Library Books Enjoyed, 8/18/14: First Maryland edition

Our new library is the Harford County Library, and here are some recent picks that we’ve enjoyed from there:

Princesses Are Not Just PrettyPrincesses Are Not Just Pretty by Kate Lum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cute story about three princesses who each WANT to be the prettiest, but eventually remember that they have more important things to do. My kids LOVED this one (and I have to say, I liked that one of the princesses was named Princess Libby), and now we need to seek out Lum’s other princess books.

My New Friend Is So Fun! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)My New Friend Is So Fun! by Mo Willems

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A new Gerald and Piggie!! Hooray! Gerald and Snake find out that Piggie and Brian Bat are hitting it off–and then they start to worry that their best friends won’t need them anymore. Another great installment by Willems.

Naughty Kitty. Adam StowerNaughty Kitty. Adam Stower by Adam Stower

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do have ONE gripe about this book, which is that the tiger who appears and gets Lily’s kitty in trouble shouldn’t be quite such a surprise to Lily, since she adopted him at the end of Silly Doggy. Still, Lily’s animal raising skills amused us just as much, if not more, in this new story as in the first, and this is one that I not only reread several times, but that my 6 and 4 year old quickly learned enough to reread by themselves. Cute, funny, and right on target to audience (they especially loved the line, “As for Mom’s carpet, I can’t even talk about that. It was revolting!”

And one adult book (and I was very impressed by how quickly I got this from the holds list):

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this second installment of the Cormoran Strike detective series (yes, I probably wouldn’t have read it if it weren’t written by J.K. Rowling; I have no shame about this). I think I like that it follows the basic hard-boiled detective and green partner pattern, and I love the character development between Strike and Robin, and I LOVE that (at least so far) it has not become a romance. I did tell a friend who is hoping they will get together that there’s still room for it to develop (not least because Robin’s fiancé Matthew seems even less likable in this novel), but I’m still holding out hope that it will just stay a detective-partner relationship.

I thought the murder mystery part was also well done (and that the whodunit was less of a cheat than the first book), but be aware that the murder in this volume is extremely gory and disturbing.

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Comfort reads

May apparently wasn’t much of a better month for posting than April, and I don’t think June will yield many posts, either. We are in the thick of moving preparations, and I only have time to write this post because I’m experiencing a very slow chat reference shift today.

In the midst of all the transition that seems to be hitting, I’ve been finding myself rereading a lot of old favorites before I packed them up. Even at the library today, I managed to pick up a new graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time to check out. With all this rereading, I thought I could share a few of my very favorite books that I will always come back to read one more time. There are lots of other books series I love and like to reread, but these are some of the ones I’ve read 10 or more times, that I come back to every few years, that I pull off the shelf just to read a favorite chapter when I’m feeling down. Not surprisingly, several of these are books I’ve been reading since I was a kid, but since I’ve stopped expecting to feel like a “real grown-up” anytime in the next 50 years, that doesn’t seem to bother me.

pride_and_prejudicePride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. This is the only actual “adult” book on the list, and I first read it my senior year of high school for English class. I wasn’t expecting anything super exciting from it (it was one of our last books for the year, and the others live in the range of “mostly interesting” to ” extremely depressing” in my memory), but a friend and I opened up my copy during math class and read the first line. It was ironic–it was funny! I continued to enjoy the story, and the fact that it was basically a romance did not hurt the book in my opinion at all. I also loved the use of letters in the story, particularly since my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I regularly wrote letters during the week just for the fun of getting mail from each other (we didn’t go to the same high school). I now routinely reread P&P every few years (and bits and pieces in between), usually in the spring. I’ve read 4 of Austen’s other books (I still need to read Northanger Abbey), and this one far and away remains my favorite.

Many Waters, by Madeleine L’Engle.

Yep, this is the edition I have, too.

Yep, this is the edition I have, too.

This is the book I still consider my all-time favorite. Granted, I have lots of favorites depending on the day and my mood, but I discovered this one sometime around fifth grade, and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. Not one of L’Engle’s best known works, Many Waters stars Sandy and Dennys Murry, Meg’s younger twin brothers who are much more ordinary than either Meg or the youngest brother, Charles Wallace. Sandy and Dennys accidentally interrupt one of their scientist parents’ time-traveling experiments and blow themselves into the story of Noah and the Ark.

I just reread this from cover-to-cover for the first time in many years, and I was able to think a little more logically about why I love the book so much. It certainly has its faults–there is some serious repetition, some of the language is so sparsely lyrical that it almost doesn’t make sense, and L’Engle seems to sometimes confuse her characters in passages of dialogue, especially when the two twins are talking together. But even with all of this, I just love it. I love that L’Engle took a familiar story and wove a whole world under it, without changing any of the details from the Biblical text. I love that the women have more of a role in here. I like how she handled sex–it’s definitely there, but my 5th or 6th grade self missed a lot of the references to it, and it’s presented as something that’s important and great, but that has to be approached with care. And I like the twins themselves, how they are matter-of-fact, regular guys who manage to adopt to a fantastic time and place. They see lots of awful, evil things going on in the world, but they also see the good and don’t despair.

I know many people who just don’t think this one works, and maybe it’s just that I liked it when I first encountered it, but it works for me.

beautyBeauty and Spindle’s End, both by Robin McKinley. My first post for the Hub was all about Robin McKinley, so it’s not surprising that two of her books are here. My mom handed me Beauty sometime in late elementary or early middle school and told me I would love it, and I did, and still do. Going back to it, I can see that it’s a first novel (two of McKinley’s favorite things are books and horses, and both come in strongly here–plus, there are lots of elements about the Beast’s castle that are pure wish-fulfillment), but it’s still a beautiful and well-told story, gives a neat twist on the folktale, and has a great protagonist. Spindle’s End was published about 20 years after Beauty, but it has a similar fairy-tale “feel” to it. It’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and I especially enjoy that there are two protagonists (first, Katriona, then Rosie as she grows) and the strong role that female friendship plays.spindles_end

Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. I’m too old to have been one of the kids who “grew up with Harry,” and yet in many ways I feel like I did. I discovered the series in high school, and read the first three books all in one swoop. The 4th one came out the summer after I graduated high school, the 5th one while I was in college, the 6th after my first and only year of teaching, and the last one when I was half-way through library school. I may not have grown up with Harry, but he was there for a lot of milestones, and I still like to hang out with him, Ron, and Hermione frequently.

If I had to choose a favorite from the series, this would be it.

If I had to choose a favorite from the series, this would be it.

As I said, there are more, even more that should be on this list, but these make up the core of my go-to comfort reads. What are yours?

Book of Numbers

Yikes, it’s almost halfway through May, and I’ve packed about 6 boxes. We did adopt the dog who came to visit us in April, though…priorities, right?

Angel

Angel

The main topic of this post is one I’ve been meaning to write since last fall…but backing up even further, in January 2013, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was the read the Bible straight through–start at Genesis, read a chapter every day until I finished.

Now in May 2014, I’m on the book of 1 Samuel. Not very far in. The Bible is, of course, a very long book, but the main problem would be me not reading every day. Anyway, I have at least kept with it enough that I’m still going, instead of having given up back in Exodus. One of my main reasons for doing this is that I’ve read the whole New Testament (taking a NT survey class in college where it was required reading sure helped!), but there are lots of books in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible that I hadn’t really read before, and I would like that to change.

The book of Numbers is one of those books that I had never read before, and it definitely took me awhile to find it interesting. After all, it’s called “Numbers” in part because the first section of the book is a series of censuses of the Israelites. But it does pick up from there. For one thing, the story of Balaam and the donkey? I had heard that it was in the Bible, but had never encountered it until I finally read Numbers (Ch. 23). It’s a great story, too…not only is the donkey smart enough not to go where there’s an angel standing with a drawn sword, but God lets the donkey talk long enough to question Balaam about beating him until Balaam himself can see the angel.

There’re two other stories that I wanted to mention. One is a rebellion by some of the Israelites in which the ground swallows up the rebels (Ch. 16). Not perhaps the most pleasant story, but certainly as exciting as anything in most novels. The second seems to me like it might be one of the earliest feminist stories. In Chapter 27, daughters of a man who died without having any sons ask that their father’s inheritance be given to them instead of passed over to one of their uncles, and it is! There is still certainly lots of signs of the patriarchal system in Numbers, including that the women have to marry within their own tribe to keep the inheritance from passing to another tribe, but I still found it exciting and fascinating.

So if you are looking to explore a lesser-known book of the Bible, I would recommend giving Numbers a try…just skim all those censuses!

Out of the void…

Here are some things I did not do in the month of April:

  • Keep track of the library books we read.
  • Actually, go to the library that much.
  • Blog. (Well, except for my monthly post for the Hub.)
  • Pack anything in our house.
  • Catch up on laundry (yes, you can insert a laugh track here).
  • Re-organize the file cabinet (ditto).

Some things I did do, instead:

  • Attend the 2014 NC Literary Festival.
    Our Lego creation of Cinderella's carriage.

    Our Lego creation of Cinderella’s carriage.

    Hunt Library (my first time visiting!)

    Hunt Library (my first time visiting!)

    Three kids enthralled by the "book robots" at Hunt.

    Three kids enthralled by the “book robots” at Hunt.

  • Enjoy the redbuds during our last spring living in NC.

    Redbuds (yes, they look purple)

    Redbuds (yes, they look purple)

  • Share meals and catching up time with some friends and family members.
  • Celebrate Easter. (I have really cute pictures, but they are basically all of the kids. Instead, enjoy this version of the Widor Toccata that my husband arranged for organ and saxophone quartet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dldzAgsQor0 )
  • Have a dog visit for a week.Angel
  • Visit the Life and Science Museum several times, and Marbles once.
  • Go hiking at Eno River State Park.
    Pretty view of the Eno River.

    Pretty view of the Eno River.

    Can you find the bridge in the picture?

    Can you find the bridge in the picture?

    Favorite activity of the day: stone throwing into the river.

    Favorite activity of the day: stone throwing into the river.

  • Finally see the movie Frozen.
  • Celebrate a 6th birthday.

    Another perk of living in NC: strawberries in season for an April birthday.

    Another perk of living in NC: strawberries in season for an April birthday.

  • Go to a Durham Bulls Game.

DBAPNot such a bad month.

 

Books I’ve Enjoyed, 4/3/14

Hey, hey, it’s one year since I started this blog. Not yet to 100 posts, but we’ll celebrate anyway.

I’ve been rotten about keeping up with the books I’m reading with my kids over the last month or two, but I’ve had my own little reading boom, so I’m going to share some of the books I’ve enjoyed recently.

Only one of those came from the library (probably part of my problem with our book collection size…), but I enjoyed each of them nonetheless:

People of the BookPeople of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have had this on my nightstand for years now, and I finally decided that it was getting read…and I’m so glad I did. This book has restored my faith in literary fiction. I think the plotting and writing were beautifully done, but the story was enjoyable and gripping, too, and I did not feel like the whole human race was going to hell in a handbasket when I’d finished. Also, librarians are some of the heroes of the book, so you know it has to be pretty good.

The overarching story follows book conservator Hanna Heath as she is given the once-and-a-lifetime of studying and conserving the famous Sarajevo Haggadah in the 1990s, but then each section follows a different character who was part of the book’s previous history. Although Brooks is very upfront that the story and all the characters are fictional, it is based on some of the history of the real Sarajevo Haggadah, which Brooks learned about in her previous work as a journalist.

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard TimesThe Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was quite a book, and having seen the entire first season and part of the second season of the TV show, I enjoyed seeing where the stories matched and where they differed. I enjoyed Worth’s narration of both stories about her patients and life at Nonnatus House, and I didn’t find her occasional judgements about the people she encountered as bothersome as other readers did, because she was honest about her feelings and about her naiveté at the time, and also fairly self-critical about them. It’s still hard to believe that people were having babies my parents’ age in a fashion that seems like it should be older than my great-grandparents, but it certainly was fascinating.

Behemoth (Leviathan, #2)Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s been awhile since I read the first book in the series, but I enjoyed this installment very much. It was nice that I was already interested in both Deryn and Alek (it took me awhile to get into the alternating points of view with Leviathan), and the story certainly kept up the action. Some of the dilemmas that arise from Deryn pretending to be a boy are pretty funny…especially as the reader realizes (likely more than Deryn herself) just how many people are starting to guess that she’s a girl.

 

The Storyteller's Daughter (Once Upon a Time Fairytales)The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this book in spite of myself. I bought it because it looked interesting (and because I like fairy tale retellings, and didn’t know a whole lot about the Arabian Nights), but when I started it, I felt like the narration was a little too self-conscious, trying a little too hard to create a mystical story aura. Still, the story itself was good enough, and the characters were likable enough, that I was eventually able to forget about the narration and just get lost in the story.

 

Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity, #2)Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me awhile to pick this one up because I knew it took place in a concentration camp. My mom and I have discussed how it was easier to read books about the Holocaust before and, in her case (and hopefully mine, once I get there!), after our kids were young–but I’m still right in the young-kid stage. What strikes me reading this book now was how Rose was not yet okay at the end of the book, even though you know pretty early on that she survives and you get the sense that she will eventually be okay. Also, the fact that her mother doesn’t get to see her afterwards, and may not even know what she’s gone through…as bad as it is, I think I’d want to know what my daughter’s been through.

But all that aside, it’s an excellent book, you can tell Wein has thoroughly done her research, and Rosie and her friends are heroines worth rooting for.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 3/13/14

No theme today…

Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild!Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! by Mem Fox

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This may have been one I chose more for me than for the kids…but nevertheless, they enjoyed it and we read it several times!! It’s a sweet story about children trying not to make messes and parents trying not to yell when they do anyway.

The Story of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor: A Roman Constellation MythThe Story of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor: A Roman Constellation Myth by Cari Meister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My five-year-old found this, and it’s one that parents will want to preview before sharing with young kids. I thought that the story was well presented and it was easy enough to gloss over adult topics…however, like many other Greco-Roman myths, this story about the nymph Callisto and Jupiter/Zeus involves trickery, adultery, unwed pregnancy, revenge, and a near-miss on matricide. It certainly makes a riveting story about how the bear constellations got where they are, though!

No Roses for Harry!No Roses for Harry! by Gene Zion

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We love Harry the Dirty Dog, and when we saw this one that I don’t remember seeing before, we got it right away. This was a funny story about Harry getting a hand-knit sweater…with roses that he does not like! The solution to Harry’s problem is a bit far-fetched, but fun. The kids loved Harry, and I loved the knitting connection.

Benny and Penny in The Big No-No!Benny and Penny in The Big No-No! by Geoffrey Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one that I would probably like better if my kids didn’t like it quite so well. We have read this at least a million times in the last week. All three kids like it, too, which means that while we have consensus on what to read, we then have arguments over who gets to look at the book after we are done reading it together. (Obviously, Hayes knows his audience.)

On the upside, even the two-year-old is reading this to herself (she is particularly expressive with the raspberry and the crying sound effects), and it is short enough to stand up to multiple read-alouds without completely exhausting the reader. Also, I feel like it is easier to read aloud than many other graphic novels–it just seemed to flow better, without having to vocalize the action that’s going on–so that was a nice feature.

And one grown-up (well, YA) book:

Now I'll Tell You Everything (Alice, #25)Now I’ll Tell You Everything by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was prepared by a previous review for this book to be a little longer than it needed to be, and I think I agree with that assessment. It makes me re-think my disappointment at not getting enough details at the end of other series (i.e. Harry Potter). On the one hand, it was fun to have an author who cares so much about her readers that she really did give them “everything” about the rest of Alice McKinley’s life. On the other, it’s impossible to make all that information as intimate and readable as Naylor did with earlier Alice books. I started to feel like the book would have been stronger if it had stopped after a key event (I would choose Alice’s wedding, but there were several other places that could have worked) and just given us the last scene as a kind of epilogue. I was also slightly disappointed at the title…Naylor tells us in the afterword that it was originally Always Alice, and I like that one better.

With all this complaining, I need to end by saying that I still really liked the book (I gave it 4 stars, after all!), and it felt like Alice’s adult life went the way I would expect, and want it to go. I was especially happy to read about her wedding and her career path–both turned out the way I’d hoped they would!

I think most fans of the Alice series will really enjoy this finale–I certainly did.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 3/6/14: Nutcracker Edition

Because March is the perfect time to read about the Nutcracker, right?

Actually, the Nutcracker has been a slight obsession with my five-year-old since watching excerpts in his music class at school (of course, this happened right after we decided the kids were not yet old enough to be worth taking them to the Nutcracker in person!!). About midway through January, he started asking to check out Nutcracker books at the library. I thought a few weeks of this were in store, but we’re going on about 5 or 6 weeks now with no end in sight. As a result, we and anyone else who’s interested will have a thorough critical review of Nutcracker books available from the Durham Public Library before next Christmas rolls around. A book gets bonus points if N. really liked the portrayal of the Rat King (but they get actual star increases in the ratings if I didn’t mind reading them ad infinitum). Here’s the first installment:

The NutcrackerThe Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anyway, this is my favorite of the ones we’ve checked out…Jeffers specifies that she wanted to do a version that was short enough for young readers/listeners (and as a parent who likes short bedtime stories, I am SO grateful), and that basically follows the plot line of the ballet (over that of the original fairy tale). Check and check. Add in Jeffers’ beautiful pictures (she also illustrates the McDuff books by Rosemary Wells) and we’ve got a crowd-pleasing winner.

Tallulah's NutcrackerTallulah’s Nutcracker by Marilyn Singer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing in the Nutcracker vein…this one follows Tallulah (apparently the star of a series!) as she plays a mouse in a production of the Nutcracker. The kids enjoyed it, I got to reminisce about also playing a mouse in the Nutcracker, and I thought it did a decent job of showing what it might like to be backstage in a ballet production (minus the egos of the ballet bigwigs, though).

The NutcrackerThe Nutcracker by Michael Hague

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those long versions that made me so thankful for Susan Jeffers’ version of the story. The kids loved it, and thankfully we had it checked out when my parents were visiting, so my father valiantly read it over and over again in my stead. I think the full tale is quite interesting, but once a week is plenty for me to read something this long aloud…the pictures are great, too, and my five-year-old was quite satisfied with the portrait of the seven-headed Rat King.

Ella Bella Ballerina and The NutcrackerElla Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker by James Mayhew

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Nutcracker story was an interesting mix of the fairy tale and a “child in a ballet” version. Ella Bella (who apparently stars in other ballet books…I didn’t realize how many ballet series are out there until we started looking for Nutcracker stories! In this one, Ella Bella and her ballet class are having a Christmas party, but when Ella goes to get her teacher’s music box, the music magically transports her (or is she just imagining things?) into the story of the Nutcracker. The Rat King made a sufficient appearance to please the five year old, and although we’ve only had the book for 24 hours, I’ve already been asked to read it 3 times, so I think it’s a success. It’s not as short as the Jefferson version, but it’s a lot shorter than the Hague version, so I’m ok with it, too.

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