Friday, April 26, 2019

I will never get the time back I spent reading this one

I love middle grade fiction, but Tony Abbott's autobiographical historical fiction, Lunch-Box Dream, was truly awful.

The blurb made it seem like it was about visiting Civil War battlefields during the days of Jim Crow in the south. I suppose that's partially true.

The language of the book was horrible. The main characters were racist and showed no personal growth at all. And the story of the black family was so sparse to the point that it made no sense.

The main character, Bobby, isn't a nice kid. He knows he's not a nice kid. His brother had health issues. His grandmother had escaped Europe (but timing-wise could not have been a Holocaust survivor). His parents always fought. Did we need all these subplots that never got developed?

I'm not sure where I read about this and why I requested it. But my advice... don't bother with this one.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

I loved A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and really expected to love My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry. I just liked it.

Elsa is 7 years old and she's different. Very different. Her grandmother is truly different. And she's Elsa's best and only friend. Elsa's grandmother is her safe haven. She's created that safe haven through fairy tales set in the Land of Almost Awake that she tells Elsa late at night. That she tells Elsa in a secret language.

Elsa's parents are divorced and Elsa experiences much that children from "broken homes" experience. Her father is remarried to a woman with children of her own. And while Elsa's mother doesn't appear to be remarried, she's living with a man and they are expecting a new baby. Without Elsa's grandmother around, Elsa struggles to figure out where she should fit in to her new families.

Right before Elsa's grandmother dies, she asks Elsa if she's willing to do a scavenger hunt. Elsa agrees. This leads Elsa on adventure after adventure with the people who live in her apartment building. She learns all about her grandmother and about her neighbors. And she learns the basis of the fairy tales.

I wouldn't recommend it, but I also wouldn't dissuade anyone from reading it either.

I loved Elsa. And while I didn't love her grandmother, I admired her a lot. She was a woman of strength and character even if she was a pretty rotten mother to Elsa's mother. I loved Elsa's descriptions of her parents, her parents' partners and her neighbors. Elsa was mature beyond her years but in a way that I could accept.

What I didn't love about this novel was the fantastical nature of the fairy tales. While this novel was realistic fiction at its finest, I'm not a fan of fantasy. And much of the writing really reminded me of a fantasy novel.


Yaa Gyasi's historical fiction novel, Homegoing, takes an interesting approach to the history of slavery. Gyasi follows two half-sisters who are only remotely aware of each other and their descendants over 8 generations. One sister marries an Englishman who is an officer in the slave trade living a life of luxury in "The Castle." The other sister is imprisoned in the lower level of "The Castle," eventually sold into slavery in America.

In Africa, we learn more about the Asante and Fante nations fighiting under British colonization about the eventual independence of Ghana. In the United States, we learn about the journey from the plantation to the days of the Civil War, to the early days of freedom in the coal mines. The great migration takes place and now the descendants are in Harlem. Eventually the story moves to the present day.

The history was horrific, the story was interesting, but the novel was more like a collecction of short stories rather than a family saga. There was very little connection from one generation to the next other than a casual mention of recent ancestry. I think the novel would have gotten way too long and way too involved had it been more of a saga, but I think it would have been a more satisfying read.

This is a book that will be discussed in October in my community book club. The individual characters are unmemorable so I hope I can recall enough about the novel to be able to meaningfully discuss it at that time.

Would I recommend? Yes. I would.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Self-help? Who? Me?

For years, I'd been hearing about bullet journals. I loved crossing things off on to do lists, I loved the idea of journaling. I love notebooks, papers, pens, etc. But I didn't fully understand the concept nor did I have the time to try to get it figured out. But apparently I put this book, Dot Juurnaling, A Practical Guide, on my list of books to be read sometime in 2017, when it was first published.

Fast forward to this past February. I was feeling overwhelmed. I had to-do lists strewn around the house, I was always scrambling to figure out what I was supposed to be doing when. I decided to revisit keeping a bullet journal.

I looked to take the bullet journal bible, The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future by Ryder Carroll out of the library. I was surprised that of the libraries I have access to, only one of them has the book, and the wait list is months long.

I looked for other library books. I found Miller's book on two library websites, got myself on the waitlist. Wow, seems lots of people are trying to get control of their lives. It was time for Plan B. I poured over the internet looking for explanations on how to get started with a bullet journal. I joined a Facebook group of supposed "beginners." Then I plunged right in. Sort of.

I went WalMart, checked out supplies. Couldn't find what I thought I needed. Did I really have any idea of what I needed? (NO!) Ordered from Amazon and two days later, with my supplies in place, in the middle of the month, in the middle of the week, I started my bullet journal.

I really had no idea when I started what I was getting into. But things are looking bright. I think I've found what I needed all along.

Is my life now together? Probably not. But I no longer lose sleep trying to keep multiple to do lists organized in my head. And while I used to love crossing things off on my to do lists, I now really, really love filling in the bullets that are written beside my to do list items. This way I can look back and see what I've actually gotten done. My next area of focus should probably be in better prioritizing things. But I am sleeping better and I do feel more organized. And it hasn't even been two months!

Since I'd already been keeping a bullet journal for 5 weeks when I got this book from the library, it was really just a confirmation that I'm on the right track. Some things I do the same as Miller. In other areas I've already developed my own style. I enjoyed seeing her sample journal entries. I can easily pour over shared entries on Pinterest for hours. Some are so artistic. Some are so minimal. Some of in between. I would have been disappointed if I'd spent the money (that I can use to buy more bullet journal supplies - did I tell you I'm an office supplies junkie?) purchasing this book. But it was a quick, light read and valuable at that.

What I really enjoyed reading in this book were little snippets about diaries and journals in history and all the quotes related to such that Miller threw in.

I'm still a newbie at keeping a bullet journal, but if you have any questions about what's involved, how to get started, etc., I'd be happy to give you my version of an answer.

I'm able to combine my new love of creating art
with keeping my bullet journal.

My favorite "practical" spread so far -
keeping track of our energy from the sun


Barbara Kingsolver's latest, Unsheltered, is enormously popular. In other words, it was impossible to get from the library. Thankfully I have a kind neighbor and she loaned me her Kindle with the e-book on it.

The thing that I disliked most about the novel was probably one of the things that I thought the author did best. She nailed the voice of the historical period even though that's what made the book so tedious. It felt like work to read the historical parts and the language was difficult to get through and almost too scientific most of the time.

I was made curious enough about the history of Vineland, NJ, but not curious to break from my reading to actually do any research. I have since done a quick google search and apparently most of what was written in the book about Vineland was historically accurate. It appears that Vineland is a suburb of Philadelphia, although created to be its own very distinct utopia. Normally, I feel a connection to books that are set in locations that I feel connected to. I lived in New Jersey for almost 30 years, and I lived in Philadelphia for 4, but I didn't feel like I was reading about anywhere that felt like "home," except perhaps when Willa took Nick to the doctor and they were in some university parking lot in Philadelphia.

What's the book about? It's about two different families living in the same falling apart house in Vineland, New Jersey over a hundred years apart. Their stories are told in alternating chapters. The main characters in each of the families likens their lives to the condition of the house. Falling apart. Neither family can afford to do the required repairs to the house. Outside the families, their communities are falling apart.

The book is extremely political and it's quite clear that Kingsolver is trying to get her message across. This is an issue-filled novel. Consumerism, capitalism, generational differences, gender differences, defining utopia. It's a commentary about our judicial system, our healthcare system. It covers Darwinism vs Creationism. If I sat here long enough, I could probably come up with a few more issues that Kingsolver throws into the mix.

I would personally not recommend this book to someone reading a the book independently. But I would definitely recommend the book as a potential book club read. I believe these pages give so much to talk about and I'm really looking forward to discuss this with my community book club later this afternoon.

P.S. Lots of members of my book club felt as I felt. Interesting parallel storylines but quite tedious to read. Lots of great things to talk about.

Friday, April 5, 2019


When 1984 arrived and I realized I'd never read George Orwell's  1984, I purchased a copy and read it on a European vacation. I don't remember being terribly disturbed by the book then. Yes, it was a downer. Looking back, it didn't seem like the book had come true.

Now, 35 years later, I wonder. Seems like so much of Orwell's words were prophetic. Which makes the idea behind this novel particularly disturbing. There's talk of "fake news." Orwell describes "two minutes of hate." I can go on and on. But I choose not to.

Perhaps this book should be re-read as a cautionary tale? But will people get it? I'm not so sure.

Books and Beer Club read this as our science fiction pick for 2019. A good part of our discussion centered on whether or not we considered this science fiction. Most of us did not.

Should you read this novel published in 1949? Probably. Will you enjoy it? Probably not.