Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Co-review: The Lace Reader

What first comes to mind when you think of Salem, Massachusetts? Witches, of course! Brunonia Barry's The Lace Reader incorporates Salem's rich history into a riveting story as intricate and complicated as the handmade Ipswich lace that serves as its running motif. But don't think this is merely an ode to textiles. It's a tale of mystery, fresh starts, religious fanaticism, and the horrific (without being too graphic) effects of abuse.

Now, as with all co-reviews, we will discuss the book openly. (And we invite open discussion as well -- hence the calendar on the sidebar to give you time to read with us.) If you haven't read it yet, keep in mind that reading this review will give things away! And trust me, this is one book that shouldn't be spoiled. It includes a major plot twist at the end that will have you thinking about it for days afterward, and I won't be able to sleep at night if I think that I've ruined it for you!


The Lace Reader begins with Towner Whitney returning to her hometown of Salem after the disappearance and death of her great-aunt/mother-figure. Towner hasn't been home in fifteen years since she suffered a breakdown at seventeen after the suicide of her twin sister. Part of her treatment while she was institutionalized included shock treatment, which left her memory permanently damaged. She has issues with just about everyone -- her mother who runs a lace-making shelter for abused women, her former childhood sweetheart who has wasted his life pining over her, and especially her abusive uncle who raised her twin sister, Lyndley. This same uncle, Cal, has set himself up in Salem as the Messianic leader of a religious sect complete with fanatic disciples, cultish exorcisms, and a hatred for the local witches. And yes, there are witches! Mostly they specialize in herbs and incense with the occasional fortune-telling thrown in for tourists, but they provide a fun taste of the paranormal.

Shifting perspectives in the narrative allows us to spend time with Detective Rafferty, a newcomer who knows more about Towner than he lets on and helps her begin the healing process. Things get more complicated when a young member of Cal's cult disappears and Rafferty suspects foul play (she's pregnant with Cal's child). While this mystery plays out on the surface, we also uncover more about the deeper mystery of Towner's mental illness and Lyndley's suicide. Both stories converge toward a climax full of suspense and action, culminating in an unexpected revelation that leaves the reader dazed and marveling at Barry's well-crafted tale.

Caren: All right, before I say anything else about the book I have to apologize for the generous use of the f-word. It was pointless, overused, and distracting, and is the only reason I would hesitate to whole-heartedly recommend this book.

Now, having said that, let's move on to the good stuff. What were your thoughts when it was revealed that the Lyndley in Towner's memory didn't exist -- that in fact, she was Towner herself?

Jenny: I was blown away. I didn't even know there was a twist at the ending of the book, so reading it knocked me for a loop. Then I spent the rest of the day wandering my house aimlessly, wondering what was real and what wasn't. I couldn't even sort out the parts of her memory she made up and which ones were true. Had she been hallucinating most of her life and saw things that weren't there? Or did the shock treatments and abuse over the years fill in places in her memory that made her unstable mental state easier to cope with? Did she develop a split personality that manifested itself as her sister? Is this all left open for the reader to interpret?

The one hint that happened in the book that gave me pause, was when she said something about why she had changed her name from Sophya to Towner. Sophya was too easy to say quietly, in the dark, where no one else could hear it. My radar pinged at that and I started wondering if she had been abused like her sister, Lyndley, but I never thought that she and Lyndley were the same person.

How sad is it that I don't remember any prolific f-words? I think I mentally skip over them and only if they are overwhelming will it bother me. So sad. I need to read more non-fiction or something.

Caren: Well, good, I'm glad they didn't bother you. I always feel bad suggesting a book and then finding out that it has bad language in it.

I had heard that there was a twist ending, so I was trying to see if I could spot it in advance. But she still did an amazing job disguising it because it wasn't obvious and I came up with lots of wild alternatives! One thing that struck me was the excerpt from "The Lace Reader's Guide" that talked about the Guides.
Beware of images that emerge at this place. They are not real. The Guides are tricksters. They will show you their magic and invite you to linger...The Reader must resist the urge to allow the Seeker to rest here, no matter how captivating the images seem, or how true. It is the Lace Reader's job to move the Seeker past the still point to the real truth, which lies not within the veil but just beyond.
Lyndley was the best fit for that description. Her vibrant personality, the mystery surrounding her death; she was easily the most compelling character and the most likely to be a captivating trickster. So once the possibility was introduced that she was not real, I started noticing things like how Towner was the only one who ever talked about her. Even Rafferty talked about her only in relation to Towner's account in the journal, which was described as part fiction.

I have the same questions you have about when Lyndley existed for Towner. Did Towner have a split personality while growing up? Or did Lyndley come into existence only as a coping mechanism after her attempted suicide? She does talk about mentioning Lyndley to other people who all respond badly. But are those actual memories or false ones? I tend towards thinking she was a byproduct of the breakdown and only came into existence in Towner's adult life, but I'd be interested to hear other interpretations. And what exactly triggered the suicide attempt anyway?

I loved how the story followed the motif of the lace. The intricacies of the story reveal little tidbits here and there from alternating perspectives until the whole pattern emerges. Wonderful writing!

Jenny: The lace motif was really interesting. The excerpts from the lace reading book at the beginning of each chapter would hint at what was going to happen next. The whole concept of reading the lace had just enough paranormal flavor to keep things on the edge of reality and had me wondering about some of the story. I think you're right, that Lyndley is one of the trickster Guides and I got caught up in her story, instead of seeing the truth. Gosh, I'd make a cruddy lace reader.

One thing that made me kind of pause is that a man like Rafferty would fall in love with a woman like Towner, knowing exactly what her history was and her mental state. Maybe he's the type of person who wants to save people, which would explain why he's a cop, but to willingly pursue someone with such horrific issues? I loved that he was part of the story and I loved watching them fall for each other, though. It was one of my favorite parts of the story. Towner certainly deserved some happiness, that's for sure.

Caren: Yeah, I liked the quiet, understated romance. But I wondered what he saw in her too. Knowing that he knew her better than the reader did (through his friendship with Eva and his access to police files), I figured that what he knew must not have been serious enough to scare him off. But her issues seemed pretty serious to me! It really makes me wonder about Towner that she would have had such power over both Rafferty and Jack, especially since what we see of her seems to be such a shell.

And speaking of Jack, I really didn't like him and am not sure why Barry made him a part of the story. It bugged me that he was wasting his life moping over a breakup that happened fifteen years ago. Get over her, already! And then to learn that he had raped her during their night together and she doesn't even know it -- ugh, it just made my skin crawl. I'm glad he was properly horrified, but it didn't make him any less despicable to me.

Jenny: I know, seriously, I hated the guy after that. I didn't like him much before, but that sealed the deal for me. Sick. And really, he wasted his life over her? They were kids! I can see how he would mope and cry for maybe a year, but his whole life? The only thing I can think of why he was included in the story is how he described how Towner behaved during the rape, that her eyes glazed over and she shut down, then had no memory of it the next day. That was another clue to her real history instead of the fictional one the we'd been fed all along.

Even though this story was exciting and suspenseful with such a huge twist--which I love--this book had a serious ick factor. Cal was so despicable, so repellent that whenever he'd show up, my skin would crawl. Jack was worthless and disgusting. Thank goodness for characters like Eva, Ann, May and Rafferty. Beezer seemed like the poor normal kid to have gotten sucked into this family. The whole clan of them is a sorry bunch. In my copy of the book from the library, it says that a sequel will be coming out this year. Most of me wants to see what else can possibly happen, but one small portion is tired of the ick. Please let there be less ick.

Caren: Oh really? I hadn't heard about a sequel. I wonder what characters it will follow? I thought the pacing of the book helped to not dwell too much on the horrible stuff. But any book-about-abuse is probably too soon after Iodine! I thought of Iodine quite a bit, actually, and I was glad that The Lace Reader had more closure to it. It still left some things unresolved, but at least she spelled the most important stuff out for us!

I'm glad you brought up Cal. He was seriously scary, but what bothered me even more was how the women he abused would go back to him time and again. Emma, Angela, even Lyndley/Towner if her memory could be trusted. No wonder May hated him so much after seeing him destroy the women she loved. If someone was going to do it, I'm glad she was the one who ultimately shot him!

Jenny: You know, when you put Iodine and The Lace Reader side by side, the The Lace Reader is much less icky. At least Towner didn't want to sleep with Cal. Let's skip abuse books for a little while, what do you say?

May certainly was the perfect character to shoot Cal. It's also no wonder that she ran a safehouse/island for abused women so she was able to save some people, if not her own family. In the sequel excerpt in the back of my copy of the book, it says that May is on trial and that more of Towner's memories are uncovered. She begins a love affair with some other guy along with Rafferty and she starts uncovering more secrets. Is Barry going to try to pull off another big surprise? And is a sequel just Barry's grasping attempt at recreating the success of the first book? 'Cause that would be lame.

Caren: Hmm, yeah, I don't know how I feel about that. I thought The Lace Reader ended well enough that we don't really need the rest of the story. I worry that trying to push it further will make the characters suffer, but I guess the sequel will show if Barry has lasting talent or not. Overall, I thought it was a great read, but I'm with you and wouldn't mind taking a break from the abuse themes for a while!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bear, Dinosaur, Mouse and Dog

When I sat down to write about the latest quartet of amazing picture books, I realized that they were all about animals who were referred to by the type of animal they were, no cutesy names or trying to make them like people. Coincidence worth mentioning? Eh, probably not, but it got me an introductory paragraph out of the deal.

I love Kevin Henkes' books. Owen with his precious blankie, Lilly and her purple plastic purse, Chrysanthemum with her glorious name, poor worried Wemberly and so many more characters that my children adore and identify with. I didn't know he wrote and illustrated anything other than his mice characters, so I was excited to see what Old Bear was about. In the three weeks we had Old Bear in our house, we read it at least twice a day. In the forty-something times I read that book, I never once got tired of it. The illustrations are beautiful and charming, the text is sweet, the colors captivated and we found new things to look at with every reading. Old Bear goes to sleep for the winter and dreams that he is a cub again, with the seasons passing in more brilliance and excitement that he can absorb. When he awakes, spring has arrived to his and the reader's delight. This is an example of a perfect book for 2-4 year olds, but don't let that stop you from reading it to your older kids because mine loved it.

Speaking of other perfect picture books, but on a completely different end of the spectrum, I have lost my voice on several occasions reading Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea. Little Dinosaur battles a pile of leaves, talking grown-ups, a bowl of spaghetti, and other enemies with great success, but bedtime might be his greatest opponent. My kids loved this book so much that I had to put in a request to only read it once a day to preserve my vocal chords. There is a LOT of roaring in this book. My oldest and second daughters took over for additional readings and giggling could be heard throughout the house when this book was pulled out. Big, bright, fun drawings that bounce you from page to page. Everybody should know a dinosaur like this one and he would be welcome at my house any day.

Emily Gravett's books are visual smorgasbords. We read Wolves a while back and loved it, so I fully expected the same fun with Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears. We weren't disappointed. Each page is a multi-media display of different phobias and Little Mouse's additions and journal entries. Gravett's books are more geared toward the six and up crowd, but really, my almost eight-year-old was the only one to truly appreciate the book. My personal favorite fear was isolophobia (fear of solitude) and Little Mouse's entry, "I don't like being alone, or in the dark" followed by a black, blank page. Or maybe it was whereamiphobia (fear of getting lost) with only the words, "I'm scared of getting lost" and a pencil dropped on the floor, no mouse to be seen. The ending was the dessert of the book, after having survived Little Mouse's chronicled phobias and was well worth all the explanations of what everything meant to my younger kids.

Author Amy Hest and illustrator Amy Bates made an amazing team with The Dog Who Belonged to No One. I'll refer to them as Amy 1 or Amy 2, or maybe The Amys. Watch, they'll never team up for a book again and I'll have gone to that effort for nothing. The Dog Who Belonged to No One lives a parallel life to a wisp of a girl named Lia, who delivers bread for her baker parents. He's a good dog, wanting to be loved and sad to be cold and alone. Lia works hard and wishes she had a friend to work along side with her. As you read it, you so desperately want them to meet and when they do, it is so satisfying, so gentle and tender. The pencil and watercolor drawings make The Dog so cute with his crooked ears and spotted coat and Lia with her bike, apron and cap. I just wanted to scoop them all up and hug them hard. My girls enjoyed it too and it sure didn't help with the dog fever around here.

Ahh, there's not much else better than a bunch of beautiful and fun picture books. I could fill my house top to bottom with all these treasures and be happy for a lifetime. The second best thing is an amazing library and a blog in which to spout off on what books tickle me pink. Not a bad second best thing at all. Tell me if any of you readers try out one of these books and how your kids/nephews and nieces/students/random children you meet in the library liked them. It makes me happy to know that good books are being read.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How I learned to like historical fiction

I'm not a big fan of historical fiction because it seems like it's mostly about war. That's a broad, over-simplified generalization, but that's what comes to mind when I think of historical fiction. Seems like it's always about World War I or II and I can't seem to muster up the energy to want to read anything from that time period. I'd rather grab a book that is pure fiction and toss reality to the wayside. One day I forced myself to read my library newsletter that was about historical fiction novels, and noticed that they were highlighting books based on lives of women who influenced or were involved in the lives of artists. Well, that was something I could get excited about! The people and locations I do love throughout history usually have to do with the arts: musical, visual and written. I picked three books for each aspect of the arts and here are the winners.

If you were like me, you had to read The Great Gatsby in high school. If you're also like me, you remember hardly anything about it except the guy named Gatsby and the gal named Daisy. Well, it ends up that F. Scott Fitzgerald's inspiration for the lovely Daisy was his real-life first love, Ginevra King. (Sidenote: Anybody else know of a Ginevra in modern literature?) Caroline Preston took the bare bones facts of Ginevra King's life and turned it into a page-turner of a book called Gatsby's Girl. It follows Ginevra Perry through her meeting of Fitzgerald, their brief but steamy relationship through letters, her gradual disinterest of him and the oh so many bad choices that followed. It's told from Ginevra's point of view as an old woman looking back at her mistakes and she is so much more cognizant of how big of a flirt she was and how many life-altering decisions she made based on someone being good-looking. It kept me riveted and though I grew frustrated at how unhappy she became as time went by--due to her big stupidhead choices--I kept hoping for her to be happy. Eventually, Ginevra and Fitzgerald cross paths again and she is able to finally close that chapter of her life and move on to a happier future.

This book was an enormous departure from the real story of Ginevra King, but from what I read about King's life, Ginevra Perry was a much more compassionate and interesting person, even if she's fictional. The facts about Fitzgerald remain true to history, which is sad since he screwed up his life big time. As I read the book, I remembered more details about The Great Gatsby and was reminded of how much I liked the book and the era it was written in. In our past, but not so distant, with characters that are flawed, but lovable, Gatsby's Girl was a great read. It was a wonderful way to peak my interest in historical fiction.

You know who I love? Mozart. I love Beethoven more, but the book I read was based on the Weber women who deeply affected Mozart's music and who he loved at various stages of his life, eventually marrying Constanza. I'll look for a book about Beethoven later. Ever seen the movie Amadeus? It depicts Mozart as a wine-swilling womanizing hysterically-laughing scamp who can't get his act together. I always hated that image of him and was so happy to read Stephanie Cowell's version of him in Marrying Mozart because she has such a kinder view. Maybe it's because it is from the standpoint of how the Weber women were such an integral part of his life that makes the reader see his gentlemanly demeanor and his passion. Cowell took what information we have of Constanza Weber and built a beautiful story around her life and that of her sisters. It was a fascinating read from a musical standpoint and from a historical one. Cowell is a trained coloratura soprano, which is the highest vocal range achievable, so her understanding of music made her written descriptions absolutely heavenly. My many years of musical training coupled with her descriptions practically made my brain hum with Mozart's music and I couldn't shake the need to listen to his operas for days afterward. This book was a captivating journey into that time period, the women's lives of that century, and into the musical soul of Mozart and his lasting brilliance.

My final book of this historical group was one based on the mysterious woman in Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Not much is known about the woman in the famous painting because it was never titled or dated, but what Donna Jo Napoli did in The Smile with the facts available was wonderful. It's a young adult novel, so it wasn't long or fraught with big words, but Napoli didn't skimp on the rich history of Florence, Italy during the Renaissance. I remember so little from my cultural history classes in college that Napoli could have written about aliens landing and knocking the tower in Pisa to form its famous tilt and I probably wouldn't even catch it. I appreciated her notes at the end describing what information she gathered and how she used it. What a fascinating time period! Florence was such a center of culture and art! It's now on my list of places I must see. Her 15th century Italian countryside was so deliciously descriptive with the gardens and the food and the clothes that I was desperate for a time machine so I could experience even a few moments of it. After reading this book, I no longer wonder why people are crazy about Renaissance fairs.

I know all of these books are just the author's interpretation and imagination on what happened to real people and events, but I feel smarter after reading them. It felt like I stepped backward in time and experienced what it was like for these women during their lives. Now I see what all the fuss is about with historical fiction. I might have to dive into another trio of books sometime and do some more globe-trotting and time-traveling. You should try it too.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

"I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death." These words of Greg Mortenson as he appeared before Congress in 2002 sum up the pervading theme of the bestselling Three Cups of Tea -- the story of Mortenson's amazing journey from aimless rock-climber to fearless humanitarian who tirelessly fights to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Part biography, part promotion, it's impossible to read it without being moved.

Written by David Oliver Relin in collaboration with Greg Mortenson, the book opens in 1993 as Mortenson is returning from a failed attempt at climbing Pakistan's K2, the world's second-highest mountain. Brooding over his defeat, he loses track of his guide and ends up lost in the alpine wilderness. He stumbles into a tiny village where he's cared for and nursed back to health. He is moved by the people's generosity despite their crippling poverty. When he sees that they have no school, Mortenson leaves with a promise to one day return and build them one. Mortenson himself is homeless with no steady job, no connections, and no idea how to get started. But with his characteristic passion and tenacity, he forges ahead and his life is changed forever.

Eventually he secures funding and learns through some painful experiences who to trust and how to navigate the complex Islamic world as an American infidel. Once the school is finally finished several years later, he realizes that this is only the beginning. So many Pakistani children suffer from inadequate education and it becomes his life's work to build schools for as many of them as possible. There are inspiring stories of students receiving their first books. ("I didn't dare to open them, they were so beautiful.") Or a clean school uniform. ("[T]hat day I held the first set of clean, new clothes I'd ever owned...And I remember thinking, 'Maybe I shouldn't feel so ashamed.'"). There are also troubling accounts of Wahhabi madrassas -- extremist schools that target millions of impoverished children with "a curriculum that emphasizes jihad and hatred of the West at the expense of subjects like math, science, and literature."

Mortenson is especially interested in the education of girls.
"Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities," he says. "But the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they've learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls."
This attitude earns him some enemies from fundamentalists who don't believe girls should be educated. But I was amazed at how many of the conservative Muslims he met felt passionately about the need for their daughters to be educated. Indeed, this book challenged a lot of my assumptions about conservative Islam, reinforced others, and basically shaped a whole new perspective on life in that part of the world. From the other-worldly geography to the poverty to the politics, I felt like I was seeing things for the first time and realized how very ignorant I am about these things.

On September 11, 2001 Mortenson was near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan when he was informed that "A village called New York has been bombed." Mortenson had already been reaching out to the Afghan refugees who had been pouring into Pakistan for years, but after the US went to war in Afghanistan he felt even more drawn to help the innocent citizens of that country. His first-hand accounts of the things he has seen are stirring and call for accountability from our government to fulfill their promises for humanitarian aid.
"People in that part of the world are used to death and violence," Mortenson said. "And if you tell them, 'We're sorry your father died, but he died a martyr so Afghanistan could be free,' and if you offer them compensation and honor their sacrifice, I think people will support us, even now. But the worst thing you can do is what we're doing -- ignoring the victims. To call them 'collateral damage' and not even try to count the numbers of the dead. Because to ignore them is to deny they ever existed, and there is no greater insult in the Islamic world. For that, we will never be forgiven."

He continues to emphasize that our biggest enemy in that part of the world is ignorance. Desperate people will give their loyalty to whatever force (good or evil) promises them a better life. So goes the story of one young man he meets in Afghanistan:
"Like a lot of Taliban, Hash, as he told me to call him, was a jihadi in theory only," Mortenson explains. "He was a smart guy who would much rather have worked as a telecommunications technician than a Taliban fighter, if a job like that had been available. But the Taliban offered him three hundred dollars when he graduated from his madrassa to join them. So he gave the money to his mother in Khost and reported for weapons training." Hash had been wounded when a Northern Alliance rocket-propelled grenade exploded against a wall where he'd taken cover. Four months later, puncture wounds on his back still oozed infected pus and his torn lungs whistled when he exerted himself. But Hash was ecstatic to be free of the Taliban's rigid restrictions and had shaved off the beard he'd been obliged to grow. And after Mortenson dressed his wounds and treated him with a course of antibiotics, he was ready to swear allegiance to the only American he'd ever met.

Three Cups of Tea
is full of such remarkable vignettes. It's also full of contrasts between what is best and worst in humanity. But ultimately, it offers a message of hope. Consider these words of Ahmed Rashid, author of the bestselling book Taliban:
"The work Mortenson is doing building schools is giving thousands of students what they need most -- a balanced education and the tools to pull themselves out of poverty," Rashid says. "But we need many more like them. His schools are just a drop in the bucket when you look at the scale of the problem in Pakistan. Essentially, the state is failing its students on a massive scale and making them far too easy for the extremists who run many of the madrassas to recruit."
Against that sobering thought, the words of Afghan refugee Fatima Batool shine like a beacon. "I've heard some people say Americans are bad," she says softly. "But we love Americans. They are the most kind people for us. They are the only ones who cared to help us."

Three Cups of Tea has given me a lot to think about. It was hard to keep track of the timeline sometimes, and the constant foreign names and places just sort of blurred together for me. The writing is descriptive and anecdotal to help keep the pace going, though I admit it did put me to sleep a few nights. Reading it during the holidays sure emphasized the polar opposites of our worlds and made me rethink things while I was doing my Christmas shopping! If the average American knows no more about life in Pakistan and Afghanistan than I do, then the average American had better sit down with Three Cups of Tea. I can't stress enough how strongly I recommend it. Through it, Mortenson's mission to fight ignorance in these impoverished nations is having the residual effect of fighting our own cultural ignorance here in America -- with a wonderfully compelling idea to use education to promote peace and change the world.

Friday, January 2, 2009

End of the year clean-up

To get a fresh start on 2009, I've decided to lump together all the books I haven't bother to blog about thus far and didn't have enough to say about individually to warrant the effort of writing a post. In other words, I'm cleaning out my blog closet.

My friend, Libby, recommended this post-apocalyptic world/morality tale to me and I was happy to find that it wasn't heavy-handed or tedious. When I have a feeling that a story has A Message, I get bored of it. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is about a society of people that have massive plastic and reconstructive surgery at the age of sixteen to make them Pretty. They are born with the normal features of humans, but by the time they have the surgery, they are stunningly gorgeous, outside the normal range of beauty. Tally is anxious to have her surgery done, until she meets Shay, who wants to escape out of the city and join The Smoke, a society that survives outside of the authorities control and remain un-Prettied. The story is suspenseful and exciting, examines our preceptions of beauty and questions the government's control over our lives. Loved it and can't wait to read the next one.

For a book about family tragedy, foster care and busybody adults who ruin children's lives, this is an incredibly funny book. Polly Horvath has a way with words that I thoroughly enjoyed in Everything on a Waffle and her character, Primrose Squarp, was a delight to read about. Primrose narrates and shares recipes, explaining her undying certainty that her parents are not dead, but merely marooned on an island somewhere, despite every single adult she knows telling her otherwise. It takes place in New England and her town has a collection of quirky characters who help and hinder her along her way. Thoroughly enjoyable read for the 8-12 age group.

Lemony Snicket is still writing, apparently and The Lump of Coal is his latest brief story of a walking and talking lump of coal who is trying to find his purpose. It was a strangely poignant and tender story about miracles, despite Snicket's normal gloomy outlook. I was touched by the ending:

It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season like all the other seasons is a good time not only to tell stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them, and that’s the end of this particular story.

Worth the five minute read that it was and since he got Brett Helquist to illustrate it, doubly worth the look-over.

My seven-year-old daughter is absolutely in love with Jenny Nimmo's Charlie Bone books and once my husband started requesting me to get him the books on CD from the library, I figured it was time to see what the fuss was about. The first book is Midnight for Charlie Bone and I devoured it. It fills a nice little spot in my Harry Potter-loving heart and with eight books out there so far, it'll be some fun reading for a while. Jenny Nimmo has her own way of writing that differs greatly from J.K. Rowling's, but you can't help but compare Charlie to Harry. Very different tune, but it strums the same strings. Charlie finds out that his is endowed with the ability to hear what the people in pictures are saying or thinking and is shipped off to a special school for children with these kinds of abilities. He starts to unravel all sorts of mysteries about his family and the founder of the school. It's a great book for any age of readers who loved Harry Potter.

Speaking of Harry, I scooped up a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard at the library the other 141day. It's said to be translated by Hermione Granger from the original runes, with commentary by Albus Dumbledore and J.K. Rowling. The tales are meant to be children's stories for wizard families, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears is for Muggle families. It was fun to read the tales that Rowling, er, I mean Beedle, based so much of the last Harry Potter book on. Even more fun was Dumbledore's commentary and explanations, which were done in his signature way. Makes me consider telling those stories to my children in addition to the normal Cinderella, Three Little Pigs, etc. that Muggle children know so well.

Ahh, I feel so much better getting those out of the way. Now, I think I will get out of my jammies and get some reading done. There's a whole year of reading ahead of me!