"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=========

Monday, February 28, 2022

TTT: Best big books I've read in the past few years


Top Ten Tuesday: Best big books (over 450 pages long) I've read in the past few years 

At the beginning of this month I read an article about February being the perfect month to read a short book or two. I decided that was a great plan. My problem, however, was I was in the middle of several big books, really big books. So as February winds down, today I am honoring big books instead of short books on this off-the-board TTT post.


 

1. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr 
626 pages
 
2. The Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley
498 pages 
 
3. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
576 pages
 
4.  Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
476 pages

464 pages

6. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
464 pages

7. Dune by Frank Herbert
890 pages

8. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
601 pages

9. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
960 pages

10. The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
548 pages (my current read, 57% complete)

What big books have you read recently that you think are worth the effort?

-Anne

Review: SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN


Superman Smashes the Klan
by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru is an award-winning graphic novel about our favorite super hero. But this story is based on a real Superman genesis story.

Back in 1946, when Superman was just a few years into his worldwide introduction, there was a wildly popular 16-part radio series called, "The Adventures of Superman." In the series Superman took down a gang of robed, hooded, white supremacists. The story begins with a Chinese-American family moving into Metropolis when the Clan of the Fiery Cross (a fictional stand-in for the Ku Klux Klan) burns a wooden cross on the family's lawn. Superman comes to the rescue.

Gene Luen Yang, the author and graphic artist himself, is Taiwanese-American and was very excited when he learned about this early Superman radio program and the story's plot. Everyone has heard of the ways that the Ku Klux Klan terrorized African-Americans but few people are aware that a branch of the Klan started up in California in 1865 to thwart Chinese immigration and to terrorize Chinese already living in the state. In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, effectively ending all legal Chinese immigration. Finally in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor did US citizens recognize that the Chinese were our allies against Japan. 

Superman was introduced to the world in 1939. During WWII he often faced off against Nazi villains like Der Teufel, and the Scarlet Widow. After the war, he continued his fight against hatred and bigotry, especially that directed at immigrants. This graphic novel, and the radio show it was fashioned after, shows us why. Superman is an immigrant himself, after all.

Why did I call this novel one of Superman's genesis stories? Well, here he is learning about his powers, often denying that he even has powers. He is also finally ready to learn about his past and where he came from. Since I am not a big DC comic person, I found this aspect of the book very genuine and touching: Superman didn't start off wearing a tight spandex suit, flying here and there, He started off walking fast and leaping up on telephone wires to get places fast. He got his idea for a costume from the strong man at the circus and the letter S on his chest didn't stand for "superman" but was a symbol of strength from his own planet.

In 2020, Superman Smashes the Klan won the Harvey Award for outstanding achievement in the comic book industry. In 2021 it won the 2021 YA Graphic Novel Cybils Award.


Even if you don't consider yourself a comic book or a super hero type of person, I still recommend that you take a look at Superman Smashes the Klan. It is a very NOW story with Nazism making a resurgence in 2022. Read it then spread the word so others will, too.

-Anne

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Sunday Salon -- End of February

Pictures from my week: Bingley at my sister's house where he stayed while we were in California; George helping Carly pack her books; view from the window of Carly's apartment on our last night; bottle brush tree flowers in SF; Russian Orthodox Church in SF; Heated hummingbird feeder, a birthday gift from my sister; Fred making himself at home in our house; Jamie snacking on yogurt with doo-dads; Ian and I preparing to blow out my birthday candles.

Birthday week:
This week we celebrated my birthday, first in San Francisco between packing boxes and then again here at home with my family. I feel the love.

Jamie messing around with my swim cap after the birthday party.

Weather:
It has been an odd month weather-wise: We had glorious, warm days great for long dog-walks and attacking the roses which needed to be pruned down ASAP. Then the temperatures plummeted and we were back to freezing temperatures at night and barely above freezing during the day. One morning we woke to one inch of snow covering the yard and flower beds. It still hasn't melted on the shady side of the house. Fortunately the heated hummingbird feeder arrived in time to save the birds from chilling morning food.

California: Last weekend Don and I drove down to San Francisco to help facilitate our daughter's move back to our hometown. We drove the whole way down in one go, thirteen hours, helped her pack for two days, then headed home with her cats in tow, fourteen hours. Carly and her cats are living with us now until her furniture arrives in the next few weeks. We are so happy that she is home and will be close by.

Empire State Building in NYC lit up in colors in support of Ukraine. Getty Images, Gary Hershorn.

Ukraine:
Of course our hearts are broken about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Everything I've read, which I hope isn't just wishful thinking, is that this unprovoked attack on a sovereign country will probably be the undoing of Putin. Let's hope so. I highly recommend that you watch this video by Sen. Chris Murphy. It is only 3 minutes long and it really helped me feel a bit better about the whole sordid situation:

Supreme Court pick: President Biden on Friday announced his historic pick of federal judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court, following through on a campaign pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the nation’s highest court in its 223-year history. Yay!

 Books read since my last Sunday Salon on Feb. 6th.:
  • The Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley. The 2022 Printz Award winner for best YA novel of the year.  Print.
  • Call Us What We Carry: Poems by Amanda Gorman. The poet who spoke at Biden's Inauguration. This is her first collection of poetry. Most of the poems are about the pandemic racism, and other historic points. Print.
  • Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert. Another nonfiction book about climate change and our life on earth. Audio.  
  • The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. We listened to this mystery on our trip down to California, finishing it just miles out of SF. This is a book club selection. I imagine the gals will like it. Audio.
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. This is the book we listened to on the homeward bound trip. It is unbelievable even to me but I've never read it before, nor have I seen any of the movies from it. So I fun with the mystery. Audio.
  • Superman Smashed the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiri. A graphic novel that captures a moment when Superman was making his introduction to the world and coming into his own power battling the Ku Klux Klan. This won the 2021 Cybils HS Graphic Novel award. Print.
  • A Spindle Splintered by Alix Harrow. A modern retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. It makes me smile to think of it. Print.

Currently reading:

  • Measuring Up by Lilly LaMotte. The 2022 Cybils winner for MG Graphic Novels, about a young Taiwanese girl whose family has moved to the US. She wants to help raise money to bring her grandma over for a visit. She does it by entering a cooking contest. Print. 24%.
  • The City of Mists: Stories by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. A short story collection published after the author's death in 2020. Print.  46 %
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers. A novella about a future time when robots and humans do not co-habitat and yet... Print. 63%
  • The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. An odd book partially narrated by a book itself. A long book at 548 pages. Audio. 47%

On the lighter side or food for thought: 









-Anne

Friday, February 25, 2022

Review: CALL US WHAT WE CARRY: Poems


I sat enthralled as I watched the whole Biden Inauguration on January 20, 2021. Every moment was a revelation, a joy, a weight lifted from my shoulders, a time of great happiness. But no moment was more poignant or wistful than when Amanda Gorman the National Youth Poet Laureate and youngest poet to ever participate an inauguration, stepped up and recited "The Hill We Climb." Gorman stole the show that day. Afterwards she confessed she completed the poem the day after watching the January 6th insurrection attempt on the Capitol. Reread the poem (here) and it takes on a whole new meaning knowing this:

We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated. /
Days after the inauguration, I ran to the library to check out whatever books I could by Amanda Gorman and discovered that she wasn't published yet. I placed a hold on the small book of her inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, which was being rushed into publication, and for her upcoming collection, this book, Call Us What We Carry: Poems, which would be published late in 2021. I finally got my turn with the poetry almost a year to the day from inauguration day.

The book jacket says that this book is a message in a bottle, a letter, and it does not let up. "It captures a shipwrecked moment in time and transforms it into a lyric of hope and healing." Using a variety of poetic styles, including a powerful section of erasure poems, it explores history, language, identity and our collective grief during a global pandemic. In a time period when some parents are concerned that their children not learn anything negative about our history, Gorman holds up a mirror and asks us to look within. We may not always like what we see or learn, but it is real and it is important for us to know and to remember.

Call Us What We Carry is possibly the most difficult poetry collection I've ever read. Not difficult in terms of language but difficult in terms of content. Not only is the collection full of poems about what it was like living through the pandemic but about slavery, and race relations, and being "other." 

The first section is titled Requiem. In the poem "At First" Gorman writes about our collective experiences with the pandemic: "March shuddered into a year. / Sloshing with millions of lonely, / An overcrowded solitude."  I laughed at the turn of phrase in the poem, "There's No Power Like Home": "We were sick of home. / Home sick. / That mask around our ear / Hung itself into the year. / Once we stepped into our home, / We found ourselves gasping, tearing it off like a bandage." Didn't you feel sick and tired of being stuck at home, yet when you went out, didn't you hate the way it felt wearing a mask? I have certainly flung off my mask the second I've returned to my car or home. Clearly in years to come people will read the poems in this collection if they are curious how we coped with our new, restricted lives.
 
The next section, What a Piece of Wreck is Man, many of the poems relate to shipping, boats, water, drowning. "In the Deep" our pandemic experiences were likened to being on a ship bucking at sea. "For a year our television / Was a lighthouse, blinking / Only in warning & never in warmth. / ... / Grief made ropes of our arms. / This whole time, what we craved most / Was only all that we have ever loved." My husband and I had each other and we included our daughter and her family in our bubble. So I never felt that desperate feeling that comes from no human contact. But I know many who did experience that deep loneliness.

Portions of Call Us What We Carry reads very much like a history lesson. In the poem "Vale of the Shadow of Death or Extra! Extra! Read All About It" Gorman uses primary documents to report, in poetic form, about the Spanish flu, The Chinese Exclusion Act, and other documents that blame that deadly flu on Blacks and Asian people. Sound familiar? In the section titled Atonement, she uses erasure poems using primary documents, letters, and diary entries to make poignant points about people who have been ignored throughout our history. Gorman says she wants these erasure poems to create an extension instead of an extract. "Hereby the pen looks to enhance, evoke, explore, expose the bodies, the truth, the voices that have always existed but have been exiled from history & the imagination. In this case, we erase to find." These poems were very powerful but were quite difficult to read and to digest.

I suspect I will need to reread this volume of poems several times to really gain a fuller appreciation for all the poems. My favorite poem, after the inaugural one I referenced above, was the "Call Us What We Carry" which was used as the title for the book. In it we are reminded that there is joy in the world and we should discard those things from our life like rage, wreckage, hubris, hate, ghosts, greed, wrath, and wars. "...Rejoice for / What we have left / Behind will not free us. / But what we have left / Is all we need. / We are enough / ...We walk into tomorrow. / Carrying nothing. / But the world."

-Anne

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Review: FIREKEEPER'S DAUGHTER


Title:
Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Book Beginnings quote: 

Part 1. 
WAABANONG (East) 
In Ojibwe teachings, all journeys begin in the Eastern direction. 
Chapter 1 
I start my day before sunrise, throwing on running clothes and laying a pinch of semaa at the eastern base of a tree, where sunlight will touch the tobacco first.

Friday56 quote: 

Saturday morning arrives with the same excitement as my former game days. Because of today's powwow, the Supes have an early morning practice.

Summary: Daunis Fontaine always feels like a bit of a misfit both in her hometown of Sault St. Marie, Michigan where she lives with her mother, and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation where her father's people live. When she was in high school she played ice hockey on the boy's team and hoped to continue playing in college, but now she has transferred her dreams to her future -- one involving science and medicine and not hockey. When she witnesses a murder, life crashes down around her, and all her dreams and goals with them. But then the new, cute member of the Supes hockey team, Jamie, approaches her with a deal -- to work undercover for the FBI to help figure out who is making the meth that is killing so many of the Native youth. Reluctantly Daunis agrees to go undercover using both her knowledge of chemistry and her interest in traditional medicine to guide her. At the same time she wants to make sure that the FBI isn't just interested in punishing the offenders, but also protecting the victims and their strong native traditions.

Review: Firekeeper's Daughter won the 2022 Printz Award for best YA fiction of the year. It was a timely read with a much needed focus on BIPOC rights right now. Daunis is a strong Native female protagonist who was unwilling to fall into the old tropes found in many books about white people knowing what is best for people of color. As she works undercover, she reminds the other agents over and over that the Native culture is good and the people are worthy of respect. Just because a person uses drugs doesn't make them bad or evil. In fact, several times she talks about the Seven Grandfather Teachings which are the principles of character that each Anishinaabe should live by. Love, Respect, Bravery, Truth, Honesty, Humility & Wisdom. Often Daunis would ask herself which grandfather did she need strength from on a given day.

The reading of the book about an Ojibwe tribe was also perfect timing for me personally. I had just finished reading the nonfiction book Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer. Treuer is also an Ojibwe tribal member and though his book is not specifically about Ojibwe traditions he does give any Ojibwe examples in the question/answer format of his book. As I read Firekeeper's Daughter I kept looking for confirmation of what I had just learned.  For example, the book beginnings quote has Daunis laying down a tobacco offering (semaa) on the eastern side of the tree before she goes for her run. According to Treuer, "[M]ost Indians believe any spiritual request made of the Creator or one's fellow human beings must be "paid" for. Tobacco is viewed as an item of not just economic but primarily of spiritual value." The powwow that is mentioned in the quote from page 56 is an important cultural event for Native people with dancing open to all unless there is a special honor song limited only to specific people or family members. An example of that is the Jingle Dance which "is a special dance for Anishinaabe kwewag and kwezanswag, Indiginous women and girls who were murdered or missing. For each one ... Mikewendaagozi. She is remembered." Sprinkled throughout the book are Ojibwe words or Anishinaabemowin 'speaking the native language.'.

Several times in Firekeeper's Daughter people mention their allotment, or money they get just for being an enrolled member of the tribe. Getting free money causes some people to make unwise decisions about how to spend it and so tribal elders are always debating the merits of it. In addition some tribal members do not get the allotment because they are not enrolled members. This is also an issue that each tribe has to grapple with. I found it interesting how this issue made it into the story line of the plot. 

Other tradition ceremonies were mentioned throughout the book in either passing references or in vivid details, such as the ceremony of the yellow pansy where women were able to release the pain that was suffered upon them at the hands of men. This was a very powerful and meaningful ceremony not only for the characters but for the readers. In her notes, the author, Angeline Boulley, says that she wrote this book because there are so few stories written about Native teens who are strong, positive protagonists. "The number of the women at the yellow pansy ceremony reflects the "all-too-real aspect of the story, the rampant violence against Native women. More than four in five (84%) have experienced violence in their lifetime..." But, Boulley goes on, "There is an important distinction  between writing about trauma and writing a tragedy. I sought to write about identity, loss and injustice...and also of love, joy, connection, friendship, hope, laughter, and the beauty of the Ojibwe community."

My reading experience: Helen @ Helen's Book Blog and I decided to do a read-along for Firekeeper's Daughter, dividing up the assignment into 150 page chunks. Since the book is nearly 500 pages long, it should have taken us three weeks to read and discuss in three parts. Well, that plan fell flat. As it happened the 150 page points seemed to coincide with a rise in the action every time, with the last 200 pages so thrilling and suspenseful it was impossible to stop reading and wait for the other to catch up. I was the slow poke but when I got to the break point I understood why Helen had to read on. Aside from it not working out to plan, our read-along was fun and kept me motivated to keep moving since I was reading several other books at the same time. Thanks, Helen! 

Firekeeper's Daughter is one of those special books that don't come along that often. Read it. I know you won't be disappointed.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
Th
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.  

-Anne

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Let's discuss! When favorite authors die


Over the weekend I learned that Carlos Ruiz Zafon died in 2020. I wouldn't say he was my favorite author having only read three of his books with The Shadow of the Wind being my favorite, but learning about his death caused me to pause and wonder to myself about my varied reactions after learning about the death of certain favorite authors.

One of my favorite childhood authors was Madeleine L'Engle because I loved the book A Wrinkle in Time so much. It seemed to me that L"Engle was one of those ever-present authors who would go on publishing a book a year forever and then shock of all shocks she died in 2007 at age 88. I didn't learn about her death until several years after it occurred and I still went into a sort of shock, immediately joining some Madeleine L'Engle fan group and reading one of her new-to-me books. My immediate reaction (over-reaction) was soon quelled as I learned that a fan club for a dead person isn't very fun and the book I selected to read was pretty awful. It was dated and uninspiring. I am tempted to re-read A Wrinkle in Time, however, in honor of her memory.

Before the death of my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, I remember crying as I read one of her poems. It struck me that when she passed there would be no new, wonderful poems from her and that broke my heart. She died in 2019 of lymphoma and her death brought on a frenzy of poetry reading by me, not just reading her poems but poetry in general. I came to appreciate poetry because I could understand Oliver's poems. "Poetry, to be understood, must be clear," she said. "It mustn't be fancy."

I "met" Terry Pratchett very late in his life and found his writing so funny and charming. The first book I read by Pratchett was A Hat Full of Sky which is the second book in the Tiffany Aching series, a YA side series to Discworld.  I found it so sweet and didn't even realize I had jumped into the middle of the series. Later I read several of his YA stand-alones and the rest of the Tiffany Aching series which ended with The Shepherd's Crown, which was published after his death from early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2015. As I closed the book on the last page I started to cry thinking about how no more books from this magical writer would ever be published. Several of Pratchett's books remain on my TBR list and I keep thinking that one of these days I'll begin the whole Discworld series by reading The Colour of Magic.

Often time when I learn about the death of an author I will make an attempt to read something they wrote. I returned from my latest trip to the public library with short books by both Toni Morrison and Carlos Ruiz Zaphon. Reading their books and their own words helps keep them alive.

How do you react when you learn about the death of a favorite author? Please share your specific examples in the comment section below.



-Anne

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Nonfiction review: THE REBELLIOUS LIFE OF MRS. ROSA PARKS (Young Reader's Edition)


The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
by Jeane Theoharis was first published in 2013 as an adult book. The book jacket notes said this about the reason for writing another book about Rosa Parks: "Presenting a corrective to the popular notion of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who, with a single act, birthed the modern civil rights movement, Theoharis provides a revealing window into Parks’s politics and years of activism."  In 2021 when this young reader's edition was published, the project had expanded a bit since some of Mrs. Parks papers had become available and the new information was added. With Brandy Colbert co-writing the text aimed at young adult readers, Mrs. Parks' full story comes to life.

Having read a few books recently about different aspects of the Civil Rights Movement, it didn't surprise me that Mrs. Rosa Parks was much more involved in it than just sitting in the 'whites only' portion of a bus and getting arrested for it, as if by accident. What did surprise me was the depth of her involvement before and after the bus event. The book reads like a history of the movement from start to now, with the focus on Mrs. Parks and her involvement. A reader of this book would bet a good overview not only of what was happening in the South during those tumultuous days in the 1950s and 60s but also what was happening in the North, specifically the Detroit area, since that is where Mrs. Rosa Parks and her husband moved after they were unable to get any jobs in Montgomery after she was arrested. Mrs. Parks went on standing up for civil rights throughout her life, even when people wanted to diminish her contributions along the way.

What I liked about the book:

  • It gives a full overview of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes and the actions of Mrs. Rosa Parks. 
  • The book addressed the often dismissed contributions of many other women in the movement, as well. Though it did mention the famous men attached to the movement, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., it pointed out ways that the men of the movement seemingly on purpose, pushed the women aside. That was news to me.
  • The writing and research was impeccable. 

What I didn't like about the book:

  • The book is long, or seemingly long, at 294 pages. I wondered if teens would likely read it. Though that is probably not a fair point, since so few people are prone to pick up and read books in their entirety these days.
Reading this book filled in some holes I had in my own understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and also gave me a bigger appreciation of the contributions of Mrs. Rosa Parks. I highly recommend it for all secondary school libraries and public libraries.

-Anne

Friday, February 18, 2022

Nonfiction review: THE POWER OF STYLE: HOW FASHION AND BEAUTY ARE BEING USED TO RECLAIM CULTURES


One of the best parts for me of judging nonfiction finalists for the Cybils Award is being 'forced' to read books like this, The Power of Style: How Fashion and Beauty are Being Used to Reclaim Cultures by Christian Allare. In the past I may have a read a chapter or two of such a book most often if I was searching for some specific information. But now I reading these nonfiction books looking not only for content but also for good writing and a pleasant presentation of the information.

This colorful book features more than 30 designers, models, and entrepreneurs who are changing the way we look at fashion and beauty. The book is a celebration of inclusivity, creativity, and cultural activism. It is full of colorful photographs of aspects of clothing, hair, footwear, make-up and cosplay fashion. The author, Christian Allare is an Ojibwe writer who grew up on a reservation in Ontario, Canada and writes for Vogue magazine as a fashion and style reporter.

What I liked abut the book:

  • The book is divided up according to topics: his own First Nation culture's fashion sense with ribbons and design; Black hair styles; cosplay fashions and plus-size models; hijabs and Muslim-styles making a fashion statement; men in heels; and make-up styles including henna designs.
  • Since the book is stuffed full of colorful photographs, even teens who don't like to read will be attracted to the book.

What I didn't like about the book:

  • The subtitle and the content don't always match. The word "culture" implies to be the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social groups. I had a hard time thinking of men wearing heels or a person dressing in cosplay as culture. Those are styles and preferences, but culture? Maybe I am wrong.
  • The book seemed to be a very "now" book that will get dated very quickly making it less attractive as a library book purchase.
  • There was no reference material or bibliography for further reading thought there was a helpful table of contents. 

-Anne

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Nonfiction review: IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON

 

Title: In the Shadow of the Moon: America, Russia, and the Hidden History of the Space Race by Amy Cherrix

Book Beginnings quote: 

When the Polish lab technician plunged his hands into the toilet bowl at a University of Bonn bathroom to retrieve a bundle of half-flushed papers, he couldn't have known he held a clue to one of Hitler's darkest secrets.

Friday56 quote: 

On May 31, a nine thirty p.m., the last train, loaded with the life's work of Werher von Braun, departed Mittelwerk just hours before the Soviets arrived.

Summary: The Space Race, the most ambitious race ever conducted by humankind, was masterminded by two rocket engineers on opposite sides of the Cold War: Wernher von Braun, a Nazi officer now living and working in America, and Sergei Korolev, a Russian rocket designer. Von Braun became a hero for his role in helping America land a man on the moon first. Korolev toiled in obscurity, even in his own country, right up to his death. The two men had so much in common, however. Both men were brilliant and their inventions helped shape the science of spaceflight and modern warfare. Their stories, especially Korolev's, have been hidden from the history textbooks. This book brings their stories to light and the space race will never be viewed with the same lens again.

Review: As my role as a judge for the Cybils Award is wrapping up for another year I have one more book to review, this book In the Shadow of the Moon. Though I admit that a book about the space race and about landing on the moon isn't exactly an issue that most teen readers are chomping to get their hands on, there will undoubtedly be several students in every high school who will be very excited to learn more about the early inventors of rockets and what went into the design process which allowed man to fly to the moon and back. I confess I had a slow start with this book but found myself quite captivated as I read on, learning new, and sometimes disturbing, information about the space race. Of interest to me, especially with the rise of Neo-Nazism today in America, was Wernher von Braun's associations with German Nazi's during WWII and his use of 'slave' labor by Jewish holocaust victims in his rocket factory. Quite a bit of the information in this book would be great fodder for classroom discussions on ethics.

What I liked about the book:

  • It is well-written and impeccably well-researched.
  • Over twenty five pages of author's notes, end notes, bibliography, and an index are included to assist future researchers on the topic.
  • The information is presented in an accessible way for non-sciency people, yet not in a simplistic way.

What I didn't like about the book:

  • As I mentioned in my review, the book was a slow starter for me. My reading speed and interest didn't pick up until around page 100 (out of 275 pages of material.)  

Target audience: YA readers, aged 14-18 years old, with crossover appeal for adults.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
Th
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.  

-Anne

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Nonfiction review: EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT INDIANS BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK (Young Reader's Edition)


I don't know about you, but I often feel awkward when I am around people from other cultures and ethnic groups. Why? Because I don't want to say something stupid or insensitive. I don't want to offend anyone without realizing that what I said was offensive. That is why this book, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Reader's Edition) by Anton Treuer, is so brilliant.  The book is designed to answer those "out there" questions and presented in a format where the information is easy to find.

Dr. Anton Treuer is a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University in Minnesota. His mother was an enrolled member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation and he grew up in and around the Leech Lake reservation in Minnesota. In addition to his teaching responsibilities he has authored nineteen books and is the publisher of Oshkaabewis Native Journal, the only academic journal in Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language. The adult version of this book was published in 2012 answering questions that came up during Treuer's many public lectures on Native culture. The Young Reader's Edition, the book I am reviewing, is an expansion of the original book and written with a YA audience in mind, though it is certainly an excellent resource for all ages of readers. This edition expands the question section, includes 50 more photos and illustration, and includes material on social activism, which the original didn't.

The book is organized into themed chapters: "Terminology", "History", "Religion, Culture, Identity", "Powwow", "Languages", "Politics", etc. Within each of these chapters Treuer answers several specific questions on the topic such as "What is allotment?",  "How has tribal enrollment affected you personally?" and "Can non-Native people dance at powwow?" The book is designed with an extensive table of contents so that a reader can look for their specific questions and then page to the answer. Treuer makes it clear that he does not speak for all Native people but he does try to give examples from different tribes and Native people all around the US and Canada, sometimes even using examples from Native Hawaiians.

What I liked about the book:

  • The book is long yet readable. The question/answer format makes the information very accessible.
  • I liked the tone that Dr. Treuer used in his writing. It held authority but didn't talk down to the readers. I think the tone helps lessen the likelihood that a reader would end up feeling defensive if the answer contains some negative information about our history.
  • There is an extensive table of contents to assist easy access to finding specific answers.
  • Reference materials at the back of the book include suggested books for further reading, author;s notes, and a good index.
  • The social activism section is up-to-date and answers questions about Native Activism that has been in the new lately which was one of my specific questions. 

What I didn't like about the book:

  • The specific questions within the table of contents are not indicated with a page number so the reader has to go to the particular chapter and search for the particular question/answer within the chapter themselves.

Every secondary and public library should have at least one copy, if not more, of this book. I give it really high marks.

By the way, regarding terminology, Treuer used the terms Native, Native American, Indigenous, and Indian in the book and they are all acceptable terms when addressing Indigenous people, or likely, at least, not likely to cause problems. He recommends, however, that we should use the terms each tribe uses for self-reference. For example, we can call Dakota people Dakota or Oneida people Oneida. But avoid using terms like 'Squaw' or 'Brave.' If you have a friend or a classmate, ask them by what term they like to be addressed.

-Anne

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Nonfiction review: PUNCHING BAG


Rex Ogle, the author of the memoir Punching Bag, came to our attention in 2019 when he published his first memoir, Free Lunch. I'm led to believe Punching Bag picks up where Free Lunch left off. Starting with a flashback to age seven, Ogle tells how his mother blamed the death of his unborn sister on him since he wasn't there to save her from the abuse from her new husband. Guilt carried Rex forward, though intellectually he knew it wasn't his fault he couldn't shake the feeling that it was. Throughout the book Ogle chronicles the abuse he survives as his unstable Mexican-American mother and his alcoholic step-father often turned their vicious venom on him after they were done attacking each other. Throughout Rex imagines his unborn sister as his guide and mentor, helping him when no help comes from any other quarters.

Rex Ogles' bleak story of abuse is tempered by notes at the beginning and the end that assure readers that he survived and if they are in similar circumstances, they can, too. 

Memoirs are tricky types of nonfiction. As a reader I am reminded that the writer may be embellishing or rearranging details to make the story flow better. Most people are fairly unreliable when recounting details from their own lives. What I found to be the most realistic in Ogle's memoir is the tension he always felt when life was normal. In the background there was always the possibility of imminent threat. Like a person hiking in the forest who hears, but doesn't see, a menacing growl infrequently. Will some creature pounce at any moment? The threat of potential harm must have been stressful to the maximum. Ogle did a great job describing life lived on the edge of danger.

As an educator, I was sad that Ogle had no teacher who noticed or stepped in to help him. There were a few close calls, where teachers would keep him after class to ask about a black eye but there were no reports of any serious interventions. It breaks my heart that the helpers didn't offer much help in his life.

What I liked about the book:

  • Ogle's writing is very strong and quite compelling. Even when I was cringing due to the details of the abusive life, I still wanted to read on.
  • The book is short and I imagine it is one that teens will be willing to read.
  • If a student is living in similar circumstances this book should provide solace and hope.

What I didn't like about the book:

  • The opening and closing messages of survival and hope weren't added to the story. We learned, in the afterward, that Ogle had to move in with his grandmother his junior year of high school but we never learned the circumstances that led to the move and how he coped with the trauma he experienced. I suspect there is a third book in the works.
  •  We also did not learn what happened to his younger brother, a boy that Rex spent a lot of time protecting and shielding from similar abuse.

Source: print edition, from public library

Target audience: ages 14-18.

Punching Bag was selected as the Cybils Award winner for 2021 High School Nonfiction. This is what the selection committee, of which I am one member, said about the book:

Punching Bag is a powerful yet troubling memoir of physical and mental abuse by Rex Ogle. Rex was raised and abused by his emotionally troubled mother and his alcoholic stepfather and each short chapter details an episode when Rex is abused or reflects on earlier instances of abuse.  Through it all, Rex tries to make sense of what is happening to him:  Why does it keep happening?  Is it his fault?  What can he do to make it stop?  Determined to stop the familial pattern of abuse, he resists violence and being abusive himself. 

 

Clearly, Punching Bag is not a book for everyone at all times and is often difficult to read, but young readers who are themselves abuse victims will find in Rex Ogle’s voice someone who understands their pain.  Other readers will find their capacity for empathy expanded as they respond viscerally to Rex’s ordeal.  The book ultimately provides ways to be hopeful in the face of overwhelming torment.

-Anne

Monday, February 14, 2022

Announcement: 2022 Cybils Award Winners

 

Today the 2022 Cybils Awards were announced.

Cybils are book awards nominated and adjudicated by book bloggers like you and me! (Visit the Cybils website for more details.)

The winners are:

 Board Books:

Big Bear, Little Bear
Schneider, Marine
Cameron Kids
Nominated by: Sam Richardson

Fiction Picture Books:

Watercress
Wang, Andrea, illustrated by Chin, Jason
Neal Porter Books
Nominated by: Darshana Khiani 

Easy Reader: 

See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat
LaRochelle, David, illustrated by Wohnoutka, Mike
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

Early Chapter Book:

Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World
Davies, Jacqueline, illustrated by Hocking, Deborah
Clarion Books
Nominated by: Katie Michols

Elementary Non-Fiction:

Bartali’s Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy’s Secret Hero
Hoyt, Megan, illustrated by Bruno, Iacopo
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Julie Rowan-Zoch

Elementary/Middle Grades Graphic Novel:

Measuring Up
LaMotte, Lily, illustrated by Xu, Ann
HarperAlley
Nominated by: Julie Williams

Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction:

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls
Rivera, Kaela
HarperCollins
Nominated by: MPFB

Middle Grade Fiction:

Linked
Korman, Gordon
Scholastic
Nominated by: Julie Williams

Middle Grade Non-Fiction:

Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing
Melander, Rochelle, illustrated by Ontiveros, Melina
Beaming Books
Nominated by: Sandy Brehl

Poetry:

Everywhere Blue
Fritz, Joanne Rossmassler
Holiday House
Nominated by: Chad Lucas 

High School Non-Fiction:

Punching Bag
Ogle, Rex
Norton Young Readers
Nominated by: Jenna

Young Adult Fiction: 

The Girls I’ve Been
Sharpe, Tess
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund

Young Adult Graphic Novels: 

Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms
Frasier, Crystal, illustrated by Wise, Val, Jupiter, Oscar O. (Letterer)
Oni Press
Nominated by: Laura Gardner 

Young Adult Speculative Fiction:

Vespertine
Rogerson, Margaret
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Jenna 

I played a tiny role in the selection process as a 2nd Round Judge for the High School Nonfiction category. My reviews for the finalists in that category will start posting tomorrow, beginning with our winner: Punching Bag by Rex Ogle. If you are a book blogger who reads some children's or YA books, why don't you get involved next year? -Anne

Sunday, February 13, 2022

A super late review: PEOPLE OF THE BOOK

One of my book clubs, SOTH Ladies, has been meeting for over twenty five years. We formed as an adjunct group from our Women's Group at church and have been going strong ever since. For a look at our whole reading list, check out this megalist of titles. Obviously in that amount of time, some of those books have become quite cloudy in my memory, while others are very clear even though we read them years ago. Others linger in my memory because I loved the book or the good discussion we had. While others remain powerfully in my memory because I found their message to be particularly profound or important. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is one of those books. Unfortunately, I didn't write a review back when we read it in 2015, so I am rectifying that problem right now.

In the book's afterward, Geraldine Brooks explains how People of the Book is a work of fiction yet it was inspired by a true story of the Hebrew codex known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. It was likely created in Spain in the 1400's during a period when Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together in relative peace. This particular Haggadah is unique because it is illustrated, where most Jewish holy prayer books were not. It likely belonged to a fairly well-to-do Jewish family who came under stress during the Spanish Inquisition. Throughout its known history the Sarajevo Haggadah was saved from destruction by two Muslims and one Roman Catholic priest. Around these few known facts Brooks made up most of the plot and all of the characters to tell the codex's story. 

The title of the book comes from a term used by Muslims even today. According to WikiShia the term 'People of the Book' is an Islamic term for adherents of other religions whose prophets are considered to have a divine book or scripture intended to guide human beings. Specifically, in Islamic culture this means Jews and Christians.

Brooks' work is the story of a little prayer book that survived over many centuries because of help from other 'people of the book.' Building on the known fragments about the Haggadah, Brooks starts its story backwards: Beginning in 1992 when the codex went missing from Sarajevo, to the 1940's when it was hidden from the Nazis, Vienna in the 1890's, Venice in 1609, Catalonia during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, and finally at its beginning in Seville in 1480 where the illustrator lived and dreamed of a life of freedom. As manuscript conservator Hanna Heath uncovers mysteries of each clue left behind inside the codes -- a wine stain, a grain of salt, a broken and badly repaired binding, a single strand of hair, and an insect wing -- details of the lives of those who touched and owned the book are slowly revealed to the reader.

Sarajevo Haggadah sample (Wikipedia)

In a world which often feels frayed and nearly pulled apart by religious intolerance, People of the Book is a reminder that there are good people throughout the world who want to do the right thing, not just for people of their own faith but for mankind in general. Precious manuscripts, like the Sarajevo Haggadah, are often saved by people who are not interested in financial gain, but because they value the relic of our human history, and the enduring lessons each generation has struggled to learn for itself.

"The book has survived the same human disaster over and over again. Think about it. You’ve got a society where people tolerate difference, like Spain in the Convivencia*, and everything’s humming along: creative, prosperous. Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize ‘the other’ – it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society. Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists… same old, same old. It seems to me the book, a this point, bears witness to all that” (195).

As I revisited People of the Book I recalled some aspects of the book were better than others. Hanna Heath's personal story, both past and present, is a bit of a distraction from the point of the book. But her story serves as a reminder that history is peopled with individuals whose lives are messy and complicated. Some of the gals in book club didn't care for the way the timeline unfolded backwards, but I found that aspect charming. In my opinion it was a perfect book for a Christian women's group to discuss because faith played such a vital role in the book's creation and salvation.**

*A time period when Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together in relative peace on the Iberian peninsula, from the eighth century to 1492, when the Jews were expelled.

**An excellent resource and book club discussion guide.

Check out other Super Past Due Reviews here.

-Anne

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Review and quotes: THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY


Title:
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Book Beginnings quote: 

June 12, 1954 -- The drive from Salina to Morgen was three hours, and for much of it, Emmett hadn't said a word.

Friday56 quote: 

Lying down on his bed, I stared at the ceiling. Over my head were no model airplanes. All I had was a crack in the plaster that turned a lazy curve around the ceiling lamp. But at the end of a long day maybe a crack in the plaster is all you need to trigger fanciful thoughts.

Summary: In June of 1954 Emmett is driven by the warden from the juvenile detention center to his home in Morgen, Nebraska. He has finished his sentence. But he is not coming home to the same situation he left. His father has died, the farm is foreclosed on, and he doesn't know what the future will hold. He just knows he wants to head to California with his younger brother Billy and start over. But before they can hit the road two other inmates from Salina, who hid in the trunk of the warden's car, show up and have other plans for Emmett: to take them to New York where they have hatched a plan to uncover a fortune.

Review: Based on the title of this book, The Lincoln Highway, one would think that the book will cover stories along the route from Nebraska to California with scenic "snapshots" of the bygone USA landscape along the way. Well, as it turns out there is not one mile taken by Emmett and his brother, Billy, westward toward their destination. Instead the two end up in New York City due to the plan hatched by Duchess and Wooley, escapees from the juvenile work prison in Kansas. And the route they take in the opposite direction isn't what they expected, either.


 

The novel is narrated by a whole cast of characters with only Duchess's chapters written in first person. There are several chapters by all four of the main characters but there are also chapters by Sally, Emmett's neighbor, also a teenager, who looked after Billy after their father died; Ulysses, a strong black man they meet during their journey to New York; Pastor John, another traveler, this one with bad intentions; and Abacus, a writer whose work has inspired Billy to look for heroes and adventure. The book, after all, is really about stories: the stories we tell ourselves and the stories that help us make sense of our world.

Weighing in at nearly 600 pages, The Lincoln Highway is remarkably buoyant. I found myself, however, expecting doom and gloom so would have to set the book aside frequently to avoid some action or another that I was sure would wreck the story for me. Those moments never actually arrived but Towles did a great job writing tension into the narrative. "Though dark shadows fall across its final chapters, the book is permeated with light, wit, youth. Many novels this size are telescopes, but this big book is a microscope, focused on a small sample of a vast whole. Towles has snipped off a minuscule strand of existence — 10 wayward days -- [to view under the lens of that microscope]" (NYT). And the dark shadows end up propelling the story forward to a possible future, full of other stories.

I listened to the audiobook, all 16+ hours of it and found it mesmerizing. As you can tell from this review, I absolutely adored the book and got completely wrapped up in the story, or shall I say, stories. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it. Don't be put-off by the page length, just dive right in! If you have, what did you think of this, Towles' third book?

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
Th
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.  

RHS Gals book club selection for March 2022.

-Anne

Monday, February 7, 2022

TTT: Will I LOVE These Books on My 'To-Read' List?

 

Top Ten Tuesday: (Love Freebie Week) Will I Love These Books On My 'To-Read' (TBR) List? I hope so!

 

1. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

๐Ÿ’– I am a new fan of this author and have heard great things about this book. Added to my TBR on Dec. 11, 2021

2. Work Song by Ivan Doig

 I just finished reading the first book in this series, The Whistling Season, where we meet Morrie Morgan as a teacher in a one-room school house. ๐Ÿ’“I loved it! This book carries Morrie's story onto new adventures. I am also a big fan of this author. Added to my TBR this past week.

3.  The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

I have read so many๐Ÿ’— positive reviews here in the blogosphere. Added to my TBR Dec. 31, 2021.

 

4. These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett

๐Ÿ’Ÿ I've loved everything I've read by this author and I usually enjoy reading well-written essays. Added to my TBR on Aug. 20, 2021

5. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Another book that my blogging friends have all loved. ๐Ÿ’•Added to my TBR Nov. 20, 2020

6. The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

๐Ÿ’The first book in the Disc World series by a fabulous author. Added to my TBR list Jul. 16, 2018.

7. Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry by Julian Peters

๐Ÿ˜I am a poetry fanatic and this book sounds unique.

 

8. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I've heard amazing things about this book. ๐Ÿ’™On my TBR since Jan 14, 2019.

9. If On A Winter's Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino

๐Ÿ’›A classic comedy; a conversation between two readers. Sounds fun. Added to my TBR Jan. 14, 2018

10. The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow.

Anything Jane Austen, I love. ๐Ÿ’– Added Dec. 6, 2020.

 

-Anne