Book Talk: Things I’ve Read Recently

Your definition of “recently” and mine may not be quite the same. Whatever. It’s my blog, so I get to pick.

Anyhow, here are some books I’ve read, with the occasional thought attached.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
This was a hard read, but I’m so glad I read it. Lilith’s story is compelling from the start, and heartbreaking and painful throughout. It’s a powerful illustration of how slavery is brutal and corrupting.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I’m never going to see the movie. I accept that. But I did enjoy the book, even if I wasn’t particularly surprised by how the story developed and played out. But I liked the fact that Mark is a problem-solver. Because he encounters a lot of problems.

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
As a tween/teen of the 1980s, I have fond memories of Choose Your Own Adventure books. Clearly, so does Neil Patrick Harris. This was a fun read. Maybe he’s a little too diplomatic. But it’s fun.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
I don’t like horror, and didn’t really realize that’s what this was until I started reading it. It was an interesting story, and it held my attention, but I didn’t buy the ending. Also, in poking around on Amazon, I realized that I had read another one of the author’s books and didn’t care for it, but I had no memory of her name. Hopefully I’ll remember it going forward.

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
I thought Station Eleven was really good (if something I should not have read), but this book didn’t come together for me.

Valley of Ashes by Cornelia Read

I like the Madeline Dare books, even though they get weaker with each entry. This one had a really cliched villain, but if she writes another, I’ll read it.

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
“Why are so many recent books set in the 1980s?” asked Mr. Sandwich. “Because it’s recent enough to feel modern, but you don’t have to worry about cell phones,” I answered. I remembered liking The Tenderness of Wolves, and Penney’s next book–which is completely different from its predecessor–is also worth a read.

Tomorrow They Will Kiss by Eduardo Santiago

Santiago has written two books about Cuba and Cubans. I hope he writes more.

Roughing It by Mark Twain
This book is taking me forever to read. I guess maybe that’s fitting.

So that’s about six months worth of books. Clearly I’m off my game. Please leave recommendations in the comments.

Book Talk: The Emerald Key

Sponsored: I received a free Advance Reader’s Copy of The Emerald Key in exchange for writing a review. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

So one of my friends has written a book! Co-authored, actually.

The Emerald Key, by Mark Frederickson and Melora Pineda, is the story of a group of friends who discover a journal and accidentally open a portal to another world. The main characters, Penny and Laci, are life-long friends who anticipate a dull vacation and an unwelcome family wedding, but find themselves transported to another reality filled with danger and dragons.

EmeraldKey

I enjoyed the book–it’s fast-paced, with lots of action, and the characters are likeable. And while Penny and Laci and their friends go through a number of trials throughout the story, it seems like an adventure that tweens might actually imagine they want to have.

I was curious to get some of the story behind the story, and Melora granted me an interview.

1) What was your inspiration for The Emerald Key?
Both Mark and I have tweenage daughters. His daughter is extremely athletic, and I have on occasion, had to threaten mine to get her to put her book down and meet basic needs, such as eating and showering. Our goal was to write a story that would entertain their age group, but also have a little bit of each of them in it.

2) What made you decide to write a book as a co-author, and how did you develop a process that made that work?
Mark and I had worked on a treatment for a children’s show a few years prior to starting The Emerald Key, so we knew we worked well together. Originally we decided to write a screenplay aimed at a middle-grade audience, but by writing it as a book, we created the source material first. Our process was countless hours on the phone hashing out ideas. I took notes and wrote the first version of each chapter. One by one I sent them to him and he expanded them. Next, we spent an entire weekend reading the book aloud and laughing at some of our blatant mistakes, such as the repeated use of our characters “starting” to do something instead of just doing it. I edited per our crazy weekend and then submitted to various publishers.

3) Laci and Penny have a close and supportive friendship, in spite of–or perhaps because of–the many ways in which they are different. How did you develop the characters?
We wanted an unlikely pair of friends to create more contrast in their skills and more challenges in getting themselves out of the mess they landed in. We began with qualities from each of our daughters, but these are fictional characters, so added more differences than actually exist between them.

4) I noticed some references to Norse mythology throughout the book. Were there particular legends or features that inspired you as you wrote?
Although Hallvard’s village was not seafaring and the Norse dragons are more serpent-like than the ones found in Botkyrka, we used a lot of Norse mythology to relate to popular culture (thanks, Marvel). We mention Thor and the mythology surrounding him frequently, but Beowulf is an Old English poem and wyverns are considered to be from European mythology, so we clearly played around with various dragon-based myths. By having Hallvard familiar with the same mythology the kids knew, we could bridge the gap between the cultures and create a camaraderie.

5) What would you like readers to take away from The Emerald Key?

I hope this book reminds our readers to search for and have faith in their own strengths instead of comparing themselves to others. As well as believing in themselves, they should never forget the importance of trusting their friends, and that in the end, it’s a combination of strengths working together that can overcome obstacles. And beat the bad guys!

Change

Remember when I talked about how routine is important, but disrupting the routine is, too?

No?

That’s okay. Here’s a link. But you don’t necessarily need to read that, because I’ve got more examples from this weekend.

  • Mr. Sandwich read one of her “Touchy Feely” books using the adjective written on the page, but not the one Baguette prefers. She didn’t get upset, and she didn’t repeat the original phrase. Instead she corrected him, saying, “They are prickly.”
  • We were in the car, and she started to get a little fussy. She asked for her book (she has a sequence in which she reads the Touchy-Feely books, which are firmly in rotation. I asked, “Do you want Mommy to read That’s Not My Dragon?” And she answered, “I want Baguette That’s Not My Dragon.”
  • She’s been playing with the apps for The Monster at the End of This Book and Another Monster at the End of this Book. On Saturday she made up her own chant based on phrases from the apps: “Grover is furry, Grover is furry, YOU! Elmo is cute, Elmo is cute, YOU!”
  • As usual, we went to the zoo. Elephants are her favorite animal, and the demonstration enclosure is always one of our first stops at the L.A. Zoo. But the male elephant sometimes trumpets loudly and scares her. Yesterday the females were doing the demonstration, and she sat on my lap. Almost immediately, she said, “Time to say bye-bye elephants.” I said, “Are you sure? Don’t you want to watch them eat carrots?” She looked at me and said, “I want to go see giraffes please.”
  • When we reached the carousel, toward the end of our visit, I asked if she wanted to ride on one of the animals (she never does–we only ride on the bench seat). She answered with “I want to ride peacock, please.”
  • Last night, she handed Mr. Sandwich one of her stuffed animals and unilaterally changed one of her common Baguette-focused phrases (“I want Daddy take elephant”) to a straightforward instruction: “Daddy, take elephant.”
  • “Frozen” is also back in rotation, and she’s memorized even more of the dialogue. She’s also tailoring it to her own preferences, as in last night’s pronouncement: “It was an accident. She was scared. She didn’t mean it. She didn’t mean any of this. Tonight was my fault–I should be the one to go after her. Bring me my elephant.”

She’s been in school for three days. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t always felt good. But it is good.

Little girl with a big stack of books

Book Talk: Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven is the book that really, really convinced me to stop reading post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction.

Sure you might think that The Road would have done that. But while I found Cormac McCarthy’s father-and-son novel to be incredibly sad (and some of it to be horrifying), most of it didn’t dismay me in the way that this book did.

Since my second miscarriage, I’ve found that I have to be more careful about what I let into my head. While I once read innumerable true crime books, I find that now I can’t handle the cruelty. (I’ve read Game of Thrones and its sequels, yes, but there are passages that make me take breaks, and there are things I skip entirely in the HBO adaptation.)

Mandel’s book hooked me from the start. It’s really well-written, and the characters are interesting. I’ve had a long-standing interest in pandemics, so her story of the world after a particularly devastating flu seemed right up my alley in many ways.

But it got in my head in ways that were troubling. The idea of being plunged into a world without infrastructure is frankly terrifying. The death toll from Mandel’s “Georgia flu” would mean an end to existing family and friendships for any survivors. And while the idea of losing either Mr. Sandwich or Baguette is heartbreaking, the idea of losing both was almost insurmountable. (As I told Mr. Sandwich, “I’m not saying I’d just sit down on the side of the road and give up, but I really don’t know why I would choose to keep moving.”)

The book is not all bleakness, though, and I’m glad I finished it. It looks like Mandel’s other books are not as dystopian, and I want to read them. And I do recommend this one. Just not to myself.

cover of novel "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel

Santa Barbara: The Good

Back again from Santa Barbara, which has become our summer tradition. It’s not that we aren’t willing to travel anywhere else, it’s just that Santa Barbara is so nice, and so easy–easy to get to, and easy to be in. We got to see friends and family, and we revisited some greatest hits:

I know what you're thinking. We packed too much stuff.
I know what you’re thinking. We packed too much stuff.

Although we did need an awful lot of it.

Wait, where's Baguette?
Wait, where’s Baguette?
Rug removed, not for aesthetics, but for marker avoidance
Rug removed, not for aesthetics, but for marker avoidance
Baguette's first train ride, to Carpinteria 15 minutes away
Baguette’s first train ride, to Carpinteria 15 minutes away
Baguette's second train ride, returning from Carpinteria
Baguette’s second train ride, returning from Carpinteria
The goats will eat food handed to them through the fence, but that is not how Baguette rolls.
The goats will eat food handed to them through the fence, but that is not how Baguette rolls.

We found a new-to-us restaurant–Kyle’s Kitchen, which each month donates a portion of their proceeds to special needs organizations in the community.

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And also makes very tasty burgers.

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After years of driving by and saying, “Next time I want to check out that place,” we explored Tri-County Produce.

Featuring a Brussels sprout the likes of which I had never before seen
Featuring a Brussels sprout the likes of which I had never before seen

Of course we went to the beach, again and again and again.

DCIM113SPORT

Where Mr. Sandwich made sand castles, and Baguette destroyed them.

DCIM113SPORT

DCIM113SPORT

DCIM113SPORT

And then, on the way home, this happened.

Like Christmas in July for drought-stricken Californians
Like Christmas in July for drought-stricken Californians

BookTalk: More Please, The Hungry Animal Book

book

Dorothy Kunhardt is famous for writing Pat the Bunny. She also wrote More Please, which we discovered via Baguette’s speech therapist and may be the most maddening thing we own.

Baguette calls it “Make a Doggie.” I’m not sure why, because you don’t do that. You “feed” tiny pieces of posterboard shaped and colored like various items into the die-cut mouths of animals.

From a technical standpoint, I’m impressed. This was not easy to create.

From a parental standpoint, ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME????

The tiny pieces of posterboard are really tiny. Every time we read this book (and when it’s in rotation, I’m talking four or five times a day), I have to do an inventory of the parts. The text is maddeningly simplistic and sing-song. And the illustrations are just bad.

But Baguette loves it, and it definitely plays into her affection for animals.

Oh, and if you lose any of those tiny pieces? Yeah, I can’t find a replacement for less than $65 (a month ago, that price was $150). Hence the inventory.

If I didn’t like that speech therapist so much, I’d feel like she owes us an apology.

BookTalk: Petunia, The Girl Who Was NOT A Princess

Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for writing a review. All views expressed are my own.

Looking for new books to mix up your child’s library? Baguette really likes to revisit her favorites, but we want to add to the mix without taking away her comfort zone. So let’s kick off a new series with a book about broadening your comfort zone while being true to yourself.

M.R. Nelson is a technology management consultant who has two young daughters, and her daughters love stories. Her second children’s book is Petunia, The Girl Who Was NOT A Princess.

book cover for Petunia, the girl who was NOT a princess

Petunia prefers sweatshirts to frilly dresses and mud pies to tea parties, and she can’t understand the girls around her who love playing princess. Then Penelope moves in next door, and Petunia realizes that she may have been misjudging princesses and the other girls she knows.

The book is about growth, but it’s not didactic; it’s fun and funny, and I enjoyed reading it (and I enjoyed Holly Liminton’s illustrations). I also like that Petunia and Penelope’s world is multicultural, and that the focus is on appreciating both similarities and differences, not on changing who you are. “Princess” and “NOT A Princess” are equally valued and valuable–which is just what I want Baguette to learn.

So if you’re looking for a nice read about nice kids who learn to appreciate one another, this book may be for you and yours. (Available in hardcover and Kindle editions. Also available in Spanish.)

I was not compensated for this post, however I did receive a sample for my review. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Q & A?

Question mark in Esbjerg

I read this list of “the best” children’s books of 2014. A lot of them look great. And then the entry for The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall got me thinking.

The standard advice about answering children’s questions about “tricky” subjects–sex, death, etc.–is to answer the question that was asked. Don’t overthink it, don’t give more information than they can process. They asked a question that reflects the level of information they’re ready for.

Sounds great. I certainly want to teach Baguette everything she wants to know.

But what if your child can’t ask the questions to begin with? How do we know what she wants to know?

Photo by Alexander Henning Drachmann, via Flickr. Creative Commons.

What Comes To Mind

  • I’ve read Tuck Everlasting more than once and have no idea what happens in that book.
  • Ditto Wide Sargasso Sea.
  • I also don’t understand the appeal of ripped jeans as attractive fashion. I didn’t get them last time, either.
  •  Is there a way to eat meringues gracefully?
  • Why am I eating this meringue?
  • High temperatures still are in the 80s in our part of L.A. Hello, November!
  • I baked pumpkin bread anyway.
  • We are entering the world of LAUSD. I’ll admit it, just like everyone else does–I’m apprehensive.
  • But, hey, at least there’s pumpkin bread.

 

loaves of homemade pumpkin bread