Month: October 2014

a celebration of the Lowlands and its peculiar inhabitants

by Colleen Geske       

My boyfriend brought this book home from travels, and I read it in one sitting. He got me intrigued by thumbing through it pointing out highlights and laughing at how true all the points in the book are. It\’s based on a blog apparently, all about idiosyncracies of the Dutch and their culture. I have to say, most of it rang true to my limited experience. I\’ve either been exposed to many of the things mentioned here, or told about them by my boyfriend and his family. The love of good cheese, the thrifty no-nonsense attitude towards things, the traditions of Sinterklaas (including hot debates about Zwarte Piet- which personally I find offensive, and my boyfriend has no problem with). Chocolate sprinkles on toast, stroopwafles, passion for the color orange (on certain holidays), the prevalence of bicycles, tulip fields and windmills in the home country, the pride in beating back the water. There were a few things in here new to me, especially some Dutch phrases (I haven\’t learned the language much). I\’d never heard of the term gezellig before, which has no direct translation. The Dutch will hurl curses at you with ancient, dreadful diseases. And I burst out laughing at one phrase Ik plak je achter het behang en ga verhuizen which means I\’ll paste you behind the wallpaper and then move away! My boyfriend says yes, his dad used to say that to them when they were annoying (as kids). Cracks me up. 

To add a little more insight, each explanation of a bit of culture, diet or language use includes some comments from the original blog. People pointing out how yes, they\’ve run into this or that on travels, Dutch people saying how it is, some disagreeing, most affirmative. Fun and enlightening read.
Rating: 3/5        196 pages, 2013

by Charles Frazier

Set in the closing of the Civil War, this is the story of two people, both trying to survive dismal times and remake their lives. Inman is a seriously injured soldier who decides to simply walk out of the hospital, head home and find his pre-war sweetheart. Disgusted with all the waste and killing he has seen and participated in. He walks miles and miles through ruined land, giving help when he can to those who need it, eluding scouts combing the countryside for deserting soldiers, running into all sorts of people, sometimes hearing and relating their stories alongside his own. The alternate storyline is that of his girl Ada, who struggles to pull her father\’s farm back into working order after his death. She was never taught any practical skills (loved books and art, but that would not feed her) and is floundering when another young woman Ruby shows up on her doorstep offering to assist and teach in return for a partnership- not as a hired hand or slave, but eventually a friend. Piece by piece you learn the way of these characters\’ lives, where they have been and where they hope to go, how they scratch a living from every day and plan for a brighter future amid violence and decay. There are some really disgusting people in here, and others who shine when they have no reason to. Ruby teaches Ada some woodslore and how to work with the land. I don\’t know how accurate the depiction is of what times were like during the Civil War, but it seemed a vivid and realistic picture to me. I never gave this book much thought before, seeing its blue spine on my shelf so long, but now I would like to read another by this author. Perhaps Thirteen Moons

Rating: 3/5      356 pages, 1997

more opinions: The Blue Bookcase

anyone else?

by Judy Sierra

A man named MacDonald bemoans the effort it takes to mow his lawn. He decides to get a goat to eat the grass, then buys a chicken (online!) The chicken it turns out, is knowledgeable and can talk. She teaches MacDonald how to smother his lawn with layers of newspapers, feed the soil with kitchen scraps and make a worm compost bin. Then they plant seeds and soon MacDonald has so much produce he starts selling it from a mobile cart (built atop his old lawnmower!) Some of his neighbors complain about the smell and changes, but most seem pleased to enjoy the fresh produce plus cheese from his goat, eggs from his hen, even honey from some bees. I don\’t know if I\’d ever just throw vegetable waste and horse manure all over the ground like this book portrays, and the guy sure looks tired and confused through the whole process of converting lawn into garden, but the end result is so nice. My favorite picture is the one that shows bright vegetables growing, the root shapes with happy-looking worms around them underground. My three-year-old likes the last two pages, where she tries to point out and name all the plants, vegetables and things shown growing in the garden and spread out for sale around MacDonald\’s produce cart. The illustrations by Matthew Myers are vivid, funky and fun. Nice bold brushstrokes.

Rating: 4/5      32 pages, 2014

because I keep looking for new stuff to read, even when I don’t have time to read the books I already have, ha ha

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge- It\’s All About Books
Spillover by David Quammen- Bookfoolery
The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry- Across the Page
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian- the Lost Entwife
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier from Bermudaonions’ Weblog

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald from Farm Lane Books Blog
Walk, Don’t Run by Adele Levine- Bookfoolery
Paramedico by Benjamin Gilmour- Bookfoolery
In a Pig’s Eye by Karl Schwenke
The Silent Ark by Juliet Gellatley
The Fairest Fowl by Tamara Staples
Prisoned Chickens Poisoned Eggs by Karen Davis
Illumination in the Flatwoods by Joe Hutto
The Lily Pond by Hope Ryden
Beyond Beef by Jeremy Rifkin
Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman
Animal Factories by Peter Singer
Animal Machines by Ruth Harrison
All Heaven in a Rage by E.S. Turner

vol. 11
by Konami Kanata

Once again my daughter and I waited and waited for another Chi installment. It\’s just as cute as ever. In this issue, the little kitten worries when part of her human family leaves to visit relatives. She searches for them, starts to fear they will never return. She romps with Cocchi and the other tabby kittens. Some of the adult cats make remarks about Chi\’s former family, recognizing her from before. The other two tabby kittens tell how their momma is always looking for someone, and so Chi and Cocchi finally begin to put two and two together. Chi doesn\’t want to think that she might belong to a different family than the one she knows. Cocchi pushes the issue. Meanwhile, the little boy finds a lost poster featuring Chi, and we also see things from the mother cat\’s viewpoint, constantly missing her third kitten. There\’s also some family upheaval going on in Chi\’s home- the father has a job offer that would require them to move far away. What\’s going to happen to everyone? where will Chi end up?

I liked, as always, the look at things from a cat\’s perspective. Being playful, sneaky, affectionate, impulsive. Interacting with Yohei and Cocchi, learning more about being a cat. But I felt that this storyline didn\’t really get anywhere. Chi and Cocchi spend a lot of time puzzling over their memories to piece together what might have happened in the kittens\’ past; in my opinion there could have been less introspection and more feline adventures! I also expected her to finally meet her mother, but it just didn\’t happen. However, the teasers for volume twelve make it clear that she will. Why can\’t it be now.

Rating: 3/5        146 pages, 2014

by Jacqueline Woods

Evie Thomas and her family have had to start a new life. Changed their names, moved to a new state, left their relatives and friends behind. Her father is a policeman and had to go into witness protection after testifying against another cop who shot an unarmed boy. Matters are full of tension because of racial issues: Evie\’s family and the deceased boy are both African American, the other cops on the force- who have felt like family to her- are all white. She feels betrayed and confused. Not only feeling lost because of having to take on a new identity, but also because she\’s no longer sure if the people she knew are who she thought they were. Her family struggles to adjust their new situation- making do with less, not knowing anyone, concocting a story about their past. The book mostly focuses on the emotional upheaval of the two sisters. Evie discovers new direction when she takes up running with the school track team, her sister studies hard for early college admission. Her mother turns to religion, and her father sinks into depression. Near the end of the story things suddenly take a serious turn that I didn\’t quite anticipate, but overall it\’s a rather quiet book in spite of the subject matter. Not a lot actually happens. It also lacks some depth and description, at least for me. Perhaps that\’s why it didn\’t make a big impression upon me.

I think I picked this book up at a library sale.

Rating: 3/5   181 pages, 2002

more opinions:
Maw Books Blog
That\’s What She Read
A Striped Armchair

The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 
by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

I thought this book would be a collection of case studies, or at least an account of the woman\’s life told in narrative fashion. It\’s not. The diary it is based on were the records kept by a midwife in an early Maine settlement. Her diary was very sparse- noting down who she tended to, who she visited, who came to her house, where she went, sometimes what herbs or cures she used, how people recovered (or didn\’t) and what she was paid in return for her services (sometimes a year or more later!) There\’s very little description. The work of the author is incredible in contrast- she meticulously combs through the diary to see how all the parts fit together, the untold story behind the succinct phrases. She compares Martha Ballard\’s account to other diaries from the same era, and uses historical records from the town to piece together what might have been going on. Unraveling a complex web of commerce and relationships, laying bare the hard work that women did behind the scenes as it were. I was impressed in particular with the effort it took to make clothing- Martha grew her own flax, but the preparation of it after harvesting took over a years\’ time, and various people worked through the final process to turn it into cloth, then clothing. More than just household industry and how this complemented or complicated Martha\’s job as a midwife, the author examines what the role of midwife was compared to town physicians, how she interacted with them, how other women also used healing arts. She looks at marital relationships, disease epidemics, accusations of rape, murders and other trials.

But the way it is all patched together- little bits of terse quotes from the diary, excerpts from other records, a brief musing sentence here and there- rather gave me a headache. It\’s not smooth reading. For the right reader, this would be fascinating, even a book to be treasured. For the casual interest, it\’s rather dry and difficult to wade through. I did not make it so far. Too bad. This book won a Pulitzer prize! If you\’re interested in cultural history or women\’s studies, I\’d definitely give this book a try. It\’s just not for me. At least, not right now.

Abandoned      445 pages, 1990

One glimpse of a pest will put me into a frenzy of cleaning. I saw this again– just one, scurrying away from the door, but twice as big as the few I saw last year (and never again since, until now). Prompted me to spend hours today super-cleaning the front part of my apartment- doing things I usually neglect- like moving furniture and using the nozzle attachment to get into all the little crevices where walls meet the floor, emptying my front hall closet to thoroughly sweep the floor (discovering that my kids have too many shoes. My three year old has more shoes than I do!) And, of course, I went through all the bookshelves. Removing books, dusting, fanning the pages, flipping the shelves, replacing. Again and again. Looking for signs of silverfish- sprinkles of their droppings, white dust of shed skins and most of all, chewed-on pages. Examined very closely my older, used books some already yellowed pages and tattered edges. Thankfully no signs of insect damage. So wherever those things come from, at least they haven\’t found my little library yet. But of course going through all the books makes me treasure them again. And this time I had an eye to what my daughter might like to read.

She\’s about to turn ten, and reads at a sixth or seventh-grade level. I used to have a lower shelf with some books sorted on it just for her selection, but she seems bored with that. I\’ve found that she doesn\’t much like the animal stories that enthralled me as a kid, so I will probably never get her interested in Black Beauty or The Yearling. She likes stories with magic or mystery in them, and also historical fiction- she read a ton of the Magic Treehouse series and the older Nancy Drew books a while back. She loves Harry Potter, has seen all the movies many times, but so far only read one book of that series! So I\’ve tagged a bunch of books off my shelves, to suggest and hope she\’ll read them. I\’d love for her to love the books I\’ve loved!

Half Magic by Edward Eager
Socks by Beverly Cleary
Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassidy
The Secret Garden by Frances H. Burnett
A Little Princess by Frances H. Burnett
the Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
Fox Farm by Eileen Dunlop
Summer Pony by Jean Slaughter Doty
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
the Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden
Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
A Wizard of Earthsea (and its sequels) by Ursula K. LeGuin
A Wrinkle in Time (plus sequels) by Madeline L\’Engle
A Book Dragon by Don Kushner
The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
all the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
the Iceberg Hermit by Arthur Roth
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
the Changeling by Zilpha Keatly Snyder
the Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatly Snyder
Peter Pan by James M. Barrie
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
the Neverending Story by Michael Ende
the Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
Dragonsong (and its sequels) by Anne McCaffrey
Amy\’s Eyes by Richard Kennedy
the War Between the Pitiful Teachers and the Splendid Kids by Stanley Kiesel

Yeah, lots of those are classics or animal stories- but one can always hope!
I\’ve got another selection for a little further on, when she\’s a bit older (some are more complex and I\’d think she\’d get bored- others the content is a just more mature).

the Lastborn of Elvinwood by Linda Haldeman
Thursday\’s Children by Rumer Godden
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
the Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
the Fur Person by May Sarton
Ratha\’s Creature (and all sequels) by Clare Bell
Bright Candles by Nathaniel Benchley
Light a Single Candle by Beverly Butler
Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser
Sabriel (and sequels) by Garth Nix
the Mimosa Tree by Vera and Bill Cleaver
the Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Tailchaser\’s Song by Tad Williams
Saturday the Twelfth of October by Norma Fox Mazer
Izzy Willy Nilly by Cynthia Voigt
A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt
Nightpool by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
the Ivory Lyre by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Wringer by Jerry Spinelli
House of Stairs by William Sleator
Interstellar Pig by William Sleator

(what do you think of my picks?)

I\’ve made a little system, quite simple. I put a paper strip in the selected books, sticking out, with the title written on it. When my kid wants to read a book, she can just give me the slip of paper and then I know which one she\’s borrowed. I think she likes the idea that she gets to \”check out\” books from mom\’s library, ones earmarked especially for her.

The little one is growing into a reader too:


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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