Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesdays with David: Fish In A Tree

Fish In A Tree
By Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Puffin Books March 2017
320 pages
From the library 

The Story: Ally gets in trouble a lot. Sometimes it's accidental, like the time she gives a very inappropriate card to her teacher going on maternity leave. Other times, it's on purpose as she tries to hide the fact that she can't read well. Ally has resigned herself to another year of doing poorly in school and not having friends. But then her class gets a new teacher. Mr. Daniels sees her aptitude for drawing and math and knows how to help her with her dyslexia. Most of all, he knows that she isn't stupid and brings the class together in ways they never imagined.

Mama opines: David and I are embarking on a mother/son book club. One month, he gives me a book to read and the next month, I give him one. Fish In A Tree was a book he chose for me. This book is a rather well-known story, where a fantastic teacher is able to help each of his students excel. I can understand the readers who are incredulous that this girl has made it to sixth grade without anyone realizing that she has dyslexia. But I also think this kind of book is wonderful for kids and their parents to read. Don't we all wish for this kind of teacher for our children? We all hope that our children will go to a place where they have good friends and a teacher who is truly invested in helping them to find the best ways to learn and grow.

Thoughts from David: Fish in a Tree is a great book. It's about a character named Ally, who can't read very well. The words just kind of float around. She gets a new teacher and meets new friends. But it's really deep too. I mean, ever read Percy Jackson? They share some similarities.

Personally, I think that kids in the fourth and fifth grade will feel especially for this book. I think middle schoolers will also like it too. The reason is, have you ever felt like there is something you couldn't do? Well, Ally expresses that in a sketchbook called 'The Journal of Impossible Things'. I find that a good way to get feelings like it is impossible out of your system. Another reason is that Fish in a Tree  has a ton of heart. In summary, I LOVE Fish in a Tree and think that you should read it too.

And for old times sake, a joke: How do you make an octopus laugh? With ten tickles!!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Review: The Atomic City Girls

June Walker is 18 years old and looking for an adventure. She gets a job in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, working on a massive machine. But she can't tell anyone about her work because the city of Oak Ridge and the projects happening there are top secret. When June falls for Sam Cantor, a grumpy scientist working on a top-secret project, secrets are revealed and June and her friends must decide if they are willing to continue working towards such a terrible goal.

In The Atomic City Girls, we get a glimpse of day-to-day life for the women and men of Oak Ridge. We follow June and her roommate Cici, as well as Sam and Joe, an African-American construction worker. So many of the workers were cogs in the machine and did their jobs with no understanding of their ultimate goal--building the weapon that would end World War II. In spite of  not knowing, they are under strict orders to not reveal a single thing about their work or the town where they live; because of this, Oak Ridge becomes its own enclosed world.

Atomic City is a fascinating time and place, but the characters in this story are really flat. June is our primary protagonist, but it's difficult to put a finger on anything that makes her stand out as a character. Cici is a woman whose only goal is finding a rich husband by any means necessary and Sam is constantly cranky and mean seemingly without reason. Joe had the most interesting storyline for me, and it was heartbreaking to read that African-American workers were not allowed to bring their families with them like white workers were and discover the lack of basic amenities while their counterparts had their own dances, movie theaters, and bowling alleys.

I'm still curious about the work and the people of Oak Ridge, but I would recommend other historical fiction and nonfiction books to fill that spot in your reading list.

The Atomic City Girls
By Janet Beard
William Morrow Paperbacks February 2018
384 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: The Grave's A Fine and Private Place

Flavia is taking a short trip down the river with her sisters Ophelia and Daphne and their faithful servant/devoted friend Dogger. But this is Flavia de Luce, and they have hardly started down the river when they discover a dead body. After they fish the body out and have a terse encounter with local law enforcement, Flavia quickly realizes that they are in the same town where several people were poisoned. Are the deaths connected? Of course they are, dear reader, and we are off on another delightful adventure with Flavia and the family.

The first five books in this series are formulaic (in a good way). Flavia finds a mystery in her tiny English town and then she solves it, with the help of various family members and neighbors. In more recent books, Alan Bradley has introduced some truly world-shaking events into the de Luce family. I have never written a long series like this, but I have to imagine that Mr. Bradley knows exactly where he is taking our beloved Flavia.

This is where some of my frustration comes into play though--each book seems to change the family, but we don't really get a chance to see what it looks like before the next crisis occurs. Books seven and eight seemed to hint that the books would go in an entirely new direction and finally give us some answers about the lives and work of Flavia's parents and aunt. But we still haven't received any of those answers and this book felt to me a bit like the middle book in a trilogy--we needed some more information before we could get back to the real action.

The mystery itself in The Grave's A Fine and Private Place is a good one and it's interesting to see the lives of people who don't live in Bishop's Lacey. I also loved seeing Flavia grow up a bit; she even takes a young boy under her wing as a sort of mentor. Most of all, I'm excited to see what happens to Flavia and the family in book ten (which will purportedly be the last one). This story ends with the suggestion of a big change, so I hope we actually get to see what that looks like in book ten and see how all of these threads will come together for Flavia.

The Grave's A Fine and Private Place
Flavia de Luce #9
By Alan Bradley
Bantam January 2018
384 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review: The Music Shop

On a run-down street in England, there is a music shop. The owner Frank stubbornly continues to stock the shop with his beloved records, even as his reps tell him that time is almost over. Frank has a gift for knowing exactly what music people need. His shop is a beacon to his customers and the other people who live and work on the street--Frank's assistant Kit, a tattoo artist, a former priest, the baker, and a pair of brother undertakers. One day, a beautiful woman faints outside and the two strike up a friendship as Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. Their tentative lessons will help them both open up their hearts to other people and to music again.

The Music Shop is a love story on multiple levels. From the first time they meet, readers wonder if Frank and Ilse will be able to overcome their worries and love each other. But it is also a story of love for music, for a certain place and time, and for your community. Parts of the story are told in flashback, as Frank remembers his mother introducing him to the music of Bach and Beethoven and discovering Aretha Franklin and The Sex Pistols. Readers are also treated to a beautiful look at what it means to be a part of a neighborhood where you commiserate with your neighbors at the local bar, help them out in times of crisis, and fight gentrification alongside them.

Rachel Joyce clearly excels at writing about the lives of everyday people--no one in this story is going to become a millionaire or discover they are a member of the royal family. But we get to see the joys and tragedies of their lives and remember with the characters that a good friend and a good song can go a long way in carrying us through. This is a sweet book and there's never really any doubt that everyone will end up with a happy(ish) ending, but it's a delight to read while humming along the entire time.

The Music Shop
By Rachel Joyce
Random House January 2018
256 pages
Read via Netgalley

Other books by Rachel Joyce: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey, Perfect

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: When God Made Light

When bedtime comes around, parents often find themselves with a dilemma: either your child will pick out a book you can't stand or you pick a story that they aren't thrilled to hear. But once in a while, you find a book that is beloved by everyone. When God Made Light is one of them.

This book is a sweet look at two sisters spending the day together and reveling in all of the ways God gives us light--the way the light of dawn spreads across the floor, the warmth of the sun helping flowers to grow, and the delight of a firefly held close. Most of all, it celebrates the light that each child brings to the world around them.

The illustrations are whimsical and beautiful and I find myself noticing new details each time we read it. If you are looking for the next book for bedtime reading or a gift for the little one in your life, When God Made Light is the perfect choice.

Thoughts from the 4-year-old: I like it because it has light and it has puppy dogs. It has pools and camping. It has sleeping and it has lots of fun!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Gardening Mini-Reviews

Lisa Steele is known as an expert in all things chicken-related. She has written several books, appeared on tv shows and in magazines, and maintains a website where she teaches about the ins and outs of taking care of chickens. She is also a gardener and in Gardening with Chickens, she writes about all the ways that chickens can help your garden and your garden can help your chicks.

So, you may gather that I'm thinking about getting some chickens. I haven't actually taken the leap of calling my local government offices and finding out if we are zoned for such things, but I am dreaming dreams of warmer mornings when the kids and I can go out and collect some eggs from the backyard. If you find yourself in a similar position, Lisa Steele's book is a great place to start. She may be an expert, but she writes clearly for the reader who might be new to chickens (or gardening). If we do end up adding some chickens to our home, I know that they can keep my garden healthy by turning the soil and that our garden scraps can keep the chickens healthy by giving them a varied diet. And it doesn't hurt that this book has a beautiful layout, with plenty of pictures of Steele's farm.

Gardening with Chickens: Plans and Plants for You and Your Hens
By Lisa Steele
Voyageur Press November 2016
176 pages
Read via Netgalley

Are you thinking about taking up gardening? Perhaps you already grow food or flowers, but are thinking about the possible effects of pesticides and chemicals on your garden. This book is going to take you from first thought to enjoying beautiful flowers and vegetables, all while reminding gardeners of the importance of gardening organically during every step of the process.

This book reminded me a bit of a textbook. Author Mark Highland is taking a deep dive into gardening, which means you are going to know more about layers of dirt and organic fertilizers than you ever imagined. This is decidedly a book for the committed gardener who is ready to take some notes, as opposed to the person who wants to skim something light and simple. But there is a lot to break up the text too--there are plenty of pictures of beautiful gardens in full bloom, rows of vegetables in the middle of the process, quirky illustrations, and helpful charts.

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally
By Mark Highland
Cool Springs Press December 2017
240 pages
Read via Netgalley