Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Bookish Questions

You might notice greater gaps of silence around here but do not fret. I'll come back and haunt this blog yet! Lastly life has just been swamped and I haven't been near a computer (for the purposes of blogging) in a bit. I have a few reviews to catch up on though so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Barbara at Stray Thoughts participated in a blogger meme on the topics and books and reading. At the conclusion of her post she came up with a series of ten questions to ask other bloggers and invited me to answer. Here's my post!

1. Do you remember the first book you read or really liked?

Yes, I do. The Mandie series by Lois Gladys Leppard. My best friend and I were rather obsessed with those books. I still remember running into our local Christian bookstore and racing to the rack where the Mandie books were to see if there was a new one. When my friend and I would hang out, we'd collect our Mandie books and spread them out on the ground just to admire them. (Obsessive much?) The next series I absolutely loved were the Trixie Belden books.

2. How did your love for reading come about (grew up in a reading family, a certain book captivated you, etc.)?

I grew up in a reading family. My mom used to take my brother and I to the library weekly and we'd haul home the maximum limit (per person) each time. She created a little reading area in the corner of one of our living areas for us to curl up and read in.

3. What is your favorite genre to read?

Oh, now that's a hard question. Too bad "a little bit of everything" isn't a valid genre. I really enjoy reading non-fiction but I suppose whenever I think about settling down with a book strictly for the purposes of enjoyment, I go for fiction.

4. What genre do you avoid reading?

Christian fiction. I hardly feel this needs an explanation but still, it does. I just think that the majority of Christian authors aren't very skilled writers. I find their stories jarring, unbelievable, overly fluffy in the romance department, and they usually contain a hokey-to-just-plain-desperate pitch for including the Gospel message "for good measure." I hold to this idea:

I'm interested in good craftsmanship also.

5. What is your favorite movie based on a book?

Anne of Green Gables starring Meagan Follows . . . the only on screen Anne for me!

6. What’s your least favorite movie based on a book?

Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story which, speaking accurately, is not based on the book at all and therefore simply infuriating. ;)

7. What is your favorite time and place to read?

Our kids have a regular quiet time each afternoon and that is usually the time I find some moments to read.

8. Are you in any “real life” book clubs or discussion groups?

Yes. The ladies at my church have a book club together and I participate in that.

9. How many bookcases do you have?

Interesting question. Hmm. 11.

10. What is a favorite quote about books or from a book?

I think my all-time favorite quote from a book is from The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis:

I hope that when I die, it will be said of me that I dared. I also hope that my children will learn to dive into the unknown and follow the will of God for their lives with their whole hearts. So many people are scared to step out of their comfort zones and take a dare that has the potential to change their lives. This quote from The Horse and His Boy resonates me with deeply.

And now at this point I'm encouraged if I like to come up with another series of questions and ask them of some of you. I like Barbara's questions though. If you feel like answering them, feel free to do so in the comment section below or create your own blog post and share it with me.

Meanwhile, here's a few things I found on Pinterest which made me smile for one reason or another:

Have a great day!

Monday, February 01, 2016

Mr. Goat's Valentine, by Eve Bunting

Mr. Goat's Valentine arrived in the mail (quite by surprise) one fine school day. It arrived just in time for Bookworm2 to do a little reading practice and, as he expressed the most interest in reading this book, I had him read it to me! (That wasn't quite what he was expecting, but what are mothers for? Heh.) I noted that this title was written by Eve Bunting but beyond that, I didn't peruse. It wasn't until the end of the story that I discovered just how perfect it was that my bookworm read it to me instead of the other way around.

Mr. Goat's Valentine tells us of Mr. Goat who realizes that Valentine's Day has come. He decides he wants to go out and and show his "first love how much she means" to him. This book details his adventures in selecting the finest Valentine treats that a goat could want (rotten eggs anyone?). The conclusion of the book brings us straight to his first love's front door. Who might it be? Why, his mother of course! Cue the "awww!"

I think this story is adorable but then I'm rather biased towards stories about little boys who grow up and remember to show their mothers how much they love them. Eve Bunting is a noted story teller and she doesn't fail to deliver a cute, impacting little tale.  The only drawback from this book - in my opinion - were the illustrations, done by Kevin Zimmer. He's just not my style (even though I feel bad in saying so). I'm having a hard time explaining why, exactly I don't like them, except for they feel "cheap" somehow. (I know, I know. That sounds terribly rude.) The lines are too simple, the colors too bold and it's just too . . . simple? I love artwork that is more detailed and realistic and Zimmer doesn't give that. Some people won't be bothered by his illustrations in the least but I thought the story would have been better complimented with more "cute and cuddly" instead of the cartoon-y feel they give off. Again, this is my opinion and others will no doubt differ and we shall all be glad. We each have our preferences. Zimmer didn't suit me but Bunting did and the story is adorable, no matter.

If you're looking for a fun new read this Valentine's season, you might want to look this title up!

Many thanks to Sleeping Bear Press who kindly sent a copy of this book my direction in order to facilitate a review. I received no additional compensation and truly, if you don't believe that all opinions expressed above are my very own then you don't know me very well, do you?

Friday, January 29, 2016

L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge CONCLUSION (2016)

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

Sigh. The end of January has come and with it the conclusion of this year's Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge. Now is the time to share about the books you read by Montgomery (or about her) this past month. I hope you all have enjoyed yourselves during this challenge. I always love it and enjoying the "excuse" to focus on one of my favorite authors for an entire reading month.

I managed to get through three books this month. I started re-reading the Anne series during 2015 and was hoping to conclude it again in January. That didn't happen but progress was made all of the same. Here are links to my thoughts and reviews:

Meanwhile, the kids and I made it through The Golden Road which I reviewed yesterday.

Also, there's a bit of a contest to wrap up. Earlier in the month I offered to give away a copy of The Story Girl to one of you. I haven't forgotten! The winner of that contest (as selected by is Krista! Congratulations!

Now it's your turn. If you've written up a blog post sharing what you read this month, please link to it in the comment section below. I look forward to seeing what you dabbled in! Then, mark your calendars for next January when I'll be back to host the 8th annual L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge! (But don't let the calendar stop you from reading Montgomery in the meantime, if you really want to . . . )

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Golden Road, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I love January, in part because it gives me carte blanche permission to read all of the works of Lucy Maud Montgomery that I please. This is not to say that I do not read her at any point during the remainder of the year (because I do) but the Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge offers permission to be especially indulgent.

Last year was my first year to include all of my children in this reading challenge. I started them off with The Story Girl which they absolutely loved. We also began watching Season 1 of the Road to Avonlea series. This year we read The Golden Road, sequel to The Story Girl, and we made it into the second season of Avonlea. I was a little afraid that The Golden Road (available for free on Kindle, by the way) would be a bit over their heads because it has more poetical descriptions of the landscape than I recall being include in The Story Girl. In order to keep and maintain their attention, I skimmed past long descriptions and tried to keep to the point of the story.

The Golden Road picks up where The Story Girl left off. With this book we are back in the company of the King cousins who have grown up just a smidge, but not so much as to eliminate childhood antics and behaviors altogether. The kids decide to start up their own newspaper and report on the goings on within their own family and also the Avonlea community. They also try to create and live by some New Year's resolutions which is highly amusing. The Story Girl (aka Sara Stanley) throws in a tale or two and the book is one collection of happy memories of a childhood gone by. My kids thoroughly enjoyed it, frequently asking for "just one more chapter!" to be read. It helped, I think, that we were watching Road to Avonlea at the same time as the characters are more fixed in their minds and they can picture the way things are being described just a little easier. I wish to note that my kids are 3, 5, 6 and 9 and they all sat still through this reading. Each of them, excepting the three year old, laughed aloud at least once during the book, showing that they were following along and enjoying themselves.

Perhaps the most memorable part of this book for me was the inclusion of the story of "The Yankee Storm" as told by Sara Stanley. Sara tells the story of a fleet of American vessels who were fishing off the coast of PEI. A storm arose which lasted for two days, during which time many vessels and lives were lost. Bodies of American seamen floated up on the shore, horrifying P.E. Islanders who worked hard to bury the dead. Montgomery places this location of this story near her Markdale Harbor. The thing I loved about the inclusion of this tale was that it is true! There was a nasty storm on the Gulf of St. Lawrence off the coast of Prince Edward Island in 1851 which caused damage and destruction to upwards of one hundred ships. Over one hundred bodies were washed up on the shore and had to be tended to by the Islanders. You can read some of the news reports about the storm here.

I had never heard of this storm before Jonathan's and my visit to the Island last year. We were driving around the Island, just exploring, when we passed a picturesque church. We doubled back and went to see it and the graveyard which surrounded it. The church is situated right along the coastline and it is closed now except in the summertime when tourists are present. As I approached the church I saw an erected monument that read as follows:

I meandered through the graveyard, reading the headstones and came across this one which is located right on the edge of the yard and next to the tree line:

I was so excited in reading The Golden Road to "stumble upon" a story, told by an Islander, referencing a bit of history that I had only recently become acquainted with myself. It's always really fun when you are reading along in a story and can suddenly picture in your minds eye exactly where the story is located. "Markdale Harbor" suddenly means a great deal more to me than it did previously! Here's a picture of the church where some of the bodies of the Americans were buried:

Here are some additional pictures from our drive in that same area:

Lovely, isn't it?

I confess that reading The Golden Road filled me with a desire to go back again -- and to take the children with us! They should see, touch, taste and experience the Prince Edward Island for themselves! For now though, we enjoyed this book and we're enjoying Road to Avonlea and that'll have to do for now. But someday - !

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What's On Your Nightstand - Jan/Feb

I can't keep missing this!!

What's On Your Nightstand

I wasn't prepared for What's on Your Nightstand popping up today but I'm going to dive on in just the same. This past week I've felt a little disorganized in the reading department and I need to set some order up for myself in the coming month or I'm afraid I won't make it very far!

For the month of January, of course, I've been trying to read as many Lucy Maud Montgomery titles as possible in connection with the Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge which I host here every year.

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

So far I've read:

Currently I'm reading Nomad: From Islam to America but I can't say I'm enjoying it all that much.

It's somewhere near the height of depressing as a read and I'm undecided on whether or not to finish it.

As for what I plan on and hope to read during the month of February . . .

The kids and I plan to read The Long Winter in conjunction with Barbara's Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge which she hosts each year in February.

For my own part, I would like to read at least these three titles:

The Magic of Ordinary Days, by Ann Howard Creel.

This is my in-town book club's selection for the month of February and I'm greatly looking forward to it! It's been talked up nicely.

Secondly, I'd like to re-read Hinds' Feet on High Places because it's been far too long and I've forgotten enough of it that it's time for a visit.

Lastly (for purposes of this post) I'd like to re-read Entwined, by Heather Dixon.

Reason? I was reading the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses to my daughter and it reminded me that I have Dixon's book on my shelf. I loved it when I first read it several years back and I wanted to read it again. It's just plain fun! Besides, I'm feeling in the mood for a fairytale (or a retelling, as it were).

So that's whats on my nightstand for the month of February. What's on yours?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Rainbow Valley, by L.M. Montgomery

Montgomery makes for such pleasant reading, generally speaking. Most of the time!

This past week has been a little stressful with a To Do list that feels a mile and a half long. It's been a fight, of sorts, to keep at least a portion of each day calm and quiet enough to afford for a little relaxing downtime with the family. I haven't had large chunks of time to read but when I have had time at all, I've picked up Rainbow Valley which is the seventh in Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series. Unlike the previous books, Anne makes merely a cameo appearance in Rainbow Valley; she is not the main character of this book.

In this title, we get to know a little bit more about Anne and Gilbert's children but we're chiefly spending our time with the neighboring manse kids, the Merediths. A new minister named Mr. Meredith has come to Glen St. Mary along with his four children. His wife is dead and he more or less is trying to raise the children on his own. However, he is a very absentminded sort, lost in his own world, and that mostly due to the pain caused by the loss of his wife. The Meredith children are "on their own" so to speak and get into constant scrapes which open their family up to ridicule and scorn in the community. The Blythe children, however, love the Meredith kids and together they form a band of kindred spirits. This book is a tale of childhood adventure and friendship. At the same time, it is also a story of loss and loneliness.

Interestingly, although Rainbow Valley is the seventh in the Anne series, it was published fifth in order. Here's list of the Anne books in order of their publication dates:

Anne of Green Gables (1908)
Anne of Avonlea (1909)
Anne of the Island (1915)
Anne's House of Dreams (1917)
Rainbow Valley (1919)
Rilla of Ingleside (1921)
Anne of Windy Poplars (1936)
Anne of Ingleside (1939)
The Blythes are Quoted (published in its entirety 2009)

(Looking at this list, I can see why Anne of Windy Poplars is not my favorite and why I thought Anne of Ingleside was a perfect picture of life and motherhood because, by 1939, Montgomery herself had lived it.)

Rainbow Valley isn't one of my favorite of Montgomery's novels but it is still Montgomery and therefore has pleasant elements to it that I enjoy. In this case though, my negative emotions overshadow the positive ones and so this title falls further down on my "Favorite Montgomery Reads" list. Primarily, I've never liked the fact that Mr. Meredith is so lost in his own thoughts that he ignored his children. While I understand that pain can be a blinding experience and grief affects different people in different ways, there is a charge that needs to be delivered to one suffering that they still have responsibilities to see to. They need to have a band of supporters surrounding them who help them stand up, stay up, and walk through the fire.

Another way of saying this is that a sufferer needs assistance to do what needs doing. They need instruction as to how to continue on in this world without their loved one in a way that does not neglect their duties. I believe it is reasonable to expect that they must carry on just as I believe it's reasonable and necessary that assistance will be required in order for this to happen. Asking someone who has just lost a loved one to proceed with life as normal is unnatural and unreasonable.  The chances are, they won't be able to do it. The problem is that admitting that you need help in the midst of suffering can be hard to impossible to do. The reasons for this are numerable but one is that it might simply not have occurred to them to realize that they need help. The brain is foggy when in pain.  Or, perhaps, the person feels so alone that they don't realize people are available and willing to help! This is also a possibility. Whatever the reason for lack of help, it's a bad one. Situations such as these should absolutely capture the heart of Christians because if we say we believe in God, we are not to reject or avoid His church. We are to be a part of the body of Christ. When one member suffers, all suffer with them and should surround that person with the care and help they need to see their problems and pains through. We are gifts to one another in this. We are to rise to the occasion and seek to bless and not avoid or ignore those in our community who are in need. We are called to do so, whether we feel comfortable with the job or not.

In this particular Montgomery story, we see a minister's family who are greatly in need of care and compassion from their community and what they are met with instead is criticism from afar. This is neither helpful nor right. Reading this book is a sermon, of sorts, to quit thinking about one's own likes and preferences but to reach out and sacrifice of yourself so that another might live life more fully. That's a hard thing to do and I well know it. But it's the right thing to do. Putting self aside and tending to another in need is simply hard work! But if not you, then who? It's a question worth asking.

As you can see, this book holds an element that just disturbs me - partly because I've lived out something like this and I have wounds. It's hard to recover from death and this book reminds me about times and situations that were full of pain and quite a bit of loneliness. I dislike the Meredith family's situation almost as much as I like and understand them. Perhaps we could say that this book cuts a little too close to home? While the antics of the Meredith and Blythe children are good fun in a Montgomery-esque sort of way, there is also something very real about their life situation which socks the gut and so it's hard to completely relax into this read. Mostly I'm glad to be done with it so that I might move along to Rilla of Ingleside.

I'm certainly not trying to discourage anyone away from Rainbow Valley. Not at all! It has its fun, bright spots and for some readers those bright spots will be the whole book! Personal experience just puts this particular story too close to home for me and so it's not my favorite. Still, I'm glad to have read it again. It's in the Anne line-up and I shall not avoid it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mercy Watson to the Rescue, by Kate DiCamillo

Ok, we are very behind on the band wagon on this one but I'm pretty sure this is a case of being better late than never. Last year the character of Mercy Watson turned 10 years old. I was invited to review this lovely series of books written by Kate DiCamillo. Having never read them before, and having a burgeoning reader in Bookworm2 (age 6 1/2), I thought we should probably give these a whirl. While Bookworm1 (age 9) is a voracious reader and quite advanced for his age, Bookworm2 is a little bit more reticent. He wants to read but it's harder for him to learn than it was his older brother. As you know, what works for one child doesn't always work for another and I'd been a bit desperate to find a set of chapter books which would make for more easy reading for my second born. People have suggested graphic novels but I'm personally adverse to them (because I'm a snob, ok?). If I can go on avoiding graphic novels, I will. I liked the looks of Mercy Watson though because the story is streamlined and complete without the flash and dash which I find distracting(-to-unappealing) in graphic novels. Yet still, there are plenty of full colored illustrations in the Mercy Watson books to give them that picture book feel and quality which provides a nice bridge between picture and chapter books.

The first two titles in the Mercy Watson books arrived and Bookworm2 and I sat down to give Mercy Watson to the Rescue a go. In case you are unfamiliar with this character you should know that Mercy Watson is a pig who is in love with buttered toast. Mercy is sort of oblivious to the goings on of the rest of the world. She lives for pleasure and the received love of her people. Mercy lives with Mr. and Mrs. Watson who considered Mercy to be their "baby." They pamper and spoil Mercy and fill her up with all the buttered toast that her little piggy heart could desire.

One night, the Watsons are all asleep in their bed on the second floor of their home, dreaming pleasant dreams. Suddenly, they are awoken by a loud crack which is the floor giving way. The bed becomes to crash through the floor and the ceiling below. None of the Watsons are sure what the noise was but the awakened Mercy heads towards the kitchen in search of toast. Misadventures lead to misadventures and we meet the elderly Lincoln sisters who live next door, as well as the town firemen. Ultimately, Mercy is credited with having saved the Watsons from their bed troubles and everyone enjoys a midnight snack of buttered toast. All's well that end's well. We finished up our read in high spirits.

Bookworm1 was as proud as punch to have read his first full chapter book completely by himself. I, as his mother, was probably more excited than he was. We both loved Mercy Watson to the Rescue, although perhaps for slightly different reasons. I loved it because the font size was large, the book is divided into chapters, there are wonderful illustrations throughout, and an actual story of merit was told. There were interesting characters and funny happenings which kept us wondering what was going to happen next. Bookworm2, who has been saying that he wants to read chapter books like his brother, was happy because he finally found a book that allowed him that privilege. Truly, I couldn't be more pleased with this series.

The day after we finished Mercy Watson to the Rescue we continued on with Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride. The charm and the fun continue we find the Watsons enjoying a quiet Saturday morning. Mr. Watson decides to head out for a drive in his pink convertible and Mercy is invited to go for a ride. By all appearances it sounds like it's going to be a calm and pleasant day but that's before Baby Lincoln, one of the elderly ladies who live next door to the Watson, is found hiding out in the backseat of the convertible. It seems as if she is looking for a little excitement in her life and excitement is just what all of the occupants of the vehicle end up finding. It's a cute story and very much in keeping with the first book in the series.

By the time we finished the second book I was completely sold on Mercy Watson. I ordered the third book for Bookworm2 to read and he polished that one off as well. We were sent an additional title or two in the series for review and I'll come back in a few weeks and tell you more about them. We read the first three straight through so quickly that I've held the last three titles back until Bookworm2's birthday which is coming up here shortly. He asked me if there were more Mercy Watson books and I was happy to say, "YES!" I just figured we should space out our books and so for a short time, the last three books in the series have been hiding out in my bedroom closet.

If you have a reluctant reader and you yourself are reluctant about the graphic novels being too hastily recommended to you, take heart! You do not have to go that route if you don't want to! Mercy is a perfect character to start any reader off with, but especially one who needs a little extra help launching from picture to chapter books. I love that Candlewick published these books with the look and feel of a chapter book. It has honestly been a true delight to see Bookworm2 take pride in the fact that he has a chapter book series that belong to him and that he can read. It does both my mother and reading heart good, I tell you what!

I've already stair stepped him over to another series now that he has some confidence in his ability to read harder words and longer stories. But we'll back track to Mercy who is now a very beloved pig in our household.

Many, many, many thanks to Candlewick Press for publishing Mercy Watson books and sending us a few titles to check out for review purposes. Extra special congratulations to Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick and, of course, the Porcine Wonder, on celebrating 10 years! A Belated Happy Birthday to Mercy!

Although I did receive a copy of the first two titles in order to facilitate a review, please rest assured that my opinions are 150% my very own. I received no additional compensation for this post.
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