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?





Thursday, November 29, 2018

Reading Through History: Casilda of the Rising Moon: A Tale of Magic and of Faith, of Knights and a Saint in Medieval Spain by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño (1967)

Casilda is the youngest and most beloved daughter of the ruler of Toledo, but she also brings a lot of grief into his life. She is frequently ill, but whatever strength she has she insists upon using to help the Christians her father holds prisoner.  It is also clear to all who know her that Casilda herself wishes to be a Christian. Though Casilda has male admirers, such as Ismael Ben Haddaj, a Muslim prince with a Jewish heritage, she remains singularly focused on living out her mission on earth according to God's plan rather than pursuing marriage. As her story unfolds, her journey to sainthood plays out for the reader, culminating in a  miraculous ending.

This book is, I believe, what The Inquisitor's Tale (2016) (which I don't recommend for Catholic kids) was trying to be, or perhaps could have been. Set in medieval Spain, this story brings the three major Western religious traditions - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - into one place and time and explores how their members get along with one another. This time, though, not only is Christianity treated fairly, the main character turns out to be a fictionally fleshed-out version of a canonized saint! Obviously, as a Catholic mom, I prefer this book. When Kirkus reviewed the book in 1967, the reviewer wrote, "Outside a Catholic frame of reference, it is doubtful if girls will find her a convincing heroine." Lucky for us, my girls and I live smack-dab in the middle of that frame of reference, and I have no doubt that when they meet Casilda in a few years, they will love her story as much as they love the ones they already know about St. Therese, St. Elizabeth, St. Margaret of Antioch and many others.

In terms of writing, I'll admit that this book isn't as compelling as the author's Newbery Medal book, I, Juan de Pareja (1965), but I do still think it's well-done. That Kirkus review complains about it being a "miracle play without metaphor" but personally that's what I love about it. The Kirkus reviewer is correct when she writes, "one cannot regard Casilda as a saintly soul motivated by kindness and compassion, one must acknowledge and revere her as a saint." There is no question that Casilda is a saint in this book,  and what's wrong with that? Personally, I'd like a few more unapologetically Catholic books to come live on my bookcase and insist that I believe in their saints.

Casilda of the Rising Moon was a pleasant surprise for me. I came into it cold, without reading even a blurb, and could not believe how much I enjoyed seeing my own faith tradition treated so respectfully and seriously by a children's author. I see this author has written other books steeped in Catholic tradition, and I'll be looking for those as well.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

On Writing Fiction (Or Not)

Prior to November 1st, I cleared my schedule to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). After four days, I decided to stop, not because I didn't think I could do it, but because I was simply not enjoying the act of writing.  As a result, I started reflecting on my journey as a writer over the past 30 years, from kindergarten to motherhood. I want to talk a little bit about that journey today, as I continue to discern whether writing fiction is something I ought to be doing.

I wanted to be a writer from the time I learned to write. I loved it when teachers set aside time for "Writer's Workshop" in elementary school, and I wrote completely un-self-consciously about the subjects that interested me, imitating books I loved, like Danny and the Dinosaur and Sarah's Unicorn. As I got into the middle school and high school years, however, I was tortured by the fact that I could never come up with topics to write about. I would start stories, and abandon them after just a page or two because I had nothing to say. Occasionally, this problem was alleviated by school creative writing assignments; under deadline, I always came up with something. I also found it very easy to hand-write hundreds of pages in a journal about the boys I liked and all the friendship dramas of my teen years. But I really struggled to write fiction, while all the while feeling like writing fiction was what I must do.

When it came time to apply to colleges, I wanted to attend a school where I could either major in creative writing or major in English and take creative writing classes. I ended up at Vassar, which does not have a separate writing major, but does have a very strong history of producing creative writers. (Graduates include Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, Ruth Stiles Gannett (My Father's Dragon), Jane Smiley, Scott Westerfeld, and Rebecca Stead (When You Reach Me), to name just a few.)  I was thrilled to be accepted at Vassar, but completely naive about what a liberal arts creative writing program really cared about and focused on. Up to this point, my favorite authors were mostly not writers of literary fiction. I was 17 for the first few months of my college career, and I loved YA books by Sarah Dessen, the Cat Who series by Lilian Jackson Braun, and had only given up reading The Baby-sitters Club a few years before. I aspired to write the kind of books I liked to read, and I was disappointed to realize that, in college creative writing classes, students and instructors alike look down on anything which isn't "literary." (I was also really uncomfortable with how much time creative writing workshops spent discussing sexual topics. It was a lot of time.)

I spent the next four years trying to conform whatever raw talent I might have had as a writer to the mold of what my professors considered "worthy." My classmates commented often on how much they wished their rough drafts could be as polished as mine, and one professor told me she liked to save my writing submissions for last when she was reading papers because they were "like dessert." She and another favorite professor really encouraged me to apply to graduate schools without ever making it known how unlikely they thought it was that I would get in, or how foolish it was to apply to more than one or two programs. Eventually, when I asked for letters of recommendation, they both kind of turned on me, accused me of being rude for asking for letters for so many schools, and actually made me cry in one of their offices on my 21st birthday. Later, when I happened to read their supposedly confidential recommendation letters, I found out that they didn't actually say many positive things at all. One said I was too quiet during workshop discussions and the other called me "offbeat."

At the start of my senior year, I was rejected from the prestigious "Senior Comp." seminar, in which I would have been allowed to write a creative project for my thesis. In the spring, I was rejected from all six graduate schools to which I applied. (This prompted the professor who called me offbeat to say, "Well, if all you wanted to do was write, why did you even go to college?" Just imagine how happy it made me to hear that.) Finally, a third professor, one with a much more practical outlook, told me that I should really pursue a back-up plan and that even if I was a good writer, it was still not wise to plan on just writing. I was so grateful to her for her honesty, and so hurt by the fact that the other two professors hadn't had the courtesy to be as truthful. At that point, I put down my proverbial pen and applied to library school.

Librarianship was clearly a vocation for me, and I excelled in it and enjoyed it. Working in the library renewed my love of reading which had been destroyed by the demands of English classes I did not want to take for a major (English) that I did not want to pursue. Because of my work in libraries, I started blogging, and because of my story time blog, Story Time Secrets, I was given the opportunity to write two textbooks for librarians which were published and even earned me a small royalty check. I have no doubt at all that the career path I followed after college graduation was the right one. For a while, I even thought those two textbooks would be enough to satisfy my urge to write, even though they were nonfiction.

Now though, I haven't worked in a library in five years. I haven't done a story time in about 18 months. It's been over a year since I turned in the manuscript for my last book. I'm still reading, and still blogging, but without library work to occupy my energy, now I'm back to thinking about writing fiction again. It has been nearly 15 years now since I graduated college, and all the shame and disappointment I felt at 21 has largely faded. Looking back, I see the superficiality of academia for what it is, and I know without a doubt that I would not have been happy in that environment in the long-run. I also recognize that I am never going to be a writer of literary fiction. I don't even like reading much of it! As I read more and more of the books I enjoy - cozy mysteries, realistic children's novels, clean romances - I find myself realizing that my writing style is better suited to those genres. My imagination is frequently sparked into action while I'm reading, and I dream up characters and settings and consider the stories into which I might place them. The only thing I don't do with those ideas (yet) is write them down.

This coming new year, I really want to start putting words to paper again. I don't have specific goals in mind just yet, because heading into a new year with lots of big plans always seems to end in failure for me, but my hope is that, by the end of the year, I will have completed a piece of fiction writing: a single chapter, a short story, a novella, a picture book manuscript - something. Until I have done that, I won't know for sure whether this is a calling I need to pursue or a pipe dream of which I need to let go.


Monday, November 26, 2018

The RAHM Report for 11/26/18

What I Finished Reading


  • Be Merry: A Catholic Guide to Avoid Anxiety and Depression During The Holidays by Sterling Jaquith ⭐⭐
    This has been sitting in my Kindle app for a long time so I decided to just quickly read through it. It didn't wow me, but it was better than this author's book on Catholic minimalism.
  • A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, & The Thanksgiving Visitor by Truman Capote ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I really enjoyed these stories, though they weren't quite what I was expecting. My book club will meet on Friday to discuss.
  • Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I really liked the characters in this cozy mystery and the audio narration was very good as well. I think my local libraries only have these on audio, so that's probably how I'll read the rest of the series.
  • The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Library and the Young Adult by Margaret A. Edwards ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This book about YA librarianship was originally published in 1969, and I read the edition published on the occasion of Edwards' 100th birthday in 2002. As far as I'm concerned, it's just more proof that librarians need to study the roots of their profession; so much of what Edwards argues is being treated today as though it is new. I think this should be required reading in library school. I wish it had been for me! 
  • The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I really loved Rose Rita as the main character in this third book of the Lewis Barnavelt series. This was a fitting conclusion to the original trilogy.
  • Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    It took me forever to get through this book! The middle dragged quite a bit, but the ending was very satisfying and sweet.
  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson ⭐⭐
    I read this because I had it lying around and it had been assigned to me in college but I didn't actually read it back then. I liked the concept - a series of connected short stories introducing the residents of a small town - but though the writing was obviously good, it lacked any sort of sense of humor at all resulting in a very depressing reading experience. I ended up listening to the last third or so on audiobook and that did help. Narrator George Guidall's performance is excellent. 



What I'm Currently Reading


  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    The read-along group with which I was planning to read this book was supposed to have a discussion on Saturday morning that doesn't seem to have happened, so I'm skeptical that the group is going to stick with it. I am switching back and forth between my Illustrated Junior Library edition and the audiobook narrated by Barbara Caruso, and though I definitely won't finish it this week, I'm going to try to finish it by the end of next week. 
  • The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum
    I'm doing a buddy read of this book over the next three days with an Instagram friend. I have never read a van Stockum book I didn't love so I'm excited to get started.
  • Snow in Love by by Melissa de la Cruz, Nic Stone, Aimee Friedman, and Kasie West
    I read part of the first story in this book yesterday, and I can tell it will be easy to zip through. 
  • A Nancy Drew Christmas by Carolyn Keene, audiobook read by Jorjeana Marie
    I wanted a quick light read for my next audiobook so I borrowed this from Hoopla. So far, it's actually better written than I was expecting. 
  • No Slam Dunk by Mike Lupica
    This middle grade basketball novel will be another quick read. I want to finish and review it this week, since I received an ARC and the book has already been out for three weeks. 
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?



Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Book Review: Barking with the Big Dogs: On Writing and Reading Books for Children by Natalie Babbitt (2018)

In chronological order beginning with the year 1970, Barking with the Big Dogs presents the late children's author Natalie Babbitt's essays and speeches about reading and writing for children.

My feelings about this book were all over the place as I followed the essays through time. During the first half of the book, well into the writings from the 1980s, I found myself wondering why this book was being published today, and for whom. At that point in my reading, it felt as though Babbitt had one main argument, that writing for children ought to be taken seriously, and it seemed to me that, in the 2010s, we had moved beyond the simple question of whether children's writers "count" and on to more interesting ones. I wondered what a contemporary audience had to gain from reading different versions of this same argument over and over again. I also found myself cringing over some of Babbitt's other pronouncements of the 70s and 80s: her assertion that public education was making great progress (toward what? I wondered), her idea that reading needs to always be "easy and pleasant" in order to make people want to do it, and all her weird comments about books for teens.

But right around the time I started feeling fed up with Babbitt, her essays started expressing unpopular opinions that I actually agreed with! In one essay, she said that we can't reasonably expect everyone to love to read. I think this idea has always been nagging at the corners of my mind whenever people speak with disdain about those they encounter who do not read for fun. There are a lot of things I don't do for fun, and I don't think that is necessarily a character flaw. Not loving to read sounds horrible to me, because I do love it, but it is not objectively horrible. I appreciate that Babbitt had the good sense to recognize that fact, and the guilty burden it puts upon educators when the bar is set so impossibly high.

In her essay from 1989, "The Purpose of Literature - and Who Cares?" I also enjoyed her glib response to an audience member during a Q & A session who asked Babbitt why she didn't address more of society's problems in her novels. The fact that Babbitt dismissed the questioner with the statement that helping children deal with problems is not the purpose of literature made me cheer. Here we are, thirty years in the future, and every author wants to make sure that the problem he or she experienced during childhood makes it into a book so that kids who are experiencing it now can see themselves in fiction and feel comforted and understood. But Babbitt makes the point that it is really difficult for an author to write a book that both addresses societal issues and is still a pleasure to read. I have found this to be true of many contemporary books. They get across the problem, but the stories feel like they are trying to instruct, and not entertain.

On a related note, in her 1990 piece, "Protecting Children's Literature," Babbitt also criticizes the idea that children's books be used to teach social responsibility, and explains that she doesn't "believe in using fiction to teach anything except the appreciation of fiction." She points out a tendency that bothers me greatly in our own current culture: the idea that we need "to catch the children early and get them to think about things in the right way." She concedes, as I do, that children need to be taught how to treat others and get along with them, but she does not believe, as I also don't, that books need to be written in such a way as to preach morals at children. She seems to suggest that it's better to present kids with questions, rather than lessons, about morality, and allow them to begin thinking through their own answers.

In the end, I found that I really enjoyed this collection as a whole. I did feel that I wanted more context, as all we really have is an introduction by Katherine Applegate and a short Preface by Babbitt, and it did sometimes feel like Babbitt was shouting into a void and I didn't know to whom she was really addressing her remarks. I also think it would be foolish to filter all of these essays through the lens of a contemporary critic. This collection is really a history lesson about the changes in children's literature over the last nearly fifty years, not a single cohesive unit arguing toward one point of view. I did not enjoy Tuck Everlasting as a kid, and found the ending of The Search for Delicious disappointing, but this is one Natalie Babbitt book I would recommend to all those who think seriously and critically about the books written for children, then and now. Whether you agree or disagree with Babbitt, there is much here to think about and discuss.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The RAHM Report for 11/19/18

What I Finished Reading

 

  • Still Life by Louise Penny ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    Re-reading this book for a buddy read on Instagram was a lot of fun. It was interesting to look back and see how the characters have (or haven't) changed since the first book and to see all the clues about who the killer was that I missed the first time around. 
  • Body of Evidence by Patricia Cornwell ⭐⭐⭐
    This was a good mystery with lots of twists and turns, though I sometimes got a bit lost in all the connections between characters. I like this series for the same reasons I like Kathy Reichs's books. 
  • Margin for Surprise: About Books, Children, and Librarians by Ruth Hill Viguers ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This is another book about children's books, this time from the 1960s. It's a really interesting look back at which books were considered great fifty years ago, and a reminder to librarians about what is really at the heart of their profession. 
  • Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This got off to a slow start, but really picked up by the halfway point. Astrid is not as much like Pippi as I first thought, but she does have a larger-than-life personality that really jumps off the page. I especially love the way the story explores a close friendship between a child and an older person (Astrid's godfather, Gunnvald.)
  • Confusion is Nothing New by Paul Acampora ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    Despite being about a somewhat sad topic (main character Ellie has just learned that the mother she never met has died),  this book actually made me laugh out loud several times. Acampora's books get better and better with each new publication. 


What I'm Currently Reading

 

  • Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins
    I am reading this slowly because I've only been reading it before bed when I'm too tired for more than a chapter. It's quick, though, so as soon as I make it more of a priority, I'll probably finish it in two days. 
  • Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay, audiobook read by Karyn O'Bryant
    I'm still listening to this audiobook, and I'm a little over halfway finished. I'm enjoying both the mystery and the narration. 
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    I have never read this book before, and decided on the spur of the moment to join a buddy read on Instagram that started on Friday. I'm purposely reading it slowly to keep pace with the group, which will discuss the first nine chapters on Saturday, so I don't expect to finish quickly. I am enjoying it so far. 
  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
    I am also reading this slowly because I want to make sure I absorb it. I plan to finish it by the end of the month. 
As usual, I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Datefor It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Series Review: Herculeah Jones Mysteries by Betsy Byars

Between February and October 2018, I read all seven of the Herculeah Jones books by Betsy Byars. Published from 1994 to 2006, this series follows Herculeah, who was named for the Hercules film her  mother was watching during labor, and her best friend, Meat, as they solve crimes loosely based on some of the 12 labors of Hercules. The series ends abruptly with the seventh book; though the ending of that last mystery does hint at further sequels, none have been published to date.

In addition to the mysteries, which are usually murders, and can be a bit scary, there are also a variety of other themes woven into these books. One of these is the problems of Herculeah's and Meat's parents. Herculeah's mother and father are a private investigator and a police officer, respectively, and sometimes the people and issues they are dealing with at work have an impact (for better or for worse) on Herculeah's crime-solving. The Joneses are also divorced, so Herculeah goes back and forth between them. Meat's mother is a single mom, and for much of the series, Meat doesn't know his dad. Meat's desire to do what would make his absent dad proud of him often factors into his involvement in Herculeah's cases. The strong friendship between Herculeah and Meat also comes into play quite a bit, and their dynamic is really the backbone of the series.

In terms of style, these books are written very tightly, with few words spared for unnecessary description. Dialogue is the main means by which Byars furthers the plot, and when she describes physical actions, the text is always clear and to the point. Byars also shows a more humorous side in this series than she does in many of her middle grade novels that I have read this year. Herculeah has a really optimistic outlook on life, and her perseverance in the face of danger and fear often also leads to a good laugh or two.

Though these books are on the older side now, I think they hold up pretty well, mostly because friendship stories are timeless, and that is what is most central to the plot of each book. Herculeah would be a good character to meet in fourth or fifth grade in preparation for meeting Ruby Redfort or Daisy Wells from the Wells and Wong series in  middle school.

The books of the Herculeah Jones series are:
  • The Dark Stairs (1994)
  • Tarot Says Beware (1995)
  • Dead Letter (1996)
  • Death's Door (1997)
  • Disappearing Acts (1998)
  • King of Murder (2006)
  • The Black Tower (2006) 

Monday, November 12, 2018

The RAHM Report for 11/12/18

What I Finished Reading


  • Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This wasn't my favorite of the series, but it was interesting, and a quick read. I really enjoyed the interactions between Tempe's daughter and Ryan's daughter, and the change of pace introduced by the Hawaiian setting. 
  • Barking with the Big Dogs by Natalie Babbitt (ARC) ⭐⭐⭐
    I have a lot - both good and bad - to say about this book. I'm going to make reviewing it a priority this week. 
  • Thanksgiving by Janet Evanovich, audiobook read by C.J. Critt ⭐⭐⭐
    I wanted a festive audiobook, and I'd never read any Evanovich. This was sometimes funny, but complete fluff.
  • All Alone by Clare Huchet Bishop ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This was our read-aloud this week. Except for the overly didactic last chapter, it's a wonderful book. 
  • The Spying Heart by Katherine Paterson ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I loved every one of the essays in this collection. This, and the book that precedes it, Gates of Excellence should be required reading for anyone who loves good children's books. 
  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I won't pretend I understood this book, but I'm impressed by its many layers and I know there is much more to it than I got on this first reading. I'm planning to look up some articles and videos about it later this week. 


What I'm Currently Reading


  • Body of Evidence by Patricia Cornwell
    This book is really engaging, and I've been zipping right through it. I didn't feel like I got to know Kay Scarpetta very well in book one, but that is changing in book two. 
  • Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr (ARC)
    I have been wary of this book because of the comparisons to Pippi Longstocking, but so far Astrid seems far less annoying than Pippi. 
  • Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins
    I borrowed this from Hoopla as my book for the letter U in the Alphabet Soup challenge. I read the first paragraph, and I think I'll be able to get through the book in a couple of days. 
  • Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay, audiobook read by Karyn O'Bryant
    I've been wanting to read this book for a while, but none of my local libraries have the ebook, so I settled on the audiobook. So far, so good.
  • Still Life by Louise Penny
    I'm still making my way through my re-read of this book with the read-along group on Instagram. I'm several days behind because I had a proofreading set to finish this weekend but I'll catch up today and tomorrow.
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?


Friday, November 9, 2018

The RAHK Report: New Books Edition, Fall 2018

My older two girls and I have been really enjoying the review copies we've received from publishers these past couple of months. Today, I finally want to share our thoughts on 10 of the books we were fortunate enough to find in our mailbox. (The 11th book, Sing a Song of Seasons is a lengthy poetry collection, so that one will get its own separate post.)

When I was getting ready to write this up, I corralled Little Miss Muffet (who will turn 5 this month) and Little Bo Peep (who just turned 3) into our home office and asked them to read the books with me and give them a rating of either one star (defined in simple preschool terms as "bad"), two stars ("just okay"), or three stars ("great," a pronouncement to which the girls just naturally added a thumbs up.) It was interesting to see where their ratings matched or differed from each other, and also how they corresponded with my Goodreads ratings.

There were five books to which both girls gave perfect marks of 3 out of 3 stars, so I'll start with those.

Heads and Tails by John Canty (10/23/18, Candlewick Press)
A series of illustrations and textual clues invites preschoolers to guess the names of animals based on their tails. This book is very straightforward and Little Miss Muffet guessed all the animals correctly on her first reading. Little Bo Peep had a bit of a harder time, which leads me to think that her age group is probably the best audience for the book. There are a couple of strange instances where the illustrator throws in a red herring tail and requires the reader to turn the page twice to find out which animal he really intends. Even on a third reading, these moments still felt awkward, so although I really loved the artwork, I gave the book 3 out 5 stars.

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein (9/11/18, Candlewick Press)
My husband has instilled in my children a deep love for elephants, and I think this must be what drives them to ask for this book again and again. They don't know the fairy tales referenced in the book yet, and they have never had homework so the surprise humor of elephants must be the main draw. In any case, for me, this book fell really flat. (I gave it 2 stars out of 5.)  In a previous post, I mentioned that the story felt like it only had one joke, and it beat that joke to death. But I don't mind keeping it around for now, since the girls have latched onto it so heavily. I would like them to read the first book, though, because I do think it's the better of the two.

Ten Horse Farm by Robert Sabuda (4/10/18, Candlewick Press)
My kids are not especially big horse lovers, but they loved this book, and I did too. It is amazing the images that can be created simply using paper cut-outs, and we enjoyed every page, and especially the final spread where the reader needs to find all ten horses hidden around the pop-up barn. (For a sneak peek at the illustrations, check out the book trailer!) I'm also happy to say this book has held up really well to repeated handling. I don't let the baby around it because I know no pop-up book is durable enough to withstand a one-year-old, but allowing my older two to touch the book has not resulted in disaster so far! (My rating: 5 out of 5.)



Sleep, My Bunny by Rosemary Wells (11/13/18, Candlewick Press)
I have read this gentle rhyming bedtime story to all three girls, and while I think it is probably most appealing to the one-year-old, it has definitely made an impression on Miss Muffet and Bo Peep as well. They both love the endpapers, and Bo Peep mentioned that she likes how it shows the bunny doing all the same things in his daily routine that she does in hers. I was a little surprised to see them both give this book the highest rating, but they have been reading it together a lot so I guess I should have guessed. My rating for this book is 4 out of 5 stars.

There's A Dinosaur on the 13th Floor by Wade Bradford, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (10/2/18, Candlewick Press)
This silly story is about a musician who just wants to go sleep, but can't find a room at the Sharemore Hotel that isn't already occupied by an animal. As he and the  bellhop climb higher and higher in the building searching for a suitable bed, the animal residents get more and more ridiculous until finally he meets the occupant of the 13th floor, a dinosaur. This book has held up surprisingly well to multiple re-readings. Both girls have run hot and cold about it for a few weeks, but we are currently in a high-demand phase where there is a lot fighting for a turn with this book.

On the other five books, the girls disagreed, and occasionally so did I.

Oskar Can... by Britta Teckentrup (10/23/18, Prestel Junior)
Little Bo Peep, who was my intended audience when I requested this book, ended up disliking it immensely (1 star!). She did not seem to connect with Oskar at all, and when I said we were going to read this one, she actually wanted to leave the room! Her sisters, on the other hand, have both really taken to the book. Little Jumping Joan, the one-year-old, read it with me a couple of times and she was thrilled by the pictures, pointing at everything in sight. Little Miss Muffet also loved it (3 stars!) and she has read it to her baby doll several times. She tells me that her baby doll, Robin, loves the cover, while Miss Muffet herself loves the pictures and all the things Oskar is able to do. I gave it two stars because I was expecting more of a story, but I could see pairing it with something like Titch for a story time.

Builders and Breakers by Steve Light (10/9/18, Candlewick Press)
This book has a simple text about construction and demolition and how builders and breakers work together to bring a set of blueprints to life. I really liked the artwork, and gave the book 4 out of 5 stars for its strong appeal to kids who love construction, all the details in the illustrations that are not mentioned in the text, and the interesting spin on a popular topic. Miss Muffet is a bit old at this stage for picture books with such minimal words, so she just gave it 2 stars, but Bo Peep found it completely engaging and gave it a big thumbs up (an enthusiastic 3 stars). I posted a review on Instagram as well, and was thrilled that Steve Light shared it!

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9/4/18, Candlewick Press)
I had reviewed this previously but I wanted to see what the girls had to say about it. I was expecting Miss Muffet to be the one who connected most with this one since the artwork and subject matter are both pretty abstract. But she only gave it 2 stars while Bo Peep, enamored of the colors in the illustrations, gave it 3. I think this is a book they will only appreciate more as they get older, so it will be staying on our shelves for years to come.

Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9/11/18, Candlewick Press)
I also reviewed Night Job previously, but again wanted to see what the girls thought. Bo Peep has been really interested in this one from the start (and she gave it 3 stars), but Miss Muffet went from refusing to hear it at all to an "okay" 2-star rating. Miss Muffet did react strongly to the ending, which is a lovely dream sequence, but I think Bo Peep liked it for the same reason I would have as a kid: it shows the inner workings of an everyday place during its off hours.

City by Ingela P. Arrhenius (9/18/18, Candlewick Studio)
This is my favorite book in this post. It's enormous, filled with beautifully colorful illustrations of all aspects of a city. It reminds me of all the Richard Scarry word books, but with huge pictures instead of little ones. Even the endpapers are reminiscent of that format, as they identify each object and person who appears in the text with the correct label. Miss Muffet was just not that interested in this book, and she started out with a 1-star rating, then later asked me to increase it to 2. She said her baby doll didn't like the "unsafe things like the subway" but only because "she will never get to go there." Bo Peep didn't have much to say about why she did like it, but I think part of the reason for her 3-star rating is that there are so few words, she can enjoy the book independently without any interference from her parents or sister.

Finally, I just have to mention one more book that Little Miss Muffet has absolutely adored: My First Wild Activity Book, published by Silver Dolphin Press. It came out in the spring, but she didn't really look at it much until the week of our move in August when she needed to be kept busy for long stretches of time while we dealt with logistics. The book is organized really well, with sections for each of seven different habitats, and there are a variety of activities for exploring the animals that live in each one. I finally found where she has been keeping the book the other day, and I was so pleased to see it was almost complete and that she had done such a thorough job. There are still some activities left to do that require grown-up help, so it seems like we'll even get a bit more out of it yet. Miss Muffet is really big on activity books, and this one has been a favorite.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Reading Through History: The Motoring Millers by Alberta Wilson Constant (1969)

In the second of three books about the Miller family of Gloriosa, Kansas, sisters Lou Emma and Maddie have automobiles on their minds. First, there is an automobile race coming to their town and one of the drivers will be staying with the girls, their professor father, and their stepmother, Miss Kate. Afterward, when their father is invited to a conference in Colorado, where his idol will also be in attendance, the girls find themselves whisked away on a family road trip in the family car, the Great Smith. The drive is anything but uneventful, as a variety of difficulties  thwart their path and bring to light at least one unexpected surprise.

The biggest surprise of this book was that I actually got to read a copy! None of the books in this trilogy (which also includes Those Miller Girls! (1965) and Does Anybody Care About Lou Emma Miller? (1979)) is particularly easy to find, and this one seems to be the least commonly available. Nevertheless, my academic librarian husband was able to track down a copy via inter-library loan and though I had to read them out of order, I have now completed the series.

While interesting to me as a fan of the series, however, The Motoring Millers, may be the weakest of the three books, at least in terms of plot. The first part of the story, involving the car race, starts off very slowly and isn't all that engaging. It gives the author an opportunity to insert some girl power into the book (one of the drivers in the race is a woman) and there is some exposition about the growing pains in the new stepfamily, but most of the interesting stuff happens in the second half of the book, during the roadtrip. The descriptions of what it was like to drive a car any distance in the early 1900s are fascinating, as are the details of how Kansas and Colorado looked in those days. Road trips are also always a great way for characters to work out issues in their relationships with others, and this storyline goes a long way toward bringing harmony to the Miller family.

Overall, this series is a worthwhile read with wholesome values, believable family dynamics and many wonderful details about day-to-day life 100 years ago. Though this second book had to go back to the library, I hope I'll be able to get it again when my daughters are old enough to relate to the Miller girls!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Best Backlist Middle Grade and YA Books I Originally Discovered Through Netgalley and Edelweiss

Today's Top Ten Tuesday theme is supposed to be Backlist Books I Want to Read, but I'm giving it a little twist. These are backlist middle grade and YA books that I have read, which were published between 2011 and 2017, and which I first read via NetGalley or Edelweiss back when they were new. If you missed them on the frontlist, now's the time to make up for lost time, especially since a lot of these are really affordable on Kindle. (Note: My Goodreads shelves show that I have read 281 Netgalley titles and 190 Edelweiss titles. If they make this list, they are beating out a lot of other books!)

Edelweiss

 

  • Top Ten Clues You're Clueless by Liz Czukas (2014)
    Set during a shift at a grocery store on Christmas Eve, this YA novel follows Chloe, a type I diabetic, as she reports to work and attempts to fulfill the resolutions she has set for herself regarding her coworkers and her crush, Tyson. Though the cover doesn't make it clear enough, this is a great holiday read! Read my review.
  • Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb (2014)
    Flor loves her home on Moonpenny Island, but she goes through a tough time when both her best friend and her mom leave the island simultaneously, forcing her to seek new connections. Tricia Springstubb's writing is so beautiful; I'll read anything she publishes! Read my review. 
  • Murder is Bad Manners (2014)
    This series from the UK is among my very favorites. This book, in which Hazel Wong and her best friend, Daisy Wells, discover their first body and solve their first murder case, introduces the 1930s boarding school that the girls attend as well as the dramatic tension in Hazel and Daisy's friendship that drives the series as a whole. Adult cozy mystery lovers can enjoy this book as well as kids. Read my review. (Note: In the UK, the title of this book is Murder Most Unladylike.)
  • Mission Mumbai: A Novel of Sacred Cows, Snakes, and Stolen Toilets by Mahtab Narsimhan (2016)
    When Dylan accompanies Rohit to visit family in Mumbai, he is glad to have a reason to be away from his parents and to pursue his photography hobby, but worried that Rohit's relatives will make good on their promise to move him to India permanently. This is a great buddy adventure, and a highly underrated novel. Read my review.
  • The Courage Test by James Preller (2016)
    In this funny father/son wilderness adventure, Will and his historian dad take a trip to retrace the steps of Lewis and Clark and explore a deeper relationship with one another. Read my review.


NetGalley

 

  • Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo (2012)
    Originally published in Australia as Good Oil, this is another YA novel set in a grocery store. Fifteen-year-old Amelia enjoys working side-by-side with her older crush, Chris, who is 21. What she does not realize, however, is everything else Chris has going on in his life away from their job. This is possibly the best YA book I have read in the last ten years. Read my review. 
  • The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky (2013)
    This book was also originally published in Australia. It's the story of an afternoon in the 1960s on which a group of Sydney schoolgirls follow their teacher Miss Renshaw on a walk to a nearby garden and return to school unaccompanied later on, as Miss Renshaw has gone missing. With echoes of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, this is a beautifully written - and chilling - story. Read my review.
  • A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar (2013)
    Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Bijou Doucet moves to Brooklyn to live with her aunt and uncle. Alex Schrader, a boy at a school neighboring hers, takes an interest in Bijou but must carefully navigate the rules dictated by Bijou's family and culture about her spending time with a boy. Read my review.
  • Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck (2014)
    This agricultural-themed family story stars Diggy Lawson who spends a year raising a steer and coming to terms with the discovery that his father has another son he never knew about. Read my review.
  • Anything You Want by Geoff Herbach (2016)
    Geoff Herbach writes YA novels that are both funny and heartbreaking. This tale of an immature young man named Taco who suddenly finds himself on the verge of parenthood is a positive take on a topic that is often treated as a tragedy. There is something endearing about Taco's excitement for his unborn child to enter the world. Read my review.
Have you read any of these? Which other backlist MG and YA titles would you recommend? 

Monday, November 5, 2018

The RAHM Report for 11/5/18

What I Finished Reading


  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I gave this book five stars for the content because I think the advice is good, but for such a short book, it sure repeated itself a lot! 
  • Butchers Hill by Laura Lippmann ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I alternated between the ebook and audiobook and read this one in just a few days. Now that the main character has established herself as a private investigator, the series is getting much more interesting.
  • Deadly News by Jody Holford ⭐⭐⭐
    This is a solid first book in a new cozy mystery series involving a sleuth who works for a small-town newspaper. It was enjoyable, and I'll be curious to see where things go in the next book. 
  • Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I was searching for a book title that started with Z when I came across this one. I really enjoyed reading about the thought processes behind Bradbury's works, and I want to read more now! 
  • McMummy by Betsy Byars ⭐⭐⭐
    This was a quick spookyish read for Halloween, and reading it helped me finally reach my goal of reading 15 Betsy Byars books for the year.
  • Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett ⭐⭐⭐
    This was our Halloween read-aloud. It was okay, but not spectacular. 
  • From the Queen by Carolyn Hart  ⭐⭐
    I needed a book title with a Q in it for the Alphabet Soup challenge. This cozy mystery novella was available from the library through Hoopla, so I just read through it quickly, but it wasn't very memorable. 


What I'm Currently Reading


  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
    I was looking for a book with a title that started with V when I remembered that I have never read this. I read a few pages just to whet my appetite, and I think I'm going to like it. 
  • Barking with the Big Dogs by Natalie Babbitt
    This is an ARC of a collection of essays about children's books by the late Natalie Babbitt. So far, her arguments feel a little obvious, but I'm not that far along in the book at all yet. 
  • Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs
    I'm getting back into this series again in the hopes of reducing my pile of unread paperbacks. So far, it's good but not great.
  • Still Life by Louise Penny
    I'm re-reading this for an Instagram read-along. It's even better the second time! 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Autumn People by Ruth Arthur (1973)

Romilly Williams is the second person in her family tree with her name. The first, Romilly's great-grandmother, was known as Millie, and she vacationed on the island of Karasay just once as a young woman and never returned, owing to a strange and painful experience that cost her the love of her life and possibly a piece of her soul as well. The second Romilly has grown up hearing stories about Karasay from Millie's daughter, her Gran, who herself has always wondered about the reasons her mother never joined the family for their island vacations. When Gran and Romilly finally have the chance to visit Karasay, neither realizes the role Romilly will play in finally setting right the wrongs of Millie's past.

This novel is told in a very straightforward way, relating first Millie's point of view in the summer of 1901 and then Romilly's "present-day" (early 1970's) experiences. Though the storytelling is quite linear and ordinary, however, the events of the story are unusual and unsettling. What happens between Millie and a distant relative, Roger, incorporates elements of the supernatural, as does Romilly's journey of discovery toward what happened to Roger and how it affected her great-grandmother. Like When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson (1967)The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope (1958), and Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder (2014), this novel shows how the past impacts the future, but also how the future might reach back through time and remedy the past. 

Though The Autumn People is not a Halloween story per se, the title and the involvement of ghosts in some segments of the plot make it an appropriate read for getting into the spirit of the holiday. There is probably not enough actual haunting in this book to please true fans of ghost stories, but for readers like me, who typically don't like to be scared too much, this novel is plenty troubling at points even if it is pretty clear from the outset that there will be a happy resolution.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The RAHM Report for 10/29/18

What I Finished Reading


  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I enjoyed this YA mystery novel which alternates between past and present happenings at a boarding school for gifted students that was the site of a murder many years ago. I have mixed feelings about the ending, but it does set us up nicely for the forthcoming sequel. 
  • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I picked this up on a whim and could not believe how much I loved it. My review is on Goodreads.
  • The Good Friends by Margery Bianco ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This was my most recent read-aloud with my big girls. I'll say more about it when I make my next Read-at-Home Kids Report post.
  • The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    Compared with the first book, this one really wasn't scary. I liked it, though. Lewis, the main character, is as endearing as ever.
  • The Heavenly Tenants by William Maxwell, illustrated by Ilonka Karasz  ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    Somehow I had never heard of this 1947 Newbery Honor book until yesterday, but even though she story was weird, it was absolutely worth reading for the gorgeous illustrations! (The book is available free online - click to read.


  • Nighty-Nightmare by James Howe ⭐⭐⭐
    This was a quick and mostly enjoyable read. I'm probably done with this series for now because it gets old after a while, but reading this helped me finish the A to Z challenge! 
  • The X'ed-Out X-ray by Ron Roy ⭐⭐
    I got tired of hunting for an interesting book whose title started with X, and finally decided to just read this one. It was fine, but I could have lived without reading it too. 
  • The Traveling Bird by Robert Burch, illustrated by Susanne Suba ⭐⭐⭐
    This book has a really depressing ending, but I needed a book published in 1959 for the Family Tree challenge, and my kindergartner just read it, so I just picked it up and read it quickly too. It wasn't my favorite, but my daughter liked it. 
  • Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson ⭐⭐⭐⭐
     I intended to read one chapter of this book and ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting. Katherine Paterson's writing just really resonates with me. 


What I'm Currently Reading

 


I'm hoping to do NaNoWriMo this next month along with a couple of buddy reads on Instagram, so I'm trying to wrap up my reading and start November with a completely clean slate. These are the books I hope to finish by the end of Wednesday: 

  • Butcher's Hill by Laura Lippman
    I'm listening to this third Tess Monaghan book on audio and reading the ebook in between listening sessions. I think it's the best one of the series so far.
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
    This is my Catholic book club's pick for November. It's really short, but takes a bit of concentration to follow. I'm enjoying it and highlighting a lot of quotes I think will be good to discuss.
  • Deadly News by Jody Holford
    I wanted to finish this ARC over the weekend, but didn't quite make it. It's a pretty run-of-the-mill and straightforward cozy mystery so far, but I'm enjoying getting to know some new characters.

I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Reading Through History: Queenie Peavy by Robert Burch (1966)

Queenie Peavy is living during the Great Depression, during which time her father is also incarcerated. Unable to cope with the way people treat her based on her father's bad behavior, Queenie acts out quite a lot, especially at school. Only when she decides to stop worrying about what others think can she start to reform herself into the kind of person others enjoy spending time with. 

Like this author's 1965 novel, D.J.'s Worst Enemy, this is a bit of a character-building story designed to show kids how to take responsibility for their own behavior and to begin acting properly because they want to and not just because someone else says they must.  While D.J.'s Worst Enemy felt somewhat boring to me, however, Queenie is such a well-developed character that I was completely engaged the entire time I was reading. Burch does a good job of bringing out Queenie's personality both through her own thoughts and dialogue and through the reactions of other characters. 

Enjoying Queenie so much made it very easy to swallow the moral of the story. Though I often dislike books with clear agendas, this one does a nice job of helping to provide character education for kids without preaching at them or sugarcoating childhood. In fact, I think this book provides a much-needed reality check for today's hyper-offended culture. Queenie learns that she can choose not to be offended by the words and deeds of others, and learning this frees her from feelings of constant anger and frustration. I hope my kids will be at least a little bit like Queenie in that respect.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The RAHM Report for 10/22/18

Read-a-thons


I was reading for three simultaneous read-a-thons over the course of this past week. The first was #FrightFall, which is a month-long scary-themed read-a-thon at Seasons of Reading. I'm not into horror, but I've been trying to read mostly mysteries. On Friday and Saturday, I joined #8inBoo, hosted by @25infive on Instagram. The goal was to read for 8 hours over two days. I made it to 6 hours. Saturday was also my first attempt at joining in for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon. It's hard to accomplish anything when the time limit is 24 hours, you have three small children, and you can't just stay up all night, but I did enjoy jumping in and hopefully I'll try it again when it happens in April. 

What I Finished Reading

 

  • Disappearing Acts by Betsy Byars ⭐⭐⭐
  • King of Murder by Betsy Byars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • The Black Tower by Betsy Byars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    These three books are the last of the Herculeah Jones mysteries by Betsy Byars. The 7th and final book ended as though an 8th was expected, so that was a little disappointing, but overall I liked the series, and I enjoyed getting back into Byars after a break. I am planning to review the whole series soon.
  • X by Sue Grafton ⭐⭐⭐
    I had heard this book was disappointing, and though I tried to stay positive about it as I read it this weekend, the reviewers were mostly right. It wasn't bad, per se, but it was the weakest of the 24 I've read. I will take a few weeks off before diving into Y is for Yesterday. I'm sad for the end of the series, especially since it will forever remain unfinished, but I'm also excited to go back and reread some of the early ones after I'm done. 
  • Howliday Inn by James Howe ⭐⭐⭐
    I read Bunnicula aloud to my kids and realized I had never finished the series. Though I enjoyed this second book, it's a bit sophisticated for my kids just now, so I don't plan to share it with them until they're older, if ever.
  • Dead Over Heels by Charlaine Harris ⭐⭐
    I listened to half of this as an audiobook and read the other half in the ebook edition. It was a pretty weak mystery, and though I like Roe well enough, the other characters, especially her husband, get on my nerves. I'm still sticking with the series, but I hope it picks up a bit. 


What I'm Currently Reading

 

  • The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs
    I fully intended to read this entire book this week, but the Sue Grafton book took me forever, and then I got sucked into a bunch of digital books. Once I sit down with it and focus, it will take me just a couple of hours.
  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
    I am really enjoying the writing style in this book (I have always enjoyed Johnson) but I find myself reading it slowly because I don't want it to end too soon.
  • Deadly News by Jody Holford
    I started this ARC last weekend and then forgot about it. It's good, and I'm looking forward to it, and I'm not currently reading any other cozies, so I should be able to make it a bigger priority this week.
  • Nighty-Nightmare by James Howe
    I realize this is the fourth book of the Bunnicula series, not the third, but I've decided to skip ahead because I need a children's book beginning with letter N for a challenge, and I'm trying to wrap those up. 

Reading Challenge Progress


There are only ten weeks left in 2018, so I'm trying to really focus on finishing up my challenges. I have mostly stopped linking up because I am behind on writing reviews, but I still want to try to finish as many checklists as I can. Here's how things stand: 

  • For the A to Z Challenge, I have letters J, N, and X left.
  • For Alphabet Soup, I still need Q, U, V, Y, and Z.
  • I'm reading Betsy Byars books for the Author Love challenge, and I've read 14 of the required 15.
  • I signed up for the Inspector level (26-35 books) of the Cloak and Dagger challenge. I'm currently at 40 and might reach 50 or more by the end of the year. 
  • For Craving for Cozies, I aimed for the Famished level (11-30), but I've read 31 books and anticipate reading several more. 
  • For the Family Tree challenge, I'm still missing books published in 1946 and 1959. 
  • I've read 46 books for the Library Love challenge, surpassing my goal by 10. 
  • I wanted to complete level 1 of the Linz the Bookworm challenge, but I still need a comedy or satire book and a Nora Roberts book, and I don't think I'm going to get them done. 
  • My goal for the Old School Kidlit challenge was 52 books. I read my 53rd this week. 
  • For the Writing Reviews challenge, I planned to review 100 books. I stopped counting at 125. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?