Family Fridays – Virginia Lee Burton

A good friend from my grad school days is coming to visit this weekend, and I’m so excited to see her. I don’t have very many close friends in my area, so I cherish the times I get to have girl time – lots of tea drinking, sugar eating, laughing ourselves silly, and generally not acting our age. Good times.

She asked if there was anything she could bring for my son, as an early  Christmas/birthday present, and so I suggested a couple of toy options and a couple of book options. I keep a running mental list of books I want to acquire for our family library, and so I picked a couple that had nudged their way to the top, since they are both classic books that will grow with him (I like to expose him to books outside his “suggested age range” since we can talk about the pictures when he’s small, then more and more of the words and story as he gets older. Plus this keeps me from going insane reading the same board books over and over and over), and they feature construction equipment/heavy machinery, which my almost-two-year-old is really into right now. Like REALLY into. He wakes up asking about his “dumpys” [anything bigger than a car, derived from “dump truck”] and goes to sleep after saying bye bye to them. He thinks the protagonist of Are You My Mother is the steam shovel – we have to skip or flip through the rest of the pages really fast to get to the good part.

The two books I suggested were Katy and the Big Snow (we live in Colorado, so I thought this would be especially appropriate) and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. I remembered loving both these books as child, but I couldn’t remember much else about them, so I was surprised to find they were written and illustrated by the same person, Virginia Lee Burton. I did a little investigating, and found she also wrote/illustrated a book about the San Francisco cable cars called Maybelle the Cable Car which was especially perfect, since not only does it feature busses and cable cars and Things That Go, but my friend lives in San Francisco!

My friend is very generous, and when I got the box from Barnes and Noble (our deal was that I was allowed to peek, but we’ll let her give them to Mr. T) I found not only ALL three of the above books, but a fourth that I hadn’t seen called Choo Choo, also by Virginia Lee Burton. So naturally as soon as soon as I got Mr. T to sleep I sat down and read all four books cover to cover.

I loved the new-to-me ones as much as I loved the familiar Katy and Mike Mulligan books, and can’t wait to share them with my son. One of the things I love about these books is that Burton’s style is very distinctive, but also very different for each book. Mike Mulligan is the most like a “standard” picture book, Choo Choo is all black and white, Katy and the Big Snow has pages with intricate borders and maps, and Maybelle has several smaller sketches per page.

I’m so pleased with my own personal Virginia Lee Burton treasury, and would highly recommend these books for the special children in your life as well. Another thing I love about them is that these are books for kids, not “boy books” or “girl books”. Yes, they all feature vehicles and transportation, but all four of the main mechanical characters are female.

Katy and the Big Snow: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8) This would be a great Christmas present!

Katy, a brave and untiring tractor, who pushes a bulldozer in the summer and a snowplow in the winter, makes it possible for the townspeople to do their jobs.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8)

Since its publication in 1939, Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel has delighted generations of children. Together, Mike and his red steam shovel named Mary Anne dig the great canals, cut through high mountains, lower the hills, and even make deep holes for skyscrapers. With the advent of more modernized shovels, however, Mary Anne is going to be sold for junk! Thanks to Mike’s fierce loyalty to his friend, she is spared—and guaranteed a long-term job—when the intrepid duo digs a new town hall for the people of Popperville. Burton’s winsome crayon drawings are unforgettable. A classic!

Maybelle the Cable Car: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8)

Maybelle was a cable car a San Francisco cable car. . . She rang her gong and sang her song from early morn till late at night. . . . By recounting the actual events in San Francisco’s effort to keep the city’s cable cars running, this classic story illustrates how the voice of the people can be heard in the true spirit of democracy. Virginia Lee Burton’s original art for Maybelle the Cable Car was retrieved from the archives of the San Francisco Public Library to re-create this edition with all the vibrant charm of the original, which was published in 1952.

Choo Choo: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8)

The adventures of a beautiful little locomotive who decided to run away from her humdrum duties.

Have you read any of Virginia Lee Burton’s books? She won a Caldecott Medal for The Little House, but I haven’t read it in the past couple of decades, so I can’t give it the Lector’s Books stamp of approval yet.

Family Fridays – Moms, You’re Doing It Wrong

This post is going to be a little different than my usual Family Fridays posts, where I talk about, you know, books – this is after all a book blog. As of writing this, I’ve just entered the third trimester of my pregnancy (THE END IS NEAR!), so I’ve been thinking alot about being a mom, and especially those months after my son was first born, when I was navigating the murky First Time Mom waters.

*warning – serious navel gazing ahead – proceed at your own risk*

If there was one thing I’d like to say on behalf of all new moms it’s this: send food. We don’t have time to sleep or shower, let alone figure out how to keep ourselves or anyone else living in our house fed. Or money. Money is also good, because it can be exchanged for food.

But if I had TWO things to say on behalf of all new moms it would be this: please assume that we are a noncombatant in the Mommy Wars. Assume that we are doing our best to figure out what how to raise this tiny helpless poop machine that we have somehow become entirely responsible for, and that if we ask questions of you, or make choices that are different than yours, we are not attacking you – we are merely doing the best we can. (This goes for all moms, but especially new moms, who are sleep deprived and hormonally imbalanced on top of the other typical mom stuff.)

Let me give you an example. When my son was still little, I met another mom. I thought that I remembered hearing she worked with her husband, so I asked her that. Silence, then a tight little smile, followed by “I’ve raised [number of] children. Is that enough for you?” This was from one stay at home mom to another.

Somehow the question of “what do you do?” – which is a fairly standard ice-breaker, small talk, get to know you kind of question becomes fraught with peril when children are introduced to the mix, though typically only for women. But here’s the thing – it only is a dangerous question if we let it be. I think deep down we’re all a little insecure about the choices we make for our families (and that’s a good thing, because it means we care about making the right choice for our families), but becoming defensive and entrenching ourselves behind fortified walls is not the best response. This is where the whole “assume we are noncombatants” comes into play. Most of the time, questions are just questions – asked for information or small talk or whatever reason – and not made with the intent of being snide.

It’s kind of like the grownup equivalent of “what’s your major?” that college students ask each other (first three questions: name, major, hometown). Now, if Bob has just failed Basket Weaving 101 and is realizing that he is never going to become a Master Basket Weaver (which was his lifelong dream), then that question is going to feel a little bit (or a lot) like a slap in the face. Is it the fault of the person asking? No – it’s Bob’s insecurities that made a neutral question feel like an attack.

Similarly, if someone asks what you do, or where your kids go to school, or if you cloth diaper, or how much tv you let your kids watch, what if we all assumed that the asker is not judging us, or trying to point out their own superiority? What if we assumed that they were simply trying to get to know us, or maybe they wanted information because something wasn’t working well for their family and were trying to find alternatives? I think what would happen is that this whole mom thing – which is really, really difficult, would get just a little bit easier.

For example, I often ask about what people have decided to do for their children’s schooling. I’m genuinely curious about what they’ve decided to do (public, private, homeschooling, etc.) and why. I come from an education background and it is something I care deeply about. I want as much information as possible when it comes time to make those decisions for my kids. I also didn’t grow up in the US education system, apart from a few years (grades 7-10), so I’m not familiar with all the options or how they work from a first person perspective.

I really do understand that sometimes people are asking with mal intent. I get it. People can be jerks, that’s just a sad fact of life. But I’ve seen in my own experience that the more insecure I am about something, the more often I feel attacked. The stay at home mom thing is hard for me to get worked up about, because I actually feel incredibly blessed and fortunate in that I had a choice whether or not to go back to work, and I was able to choose to stay at home. I understand that not everyone has a choice, and I consider it a privilege to be able to do what I want. I do also really get why some women are very happy to be working outside the home, and for what it’s worth, it seems to be the more socially acceptable choice amongst women of my generation.

**second warning – I’m going to say breast! watch out!**

Here’s something I can get worked up about: I had really wanted to breastfeed my son. (I said breast!) Not only because I’m cheap (free food!), but because it seemed like the best option nutritionally. Here’s a funny twist of fate – my son has numerous food allergies (he’s almost two and we’re still struggling to find out what exactly he can and can’t eat) which culminated in three weeks of constant illness and a screaming, unhappy, sick baby (our record was going through more than a package of diapers in a day – that’s 40 plus diapers, which works out to a diaper change more frequently than every 36 minutes. Around the clock. On no sleep. And my husband was working nights! Fun times.)

We put him on a hypoallergenic formula and he was well in four hours. Four hours. After three weeks of hell. I had eliminated dairy and soy, and was on a “bland diet”, so I was pretty much eating plain noodles, rice, and boiled chicken, and then after we switched him to formula I still pumped for a week on the awful diet to try to give the toxins time to work out of my body and then out of his body, but the second we reintroduced breastmilk, it was back to sick baby. So I can confidently say I gave breastfeeding my best shot, and not only was my milk NOT the most healthy option for him (due to the whole malnutrution thing) we also ended up on a $200 a month formula. Ah, fate.

What’s my point here? This was something that I had really wanted to do for my son, but it just was not going to happen. So when I see all the “rah rah breastfeeding” posts on facebook, or tweets, or blog articles (it was recently “breastfeeding week”), it feels personal. I know that for the most part, these women are well intentioned, and I think trying to promote and normalize breastfeeding is a good thing, but the “everyone SHOULD breastfeed” message feels like a direct attack on me, because I couldn’t. Many women can’t. Either they don’t have enough milk, or they’ve adopted, or they are working out of the home and just can’t keep up with pumping and trying to provide for their families, or whatever. And some women can, and choose not to. Maybe they hate it, or are desperate for sleep, or know that they have to go back to work soon and just don’t feel it’s worth the effort.

So I have a choice. I can take my personal insecurities and assume these breastfeeding cheerleaders are judging me for putting my son on formula and fight back with all I’ve got, maybe changing the arena to one I can feel morally superior in (though at the moment I’m at a loss for what exactly that would be), or I can let it go and remember that they are trying to do the best they can for their children, as I am, and that they care enough about other people’s children to try to make a positive impact there as well. When we’re insecure about something, it feels like the subtext in those discussions is a whispered, “You’re doing it wrong.” But that’s what we hear, not necessarily what’s being said.

We all have a choice. Whatever the issue – breastfeeding, education, tv, electronic toys, organic food, cloth diapering, working outside the home – whatever it is, we can make this whole parenting thing easier on ourselves and each other if we start off with the assumption of best intentions on the part of the other person. Assume they are a noncombatant in the Mommy Wars, that whatever they just said was not an attack on you. I really do believe in the message of this book – if enough of us choose to be pleasant, we really can make the world a better place.

Except for those people who really are being snide. You can punch them in the face.

Review of The Man With a Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes (1981) (Richard Jury Series)

 Bottom line: A pleasant and intriguing read with a few murders thrown in for good measure.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

At the Man with a Load of Mischief, they found the dead body stuck in a keg of beer. At the Jack and Hammer, another body was stuck out on the beam of the pub’s sign, replacing the mechanical man who kept the time. Two pubs. Two murders. One Scotland Yard inspector called in to help. Detective Chief Inspector Richard Jury arrives in Long Piddleton and finds everyone in the postcard village looking outside of town for the killer. Except for one Melrose Plant. A keen observer of human nature, he points Jury in the right direction: into the darkest parts of his neighbors’ hearts…

Review:

Just a few weeks ago I was complaining about not being able to find new-to-me cozy mystery series to get lost in. Well, of course the next day I picked up an older book that I had gotten last year at my neighborhood’s community book swap, and found just that. The Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes has about two dozen books, and I’m looking forward to working my way through them. Some may quibble with my including this as a cozy, since the lead character works for the police, but the setting, atmosphere, and lack of CSI type talk make me feel ok about sticking this in with the cozies.

I had a few minor complaints, as I usually do, the biggest one being that I didn’t feel like the partnership between Richard Jury and Melrose Plant, who are being established as the crime fighting duo who go on to work together throughout the series, was explained or explored very well. The men seemed almost to be the same person. I would have like to see more differentiation, and a more solid foundation of their relationship established.

That being said, that was my main complaint. It met all my other criteria for a good cozy mystery, and the characters were well drawn and intriguing enough that I’m hoping to learn more about them as the series progresses.

One thing I will say is that I found this to be a fairly light read – the best way I can explain this is to compare it to something like Louise Penny’s mystery series, which always leaves me a touch hesitant to get into the next book. Not because I am afraid the quality will be lacking, but because reading those books is an emotional investment. There are some deep tragedies and pain explored (not even necessarily related to the crime being investigated) that, frankly, I just don’t always have the energy to tackle. I can’t speak to the rest of thisseries, since I’ve only read the first (though I have the second waitlisted at the library), but The Man With a Load of Mischief was exactly what I was looking for when I started searching for new cozies a few weeks ago – an entertaining read that wasn’t too draining mentally.

PS – this was set around Christmastime in a small English village (though the Christmas parts are very minor), so it may be fun to earmark to read around then.

I know I’m late to the party since this was first published in 1981, so have any of you read the Richard Jury series? What did you think?

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

10 books I’ve carried with me

This post originally came from a Facebook meme that’s been going around: name 10 books that have you’ve carried with you and don’t take too long to think about it. Normally I ignore stuff like this (“If you don’t forward this post, you’re a terrorist!” “If you don’t copy  and paste this post, I’m going to unfriend you!”), but it’s about books, so I couldn’t resist. It was a good exercise and I tried to follow the instructiosn by not thinking too much about it, so I missed The Giver, but other than that I haven’t thought of any other books that I would’ve added to the list. Apologies to my Facebook friends, who will have already seen the list.

If you are interested in seeing how the masses responded, Facebook has compiled the data here. There are some great books on the list, and the only one that gave me pause was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but since my first and favorite way to experience that story is via the radio drama, I don’t really think of it as a “book”.

So here’s my list, alphabetical by author (because picking 10 was hard enough, and I sure as heck wasn’t able to rank them!). One thing that helped me narrow down the list was thinking about which books I have physically carried with me over the years and miles, and which books continue to survive my frequent library purges.
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – le sigh. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)

2. Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey – since I’ve had the privilege of living in cultures very similar to the one Jesus inhabited, I’ve long felt that the western world misses out on alot of the cultural context of the Old and New Testaments. This book gives some great context for Jesus’s life. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)

3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – such a great story about the power of books and the dangers of censorship. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)

4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – this represents the entire Christie oeuvre, which has given me hours and hours of reading pleasure. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)

5. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George – this is a great children’s survival story which not only features a non-male, non-white main character (gasp!) but handles incredibly adult themes very deftly and in an age-appropriate manner. This is definitely due for a reread. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)

6. The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis – this again stands for the whole Chronicles of Narnia series, and is probably my favorite of the bunch, though the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a very close second. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)

7. 1984 by George Orwell – this book has stayed with me since I snitched it from my older brother’s assigned reading list in high school. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)

8. Harry Potter by JK Rowling – such a fun story! (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)

9. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers – possibly my favorite book of all time. Layers upon layers of depth, and I discover something new about the book or myself everytime I read it. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)

10. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein – what can I say? The fantasy by which all fantasy is measured. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)

What about you? What 10 books would make your list?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Why is it so hard to write a good cozy mystery?

Why is it so hard to write a good cozy mystery? I asked this first out of frustration – it seems that every new series I try is just not that good – and then out of genuine curiosity. Cozies are one of my favorite genres, and I feel like I’m running out of new authors to try. I recently read a trio of cozies: Just Desserts by Mary Daheim, Murder on the Rocks by Karen MacInerney (both of which are the first in their respective series, and set in bed and breakfasts), and Deadly Valentine by Carolyn G. Hart. For all three of these, I kept getting pulled out of the story as I was constantly noticing things that could have been done better.

Deadly Valentine was probably technically the best of the bunch, but was so littered with references to other mysteries, detectives, and their authors that I kept getting distracted. I love mysteries (obviously) and it’s always fun to see books you love referenced in other books, but keep it down to a few per chapter, not a few per paragraph! In places it was almost unreadable. Also (mild spoiler alert) I found it hard to believe the sheer percentage of married couples who were cheating on each other, which I guess was necessary to provide possible motives for the suspect pool, but seriously, we are talking upwards of maybe 85% of the couples you are introduced to are cheaters.

Murder on the Rocks was maybe a little less well constructed than Deadly Valentine, but I enjoyed it the most of this bunch. It was just…pleasant, which a cozy by definition should be. The only thing I found to really annoy me (and this is by no means unique to this story or author) was the main character’s attraction to her neighbor has to be mentioned every time he comes up. We get it. She thinks he’s cute. I don’t need to hear about his striking green (or whatever colour they were) eyes every. single. time. Or hear about how well he fills out his jeans with every step he takes (or every move he maaaaaakes). If I were suspected of a brutal murder and was looking at the loss of my freedom and livelihood, I’m not going to be spending my time staring dreamily at my neighbour’s butt. That being said, I would probably read more in this series. It was interesting, and pleasant, and not terribly stressful.

Just Desserts I was very disappointed by. I’ve heard Mary Daheim recommended a number of times, and she has about a billion books out, so I was expecting great things. Not only did it suffer from the “we get it, she thinks he’s cute” syndrome mentioned above, but there were a number of other problems I had with it. First and foremost was the info dump in the first few pages. Character names, backstories, all are dumped immediately into our laps without context. I have a hard enough time remembering the names of people I know, much less fictional ones. If they’re all thrown at me in a few paragraphs, I’m just not going to be able to keep up, and then I spend the rest of the book trying to remember who was who’s sister, or cheating ex-boyfriend, or uncle’s roomate’s cousin’s dog sitter. I didn’t find the main character compelling or sympathetic, nor did I find the supporting characters to be so. In short, as I said, disappointing.

So why is it so hard to write a cozy? I think it has a lot to do with finding the right balance in many different dimensions.

  1. The right amount of suspense and violence: it’s a bit strange that we relax by reading about fictional people being murdered, but there it is. It should have enough tension to keep us hooked and want to know whodunnit, but not so much gore that we have trouble sleeping at night.
  2. Characters who are interesting and quirky without being caricatures.
  3. Enough characters to provide a reasonable suspect pool without overwhelming readers.
  4. A realistic reason why this amateur sleuth is a) investigating at all (instead of the police) and b) has the skill set or information base to do so.
  5. Providing enough clues so that the reader has all the information to solve the case while making it hard to do so. There is nothing more annoying than solving the case on page 30, and then watching the heroine flounder about for the next 300 pages.
  6. Love interest: this could be a list in and of itself, but the author has to create conflict or tension between them, create reasons for them to be thrown together, reasons why they’re not together, balance developing the romance with solving the mystery, etc.
  7. Follow what is essentially a very rigid plot structure while coming up with a unique twist to entertain readers. I think this is part of why so many cozies have a “quirk” to try and differentiate them from other series. A bed and breakfast setting, or a talking animal (I can’t quite bring myself to read those, but maybe I’m missing out), a friendly ghost who helps solve mysteries, etc.
  8. Provide an exciting ending where the heroine ends up in danger before unmasking the perpetrator while not making her do something really stupid and out of character (“Sure! This timid librarian is going to sneak into the mafia’s underground fortress in the middle of the night to try and get the last piece of evidence needed to convict.” or “Sure! I think you might have killed someone a few days ago, but I’d LOVE to meet for coffee by your abandoned coal mine! What’s that? Don’t tell anyone where I’m going? But of course not!”)

So that’s my list of why I think it’s hard to write a good cozy mystery. I’ll try to keep it in mind the next time I find myself frustrated with my reading material.

Do you read cozies? Who are you favorite authors?

Tools of the Trade: Magazines

Last year for my birthday/Christmas (they’re very close) I was given some gift cards and some cash (sweeeeet), and I did something different with it: I bought two magazine subscriptions: National Geographic Traveler and Real Simple.

I LOVE magazines, and getting them in the mail every month or so is like getting another present all over again. Magazines are great if you only have short chunks of time to sit down and read, and I find they often inspire me to seek out books to read as well. Real Simple has book recommendations in every issue, and Nat Geo Traveler will often include book recos related to the places they are featuring.

Of course, you can use the library for magazines, or only buy them when a particular issue strikes your fancy, but I’ve found the subscription to be one of those little splurges ($10-20 for a year) that gives me a ton of happiness.

Get it:

Nat Geo Traveler: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, National Geographic. P.S. When my kid’s older, I’m totally getting him the Nat Geo Little Kids magazine, but I do not promise not to hog it!

Real Simple: Barnes and Noble, Real Simple

Do you subscribe to any magazines? Have you ever?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (1969)

Bottom line: Meh.

Rating: Recommended if: you’re doing a tour of classic sci fi authors.

Blurb:

When the human ambassador Genly Ai is sent to Gethen, the planet known as Winter by those outsiders who have experienced its arctic climate, he thinks that his mission will be a standard one of making peace between warring factions. Instead the ambassador finds himself wildly unprepared. For Gethen is inhabited by a society with a rich, ancient culture full of strange beauty and deadly intrigue—a society of people who are both male and female in one, and neither. This lack of fixed gender, and the resulting lack of gender-based discrimination, is the very cornerstone of Gethen life. But Genly is all too human. Unless he can overcome his ingrained prejudices about the significance of “male” and “female,” he may destroy both his mission and himself.

Review:

I was really excited to read this book, as I’ve heard really great things of Le Guin, the book is generally really highly reviewed, and it won a Hugo AND a Nebula award. I ended up being really disappointed. I think overall, if I hadn’t had such high expectations, I might have enjoyed it more than I did, but not by much.

Basically, the entire book was a heav-handed exploration of the question “what would society be like if there were no gender?” The world she created was quite interesting, and the basic conflict set up was how cultural differences impact communication, which is something I’ve always found fascinating. Even the action/survival part of the story – once we finally got there – was enjoyable. However, everything came back to how sex works in this society, and its impact on the culture.

It’s a book that’s supposed to make you stop and think about gender and sexuality in our own society, but being a naturally stubborn person, the more you hit me over the head with something, the less likely I am to want to acquiesce. I think this book would have been much more impactful, to me at least, if the themes were more subtly woven through the story. I wanted the world and the two different cultures we met with to be more fleshed out. I wanted to get a better view of the relationships between the main characters. I wanted the action to be better paced (instead of people sitting around talking or walking through the snow for half of the book, then suddenly a bomb goes off and Stuff Starts To Happen).

There was so much going for this book that I wanted to like, but for me it just never managed to come together. I felt like it was trying too hard to be Intellectual. Obviously, millions of people (including the voters of the Hugo and Nebula panels) disagree with me. It was a book I felt to be worth the read, especially if you’re interested in exploring some of the early-contemporary sci fi authors, but it wasn’t a book that I could ever get totally immersed in, or couldn’t wait to pick up again when I put it down.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of A Fine Romance (2013) by Susan Branch

Bottom line: A peaceful armchair journey for a rainy afternoon.

Rating: Recommended If you’re in the mood for a vicarious wander through southern England.

Review:

The full title of this book is, “A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside” and you will do just that, I promise you. For anyone who has been to England, this book is like one long nostalgic sigh. You get to travel along with the author through her handwritten and illustrated journal, enjoying the English countryside. Of course, it will stoke your wanderlust, if you are of that type, and you may have to remind yourself, “Self, if you went to England, it would NOT be via the Queen Mary 2, and you would be taking a toddler and an infant on at least two plane rides of 12 hours, and would most likely be staying in hostels with said young children.” But it’s nice to dream anyways, and A Fine Romance is a lovely dream. Best read with a nice cuppa and a biscuit or two.

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Book Review: Matt Archer: Monster Hunter by Kendra Highley

Bottom Line: A gritty YA fantasy definitely worth the read.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Fourteen-year-old Matt Archer spends his days studying Algebra, hanging out with his best friend and crushing on the Goddess of Greenhill High, Ella Mitchell. To be honest, he thinks his life is pretty lame until he discovers something terrifying on a weekend camping trip at the local state park.

Monsters are real. And living in his backyard.

But that’s not the half of it. After Matt is forced to kill a strange creature to save his uncle, he finds out that the weird knife he took from his uncle’s bag has a secret, one that will change Matt’s life. The knife was designed with one purpose: to hunt monsters. And it’s chosen Matt as its wielder.

Now Matt’s part of a world he didn’t know existed, working with a covert military unit dedicated to eliminating walking nightmares. Faced with a prophecy about a looming dark war, Matt soon realizes his upcoming Algebra test is the least of his worries.

His new double life leaves Matt wondering which is tougher: hunting monsters or asking Ella Mitchell for a date?

Review:

This is one of those books that languished on my Kindle for a very long time. I’d grabbed it on sale, but just didn’t get started on it for one reason or another. Then I found myself stranded in an airport for several hours one Saturday morning – WITHOUT my toddler – and I have to say, those were pretty much the most relaxing hours I’ve had since December 2012, when said toddler entered my life. I sat in an airport restaurant, drank my weight in tea, and read Matt Archer: Monster Hunter.

It was very, very good. It’s the classic YA tale of a normal teenager finding out he has powers, and must use them to fight for his family and his world. However, there were a few things done differently that I thought elevated it above the general YA fantasy offering. I loved that adults are fighting the evil as well, and they are mostly skeptical of bringing this kid into the mix. It seemed much more realistic than say, the Percy Jackson books, where the issue of “but where are all the adult demigods and why aren’t they doing anything?” is pretty much glossed over. I also loved its international outlook. Matt’s an American kid, and the story is based in America, but instead of everything happening in the states, there are incidents popping up all over the world.

Another issue I have with some YA fantasy series is that so often it feels like watching an old school video game. Each book is a level, and you have to make it to the end of the level to fight the boss, and then you start a new level with its boss,  then at the end of the whole game, you fight the big boss. Each book neatly wraps up one year of school or a summer between school years, with the bad guys conveniently making their move during finals or right before school starts up again, depending on the series. And while I understand authors wanting to contribute to the overarching series plot, while giving readers closure during the individual books as well, it so often just feels contrived. Matt Archer’s plot moved along in a very natural progression. He’s fighting monsters, and he’s also going to school, but it didn’t feel like the monsters were timing their attacks around the school year.

Ranting aside, Matt feels like a very realistic teenage boy. He’s likeable, has character flaws, and reacts in a very believable way to all the weird stuff that has now become his life. I loved his family and friends and hope we get to know them better.

The author, Kendra Highley (who I can claim to know slightly through the power of social media – and is a lovely person as well as talented author), was in the process of releasing the fifth and last book in the series while I was reading the first, so I’m excited to have a completed series to plow through as time, energy, and budget allows. I am a little nervous to do so because this book started off grittier and more intense (and with an older protagonist) than many YA series, and I’m guessing it follows the pattern of becoming darker as the story progresses. I don’t handle stress all that well in general, and definitely not when I’m pregnant. I mostly want everything to be rainbows and sunshine and unicorns. I’m pretty sure people are going to die in this series…people I like. Oh well.

If you like YA fantasy, this is a book that must not be missed!

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Family Fridays – If Everybody Did

Book: If Everybody Did (1960) by Jo Ann Stover

Category/Age: Picture Book (Older)

Blurb:

The hilarious and terrible consequences of everyone doing his own thing are portrayed by author/artist Jo Ann Stover in If Everybody Did. Children and adults alike will enjoy this precautionary tale with its concise rhyming text, and amusing illustrations.

Review:

This book resonated very strongly with me when I read it as a child. The basic message is that if everybody acted selfishly, the world would not be a very nice place. Even today, when I see adults exhibiting discourteous behaviour, this book pops into my head and I want to smack them upside the head with it, then force them to read it cover to cover.

<Side note: this was especially true when I was taking public transit every day to work. I wanted to write a special version just for adults on the light rail: “What if everybody put their bags on seats when the train was full? What if everybody screamed profanities into their cellphones? What if everybody put their feet on the seat so no one else could sit down there? What if everybody told long explicit stories about their latest medical issues?” >

Written in 1960, it is more timely than ever, especially for a generation that is being told they are special snowflakes and the only thing that matters is their own happiness. This book shows the consequences of everybody making small choices that negatively impact others, and then what would happen if everybody made choices that positively impacted the world, and how it would be a much nicer place for everyone.

It manages to do all of this while being fun and not preachy, no mean feat. I was shocked to discover that I didn’t have it, and it is on my list to buy the next time I snag a Barnes and Noble coupon.

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.