March 21, 2018

Weeding For Other People

Why is it that having someone else do your weeding for you causes such guilt? It's weird.

Since we've moved here, I have had a couple of experiences with this. The first one was with my next-door neighbor. Sweetest lady. I noticed her one flowerbed next to the house could use some love. She's a grandma; so I offered to take care of it. I guess that was my first mistake.

She very sweetly but firmly turned me down flat. I tried to explain that I enjoy gardening, I would be out doing my own anyway, it would be no problem, etc. etc. She would have none of it! She went on to say how hard she found it to keep up with the yard since the passing of her husband. I put out the idea that maybe that was one reason we became neighbors, so that she would have some help with her yard--me!

I was just going to go ahead and do it anyway, when she said the one thing that truly stopped me. She said, "Please don't. If I saw you out there weeding my flowerbed, and you just had a baby and all your little kids, I would feel so guilty." Well, darn it! What am I supposed to say to that?

I still may carry out a covert weeding mission some day when she's not home and just see if she notices, but should I? I've been debating with myself ever since. Is it more important to me than to her? I mean, I don't want to force it on her or make a big issue of it. However, from the way she talked when I offered, it seemed like it is something she would like to have done. It's not like her weeds bother me--just that I noticed them, along with the thought that this was something I was well equipped to take care of. See, I probably should have just done it rather than offering in the first place.

* * * * *

Then today, it was a gorgeous spring day. Perfect for digging grass out of the flowerbeds at this house where we're staying. This time I was wiser and just got out my stuff and got to work. Then the lady we're staying with came outside. She saw me and said, "What are you doing?" I denied everything. "Who me? Nothing," I replied. She said, "You shouldn't be doing that! Stop that!" Such is our friendship at this point that I politely said, "No." Then she jokingly (mostly, I think) said, "Get out of my yard!" I just smiled and kept going.

Then we chatted for a minute about how she used to love gardening, but it was so hard on the knees. I kept weeding as we talked. She left it at that, though I probably haven't heard the end of it! I fully intend to finish the flowerbed and clean up her dead perennials as well. I mean, it's the least I can do. She has been so kind and generous letting us stay in her basement indefinitely. I may even talk her into letting me plant some low-maintenance perennials to crowd out the grass.

[On a related note: weed fabric is useless! All of the grass I was digging up was growing on top of the weed fabric, in the layer of dirt formed as the mulch has broken down. Most of the roots pierced the cloth, so I couldn't get them completely dug up. I strongly dislike weed fabric. Ok. As you were.]

By the way, it seems to go a lot better if you see someone weeding and jump in to help. That was the case last week with a different neighbor.

* * * * *

Talk to me! Would you feel guilty if someone offered to dig up your weeds? (Or just did it.) If so, why? What piece to this puzzle am I missing here? Mowing lawns and shoveling snow don't encounter nearly the same resistance. Same with raking leaves. What's the difference?

While I don't love weeding, I do find it satisfying. It's something many older people are not able to do anymore themselves, but I still have young knees. Ok. I have middle-aged knees, but they aren't giving me any trouble yet! I dare say I'm quite good at it. I'm thorough and I can almost guarantee I won't dig up the wrong thing! Yet none of these "qualifications" seem to bear weight with those I'm trying to help.

So what gives?

Also, any ideas to fine-tune my approach?

March 19, 2018

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk

By the way, I do have more gardening posts coming. I've been dying to get out and do more work outside, but we've had crazy weather over the past week! It has snowed several times and been clear and cold the other days. Hey, on the one nice day last week, I did help a friend weed her flowerbed. It was good for the soul, I tell you!

So. This book. After putting it off for a long time, I finally sat down and read this one! I knew it would not be an easy read and I was right. This is one that begs for discussion. In fact, I think discussion should be mandatory for any kids reading it, just to help them process what happens.

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk
2017 Newberry Honor

4 stars: Deeply piercing.

Annabelle's life is just kind of going along, as the oldest of 3. Her little brothers, Henry and James, pretty much do their own thing, though she watches out for them in the schoolyard. Their neighborhood has its share of people who are different. Among them, is a man named Toby, who lives by himself in a shack in the woods. He's a WWI vet and isn't quite right in the head. At least, that's the general consensus. Though he doesn't say much ever, and is out in all weathers on his own, Anabelle's family has given him food from time to time and he has never harmed anyone. In fact, they discovered that he had a gift for photography and since then their family's camera has been on permanent loan to him.

Then Betty Glengarry comes to town. She immediately singles out Annabelle as the object of her bullying. At first, it's nothing too bad--threats to hurt Annabelle if she doesn't bring Betty something. Annabelle smashes her piggy bank, but decides that she's not giving any more than the few precious coins inside.

However, when Annabelle stands up to her, Betty gives her a bruise "the size of a cucumber" on her upper thigh, beating her with a stick. Then Betty falls in with an older student named Andy, who has always been a troublemaker. The two of them skip school or spend the whole time whispering together.

Things start to get out of hand when Betty begins to threaten Annabelle by saying she will hurt Henry and James if Annabelle doesn't give her what she wants. The kids all walk home from the one-room schoolhouse, leaving ample opportunity for such threats to be carried out. It's a constant worry for Annabelle, but she's not sure what it will take to stop Betty.

Then there's the day of the rock. Ruth, one of Annabelle's close friends and classmates is hit by a rock--possibly intended for the German fruit seller who has pulled up to the school. In any case, Ruth is seriously injured. No-one knows who threw the rock.

Betty starts rumors going around that it was Toby. She offers convincing evidence--she says she saw him to do it from the belfry of the school, where she was skipping class with Andy. Her accusations stir up a hornet's nest of trouble in the small community. Then Betty goes missing. So does Toby. This does not look good for anyone.

Annabelle, who may know more than anyone else about the truth of things, is the only one who's going to be able to put things right again. What can she do, though? She's just a kid.

* * * * *
A story about bullying and kindness; about insiders and outsiders; about good and evil. I think every kid who reads this book will relate on some level. We have all been bullied to various degrees. We have all seen others be picked on. Senseless acts of violence have affected us all, directly or indirectly. On the other side, we have all given or received kindness as well. We have seen those who needed our kindness, whether or not we've stepped up to give it.

There was a growing tension in the story, as the violence escalated, and as Annabelle saw the path before her would require courage and probably some sacrifice of her own well-being.

You know, I didn't know what to make of Betty. We never really got her backstory. I wish we had. Rather, she was painted as this one-dimensional Bringer of All the Bad Things to Annabelle's peaceful life. And the thing this kid does--I mean really, a sharpened wire? How is she still roaming around in free society?

I was glad Annabelle did talk to her parents eventually and that they were all a part of the solutions--the temporary and the attempt at more permanent ones. It's the kind of story I read with a pit in my stomach the entire time, as I wondered what other awfulness was coming around the bend.

Annabelle's friendship with Toby was a bright spot. The way she got him to open up a little and participate in some things brought a ray of hope to a dark time. She was very mature for 12. At one point as Toby was telling her some things about the war, she listened, but realized she had no way to process it all yet, so sort of packed it away in her mind until she could truly understand it and deal with it at some point.

The ending was tragic but true to life, unfortunately. Wolk did a masterful job portraying Annabelle's mixed emotions when she realized where Betty must be. Did Betty deserve what happened to her because of her previous actions? Do any of us deserve what we get, good or bad?

I'm having a hard time pinning down the age for this one. The ages of the characters would make it seem to be written for middle graders, but the themes and situations are better suited to teens or even adults. This is one that would be a good one for an adult book club. A quick read, but depths and layers to explore.

Content: Intense situations; bullying.


March 14, 2018

Half a Series: Stoker and Holmes

I started this post as a "Series Spotlight" way back in September and still have yet to get my hands on books 3 and 4! Time for these reviews to be done languishing in the "Draft" pile and move on with life!

p.s. It's a good thing I reviewed them right after I read them, because I would have no clue where to begin if I had waited until now!

The Clockwork Scarab, by Colleen Gleason

4 stars: A diverting and delightful way to spend a few hours.

Alvermina Holmes--just Mina, thank you--(Sherlock's niece) and Evaline Stoker (yep, vampire huntress) would never have become partners in any endeavor, if Irene Adler hadn't stepped in. They both are invited to join Ms. Adler as secret investigators for the Princess. Specifically, looking into the mysterious deaths and disappearances of certain high society young girls. So far there have been 3: a disappearance, an apparent suicide, and now a murder.

Each girl has her own strengths and weaknesses to bring to the table. Mina is the brains and the planner, taking after Uncle Sherlock's deductive reasoning and power of observation, while Evaline has inherited incredible strength and speed, and happens to be popular amongst the Ton as well. It will take more than a shared assignment for them to get along, but in order to survive, they're going to have to figure out how to do it.

* * * * *
There was a lot going on in this book that made it enjoyable. The steampunk London setting was well done. It wasn't gone into in depth, but details here and there kept popping up: the clockwork scarabs themselves; the skyways and multiple levels of walkways for streets; various gadgets and weapons; even a term or two, "cognoggin," for example. It was just enough to put you there without slowing down the rest of the story. This was not a story about the setting, after all, but a murder mystery.

The personality clashes between Miss Holmes and Miss Stoker kept it lively. The mystery itself never quite got resolved, as the murderer got away without being positively identified. I have my suspicions as to who it was, but I suppose I'll have to wait to see if I'm correct. There were several shadowy figures with undisclosed pasts and motivations that it could have been. A handful of fight scenes, plus a little bit of romantic interests on the side. All together it added up to a satisfying read.

A recipe for success!

Content: A little blood in the fight scenes, a handful of cuss words. I would say 16 and up.


The Spiritglass Charade (Stoker and Holmes #2), by Colleen Gleason

3 stars: Our dynamic duo take on spiritualists and the UnDead.

Once again Miss Holmes and Miss Stoker, detective and vampire slayer, are back to solve a new round of problems. Willa Ashton is a girl about the same age as our heroines, who's little brother Robby has gone missing, (presumed dead), and she has become heavily involved with spiritualists in an attempt to contact her dead mother and find out where he is. However, it seems as though someone is trying to push Willa over the brink into insanity. The question is: why? Money, probably, but there could be other motives as well.

Another troubling development: rumors have it that there are UnDead roaming London. Vampires, to be precise. Miss Stoker will finally get a chance to prove herself as a venator (vampire slayer). That is, if she can ever find one of the blasted things.

* * * * *
Much like the first book, this one does an excellent job of setting up steampunk London as the backdrop to an engaging mystery story. The two girls continue to get on each other's nerves, but seem to be slowly warming to each other's strengths as well. A handful of the main supporting characters were still quite mysterious, but I've got a few theories as to what they were about.

My lower rating on this one is simply because I don't enjoy vampire stories very much. This one was okay--not super bloody or sensual or creepy--but still; I didn't like it as much as the first. I did smile, though, at a jab toward the Twilight series. One of the characters is named Dylan, and he is a misplaced time traveler from our time. At one point he makes a snide remark about vampires glittering in the sun. Ha!

Content: Some kissing, vampire slaying, a bit of blood. Also, talk of séances and communicating with the dead, but it was actually fairly entertaining, as Miss Holmes was there figuring out how they had been faked. Appropriate for teens and up.


* * * * *
I have been on the waiting list for #3 for months, and our library doesn't even own #4 yet. So no guarantees when reviews for #'s 3 and 4 will be coming along. Don't hold your breath, is all I'm saying.

On a different note, these books sort of made me want to invest in a steampunk Halloween costume (it was before Halloween when I read them, if you may recall.) The clothes sounded so awesome! Maybe that is something I could start putting together now. White ruffled blouse or fancy dress, gears, corset as outerwear, boots and goggles...hmm...this could be a lot of fun!

March 12, 2018

A Dose of Magical Realism

A couple of magical realism stories for you today. In the first, a family of knitters have knitted magic into requested items for generations. What will happen when it's all about to fall apart? 

The second is a story about a girl getting to know her grandfather. More than that, it's a story about an utopian community and what led to its downfall. Or maybe it's just about bees and drought and green lake water. Read it and decide for yourself.

The Wishing Thread, by Lisa van Allen

3.5 stars: Is magic what's holding this family together, or is it something else? 

The Van Rippers are a magical family who knits desires or wishes into items, each requiring a sacrifice in return. No guarantees or returns. Unfortunately, they can't use any of the sacrificed items for themselves. Their house, which has been called "The Stitchery" for as long as anyone can remember, is falling apart and they can't afford to fix it. Not only that, but that town council has plans to bulldoze the entire neighborhood to make a room for a new business/condo mix.

Aubrey is the current, reluctant keeper of both the magic and The Stitchery. She is one of 3 sisters who were raised by Mariah, and tends to shyness and lack of confidence in her own abilities. With the death of Mariah, her other 2 sisters return for the funeral, each with baggage of her own.

Bitty is the oldest. She refuses to believe the magic is real and she especially doesn't want her 2 children sucked into the pretend world of the magic. Then there's Meggie. She's a wanderer; always going her own way, with very little communication beforehand with those she loves. She's never told her sisters as much, but her wandering has had a purpose: she's been looking for their mother all this time; from town to town, following the threads. She has found traces of her, but nothing concrete.

As these three sisters deal with their childhoods, they realize they're also going to have to come together to face the threat to the neighborhood and their family's way of life.

* * * * * 
The magic in this story is tenuous, like the strands with which it is woven. It appears and reappears, but it is not always what it seems. 

I liked the relationship of the 3 sisters in this one, and the way they came to terms with each other again, after some hurt and bitter moments in the past. I liked the way the whole neighborhood came together for a gigantic spell-making/knitting extravaganza. I really liked seeing Aubrey find romance and gain some confidence in her own abilities.

Strangely enough, though, what I liked most was the aftermath. When they realized that change must come, and what that meant for each of them individually and as a family; and even as a community. I thought she captured very well the thrilling and terrifying mix of emotion that you would feel to be released from a lifetime of expectations, and then, what comes next after that.

An extra half-star for the cover.

Content: A non-graphic sex scene. 


Hour of the Bees, by Lindsay Eager

4 stars: What is truth? 

Carolina (just Carol, thanks), her little brother Luis (Lu), and her parents are not too excited to be spending their summer at Grandpa Serge's place in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. He has dementia and must be moved into a nursing home, but he does not want to leave his sheep ranch. There has been a drought at the ranch for the past century, though, and pretty much everything has dried up and blown away. Except for the sage brush, and a few skeletal sheep. And Serge.

Serge is a bit cantankerous, not to mention bound and determined not to leave the ranch. There's some unfinished business between Carol's dad and Serge that often makes things tense. If that weren't enough, rattlesnakes and other desert predators abound. Carol's mom is supposed to make notes about his "slips" into dementia. Carol just wants to leave. Despite all that, Carolina begins to get to know Serge, over time listening to all of his stories.

The stories have a common theme: a green-glass lake, a magical tree, and bees. A happy people forgotten by time. A young couple in love, though the girl is restless and wants to experience more of the world than can be found in their little utopia by the lake.  Carolina comes to realize that the girl and boy are her grandma and grandpa--but that can't be possible, can it? This all supposedly happened like 100 years ago or more. And all that talk about the bees bringing the rain...? Well, that's just the dementia talking. Isn't it?

* * * * *
I loved the juxtaposition of the harsh desert world, with the challenging family relationships, and the verdant peace, beauty, and harmony of Serge's stories. As the story moves forward, the two begin to the blend and merge at the edges in unexpected and poignant ways. 

Immerse yourself in this world of magical realism for a couple of hours and come back up, refreshed.

Content: clean. Ages 10+.

Have you read any good magical realism lately?

March 9, 2018

Pruning the Apple Tree

This apple tree on the side of our house really needed some pruning.
Since we've had a couple of days this week with warmer afternoons, it was perfect timing.
You want to do it while the tree is still dormant, so before buds or leaves start to open up.

I may have mentioned it before, but I really enjoy pruning.
I just think it's fun and satisfying.

I have never pruned an apple tree before, so I watched a whole bunch of videos on YouTube, and now I am an expert.
Also, I hope my tree survives! Ha!

So, here's what it looked like when I started:

It's got branches going every which way.
Last year, there were quite a few apples on the tree, but they were all very small, and none of them really got ripe.

So, your main objective with pruning fruit trees is letting light down into the middle of the tree.
Your fruit will ripen, be bigger, and taste better if it has sufficient light.

First things first on any pruning job: the 3 D's.
Take out any Dead, Damaged, or Diseased branches.

Exhibit A: Can you see the damage on this limb? 
I cut it off just above the branch coming off in the healthy part.

For fruit trees, you also want to take out any that are growing towards the middle of the tree, or crossing through the middle. There was a fairly decent sized branch doing that. It got chopped.

You also want to take out any that are growing straight up (you won't get fruit off those--they are water sprouts, which just take energy from the tree with nothing to show for it), or straight down.
The one video I watched called them "hanger-downers." Those ones won't give you much fruit, either. 

Take out any that are crossing other branches, because over time they will rub off bark, which will allow infection or bugs to set in.
Along those lines, for fruit trees, if there is one branch directly over another shading it out, choose one to chop.

Branches with acute angles should usually be taken off as well.
Here's one that bugged me really bad.
Do you see the "v" formed by those two branches? 
I ended up leaving them, since I didn't have very many bigger branches on that side of the tree.
I may chop the right one off next year, though.

When you chop off a branch, leave a little nub so the collar of the branch stays intact.

This looks really bare now, but I'm confident it will fill in.
Winter pruning stimulates growth, so this tree should put on a lot of growth this spring!

It left us with a decent sized pile of firewood and kindling, plus a couple of nice walking sticks. :)
Next I need to prune the younger apple tree in the orchard.
That should be fun, too.

March 7, 2018

Series for a Sick Day: Howl's Moving Castle

I have been down the past week and half--or has it been 2 weeks now? with sickness. Possibly flu, even though I got my shot. The crud. Basically. I thought I was mostly better, than got hit with a second round this past weekend.

So, what do I turn to? Why, books, of course! Usually books that I already know I'll like, to be specific. I have realized that a good deal of my reading is for escape or comfort. Even though my life is not nearly as stressful as most of yours, probably. Sometimes I'm up for a challenge in books, but many times, I just want to travel to a new but familiar place in my imagination.

I'm okay with that. I've made some goals to stretch my boundaries with that a bit, but in the meantime, bring on the comfort reads!

One of the days, I pulled up a list of all the books on my kindle app (on my phone) and scrolled down through to see what I had read. I came across Howl's Moving Castle, by Dianne Wynne Jones, and I knew I had found what I needed to get me through another day on the couch.

If you've never read it, it's quirky, middle grade fantasy. Each of the 3 books is set in the same world, but with different main characters. In the later books, you get glimpses of characters from the first, which makes it more fun.

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle #1), by Diana Wynne Jones
5 stars: Original and completely delightful.

Sophie is the eldest of 3, and not even the daughter of a poor woodcutter. So basically, she has no chance to make her way in the world. After all, it's always the youngest that's the big success. Her stepmother is actually nice. When the girls' father dies, they have to be apprenticed to various places in town, except for Sophie who stays to run the hat shop.

Then she is changed into an old woman, due to a curse by the Witch of the Waste. She figures the only person who can help her is the evil wizard Howl, who's castle has been roving the hills for several weeks now, making everyone dreadfully nervous. Off she stumps to catch the castle. She doesn't know that at the castle her destiny awaits.

 Sophie and Howl can't help but clash all the time, and it's highly entertaining for the rest of us.


Castle in the Air (Howl's Moving Castle #2), by Diana Wynne Jones
4 stars: A poor carpet merchant gets a chance to live his dreams...for better or worse.

Abdullah is a carpet merchant who dreams of much more--a more exciting past, a more romantic future. Then one day a stranger sells him a magic carpet and that very night he is whisked away into one of his daydreams. He meets a lovely girl named Flower-in-the-Night, but he also meets her angry father. He is fated to be "raised above all others in the land," based on a prophecy his father paid for when Abdullah was just young. Now he's not sure, though, if that means great wealth or at the end of a noose!

When his lovely Flower-in-the-Night gets snatched away to a castle in the air, Abdullah is determined to rescue her. He has adventures of all sorts along the way. He falls in with a cunning mercenary and very reluctantly, with a demon cat and her kitten. The magic carpet is a point. The surly genie in the bottle, likewise. If he's going to ever retrieve his princess, he's going to have to stop wasting wishes, somehow get up to that castle, and then...a plan will materialize. He hopes.

* * * * *
2014: This was great fun--witty and charming. It's been a long time since I read "Howl's Moving Castle." It made me want to look it up again.

re-read Dec 2015: Mostly skimmed it, to remind myself of the story. I remembered some of the surprise identities, but not all. Still enjoyable the second time through.

2/25/18: I enjoyed the flowery language of Abdullah's culture this time around, especially in contrast to the more blunt way of speaking employed by the northerners. 

House of Many Ways (Howl's Moving Castle #3), by Diana Wynne Jones
3 stars: My least favorite of the 3, but still good fun.

Charmain is sent to her Uncle's, to look after his house while he is away being healed by the Elves. She hasn't had any magical training, and the house is very magical. Fortunately, her uncle has left answers to most questions--all she has to do is ask.

Then a boy named Peter comes along, claiming to be an apprentice of her uncle's. Oh yes, and she gets a job in the palace, helping the King sort out his library. The kingdom is about to go bankrupt, and the King feels sure that the answer to where their wealth has gone can be found amongst the papers and books in the library.

Our old friends, Sophie and Howl, are also called in to help investigate, along with their little boy. However, it's Charmain who has all the pieces of the puzzle, if she can just put them together.

* * * * *
Sophie and Howl are the brightest parts of the story, but Charmain manages to hold her own. The Lubbock was sufficiently creepy. The breeding laundry was pretty awesome, as were Peter and Charmain's domestic travails.


* * * * *
What are your main reasons for reading? Escape? Enlightenment? To collect facts?
Does that reasoning change when you're stressed or sick?

Do tell!

March 5, 2018

Obituary of a Reader + Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande

My mom ran across this obituary in the Logan Herald Journal and called me up to tell me about it.

Beula May Sorenson Worthen
(died at age 90)

I read; I wed; I bred; I fed; I read; I led;
I read, read, read; now I'm dead.

Apparently she wrote this single-sentence summary of her life before she died. What a hoot!

[A full obituary follows, with a few more details about family and such. It also mentions that during one of her later years in life she read 478 books!]

Is this what your obituary will say someday?  I think for mine it would have to say something about flowers in there too. Hmm, except that doesn't rhyme. Better get to work on that!

I suppose while we're talking about such things, we may as well talk about this book:

Being Mortal: Medicine, and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande

5 stars: This should be required reading for every family.

I am glad I decided to buy this book! It was every bit as good as I had heard. Gawande--a surgeon-- talks about how our medical system is broken when it comes to end-of-life care. Often quality of remaining life is sacrificed for trying one more thing or doing one more surgery. He goes into the history of nursing homes, and the rise of assisted living centers and senior communities. He also talks quite extensively about hospice care--the one part of the industry that seems to be getting things right.

A palliative care specialist gave him a list of questions to ask to get at the heart of what someone wants the end of their life to be like. These are hard questions to ask, but they bring much-needed clarity, and allow for healthcare decisions to be made by others, should the person in question be unable to do so. Gawande tells the story of the end of his Dad's life, and at one point talks about the hard conversation they had revolving around these questions.

Here they are:

1. What is your understanding of your condition and prognosis?

2. What are your concerns or fears about what lies ahead?

3. What kinds of trade-offs are you willing to make or not willing to make to try and stop what is happening to you?

4. What are your goals for the time you have remaining; how do you want to spend your time if your health worsens?

5. Who do you want to make decisions if you can't?

In the case of Gawande's father, also a doctor, he knew his condition (from a spinal cord tumor) and prognosis were worsening. He was becoming paraplegic. He worried about becoming a burden on his wife. His goals were to finish his Rotary responsibilities and make sure the college he had started back in India and his family were going to be all right. As far as trade-offs went, he most emphatically did not want to be completely paralyzed from the neck down, on a ventilator, requiring constant care for every basic need.

This conversation became very important in the middle of the surgery on his dad's tumor, when the surgeon came out and explained that his dad's heart had gone into an abnormal pattern. Should they stop the surgery or keep going? Gawande, recalling his dad's answers to the Hard Questions, asked one of his own to the surgeon--which option would make it more likely that his dad would end up completely paralyzed--stopping or continuing? "Stopping," was the answer. So Gawande instructed him to keep going with the surgery.

He talks about the importance of hope, but also the importance of looking reality square in the eyes and preparing for it. Most cancer survival outcomes, for example, follow a curve with a big hump in the middle--be it months or a couple of years, depending on the type--and a long skinny tail going off to the right of the chart. Meaning, a handful of people manage to survive years and years, but most do not. Medicine, however, is bent on chasing that tail--at all costs. Unless the patient puts a stop to it.

It's hard, because no-one wants to be the dream-crusher; and we know positive thinking can do amazing things for the immune system. So, many times doctors are not as clear as they could be when discussing potential harm/benefits from various treatment options, leaving the patient to hope falsely, or to put more stock in a treatment than they should.

I want my husband to read this and give me his take on it, as one in the medical profession.

Have you read it? What did you think?

March 1, 2018

2015 Newberry Award Winners

This is one of the years I had read 2 of the 3 already, which made this list easy to put together!

What stands out to me about this year's winners is the strong voice. Each unique in its own way, yet the child or teen narrating carries you right into the story.

For a book with a beat, brothers, and some mad ball skills:

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
2015 Newberry Award

5 stars: It deserved to win! This was unexpectedly great.

Josh and Jordan Bell are twin basketball stars. They own the court, following in the footsteps of their famous basketball playing Dad. Along with their mom, they've been a close family all along, until somehow this year--7th grade--things seem to be loosening up between them. Things are changing and these boys will have to learn to navigate the new reality. Don't take my word for it, though! The book says it better and more powerfully.

* * * * *
How in the world did a book of poetry about basketball, of all things, win the Newberry? Well my friends, read it and you will understand. I loved it! The honesty. The rhythm. The basketball. The relationship of the brothers. The whole thing! Get it and read it, and step inside somebody else's head for awhile.         

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, Sept 2015)

Honor Books:

For a graphic novel with an unlikely heroine: 

El Deafo, by Cece Bell
2015 Newberry Honor

3 stars: Life is full of ups and downs for Cece, many of which revolve around her hearing loss.

Cece loses her hearing after an illness, when she is little. After her kindergarten year, which was in a school for the deaf, she enters 1st grade in a mainstream elementary school. Even with a super-powerful hearing aid called "The Phonic Ear", she still has some trouble at school. A lot of her understanding depends on lip reading, which can be tricky.

Her other problems are with finding friends. Her first "best friend" Laura is okay, though mean and bossy at times. At least she doesn't seem to mind Cece's deafness. When Ginny comes along, Cece is relieved that she doesn't seem pushy. Cece has had about enough of Laura's brand of friendship by that point. Unfortunately, Ginny always makes a big deal out of Cece's deafness. She talks very slowly and loudly, even after Cece tells her to stop. That one doesn't last either. Then there's Martha. She's super nice, not at all bossy, and doesn't make a big deal out of Cece's deafness. They have a ton of fun together, until an accident happens while playing tag, and Martha gets a little freaked out by it, thinking Cece's injury was all her fault.

Through it all, Cece has to deal with being different than almost everyone else she knows--for better or worse.
* * * * *
I haven't read very many graphic novels; this was a good one. The use of speech bubbles really added to the story. For instance, when Cece found out she couldn't hear, all the speech bubbles were blank. Or, if someone talked softly, or her hearing aid batteries were running down, the typeface in the speech bubbles got lighter. A lot of nonsense words in speech bubbles were used throughout the book, to show what it might sound like for a deaf person in a hearing world, trying to make out what other people are saying.

The characters were all depicted as rabbits. Maybe this was because they have big ears, so it would be easy to see the hearing aids? :)

There was a lot that kids of all backgrounds could relate to. Who hasn't had friendship issues or been picked on for being different? Or worried that everyone is staring at you? With that common basis to start from, perhaps some greater empathy for those who don't fit in will follow.

I really liked how through Cece's narrative, kids can gain some understanding of how a deaf person may want to be treated. Or, at least, gain a better understanding what the potential barriers might be--to friendship, or other pursuits. I also liked how she added in teaching moments: signs that talked about how to read lips, or what made it hard to read lips, etc.

As far as it winning a Newberry goes, I think at times the award is given to books that highlight a particular problem, or give a unique perspective, that could benefit from greater exposure. I would guess that the committee members strive to be inclusive in their choices, which may mean paying particular attention to books written by or about minorities. I didn't think this was an amazing book. However, I can see why it won an Newberry Honor: it was an appealing, well-written account of what it feels like to grow up deaf in a hearing world. I would imagine there aren't many of those that come along. Winning a Newberry Honor probably gave it the push it needed to get into many more kids' hands.

I think it would appeal to elementary school aged kids, though I've had it checked out from the library now for a couple of weeks, and I haven't seen either of my older two pick it up yet. Maybe if I give them a little nudge...

Content: One mention of a swear word; Cece mishears something her boy crush says, and thinks "Did you say 'breast?'


For a moving story in verse, full of hope, you can't go wrong with:

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
2015 Newberry Honor
2014 National Book Award Winner

5 stars

Woodson's childhood, in poems. Growing up in the south, then moving to New York City. Summers back in the south. Trying to belong and not forget the other place. Changing family dynamics. Finding her own place in the world, finding what she was really good at. Overcoming struggles in school. Civil rights and segregation.

So good. So real. It seems strange at times to give stars to a memoir, as if to say "Your life is worthy of 5 stars," but I rate books for my own reading experience with them, along with the power of the writing. Well this one is powerfully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So there you go.

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, April 2015)