"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=========

Tuesday, November 30, 2021


Nonfiction November comes to end today and so I am in a swirl of activity trying to finish up reading several books and, if I can manage it, writing reviews for them. The Book of Difficult Fruit was an odd choice for me to make this month. Actually it was an odd choice for me to make any time. I am a fruit lover (who isn't?) but I pretty much stick to what I know and don't branch out much when it comes to fruit selection. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I'm used to seeing berry bushes everywhere. But because of this abundance I've been warned my whole life not to stick anything in my mouth unless I was absolutely positive it wasn't poisonous. Who knows about those little read berries on the bush in my own backyard. Leave them alone is my motto. It is also not uncommon to see old apple trees with rotten fruit on the ground beneath them. So why should I be drawn to a book about not just any fruit, but difficult fruit? I honestly can't remember why this one ended up on my TBR list. But here I am reviewing it for you after admittedly a not-very-close reading of it.

Kate Lebo is the author of a cookbook, The Pie Book, and several of the fruits in the book are made into pies at the end of her chapters, which makes sense. There are 26 fruits highlighted which conveniently coincide with the letters of the alphabet, starting with Aronia and ending with Zucchini. For each fruit (and some non-fruits) Lebo tells the reader where one can find it, how it is to be gathered, and how it can be used. This includes medicinal purposes, if any exist. If she was able to find historical references to the fruit she included that information, too. Lastly, each chapter ends with two recipes using the fruit. Not all recipes are for food. For example, aronia can be made into a dye for paper or cloth and Yuzu can be used in body oils and balms.

Though I found the information of the different fruits interesting I didn't find it THAT interesting so I would speed read through sections, especially those where obtaining the fruit seemed unlikely or impossible for me.

I hadn't heard of several of the fruits included in the book: aronia, durian, faceclock, medlar, yuzu. As it turns out I had heard of faceclock, I just call it dandelion greens. Those and several of the foods listed are NOT fruits: rhubarb, sugarcane, vanilla, xylitol, and zucchini, but who is being picky. I actually found most of the chapters enlightening and sometimes quite funny.

While Kate Lebo was telling us about her attempts at cooking we also learned a few things about her life and her relationships. With a few more details we could even call this book a memoir.

If you are a foodie or just enjoy reading through cookbooks or learning about new foods, this is the book for you. If you like to experiment with new foods, even if all you do is munch them as you hike, you might find some good ideas in Difficult Fruit. For the rest of you, I'd say try something else, or plan on skimming your way through this one, like I did.


Nonfiction review: I AM, I AM, I AM: SEVENTEEN BRUSHES WITH DEATH: A Memoir

After reading Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell earlier this year I knew I had to read more books by the same author.  I loved the writing in that book so much, I was ready to stay in the Shakespeare's world that O'Farrell created forever. After a brief amount of exploration I settled upon reading O'Farrell's memoir because the title was so unique: I AM, I AM, I AM: SEVENTEEN BRUSHES WITH DEATH: A Memoir. I knew the "I am, I am, I am" came from Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar but what really intrigued me was the "Seventeen Brushes with Death" part. 

The memoir, not told in chronological order, starts off with a bang, too. O'Farrell at eighteen escapes being murdered after a chance meeting with another hiker. She is haunted to this day by the "what if" of that situation, as I imagine I would be also. And so begins her march through various diseases and accidental close calls. As she recounts her near misses we learn about a restless girl who craves movement above all else. Her stories all circle around the biggest and worst close call -- a case of encephalitis at age eight which caused her to lose all muscle use, having to relearn everything (walking, writing, feeding self) after she recovered from the disease. Her survival was not assured, in fact, medical professionals felt she would likely die from the disease. Looking back she felt lucky that she did, instead of unlucky that she was so sick for so long. In the end she shares the story of her daughter who is so severely allergic to nuts, seeds, and eggs that the merest hint of any of them can cause anaphylaxis and potential death.  Like all loving parents, she wishes she could take this burden off her daughter and shoulder it herself.

After finishing the I Am, I Am, I Am audiobook, expertly read by Daisy Donovon, I wanted to live inside the story for longer. I wanted to go on learning about O'Farrell's life, just like I wanted to learn more about Shakespeare's life in Hamnet, as long as O'Farrell was telling the story. What an amazing writer! I highly recommend this book.

I'm guessing this is natural but it seems like an odd thing to say -- I couldn't help thinking back over my own life as I listened. Have I had any brushes with death? I can think of four possibles: two involving water and current, one involving a tree, and one, and this tale I tell for the humor of it, I was chased by a moose and I knew if she got to me I was a goner. That's it. No deadly diseases, precarious accidents, or potential murderers for me. When I asked my husband, his story was quite different. He was a rambunctious kid and nearly died of accidents of his own making at least twice, was in a rollover accident as a passenger in a car, had several near misses when he worked as a logger, and then he went to war in Iraq and every day worried about his safety. Eek. Several of the stories were news to me as he told them over our lunch of ham sandwiches. Maybe O'Farrell is correct. We all have our own near death stories to recount if we are willing to take a look back on them.


Monday, November 29, 2021

TTT: Happy Bookish Memories

Top Ten Tuesday: Happy Bookish Memories

Ian loves books. Here he is reading to the dog who is recovering from surgery.

1. Reading my daughter's favorite childhood books with her son. The other day we read Jillian Jiggs together and then spent the rest of the day repeating the rhyme,  "Jillian, Jillian, Jillian Jiggs, it looks like your room has been lived in by pigs!"

2. Listening to my dad read the How the Grinch Stole Christmas every year on December 24th before we got to open presents. Dad did all the voices and really got into it. Now that Dad is gone, a nephew is taking over the role of reader but it isn't quite the same. 

3. Reading The Chronicles of Narnia series and the first three Harry Potter books aloud with my daughters when they were young. After the first three books in the HP series my daughters wanted to read faster so they read them themselves. 

4. Attending the Michelle Obama Becoming book tour event with my mother, daughter, sister, husband, and friend at the Tacoma Dome.

5. Attending the WILMA (Washington Instructional Library Media Association) conferences almost every year  I was an active school librarian. I enjoyed the collaboration with other professionals and met so many authors: John Green (Looking for Alaska); Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why); Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian); Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes); Naomi Shihab-Nye (A Maze Me: Poems for Girls); Orson Scoot Card (Ender's Game); and many more.

6. Listening to audiobooks on car trips with my husband (and other family members if they are along for the ride.) Recently we finished two audiobooks on our trip to spend Thanksgiving with family: Cloud Cuckoo Land and Interior Chinatown.

7. Book club discussions. I'm in two clubs and as I look back on my favorites books many of them were book club choices. This coming month the RHS Gals club is discussing The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett and the SOTH Book Club is discussing Transcription. Books usually improve in my estimation after a lively discussion.

8. Browsing book stores and libraries and finding some book I didn't even know I wanted to read. 

9. Visiting libraries when I am a tourist. The last time I was in New York City we visited the main library and saw an exhibit about the art of the 60s and went for a hunt to find the original Winnie-the-Pooh and other characters from the books. They were displayed in the children's department. In Prague we gaped at a beautiful library that had painted ceilings in a monastery, though we could only look in from the door. 

10. Last week my hubby and I went to the Vincent Van Gogh Experience in Seattle. It was awesome but I think my experience was broadened because I'd read the wonderful biography about the artist and his brother, Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers.


Nonfiction review: WITHOUT YOU, THERE IS NO US

Six or seven years ago my husband and I attended the Search for Meaning book conference put on by Seattle University. Each author's offering had something to do with equity or ways for the reader to further understand and appreciate their neighbors worldwide. At this conference my husband and I both attended the workshop conducted by Suki Kim, a journalist who had recently published a book, Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite. After her session we purchased this book and stood in line to get Kim's signature. At the time I had the best of intentions to start reading as soon as I got home. Well, six years later I finally got around to it, in part because Helen at Helen's Book Blog announced she would be reading the book for Nonfiction November and I approached her about doing a read-along. We decided to read it together, five chapters at a time, using our Goodreads message in-boxes for our discussion. It worked super well and I enjoyed the read-along and discussion very much. 

Suki Kim, a Korean-American, was born in South Korea and had relatives who were trapped in what became North Korea after the Korean conflict truce divided the two at the 38th parallel. She wanted to know more about North Korea but would only get a sanitized view of the country when she visited it a few times under heavily scrutinized trips. She wanted to learn more about what it was like to live in the most closed-off country in the world so she applied to go teach at a college, Pyongyang University for Science and Technology (PUST), supported by a church. In order for her to be accepted for this volunteer position she had to pretend to be a missionary herself, someone doing this work with an eternal goal in mind. So for six months she lived and worked among the 240 males students, all sons of North Korea's elite. What she discovered about these boys and the country in general was both eye-opening and disheartening.

After reading the first five chapters of the book both Helen and I seemed hopeful that the Kim's experience with the Korean boys would provide a breakthrough for them. Helen said, "I feel like we are on the cusp of students taking chances, opening up a bit, etc. but it makes me nervous for them, which is the sign of a good book. I feel invested in what happens." She was right to feel nervous for them because everything anyone did was scrutinized. There were 'minders' everywhere and it was assumed that they were spying on every interaction the boys had with their teachers. Kim and the other teachers had to be very careful what they said. Who knows what kind of punishment the boys would receive if they were caught in some illegal act or thought?

I was struck by how childlike the boys were. Imagine what American college students are like, then think of those same boys as ten-year-olds. The North Korean boys were so naive and child-like. They were more like the the ten-year-olds than the American college students. "For example," I said in my discussion with Helen, "the birthday party where they sang friendship songs for several hours and teased the boy who has never even been near a girl yet he thinks himself a Romeo." Later in the book, Suki Kim refers to how much she loves the boys, which struck us as really odd since we are both secondary teachers and we will talk about liking our students but never use the word 'love' about them. My sisters, both elementary teachers, do talk about loving their students. Helen and I decided that this is more proof of how childlike these boys were.

Helen starts the discussion on our next section with the topic of lying. "And the lying is fascinating. It would breed such distrust on the part of the author/teachers, but to the students, it seems accepted and something they all do, perhaps to save face?" Lying was so common Kim wondered if the students even knew it was wrong. How could they? They lived in a country where the Great Leader, Kim Jong-il supposedly was the foremost expert on every subject? He also has hit the most hole-in-ones in a single golf game, and knows all there is to know about growing apples. The regime has so locked down the country the boys have no way of checking to see if 'facts' are really true or not. Here they are attending a Science and Technology school without even the most basic Internet available to them.

Our American brains find it hard to imagine someone living under such a repressive regime not pining for freedom inwardly. But after reading the next section we wondered if the indoctrination of the people was complete, if by some miracle North Korea opened up, would these people be able to shake it off?  I laughed at first, about the example Kim used when she described kids singing the beautiful song which devolved into: "burning hatred in our hearts", such brutal words coming out of angelic mouths" (150). How can that type of repression be overcome? How could these N. Korean boys ever escape from the clutches of this regime since their whole life has been about worshiping the dictator? 

Speaking of singing, there was a lot of singing done by the boys and others in the country. Apparently almost all of the songs they sang had something to do with the Great Leader or how wonderful their country was. In fact the book title, "Without You, There is No Us," comes from a patriotic song extolling the virtues of The Great Leader, Kim Jong-il.

As we read on both Helen and I were struck by how tedious existence in North Korea was for the both the students and the teachers. There was little to do outside of studying (students) and lesson-planning (teachers.) Kim knew that her email was being monitored so dared not write messages home that would be seen and viewed negatively. Field trips to cultural sites always seemed creepy and staged. For example one museum held items that were given to the Great Leader by other world leaders. A guided tour of these items ended abruptly when it was time to go into the next room. The teachers were herded back on to the bus without an explanation. There were never explanations.

The bleakness of the place is astonishing. Kim said, " Being in North Korea is profoundly depressing. The sealed border was not just at the 38th parallel, but everywhere, in each person's heart.. I was becoming convinced that the wall between us was impossible to break down..." And in chapter 27 she gets a sense that the boys are as fed up and stifled as she is. "Every day is the same. / Every day is about waiting. / I am fed up."

As the end of Fall semester approaches Kim is approached often by her students, wondering if she will return in the Spring. She never tells them no, she just demurs. Are the liars being lied to? Kim never said she wanted to come back but was she willing to go through another term of loneliness and boredom for more writing material? I doubted it. But it all became a moot point because two days before she was scheduled to go home for Christmas, Kim Jong-il died and the whole country went into a spasm of grief.  Suki Kim and all the teachers left without so much as a goodbye to any of their students who were all embroiled in their own pain and grief. It was a sad way to end her tenure in North Korea.

I would have liked an 'Afterward' so we could know what happened after Kim got home. Helen agreed. The book ends when she leaves North Korea. I suppose the Afterward is the book and the reflections she is able to make about her experiences only after she has some distance from them. 

If you've never done it before, I recommend nonfiction books for a read-along. I got so much out of my discussions with Helen which allowed me to enjoy the experience more. Thanks, Helen, for joining me on this reading adventure.


Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sunday Salon -- Home

Sunrise today, North Vancouver, Washington

RAIN! Apparently we are in the grips of yet another atmospheric river. Sound wet? You bet. Flooding in some towns north of us. Sigh. 💧

After the feast. My daughter's other son was out hunting up an adventure in the backyard.

Thankful for family:
We just got home from our trip south to meet up with family for Thanksgiving dinner, Black Friday shopping (only one store), a football game, and lots of food. My mom is hoping to move to a retirement setting by next year so it is likely that this will be our last big gathering in her home. It is sad to think about but I understand, too. It is a lot of work keeping a house in running order and though she has nice neighbors, it is no doubt lonely at times, too. I like thinking about Mom in a setting where she doesn't have to fuss about food and has potential friends a door away. 😇

Carly got back to San Francisco and home by 8:30 this morning. Her 'boys' were happy to see her. Here is George giving her a big cuddle.

Early Trip:
Our California daughter had to catch her flight out of Eugene very early this morning. The plane was set to start loading at 5:10 AM, so we had to get up around 4:00 AM in order to get her there on time. We decided we wouldn't go back to Mom's house after dropping her off but would just continue our trip north to home, packing the car ready for our early getaway the night before. Ordinarily our car trip home from Thanksgiving weekend is long and tedious because of all the increased traffic, making it a five to six hour ordeal. Well, we discovered a neat trick -- start the trip north at 5 AM and you won't hit any bad traffic at all. We were home by 9:00 AM, which included a long stop for coffee and a breakfast sandwich. The photo (above) was taken from the parking lot of the coffee shop right at the moment of sunrise. 😀

"We call her 'Poor Kitty'": this is a statement that our grandson made several months ago about our ancient cat, Demi, who is nineteen-years-old and, no doubt on her ninth life. We left her home for the few days we were gone for the holiday with plenty of food and water, a clean litter box, and run of the house. We came home to a very unhappy cat, a filthy house with messes of every kind for us to clean up, and a cat in deep need of a bath. She got huge globs of wet kitty litter stuck between the toes of her back feet and tracked the stuff all over the house. Poor thing could barely walk with her toes spread apart due to the the sticky mess. We had to bathe her and then dry her with a hair dryer. She's still upset. Before the cat bath we had to attack the house to clean up all her messes. Welcome home. 😕


  • Completed this week:
    • Without You, There is No Us: My Time With the Sons of  North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim. Helen@Helen's Book Blog and I read it as a read-along. It was enlightening and disheartening. I've always thought that the average people living under such a crippling regime must surely pine for freedom. Now I am not so sure. Watch for my review which will be highlights from our read-along discussions. Nonfiction. Print.
    • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. What a complicated and interconnected plot. Don and I listened to audiobook together and we both enjoyed it so much. Audio.
    • Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. This was last year's National Book Award winner. An Asian-American man is found guilty of being complicit in his own life as generic Asian man. It is told as though through artistic directions and settings of movies. Very clever yet profound. Audio.
    • Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix. The sixth book in the Old Kingdom series. What a joy to re-enter the series after a several year hiatus. Audio.
  • Currently reading (I'm still trying to finish three more nonfiction books for Nonfiction November Challenge):
    • The Other Talk: Reckoning with White Privilege by Brendan Kiely. YA. Print. 36%
    • The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly (With Recipes) by Kate Lebo. Print. 55%.
    • I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death: A Memoir by Maggie O'Farrell. Audio. 43%.
Happy December!


Thursday, November 25, 2021

Review and quotes: TRANSCRIPTION by Kate Atkinson

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Book Beginnings quote, page 1:

Friday56 quote, page 23 (last page of preview):


Summary: In 1940 an eighteen-year-old Londoner and recent orphan, Juliet Armstrong, is recruited to work as in the world of espionage, spying for MI-5 on her own countrymen. After an initial training she is tapped to do transcription work from recordings made of meetings with British Fascist sympathizers. Later she infiltrates these groups posing as a sympathizer herself. The work was both tedious and extremely terrifying by turns. Once the war is over Juliet settles into a life working for the BBC as a programming engineer. One day about five years later she inadvertently bumps into one of the other spies and he acts as if he doesn't know her. This chance meeting causes her to realize that one can never really leave their past behind and very soon finds herself embroiled again in espionage activities.

Review: My husband and I recently listened to the audiobook of Transcription by Kate Atkinson. We both enjoy listening to mysteries and this book had plenty of them. The story of Juliet's life was not told in a liner fashion. The reader learns about aspects of her live in little dribs and drabs and the story moves back and forth in time to pick up and highlight new information. The first quote is about the end of her life. So we begin at the end. The second quote (from page 23, not page 56) is from the part of the story right after Juliet sees one of the spies she worked with during the war who won't acknowledge that he knows her.

The pacing of the book was uneven. There were rather dull parts where the action was focused on the waiting and the typing of the transcripts. Not very thrilling stuff. Then there were frenzied moments of action and almost throbbing tension. I suppose that was intentional since that is probably the life of someone who is doing surveillance. There are several plot twists, including a big one near the end of the book so the reader is kept on her toes throughout. 

The author's notes gave me insight into the realism of this plot. Atkinson talked about the research that she was able to do about the espionage that was conducted on fellow Brits throughout the war, trying to fight Nazism at home.

This is a book club selection. These discussion questions, provided by the publisher, seem very good and should force to dig deep to answer them. In a lot of ways the book is a timely reminder of how awful the Nazis were and what it means to be a fascist. 

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.   

SOTH Book Club, Dec. 2021


Monday, November 22, 2021

TTT: Characters I’d Love An Update On

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Love An Update On

1. Terciel and Elinor
from Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix
I just finished reading this book today and I still want to know what happens to them going forward. 

2. Kitty Fane
from The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
She made some huge strides and growth in her personality from unlikable to forgivable. Will she become a better person in the Caribbean?

3. Mary and Kitty Bennet
from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
These two sisters need their own stories or else I fear they'll forever be spinsters, the sisters who don't get any attention.

4. Adunni
from The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Dare
Adunni never loses sight of her goals. I want to know what her life is like when she attains them.

5. Anne (Agnes) Hathaway
from Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
I adore this book about the life of Shakespeare's wife. I didn't want the book to end. I want to learn more about this woman.

6. Princess Buttercup and Westley
from The Princess Bride by William Goldman
We all know that they have to live happily ever after, but where and how?

7. Lyra Silvertongue and her daemon Pantalaimon
from The Book of Dust series by Philip Pullman
I just want Pullman to hurry up and publish the third book in the series so I can find out what happens to these beloved characters. 

8. Ronan Lynch
from The Dreamer Trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater
I confess that I haven't read the second book yet but I still want to know how everything wraps up for Ronan and his brothers.

9. Virgil Wander
from Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
I love this character. I want to be his friend. I'd like an update on his life.

10. Eleanor Oliphant
from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeywell
Just need to check in and see if she is still doing fine.



Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sunday Salon --- Thankfulness Edition

Weather: It rained a lot this past week, flooding whole towns north of here. Feast of famine or famine around here --- no rain all summer and now this.

Thankfulness: I want to spend this week before Thanksgiving Day with a heart full of thankfulness. Don' you? I'll start. 

  • I am thankful that my mother (aged 92) is still living and thriving. We get to spend time with her and other beloved family members this week. I am so thankful.
  • My daughter who lives in California will be joining us for Thanksgiving this year. I am not only thankful but also excited.
  • I am so thankful for my grandsons, who are the light of my life. Jamie, age one, loves to eat so the Thanksgiving meal should be fun watching him tuck in to the goodies.
  • We got our COVID boosters the very day it opened up that anyone was eligible to get them. Thank you government for making them free and available for everyone.

Good news:

  • Build Back Better Act passed out of the House. Here is what it will provide for the people of this country: CNN Business. And a few highlights:

    Kevin McCarthy, minority leader, spoke for 8.5 hours against the BBB Act. Democrats had a good time making fun of his speech. This is my favorite. One person said that the speech practically writes its own SNL skit. We'll see Saturday. 

    Nevertheless, Democrats passed the bill by themselves. A bill that will help so many Americans.

  • "Seven Amazing Trends that Will Make You Feel Great About the Future." (Upworthy) I challenge you to read the article but because I know most of you won't, here are seven highlights. (Please read the details in the article!)
    • The middle class is shrinking because people are getting richer!
    • Extreme poverty is on a steep decline around the world.
    • Far fewer people are dying in wars.
    • American's incarceration rate is the lowest it has been since 1995.
    • Violent crime has dropped like a rock. (Don't believe me? Go read the article!)
    •  COVID-19 has forced people to work from home where they are happier and more productive.
    • There is tremendous progress in the fight against many diseases like malaria, AIDS, even COVID-19.
  • "A Guide to the 2021 National Book Award Winners and Finalists", (Vox) On a personal note, I made a stab at reading several of the finalists this year and I loved the winner of the fiction category, Hell of a Book. I guessed that it might win because it is so now and so profound. Here is my review, if you want to take a further peek into my thoughts.

Playing for Change video, "Peace Train" by Yusef/ Cat Stevens. My husband knew I'd put this on Sunday Salon after he viewed it. I am a huge fan of this musician. Watch and enjoy.

Books and reviews: 

  • Reading:
    • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr -- Another National Book Award finalist. I love this author but I confess that the plot is very complicated taking place during three (possibly four) time periods: The fall of Constantinople 1450s; WWII to current days (1940s to 2020s); in the distant future; and a bit during the 400 BC, the age of the Greeks! Don and I are listening to the audiobook and are enjoying it quite a bit. 59%.
    • The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly (With Recipes) by Kate Lebo -- Interest in foods led me to this book but I confess I may end up scanning it. There are 26 fruits highlighted with lots of details. Print. 7%.
    • Without You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim -- Another nonfiction title, this one has been hanging around the house for several years. We purchased it after we heard the author speak at an event at Seattle Univ. I participating in a read-a-long with Helen@ Helen's Book Blog. Print. 77% complete.
    • Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix -- the 6th book in the Old Kingdom series which I love. Carly and I challenged each other to listen to it at the same time but she totally beat me. Audiobook from the library. 54%.
    • The Other Talk: Reckoning With Out White Privilege by Brendon Kiely -- Whites have got to stop feeling hurt feelings with someone points out that the system is set up to favor them. I think reading this book is a good place to start. Another potential Cybils book. Print book from library. 13%.
  • Completed last week:
  • Reviews: I've fallen way behind on my book reviews. This week I challenged myself to catch up. So far I've reviewed six out of nine. Check out my progress here.

 Required cat photo:

Fred is upset that my daughter went back to "in person" work this week. Here he is laying on her dress she was hoping to wear. BTW- Fred must be a camera hog. I haven't seen any photos of George for weeks.

Sometimes I can't believe where we are politically. I try to find ways to laugh but that is often just covering up the tears.



This bears repeating. People who know the least have as much or more confidence about their knowledge as experts in the field do.

This week: Happy Thanksgiving (if you are American) and Happy Thursday (if you aren't!)
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Saturday, November 20, 2021

Nonfiction Review: BLACK BIRDS IN THE SKY: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Long covered-up historical events which place a negative focus on white supremacy are coming to light. The truth about aspects of our dark history are revealed in BLACK BIRDS IN THE SKY: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by Brandy Colbert. The Tulsa Race Massacre was not only an attack on a community of people, but also part of the greater record of violence against Black Americans. 

The attack on the Greenwood district of Tulsa by a white mob was sparked by an alleged attack of a white girl by a black boy. However this attack, which destroyed a thriving community sometimes called the Black Wall Street, was just an inflection point to a simmering atmosphere of brutality. Colbert not only highlights the events which immediately led to the May 31, 1921 attack but also many aspect of our nation's history, starting the formation of the state of Oklahoma and the displacement of indigenous tribes to lands near what became Tulsa and the succession of discriminatory laws passed after Reconstruction. Topics like lynching, formation of the KKK, and discrimination in housing were covered in this book as well as other horrific events that occurred close in time to the Tulsa Massacre, like the Elaine, Arkansas Massacre where hundreds of blacks were killed for daring to consider forming a union.

I'm sure by now you have heard of the term 'White Fragility.' Well, this book was stuffed full of the horrors that Black Americans endured throughout our history. So full, in fact, that I found myself cringing. It was so graphic and the picture so complete I felt myself wanting to look away. I felt guilty by mere fact of my own race, white, and the horrors that were conducted 'in my name.' I recognized what was happening and tried to stay present and open to learning and growing. How can I be a better ancestor if I don't want to acknowledge the pain of our past (and present)? But I confess it was tough and is probably the reason I didn't read this book very fast, often pushing it off to the side preferring to read something a bit more lighthearted. 

I found the last chapter, "The Legacy of Greenwood", and the Afterward quite helpful for my understanding. For decades the Tulsa Race Massacre was a taboo subject in schools. Why? Julian Hayter, a historian and professor at the University of Richmond, explains that the school curriculum "was never designed to be anything other than white supremacist, and it has been very difficult to convince people that other versions of history are not only worth telling. They're absolutely essential for us as a country to move closer to something that might reflect reconciliation but even more importantly, the truth" (187).

Colbert, interestingly, addresses the COVID-19 pandemic in her Afterward, comparing it with the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. Why does history seem to keep repeating itself? She says, "One question I keep coming back to as I think about these two deadly pandemics: Is history bound to repeat itself no matter what, or does it repeat itself because so many people don't want to look to the past to see how we got to the future?" (192) She went on to talk about what is happening in our country around the divisiveness of politics. Even though Biden won the 2020 election she was shocked by how many people were willing to vote for Trump, someone who had done so much damage the country's democracy, reputation, and integrity. She believes this is because people do not know their history. Citing surveys recently completed, 63% GenZ and millennial respondents didn't know that six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust and 36% thought the number was two million or less were killed. 48% couldn't name one single concentration camp (201).

Clearly we have to do a better job educating our youth about our history -- covering both the good and the bad aspects. This book is a great place to start. 

The title of the book has me intrigued. I looked up what 'black birds' means. One source said, "The symbolic meaning of blackbirds is eternally linked to the "dark vs light" phases of the moon. The bird is symbolic of life in the heavens (higher ideals, higher path of knowing) and the color black is symbolic of pure potential." I like that -- black is symbolic of pure potential. One message of this book is certainly there is potential for positive change. Let's all push for that!


Friday, November 19, 2021

Tanka-poetry Book Reviews

Thanks to Lark Writes for giving me the inspiration to write short, poetic book reviews. Hers are called 'Haiku Reviews.' I'll make mine a little longer and call them tanka-poetry reviews. Similar to haikus, tanka poems are short, using only 31-syllables in the cadence pattern of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7. I'm catching up here on past-due reviews.

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
(Vintage, 2006; originally published in 1925)
Love-starved Kitty Fane
Lives in Hong Kong with husband.
After an affair,
they move to cholera zone.
She learns to love and forgive. 

4 stars

The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor
(Kokila, 2021)

A graphic novel.
Mei re-imagines the myths
Of Paul Bunyan, starred
By a Chinese heroine.
Set in logging camp of old.
3.5 stars

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
(Custom House, 2021)

Coming-of-age tale,
'70s in Baltimore.
Mary Jane nannies.
Family hiding rock star.
Summer changes young girl's life.

3 stars

Prince Caspian
by C.S. Lewis
(Macmillian, 1969; originally published in 1951)

The four Pevensie
kids return to Narnia.
Meet Caspian, fight Miraz,
Restore order and magic
Helped by Aslan the Lion.

4 stars
2nd book in series


Thursday, November 18, 2021


The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

Book Beginnings quote:

Friday56 quote:


Summary: A group of strangers in London become good friends after each one shares they deepest secrets in a little green notebook with the words Authenticity Project written on the cover. The notebook, started by an 80-year-old man, Julian, who is practically dying from loneliness after the loss of his wife fifteen years earlier. He began the project with the aim of telling one's own truth. When he leaves the notebook at a coffee shop, Monica finds it and she is quite moved by his message. She not only starts out to try to help Julian but she writes in the book herself, leaving it for someone else to find. Eventually others find the booklet and find their way to the coffee shop and to new friends, too.

Review: Kirkus Reviews says that The Authenticity Project is an enjoyable, cozy novel that covers tough topics. Those tough topics are loneliness, addiction, parenting, homosexuality, and ageism. In my opinion all of them are handled fairly casually but I still liked the story and the value it placed on friendship to help us through life's trials. 

I am slated to lead the book club discussion. These questions seem to get at the heart of the book. I particularly like this one: "If you found 'The Authenticity Project,' what truth would you tell?" I wonder how authentic people will be with their answer.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.   


Read. Read. Read. Read. Blog. Read. Read. Read.

My blogging to reading ratio is out of whack, again! I keep reading and not blogging, or more correctly, I am not reviewing the books I finish in a timely manner. So, once again, I have to goad myself to get going, to write those reviews, to finish the project, so to speak. This list is for me. If I see all the books still needed/wanted to review in one spot, it helps me focus on the task at hand.

Date read: September 13th
Date reviewed: Nov. 19th

Book: Mary Jane
Date read: Oct. 2nd
Date reviewed: Nov. 19th
Date read: Oct. 25th
Date reviewed: Dec. 1st
Date read: Oct. 26th
Date reviewed: Nov. 18th
Date read: Oct. 29th
Date reviewed: Nov. 19th
Date read: Nov. 5th
Date reviewed: Nov. 25th
Date read: Nov. 5th
Date reviewed: Nov. 19th

Date read: Nov. 15th
Date reviewed: Nov. 20th
Book: Matrix
Date read: Nov. 17
Date reviewed: Dec. 3rd

Watch this space. I will update as reviews are completed.


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Nonfiction Review: RACE AGAINST TIME: The Untold Story of Scipio Jones and the Battle to Save Twelve Innocent Men

I've been thinking a lot about US history classes in public school lately. Why? Because I keep learning about events which happened in our history that never saw the light of day in the books we were directed to read in school. Some people are upset that 'Critical Race Theory' might be taught in their schools not even understanding what the term, which was coined over forty years ago, means. But I think the gist of what is being said is that people are uncomfortable with the idea that information about our racist past will make kids feel uncomfortable being white today if they are forced to learn about it in school. Oh, please. (Did you read that with the eye-roll it was delivered with?) I get it. We can't go back and undo our racist actions of the past, but we can allow those especially egregious events to come out from hiding and inform us and to help prevent these types of events from occurring in the future. 

RACE AGAINST TIME: The Untold Story of Scipio Jones and the Battle to Save Twelve Innocent Men by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace is an account of one of those racists events which was swept-under-the-rug until now. In Elaine, Arkansas in 1919, Black sharecroppers, some who had just come home from fight in the Great War, were gathered in a building to organize a union to help secure fair prices for the cotton they'd grown. White plantation owners and a white mob, surrounded the building, shooting inward, which caused a stampede of people trying to save themselves. Eventually the whites burned down the building to destroy the evidence of the bullet holes. Four or five white men were killed and many blacks, probably over 100. When the event was over, twelve blacks were arrested, hastily tried, and sentenced to death for the "murders." These twelve men were innocent but were found guilty by a justice system not interested in justice. 

When a black lawyer, Scipio Jones, learned of the men's plight he set to work to set them free. Along the way he wrote a legal brief that made it to the Supreme Court, the first written by a black lawyer considered by the highest court, and through dogged determination won the freedom of all twelve men. The authors, Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, were doing research on that landmark case, Moore v. Demsey, when they uncovered this remarkable story of a self-taught, once enslaved attorney, Scipio Jones. They said about the decision to write his story, "One hundred years after the Elaine Massacre, we were surprised that no one had written a book for teenagers about Scipio Jones or the Elaine Twelve men." So they set out to correct the record, to let the world know about this amazing man and what he did for these twelve men and blacks into the future.

What I liked about the book:

  • The book is one of those short books, 120+ pages, with illustrations and primary documents from newspapers and flyers of the day. It is very readable with a target audience on 12-15 years.
  • I learned something new, not just about the Elaine Massacre and Scipio Jones but also how the landmark case helped pave the way for civil rights legislation into the future. Yet, there wasn't too much information to swamp the project or the reader.
  • There  s an excellent bibliography, author's notes, and photo credits, all useful tools for further research.

What I didn't like about the book:

  • Nothing. I thought this book was great.



Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Book Burning: The Push Back

One school board, in Spotslyvania, VA, has walked back its earlier vote to start "burning" all library books with sexually explicit content according to the Free Lance-Star. Speaker after speaker attended what turned into a four hour meeting and decried the vote, including students, parents, librarians and even one retired teacher who had taught one of the “book burning” Board members.

"This board doesn't understand who our students really are," said one county librarian. "We have students who are victims of sexual abuse, who have been forced to prostitute, who have two moms or two dads, who identify as LGBTQ+, whose home is drug-infested. The school library is a safe place for them to find themselves in books." 
And a student spoke up at the meeting that didn't adjourn until after midnight. Courtland High School student Alexander Storen credited books with saving his life last year, during a time when he twice attempted suicide.

"[The book 'Shattered'] may have saved my life," he said. "It showed me that my life had meaning, that it mattered. When our School Board, which is supposed to have the best interests of our students at heart, bans books because they contain LGBTQ+ representation, what message is that sending to our teens, to our kids who are at risk? It's like saying, 'You don't matter.'"

Last week one board member, Abuismail, actually used the words "book burning" when talking about books he doesn't approve of.  Since that time over 1000 students have signed a petition asking him to resign or he might be recalled.

Maria Glass, a retired county high school teacher who said she had Abuismail in one of her classes when he was a student in the county, said that of the 7,000 high school students in Spotsylvania, “too many of them are not leading a ‘Brady Bunch’ life.”

“They may be facing a sexual predator or living with abusive parents,” Glass said. “These students live in our community and go to our churches. If there is only one who finds the courage to turn in his predator [after reading a book that deals with that subject], then that book has done its job.”

Students credited books they read in school or checked out of the school library with helping them see themselves, teaching them about difficult subjects and carrying them through challenging times. One Black student told how often she was bullied until the class read To Kill a Mockingbird. 

“Books teach compassion. They teach empathy,” she said. “After we read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ I wasn’t called the n-word again.”

One by one librarians took to the mic begging the board to respect their education and training and their support for the right for children to read.

“I tell students, ‘Remember, no one but your own parent or guardian has the right to dictate what you can and can’t read,’” a county librarian said. “Your freedom to read is a constitutional right. I promise my students that I will defend their right to read, so here I am tonight fulfilling that promise.” 




Nonfiction November, Week 3. Be an expert.

Week 3: (November 15-19) – Be/Ask/Become the Expert with Veronica at The Thousand Book Project: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I am currently reading a book about the Tulsa Race Massacre. The book is crammed with great information and yet I can hardly make myself read it. I decided that the flat nonfiction style of the text would have been enhanced had the author chosen to write it as narrative nonfiction -- tell me a story while you are cramming in the facts.

That got me thinking, what are some of the best narrative nonfiction books I've read over the years? With the help of this little gem, 100 Great Narrative Nonfiction Books, I set to work to identify some of my favorites. If I reviewed it there is a hyperlink on the title so you can read more about the book.

Favorite Narrative Nonfiction, by category:

Essay collection: 

The Environment: 

Science and Technology: 

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Grunt: the Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach


  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain


  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Travel and Adventure:

  • The Lost City of Z by David Grann
  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Stayed 
  • In a Sun Burnt Country by Bill Bryson




  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt 
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann


Politics and related Issues:


  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

What are some of your favorite narrative nonfiction (they tell a story!) books?

Note: Prior to 2017 when I retired I rarely reviewed the adult books I read. I thought I needed to focus on YA titles for my students. Now I wish I'd done it in reverse -- reviewing the adult titles for sure and getting to the YA titles if I had time. Sigh.