2017 Reading Challenges: Halfway Update

The end of September must mean time for a challenge update!  I’ve moved forward pretty well in most challenges, with sporadic focus on them…but that’s been enough for most.

PictureNewbery Medal Winners
Goal: 20 Newbery Medal Winners, halving the number remaining
Host: Smiling Shelves

I’m right on track here, with five new ones added–a good amount for a quarter.  I didn’t have great success with the books, though.  I particularly disliked the main character in MC Higgins the Great (he thinks it’s fun to jump girls walking alone–not okay) and particularly disliked the writing style of The Dark Frigate (written in 1923, but reads like 1823 and not in a good way).  The others were better, but cross fingers for some stand-out good ones in the last quarter?

  1. Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
  2. The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
  3. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
  4. Good Masters, Sweet Ladies by Laura Amy Schlitz
  5. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by AVI
  6. King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
  7. Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman
  8. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
  9. Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson
  10. The Wheel on the School by Meindert De Jong
  11. A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard
  12. The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth
  13. I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
  14. MC Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton
  15. The Dark Frigate by Charles Boahman Hawes
  16. The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars

Continue reading

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Book Review: Cold Summer

I love a good time-travel novel, especially because people have come up with so many different ways time-travel can work, and so many different challenges that arise.  Cold Summer by Gwen Cole was not the most unusual, but it had an interesting premise.

Kale has always disappeared–his friends and family have simply treated it as his way, to apparently go off for a few days at a time.  But at seventeen, the disappearances are happening more and more frequently, and only a trusted few understand why.  Kale is a time-traveler, unable to control his slips back into the past.  To make matters worse, for the past six months Kale has only gone back to one place: World War II, as a soldier on the front lines.  In the present he’s suffering from PTSD and a growing estrangement from his life.  Meanwhile, next door neighbor and childhood friend Harper has recently moved back to town, dealing with her own family crises.  Something begins to kindle between Harper and Kale, even while Kale’s time-travel threatens to tear him out of his present-day life for good.

This was a little bit like The Time-Traveler’s Wife-light (with 100% less nudity!)  Kale slips through time suddenly, uncontrollably and apparently randomly, until his recent ongoing secondary life in World War II.  The challenge of living two parallel lives was intriguing, especially with one as intense as the front lines of a war. Continue reading

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Blog Hop: Love for the Banned Books

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: In regards to Banned Books Week (www.bannedbooksweek.org/), what are your favourite books that have been banned or challenged?

Sometimes it seems like most famous books have been banned by someone some time…the favorite that comes most quickly to mind is Huckleberry Finn, mostly because I’ve been amazed more than once at the reasons behind it.  I mean, I’d sort of get it if they cited profanity–I wouldn’t agree, but at least there’d be some logic and accuracy to it.  But I’ve heard Huckleberry Finn get banned for two other reasons.  One, that Huck rejects God when he decides he’ll free Jim even if it means he goes to Hell, which is a complete misunderstanding of the book, since the whole point is that of course Huck is doing the morally right thing.  And two, even dumber, it’s been banned for nudity.  One sentence mentions Huck and Jim don’t much bother with clothes on the raft because they’re in the water so much anyway.  Scandalous, that one.

I also heard a story somewhere hat Tarzan of the Apes was once banned because Tarzan and Jane lived together unmarried in the jungle.  This clearly was from someone who didn’t actually read the book–in the first one they’re not even together romantically, and in the second one Burroughs specifically writes in (for no other apparent reason) that Jane’s father was a minister and therefore could marry them in the wilds of Africa.  This particular misrepresentation is especially ridiculous because Burroughs in all his books is exceedingly Victorian in his attitudes around romance!

Do you have a favorite book that’s been banned?  Do you have a favorite absurd story around banning books?

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Book Review: Between Heaven and Mirth

I don’t think people in general fully appreciate the humor in the Bible.  I was lamenting this while on a retreat a few months ago, and a woman at my table recommended Between Heaven and Mirth by James Martin, SJ.  On my list it went, and in due time it landed in my spiritual reading slot.  It was excellent!

It turned out to be not quite so much about humor in the Bible (though there was some of that), but rather about how humor and especially joy are at the heart of Christianity.  Or as the subheading says, “Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.”  There’s also extensive historical discussion about why this is frequently not the viewpoint—or, in other words, why religion can be so grim sometimes.

I enjoyed this one a lot.  I love the emphasis on bringing humor and joy into spirituality—or, rather, why it doesn’t need to be brought in because it should be there all along.  Martin gives examples in history of joyful saints and religious figures, and brings out the more joyful aspects of the Bible, some of them not always apparent.  He argues that many of Jesus’ parables would have been seen as funny in their day; we may intellectually know that he’s exaggerating what a normal wheat crop would be, but an agrarian culture might have been much more struck in a humorous way (as they say, jokes aren’t funny when they have to be explained). Continue reading

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Blog Hop: Worth the Money?

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Have you ever bought a more expensive edition of a book, when a cheaper edition was available, just because you preferred the cover of the more expensive one?


I distinctly remember being in Barnes and Noble, looking at two different copies of Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey.  $6.99 vs. $4.99, exactly identical copies, except the cheaper option had the lowered price printed big and bold right on the cover, I think in a red star or something like it.  It’s relevant to note I was young enough that two dollars made more of a difference than it would today.  But I just couldn’t stand that printed price messing up the lovely dragon cover, so I bought the more expensive copy.  Considering I still have it, 15 or 20 years later, and have read it multiple times, that was a worthwhile extra two dollars!

That may be the only strict example where I went for a higher price because of cover.  I have paid more money for nicer editions–particularly old volumes, a hardback copy, or one with illustrations.  That feels slightly different, though.  The thing is, I buy most of my books unseen (online) or in used bookstores where there’s only one copy on the shelf, so there aren’t a lot of choices!

Do you buy books based on their cover?  Would you pay more for  good one?

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