"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, October 30, 2023

Nonfiction November -- Week One

Today is the beginning of Nonfiction November. Let's see what is my prompt today?

Week 1 (10/30-11/3) Your Year in Nonfiction: a. Celebrate your year of nonfiction. What books have you read? What were your favorites? b. Have you had a favorite topic? c. Is there a topic you want to read about more?  d. What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November? 

a. I've read 37 nonfiction books this year so far and I am currently listening to another nonfiction/memoir right now. Twelve of these books are children's, middle grade, or YA titles. This isn't surprising since I read as a Cybils nonfiction judge. Even though my role as judge doesn't kick in until January, I know it is coming and I will attempt to locate new nonfiction titles for these age groups throughout the year.

b. My favorite books are those that generated great discussions with someone else.  Four books jump out in my mind due to the discussions that followed my readings: The Loneliest Polar Bear and Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope were excellent book club selections. Pray First by Hodges has been a treasure and I'm working through it for my second time in one year in my church small group. And lastly Meet the Megafauna! by Balkan, a children's book I just read with my grandson. We both devoured the book and spent hours talking about it.

c. I'm a nonfiction omnivore. I will read anything as long as I am interested or there is a chance I'll learn something new!

d. I hope to catch up on reading some of my own nonfiction books that I've had around the house for years during this year. I also have dedicated myself to read as many of the nominated nonfiction titles for the Children's nonfiction category for the Cybils Award. There are 115 of them this year, so this is no small task. I may give up before I get to the end of the task, but I'm up for trying.


TTT: Halloween Freebie

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Playlist on Spotify

I made a Spotify Halloween playlist of some of my favorite creepy or Halloween-ish tunes last year and thought I'd share it again. Enjoy!

Click link: Anne's Spotify Halloween Playlist


1. 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' by J.S. Bach

2. 'Young Frankenstein: A Transylvanian Lullaby' by Morris

3. 'Haunted Waltz' by Gregory

4. 'Ghostbusters' by Ray Parker, Jr.

5. 'Monster Mash' by Bobby "Boris" Pickett

6. 'Thriller' by Micahel Jackson

7. 'Hall of the Mountain King' by Grieg, arranged by Mannheim Steamroller

8. 'Twilight Zone Theme' by Constant

9. 'Werewolves of London' by Zevon

10. 'Time Warp' from The Rocky Horror Picture Show

... and twenty-five other titles, many of them added this year.


Sunday, October 29, 2023


Back in 2012 the Pulitzer Prize committee did not select a winner from the three finalists. It sent shock waves among the whole national book community. How dare they not select a book? Book sellers were counting on the increased sales that come when a winner is announced. The Pulitzer Jury members were outraged. They had been reading books all year and were solidly behind the three finalists, believing any of them would make a tremendous choice. The Pulitzer Prize committee doesn't tell what process they use to select their books, how the voting went, or, in this case, why they opted to not select any of the books. It wasn't the first time the Pulitzer Committee decided to NOT name a winner, but it was the first time in over forty years, harkening back to the 1970s, which made it all the more shocking. After reading this article, "Do Book Prizes Owe Us a Winner Every Year? A Deep Dive Into the Pulitzer Prize Controversy of 2012," I decided I would read one of the finalists to fill out  my reading of the 21st Century winners.

The three finalists in question, all published in 2011, were Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, published posthumously. Swamplandia! sounded a little too much to me. Too crazy, too original, too odd. David Wallace Foster committed suicide in 2008. The Pale King was the novel he was working on at the time of his death. His editor was able to pull together the pieces and publish it. But it was unfinished.

“The Pale King” was, of course, unfinished, but so are a number of great works of art. We have only fragments of Sappho’s poetry. Chaucer was a little more than halfway through “The Canterbury Tales” when he died... It seemed, too, that a Pulitzer for “The Pale King” would be, by implication, an acknowledgement not only of Wallace but also of Michael Pietsch, the editor. As a novelist, I well know how much difference an editor can make—and there’s no major prize given to editors. The best an editor can hope for is mention on the acknowledgments page, when, sometimes, that editor has literally rescued the book.

-Michael Cunningham, “Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury: What Really Happened This Year” Part 2
I found myself dreading the idea of reading The Pale King based on its summary. Fortunately I had one more option, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. The Wikipedia summary for this book captures it pretty perfectly: “The novella details the life of Robert Grainier, an American railroad laborer, who lives a life of hermitage until he marries and has a daughter, only to lose both wife and child in a forest fire, and sink into isolation again.” A booktuber described the book, weighing in at only 116 pages as a "short sharp shock."

I opted for the audiobook version of Train Dreams and was immediately rewarded for my choice by discovering that the narrator was Will Patton. He is one of my very favorite book narrators and is perfect to read about an Old West character with his raspy, gravely voice. The opening scene involves Robert Grainier and other other men torturing a Chinese laborer, attempting to drag him to his death. When the man escapes, Robert is sure he was cursed by this experience and later in life reflects with shame upon it. When Robert wasn't working on the railroad, he would often make enough money to live on by logging. He also was very handy and later became a delivery man, running a team of old horses with his wagon around the area where he lived in the Idaho Panhandle.

As I started listening I immediately felt an affinity to both the story and to the setting. My maternal grandfather attempted to homestead a dusty plot of land in Oregon in the early 1920s, not too far from Idaho. He, like many men of the era, was good at everything. Though his homesteading dream was not completed, he did ultimately build two different homes on his own while and his job was building roads as a civil engineer. My paternal grandfather helped build the Panama Canal and the Bonneville Dam. He started out at a carpenter's assistant and moved up to be the supervisor. Our nation was built on the strength and toughness of men like my grandfathers and like Robert Grainier. My husband put himself through college by working as a logger for several summers and falls in between terms. His stories of his experiences logging in the woods paralleled the stories of Robert Grainier. There is an old man on the logging team, Arn Peeples who is a humorous old coot who is always entertaining the crew...

My husband had several older men on his crews who sounded very much like Arn Peeples. My husband has been mimicking the funny sayings from Sam, the crew's equipment operator, all the years I've known him. The book and the characters really spoke to me on a personal level.

"[Train Dreams] was magnificently written, stylistically innovative, and—in its exhilarating, magical depiction of ordinary life in the much romanticized Wild West—a profoundly American book" (Michael Cunningham). And keep in mind the Pulitzer’s mandate that the fiction prize should be awarded to a work “by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” Homesteading, railroads, logging, forest fires, and small-time rural life, what could be more American than Old West stories?

So Train Dreams didn't win the Pulitzer Prize in 2012, but I encourage you to read it anyway. It is truly a "short sharp shock" of a story and I loved it.


Saturday, October 28, 2023

New Children's Nonfiction Books --- first batch of reviews

As a Round 2 judge for the Cybils Nonfiction Awards I will spend January and February reviewing the finalists in three categories: Children's; Middle-Grade; and High School. That might mean I have to read as few as 15 books during the first month and a half of 2024 and as many at 21. That may sound like a lot of books to most of you but consider what the Round 1 judges face. This year there are 121 submissions in the Children's Nonfiction category alone. That is a huge job for any judges trying to tackle that job and make a fair estimation of each one. I decided I'd try to lend a hand by reviewing as many of the books as I can and linking my reviews, giving voice to my thoughts about each one.  Afterall, what are book awards for if not for an opportunity to showcase excellent examples by categories. As a retired librarian I also understand the value of naming exemplary books for awards and also of the power of book reviews. I couldn't read every book I purchased for my library so I had to rely on lists of award books from the ALA, National Book Award, Carnegie Awards, etc. and I devoured others' book reviews to inform my decisions before purchasing books.

With this introduction, I begin today by reviewing my first batch of new nonfiction children's books. I had the help of an actual child, my six-year-old grandson, for three of them. I will include his insights and reactions when appropriate.

Flipflopi: How a Boat Made From Flip-Flops Is Helping Save the Ocean
by Linda Ravin Lodding and Dipesh Pabari, illustrated by Michael Machira Mwangi (Beaming Books, Minneapolis. March 2023) 

Juma and his grandfather, Babu Ali, want to go fishing. But when they get to the beach they are overwhelmed by the vast numbers of floating plastics, including colorful flip-flops, polluting their Kenyan beach. Instead of getting discouraged, Babu Ali suggests that they collect the plastics and he will make what they recover into a boat. They get help from their friends and neighbors, finally collection over 7 tons of plastic garbage before the construction process can begin.

This timely books gives a few details of how this dhow book was constructed-- melting down the plastic debris and shaping it as one would shape wood; creating a lattice of old flip-flops for the boat's skin; and lately creating a sail out of old water bottles. When this Flipflopi boat launched in 2018, it did so to a lot of fanfare and has been useful in bringing attention to the problems of plastic pollution in the oceans. Now there are efforts underway to build a bigger boat, one capable for traveling all around the world to carry the message of how dangerous plastic pollution is and how we can make a difference by avoiding single-use plastics whenever possible.

What I liked about the book:
  • The dialogue and the illustrations aided in understanding the scope of the problem and the beauty of the completed boat. The illustrator is from Kenya and is self taught. I'm impressed.
  • My grandson and I discussed how we can help and what we are doing right as we reviewed the 'How You Can Help' page.
  • This book covers a timely/urgent topic related to climate change and saving our planet. I urge elementary librarians to add this book to your collection.
My rating: 4 stars.

All Rise: The Story of Ketanji Brown Jackson
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ashley Evans. (Crown Books for Young Readers, New York. Feb. 28, 2023)

Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, is an inspiration and role model to children of all ages. Carole Boston Weatherford tells her story of perseverance, dignity, and honor in this uplifting picture book biography. Ketanji Brown’s parents taught her that if she worked hard and believed in herself, she could do anything. As a child, Ketanji focused on her studies and excelled, eventually graduating from Harvard Law School. 

Years later, in 2016, when she was a federal judge, a seat opened on the United States Supreme Court. In a letter to then-President Barack Obama, Leila Jackson made a case for her mother—Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Although the timing didn’t work out then, it did in 2022, when President Joe Biden nominated her. At her confirmation, Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black female Supreme Court justice in the United States.

What I liked about the book:
  • I am such a fan of Ketanji Brown Jackson and I was glad to learn new information about her early life, a life of persistence and dedication.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations by Ashley Evans.
  • I often wonder who checks out books like this. I'm hoping it is parents wanting to inspire their children to do well in school so they can obtain their goals.
My rating: 4 stars.

Battle of the Brains: The Science Behind Animal Minds by Jocelyn Rish, illustrated by David Creighton-Pester. (PR Kids, Philadelphia. Nov. 8, 2022)

Battle of the Brains encourages readers to think of animals and their amazingly smart brains. It also challenges young readers to compare and contrast the various ways that animals show us how smart they are. Some can count and add/subtract. Others use tools or solve complex problems. Some have long memories while others can learn language, even speaking. I was especially interested in the examples that used research to prove the points. For example: scientists tested ravens to see if they understand addition. They put five pieces of food under cup A and three under cup B. In front of the raven, they added four more pieces under cup B. could the bird add? You bet, they chose Cup B. Another example was about the long memories of elephants who rejoiced when they were reunited with another elephant after a twenty-seven year absence.

What I liked about the book:
  • Each of the smart animals that were highlighted -- parrots, rats, elephants, dogs, ravens, dolphins, octopuses, Portia jumping spiders, pigs, and chimpanzees -- showed off their smarts in different ways. I found it impossible to pick a most smart animal.
  • The book is funny and inviting.
  • Though this is a child's book it is designed to be read to children or for older kids who are strong readers. I wish I'd read some of it to my grandson to see how he interacted with the book. I bet he would have found it fascinating.
My rating: 4.5 stars

Meet the Megafauna!: Get to Know 20 of the Largest Animals to Ever Roam the Earth
by Gabrielle Balkan, illustrated by Quang and Lien (Workman Publishing, New York. June 2023)

My grandson is a little scientist. He especially likes to learn about animals of all types. Ask him a question about bats, spiders, crocodiles, kangaroos and he will know something. I knew this book would be right up his alley and I was right. We spent several hours yesterday digesting what we learned about these ginormous animals, the biggest to ever walk the earth after the extinction of dinosaurs. I bet if he owned the book, he'd learn the details of these giants by heart. Every library that has a children's collection, needs a copy of this book and should expect it to be checked out all the time by the little Ian's out there.

Each of the twenty animals are identified by the last time they were seen on earth. Only three-- African Elephants, Giraffes, and Blue Whales -- are not extinct (yet!?) A textbook includes quick facts about the animal: scientific name, time period and active years, places on earth they lived, length, height, weight, and modern relative. The story text puts the animal into context of what life may have been like for them, what they hunted, why they may have become extinct. Oh boy, Ian gobbled up all of these details.

What I liked about the book:
  • It was so interesting and engaging.
  • It ignited Ian's imagination and fed his thirst for information about new animals. We spent hours with the book and he didn't flag in terms of interest, though he did want me to speed through the animals he already knew about (elephants and giraffes.)

My rating: 5 stars

A Llama is Not An Alpaca: And Other Mistaken Animal Identities by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Lorna Scobie. (RP Kids, Philadelphia. January 1, 2023)

Combining scientific facts with the art of poetry, this is a humorous and educational picture book about animals that look alike. How do you tell a llama from an alpaca, an alligator from a crocodile, or a dolphin from a porpoise? The animal kingdom is full of creatures that look so similar to others that they are often confused for each other.  A Llama Is Not an Alpaca  pairs rhyming animal riddles with factual responses to both teach and engage young readers as they compare and contrast features of commonly misidentified animals. Ian and I digested this delightful children's book in less than ten minutes. It engaged Ian but we were both glad it was a quick read.

What I liked about the book:
  • The text is short and the illustrations are humorous. 
  • We played a guessing game and Ian was invested in the answers.

My rating: 4 stars.


Thursday, October 26, 2023


Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Book Beginnings quote:
Dee Knapp was asleep when her husband, Gary, stumbled drunkenly into their white framed house after a night of drinking. Bracing for trouble, Dee jumped up and ran to the kitchen. Gary, muscular and compact with short black hair above a long face, was a decent fellow when sober, a brute when drunk.
Friday56 quote:
One reason Kevin Green flounder was that he hadn't graduated from high school. That hadn't been an impediment for earlier generations of blue-collar workers, including his dad, for in the early 1970s some 72 percent of American jobs required only a high-school education or less. By 2020, that will have fallen to 36 percent. One consequence is a plunge in earnings for those with limited education. In the 1970s, a male high-school graduate earned an average almost almost four-fifths as much as a male college graduate, but that has fallen to just over 50 percent. And those like Kevin who didn't graduate from high school do even worse.
With stark poignancy and political dispassion, Tightrope draws us deep into an "other America." The authors tell this story, in part, through the lives of some of the children with whom Kristof grew up, in rural Yamhill, Oregon, an area that prospered for much of the twentieth century but has been devastated in the last few decades as blue-collar jobs disappeared. About one-quarter of the children on Kristof's old school bus died in adulthood from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents. And while these particular stories unfolded in one corner of the country, they are representative of many places the authors write about, ranging from the Dakotas and Oklahoma to New York and Virginia. (Publisher)

Review: While the summary makes one think the book only focuses on the problems in America today, it also includes lots of positive and affirming examples to show what is happening, and what other communities can copy, to make the lives of people "who are left behind" better. Among them: "Annette Dove, who has devoted her life to helping the teenagers of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as they navigate the chaotic reality of growing up poor; Daniel McDowell, of Baltimore, whose tale of opioid addiction and recovery suggests that there are viable ways to solve our nation's drug epidemic." Kristoff and WuDunn have done nuanced and superb reporting about the lives of people, many of whom Kristoff knows personally. The book is full of stories that makes one want to turn away. How can this be happening in America? Yet, it is also impossible to look away. I've got to help do something so that this doesn't continue in America.

The title of the first chapter of Tightrope is "The Kids on the Number 6 School Bus." Kristoff grew up in Yamhill, Oregon, a rural town southwest of Portland. He and his friends rode the Number 6 bus to school. Throughout the book we meet other kids who rode the bus with Kristoff and learn what happened to their lives, starting with the five Knapp children, whose mother tried to shield them from the drunken anger of their father, Gary. Despite this, life in Yamhill in the 1970s seemed better than what many people had experienced in the past, during the Depression. It seemed "to echo "Curly's upbeat refrain from Oklahoma!, when he exulted, 'Everything's goin' my way.' Tragically, it didn't work out as hoped. The Knapps, like so many working-class families, tumbled into unimaginable calamity" (7). Kristoff goes on to talk about others who rode the bus with him to school. Now one-fourth of them are dead from "drugs, suicide, alcohol, obesity, reckless accidents, and other pathologies." These are super disheartening stories to read about.

In a lot of ways Tightrope is like Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance except Kristoff does not play himself as some kind of cult hero who has overcome all the odds, like Vance did in his book. And by the end of Hillbilly Elegy one is left with just an awful feeling of dread and regret, where the thought is only those capable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps will escape the miasma of poverty and drugs. Tightrope offers hope and suggestions for correcting the cited problems. In fact, the last chapter is called "America Regained" and an appendix has "Ten Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes to Make a Difference." Many/most of the suggestions are small but could lead to great changes if enough of us did them.  My favorite step is #4: Supporting education for at-risk kids, especially in early childhood. A $20 donation to Reach Out and Read, for example will cover the cost of bringing a new child into the national program that uses pediatricians to 'prescribe' reading and handing out books during visits to the doctor's office.

Kristoff and WuDunn close the book with this thought after they learn about the death of their friend, Clayton Green:
Whenever someone like Clayton dies an early death, whenever anyone falls to addiction, suicide, crime, or despair, we are all diminished. We had the means to do better. We can shore up the American dream so that the children today climbing aboard the Number 6 school bus -- and skipping into schools all across the country -- achieve more of the dreams that animate them, so that this truly becomes, in Woody Guthrie's vision, 'a land for you and me' (262).
Tightrope was this month's book club selection. Our group usually hosts over a dozen women, was small this month which allowed us a lot of time to really digest the book aloud. We ended up focusing on the appendix and its suggested steps. I was worried that members would be so put off by the serious nature of the topic and they wouldn't even read it. That was not the case. My husband and I listened to the audiobook book, narrated by Kristoff himself. We stopped the audio several times to discuss topics as we listened. My family had all read the book earlier, as Oregonians they were interested in the book because Kristoff published it just months before he attempted to run for governor in Oregon. I highly recommend it as both a book club selection and as an audiobook, though try to get a hold of the print version to check out all the photos.

These aren't the questions we used, but I found these on line. They are discussions questions used by the Episcopalian church in Indianapolis for a book study: Tightrope Discussion. I like the idea of Christians studying this book together since the book certainly brings up issues which Christians should be concerned about and they should want to do something to help!
Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader. First Line Friday is hosted by Reading is My Super Power. Share 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. 


Nonfiction November 2023

Fall is here, which means it’s almost time for Nonfiction November 2023!

Throughout the month of November, bloggers Liz, Frances, Heather, Lisa and Rebekah invite you to celebrate Nonfiction November 2023 with them.

Each Monday, the weekly host will post a topic prompt and include a linkup where you can link your posts, connect with other bloggers, and dive deeper by reading and sharing nonfiction book reviews. Official Nonfiction November 2023 graphics.

Here are the topic prompts for each week:

  1. Week 1 (10/30-11/3) Your Year in Nonfiction: Celebrate your year of nonfiction. What books have you read? What were your favorites? Have you had a favorite topic? Is there a topic you want to read about more?  What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November? (Heather)
  2. Week 2 (11/6-11/10) Choosing Nonfiction: What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book? Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to? Do you have a particular writing style that works best? When you look at a nonfiction book, does the title or cover influence you? If so, share a title or cover which you find striking. (Frances)
  3. Week 3 (11/13-11/17) Book Pairings: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. Maybe it’s a historical novel and the real history in a nonfiction version, or a memoir and a novel, or a fiction book you’ve read and you would like recommendations for background reading. You can be as creative as you like! (Liz)
  4. Week 4 (11/20-11/24) Worldview Shapers: One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book or books have impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Is there one book that made you rethink everything? Do you think there is a book that should be required reading for everyone? (Rebekah)
  5. Week 5 (11/27-12/1) New To My TBR:  It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book! (Lisa)

During November I will delve into the nominated nonfiction books for the Cybils Award. As a Round 2 Judge, I like to get a jump on my reding and I try to figure out what books the Round 1 judges will pick. There are something like 50 children's nonfiction titles so likely I will spend the majority of my time reading them.  I also have a few nonfiction books I haven't read but I own them. I am making those books a priority. And who else knows what nonfiction books I will find to fit my fancy. My goal outside the Cybils books will be to read one nonfiction book a week. Can I do it?


Monday, October 23, 2023

TTT: Atmospheric Books

Top Ten Tuesday: Atmospheric Books

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
This is the first book which came to mind. When I think of it, I can feel the cold wind and the darkness of the theme.

2. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier 
Another book where the setting is very sinister.

3. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Set in the moors at Baskerville Hall, most of the action occurs at night when the hound's terrifying howl makes one's blood run cold.

4. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This is a sinister novel, thrumming with an unknown menace.

5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
I remember very little about this mystery, having read it years ago. What remains is a sense of a very creepy, foreboding setting.

6. Sabriel by Garth Nix
The whole series is packed full of dark, foreboding vibes. I loved it.

7. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
The setting is the second colony on the moon but the light is always set at twilight. It is very muted for this reason.

8. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Set in Iceland with its ice and wind. The main character is accused of murder and she is being "kept" until she can go on trial. I can't get the setting out of my mind.

9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The quintessential gothic novel, with a crazy wife in the attic.

10. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
This is Austen's most atmospheric novel, partially set in a dark, creepy mansion.


Thursday, October 19, 2023

Review and quotes: MAAME

Maame by Jessica George

Book Beginnings quote: 

Additional quotes: Maame quotes on Goodreads

It’s fair to say that Maddie’s life in London is far from rewarding. With a mother who spends most of her time in Ghana (yet still somehow manages to be overbearing), Maddie is the primary caretaker for her father, who suffers from advanced stage Parkinson’s. At work, her boss is a nightmare and Maddie is tired of always being the only Black person in every meeting.

When her mum returns from her latest trip to Ghana, Maddie leaps at the chance to get out of the family home and finally start living. A self-acknowledged late bloomer, she’s ready to experience some important “firsts”: She finds a flat share, says yes to after-work drinks, pushes for more recognition in her career, and throws herself into the bewildering world of internet dating. But it's not long before tragedy strikes, forcing Maddie to face the true nature of her unconventional family, and the perils—and rewards—of putting her heart on the line.

Review: Before going to sleep last night I pondered which book I'd review for the Friday memes. Maame by Jessica George came to mind since I recently finished it on our big adventure holiday and haven't reviewed it yet. Then I stopped and wondered to myself: What was the book about? I couldn't remember much about it beyond the barest of outlines. Today I had to spend a little time refreshing my memory. That is not a good sign that I couldn't remember details having listened to it so recently. Then I remembered that I probably fell asleep as I listened to the audiobook and may have missed a whole hour midbook. Ha! Take my review with a grain of salt for that reason.

Maddie is a British-Ghanaian woman who has been left to care for her father with severe Parkinson's disease, while her mother lives abroad a year at a time, and a brother who can't be bothered to help. Her dating life is non-existent. She is lonely since her responsibilities at home keep her from having a social life. Then her mother returns from Ghana and she moves out to a shared home with two other women and suddenly she has to make social decisions she hasn't confronted before including where she stands on dating, sex, and alcohol use. Unfortunately she discovers that freedom isn't all what is best for her. She is often the only Black woman in the room and finds herself in situations where she learns that just because a white man dates a Black woman doesn't keep him from being a racist.

Maame is a very NOW story about how we live in a world of mixed messages. Our families share their values, but sometimes those values seem to squelch dreams or are only fair to males not females.  Maame wanted friends and so she participated in activities that left her feeling less and less like herself.
In the end, she finds herself standing up for herself and what she wants in work, at home, and in her social life. By the end of the book we feel proud of the growth that Maddie makes in her own life.

As I was looking for quotes from Maame, I had to look on-line since I don't have a physical copy. I was blown away by the nature and quality of the quotes. Clearly I missed a lot of thoughtful dialogue listening to the book (when I was asleep.) Take a look at those quotes on the link I've provided above.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader. First Line Friday is hosted by Reading is My Super Power. Share 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, October 16, 2023

TTT: Book with Weather Events in the Title or On the Cover

Top Ten Tuesday: Weather-related titles or covers

As you know, I try very hard to list only books I've read for this weekly activity. I had to look back for three years worth of books to find ten titles that fit.

1. Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doeer
I know. A season isn't weather but it implies a changing of the weather.

2. Rain Rising by Courtne Comrie
If you've read this book you know the main character's name is Rain, so now you know how hard up I am to find weather-related titles.

3. Don't Call Me Hurricane by Ellen Hagen
Ah. Found a good one even though the book isn't a favorite!

4. A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
This one refers to rain rain. (See note above.)

5. The City of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Mist/Fog? I'll take it.

6. Wind by Carol Thompson
A cute children's book.

7. The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins
I love this poet!

8. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Ah. My list is longer than I thought it would be.

9. Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie
Another rain reference.

10. Why Are Storms Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless by Tanaya Winder
A poet whose last name is rather weather-ish.

11. Weather by Jenny Offill
I had to look back for three years to find ten titles of books about weather. I knew this book, Weather, was somewhere back there and decided to stop when I found it.

And for a recent weather event involving me: A waterspout off the Florida Keys last week. Photo credit: Anne Bennett


Saturday, October 14, 2023

Walking in the Steps of our Grandfather in Ecuador

We just returned from an adventure-filled trip to Ecuador and Panama -- two destinations not likely to be high on any list of top places to visit in the world. But these countries hold special prominence for the Kingsbury family, so with my brother Tony, sister Kathy and her husband Tom, Don and I planned this adventure together to trace my paternal grandfather's steps of 100 years ago.
In 1904, our granddad, Augustus Kingsbury, was hired as a civil engineer to work on the Panama Canal project. We know little about his job and how he spent his time on the project, but we do know that he stayed in Panama until 1923, working there long after the canal was open and functioning. And we know, from his own words, that he spent a lot of time exploring the region:
It has been my lot in my 20 and more years’ experience in Latin America to traverse and know great stretches of almost uninhabited and unexplored territory. I have taken scientific expeditions into the vastness of the Central American jungles. I have participated in hunting parties throughout Panama and other districts. I have traveled up and down Central and South America and I have learned a great deal about jungle life and at times, I like to get as far from civilization as possible
In 1923 Granddad was approached by two gentleman, H. B. Dinwiddie and Rev. George Simmonds working for the Christian Missionary Alliance and the Pioneer Missionary Society, to serve as outfitter and guide for an expedition down the Amazon for the purpose of locating and classifying indigenous people.
Left to right: Kingsbury, Simmonds, Dinwiddie

The expedition took four months, starting in Ecuador and ending, miraculously, in Brooklyn, New York, 8500+ miles later. According to Granddad's records from the trip down the Amazon and its tributaries [w]e traveled approximately 400 miles by train, 90 miles on mule back, 600 miles afoot, 1,000 miles in canoes, 500 miles on a wood burning launch, 200 miles by raft and 2,200 miles by river steamer. The length and breadth of this expedition is something that few would attempt today; let alone one hundred years ago without modern technology like motor boats, GPS locating devices, and dehydrated foods.

The expedition began for Granddad in Panama where he took a ship accompanied by two women, his aunt, Miss Fannie Kingsbury, and a school teacher friend of hers. 

We left Cristobal, the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal, August 25, and arrived at Buenaventura (Ecuador) two days later. Buenaventura is a typical west coast town, dirty and squalid, without pavements or sewers or buildings of consequence. Our stay there was short and we were glad to leave. We arrived at the mouth of the river Guayas three days after leaving Buenaventura and after several hours journey up the river arrived at Guayaquil. It is the largest city in Ecuador and one of the greatest sea ports of the west coast. 

One cannot help wonder if Granddad was in awe of the Panama Canal, which he helped build, as he traversed from Atlantic to Pacific at the beginning of his journey. From Guayaquil, the small group boarded the amazing and famous G&Q railroad to travel the 300 miles to Quito.
Leaving Guayaquil we crossed the river to Duran, the terminus of the Guayaquil and Quito railroad, on the first lap of our journey into the Andes. The Guayaquil and Quito (G&Q) railroad is one of the most remarkable railways in the world. It runs directly into the heart of the Andes Mountains and one of the most mountainous districts in South America. It crosses several high ranges, at one place at the height of more than 12,200 feet. The track clings for miles along the walls of deep canyons or along the sides of great precipices. It crosses roaring mountain torrents over high bridges, it winds its tortuous way back and forth up the mountain sides.  

Granddad, a civil engineer, marveled for several paragraphs about the wonders of the G&Q Railroad, which he made known was built by Americans. He said, It stands today and always will stand as one of the most remarkable feats of railway engineering in the world, a monument to the genius of the American railway engineer. Unfortunately, Granddad's prediction for the future proved too optimistic. This greatest of achievements has fallen into disrepair and was closed down by the Ecuadorian government in 2020 so we were not able to experience a ride on the G&Q first hand. 

When the train pulled into Quito, Granddad Kingsbury was met by Dinwiddie and Simmonds. His journal includes no further comments about his aunt and her friend so we have no idea what adventure those two embarked on themselves. Almost immediately, Granddad was thrown into the business of outfitting the expedition and preparing for its departure.

We stayed in Quito for a week and here the serious work of our journey began. Dinwiddie had brought from New York, 12 cases of preserved foods, camera supplies, surgical instruments and other articles. I had apparatus for preserving skins and museum specimens, surgical instruments and a vermin proof tent and cots. We had an arrangement of nested utensils and a miscellaneous assortment of other articles. We bought trade goods and blankets and such other things as we needed.

And their expedition was on the move! We left Quito for Ambato, the real start of the expedition, on September 12 and retraced our steps about 100 miles over the Guayaquil and Quito railroad. We had made arrangements for a pack train to take us over the first 90 miles of our long trip eastward to Mera, as far as we could go by mule.

Granddad on the right with his hand on a mule.

From Ambato the mule team headed southeast to Baños. Along the way the team encountered a suspension bridge where they had to blindfold the mules before they would walk across it. Baños, was a small community of 2500 people at the time and home to natural thermal hot springs. Next stop was Mera, a small, squalid community of 12 or 13 huts, where it rains every day of the year, with the exception of ten. It was situated on a bluff overlooking a river. Travel would be by boat or canoe for the rest of the journey. The next day two teams were sent out to explore two rivers, the Napo and the Puya. Puya [the community] is situated on the river of that name at the edge of one of the wildest and least known territories in the world, the Ecuadorian Oriente. Ultimately we think the Puya River was selected (now Puyo), but the documents contain some confusing comments so we can't be certain which river they were on. From this tributary, the trip down the Amazon had begun. 

After considerable difficulty we rented three dugout canoes, about 20 feet in length and manned by three men each. They were large enough to carry our gear without difficulty. Imagine going down the Amazon in such a low slung canoe. Granddad mentioned that the boat spilled over several times. (We all laughed at his use of the word "rented" when referring to the canoes, as if they planned to return them!)

From this point forward the story doesn't pay as much attention to place names (if any were known then) but focuses on the indigenous people and the flora and fauna encountered along the way. Granddad witnessed hunters using curare darts to fell a tapir, took a photo of shrunken heads, and worried about alligators and piranhas. At one point on the trip he noted the Amazon must have been over ten to fifteen miles wide. Nothing was written in his account about the missionary aspect of the trip, but we assume Dinwiddie and Simmonds collected information for potential future mission efforts. Eventually the men boarded a freighter on Nov. 25th perhaps as far as one thousand miles up the Amazon River and were transported back to Brooklyn, New York, getting home on Dec. 24, 1923.

Augustus Kingsbury was originally from Connecticut. After returning home he spent some time on a speaking tour about his South American adventures in public settings such as libraries and churches. On a later train trip heading west, he met the woman who would become my grandmother and they moved to Oregon. My dad was the third of six children born to Augustus and Anna Kingsbury. While working on the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River in 1936, Granddad Kingsbury died from injuries sustained in a workplace accident. My father was only seven years old at the time. Because my dad and all his siblings were so young when their father died, none of them knew much about the Amazon expedition until much later in life when Aunt Fannie, Dad's oldest sister named for Augustus' favorite aunt, connected with Rev. Simmonds who was able to fill in many of the holes in the story. And a copy of the document "EXPLORATION IN THE EQUADORIAN ORIENTE AND UPPER AMAZON, As told by Augustus H. Kingsbury and written by Max Schafer" was secured and passed around the family to read and treasure. All the quotes in this post come from this article.

As the 100-year anniversary of the expedition approached, my brother Tony and his son Andrew talked about making a trip to Ecuador to try to retrace some of our grandfather's steps. Tony made it clear that anyone in the family was welcome to join them. I didn't commit to the project until March as did my sister Kathy. Our youngest sister, Grace, is a teacher so she couldn't take time away from work for the trip. Our cousin Robin was interested in joining us, but her mother Betty (Dad's only living sibling) is quite aged and the timing was not right to leave her. In the end, Andrew also couldn't make the trip due to work. That left three 'Kingsbury kids' (Tony, Kathy, and me, Anne) and two of our spouses (Tom and Don) ready to make the trip. Our goal was to walk where Granddad walked, to see what he may have seen, to try to experience a little of what he encountered along the way. We knew we wanted to see the Panama Canal up close and to visit the Ecuadorian cities of Quito, Baños, Mera, and Puya, since they were all mentioned in the document. We hoped to take a boat ride on a tributary of the Amazon. We also hoped to ride on the amazing G&Q railroad, which we didn't know was no longer running when we began making our plans. Kathy, who is a master trip planner, arranged tours that would allow us to see a lot of the country and have a variety of experiences in both Ecuador and Panama. We chose a late September start date to coincide with the dates of the original expedition.

Photo credit: T. Kingsbury

We began our version of the adventure in Quito, Ecuador. Granddad mentioned in his notes that Quito is a city in a great valley, scooped saucer-like out of the mountains that surrounded it. What he didn't mention was that it is situated at an elevation of over 9000 feet. We all live at relatively low elevations (400-1500 feet) so the elevation of Quito was quite a shock to our systems. As we climbed the hill to 'The Basilica of the National Vow' not far from our hotel, I felt like I was climbing a mountain not just walking up a hill, panting and wheezing as I stopped to rest half way up. The basilica was built in 1883 so we are sure our grandfather saw it, even if he didn't visit, since this church holds a prominent spot in the city.

Photo credit: D. Bennett

As we explored Quito on September 26th we stumbled upon an elaborate and somber ceremony celebrating Ecuadorian Flag Day. Ecuador was part of Gran Columbia (The Republic of Columbia) after gaining independence from Spain in 1820, separating in 1830 and settling on its current flag on September 26, 1860. Granddad may not have experienced a grand ceremony like we did for Flag Day, but he certainly saw the same Ecuadorian flag we saw.

Photo credit: T. Buhler

Our first Ecuadorian tour was to the Mindo Cloud Forest. While there we fed hummingbirds, hiked to a beautiful waterfall, visited a butterfly farm, and experienced the process of artisan chocolate making from cocoa nuts on the tree to the finished bars on the shelf. It was a wonderful and exhausting day.

Photo credit: T. Kingsbury

The second day of touring involved a trip to the Cotopaxi National Park. Cotopaxi is one of the highest mountains in the Ecuadorian Andes. It is also an active volcano. For this reason, even if we were physically capable, we were not allowed to climb to the rim, only to the base camp. Before we drove to the parking area on the mountain (volcano) we stopped at a shop and drank a cup of coca tea to give us energy for the climb. Yes, that coca! We drank coca tea (a drink new to us), while the men on Granddad's expedition consumed an odd drink made from fermented manioc called chicha. We drank much of the chicha, especially on the march and we found it to be a very refreshing food. The elevation at the parking lot for Cotopaxi was 15,000 feet and the base camp was above 16,500 feet. No amount of coca tea was going to help Kathy and I up the mountain at that elevation. We made it to the edge of the parking lot before returning to the van. Tony, Don, and Tom made the attempt, but only Tom got all the way to the base camp. Later that day we saw some disused train tracks, which made us think of the G&Q railroad. That's when we learned the line was no longer running. Who knows if the tracks we saw were for that particular route or not, but we claimed them as if they were.

Tony and I posing with a real alpaca at Quilatoa.

Don and Tom making their way up Quilatoa on mules.

The next day we visited Quilatoa Lake, a natural lake created by a volcanic eruption ages ago. The hike from the rim down into the caldera was steep, but our guide assured us that mules would bring us back up. This time all three Kingsburys opted out but Don and Tom were gung-ho for the adventure. They were pretty happy when the mules came along so they didn't have to climb out of the caldera themselves. I made the connection earlier about Granddad's experience with mules. Earlier in the day we visited the home of an indigenous family and learned a bit about their lifestyle. We ended the day in Baños, even spending time in the thermal baths that Granddad mentioned. It was a surreal experience joining a multitude of Ecuadorians in a series of pools filled with hot, hotter, or hottest water. It seemed like we were the only 'foreigners' there.

We began the next day with the guys all trying an Ecuadorian delicacy: roasted guinea pig. After our morning visit to the popular market in Baños, we were back on the road heading toward Amazonia. We stopped for an opportunity to see a waterfall up close by traveling on a rickety cable car across the river valley. It reminded me of how Granddad put blindfolds on the mules when they encountered a rickety bridge. We all clung to whatever we could grab hold of and closed our eyes to keep out the fear of falling. After we were back on terra firma, we posed for a photo overlooking the river valley, wondering if the men stood on the exact same spot 100 years earlier as they contemplated which river was best to begin their navigation toward the mighty Amazon. All of us reflected later how meaningful this moment was to us.

Animals of the Amazonia region which may have been seen by members of the expedition. We saw them at the Bioparque Yana-Cocha.

Our host, Fabio, with the chocolate sauce we made. Ready to eat with fresh fruit nicely arranged. Photo credit: D. Bennett

Our special dinner after we arrived at the Sinchi Warmi eco lodge in Amazonia.
Special treats: yucca fries and plantain chips.

After the animal park our guide drove us to an eco lodge in the jungle of the Amazonia region. We now were down to practically sea level. After a night spent in huts under mosquito nets listening to monkeys in the background, we spent the next day learning about the region. We took an early morning bird watching tour on an Amazonian lagoon, made our own chocolate sauce from scratch (and ate it), and enjoyed watching indigenous children at play. I know we were all disappointed we never got on a boat on a river which was a tributary of the Amazon, but it was terribly nice of our tour guide to work in a canoe trip around the lagoon.
On the lagoon bird-watching trip. Without binoculars, almost all the birds we saw looked small and black, even the flock of parakeets that flew overhead. We also saw glimpses of woolly and spider monkeys. Photo credit: D. Bennett

After we left Amazonia we had a long trip back to Quito, with several high mountain passes in our way. The highest of those passes had an elevation of over 12,000 feet. All of us wearing Fitbits got lots of steps we never took that day. I call them jiggle steps. I got more than 10,000 jiggle steps just riding in the van as our driver did his best to avoid potholes and washed out spots in the road. Tony and I both started feeling pretty cruddy during the trip, thinking it was the curvy road and sudden elevation change. Later we found out it was something else -- COVID. But we didn't figure that out until two days later. By then we were in Panama on the second leg of the adventure.

Panama City plaza.

Our flight to Panama City was short. We arrived mid-morning and fortunately were able to check into our hotel early. After a quick lunch of a Cubano sandwich at a cafe next door and a short rest, we started our afternoon tour of the city. Our guide took us to see the 'old quarter' in the historic district of Panama City which is a UNESCO Heritage and Cultural Site. The architecture dates back to the 1600s which features a colorful plaza and buildings in the Spanish style.

We went to the Milaflores Locks next. These are the Panama Canal locks closest to Panama City and to the Pacific Ocean. They are also the locks that Granddad mentioned in his journals. After watching an IMAX movie about the history and construction of the canal, we went outside and watched several huge ships make their way through the locks. We could have stood there longer but the light was waning and the visitor center was preparing to close. It was all so interesting and moving, thinking that our grandfather had something to do with their construction.

The F & F Building in Panama City. Photo credit: A. Bennett

Hotel roof top pool. Photo credit: D. Bennett

By the time we got back to our hotel, it was clear most of us didn't feel quite right. Tony and I had sore throats, Don had trouble breathing in Quito the night before, Tom didn't have his normal level of energy. After getting back to our room we took COVID tests. Sure enough, both Don and I were positive. We called the others. Tony and Tom also tested positive. Only Kathy remained negative. The next day she went on our scheduled tour alone. Tom rested in his room while Tony, Don, and I took a short walk around the new part of town, marveling at the building in the shape of a screw and later spent time in the roof top swimming pool. We also made a plan for the next day, the last day of our big adventure. We decided we would rent a car and take ourselves on a tour to see the canal without putting someone at risk of getting the virus from us.

Our captain's name was Fernando. Photo credit: D. Bennett

A view from our little boat of the tankers we got near. On the Gatun Lake/Chagres River, part of the lock, river/lake, lock system of the canal. Photo credit: T. Buhler/A. Bennett

Tony rented a car and we drove a dock at Gamboa where we could hire a boat (and captain) to take us out into the Panama Canal. There we were, safely in a small boat not too far from some rather huge ships. We saw monkeys and crocodiles, too. It was easily one of the most fun and spontaneous things we did on our whole trip. That evening we had a yummy dinner at a Panamanian restaurant to conclude our adventure.

This trip to Ecuador and Panama was a 'bucket list' experience because it allowed us to connect with a grandfather we never knew aside from this family story of his time building the canal and adventures in Ecuador and the Amazon. We know our journey was much easier with 21st century conveniences -- air travel, air conditioned vans, mobile phones, and hotels with WiFi -- but the varied landscapes of Ecuador and the marvel of the Panama Canal were no less impressive. We also had wonderful hosts and tour guides at every stop who gifted us with generous hospitality and warmth of spirit, reminding us that God's love and care is ever present in people all over the world.  

-Anne and Don Bennett

Post script:
  • To my siblings: Tony, thanks for dreaming up this adventure. Kathy, thanks for doing most of the leg work in planning our trip. Grace, every day of the trip we missed you and wished you were with us. At one point we thought we should make a photo cut out of your face so you could be a part of every group picture. 
  • To my cousins: We hope that our trip serves as a catalyst for you to make a similar one in the future. Though none of us knew or even met Granddad it was such a joy to feel connected to him in this way. If you are interested in planning such a trip we are willing to share our travel template and any wisdom/advice to make your planning easier. Start with the document of Granddad's trip, If you don't have, or can't find a copy of it, email/call/Facebook message one of us and we'll send it to you. Next, contact Robin who has done extensive research on Augustus Kingsbury through Ancestry.com. She shared a ton of info with Kathy on a recent visit. Share this post with your children. Help them connect to their past. And help us spread the word to cousins we've lost touch with: Dick, Kevin, Phil, Shelley, Jill, Wendy, Tim, and Richard and Marvin's children/grandchildren. Robin, share this post with your mom, Aunt Betty. She is the only living person who knew Augustus Kingsbury in the flesh. I hope she finds a moment of joy in the remembrances.
  • To our children and nieces/nephews: Why not plan a cousin trip together to Ecuador and Panama? Andrew was part of the original dreaming about the trip, Carly and Bobby/Kaylyn are excellent trip planners. Make it an event. Learn more about your heritage. There were many activities that we avoided due to our age and stage. Taking teenage kids on this trip would be a blast.
  • To Dad, may you rest in peace: Kathy and I both brought you with us to Ecuador and Panama. She wore her blue "Dad" necklace and I wore the white butterfly earrings. We know you would have loved the adventure and we thought about you every day, every step we took to learn more about your father. We felt your spirit with us.

A few more photo collages:
In the Amazon region outside our huts, on the bird-watching/lagoon trip, making chocolate, and happy children.

Images taken in a boat on Lake Gatun/ Panama Canal.

Memorable moments: on the rickety cable car going over a river in the rain; wearing headgear we found with the Mera town name sculpture; the guys flashing 'chulla vida' sign under a waterfall; a bird that wouldn't leave Tony alone; eating roasted guinea pig; a parrot who wouldn't stop screaming "Hola!"; and the moon over the Amazon jungle.

More memorable moments: With an indigenous family; our guide, Irene, giving us a lesson about Ecuadorian fruit; Don and Tom made it to the bottom of the caldera; Kathy and Anne 💖; The Panama sign. We made our poor tour guide go through a lot of trouble to get to this sign for the photo. By the time we got to it, it was dark outside!

We saw a sloth in the wild in Panama! We also figured out that there is a baby sloth attached to the mama. It was an event of great excitement in us and we spent hours debating the baby/no baby aspect since the photos were all so bad!!!