Monday, December 17, 2018

The RAHM Report for 12/17/18

What I Finished Reading

  • Cold as Ice by Julie Mulhern, audiobook read by Callie Beaulieu; Diamond Girl by Julie Mulhern; Shadow Dancing by Julie Mulhern, audiobook read by Callie Beaulieu
    The ending of Cold as Ice left me so worried about the future of a particular relationship that I had to pick up the next book right away. And before I did that, I had to read the novella that came between the two books. So now I only have one book left before I'm caught up! 
  • The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer
    I finished my re-read. It's still good. I'm not sure I'd let my kids read it (I'm aiming for teenage girls who are much less boy crazy than I was), but the nostalgia is strong. 
  • Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand
    This book was kind of all over the place, and the ending felt very abrupt, but I'm happy to have finished out the series.
  • Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss
    This was a fun read. A lot of the books mentioned were popular before my time, but there were plenty I recognized. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    I stopped reading at chapter 25, which was the goal for December 15th for the read-along I'm doing. I will finish the book by the 29th. I'm still waiting for it to wow me. 
  • Over the Holidays by Sandra Harper
    I'm skeptical of this book so far. The characters just aren't grabbing me yet. I'm going to give it a while longer but maybe there is a good reason I've owned this book for a decade and never read it. 
  • Three Children and Shakespeare by Anne Terry White
    I didn't touch this book this week. I'd like to get back to it and finish it today or tomorrow. 
  • Holiday Spice by Samantha Chase
    I only just borrowed this, and read just a few pages. It will be quick once I get into it.
  • We, the Jury by Robert Rotstein
    I won a giveaway through the Christmas Spirit read-a-thon at Seasons of Reading, and this is the book I selected. I started reading the first few pages just to give myself a preview and got hooked pretty quickly, so I guess I'm reading it now!   
  • Comic Sans Murder by Paige Shelton, audiobook read by Marguerite Gavin
    I couldn't find a Christmas audiobook, so I settled for one involving skiing instead. When I finish this book, I'll be caught up on another series! 
As usual, I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Reading Through History: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)

Sara Louise Bradshaw and her family, including her beautiful, well-liked twin sister, Caroline, live on the island of Rass in the Chesapeake Bay in 1941. Sara Louise feels strongly jealous of her sister and perceives that everyone in her family caters only to Caroline and never goes out of the way to look out for Sara Louise's needs.  It is not until Sara Louise is an adult herself that she begins to emerge from the shadow behind which she has always hidden, and to come into her own.

The thing I liked most about this book seems to be an aspect of the story that a lot of readers miss: Sara Louise is an unreliable narrator when it comes to her family. Though she very clearly believes that her sister, Caroline, has received special treatment far beyond what her parents have done for her, and though she feels very slighted, there is not much evidence outside of Sara Louise's own mind that her parents don't actually love her as much as her sister, or value her as a part of their family. In fact, one of the lessons of the story seems to be that Sara Louise's dwelling on her feelings of jealousy toward her sister has been a waste of her energy and has clouded her judgment. I was shocked when I read multiple reviews online from readers who thought that Sara Louise's parents had neglected her. I never felt that way at all when I was reading, and according to a piece in her essay collection, The Spying Heart, Paterson didn't want me to feel that way, even though she recognized that some readers would not catch onto the fact that Sara Louise does not have an accurate view of her family's treatment of her.

I was also surprised by the number of online reviews that express abject hatred for Sara Louise. She's not always likable, and she does seem to complain a lot, but frankly, anyone who has been an adolescent girl who doesn't quite fit in has also gone through a phase where she wasn't completely likable 100% of the time. If anything, Sara Louise's flaws make her a more believable character, and a more interesting one. I fell right into her point of view and read straight through the book in a single evening, so engaging did I find her narration, as well as all of Paterson's gorgeous descriptions of the island of Rass and all of the Bradshaw family. Really, it is the imagery of this book that makes it so distinctive, much more than any of the characters.

This book is written at a higher reading level than the author's The Great Gilly Hopkins or Bridge to Terabithia, both of which felt strongly to me like books for fourth and fifth graders.  Based on that, and the subject matter, which involves the kind of intense feelings kids often have during puberty, I'd say it's best read during the middle school years, between the ages of 12 and 14. I also think Jacob Have I Loved and Bright Island by Mabel Robinson (1937) would making an interesting pairing to compare and contrast, especially since both are Newbery winners, and both are set in island communities. The more I read of Katherine Paterson's work, the more I appreciate her as an author. This book has renewed my interest in her writing and made me want to focus on getting some more of her titles read.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book Review: No Slam Dunk by Mike Lupica (2018)

Teammates Wes and Dinero are both excellent basketball players, but while Wes is more of a team player, Dinero often forsakes the good of the team to allow his own skills to shine. Both boys have picked up their attitudes toward basketball from their fathers. While Dinero's dad is still very much involved with the game, however, Wes's father has come home from Afghanistan with PTSD and a drinking problem that has kept him away from his family, and by extension, away from the basketball court. As the basketball season gets underway, Wes tries to cope with the difficulties in his family life while also helping Dinero to become a better teammate.

This middle grade novel (of which I received an ARC - thank you, Penguin Young Readers!) is full of strong characters with believable and memorable personalities: Wes's high school librarian mom, his counselor, Mr. Correa, and his friend Emmanuel, as well as his and Dinero's dads, and Wes and Dinero themselves. The conflict between the two boys is more nuanced than those at the center of a lot of kids' sports novels, and I liked that neither Wes nor Dinero is really a villain in the story. They both have life lessons to learn, and basketball serves to help them work those out.

I will admit that a lot of the basketball terminology and plays went over my head, but I was still able to follow the general idea of what was going on. Lupica does a nice job of balancing basketball action with scenes that further the interpersonal relationships that drive the story. The rise and fall of the plot throughout the book feels very natural, and the two main conflicts in the story, between Wes and Dinero, and between Wes and his dad come together nicely as they each reach their conclusions.

I guess we're not supposed to like Mike Lupica anymore now because Shannon Hale doesn't like how he acts in public, but I judge books solely on their merits, and this is a good one.  It would be a good choice for a reader who has loved Fred Bowen, but needs slightly more of a challenge. I also see some similarities to Chris Crutcher, who always uses sports to help his characters cope with difficulties in their personal lives.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The RAHM Report for 12/10/18

What I Finished Reading

  • P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
    Though some of the plot of this book was spoiled for me by Netflix's To All the Boys I've Loved Before, I still enjoyed this second part of the trilogy and all of the storylines that didn't make it into the film. I really want to read book three, but the library holds list is long and says I'll be waiting at least 7 weeks. 
  • Shakespeare's Christmas by Charlaine Harris, audiobook read by Julia Gibson
    I listened to this audiobook on a whim and actually thought it was the best Charlaine Harris book I've read so far. Lily is a well-developed character and the mystery was very suspenseful and well-crafted. This isn't quite as cozy as this author's Aurora Teagarden series, but I definitely want to read more! 
  • The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
    This was not my favorite book about books, possibly because I haven't read most of the titles discussed, but it was a solid three-star read. 
  • Alaskan Holiday by Debbie Macomber
    Another enjoyable Christmas love story from Debbie Macomber. I really want to go back and read her other ones set in Alaska.
  • Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Nic Stone, Aimee Friedman, and Kasie West
    This is a sweet and fluffy book of YA short stories. My favorite was the first story, which was by Kasie West and involved a snowy road trip. The others were fine but not as memorable. I especially disliked de la Cruz's take on The Gift of the Magi because, knowing the original story, I knew how it would end from the beginning. 

What I'm Currently Reading


  • Cold as Ice by Julie Mulhern, audiobook read by Callie Beaulieu
    I love this series, and I'm close to being caught up! I'm past the halfway point in this one and really enjoying it, as always. Mulhern manages to make a murder mystery funny without being overly morbid, which I thoroughly appreciate.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    This book is coming off the back burner this week so I can discuss it with my Instagram read-along group on Saturday. I renewed the audiobook, too, so I can listen while I fold the laundry and get some of it done that way. 
  • Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand
    I was going to rush through this before it was due back to one library, but then I just borrowed it again from another library so I could take my time. I hope to really get into it this week.
  • The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer
    This is my favorite Christmas book of all time, and I've read it many times, but I like to read it every year if I can. I'll probably finish this re-read fairly quickly if I don't decide to save the New Year sections for New Year's Eve. 
  • Three Children and Shakespeare by Anne Terry White
    My husband recommended this to me, and it's great. Three fictitious kids and their mother read and discuss four Shakespeare plays. I can't wait to use this book to introduce my kids to the stories of Shakespeare in a few years.
As usual, I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Reading Through History: Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace (1950)

Emily Webster is a few years younger than Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly, the stars of Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series, but she lives and moves within the same community in Deep Valley, Minnesota. At the start of this stand-alone novel about Emily, she is just about to graduate high school. The day is bittersweet, both because Emily's parents died years ago and can't be there to celebrate it with her, and because she won't be going off to college, as she perceives that her grandfather, a man from a different time period, would prefer that she stay home and keep house for him. As the summer passes and her classmates all move onto the next chapters of their lives, Emily begins to see that things will have to change for her as well if she is going to avoid being lonely all the time. So, though she waits anxiously from news of her friends who have left home, she also begins to make the most of her new adult life in Deep Valley by going to dances, starting up a class, and helping some Syrian children make friends. As Emily begins to develop her own interests, she also develops confidence in her capabilities and the work she is meant to do slowly reveals itself.

I really enjoyed this look at young adult life after the turn of the 20th century from the point of view of someone whose life hasn't been quite as charmed as that of Betsy or Tacy. Emily is a vulnerable and likable underdog, and the reader is on her side from the outset, eager to see her find her path and come into her own. Though Emily's experiences are largely products of her time period, every generation of teenagers and twenty-somethings goes through that period of beginning to discern how they wish to spend their lives, and often this does involve going against the grain, or at least taking a slightly different path from one's friends. Emily, in her quiet way, gives girls a strong role model for charting the unfamiliar waters of life just after high school, and she provides a strong sense of hope as well, as things do ultimately work out for her.

In terms of history, the descriptions of Deep Valley's Memorial Day celebration in which Emily's grandfather participates are a very interesting look back in time, and Emily's patriotism, especially, is a quality worthy of admiration that we don't often see mentioned in novels for kids. Reading aloud the chapter about Memorial Day would make a nice family tradition, I think, and could be helpful in reminding kids what Memorial Day is actually about.

Understanding and enjoying this book does not require any prior knowledge of the Betsy-Tacy series, and I only saved it for last because it happened to be the last of the books that I acquired.  I tend to think of it as being in the same category as Carney's House Party or the later Betsy books, prior to her wedding, because, like those novels, it deals with questions more likely to be of interest to older teens, but there is no objectionable content that should keep the book from a younger child. There are also a lot of lessons to be learned from this book about self-confidence and marching to one's own drum beat that would resonate especially well during the middle school years, which is likely when I will pass it down to my own daughters.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett, illustrated by Helen Stone (1953)

Minikin ("Minx") is the daughter of the much-feared witch Madam Snickasnee, who turns innocent children into flower pots, stirs up dangerous brews in her cauldron and refuses to allow her only child to attend school. Minx shares none of her mother's terrible qualities, however, and she is determined to do things her own way. When she begins going to school against her mother's wishes, Minx makes some new friends, and together they all try to use Madam Snickasnee's potions to conjure up a fairy who might be able to help them turn her flower pots back into children and maybe even rescue Minx from her unhappy home life.

I read this book aloud to my three and five year old daughters in the days just before Halloween, and they were completely riveted. Myself, I was more amused by how old-fashioned the book felt and by how easily I was able to predict what was going to happen next. I did like that this witch was a complete villain, not just someone who was misunderstood, and I also appreciated that she received a fitting villain's comeuppance. I think sometimes it's good for kids to hear a story where good and evil are clearly delineated and evil is given the proper punishment. I also enjoyed all the different fantastical characters who popped out of the pot while Minx and her friends were hoping for a fairy. It was a fun way for my girls to learn about things like nixies and centaurs and the Pied Piper. The ending also does a nice job of resolving the book's tension in a way that isn't scary for young readers.

I also really enjoyed the vintage illustrations, which are simple pen and ink drawings. They break up the text nicely and really help explain how the magic pot works, and also give faces to the children who become Minx's friends, as well as to their kindly grandmother who serves as a surrogate caretaker for Minx. Even in the ebook edition, which is all we have, my kids were eager to look at each one and to decide which figure in each illustration was meant to be which character.

This was a decent one-time read-aloud. I don't think we'll make it a tradition, as there are other Halloween-themed books we may enjoy more, but I won't hesitate to read it again when my youngest daughter is ready to hear some chapter books in a few years. It's a solid three-star book that added a little festivity to our fall.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The RAHM Report for 12/3/18

It's the last month of the year already! Though I have read many books this year, I still feel an urge to read a ton in December to make sure I've gotten to everything I planned to read. My to-read list is enormous, and it includes four library books due next weekend. Fingers crossed that there is a lot of room for reading time in my schedule this week!

What I Finished Reading


  • A Nancy Drew Christmas by Carolyn Keene, audiobook read by Jorjeana Marie ⭐⭐⭐
    I was surprised by how mature this felt. It had a lot in common with a lot of the adult cozy mysteries I read. 
  • The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I did a buddy-read with a friend on Instagram and we both loved it. A great novel for Catholic families who like to see their faith reflected in fiction. 
  • No Slam Dunk by Mike Lupica (ARC) ⭐⭐⭐
    I enjoyed the relationships in this basketball novel. Review coming soon. 
  • A Midnight Clear by Katherine Paterson ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    The stories in this collection were a little uneven, but considering they were written to be read aloud in church, it makes sense that they're not very long or involved.
  • A Cherry Cola Christmas by Ashton Lee ⭐⭐
    I have decided to be done with this series. This book was a struggle. 

What I'm Currently Reading


  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    I've read 18 chapters. It's fine, but so far I don't love it. I have jumped from one Instagram read-along to another so that I can have more time to finish it. 
  • Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Nic Stone, Aimee Friedman, and Kasie West
    I focused a lot on physical books this week, so this Kindle book took a backseat. 
  • The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
    This is the last book I need to read for a challenge. It's slow-going, probably because I feel the pressure to just get it done. 
  • Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand
    This is a library ebook that is going to expire next weekend. I started it, but haven't gotten very far.
  • P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
    I have been on hold for the ebook of this for months, so I was shocked when the paperback was just sitting on the shelf at the library. Though there is more talk of teen sexual activity in this book than I typically want to read about, the writing is really good, and I love the characters, especially Kitty.
  • Shakespeare's Christmas by Charlaine Harris, audiobook read by Julia Gibson
    I chose this audiobook at random and got completely sucked in. This book is far superior to any of the Aurora Teagarden books. 
As usual, I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?