Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great, Bob Shea

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great


Bob Shea

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Goat thinks Unicorn has it made until he finds out even Unicorn has his limitations.

Rating: ** (3-star scale)

Not a new premise at all, but one that even adults are continually learning. Don’t compare yourself to others; others have shortcomings too. We all complement each other. Even if you’re a goat. Even if you know a unicorn who eats glitter and makes it rain cupcakes. We’ve all been the goat, and we all forget we’re part unicorn.

A nice book, that although not original in plot, has some pretty fantastical artwork (and glitter).

Would you recommend this to a friend?

Books with a similar moral:
Exclamation Mark, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Tom Lichtenheld (Ill.)
Zorro Gets an Outfit, Carter Goodrich
The Day the Crayons Quit, Drew Daywalt, Oliver Jeffers (Ill.)
Clink, Kelly DiPucchio, Matthew Myers (Ill.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: REWIND (before I was a blogger)

This week’s topic: REWIND (choose a topic from the past)

I chose: Top Ten Books I Read Before I Was a Blogger

I’ll never be able to make a list of ten favorite books, but this list is close. These are some of the books I’ve read over the years that stick with me as being some of the best I’ve ever read.

Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
I have to re-read this book to see if it stands up, because its sequel ’Tis was a huge disappointment to me, but I remember Angela’s Ashes to be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it was one of the first memoirs I’d ever read.

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
The book that all college writers read in 1998. My boyfriend bought me a copy. He was going to be a great novelist. I was going to be a poet. If nothing else, I found Anne Lamott, whom I later met when I introduced her at a university event.

Breaking Clean, Judy Blunt
This is a hard heartbreaking book. It has a depressing The Glass Castle feel to it, and it’s brilliantly done. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the mental energy to tackle it again, but it will always stick with me as the definitive book on ranching.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert
Too many people dis this book. And the movie didn’t do it justice. I think it was one of the most well-written and honest memoirs I’ve read.

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland Indiana, Haven Kimmel
If you haven’t read this book, please do. It’s just…so…brilliant. Funny and warm and intelligent.

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen Craft Rubin
Gretchen Rubin and I are separated twins, I’m pretty sure. How can anyone approach happiness with a spreadsheet and a bibliography and become better for it? Brilliant. She (really) made me realize it’s okay to be who I am, to approach things the way that makes sense to me. I should probably reread this book yearly.

It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, Peter Walsh
THE book on decluttering. Just reading the title makes me want to clean out a closet. He’s a brilliant motivator.

Madame Curie, Eve Curie
I read this book in high school and fell in love. This may well be the first biography I’d ever read.

Mary Engelbreit: Home Sweet Home: A Journey through Mary’s Dream Home
As much as I love words, I know that I refuel with pictures. There’s something about Mary Engelbreit’s decorating style that appeals to me. My copy of this book is pretty well-worn.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
It took me decades and a lot of prompting from my brother to finally brave Jane Austen. I’m glad I read Pride and Prejudice first, because nothing else I’ve read compares.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Mud Season, Ellen Stimson

Mud Season: How One Woman’s Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity after Another


Ellen Stimson                        

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir: Projects & Adventures; Parenting & Families

Synopsis: Stimson and her family move to Vermont and open a country store.

Date finished: 2 February 2014     

Rating: ***

I’d decided sometime last year to stop buying books that were supposed to be funny, because they were really letting me down. Still, I defied my own edict and bought this one. Something about it said it would be a nice, fast, enjoyable-for-what-it-was read. And that’s exactly what it was.

Plus, it was actually funny in places. I’d liken the humor to Jen Lancaster’s—though with much less swearing.

The trouble with funny nonfiction books is that you never get to fully trust the person telling the story. There’s a disclaimer at the beginning in which Stimson admits not all of her story is true. I hate that. I really do. Write fiction if you want to, but don’t clutter up the nonfiction market with fictionalized nonfiction.

But, I was able to enjoy the story for what it was: a mostly true account of a chaotic family who moves from St. Louis to Vermont to run a country store (into the ground), raise some chickens and sheep (well, a sheep), and call 911 a lot. The narration jumps around in time a fair amount, and Stimson’s personality overpowers the story in places, but all in all it’s a fun story to break up the winter reading doldrums.

My favorite line, spoken of her dog: “Up with this, he would not put.” Had I been drinking milk, which I would not, it may have come out of my nose.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
For diversion only.

You might also enjoy:

about running a store:
My Korean Deli, Ben Ryder Howe

about living in small towns:
The Mighty Queens of Freeville, Amy Dickinson
Dewey, Vicki Myron
Coop, Mike Perry

about families relocating:
The Foremost Good Fortune, Susan Conley
French Kids Eat Everything, Karen Le Billon
Paris in Love, Eloisa James
Home is a Roof over a Pig, Aminta Arrington

about living closer to the earth:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver
The Dirty Life, Kristin Kimball
The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery
The Feast Nearby, Robin Mather

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Penny and Her Marble, Kevin Henkes

Penny and Her Marble


Kevin Henkes

Category: Children’s Easy Reader

Synopsis: Penny finds a marble in Mrs. Goodwin’s yard and decides to keep it. Until she suffers from guilt.

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

Kevin Henkes is a genius at knowing how children think, what they do, and why. He has a remarkable ability to create sensitive characters, whether it’s Lily in the uncooperative chair (or being disgusted by her baby brother) or Wemberly worrying or Penny developing a bellyache over having a marble that isn’t hers. As a sensitive kid myself, I sure could have used a book like this to tell me it’s okay to feel things more deeply.

Because really, how many kids would tie themselves in knots because they picked up something outside and thought it was so lovely they kept it? How many would put it back because they were sure it was the right thing to do? Not many, I’d say. We tend to raise kids out of that kind of sensitivity.

At any rate, I loved this book like I love all Henkes books. And I plan to search out Penny and Her Song and Penny and Her Doll.

P.S. This book was just awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award. Yay, Penny!

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
ANYthing else by Kevin Henkes (esp. if the main character is a mouse).

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (Why I'm a Reader)

This week’s topic: Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Reader

1. Because I love to learn new things.

2. Because I need to check out every day for awhile and refuel.

3. Because books challenge me to think deeper, learn wider, and be better.

4. Because I like to learn about people. What they do. What they think. How they live.

5. Because I like to learn about other cultures and religions.

6. Because reading helps me grow as a person and solidify my own beliefs.

7. Because reading offers entertainment.

8. Because I have an interest in an array of topics (and I’d rather read than ask questions).

9. Because I want to know what others know.

10. Because reading helps me make small talk.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pat and Dick, Will Swift

Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage


Will Swift

Category:  Biography; Politics & Washington, D.C.

Synopsis: Swift recounts the Nixon’s courtship and marriage.

Date finished: 14 February 2014

Rating: ***

Before reading this book, I knew Nixon only from history books, grainy television footage of his disastrous presidential debate with Kennedy, and the sound byte “I am not a crook.” The extent of my knowledge was, basically, “Nixon = Watergate.”

Although this book focused on the Nixon’s courtship and marriage, it necessarily included his years in Congress, his unsuccessful presidential bid, and his (nearly) two terms as president. Aside from the Watergate disgrace, I learned that Nixon had made great strides in normalizing relations with the Soviet Union and China. His work in international relations laid the brickwork to future diplomacy. In foreign policy, he was a visionary.

But of course, there was Watergate. You really can’t cut him any slack on that. He did what he did no matter what verbal gymnastics he performed or mental justification he employed to make it seem “no worse than most.” It would seem he never fully admitted his shameful actions, publically or privately. In his resignation speech, he gave his reason for resigning as a lack of political support in Congress to fight the allegations against him. There is a depth of denial there that is almost sinister. Tricky Dick, indeed.

But the book wasn’t really about Dick Nixon’s presidency; it’s about his marriage to his wife Pat. Their marriage was not complicated (though Swift would have us believe it), as their personalities were not complicated. They seemed to be capable of more resentment, denial, and spin than most political families. They seldom discussed things of great personal or political importance, finding avoidance more comfortable. They kept constant watch over how they were perceived by whom and what they could do to engineer support and favor. They molded their images for political gain to such an extent that I sometimes got the impression there was nothing whatsoever under the façade. They seemed downright pitiful.

The problem with this book is that Swift had only enough material for a good ten-page essay, but he stretched it into a full book. It wasn’t necessarily uninteresting (mostly because he also chronicled their political life), but there definitely wasn’t enough depth to their marriage to warrant a book.

I went in to this book giving President Nixon the full benefit of the doubt that he was a good person who made one bad mistake, but I came away thinking he would have done anything to win—win the presidency and win favor. And this, even when the evenhanded biography leaned ever-so-slightly toward Nixon’s favor.

In short, I think this book overreached. As a biography of a politician, it wasn’t bad. As a biography of a marriage, it fell short. Though well-written, it was not the “intimate portrait” that Swift promised.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Probably not.

You might also enjoy:
An American Life by Ronald Reagan
Decision Points by George W. Bush

I read this book for Nonfictionado's Presidents' Day Challenge.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Aimless Love, Billy Collins

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems


Billy Collins

Category: Poetry

Synopsis: New and selected poems by a former U.S. Poet Laureate.

Date finished: 27 January 2014

Rating: ****

You know how you sit down with a piece of chocolate cake, and after your first bite, you declare it the best thing you’ve ever tasted? So you eat a few more bites, and then a few more. And maybe you have a second slice. And then, suddenly, you just hit the wall? Too rich. Too overwhelmingly sweet. Too much.

Good poetry is like that. I hit overload and can’t process anymore. My sense-o-meter short-circuits.

Billy Collins is responsible for roughly 90% of my short-circuiting.

My goodness, this man can write poetry. His writing is so (seemingly) effortless, full of light and space. It’s focused; it doesn’t meander about like so many other poets (I shan’t name names). It’s deceptively simple. It’s infinitely quotable. It has a sense of humor. It’s playful. It’s generous. It’s never frivolous or morose or self-indulgent. This is poetry that holds its head up and doesn’t apologize for being poetry in a world of bad, bad prose.

But, there’s the chocolate cake syndrome. I really should learn to stop trying to polish off a whole book of poetry in a couple sittings.

Two excerpts to entice you:

from “Royal Aristocrat” (page 14):

Such deep silence on those nights—
just the sound of my typing
and a few stars singing a song their mother
sang when they were mere babies in the sky.


from “The Trouble with Poetry” (page 75):

How will it ever end? unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world

Billy Collins is one of the only poet laureate choices I’ve ever approved of. Read this book!

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, even a “poetry hater.”

You might also enjoy:
Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
The Hungry Ear edited by Kevin Young
…and anything else by Billy Collins

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Zorro Gets an Outfit, Carter Goodrich

Zorro Gets an Outfit


Carter Goodrich

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Zorro the dog gets a mortifying new outfit, but when a cool, fast dog shows up at the park with an outfit, too, Zorro gets over it.

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

Zorro and Mr. Bud are back! I LOVE these books. The illustrations are hilarious. There’s one in this book that shows three dogs running at you. A nose-eye view, if you will. Hysterical.

I suppose the point is that “it’s not what you wear but who you are,” and that point’s taken. Also, Mr. Bud is happy to come in third in the race if it means Zorro is happy again. But the book is so darn cute you kinda forget you’re being fed weensy little morals.

Highly entertaining. Highly recommended.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
You’ve got to read these Zorro books.

You might also enjoy:
Say Hello to Zorro!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Say Hello to Zorro!, Carter Goodrich

Say Hello to Zorro!


Carter Goodrich


Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Mr. Bud (a dog) is asked to make room in his life—and home—for a new dog, Zorro.

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

First, I have to say, the illustrations are awesome! They capture the quirkiness of beloved canine family members.

But it doesn’t end there. The story is perfect. It portrays the turf wars of an established family pet and a new family pet, each with his own personality and foibles.

This might be a good book, too, for little ones welcoming new siblings, especially since the only human is a woman (mom).

Too cute!

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Zorro Gets an Outfit

Monday, February 10, 2014

Westminster Dog Show Love

For the love of dogs...

"Show Dog" from my collection of antique dog photos
One of my favorite events of the year happens in February. No, not Valentine’s Day. And not Super Bowl Sunday. No, this is an event that breaks up the long, long northern winters with fun and excitement and a chance to smile til my face hurts. I’m talking about the Westminster Dog Show!

The 138th show begins airing* tonight from Madison Square Garden. This year the show comprises 3,200 dogs representing 187 breeds—more dogs than any show since 1900! I love, love, love the "canine pageantry," the brilliant announcing, and the commercials that make me cry. Every. Time. They. Run.**

I can’t decide which category is my favorite, probably Toys, Terriers, Non-sporting, or Hounds. I tend to root for the little dogs because they have such attitude, but I have a feeling this is a big-dog year. I grew up with an Irish Setter/Golden Lab mix, so a nice, big farm dog will always be my definition of “DOG.”

In honor of Westminster, I’ve created a list of dog books for you. It’s skewed heavily toward photography, because come February, I think everyone’s ready for a little visual relief—even if you’re not looking at snow piles up to your chin like we are here.

Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, John Grogan
Okay, so it’s a little bit manipulative and way bit too sad near the end, but what dog-love list can be complete without Marley?


Maddie on Things: A Super Serious Project about Dogs and Physics, Theron Humphrey
Wonderful photography of a well-traveled chill dog.


Dog Songs: Poems, Mary Oliver
Thirty-five wonderful poems spanning the decades of Oliver’s writing.


A Three Dog Life: A Memoir, Abigail Thomas 
Stunning memoir of loss and grief and life.


Dog Years: A Memoir, Mark Doty
Doty is a wonderful writer, and he really brings the dogs to life.


Say Hello to Zorro!, Carter Goodrich
Zorro Gets an Outfit, Carter Goodrich
Wonderfully fun picture books about Mr. Bud and Zorro.


Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg, Lori Mortensen, Michael Allen Austin (Ill.)
Dirty Dawg doesn’t cotton to the bathtub.


If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You, Roy Blount, Jr. & Valerie Shaff
Wonderful dog portraits coupled with neat little poems.


Unleashed: Poems by Writer’s Dogs, Amy Hempel & Jim Shepard (eds.)
Famous poets write poems in their dogs’ voices. Good stuff.

Dogs, Lewis Blackwell, Tim Flach
Own it but haven't "read" it yet. It looks fabulous!
And two from my wish list:

Underwater Dogs, Seth Casteel

101 Salivations: For the Love of Dogs, Rachael Hale


*MP3 downloads of the Purina dog food songs can be downloaded free here. I’m so in!

**The Best in Breed winners will be judged for Best in Group starting tonight (CNBC, 8/7C), concluding with Best in Show tomorrow night (on USA, 8/7C).

Tell me, do you watch the Show? Which breed do you hope wins?


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times


Jennifer Worth

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir: England, Parenting & Families

Synopsis: Worth tells stories about her time as a midwife near the London docks, circa 1950s.

Date finished: 23 January 2014

Rating: ****

Confession time. I haven’t seen a single episode of the PBS show based on this book. I think I’d love it, but I don’t watch much TV, and PBS just never seems to go on in our house. (It’s a husband thing, most likely.) But now I’ve got to watch a few episodes to see the characters fleshed out.

This book felt uneven to me. My attention waxed and waned. All of the stories were interesting, but some were much too gritty for my comfort. Most of the stories were about delivering babies in the neighborhoods surrounding the London docks, in, I believe, the late 1950s. There were also several about the nuns Worth worked with, which didn’t have much to do at all with midwifery, other than to serve as a backdrop. But there were a couple stories that were just too heartbreakingly bleak. I found them jarring to the overall narrative scheme. There was one about caring for an old, destitute lady. There was one about a family living in the London poorhouse. And there was one about a young prostitute. These stories went a long way in setting the stage and showing how the people of that area of London lived, but, just the same, I would have been fine without them.

My favorite stories were the straight-forward ones about delivering babies. I especially enjoyed the stories of the Spanish woman delivering her 24th and 25th babies, one born extremely (one-and-a-half pounds) small. The woman spoke no English, and her husband spoke no Spanish. Apparently that is the secret to creating one big happy family!

Worth’s writing style is spare, yet she was able to build suspense. There was nothing extraneous or flashy, and the stories rolled along at a nice clip.

I actually learned a fair amount about childbirth. The descriptions of labor and deliver were frank and detailed, but they never got unpleasant or overwhelming. (The story about the prostitute, however, got quite unpleasant in spots.)

I also learned a lot about the Cockney accent. There is an appendix in the back that explains the nuances of the dialect, and I found that fascinating. Worth is a born teacher.

I do wish, however, that there was a bit more about Worth, where she came from, how she chose midwifery, what her future plans were.

Still, this was a very strong collection of reminisces of a time and place and about a profession that is interesting. I hope to read her other books soon.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes. With a caution to sensitive or squeamish readers.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

New Acquisitions

Can you tell by the title of the post that I work in a library? Does anyone outside of a library use that word anymore, I wonder?


I recently "acquired" a big stack of winter reading, and because I'm so excited about each and every title (and because I'm not excited about the brutal Wisconsin winter we're having) I'm going to share it with you.

So, what have you just added to your shelves?
Have you read any of these?
Any suggestions on what to read first?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Presidents' Day Reading Challenge

If you like presidential nonfiction, Cindie over at Nonfictionado is hosting a Presidents' Day Reaching Challenge. Read one book about/by a president, or other world leader, by Presidents' Day (February 17), and post a blog to it.

You bet I've linked up. I recently bought a stack of books, and three of the books would qualify. I have several others on my TBR pile, so who knows, maybe I'll go for extra credit and read two or three!
Click on the photo above for complete details.

Looking for a book for the challenge? Check out some of my reviews:
An American Life, Ronald Reagan
Elizabeth the Queen, Sally Bedell Smith
Rose Kennedy, Barbara A. Perry 
The Hidden White House, Robert Klara

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (books that make me cry)

This week's topic: Top Ten Books That Will Make You Cry

Although I’m a crier, I don’t tend to cry much when reading. So I can’t really give you ten books that will make you weep, but I do have ten that might make you at least mist up. The books that truly make me cry do it with one of two things: (1) they describe something I’ve been feeling for years better than I can, or (2) they discuss dying animals.

So, here are my top ten, in the order that I read them over the past several years:

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls
A flawlessly written account of a bleak childhood.

Marley and Me, John Grogan
Aforementioned dying animal.

The Geography of Love, Glenda Burgess
A woman loses her husband to cancer.

Cold Tangerines, Shauna Niequist
One of the crying-from-relief-of-shared-experience reads.

Happens Every Day, Isabel Gillies
A blow-by-blow dissolution of a marriage.

Bloom, Kelle Hampton
About the birth of her daughter who was born with Down syndrome.

The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery
A story about a pig. But the story near the end about her friend’s “last pig” will tear your heart out. I cried out loud. Buckets of tears.

The Color of Rain, Michael & Gina Spehn
Not a great book, but the pain of them each losing a spouse is raw.

Heaven is Here, Stephanie Nielson
I ended up crying with her, not for her. Check out her blog.

Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Melton
This is one of those books where I found myself crying. I didn’t even know I was crying. My husband and I went to hear her speak last year, and we both had tears in our eyes. She can articulate your life better than you can. Trust me.