Read an Old Book

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“When a new book is published, read an old one.” ~ Samuel Rogers

This is some good advice.

There are so many good “old books” out there. And we sometimes forget about them with all the influx of new books being published. So, this quote is a good reminder NOT to forget that these old books exist, and that they are often worth reading a second and third time.

Some recent “old books” for me are…

#1 – The Story of the Treasure Seekers // by E. Nesbit

story-of-the-treasure-seekers.jpgThis book is all about the escapades of the charming Bastable children. The family is facing hard times, and the children decide it’s up to them to help their father restore their family fortune.

This leads to many endearing, yet ill-advised, schemes. The children somehow manage to land on their feet, though, usually with the help of Albert-next-door’s uncle. (While Albert-next-door is a little prig, his uncle is a sympathetic champion to the children.)

I love that Nesbit teases us with her narrator’s “secret identity” through-out the book. “It is one of us that tells this story – but I shall not tell you which: only at the very end perhaps I will. While the story is going on you may be trying to guess, only I bet you don’t.”

The language is definitely a little old-fashioned. (It was originally published in 1899! But Nesbit’s storytelling is top-notch… better than many of our contemporary authors. I didn’t read this book as a kid, although I wish I had. I found the story thoroughly enjoyable from an adult’s perspective. This is one of those books you’ll want to keep coming back to.

First published in 1899… (My Rating: 5 Stars!)


#2 – Man o’ War // by Walter Farley

158930I recently picked this one up at a thrift store. I’d never read this book before, but I loved reading The Black Stallion series as a kid.

Reading this book as an adult, I must say I really enjoyed it. This book just shows Farley at his best… dealing with the behind-the-scenes of training a horse for the races. Set around the time of the First World War, it follows the story of one of the greatest race horses in history: Man o’ War.

Bonus: For me, I love that this book is about a REAL horse. (Sorry, folks, but if you didn’t already know this, the Black is fictional. Not that fictional is bad in any way. Come on, Anne Shirley is fictional, too.) Now, of course this book is a fictionalized account of the story… or a based-on-a-true-story type of book. But I must say, the story of Man o’ War is fascinating.

As a kid, I always came out of reading a Walter Farley book thinking I was a true horsewoman. (I’m not, and never was, and never will be.) And now reading this for the first time as an adult, I felt this book did the same to me. I guess that’s the magic of Walter Farley’s writing!  🙂

First published in 1962… (My Rating: 3.5 Stars)


#3 – Homecoming // by Cynthia Voigt

homecomingSadly, this book is no longer at my library. I have no idea WHY they would get rid of it. Because this is an amazing book! I guess it’s just “too old”. (It was published in 1981, so apparently that’s “old”.)

When I realized this book wasn’t at the library, I started searching for it at the used book stores. Finally found a copy. Bought it. Still, I’m very sad the library doesn’t see the value of this book.

It’s the story of the Tillermans, a family of four kids who are abandoned by their mother in a parking lot. So, hardly a cent to their names, they have to fend for themselves and find their own way “home”.

This book is heart-wrenching in its portrayal of the kids’ journey. A journey in both the physical sense, and also a metaphorical sense. Their goal is to reach a grandmother they’ve never met. And when they get to the grandmother’s, it’s not all fairy-tale-ending happiness. The grandmother is a big crank and pretty determined that she wants nothing to do with four grandchildren.

But Dicey, the eldest, is pretty determined to do whatever it takes to keep her siblings together.

First published in 1981… (My Rating: 4.5 Stars)


Any good “old” books you’ve been reading recently? What do you consider to be an “old” book? Do you even read “old” books?

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ARC Review: Hidden Women

Hidden-WomenHidden Women  // by Rebecca Rissman
Genre: MG, Non-Fiction (ages 8-12)
Release Date: February 2018
My Rating: 4 Stars*

*Note: I received a copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Basic Plot: This is a non-fiction book about the African-American women who did the math that launched rockets into space… From Katherine Johnson to Dorothy Vaughan to Mary Jackson to Miriam Mann and others.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Each chapter deals with one of the women who worked at NASA during the years of the Space Race. It was a nice way to organize the information. For the most part, Rissman tells one main story per woman. For example, Katherine Johnson’s story is that of John Glenn insisting that they “get the girl to run the numbers” before he is launched into space. He knew he could trust HER where he didn’t know what to think of this new IBM computer contraption.

2) There’s a nice balance of NASA history interspersed with the history of desegregation. Again, Rissman chooses a vignette to illustrate. The story she uses is that of Miriam Mann’s quiet defiance against segregation in the cafeteria.

3) I thought Rissman did a nice job explaining the high (and low) points of the Space Race. I actually learned some things I didn’t know before.

4) I like the pictures scattered throughout the book. And the graphics that incorporate the math and physics involved in rocket science are nicely done. We get to see old photographs of the women who worked at NASA, alongside photos of the rockets and astronauts they helped launch into space.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Sorry, but I am NOT crazy about the title of this book. It certainly invokes the book Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. But that title IS clever. I’m guessing that since this book is for kids, they decided to go with a title that is more on-the-nose. Which is okay. It’s just not great.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I thought this was a nice dive into the history of these women at NASA. For ages 8-12, it’d be a great resource for any classroom!

It Happened in 2001…

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I have a pretty good memory. But sometimes, it’s hard to remember that we didn’t always have the things we have today. Like high-speed internet? Cell phones? YouTube? Facebook? Flat screen TVs?

Yes, some of these things existed in 16 years ago. Some of them did not. For example: I know that I got my first cell phone in 2002. But when it comes to technology, I tend to be a late-adopter. (I got my first CD player in 2000, way after everybody else!)

But what about flat screen TVs? I know they were available for sale back in 1997. Of course I didn’t own one. But… did ANYbody own a flat screen TV back then? All those first-adopters?

Why does this matter to me? Well, I am working on a writing project that involves the year 2001. And I’d like to know what kind of technology people used back then. I’m hoping you can help me out.

Please take a minute or two to fill out the info in a survey I created below…

(Can’t see the survey? Click on this link.)

Thanks for taking the time to fill this out!

Review: Papa Luther

imagesBook: Papa Luther: A Graphic Novel
Author: Daniel D. Maurer
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: A graphic novel that interweaves Martin Luther’s famous life moments with the daily little, family moments of life with his children.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This graphic novel takes history and makes it interesting.

2) I like the character arc of Luther’s children, Hans and Magda… the childish bickering that culminates in a more serious way near the end (which I won’t spoil!).

3) It seems that the author used some of Luther’s real quotes… all marked by a little cross. The historian in me thought that was a neat touch. (Yay! History! Quotes!)

4) The end made me cry. In a good way. (Even though, I kinda knew it was coming. Or at least guessed it was coming.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) A few of the “definitions” given of theological terms (eg: heresy) seem to be a weird modern definition and not something a 16th century guy like Luther would have said.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I thought this was a nice simplified treatment of the great historical events of the Protestant Reformation. And I thought the book remained true to history without being bogged down in all the theological nitty-gritty. Having the children be the centerpiece of the story was a good move for a graphic novel aimed at kids!

Note: This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation being celebrated this year on October 31st. This book offers a beautiful and condensed overview of these historical events.

Review: Apollo 8

Apollo-8-Cover-GalleyCat.jpgBook: Apollo 8
Author: Jeffrey Kluger
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: The true story behind the space mission of Apollo 8… How astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were the first to orbit the moon in 1968.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The subtitle of the book is: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon. For a space mission that really had no mishaps and went off pretty much like clockwork, Kluger somehow does indeed make it a “thrilling story”. What a story-telling gift!

2) This book brought NASA in the Gemini and Apollo eras to life like no other book I’ve read. I finally understand who some of the personalities were and what they actually did during in the space program. People like Chris Kraft and Deke Slayton and Gene Kranz, in addition to the astronauts themselves and their wives. And Kluger made all of them into real people.

3) The story of the Apollo 1 disaster was heartbreaking. Very well-written.

4) I really liked how he handled the Christmas message. He was able to use story-telling to create anticipation for an event that I already knew about!

5) I also like how the tragic events of 1968 (such as the war in Vietnam and the assassinations of MLK and RFK) were juxtaposed against this amazingly optimistic achievement. Especially amazing is how the author ties it all together in the final chapter with a telegram received by one of the astronauts.

6) I loved the cover. Very sleek, yet appropriate. Especially cool is how the lettering looks like a Saturn V rocket.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Hmm? Anything? Radio blackout, here. Nothing to report.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I like space books and I enjoyed this one very much! Bonus on the audio book version which has an interview with Frank Borman, the commander of Apollo 8, as well as audio soundbites from the mission itself!

Review: Romancing Miss Bronte

51WvuAc7ByL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Romancing Miss Bronte (a Novel)
Author: Juliet Gael
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: A novelized version of the biography of Charlotte Bronte. The book covers her days at Haworth leading up to becoming an author, along with her sisters, to her untimely death.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) It’s about Charlotte Bronte. Need I say more?

2) Having studied the life of Charlotte Bronte myself years ago, I can say that the author was able to capture her life amazingly. The book reads like a biography, yet also like a novel. Well done!

3) I loved, loved, loved the stories of the events that led up to the publication of Jane Eyre.

4) I thought she did a good job weaving Arthur into the story. The book begins with his arrival at Haworth, and he keeps popping up throughout. [SPOILER] (Of course, he’s very much the focus in the latter part of the book when he reveals his esteem for Miss Bronte and eventually convinces her to marry him.) [END SPOILER]

5) The passages dealing with Branwell were heartbreaking (in a good, but sad way)… how the sisters have to deal with their brother.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) [SPOILER] Arthur is no Rochester. I really wanted to root for him and Charlotte as a couple, but I felt something lacking in him as the “hero” of a romance. This may be a casualty of fiction vs. real life? I feel the author tried to somehow morph Arthur into a Rochester-mold towards the end of the book. And yet, I wasn’t fully convinced. Again, it’s hard to put this into words. [END SPOILER]

2) Every so often, the dialogue/narrative would give what I came to realize are nicknames for various people. For example: Emily and Anne call Charlotte “Tally” which threw me a few times before I realized to whom they were speaking. And Elizabeth Gaskell seems to be “Lily Gaskell”? Who’s Lily? Is that Mrs. Gaskell herself or perhaps it’s her daughter??

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed reading this book. Biographies about my favourite authors are usually a safe bet for me. I liked how she was able to weave the biography part in with the novel part.

Visiting L.M. Montgomery

20170824ma_4688I love taking a pilgrimage to the historic homes of authors. Almost any author will do, but, there’s always something special about visiting the houses where my favourite authors lived. And especially where they wrote my favourite books!

This is certainly true for L.M. Montgomery.

Twenty years ago, if you wanted to visit an L.M. Montgomery site, you pretty much had to go to P.E.I. While we all know of her love for the Island, the fact is that Montgomery lived half of her life in Ontario. (Yay!) And it is only recently that her home in Leaskdale, Ontario was acquired and turned into a museum.

And I must say that they’ve done a lovely job!

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This is the manse where she and her husband moved after their marriage. This is where her children were born. And this is where she wrote many of her books… Anne of the Island, Anne’s House of Dreams, Rilla of Ingleside, The Blue Castle, just to name a few.

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And here’s the room where she wrote her books! She’d sit in the corner and write her manuscript out by hand. When she was writing, nobody was supposed to disturb her. Not even her two young sons. In fact, the door was locked. If they wanted to communicate with their mother, they had to slip a note under the door!

My friend asked the young man who was giving us the tour about whether there’s a story about the fur on the ground. He replies, “No, there’s no story. But it’s there because we know she had one like it in this room.” My friend smiles and says, “Well, that’s a story.”

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Apparently she had 1000 books lining the walls of the study. The museum doesn’t have quite so many books, but they have been collecting books that she would have owned and placed them in these wonderful book shelves. (Bonus: Can you see me playing peek-a-boo in the glass?)

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Her wedding china. (Well, not actually hers, but it is her pattern.)

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The kitchen. Recognize the set-up from the old black and white photo?

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And here is her bedroom. The cedar-lined chest is one of the few pieces of furniture that actually belonged to her. L.M. Montgomery.

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Her husband’s church. This is the congregation he pastored after their marriage in 1911. The Macdonalds lived here until 1926 which is when he went to his next parish in Norval, Ontario.

And guess what? They’re working on restoring the Norval manse, too!

Oh, the joy of expectation 🙂

Review: The Tin Snail

tin-snailBook: The Tin Snail
Author: Cameron McAllister
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: It’s 1938. A French boy wants to save his father’s job and to do that, he needs to help his father design a “people’s car”. But just when they’re on to something, the Nazis invade France. Now it’s time to hide their work before it falls into the wrong hands.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really liked the main characters. No, wait. I really liked ALL the whole cast of characters in the book. They were quirky without being too quirky. Angelo with all his gumption and inspiration. Camille. Bertrand. The mayor who is the enemy, turned ally.

2) I loved the historical setting. France. World War Two. This is really a book about the French Resistance… in a really weird way. And it’s a book about a very unique type of automobile. (I’ve seen those old Citroen cars in Europe. And, yes, I thought they were ugly. But ugly, in a cute way.)

3) Bertrand’s philosophy: “Some things aren’t meant to be… The rest aren’t meant to be, yet.” In fact, Bertrand’s optimism and enthusiasm is particularly appealing… especially how he deals with Angelo and the father and the pitfalls surrounding the creation of a brand-new car.

4) I loved the three acts: the Inspiration, the building of the car, and finally the attempts to thwart the Nazis from stealing the hard work. The final act has enough intrigue and chases to grab anybody’s attention.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wish they would have put more illustrations about the various prototypes. There’s an illustrator, and each prototype is described in the book. But oddly enough, there really are no illustrations to help the reader “see” the car as it is developed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4! Stars (out of 5) – Yes, I really liked this book. It has a historical bent, but I didn’t really see the whole French Resistance thing coming, at least not right away. This book is fresh and fun with a great cast of characters… And that makes for an enjoyable read.

Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

TheWitchOfBlackbirdPond_4821Book: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic plot: Kit arrives in the Puritan colony of Connecticut, which is a far cry from her home in Barbados. But with her grandfather dead, she has no choice. She and her aunt’s family both experience culture shock. In defiance of her uncle, she makes friends with the “Witch of Blackbird Pond” and soon finds herself the target of a witch hunt.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Speare writes an engaging historical novel. She gets the tone right… the rebellious nature of Kit pitted up against the Puritan community. And this book still has appeal for the modern reader (even though it was first published in 1958. Now, that’s a classic!)

2) I liked the complex relationship of Kit and Nat. How Nat is obviously drawn to Kit, and yet is confused by how to react to her non-conformist ways.

3) The “villain” of the story is set up quite nicely in the opening.

4) The uncle is well-characterized. **SPOILER: I like how he’s clearly one who opposes Kit throughout the story. Yet, in the end, he is redeemed. His character grows to accept her, even though she is so different. I hate it when books make the father-figure evil and awful with a good-riddance to bad rubbish. This book doesn’t do that.  END SPOILER

5) I like Hannah Tupper, the Quaker (i.e. the Witch of the title). I thought her relationship to Kit was very touching. And her fragility as she ages was well-written.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) **SPOILER: Nat gets his own ship at the end of the story. I’m not crazy about the name he chooses. But it sort of makes sense. END SPOILER

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book is actually a re-read for me. I read it as a kid. I must say I enjoyed it even more so as an adult! Which says a lot about a book. No wonder it won the Newbery.