Thursday, October 18, 2018

Book Review: Lu by Jason Reynolds (2018)

Lu, the co-captain of the Defenders track team and runner of the 400 meter dash, has a lot of talent as an athlete and a lot of attitude to back it up. Often seen wearing gold chains and diamond earrings, Lu, whose parents got him into sports to help him feel confident in his albino skin, seems to have a surplus of self esteem. It's about to be a lot harder for Lu to maintain this "swagger," however, both because of family issues (his mom's expecting a new baby, and his dad is trying to make amends for the bad decisions of his own youth) and because Coach has challenged him to take on hurdles, which secretly scare him. 

After Ghost, which is the first and most memorable title in this series, Lu is the second best installment. Whereas Patina's voice took a while to establish itself, and Sunny's strange speech patterns kept him at a distance, Lu comes completely to life in the first few paragraphs of this book and remains so for the duration. The exchanges of dialogue with his parents and teammates, his ruminations about what it will be like to finally have a sibling, and his concerns over interactions with a former friend all give a well-rounded sense of Lu's personality, and the reader becomes completely invested in his well-being and success. The fact that Lu's father and Coach have a connected past also makes Lu the ideal narrator to conclude the series.

And speaking of ending the series, this book really brings everything full circle in a satisfying way. Though the story belongs to Lu from beginning to end, there are some moments with the entire team near the end of the book that bring the four-book arc to a very fitting resolution that shows not just how Lu has changed, but how the whole team has grown together as a unit over the course of the series. I'll miss reading new installments,  but the story of these characters absolutely feels complete, and I think Reynolds nailed the ending. (Thanks to Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster for the digital ARC!) 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs (1973)

Lewis Barnavelt is an orphan, chubby and unpopular, who has come to live with his uncle Jonathan in a strange house in which the ticking noise of a mysterious hidden clock is ever-present. Lewis quickly learns that both Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman, who lives next door, practice witchcraft, and when he wants to impress his new friend Tarby he decides to perform a little magic himself. Unfortunately, Lewis's attempt to be cool for Tarby also results in the raising of a woman from the dead, a resurrection that creates many problems and dangers for Lewis, his uncle, and Mrs. Zimmerman.

I did a buddy-read of this book with three Instagram friends who were reading it in anticipation of the movie. Though I typically avoid books that might be scary in any way, I've been curious about Bellairs for a long time and this seemed like a good opportunity to get acquainted with his work. As it turned out, I was able to handle the scary content just fine, and I really liked and felt for Lewis as he struggled to fit into his new home and community. I think the fact that Lewis literally raised the dead for Tarby and Tarby still didn't really want to hang out with him is a great hyperbolic commentary on the ways kids sometimes feel compelled to impress the people who just don't want to be their friends, and it also validates the feelings of kids who feel like they just can't do anything right among their peers.

I had some reservations at first about the role of the occult in the story. As I mentioned when I reviewed The Amulet of Samarkand, I generally don't think it's a good idea to encourage kids, however subtly, to play at things like raising the dead. And thankfully, I think the point of view of this book is similar to mine. It is clearly dangerous for Lewis to have raised someone from the dead, and the results are nearly disastrous. Unlike The Amulet of Samarkand, this book does not glorify the occult; if anything, it warns away from meddling in the natural courses of life and death. There are also a few very brief Catholic references early in the book, including some Latin, that I enjoyed.

I mainly connect with books through their characters, and I found the characterizations in this book to be surprisingly believable and well done. I also enjoyed the writing style, even when the author was clearly trying to build up suspense to scare me. Even the ending, which felt a bit random and disorganized, worked for me, because Bellairs sold me on it. I hope to read books two and three in the series before the end of this year.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The RAHM Report for 10/15/18

What I Finished Reading


  • If the Coffin Fits by Lillian Bell (ARC) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    Another solid entry in this cozy mystery series set at a funeral home.
  • Ivy and Bean One Big Happy Family by Annie Barrows ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I'm glad Ivy and Bean are back! This was a nice twist on the usual baby sibling storyline.
  • Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount ⭐⭐⭐
    This didn't translate all that well to the ebook format, but it would be a nice coffee table book. 
  • The Cherry Cola Book Club by Ashton Lee, audiobook read by Marguerite Gavin ⭐⭐⭐
    This is a cozy story without the mystery. Sometimes it dragged, but I still enjoyed it. 
  • Thomas Alva Edison, Miracle Maker by Mervyn D. Kaufman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I read this aloud with my oldest daughter via OpenLibrary. It was just right for a young reader who is just getting into biographies.
  • The Diva Haunts the House by Krista Davis ⭐⭐⭐
    This was a fun Halloween-themed read with young teen supporting characters. I skipped books 2, 3, and 4 of the series to read this during the correct season, and it didn't feel like I had missed much.
  • Casilda of the Rising Moon by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This historical fiction novel based on the few facts known about the life of St. Casilda of Toledo was really enjoyable. (I would recommend it to Catholic families as an alternative to The Inquisitor's Tale.)

Did Not Finish

  • Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass
    It's not this book's fault that I decided not to finish. I just haven't been able to get in the mood for an academic text. 


What I'm Currently Reading


  • X by Sue Grafton 17%
    I am alternating reading my hardcover and listening to the audiobook via Overdrive. I'm sad to be so close to the end of the series! 
  • The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs 14%
    This is the sequel to The House with a Clock in its Walls, and so far, it's good!
  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson 11%I like the voice in this YA mystery. It seems like it will be a quick read.
  • Deadly News by Jody Holford 3%I'm just starting this ARC, but I'm looking forward to a newspaper-related mystery. 

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


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Book Review: Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (2018)

Louisiana Elefante is perturbed, to say the least, when her granny wakes her up one morning and announces that the day of reckoning has arrived and they must leave their home in Florida at once. It's bad enough that Louisiana has to leave behind her friends, Raymie and Beverly, and not much better that Granny immediately has dental trouble and Louisiana has to drive her to a dentist. The worst, however, happens when Louisiana and Granny check into a hotel in a small Georgia town and everything Louisiana thought she knew about her life begins to unravel. All she wants to do is go home, but first Louisiana has to come to an understanding of where that really is.

I felt pretty lukewarm about Raymie Nightingale and two years later, I don't remember much about it. This companion novel, however, told in the strong first-person voice of Louisiana herself makes a much deeper impression. I was drawn into this story immediately, and I read the book eagerly from beginning to end in a single afternoon. The characters are believably endearing and flawed, and Granny's erratic behavior begs the reader to keep turning the pages. Though events of the story are sad, potential sorrow on the part of the reader is tempered by Louisiana's continually upbeat outlook and her willingness to rise to the occasion in even the most dismal of circumstances.

DiCamillo's writing - particularly the details she uses to demonstrate her characters' personalities and quirks - is at its best in this novel. Both of her last two novels, Flora & Ulysses and Raymie Nightingale, didn't really work for me, but to my surprise, this one is actually nearly on par with my favorite of her works, Because of Winn Dixie. (Thanks to Candlewick and NetGalley for the digital ARC!)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Book Review: (George) by E.L. Konigsburg (1970)

Ben, a highly intelligent middle school boy who excels at Chemistry, has always had a great relationship with George, his "concentric twin" who lives inside him and often helps him with his schoolwork. Lately, though, Ben and George have begun to disagree about Ben's actions, particularly when it comes to Ben's sudden interest in gaining the approval of his classmates. When George stops speaking to him, Ben becomes concerned that he has lost him forever, but the adults in his life become more concerned about his mental health.

Though E.L. Konigsburg has been a favorite author of mine for years, I kept putting off reading this book because of its strange premise. When I finally decided to dive in, however, I quickly became enamored of the writing style and fell happily into the world of the story. The best way I can describe this book is to say that it's like A Beautiful Mind for middle schoolers. Is George real? Is he a manifestation of some mental illness? Would it be better or worse for Ben to lose George's voice inside of him? These are the questions this book asks readers to contemplate, and though Ben resolves his conflicts for himself, the overarching questions of the story are left open to the reader's interpretation.

This is the kind of book that will probably never have mass appeal, but which might be just the right thing for a highly intelligent kid who is struggling to choose an engaging book to read. Kids who like Konigsburg's more mainstream books (i.e. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or The View from Saturday) might be surprised by the strangeness of (George), but boys, especially, who are struggling socially in early adolescence will relate to Ben and his desire to obscure the truth hidden deep inside of him in order to fit in. Konigsburg had one of the most unique writing styles of any children's author, and this unusual book just proves that she can make a compelling story out of even the most unlikely of premises.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The RAHM Report for 10/8/18

As I suspected, as soon as I reduced my Goodreads goal, my desire to read came back with a vengeance. I had a very satisfying reading week!


What I Finished Reading


  • Watching the Detectives by Julie Mulhern 
    This was another quick and fun installment of this series. Ellison, the main character, makes me laugh.
  • Lu by Jason Reynolds (ARC) 
    This conclusion to the Track series is my favorite after the first book, Ghost. Review coming soon. 
  • The Babysitter's Club: Kristy's Big Day (graphic novel) by Gale Galligan 
    I haven't read all of the BSC graphic novels, but Kristy's Big Day was my favorite book as a kid, so I needed to read this one. I was annoyed that Mallory was around because she isn't in the club yet in the original book, but otherwise this was a really good adaptation that would have made nine-year-old me very happy. 
  • Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (ARC) 
    I felt sort of lukewarm about Raymie Nightingale, but this companion book was really excellent. Review to come. 
  • My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok 
    A couple of my friends and I are reading and discussing the Well Read Mom books this year. We missed September, so we're starting with this book, which is the pick for October. I absolutely loved it and cannot wait to discuss in a couple of weeks.  
  • The Autumn People by Ruth Arthur 
    This was a good creepy tale for this time of year. It was like a cross between The Haunting by Margaret Mahy and The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope. 
  • Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace 
    This was on my September TBR, so I'm a week late getting it done. I really liked the story and I know it would have really resonated with me as a teen. 


Did Not Finish

  • Naomis Too by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick (ARC)
    I liked the first book, but I got bogged down in the first chapter of this one by all the issues it seems to want to take on. I just wasn't in the mood for the book decided to pass. 


What I'm Currently Reading


  • If the Coffin Fits by Lillian Bell (ARC) 38%
    I'm trying to read mysteries this month because I'm participating in Seasons of Reading's Frightfall read-a-thon, and mysteries are about as scary as I get. It's taken me a while to get around to this ARC, but I'm enjoying it.
  • Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass 29%
    I didn't spend much time on this one this week, but I'm not giving up on it quite yet. 
  • The Cherry Cola Book Club by Ashton Lee, audiobook read by Marguerite Gavin 25%
    This is my current audiobook. It's like a cozy mystery, except the plot is not a mystery, but instead focuses on saving a small-town library. 
  • Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount 17%
    I saw this on Instagram and found out the ebook was on Hoopla and checked it out. I just clicked through a few pages, but it will be quick to get through once I focus on it for a bit. 
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (not pictured)
    I'm re-reading this for a read-along at Castle Macabre. I may just skip around and not actually read straight through depending on how much time I have, so it doesn't really count as a current read.
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read by Diane W. Frankenstein (2009)

This handbook for reading with children provides everything parents and other caregivers need to know about reading aloud and discussing books with kids. In a brief front section, Frankenstein lays out her advice for selecting, owning, and reading aloud children's books. The next section, the longest of the book, presents profiles of 101 different titles. Each of these includes the book cover, a brief synopsis, a related quotation, an observation the author made, a "souvenir" concept or lesson to be taken from the book, a list of themes explored by the book, possible discussion questions, and a list of read-alikes. The final portion of the book provides more general questions across a variety of themes that can be used with any book that involves the given topics and a series of additional themed booklists across a variety of subjects.

Over the past few months, I have read several books about books: The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie, The Intentional Bookshelf by Samantha Munoz, Our Library by Phyllis Fenner, and The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. Unequivocally, Reading Together is the best of the bunch. Frankenstein has obvious experience suggesting books to a variety of families (not just her own), and she wastes no words in concisely and clearly explaining how best to evaluate books and share them with kids of all ages. The books for which she provides profiles are a varied collection, covering different topics, comprehension levels, developmental phases, cultures, and interests. She gives just the right amount of information about each book to inform parents about content, and to entice potential readers to select that book. The list is also curated. It's not simply a list of every book she has read; instead, it represents the books she truly recommends and which she has seen families enjoy. 

This book inspired me not just to ask my kids more questions about the books we read, but also to consider making profiles like the author's for books we love that she didn't include. It's just an all-around excellent, practical, well-informed manual with something to offer every adult who reads with kids. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Book Review: The Summer of Mrs. MacGregor by Betty Ren Wright (1986)

The Summer of Mrs. MacGregor is another 1980s Apple paperback I discovered on Instagram and read on Open Library. Caroline Cabot is twelve and feeling lonely and left out while her beautiful sister, Linda, who has a heart condition, is away receiving treatment in a hospital. Enter Lillina MacGregor. Though, at 17, she isn't much older than Caroline herself, Lillina claims to be married and a model in New York. She dresses very glamorously, and just by association, makes Caroline feel more confident and more interesting. As the summer passes by, however, it becomes clear that perhaps Lillina isn't telling the whole truth and that her beauty and sophistication mask a much more ordinary life than she would admit to having.

Though this particular novel is not a mystery, Betty Ren Wright did write a number of ghost stories and mysteries, and some aspects of this book reveal her preference for this genre. Lillina is presented as a mysterious character from the start, and there is a growing sense of suspense throughout the story as the reader begins to see some holes in Lillina's story. Lillina also makes the reader feel uncomfortable at times, as she is difficult to read and does not tell much of the truth. The question of the health of Caroline's sister also casts a somewhat dark pall over the story, contributing to an overall feeling of foreboding and worry.

With these mysterious elements, however, there is also a sense of empowerment as Caroline begins to see herself not just as Linda's sister, but as an interesting and valuable person in her own right. Though Lillina may not be what she pretends to be, the attention she bestows upon Caroline still brings about some very real changes in Caroline's perception of herself and her place in the world. Though Lillina is very much a real person, her impact on Caroline's life felt a lot like the way Anna's life is changed by the mysterious Marnie in When Marnie Was There. This book also felt a lot like some of Janet Taylor Lisle's writings, which often involve unlikely friendships with characters who have something mysterious and even sinister about them.

I was not expecting such depth and substance based on the cheesy cover of this book, but I was not disappointed to find that the book offers more than meets the eye.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The RAHK Report for 10/2/18

It has been a while since I've posted an update about the books my girls, the Read-at-Home Kids, are enjoying. As I've mentioned in a few of my Read-at-Home Mom report posts, my dad passed away in the middle of our move, and because of that, it took us a little while to get settled. We're finally getting into a good routine now, and we've started homeschooling kindergarten with our oldest, so it seems like a good time to share our latest reads.

Miss Muffet's Independent Reading


Little Miss Muffet (4 years, 10 months) is my kindergartner, and she has been going through chapter books like crazy. She read straight through the first three Betsy-Tacy books, Betsy-Tacy, Betsy, Tacy and Tib, and Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, and I decided to stop her before she read the fourth book, since I think that's where the subject matter starts to be appealing to a bit of an older audience. I explained that Betsy gets older in each book and that she should catch up to Betsy a little bit before she reads more. She also continues to be interested in The Boxcar Children series, and she often comes to the dinner table bursting to share the latest clues the Alden children have uncovered. She has finished the first seven titles of the series, and she has free access to all the original books written by Gertrude Chandler Warner. We also recently finished listening to the audiobook of Farmer Boy. We originally started it on one our trips to New York this summer, but kept repeating certain chapters, so it took us a while to actually complete the story. Miss Muffet loved it, and she speaks fondly of Almanzo all the time. The next few Little House books seem like they could wait until she is a little older, too, so in the meantime we have introduced one of the spin-off series. She has just started reading Little House in the Highlands by Melissa Wiley, which is book 1 in the series about Laura Ingalls Wilder's great-grandmother Martha. After two chapters, Miss Muffet has announced that this book deserves 100 stars. 

Homeschool Read-Alouds

 

In addition to all this independent reading, Miss Muffet has also been enjoying a lot of nonfiction read-alouds with me during her school day. We just finished Can't You Make them Behave, King George? by Jean Fritz, which appealed to two of her main interests: the royal family and the American Revolution. Some days, we took turns reading a few pages, other days I just read to her, and we talked about it a little bit afterwards. She seems to really love biographies, so my plan is to alternate between history lessons based on My Backyard History Book and read-alouds of a similar level and format to this book. We've also been studying a bit of art history using How to Use Child-size Masterpieces for Art Appreciation, and she took such a liking to the Mona Lisa, that I went on Open Library and found Katie and the Mona Lisa by James Mayhew. She was disappointed that Mayhew's illustrations aren't of da Vinci quality, but otherwise, she enjoyed this more whimsical look at the painting. 

As we've started studying solids, liquids, and gases in science, we've read a few basic easy readers available on Open Library, and now we're reading through a book from our own collection, Solids, Liquids, and Gases by Jeanne Bendick. This book ties in nicely with our first science lesson of the year, which is about sorting things into categories, and it also had some good connections to a book we read as a fun math review, Let's Find Out About Addition.

Little Bo Peep's Favorites

 

Little Bo Peep (3 years) has been pretty resistant to doing much of any schoolwork, which is fine, since she doesn't really need a lot at this age. She has, however, become very attached to certain books. The one she likes most right now, and which I am asked to read over and over again, is All About Alfie by Shirley Hughes. This is a collection of four stories about preschooler Alfie and his baby sister Annie Rose, and Bo Peep just can't get enough of them. When she wakes up in the morning, she immediately looks for this book, and if she can't find it, she starts asking everyone to look for Alfie as though she has misplaced her best friend. When she's not carrying this book around the house, she is most likely paging through People by Peter Spier, the Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves, the Beatrix Potter books (which she calls "Beaterix Potter"), and/or Weekend with Wendell by Kevin Henkes. I've been trying to read to her before naptime whenever I can, but there are still a lot of times where she would prefer to look at books alone. Bo Peep also recently heard Owl Moon for the first time, and her reaction did not disappoint. That book is truly magic. 

Little Jumping Joan, Page Turner

 

Jumping Joan (11 mos.) has started really liking to have books in her playpen with her. She has been enjoying What a Wonderful World illustrated by Tim Hopgood as well as our newly acquired board book copy of The Babies on the Bus, which my mom bought to replace the hardcover copy the two older girls destroyed with their intense love. Jumping Joan will happily sit on my lap and listen to almost any book, but she also really loves to turn pages, so there is a delicate balancing act between having her enjoy the book and repeatedly losing our page as she bats it out of my hands. 

Family Read-Alouds


Our first lunchtime read-aloud in the new house was The Galloping Goat and Other Stories, which was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's first book. (I reviewed this book several years ago - it's worth owning.)  It's a collection of short stories, each about a child living in a different country around the world. Miss Muffet loved the book, but Bo Peep only stayed to listen when she still had food on her plate. With Halloween around the corner, we're now reading Bunnicula, but Bo Peep is not all that into it so far. (Strangely, though, Jumping Joan smiled through the whole first chapter.) What Bo Peep did enjoy, though, is reading Stellaluna, which we did after I won an Instagram giveaway from Merry Makers Inc. and a stuffed Stellaluna turned up in our mailbox.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The RAHM Report for 10/1/18

After considering it all month, I made the decision this weekend to decrease my Goodreads challenge goal from 500 books to 400. One of my goals for the year was to read fewer books (I read 800 in 2017), and I set that goal specifically so that I would not be spending my time scrambling to find enough picture books to read in order to catch up after falling 30+ books behind on the challenge. As I looked back over my reading for the past several months, I realized there had been  several instances where I had already done this, and that I would probably need to do it at least once more in order to remain on track. Since I'd rather have time to focus on writing reviews in a timely manner (another of my goals), I decided to just take the pressure off and shave 100 books off my goal. I imagine I will surpass 400, but I didn't want the pressure of making it to 500 to force me into reading books that didn't really interest me. I feel a little bit like a cheater, but I also feel better about being 40-something books ahead of schedule instead of 30-something books behind.


What I Finished Reading


  • The Galloping Goat by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This is Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's very first book, a collection of short stories about kids around the world. This was a re-read for me, but this time I read it aloud to my older two girls. 
  • Charm City by Laura Lippman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I really like Tess Monaghan, the main character of this series. Living in Maryland, I especially enjoyed all the details about Baltimore geography, slang, and history that informed the story. I'm looking forward to continuing the series.
  • Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen  ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I read about this book in I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel and decided to give it a try. It was sort of like an adult version of Wendy Mass's books in the Willow Falls series. Though I don't like fantasy, I do enjoy magical realism, and I plan to read more from this author.   
  • Shelved Under Murder by Victoria Gilbert, audiobook read by Coleen Marlo ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I enjoyed this second book of the Blue Ridge Library Mystery series almost as much as the books in my favorite Library Lovers series. I especially like the main character, Amy, and her dancer boyfriend, Richard, as well as the way the arts played into the plot. The audiobook narrator was also very good.


What I'm Currently Reading


  • Watching the Detectives by Julie Mulhern 37%
    I only have this for one more day from Hoopla and I hate to use another of my 10 precious borrows to borrow it again, but I'm not sure I'll get it finished by tonight at midnight. I am enjoying it, though. These books are consistently very funny. 
  • Lu by Jason Reynolds 36%
    Part of the reason I didn't read more in Watching the Detectives is that I found out this was on Edelweiss, dropped everything, and read several chapters in one sitting. I love this series, and this fourth book has as strong a voice as the first one (my favorite), Ghost. I will finish this quickly the next time I sit down with it. 
  • Know and Tell by Karen Glass 12%
    I have not been in the mood for a dry academic book so I haven't read much in this one at all. I may end up not finishing it. 
  • My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok 6%
    My book club meeting for this is coming up on the 19th, so I will be allowing myself to get a bit more into it starting later this week. I'm trying to time is so that I finish just a few days before we meet so it's fresh in my mind. 
  • Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace 0%
    I did actually start this one night, but I was very tired and kept drifting off so I'll need to start over. It's the last Betsy-Tacy related book I have to read! 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?