American History With a 2nd Grader

June 14, 2019 at 6:37 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It has actually impressed me how much wonderful American History literature is available for children. Jean Fritz, who has a fantastic book for everything, is my first go to. We read the biography of Pocahontas nearly two years ago, and then moved on through time to other great biographies like Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? I desire to own everything Jean Fritz has ever written eventually. But I already knew I loved Jean Fritz when I started homeschooling. Jean Fritz is known. Some authors or books I didn’t previously know, however, and they have brought us much joy.

Ann Malaspina has an excellent picture book on Phillis Wheatley and George Washington. (We actually read a lot about Phillis Wheatley this year, and were enamored with every mention of her in other books and shows.) We also enjoyed Ann McGovern’s The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson. Avi’s Captain Grey intrigued us completely and opened up a lot of doors for discussions regarding moral dilemmas, trust, and relationships between adults and children.

We absolutely loved Becky Landers: Frontier Warrior by Skinner. It took us a long time to read it out loud, but it was worth every page. I think it’s important for kids to really experience a time period through literature, not just memorize the facts and move on. The stories are what helps my kiddo remember the facts she memorizes, and there are so many good stories!

During this time, which took up the entire summer going into her second grade school year, we also read Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry. Several years ago I was sent a recommendation for a unit study on horses put out by Beautiful Feet. I have all the books in their package, but instead of tackling it like a unit study, it has been an underlying theme in all her studies. She’s in her fourth year of horseback riding, so the undercurrent of equestrian education is something I hope she looks back on with fondness.

If you are into lists, these are the books we read next and loved:

Davy Crockett – George Sullivan

What Was the Alamo? – Meg Belviso

Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas – Jay Neugeboren

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple – Karen Cushman

The Moon of the Gray Wolves – Jean Craighead George

The Moon of the Fox Pups – Jean Craighead George

Sing Down the Moon – Scott O’dell

Harriet Tubman – Sawyer, DK Biographies

A Ballad of the Civil War – Mary Stolz

In a few years, we’ll have the pleasure of repeating this point in history, and there are so many more books I can’t wait to read with my kid, especially for the Civil War era. This year we focused more on biographies, we also read non-American ones like Florence Nightingale. Perhaps, next time we’ll read deeper into the wars. For second grade I tried to focus on the importance of moral goodness and fighting for what’s right while I hedged around the gory details.

We thoroughly enjoyed watching the cartoon Liberty’s Kids, and I’ve got quite the little patriot on my hands. I’d appreciate any recommendations in the comments for books that encourage honor and respect for ones nation while also discerning its flaws. Because we study using a classical model, all of history gets repeated in cycles, chronologically, so there is plenty of time to line up our reading lists for the future.

Permalink Leave a Comment

My 2014 Top Ten

January 3, 2015 at 3:46 am (In So Many Words) (, )

Of all the books I read in 2014, 103-ish by my count, I want to share my top ten.  In reverse order, because I actually put a bit of thought into this listing, with my favorite for the year listed last.  Although, I openly admit to being moody, and tomorrow any one of these titles should shuffle to a different number in the list with a bat of an eye.

These are titles that no matter how much I read, they have stayed with me.  Some caught me by surprise, startling me out of numbness into enraptured feeling.  Some taught me things. Some I went back to over and over again…  Each one, for some reason or another, helped shape 2014 for me, and I am thankful for them.

10. Papyrus – John Oehler

9. The Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson

8. Cruel Devices – George Wright Padgett

7. The King’s English – Betsy Burton

6. The Beginner’s Goodbye – Anne Tyler

5. The Book of Secrets – Elizabeth Joy Arnold

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith

3. Not Even Wrong – Paul Collins

2. A Shropshire Lad – A.E. Housman

1. A Circle of Quiet – Madeleine L’Engle

Permalink Leave a Comment

2014 Reading List

January 2, 2015 at 2:51 am (Uncategorized) (, )

watercolor booksEvery year I post my exhaustive list for the year.  So, Happy New Year! Here’s what happened last year:

I’ve included chapter books I read out loud to Ayla, but not picture books because that would be insane.


1. Magic Tree House #18 & #19 – Mary Pope Osborne

2. The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

3. Get Me Out of Here – Reiland

4. Papyrus – John Oehler

5. The Road Not Taken & Other Poems

6. Voltaire’s Calligrapher – Pablo de Santos

7. The Newton Letter – John Banville

8. The Bridge of San Luis Rey – Wilder


9. A Shopshire Lad – A. E. Housman

10. Still Life With Insects – Brian Kitely

11. Codependent No More – Beattie

12. Committed – Gilbert

13. Not Even Wrong – Paul Collins

14. The Weekend Novelist – Robert J. Ray


15. The Landmark Herodotus

16. Divergent – Roth

17. Hunger – Michael Grant


18. The Colorado Kid – Stephen King

19. Follies Past – Melanie Kerr

20. The Green Book – Rogers & Kostigen

21. Green Greener Greenest – Lori Bongiorno

22. The Archivist – Cooley


23. Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School – Siegel

24. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Smith

25. The Devenshire Chronicles: Stones of Andarus

26. The Dying of the Light: End – Jason Kristopher

27. The City of Bones – Cassandra Clare


28. Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart – Beth Pattillo

29. Death by Darjeeling – Laura Childs

30. The Book of Secrets – Elizabeth Joy Arnold

31. The Early Investor – Michael W. Zisa

32. City of Glass – Clare

33. City of Fallen Angels – Clare

34. City of Lost Souls – Clare

35. City of Heavenly Fire – Clare

36. A Circle of Quiet – L’Engle

37. Clockwork Princess – Clare

38. Bitten – Kelley Armstrong

39. The Beginner’s Goodbye – Anne Tyler

40. Be the Captain of Your Career – Molisani

41. A Reliable Wife – Goolrick

42. Barabbas – Par Lagerkvist

43. How to Achieve True Greatness – Castiglione


44. Life is Hard But God is Good – Horton

45. ADHD According to Zoe – Zoe Kessler

46. The Entrepreneur Mind – Kevin D. Johnson

47. A Thousand Days in Venice – de Blasi

48. Entangled – Barbara Ellen Brink

49. Fairy Bell Sisters #1 & #2 – McNamara (to Ayla obviously)

50. Share Your Message With the World – Gambone


51. The Thirteenth Tale – Setterfield

52. Of Blood & Brothers – E. Michael Helms

53. Investing for Retirement – Harwood

54. His Texas Forever Family – Amy Woods (SO PROUD OF HER!)

55. The King’s English – Burton

56. A Fancy Dinner Party – Grey Gecko Press

57. Of Blood & Brothers 2 – E. Michael Helms

58. Expecting Money – Erica Sandberg

59. Cruel Devices – George Wright Padgett


60. Gunpowder Green – Laura Childs

61. The Secret Life of Captain X – Mrs. X No More

62. 28 1/2 Wishes – Denise Grover Swank

63. Planning for College – Paul Lloyd Hemphill

64. Angelbound – Christina Bauer

65. Doubles Match – Meb Bryant

66. On the Decay of the Art of Lying – Mark Twain

67. Alone – Robert J. Crane

68. Buying a Home: Don’t Let Them Make a Monkey Out of You – Musgrave

69. The Last Beach Bungalow – Jennie Nash

70. Voyager – Diana Gabaldon


71. Adolescent Literacy Research & Practice

72. Why School? Reclaiming Education… – Rose

73. Stolen – Kelley Armstrong

74. Drums of Autumn – Diana Gabaldon

75. Lies That Make You Pay – Rachel Norman

76. The Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson

77. Enchanted Ivy – Sarah Beth Durst

78. Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie

79. Women, Men, & Money – Devine

80. Insurgent – Roth


81. Allegiant – Roth

82. The Summer of the Great Grandmother – L’Engle

83. The Rural Life – Klinkenberg

84. A Question of Upbringing – Anthony Powell

85. Rich as a King – Goldstein

86. Deadly Catch – E. Michael Helms

87. Murder Past Due – D.R. Meredith

88. The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

89. Murder Past Due – Miranda James

90. Greystone Valley – Charlie Brooks

91. Shades of Earl Grey – Laura Childs

92. Roomies – Lindy Zart

93. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

94. The Five Civilized Tribes – Foreman

95. Retirement GPS – Aaron Katsman


96. Resolute – Martin W. Sandler

97. The Maze Runner – Dashner

98. Love & Misadventure – Lang Leav

99. The Scorch Trials – Dashner

100. Lullabies – Lang Leav

101. The Death Cure – Dashner

102. Money: Master the Game – Tony Robbins

103. Emissary – Chris Rogers

Permalink 1 Comment

My Life in Literature Meme 2014

December 8, 2014 at 1:14 am (In So Many Words) (, , , , , )

This is fast becoming a yearly ritual.

Using only books you have read this year (2014), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe yourself: A Reliable Wife

How do you feel: Not Even Wrong

Describe where you currently live: Follies Past

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Lacuna

Your favorite form of transportation: Resolute

Your best friend is: The Book of Secrets

You and your friends are: Committed

What is the best advice you have to give: Life is Hard But God is Good

What’s the weather like: Shades of Earl Grey

You fear: The Beginner’s Goodbye

Thought for the day: Get Me Out of Here

How I would like to die: in A Circle of Quiet

My soul’s present condition: Alone

Permalink Leave a Comment

A Resolute Club

December 8, 2014 at 12:06 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )


As much a book review as a book club assessment.

Title: Resolute

Author: Martin W. Sandler

Genre: History / True Adventure

Length: 320 pages

Put a seafaring image on the front cover, talk of adventure and exploration, make reference to ghosts… I’m sold.

We read Sandler’s “epic search for the Northwest Passage” for the Half Price Books Humble Book Club and discussed it the first Monday of December.

It’s an exciting read, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I’ll be holding onto my hardback copy for years to come. I’d love to see this made into a film, as it was I found myself re-watching National Treasure: Book of Secrets just for the Resolute references I was craving post reading.

Although this is largely about the Arctic and the British, a good chunk of our discussion at book club revolved around arrogance and fictional characters we’ve read through out this year:

One comparison would be the personal pride exhibited by the people across all 3 books [A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Question of Upbringing, and Resolute].

For example in ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’, on the 3rd page of chapter 38 Evy says: “Well, there’s always the Catholic Charities”.  To which Katie replied “When the time comes that we have to take charity baskets, I’ll plug up the doors and windows and wait until the children are sound asleep and then turn on every gas jet in the house.”

In Resolute, the British Naval captains were too arrogant to ask the Inuits how to survive in a place they have never been.

And the title ‘A Question of Upbringing’ speaks for itself.

 – Glenn Ray

We carry much of our discussions over into later months and often end up talking about books we love repeatedly.  There aren’t many of us.  Two in person on the regular, one by phone on the regular, and various stragglers that pop in periodically (3 recurring stragglers, to be exact).  But we enjoy our talks thoroughly and are always hopeful of new members.

Like the worldwide search for John Franklin, our little club keeps on keeping on.

Here’s our dated roster, what we’ve read and what we plan to read:

Mon 12/3/2012 ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ by Charles Dickens

Mon 1/7/2013 ‘A Homemade Life’ by Wizenberg; and ‘Julie and Julia’ by Julie Powell

Mon 2/4/2013 ‘March’ by Geraldine Brooks

Mon 3/4/2013 ‘The Lords of Finance’ by Liaquat Ahamed

Mon 4/1/2013 ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan

Mon 5/6/2013 ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ by Carson McCullers

Mon 6/3/2013 ‘Princess Bride’ by William Goldman

Mon 7/1/2013 ‘John Adams’ by McCullough; some also read Abigail Adams by Woody Holton

Mon 8/5/2013 ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker; alternate ‘A Passage to India’ by Forster

Mon 9/2/2013 ‘My Antonia’ by Willa Cather

Mon 10/7/2013 ‘Thomas Jefferson, the Art of Power’ by Jon Meacham

Mon 11/4/2013 ‘Player Piano’ by Kurt Vonnegut

Mon 12/2/2013 ‘The Sparrow’ by Mary Doria Russell

Mon 1/6/2014 ‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver

Mon 2/3/2014 ‘The Bridge Of San Luis Rey’ by Thornton Wilder

Mon 3/3/2014 ‘The Histories’ by Herodotus

Mon 4/7/2014 ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ by Betty Smith

Mon 5/5/2014 ‘Wings of the Dove’ by Henry James

Mon 6/2/2014 ‘Shadow of the Wind’ by Ruiz

Mon 7/7/2014 ‘Benjamin Franklin’ bio by David Freeman Hawke

Mon 8/4/2014 ‘The 13th Tale’ by Diane Setterfield

Mon 9/1/2014 ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel García Márquez

Mon 10/6/2014 ‘Professor and the Madman’ by Simon Winchester

Mon 11/3/2014 ‘A Question of Upbringing’ by Anthony Powell

Mon 12/1/2014 ‘Resolute’ by Martin W. Sandler


Mon 1/5/2015 ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice’ by Laurie R. King

Mon 2/2/2015 ‘The World is Flat’ by Thomas L. Friedman

Mon 3/2/2015 ‘Conspiracy of Paper’ by David Liss

Mon 4/?/2015 ‘Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins

I think we’re a pretty well rounded, well read group.  If you’d like to join us, we meet at Half Price Books Humble the first Monday of every month at 7:30 pm.  Year round.  If you want to discuss something we’ve already read, something we’re currently reading, or something else altogether – that’s fine, we’ll chat.

Permalink 1 Comment

Zero to 100

December 27, 2013 at 4:17 am (Education) (, , , , )

Go From Zero to Well-Read in 100 Books (as per Book Riot)… I wanted to see how “well-read” I already am.  I put two * after it if I’ve already read it.

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain **
  2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle **
  3. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton **
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque
  5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay  by Michael Chabon
  6. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy **
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery **
  9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  11. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  12. Beowulf
  13. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak **
  14. Brave New World by Alduos Huxley
  15. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  16. Call of the Wild  by Jack London **
  17. Candide by Voltaire
  18. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer **
  19. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
  20. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  21. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger **
  22. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White **
  23. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  24. The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson **
  25. The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe **
  26. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor 
  27. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  28. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky **
  29. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  30. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller **
  31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes **
  32. Dream of Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
  33. Dune by Frank Herbert **
  34. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  36. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  37. Faust by Goethe
  38. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley **
  39. A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  40. The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  41. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  42. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  43. The Gospels **
  44. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck **
  45. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens **
  46. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald **
  47. Hamlet by William Shakespeare **
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  49. Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling **
  50. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad **
  51. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  52. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams **
  53. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien **
  54. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
  55. Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  56. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins **
  57. if on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino (* haven’t finished it yet)
  58. The Iliad by Homer **
  59. Inferno by Dante **
  60. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  61. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison **
  62. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman **
  63. Life of Pi by Yann Martel **
  64. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis **
  65. The Little Prince by Antoine  de Saint-Exepury
  66. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov **
  67. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez **
  68. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert **
  69. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville **
  71. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf **
  72. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie **
  73. The Odyssey by Homer **
  74. Oedipus the King by Sophocles **
  75. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  76. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster **
  77. The Pentateuch **
  78. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen **
  79. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  80. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  81. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare **
  82. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne **
  83. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut **
  84. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  85. The Stand by Stephen King
  86. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  87. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  88. Their Eyes Were Watching by Zora Neale Hurston **
  89. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe **
  90. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  91. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee **
  92. Ulysses by James Joyce
  93. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  94. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  95. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
  96. Watchmen by Alan Moore
  97. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  98. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte **
  99. 1984 by George Orwell **
  100. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

So barely  more than half. These lists always make me feel as though I have fallen so short as a human! But 50 Shades? Really, that makes you well read? Hmmm.  Somehow I feel like that book is entirely out of place here.  There are some on the list I may have read, but I can’t remember whether I did or not.  I did not * those.

Which ones have you read? What do you think of Book Riot’s list?

Permalink 2 Comments

Impromptu Post on Being Changed

December 9, 2013 at 9:47 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

There’s a little chain status going around on facebook that I recently participated in…

List 15 books that have changed your life. Don’t spend more than 15 minutes on the challenge. Tag 15 people (14 + me) so they can see your list.

Completely off the top of my head, in about five minutes versus the fifteen offered, and in no particular order I wrote:

1. Til We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis
2. The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton
3. On Writing – Stephen King
4. Seed Savers – Author S. Smith
5. The Well Educated Mind – Susan Wise Bauer
6. Persuasion – Jane Austen
7. Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
8. The Giver – Lois Lowry
9. Sixpence House- Paul Collins
10. Banvard’s Folly – Paul Collins
11. How to Buy a Love of Reading – Tanya Egan Gibson
12. Fizz & Peppers – M.G. King
13. Lord of the Rings series/ The Chronicles of Narnia series/ The Harry Potter series – they get one number because they occurred to me in exactly ONE thought
14. The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
15. The Metamorphosis – Frankz Kafka.
I’m not sure how that list happened without a single Dickens title, that shocks me.

Soon after posting my version of the status update, conversation ensued.  One of my friends posted his own list on my thread instead, Tanya Egan Gibson felt honored to be on the list (she is so beautifully humble and I just love her and her work, she tickles me), and a college buddy posted a query.

Andi, I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on how “Metamorphosis” was life-changing for you. I studied it, but would have never thought of that one, so I’d be interested to hear how it was, for someone unlike me. : )

I started to answer right there on facebook, but I thought it deserved a blog post instead.

Franz-Kafka-The-MetamorphosisI read Metamorphosis first in… I’m not sure… 8th grade? I think it is best first experienced during puberty when you’re going through that everything creepy is wonderful phase.  Young teens are always the ones who haunt the shelf where Edgar Allen Poe is; and for me it was Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I identified greatly with Gregor, which if you read a Sparknotes’ character summary, try to think of a 13 year old geek who wouldn’t.

Gregor Samsa –  A traveling salesman and the protagonist of the story. Gregor hates his job but keeps it because of the obligations he feels to pay off his father’s debt and care for his family. He has transformed into a large bug and spends the rest of his life in that state. Although hideous and unrecognizable to others, Gregor retains his some of his inner life and struggles to reconcile his lingering humanity with his physical condition. (-from Sparknotes)

metamorphosis bugObviously a teen is the protagonist of their own story, they hate their job (school) but keep going because of obligations (to their existence, their parents, and the government).  Teens work their butts off seemingly for the sake of their family… chores, chores, more chores… honestly what 13 year old thinks they’re doing the dishes for themselves? And rarely do they actually think school is for themselves.  I wanted to learn and I enjoy research, but ultimately I wanted to make sure my parents weren’t pissed off by my report card.  Gregor is hideous and unrecognizable to others, and at thirteen who doesn’t feel gross and pimply – simultaneously invisible and on display to the world like a freak show.  At thirteen you’re sub-human, neither child nor adult, and most of your life feels like it’s happening in your head.

Or, maybe that was just me.

To quote another post I wrote:

[…] I read The Metamorphosis over and over again, wrote a paper on it in high school and two more in college.  I can’t count how many times I’ve read it, I just think its so wonderful.  After reading The Castle and The Trial, however, I’m realizing that Kafka’s greatest skill is in writing the most frustrating scenarios a human being could be plopped into – alienation and bureaucracy.  Whether it becoming a giant bug, living under mysterious and unfair authorities, or dying after a year long quest to discover what crime you have been accused of, Kafka has helplessness down to an art.  I love Kafka!

I love him because his concepts are fascinating.  He is the most wonderful creator of modern day myth that I’ve read. […]

(-from my review of The Trial)

When you read something that reminds you that you are not alone in your feelings, that even this great emaciated and pale world renown author could understand you, everything seems a little bit better.  If a dude can turn into a giant cockroach, I can get through middle school – at least I’m not literally a disgusting bug.

I recommend that anyone re-read The Metamorphosis, but from the eyes of their 13 year old self.  What do you think of it now? I remember feeling like my parents were repulsed by me.  I remember feeling like every adult saw me as a liar and was distrusting of my existence.  I remember feeling alone and wanting a friend.  What do you remember?

Permalink 1 Comment

My 2013 Life in Literature Meme

November 10, 2013 at 8:47 pm (In So Many Words) (, , , , , )

Last year I stumbled across a fun little activity on Becky’s Book Reviews blog.  I’m in the mood to do it again today… My 2012 Life in Literature Meme.

Using only books you have read this year (2013), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe yourself: The Year of Magical Thinking – Didion

How do you feel: If These Walls Had Ears – Morgan

Describe where you currently live: Eden’s Outcasts – John Matteson

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Over Sea, Under Stone – Cooper

Your favorite form of transportation: Born to Run – McDougall

Your best friend is: The Wild Girls – Murphy

You and your friends are: The Immortal Class – Culley

What is the best advice you have to give: Love is a Choice – Minirth

What’s the weather like: Going Native

You fear: The Distant Hours – Morton

Thought for the day: Don’t Die By Your Own Hands – Holmes

How I would like to die: Surprised by Joy – Lewis

My soul’s present condition: The Evolution of Jane – Cathleen Schine

Permalink Leave a Comment

Book Lists, Book Lists…

June 28, 2013 at 5:01 am (Reviews) (, , , , , )

And this particular one from Australia…

Apparently, every year Australia puts out a list of 101 best books of all time from information gathered from the people.  (Great article here that I refuse to plagiarize.)  I adore lists, especially book lists, so of course when I found this (via Kate Morton’s facebook page), I just couldn’t leave it alone.  I must peruse it, check things off of it, make notes, and comment on it – of course.  So blogosphere and bibliophiles: every ten books on the list there will be a break for my thoughts.

Dymocks 101 best books list

1. The Hunger Games trilogy  by  Suzanne Collins
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. The Harry Potter series by  J.K. Rowling
4. The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
7. Jane Eyre by  Charlotte Brontë
8. The Help by  Kathryn Stockett
9. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
10. The Lord of the Rings (Books 1-3) by  J.R.R. Tolkien

For starters, favorites and all time bests don’t necessarily mean the same thing.  The Hunger Games is brilliant, and I think it shall stand the test of time and always be amazing.  But best series ever? No.  Top hundred – absolutely – best ever? I think the public’s opinions will change in a few years when a new fad tops the charts.  I have yet to read The Help.  Clearly I am missing out on something truly amazing and shall add it to my TBR pile as soon as possible.  I hate fads, but I love a good book and I’ve yet to hear anything negative about The Help.  As for the Inheritance Cycle… I never finished it.  After I read Eragon, I could not erase the thought that it felt like Star Wars with dragons.  I love Star Wars, I love dragons, but I have not been in the mood for it and frankly, it just didn’t rock my world.  Everything else on the this portion of the list I have no qualms with and I will whole heartedly support.
11.The Bronze Horseman  by  Paullina Simons
12. The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
14. Cloudstreet  by  Tim Winton
15. The Bible
16. A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin
17. Jasper Jones  by Craig Silvey
18. Life of Pi  by  Yann Martel
19. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
20. Atonement by Ian McEwan

I have never heard of The Bronze Horeman, but I am familiar with the author.  Twilight saga? Best 101 books of all time? Not even close.  Clearly, some things are here out of sheer popularity and intense marketing propaganda. Wuthering Heights is a novel of sheer and utter brilliance.  Have not read Cloudstreet? Have any of you? Please comment.  The Bible! So glad it made it. I have yet to read George R.R. Martin – I know, I know, for shame.  Who is Craig Silvey? What is Jasper Jones? Sounds enticing.  Life of Pi, good… Kite Runner, I’ll accept.  Atonement makes my heart SING.
21. The Happiest Refugee by  Anh Do
22. Persuasion by  Jane Austen
23. The Pillars of the Earth by  Ken Follett
24. Red Dog by Louis de Bernières
25. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
26. The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
27. Breath by Tim Winton
28. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
29. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
30. Birdsong by  Sebastian Faulks

And now I am starting feel inadequate as a reader.  I have only read four out of these ten books! Persuasion is my all time favorite Austen.  The Power of One I thoroughly enjoyed.  1984 a forever stroke-of-genius classic. And Red Dog, I vaguely recall.  Pillars of the Earth, The Eyre Affair, and Birdsong are all waiting my attention on my book shelf, and I have not read, heard of, or purchased the others.  I work with bookstores, I used to work IN a bookstore.  This is regrettable, I feel out of touch.
31. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
32. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
33. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
34. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
35. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
36. The Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel
37. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
38. Remembering Babylon by  David Malouf
39. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
40. The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris

The Great Gatsby will always remain marvelous, every time I read it.  There’s even a post on this blog about that very fact.  Anna Karenina is utterly awful, I hate that woman, and Tolstoy the dear man made me miserable by writing her with his beautiful words.  Could not get into Earth’s Children, and no, I did not name my daughter after the lead character.  Sookie is amusing, but shouldn’t be on the list.  And the rest are loitering about in my library desperately seeking to be the next on my TBR  pile, but Wolf Hall is the most likely to make there this year or next.  Shhhh… don’t tell the others, I wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings.
41. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
42. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
43. Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon
44. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
45. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
46. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
47. The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien
48. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
49. The Forgotten Garden by  Kate Morton
50. The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

I haven’t read 41-46.  The Hobbit, of course, is marvelous.  The Catcher in the Rye is awful, but I won’t fight it anymore, I have given up.  It has become a classic, and so it shall be.  I shall grunt and be mildly bitter about it until I am 85 though.

The Forgotten Garden is a work of genius.  Morton’s best work, though all her work is wonderful.  (I love Kate Morton so much, the sentences regarding her work get their own lines.)

Never heard of The Broken Shore, but the title sounds lovely, and so does the name Peter Temple.
51. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
52. Marley and Me by John Grogan
53. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré
54. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
55. A Simpler Time by Peter FitzSimons
56. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
57. A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute
58. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
59. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
60. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

I have read exactly two of these books.  My goodness, that’s even worse than the last ‘shameful’ I gave myself.  I loathed Running with Scissors.  Hitchhikers shall always amuse me.
61. The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman
62. Dirt Music by Tim Winton
63. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
64. Room by Emma Donoghue
65. The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester
66. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
67. My Booky Wook by Russell Brand
68. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
69. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
70. The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

This Tim Winton fellow is frequent, and still unfamiliar to my ears.  Tried Kafka on the Shore, but will try again later.  I wasn’t in the mood. North and South IS on my TBR pile.  Ender’s Game was delightful, but I didn’t finish the series.  I ADORE Simon Winchester and must find this title, it is one I do not own, nor have read.
71. One Day by David Nicholls
72. Bereft by Chris Womersley
73. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
74. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
75. Magician by Raymond E. Feist
76. Salvation Creek by Susan Duncan
77. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
78. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
79. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
80. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Finally! Dickens makes a proper appearance.  Why did he not arrive sooner? He should have been near the top.  Nicholas Nickelby is what I would have chosen.  The Alchemist is good, but a bit over rated.  And the rest have yet to grace my brain with their presence.
81. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
82. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
83. Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
84. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
85. Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves by Matthew Reilly
86. Mawson by Peter FitzSimons
87. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
88. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
89. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
90. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

I have read Water for Elephants, good but not a top 101 book, and the Poisonwood Bible.  I protest Barbara Kingsolver being this low on the list.  Poisonwood Bible is easily a top 25 piece, for sure.
91. The Shifting Fog (aka The House at Riverton) by Kate Morton
92. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
93. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
94. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
95. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
96. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
97. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
98. Bossypants by Tina Fey
99. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
100. The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
101. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Again, I absolutely adore Kate Morton, she is marvelous. Geraldine Brooks is also quite grand, but I’ve yet to read this one.  Tuesdays with Morrie, enjoyable, but not a top 101.  The Lovely Bones was pretty wonderful, but though it is a 4 to 5 out of 5 star book, it doesn’t quite fit here to me.  Although I might have put Sebold’s memoir Lucky – if nonfiction were allowed – on the list.  I really do need to read a Sedaris, all his titles make me laugh.

And there you have it… I have completely dissected a wonderful list and probably made it entirely less interesting.  But, it does help me sort out a few titles that have been gathering dust for some time and give me an idea of what to tackle sooner rather than later.  Perhaps it may do the same for some of you.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Secret of Lost Things – A Review

March 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

secretoflostthingsTitle: The Secret of Lost Things

Author: Sheridan Hay

Publisher: Doubleday

Genre: Fiction

Length: 354 pages

I have a shelf in my house dedicated to what I’d like to call “bookish books.”  On this shelf are the likes of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind and first edition copies of Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness and Patience and Fortitude.  On this unit Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, has an entire shelf dedicated only to him.  Everything Paul Collins, author of Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books, resides here.  This is the corner of my house I go to when I need inspiration, to write, to read, to research and exist in the world I have built for myself.  Of course, when I purchased Sheridan Hay’s The Secret of Lost Things, this corner of my house is precisely what I was thinking of, knowing one day this title would fill a void in my academic and readerly drive.

DSC02817The Secret of Lost Things is a book written in the spirit of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, filled with dark library corners, clues in letters, and missing manuscripts.  The difference is, most books of this nature romanticize secrets, portraying the keeping of them as a means to grow closer to others.  Hay, on the other hand, presents a scenario closer to the truth: when all is said and done, these secrets cause heartbreak and drive people apart.

I find the character of Rosemary endearing.  Instead of being a master secret keeper, like many heroines thrown in the this kind of novel, she is awful at it.  Keeping a secret is her kryptonite, but not because she’s a chatty Cathy, just because it is not in her nature to be deceptive or to omit information from people she calls friends.  It’s a refreshing take on an often visited theme.


” ‘Reality is as thin as paper, girl,’ said Pearl, shaking her head. ‘I thought that was one thing you did know, what with an imagination like yours – as thin as paper, and as easily torn.’ ” – pg. 137 of The Secret of Lost Things

I love reading these kinds of books because they always give me lists of things to tackle, information to seek out, as well as reminders of things I have already enjoyed.  In this title alone, I am reminded of The Book of Imaginary Beings.  I found mention of this title nostalgic, as it is one of Rosemary’s early purchases from the new bookstore where she works; likewise, I purchased and read this book the first year I worked for Half Price Books.  It was a book I carried to lunch breaks at the lingerie store where I was still picking up shifts until I had the heart to break up with the boutique altogether.

After reading this novel I am also inspired to tackle more Melville titles.  I have read Moby Dick twice now, but I have Typee, Omoo, and Mardi on the shelf, as well as a biography I have passed over far too many times to read other biographies first.  It is virtually impossible to read Hay’s Secret of Lost Things and not want to immediately dive into a Melville binge.  If you doubt me, I dare you to try.  Come talk to me when you’re done reading.

Exchanges like these are what really do it for me:

“We’re looking for something that’s lost,” he said. “A book that was lost.”

“Well, if it’s lost, and people don’t know it’s lost, what am I supposed to notice?”

“Here, read this book of letters.  Just read and tell me when you find something interesting.  It’s called research.  The idea is that you don’t know what you’ll find until you find it,” he added irritated.

OvidAt one point, the character Pearl gives Rosemary a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, a title that repeatedly haunts me in everything I read.  Seriously, will every author I love mention this title in every book that moves me until the end of time? I think so.  I have a beautiful hardback waiting for me on my coffee table.  It has been there for months.  It will be there for months still, but I am one step closer to diving in than I was before I read Hay.

So yes, Sheridan Hay’s book is appropriately dubbed one of my bookish books.  I have loved it, it shall join it’s literary cousins on my shelf.  One day I will take the time to read it again; it is that good.  In the mean time, I have research projects to tackle.

Aside from it’s bookish-ness, The Secret of Lost Things is exceptionally well written.  I don’t read the backs of books before I read them.  That’s especially rewarding when reading books like this where the sensation of experiencing a story the way you do a boat ride occurs… on waves of unexpected tales in motion with the lulls of the story you thought you would get.  It’s beautiful and pleasant and especially appropriate in a novel where the author of Moby Dick stands in the forefront.  What is equally lovely is that I had this sensation of being on a ship a mere ten pages before the narrator expresses the same sentiment about the setting of the bookshop.

What Rosemary likes about the Arcade is the same thing I first remember liking about Half Price Books when I was hired in 2007.  On page 139 Rosemary says, “Well, the Arcade is like the ship to me. You know, people from everywhere, on a great adventure.”  When I think of the Arcade, I imagine it to look and feel more like Good Books in the Woods of The Woodlands or The Recycled Bookstore in Denton than my Half Price Books location, but the sentiment is the same.

Note: People who enjoyed Kate Morton‘s The Forgotten Garden and Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale will probably also like this book.  They are bookish books that belong on that shelf, but have been squeezed into my general fiction section for lack of space.

Permalink 2 Comments

Next page »