Tuesday, August 20, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 28-31


Last week I read Chapter 28 ("Snape's Worst Memory"),  Chapter 29 ("Careers Advice"), Chapter 30 ("Grawp"), and Chapter 31 (" O.W.L.s").

The highlights for me this week mostly involved Snape and McGonagall.

Presumably in preparation for the rest of the series, where Snape's role begins to appear really ambiguous, Rowling has finally let us in on the reason Snape dislikes Harry so strongly. Not only does this help us make sense of why Snape is so over-the-top nasty to Harry, but it also builds up a little bit of sympathy for him that makes it possible to see a bit more to him than just blatant cruelty. I still think he should have been mature enough to continue with the occlumency lessons, because Harry's safety should take priority over any feuds he may have had with the deceased Potters, but Harry probably also shouldn't have gone poking around in his memories either, so neither of them is blameless.

McGonagall continues to be so protective of Harry that she can't help but show her contempt for Dolores Umbridge and the involvement of the Ministry at Hogwarts. I especially love the moment in Harry's career consultation where she becomes to irritated with Umbridge, she announces that she will do whatever it takes to make sure Harry becomes an Auror. I also appreciated her coming to the defense of Hagrid when he is forcibly removed from the Hogwarts grounds. I think she might be my favorite of the female characters in this series.

It was also fun to see Ron finally have some success on the Quidditch pitch, even if most of it happens "off-screen" while Harry and Hermione are being instructed on how to care for Grawp. Again, Hagrid is ridiculous to place the responsibility of caring for a giant in the hands of three kids who already have way too much going on, and I really wanted Harry and Hermione to say no to him this time. For teachers who want to keep their students safe, some of these professors have interesting ways of showing it.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Reading Through History: The Three Brothers of Ur (1964) and The Journey of the Eldest Son (1965) by J.G Fyson

In the city of Ur in Ancient Mesopotamia, a successful and well-known merchant named Teresh the Stern has three sons: Shamashazir, Naychor, and Haran. Haran is a bit of a trouble-maker, and The Three Brothers of Ur opens with him leaving school early for the day without permission in order to see his father's caravan return from its recent journey. Realizing he will need to appease the schoolmaster, Haran gets the idea to give him a nugget of gold, which he sets out to obtain by way of a trade with his father's camel master. When Uz, the camel master's son, brings the gold, however, he is spotted trying to make the delivery, and the secret bargain is found out. Though Uz receives an unexpected apprenticeship to an artist who makes clay images as a result of his role in the transaction, Haran does not have the same good fortune. While his father is away, he accidentally destroys the image of his family's teraphim (or god), bringing what he believes will be terrible misfortune to the household. Haran must rely upon the kindness and talent of Uz once more in order to make things right.

Throughout the first book, the eldest brother, Shamashazir, longs to journey with his father's caravan, but he must first prove to Teresh that he is trustworthy. When Haran breaks the teraphim while he is in charge of the household, he becomes concerned that he will never be given the opportunity. At the start of The Journey of the Eldest Son, however, Shamashazir has been granted his father's permission and is off on a trek over the mountains with the caravan. Unfortunately, a nasty fall from a mountain ledge soon leaves him injured and presumed dead. When he finally regains consciousness, he has been rescued by members of the tribe of Enoch, including Enoch Son of Enoch. Among the tribe, Shamashazir first learns of the Lord of All the Earth, the one God who rules over everything, and soon accepts that faith in one God makes much more sense than faith in teraphim and dingirs (spirits).  When Shamashazir and Enoch encounter a tribe that uses human sacrifice to appease the Corn Dingir, they are both deeply disturbed by this misguided tradition, and they immediately come up with a plan to rescue the two young boys who will be sacrificed next. If they can avoid having the entire tribe hunt them down, they might just be able to bring these boys back to Ur to start their lives anew.

These two books bring Ancient Mesopotamia to life in a way nothing else can. Though the author has obviously invented many of the details surrounding daily life in this time and place, she bases the story - which is really one coherent unit, despite being divided into two books - on Biblical stories from the book of Genesis and ancient religious history, giving it the ring of truth. I was fascinated by the way various characters came to accept monotheism, and equally delighted by the way the second book, in particular, gives voices and faces to figures known in the Bible only by name and brief description.

Even if kids don't recognize all of the Biblical references (they are quite subtle), these books are also wonderfully written page-turners full of adventure and suspense. Despite living 4000 years ago, the three sons of Teresh are the kind of very real and relatable boys that young readers gravitate toward, and the human flaws of these characters easily transcends time and space. These books are also excellent resources for understanding what family life, education, clothing, travel, trade, and living arrangements might have been like during ancient times. These will be absolutely perfect additions to our homeschool curriculum when we cover the ancients the second time around, probably in 5th grade.

Monday, August 12, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 24-27

Last week's chapters were: Chapter 24 ("Occlumency,"), Chapter 25 ("The Beetle at Bay"), Chapter 26 ("Seen and Unforeseen"), and Chapter 27 ("The Centaur and the Sneak"). Spoilers ahead.

In this section of the book, I find myself empathizing with the adults who want to keep Harry safe by seeing that he is taught Occlumency. It drove me nuts every time he didn't clear his mind before going to sleep and continued to willingly indulge in visions similar to the one he had about Arthur Weasley. It probably would have helped Harry realize the importance of practicing occlumency if the instructions had come from someone more appealing to him than Snape, but at the same time he's old enough to understand the danger and it annoyed me that he was so reckless.

I had totally forgotten Rita Skeeter was even in this book, and did not at all remember that she was the author of the article about Harry that was published in The Quibbler. I also forgot about Harry and Cho's awkward first date, which occurs just before Harry meets with Hermione and Skeeter, but I did remember, and very much enjoyed revisiting, the scene in which Hermione tells Ron he has the emotional depth of a teaspoon. It's funny because, at this stage at least, it's true.

My hate for Umbridge is at an all-time high at this point in the book. What she does to Trelawney is horrible, as is her use of Marietta to find out about Dumbledore's Army. It is such a moment of triumph, though, when Dumbledore takes credit for the group. I feel a little bit icky about Marietta's memory being modified, but overall, this scene redeems of a lot of Dumbledore's behavior in this book for me. I also love Phineas Nigellus's line: "You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts … but you cannot deny he’s got style …" No, you cannot.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 20-23

My latest reading assignment in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix included Chapter 20 ("Hagrid's Tale"), Chapter 21 ("The Eye of the Snake"), Chapter 22 ("St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries"), and Chapter 23 ("Christmas on the Closed Ward").

There is lots of great stuff packed into these four chapters, a good portion of which I had forgotten since my last reading of this book. First, there is all the background about giants. I did remember that Hagrid's mother was a giant, but not any of the other details about where they lived, how they decided not to help Dumbledore, etc. I also didn't remember how awful Dolores Umbridge was during her evaluation of Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures lesson. I think that scene actually made me angrier than the one with Trelawney.

This section of the book is also a huge emotional rollercoaster for Harry, which is in keeping with the overall angst readers often complain about in this book. Cho kisses him, which prompts Hermione to inform Harry of all the complicated feelings his crush is likely experiencing as she grieves Cedric and thinks about dating Harry at the same time. Then Harry has a vision of Arthur Weasley being attacked wherein Harry sees the attack happen as though he himself is participating in it. This experience, along with some comments he overhears from Order members, causes him to wonder whether he is the weapon Voldemort is hoping to use to aid his rise to power. Dumbledore continuing to avoid looking at him or talking to him only makes this belief seem more plausible.

These chapters also introduce the wizarding hospital and Healers, which, Ron is quick to point out, are nothing like doctors. It's interesting to see how Rowling sets up the medical world within her universe, and the scenes set at St. Mungo's also allow us to see both Lockhart, which is kind of funny, and Neville's parents, which of course is much more somber.

The one bright spot in these chapters is Sirius's enthusiasm for the Christmas celebration. Knowing as all re-readers do that this is his last Christmas makes this especially bittersweet. I also really love Ron's immaturity about Harry's crush on Cho, and his utter lack of subtlety in all things. He's such a realistic fifteen-year-old boy, and thankfully, he's not nearly as angsty as his best friend (at least not in this book...)

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Read-at-Home Mom Report, July 2019

Thanks in large part to The Reading Rush read-a-thon, I got a lot of reading done in July and made some big strides on some of the reading challenges I'd been neglecting. A bunch of the books I chose to read were suggested in some way by Anne Bogel, either on What Should I Read Next?, or in the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading guide. The only book I had planned to read this month and didn't finish was Pride & Prejudice, which is proving to be a much bigger struggle than I anticipated. Hopefully, it will appear in my wrap-up post for August. Here is everything I did read in July.


Books Read



Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon

by Donna Andrews
Format: Paperback
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Used bookstore
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


The Caves of the Great Hunters

by Hans Baumann
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Home library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


A Literal Mess

by J.C. Kenney
Format: Ebook
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Personal Kindle collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting

by Anna Quindlen
Format: Ebook
Genre: Memoir
Source: Public library via Libby
Review: On Goodreads ()


Let's Fake a Deal

by Sherry Harris
Format: Paperback ARC
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Kensington Books
Review: On Instagram (⭐)


The Spice of America

by June Swanson
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Nonfiction (children's)
Source: Home library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table

by Molly Wizenberg
Format: Audiobook read by Mia Barron
Genre: Memoir
Source: Public library via RB Digital
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


Leisure, the Basis of Culture

by Josef Pieper
Format: Paperback
Genre: Philosophy
Source: Inter-library loan
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

by Avi
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Historical fiction (middle grade)
Source: Home library
Review: On the blog (⭐)


Back Stabbers 

by Julie Mulhern
Format: Audiobook read by Callie Beaulieu
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Public library via Hoopla
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


Anne of the Island 

by L.M. Montgomery
Format: Audiobook read by Barbara Caruso
Genre: Realistic fiction (YA)
Source: Public library via RB Digital
Review: On the blog (⭐)


The Happy Hollisters and the Sea Turtle Mystery

by Jerry West
Format: Ebook
Genre: Mystery (children's)
Source: Personal Kindle collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


A Murder for the Books 

by Victoria Gilbert
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


Gunnar's Daughter 

by Sigrid Undset
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Borrowed from a friend
Review: On Instagram (⭐)


The Three Brothers of Ur

by J.G. Fyson
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Inter-library loan
Review: Will be posted after I read the sequel. (⭐)


The River

by Peter Heller
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Adventure/thriller
Source: Public library via Libby
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


The Unhoneymooners

by Christina Lauren
Format: Paperback
Genre: Romance
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


The Gown

by Jennifer Robson
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Instagram giveaway
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


Anne of Windy Poplars

by L.M. Montgomery
Format: Audiobook read by Tara Ward
Genre: Realistic fiction (YA)
Source: Public library via RB Digital
Review: On the blog (⭐)


The Same Stuff as Stars

by Katherine Paterson
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Home library
Review: On Instagram (⭐)


The Rescuers

by Margery Sharp
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Home library
Review: Coming soon (⭐)


The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

by C.S. Lewis
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Home library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


A Genuine Fix

by J.C. Kenney
Format: Digital ARC
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: NetGalley
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)


Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

by Ruth Reichl
Format: Paperback
Genre: Memoir
Source: Instagram giveaway
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

by Dani Shapiro
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Memoir
Source: Scribd
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Picture Books (with links to Goodreads reviews)


Challenge Progress

  • Alphabet Soup: 0 read in July, 22 of 26 read total
  • Alphabet Soup Author Edition: 2 read in July, 23 of 26 read total
  • #CathLit: 1 read in July, 13 of 19 read total
  • Cloak and Dagger: 6 read in July, 34 of 55 read total
  • Craving for Cozies: 6 read in July, 26 of 51 read total
  • Library Love: 7 read in July, 49 of 60 read total
  • RMFAO Audiobooks: 8 read in July, 40 of 25 read total
  • 2020 Classics: 1 read in July, 3 of 20 read total 
  • Goodreads Goal: 60 read in July, 308 of 425 read total
I'll be linking up this post for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? with The Book Date and Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and for the July 2019 Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up Link-Up at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Read-at-Home Kids Report: July 2019

The Read-at-Home Kids have been reading up a storm this summer far beyond what I expected. As I sit down to write this, Miss Muffet (age 5 years, 8 months) has read or listened to more than 150 books since the beginning of June, and her sisters, Bo Peep (3 years, 10 months) and Jumping Joan (21 months), have listened to more than 100 and nearly 70, respectively. And this doesn't include any re-reads.

Family Read-Alouds

During July, we finished reading The Happy Hollisters and the Sea Turtle Mystery, after taking a short break to read The Spice of America by June Swanson around the fourth of July. The Happy Hollisters book inspired lots of research into the Everglades, air boats, snoring frogs, Seminole Indian culture, the construction of chickees and much more. After we had exhausted all those rabbit trails, then we picked up The Rescuers, the New York Review of Books edition of which Bo Peep selected at the used bookstore based on its resemblance to our copy of Jenny and the Cat Club. It was much, much different than the Disney version I knew as a kid, but very good, and both Miss Muffet and Bo Peep gave it a five-star rating.

Miss Muffet (5 years, 8 months)

School continues year-round here, and Miss Muffet has been totally obsessed with learning about Benjamin Franklin. I read What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin by Jean Fritz aloud to her, and that wasn't enough, so then my husband started reading her Poor Richard by James Daugherty in the evenings, along with A Bird in the Hand by Maud and Miska Petersham. I am now reading Electric Ben by Robert Byrd aloud during school time, and our lunch-time read-aloud is Ben and Me by Robert Lawson. When we're not reading about Benjamin Franklin, we're studying paintings in The Story of Paintings by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom and we're reading Planet Earth by Gerald Ames for science.

For fun, Miss Muffet has been reading the Wayside school series by Louis Sachar, the Lulu series by Hilary McKay (which we borrowed from the library) and Henry and Ribsy. I introduced her to the First Grade Friends series by Miriam Cohen as well. She also recently finished another of the Little House on the Prairie spin-off books, Beyond the Heather Hills by Melissa Wiley, and she's been revisiting lots of favorite picture books and Boxcar Children audiobooks.

Little Bo Peep (3 years, 10 months)

Little Bo Peep and I have started having some school time together in the mornings which typically consists of read-alouds. We've read some library books: a couple of Alfie books by Shirley Hughes , two nonfiction titles she selected about bones and the sun, and one book each from the Annie and Snowball and Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa series. She also loves to read nonfiction books about community helpers, of which there are many on Open Library, and we've also been borrowing other miscellaneous picture books from there based on whatever topics she gives me. As she's starting to give up her nap, Bo Peep has also felt the need to take many books to bed with her after lunch, and often she gets through the whole stack.

Little Jumping Joan (21 months)

Finally, this little one's love of books has taken off. We have read Summer Babies by Kathryn Galbraith dozens of times, and typically, when we get to the end, she hands it to me and says, "Read. Again!" She's also starting to get interested in actual picture books, including the Stanley series by William Bee and pretty much any book that one of her sisters has in her hand and would prefer that she not touch. She's still destroying our board books because she just loves them so much she can't be gentle, but she also spends a fair amount of time pointing to objects in them and calling them by name. Other new favorites for Jumping Joan are Hello Lamb and Goodnight Bear, both by Jane Cabrera.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Book Review: Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery (1936)

Chronologically, Anne of Windy Poplars is the fourth book of the Anne Shirley series, but it was actually published much later than most of the other titles, in 1936. Told mostly in letters from Anne, now a school principal and teacher at a high school, to Gilbert, who is in medical school, it relates the events of the three years between Anne's graduation from college and her marriage to Gilbert. 

Though this book is fun to read, the things that happen to Anne and the people she meets seem to be repeats of events and characters already encountered in Avonlea. The children she meets are like the ones she knew at home, the ladies she stays with are much like ladies in Avonlea (and like the ones she rented from at Redmond), etc. Anne is also almost obnoxiously meddlesome in other people's business, and yet manages to resolve every young couple's romantic problems by failing to mind her own business. It's also tedious to hear these things in Anne's voice through the conceit of these letters to Gilbert, from whom we never get to read even one reply. I have nothing against first person in general, but I prefer these books in the third.

All that said, I don't think L.M. Montgomery could ever write a truly bad book. This is decidedly not her best, but it's still a solid three-star read filled with moments of great beauty and great humor. (My favorite is the moment when Aunt Mouser says, "What’s the matter with Mercy Daniels? I met her on the stairs and her complexion has got terrible muddy.” and the response is:  “‘The quality of mercy is not strained,’” giggled Sally, wriggling into her dinner dress." I actually laughed out loud and I don't do that very often with books.) I'm not sorry I read it, but I'm also eager to get on to Anne's House of Dreams, which is next on my to-read list.