Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category



What good is a wordless book? In its silence, it shouts.

“Pause! Reflect! Absorb!”

On every page of this concise little title, the reader is encouraged to drink deep the adventures of youth. The child’s delight as he steps off his porch, fervor as he splashes, and dismay at losing something dear to him, are all beautifully illustrated as a reminder of just how passionately the young among us experience what seem to us to be the humdrum day-to-day moments.

My favorite part, though, is when his parent acknowledges his dismay, and helps him go about setting things right. How often do we brush off the big emotions of our children, meeting their dismay at losing that leaf that looked just so, with frustration of our own?

“What’s the big deal? Grow up!”

We may not say these words aloud, but we certainly say them with our actions. When I am frustrated that my son cannot cope with the fact that he cut the construction paper too small for what he wanted to build, or that his creative process requires a certain color LEGO piece that he cannot find, may I be reminded that he is human, too, and these “little” things matter to him as strongly as my experiences matter to me. May I be reminded to see things through passionate eyes once more, and to revel in the simplicity of splashing in puddles and watching snowflakes drift.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended by: 17 of the Most Beautifully Illustrated Picture Books in 2015

Recommended if: you’re looking for picture books demonstrating gentle parenting, you enjoy losing yourself in illustrations, or you just need to be reminded of the wonder of youth.

Linked at: Saturday Review of Books


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I had the greatest of intentions to start blogging again in 2016, beginning with a grand list of all of the books that I intended to read (and, in theory, review) this year, as well as an update on life as I know it.

Then, you know, life happened. I had a lovely little health crisis the day after Christmas, which has dragged on and left me fairly lacking in energy, motivation, and organization to do anything except keep the kids alive. (Kidding. They’re all still alive. I think. One, two, thr– yes. All still there.)

Finally I just decided to return with a book review.

But now! Yes, now. Now the list is assembled. Or rather, the lists are assembled. See, I’m going to be ambitious. (Because that’s the thing to do when chronic illness besets you, am I right? Be ambitious. Ambition will help you do ALL THE THINGS.) I’m going to partake of multiple reading challenges.

I’ll just pause right here to let you shake your head in dismay for a moment.

Done? Good. Moving right along.

My initial goal for this year was to say that I wouldn’t be reading library books. Or, well, okay. I would limit the reading of library books. To a minimal amount. As yet undecided. Then life happened, and not only did I not finish what I already had checked out in late 2015, but books that had been requested via inter-library loan came. So. Erm. Well. What reading has been accomplished in January has been primarily focused on getting those books back where they came from or so help me–

No, I did not just break into a chorus from Monsters, Inc. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

So. The notorious To Be Read pile. All of those books that you picked up because they were free or cheap, or that were given to you, lent to you, or that you borrowed from the library but then decided that you needed to own so that you could sit down and study, highlight, peruse, and absorb them… only to have them sit on your shelf once purchased, unread. Yes, that TBR pile. Turns out, there’s actually a challenge for this. With prizes.

I’ll be participating at the Mount Blanc level or, for the uninitiated, the plan is to read twenty-four of the books on my shelf. If I read more, great, but I figure with three mobile children now (yes, you read that correctly, three), setting the bar at two books per month is fairly ambitious, since most of my TBR falls under the category of thought-provoking non-fiction or classics, neither of which are particularly easy to breeze through. I haven’t nailed down exactly which ones I’ll be reading; I certainly have a fair number from which to choose.

Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity? I’ve only had it since high school. Jane Eyre? No, I’ve never read it. Yes, I can feel your disapproving gaze from here. Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church PracticesA friend lent it to me, so obviously I need to make this one a priority. Then there are titles like Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant, The Kite Runner, and the somewhat-ironic How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent ReadingPerhaps I should start with that last one! If you’d like to take a peek at some of the others I am considering, you can take a peek at the applicable Goodreads shelf. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on the titles therein, especially if you have read them yourself!

Now, when I stumbled upon the Mount TBR challenge, I also discovered Read It Again, Sam . No prizes here, but I figure that it will be good motivation for me to re-read a series that I’ve been meaning to reread for quite some time: Harry Potter. I started reading them my freshman year, and the last time that I read Deathly Hallows was, I’m afraid, the only time I’ve read it – and that was shortly after it was published. So, yes. It’s about time. There are a few others on my shelves that I would like to take the time to revisit, so I’ll be joining this one as well.

Last but not least – yes, that’s right, three challenges – I will be participating in the Finishing the Series reading challenge. I’ll be working at Level Two, with the goal of finishing off two to four series in 2016. Since I had already begun Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by the time I discovered this challenge, I’m going to include the Harry Potter series in the challenge, as well as Anne of Green Gables and Ralph Moody, as I’ve read the first two books in both of those series and would like to finish them off.

Yes. It’s a bit ambitious. But I’m looking forward to the challenge.

So, what about you? What are you planning to read in 2016?

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It’s the first Picoult that I have read in a while, and while I enjoyed most of it, the end fell a little flat for me. I thoroughly enjoyed My Sister’s Keeper, although I had watched the movie first and while thought that I knew the twist – ha! – so that ending left me a wretched mess. I’ve read a few others since, and none of them has quite struck the same chord that MSK did; some even felt formulaic. (more…)

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I’ve read a few reviews of Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City that were fairly negative, bemoaning the fact that this book is not an exciting memoir to be picked up by the ambivalent masses who grow a potted tomato on their patio and perhaps a little basil in their window-box. I can’t say that my gardening experience has been particularly more involved than that, although I did harvest some particularly tasty lettuce a few years ago, and I’ve found that it’s nigh unto impossible to kill a zuchinni, but despite not being the book’s “target audience,” I did enjoy it.

Here’s the thing – don’t go into it expecting it to be something that it’s not. The subtitle should tell you everything that you need to know: “Two Plants Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City.” Did you catch that third word? Geek. So guess what? They’re going to geek out on you. They’re going to talk about the different plants that they planned to put in, and how this plant didn’t get along with that plant, and how this other plant with a family name that I can’t pronounce was too aggressive, and then there was this pest that killed off three-quarters of the plant they were hoping to harvest, and this one was just too fascinating to not try and grow, and did we mention the tropical theme in the front yard and how we tried to have chickens but then the cops got wind of it–

Yeah. They’re passionate about their plants. They’re passionate about their permaculture. So unless you’re a permaculture enthusiast yourself – or a voracious researcher like myself, who reads plenty but does little – you’re probably not going to like the book. I’ll admit that there were a few portions where I felt my eyes start to glaze over, but you know what I did? I paused, appreciated their passion, and skimmed ahead. You see, I can appreciate that passion. I can appreciate that sometimes, you’re going to make someone’s eyes glaze a bit when you’re really on a roll, because.. well.. I’ve done it myself.

So was reading this book a waste of my time? Goodness, no. I got to read about some rather fascinating plants that deserve to re-enter the limelight after being sent to the corner by industrial agriculture. I got to enjoy seeing someone else be passionate about what they do. And while my climate is even less hospitable to tropical plants than Massachusetts – a point that is driven home quite squarely by the -1 degree Fahrenheit temperature as I write this – I was able to glean a few ideas that I would like to put into practice as I discover what our new home has to offer. After all, a home is not just the house. A home is also the land around it. A home is what you make of it. And I intend to make much of it.

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I managed to read sixty-three books this year, for a cumulative 15,920 pages. It’s a bit shy of the 19,652 pages that I managed to read in 2012, but when I take into consideration that my younger son was born exactly a year ago (happy birthday, Squishy!), I think that’s a pretty decent amount, don’t you? My goal for the year was sixty, so I surpassed that… in fact, I just realized that I read sixty-three books in 2012, too.

Huh. That’s a little obscure.

Anyway. I’m thinking I’ll set the bar a little higher this next year… say, seventy-five books? Or 20,000 pages. Maybe I’ll set the bar with pages, instead, since I’ve still got that unread, unabridged copy of Les Miserables sitting on my shelf. Eh-heh. I digress. On to the list!

Grace Based
Parenting by Tim Kimmel
My copy bears a ridiculous amount of underlining and highlighting. (Yes, I’m one of those people.) I loved this book. Loved it. In fact, I’m getting ready to re-read it (as well as Give Them Grace, another book on the topic that I purchased a year ago). Kimmel discusses the most common “road maps” that we follow as parents: fear-based parenting, evangelical behavior-modification parenting, image-control parenting, high-control parenting, herd-mentality parenting, duct-tape parenting, and life support of 911 parenting. He breaks each of these down and then moves on to outline grace-based parenting.

Grace certainly has its share of enemies. There are those enemies who want to camp on the truth of the Bible and say that life is black and white with little nuance. Parents like Tom assume that to show grace is to go soft on moral standards. They get a lot of fuel for this skewed opinion of grace from the parents who use grace  as their excuse for not enforcing rules. A family without clearly defined rules and standards could never be a grace-based family. It’s too busy being a nightmare to live in.
-p. 34

Grace often contradicts parenting plans that want to distill roles down into checklists. Grace-based parenting is a heart-activated plan that takes its cues from a daily walk with Jesus Christ. Because of this, grace and strict parenting textbooks will never find themselves in agreement.
– p. 101

I’m sitting here thumbing through the book, trying to figure out which highlighted and underlined sections to share with you, but if I listed all of the parts that inspired me or struck my heart, well… I’d have half of the book transcribed, and that wouldn’t do the author any favors. 😉

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
This one was fascinating. It’s a partially-fictional memoir, if such a thing were to exist. The author has taken the story and memories of her eccentric grandmother and brought them to life on the page. Floods, the Great Depression, ranching, teaching in a one-room schoolhouse, living in the city … her life encompasses many circles and many adventures, and the book is filled with little tidbits about historical life. For example, did you know that they specifically didn’t wash their Levis, because over time they would develop a coating of dirt, oil, and other, ah, miscellaneous things, that served to protect the wearer? Basically, they were Carhartts before there were Carhartts. 😉 If you like history and lives lived with grit, I recommend Half Broke Horses.

The Moonlit Mind: A Tale of
Suspense by Dean Koontz
I read this one on my mother’s Kindle shortly after my younger son was born, and I’m going to have to chalk it up as one of Koontz’ best works, right up there with The Taking and Odd Thomas. I was disappointed by Odd Apocalypse, the most recent installment in the Odd Thomas series, but this little tale served to restore my faith in Koontz and his writing ability.

Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues by Lindsey Biel, MA, OTR/L, and Nancy Peske
I mentioned this book in my introduction to sensory processing post, so I won’t discuss it too deeply here, but suffice to say that this is the book that finally confirmed those niggling suspicions in the back of my mind for me, and pushed me to have him evaluated for a speech delay and sensory processing concerns.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD, MMedSci/neurology, MMedSci/nutrition
After hearing anecdote after anecdote from acquaintances online about how the GAPS diet helped their (or their child’s) IBS / food allergies / chronic fatigue / eczema / autism / allergies / sensory issues / et cetera, I finally got around to ordering the book this autumn. Having been told upon a diagnosis of non-celiac gluten intolerance that it’s genetic and will never go away, I was intrigued that I might one day be able to consume gluten without giving myself migraines and gastrointestinal upset. I’m looking forward to incorporating it into our lives once we are settled into our new home, and seeing if it helps heal our food intolerances and lessen my son’s sensory processing issues. I will keep you posted, but I am optimistic.

Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation by Sharon Astyk
I read Sharon’s blog, so I was excited to get my hands on a copy of this book from my local library system. She touches on how to start storing food on a very negligible budget, what the different ways of storing food are (think beyond the freezer and canner!), capturing water, medicines in emergencies, and more.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was that in her section on “special diets,” the only consideration she really gives is that of pregnant women and infants, which is a little short-sighted in my opinion. But then, I have food intolerances, and my body has already proven to me that if I were to try to subsist on a diet of stored wheat, I’d be wasting away in no time. So there’s that. But, a lot of what she has to say could be utilized for gluten-free grains and other foods that are naturally free of gluten as well, so I suppose it’s not as big of a deal as it could be. Perspective comes in handy.

I especially love the portion where she discusses the “theory of anyway” … the idea that even if particular issues (such as peak oil or climate change) are resolved (or if you’re like me and don’t believe in man-made climate change, or are still slightly skeptical on the peak oil front), there are still plenty of good reasons to think about food storage and living sustainably, because there are other problems. And if we fixed those problems, it’s still a good idea because of <insert the next step here> and so on and so forth, all boiling down to this:

… if you told me that … I didn’t have to worry anymore, would I then stop gardening?

No. Nurturing and preserving my small slice of the planet would still be the right thing to do. Doing things with no more waste than is absolutely necessary woudl still be the right thing to do. The creation of a fertile, sustainable, lasting place of beauty would still be my right work in the world. I would still be a Jew, obligated by my faith, to “the repair of the world.” I would still be obligated to live in a way that prevented wildlife from being run to extinction and poisons from contaminating the earth. I would still be obligated to reduce my needs so they represent a fair share of what the earth has to offer. I would still be obligated to treat poor people as my brothers and sisters, and you do not live comfortably when your siblings suffer. I am obligated to live rightly, in part because of what living rightly gives me – integrity, honor, joy, a better relationship with my deity of choice, peace.
– p. 16

The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers
by Harvey Ussery
The man basically takes the pasture-based approach of Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profit$and scales it down for the backyard. That sounds simple, but it’s truly a beautiful piece of homestead literature. He discusses rotational “grazing,” getting creative with mixing and/or growing your own feed, breeding your poultry, basic care, butchering, deep-litter management, starting your flock, and so much more. This book would be worth the price for the appendices alone, where he offers photographs and step-by-step directions for building things like dust boxes, trap nests, and mobile frames, as well as nutritional information and enormous lists of resources. If you only get one book on poultry, make it this one. (I plan to.)

How about you? What were your top books of 2013? Do you have any books you’d like to recommend to me for 2014? Let me know in the comments!

Also linked up to Semicolon Blog’s Saturday Review of Books.

Want to know what I’m looking forward to reading in the New Year? Well, I can help you out with that.

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In the last week, I’ve read three different books from the education “genre,” as it were. You might say that I’m on a bit of an educational kick. The first book, which I will discuss here, was Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education; the first part of the book is spent explaining that the author believes that formal schooling is best held off until the child reaches an integrated maturity stage, which was suggested as being anywhere from seven to eleven years of age, depending on the research he quoted; the most common range seemed to be eight to ten years.

The author lamented that some states were lowering the age at which school becomes compulsory; until I read this book, I had not realized that the compulsory age had once been as high as eight within just the past few decades. In my own state, the compulsory age is six. He also discussed how he thought that the push toward greater preschool availability was a move in the wrong direction. Again, an interesting perspective to read in hindsight, because the idea of preschool has gone from “someplace where disadvantaged youth can go to get a good start” to “everyone and their brother has their child enrolled in preschool” in the intervening years. That said, his recommendation that funding be spent on supplying parents with “in-home training” rather than shipping the children off to preschools was something I was happy to see, especially in light of the changes that have come about with such programs as Early Intervention which do, in fact, go into the home and conduct therapy with the children within the parent/child setting, giving advice on things that the parent can do that will help the child with whatever skills are developmentally lacking.

What was surprising to me was to see that the author did not mention the solution that jumps right out to me: home education. But then, it was written in a time when home education was not viewed as legal in most places, let alone practiced by very many. If we’re going to keep the child out of school until he is eight, it begs the question: why not keep him out longer? If he is learning well at home, why do we need a different solution? I’ll discuss this further in parts two and three of my educational book review in the next week.

I would give part one of the book four out of five stars, because I believe that it conveys an important message; it just needs some updating.

Part two, though. Ugh. I’ll tell you up-front: I would only give it one star. In part two, the author attempts to convey exactly what parents can be doing at the different developmental stages. I’ll admit that I only lightly skimmed the sections that pertained to children older than my own, focusing mainly on the “birth to eighteen months” and “one to three years” chapters, so perhaps there were nuggets of truth to be found in those latter chapters, and in my disgust, I missed them. Hence why I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt by assigning it one star. But the two chapters that I did read?

Treating demand-feeding as nonsense, and stating that even as newborns, babies only need to eat every three to four hours, and can be given some sugar-water if need be to keep them on schedule? Not only discouraging baby from comfort nursing, but even from seeking a replacement soother, such as his own thumb or a pacifier? I could go on, but I’ll refrain. Suffice to say that as someone who believes firmly in many of the tenets of attachment parenting, I was a little shocked to see him go from quoting research studies about developmental levels in the first part of the book, to flat-out ignoring developmental levels in the latter part!

I would love to see a revision of this book to reflect the cultural changes in our educational world – such as the Department of Education’s existence, for one thing – but also to properly reflect the developmental stages of infants and toddlers. Even the good ol’ AAP, which isn’t exactly known for its crunchiness, would shudder at some of the author’s recommendations. Oh, and I would love to see consideration given to homeschooling, since we now see anywhere from 1.5 million to 2.1 million children being educated at home, depending on who you ask.

Taken as a whole, I guess the book manages to eke out two stars. Maybe. Perhaps. I’m undecided. One and a half stars?

What would I recommend in its stead?

You Are Your Child’s First Teacher: What Parents Can Do with and for Their Children from Birth to Age Six – this author follows many of the ideas of the Waldorf educational philosophy, some of which appear to be rather developmentally-appropriate. Other portions are, well, a little philosophically/spiritually “woo-woo” for me, but this was a book that I found was more than bearable from a “take the meat, spit out the bones” perspective. It also ends each chapter with an excellent list of resources.

Keep an eye open for part two of my educational book review in the next few days…

This post is part of Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books.

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