Sunday, November 19, 2017

It's Finally Fall Break...and I'm Sick...Again (With Lots and Lots and Lots of Book Reviews)


It's finally our fall break at school, and guess what? I'm sick again. A cold this time, with congestion, and sneezing, and coughing. 

That's what happens when you work in a germ swarm, I guess.

If my calculations are correct, I'll probably start feeling better about the time school resumes.


I will think of this time as a time to do quiet things like reading and writing and blogging and taking photos and drawing and...I can't remember when I've done this!---thinking. Obviously this old body is weary or it wouldn't keep getting sick every week. 

It's time for a little rest. And today, the official day of rest, Sunday, is a good day to start.


I've read 232 of 357 Cybils-nominated fiction picture books and board books. That leaves 125 books to go. 


My stack of Cybils has started to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. How many books are in the stack? Thirty? Fifty? I just know that nine boxes of books arrived on Wednesday and seven more on Thursday. That's a lot of books.


I haven't posted reviews in a long time. A long, long time. So I'm catching up today. Just know that I also have read 232 Cybils books, though I hesitate to post reviews until we have had the final sorting out at the end of December. 

To keep this under control, I will put books in categories....


Happiness is an Inside Job by Sylvia Boorstein
Sylvia Boorstein knows happiness and she knows how we can all, big and small, crazy or not so, can get there. It's simple practices, really, but practices that are all deeply grounded in habits developed over hundreds of years. What are they? Thinking kindly about others. Wise speech. Mindfulness. 

Very, very helpful.

It's Easier Than You Think by Sylvia Boorstein
I've found a new writer on happiness, and that's a happy thing. Sylvia Boorstein shows us how to take a step back from our thoughts and reflect on our reflections before we jump into anger or frustration or annoyance. And it really is easier than I thought.

Find Happiness Now
Fifty solid ideas for pulling a little more happiness into your life.

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
A good book changes us. This book changed me.

Brown takes on the hostile climate in our world, and offers ways to soothe it, temper it, and, in the process, befriend the hostility. I often find myself getting angry with those who (as I see them) are sitting, fully armed, in the I-don't-want-to-listen room. I want to speak out against their hatred by spewing my own (good) hatred. But that's no answer. Brown suggests civil and true conversations, and I love that. 

I also took away this beautiful quote, from one of Brown's friends:
"Tonight we will exhale and teach. Now it's time to inhale. There is the in-breath and there is the out-breath, and it's easy to believe that we must exhale all the time, without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale."

I think I need to do a little more inhaling, a little more gentle conversing.

The Blue Zones of Happiness
Dan Buettner shares research on the happiest places on earth and uses that research to help all of us make our workplaces, our homes, and our communities happier places to live. 

There are several wonderful lists in this book, including the Blue Zones Happiness Test, the fifteen "cowbell" factors that signal true happiness, and the Community Blueprint for Happiness, that are alone worth the price of the book.

The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life
After reading this book and seeing how far we in America go wrong when it comes to health care (eek!), education (double eek!) and happiness (oh my!) in comparison to the Nordic countries, my only thoughts are:

(1) America! How far we are from where we could be!

(2) Education! Read about the Nordic countries and you will weep in thinking about what we do here.

(3) Could I convince my husband to ever leave his beloved homeland/country of Texas for Finland? And, if so, how much cold can we stand?

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe
This is a woman who dares to go where no mom has gone before...a round-the-world, year-long trip with her husband and three young children. China. Thailand. Sri Lanka. Africa. Italy. France. Germany. Amazingly, their biggest trouble was probably losing a treasured blankey in Africa, and it was returned. They visited with friends, saw the world, and reflected on the meaning of home, and Oxenreider was able to return to Texas and create a new home spot for herself and her family.

The Wisdom of Sundays by Oprah Winfrey
Want wisdom? Go to the wise. That's what Oprah does. She's a master at asking questions and listening deeply. When you talk to the wise, that's all you have to do...ask questions and sit back and listen. I couldn't wait to get into the car each day for my ten-minute drive to work so I could listen to these amazing conversations. 

I want more Super Soul conversations.


Charlotte Sometimes
Charlotte inexplicably finds herself trading spots in time and space with a girl named Clare. Back and forth the two girls go, trading, returning, trading again, returning again, on and on. 

I was disappointed, I think, as I was hoping for a deeper story, something more than simply occupying a bed with wheels, and...


...a richer and more satisfying ending.

Grimpow: The Invisible Road
This has to be the longest book at over 13 hours that I have listened to as an audiobook. We actually started this book on vacation a year ago, but it took me a while to find the time to listen to the last half of it. 

It’s a fantasy, of a sort, and it’s historical fiction, of a sort. Other people compare it to The DaVinci Code, but since I haven’t read that, I don’t know.

Grimpow is off on a quest to find the secret of a mysterious stone owned by a dead knight. It’s a thoughtful story, with more thinking than action, but that is probably what I like best in a fantasy.

Bill's New Frock
Bill wakes up to learn he is a girl. His mom dresses him in a lovely frock and he is off into his day.

Never heavy-handed, never pedantic, this book is a nice excursion into another gender, and a thoughtful one.


La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind
Beppe Severgnini takes us on a tour of the Italian mind, and what a mind it is. Intelligent. Intuitive. Good intentions. Intimate. Genius. Gusto. Guts. Generosity. 

Clever. Funny. Paradoxically true, which is always the truest sort of true.

A Thousand Bells at Noon
Want to know what Rome is like? Ask a Roman.

G. Franco Romagnoli explores his Rome and his people via eating, health, fountains, death, and faith. 

It's a deeply personal and deeply true book.

That Fine Italian Hand
Paul Hofmann takes on Italy and Italians in this close look at all the quirky elements of Italian families, Mafia, food, espresso, and red tape.


When the Sky Breaks by Simon Winchester
I live along the Gulf Coast of Texas and I've experienced Hurricane Carla, Tropical Storm Claudette, Hurricane Alicia, Hurricane Ike, and (a few weeks ago) Hurricane Harvey. 

I know a lot about hurricanes. 

Or so I thought.

Simon Winchester takes on hurricanes along with tornadoes and other storms in this book. He's a clever fellow who does research (lots of it!) and is also able to explain difficult ideas to those of us who weren't really listening carefully in science class. 

The Best We Could Do by Thi Gui
Vietnam was a curse word during my childhood and teen years. I have friends and relatives and neighbors who died there, without ever really knowing much about it. 

This book is a story of Vietnam and the story of a family from Vietnam and the story of a girl from Vietnam. It's full of beauty and happy moments and awful times and death and cruelty. And it's told in graphic novel format, with powerful illustrations to accompany the words.

Warcross by Marie Lu
I know nothing about video games. I know nothing about hackers. I know nothing about coding.

But I know good writing. And this book is good writing. A dynamite plot. Fascinating characters. Gripping suspense.

Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Famous Authors
Do you love to hear the backstories of people? Do you like to find out about the stories in people's lives that other biographies leave out? Are you a person who likes to see the human side of celebrities?

That's me. And this is the book for you. 

Kid Authors shares stories about the divorce of the parents of poet Langston Hughes, Sherman Alexie's hydrocephalus, and Roald Dahl's love affair with candy. All the stories you didn't know you wanted to know.

Red is an oak tree who has been around for many years, and he has many stories to tell. He understands a lot about the world, so even when a boy slashes a cruel command to the recently arrived immigrant family in the neighborhood into Red’s bark, even when a neighbor threatens to cut Red down, Red does not falter or weary.

I liked the story but I didn’t love it. It felt a bit thrown together too quickly, I suppose, and Red seemed to lack some of what I expected from a long-lived oak tree. Probably just me.


Upstream by Mary Oliver
I liked most (but not all) of these essays of Mary Oliver's. She writes essays like she writes poems: tentatively walking around things, examining them, and kindly talking aloud about them.

Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder
If you have to ask this question, you probably aren't interested in reading this book.

And if you are simply curious as to the answer to this question, you might be able to write a better book.


The Comfort Food Diaries
Emily Nunn loses her brother to suicide and breaks up with her fiancé, and in one night she finds herself without a family or home or income. She sets out on a quest to put her world back together again by visiting friends and learning how to cook their favorite comfort meals. 

I loved the stories, and I loved her quest, and I loved the recipes she discovered. It’s a comfort of a book, and I think you will find yourself happier just for reading it, and even happier if you try a few of the recipes, especially Great-grandmother’s Mean Lemon Cake or Aunt Mariah’s Rolls or a Pot of Pinto Beans.

Finding Yourself in the Kitchen
The idea of meditation is comforting but daunting for many people. How about meditating in the kitchen? Dana Velden proposes that, for many of us, that is what happens when we cook, and that, for many of us, meditation in the kitchen is something we can easily do better. I love how Velden offers extremely simple ways to move more of your eating habits away from restaurant eating and into home cooking. I also love how she takes away the stresses that we often impose upon ourselves as we cook, and proposes simplifying cooking to focus on enjoying the process rather than criticizing our end product. 


Sourdough: A Novel by Robin Sloan
Four stars for this very, very strange little book. 

A synopsis first: Lois is a software engineer at loose ends. She works day and night at a company that makes robots. Every night she orders dinner at the same place, and it is amazing. The two brothers who make the dinners have to leave town fast, and when they do, they leave Lois their sourdough starter. Lois starts to bake...and bake...and bake....

Odd things about this book:
(1) The sourdough must have music to thrive.
(2) Lois belongs to a Lois Club made up of people named Lois.
(3) Lois builds a robot arm to help her make bread.
(4) There is a secret market combining food and technology. Lois is invited to become part of it.
(5) The brothers.

Yes, an odd book, but a strangely satisfying one.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
After all these years I finally got around to this book. We took it along as an audiobook on our last long trip. It was just as wonderful as I've always heard. Seinfeld, folks. Seinfeld a hundred years ago. Clever. Smart. Funny.

The story is simple: three friends head out on a boat trip down the Thames. All three are a bit lazy and negligent and self-centered. It's all in good fun. A great read. Mustn't miss it.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century
Well, that was depressing. Who knew there were all these folks, mostly retirement age and older (that is, my age) living out of vans and campers and working anywhere they can to be able to afford to buy food and a place to park? Downright scary. Especially at my age.

These Schools Belong to You and Me: Why We Can't Afford to Abandon Our Public Schools
I am a person who is terribly worried about our schools. Maybe you are, too. I feel so strongly about the importance of public education in a democracy that I could have written the title of this book. 

This author has many, many years of experience working in the schools of America. Early on, she worked in a small experimental school and the experience was life-changing. She draws on that time as well as many subsequent times in experimental schools to share what she has learned about schools that work. Some of the key ideas are deeply involving the families and communities in education; student-driven learning; authentic learning; democracy and equity. 

Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard
You know how a camera can zoom in on a small object or a faraway object and you can see everything about the object? That’s what Karl Ove Knausgaard does. He chooses objects—-randomly, it seems—-and closes in on them—-wasps, chewing gum, the sun, porpoises—-and just looks at them. And looks. And looks. And you suddenly see the object and it seems like something you have just seen for the first time.

Now I can’t wait to read Winter.

What are you reading today?

What is the Sunday SalonImagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them,and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake....That's what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it's all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book. Click here to join the Salon.

The Sunday Post is a meme hosted by Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It's a chance to share news and recap the past week.

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page. We share books that we found in our mailboxes last week. 
 It is now being hosted here.

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews in which you can share the books you've acquired.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is where we share what we read this past week, what we hope to read this week…. and anything in between!  This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from! I love being a part of this and I hope you do too! It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now being hosted at The Book Date.



  1. Sorry to hear you're sick... and over break, too. Hope you're better in time to enjoy at least some of it. Lots of great books here. I hope to read At Home in the World soon, and just finished Nomadland yesterday. Scary is right. I had know idea that community even existed...

    1. Me either. I know several people who could easily find themselves living in that world. Scary.

  2. Dang that's a lot of books! How typical that as soon as a vacation from school begins you're sick. I do hope you get over it quickly so you can enjoy some of your time off. Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Yes, frustrating! Just a cold, however. It could always be worse.

  3. So sorry you are sick. Hope you feel better soon.

    1. Yes, to find the good in the bad, at least I have a good excuse for not housecleaning.

  4. I am very sorry you are sick...and when I am ill, I am especially pondering all the things that have gone wrong in my life. But even though I am well (currently), I can relate to the feelings about our country.

    The first time I thought of going to one of the Scandinavian countries, I was a child. My maternal grandparents were born in Sweden and left in adulthood. But I always loved hearing my grandmother's tales of life there. But since she left, I guess she thought she would find something better here.

    And it was...for her and during her time. Now is something else entirely.

    Let's hope for a turnaround.

    Enjoy your books...and thanks for visiting my blog.

    1. I’m sure I will never act upon my frustrations with America.

  5. I loved The Nordic Theory of Everything! :)

  6. I don't usually read self-help type books, but all of those about finding happiness sound like my cuppa tea! I'll take a peek at them at the library this coming week.

    I do hope your cold disappears quickly. I used to catch a lot of colds working at Barnes & Noble. The thing that worked best for my recovery was to crawl in bed and spend an entire day and night sleeping. No getting up to do anything other than to drink more fluids and go potty. I ignored all the nagging chores on my to-do list and didn't even read or watch movies. Sleep, sleep, sleep.

    1. I don’t care for the bossy tone of most self-help books, but I do love me some happiness books.

      I think I shall try your cold remedy. How can it hurt?

  7. To make me feel better I wish you would put how long it took for you to read that many books. A week? a month? a few months? I feel so inadequate when I consider how few books I've read by comparison. Anyway. Enough about me...
    I guess I wish I had listened to Three Men in a Boat rather than read the print edition. Why? Because I didn't find it very funny. In fact in my review I commented on how humor is very much tied to a time and place and I wasn't in the time and place setting of the book, so I didn't care for it.

    The weather book you mentioned about Hurricanes is written by Simon Winchester who typically writes for adults about pretty complicated things... China, Krakatoa, Earthquakes in San Francisco. So when I saw the book on our nonfiction list for the Cybils I was delighted. My problem with the book is that it is really hard to determine the target audience. The size of it makes it seem like a children's book. I think my library labels it as a junior book. Yet there are large swatches of text not broken up by photos or illustrations. When I checked I found the Lexile level at 1100, which implies it would be good for upper level high school readers. Sigh. Why don't publishers pick a lane and stick to it?

    I've added the Comfort Food book by Nunn to my TBR pile. I have a friend whoseson just committed suicide and she is understandably adrift. I wonder if the book would help...though I doubt anything really would help right now.

    You blow me away. I hope you feel better soon.

    1. I don’t really think I’ve posted reviews since (go figure!) I was able to catch up on my reviews during the Hurricane Harvey break at the end of September. Maybe twenty-five books in seven or eight weeks.

  8. Wow, Deb, that's a lot in one post! I've been struggling with Upstream for months. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets, but this book just feels jumbled to me. I read and loved Three Men in a Boat in college. Might be time for a re-read of that one. Knausgaard is on my bucket list. I'm just not ready to commit yet. Nordic literature is my salvation in the hot summers, so I am going to put The Nordic Theory of Everything on my list for next summer. Have you read Italian Shoes or Out Stealing Horses? BOTH SO GOOD! I'm also interested in the Sourdough novel. Before my trip to Italy, I read Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, both by Ross King, and they greatly enhanced by visits both to Florence and to the Sistine Chapel.

    1. Thank you for sharing these book ideas. I’m off to add them to my wish list.

      I agree about Mary Oliver being a bit of a jumble. The book was too much of an odd stew for me to love it.

  9. Sorry you’re sick, but it looks like you read a lot of good books. I hope you have a great week!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  10. sorry to hear you are sick again. I hope you can quickly get rid of this cold. You are really brave to read Knausgaard!
    I have also enjoyed Sourdough, and am looking forward to reading War Cross.
    Right now I'm reading A Taste of Paris, by Downie, a fantastic nonfiction on Paris, food, and history. Fascinating, as always with his books.
    And reading Chronicles of a Liquid Society, a collection of short essays by Umberto Eco just published. So good, spot on view on our current society.
    I'm also listening to a mystery by Fred Vargas, a great French woman author of mysteries.

  11. Sorry to hear that you're sick. I hope you feel better soon. Lots of great books you've been reading!

    Here’s my Sunday Post!

    Ronyell @ Rabbit Ears Book Blog and join in this week’s Book Photo Sundays!

  12. So many books here! It's nice to get caught up. I just finished At Home in the World and really enjoyed the journey.

    Sorry to hear your sick and on your week off. No fun! I hope it passes quickly. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

  13. Sorry you have the plague. I'm going on three weeks trying to violently cough a lung out of my body. No fun for sure. I can't believe you had no Paris books in your list! So out of character. ;-) And I too read and quite enjoyed Sourdough this year. It was odd but such a delight.

  14. Sorry to hear that you are not feeling well. I hope your quiet week will let you recover. It is nice to have so many potentially wonderful Cybils books to keep you busy. Kid Authors sounds like a book I'd enjoy. I love those gossipy sort of books about people I recognize. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

  15. Look at all those books! I have Nomadland on my list. Hope you feel better soon.

  16. I'm also about 2/3 through the Cybils reading. I've reached the point where I'm down to books I can't get or have to wait for. Come see what I'm reading

  17. I was able to read SOME on the Thanksgiving break (We did not have a whole week.) but I have end of school grading, averaging, and paperwork then.


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