Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

Vasilisa's world is ordered by the fierce Russian winter and the dangerous forest just past her home. But she is happy with the love and company of her family, and she spends her time exploring outdoors and listening to her nurse tell stories of the ancient spirits who help and trick humans. After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father marries a woman from Moscow who shuns the local spirits and insists on a strict adherence to Christianity. Her stepmother and the new village priest forbid anyone to leave offerings for the spirits. Vasilisa and her family quickly discover that demons are more than willing to move in without the protection of their spirits. They will have to use gifts that have been hidden for years to protect their home and family.

I don't read a lot of fantasy, but I recently enjoyed Uprooted and was intrigued by this book's description. The Bear and the Nightingale drew me right in and left me sad when I turned the last page because I wanted more adventures and more time with our brave Vasya. Readers get to see her grow from a wild girl to a young woman who learns to use all of the tools at her disposal: brains, bravery, and maybe even some magic.

The true heart of this story is the vivid relationships between Vasya and her family. Throughout the book, we see the siblings fight for and with each other and the ways that a father makes both good and bad choices for his family. I am thrilled that we will get two more books with Vasya, her family, and the magic of Russian fairytales.

Make sure you pick up The Bear and the Nightingale before it gets too warm. There should be a chill in the air when you should experience Katherine Arden's gift for making the reader feel as if they are in the freezing Russian forest, wondering if something or someone is lurking behind the trees.

The Bear and the Nightingale
By Katherine Arden
Del Ray January 2017
322 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, March 27, 2017

It's Monday and I really need to write some reviews!

Hey bookish people! I didn't write a single post this week. Sigh. This is becoming a pattern far more often than I would like. We spent much of the week prepping for my husband's friends and their son to visit. They spent the weekend here and husband took them to the airport very early this morning.

So now it's back to the regular schedule. I guess I can always share the books I'm reading with you all, even if I have no reviews to speak of!

This week, I read By Any Name and Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

Now I'm reading The Hate U Give.

What are you reading this week?

Monday, March 20, 2017

It's Monday and it's been a long week.

Hi again!

We did indeed have a snow day this week and snowmen were made, snowballs were thrown, and chicken and dumplings were eaten. Then it was back to real life for a few days. This weekend was a bit more eventful than I would have preferred, as I spent most of Saturday keeping my dad company in the hospital. After a lot of tests, his doctors gave him the all-clear and I am happy to report he is back home. I am feeling a bit tuckered, though.

I'm still reading though, whatever else may be going on in life! My tally for this week is How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen and The Keeper of Lost Things.


I'm currently reading By Any Name, which is written by one of my favorite authors as a teen - Cynthia Voigt!

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: Hag-Seed

Felix is a much-revered director who is ready to present his vision of The Tempest at the Makeshiweg Festival. But his devious assistant convinces the board to fire him, so he can take Felix's place as artistic director. Felix descends into depression and isolation with only his imagined daughter Miranda. Years later, he takes a job teaching Literacy through Literature at the Fletcher County Correctional Institute. Felix teaches the inmates about Shakespeare, with the goal of finally bringing his Tempest production to life. And maybe in the process, he can finally get revenge against the men who ruined his career.

As an English and Theatre major in college, I am very familiar with The Tempest. It must be difficult to re-imagine a classic play that is so beloved by so many people, but Margaret Atwood is an excellent choice for the job. While this story is not a direct update of its source material, there are obvious parallels; Felix is reeling from loss and betrayal and he deeply loves his daughter Miranda, although in this version, she has been dead for many years.

I would have read a Margaret Atwood story about a man's fall from grace and the power of the arts all on its own, but finding all of the ways the story references and intersects with its source material makes a great reading experience a lot of fun too. We even get to imagine what happened after the final words of the play. Felix is committed to teaching the inmates just how much Shakespeare has to say about their lives, explaining that the play they will perform is all about power and prisons. As Felix watches his cast experience The Tempest, we see that even the most seasoned of Shakespeare performers and scholars can find new things each time they open the text. As we read Hag-Seed, whether it's our first time with Propsero or the fiftieth, we have that chance to discover it anew too.

Hag-Seed is a part of Hogarth's collection of Shakespeare re-tellings. Here are my thoughts on Vinegar Girl, a retelling of Taming of the Shrew.

By Margaret Atwood
Hogarth October 2011
301 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Nonfiction mini-reviews: Born a Crime and The Broken Way

Trevor Noah is known to many as a comedian and the host of The Daily Show. But his childhood certainly did not suggest that he would have international fame--in fact, Noah's very existence was illegal as a bi-racial child in South Africa. He writes about his upbringing with a strong and devout mother, a large extended family, and infrequent visits with his white father. Reading this book confirms that Noah's humor is not confined to a tv studio and gives us insight into the difficulties of growing up in South Africa during apartheid.

A lot of readers talk about books that actually make them laugh out loud, but I don't experience that very often. This was a rare exception, and I often found myself laughing and then reading a passage out loud to my husband. Noah strikes a careful balance here as the hilarious stories are often a result of the poverty and discrimination he faced as a child and young man. While you might laugh at his youthful attempts to persuade his mother that they really didn't need to attend a third church service, things become a bit more serious when his mother throws him out of a moving taxi on the way to said service because their lives were in danger. While the stories are arranged somewhat haphazardly, I loved reading them and perhaps the loveliest thing is that there are no stories about his success as a comedian and television personality. Instead, readers are treated to the highs and lows of a bi-racial boy in South Africa who could be anyone facing similar problems; we just happened to get the hilarious and thoughtful stories of Trevor Noah.

Born a Crime
by Trevor Noah
Spiegel and Grau November 2016
304 pages
Read via Netgalley

"Who doesn't know what it's like to smile thinly and say you're fine when you're not, when you're almost faint with pain? There isn't one of us not bearing the wounds from our own bloody battles. There isn't one of us who isn't cut right from the beginning." Ann Voskamp opens this book with the discovery that one of her children is suffering from the same demons that haunts her: the need to cut open her arms and let out the pain. Slowly, carefully, and with grace and beauty, she wonders if there is something beautiful and worthwhile to be found right in the midst of our greatest pain.

So often, we are tempted to hide the difficulties we are struggling with at that moment. It just seems so incredibly vulnerable to give voice to the things that are breaking our heart. In The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp invites us to follow in Christ's brokenness and asks if maybe we find true community when we share exactly those moments of heartbreak. When we embrace other's brokenness as well as our own, we find healing together. It sounds simple in theory, but it's tough to actually carry out. I think this book is one I will be reading and thinking about for a long time.

The Broken Way
A Daring Path Forward into the Abundant Life
By Ann Voskamp
Zondervan October 2016
288 pages
From the library

Monday, March 13, 2017

It's Monday and we're going to have a snow day!

Oh my goodness, have you heard it might snow? We live in New Jersey and it seems like the only thing anyone can discuss is the impending snow storm. Fear not, we have been to the grocery store and we have a good supply of books. We will be just fine.

This week I read Girl in Disguise, a novel that imagines the life of the first female Pinkerton agent. I was the last person to read Between the World and Me, and then I finished off the week with the heart-wrenching A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea

         A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee's Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival    How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7

Now I'm listening to The Signature of All Things and reading How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen. What are you reading?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Graduating to Chapter Books

As parents, we are always on the lookout for milestones with our children. We diligently record (or try to remember to record) when they took that first step or lost their first tooth. We take pictures on their first day of school, so we can remember their brave smiles the first time they climbed onto the bus all by themselves.

Some of those milestones are literary. We proudly record our little ones parroting back a favorite board book and keep the report card where their teacher extols their reading habits. And somewhere along the way, our kids go from snuggling close while you read Courderoy and Madeline to reading Percy Jackson all by themselves.

But the transition itself can be tricky. How do you take your child from picture books to chapter books? You can't jump straight from The Cat in the Hat to Harry Potter, of course. Here are some suggestions for the little reader who needs some longer books!

1. Grow with a character 
If your child already has a character they know and love in picture books, check to see if you can also find them in chapter books. I know that Fancy Nancy evolved into Nancy Clancy chapter books and Cam Jansen has both easy readers and chapter books for your young sleuths.

2. Branches Books
These books from Scholastic are specifically written for kids who are between picture books and chapter books. There are several series here, and each one is illustrated and has short chapters. My toddler is currently enjoying the Missy's Super Duper Royal Deluxe series.

3. Kate DiCamillo
Hi. Huge Kate DiCamillo fans here. She seems to have a wonderful understanding of what transitioning readers want in their books and her Bink and Gollie, Mercy Watson, and Tales from Deckawoo Drive books are all in high demand around here. And they make this mom laugh, which is some serious icing on the cake if you are the one who is doing the bedtime reading.

4. Stories instead of chapters
Some of the trouble of chapter books is the sheer number of bedtimes it will take for you or your little one to read to the end. Sometimes it works best if you are reading one story at a time instead of one chapter at a time. The Winnie the Pooh books are perfect for this and you could read a mystery or two with Nate the Great before lights out.

5. Have hope
There are several series out there that are perfect for kids just starting chapter books. The trouble, of course, is finding them. We have had a lot of success with the Princess in Black books as well as Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robots series. When in doubt, look for chapter books that have pictures or ask your neighborhood librarian!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review: Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Marie's life is shattered when her father commits suicide. In the wake of his death, she and her mother take in Ai-Ming, a friend of the family. Marie is a bit in awe of the older girl's knowledge and certainty, but she is also wary of the reason that Ai-Ming is there: she was involved in the protests in Tiananmen Square and had to flee China. The two families were connected long before the girls were born, when Ai-Ming's father taught Marie's father at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien follows these two families for decades as they grapple with love, betrayal, art, and what it means to be true to yourself.

I love reading historical fiction, but I often find myself starting at piles of WWII era stories. It was nice to read about a different country and time period, as this book takes readers through the Cultural Revolution up into the 1990s. Thien gives readers a historical overview while also showing very specifically the uncertainty and pain that comes with a government that constantly changes administrations and rules. Like a lot of historical fiction, Do Not Say We Have Nothing moves in dual narratives with Marie in the present and her father and Ai-Ming's father in the past. While this kind of narrative device tends to fall flat for me, it was stunning here. As I read, I was aware that I didn't know everything yet but I was happy to settle in and slowly find out how these people were connected and where they would end up.

The best stories are both universal and specific. While the decisions these characters must make are because of the specific time and place that they live in, every reader can relate to the shock of discovering you don't really know a loved one, the mystery and power of story, music, and history, and what we are willing to sacrifice as an individual living within a family or a community. I fully understand why this incredible book made the Man Booker shortlist for 2016. I will be thinking about the characters and their stories for a long time.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing
By Madeleine Thien
W.W. Norton and Company November 2016
480 pages
From the library

Monday, March 6, 2017

It's Monday and things are moving right along....

Hi guys! It's me! I'm up bright and early, quietly typing so as not to wake up my tiny (and very cute) shadow. I need to get this post up and finish up a grocery list while making sure the big kid gets to the bus on time.

How was your week? Things are ok around here. I'm trying to stick to this exercising thing, even though everything known to woman (including short toddler naps) seem to be conspiring against me. I'm also strangely feeling the pull of this spring cleaning thing and starting to consider deep cleaning my house and organizing closets. This weekend, I took the kids to see a high school production of Beauty and the Beast, since their grammy (my mom) was doing an incredible job playing the keyboard for the production. The 9 year-old gives it rave reviews, and the 3 year-old loved it minus the parts with the wolves and the angry beast where she hid her face on my shoulder.

Ok, time to talk reading! I feel like I read The Casual Vacancy for a million years, even though it only took me a week. I finished listening to Shadowshaper and I am officially a fan waiting anxiously for book 2.

Now I'm reading Girl in Disguise. What are you reading this week?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: Bellevue

When someone mentions Bellevue, most people have an image of a hospital for the insane. But Bellevue Hospital in New York City has been a haven for the ill for decades and it is the birthplace of some of medicine's most important innovations. David Oshinsky takes readers into Bellevue's exam rooms and basement laboratories from its birth as a public hospital and poorhouse to its development of the first ambulance corps to recent history when the hospital served as a refuge for patients with AIDS and was the last NYC hospital to keep its doors open in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Reading Bellevue reminded me why I enjoy good nonfiction so much. This book presents the specific story of one hospital and a much larger one of New York City over hundreds of years and the medical progress that we have made in that time. For those of us living now, it's difficult to imagine an era when we wouldn't go to a hospital. But for many years, those with means would be seen in the comfort of their homes and hospitals were only for those who truly had no other choice, like yellow fever victims in the 18th century. Bellevue was the place for patients no one else wanted to take in throughout its history. These doctors treated soldiers injured during the Civil War, people poisoned from bad alcohol during Prohibition, and drug addicts.

Bellevue doctors and surgeons were the first to develop an ambulance corps in the United States, figure out how to perform surgery on a battlefield, and spearhead the idea of public health to keep people from needing the hospital in the first place. But Oshinsky doesn't shy away from discussing the failings of Belleveue's staff either. Frank Hamilton was the surgeon summoned to treat President Garfield after he was shot. Unfortunately, Hamilton (and some of his Bellevue colleagues) were the last holdouts regarding sterile surgery procedures. His refusal to clean his hands or surgical instruments likely played a role in Garfield's demise. Readers will also find out just why Bellevue has a reputation as a mental hospital (although Oshinsky seems to downplay this aspect). It was a place where many advancements in mental health occurred, alongside some truly awful treatment decisions. Dr. Lauretta Bender is a prime example of a doctor who made some questionable choices. She took over the children's psychiatric ward in the 1930s and regularly used electroshock therapy on her young patients, never acknowledging the ethical problems with this treatment.

Bellevue is a fairly long and impressive look at hundreds of years of history, both medical and otherwise. As I read through the final chapters, though, I wish that Oshinsky had given us more information about the storied hospital in the last fifty years. I would have loved to read more about the things that the innovators at Bellevue are accomplishing now and what they hope to contribute to medicine and to New York City in the future.

Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital
By David M. Oshinsky
Doubleday September 2016
384 pages
Read via Netgalley