Reptile Room

Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #2: The Reptile Room. Harper Perennial, 2004.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of Halloween and all things spooky.

The Reptile Room starts with a small recap of the first unfortunate event because it is important for the reader to know that Mr. Poe, a family friend from the bank, is still in charge of finding the Baudelaire orphans a suitable place to live. It is even more important to be reminded that Count Olaf escaped in the first Unfortunate book. When we meet back up with the children they have been shuffled off to their even more distance relative, Uncle Monty. Montgomery Montgomery is a world renowned herpetologist with a roomful of, you guessed it, snakes (hence the title of Book Number Two of the Series of Unfortunate Events). Of course, the snakes turn out to be the Baudelaire children’s downfall. I won’t say anymore than that.
True to form, the stylistic pattern for Lemony’s books is to constantly remind you to slam the book closed and not read another word; to go read another book if you want a happy ending. Dear reader, you also need to accept Lemony is going to define words every now and then. It’s all part of the schtick. It just is.

Lines I actually liked, “It is plenty difficult to wait for Halloween when the tedious month of September is still ahead of you” (p 27). Agreed. “You couldn’t tell how the Incredibly Deadly Viper looked, because the facial expressions of a snake are difficult to read” (p 67). Again, agreed.

Author fact: Last time I told you Lemony’s real name. This time I can tell you he was born in February.

Book trivia: I am reading an electronic version without illustrations so it’s only 78 pages long.

Nancy said: Pearl called the series “wonderful.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Only For Kids: Fantasies For Grown-Ups” (p 174).


Rifles for Watie

Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. New York: Harper Collins, 1987.

Reason read: Veteran’s Day is November 11th, 2020. Read in honor of Civil War veterans long dead and gone but never forgotten.

One of the most interesting aspects of Rifles for Watie is that it is told from the perspective of multiple groups in and around the American civil war of April 1861 – April 1865. Keith visited actual battle locations to get a sense of the varying conflicts and not just the well known ones related to violent battle. Poverty, wealth, prejudice, pride, religion, gender, tribal feuding, slavery, freedom. Right or wrong, all of these issues collide.
Keith used diaries, journals, and personal letters to give Rifles for Watie first person authenticity. To personalize it even further, he used interviews conducted for his thesis. Between the years of 1940 and 1941 he visited with twenty two veterans and listened to their nostalgic reminiscing. These oral histories captured the large and small personal sacrifices of war. Ever in their debt, Keith was careful to give all twenty two individuals credit saying, “my obligation to all their memories is very deep” (Introduction, Rifles for Watie p 12). While General Watie and James G. Blunt were a real-life historical figures, the character of Jeffrey and the other soldiers in Rifles for Watie are Keith’s imagination; I would like to think of them as a creative combination of all the men Harold Keith interviewed.
My favorite segment was when Jefferey was having a passionate argument with Lucy. Every side of the conflict is laid bare; because there are more than two sides to every truth. Good guys aren’t necessarily all that good. Bad guys aren’t that bad. Dogs are just dogs.

An aside: My sticking point. Early on in Rifles for Watie Jeffrey’s family is violently attacked by rebel bushwhackers. The family manages to fend off the raiders, but not before the bushwhackers threaten a much more violent return. I was confused as to why Jeffrey would leave his family knowing they barely survived the first vicious attack. Yes, it gave Jefferey the impetus to join the war to fight the rebels, but what about his defenseless family back in Kansas? No matter. When he is home on furlough all seems fine and there is no mention of bushwhackers ever returning.

Author fact: Keith was dedicated to the state of Oklahoma where he was born, raised, lived, and died.

Book trivia: Rifles for Watie won a Newbery Award in 1958.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Rifles for Watie except that it explores one of the least well-known aspects of the Civil War.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction for Kids of All Ages” (p 114).


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Lofting, Hugh. The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed. New York: Duke Classics, 2012.

Reason read: Confessional! This was a complete and utter mistake! Pearl said any of the Doctor Dolittle books would be good to read and the only one she specifically mentioned (twice) was The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. But! It was indexed as the title Doctor Dolittle. Oh well. This was a fun little read which ultimately introduced me to the good doctor.

I would like to have known a real Doctor Dolittle. I can just imagine his house with its goldfish, dogs, rabbits, cats, mice, squirrels, hedgehog, cows, chickens, pidgins, horse, lambs, duck, pig, parrot, and owl…to name a few. You would think all of these animals would get in the way of Doctor Dolittle taking care of human patients when in reality, he preferred the animals to the people. When he learned to communicate with his furry and feathered friends it was game over. He gave up trying to cure the two-legged folks and concentrated on his true friends.
It is pretty high praise to be compared to Lewis Carroll. Hugh Walpole does just that to Hugh Lofting in his introduction to The Story of Doctor Dolittle.

As an aside, I would like to think Hugh Lofting influenced twentieth century pop culture. Dave Matthews sings about a “monkey on a string” and Shel Silverstein told of a crocodile with a toothache. Can you see Dave and Shel sitting down with Doctor Dolittle? I can.

Line I liked a lot, “Dogs nearly always use their noses for asking questions” (p 23).

Author fact: Lofting wrote the Dolittle stories for his children while he was stationed overseas in the form of illustrated letters. He dedicated Dolittle to “all Children. Children in Years and Children in Heart.” Very sweet.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing at all since she didn’t specifically put this book on her list.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Do in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (p 190). Since “Doctor Dolittle” was in the index not as a proper title, I corrected it to read The Story of Doctor Dolittle.


Bad Beginning

Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: the Bad Beginning. New York: Scholastic, 2000.

Reason read: Halloween is October 31st. Same as it ever was. Read in honor of spooky stories.

This is a pretty horrible story, even if it is for older children. Unfortunate event #1: The parents of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire die in a terrible fire. In accordance with their parents’ last wishes, the children are to live with any next of kin. No one else will do. The judge happens to find distant relative, Count Olaf (unfortunate event #2). Olaf turns out to be a greedy son of a b!tch who will stop at nothing to get at the children’s rather large inheritance. I almost drew the line at incestual nuptials but was determined to finish the less than seventy page book. You can live through seventy pages of anything. What kept The Bad Beginning interesting was the frequent didactic definitions of words and phrases and the air of Victorian gothic mystery kept the story chilled. Truthfully, the all-out creepiness kept me engaged. Like a train wreck, I couldn’t look away. It’s no wonder there were sequels. No wonder most of the series were made into movies. It has even been a series on NetFlix.

Line I happened to like, “Sometimes, just saying that you hate something, and having someone agree with you, can make you feel better about a terrible situation” (p 15).

Confessional: When these books were all the rage (and then again when the movie came out) I wasn’t tempted to read them. Not in the least tempted. The same way I wasn’t drawn in by Harry Potter or the Twilight series, I had no desire to read Lemony Snicket.

Author fact: Lemony Snicket is the pen name of Daniel Handler.

Book trivia: Everyone knows the Unfortunate Events series was made into a 2004 movie. (One I have yet to see. Big surprise there.)

Nancy said: Pearl called the series “wonderful.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Only For Kids: Fantasies For Grown-Ups” (p 174).


Roll Over!

Peek, Merle. Roll Over! A Counting Song. New York: Clarion Books, 1981.

Reason read: Interestingly enough, I had this as an October book because I read somewhere that Peek died in the month of October.

Picture a little boy, all settled under the bedcovers, tossing and turning because he doesn’t have enough room in his bed. There are nine animals in his little bed! Every time he rolls over he kicks out another creature until finally he is alone. Now he can finally get some sleep! The final illustration is delightful.
It’s funny how one picture or a single phrase can untie a bag of memories from a lifetime ago. Like escaping marbles on a hard wood floor, the images come fast and furious. I remember reading this book to a kid I used to babysit. The repetition so crucial for this two year old was maddening at the time.

Author fact: I found out very little about Merle Peek, the individual. He has a FaceBook page that hasn’t been updated since 2016. It has a delightful video of him dancing, though.

Book trivia: Peek illustrated the lyrics from a song called “Sally Go Round the Sun” by Elizabeth Fowler (1969). If you ever get the chance, please find Nicholas Hoare reading Roll Over! on YouTube. It’s monumentally cute. You’re welcome.

Nancy said: Pearl said she would buy this for a one year old.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 114).


Cathedral

Macaulay, David. Cathedral. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

Reason read: I just finished a walking tour on iFit. The trainer took me around Croatia and explained the architecture. It got me interested in learning more about the structure of cathedrals.

Originally published in black and white, Macaulay thought color might bring Cathedral to a new height. He was right. The story of how a cathedral is built is clear and concise. Even though the Chutreaux cathedral in Macaulay’s story is fictional, the meticulously detailed diagrams used to build the medieval structure, are not. This book will make you look at these impossibly beautiful buildings in a completely new way. Yes, everyone knows cathedrals were built as houses of the lord, to praise and thank a certain god, but the messages hidden in the architecture are wonderful. For example, every window tells a different specific story. What is most amazing is how long it took to build Macaulay’s fictional cathedral. It is easy to forget what a massive undertaking construction was during the thirteenth century. The roof alone wasn’t finished for nine years and in that time the original master builder and Bishop Chutreaux both die and are replaced approximately at the same time. They never see the fruits of their labor.

As an aside, I loved the illustrations. The cat on page 44 is great.

Author fact: Macaulay drew the illustrations for Cathedral.

Book trivia: Cathedral was written for children but is great for adults as well. I read somewhere that Cathedral was also made into a movie? I need to look that up!

Nancy said: Pearl calls Macaulay’s books “wonderful,” “useful,” “entertaining,” and goes on to say Macaulay is “particularly good at explaining various technical terms” (More Book Lust p 38).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Building Blocks” (p 38).


Harriet the Spy

Fitzhugh, Louise. Harriet the Spy. New York: Harper Collins, 1964.

Reason read: I have a friend named Harriet, born in the month of September.

Harriet M. Welsch is an eleven year old kid who ultimately wants to be a famous writer. She has been told in order to be an accomplished author, she needs to write a lot; she needs to write about anything and everything she sees. As a result, she is a spying, nosy, snotty, opinionated little brat with harsh criticisms about everyone she stalks. Maybe this is the adult in me being annoyed, but I found Harriet to be mean spirited to the point of shocking, and she gets worse before she gets better! I almost drew the line when she would spy on people from inside their own home. She comes from money (she has a cook and a nanny; cake and milk everyday) while her friend Sport, of the same age, has to be the one to manage the family finances and make his own lunch, among other things. We cannot forget creepy mad scientist friend June who wants to blow up things.
And. Speaking of blowing up things. All hell breaks loose when Harriet’s classmates get ahold of her beloved “work,” a notebook where she has been keeping very detailed notes on everyone she spies upon. The only problem is she never writes anything nice or complimentary. Like I said, it’s all super mean. Here is a quote to illustrate what I mean, “She saw the drunk old man and felt such a hatred for him that she almost fell off the bed” (p 195).

Author fact: Fitzhugh herself illustrated Harriet the Spy. The drawings are really interesting because the character of Harriet is drawn completely different than the other characters.

Book trivia: Harriet mentions a movie starring Paul Newman and Shirley MacLaine. I too went down the rabbit hole to see if this Apollo movie really did exist. I don’t think so.

Nancy said: Pearl said Harriet the Spy was appropriate for girls and boys alike.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the super simple chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 22).


Holes

Sachar, Louis. Holes. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998.

Reason read: September would have been Back to School month for most children. Now it’s the back to school month for some children, thanks to COVID-19.

This is one of the more imaginative books for kids I have read in a long time. Stanley Yelnats stands accused of stealing the shoes of a major league baseball legend nicknamed Sweet Feet. He claimed they mysteriously fell from the sky and hit him on the head. In lieu of jail, Stanley’s punishment of choice is 180 days at Camp Green Lake, a correctional facility for delinquent boys (“this isn’t Girl Scouts”). Once Stanley arrives he quickly learns every boy has to dig a 5’x5′ hole once a day in a desert full of scorpions, rattle snakes, and yellow lizards. Every boy has a nickname and every boy had a place in the pecking order. Stanley, soon renamed Caveman, is in the back of the line; ruled by X-Ray, Armpit, and the others. Interspersed in Stanley’s story is the legend of his family’s curse and how it follows Stanley to drought-ridden Camp Green Lake. I could go on and on about how clever Holes is, but it will take you a day to read it for yourself.

Author fact: Sachar has his own website here.

Book trivia: Holes was made into a movie in 2003 starring Shia LaBeouf and Sigourney Weaver. Of course I haven’t seen it, but it looks cute. Update: by the time I turned the very last page of the book I had the movie queued up.

Nancy said: Pearl said Holes was appropriate for boys and girls alike.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls”


Openhearted Audience

Haviland, Virginia, ed. The Openhearted Audience: Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1980.

Reason read: Pearl included this in the chapter called “Your Tax Dollars at Work” and tax filing time is normally April. Read in memory of normalcy.

Openhearted Audience is a collection of essays (actually lectures given in observance of National Children’s Book Week, (in November) at the Library of Congress) by authors who primarily write books for children:

  • Pamela Travers who wrote the Mary Poppins series (which is not on my list).
  • Maurice Sendak who wrote so many good books (everyone knows Where the Wild Things Are). None are on my challenge list, though. I liked what he had to say about New York, “Now, the point of going to New York was that you ate in New York” (p 32). Amen.
  • Joan Didion who wrote Miami, which I finished for the challenge and Play It as It Lies which will be read later. she wanted to know what it means to write for children as opposed to adults. Is there stigma attached to writing for a less developed intelligence?
  • Erik Haugaard who made the point about sharing art. I have often wondered why it is important to us that people first agree, then like, our recommendations where art is concerned. the fact we can find ourselves offended when one doesn’t share our opinions, or worse, dislike the recommendation mystifies me. Even though we didn’t produce the art, write the book, or make the movie, we feel rejected somehow; as if the art we presented were our own.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin who wrote The Wizard of Earthsea (her first book for children).
  • Ivan Southall who said “Life is more than blunt reaction” (p 87).
  • Virginia Hamilton who won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1969.
  • Jill Paton Walsh who won the Whitbread Literary Award in 1974.
  • Eleanor Cameron who talks of dreams.
  • John Rowe Townsend who was both a critic and a children’s writer.

Author Editor fact: Haviland interviewed Sendak. I wonder what that experience was like because he seemed like a curmudgeon.

Book trivia: Openhearted Audience is full of great illustrations.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything about this selection. In fact, she didn’t pick it. A librarian from Illinois sent Pearl a list of government documents people should read and Openhearted Audience was included.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust as mentioned before in the chapter called “You Tax Dollars at Work” (p 239).


Love That Dog

Creech, Sharon. Love That Dog. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2001.

Reason read: April is Dog month.

Watch a boy learn to love writing poetry. At first he comes across as aloof, retorting that only girls are into poetry. Don’t tell anyone I can write, he begs the teacher, Miss Stretchberry. Little by little, poem by poem, Jack’s confidence as a poet grows. It is extremely clever how Creech uses well known (and loved) poets to reach into young Jack’s mind and pull out confidence. Even though this book is only 80 pages long, every single word is golden.
As an aside, the adult in me immediately clued into Jack’s tense changing when writing about his dog, Sky. I had that sense of foreboding that only comes from a loss of innocence. Adulthood taught me to expect the worst.

Best line of all: “I think Robert Frost has a little too much time on his hands” (p 20).

Author fact: Creech is a Newbery Medal winner for a different book. Her list of published titles is impressive, but I am only reading Love That Dog.

Book trivia: This seems like a book for children, but adults could learn a thing or two from Jack.

Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said specifically about Love That Dog is that it is suited for boys and girls equally.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 21).


The Tequila Worm

Canales, Viola. The Tequila Worm. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2005.

Reason read: another selection for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

I have to admit it was the title of this book that first drew me in. I have never eaten the worm from a tequila bottle, but I have often wondered about it.

Sofia is someone I wish I had known in my own coming of age days. She is joyful, kind, and true to herself. Even at such a young age she knows an opportunity when she sees it and isn’t afraid to be ambitious enough to reach for it. Growing up in a barrio in Texas, Sofia cherishes her family traditions but wants to spread her wings. When she earns the opportunity to go away to a reputable boarding school she jumps at the chance. There she learns more about her culture by being without it. This is a heartwarming story about embracing differences and the power of family.


December’s Comfort

December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:

Fiction:

  • The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
  • A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.

Nonfiction:

  • A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
  • Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
  • Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.

Series Continuations:

  • Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
  • The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.

May Flowers Books

I can’t even begin to describe May. My first time to the Southwest. My first time traveling with family. Many different firsts. But, enough of that. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • The Man in Gray Flannel by Sloan Wilson
  • Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler
  • Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
  • Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

Nonfiction:

  • Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
  • Farthest North by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen

Series Continuation:

  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
  • Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

Summer at Fairacre

Read, Miss. Summer at Fairacre. Boston: Houghton, 2001.

Reason read: Miss Read’s birth month is in April.

After a long winter the folks of Fairacre cannot wait for sunshine and roses. No one is more anxious for warmer weather than schoolteacher Miss Read. She is looking forward to a long list of many projects. They do not include the unwanted attentions of Henry Mawne while his wife is out of town. Any woman could relate. If a married man brought another woman flowers, or brought her books, invited her to lectures or a sherry party, or mailed her postcards signed with love, all while his wife was away for whatever reason, people would talk. But Henry Mawne isn’t Miss Read’s only problem. She has issues with the woman who cleans the school and her house. Miss Read spends most of the book fretting about who will clean these places while Mrs. Pringle is ill. I have to admit it is a little curious how Mrs. Pringle can string Miss Read along.
One of the best things about Miss Read is how real her character was throughout the story. How fiercely protective she was of her private time. The episode when she had a twitch in her eye that led her to wonder if she was going blind was so apropos. How many of us have felt a pang and instantly wondered if we had an incurable disease? Despite Miss Read’s wonderful personality, I loved friend Amy even more. She was hysterical.

Quote I liked, “What would happen if we all spoke the unvarnished truth?” (p 14) and “Sometimes life seems as contrary as a cat” (p 201).

Author fact: Miss Read’s real name was Dora Jessie Saint.

Book trivia: Summer at Fairacre is number sixteen in a series. My only other book on the Challenge list was Thrush Green.

Nancy said: Scenes of British village life can be found in the novels of Miss Read.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Barchester and Beyond” (p 15). As an aside, I have no idea how I ended up reading two books from the same chapter in the same month.


Five Children and It

Nesbit, E. Five Children and It. New York: Dover Publications, 2002.

Reason read: Nesbit was born in the month of May.

The Psammead or Sammyad is a strange looking sand fairy capable of granting wishes. I loved the description of “it” as having eyes on long horns like a snail, ears like a bat, body like a spider, hands and feet like a monkey, and whiskers like a rat. And. And! And, the thing talks! When five children named Cyril (Squirrel), Roberts (Bobs), Anthea (Panther), Hilary (the Lamb), and Jane, digging in the sand discover the Psammead can grant wishes they immediately embark on making choices that always seem to backfire on them: wealth, becoming physically bigger than an opponent, living in a castle, growing angel wings, fighting wild Indians, to name a few. Even after they decide to be more thoughtful with their wishes they still run into disaster. Luckily, their parents are away dealing with an ailing grandmother so they have plenty of opportunities to get it right…and wrong. The best part of Five Children and It is the relationship between the siblings. It rings true no matter what drama they face.

Sometimes the language of the turn of the century really comes through. “Smell their fists” is a euphemism for fighting, for example.

Weird quotes to quote, “It is easy if you love the Baby as much as you ought to” (p 42) and “That lot’s all long hair, drink and rude women” (p 65).

Author fact: E. Nesbit is actually Edith Nesbit.

Book trivia: Five Children and It was originally published in 1902. My 2002 edition was illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.

Nancy said: Pearl said Nesbit influenced writers before and after her.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fantasy for Old and Young” (p 83).