"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=========

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Review: HUMANS

As I typed the title in the heading: Humans, I thought to myself that it is a perfect title for this book and a reminder to me how to approach this review.

Back in 2010 Brandon Stanton began a photography project to photograph 10,000 people on the streets of NYC; to create a catalog of the inhabitants of the city. He titled this project The Humans of New York. I am not on Instagram but I understand that he started posting the photos along with short stories and quotes to his account. Both my daughter and a niece were aware of his project not from a book, but from his on-line presence. Check out his website Humans of New York here.

Several years later Brandon Stanton expanded his project and has visited over 40 countries collecting photos and stories from people around the world. He is not trying to catalog people from every country and tribe, however. He is just collecting stories as a representation of humans everywhere. This book, Humans, is an outcome of that expanded project.

What I expected and what a got from my reading experience with Humans were two different things. First, I thought I'd look at cute, funny, odd, and inspiring photos of humans around the world with a sentence or two of where they lived and how they came to be photographed. What I got were well designed and arranged photos of people whose stories, some of them several pages long, often broke my heart. I wondered aloud to my husband mid-book, "Did Brandon go up to people and ask them to talk about the most depressing thing in their life for this book?" Of course my husband didn't know the answer but clearly there were LOTS of very depressing accounts recorded for the project. It wasn't until I reached page 277 of 437 that I found the answer to my question. Brandon said that once a person agreed to be photographed and interviewed, he would start with this question, "What is your greatest struggle right now?" What he got was what was weighing the person down, making their heart heavy. It was a powerful prompt.

Can you imagine a stranger coming up to you and asking such a deep, dark question? And then listening, really really listening to your response? It must have been a freeing experience being able to verbalize their fears, concerns, and cares to a nonjudgmental listener. No wonder so many accounts seem like their were drug up from the depths. In fact, Brandon said that he could tell when someone was telling the truth by the way their tale would come haltingly out of them, not in a fluid lighthearted way, but from a dark, hidden spot within them. He says that "struggles are transformative and they change people. The telling of ones story is part of that transformation. We relate much more to people's struggles than we do their victories. We empathize with pain more than joy."

What Brandon Stanton said here is true. I did find myself empathizing with the people whose stories I read. I was blown away. I know you will, too.


Monday, May 29, 2023

TTT: Things I hate related to books/writing

Top Ten Tuesday: Things I hate that are related to books and writing.

1. I hate it when all the conflict in the book is solved and tied up with a bow by book's ending. I don't mind happy endings, it just irritates me when everything is all sparkling and lovely. Life isn't that way.

2. It really bugs me when I start noticing that authors don't trust my intelligence or my memory so they keep repeating the same facts/details throughout the book. I especially dislike it when it happens in nonfiction books. Honestly! Authors, trust your readers.

3. I never, ever select a book with a hunky, bare-chested man on the cover. Nope. Not for me.

4. I tend to avoid super long or big books. If a book is over 400 pages I have to think long and hard about it before I will pick it and give it a try. Recently I finished The Count of Monte Cristo. I liked it but at over 1200 pages I thought I'd never finish it. In today's market I'm sure that editors would have spread that book out into a trilogy at least.

5. I dislike it when I realize that myths are being perpetuated in the book. Eg: Blacks aren't as intelligent as whites; women need men to be actualized; gays have more emotional problems than others; dogs are better pets than cats...

6. This used to be a non-starter for me, but now I am not as worried about this as when I was managing a high school library -- authors writing YA books in a series that go on and on. Students are only teens for a few years. If a YA series has more than four books tops, the readers age out and are no longer interested. Publishers should be mindful of the readers age as well and publish the books in the series no more than a year apart.

7. When character names are too similar. This is especially difficult for audiobook listeners. Or unpronounceable names/words in fantasy/sci-fi series. I end up struglling over them the whole time.

8. Believe it or not I actually think about the font styles and color of the print. I prefer fonts with serifs and just plain old black ink. I usually don't know until it is too late, however, about fonts and ink color, but I'll complain about it.

9. If I am reading a print version of a book, it drives me bonkers if no quotations marks are used. If I'm listening to the audiobook, I can't tell the difference. 😏

10. I generally won't read books in the horror genre. Why, you ask? Because I get scared.


Review: OBIT by Victoria Chang

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you should have noticed that I enjoy reading poetry. Not just any poetry, but good poetry. Or more correctly, good poetry that I can understand. That, my friends, is a tall order -- how to locate good poetry that is also understandable by the average woman (me)? My usual techniques often involve 1. Standing in front of the library shelves that house poetry (Dewey Decimal: 811, 821, 831, etc.) at my public library and attempting to divine which are the good volumes of poetry; or 2. Reviewing bloggers' suggestions on-line then ordering a copy from the library; or 3. (And this is what I did this time...) Reading through the award books in the poetry category, deciding which collections sound good and once again ordering up a copy from the library. That is how Obit by Victoria Chang ended up in my hands. I noticed that it made the National Book Award Longlist for Poetry in 2020 so I added it to my TBR.

This is how the publisher summarizes Obit:

After her mother died, poet Victoria Chang refused to write elegies. Rather, she distilled her grief during a feverish two weeks by writing scores of poetic obituaries for all she lost in the world. In Obit, Chang writes of “the way memory gets up after someone has died and starts walking.” These poems reinvent the form of newspaper obituary to both name what has died (“civility,” “language,” “the future,” “Mother’s blue dress”) and the cultural impact of death on the living. Whereas elegy attempts to immortalize the dead, an obituary expresses loss, and the love for the dead becomes a conduit for self-expression. In this unflinching and lyrical book, Chang meets her grief and creates a powerful testament for the living.

I used to read newspaper obituaries more frequently than I do now.  When I did I'd often notice how dispassionate most of them were, written as if standing back a few steps from the deceased person and in a way to create space for grief and privacy at the same time. As a member of a church with an aging congregation I have attended many memorial services where elegies are spoken aloud about the deceased. They not only commemorate the death but celebrate the life of the person often with eloquent, even sometimes, long-winded stories. In Obit Chang does write elegies, sort of, but also uses the more journalistic style of the newspaper obituary, with it's narrow columns. In the opening poems Chang writes an obituary to her father's frontal lobe, which died the day he had a stroke:

My Father’s Frontal Lobe—
died unpeacefully of a 
stroke on June 24, 2009 at 
Scripps Memorial Hospital in 
San Diego, California. Born 
January 20, 1940, 
the frontal lobe enjoyed a good 
life. The frontal lobe loved 
being the boss. It tried to 
talk again but someone put 
a bag over it. *

Of course. We are allowed to mourn the loss of abilities when a loved one has an accident or an infirmity. It makes sense to write an obit for her father's frontal lobe. I often found myself laughing when I read the poems, only to stop myself mid-giggle. "This isn't funny," I'd say to myself. Gallows humor, I guess.

It took me several poems/obits to settle in and figure out how to read and appreciate the book. In fact, I contemplating setting the whole collection aside but decided to give it one more try before sending it back to the library unread.

Her second poem in the collection about the actual death of her mother is more like an actual obituary but it devolves into an odd observation about the misnamed assisted living facility where her mother lived, Walnut Village. "The room was born on July 3, 2012. The Village wasn’t really a village. No walnut trees. Just cut flowers."

In the midst of the obituary poems, Chang changes form and writes open spaced, almost erasure-looking, poems about her own parenting, before returning to the obituary style. I had an even harder time reading these poems that the obituaries, until I read an analysis by another reviewer who realized that these poems were about Chang's own feelings of inadequacy of her parenting skills. "What is more revealing: writing about one’s anxieties as a parent or writing about one’s anxieties about one’s parent? (Kenyon Review) I might add, as a grandmother of young children, there is certainly a mourning which takes place for parents (grandparents) as children move through phases of development, never to be experienced again. Remember when __ used to ___? Sigh.

Interspersed throughout the collection are tankas, little mini sonnets-like poems about Chang's life, family, and her own fear of death. This is a form I am much more familiar with since I often write them myself, sometimes even reviewing books in tankas.

The last obituary in the collection really hit me hard. It was titled the date of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The obit begins: “America—died on February 14, 2018, and my dead mother doesn’t know. Since her death, America has died a series of small deaths each one less precise than the next.” Sadly we are continuing to live this death over and over again in America with no end in sight.

This collection of poems/obituaries is super powerful and has given me cause to pause and think of all the small deaths I have experienced in my life, many related to my own parents.

I highly recommend it but admonish you to be patient with the collection. It will click but it may not happen right away.

* The poem should be justified so that the spacing between words is increased so that the length of each line in the obit is identical. I couldn't figure out how to format that in html. Sorry.


Big Book Summer Challenge


I am really excited to add one more reading challenge to my list. This one is hosted by Sue at Book By Book: The Big Book Summer Challenge.

The rules are simple: starting May 26 through September 4, read books that are at least 400 pages long. You only have to read one to complete the challenge. 

I have a few books chosen to read for this challenge chosen so far:
  • Horse by Geraldine Brooks, 401 pages
  • Human by Brandon Stanton, 437 pages
  • Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary, 423 pages
  • Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, 401 pages
  • Hello Beautiful by Ann Napalitano, 416 pages
  • Babel: An Arcane History by RF Kuang, 544 pages 
That is a lot of big books for me but I have already started four of them and one of the others is a book club selection so I am off to great start and know I will be successful on this challenge. Join me?


Sunday, May 28, 2023

Sunday Salon -- Memorial Day 2023

First bloom 2023: Left to right, top -- Cecile Brunner climber (mini); Scentimental; Pope John Paul II. Center --Abbaye de Cluny; Midas Touch; Love.  Bottom -- 4th of July; Gourmet Popcorn (mini); Eyeconic.

Weather: Overcast and cool. The forecast calls for sun later in the day. 

Rita is 35 and very happy!

My eldest daughter turned 35 this week. Where did the years go. How can I have a daughter who is 35 when I o clearly remember the day she was born?

First bloom: with our spring weather being cooler than usual, our first bloom on the roses is later than usual. But almost all of my 21 rose bushes are currently blooming right now with their best effort of each year. See collage above.

Pentecost: Today is the birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles like wings of fire. It was quite a celebration today as well!

Books: I have been reading a lot this month. I'm not bragging. I'm even shocked how many books I've read the past two weeks, many children's books and graphic novels.

  • Currently reading
    • Humans by Brandon Stanton -- photos of people from various locations around the world with self-reported stories from their lives. Many of the stories are very depressing. Why am I reading this? Print, from library, 47%.
    • Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Kawaguchi -- a coffee shop where you can get more than a cuppa, time travel. Set in Japan. Print, from the library, 38%.
    • Pray First by Hodges -- our current Women's Bible Study choice. Print, own, 29%.
  • Recently finished (within last two weeks). Click on title to read my review:
    • The Art of War: a Graphic Novel by Pete Katz and Sun Tzu -- I've always wanted to read the book and now I can say I have, however I didn't get much out of it.
    • Five children's books by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I love this author so much. I've shared with my grandchildren and they enjoy the books, too.
    • Colin Kaepernick: Change the Game: a Graphic Memoir -- He is a very complex man and athlete.
    • Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson -- a book club selection. Audio.
    • Unshuttered: Poems by Patricia Smith -- very powerful poems written in concert with photos of 19th century African-Americans.
    • Long Way Down: a Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds and Danica Novgorodoff -- I read the novel-in-verse several years ago. This was better and the other was fantastic.
    • Obit by Victoria Chang -- after her mother died, poet Victoria Chang spent weeks writing obituaries for everything she had lost. Powerful yet odd.
    • Horse by Geraldine Brooks. -- I have read many other books by this author. She writes fantastic and thorough historical fiction, based on facts. I've written my review but haven't published it yet, watch this space, it will be published Thursday. Audio.
    • Yellow Submarine -- a children's book based on the Beatles movie.

On the lighter side:

This is me. I had to interrupt my husband's project cleaning out the shop this week because I was having trouble on Excel. I call him my personal Excel Helpline.

This one's for you, Margaret, after our conversation about name goof-ups at Starbucks.

This one never gets old.


Friday, May 26, 2023


Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49er's quarterback, decided to take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem before a game in 2016, in protest for the way Blacks were treated in this country. As a result of this protest his contract was not renewed and he was blacklisted so no other teams would pick him up.

Before he became a football star, before he made his personal protest about the bad treatment of Blacks, before he was blacklisted, Colin was a high school student and athlete living with his family in Turlock, California. He was a three-sport athlete- football, basketball, and baseball- and everyone thought he would go pro as a baseball pitcher. Colin wasn't excited about baseball because, as MLB player Adam Jones said, "Baseball is a white man's sport." He didn't see himself the way others did. He wanted to play college football at Division 1 level. But he wasn't getting any offers to play football.

His white parents didn't seem to understand Colin and his resistance to playing baseball. They also didn't seem to understand what it was like for their son to be a Black man living in a predominately white community.

This touching graphic memoir explores how a young change-maker learned to find himself, make his own way, and to never compromise.

Since being blacklisted from NFL football, Colin has kept himself busy finding ways to help empower black and brown communities through education, self-empowerment, and mass-mobilization. In April 2022 he hosted a Know Your Rights Camp for youth in Las Vegas. He asked campers to share how they aspire to change the game. Their responses, recorded at the end of the book are very inspiring.



Back in November of 2017 I read the novel-in-verse Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Here is what I said about the novel at that time:

If you haven't heard of this book, it is about a boy who is considering killing the person he thinks killed his brother. While he is on the elevator heading out to do the deed he is visited by six "ghosts" of people killed by guns. It is very distressing to think that this book is reporting a truth, that a lot of killings in the inner city are considered honor killings...you killed my brother, so I will kill you. When will it stop? The whole book is written in verse. On occasion I had a hard time telling who was speaking and what was being discussed, but I got the gist of the message. Very powerful.
The book was very impactful and I carried its message around inside me for these past five years, but now I have discovered the answer to my confusion over who is speaking: Long Way Down: A Graphic Novel. The illustrations by Danica Novgorodoff leave no question which "gun-killed ghost" is speaking. And just like the ending of the original book, this one ends with the same question: what will William do? Will he carry on the tragedy of revenge killing or will he stop following those inane rules others lived and died by in the neighborhood -- if someone is killed, a family member needs to revenge that killing by killing the person who did it. Unfortunately, as the ghosts point out, often that family member doesn't actually know who did the killing so they end up killing the wrong person. It goes on and on. It needs to stop. Can Will break the pattern of killing?

This is Will's story.

Rule No. 1-No crying; No. 2- No snitching; No. 3-Revenge

I think the illustrations really enhance the book and I highly recommend this graphic novel.


Thursday, May 25, 2023


When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb

Book beginnings quote:

Friday56 quote:


Uriel the angel and Little Ash (short for Ashmedai) are the only two supernatural creatures in their shtetl (which is so tiny, it doesn't have a name other than Shtetl). The angel and the demon have been studying together for centuries, but pogroms and the search for a new life have drawn all the young people from their village to America. When one of those young emigrants goes missing, Uriel and Little Ash set off to find her.

Along the way the angel and demon encounter humans in need of their help, including Rose Cohen, whose best friend (and the love of her life) has abandoned her to marry a man, and Malke Shulman, whose father died mysteriously on his way to America. But there are obstacles ahead of them as difficult as what they’ve left behind. Medical exams (and demons) at Ellis Island. Corrupt officials, cruel mob bosses, murderers, poverty. The streets are far from paved with gold.(Publisher)

Review: I know, I know. The description and the quotes from When the Angels Left the Old Country say this book is not my usual fare. In fact, I'd venture to say, it is not most people's usual reading fare. But once one gets past the mention of shtetls (and other Jewish words I've not heard before) and the fact that the two main characters are an angel and a demon who enjoy studying and working together, it is quite a delightful story, one that even incorporates some actual history on labor relations at the beginning of the twentieth century.

When the Angels Left the Old Country won a 2023 Printz Honor, among other honors at the Youth Media Awards this year. I'd not heard of the book, which is kind of surprising since I pride myself on keeping track of the best YA novels published each year. However, when I added it to my TBR several people commented, which is also unusual, on how enjoyable they found the book.

In a nutshell, Uriel and Little Ash want to find Essie, a girl from their shletl who went to America but seems to have gone missing. In order to get to America themselves they have to use some supernatural powers. On the ship they meet Rose Cohen who is traveling alone. The three team up. When they get to New York, and after they finally get off of Ellis Island, they find a community of other Jewish people, many of whom work in the clothing industry. The boss of the plant where they work is in gambling trouble and is willing to go to get lengths to break the coming strike. The threesome set to work to figure out where Essie is and how to protect the workers from the mobsters. It is a fun and funny YA mystery, with historical, religious, and LGBTQ undertones.

I enjoyed every moment as I listened to the audiobook read by Donald Corren. On a related note, during our recent vacation, my husband and I finished listening to our fourth audiobook. I proposed that next we listen to When the Angels Left the Old Country from the point where I left off before our trip (35%). After a quick summary, my husband agreed. When we got home we still had about 2 hours left to finish the book. I wondered aloud if I should finish it by myself, since we usually only do audiobooks together in the car. My husband balked. He wanted to find out how the story ended. So for the next two evenings we sat in the living room and finished listening to the book together. We both loved it.

I highly recommend this one to all of you, too!

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


Tuesday, May 23, 2023


Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson 

Opening lines:

He should have known it would come to this. He should have known the day his hak gwai wife of his ran away from home. Should have known the day he saw his daughter swimming in the bay as a storm bore down on her.

Another quote:

“More people’s lives have been shaped by violence than we like to think. And more people’s lives have been shaped by silence than we think.”



In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage and themselves.

Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right”? Will their mother’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever? (Publisher)

Review: Tomorrow my book club meets to discuss Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson. The group, made up of mostly retired high school teachers, prides itself on selecting the best that literature has to offer. We always scour book review sources and pay attention to books others think will provide fodder for good discussions. When we select a "clinker" we will chide ourselves for years about that choice. "Remember Frog Music," we'll ask each other and laugh. Black Cake is a perfect example of the type of books we usually select: set in another country we know little about, with a cast of varied characters, and an interesting-sounding plot. 

Black Cake seems to check all the correct boxes. It is set originally in a unnamed Caribbean Island. Covey (aka Eleanor) lives with her father, a Chinese-Caribbean man, and Pearl, the housekeeper and cook, since her mother has abandoned them. She is a swimmer of great strength and dreams of winning the in-ocean swim prize. When her arranged marriage to the man holding her father's gambling debts ends in murder, all eyes turn to Covey, but she has ran/swum away and everyone assumes she has drowned. Because of these murder charges, Covey cannot return home and leaves for the UK where she is alone and friendless. She assumes the name of another woman and eventually ends up in the United States. When she dies, she leaves behind a tape for her children, Benny and Byron, to listen to together. As they listen they learn the whole back story of their mother and learn that they have a sister in the UK, a child their mother was forced to give up.

The chapters are arranged by NOW and THEN stories. /Covey/Eleanor's story unfolds slowly as the readers jump back and forth in time. The narration is picked up by a variety of characters, but the chapter headings help the reader by clearly marking who is speaking.

All good so far.

So what is the beef I had with the book? In my opinion Wilkerson tried to do too much with her book. It was as if every social ill needed to be mentioned but not very well addressed. Child abandonment, parental gambling, rape/sexual abuse/ forced adoption. racial issues (especially for Byron, the Black man in the story), LGBTQ issues, sibling rivalry, relationship problems, climate change concerns, immigration concerns, friendship troubles, etc. Wilkerson seemed to be checking boxes herself. It is as if she wanted to increase readership by naming all social ills, but was not equipped to adequately address the concerns or the look at possible solutions. One review said the book came off as "soap opera-y." Cue the dramatic music. That same reviewer mentioned the loss of opportunity Wilkerson missed about not expanding on several of the plot points. I would argue that she also created characters who for 90% of the book showed little growth or self awareness. Ugh. I hate that. Not until the end of the book did any them seem to get unstuck and move in a positive direction.

My rating: 3 stars. In my mind I played around with giving it only 2 stars but the ending was fairly satisfying, though possibly it wrapped almost too nicely. Sigh.  Recommendation: proceed with caution.


Monday, May 22, 2023

TTT: (Twist) My favorite Pulitzer Prize Award winners

Top Ten Tuesday: (Off the board this week .) My favorite Pulitzer Prize winners.

I'm three books way from reading all the Pulitzer Prize winners of the 21st-century which is the goal for my personal Pulitzer challenge. In addition I've read 42 of the 96 winners overall, plus eight of its finalists. Here is my master list of the Pulitzers.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee [1961]*
Even though times have changed our sensibilities since this famous book was published, I still love the story so much and I'm smitten by Scout as the book's narrator.

2. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver [2023]
Kingsolver is one of, if not my favorite author. I've enjoyed everything she has written. I was delighted to learn that she is a co-winner for the 2023 Pulitzer with Trust by Diaz, (which I haven't read yet.) The story was inspired by David Copperfield and by Dickens himself.

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr [2015]
I don't normally love war stories but this one is so brilliantly wrought I had to reread it within two years of reading it for the first time. I love the way Doerr weaves together themes and returns to them over and over.

4. Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx [1994]
I've read this book at least three times and I'm getting the itch to reread it for a fourth. I cannot put my finger on what it is that I like about this book so much except that it is stuffed full of quirky characters and a very unique setting.
5. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry [1986]*
USA Today said, "If you read only one Western novel in your life, read Lonesome Dove." I agree. This epic novel about the Old West is a must-read. Ignore the fact that it is 850+ pages long, just saddle up and enjoy the ride.

6. The Overstory by Richard Powers [2019]
"When is the best time to plant a tree?" -- 20 years ago. "When is the next best time to plant a tree?" -- Now! This book of seven interconnected stories all revolve around trees. I loved every minute of it.
7.  The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt [2014]
One event can change the trajectory of one's life forever. I was obsessed with this book after I listened to all 30+ hours of the audiobook. 

8. The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole [1981]*
This is a very, very funny novel with one of the most memorable characters in all of literature: Ignatius J. Riley. I especially loved the audio version of the book for its Louisiana accents.

This book is about so much: the early days of comic books, WWII, the Holocaust, magic, art, Houdini. I just finihsed this one so it will have to live on the list at this spot until I figure out how it weathers in my mind.

10. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz [2008]
Another story about a comic, yet bedraggled character. It asks us to examine where home is and how do we get there. Partially set in Dominican Republic.
11. The Road by Cormac McCarthy [2007]*
How does one love a book about the end of the world? Let's just say I was deeply impacted by this one.

12. The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri [2000]
Short stores set in India aor about Indian Nationals abroad. This stories are all stuck in my head and I think about them often.

13. Beloved by Toni Morrison [1988] and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead [2017]
They both look at the horrors of slavery from different angles. They both blew me away for what they revealed and the power of their words.
14. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck [1940]
Written during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl this novel rings true with every page. Do you want to understand our history of that time period? Read this novel.
15. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck [1932]
I read this in high school and it made a huge impact on me. For years I told people this was my favorite book. I placed it on my top ten to honor my younger self who loved it.

What are your favorites from among the Pulitzer Prize winners? 
* Are my husband's top four!


Poetry review: UNSHUTTERED

Over twenty years ago poet Patricia Smith happened upon a nineteenth-century photo of a Black person in a flea market -- a dim, water-streaked image of a slyly smiling woman wearing a large hat. Smith felt distressed by the woman's silence, by the fact that her story was untold and unknown. Over the years Smith collected over 200 photos -- known as cabinet cards, daguerreotypes, cartes de visite, ambrotypes, and tintypes -- of African American who lived 120-180 years ago. These types of photos are hard to find because so few Blacks back then had money to spend on something so frivolous -- a photo of themselves.

As Patricia Smith looked at the photos in her collections, the faces behind the photos seemed to be calling out to her "aching to be remembered and heard." Smith knew about this need for 'story' from her own lived experience. When she was growing up, her mother, who had migrated from the South to Chicago, refused to share anything about her own past. Smith said, "Looking behind me, I see nothing that says: This is where you come from. This is who I am. But I'm not the only one surrounded by silence. Many African American of my generation tell similar stories." Because of this she became obsessed with giving voice to each of the individuals in the photos and expressing their connections to mankind.

Unshuttered is a collection of 43 poems, alongside the particular photographs that match, which tell a story and give words to those who otherwise would be unremembered. Many of the stories are heartbreaking and devastating. In giving each person a story, Smith is saying he/she/they existed. He/she/they mattered. That makes for powerful poetry. Here is what Patricia Smith said about the creative process:

In Unshuttered, the narratives are attached to the images—but, then again, they’re not. There is absolutely no way I could say “Here’s exactly what this person sounded like, and here’s exactly what they would say.” Instead, I thought about ways their 19th-century lives paralleled ours—the ways they grieved, professed love, wrestled with sexuality, confronted or succumbed to injustice...Though some of the more visually arresting images insisted on their own narrative, the majority of poems didn’t arrive as readily. While it’s been said that the images “spoke” to me, that’s not entirely true. Each poem conjured a current—a mood, an atmosphere, a message—and that current conjured a face. I looked through the images until I found the face that came closest. Then that person lives alongside the story, and hopefully they complement each other (Chicago Review of Books, March 2023).

Smith fights against the current move to eradicate Black history with her poems and by sharing these photos in Unshuttered. She hopes that her collection will be displayed in a public setting somewhere, hopefully in Chicago, her hometown. A plan had been made to do something with it for the past Presidential inauguration, but other circumstances got in the way. "Not only was Covid on the rampage, but the volatility of the political landscape gave us pause—who’d have time for poetry if we were furiously fighting the downfall of democracy?" Indeed. 

Sample page format. Picture on the left, poem on the right. I am not sure if this is Smith's first picture of her collection, but as you see it is a woman wearing a big hat.

Good poetry always give me a chance to pause, to reflect, to feel, to grow. This collection does all of that and more.


Sunday, May 21, 2023

Children's books by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

  • Earlier this year I was introduced to Amy Krouse Rosenthal's excellent and charming adult books: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (2005) and Textbook (2016) by Deb Nance at Reader Buzz. Deb said that Encyclopedia was one of her top twenty books. She reads a lot so I knew it had to be good. I was completely smitten with the unique way that Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote about her life, in an encyclopedia style (alphabetized, of course). After completing it I immediately set about trying to find her sequel memoir: Textbook. While I waited for it to arrive at the library I learned some very sad news. Amy Krouse Rosenthal had died in 2017 of cancer. My reading of Textbook therefore was a very different experience for me compared to reading her earlier book, the experience was a lot more poignant.

As I was searching around to find out some information about Amy Krouse Rosenthal, an author who was dead even before I heard about her, I learned:

  • An NPR book critic said that Rosenthal was "preternaturally cheerful."
  • She was a prolific writer with more than 30 books to her name.
  • Rosenthal loved experimenting with different media, and blending the virtual and physical worlds. One can still contribute to projects on-line that she started when writing Textbook.
  • In 1997 she made a 2-minute recording of many things she is thankful for. You can listen to it here.
  • Months before she died she penned a personal ad for her husband, Jason, seeking a new life-partner for him. In the piece, Rosenthal announced her illness, celebrated her family and sought a new partner for her husband, Jason. She finished the essay — difficult to write through a haze of drugs and illness — on Valentine's Day, she said, "and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.

When I learned that Rosenthal had published many, many children's books I decided to read as many of them as I could find at my local libraries. So far I've read seven and loved them. Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Every one of her books that I've read has been illustrated by a different artist, as you can see from the photo of the books above. It caused to stop and wonder at the process of locating an illustrator for her books and what particular qualities she was hoping to highlight through the art.
  • Of the books I've read, I suspect that Choo-Choo School will be my grandsons favorite. It is so clever in its language with double-meanings and its colorful illustrations.
  • Duck! Rabbit! and Don't Blink are the most creative.
  • That's Me Loving You made me cry. It is supposed to be a mother's comforting words to a child leaving for school but I read it as a message from Rosenthal to her actual children after her death.
  • ! is a creative way to learn punctuation.
  • All of the books are humorous, sweet, and kind.


Friday, May 19, 2023

A personal read and blogathon -- updated

Every few months I just need to catch up. For this reason I set myself goals to read and blog for 24 hours in (this time) a four-day window of time. Starting right now I plan to spend at least six hours a day for four day straight reading and blogging. Here is my plan: update:


  • Finish -- Black Cake by Wilkinson. I am currently 56% done, with 3+ hours left. Completed and blog review written!
  • Begin and make substantial progress -- Horse by Brooks. I have both the audiobook and the print version of this book at my avail at this moment. 65% complete.
  • Possibly start -- Immortal King Rau by Vara. This just became available from the library. No.

Children's Books:

  • Five children's books by Amy Krouse Rosenthal Completed and passed on to my grandchildren after writing a blog review.

Graphic novel/biography:

  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and Danica Novgorodoff  Completed.
  • Change the Game by Colin Kaepernick Completed.

Poetry Books:

  • Then the War: Selected Poems 2007-2020 by Cal Phillips Read about 15 pages and decided the poetry wasn't for me.
  • Unshuttered: Poems by Patricia Smith Completed and blog review written.
  • Obit by Chang (E-book) Complete.


  • How to Be a Young Antiracist by Kendi and Stone No.
  • Pray First by Hodges Read the first five chapters, which was the goal.
  • Tell Me Why: Beatles Commentary by Riley Up to 33% from 15%.

Blog reviews:

  • Four Seasons in Rome by Doerr No.
  • When the Angels Left the Old Country by Lamb Yes.
  • Adrift by Galloway No.
  • Any books I finish during the readathon Yes, see above.

In total I read/blogged for over 22 hours. I did a pretty bad job of keep an exact record of time. I completed 10 book (5-children's books, two-graphic novels, two-poetry books, and one audiobook.) I wrote four reviews. In addition, I made progress on three other books. All in all it was a successful readathon.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Review and quotes: THE MOUNTIANS SING

Title: The Mountains Sing by
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Book Beginnings quote: 

My grandmother used to tell me that when our ancestors die, they don't just disappear, they continue to watch over us.

Friday56 quote:

As Grandma turned into a professional con buôn (trafficker), the Old Quarter became the maze of her secret operations.


The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multi-generational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore apart not just her beloved country, but also her family.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope. (Publisher)

Review: The Mountains Sing was one of five audiobooks my husband and I listened to on our recent road trip and it's a book club selection for next month. After digesting five recorded books in two weeks it was natural for us to compare and rank them. Both Don and I claimed The Mountains Sing as our favorite of the bunch. Why? Don said he not only enjoyed the family saga in its historical context but he also learned so much about the Vietnamese culture and its tragic 20th Century history of occupation by the Japanese, the French, and finally by the USA. I appreciated how the story sheds a light on the Vietnam War from the vantage point of Vietnamese females rather than from an American point of view. How conceited of us to think the Vietnam War was about us.

Don also commented about how important it is for us to read about other cultures and languages without expecting English-sounding names and places. You notice in the quotes above that the grandmother was a 'con buôn' but I had to look up that the phrase means a 'trafficker' in Vietnamese. She dealt in black market items and would trade and barter to make a living. The Mountains Sing is a story of three women in the Trần family: the grandmother, Diệu Lan; her eldest daughter, Ngọc; and the granddaughter, Hương. Notice a few things here -- the surname comes first in Vietnamese and the extra notations on the letters assist with pronunciation which is very important with a tonal language. I think American readers (listeners) need to sit with their discomfort in not knowing exactly how to pronounce names of people in other countries rather than dismiss them out of hand or expect writers to undo aspects of their language due to colonization. One reader described her reading experience with The Mountains Sing as "learning about Vietnam's history was a side effect of living it through the book."

Hương lives with her grandmother when the rest of the family goes off to support the war effort. Her grandmother is able to buy/barter for books so Hương can read something other than the propaganda students get at school. Through these books she starts to learn about the world beyond her borders and eventually comes to understand that not all Americans are the monsters who are killing her people and fighting against them.


I love this quote: "Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other and see the light of cultures, there would be no war on earth." This captures the overarching goal of the book -- to make sure we have opportunities to read about each other, to see the goodness in other cultures, to stop thinking we are the best. Through this book we are able to see that all cultures, though different than our own, have value and beauty and are worthy of being appreciated without changing to fit within our comfort zone.

Author, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, earned Masters and PhD degrees so she could write The Mountains Sing in English. She wanted to fully present an inside-out view of her country and culture. Quế Mai had already published eight books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in Vietnamese. It was time to share what she knew with the rest of the world. Quế Mai took seven years to write The Mountains Sing and she interviewed over 100 people collecting their stories. She wanted to write in English to decolonize literature about Vietnam and also correct misrepresentations of Vietnamese women in existing literature. The Mountains Sing won numerous literary prizes including being runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2021, recognized for its excellence as an anti-war novel. Another aspect the author wanted to share with the world is the way Vietnamese proverbs are incorporated into daily life. For example, when Hương is frustrated by some aspect of life, her grandmother shares a proverb, "Good luck hides inside bad luck." In an interview Quế Mai shared that translating these proverbs was very difficult and time-consuming because she not only wanted to convey the correct message, but also the beauty of the language, the poetry within them.

When asked what kind of response she has received from readers, Quế Mai said that once a book is published it is never really finished. It is like planting a tree but the readers are the ones who plant the garden around the tree and tend it and make it into something beautiful. She is gratified by what these readers have shared with her. Among the respondents are Americans who fought in the Vietnam war who said they never got the chance to know the Vietnamese people at all, they were just the faceless enemy. These former soldiers appreciated knowing the truth about the Vietnamese people and their culture.

Another reviewer summed up her review of The Mountains Sing with these words -- "Wow. Wow. Just wow!" I think that sums up how I feel about the book and I hope these three "wows" are enough to encourage you to read it as well.

As I said in my introduction, my husband and I listened to the audio version of The Mountains Sing. It was expertly narrated by Quyen Gno. Hearing her narration brought the language alive for our ears and I would recommend this format to you also. In order to learn a bit more about the author, I visited her webpage which has a pronunciation guide for her name and a 45-minute interview with the author. The portion I listened to was very enlightening and helpful. Here is a link to her website. Even if you listen to the first ten minutes of the interview you will be richly rewarded.

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


Monday, May 15, 2023

TTT: Things Getting in the Way of Reading

Top Ten Tuesday: Things Getting in the Way of Reading


This list seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? 

What gets in the way of reading? LIFE!

Now, to be fair, I am retired so I don't have work life to take up my attention and my energy. So I hope no one thinks I am complaining about my life. I'm not. 

But here are a few distractions:

This guy: Super Jamie, the caped wonder. We babysit our youngest grandson one day every other week.

Traveling: We just got back from 3000+ mile road trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, three national parks, one Nevada State Park, and Las Vegas. It is hard to read when one is sightseeing but we actually listened to all or part of 5 recorded books while on the road.  
Family stuff!

Family of origin: My mother is still living, age 94, and I have three siblings. We try to gather as often as we can but we live in four different states so it takes time and coordination to set up our visits.

Oregon Football: We are season ticket holders. Our autumns are consumed with Duck Football. But once again Don and I usually listen to audiobooks as we race up and down the freeway to get to the games so it is not a total loss of reading. Photo taken of the mascot who was pretending to be Bat Duck. (Look for the yellow circle. That is us!)

Grand Adventures: Grandkids, Grandparents

Gardening: I'm a putterer. Nothing serious.

Board games: New favorite-- Wingspan.

Other things: Church, cooking, eating, TV, grooming, lazy, distracted, sleeping, walking the dog...you name it. But the worst: getting stuck inside a boring or badly-written book.