April 28, 2017

4 Middle Grade Novels

Friends, I'm slipping! I just sat down to read a book this evening that I've renewed from the library a couple of times already. I was on page 2 when I realized that I have read this book. Recently. It can't have been more than a couple of months. Nothing about the cover, the blurb on the back, or even the character's names rang a bell until I actually opened it up and started reading.

Not a great sign! I hadn't reviewed it anywhere, or even wrote down when I finished it, which I try to do with every book I read. Now you know why I review the books I've read. Give me a couple of weeks and POOF! They're gone. Oh dear. I may be losing my marbles. Hopefully I will find them again once we have moved!

At least these 4 books I actually remember reading. Sheesh!

Charlie's Raven, by Jean Craighead George

3 stars: At times the plot and characters became secondary to observations of the raven, but still enjoyable.

Charlie loves spending time at his grandparent's house right up close to the Teton Mountains. He spends all of his summers there, ever since his family moved to town, and soaks up all he can of the natural beauty and wildlife. His grandfather was a scientist and naturalist, but lately his health has deteriorated.

Charlie had heard of the old Native American story that Raven can heal people. He's determined to find a raven to heal his grandfather. He actually finds one, too--a chick he takes from its nest and names Blue Sky. Young Blue Sky is not only smart, he does seem to be helping Granddad regain some strength and vitality. 

As he learns about raising a raven, and protecting him from all sorts of danger, Charlie also tries to determine if ravens are good or bad.

* * * * *
Blue Sky is really the star of this book--all the other characters, including Charlie, are supporting players. Not as strongly written as some of her others in that respect. Fascinating and entertaining to observe raven behavior along with Charlie, though, and find out how incredibly smart they are.

I always feel like I've learned something valuable after reading a book by Jean Craighead George.

(Finished reading April 21)

Grayling's Song, by Karen Cushman

3 stars: A magical quest for a young girl and her companions.

Grayling is the daughter of a witch. Her mother has always been extra competent and many, many people have come to her for remedies, spells, and advice over the years. Grayling sort of feels like the hired hand most of the time. Despite her mother's many virtues, she has never been what you might call nurturing. She constantly gets after Grayling for her daydreaming and work-avoidance tendencies.

Then her mother is turned into a tree. It becomes Grayling's task to find her mother's grimoire, or book of spells, and come to the rescue. Grayling is very reluctant to go adventuring, but she does anyway. Along the way she discovers that it's not just her mother who has been turned into a tree. Witches and enchanters of all sorts have been affected by the same dark magic.

Before long, Grayling has fallen in with some companions who will prove invaluable on her journey. The most important person, though, will be herself--once she figures out where her own strengths lie and gains some confidence.

* * * * *
I liked this one, despite the formulaic feel to it. It had some interesting and entertaining characters. The villain was not who I was expecting, but once I knew who it was I had a hard time believing that character could really create that much trouble. Grayling had some believable growth, which was satisfying.

Several reviewers say this one is great on audiobook, read by Katherine Kellgren. I may give that a try and see if I like it better! It does seem like it would lend itself well to reading aloud.

(Finished reading April 12)

Jed and the Junkyard War, by Steven Bohls

4 stars: Highly imaginative.

Twelve-year-old Jed's parents have always expected quite a lot of him. For instance, making his way home from the middle of nowhere, armed with only a package of gum and some string. (Or maybe it was a lighter and a bottle of water? There were several instances...) Other than the quirk of tossing him into perilous situations and expecting him to survive, they have had some great times together.

Then one day, his parents disappear, leaving behind a mysterious note and an even more mysterious tunnel behind the dishwasher. Oh, there's a backpack, as well, this time with bottles of water and batteries in it. Also, a can opener....because, of course.

As Jed follows the instructions left to him by his parents, he comes to an incredible world made out of junk. Trash. Piles of it as tall and as far as the eye can see. Not only that, it's a world with its own people, currency, food, and pecking order. He is somehow supposed to find his parents in all of this?! His task would seem a lot more impossible if he wasn't used to thinking on his feet. Suddenly, a lot more of his childhood begins to make sense. Unfortunately, other parts have become even murkier. No time for much sentimentality now. He's got a job to do!

* * * * *
This world was so unique, yet I could picture it quite clearly. Memorable characters and fast-paced plot. Despite the near-constant danger of all kinds for Jed, there was an undercurrent of humor and wit that I enjoyed very much. Just when I thought I knew where it was all headed, the climax came along and surprised me. I love it when that happens!

Now here's the question: is this steampunk or just fantasy? I'm calling it steampunk, folks. No elves or fairies here! Just a whole lot of action-packed fun in a world of mechanical junk!

I'm ready for the sequel!

(Finished reading April 14)


Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beantstalk, by Liesl Shurtliff

4 stars: Another winner from Liesl Shurtliff!

Jack has always known that he was named after an ancient ancestor--Jack the Giant Killer--and as such, there are great expectations on him as well. People in his day and age don't really believe in giants anymore, though. Jack's not sure what to believe. Until the day the sky rains dirt and 2 giants come down, completely wreaking havoc of his family's farm. They take his father with them when they go, along with the entire rest of the village, buildings and all.

Jack knows what he has to do: he's got to live up to his name and go after the giants, so he can bring his dad back home again. He sells the family cow for some magic beans, and you know the rest. Or do you? ...

Jack and his feisty little sister Annabelle have some giant problems to face up in the land above the clouds, not the least of which is changing their expectations to reality. It could be that not all giants are evil bloodthirsty killers. Perhaps the giants may even have troubles of their own.

* * * * *
This isn't a story that gets retold very often--at least that I can think of. The original tale seems fairly straightforward--at least as far as fairy tales go--and you may think there wouldn't be much room for re-imagining things. Shurtliff proves that assumption wrong right from the beginning!

Jack is a troublemaker with a good heart. As he makes his way amongst the giants, both sides of his personality will be called upon to succeed at his task of reuniting his family. One of my favorite parts about the book was Jack's relationship with his little sister. There's sibling rivalry, mixed with actual caring, admiration, and bickering, just like many real-life sibling relationships I know (including some in my own household.) 

I also liked that Jack found his own way to be a hero, separate from what his however-many-greats grandpa did. Different situations call for different types of greatness, after all. Also, it was fun catching the references to other fairy tales within this one.

(Finished reading April 18.)

* * * * *
Which of these have you read and liked? Do you have any middle grade fiction to recommend (since that seems to be my go-to choice lately)?

Have you ever gotten that funny feeling you've read a book before, because oh that's right--you have?!  C'mon, spill it!

April 26, 2017

Flowers on Temple Square

I wanted to post these before I forgot.

When we were in Utah house hunting at the beginning of April, we took our kids over to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and met up with my parents for a few minutes.

The flowers and landscaping there are always stunning, but never more so than in the spring.

This color scheme filled up my soul.
The combination of the deeper hues of pink and purple, with the pastel purples and yellows for contrast. I had to take some pictures so maybe I can replicate it someday.

Man alive, it was all so beautiful!
I could have taken 100 pictures...except it was quite chilly, and also, we were there to visit not take pictures. :) (By the way, I did pictures of family, too!)

If you have never had the chance to tour Temple Square, it's worth your time!

April 24, 2017

The Wonders of Pruning + Spring Chores

Hey look! It bloomed!

Remember the forsythia bush at the top of our slope that I pruned last summer?
Last year I just happened to notice a few yellow flowers at the very tips of some of the branches, which was the only thing that tipped me off that it was a forsythia.
It was way overdue for a pruning.

Well, what do you know?
It's covered with blossoms this spring!
It has been quite satisfying to look up there and see how pretty it is, knowing that I had a hand in that!
I don't know that anyone else has even noticed it, but it makes me happy!

In other news, I finally got out and got the raspberries pruned last Saturday.
I'm actually a bit concerned about the old raspberry patch.
Several of the old canes I cut down had a nasty white grub hiding out in the middle of them, right at ground level. In the same area, there weren't any healthy fruit-producing canes for this year.
If there were any canes at all after I took out the old, they were spindly and short.
I killed all the grubs I could find, (GROSS!) pulled out all the dead pieces of canes, and even dug around the roots a bit, too.

Even though I won't be around to see the end of it (NMP), I hate to leave it in such a state.
I've done some reading on various extension websites and I think they may be Raspberry Crown Borer--the larvae of a clear-winged moth that has the coloring of a wasp.
I do remember seeing what I thought were wasps around the raspberry patch last year.
I probably did not get them all.
My apologies, future home owners!
Yuck. Grubs are just gross.
Also, they squirt when you kill them. Sorry--TMI, I know.

Meanwhile, the black raspberry canes were going crazy: sliding through holes in the fence to invade the neighbor's yard and sending long shoots behind the shed.
Showing their parentage there, I guess.
Sidenote: those canes are a pretty color right now, kind of a powdery blue, but super prickly.

Anyway, it was obvious some extra means of restraint were needed, so I put up a line of twine through the middle of that side of the bed for them to drape over.
They're much more drapey than the other raspberries.
I also yanked them back through the fence and chopped off about a foot off most of the ends to stop the leggy growth and get them to settle into fruit production.
I am curious what the fruit will taste like--too bad I won't be around for that!

Finished up the day's work by pruning the hydrangeas.
Everything looks so much better once it has been pruned!
Well, ok. The roses maybe not so much.
They look pretty bare.
Never fear, though, they will fill in quickly over the summer!
The rest, though. Definite improvement all around.

Then after I had cleaned up and come in, I looked out back and realized I didn't get the oregano cut back. Strawberries could probably use it too.
Next sunny day.

Meanwhile, my 9-year-old begged to rototill the garden.
So I let him!
Didn't want to deprive the boy.

April 21, 2017

The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery

Like most of Montgomery's, I have re-read this book many, many times. So many times, in fact, that my copy's cover was falling off and the pages yellowing. I was excited to find the edition below for sale on Amazon. Bonus that I like the cover illustration much better than the old one!

The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery

5 stars: I love this book! Outside of the Anne books, this is my favorite of L.M. Montgomery's.

Valancy feels trapped. If it's not her overbearing mother, it's every relative who feels they must comment on her unmarried status. Let's be honest--her unmarried status (at 29 years old) has a lot to do with it, too. (Though she would rather be an old maid forever than be stuck with some of the men she's acquainted with.)

She floats through her days, discontented and despairing, until some news from her doctor changes everything. Somehow his devastating letter gives her a new lease on life. She is not going to spend one more minute doing things she despises!

As Valancy comes into her own, she creates a life of meaning, beauty, and even joy. Her family has no idea how to handle the new Valancy. It's just as well. Valancy's done listening to their advice anyway. From now on, she's going to really live!

* * * * *
There's something so satisfying and empowering about Valancy's complete turn-around. In the beginning, she feels so helpless to change anything about her situation and the future seems long and bleak. However, once she's given a reason to stand up for herself, she finds that many of her fears are groundless. Or at least, they only affect her so much because she allows them to do it.

The characterizations of Valancy's extended family just make me smile. Montgomery really had a knack for writing relationships, with all the little nuances of expectations, roles, and family background added in. It's fun to see how one person changing their role has ripple effects throughout the rest of the family.  

The romance in this one is a little different than most of her other books. Our hero is a bit unconventional and it starts out quite platonic--or at the very least, one-sided. It's always satisfying, though, to see it grow into something more. Love the ending--even though I know what's coming!

If I read this when I'm in a philosophical mood, it makes me think about how my life is going. Am I living the life I want to live, or just floating along? How many of my unmet goals or dreams could come about if I just changed a few small things? Am I allowing fear or criticism (or fear of criticism) to hold me back from doing things I really want to do?

Usually though, I read it just to enjoy it one more time.

(Finished reading--again--Feb. 26)

* * * * *

If you haven't read this one yet, do it! Then let's talk about all of our favorite parts together. :)

April 19, 2017

Not My Problem

As our move gets closer, I've noticed a slow-but-sure onset of the "Not My Problem" disease.
I think it's a combination of the upcoming move, everything we still have going on here, and 3rd trimester pregnancy.
Or perhaps it's just a way of mentally letting go, so it's not so hard to leave.
Yeah, that sounds good. I'll go with that explanation!

I first noticed it the other day, when I was weeding thistles and crab grass out of the back flowerbed,
The thought crossed my mind that this could very well be the last time I weeded this bed.
Perhaps not. We still have about 6 weeks to go, after all, but with everything else going on there's a fairly good chance I won't get back out there. 
The thought that followed immediately after that?
"Oh well. Not my problem anymore." 

[That dandelion right in front is gone for now, but if it grows back? Say it with me, now...]

I feel a curious mix of relief tinged with guilt when I even think that, but the thought keeps cropping up--like a weed, in fact.
You know, I never did get that salvia moved that's too close to the sorbaria. 
Not my problem. 
Still too wet to till the garden or plant spring veggies?
[Shrug.] Not my problem.

I feel like it should be an acronym: NMP--though maybe that's going a bit too far.

So far, it has mostly been in regards to gardening, though I have noticed it creeping in to other areas of life as well. The school's Family Picnic needs a committee chair?
Hmm... looks like it will be in June: NMP.

Not that I'm expecting easy street once we move.
I am certain weeds grow just as well in Utah as they do here!
For the next 6 weeks, though, I think the ones around here are going to get a pass--unless they're too huge and hideous to be ignored. 
Everything else on the perpetual [outdoor] chore list?
I'll get to it if I get to it.
N. M. P.
 Right or wrong, that's how it's going to be.
Might as well face up to it now.

April 17, 2017

Book Club Picks: Orphan Train & Between the World and Me

One thing I enjoy about Book Club is that gets me to read things outside of my usual comfort zone. I would say most of the adult fiction I read is for book club. I just don't pick it up very much on my own.

Of course, some books lend themselves to discussion much more than others, so it's always good when you hit on one that everyone wants to talk about. We've had a couple of winners in that regard over the past few months.

Orphan Train, by Kristina Baker Kline

3.5 stars: History and present-day woven together into a compelling tale.

Molly Ayer is a foster kid who has been passed around her whole life. The couple she's with now barely tolerates her and she does everything she can to put up a wall around her true self. Currently that means going full-on goth: makeup, clothes, jewelry, and all. People are going to talk about her anyway; she might as well give them something to talk about.

Vivian Daly is a rich old lady who lives close by to the place Molly's staying. Molly's boyfriend's mom cleans for Mrs. Daly. When Molly get caught stealing (ironically, a book), she has one last chance to straighten up before she gets sent off to juvie. She has to do community service hours. Her boyfriend manages to get her hooked up with Mrs. Daly, who needs someone to help her clean out her attic.

As the two work together and go through old memories, they find a surprising connection in some of the things they've gone through. Perhaps together they both can find a way to move forward.

* * * * *
I liked this story. It switched back and forth between Vivian's life in the past, and Molly/Vivian's current-day life. Vivian first came to America from Ireland with her family, but when tragedy struck, she was sent to an orphanage and eventually shipped west on one of the many orphan trains. The people who claimed her had varying degrees of dysfunction in their own lives, which she became a part of.

Our book club had a good discussion about it, which bumped it up another half a star for me. There was quite a bit to discuss: families, how the past shapes your future, the historical aspects of it, etc. There was one twist in particular that had us all chattering. I was fascinated by the way Vivian's quiet acceptance of Molly allowed her outer shell to slowly peel away and her true self to be seen.

Recommended for Kate Morton fans.

Content: There's a near-rape that was vividly described and quite a bit of language from Molly and friends. For adults.

(Finished reading Jan. 7)

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

3.5 stars: A difficult but important read.

Coates describes his experiences growing up black in America, where we claim to have freedom and civil rights for all, but where the reality often falls far short of that. What exactly does it mean to have "white privilege?" Well, this book has many answers for that.

He discusses his own growing up years and a bit about raising his son. He also weaves in stories of police brutality against blacks--particularly boys/men, and the ways all of their lives are shaped by the violence and racism they encounter so frequently. 

* * * * *
This was a good one for book club, because after I read it I really wanted to discuss it with other people. Though it's a short book, we had more than enough to discuss for 2+ hours. It's uncomfortable to confront your own prejudices, and reading this book brought some to light for me that I didn't even realize were there. That's why I think it's an important one to read, though. Nothing is going to change if we don't realize what needs to change within ourselves.

The flyleaf says something about Coates offering a way to move forward, but if he did, I missed it. I think it was more about highlighting the problem and the role we each play in perpetuating the status quo.

Finally, the other part of what made this a difficult read was the style of writing. He writes with some poetic license and many times I found myself having to go back and re-read a paragraph to catch his meaning.  

(Finished reading Feb. 21)

* * * * *

Do you attend a book club? Sometime I'll have to do a post on book club itself, because I know there are many variations. In the meantime, if you've read a book lately that really lent itself to some great discussions, let me know! We're always looking for new ideas!

April 15, 2017

April Bloom Day

Happy Bloom Day, friends!
For those who hadn't heard, my family is moving in about 6 weeks, so this will be my 2nd-to-last Bloom Day post from Eastern Washington state.
I am glad for the chance to look around my flowerbeds and take note of what's happening!

Compared to last year, we are at least 2 weeks behind.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that last year we were 2-3 weeks ahead!
No trees blooming yet, or tulips, or the bleeding heart--though all 3 are close.

So far most of what I've got is daffodils and hyacinths.
Not that I'm complaining!

These are in the back flowerbed:

Taking these pictures made me realize how badly I needed to get out there and finish my spring cleanup in this flowerbed! Nothing like photo evidence of my garden neglect for motivation. Ha!
So I'm happy to report that the dead sedum stalks from last year have all been removed now, as have the tall, ugly, dead lily stalks.
I even dug up several thistles, dandelions, and stands of crab grass while I was at it.
(We'll see how long that lasts...)

Yay daffodils!

Moving up to the terraced beds in front:

Purple and yellow primroses tucked under the shrubs for a little color.

Several clumps of these 'Festival Pink' hyacinths perfuming the air.

And of course, the grape hyacinths are popping right up.

We finally got some sunshine today, too, which is always a bonus!
We have one more warm day tomorrow in the forecast, then it's back to rain.

Maybe someday it will dry out enough to till the vegetable garden.
Won't be this week, though.
I was going to plant some spring veggies--sort of as a selling point for the house--but if the rain keeps up much longer it may not happen.
At least my flowers will look pretty!

For other gardens and blossoms from around the world, head over to Carol's blog at May Dreams Gardens.

April 14, 2017

Reading with My 9-year-old: The New Kid + Going Where It's Dark

These two books were both full of a lot to discuss. I was glad I had read them with my son--though he finished them way before I was able to fit them in. That's okay. Even though it had been awhile for him, we still had some good conversations about them.

Content-wise, they were definitely a step above some of the others he's been reading, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. More serious overall, and bigger issues at stake. I still felt like they were appropriate for middle grade, but both tended toward the older side of the spectrum. Since I wouldn't have picked up either on my own, it was good for broadening my horizons, too! :)

The New Kid (New Kid #1), by Tim Green

4 stars: Sharply observed characters struggling through some tough problems.

Life hasn't been easy for Tommy, especially ever since his mom died, and it has just been him and his dad. It seems that whenever he starts to really get in a groove at school or on the baseball field, his dad decides it's time to move. Again. These aren't just any moves, either. They are "pick a random town on the map, change your name, don't ever talk about your past" kind of moves.

When his dad pulls him out of a championship baseball game, Tommy has just about had enough. In the new town he goes by Brock. There's only a few months left of school and he's hopelessly behind. He's supposed to just keep his head down and do what his dad says, but he's ready for some answers. If he dares ask the questions. His dad has never been the real warm fuzzy type.

Then a new "friend" (the term is negotiable) gets him in trouble with the baseball coach. Except instead of really coming down on him, the coach gives him a chance to redeem himself--by pitching for a community baseball team that's historically down on its luck. Brock is pretty sure his dad will never agree to it, but he gets up the guts to ask anyway. He really wants this. If only they can just stay put for awhile.

* * * * *
This one had a lot of high-stakes tension in it. Brock's relationship with his dad feels like it's teetering on the edge of an explosion and you can just feel the pressure building throughout the book. Well-written characters. Many of the characters are dealing with difficult situations, in addition to what Brock's going through, including abuse/neglect, alcoholism, etc. While they are not glossed over, they are not all explored in depth either.

I would recommend this for older middle grade students or young teens. So the tweenagers, I guess! I think it may have been a bit intense for my 9-year-old. At least, he hasn't wanted to read any of the sequels at this point. I was glad I read it with him, so we could talk about several things, including Brock's relationship with his dad and his decision in the end.

(Finished reading Feb. 23) 

Going Where It's Dark, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

4 stars: I had to keep reading to see how this one came out!

Buck is a boy with some problems. First of all, he stutters: painfully, almost constantly. He dreads any type of public speaking, including giving answers in class. He's picked on by some other boys for it. Secondly, his best friend moved away and now he has no-one to go caving with.

He lives for the thrill of discovering something new underground. After all, how much land above-ground has been explored? All of it. At least around his town. Inside a cave, though, you could be the first person to ever see what's down there. The last frontier!

The thing is, he's found a new cave--one that looks like it could be incredible on the inside. He's not stupid. He's never gone past where he can still see the entrance. Yet it calls to him. He's just got to get in there and explore more! He's going to need better equipment though, (which takes money), and a whole day off. It's going to take some planning.

Over the course of several months, many issues come to a head for Buck and somehow twine around each other in unexpected ways, leading up to a dramatic conclusion.

* * * * *
Characters with depth, including many of the minor characters. I could sympathize with Buck through so many of his experiences. He was a person to root for--trying to do the right thing, persevering even when it was hard. His stuttering therapy was fascinating to me and added another layer of interest to the story.

As for the caving, I have really only had one experience "wild caving," which I did not enjoy. Even so, I could begin to see some of the allure from Buck's point of view. Bonus: reading the descriptions in this book made me feel like I had almost been there, so I got to experience it again--without actually slithering around in the smelly mud, banging my head on rocks! (Yup. Proud to be an armchair spelunker.)

After I had read this one, my son and I talked at various times about caving, bullying, and stuttering. So that was a win. Lots of good discussion points.

(Finished reading Feb. 24)

* * * * *

What have you read with your kids lately? Any good recommendations for us?

April 12, 2017

15 Picture Books about Houses & Homes

I have had this topic on my mind a lot over the past few months, as we are getting ready to move.

What does it take to make a house into a home? We have lived in our current home for almost 7 years now and it feels like home. It took quite awhile, though. I don't know that I can pinpoint exactly when it started to feel like ours. Perhaps when I finally got pictures put up on the walls?

It helps that my husband used to work in construction, so he can and will remodel as we go along. With every project we have done, the house has felt a little more like our own. Now, as I look around our home, I can see our touches on nearly every surface.

We've got a mix of excitement and trepidation around here, as we think about what our new home will be like. I'm excited--I think the kids are mostly excited, with a few reservations. This house is all that they have known, after all. The older two were small when we moved here (2 and 9 mos.), so I know they'll probably miss it.

All the more reason to read some good books to get us ready for the change!

Building Our House, by Jonathan Bean

A family moves into a trailer house on wheels in the middle of a weedy field. Then step by step, they build a new house. Everyone pitches in, through all kinds of weather, until the happy day arrives--moving day!

* * * * * *

Prior to my marriage, this book would have been a revelation to me. I hardly knew anything about houses were built. Since then, I feel like I've lived it, to some extent! We've never built a house from scratch--yet--but our first home we basically took down to the studs and built back out from there. There have been many remodeling projects since, in every house we've lived in.

So, this was great! My 9-year old, who is "too old" for picture books usually, picked this one up of his own accord to read. He told me later that it should be nonfiction. I call that a win!

A Family for Old Mill Farm, by Shutta Crum
Illustrated by Niki Daly

A human family looks at house after house, hoping to find the one that is just right. Meanwhile, a raccoon realtor help various animal families find a home at Old Mill Farm. When the humans see it, they know it is perfect--even though it is a bit run-down.

* * * *

Anyone who has gone house-hunting will relate to this story of "not quite right" homes. Even though you know the outcome (it is in the title, after all), it is satisfying to put each piece into place, until all the families have a home.

A Home for Bird, by Philip C. Stead

Vernon is a collector of interesting things. He is out foraging when he finds Bird. Bird doesn't say much, but Vernon makes friends with him anyway. When Bird still hasn't spoken after some time, Vernon's other friends suggest that perhaps he's homesick. So Vernon sets out to find Bird's home, without much luck. However, he proves to be an attentive and determined friend. Then one day, he chances upon Bird's actual home--a cuckoo clock! Once Bird has been safely returned, he speaks!

* * * * *

What a sweet little story this is. Vernon is a frog--I think--and it is obvious from the beginning that Bird is not real. My favorite line (after Bird does not respond at all to introductions): "'Bird is shy,' said Vernon, 'but also a very good listener.'"

I really enjoyed the illustrations, as well. They're a bit out of the ordinary, but I couldn't find anything on the endpapers saying what he used. Looks like perhaps a mix of crayon and watercolor? My little artist daughter was also looking more closely, trying to figure out how to recreate that look. Then the ending is such a perfect climax to this whole story. My kids have asked for this one to be re-read several times.

Homeplace, by Anne Shelby
Illustrations by Wendy Anderson Halperin

The story of a house that has been in the family for 5 generations, starting way back when great-great-great-great-grandpa built it, all the way to the child on his grandma's lap who lives in it now.

* * * * * *

The pictures are what attracted me to this book, and they are wonderful! Packed with detail, in varied panels and sizes, each 2-page spread shows how the family of that generation lived. So the first set talks about what the grandpa did and the next about what grandma did. Each of the grandpas builds onto the house.

Oh, this book made me nostalgic; I guess for what might have been, because this sure was not my experience! In fact, I think it's rare to find any families that have lived in the same home for generations, anymore. We moved 3 times while I was growing up, and my husband's family moved 14 (?) I think. Anyway, how it would be to have such deep roots in a place? I don't know, but this book makes it seem pretty special.

A House for Hermit Crab, by Eric Carle

Hermit Crab grows out of his shell, so he goes looking for another one. He finds one--but it is a little plain. So he carefully begins to gather up sea creatures and friends to decorate, protect, and brighten his home. But what will happen when he grows out of this home?

* * * * * *

Carle's signature painted cut-paper illustrations are as vibrant as ever in this story about making a house into a home.

The House on Dirty-Third Street, by Jo S. Kittinger
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

A girl and her mom are getting a fresh start, but their house is the worst ever! It's filthy and falling down, and the neighbors don't seem all that friendly. Mom has a vision of how it can look, but even she gets discouraged after a whole day of cleaning filth.

They decide to go to the church they saw a few blocks away, and once they get there, the girl asks for prayers for her mom--and for herself, too--to be able to see their new house with eyes of faith. Shortly after services are over, people start showing up to help. Before long, the house is an anthill of activity, as new friends work on everything from the shingles to the plumbing. Guess they can't call it "Dirty-Third Street" anymore.

* * * * * *

To be honest, I was a bit surprised to find this one at my public library. There aren't many picture books that openly feature religion, church, or prayers there. At least, I haven't found very many. Maybe I would find more if I went looking for them.

Anyway, this tender story touched my heart. When all the people showed up to make things happen for this single mom and her daughter, I even got a little misty-eyed. That's how it's supposed to work, folks.

I really liked how the illustrations start with very little color added to the realistic-looking line drawings, while the two are on their own, but as hope and help arrives, color enters their world. A subtle but effective touch.

If the Shoe Fits, by Alison Jackson
Illustrated by Karla Firehammer

The old woman who lived in a shoe tries to find a new home for her brood, with no success. Finally, they settle back into the same worn shoe they came from, after all--"If the shoe fits, then wear it."

* * * * *

The old woman and her children run in and out of all sorts of nursery rhymes on their way back home again.

My favorite was the last page:

          She was still an old woman who lived in a shoe.
          And she still had those children, but she knew what to do.
          She gave them some broth and kissed all their faces,
          Then tucked them in bed and tied up the laces.

Moving House, by Anne Civardi, Illustrated by Stephen Cartwright
An Usborne First Experiences book

Follows the Sparks family as they pack up their things and move into a new house.

* * * * *

Straightforward text and pictures. Nothing really stands out about this one, but if you just need a book that goes through the usual steps involved in moving to a new house, this will do it.

Mr. Postmouse's Rounds, by Marianne Dubuc

Go along with Mr. Postmouse, as he loads up his little wagon with letters and packages, and makes his daily deliveries.

* * * * *

The real fun in this book is the illustrations. Each animal's house is shown as a cutaway, with all kinds of whimsical details. For instance, Mr. Bear's house has a beehive on the roof, connected to a pipe, dripping into a jar of honey. The Crocs' house has water on every floor. The flies live in a dung pile, and there's even a delivery for Mr. Yeti in the snow cave!

This is a book to pore over together!

There Was a Wee Woman..., by Erica Silverman
Pictures by Rosanne Litzinger

The wee woman and her many children simply must find a new place to live. So off they go, looking in all kinds of places, until finally a giant-sized girl finds the perfect solution for them.

* * * * *

Another "Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe" variation! What are the chances? Ha! This one has a bit of a different ending, as they all end up living happily ever after (one supposes) in a doll house. I'll have to admit, I didn't love these illustrations, but as usual, my children didn't seem to mind at all.

This is the Place for Me, by Joanna Cole

* This one is out of print, and I couldn't find a decent picture for the cover.

Bear's house is falling apart. Everywhere he looks things are broken! Finally, he decides it is time to find a new house to live in. So off he goes. Except that no matter where he goes, there's a problem. The cave he finds has a dragon in it! Some of the houses are too small, too delicious, or too scary. Just when he has almost given up hope, he finds one that will be just right...with a little work.

* * * * * *
I didn't realize until I looked it up on Goodreads, that this was by the same author as the Magic School Bus series! I had no idea she did other books! I don't know why that just rocked my world a little bit, but it did. Weird. Anyway....

My kids love knowing more than Bear in this story, and they always have to point out at the end--"But that's HIS old house!" That little plot device is probably the reason we've kept the book for several years now. Never gets old.

The Very Noisy House, by Julie Rhodes
Illustrated by Korky Paul

There's a very tall house, with 5 floors. At the very bottom of the house lives an old lady who uses a cane to get around. "CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP." Right above her lives a dog, who gets all worked up whenever he hears the cane, so he starts barking. Wouldn't you know it, his barking wakes up the cat on the 3rd floor who begins to yowl, which upsets the baby up on Floor 4 and makes him cry, which causes the birds in the attic to start squawking. Can anything quiet down this very noisy house?

* * * * * *
This book has an unusual layout--you have to turn it sideways to read it! I suppose that was so that all 5 stories of the very tall house would fit. The noises are written out in the illustrations, with each piling on top of the other, until the book is visually as noisy as the very tall house. Then, as it quiets down again, each layer of noise visually gets erased as well. Very effective.

This one would be great for a group setting (sometimes I really miss doing storytimes at the library!) It's got a call-and-response rhythm to it. Even at home, your kids will have fun chiming in on all the noises. It has a funny little twist at the end, too.

Juvenile Nonfiction Books

Homes Around the World, by Max Moore
J 726

Photographs showcase several different types of houses spanning the globe, from yurts to igloos to tonganakans.

* * * * *

Though this is labelled as a Level 1 reader for beginners, I would hand it to intermediate readers instead. Each 2-page spread has 3-4 sentences, with many longer words interspersed, for example: "boardwalks," "imagine," and "material," among others.

My one complaint is that it doesn't say where the various houses are located, or who builds them.

[picture not available]
Living Long Ago: Homes and Houses, by Helen Edom

Starting from 40,000 years ago and working forward, this book explores various types of shelter through the ages. The format reminded me of a Magic School Bus book, with many different text boxes on each 2-page spread offering more information, or craft project to do. The illustrations are drawn, with each element labelled. It mostly focuses on civilizations of Europe, including a castle, a Roman town house, Dutch merchants' houses, and so on.

* * * * *
This one would be great for homeschoolers, or those very interested in this subject. Most elementary-aged kids will probably need an adult to read it with them or to them. It could be a bit overwhelming for all but the strongest readers.

Wonderful Houses Around the World, by Yoshio Komatsu
Illustrated by Akira Nishiyama

This book is like a "best parts" combination of the previous two! It begins with a 2-page photograph of people next to their home, along with a paragraph stating where it is, and what happened when the author visited.

Then you turn the page and the next 2-page spread is a cut-away drawing of the dwelling, including a handful of text boxes describing what things are. Each drawn page also has a small box at the top with the question "Who lives here?" and the answer, for instance, "A father, a mother, and three children."

* * * * * *
We really loved this one and spent quite a bit of time finding all the details in the cutaway drawings.

* * * * * * *
What about for you? What do you do to make a house feel like home?

April 7, 2017

Critical Flaws

We're back! After a week of house-hunting, maybe I am more picky than I realized! We saw probably 20+ homes over a period of a couple of days, most of which were fairly quickly crossed off our list of potentials.  Since I'm sure you are dying to know, here are some of the critical flaws that caused different houses to get the big red X:

1--DIY gone wrong. Inside was a complete hodge-podge of rooms/finishes. Owner was laying slate on the porch when we came and mentioned that his previous tenants' son had "taken an ax to some things" that he was now trying to fix. Um, okay. Sure enough, nearly every room needed some serious remodeling.

2--Strange placement on the lot/block. We walked outside onto the back porch and 10 feet away was the side of the neighbor's house. No fence or dividing line. Wait--who's grass is that? It's either the smallest backyard ever or maybe a shared side yard/back yard? Weird. That wasn't the only deciding factor against that particular house, but it was one of the big ones.

There were also a few that were sandwiched between the road in front and a hill in back. Barely room for the house, and zero room for any kind of playing in the yard.

3--The longest ever flight of stairs up to the 2nd floor bedrooms: half a flight, then a full flight, then turn and another half a flight. This pregnant lady was thinking NO WAY! How many times a day would I have to trudge up these stairs?

4--Stucco sprayed directly onto the plywood on the outside of the house. My husband caught this one (I would have been completely oblivious--at least one of us knows what to look for!) Stucco is not water-proof and is supposed to have some kind of barrier behind it. The plywood was all rotting out at the bottom of the house.

5--House that claimed to have 2 acres! When we got there, there were 2 narrow terraces the length of the house, and the rest was a steep hill. Like, too steep for the kids to even climb or explore. They should have mentioned vertical acreage. Plus, the driveway was very steep and angled, with a big drop-off on one side. I can only imagine getting down it in the snow.

6--Deceptive online photos. From what we saw online, I had high hopes for this one. The house looked good and the backyard looked quite spacious. As it turned out, the backyard was shared with the neighbor and much narrower than it had looked in the photos. Plus, the neighbor said they were most likely going to put a fence across their half. Perhaps they took the picture from the neighbor's corner of the yard then photoshopped it? I don't know. It was quite disappointing.

7--Busy street in front and 4 dogs inside. From the odor, apparently not particularly well-trained dogs. The current tenants (no mention that it was a rental) were home when we came, and so were the dogs. We got the feeling they were perhaps trying to discourage potential buyers. It worked.

8--The Grandma house. It had that old carpet smell; everything was very dated. Lots of wood paneling. I mean, it could have been a fun house to buy just to fix up and remodel, if we didn't have to also live in it at the time. A pity, because it had a nice back yard.

9--An absolutely gorgeous home. 100 years old, completely remodeled by the owner. Attention to detail and amazing workmanship. Except...it was in an older part of town and the nicest home on the block by at least $100K. Yeah. Good luck ever re-selling that one.

10--The smoker house. We do not smoke. You just can't hide that smell. We know from experience that you have to essentially replace or refinish every surface--drywall, ceiling, trim, flooring, etc., to get rid of the smell. (In our first home we did just that. We were younger and more energetic back then. Also, it was a tiny house--less than 800 square feet!)

I won't bore you by listing out every single one. Suffice it to say, we had some long, tiring days.

I'm happy to report that we did find a couple that were genuine possibilities.

The one we're leaning toward is an older home (well, same age as our home here--built in the mid-1980's) that could use some work but nothing urgent. Smaller than some we looked at, but enough room for us. Clean, well taken care of. My husband is already talking about plans for how he would remodel it to add space/efficiency, and where he wants to put the shed/workshop he plans to build.

The best part for me: it's on half an acre! Also, it's flat, so it would all be useable space. There's a small, 8-tree orchard already planted, plus a large garden spot, grass by the house for playing on, "pasture" in back (I'm thinking FLOWERS!) and a fire pit. Pretty views of the mountains in back. We're going to make a final decision this weekend and hopefully put in an offer on Monday.

Here's hoping!

April 5, 2017

2 LDS Thrillers: Obsession & Code Word, by Traci Hunter Abramson

I am proud to report that I have read 2 more books from my own bookshelves, which have been sitting there for quite some time!  Slowly but surely, making my way through. Though I have to say--it's a little harder to complete this goal when I've packed up 75% of my books!

Obsession, by Traci Hunter Abramson

3.5 stars: Predictable, but a sweet romance and a few exciting action scenes.

Kendra Blake is a famous singer, who has lived her whole life surrounded by a claustrophobic web of protection and bodyguards. Her father--a well-known actor himself--has insisted on it. Then a bomb detonates backstage at one of her concerts. Before her father can step in and basically put her under house arrest until the culprit is found, Kendra takes matters into her own hands and runs away to a secluded family cabin up in the mountains.

Little does she know that her grandfather has added an extra safeguard: the neighbor renting the cabin across the way is actually an FBI agent. Charlie Whitmore is not only working on the bombing case--and possibly connecting it with a string of murders dealing with high-profile beautiful women--but is there to watch over Kendra. As it turns out, she's really going to need it.

* * * * *
I generally stay away from books involving serial killers, but of the few I have read, this one was on the mild side for that topic. She does put you inside the head of the perpetrator (another dislike), but those scenes are short--thankfully--and fade to black before he commits the actual murder.

I liked the way Kendra and Charlie's relationship built up over time, and I appreciated that it stayed clean.

This wasn't my most favorite of Abramson's, but it was still an enjoyable, quick read.

Content: Clean romance; some violence, but most of it offscreen.

(Finished reading Feb. 16)

Code Word, by Traci Hunter Abramson

4 stars: Action and romance, with a side dish of faith and testimony.

For Carina Channing, taking care of her 2 youngers sisters is everything. Ever since the day her mother was murdered and they went on the run, she has been the sole provider and parent for them. Her extended family in Chicago runs the Outfit, which is the Mafia. Despite everything she has done to keep the three of them safe, one day an unwelcome reminder shows up at her door and tells her that it's time for them to return home to Chicago. He's not above forcing her hand, either.

Meanwhile, Navy SEAL Jay Wellman is home on leave, when he meets icy, guarded Carina at one of his dad's swim team practices. Carina's younger sister is swimming for Coach Pete, with hopes of the Olympics someday. Jay is intrigued by Carina and would like to get to know her better. Also, it seems something is not quite right with the young man that keeps confronting her and lurking around. He may be on leave, but all of a sudden he's got a reason to put some of his training to use as a civilian. She needs protecting more than she realizes.

* * * * *
Jay and Carina are both unique characters, battling their own demons. Of course, they've got to get together (!), but the road there will not be simple or easy for either one of them.

I quite enjoy Abramson's blend of suspense and romance. She gets the proportions just right for my taste. She also did a great job portraying the search for faith in God, for both Jay and Carina. It was a natural process and didn't feel out of place with the rest of the story.

Content: As with her others, clean romance. Some violence/intense action scenes, but most of it happens offstage. What you do see isn't overly gory.

(Finished reading Mar. 22)

* * * * *

Are you a fan of Traci Hunter Abramson? So far I've liked everything of hers I've read!

April 3, 2017

Dream House?

When you talk about a "dream house" does a picture come to your mind? Do you even talk about your dream house? Or are you perhaps already living in your dream house?

I've had houses on my mind a lot over the past few months, as we are preparing to sell this one and are in Utah this week looking for one to buy. As we've talked and looked at places online, I've come to realize something about myself: I don't dream in houses.

A house for me is a place to live. The end. I like to be comfortable, and I definitely have developed some preferences for certain things over the years, but really, when all's said and done, I think I would be content with any number of homes.

Our home in Washington is a case in point. We purchased it sight unseen--except for photos--7 years ago. We were originally going to rent it, but about a month before we were scheduled to move here from Missouri, the owners decided to sell it instead. We had no time (or money) to come house-hunting, so we put an offer on it, which they accepted. We figured it would be fine, as long as inspections came through without finding any glaring problems. You know what? It has been fine.

I don't love it. I won't miss it, but it's not like I've been unhappy here. It has been perfectly adequate for our needs. It has never been my favorite layout--especially the split-level entry, and the small living areas upstairs. Oh well. We've made it work. We've done some remodeling over the 7 years we've lived here that have made it fit our family better--added a bathroom, redid the kitchen, etc. (By "we" I mean "my husband.") With each change I've liked it better, but will I miss it? Still no.

I am much more sad to leave my flowerbeds behind! Surprise, surprise! :) I've spent far more time thinking about and planning for them than anything on the inside of the house. Looking at houses online and in person, it's not necessarily the features of the house that get me excited (though built-in bookshelves are always a plus!), but the possibilities for the yard.

If the house comes with some land, oh the dreams that start up then! Let's see, we'll need a greenhouse, and I'd like the orchard to be there, chicken coop in that corner, the vegetable garden close by, the flower farm will get this section, a play area for the kids over there.... The house? Eh--it is what it is. Let's talk about the GARDEN!

What about you? What kinds of things do you dream about?