Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Reading Through History: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (1990)

In the summer of 1832, Charlotte Doyle is 13 years old. She has just left her boarding school for the summer, and is due to join some other families on a ship crossing from England to Rhode Island. When she arrives at the Seahawk, however, the others have all changed their plans, and she finds herself sailing unchaperoned, alone on a ship full of men. Charlotte is warned that undertaking this voyage unaccompanied is a bad idea, but she and her escort agree that she should not go against the plans her father has made and she embarks on the journey anyway. At first, she becomes friendly with the captain, assuming based on his appearance that he is someone she can trust, who shares her values. When it becomes clear that perhaps she has been too quick to rely on the captain, however, her presence on the ship feels more perilous. As the story progresses, Charlotte's naivete about the world is lost, and she begins taking actions that would ordinarily seem unladylike to her in order to survive.

I appreciated the suspenseful writing in this book. I could easily imagine each scene as it was happening, and despite only knowing a little bit of sailing jargon (thank you, Swallows and Amazons!) I had no trouble at all keeping track of the action. I felt less sure about the characters. I was sympathetic to Charlotte out of concern for her safety, but I can't say that I got close enough to her to feel what she was feeling. I did like the way Avi withheld and revealed certain details at certain times in order to make us feel dubious about some of the less forthcoming characters, but I still felt very much like I was watching the action at a distance.

My biggest issue of all with the book, though, is the taste of "anachronistic feminism" that it left in my mouth. I am already biased against "girl power" books because they tend to feel condescending and artificial, and this one seemed to apply contemporary feminist values to a time and place where they simply do not fit. Charlotte's reaction to her experience at the end of the book is completely far-fetched, and not at all true to her circumstances. It also sends a message that the best way to reach fulfillment as a woman is to behave more like a man. I own this book because it was a Newbery honor book in 1991, and because I remember all my classmates reading it when I was in middle school and refusing to read it myself. I'm on the fence right now about when (or whether) I will suggest it to my girls.

Monday, July 29, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 17-19

Last week, I read Chapter 17 ("Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four"), Chapter 18 ("Dumbledore's Army"), and Chapter 19 ("The Lion and the Serpent"). My comments contain spoilers.

In these three chapters, Umbridge's war against Harry and the Hogwarts students who support him continues as she introduces a new decree disallowing all student groups of which she does not approve. This, of course, should foil the plans to form a secret Defense Against the Dark Arts group, but, thankfully, it doesn't. The scenes where Harry shares his expertise with his friends provide a much-needed glimmer of light and hope in a book otherwise fraught with frustration for the main characters.

I was also pleased to finally reach the first iteration of "Weasley is our King." I love Ron, so of course I feel terrible about his failure on the Quidditch pitch, and the way he lets the Slytherin players shake his confidence, but I crack up every time I read those lyrics. (It also helps that I know how the song will eventually become an anthem in praise of Ron.)

The other thing I loved in these chapters is Umbridge's interactions with Snape and McGonagall. They both go back at her in a way the other professors don't, and McGonagall's disgust, especially, makes me happy, if for no other reason than the feeling that there is an adult on Harry's side even if Dumbledore has to remain at a distance. Of course, it infuriates me that Umbridge has gotten the upper hand again by banning half the Gryffindor  team from playing Quidditch, but I take comfort in the fact that her comeuppance is still ahead. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 13-16

This week's chapters were another fun set: Chapter 13 ("Detention with Dolores"), Chapter 14 ("Percy and Padfoot"), Chapter 15 ("The Hogwarts High Inquisitor"), and Chapter 16 ("In the Hog's Head"). Spoilers beyond this point.

I've read a few reviews that criticize the high level of teen angst Harry experiences in this book. I was thinking about that as I read this section, and I noticed it, but I have to say he comes by it honestly enough.  Umbridge is physically injuring him during detention and he can't tell anyone for fear she will make the punishment worse. His best friends are fulfilling prefect duties and trying out for the Quidditch team and otherwise being normal teenagers, while he has to listen to people who used to be his friends spouting the lies about him that they read in the newspaper. On top of that, Percy writes to Ron to warn him away from Harry, and Dumbledore hasn't said a word to him all year so far. He is in touch with Sirius, but of course even that is frustrating because Sirius can't seem to see Harry as a separate person from his dad. Wizard or not, that's a lot for any fifteen-year-old to handle!

I'm really looking forward to reading about Dumbledore's Army getting organized. There was something gratifying about seeing all of Harry's and Dumbledore's supporters come together to make plans to work around Umbridge's ridiculous rules. I also felt so angry on behalf of all the professors when she made her evaluations of their classes. Professor McGonagall's unwillingness to play her game was great, but I feel terrible for Trelawney, especially knowing what is to come for her. (Then again, I'm also looking forward to Umbridge's ride on a centaur...)

Monday, July 22, 2019

Book Review: Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery (1915)

Anne of the Island follows Anne Shirley through her four years at Redmond College, during which she pursues her BA degree, befriends a girl from her own birthplace, rejects several marriage proposals, experiences the death of a friend, and slowly sorts out her true feelings for Gilbert Blythe. During visits home, Anne also observes the goings-on in Avonlea.

As was the case with the first two books of the series, this is another wholesome and innocent story, told in beautifully written prose. Though there is real sadness here (including a death), and some bittersweetness as Anne returns for the first time to the home of her childhood, these troubling times are always somehow infused with the light of hope. Montgomery resists darkness in these books at every opportunity, and I so appreciate that.

I really enjoyed the way this book related the events of four years in Anne's life without feeling rushed or abbreviated. Montgomery did a nice job of choosing important moments to include in the story, and she handled the passage of time quite well. I also enjoyed all the quirks of the newly-introduced characters, especially Redmond classmate Philippa Gordon, and even though Anne drove me nuts for rejecting Gilbert early on in the story, the rollercoaster of her feelings for him made for an enjoyable reading experience.

I'm due to read three more Anne books before the summer ends. Next up: Anne of Windy Poplars!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (and 15 More Picture Books About the Moon)

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Brian Floca has expanded his 2009 picture book, Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11. This beautifully illustrated picture book follows Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin as they travel to the moon, land, explore, sleep, and return home. Floca used the opportunity to expand the book in order to spend a bit more time on the astronauts' time in space, and to shine a brighter spotlight on the thousands of lesser-known and unknown individuals who contributed their expertise to the success of the moon landing.

I don't believe I ever read the original edition of this book, but this new version is completely enthralling for early elementary kids who are interested in space. The illustrations provide a lot of detail, and though there is a lot of text for this format, it reads aloud very smoothly. The book is also a good size, and the illustrations really fill up the large spreads. Floca's use of space on each page helps the reader to really feel the vastness of space, the smallness of Earth when viewed from the moon, and the close quarters inside the small ships.

Along with Moonshot, which is a perfect book to read this weekend, here are 15 other moon-related picture books that I personally recommend.

  • The Moon by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson
    A poem about the moon is paired with illustrations of a father and son taking a moonlit walk.
  • The Moon Jumpers by Janice May Udry, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
    A group of siblings dance, climb, and play in the moonlight outside their front door.
  • How to Be on the Moon by Viviane Schwarz
    Anna and Crocodile use their imaginations to travel to the moon.
  • The Moon Was the Best by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Tana Hoban
    A mother recounts the adventures she had on a recent trip, noting that she loved the moon the best because she and her child could see it at the same time.
  • The Moon is Going to Addy's House by Ida Pearle
    A beautifully illustrated reflection on how the moon seems to follow a little girl named Addy home.
  • Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes
    Kitten thinks the moon is a bowl of milk, leading to a bewildering night.
  • Regards to the Man in the Moon by Ezra Jack Keats
    Louie learns not to be ashamed that his father is the "junk man" after he uses his imagination to build a spaceship out of junk.
  • Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
    A young girl and her father go out looking for owls under a winter moon. 
  • Moonlight by Helen V. Griffith
    A rabbit bathes in the moonlight.
  • One Lighthouse, One Moon by Anita Lobel
    Nini the cat explores various concepts. The final section of the book focuses on counting and is the source of the book's title.
  • Dance by the Light of the Moon by Joanne Ryder, illustrate by Guy Francis
    A group of anthropomorphic cows attend a barn dance.
  • When the Moon Comes by Paul Harbridge, illustrated by Matt James
    A group of children play hockey by the light of the moon.
  • A Moon of My Own by Jennifer Rustgi, illustrated by Ashley White
    A young girl befriends the moon and accompanies it on a journey to all 7 continents.
  • Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle
    Monica wants the moon for a playmate, so her father climbs up to get it for her.
  • Luna: The Science and Stories of Our Moon by David A. Aguilar
    Geared toward older readers, this book is a collection of scientific information and fanciful folklore about the moon. 

These titles are also printed on this .pdf list, which you can save and/or print to take along with you to the library or bookstore.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 9-12

Last week, I read Chapter 9 ("The Woes of Mrs. Weasley"), Chapter 10 ("Luna Lovegood"), Chapter 11 ("The Sorting Hat's New Song"), and Chapter 12 ("Professor Umbridge"). I will spoil the ending of this book in this post.

The scenes that stood out to me most in these chapters are the ones that help the reader appreciate the weight of the losses of friends and family experienced by the members of the Order of the Phoenix during Voldemort's first rise to power. When Moody shows Harry the old photo of the Order and talks about the various ways those pictured lost their lives, it really puts Harry's own quest to defeat Voldemort into an important larger context. Likewise, the scene in which Molly faces a boggart which appears to her in the form of the dead bodies of her children drives home the long-lasting emotional effects fighting Voldemort has had on those who lived through it the last time.

I was also surprised by the fact that Ron was made a prefect. I remembered that Hermione was one, but had totally forgotten about Ron. He's my favorite character, so it will be interesting to see what other details about him have slipped from my memory. (I'm also really looking forward to "Weasley is Our King."

I also totally forgot that the reason Harry can see the thestrals is Cedric's death, and not Sirius's. Obviously I knew that Luna is in Dumbledore's Army, though, so I really should have realized that it would have to be this book that introduces her (and the thestrals), and not book 6. I've also always felt that it was a little far-fetched that Harry's parents' death wouldn't make them visible; it makes it feel like the thestrals were an afterthought and Rowling had to make up an explanation (see it here on Pottermore) about why the rules wouldn't apply the same to babies (and apparently also about why Harry couldn't see the thestrals right away after Cedric died, which really seems like a reach.) I like it better when the details feel like they'd been in place from the start of the series, and we just didn't know their significance yet.

Umbridge hasn't even done much yet, but at the first "hem hem" I felt my entire body tensing up in response. I absolutely love how effectively Rowling writes her, because I think she is the fictional villain I hate the most, and there is a certain amount of fun in hating her. I am preparing myself for the next set of chapters, in which Harry has his first detention with her. I can already feel myself becoming indignant on his behalf. Also, I love that McGonagall clearly disapproves of her. Any time McGonagall "breaks character" and sets aside her professorial persona, I eat it up.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 5-8

My second assignment in Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix was to read Chapter 5 ("The Order of the Phoenix"), Chapter 6 ("The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black"), Chapter 7 ("The Ministry of Magic"), and Chapter 8 ("The Hearing.") Spoilers for the entire series will appear in this post.

What struck me immediately in these chapters is how good it was to see so many of these characters alive and well again. There is such a warmth to these early scenes at 12 Grimmauld Place, as the sense of camaraderie among the members of the Order (and the kids) is juxtaposed against the darkness of the Black family home and the dangers that lie beyond its walls. Every character is much more fully realized than I appreciated on my first reading, and there is a lot more going on than I remembered. There is tension between Molly and Sirius, as they disagree about how much to involve the younger generation, and especially Harry, in their fight against Voldemort. There is also tension between Percy and the rest of the Weasleys, as he has taken the Ministry's side against Harry's claim that Voldemort has returned. And then there is Harry's own personal concern, first over the possibility of being expelled from Hogwarts for performing illegal underage magic, and later over the fact that Dumbledore doesn't seem to be speaking to him. But there is also this wonderful feeling of people coming together to take on a common enemy that gives Chapters 5 and 6 a surprisingly cozy quality.

Another important scene at 12 Grimmauld Place is Sirius's explanation of the relationships between all of the pureblood wizarding families. I doubt I thought much about this during my first reading, but given the roles Bellatrix and Regulus Black play in upcoming events gives it a significance that made me better attention this time. The family tree also helps to highlight the different ways pureblood families have treated non-purebloods, and to contrast families like the Malfoys and the Weasleys. 

After her brief appearance at Harry's hearing, I'm both dreading and eagerly anticipating seeing Dolores Umbridge appear at Hogwarts. So far, the character I've loved to hate is Rita Skeeter, but even she is no match for Umbridge, who is possibly the best villain in this series, making me angrier and more disgusted even than Voldemort. Harry's arrival at the Ministry for the hearing also made me think about Harry, Ron, and Hermione infiltrating the Ministry using polyjuice potion later on in book 7. Rowling does a great job of establishing this setting not just for the purpose of this one occasion in Harry's life, but also as a means of laying the groundwork for things to come.  

So far, I'm enjoying this book just as much as book four. The writing is just so much better than in the first three books, and so much has happened before Harry even leaves for Hogwarts! He'll get there - and meet Luna Lovegood - in the next set of chapters, and I'm eager to join him. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 1-4

This past week, I started Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with the first four chapters: "Dudley Demented," "A Peck of Owls," "The Advance Guard," and "Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place." (Spoilers  ahead for this book and the series as a whole.)

The mood at the start of this fifth book is one of frustration, as Harry is left in misery at the Dursleys (intentionally, on Dumbledore's orders) without an inkling of what is going on in the wizarding world.  Rowling does a really good job of conveying Harry's very specific brand of teen angst, and his all-caps ranting at his best friends once he arrives at Grimmauld Place helps the reader to empathize with him and also to understand some of the feelings (including resentment and anger) that have been building in him over the past several books. Though not everything Harry says about Ron and Hermione is accurate, Rowling really gets at the heart of his emotional state in that scene. 

Also handled well is Petunia Dursley's relationship to the wizarding world. Seeing her clear comprehension of the implications of the return of Voldemort adds a sense of foreboding to the opening of this novel, and also raises a lot of questions. I honestly don't remember the exact significance of the Howler she receives, and I'm looking forward to revisiting that. 

The other thing I really love is the introduction of Harry to some of the members of the Order of the Phoenix. The dialogue among characters like Moody, Lupin, and Tonks is really fun and witty, despite the seriousness of their errand in collecting Harry from Privet Drive. I also found myself comparing this departure from the Dursleys with the one that occurs in book 7, during which, of course, Moody is killed.  The knowledge that these beloved characters don't survive the series does make these introductions bittersweet in a way they weren't on my earlier readings of this book, all of which took place before the series was finished.

I'm really excited to spend the rest of my summer with this book.  So far, it's every bit as good as I remembered! 

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Read-at-Home Mom Report, June 2019

June was really heavy on the picture books and a bit lighter on other books, but I'm pleased with the mix of titles I read. In July, I'm hoping to go a bit easier on the audiobooks and get some more e-books and paperbacks read. I also didn't finish my June book club book (The World's First Love by Fulton Sheen), nor did I attend the book club, so at some point I want to finish that, especially now that Bishop Sheen's cause for sainthood has been reopened. But here are the books I did manage to read in June.

Books Read

Famous Paintings: An Introduction to Art

by Alice Elizabeth Chase
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

Death by Minivan

by Heather Anderson Renshaw
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Nonfiction/Catholic parenting
Source: Scribd
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


by George Eliot
Format: Paperback
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

Anne of Avonlea

by L.M. Montgomery
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog (⭐)

The Rest of the Story

by Sarah Dessen
Format: Digital ARC
Genre: Contemporary romance (YA)
Source: Edelweiss+
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

Babe The Gallant Pig

by Dick King-Smith
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Pumpkin War

by Cathleen Young
Format: Digital ARC
Genre: Realistic fiction (middle grade)
Source: NetGalley
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

Katie John and Heathcliff

by Mary Calhoun
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction (middle grade)
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Instagram (⭐)

Clause and Effect

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

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

by J.K. Rowling
Format: Hardcover (U.K. Edition)
Genre: Fantasy (middle grade)
Source: Personal collection
Follow my #YearOfHarryPotter on the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

By the Book

by Julia Sonneborn
Format: Paperback
Genre: Women's fiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

The Red Pony

by John Steinbeck, illustrated by Wesley Dennis
Format: Hardcover (illustrated edition)
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

Introverted Mom: Your Guide to More Calm, Less Guilt, and Quiet Joy

by Jamie C. Martin
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Christian nonfiction
Source: Scribd
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

My Life in Middlemarch

by Rachel Mead
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

The Battered Body

by Ellery Adams
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Scribd
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

Waiting for Tom Hanks

by Kerry Winfrey
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Scribd
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

The Wishing Thread

by Lisa Van Allen
Format: Paperback
Genre: Magical realism
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Paterson
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog ()

Picture Books (with links to Goodreads reviews)

Challenge Progress

  • Alphabet Soup: 1 read in June, 21 of 26 read total
  • Alphabet Soup Author Edition: 0 read in June, 21 of 26 read total
  • #CathLit: 0 read in June, 11 of 19 read total
  • Cloak and Dagger: 2 read in June, 28 of 55 read total
  • Craving for Cozies: 2 read in June, 20 of 51 read total
  • Library Love: 3 read in June, 42 of 60 read total
  • RMFAO Audiobooks: 4 read in May, 32 of 25 read total
  • 2020 Classics: 2 read in June, 2 of 20 read total 
  • Goodreads Goal: 46 read in June, 248 of 425 read total
I'll be linking up this post for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? with The Book Date and Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and for the June 2019 Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up Link-Up at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.