Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Sunday Salon: November in Review

I am pretty sure that this has been the most pitiful reading month I've had in a couple of years. I can't believe it's possible—I feel as if I must have missed recording something!—but apparently I have only finished one book this month, Kate Morton's The House at Riverton (review here). I am, quite frankly, shocked and horrified. What in the world have I been doing?

I am nearly finished with The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. I'm fascinated by this book about a man with a traumatic brain injury, as my oldest brother sustained a TBI 6 years ago. Hopefully I'll have that finished and reviewed in a few days.

I really enjoyed being part of Children's Book Blog Tour for This Is the Feast by Diane Z. Shore. I participated in only two Sunday Salons: The Sunday Salon: October in Review and a discussion on British Lit or World Lit? Thanks for the great responses on the latter! Sunday Scribblings and Weekly Geeks got just one post each: Sunday Scribblings #137: Stranger and Weekly Geeks: Author Fun Facts.

And that is just about the extent of my contribution to the book review and writing world for the month of November. I think that in December I should spend less time trying to beat my husband on various word games on Facebook and more time reading!

How was your November reading? Book reviews and much more at The Sunday Salon. Join here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Book Review: The House at Riverton

This book (published April 2008) by Kate Morton consumed much of my November. Often when a book takes me so long to read, it's because the book drags on and on, yet I am determined to finish it. Not so with The House at Riverton. I loved Morton's debut novel. I thought about the characters often through the days (weeks) during which I read the well-sculpted and richly woven book. My problem was that I just couldn't stay awake for more than a few pages at a time, thus the 2-3 week reading period.

The novel begins with 98-year-old Grace, who had once been a servant for a prominent British family, the Ashburys. As a maid, Grace is able to observe the happenings in the home—especially among the three teenagers—without being noticed. She is privy to all sorts of information and secret goings-on. World War I tears the family apart, and Grace eventually becomes the lady's maid of the eldest daughter, Hannah. During these years, younger sister Emmeline grows wild and Hannah, who married for money and security, falls in love with a famous but intense poet.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks brought about by a modern-day filmmaker who seeks to make a documentary about Riverton. Grace is the only living remnant of the Riverton generation, and the filmmaker's inquiries open the floodgates to Grace's memories.

This novel has a similar feeling to Diana Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. There is an old family, a history of secrets, and that lovely ghostly feel. I definitely recommend this one; I only wish I'd been able to read it in larger chunks for a more cohesive experience.

Other reviews of The House at Riverton:
Caribousmom here
The Literate Housewife here
One More Chapter here
The Sleepy Reader here

If you've reviewed the book, leave your link in the comments!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Book Review: This Is the Feast, Day 3

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, one of the reasons that I liked Diane Shore's This Is the Feast so much is because the details in the book fit with the historical accounts that my children and I have read about the Mayflower. Whatever we are studying at home, we love to combine picture books with nonfiction accounts and chapter books. I think that it's tempting to give up picture books completely when one's children reach a certain age, often 6 or 7, and start delving solely into chapter books. It is exciting, after all, to leave behind Curious George and head into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

But I've found that my children still love picture books just as much at 11 as they did at 4. This makes sense, really. A novel that I read at 14 took on a completely different meaning at 22 and then reshaped itself into something else again at 40. Picture books are the same way: what they see at age five is at a completely different level than what they see at age 10. So this year we've been pulling the picture books off the shelf and reading them, and I'm happy to add This Is the Feast to our November reads.

Here are some other resources that we used when we studied the Pilgrims and the Mayflower journey last year. Read together with This Is the Feast, your kids can have a much broader perspective of this time period!
If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 (Ann McGovern)
American Adventures #1: The Mayflower Adventure (Colleen Reece)
Dear America: A Journey to the New World (The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple)
American Family Paper Dolls: Pilgrim Period (Tom Tierney)
Colonial Kids: An Activity Guide to Life in the New World (Laurie Carlson)—all kinds of great crafts and activities
And if you haven't read a picture book lately with your older elementary child, take a break from the chapter books and revisit some old friends!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Book Tour: This Is the Feast, Day 2

I mentioned yesterday how excited we were to receive Diane Shore's This Is the Feast in the mail as part of the Children's Book Blog Tour. Last year my younger children and I spent several weeks studying the events that led up to the voyage of the Mayflower and the voyage itself and the Pilgrims' first year in the New World. We did lots of hands-on activities, watched a couple of movies, and read lots of books.

A couple of the things I like the most about this combination of Shore's text and Megan Lloyd's illustrations are the attention to detail and the refrain of "Thanks be to God." The details fit well with the history we've read of this journey and subsequent year: the Pilgrims are throwing up on the Mayflower (my 7-year-old son loved this); there is "death and disease" that first year (we see a man sick in bed while the family goes on about him); the corn is multi-colored, not just your standard picture-book yellow. I love the details of the "three sisters" method of planting (corn, squash, and fish) and how Lloyd includes the squash vines climbing the corn stalks. And I love how the women scrape salt off a big block of salt into their food!

There is an emphasis in this book on the joy of survival that they Pilgrims must have felt after a year of struggle. In several places, the Pilgrims acknowledge the source of their strength: "Thanks be to God, our strength and our guide," or "Thanks be to God for the lives He has spared." This is the kind of book I want to be reading to my kids at Thanksgiving!

Below are several other bloggers taking part in the This Is the Feast Tour. I haven't had a chance to visit most of them, but Natasha at Maw Books does have a terrific interview with Diane Shore on her blog today.
the 160acrewoods
A Mom Speaks
All About Children’s Books
Becky’s Book Reviews
Cafe of Dreams
Dolce Bellezza
Homeschool Buzz
Looking Glass Reviews
Maggie Reads
Maw Books Blog
Never Jam Today
Our Big Earth
Quiverfull Family
Reading is My Superpower
SmallWorld Reads

Monday, November 17, 2008

Book Tour: This Is the Feast by Diane Z. Shore

I was thrilled to get Diane Z. Shore's newest picture book, This Is the Feast, in the mail to review last week as part of the Children's Book Blog Tour. First of all, it's gorgeous. It's one of those books that you want to crack open and read to the kids immediately. So I did.

Written for kids ages 4-8, This Is the Feast begins with the Mayflower sailing across the ocean and ends with the first Thanksgiving. My younger kids are nearly 8 and 11, but they still love picture books. I'll talk more tomorrow about details of the book, but I must say here that Megan Lloyd's illustrations are truly fabulous. The pairing of Shore's rhythmic story and Lloyd's rich pictures is perfect.

We have a whole shelf of Christmas books at our house, but we only have about 2 Thanksgiving-related books. I'm sheepish to say that one of them is Arthur's Thanksgiving! If I were starting out again with small children, I'd absolutely buy this book and bring it out at the beginning of each November. There's still plenty of time to order it before Thanksgiving, though! Click on the title to order from Or go to your local Barnes and Noble; I saw it featured there just a few days ago.

Tomorrow I'll go into more details about, well, the details in this book I like so much. Until then, if you'd like to read other reviews of The Feast, check out these other stops on the tour:
the 160acrewoods
A Mom Speaks
All About Children’s Books
Becky’s Book Reviews
Cafe of Dreams
Dolce Bellezza
Homeschool Buzz
Looking Glass Reviews
Maggie Reads
Maw Books Blog
Never Jam Today
Our Big Earth
Quiverfull Family
Reading is My Superpower
SmallWorld Reads

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sunday Scribblings #137: Stranger

I am a stranger in this place,
laid out in a perfect
grid like a thousand midwestern acres
or a New England town,
solid and square, boundary lines
unmoveable. If I could

just jump the fence,
scale the stone wall,
skate in circles around your careful
map. Figure eights.

I don't know the rules; my blades
have rusted with time and neglect.
I mix my metaphors yet again—
my tongue is twisted and inept.
I long for paper and pen,
the cool comfort of written wordplay.

(To see more takes on the prompt "Stranger," visit Sunday Scribblings.)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Sunday Salon: British Lit or World Lit?

The Sunday

I need help.

I'm pondering teaching a literature class next year for high-schoolers at our co-op. Initially I thought I'd teach British lit, but now I'm wondering if I really ought to teach World Lit. I could do a solid British lit program, but they'd be missing out on so much by limiting them to just British lit. (I've already taught American Lit.)

So, tell me: what works (literature or drama) would you deem essential for a high school Survey of British Lit course? And what works would you insist upon for a Survey of World Literature course? I have dozens of ideas running around in my head, but I'd love to hear some of yours.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Weekly Geeks: Author Fun Facts

I love this week's assignment for Weekly Geeks: fun facts about authors.
The directions:
1. Choose a writer you like.
2. Using resources such as Wikipedia, the author’s website, whatever you can find, make a list of interesting facts about the author.
3. Post your fun facts list in your blog, maybe with a photo of the writer, a collage of his or her books, whatever you want.
4. Sign the Mr Linky at Weekly Geeks with the url to your fun facts post.
5. As you run into (or deliberately seek out) other Weekly Geeks’ lists, add links to your post for authors you like or authors you think your readers are interested in.

Of course the dilemma is choosing the author. My first thoughts were Harper Lee and Flannery O'Connor, but I've decided instead to find out about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I read her Half of a Yellow Sun a month or so ago and thought it was amazing. Guatami Tripathy at Reading Room wrote a series of reviews of Adichie's short stories that definitely makes me want to read more.

So who is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? Here is her website. I learned there that Adichie was born in 1977 to Igbo parents in Nigeria. She came to the U.S. at age 19, graduated summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State, and received a master's degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins.

Her short stories and novels center on the struggles of the Igbo people and the struggles of Nigerian immigrants today in the U.S. and England. According to her website, "Although Adichie was born seven years after the war [Nigerian Civil War] ended, she states that she 'ha[s] always felt a deep horror for all the bestialities that took place and great pity for the injustices that occurred.'"

Her works include:
Novels: Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun
Play: For the Love of Biafra
Poetry: Decisions
And a long list of uncollected poems and short stories

I really liked this article about Adichie from the BBC News website. This is the kind of information that goes beyond the Wikipedia biography and adds depth to the facts:
For Ms. Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun is not some distant tale of the horrors of Nigeria's three-year Biagran civil war. Her grandfather died in a refugee camp during the war, a fact, she says, which still made her cry while she was writing the award-winning book.

No wonder it was such a heart-wrenching book. If you haven't read it, please do. I plan to check out Purple Hibiscus in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Sunday Salon: October in Review

What I Read:
The Great Gilly Hopkins (reviewed here)
Girl in Hyacinth Blue (reviewed here)
Tallgrass (reviewed here)
Shattered Dreams (reviewed here)
Run (reviewed here)

Favorite Book of the Month:
Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

Least Favorite:
Nothing was dreadful this month. Shattered Dreams did get on my nerves about two-thirds of the way through, so I'd have to pick this memoir of a polygamous marriage as my least favorite. Still, it was interesting.

Where I Played:
• Sunday Scribbling: Forbidden
• The Sunday Salon: Reading With Children, Part 2 and Autumn Books for Children
• Book Review Carnival
• Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books weekly
• Booking Through Thursday: Best and a Meme

Books Received via PaperbackSwap:
The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

Currently Reading:
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Up Next:
Hope's Boy by Andrew Bridge

How was your October reading? Book reviews and much more at The Sunday Salon. Join here.

Book Review: Run

I've had "more by Ann Patchett" scribbled on my hard copy TBR list for close to two years, ever since I read and enjoyed her novel Bel Canto (my brief review here). I've seen Run listed on a few book reviews lately and finally got my hands on it. Patchett is, foremost, an excellent writer. It is a pleasure to read a well-crafted novel that holds no awkward dialog or seeks to manipulate the reader's emotions. Patchett is much like Ian McEwan in this respect.

The novel centers on Bernard Doyle and his motherless boys, Sullivan, Tip and Teddy. Tip and Teddy, biological black brothers, were adopted into this white Irish family as infants and adored by their adoptive mother, Bernadette Doyle. When she dies before they even enter elementary school, Bernard dedicates himself to raising the boys. The novel itself takes place in a 24-hour period when the boys are in their early 20s and Sullivan, the prodigal son, is in his early 30s.

Through an accident in a snowstorm, Doyle and his boys suddenly find that they must redefine their world to accomodate new information about a stranger who saves Tip's life and her little girl. Are their lives really what they think they are? Who are they, really, and what does it mean to be a family?

I liked this novel. I can't say I loved it because something was missing; there was some unfinished business. I am left dangling with few nagging questions about the characters, their decisions, and the statue of Mary that looked like Bernadette. I feel like this is a novel that should turn into a series about the Doyle family. The characters are compelling enough that I'd read more about each one, but somehow they weren't completed in Run.

But my criticism of the novel is weak, really, because I would recommend it. Patchett's writing is so fabulous and the characters are likeable, interesting, and compelling. Perhaps what I really needed to do was think a little more while I was reading instead of racing through to the end.

Also reviewed at:
The Bluestocking Society

If you've reviewed Run on your blog, please leave your link in the comments!