Sunday, January 30, 2022

"Loving Isaac" by Heather Kaufman (again)

This was a lot easier to read the second time.  The first time I read it, I spent a lot of time pondering it.  And worrying about the characters.  This time, I could just remind myself I already knew (and liked) how it ends, which let me enjoy it in a very different way.

It was also cool to reread because I could spend some time enjoying how Kaufman wove everything together.  The main character, Hana, makes some hasty judgements throughout, and it was neat to be able to recognize when she was making a mistake and try to learn from that myself.

One of my favorite things about this book is how familiar it all feels.  I grew up Lutheran, first in the LCMS, now in the WELS, and it's just so cozy to read about people worshiping in the same manner as I do, having Sunday school, liturgical services, hosting Vacation Bible School, and just... having the same kind of church life as I do.  This takes place in Oklahoma, and I've never lived farther west than Iowa, but it still felt homelike.

The story revolves around single mom Hana and her autistic son Isaac.  They move in with her sister's family in Oklahoma for the summer, while waiting to settle into a new home in Richmond, Virginia.  Hana is dealing with a lot of guilt, anger, and confusion over recent events in her life, as well as over having to parent Isaac alone in a new environment.  She's quick to feel judged by others, which leads her to quickly judge others in return, and it takes her a long time to start learning to trust and accept new people.

Hana develops feelings for the single pastor at the church her sister's family belongs to.  Pastor Matt is wonderful with Isaac, kind and patient with Hana, but also carries a lot of his own emotional baggage that he needs to unpack and sort through as well.  And Hana's ex-husband Zeke is a threatening presence in the background who complicates matters in many ways.  But I promise it ends happily!

My book club at church chose this as our first read for 2022, and we had such a great time discussing it today!  

Particularly Good Bits: 

Hana swallowed the sadness filling her chest.  Why was it that she couldn't just enjoy good things without sadness coming along and ruining everything?  Or worse, envy rearing its ugly head?  She felt like she was always mooching off of other people's happiness, picking up scraps wherever they could be found, grasping at the crumbs in a scraped-clean dish with only a hint of the flavor to satisfy (p. 55).

"Hate is too heavy to carry, so don't.  Even if someone never seeks forgiveness, give it.  For your sake, give it freely" (p. 234).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for flashback scenes of physical and emotional abuse toward a woman and a child.  No bad language, love scenes, or other iffy content.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

"The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden" by Karina Yan Glaser

As much as I loved The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, I loved The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden even more.  I very much enjoy gardening myself, especially growing flowers, so I had a great time reading about the Vanderbeeker kids and their efforts to create a community garden.  

The kids want to make a beautiful garden in an empty lot down the street as a special surprise for their upstairs neighbors, Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet.  Miss Josie always has plants and flowers growing in their apartment, and when Mr. Jeet has to spend a lot of time in the hospital, the kids want to cheer both their beloved friends up with this special plan.  Along the way to accomplishing it, they make some new friends, thwart an enemy's plans, and learn some good little lessons about property, kindness, and hope.

I've read some criticism of this series for being about kids who do things without their parents' permission or knowledge.  And, it's true, they don't ask their parents if they could surprise their aging neighbors with a beautiful garden in an abandoned lot down the street.  But... they're trying to make this a surprise for their parents, too.  Kind of hard to have something be a surprise, but also tell the people you're trying to surprise all about it.  They DO ask permission to use the lot from the pastor of the church that is next to the lot and owns the land, and they get tacit permission to use it.  In fact, they get more permission to use it for a garden than a certain adult gets who wants to use it for something else.  Later, they don't ask before they take something their friend says isn't needed or wanted where it is, and they face real consequences for that.  

Taking-without-asking is not treated lightly here, and it's made clear that that's not the same as keeping a secret.  It's not a secret about someone doing something wrong, or a secret they're keeping so they don't get into trouble.  So I really don't see this as a problem.  I had plenty of secrets from my parents.  I don't ask my kids what they're doing every minute of the day.  I'm not saying anyone who has concerns about this issue with regard to these books is a helicopter parent, but I don't see the Vanderbeekers as sly or deceitful, just in love with the idea of surprises.

ANYWAY!  Totally loved this book.  Already looking forward to when I'll have time to read the next one.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G!  No bad language, scary situations, or questionable behavior.

This is the second book I've read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

"Goodnight, Irene" by Jan Burke (again)

I have embarked upon my quest to read the whole Irene Kelly series by Jan Burke in one year!  I first read Goodnight, Irene almost ten years ago -- I didn't realize it had been so long!  I'm really glad to be able to revisit these and finally finish the series.

Goodnight, Irene concerns the murder of a newspaperman, who, for decades, has been posting annually about an unsolved murder case involving an unidentified young woman.  Irene Kelly takes her old job back at the same newspaper where her murdered best friend had worked and tries to figure out how his death might be linked to that cold case he never stopped investigating.  Along the way, she meets up with an acquaintance from years ago, Detective Frank Harriman.  Their reviving friendship gives way to a hesitant new romance as they work together to uncover the truth.

I really enjoy Burke's straight-forward writing style.  She doesn't try to be fancy or literary, simply tells a good story well.  Her characters are appealing and likable, but not perfect.  And her mystery plot was top notch!  Because it's been so long since I first read this, I really didn't remember the plot at all, and I love that it was all fresh and surprising again.

Particularly Good Bits:

But how could I feel in control of my own life if all I did was run?  I had to face this head on; even if I got scared or cried or whatever -- I had to deal with it (p. 160).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for quite a lot of bad language, some gruesome murder details, non-graphic sexual references, and some kissing.  

Saturday, January 15, 2022

I Have a New Short Story Available!

Yes!  My latest Once Upon a Western short story is available for FREE as an ebook for Kindle or Nook!  

"Who Lived in a Shoe" is another sequel to One Bad Apple, and it also ties up to Dancing and Doughnuts.  I love getting to reveal how the characters from different books have ties to other characters, even though each book stands on its own.

Here's the official synopsis for "Who Lived in a Shoe," which is my reimagining of a Mother Goose rhyme:

Levi Dalton is disappointed. He'd had high hopes for this visit from Uncle Matthew's old cavalry friend, Mr. Jones. Even though Mr. Jones brought along his wife, children, and a sister-in-law, surely he would have time to reminisce with Uncle Matthew about their time in the war. Then Levi would get to hear the kinds of exciting stories his father used to tell. 

But Levi's little cousins and the Jones children keep causing mischievous problems, not to mention the trouble Levi's new dog gets into. It seems like Uncle Matthew and their guests will spend the whole visit cleaning up messes, rescuing ruined meals, and disciplining children. Will Levi ever get to hear the stories of glory he's been craving? Find out in this short story sequel to One Bad Apple!

You can get "Who Lived in a Shoe" as an ebook from Amazon here and from Barnes and Noble here.  Once you've read it, please leave a review when you get a chance!  You can also add it to your Goodreads shelf here.

(Please note that, like my other short stories, this is free for Nook everywhere, but only free for Kindle in the US -- Amazon gets fussy and won't price-match for other countries, so it does cost the tiniest amount they'll allow there.)

By the way, subscribers to my author newsletter got to read this story back before Christmas already!  I always give newsletter readers a chance to read them before the rest of the world.  If you're not signed up for my author mailing list, you can do that right here.  I send out a newsletter about once a month, and I also send short announcement messages once in a while.  

ALSO... when you sign up, you'll receive a welcome email that contains info on how to access my short story "Let Down Your Hair," a sequel to Dancing and Doughnuts that retells Rapunzel.  That story is currently ONLY available to newsletter subscribers...

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

"A Little Beside You" by Jenni Sauer

Well, I have a new favorite Jenni Sauer book.  And a new favorite Jenni Sauer hero, heroine, and sidekick.  Make space in my heart, everyone from the previous books, because Bender and Cori and Meg get a lot of room there now.  Especially Bender.  My goodness, Bender.

Bender, Bender, Bender, Bender, BENDER!

Bender is a literal hitman for a gang/mafia group called the Bears, as in, he hits people very effectively when his bosses tell him to.  He's a hulking giant with the kind of massive fists and grim glower that scare people without him even having to touch them.  His favorite pastimes include knitting, stargazing, and drinking tea with friends.  And if that last sentence seems to contrast very irrationally with the one before it, then you may be discovering why I love Bender.  Gentle giants are some of my favorite characters, every time.  And a guy who breaks other people for pay, but yearns to leave that life because he hates it -- you're basically describing a hot fudge brownie sundae to me, folks.  Give me a spoon so I can eat him up.

And then there's Cori.  She learned how to treat wounds and injuries from her father, how to help people without regard for how they got their injuries, and how to stand up for herself and her sister.  But what she needs to learn is how to let someone else stand up for her too.  Enter Bender.  They each spend most of the book vying for the chance to care for the other person, which is so delightful, it makes me bouncy.

Plus, there's Meg.  Cori's little sister who has never yet met a problem that tea, baked goods, and an understanding smile won't alleviate.  But she's not so naive that she thinks those will solve every problem -- she realistically knows they will help, but they aren't a magic potion that will fix everything.  I might like Meg even better than Cori, even though she's not the focus of the book.  

I suspect (and very much hope) Sauer will write us a book about Meg one of these days because her Evraft books intersect in such delightful ways.  Like how this one hooks up to Yesterday or Long Ago to explain how Bender got tickets to a ball for his sister Amya!  I love how the Evraft books each stand on their own, so they can be read in any order, but they flesh each other out a little here and there too.  I probably love that because I've been doing exactly the same thing with my Once Upon a Western books ;-)

A Little Beside You is a retelling of "Snow White and Rose Red," which is a fairy tale I haven't read for decades, so I didn't do a lot of dot-connecting between the book and that story.  But I'm sure there are a lot of connections I just wasn't aware of!  Sauer always spins fairy tales in such a cool way with her books.

Particularly Good Bits:

He told himself he didn't care what people thought; it was a badge of honor he wore, an armor to protect himself (p. 7).  (AKA the moment I grabbed Bender and wrote my name on the bottom of his boot so people would know he was mine.)

Hot water cascaded over her and she let it wash the blood and the memories away together (p. 12).

Bender strongly suspected she'd have happiness no matter what, because it seemed that was just the sort of person she was.  Like sunshine wrapped in a human (p. 86).

"If you wanted to move halfway across the galaxy, I'd pack my things today" (p. 302).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for physical violence, injuries, blood, etc.  What Bender gets paid to do is ugly, and Sauer doesn't hide that.

This is my first book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProjecto2022!

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: New Acquisitions

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Most Recent Additions to My Book Collection."  

I have been working hard at reading down my TBR shelves, using #TheUnreadShelfProject to help me keep motivated, so I have been trying not to buy quite so many books.  And I also didn't ask for many books for Christmas, for the same reason.  But I do still buy books here and there -- life of a bibliophile, right?  So, between a few purchases this month, Christmas gifts, and a few purchases last month, here are the ten books I have most recently acquired:

The Depths We'll Go To edited by Alex Silvius

The London House by Katherine Reay

The Lone Ranger and the Mystery Ranch by Fran Striker

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

Stoneheart Hunt by Abby D. Jones and Martin Brodde

Twice Freed by Patricia St. John

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser (reviewed here)

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue by Karina Yan Glaser

Yours is the Night by Amanda Dykes

(From my Instagram account)

Have you read any of these?  Did you share a TTT post this week?

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Book 4 Title Reveal!

At last!  I have found a title for my Beauty and the Beast retelling!  And I'm sharing it here, there, and everywhere today!

To be honest, this title has taken a lot of work to find.  Or, rather, I've spent hours and hours trying to find it, and failing.  Until I holed up at my favorite local coffee shop on New Year's Day and pursued one final idea.  And it worked!  I found the title!

There it is. My Rock and My Refuge. A Beauty and the Beast retelling set in 1870s Colorado gold-mining country, tangled up with a bit of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and a dash of my own family history.

My Beauty? A lovely German immigrant anxious to earn money to help save her family's bakery back home. 

My Beast? A wealthy recluse determined to hide in his home with his books and his faithful friends. 

I really love these two characters.  I hope you will too, when I finally can share the whole book with you!  But for now... yay!  I have found the title!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

"Johnny Tremain" by Esther Forbes

Considering that this was one of my favorite books when I was like eleven, I was astonished by how very little I actually remembered of it.  Oh, I remembered the big things, like Johnny getting his hand ruined in a silversmithing accident, Paul Revere playing a central role, and that it involved a printing press a lot.  There were a couple of random scenes that were still really familiar when I read them.  But most of it, I'd forgotten.  So it was a joy to discover it all over again, in a way!

Johnny Tremain is an apprentice silversmith living in Boston on the eve of the American Revolution.  After a terrible accident cripples him, he loses his apprenticeship and must find other work.  He falls in with some of the Sons of Liberty and gradually becomes a rebel, patriot, Whig -- whatever you want to call the people working to break away from England's injustice.  Through Johnny's eyes, we get to meet some of the great Revolutionaries, from Paul Revere to Sam Adams.  The book begins before the Boston Tea Party and ends just after the battles at Lexington and Concord.

I really enjoyed reading this aloud to my kids, and I think it brought a little slice of American history alive for them the way it did many years ago for me.  I'm pretty sure this book is a big part of why I've been fascinated with the American Revolution for decades now.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some mild bad language and non-gory violence.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Reading Goals Behind and Ahead

I always set a few reading goals for myself for the year, just to help me focus my reading a bit.  Since we're saying goodbye to 2021 and hello to 2022, it's time to see how I did with my goals for the past year, then talk about my goals for the coming year.  

(All photos are mine from my Instagram account.)

2021 Goals

Overall Goal

I set myself the goal of reading 55 books in 2021.  I read 110.  WHAT?!?!  That is more books than I've read in one year in my entire adult life.  Including the four years after college but before kids.  I think it's because, every week, my older daughter takes 90-minute gymnastics lessons, my younger daughter takes 30-minute swimming lessons,  and my son takes 1-hour fencing lessons.  Those are nice, regular chunks of time for me to spend with a book.

My Year with Harry Potter

I wanted to reread all seven original Harry Potter books in one year, and I did it!  And it was fantastically fun.

(No question who my favorite HP character is, huh?)


I set myself the goal of reading 24 books off my physical TBR shelves.  When I hit that goal, I doubled it to 48.  My final numbers: 62 read, 65 unshelved... but also 112 new unread books acquired, so my total number of unread books went from 527 to 512.  Which is progress, but not huge progress.  Still, better than a stick in the eye.

Diverse Reads

I'm working on reading more books by and about people from different cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, and abilities than my own, and I've challenged myself to read 12 such books a year.  That's roughly one a month, though it doesn't always shake out exactly that way. It keeps me mindful of reading about people who are different from me in some way.  I read 15 diverse books in 2021, so I definitely succeeded there.

(These candles are from Northanger Soapworks.)

Sense and Sensibility Read-along

I lead a chapter-by-chapter read-along of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen here on my blog beginning in March and ending in May.  It was incredibly fun!  I'd missed leading read-alongs, even though they're pretty time-consuming, and I may try leading another this summer.  If you've got suggestions/wishes for that, let me know in the comments.

Overall, I am really happy with my 2021 reading!  I would like to have made better progress clearing out unread books... but the fault is in my buying more books, not in my reading, and I did hit my goals, so yay!

(All set to begin new reading adventures!)

2022 Goals

Overall Goal

I'm keeping this at 55 this year.  You never know, I may get weirdly busy or something.  That's a little more than one a week, so I like it.

(Um, yes, I love bookish candles.)

My Year with Irene Kelly

I started reading the Irene Kelly series by Jan Burke back in 2012.  I started with book nine by accident, then went back and read the first three... and then, well, book four was never in at my library branch, and I never remembered to put it on hold so I could get it from any of the other branches.  And then the library got rid of the whole series a few years later.  So I've been hunting them down at used book stores for years, and I finally gave up and got the rest from AbeBooks.  Which means I have all eleven of them now, and I'm going to read the whole series in the correct order.  Four will be rereads, but seven will count for my Unread Shelf Project, so that's a nice intersection of challenges.


My new goal this year is simply to get myself under 500 unread books on my shelves, and then stay there.  Regardless of how many books I read.

(My bullet journal gives me a reason to buy stickers.)

Disney Origins Bookclub

Some Instagram friends are hosting a year-long buddy read project of lots of things that Disney movies are based on.  Check out #DisneyOriginsBookclub to learn more.  I won't be participating every month, but I want to do at least six of the reads.

Diverse Reads

Once again, I intend to try to read 12 books by and/or about people from ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds different from my own.

(The couch in our library, where I often curl up with a book.)

Here are some fun statistics:

110 books read, total
35 rereads
11 nonfiction
15 diverse reads
6 read aloud to my kids
6 audiobooks
1 e-book

How about you?  Got any bookish goals or hopes or dreams or plans?