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This morning, while Nicolas was busy elsewhere, Kalen and I had some together time.

We need to do this more often.

Having just one of the kids around gives me such insight to who they are as people.

We drove by some botanical gardens.  It was early in the day; they were practically deserted.

Later on, when we passed this fellow on our way out to the car, Kalen cried, “Oh look! It’s my old friend, Mr. Frog!”

The requisite “hold my arm out for a self portrait” portrait.  I saw recently that a professional photographer had this listed as her photographical pet peeve.  Methinks she needs to get over herself.  There’s room for fun snapshots in photography, folks.  They don’t all have to be perfect.

Plus, the outtakes from these are almost always fun.  (If not good blackmail fodder.)

As the household camera-keeper, I’m happy to report that all double-chinned arm-extended self portraits were quickly deleted.  I claim right of artistic license.

There is no shortage of comfy benches with great views on which to park oneself and knit.

And read.

And listen to the bees hum.  I was very proud of Kalen.  After a few minutes, he stopped backing away from the bees like a person faced with a knife-armed mugger.  The child has a slight (ha) fear of bugs.

Especially the kind with stingers.

On the other hand, he adores honey, so there’s a certain amount of respect and gratitude there.

Kalen took on the role of “tourist guide,” showing me an endless variety of plants.  He insisted this one was a perfect photographic subject.

My knees hurt just looking at that photo.

Is it wrong to be jealous of your 7-year-old’s knees?

We plan to head back tomorrow morning and search out any letterboxes that might be hidden amongst the plants and bees.  We’ll take along our books and knitting, too.

Irresistible [ir-i-zis-tuh-buhl] adj. – Third Place Books’s used book sale

40% off every used book on the floor.

Less than $3 each.  I’ve actually been saving space on my bookshelf for these three.  My Michael Newton library is complete!  I’m close on Brian Weiss, too.

I’ve been curious about The Ranger’s Apprentice after a school year of checking it out to fourth- and fifth-graders.  The other three are middle grade/young adult historical fiction.

J’adore the historical fiction, you know.

That I kept it to seven books and $20 shows remarkable restraint, I believe.  That the sale is now over and keeping me from returning and doing similar damage tomorrow is probably a very good thing.

Happy Summer!

Yes, Wednesday was our last day of school, but today is the boys’ and my first day alone at home.  We were excited to host guests (hi, Sheri!) for a few days, and we miss them, but now it’s time for us to figure out our summer-at-home routine.

A few weeks ago, I saw this.  Which led me to this.  And a few minutes ago, the boys and I made this:

It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it certainly is an exhausting one.  In a good way.  We have all summer, after all.

We got a start on The Gideon Trilogy today.  This year, I decided to read a series of books aloud to the boys over the summer break.  A trilogy seems about right, and the cover art grabbed me while we were walking through the book store last week.

We read the intro and first chapter today.  Nicolas wanted to read more immediately, but Kalen had already lost interest, which is fine.  At a [short] chapter a day, we should have no trouble getting through the entire series.

“Summer Reading” consists of completing three summer reading challenges from the book stores.  (No, we’re not counting the read-aloud in the challenges.)  Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Half Price Books all have programs wherein the kids can earn free books for reading.  Reading + free?  I’m in.  And so are the kids, whether they like it or not.  But let’s just assume they like it.  Because they do.  Most days.

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Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 1999)
I read it in April, 2010.

Why’d I Read It?

Saw it on the library shelf.  It’s about Cinderella; I love Cinderella.  I love fractured fairy tales maybe even a little bit more.

What I Thought

Fun!

Well, maybe that wouldn’t be the first word that springs to most people’s minds, but it stems from my love of mixed-up fairy tales.  This is the story after the story.  What happened after the prince put that shoe on Cinderella’s foot?  What if the fairy tale ending wasn’t so “fairy tale” after all?

I love this book’s answer.  Turns out it’s pretty tough being an “average” gal who now has to learn to act like a princess.  Especially when there are rumors running around that you were helped on your way by a fairy godmother and some magic mice.

It was a very fast read – a couple of hours.  Light and easy, but with some wonderful messages.  And maybe even a fairy tale ending.

Would I recommend it?

Yes, if you enjoy seeing fairy tales turned on their ears.

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Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, 2003)
I read it April 21, 2010.

Why’d I Read It?

Book Club.  100% book club.  After freaking out over the previews to the movie (I don’t DO scary movies. Or books.), I wrote the book off.  When it was assigned for book club, one of the gals said, “Trust me.  It’s great.”  Book club is tonight, so I took a deep breath and cracked it open yesterday.

What I Thought

It’s great.  (Whoa.  Deja vu.)  I couldn’t put it down.  It was a quick read.  (Even for me – I read it in less than four hours.)

What appears to be a frightening psychological thriller in the movie previews turns out to be a brilliant psychological thriller in print.

I’m struggling with how to describe my thoughts on the book without giving anything away, so I think I’m going to stay away from the plot altogether.  Just take my word for it – good stuff.  Let’s focus on the writing.  Lehane has a gift with words, with imagery.  Line after line jumped out at me as perfect visual descriptors.  I don’t know the last time I read a book where the physical scene was set so perfectly in my mind.  I found nearly every character to be sympathetic, even as I was questioning who was good and bad, who was right and wrong.  The ending wasn’t entirely predictable…I thought I’d figured parts of it out, but it was an ‘Ooh!  I was right!’, rather than a ‘Yawn, saw that one coming a mile away’ reaction.

Favorite Lines

I’d have to type about half of the book here…which is time-consuming and likely illegal.

Would I Recommend It?

Yes.  But bear in mind that it deals with some heavy stuff, including disturbing murder scenes and the criminally insane.  I’m still not going anywhere near the movie.

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The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
I read it in March, 2010

Why’d I Read It?

I found it at the thrift store last summer, on sale for 50 cents, and I’d heard good things about it from several friends.

What I Thought

I was blown away.  Susie’s story gripped my from the first three sentences and never let me go.  It was disturbing, but not overly so, and beautiful.  The family’s reactions, both in the short-term after the murder, and in the ensuing years, were realistic, well-handled, and striking.

The supernatural elements – Susie’s Heaven, her “relationship” with Ruth – those helped, too.  I love when authors play with elements of life beyond life.

If I have to pick something to criticize, it would be that Susie’s voice is a smidge too old, too advanced for a girl her age.  It works, though, and I think it would’ve been a much less accomplished story without padding her maturity with an extra year or two.

Favorite Lines

I was much too enthralled to keep track while I was reading, but one line stuck out for me (probably because I’m in an state of Extreme Puppy Want these days):

“Riches in furry packages.  Dogs.”  Perfect summation of people’s best friends.

Would I Recommend It?

Definitely.

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Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury USA, 2008)
I read it in the winter of 2010

Why’d I Read It?

I spend Monday afternoons shelving books, checking books out for kids, and being generally helpful (I hope) in the library at the boys’ school.  I often finish a bit before school lets out, grab a book off the shelves, and read.  This one took me a couple of months, reading in five- to fifteen-minute chunks.

What I Thought

Well, I’m a sucker for princess stories, especially princess stories turned on their ears.  I have to admit, however, that the fact that it’s a Newbury honoree put me on the defensive at the start.

Don’t get me wrong: I have immense respect for the Newbury awards and am in awe of every author who has written to such a level to receive recognition.  It’s just that Newbury books are usually so heavy.  They’re wonderful, insightful, brilliant, and – often – downright depressing.  Of course, there are many exceptions, so it doesn’t stop me from reading them, but it does mean I put a shield on my emotions whenever I crack one open.

This may be why I found Princess Academy to be so refreshing.  Hale managed to walk the line between light-hearted and meaningful beautifully.  (Seemingly effortlessly, although I know it must not have been.)  Miri is a delightful protagonist, and while the climax and denouement weren’t unpredictable, it was a thoroughly engaging read.  I think this is one of a growing number of novels that can bridge the gap between literature for kids and adults.  Now I just have to figure out how to get the boys to read a book with “Princess” in the title.

For some wonderful reviews and insight, I recommend checking out the reviews over at Amazon.

Would I Recommend It?

To readers young and old[er]!

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Girl In Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland (Penguin, 2000).
I read it in March, 2010.

Why’d I Read It?

If you’ll recall, I loved Vreeland’s Luncheon of the Boating Party.  When I love an author, I tend to hop on the library’s website and reserve all of their books.

What I Thought

Excellent.  As I mentioned before, I’ve read several books in the “story behind a painting” genre, and I love them.  This one took a different approach, however, working backwards through the painting’s various owners over the centuries until arriving at the time of its creation.  This journey through the painting’s provenance is a unique (at least in my experience) way to look at and appreciate the different effects art can have on people.

I kept wondering if the author would bring us back to the original characters in the story…specifically, the narrator of the first chapter.  Whether she did or didn’t (I hate ruining endings), I found myself very pleased with the outcome.

Favorite Lines

“…I came to recognize the tenacity of superstition…”

“…she heard the creak and thrum of the south windmill turning like her heart in the sea wind…”

Would I Recommend It?

Yes

Or, rather, Aimee Doesn’t Read Steamed.  As I mentioned last week, I struggled with whether or not to write about this book.  I certainly don’t want to hurt any authors’ feelings; they get enough crap from real critics and certainly don’t need Jane Q. Public adding to the fire.  However, I decided it wouldn’t be fair if I just posted about my favorites, and as my friend Sheri pointed out, it may pique someone’s interest who ends up loving it.  That would thrill me, so please click on the link to the blurb, and if it sounds like it’s up your alley, give it a go!

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Steamed by Katie MacAlister (Signet, 2010)
(Blurb here)
I began it March 1, 2010

Why’d I Read It?

A friend who knows how much I love the Steampunk aesthetic recommended it to me.  She raved about Katie MacAlister’s other books and told me this one, a “steampunk romance,” was coming out.  And look at that cover!!  You know I’m a sucker for a gorgeous cover.  I was excited about this one.

What I Thought

Well, I never made it past page 16.

I always have to take a page or two to get used to a first person narrative, but just a page or two.  This one wasn’t doing it for me at all.  Since my friend raves about the author’s previous work (and had similar feelings to mine about this particular book), I assume my problem is with these particular characters’ voices.  (Alternating first person from chapter to chapter.)

Favorite Lines

Okay, you got me; I have no favorites.  But the second line of the book might set the tone: “Is that a molecular detector in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”  I applaud the odd cliché here and there as a way to laugh at oneself and one’s genre, but that one’s pushing it for me, especially when it’s closely followed by a reference to “What happens in Vegas…”

Would I Recommend It?

Nope.  (But, MAN that cover’s gorgeous, isn’t it??)

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A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin, 2009)
I read it February 23, 2010.

Why’d I Read It?

100% the cover art.  It caught my eye on display somewhere, and I went straight home and reserved it at the library.  I am easily taken in by good cover art…but I don’t tend to buy books unless I think I’m going to want to read them more than once.  (Our house can only hold so many bookshelves!)

What I Thought

Several times while reading, I thought to myself, “If anyone had told me what this was about, I would never have picked it up.”  It was strangely captivating.  I kept thinking that I shouldn’t like it, but I really did.

The question here is why didn’t I think I should like it?  I can’t really put my finger on it.  It’s written in a distinctly different voice than I’m used to, but I liked it (the voice).  It’s rife with dishonesty – characters pretending to be something they’re not.  In theory, that’s something that bothers me, so maybe that’s it?  I’m not sure.  I did enjoy the story and the writing; I found the whole thing compelling.

Even two weeks after reading it, I can’t quite place why I liked the book, or why I had such an odd reaction to it.  I’d have to call it an incredibly successful novel, however, if you care to measure a novel’s success by its ability to keep the reader thinking about it long after the final page is read.

Would I Recommend It?

I think so…yes.

My boys

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