Monday, September 25, 2017

Book Log: August 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

42) 8/5: Jesus Cow by Michael Perry
This was our book club selection for the month, as a light-hearted palate cleanser after A Canticle for Leibowitz. I listened to the audiobook (while painting trim, surprise surprise) and I couldn't help but think about how it reminded me of Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone stories.

Michael Perry gives us insight into small town life through the various characters we follow. At the beginning, Harley discovers a calf born on Christmas Eve with one spot resembling the face of Jesus. The calf certainly leads the action, but we get entertaining asides as we learn the stories of the other personalities in the town. An easy, simple read.



43) 8/7: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
I joined our neighborhood book club in the summer of 2016, and if I've learned anything, it's that I leave every meeting with several more recommendations to add to my reading list. I'd read praise for this book and had checked it out in late spring on a whim, but I didn't get past the introduction before it was due, and it was a popular enough title that renewals weren't an option. When a member of the book club raved about it, I promised myself I'd be more diligent about reading it at another time and I was able to pick it up during an evening hermit date at a library.

It's truly a beautiful book. In the preface, we learn the protagonist is being sentenced to live the rest of his life within the walls of the hotel. His opulent room is taken from him and he ends up in a cramped space with a minimum of possessions, but as the hotel is spacious with every convenience (barber, seamstress, restaurants, bars, florist, and so on), he isn't constricted. He learns to see beyond his normal routine to explore, with the guidance of a young friend, every inch of his surroundings.

Decades pass and I found myself enjoying the relationships the Count developed and nurtured. Several hotel employees become like family, and I found myself treasuring this book.

44) 8/10: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
This was an impulsive audiobook listen (while I painted the last of the doorways/trim, thus concluding my summer painting projects).

I've read a couple of Edith Wharton's books before this one, and there's a familiar melancholy through them all. With this being more of a novella, it can give you a quick taste of her style if you're unfamiliar with her and want to experience her work. In order to give nothing away, I'll just state that Ethan Frome is a hard-working, struggling farmer who starts to find joy and hope and wrestles with what to do next.




45) 8/15: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Another pleasant listen as Jim Dale narrated.  I hope to find times to listen to the rest of the series (although maybe my impatience for library waitlists will have me pulling my copies down from the my bookshelves).










46) 8/20: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
I kept encountering this title in an online book group I found myself in but I hadn't yet gotten my hands on a copy. It's an epistolary book (a favorite style of mine), and to sweeten the deal, it's non-fiction. It just so happened that when my three sisters came for a visit, my youngest sister had a copy and knew it was just the sort of book I'd adore (she was right).

Helene, a New Yorker, writes a London bookshop, requesting help acquiring some titles. Over the years, friendships form and we get to watch it all play out. Helene can be brash, amusing, pushy, and kind in her letters. Her generosity to this bookshop is touching. This is a book I hope to add to my library. It's not all that long (I read it in one day), but it's such a pleasant read.

47) 8/21: Maus: A Survivor's Tale (I: My Father Bleeds History) by Art Spiegelman
Maus is a graphic novel that also falls into other categories, including biography and memoir. The author interviewed his dad about living as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe. Art recorded the interviews and then added the artwork. The storyline shifts - we see Art in present day interacting with his father (perhaps enduring interactions with his father is more accurate), asking questions about his father's life. Then we get transported to the past as his father tells his story.

This is the first volume of two, and I plan on reading it, as well. Art Spiegelman's created a compelling work. Even his portrayal of Jews as mice, Nazis as cats, Poles as pigs, etc., adds an interesting dynamic.


48) 8/22: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
I have read some other books by Jhumpa Lahiri and appreciate her style of writing and her portrayal of immigrants trying to adjust to life in America. This was one of her short story collections I hadn't yet read and was also the one she won the Pulitzer Prize for. I yet again appreciated her ability to make the characters so relatable - I can have strong emotions come up as I read her stories as she makes the regret, anxiety, disappointment, and so on so palpable.






49) 8/27: The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog by Douglas Kaine McKelvey
This book is relatively short, a pleasant children's fiction chapter book. While I read this book, perhaps it's not fair for me to count it. Sometimes I struggle with falling and/or staying asleep at night, and in those situations, I'll grab my Kindle to read until I'm tired again. This was a book I read during a couple of those middle-of-the-night stretches. All that to say, my memory is foggy in points.

Here's what I do know: it's beautifully written, and the ending seemed abrupt to me after the lovely pace of the rest of the book.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Book Log: July 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

35) 7/2: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
Here's another audiobook listen (accomplished while finally reclaiming my craft room, which has been in a sorry state for way too long and is now a welcome oasis when I can retreat there, if even only to read than to create).

It was a friend's recommendation after I shared a Kindle sale for Hillbilly Elegy (covered in my February book log).

Like JD Vance's book, it articulates what life is like for someone barely getting by. There have been just enough conversations lately with friends about the importance of listening to stories like this. With frequent debate about what healthcare in our country should look like, for instance, it appears the people making the decisions haven't considered how it legitimately impacts individuals at every level because their experience hasn't been a typical one (issues like not every employer offers healthcare, or birth control is prescribed for more than just preventing pregnancy, and so on).

Tirado goes through her life experience, both sharing what led her to her current situation and how hopeless and dehumanizing it can be (for instance, she has great shame -- and pain -- about her teeth, but she doesn't have the financial means to address the situation because when money comes up, it's earmarked elsewhere).

36) 7/8: You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
Green Bay held UntitledTown, an inaugural book and author event, this past spring. It fell during a busy weekend, so while many events intrigued me, I was only able to attend the capstone talks, given by Sherman Alexie and Margaret Atwood.

I was familiar with Atwood and read The Handmaid's Tale before her talk (see my April log). I'm embarrassed that I was previously unfamiliar with Sherman Alexie (although a couple of his book titles were known to me). He opened the evening, and I was blown away. He is a talented speaker, weaving a series of stories that seemed entertaining and flippant at the start, only to reveal at the end that he's been intentionally working to a emotionally moving close.

This memoir was his focus, as it was released this summer. It covers his complicated relationship with his mother and the emotional processing of her death. So much of it resonated with me. My mother struggles with depression and schizophrenia, so while our experiences haven't been identical, I could easily relate with the complexity surrounding a nontraditional parent-child relationship. It was a powerful, beautiful read. Alexie writes essays as well as poetry, and it's a perfect blend. I highlighted repeatedly, and if I dwell too long on the passages I marked, it makes me want to weep for the truth of the words.

37) 7/8: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
This was the July book club selection, my recommendation, as it had been suggested by my husband several (many?) years ago as an interesting read.

It is a thought-provoking post-apocalyptic piece written in three parts, with 600 years passing between each section (the section titles, in Latin, translate to "Let there be man," "Let there be light," and "Let thy will be done").

The book asks you to consider the role of faith, science, and technology in our world. It was written in 1960, and our book club mentioned how forward-thinking Miller was in imagining the future as well as how relevant the book was today, as if it had just been published. Even with each section being unique in its scope, the book reveals how cyclical the world is when it comes to how people behave in power, and there's much to consider with morality and how church and government act in the world.

38) 7/21: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
I'd picked up this book from a recent school book order for my older daughter (she's an accomplished enough reader that the 1st grade offerings were typically beneath her, and I learned I wasn't limited by grade, so I began eyeing the chapter books meant for older elementary students).

She hasn't jumped into it yet, but I saw the audiobook at the library and picked it up. While painting around the house (an outside door and the landing trim/bathroom cabinet, to be exact), it was pleasantly completed.

It's a delightful listen. Two siblings run away, and given that comfort is a factor, the older sister decides to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The mystery surrounding a recent museum acquisition focuses the children into learning as much as they can about the authenticity of the statue in question. The story is told from the point of view of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the reasoning of which is made clear towards the end. Since I'm so critical of audiobook readers, even though I often listen, I should articulate that this one was perfectly done.

39) 7/27: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I had acquired this audiobook free when Audible gave it away in January. I held off listening to it, even though it was getting rave reviews, because it had come up as a possible book club selection. It hasn't been mentioned lately and I didn't want to miss out any longer, so the majority of it was enjoyed while I painted the girls' playroom (yes, the theme this summer is "listen to podcasts or audiobooks while tackling painting projects").

First, Trevor Noah does an exceptional job reading it, and it easily seems one where you should try, if at all possible, to listen to it instead of reading it; even setting aside his accent, hearing him jump into other languages adds a great dynamic, and he modulates his voice to diversify the various individuals.

Trevor discusses at length his experience growing up in South Africa under apartheid and how things altered when apartheid ended. He has a white father and a black mother, which played a large role in how he was treated under apartheid as well as how his experiences in school played out (he shares how people differentiated among white, black, colored, mixed, Indian). He is well read and seamlessly shares historical details. I found myself often grinning as he shared about his relationship with his mother.  She holds her own with him, and there's no doubt where his strength and resilience came from.

I highly recommend this one; Trevor Noah tells a fine story, and while sometimes gushing recommendations from others can lead me to have overly high expectations and be disappointed, that was fortunately not the case here.

40) 7/29: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
This was a well-done read that I started in January and have been plugging at pretty steadily ever since. It's a dense book at 545 pages, but it's an eye-opening read.

In it, Wilkerson takes three individuals who left the South in different decades to frame her research about the migration of blacks out of the South, an event that began around 1915 and is understood to have ended around 1970. I read it on my Kindle and have what amounts to pages and pages highlighted.

My earlier descriptive of "dense" might turn people off, but it's one of those non-fiction books that's very accessible and I would get invested with the various characters, rooting them on and hoping they found success. I highly recommend this one.

41) 7/30: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
I have read the Harry Potter series previously (perhaps only once before...), but I've been wanting to revisit them. Even though we own all the books, I'd heard high praise for the Jim Dale audiobooks, so I've taken to knitting in my craftroom or tidying up there while listening. It's been a pleasant routine.

Right as I began this book, though, my husband began reading the series to my 6-year-old daughter, and I found myself cringing when they'd get ahead of me and I would even try to leave the room if I could (I know the general arc, but since it's been awhile since I read them, I want to be revisit the little details in chronological order). We plan on halting the read-aloud after the third book until she gets older, so then I can devour the final books, spoiler-free!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book Log: June 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

29) 6/4: 10:04 by Ben Lerner
This was the book club's selection; one person said she'd read a review that described it as avant garde, and that is apt.

It's an artsy read; time is fluid and certain themes return over and over again. I wondered how much of this book was actually taken directly from the author's life and read an interview discussing it. While there are numerous topics or situations stolen from the author's life, the interview suggested that was merely a jumping off point.

It wasn't a book I would have found and picked up on my own, but it was an interesting read.


30) 6/7: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
Just often enough lately I find myself listening to an audiobook instead of picking up the actual copy, if only out of necessity - I can't read a book while mowing the lawn, driving my car, folding laundry, or washing dishes, but I can listen to one, and those tasks need to be accomplished either way. Such was the case for this one.

Jen Hatmaker is amusing and passionate, but I think I would have preferred reading this one. It's too easy for anecdotal parts to come off as trite as conveyed by the audiobook reader.

This book finds Hatmaker assessing seven areas of her life, one per month (clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, stress) . She is trying to rail against materialistic tendencies and she ties in background information and how each topic ties into her faith. I found it thought-provoking in the more level-headed parts, and at times eye-rolling as the narrator flipped out over silly things (the reader attempts to play up the humor, but I think she goes overboard and I'd have preferred reading the text better than listening in those sections).

Some of my hesitancy might also come from a place of already incorporating a measure of this mindfulness (I'm frugal so I don't often eat out, we recycle and compost, we cloth-diapered both of our children for most of their diaper-wearing seasons due to cost and waste concerns, etc). I do believe it to be a good introduction to important topics. But go for the paperback copy, not the audiobook, if you think you'll be as judge-y as I am.

31) 6/8: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Here I continue with the theme of checking out children's chapter books to see if my older daughter is ready for them. I listened to the audiobook version while painting our guest room, and Brennan subsequently listened to it.

Take a selfish china rabbit, send him on adventures not of his choosing, and see how he matures. I appreciate a "show, don't tell" approach to demonstrate to children how ugly selfishness is but that love borne from selflessness is beautiful, and the pain of lost love adds a richness to life, as well.




32) 6/12: The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
June had me suffering from my seasonal allergies; they were severe enough I began to wonder if there was more going on, and when I thought I was adding on pink eye to my symptoms at the end of the month, I even went to a doctor during our trip to see family (turns out my allergies were so bad they were causing the non-contagious strain of pink eye).

So that's the setting of me picking up this book. It's a light read. In this book series (of which this is the third), you have Kate O'Hare, the FBI agent on the trail of con-man Nicholas Fox. In the first book they create a secret working relationship to set up high-profile criminals and take them down.

Think heist movies or shows, a la Ocean's Eleven (and subsequent movies) or Leverageand you get the Fox-O'Hare plot (Lee Goldberg, one of the co-authors, wrote the Monk series).  It's a fluffy read, but it was the right speed for my seasonal-allergy suffering self.

33) 6/27: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Confession: I have become a Hamilton fan girl.

It all started as I heard numerous friends rave about the musical. I read a piece talking about the significance of it, and they linked to Lin-Manuel Miranda's performance of a song at the White House in 2009, which is where it all started. I was charmed. Go ahead and give it a listen if you're unfamiliar with Hamilton, I'll wait.

After that song hooked me; I learned I could stream the Broadway cast recording for free since we had Amazon Prime. I still didn't act, though. I knew I wanted to listen to the music uninterrupted, so finally I cloistered myself in my craft room one evening while Eric was holding a game night, and I sewed while I listened.

This is the [sewing] room where it happened

That was last summer. I find myself continually coming back to the music, even downloading it to my phone, where space is precious, so that I could indulge in listening when I didn't have a wifi signal.

I flipped through Hamilton: The Revolution, which is colloquially called the Hamiltome, at a bookstore, intrigued but not sure whether I wanted to pony up the money. My husband surprised me with it for my birthday, and I have loved poring over it. I marvel at Miranda's genius, his deliberate attempts to be historically accurate whenever possible (he worked alongside Ron Chernow at times, author of the biography Alexander Hamilton that inspired Miranda to begin the project in the first place), and his skill is reflected as he creates lyrics in different styles to reflect the background of the various characters.

This footnote is just one example of the thought that went into it every step of the way
I love so many of the songs, but if I'm honest, "Dear Theodosia" and "It's Quiet Uptown" are two favorites, perhaps because they both deal with parenthood and serve as bookends to a life. The latter, "It's Quiet Uptown," caught me offguard on my first listen, and I found myself crying as it played. That song still brings me to tears - a reflection about loss, grief, forgiveness, restoration...all the feels.

I've savored this book throughout the year, only now finishing it. My husband surprised me with tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago on our anniversary in July, so I wanted to complete this beforehand.

34) 6/30: The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Yet again another in the Fox-O'Hare series. An in-consequential but entertaining read, but this one deviates from previous titles  with a cliffhanger at the end.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Book Log: May 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

20) 5/7: R My Name Is Rachel by Patricia Reilly Giff
I was introduced to this author when I read Pictures of Hollis Woods about ten years ago, when I was still teaching (hmm, that makes it more like 12 years ago). It was a captivating book.

This falls into the classification of Young Adult fiction. It's set during the Depression, so I could see it fitting in during such a unit in school. It wasn't as gripping as Pictures of Hollis Woods, but students especially could connect with the characters and it would make that time period more alive to them.




21) 5/9: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
It's perhaps a bit of a stretch, but I couldn't help but be reminded of The Breakfast Club while reading this Young Adult book. Three misfits find themselves crossing paths at baton twirling lessons, coming with plans to win a talent contest to further their various agendas. One girl has a father who has just left her mother to run off with another woman, another is being raised by her grandmother after her parents' deaths, and the third hides under her tough exterior.

Over the course of the book (when no real baton lessons take place), these very different girls get to know each through shared adventures.



22) 5/12: Bossypants by Tina Fey
Another light read (or, rather, listen, as I accessed the audiobook read by Tina Fey). Clearly I find myself in need of a break from heavier texts (I'm still chugging through some good ones, but they're slow going).

Tina Fey is self-deprecating, which can be part of the draw. This was okay for me, but not typically something that had me rolling around in fits of laughter. And if you're sensitive to language, you probably want to skip it.




23) 5/12: The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
I was added to an online book group that specializes in quality literature (while I don't homeschool, it seems many in the group do, and there's a focus on reading aloud to children, etc.). I was added by a friend because their namesake is taken from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book I had raved about and recommended to friends when it went on sale.

The Awakening of Miss Prim has been mentioned repeatedly as another group favorite, so I decided to check it out.

Miss Prim enters a village, being hired as the librarian of a private estate to put the books in order. She's unaware that she's entered into an enclave, a refuge from the busyness and chaotic nature of life. She's intrigued by the village, and through her relationships with individuals there, she learns more about what brought this village around a common aim of being self-sustaining and slowing down.

I was intrigued by aspects of it, but it feels light on details. Miss Prim's boss is never named beyond the Man in the Wing Chair. The villagers, while named, all gel together in a way (although I saw one person defend this as intentional, a way to make the village be the character in the story). I couldn't help but wonder about the underbelly of the town - is there poverty? How are elderly cared for? Are those who can't fit in or contribute sent away? But I recognize answering those questions were likely not the aim of the author, and I'm getting away from her intent.

Miss Prim is forced to decide whether to embrace the ideals of the village or leave it behind (this struggle of self and meaning made me wonder if the "Awakening" in the title was an homage to Chopin's book, even as they're coming from very different belief systems). Prudencia Prim's name, as well as some of the conversations had in the book, make me think of this as an allegory, in the vein of Pilgrim's Progress (I suspect this was intentional). It was an intriguing read, even if not destined to be a favorite for me.

24) 5/18: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
I initially read this book a couple years ago, but it came up again since it was this month's book club selection.

I confess that upon first read, although it is a series, I was happy to leave it at this one. The protagonist is a precocious eleven-year-old girl who is brilliant with chemistry, poisons, observations, and solves the mystery before the police, like every good detective story.

The book is quite well written and researched, but I got hung up on that point. Going into it for a second read remembering her youth (and now with a six-year-old that can school me in all things space related), I was more willing to consider that in 1950, such a girl as Flavia de Luce could exist (and perhaps, with the same level of independence and resources, such brilliant 11-year-old girls also exist even today).

Flavia isn't without faults, as the strained, often antagonistic interactions with her sisters attest, and that helps humanize her. I haven't committed to pursuing more of the series, but I understand why they're popular with the details and character development. And I appreciate how each book title is poetic in its own way (seriously, each one is memorable - consider A Red Herring Without Mustard or I Am Half-Sick of Shadows or The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches or .... You get the picture).

25) 5/19: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
This book takes place towards the end of WWII and is written in alternating viewpoints from four different individuals in East Prussia. It is classified as Young Adult fiction, but I think adults would enjoy it just as much. It culminates in the true historical account of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the infrequently discussed and yet worst maritime disaster in history.

Each chapter tends to be very short, which made it easy to feel like I could read some and end at a convenient break even if I only had a couple minutes, but I admit it took a few chapters to get a good feel for each of the characters. Once I had them down, it was a solid read.

I could see this naturally becoming a part of a classroom curriculum and is bound to appeal to a wide range of students.

This reflection sounds dry even to me, but I really did enjoy this book and the four perspectives are different enough in personality and motivation (and nationality) to make this an excellent read.

26) 5/24: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
I am quite familiar with the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie, but I've never read the book. My older daughter enjoys drawing while listening to audiobooks, and since she's exhausted nearly every book in the Boxcar Children series that our library has, I'm looking to other options. Then I learned this version was read by David Tennant (my favorite Doctor), so it became my go-to listening choice while cleaning.

If I once knew this book was also written by the creator of James Bond, I had forgotten. The book, like the movie, is a fun adventure story with a magical car. There is a series of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang books, but as I haven't read them, I don't know if some of the movie plotlines are borrowed from later books. All in all, a pleasant read, and it may make its way into my daughter's hands soon.

27) 5/26: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay
A couple years ago I discovered this author with her debut novel Dear Mr Knightley, an updated adaptation of Daddy Long-legs (which I read afterwards, having not been aware of it before). I truly enjoyed Dear Mr Knightley, and I have picked up her other novels when they've been discounted on Kindle. This was the second book of hers I read, but I admit it fell flat for me.

Take Emily, an accomplished, typically overly responsible girl, who acts rashly, if not necessarily wrongly. When that action leads to major changes in her life, it forces her to change and reflect, and she can come off as whiny. I wanted to mutter, "Well, what did you expect? Get over yourself!" The relationship she finds herself in (a central part of the book) doesn't seem convincing to me, either. Other characters are better developed.

Clearly I'm in the minority with my "just okay" opinion, if Amazon reviews are a dependable guide (when I'm writing this, it's at a staggering 4.4 out of 5 stars). But I wanted more, after my first positive impression of her. If you want to get lost in Italy and descriptions of food and art restoration, though, you could do worse.

28) 5/30: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
I heard enough recommendations for this book that I finally requested it through my library. It's set during WWII, told from the perspectives of three women: in the United States we have the once-famous stage performer now turning her attentions to donating time and money to providing for French orphans impacted by the war; in Poland, we meet Kasia, a teenager trying to adjust to German occupation and finding ways to work underground; finally, there's Herta, a female doctor in Germany wanting to be recognized for her skill, even if it means compromising her morals.

Their sympathies and loyalties vary, but together they make a well-done story and their paths cross. Given the setting of WWII, it should be understood that there will be some gritty descriptions and events.

I learned at the close of this book that the American character - Caroline Ferriday - was an actual person and the author's visit to her home led to the research that became this book. The other two characters were inspired by actual women, but changed enough that the names were fictionalized.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Book Log: April 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

16) 4/12: Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone by Elyse Fitzpatrick
This was read in spurts since the beginning of the year as part of a weekly women's group. I wanted to like it, but I really struggled to engage with the book; when you look at reviews on Amazon and GoodReads, though, it appears I'm in the minority with my reaction, so I've tried to articulate why it fell flat for me.

First off, it is clear the author loves scholarship - each chapter is filled with numerous footnotes and frequent quotations from other authors. I struggled to find Fitzpatrick's voice, though, and these frequent additions didn't help me.

Second, while time spent in conversation and personal reflection over topics in this book were at times beneficial, it just didn't strike a chord for where my current passions are. Recently, I find myself gravitating to books, both fictional and otherwise, that take up the issue of social justice and tell the histories and stories of people of color. I'm looking outward to learn more and am seeking ways to live out my faith in that direction, so this book just didn't connect with me and where I'm at.

17) 4/20: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
I listened to the Audible book read by Joe Morton, who was phenomenal. I knew nothing before beginning it, but yet again it falls in the category that over a third of my books this year have been in - books that are written about people of color and/or by a person of color.

The narrator seems relatively naive and keeps aligning himself with those who notice his public-speaking prowess and want to harness it for their own gains. Identity is a frequent theme - Who are you? What makes you you? What determines your worth?


18) 4/23: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
This was the April book club selection. I was unfamiliar with the author before encountering this book, but Ayaan has a compelling story. Born in Somalia, spending some time living in Saudi Arabia and Kenya before making her way to Europe, Ayaan has witnessed Islam practiced in varying degrees and considered herself a Muslim for many years, even joining the Muslim Brotherhood. She went through excision (female genital mutilation) and has witnessed and suffered repeated physical violence and was married against her will in a transaction arranged by her father.

After gaining refugee status and then citizenship in The Netherlands, she even rose to serve in parliament. However, she is a divisive individual. She is fiercely against Islam due to the way women are treated in the name of that religion, and her outspoken words about it being a backwards religion that stifles questioning and honors subservience have not gone over well with Muslims. There's a pivotal account of a murder that occurs due to outspoken, polarizing attacks on Islam, but while the victim and circumstances are mentioned in the foreward, I'll keep silent on that topic.

The value of clans and her encounter with refugees fleeing a war-torn country are memorable, as well as many of the topics she discusses. Her resilience is impressive, especially in comparison to others in her family who struggle with mental illness, depression, or just a general malaise. There was no shortage of conversation regarding this book.

I couldn't help but wonder if she saw a limited view of Islam, as I reflected on the Muslim friends I have and their careers and equality within their marriages. Ayaan was a translator in The Netherlands, so she interacted with Somali Muslims regularly in extreme circumstances (hospitals and jails, for starters) with people who didn't assimilate by learning Dutch; instead they continued with their own traditions in isolation and privately schooled their children, but there certainly must have been progressive Muslims who don't hold the same fundamentalist views, just as within Christianity (or, really, any religion) you can find a spectrum of how people practice their faith and incorporate it into their lives.

19) 4/29: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Green Bay held the inaugural UntitledTown: Book and Author Festival at the end of April. There were many talks and workshops I would have loved to have attended, but some previous commitments kept me from all but the two capstone speakers: Sherman Alexie and Margaret Atwood.

I hadn't read the work of either of them, and with The Handmaid's Tale getting plenty of mention lately, I decided I'd get ahold of a copy and read it in advance of the author talk.

The setting is America in the near future, a dystopian view of what it could look like if religion was used as a control and as propaganda. The biblical account of Hagar being a surrogate has become a foundation for how society's reproduction takes place - a few select women are handmaids, and there are controlled rituals surrounding conception, birth, etc.

I found the first section of the book difficult to get through as I tried to understand the society and make sense of the narrator's stream of consciousness (she jumps around in time, often recounting events before the coup in the midst of her new life). I recognized the deliberateness of that, though. When reading and education aren't allowed and each action severely controlled, you're forced to live inside your head. Momentum builds as the story progresses, and I found myself anxious, thinking there were many ways it could go wrong, but I wasn't sure which (if any) would be the chosen vehicle.

It was an interesting read, but some people find this too dark and disturbing to get through. I also enjoyed hearing Atwood speak (and the surprise puppet show she held). She revealed that she did nothing in the book that hadn't already been done in some way in history. And, as is oft repeated, her desire is that the events of the book remain fiction, contained between the covers, and not a prophetic vision of what will happen.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Log: March 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

11) 3/3: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I listened to an audio version of this story via CraftLit. Herland was unfamiliar to me before, but you may recognize the author from "The Yellow Wallpaper" fame.

Imagine a feminist utopia that three men stumble upon, and you have the premise for Herland. Being written in 1915, before women had the right to vote, leads to some interesting conversations and scenarios. Not my favorite by any stretch (and at times dull), but I don't regret listening to it.




12) 3/3: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
This was a tome to get through, and I admit it felt like a slog. I have several friends who enjoy the Outlander series and I was able to nab a Kindle deal for the first seven books in the series (amounting to nearly 8,000 pages) for a whopping $1.99, so I picked it up.

I was trying to pinpoint my meh attitude. I knew the basic premise going into the story (woman suddenly finds herself 200 years in the past, and there's a love triangle of sorts).

Much of the issue might be due to the setting; I'm not against historical fiction, but I have limited interest in 18th century Scotland. There are slow-moving sections, which doesn't help when I'm not invested (I adore classics, so slow-moving is not necessarily a turn-off, but I didn't find the writing or story gripping enough to keep my interest when plot slowed). Add the regular violence, both of a physical and sexual nature, and I find myself not sold on continuing past this book. We'll see if setting the series aside makes me curious to find out what happens with the principal characters, but I'm not yet convinced I'm returning. This series has been made into a popular television series, and I can't decide whether watching episodes would make me more or less likely to get invested in the books (a moot point now, as I don't have access to the cable channel).

13) 3/21: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This was our March book club pick. I had been hearing murmurings of it the last few months and knew there was a fantastical component, but for those who believed it to be strict historical fiction (as it is often wrongly described as), they had very negative impressions of the book when the book deviated from traditional historical accounts.

However, going into the book I knew there were some liberties taken with the traditional accounts of the underground railroad, and so I wasn't expecting everything to align with true accounts. We primarily follow Cora, a black slave, as she decides to escape north; the states handle slavery differently, so we see her in different geographical locations - some safer, some far more dangerous - as she weighs the benefits of staying versus the opportunities further ahead.

I appreciated the book as a story, even if the periodic asides could be confusing to me when the author would highlight one of the characters by giving additional backstory (the final aside got me in the feels and was the most important and poignant of them all, though). It's been a well-received book when it comes to being honored with awards - it had been an Oprah book selection (for what that's worth) and was a National Book Award winner, and it was also recently announced as winning a Pulitzer.

14) 3/24: Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
I read Peace, Locomotion last year, only realizing afterwards that it was a sequel to this (see my reflection in the December 2016 book log). I relished Peace, Locomotion, but since that book filled in the gaps to this one, I felt like this didn't connect with me as much as the sequel had, even though it's still a solid book. I'd be interested to hear how someone who reads them in the published order responds to them, though.

I still found several passages that spoke to me - there's a constant theme of loss, grief, and finding peace. We see Lonnie wrestling with the death of parents, the separation from his sister, and even his observations about war after witnessing his foster mother struggle with a son overseas.

15) 3/27: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is a timely book, just published, and it's an exceptional debut novel. The title is a nod to Tupac's definition of Thug Life, which I'll let one of the characters explain: "The Hate U - the letter U - Give Little Infants F***s Everybody. T-H-U-G-L-I-F-E. Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out."

Starr is a black teenager, living in a black neighborhood but attending school in a white neighborhood. Early on she happens to be the only witness when a black friend of hers is shot and killed by a white police officer.

This book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the author has an agenda to humanize the victims of similar police shootings, but Thomas tries to keep it from being too one-sided by balancing out that even though there's much anger in Starr's neighborhood, her uncle is a cop and she attends a white school and is dating someone who happens to be white, so various reactions and perspectives are given some time to be shared, even though it's through the lens of the teenage protagonist and people on the extremes of either side aren't portrayed well.

Thomas touches on systemic racism, the legal process and investigation after such a shooting, and some of the visceral reactions people of color experience as they process grief, especially when the system seems to continually take advantage of them and justice isn't served.

This could be a great conversation starter, as it mimics many conversations and reactions after police shootings (Does dirt in the victim's past somehow excuse their wrongful death? Does rioting discredit the cause of minorities? When do you stay in a dangerous neighborhood to try to improve it? Can you ever leave without feeling guilty for those you've left behind? etc).

Friday, March 03, 2017

Book Log: February 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

10) 2/27: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Our family spent much of February with the plague (or, rather, a rotating cycle of various illnesses), so while I wasn't sick the entire month, tending to family meant reading time decreased. I certainly read, but with several in-progress books being longer in length, it meant progress was made across the board, but only one book was completed.

Hillbilly Elegy, released in mid 2016, was the February selection for our book club. In it, J.D. Vance describes his life, as well as the lives of his extended family, in Kentucky and southern Ohio. His hillbilly life is one that we don't often encounter (a culture of systemic poverty, violence, devotion to family at the exclusion of outsiders, and so on). Vance details how he changed the trajectory of his life.

I found myself highlighting frequently throughout the book, as it raises a lot of questions. Vance admits he doesn't have easy answers. Education alone can't solve the problem, for instance, when so many students experience regular trauma at home that keeps them in a flight-or-fight mentality, making the ability to focus and succeed in school that much more difficult.

Two main things stood out to me: first, the importance of having someone in your corner that believes in you and can walk you through experiences that are foreign to you is instrumental to you believing you have worth as well as helping you to see options available to you. Second, we see many instances of unhealthy relationships; in Vance's experience, the healthy marriages/families happened when they married an outsider. When so many in your group deal with struggles through physical and verbal abuse, alcoholism, and abandonment, marrying someone with a different background can upset the typical system as you learn there is another way to live, which leads to healthy exchanges and relationships.

Vance discusses how freeing it was to learn he had choices in his life - that led to one of the most touching points of our book club (I asked my friend if I could share here, and she graciously agreed). One friend opened up about her family life growing up, how her mother struggled with depression and her father was abusive. How she couldn't relate to friends talking about how they would fight with siblings, since she and her siblings banded together. Hearing her share of that time in her life, as well as learning how she thrived later in spite of those beginnings was powerful and a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit (one example of what was instrumental to her was the nurturing attention from a mother she nannied for, which gave her confidence in her self-worth and intelligence; furthermore, when she herself became a parent, she decided she wanted to do everything in her power to interrupt the cycle she lived through and therefore invested in two years of parenting classes to give herself the best opportunity for change)

I've been reflecting more and more on how powerful it is to open up about our life experiences, to be vulnerable in sharing what we've survived, and in so doing, let others know that they're not alone in similar struggles, that there is hope. This revelation only reinforced that - I know I for one felt honored to have this small glimpse into her struggle and resulting triumph over hardship. Our stories are powerful.

All this to say, Hillbilly Elegy was a thought-provoking book, and a reflective insight into a way of life and a culture that I didn't have previous exposure to.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Book Log: January 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

1) 1/5: Chicken with Plums by Maryjane Satrapi
A friend from my neighborhood book club sent me home with this book after our last meeting. It's a graphic novel (my first?), so it's a relatively quick read. The author is Iranian, and the story follows a skilled tar player.

There are flashbacks (and scenes that take place in the future) as the protagonist is waiting to die. We gradually learn why he feels depressed and why he has lost his ability to play as well as how suffering can actually be channeled into the creation of great masterpieces. The ending is very bittersweet.




2) 1/5: Same Kind of Different as Me: A modern-day slave, an international art dealer, and the unlikely woman who bound them together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent
I don't recall where I first heard of this book. It was late in 2016, and a library copy was available, so I picked it up. Now I see repeated mentions of it and key positioning in the bookstore, likely due to the fact that a movie of it is coming out this year.

It's a non-fiction work, and the narrative switches between Ron and Denver. They both started life in lower-class situations; Ron, who is white, became quite wealthy and he and his wife started volunteering at a homeless shelter. Denver, a black man who grew up sharecropping, ended up homeless, and their paths cross at the shelter.

Ron's wife is the one who brought them together initially and encouraged their friendship. A true friendship does develop between the two men. There are some moving insights and it raises some interesting questions and reflections on faith, but I don't think this is one that will stick with me.

3) 1/7: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
I read this script very quickly. Having read the original seven-volume series (by the last 2-3 books, I was waiting for them in bookstores at midnight), I wasn't sure what to make of this play when I learned of its publication, but after talking with my youngest sister after she had read it, I added it to my list.

I wasn't surprised at who the "cursed child" was, but it reminded me how much enjoyment I derived from the Harry Potter stories. The Tri-Wizard Tournament is revisited because of the plot circumstances, further making me want to reread the books. I didn't anticipate how excited I would get in the story-line (I may have dreamed of using a time-turner in my own life while reading this). If you enjoyed the series and don't mind reading a script, I think you'd enjoy this.

4) 1/11: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
I have decided I really enjoy reading Ann Patchett; her writing style is one I find very natural and easy to read. You may recall I read her book Commonwealth a couple months ago (see my reflections on it within this post), which had me searching out other works of hers.

This book is a representative collection of essays over her decades of writing. They range on a large number of topics (detailing her writing process, describing early book tours, ending her first marriage, marrying again, applying for the police academy, opening a bookstore, encountering protests when her memoir on friendship is chosen as a college freshmen-wide read, and on and on). They offer a comprehensive picture of her non-fiction work.


5) 1/13: My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
The genres of books I read might give others whiplash - going from screenplays to essays to literature to young adult and middle readers. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's how I find rhythm in my days - when my time is constrained and mental ability is at a minimum, I am drawn to simpler works, and as my mind wants to be challenged, I delve into a meatier piece.

This book was a simple read, not as much because I felt overwhelmed but more so because some friends with first graders recommended it for our young ones. It is a simple read of a boy describing an adventure his father went on to rescue a dragon.

The author illustrated the book; I read it on my Kindle Paperwhite, but I suspect they're more engaging in a physical book. My rule of thumb is to default to reading on my Kindle unless it's a cookbook, craft book, or children's book. As I was just investigating this title for its potential, though, I jumped on the electronic library copy.

It's a pleasant read, and as I learned it's the first in a trilogy, expect to see me make quick work of them (the books can be bought individually or in a volume together). My reading daughter is obsessed with the Boxcar Children, but if I can wrench her away, perhaps I'll show her this title. I think she'll enjoy Elmer's industriousness in outsmarting the dangerous animals he encounters, and I suspect her toddler sister will enjoy the story as well, especially with the frequent illustrations.

6) 1/13: Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me to read this volume. I bought it late in 2012 at my youngest sister's recommendation. The first couple chapters charmed me, but I set it aside unfinished with visions of reading it aloud to Brennan; as she was only two at the time, I knew I needed to wait. As she got to the point where we began reading chapter books to her, I did begin this one. She enjoyed it, but then she was introduced to the Little House books, and those took precedence.

As she is caught up in all-things Boxcar Children, I decided I would just read this title without her. It's a pleasant, somewhat meandering read about friendship between two girls and all the imaginative play they enjoy. There are some author illustrations throughout.

This book was originally published in 1940. The internet tells me this book began as semi-autobiographical bedtime stories told to the author's daughter that were based on the author's childhood and, later, her journals (thanks, Wikipedia!). There are quite a few of these semi-autobiographical books in the series, so expect more mentions of them throughout the year.

Knowing this book is based on childhood reflections helps me make more sense of it. The sorts of details you have of a childhood memory are in contrast to how you could write about an imaginary adventure two young girls have. But the ways these two girls process the death of a young sibling, for instance, gives a greater insight to how these little girls processed loss.

7) 1/14: Elmer and the Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
After finishing My Father's Dragon, I continued on to the second volume. The first book described the dragon's rescue, and now Elmer needs to return home. The grateful baby dragon offers to fly him home; a storm forces them ashore an island, where some shenanigans take place, but Elmer is able to make it home in time for his father's birthday.

It's hard to reflect on this one without mention of My Father's Dragon - there is a distinct story within these pages, but it picks up immediately where the first book ends, so that I find them a natural pairing (who wants to read about the end of a journey without also reading what brought them there in the first place?).



8) 1/23: Staggerford by Jon Hassler
This was the January book club read; it was actually my recommendation. I first encountered this book during my first year teaching; Hassler is Minnesotan and the Minnesota high school I taught at used this novel in the College Prep Writing class.

This book covers one week in the life of Miles Pruitt. Take a middle-aged English teacher feeling in a bit of a rut, add in the elderly friend Agatha McGee whose house he lives in, as well as interactions with students, colleagues and administrators, and some walks down memory lane, and it all makes for an engaging read.

When I taught, even before students approached this book, we assigned a "What I Wish" paper assignment, to mimic the assignment given to the students in the book. There were few parameters, as it was a low pressure way for students to share something they wish for, however flippant or serious, and for us to learn about their interests and writing skill in the process.

Two "What I Wish" essays that were submitted still stand out for me after more than a decade removed from teaching.

One was a bittersweet reflection done by a boy whose grandmother lived in their house for a couple years before she died. It was a touching tribute to inter-generational living, as well as a heartfelt reflection to processing her death in their house and all he lost with her passing.

The second essay, the one that I recall most vividly, was by a student who wrote achingly about the current estrangement from her beloved older sister; the sister had become pregnant and moved in with her boyfriend, writing off her family in the process. Her essay was raw in its pain, and in my first semester of teaching, I didn't know exactly how to provide comfort.

After assigning a grade, I wrote a postscript, something to the effect of how I couldn't fully understand her own situation, but I could empathize; how I also had a sister become suddenly pregnant after high school, and although it created a temporary rift, having a child was the best thing for her - the transformation was astounding, relationships were repaired, and I wished my experience might offer her some measure of hope for future restoration in her own family.

I handed the papers back and never heard a word from that student about my personal comment. Fast-forward to parent-teacher conferences, though, and while sitting down with her parents, the mother reached out her hand to grab mine. Her daughter had shared the postscript with her mother, and when she did so, they dissolved in hopeful tears that their situation would, too, work out in time. We teared up again at conferences as we relived similar pains, and I was forever grateful I didn't ignore the urge to write that personal note.

So now you know my personal feelings surrounding this book as I encountered it with my students. I've been wanting to revisit this book, but I worried my nostalgia surrounding this book made me view it in a different lens, perhaps making it better than it really is. I need not have worried. Everyone in my book group spoke of how well they enjoyed it and how well Hassler wrote, and while I remembered the bare skeleton of the book, enough specifics had faded, making me relish it again.

Throughout the book, Miles is working through his own students' "What I Wish" essays, facing his own tension as he reads through weighty stories:
No wonder the briefcase was so heavy, thought Miles. He should have known better than to collect all 114 papers at one time. The wrongs and losses and near misses of 114 people, when packed together in one briefcase, took on the heaviness and solidity of rock. So it wasn't the poor penmanship after all that made reading these papers so difficult. Nor was it the futility of trying to teach English grammar. It was the way these papers teased him off the road of hope into the gulch of despair.
This reflection has gone on long enough, but the book held up to another reading, and it has made me want to dig out another one of his books that I picked up at a library sale so that I might visit it sooner rather than later.

9) 1/26: The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett
This was the conclusion to the My Father's Dragon trilogy; they're short reads, so it was natural to fit them in close together.

In this book, the dragon, on his way to being reunited with family, learns they are about to be captured. He asks Elmer for help, knowing he can't coordinate a rescue on his own. A sweet conclusion to the trilogy.