Month: October 2021

made by Ceaco ~ artist Howard Robinson ~ 550 pieces

This is the first Ceaco puzzle I’ve done. The pieces are a bit thin, not too flimsy but feel like I have to handle them carefully to avoid bent knobs. The colors are super bright. Easy size and subtle variety in the puzzle cut. The piece count was just right for a day I wasn’t feeling too great (after my covid booster shot: very very tired). I like the blue-green foliage, the tropical birds and butterflies. I thought the tiger stripes would be hard to put together, but it fell into place nicely, with the right level of difficulty when I had rather dull focus! So pretty.

bought new in store

by Svetlana Chmakova

Once again sidetracked from the book I’ve been reading, to pick up a few graphic novels off my ten-year-old’s library pile. I really liked Awkward. It’s set in a middle school. Penelope is new there, and on the first day shoves a nice kid away who tries to help her when she drops all her stuff, because some mean kids tease that she’s his boyfriend. They call Jaime “nerder” because he’s quiet and geeky. I thought he was charming! He’s in the science club, and Penelope is in art club. The two organizations have a rivalry going on, heightened by the shortage of tables available for the school science fair- whichever club does the best project to help their school community, will get the table spot. It starts out as a friendly competition, but gets out of hand. Meanwhile Penelope is busy trying to complete assignments for various classes on time, attending some tutoring, draw comics on a deadline for the school newspaper, and help out her friends. Through all this, she’s nagged by guilt for that interaction on the first day of school- really wants to apologize to Jaime but doesn’t know how. Eventually she works things out, and starts to build a friendship with him- but it’s strained because of their clubs’ rivalry. Can Penelope find a way to bring everyone together instead?

This was cute. And relatable (especially the art club scenes, for me). And- odd at times, too. At first I thought the drawing style was exaggerated, and some of the teachers’ characterizations made me roll my eyes- the art teacher is depicted as being totally clueless and disorganized- but then I just shrugged and enjoyed it. I would readily pick up another book by this author. I think she has a series of them set in the same middle school environment. As a little bonus, I discovered by reading the back section by the author, there’s a little raccoon in the background on some pages. I had noticed him only once or twice, wondered what he was doing there, and just moved on. He’s on twenty pages! I thumbed back through just looking for the raccoon, but only found him about ten times- so there’s a fun game trying to spot all his appearances.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
224 pages, 2015

adapted by Mariah Marsden

Funny how my ten-year-old came to read Anne of Green Gables, in this reduced, adapted version illustrated by Brenna Thummler. I think the original novels are still a bit above her reading level, but several years ago I tried to get her to watch the tv version from 1985, which I remembered so well from my childhood. Not successful- she found the pace too slow. Later I watched Netflix’s Anne with an E and enjoyed it immensely- tried to get my teenager to watch that version with me, no go. Sigh. But- a week ago my youngest read another novel that had a character quoting from Anne of Green Gables a lot- which inspired her to give this a try. I’m glad she did, but hope she’ll also read the original someday.

Actually, reading this one made me remember that I haven’t read the original myself! Which is probably why I don’t feel as disappointed by it as some. It has all the basics of the story- orphaned Anne Shirley arrives on a Prince Edward Island farm to live with an elderly brother and sister who need assistance. They were intending to adopt a boy, but got Anne instead. She is nearly sent back, but then is allowed to stay- and slowly settles in with her new adopted parents. Matthew Cuthbert is soft-spoken and mostly silent, Marilla a very no-nonsense person, but Anne is imaginative, full of spirit and a flow of words. I know there’s more to her character than that, but in this book it mostly comes across that Anne likes to talk a lot with descriptive language, applying her imagination to everything (my daughter said “it was really wordy“). She struggles to fit in, gets teased at school (for her hair color and hot temper) but is also a high achiever. There were so many scenes in here I remember well- walking on the ridgepole of the roof, floating in the boat and getting rescued by Gilbert, accidentally dying her hair green, innocently getting her best friend Diana drunk on wine (I thought it was sherry?) competing for top place in class with the boy she despised- Gilbert- though eventually she does forgive him. There were a few moments I didn’t recognize, which made me realize I hadn’t yet read L.M. Montgomery’s original, but it also made me notice that the pacing isn’t great- those moments felt awkward because there was little flow to how they fit into the story. The rest of it was so dear and familiar to me I hardly noticed, however to someone who hasn’t encountered the story before, (or a reader with keener memory than myself) it could come across as uneven. Also the blank eyes of all the characters are a bit unsettling at first. But overall I really liked it, brushing aside my personal criticism.

And I do hope that if my kid reads L.M. Mongomery’s novel someday, she’ll find it dear and familiar in the opposite way, because she enjoyed it first in this visual story.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
230 pages, 2017

(at my library)
The Perfect Distance by Kim Ablon Whitney
The Island of Horses by Eilis Dillon


(not at the library)

My Horsey Life by Janet Rising
Snow Cloud, Stallion by Gerald Raftery
We Couldn’t Leave Dinah by Mary Treadgold
The Brumby by Mary Elwyn Patchett
Come Home, Brumby by Mary Elwyn Patchett
The Boundary Riders by Joan Phipson
The Horse in the House by William Corbin
Wild Pony by Lucy Rees
The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell
Shasta and Rogue a Coyote Story by Robert Behme
Death in the Long Grass by Peter Hathaway Capstick
My Wild Animal Guests by Ernest Harold Baynes
The Voice of the Coyote by Frank J. Dobie
Catfantastic edited by Andre Norton and Martin Greenberg
True Cat Toons by Roberta Gregory
I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume
The Moon in the Cloud by Rosemary Harris
Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis
Song of the Wild by Alan Eckert
The Great Auk by Alan Eckert
The Crossbreed by Alan Eckert
The King Snake by Alan Eckert
Savage Journey by Alan Eckert
The Dreaming Tree by Alan Eckert
The Silent Sky by Alan Eckert

by Ursula Murray Husted

My ten-year-old and I both liked this one a lot. It is a very touching story about two young cats who live on an island in Malta (the seaside setting made me think of The Cats of Lamu). Betto is content with their lot- sleeping under a fisherman’s boat and eating fish scraps on the docks. But Cilla wants more in life- a comfortable home with humans perhaps. Another cat tells her about the quiet garden, from an old kitten tale, where humans are always kind and food is plentiful. Cilla is determined to find the garden. Betto doesn’t believe it exists but goes along to make sure his friend is safe. Their journey takes them far from home, through many encounters. They navigate the streets, jump on a bus, ride a ferryboat, have a mishap on the sea, and meet several cats who give them directions. One particularly speaks in obscure riddles. When Cilla finally locates what they think is the quiet garden, it isn’t exactly the paradise they were hoping to find. A poodle tells them a story suggesting they shouldn’t be in want of anything at all. Later when the cats are discouraged and confused, hiding from the rain and feeling their quest failed, they comfort themselves by telling their own story to each other- a story of friendship above all.

I won’t tell you the ending- I did find it satisfying whereas others might think the narrative just went nowhere. But this book is philosophical more than anything else. It’s a story within a story, it’s about finding out what’s important in life. It has nods to The Little Prince and delightfully, pictorial homage to many famous works of art. Sometimes these are in the background as the cats journey through their world, on other pages the cats are actually walking through the art- a tropical fantasy painted by Rousseau, the Bayeux tapestry, ancient tiles from Persia, cave paintings from Lascaux etc- many I recognized, some I did not. On certain pages the artwork depicted seemed to fit what was happening in the cats’ story, but other times it appeared to be a random choice, so I just shrugged and went with it. The author explained in the back which artworks she had chosen to depict, which I appreciated reading. Her own style- well, let’s just say sometimes I thought it looked a bit rushed with awkward lines or poses- occasionally the drawings even appeared childish, but it started to grow on me. They’re certainly very expressive and lively, and there’s lots of detail in the surroundings. Mostly I just really liked the story about the cats, their little arguments, observations on humans, and earnestness in their quest to find what ‘home’ means.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
182 pages, 2020

by Terri Libenson

Another book off my kid’s stack. She thought it boring, didn’t read far and put it in our return pile. It has some issues, but for the most part, I really connected with the main character so overlooked some awkward things. It’s obviously a humorous look at how awful middle school can be, but some things just seemed too over the top. (Wet paper towels stuck to the wall and kids that spit on the floor, okay. Dead rats in the hall? what?) It’s kind of a merge between graphic novel and illustrated chapter book. The story is told in alternate viewpoints- Emmie’s has explanatory paragraphs with lots of illustrations, whereas Katie’s pages are pure comic-book style. Emmie is very shy and quiet. She has a lonely home life (both parents work), likes drawing (but doesn’t hang out with the art club kids) and often doesn’t know what to say when other kids are chatting away. She mostly tries to avoid being noticed at school, but then wonders why nobody sees her. Her contrast Katie is popular, pretty and surrounded by gossiping friends- a girl who seems to have it all, but isn’t snobby about it and tries to be nice to others. Through the story each girl is seen in the background of the other’s pages, and then they intersect over a boy Emmie has a crush on. Emmie wrote a love poem to him in jest, but she drops it and another kid picks it up- and of course he shares it around. Emmie is mortified. Then her crush asks Katie out, which complicates things. Will she suffer in silence? or finally speak up for herself?

While it’s got a lot of detail, this story covers only one school day. The ending surprised me. I was glad to see Emmie find ways to stand up for herself, but I was thrown off by the final reveal (Katie’s not real. She’s a character Emmie drew). There was a clue earlier on, I just didn’t pick up on it. For all that, what I really liked about it was Emmie’s character. Because I was like that in middle and high school. I was the super quiet one that preferred drawing to watching television, and couldn’t manage to make small talk. Other kids on the bus even made jokes that I was mute, because they never heard me talking to anyone. And this wasn’t a thing when I was a kid obviously- but I’m the one now who has an ‘ancient’ flip phone! haha.

This book is part of a series, but the others don’t look quite as appealing to me. Probably because it’s the Emmie character I related to most, and some reviewers have said all the books have a similar kind of twist ending. Not sure I’m in the mood for that. Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
185 pages, 2017

More opinions: Pages Unbound
anyone else?

made by Sunsout ~ artist Greg Alexander ~ 1,000 pieces

 I took a chance and broke my rule to not buy opened thrift store puzzles: luckily this one didn’t have any missing pieces! They all have the same cut: two holes, two knobs, but within that limitation enough variation that it wasn’t too hard to visualize fits. Only a few times did I have a piece in the wrong spot which threw me off for a while. What made it tricky was all the dark hues- I kept confusing pieces of elk fur with the rocks, and dark of the water with the lichens. It was just the right level of challenge.

Use the arrows to see photos I took of the assembly- just for fun:

a thrift store find

by Nova Weetman

Another book I picked up off my daughter’s library pile, taking a break in the middle of a chunkster. This is a middle-grade fiction about two girls in sixth grade. They’re facing the end of elementary school with mixed feelings (I rather appreciated the negative comments on the grade school “graduation” celebration, haha- having that opinion myself). The girls are not really friends but cross paths when they’re in the nurse’s office for different reasons.  Riley has type I diabetes and often has to stop in with the nurse to manage her condition. She has an overbearing mother and is in a group of popular girls who pressure her to do unsafe things, not understanding how serious diabetes really is. Meg on the other hand, is neglected. Her mother suffers from severe depression after her father died, rarely leaving the house (or even her bed) and Meg often goes hungry and doesn’t have new clothes to wear. She has panic attacks, but also hangs out in the nurse’s office because the nurse will give her food from the teacher’s lounge. Meg doesn’t really have friends, yet starts to have a tentative connection with Riley, which gets rocky when Riley’s popular friends tease and harass Meg. Both girls are having a hard time with things emotional and physical and their contrasting issues with parents. Riley wants to take care of her diabetes by herself instead of her mother micromanaging it- even though she’s not doing a great job with the things she is responsible for- whereas Meg wishes her mom would do anything for her at all.

When I saw the bright cover of this book, I thought it was going to be a light, maybe silly story. Not at all. It addresses some serious issues- kids having to live with a medical condition, mental illness, dealing with grief over the death of a parent, difficulties with friendships, and more (there’s another kid in the story who has asthma). I expected at the start that the girls would quickly become friends, but they don’t begin interacting much until near the end of the book- which felt like a realistic development. The story feels very current, full of phrases kids use nowadays (that didn’t exist when I was that age!) And yet something felt a bit off to me. The portrayal of what Meg went through when she wasn’t at school- I kept thinking, is that what it’s really like, for a child living in poverty? I wondered why nobody at the school noticed she was wearing the same clothes day after day, or insisted she put on proper shoes instead of slippers (my child’s school is pretty adamant about shoes) and why other adults didn’t investigate the situation when it was clear Meg often came to school hungry. On the other hand, a review I read written by someone who actually has diabetes, had criticism about how Riley’s story was portrayed. And there’s the questionable revelation at the end, that sometimes Meg is faking her panic attacks to avoid situations. I’m sure there’s kids who would do this, but it didn’t sit well with me.

On a better note, there’s the delightful inclusion of many quotes from Anne of Green Gables. Meg is an avid fan, has read the book many times, and quotes lines from it to people in conversation which throws them off but made me giggle. This prompted my ten-year-old to request a graphic novel version of Anne of Green Gables from the library. I’m glad she’ll finally access the story. I’ve tried to get her to sit and watch a movie version with me- one I’d seen and loved as a teenager- with no success. She thought the story moved way too slow. The novels are a bit beyond her reading level yet, but a graphic novel might be a great introduction.

Borrowed from the public library. Originally this was published in Australia with the title Sick Bay.

Rating: 3/5
244 pages, 2019

More opinions: Kids’ Book Review
anyone else?

by Ernest Hemingway

Set in World War I, narrated by an ambulance driver on the Italian front who gets injured and falls in love with a nurse. I did not get very far- just past the part where he was wounded and in the hospital, about sixty pages. Then started to wonder why am I using up my time reading this? I thought I could see what the author was doing- showing how casual people kept their attachments when anyone might die senselessly at any moment, how pointless the war was, how inane their conversations- but I found nothing artful in the way he did it. The dialog particularly felt very stiff. I suppose the style was intended to be the way things were, but it was hard to stay interested in the words. So brief and matter-of-fact and unemotional. I couldn’t find it in me to care about any of the characters, and I wasn’t drawn into the surroundings or events either. Another case where a classic falls totally flat for me. I think I just really do not like Hemingway. I am baffled why he is considered a great writer- honestly. Even more baffled why this edition contains not only visual reproductions of his handwritten manuscript with crossed out lines and rewritten passages- so readers can admire how he crafted the novel- but also a myraid of alternate endings in the appendix (like movie outtakes, haha). I do like studying preliminary sketches by artists- sometimes I feel like I can see how their mind was thinking to lay down certain lines- and often I even like the sketches better than the finished paintings! but reading how phrases were different before the writer committed to his final draft, I get nothing from that. Probably because I didn’t care for the final product, here.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: Abandoned
330 pages, 1927

by Barbara Kingsolver

This book has literally sat on my shelf for years, even though it’s by one of my favorite authors. I was so intimidated by it. Historical fiction can get heavy, and this one especially has significant events and looming figures- from revolutionary times in 1920’s Mexico to McCarthyism era America. The viewpoint is an ordinary man (but one I slowly came to respect and admire so much). As a young man he was dragged around Mexico by his flamboyant flapper mother who chased after a string of wealthy boyfriends after separating from his father back in America. Petty much ignored, he spends time swimming in the ocean, enthralled by the beautiful fishes and hidden underground caves- and hanging out in the kitchens where he learns culinary skills. Later as a young man on his own, he becomes employed in the house of Rivera- at first mixing plaster for Diego Rivera’s murals, then working as a cook, eventually becoming a secretary and finally, overseeing shipment of paintings for Frida Kahlo. Who strikes up a kind of friendship with him. He is there when Trotsky takes refuge in exile, and witnesses firsthand violence against the man. In fact it is so traumatic the entire household disbands, he ends up back in the States, suffering probably from post-tramuatic stress disorder, often afraid to leave his home, uncomfortable around other people. Builds a new life for himself as a writer- he always was a writer, keeping diaries and sending letters- now he writes historical novels about ancient peoples from Mexico- the Aztecs, the Maya. They sound fantastically thrilling! and reading about how popularity swamped him, how amusing the reviews of these books that don’t really exist- I loved that part.

I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know how to convey how rich and thoughtful and surprising this story was- even when I had trouble keeping track of what was going on with the politics and history- the strength of Kingsolver’s words kept pulling me onward through the pages, to a startlingly hopeful conclusion, when I thought all had gone to crap.

This book is kind of overwhelming. It’s about humanity, and art, and kindness- even when cruelty and ignorance are rampant. Mostly it’s about a quiet man, who seems hardly present in his own story, seeking to find a place where he belongs. I was not expecting to read (once again!) a novel with a gay character, and I appreciate how subtly that was handled. I was enthralled with the portrayal of culture, art, music, wonderful food in Mexico, and the contrast when the story moved to America. How servants were treated in Mexican households- as people regardless of their employment status- compared to segregation and racism in the States. The clear look at the revolutionaries he lived with in Mexico, in contrast to the political furor in the States, a place full of strangers pointing fingers. I feel like there was a strong message there for me that I’m not quite picking up on. This was a very compelling book, and it’s one I’m definitely going to have to read again someday, I think I’ll get so much more out of it a second or third time around.

It helped that not so long ago I saw the 2002 movie Frida. A lot more would have gone over my head otherwise. I kept visualizing how she was depicted in the film, right down to the voice, and I think it fit well.

Rating: 4/5
507 pages, 2009


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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