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What’s New on My Nightstand: Friday Book Review — “The Perfect Score,” by Rob Buyea; “Nutcracked,” by Susan Adrian; “Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously You,” by Julie Foudy; and “Bugs of Washington and Oregon,” by John Acorn and Ian Sheldon

November 3rd, 2017

Starting out with…

“The Perfect Score,” by Rob Buyea (Delacorte Press, 2017, 358 pages, $16.99) is the latest from the author of the “Mr. Terupt” series. Nothing like getting the scoop from a former teacher. Buyea taught elementary and high school, and coached, besides that. His ear for dialogue and his respect for kids shows. The students at Lake View Middle School are thrown when their expected teacher bails and they end up with an old lady, Mrs. Woods, and a hippie without shoes, Mrs. Magenta. Well. We’ll have to see how this goes…

The book is told from the perspective of five students, Randi, Natalie, Trevor, Scott and Gavin, as they navigate the waters of middle school.

In a direct, practical way, the book tackles their day-to-day dramas, but takes on serious issues, too. These include (but aren’t limited to) physical and emotional abuse by siblings and friends; the challenges of elder care; overbooked days and demanding parents. Buyea also takes on one of the biggest challenges in modern day education: the devil that is standardized testing aka CSAs (or Complex Student Abuse, as the students dub them). Mrs. Magenta is compared to “a bird with its wings clipped” when she is told to do nothing but test prep and is not allowed to teach.

I speak from experience, y’all. Excessive standardized testing hurts teachers and staff as much as it hurts students. So I appreciate that Buyea is willing to tackle the subject.

Great book, great characters, and a good book list, woven throughout. Author, author! Buyea gives shout-outs to Jerry Spinelli (“Crash”), Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (“Shiloh”), Gordon Korman (“Ungifted”), Eve Bunting (“The Memory String”) and loads of others. Nice! :)

“Nutcracked,” by Susan Adrian (Random House, New York, 2017, 233 pages, $16.99). This new release, like “The Perfect Score,” is about friendship and its complications. Unlike “The Perfect Score,” it includes a possibly-possessed nutcracker as one of the main characters. Hmmm.. very interesting. The plot is lively, the descriptions of the dance world are spot-on, and its well-written. This one is a perfect stocking stuffer for the upcoming holiday season.

“Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously You,” by Julie Foudy (ESPN W, 2017, 287 pages, $17.99) is an inspirational book by the 13-year captain of the U.S. Women’s National soccer team. Her writing “team” includes Robin Roberts (from “Good Morning America”), soccer players Mia Hamm and Alex Morgan, softball star Jessica Mendoza, and others. The book includes space to write, different exercises to work through, and loads of positivity.

“Bugs of Washington and Oregon,” by John Acorn and Ian Sheldon. (Lone Pine, 2001, 160 pages, $14.95.) This is just a super-cool, well-illustrated non-fiction book that’s been sitting on my shelf for a few years now, and I thought it deserved a mention.

Bon appetit, babies!

WM

Wednesday Book Review — What’s New on My Nightstand: “A Box of Awesome Things Matching Game” & “Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race”

October 25th, 2017

There’s something so satisfying about matching games, and this one from Wee Society is pretty cute. “A Box of Awesome Things Matching Game” is not your typical match-match card game. (Ages 3-103, $14.99.) The pairs include argyle socks, confetti, tacos and… yellow! Pluto and lava, fireflies and helicopters. Really fun. In case you’re wondering, un-awesome things such as pinkeye and cavities are not included. :)

Mr. Lemoncello is something like Willy Wonka, without the snark. He’s a good guy, filled with ideas and whimsy, and he sometimes get in over his head. And that’s what the kids are for. They ride in to the rescue and the adventures begin. “Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race” is the latest title in this series by Chris Grabenstein. (Random House, New York, 2017, 279 pages, $16.99.) The book reminds me of “The Candy Shop War,” filled with candy-colored images and lots of actions. The pictograms are a lot of fun. I think this one will be another hit with young readers.

Sunday Book Review, a la Wacky Mommy: “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl,” by Carrie Brownstein; “Snow & Rose,” by Emily Winfield Martin

October 8th, 2017

Hello, loves. How about a book review? Or two?

I wasn’t a Sleater-Kinney fan, and I’m not a Portlandia fan, I mean, at all. I’m not saying that as an insult, although it sure sounds like one, now that I’m putting it out there. I’m sorry (not sorry). Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, eh? Allegedly?

Sleater-Kinney put out some good albums, I’ve heard they were righteous live, they just weren’t my cup of tea. “Portlandia,” though, oh, Portlandia, I have my little attitude about you. The show makes me flinch.

First of all, they have a character named “Nance” who is a total dolt, and my friends tease me about her. Especially my friends from L.A. “Nancy” has turned into a joke name, it would seem. The new Ethel, as it were. Hello, Opal! Agnes, how are you? Where’s Myrtle? And so on. But mainly, Portland, to me, to a lot of us locals (I was born and raised there), Portland is like yo’ mama. You can kvetch about her all you want. (Not to her face, of course, cuz she might smack you.) But if anyone else talks shit about her? Watch. Out.

So that’s Wacky Mommy, aka Nancy, aka Nance, vs. “Portlandia.” I also hate that Portland is like, a thing now. “Dude, where’s my town?” is a frequent refrain with my friends and me. Whatever, man. I’m totally Portland, so of course Portlandia pisses me off. Shocker.

However. Brownstein doesn’t even talk about “Portlandia,” in her story until a little bit toward the end of the book. (This may be a pro or a con for you, dear reader.) Maybe that will be memoir #2 for her. I’ve always read a lot of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, even when I was a kid. They’re a good genre. (“That’s my favorite jenner!” as my old friend Milly would say.) (Yes, I had a friend named Milly, in addition to relatives named Pearline, Opal, Jewel and Eunice. What’s it to you?)

“Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl” (the title comes from the Sleater-Kinney song, “Modern Girl”) is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. (Riverhead Books, Penguin Random House, 2015, 244 pages, $27.95, worth it.)

I’ll put it in my top five, how about? It’s astounding, really. Brownstein’s writing is, by turns, pure, broken, yearning, harsh. Also sweet. She was brave, writing this. I appreciate that. It’s a helluva story. In fact, I’m not giving you any more details about it, because I don’t want to tell it for her, aight? Aight. OK. One quote:

“When my father came out to his mom, my grandmother said, ‘You waited for your father to die, why couldn’t you have waited for me to die?’ I knew then that I never want to contribute to the corrosiveness of wanting someone to stay hidden. Despite all my initial conflicts about trying to reconcile the father I had as a child to the one I have now, I am thankful that he is happy, that he did not waste another second. Now there is someone to know.”

Oh, that’s good.

Next book: “Snow & Rose” (Random House Children’s Books, 2017, ages 8-12, 224 pages, $17.99). Speaking of Portland, again, now comes a book written and illustrated by Portland artist/author Emily Winfield Martin. This is an elegant, well-made book. While it is aimed at the younger set, I know some grown-ups who would be terrified by it, and some youngsters who would gobble it up… and vice versa, so there you have it. I’ll re-classify it here as “all ages.” This fairy tale, based on the story of Snow White and her sister Rose Red (Brothers Grimm tale 161), is well-written, yes, and beautifully illustrated, a gripping, engaging version of the original-retold tale. But more than that, the book itself is well-made. It feels good to hold and read. One of my friends, a bookmaker and artist, who also repaired books, mentioned once that a book can be “too precious.” (ie — a journal that no one wants to write in because it’s so beautiful.) People can be intimidated by books.

It’s a fine line, so to speak. “Snow & Rose,” is just right. They are two sisters, living alone with their grieving mother in the woods. Their father has disappeared, but has he been killed? Is he lost? They have a cat named Earl Grey and a friend named Ivo. (Spoiler alert: There’s a librarian. Also goats. A huntsman, wolves, bandits and a bear.)

You’ll like this one.

The illustrations are flawless, by the way. I read it through once, just through the pictures, then re-read it, using the words and the pictures. Beautiful.

Happy Sunday, bon appetit,

WM

Monday Book Review: “Zen Shorts,” by Jon J. Muth; “La Princesa and the Pea,” by Susan Middleton Elya & Juana Martinez-Neal; and “There’s Nothing to Do,” by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt

September 11th, 2017

“Zen Shorts,” by Jon J. Muth (Scholastic Press, New York, 2005, for readers of all ages, $16.95) How can it be that I’ve never reviewed any Muth books here? He’s so good. His writing was described by the New York Times Book Review as “quietly life-changing,” and that sums it up nicely.

(He acknowledges his friends in the book, saying that “Despite my great efforts to get in my own way, my great friends Dianne Hess and David Saylor have graciously cleared the path once more.” #humility #art #greatfriends #perfect)

“Zen Shorts” includes three Zen short stories, as told by Stillwater the Bear: “Uncle Ry and the Moon,” “The Farmer’s Luck” and “A Heavy Load.”

Muth uses watercolors and ink to illustrate his books, and the drawings, along with the stories, soar right off the pages. I turn to him often in my teaching and all of my students, from the littles to the high schoolers, respond well to his work.

“La Princesa and the Pea,” written by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Penguin Random House, 2017, ages 4 and up, $16.99) Fun book, and I love the way the author wove Spanish and English together, kind of like the Peruvian textiles the art in the book is based on. Beautiful work. (You might know the authors from their previous children’s book, “La Madre Goose.”)

The glossary in the front of the book is handy, and the story is tart and funny. Good read.

“There’s Nothing to Do!” written by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt. (Random House Children’s Books, 2017, 32 pages, ages 3-7, $16.99) The big mouth frog from “I Don’t Want to Be a Frog” and “I Don’t Want to Be Big” is back for more fun in this playful picture book.

“Want to go for a swim?”
“Too wet.”

You know he’s bored. Pig, cat, owl and his other friends, are no help at all. What will our hero do?

Sweet and funny.

Bon appetit!

wm

Saturday Book Review: “Wee Sister Strange,” by Holly Grant & K.G.Campbell; “Bruce’s Big Move,” by Ryan T. Higgins; “William’s Winter Nap,” by Linda Ashman & Chuck Groenink

September 9th, 2017

“Wee Sister Strange,” written by Holly Grant and illustrated by K.G. Campbell (Random House Children’s Books, 2017, 40 pages, ages 4-8, $17.99)

This is a beautiful, dreamy book, but it’s a little dark, too. (“…runs into the woods/where no children dare roam,” and “She talks to the owls/in hoots and in moans. When they’ve finished their dinner/she buries the bones.”) Age range is 4-8, but I’d suggest saving it for the older kids, maybe, even up to 4th or 5th grade. Nice one for autumn; perfect for Halloween. (Educators and librarians will find resources at RHTeachersLibrarians.com)

“Bruce’s Big Move,” written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins (Disney Hyperion Books, 2017, 48 pages, ages 3-5, $17.99) You know when you have soooo many roommates? For instance, four geese and three mice, plus you, the bear? Well, it can get a little crowded. You’d probably be ready to find a new place. Bruce sure is. This series is delightful. I think the kids will like it and you will, too. The art is nice and bright, and the plot is funny.

“Bruce was a bear who lived with four geese because he was their mother…”

“William’s Winter Nap,” written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Chuck Groenink (Disney Hyperion Books, 2017, 40 pages, ages 3-5, $17.99) Ah, I do love a rhyming book. :) “They all say, ‘Wait! We’ll scooch a bit. There’s room for… somehow we’ll fit.” Fits well with the Bruce books. Sometimes we end up with a few more roommates than we started out with. Lovely illustrations, a sweet story, and snowflakes? Animals? Coziness? You can’t go wrong.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

xo

wm

What’s on My Nightstand: Friday Night Edition; plus, my Dad’s gardening journal, circa 1966-1968

September 8th, 2017

Nothing like being in the middle of moving to make me realize, man. I have too much stuff. But I keep thinking, tripping down memory lane, and something will randomly come to mind. A day or two later, the item will pop up. It’s a bit odd, but I like it. The baby quilts my aunties made when the kids were born; my grandma’s books; my ice skates, lol.

I’m always reading five or 10 books at a time, bad habit/great habit. But when I’m stressed? Like when I’m moving? omg omg the table is covered. Here’s a sampling:

* “Heartburn,” by Nora Ephron (for the 20th time). So good, only gets funnier, and more poignant, every time I read it.
* “Skinny Dip,” by Carl Hiaasen (yes, yes, yes)
* “My Dad Lives in a Downtown Motel,” by Peggy Mann (great “New York kid” book about a boy who is struggling with his parents’ split. And yes, those of you with 1970s memories, it was an ABC Afterschool Special. Why don’t the networks get rid of some of the reality shows and bring back the ABC Afterschool Specials, stat.)
* “Saving Tarboo Creek: One Family’s Quest to Heal the Land,” by Scott Freeman
* “Spanish Now! Level 1″ (Barron’s)

Uh. Yeah. So tomorrow, I’ll write some real book reviews, y’all. Because it’s almost fall, and that means new titles and lots of them.

I was thinking of my dad’s gardening journal, as I was sorting and packing my gardening books. The entries written out so neatly in his handwriting. Two days later… found it. :) It’s in a brown leather binder from Portland State College (now Portland State University), his alma mater and mine. Very cool. There are a few pages of overlooked math notes in the back of the book. In the front, notes about our yard. He and my mom bought our house in 1966, when I was two. (Math!)

There’s a little N and some doodles in the front of the notebook. N for Nancy, I’m assuming. It’s possible, anyway.

And this entry:

“Roses: Prune from mid-February to mid-March, but weather permitting around March 1 is good time, as there could be some freezing around last of February.” etc.

Now the cool stuff… Well, to me anyway. The roses are gone now, but I remember them all in my head. Next house I get? I’m planting these exact ones:

“Planted : Feb. 5, 1966 Tropicana (Orange and Red). Twins’ gift for new home. Grown: Oregon” (The twins were his aunts, my great-aunties. I loved them so much! Loved, loved, loved.)

Planted: Feb. 6, 1966 Mister Lincoln (Red) Price $3.50, Grown: Texas

Planted: Nov. 6, 1966 Katherine T. Marshall Rose (pink, shaded with salmon) Price $1.29, Grown: Texas

Planted: Nov. 6, 1966 Lowell Thomas (lemon-chrome yellow) Price: $1.29, Grown Texas

Planted: Nov. 6, 1966 Talisman (scarlett-orange and rich yellow) Price: $1.29, Grown: Texas

Planted: June 30, 1968 Mt. Shasta (white blooms with delicate green petal base) Price: $3.00

Planted: June 30, 1968 Orchid Masterpiece (light purple) Price $3.00

Then details on the three pots of Pink Mediterranean Heather he planted, and the juniper, and the rhody (Unique Pale Yellow Tinged Peach)…

So many happy memories. Looking forward to making more. Which do I love more, plants or books? It’s a tie.

xo

wm

Wednesday Book Round-up: What’s on My Nightstand — “My Not So Perfect Life,” by Sophie Kinsella; “All My Puny Sorrows,” by Miriam Toews; “The Robber Bride,” by Margaret Atwood; and “Pine Island Paradox,” by Kathleen Dean Moore

August 23rd, 2017

Well, there’s this one. Because I really like Sophie Kinsella.

“My Not So Perfect Life” This book is beautiful, it’s really one of Kinsella’s best. Our heroine, Katie Brenner, truly has the Boss from Hell, one Demeter Farlowe. Is she for real? Meanwhile, her dad and stepmom, always pursuing ways to save the family farm, consider open up their property for glamping. Yurts, homemade jam, tours and campfires. It’s just crazy enough that it might work. Great characters, lively writing, and a plot that holds the reader’s attention from start to finish.

“All My Puny Sorrows” Miriam Toews is a pretty great writer.

Atwood, always. “The Robber Bride.” Excellent beginning, hits the ground running. But she always does.

And… looking forward to starting this one:

“The Pine Island Paradox: Making Connections in a Disconnected World (The World As Home)” by Kathleen Dean Moore
I’ve heard it’s good.

Bon appetit, babies!

wm

Wednesday Book Review, just for the kids: “The Losers Club,” by Andrew Clements; Disney’s “Before Ever After (Tangled the Series)”

August 2nd, 2017

“The Losers Club,” by Andrew Clements (Random House, 2017, $16.99, 231 pages.) The latest by Andrew Clements is my favorite yet of all of his books. OK, I haven’t read *every single one* of his novels, but I’ve read most. He’s a gifted writer, funny and smart, and he artfully captures the pain and joy of going to school.

Everything about this book rings true: Kids thinking of themselves as losers because they’d rather read than play kickball; kids still, to this day, having the insult “bookworm” thrown at them; kids trying, and failing, and trying again to express themselves. Alec, the Bookworm, had a friend, Kent, who is now Star of Kickball and Everything Else Athletic. They like the same girl, Nina, because of course they do. Alec’s revenge? He starts the Losers Club, which is a book club, of sorts, in aftercare at his school. Because if you’re in aftercare? You have to join a “club,” and he’s not interested in chess, origami, or kickball.

Here is the dilemma: Alec doesn’t want anyone to talk about books, in book club. Or discuss books. So no, it’s not actually a book club, after all. And he’s getting grief from people about the name. Alec just wants to read without being bothered, is that too much to ask? It’s a great book, and will rival Clement’s classic, “Frindle.”

“Before Ever After, Disney Tangled Series” (Random House, $9.99, 134 pages) Let me say, first of all, that I love books with lil badass heroines, and they’re *not* looking for Prince Charming to come rescue them (while at the same time, they’re the ones doing all the work? “Rapunzel/Rapunzel/let down your hair!” etc.). But those books? (Upspeak? Princess upspeak?) Can tend to be? A little preachy?

So imagine my delight to find Disney’s Tangled series. This latest edition is sly, sassy and oh-so-funny.

“They planned to get married… eventually. But marriage, family, and ruling Corona would all come later.”

First, our heroine, Rapunzel, and her beau/rival/buddy, Eugene, are going to race their horses.

Go, go, go!

When Rapunzel is in her official capacity, she usually blows it. “Uh, perhaps you should refrain from the bear hugs, sweetheart,” her father suggests.

Fun read, and the 3rd and 4th graders are going to love it. And I bet they’re already watching the series on the Disney channel.

Bon appetit, babies.

WM

Sunday Book Review, just for you: My man, Carl Hiassen — “Razor Girl,” “Bad Monkey,” “Skink” and all of ‘em

July 9th, 2017

“Chomp,” “Flush,” “Hoot” and “Scat” — boxed set. Yes, I said box set. Carl Hiassen, you write fantastic kids’ books, and your books for grown-ups are righteous, too. You have a rare and amazing talent, thank you for putting it to good use.

“Chomp” on audiobook? One of the best, funniest, “he got the voices ‘just right’” audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. Thank you, James Van Der Beek.

“Skinny Dip” is probably my all-time favorite Hiassen book, although “Bad Monkey” is vying for top contender. “Razor Girl,” too. What do they have in common? Yancy. He’s a disgraced detective turned health inspector, looking for rats in restaurants. He’s not happy. I love the film noir feel of both books. But Joey Perrone, the heroine of “Skinny Dip” is my girl. I adore her.

Just started listening to “Skink: No Surrender” on audiobook. #happyplace #ilovesummer #readmorebooksdammit #orlistentothem

All for now, happy Sunday, happy reading,

WM

What’s New on My Nightstand, Saturday Edition: “Delicious! A Novel,” by Ruth Reichl; “Falling: A Daughter, A Father, and A Journey Back,” by Elisha Cooper; “The Very Fluffy Kitten: Papillon Goes to the Vet,” by A.N. Kang

July 8th, 2017

“Delicious! A Novel,” by Ruth Reichl. I’m a fan of Reichl’s writing, and of her work at Gourmet magazine, so this book, to me, is like a big appetizer platter, with a yummy main course, salads and desserts following. Really fun to read fiction from this gifted non-fiction and memoir writer.

“Falling: A Daughter, A Father, and A Journey Back,” by Elisha Cooper (Anchor Books, $15.95, 146 pages). Extraordinary memoir about a young daughter, her father (an artist who makes children’s books), and their family’s struggle with childhood cancer. Beautiful, amazing, astounding, and the integrity of his writing, of who he is, as a man, husband, father — really superb. Cooper speaks his truth. This is seriously a great book and one that I will re-read. Deep and poignant, funny and sometimes harsh. *Love.*

I stuck scraps of paper throughout the book, marking all of my favorite quotes and passages, but this one… ah-ha.

“A royalty check for my book ‘Farm’ comes in the mail. It’s small, but big for me. I once heard of a writer who complained to a friend that his book had sold only two thousand copies, and the friend replied that if the two thousand people who had read the writer’s book walked through his kitchen, all of them shaking his hand, he would break down in tears at how fortunate he was to have touched so many.”

I hope that many, many people read this book and are as moved by it as I was.

“Papillon Goes to the Vet,” by A.N. Kang (Disney-Hyperion Books, 2017, $16.99, ages 3-5, 40 pages). The second in the “Papillon” series is pretty dang cute. (Goes on sale Sept. 5, 2017.) Papillon likes to have fun, and he can even float! (Who knew a cat could do this?) But when he swallows something he shouldn’t, he’s off to the vet. Beautiful illustrations that are reminiscent of Melanie Watts’ “Chester” books.

Bon appetit!

WM

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