August 17, 2017

Vegetable Garden Update

Friends, it's looking pretty bare out there.
Except for the weeds.
Darn!

Not a single seed I planted came up.
Wait no, there was one. 
One lonely bean sprouted, but it didn't survive.

My best guess is lack of water.
This soil is a lot more sandy than what I had before, plus it's been very hot, plus new baby, etc., etc....
The bottom line is: turning the sprinkler on 1-2 times per week for an hour was not nearly enough for my seedlings.
Duly noted.

The big healthy-looking plants in the foreground?
Pumpkin plants brought over by our sweet neighbor, as a gift.
We planted them in the last 2 beds, where the zinnias and sunflowers were supposed to come up, because obviously there was some space available there.

Hey look, it's a blossom!
We currently have one pumpkin growing, about the size of an orange.
(My dad's pumpkins are the size of basketballs.)


This pumpkin plant is not doing as well as its neighbor, but it's still doing better than most of the rest of the garden!

Our yellow straight-neck squash, which I planted from starts, have produced the bulk of our harvest so far. We have picked 7 or 8 summer squash now.
So we're figuring out what do with them.
My oldest has decided he doesn't really like them; my vegetarian sister-in-law says the same.
Humph.
I like them well enough, but I don't intend to eat 8 all by myself!
Apparently, they don't freeze all that well, either.
We've had some in soups, some with bacon and onions, some just steamed.
Any other ideas? 


The tomato plants are finally growing tall-ish, and we even have a handful of green tomatoes on them. Not sure when the first frost usually is around here, but I'm guessing we may have around a month to get whatever harvest we can out of them.
The pepper plants on the right are still puny, pathetic little things.

I didn't even take a picture of the cantaloupe, watermelon, or sweet potato plants, as they are also small and pathetic looking. 
Chalk it up to a "learning experience," right?

Plus, my lovely mulch paths harbor the most weeds.
Not sure why that is!
Maybe the garden beds have been too hot and dry for very many weeds to thrive. 
(Painful, but probably true.)

So, I already know for next year: water for longer, more often!
Also, I think I want to get some sort of drip system going next year, so that I'm not using up so much water just evaporating into the air.

I still can't believe the beans didn't even come up!

What have you harvested out of your garden this summer?

August 16, 2017

4 LDS Suspense Novels

I quite enjoy the LDS (Latter-day Saint, or Mormon) suspense fiction genre. They don't have bad language or sex scenes, and are not nearly as graphically violent as similar titles in the mainstream suspense world. There are evil characters and some violence, but most of the bloody stuff happens off-screen.

As a bonus, all 4 of these are titles that I own. Woohoo! Chipping away at the New Year's Resolutions!


Wrong Number, by Rachelle J. Christensen

3 stars: What if this happened to you?

When Aubree Stewart leaves her home one day with her husband's cell phone instead of her own, she has no idea that her whole life is about to be upended. She's driving to work when she receives a phone call. The voice on the other end is not one she recognizes, and what's more, the man says he has taken care of it and the body is in a manhole. What?!

She reports the call. Sure enough, there is a body down a manhole. If that weren't scary enough, simply by answering the phone, she has made herself and her family targets for--whoever these people are. That's just the beginning.

* * * * *
Great hook! Like many thrillers, there's the "what if" factor. What if something seemingly ordinary, that happens to us all, was really much more than that? Something dangerous? Where would that chain of events lead?

There was a lot I liked about this one. Aubree was a strong character. I thought her reactions were believable. She's 7 months pregnant in the beginning of the story, and I was about that when I read it. Gave me a personal perspective on it all, I guess. The mystery itself was good--it kept me reading to find out what was going on.

I was lukewarm about the romance. It was not as believable as the rest. Our hero came along and was willing to overlook a whole lot for her sake, while she came to trust him rather quickly, considering everything she had been through.

(Finished reading April 5)


The Hainan Incident, by D. M. Coffman

3 stars: International intrigue and an American [Mormon] undercover spy.

Jason Yi, Chinese name Yi Jichun, is an American attorney who gets tapped for a special undercover mission for the U.S. government, due to his language fluency and professional training. He travels to China to attend a school for judges, with the job of uncovering corruption in the court system there.

He uncovers more than that. On a vacation to Hainan Island he stumbles across an unusually high-tech computer set-up, behind the fa├žade of a tourist village. The more he learns about Hainan Net, the more he is convinced that this is more than just somebody's side business. This is an international criminal ring, with the potential to do all kinds of damage. His discoveries put him at risk, along with his fellow student judge Sarah. He must to get to the bottom of this. Time is ticking...for all of them.

* * * * *
The mystery was good and the cultural aspects of the setting were interesting. It was a good stress relief read, pre-move.

(Finished reading May 11)




Wake me When It's Over, by Robison E. Wells

4 stars: Suspense mixed with a liberal dose of humor.

Eric Hopkins is a man in love. Unfortunately, the fair Rebekah does not seem to hold him in the same esteem. In fact, she mostly seems to count him as a friend...sort of. The kind of friend that you will ask to drive you to a concert, if absolutely no-one else is available. Hey, he's happy to do it. If only she would be just as happy that he did.

When she is kidnapped from said Christmas concert (she's a violinist) by a freakishly tall man who smells like bananas, Eric follows them--of course. A few serious injuries later, he is kidnapped as well. At least they're together...sort of.

For some reason the kidnapper is most interested in Rebekah's necklace--which just so happened to be a Christmas gift from Eric. The kidnapper wants the ring that came with it, but Eric's not just going to hand it over. He's fairly certain the kidnapper wants it for some nefarious purpose. If only he could come up with a plan; preferably one that includes him and Rebekah staying alive. Especially her. He's probably the expendable one in this whole scheme.

* * * * *
Despite his admitted deficiencies in rescue attempts and escape plans, Eric manages to come out on top...eventually. In the meantime, at least he has a sense of humor and can see the utter absurdity in his entire situation.

I quite enjoyed this one. There was some suspense, but Eric's sarcastic wise-cracks--whether thought or spoken--kept things from getting too intense. I didn't predict the ending, which was good, too. I also liked the way Wells included the religious aspect. Eric and Rebekah prayed and discussed answers to prayer a couple of times, and attended church, but it wasn't the focus. I never felt like I was being preached at, which is just how I like it: a steady undercurrent.

(Finished reading July 31)



The Counterfeit, by Robison E. Wells

3 stars: Eric and Rebekah (plus some bad guys)--the continuing story...

It has been a couple of months since all the hoopla with the kidnapping and Eric is good and ready for it all to just go away. He would like to see if things progress with Rebekah, who has definitely warmed up to him since their shared adventures, but instead he's hounded by reporters and FBI agents all the time. You see, he continues to receives death threats on a regular basis. So, it's not that he's ungrateful, per se, just that he wishes he could resume normal life. Except, with Rebekah still liking him.

After a near-miss attempt on his life, he and Rebekah are whisked away into the Witness Protection Program. Unfortunately, their alibis are not as air-tight as some would like to believe, because someone not only knows where they are, he (or she) has plans to take them right out of the picture. If they're going to survive, they'll have to choose their allies--and their enemies--very carefully.

* * * * *
This book has been on my shelf for a couple of years, and I never realized it was the sequel to Wake Me When It's Over until a few weeks ago! How does that happen? I will say that it was definitely a different tone than the first book. Where the first was primarily lighthearted with moments of suspense, this one was more intense stuff with a bit of humor now and then.

There were a few twists and turns that caught me by surprise. I thought the climax was well done.

(Finished reading Aug. 1)


* * * * *
For more of the same, check out this earlier post I did, a Mini-Theme called On the Run.

Do you have a favorite in this genre I shouldn't miss out on?

August 15, 2017

The 5 Love Languages of Children, by Gary Chapman

Lately I have been feeling like I'm doing a less-than-stellar job at mothering my 3 older kids. What with pregnancy, moving, and now new baby exhaustion, I find myself too easily irritated and frustrated. My older two, in particular, have expressed that I care about their 5 year old brother but not them. (The baby sort of goes without saying. She's everybody's favorite right now!)

I am realizing, also, that I can't used being tired as an excuse. I mean, it is a major reason why I'm not as patient as I ought to be, but also, I have been tired for nearly a year now. Obviously I need to figure out how to be kind to my kids even when I'm tired, because that probably won't be changing very soon. So. Enter this book.


The 5 Love Languages of Children, by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell

4 stars: Useful information, with practical suggestions.

I've known about the 5 love languages for quite some time, but hadn't ever dug into applying it to my children or my relationship with them. From the comments my older two made, I have not been giving them they type of love that resonates most with them.

If you're unfamiliar with Chapman's work, he has figured out 5 ways that people feel or receive love from others: quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, and gifts. Of course, everyone likes all of them to some extent, but for each of us there will be one or two that really make us feel the most loved--our love languages.

Since I haven't been able to check books out from the library this summer, I actually bought the ebook. I know! Paid full price for it, too, which is even more surprising. Listen, it had been a pretty bad day. I needed something to feel like I was making some positive progress. I decided that really, my main job was to love them. If I could figure out how to do that more effectively, the rest would fall into place.

So, just from reading it I couldn't really pinpoint what any of their love languages might be. He gives some suggestions to help you figure it out, including paying attention to what they are always asking for, or on the negative side, what type of discipline seems most effective or most hurtful.

He has a whole section on disciplining, by the way, which I found very helpful. You don't ever want to use a child's primary love language as a method of disciplining them, because the message they will receive is not just "I messed up," but "Mom doesn't love me anymore." So for instance, if your child's primary love language is words of affirmation, yelling at them or demeaning them with words in any way would be especially hurtful.

He says you should give your kids the most love in the form in their primary love language, but also sprinkle in all the others as well, so they can learn to give and receive all the types. In the 2 weeks or so since I read the book, I have been making an effort to pay attention.

Here's what I've figured out so far:

I realized that I hadn't been giving my older 2 kids very much physical touch at all. My 9 year old (boy) pushes away from any type of hug and dodges kisses, and my 7-year-old (girl) appreciates it but doesn't initiate it very much. So I have started making a conscious effort to touch them all more. Rub on the back here, steal a hug there, fist bump, high fives, tousle the hair a little--wherever I can get it in. It has made a noticeable difference! I have found that it has added some lightness to our day that wasn't there before. I even kissed my 9-year-old's sore finger, as a joke--sort of, to which he was surprised and laughed. (Big clue there!)

My 5-year-old's love language is definitely quality time. He was constantly asking me to do a puzzle with him, stay in his room at bedtime just a little bit longer, or come play with him. No wonder he was especially struggling when we first brought home the baby! I would read half a story, then have to go do something for her. I have made more of a conscious effort to spend that time with him, even with baby on my lap or along for the ride.

I'm still figuring out my 7-year-old's primary love language. She always writes little notes for me and other people, but when she's sad she wants me to read a book to her cuddled up on the couch. So, I'm still working on it for her.

Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure my 9-year-old is a lot like me when it comes to love languages. I think his two biggest are words of affirmation and physical touch. He has responded the most with my touching campaign, and it has helped our relationship the most that I've noticed. I've also noticed that words affect him deeply. I have always been pretty good about thanking him for helping out (he is such a hard worker!), but I have been trying to find other ways to build him up with my words.

I'm also still working on figuring out my husband's. Trying out a few things here and there.

Hey, it is still far from perfect. I am still far from perfect, but I can see it making a difference in our home and in our days together, for which I am thankful.

* * * * *
What is your love language? Do you do this with your kids at all? How have they responded?

August 9, 2017

Pretty Sunsets

Isn't it about time for a post about clouds? 
I thought so too.

Though there have been some awesome daytime clouds, these are all sunsets.
I have been saving them up for several months now, so these first ones are from Washington.

April 2017





June 2017
Right before we moved--quite a sendoff!



August 2017
Ok, these last 2 are from Utah.
I was trying to capture all the different shades of blue up in the sky, but obviously my camera skills could use some work. Take my word for it--it was really pretty.



Plus--mountains! [sigh] Love it.

p.s. I never realized how much I would enjoy living close to the mountains.
Where some people say they feel blocked in by them, they seem protective to me.
Plus, I can figure out directions a lot better, because I can use the mountains as landmarks! :)

* * * * *
Are you a wide open spaces kind of person, or do you like some mountains in your skyline?
Tell me everything!

August 5, 2017

Our New Library

So, you know I'm a big fan of libraries, right? Even setting aside my professional interest in them, free books make me happy. People wanting to further the knowledge and literacy levels of a community make me happy. I practically grew up in the library, as my dad was also a librarian. When we moved, having a library was near the top of my list of necessary establishments for a town I was going to live in. (Grocery store was #1, as it turned out, but library was a close second!)

Well, I am rather chagrined to admit that so far I have mixed feelings about our new library. So now you get to hear all about it. :)


Let me start with the good stuff.

Size/Selection
For one thing, it is quite a bit bigger than the one we left. More books! Hooray!
Related to that, they have a whole section of LDS (Latter-day Saint, i.e. Mormon) fiction. Welcome to Utah, folks! I had to chuckle when I saw that, but I am glad. Maybe I'll get to read some of these books that I've been too cheap to buy up until now!
They also seem much more open to buying books at patron suggestion.


Summer Reading Program
I have been much happier with their take on the Summer Reading Program here. Instead of a log that you filled in at your leisure, to return for the prize of one book for June and one for July, this one goes by number of pages read for older kids and number of books read for younger. It's on the honor system. For my youngest--oops, that would be the baby these days--I mean for my 5 year old, it is 20 books--picture books, board books, whatever. The next step up is 150 pages and for the highest level it is 300 pages. However, you are not limited to a time frame. So you could read 300 pages a day and go in every single day to claim a prize. Awesome! We have been making it in every 1-2 weeks.

Also the prizes are way more fun. Not that I was unhappy with the kids choosing books before. However, at this library, they have a whole glass-fronted cabinet full of prizes of all different kinds. Yes, there are plenty of books, but there are also little toys, games, coloring books, candy, etc. My kids have been way more motivated to do the reading with the plethora of fun options as prizes.

Besides, I'm not really worried about them not having enough books. I buy books rather frequently--from thrift stores, from Scholastic, for gifts, etc. I seem to have this addiction... In fact, we are about at the critical stage of accumulation where if more books come in, some others will have to go simply to make room. May I remind you we purchased 2 new bookshelves after we moved here? They are both packed full already! (People talk about styling their bookshelves and I think--wait, you have room on your bookshelves for things other than books? How does that work?) Each child has a bookshelf in their rooms as well. So yes...books are great, but so are other prizes.

Proximity/Staffing
You can't beat 5 minutes away--though that's more due to the size of the town than the library itself. Also, the staff have all been very friendly and helpful the times we have gone in.


Here are a few things I don't like as much.


5 Items, 90 days
This is my biggest complaint so far. So new patrons can only check out 5 items at a time, for the first 90 days. ! Why?! I mean, this is a small town, as I believe I have mentioned before. People know me in this town that I have never met yet. Apparently, word has gotten around. So it's not like they wouldn't be able to track me down if they had a mind to!

Our average number of items checked out at our last library hovered around 40. You see, I would allow each kid to check out as many books as their age, so that's 9 + 7 + 5=already up to 21. Then I would have my books on top of that. Plus, I would often let them check out audio books that didn't count toward their total. Anyway, what I am saying is, the 5 book rule is severely cramping my style.

I suppose I could get a library card for each child, which would give us 20 books per visit right now. The problem being that I seem to be incapable of keeping track of: a) my children's library cards (so I know the number, so I can renew the books) and b) when their books are due, versus when mine are due. So far we've done okay keeping track of the books themselves. A few too many fines later, though, and we've gone to the family card system. I am the keeper of the family card. So yeah.

So this whole summer, the kids have taken turns being the ones who get to check out 2 books, vs. the poor child who only gets to check out 1 for the week. I have been making do with checking out ebooks, which do not count toward that total, and kindle books on sale for $1-2 through the book deal sites.

Once our 90 days is up and we get a regular person library card, we still can only check out 30 books at a time. Okay, fine. 30 books is do-able, I suppose. (Grumble grumble.)


Kids' Area/Comfort
The kids' area does have a few things going for it. For one, it's roomy. For another, there's a great floor-to-ceiling mural on the walls, of a forest. There's a dropped down area in one corner, which of course my kids all immediately gravitated toward. There's a child-sized bathroom right off the main area. Great!

My problem here is two-fold:
1. Other than the mural to look at, one road map rug, and a handful of cars, there's very little to play with or do in the kids' area. Our last library had a little puppet stage and puppets, a train table, a wooden dollhouse with fixtures and people, magnetic letters and a metal board, a felt wall with felt nursery rhyme characters, and so on. My kids always looked forward to our library trips, as much for the toys as for picking out the books.

2. No comfortable seating!
I'm not kidding! For adults there's one wooden rocking chair and one stiff armchair. That is it! There are maybe 6 kid-sized round tables, each with 4 kid-sized (hard) wooden chairs around them. Then there are 2 big ottoman-like benches between the rows of books, that seem impervious to either sitting (no backs) or lying down (too hard and too short.) So really, no comfortable place to sit down with a book and read for awhile. This is a serious lack. It cuts our visits short every week, because rather than lingering and starting in on that new book, we uncomfortably sit in the available chairs for about 10 minutes then decide to leave.

Family storytime?
Finally, I had kept the flyer listing weekly themes for some time. It advertised the regular preschool storytimes would be for all ages during the summer. Okay, so we chose a week. The theme was "Build with Bubbles." Sounded promising.

It was stories about bathtime. The average age was 2 years old. After apologizing to my 9-year-old for bringing him to this "family storytime" and sending him off to go find some books, I sat with my baby in the back, while the middle 2 listened to the 2 picture books. Not that my oldest would have been super interested in any type of storytime anyway, but we had hoped there would be some actual bubbles involved. Nope, not this time. They did do a craft afterword--painting fireworks with toilet paper tubes that had been cut on the ends. My 7-year-old and 5-year-old participated in that.

Perhaps this was just my bias as a children's librarian coming through, but folks! Don't promise me "Build with Bubbles" then give me bath stories! C'mon now! I did a fun (cheap) program every summer at my library with bubbles out on the patio. It involved a couple of children's wading pools and copious amounts of Dawn dishsoap, with a little glycerin. Anyway. It was disappointing, to say the least.

* * * * *
I mean, this is what we've got, right? Maybe now that I've got all that off my mind I can just focus on the good. Maybe join the library board at some point and give some suggestions.





July 31, 2017

3 Books for Quilters by Jennifer Chavierini

If you enjoy quilting AND you enjoy reading about it as an integral part of a book's plot, than Jennifer Chavierini is the author for you. She has written 20 books (so far) in the Elm Creek Quilts series, 3 of which I read in May. As you can see, I did not read them in any kind of order. With the upcoming move, I didn't want to check out any more books from my library, so I had only the books on my last remaining home bookshelf to turn to. Check off three more for my New Year's Resolution!

The Aloha Quilt (Elm Creek Quilts #16), by Jennifer Chavierini

2 stars: Just okay. 

Bonnie, one of the original Elm Creek Quilters, has decided it is time for a change. Her divorce proceedings with Craig have hit yet another snag, and she decides some new scenery and sunshine may be just what she needs to sort things out. Besides, her friend Claire in Maui has been urging her to come for a long time now, to help start up a quilting camp like what they have going at Elm Creek.

Bonnie's instincts were right on. Maui was just what she needed to work through her issues. She even has the chance to learn how to make a Hawaiian-style quilt.

* * * * *
 
Maybe I would have enjoyed this one more if I had read more of the series. As it was, it was okay, but not great. Bonnie's predicaments and drama didn't matter very much to me. I found the Hawaiian history and cultural aspects more interesting than the main plot!


Content: clean.


(Finished reading May 13)




The Sugar Camp Quilt (Elm Creek Quilts #7), by Jennifer Chavierini

3.5 stars: Somewhat predictable, but the characters have depth.


Dorothea Granger and her parents live with her Uncle Jacob. They are learning to run his farm, in hopes of getting it from him in his will. Unfortunately, his stern temperament and theirs do not match. They are more dreamers than framers, and he knows it.


Dorothea, meanwhile, chafes under uncle's harshness and her parents' compliance. Up until recently, she taught school and thus had an escape for some of the time. However, now there is a new school teacher in town to replace her, since she had no formal training, after all. Rather than being a friend, he is surly and arrogant. She manages to have a little fun with another certain young man from town, despite her uncle's marked disapproval.

When Uncle Jacob has her make him a special quilt, for which he himself has designed the blocks, she is confused but does it. It's only later that she comes to understand the significance of the quilt. When tragedy strikes, Dorothea must decide where her loyalties lie.

* * * * *
This story was just ho-hum for me until we got to the part about the Underground Railroad. Then it picked up enough to warrant it an extra half star. Dorothea found courage and conviction she never knew she had, and came to view those around her in a different, truer light.


Content: clean

(Finished reading May 20)


The Lost Quilter (Elm Creek Quilts #14), by Jennifer Chavierini

4 stars: Historical fiction told from the perspective of a slave woman.


There's a special quilt at Elm Creek, with a history that Sylvia would love to uncover. It's pattern is called "Birds in the Air," and according to family lore passed down through generations, the quilter was a runaway slave named Joanna. When the slave-catchers found her, Joanna made the ultimate mother's sacrifice and left her infant son behind to be raised by her new friends. Light enough of skin to pass as one of their own, nobody was the wiser.

Meanwhile, Joanna experienced the hardship and deprivation of slavery once more, being sold even further south as punishment for running. In the slave quarters of her new master's home, down in South Carolina, Joanna is more determined than ever to return to her son. Her skill as a seamstress stands her in good stead as she waits, but the months and then years pass without a chance. She even finds a man to marry amongst the other slaves and starts a family; always sewing, always quilting. Trying to piece her memories of the route into quilt blocks.

* * * * *
Of the 3 I read by Chavierini, I enjoyed this one the most. I could relate to Joanna, even with the wide differences in our backgrounds and opportunities. Her courage and determination shone through, despite the desolate plight she shared with the other slaves. I didn't feel that Chavierini romanticized the slaves--they were not all noble and good--nor did she completely demonize the white folk. They all had some good and some bad points, which I appreciated.

She did a good job of portraying how even the kind gestures made by a white master or mistress were often self-serving and gave no thought for what it would mean to the slave. One instance, in particular, stood out in that regard. The white mistress thought she was doing Joanna a big favor by bringing her away from the plantation to be her maid in town, when in reality it was devastating, because it caused Joanna to be separated from her family.

The connection with the Elm Creek Quilters--eh, I could have done without that. I suppose it was needed to connect it with the series, though. The historical fiction was definitely the stronger portion of the book.

Content: Some violence and intense scenes in relation to slavery.

(Finished reading May 24)


* * * * *

More quilting books (for a younger audience): 17 Picture Books About Quilts to Cuddle Up With


Are you a quilter? Do you have any favorites from this series that I shouldn't miss? I probably won't read any more unless they come recommended. Too many other good books on my list to read!





July 28, 2017

Middle Grade Fiction Update

Three middle grade novels, all from my own bookshelf. Yeah! It's funny how moving forced me to read my own books. You see, we had packed up all of our books except for one bookshelf, and I purposely left out books I hadn't read yet. I didn't want to check out any more library books, either, because I had gotten them all turned in and taken care of by that point. So my only options were to buy books for my Kindle, or read what I had. Desperate times, I guess! :)

Of the three of these, I would choose Thunder From the Sea as a read-aloud first.


The Last Treasure, by Janet S. Anderson

4 stars: What is the Smith Family treasure, anyway? 

Ellsworth has always lived with his Dad, with no contact from extended family at all, until one summer he gets a letter. He is invited to come to the Square in Smith Mills, New York, to visit his relatives. The thing is, he's been having these dreams about the Square. How can that be? He's never been there before, that he knows of. His Dad certainly doesn't want him going back. Grandpa lives there, and it would be a severe understatement to say that the two of them have never gotten along. But Ellsworth feels compelled to go. 

Once he gets there, he finds a friend--a girl named Jess his own age, who is also visiting for the summer. The 10 houses around the Square were built way back in the day by a great-Grandpa, who built one for each of his kids. Three of the houses are treasure houses. At least that's the story.

In fact, real actual treasure was found in 2 of the houses already, each one just in time to save the family from financial ruin. All of which means there is probably some in that 3rd house as well. The thing is, lots of relatives have already searched for the treasure and haven't found it. The house itself is practically falling down, too, so it's really not safe for anyone to poke around in. Not that that's going to stop Ellsworth and Jess. 

It may take more than treasure to get the remains of this family back on friendly terms again. Then again, perhaps it depends on what that treasure is...

* * * * *
A unique premise. You don't find many middle grade novels with a focus on family history like this one. A bit of a supernatural element woven in as well, with the spirit of great-grandfather John wafting around here and there, trying to make some (good) things happen.

Kids will probably keep reading to find out about the treasure. There's enough focus on that to carry through the family relationship stuff, I think. Well-written. I enjoyed it, but none of my kids have picked it up yet. Maybe if I read it out loud to them...?

(Finished reading May 9)




Nickel Bay Nick, by Dean Pitchford

3 stars: A troubled boy finds redemption spreading holiday cheer.

Sam is Trouble. It seems his decisions are primarily based on what will most bother his dad, without his getting caught by the cops (again). He hasn't been sent to juvie yet, but then again, he's only 11. There's still time.

This Christmas is already shaping up to be the worst ever. He won't even get to see his mom--she's spending Christmas with her new family. His dad is worried about money, since business has been very slow at his bakery. Not to mention practically the whole town is just grumpy, because the mysterious Nickel Bay Nick, an anonymous person who has made a tradition of leaving $100 bill for people to find around town, has not shown up this year. Nick the No-Show has not made anyone happier.

Then on Christmas Day itself, Sam has an unfortunate incident with Old Mr. Wells' Christmas lights...and gutter...and other stuff. Mr. Wells makes Sam a deal--if Sam will show up to help with some "filing" for the next 12 days, Mr. Wells will not press charges or make him pay for the damage. Filing is not really on the agenda. What Sam does is train to become the next Nickel Bay Nick. As it turns out, Mr. Wells was Nickel Bay Nick, but he broke his leg this year, so he needs a replacement. Someone with some ability to sneak around wouldn't be a bad thing. Sam agrees to do it, not realizing how much his life will change in the process.

* * * * *
I have to admit this book stressed me out a little bit, because Sam reminded me a whole lot of a foster son I had. Not a bad kid, just someone who made a lot of dumb decisions based on not-so-great reasoning skills. Anyway, all that aside, I think this book would probably appeal to 8-12 year old boys. In fact, my 9 year old read it before I did, so we got to talk about it some. Some of the stuff Sam does needs talking over--for instance, breaking windows at an abandoned building, just for kicks.

I really liked the idea that was brought out, that focusing on the happiness of others makes your own life happier and fulfilling. Also, the spy stuff was fun. Sam grew up and matured in satisfying and believable ways.

My son liked it more than I did, but then--he was the target audience for it, after all.

(Finished reading May 23)


Thunder from the Sea, by Joan Hiatt Harlow

3 stars: Historical fiction that will draw kids in.

It's 1929, and Tom Campbell is 13 years old. He has always wanted a family of his own, so when he is sent to live with Enoch and his wife Fiona on Back O' The Moon Island (off the Canadian coast), he is determined to make it work. He does everything he can to help Enoch with his fishing and holds his own with local bullies. If only he could have a dog, life would be perfect.

Enoch and Fiona seem to like him well enough, but he just can't let himself come to rely on them. It has been too long since he's had anyone but himself to rely on. Then a couple of things happen: Fiona gets pregnant, and Tom rescues a dog from the ocean in the middle of a storm. He names the dog Thunder. His two biggest fears are that once the baby comes, Enoch and Fiona will not want him anymore, and that Thunder's real owner will be found and take away his best friend.

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Well-written, with strong characters. If I was still in the library, this would be a book to hand-sell to young patrons. It's not as flashy as some, so I don't know how many kids would pick it up on their own, but there's a lot to like about it: the hero dog, the orphan boy who makes good, dealing with bullies, and so on.

We may do this one as a read-aloud this summer. I'll keep you posted. :)

(Finished reading May 31)


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Have you read any good middle grade fiction lately?
What are you reading out loud to your kids this summer?