Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Children's Books (New Releases)

Upon returning from our travels we were met with a sea of books for potential review. That's always fun and I'm not complaining! Not even one little bit! Instead of featuring each title individually however, I thought I would describe the books in a group setting and give you a heads up as to some new-to-us-all titles to make note of.

If your family has the "problem" of having multiple homes to visit and people to see over the holidays, then you might be interested in the story of The Very Stuffed Turkey, by Katharine Kenah.

Turkey has been invited to five different homes for Thanksgiving dinner. Not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, Turkey decides to go to all of them. The problem is that Turkey doesn't know how much food he can actually fit into his stomach! In the end, he discovers himself very stuffed both with food and very full of the wonderful feeling of knowing that all of his friends wanted to celebrate the holidays with him. (It is a blessing of a problem to have, really.)

Many thanks to Scholastic Books who sent a copy of the above title my direction in order to facilitate this review. No additional compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

We've read through some of Eve Bunting's Frog and Friends series of books in the past and so it was a fun surprise to find the newest title, Frog and Friends Celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve, waiting for us. The subtitle is rather self-explanatory. My favorite story in the book is the one in which Frog and his friends are celebrating Christmas. Instead of chopping down a tree and taking it into one of their homes, they select a tree in the forest and each of them bring decorations to put on it. My only head-scratching moment comes when they stand around the tree singing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm", enjoying the loveliness of the tree and the company of their friends. (Why they couldn't sing a Christmas carol is beyond me, but ok.....)

In the world of Bunting this isn't our most favorite of her titles but talk of holidays typically puts a smile on each of our faces so we'll give it a go. (Seriously though - what's wrong with Jingle Bells?)

Digger and Daisy Star in a Play, by Judy Young was more to my kids' liking. We've read this one multiple times since coming home. It is a frequently requested title.

We've never read any other Digger and Daisy books before but I feel certain that if we were to find some more, my kids would snatch them up. In this new story in a series of books about sibling dogs, Digger and Daisy are set to star in a school play. Digger has no lines to say and wishes that he did. Daisy has two words to say and vows she will remember them and so does not have to practice them. You might guess that, in the end, Daisy wishes she had taken Digger's advice and gone over her words a few times. Digger, not wanting the play to be ruined and caring for his sister, rushes to her aid and fills in the gap. The play is saved! Everyone is happy and well. It's a cute story and I'm content with it.

Both of the above titles were sent my direction from Sleeping Bear Press in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and all opinions are my own.

This next title really takes the prize. I confess that when I set eyes on If You're a Robot and You Know It I rolled my eyes a bit. Still, I dutifully gathered up the children to read the new review books to them and included this title in the mix. I sang the book (to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know it" of course) and the crowd literally went wild. My youngest boy, age 3, is particularly over-the-moon about this one.

If You're a Robot and You Know It is a book which you can manipulate. On each page you can slide or pull a tab which makes robots stop their feet, clap their very wide arms or shoot laser beams from their eyes. Bookworm4 laughed and laughed and laughed. This is a book you rather want to read (or sing?) endlessly for the sheer amusement it clearly brings to the kids. My four year old is also a big fan of this book and the older ones were curious also.

We all heartily recommend this book to you if you are looking for something fun and unique.

This book was sent to me by Scholastic Books in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and all opinions are my own.

Lastly we enjoyed About Habitats: Polar Regions, by Cathryn Sill. This is a non-fiction title which tells you about the, well, polar regions. It is a basic introduction to these frigid areas specifically directed at young readers. The book is beautifully illustrated by John Sill and between the text and the pictures, youngsters learn about caribou, walruses, migrating birds, fish and the need for these areas of the globe to be protected.

If you are looking for a simple introduction, look no further. This is a great title.

About Habitats: Polar Regions was sent to me by Peachtree Publishers in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and all opinions are - as always! - my own.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Katherine's Marriage, or The Marriage of Katherine, by D.E. Stevenson

I have fallen in love with the works of D.E. Stevenson, having first been introduced by Sarah from Library Hospital (which she is not running at present, but I still keep up with her). When our family went to England last month, one of my book missions (actually, my only one) was to find books by Stevenson that I have trouble finding here. I felt surely it would be easier to find them over there. I was partly right. I found a few titles at Barter Books. Then too, we took advantage of Amazon Prime UK and I snagged another title by that means. (Way cheaper than buying here. There may or may not have have been some gleeful chuckles involved.)

One of the titles I picked up was The Marriage of Katherine (or, Katherine's Marriage). This is the first of the Stevenson titles I picked to read upon returning home. Unfortunately I discovered in the first few pages that this is a sequel to Stevenson's Katherine Wentworth. I paused and wondered if I should try to find the first title but then grimaced over the price. I guess there just has to be a book or two to travel back to England for, yes? Ultimately I figured I might as well go ahead and read this one.

Now, you can be in love with anyone or anything and still understand and accept the fact that it has flaws. (At least, I fancy you can do that if you are being honest with yourself.) I have come to love Stevenson but I cannot say that I cared for this particular title. I wish to be careful about spoilers, but suffice it to say that The Marriage of Katherine picks up where I assume Katherine Wentworth left off - with her marriage to Alec MacLaren. Katherine and Alec are off on their unconventional honeymoon when this book opens. We find them in the Scottish Highlands, staying in a remote, mysterious and incredibly beautiful cave. (I know that sounds weird but you've just got to go with it.) The characters they meet there are intriguing and interesting. There seems to be a bit of a mystery introduced around a local couple and an antique jug but that story line ends up dying at the conclusion of the honeymoon. You might logically assume that the jug is going to pop up later in the book but you would be wrong. You will wonder about the jug for all time.

Katherine and Alec return back home to Katherine's three children (and now Alec's stepchildren). There is a matter of trying to live alongside Alec's cantankerous sister. There is actually quite a little feud going on with the sister and you wonder what kind of trouble she is ultimately going to make for Katherine and Alec. But have no fear! Ultimately, the sister has no relevance to the story. She just disappears, all handy-like. Lastly, about halfway through the book, Katherine's oldest boy suddenly enters into an inheritance, drawing to a halt all previous happenings. The remainder of the book deals with inheritance matters which raise a few issues, none of which turn into anything remarkable. At the conclusion, I really couldn't tell you what the book was ultimately about because I don't think that Stevenson knew either. If Stevenson doesn't know, how should I?

Am I glad to have purchased this book? Oh yes! As I say, I've come to really love Stevenson and I find her books delightfully distracting. For me, they are just plain fun, except for when they apparently aren't. I can't say how Katherine Wentworth plays out but I would say don't bother trying to locate the sequel.

Do note though that my opinion of this title differs from Goodreads Reviewers who are doling out 4 and 5 stars at a dizzying rate. I might be tempted to think they are somewhat delirious but perhaps we should accommodate for tastes? (HA!) Perhaps I had better say of this title, "Enjoy it if you can!"

Personally, I'd suggest checking out one of these titles instead (linked to my reviews):

In the meantime, there's a Powell's trip in my future and I might see if I can snatch a few more titles. Fingers crossed!!

Friday, October 02, 2015

C.S. Lewis's Grave

The other day I shared with you all our visit to The Kilns. After we finished up at the house, our family walked over to Holy Trinity Church in Oxford to see where C.S. Lewis was buried. We weren't sure exactly where the grave was so we walked around for a bit before a care taker kindly pointed it out. I don't think I've ever seen such a beautiful, peaceful, wonderful cemetery. I'd like to let the pictures and C.S. Lewis himself do whatever talking needs to be done.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
― C.S. Lewis

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
― C.S. Lewis

“God can't give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”
― C.S. Lewis

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
― C.S. Lewis

“[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”
― C.S. Lewis

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” C.S. Lewis

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Hound of the Baskervilles :: Reading to Know Bookclub (October)

Reading to Know - Book Club

We're very near the end of the year and on one of our last book club reads, can you believe it?! This month my friend Sky from Circus Caravan of My Thoughts on Things will be leading the discussion and she has selected The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for us to read. I always like the books she picks. She likes to go on adventures and so I'm looking forward to reading this title.

(I may have read it before. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I have. But I can't remember the end of the story so it will be freshly enjoyable! Ha!)

Here are Sky's thoughts on the book to kick us off and get us started:


Do you know those books, the ones that are time portals?

They replace your current situation, the smells, space and surroundings with something completely alien to your existence and yet you feel perfectly at home.

For me, Sherlock's world does that. He is one of those characters that I would recognize strolling down the street in my world. Like Gandalf, Samwise Gamgee, or Mr Tumnus, I would grab him by the arm, hit the nearest coffee shop and ply them with hot brew, scones and questions!

I first read the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes the winter of '96. And since I was in the cold mountains of the North I always associate Sherlock with a biting cold outside and a warm tea inside.

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock's stories, had problems getting his stories published at first and many of his early works were in serial magazines. Soon people realized how precious his writings were and would pay atrocious sums for the next Sherlock, resulting in him being one of the highest paid authors of his time.

Yet he despised his hero and in November 1891 he wrote to his mother: "I think of slaying Holmes... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things."

In December 1893 he did kill Sherlock, without any intention of bringing him back, but the public outcry was so disruptive and intrusive on his life that he had to bring his hero back, much to his own chagrin!

Eight years later The Hound of the Baskervilles was released to the public and when I read it, I can imagine the relief of the world as they held yet another story in their hands, as if their hero had come back to life. (It was set into the time before his written demise so he didn't truly come back to life until The Adventure of the Empty House that Doyle wrote a year later.)

Since then, Sherlock has seen not the grave nor gathered dust on an unread bookshelf. He has surpassed time, technology and space.

Unlike many Sherlock purists, I absolutely love the way he has been brought into this decade. In fact I think that the newer movies and shows are a better representation of Sherlock than the Basil Rathbone films, which I love as well. But we must remember that Sherlock was always doing strange and adventurous things to pursue his odd hobby of death and crime. He was a boxer, swordsman, pistol duelist, martial artist and forensic scientist.

As we enter into this past world of Victorian England and meet the strange people of Dartmoor, dabble our toes in the supernatural, and shiver and sip tea, I hope that you feel a small transport in time.

Enjoy the ride!


Let us know in the comment section if you'll be reading along with us this month!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Screwtape Letters :: RtK DISCUSSION post

This post marks the end of September's book club read of The Screwtape Letters and marks the beginning of the discussion. If you read along this month and wrote up a post detailing your thoughts, this is the post to leave a comment on, sharing the link to your post. If you don't have a blog and want to chime in on the conversation, please feel free to do so in the comment section below.

Barbara from Stray Thoughts selected this book for the group to read and wrote a blog post sharing her thoughts on this book. You can read her full review over at Stray Thoughts. Here is a portion to kick things off. Do note that if you have a link of your own to share, please do so here.

Reading to Know - Book Club

Without further ado - here are Barbara's thoughts:


Lewis thought it might be both “entertaining and useful” to write a series of letters from an older devil to a younger apprentice in his work of tempting and tripping up a new “patient.” The type of approach, presenting “a negative point of view to lift up the positive,” was unusual for Lewis, but he felt it “would give a fresh, even comical perspective on the subject and might attract readers who might not normally think about such things.” Why a comical approach for such a serious subject, one that ended up being very difficult and unpleasant for Lewis to write about?” Partly to “[lure] the ordinary reader into a serious self-knowledge under pretense of being a kind of joke”* (McCusker’s preface) and because “humor involves a sense of proportion and a power of seeing yourself from the outside” (Lewis’s 1961 preface).

In his preface to the original edition, Lewis notes that “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” In the same preface he “[advises the reader] to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle.” He writes in the preface to the 1961 edition that “Satan, the leader or dictator of the devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael,” an archangel, and “God has no opposite.”

At first it is a little hard to get used to the reverse thinking of the letters: Screwtape refers to God as “the Enemy,” to the devil as “Our Father Below,” to his position in the “Lowerachy” of hell, etc. It takes frequent mental adjustments throughout the book, and I can see at least partly how it could seem so oppressive for Lewis to try to express what a devil’s thoughts might be.

To read further CLICK HERE.


Thanks, Barbara, for hosting this month! Looking forward to hearing from others who read this title along with us this month OR at any time previously. Feel free to share your opinions with us!

Monday, September 28, 2015

What's On My Nightstand - October

What's On Your Nightstand

The last Nightstand post I put up happened before our trip to England. I wasn't sure what the schedule would look like or what I might manage to read. I've felt completely scattered in my reading since coming home and I'm hoping to get a bit back on schedule as this reading year is, amazingly, coming to a close.

Here's what I know I need to get to before the end of October:

First and foremost I will be reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle along with the book club readers. My friend Sky picked this one out for us this month and I'm looking forward to it.

Bonus: it's my month to pick a book for my local bookclub. I picked this same title. Two birds. One stone.

Reading to Know - Book Club

Late last year I started reading Atlas Shrugged and got about halfway through before setting it aside. It's a fascinating book, completely riviting and I remember exactly where I'm at in the book and everything that has happened. I keep meaning to get back to it and finish it and I'd really like to do that before the end of the year. As it's almost the end of the year, I'd better get to it!

After that, anything else I read will be for pure fun and fancy. Could be any of these -- all of which are scattered around the house just waiting for me.

Are you feeling the pressure of the end of the reading year yet? Anyone?

Looking forward to finding out your reading plans through the end of the year. Even if you aren't officially participating in Nightstand, let me know what you have on the docket. I'm curious!

Visiting The Kilns (The Home of C.S. Lewis)

On our recent trip to England, one of the things we did as a family was arrange to take a tour at The Kilns, C.S. Lewis's home in Oxford. Being that four of five of our children (catch that?) are named after either C.S. Lewis or his characters, it was a meaningful stop for all of us.

Tours must be arranged in advance of your arrival to England as the Kilns is still a place of residence for scholars in and visiting the community. We were so grateful to be given an appointment to come and see his home when in country.

You can bet that I took pictures to share with my fellow Lewis fans!

The home was originally purchased by Lewis, his brother Warnie, Mrs. Moore and her daughter, Maureen. They all contributed financially to the purchase and they all lived there together.

There is, of course, some speculation as to the nature of Mrs. Moore's relationship to or with Lewis. No one can say with any certainty whether or not there was a romantic attachment of any sort between them. Some speculate that there was, especially based on the fact that Mrs. Moore's bedroom was located right next to Lewis'. What I did not know though was that the door between the bedrooms was kept locked and, eventually, Lewis lost the key.

See the staircase outside the house in the above picture? That's the outside staircase that Lewis had put in to give him his own private entrance and exit to his bedroom. When Mrs. Moore was moved out of the house (in the 1930's) her bedroom became Lewis's study. As Lewis had lost the key, he would go down the staircase outside the house, walk in through the front door, go up the inside staircase and into his study to work. When he married Joy Davidman she became annoyed at his habits of walking outside to go inside when all he had to do was open the door between their bedroom and his study. She asked him why he did it. He explained, "I lost the key." She had a locksmith at the house that same afternoon.

When we entered inside the house for our appointed tour, we were taken into Lewis's library/study along with the other tour guests. Introductions were made and we listened to a great little talk on the life of Lewis from our guide, who is a Lewis's scholar and affectionado. He was quite well up on Lewis and his life, happily explained the history of the house to us, and generally made us to feel welcome.

The view from this window has changed since Lewis's time. The C.S. Lewis foundation owns the land which the house stands on, (more or less), and it is set in what is now a quiet but packed neighborhood of homes. However, the pond that Lewis loved has been preserved and is situated next to The Kilns. You can walk through a Community Nature Reserve around the pond and imagine things as they might used to have been as best you can.

Below is a picture of said pond. This picture taken from a spot near to an old stone bench that Lewis built. He and Tolkien used to come down to the pond, sit on the bench, and talk. (I didn't know that when I was standing next to the bench, hence there is no picture of it. Sigh.)

To get back to the view from the window though, apparently there were a series of little ponds scattered about on the land in Lewis' time. These little ponds are thought to be the inspiration for the pools of water in The Magician's Nephew.

From the library we were taken into the dining room where Joy and Jack (as he was generally called) used to play Scrabble with each other. They were only limited in words as to any dictionary in the entire house, in any language. Apparently they had some very spirited games between them and it can well be imagined that Lewis liked a mind that could challenge his own.

Warnie's typewriter is displayed in the dining room as well. Lewis preferred not to use a type writer but wrote all of his manuscripts out completely by hand. Because - wow.

Next we came into the kitchen which I have to note contained a picture of Lewis's gardener, the inspiration for the character of Puddleglum. The kitchen, like the rest of the house, was a labor of love to restore to its "original look" during the time when Lewis lived there. Apparently the floor had been covered up with tile or linoleum or cement (I forget! Several layers of something!) and Douglas Gresham kept insisting there was red tile beneath. Many men working many hours worked to uncover it and restore the kitchen to proper order.

It should here be noted that none of the furniture in the home is original to Lewis. After his death, Warnie lived at the house until the 1970's. Upon Warnie's death, the house passed to Maureen Moore (who was married by then). Maureen sold the house which became someone else's private residence until some Lewis fans from America began searching for his house, found it, and purchased it. Over a period of time, the home was restored by Americans who would come over and "vacation with a purpose" - taking turns applying their various skills to restore the house. (How 'bout them Americans, eh? Heh.)

Douglas Gresham's bedroom, right off the kitchen:

After visiting half of the downstairs area, we were taken upstairs and straight into Lewis's study. Old and original Narnia manuscripts were found in the attic during the restoration process and so it is believed that he very well could have penned Narnia from this room.

And yes. It did give me chills. Happy ones.

Here is my son walking down the stairs after visiting the study. Note the narrow stairs. It's not a huge surprise to imagine that Lewis ran out of bookshelves to keep his books on when living in this house. There is just never enough room for good books! Wouldn't you all agree?

So what did Lewis do with his excess books? He stacked them all along both sides of this staircase! NOW imagine navigating these stairs!

Lastly, we were taken to see the room where Lewis died. It also served as the music room when Maureen lived in the home.

I suppose I could have felt a little sad standing there and I must confess a smidgen of sadness. However, when you think of the lasting impact this one man had as a result of faith in Christ and a willingness to use his gifts for the glory of God it's hard to feel sad. Mostly I stood in the room feeling celebratory.

Goodbye rooms are hard. But I can't help but think about the 'hello' which is coming.

I wasn't sure what entirely to expect in going to The Kilns but I found it the most memorable and meaningful stop on our trip to England. It was worth every minute we spent there.

Next July I'll host the seventh annual Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge here at Reading to Know. Understanding more of Lewis makes me excited to re-engage with Narnia yet again. These stories continue to speak of God and man to me in ways that no other works of fiction have ever managed to do. I'm so honored to have been able to visit his home and so grateful for the kind and generous people who continue to make tours such as these a possibility! Thank you!

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

Later this week I'll "take you" to the grave site where Lewis is buried which is an incredible place in its own right.

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