An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the November 2017 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND CatholicMom.com!

Astrophysics for People in a HurryMy husband recently finished listening to Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It’s a short read/listen at 224 pages and under four hours. Although he described it as “a little political,” my husband said it’s a good presentation of astrophysics in layman’s terms.

Tasting BeerSince I turned him on to Hoopla Digital, he’s also listening to Tasting Beer, 2nd Edition: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher. (First thought: Someone wrote a whole book about it?) It’s a highly rated guide and contains a bit of history as well, which I’ve heard as the Bluetooth speaker moves about the house. A good read for beer snobs aficionados.

Benedict OptionI’ve introduced 45-minute morning walks to my routine, so I’m officially aboard the audiobook train too. I listened to a book I’ve been reading about for months: The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher. (I loved his Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its  Return to Roots, which I read about a decade ago.) I’m a teensy bit more optimistic about the state of the world than Dreher, who I haven’t kept up with on social media. It’s tough to condense my full review, but I’d say the book is a good synthesis of a brief history of the West, monasticism, and authentic Christian living in the post-modern, technological age.

Shatter MeMy other current “adventure in audiobooks” is with Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, the first in The Juliette Chronicles Series. This dystopian book came highly recommended and well-reviewed. I knew going in that the writing was unconventional, but I think there needs to be a note bene stating that at the beginning of the audiobook production so that unsuspecting listeners like me don’t think there’s a glitch in the app when the sentence, “I am not insane,” is repeated about fifty times or to explain that the intermittent scratchy sound is an overstrike in the text. I’m not sure what I think of the book yet. The author uses a lot of imagery, and I’m getting weary of the metaphors, but she builds empathy very well. The stakes are getting higher and the romance is building as it goes along.

Hometown GirlLastly, I’m enjoying Courtney Walsh’s Hometown Girl. (Look at that pretty, bright cover!) The heroine, Beth Whitaker, is a well-written, very human character. I love that her flaws are not glossed over. In fact, they’re known to just about everyone. And still the silent, secretive hero, Drew Barlow, is drawn to  her.

Inherit the WindTogether with his Humanities English class, my ninth grader is reading Inherit the Wind: The Powerful Drama of the Greatest Courtroom Clash of the Century by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. I’ve heard the title so many times, but didn’t realize that (1) it is a play, and (2) it is about the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Cabin Faced WestMy fourth-grade daughter selected another book by Jean Fritz from her school library: The Cabin Faced West. She especially enjoyed that the book is set in places she’s visited, including Gettysburg and what’s presently the Monongahela area outside of Pittsburgh.

Will You Sign Here, John HancockShe still can’t get enough of the colonial era, and has also read Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? also by Jean Fritz, The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson by Ann McGovern , and, her favorite of the three, Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? (again) by Jean Fritz. Let’s just say my little girl is addicted to historical fiction from the Revolutionary War Era.

Autumn WalkMy youngest daughter pulled an old board book from the shelf, Autumn Walk by Ann Burg. This is one of my all-time favorites for reading to the kids since they were little babies. The illustrations are bright and cheery and meld perfectly with this fall poem.

Secret Pizza PartyBoth of my youngest enjoyed Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri, also the authors of Dragons Love Tacos. I enjoyed this funny story of a thieving, pizza-craving raccoon as much as the kids. Their big sister was unimpressed. Can’t please ’em all.

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An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the October 2017 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND CatholicMom.com!

Hauntings Possessions and ExorcismsWhen I saw a book recommendation by our friend and author Mike Aqulilina, well-known for his expertise in patristics, I knew it was something my husband would enjoy. We were able to borrow a copy of Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms by Adam Blai from the Kindle  Owners’ Lending Library with our Amazon Prime subscription. (It’s a little confusing in that there are two editions of the book with the words of the title transposed. I’m guessing (hoping) that the content is roughly the same though.

DistortionI’ve been listening to the audiobook of Distortion (Moonlighter Series Book 2) by Terri Blackstock. I borrowed this one from Hoopla Digital (which is about a million times easier to use than Overdrive). Like the first book in the series, this is a fast-paced, multi-layer mystery involving a family with more than its share of murders. The victim in Distortion turns out not to be so much a victim, but rather an ostensibly respectable surgeon and father who led a double life. This series is categorized as  Christian fiction, but that aspect of the story is fairly insignificant.

Just MaybeAfter finishing and loving Begin Again, I’m eager to begin reading an advance copy of Just Maybe (Home in You Book 3) by Crystal Walton. She writes clean, contemporary romances that I believe get better with each book. The series traces an interconnected group of friends tied to New York City, but set in various American locales including the Adirondacks and Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.

Inferno SquadMy son waited weeks for a copy of Battlefront II: Inferno Squad (Star Wars) by Christie Golden to become available from the local library. While watching The Star Wars Show, he noted the Janina Avankar, the voice actress who plays Iden Versio, recommended reading Inferno Squad before the Battlefront II video game launches this fall. Reviews look good, and he’s enjoying the book.

I Survived the Shark AttackMy daughter’s fourth grade class will be reading books from the I Survived Series this year. They started with I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 (I Survived #2) by Lauren Tarshis and Scott Dawson. Did you know the shark attacks took place in a creek, not the ocean? These attacks were said to have been the inspiration for Jaws, but Peter Benchley has denied that claim. The class has since begun reading I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001 (I Survived #6), also by Lauren Tarshis.

Early ThunderWhile still zipping through the Childhood of Famous Americans Series (Amelia Earhart: Young Aviator is  her latest selection), my daughter also checked out Early Thunder by Jean Fritz from the school library. I’m sure the early colonial setting appealed to her. She’s only read a couple of chapters, and seems to enjoy it, but I noticed the Amazon reviews are, uh, not so great. So, we’ll see what she thinks as she gets farther into the story.

Stray DogI brought out some picture books that I’d enjoyed with my older kids but which had been packed in boxes for lack of space. I remember not really “getting” The Stray Dog by Marc Simont, a Caldecott Award Medalist, when I first read it. Too many illustrations without text for my taste. But, it’s since grown on me, and the kids enjoy it as well. I could just see the wheels turning in their heads as we read it, wishing that we would come across a lovable, adoptable stray.

How I Became a PirateHow I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon is the perfect choice for Talk Like a Pirate Day. I can’t read this one in a  normal voice. Just can’t. It’s a fun story with bright, colorful illustrations of a boy’s pirate adventure – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It never fails to bring a smile to my face.

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Relevant Fiction Reviews: High School Theater

Relevant Fiction Reviews

I was a behind the scenes gal when it came to high school theater, but I still have many happy memories tied to our musical productions. As a proud member of the stage crew for four years, I was able to identify with the closeness and camaraderie that comes from putting on a show together.

The following are three excellent YA novels that stand on their own merit, but have something just a little extra special if you are or were a high school theater geek. Continue reading

An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the September 2017 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND CatholicMom.com!

Hungry SoulsI’ve been swapping chapters for critique with author Theresa Linden, and she mentioned the research book she had read in relation to her work in progress. It sounded like something right up my husband’s alley, so I quickly looked it up and mentioned it to him. Only to find out that he’d purchased it last year! Its mention was enough for him to locate the unread book and crack it open. It is Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory by Gerard J.M. van der Aardweg. The book recounts stories of “Church-verified accounts of earthly visitations from the dead in Purgatory.” Sounds creepy.

Land of My DreamsEach month, I borrow a book from the Kindle Lending Library, a perk of our Amazon Prime account. This month, I downloaded Land of My Dreams by Norma Gail, an author I’d come across on social media. I’m only a third of the way through the book and enjoying the Scotland setting and the characters. While it’s free of typos and grammatical errors, I’m struggling a bit with my internal editor when it comes to dialogue and several other issues. I’m only a third of the way through though and intend to stick it out.

Dying for CompassionNext on my list to read is Dying for Compassion by Barbara Golder, the second in the Lady Doc Murders Series. The first in the series, Dying for Revenge, is excellent! I’ve been looking forward to this one, which is set in both Telluride, Colorado and Ireland, but somehow it keeps getting bumped back on the pile. No longer. I will begin this book next!

Weird Al: The BookDuring one of our many early August library trips, my son picked up Weird Al: The Book by Nathan Rabin. It’s an oversized hardcover book with lots of color photos tracing the singer’s life from childhood throughout his career of popular parodies. My son inherited his love of Weird Al from me and his Uncle Pete. I’ve seen Weird Al in concert at least four times, the most recent being last September, which was my son’s first concert. Highly entertaining show, and a very interesting personality.

Star Wars: TarkinAs a reward for completing the library summer reading program, my newly-minted high school freshman also grabbed a paperback copy of Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno. Like his father, this kid never tires of Star Wars. Tarkin is set between Star Wars: Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As the title suggests, the novel is about Imperial bad guy Grand Moff Tarkin.

Attack at Pearl HarborMy daughter spent most of the summer either tending to Monarch caterpillars or buried in a book. One by one, she’s ticking off the books in the Childhood of Famous Americans series, most recently reading about Sacagawea, George Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt. She’s currently finishing  Liberty Letters: Attack at Pearl Harbor by Nancy LeSourd. The Good MasterShe has also been reading one of our selections for September’s Sabbath Rest Book Talk: The Good Master by Kate Seredy. I’ll be reading this Newbery Award winner as well. It is a historical novel set in  Hungary, and all my daughter has said thus far is how much she dislikes the character Kate.

Muncha, Muncha, MunchaI brought out  one of our all-time favorites for the little kids: Muncha, Muncha, Muncha by Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas. I love reading the book aloud! Mr. MacGregor plants a garden, only to be continually outwitted by three hungry bunnies. It has the perfect amount of repetition and onomatopoeia. The illustrations are among my favorites too. I love the puff-tail rabbits!

BeginningsWe also read Beginnings written by Lori Ann Watson, illustrated by Shennen Bersani. This is a simple yet lyrical book about God’s loving creation of the natural world culminating in His loving each precious child into being, cared for and nurtured by the family. It makes a beautiful addition to a child’s collection of picture books.

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Seven Quick Takes

7 Quick Takes

Seven Most Recent Reads Edition

As if I didn’t blather enough about books already, right? Between An Open Book (here and at Catholic Mom), Sabbath Rest Book Talk with Erin McCole Cupp and Rebecca Willen, and my Relevant Fiction Reviews posts, you’d think I’d be covered on the book front. But, no, I’ve read such a strong string of books – fiction and nonfiction – that I thought they’d earned their own post. Here are the seven books I’m reading or have recently finished, in order from currently reading to already read. Continue reading

An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the August 2017 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND CatholicMom.com!

My husband has spent ten days with our oldest son at the National Scout Jamboree. While he was there, he received a copy of Your Word is Your Bond: Lessons in Leadership from Rex W. Tillerson by Perry L. Cochell. It’s so brand-spanking new that I can’t find it anywhere online. Rex Tillerson is the Secretary of State, the former national president of Boy Scouts of America, and an Eagle Scout. Should make for some interesting reading on his long bus ride home.

Hope Dies LastAfter I drag my weary bones home from Vacation Bible School and tend to the rest of the day’s duties, I’ve been wrapping up the night by watching Poldark: Season 2 and reading Hope Dies Last: An Alaskan Adventure by Megan Webb. A young woman crash lands in Alaska with a small group of airplane passengers now tasked with surviving in the wilderness. I’m only about a third of the way through, but I’m enjoying the characters, and the writing is good – always a treat when I pick up a book by an author I’ve not read before.

Bead by BeadNext on my reading list is Bead by Bead: The Scriptural Rosary by Meggie K. Daly. My Rosary “habit” is in constant need of being re-invigorated, so I’m looking forward to this book, which I’ve read many good things about. I’m also looking forward to incorporating some suggestions for praying the Rosary that Allison Gingras shared on my blog: 3 Unique Ways to Harness the Power of the Rosary.

AntigoneI’m pleased that instead of saving all of his assigned summer reading until the final week before school, my son spread his three books out by reading Animal Farm by George Orwell in June  and Antigone by Sophocles in July. Although he liked it, he admitted he didn’t quite understand it all. Sounds about right for his first foray into ancient Greek literature and his unfamiliarity with reading plays. (Ashamed to say that I was a classics major, and this is one of many Latin and Greek classics I haven’t read yet.)

Woe Is IWhile his first two reading assignments were ones he chose from a list, the final book is required for everyone in the class. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English  by Patricia T. O’Connor is, according to my son, “a lot better than you’d think” for a grammar book. It appears to be written in an engaging style, and you can be sure my writer’s paws will be all over this book once he’s finished with it. I can’t guarantee I’ll agree with all of it, since I don’t like anyone messing with the grammar rules I learned in school, but there appears to be a lot of solid writing advice contained within.

Underground RRMy daughter’s been zipping through books so quickly, I’ve taken to roaming the library during the other kids’ summer programs to find her new series.  She reads well, but she’s only nine, so books must be appropriate for her maturity level. I discovered the Liberty Letter series, published by Zondervan, that as a fan of American history, she has absolutely loved! Escape on the Underground Railroad by Nancy LeSourd, is her favorite thus far. The series is written from a Christian worldview and the characters rely on God in their difficulties.  Other books in the epistolary series, which she has read or is reading, pertain to the Civil War, Jamestown, and Pearl Harbor.

Paul RevereAnother series that indulges her love of American history is the Childhood of Famous Americans Series. She enjoys them because she said they “tell you about a lot of things you might not learn in school,” like the fact that Martha Washington went by “Patsy.” So far, she’s read about the childhoods of Pocahontas, Martha Washington, and Betsy Ross. Her favorite, though, remains Paul Revere: Boston Patriot by August Stevenson.

The Happy JarWe read The Happy Jar by Jake Frost at bedtime, and it melded seamlessly with out nighttime prayers. We typically go from person to person thanking Jesus for various things that happened throughout the day. I have to pull it out of some kids and for others I have to limit the list to a manageable number. The Happy Jar took us a step farther in considering the memorable aspects of our day for which we are thankful and that we may cherish for years to come. A sweet, simple book that could start a new custom in your household.

The Great Fuzz FrenzyI chose The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Susan Stevens Crummel and Janet Stevens from a box of displaced books in our hallway! The younger kids didn’t remember this story of a group of prairie dogs greedy to grab the fuzz from a tennis ball that has fallen into their burrow (courtesy of a dog). Fun illustrations, and a book I enjoy reading aloud. The kids like looking at the prairies dogs and their creative uses for the green fuzz.

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Relevant Fiction Reviews: Conquering Addiction

Relevant Fiction Reviews

Novels in which the hero or heroine are battling an addiction are not typically easy reads. Both My Unexpected Hope and Blue Columbine are childhood sweetheart/second chance romances that make your heart hurt in the best ways as the characters fight to break the bonds of addiction (alcohol in Blue Columbine and alcohol and illegal drugs in My Unexpected Hope). The Things We Knew includes a large cast, several of whom are addicted to alcohol and drugs. Gray Carlisle is the character to watch, as he struggles to get clean for the sake of himself and those he loves.

The Grace Crasher includes a minor character addicted to alcohol, but the heroine in this hilarious novel is addicted to love. (Say that out loud without singing the refrain of the Robert Palmer song. I dare you.) Hip and funny, yet serious when it needs to be, The Grace Crasher tackles the “less popular” addictive behaviors, such as those involving serial crushes and (in another minor character) overeating. Continue reading

An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the July 2017 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND CatholicMom.com!

The Whys Have ItI had long been looking forward to reading a trio of contemporary Christian romances for which I received ARCs. (Those are Advance Review Copies, for the uninitiated.) First up was The Whys Have It by Amy Matayo. Her writing gets better with every book (and I know she wrote this one years ago, but the rewrite benefited from the skills she’s acquired over the years).  I’m just going to admit it: Maybe it’s leftover teenage fangirling over Duran Duran et al, but I’m still a sucker for a rock star romance. This one isn’t all crushes, butterflies in the stomach, and glamour. This one is grief, regret, and making peace with the hands life deals you.  I loved it.

My Unexpected HopeThe second ARC was by another of my favorite contemporary romance authors, Tammy L. Gray. My Unexpected Hope is technically not the second in a series, but it builds on her previous novel, My Hope Next Door. Back-to-back with The Whys Have It, it was another heavy-hearted romance, if there is such a thing. The main characters are grieving their divorce and trying their best to move past messed-up childhoods, a dysfunctional relationship, and addiction to make a new start. I especially loved the unexpected twist the ending took.

Just Look UpLast up was Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh, the first novel by her that I’ve read. After The Whys Have It and My Unexpected Hope, the lighter mood of Just Look Up was welcome. And while it’s a lighter romance, it’s filled with good, important stuff about worrying less about what we do and concentrating more on who we are. If you’re driven to distraction or just plain driven, this book is for you.

When the Timer DingsI topped the romances with a short, nonfiction, self-help book by 10 Minute Novelists foundress Katharine Grubb. When the Timer Dings: Organizing Your Life to Make The Most of 10 Minute Increments is a quick read, but you’d benefit by taking some time to answer the thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter, which will help you see where and how you may improve your approach to organizing your time. I don’t do chapter-end questions, but I still got something out of the book. On, to tackle our clutter!

Animal FarmMy son has completed one of the three books that are part of his summer reading assignment. He selected Animal Farm by George Orwell from one of the lists provided. After hearing him talk about it, I’m eager to read this classic that I somehow missed along the way, especially since he left me with this remark: “I’ve never been so moved reading a book.”

Can You Survive in a DystopiaThis morning, while waiting for his sister to finish up with lunchtime book club at the library (Chewsy Readers), he grabbed a pick-your-own ending book from the shelf. We hadn’t made it home from the library before he’d reached a dead-end in Can You Survive in a Dystopia? by Anthony Wacholtz. As I type, however, I spy him going back in and reading through to other possible endings.

The Strange Case of Origami YodaMeanwhile, his sister was discussing the book she’d been reading over her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Late one night last week, she couldn’t fall asleep and, horror of horrors, there was no new Trixie Belden book on hand. I suggested she take a book from her brother’s shelf, and now she’s hooked on the series beginning with The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. I’m sure I’ll be finding a slew of paper puppets around the house again, including Han Foldo.

Knuffle BunnyMy little kids have a bad habit of asking “Can I have a book?” at the library and then grabbing random books from the shelf that may or may not be of interest to them. This week, I selected Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems, sure that they’d love it, and they did. I love the illustrated expression on the father as he drags his boneless toddler home in mid-tantrum. Ah, so familiar.

The Tree That Would Not DieI rolled my eyes after first skimming The Tree That Would Not Die by Ellen Levine. Really? Who would poison an old tree? But then, sure enough, a note in the back of the book explained how a nearly 500-year-old tree, the “Treaty Oak” of Austin, Texas was poisoned in 1989. The picture book broadly traces 400+ years of Austin history in this tale. (By the way, the Treaty Oak still stands.)

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