction account of the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century, the disappearance of the Percy Fawcett on his quest to find the lost city of Z. (Audio)
Thought for the week: We can make a difference in the lives of others for good or bad. Choose the good.