Category: Reading

Current favorite children’s books

Steven (who just turned three!) seems to have inherited his mother’s love of reading. We go to the library at least once a week and come home with 20+ picture books – some that I’ve perused and decided would be fun to read with him, others that he picks out himself, whether they are fun to read or not.

Here are some of our favorites:

Board books

  • Any Sandra Boynton book – Moo, Baa, La La La, Pajama Time, Barnyard Dance, Perfect Piggies, etc.
  • Any “Gossie and Friends” book by Olivier Dunried
  • Any “Sing Along Stories” book by Mary Ann Hoberman (we have enjoyed Yankee Doodle, The Lady with the Alligator Purse, The Itsy Bitsy Spider)

Picture Books

Cock-a-Doodle Quack! Quack! by Ivor Baddiel and Sophie Jubb

Baby Rooster doesn’t know how to wake up the animals on the farm! He tries asking the other animals what they say, but finally the wise barn owl gives him a hint. I never got tired of reading this book, maybe because Baby Rooster is such a perky and tenacious little guy.

Darkness Slipped In by Ella Burfoot

I loved this book! The hardback version uses a shiny overlay gloss varnish on black ink to make the Darkness character subtly come off the page. In a nice little twist, Daisy is not at all afraid of the dark even though he comes up and tries to eat up all the light.

“I’m Not Cute!” by Jonathan Allen

We just recently discovered this book and Steven thinks it’s really “wunny” (funny). Baby Owl keeps getting hugs from other animals who say how cute he is, even though he really wants to be acknowledged as a huge, mean, stealthy hunting machine. Or does he?

(I am sure I will think of 5 other picture books that I love after posting this, so I reserve the right to add updates!)

Reading: Miscellania

Photo taken 6/29/09

The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide by Melissa Stanton – I’m not sure when your average stay-at-home moms would have time to read this book, but I found that it was really helpful to read it because the author eloquently expressed the angst and issues surrounding defining yourself as a stay-at-home mom: how other people perceive you, how the marriage shifts, how your own self-esteem is affected, etc. While my personal experience as a self-employed professional cum stay-at-home mom doesn’t quite mesh up as nicely with the book’s intended audience, and though I’ve forgotten all of the “helpful tips” regarding socialization, exercise, food, etc., it did help me to process and label some of the things I’ve been struggling with.

Wild Things by Stephen James and David Thomas – This is a book specifically about the “art of nurturing boys.” While James and Thomas are Christian authors, the book is not overtly religious and contains what I think are good principles, including respect for the child and awareness of developmental phases. The authors label different phases of the development of a boy from age two through twenty-two (I think? I’m doing this from memory); although they are quick to point out that phases overlap and do not necessarily mesh up with specific ages, their discussion of the development of a boy from “explorer” to “lover” up to “warrior” made sense to me and will be helpful in the future. The book gives an overall picture of boys at each phase in Part 1, talks about boys’ brain development and learning in Part 2, then goes into the “heart” of the boy and his relationship with mother and father in Part 3. In particular, the last section of the book has “hot topics” marked out which were especially helpful for me to read, since I didn’t grow up with any brothers. I’m actually planning on buying this book with my next gift card!

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart – I was alerted to this book from Kim’s blog and thoroughly enjoyed it. Good, clean fun, rather reminiscent of classic children’s lit authors that I love such as Edward Eager or J.K. Rowling.

The Cheshire Cat’s Eye by Marcia Muller – Another Sharon McHone mystery. These tend to be thin and thus fast reads.

Heaven’s Prisoners by James Lee Burke – A new-to-me mystery author (though the book was published in 1988). Gritty and sad.

The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie – This was an intriguing book because it came in a hardcover case that included a stack of parchments that the reader was encouraged to “solve” on their own. However, I lacked the mental energy to pore over the papers and just read the book, which ended up being sort of Da Vinci Code-ish (as anything which involves long-hidden documents, architectural secrets, and religious mysteries will inevitably be compared to). Apart from the fact that I thought some of the cryptic messages were kind of random and forced, I enjoyed reading through it — mindlessly — and letting the characters decipher the mystery.

Cold Case by Kate Wilhelm – Kate Wilhelm is one of my favorite mystery writers, and this new Barbara Holloway novel did not disappoint.

O’s Big Book of Happiness – This collection of articles and essays from The Oprah Magazine was a nice thing to keep on the dining table and browse through while I ate lunch.

Reading: YA novels and mysteries

Photo taken 6/2/2009

The Apostates Tale by Margaret Frazer – Another Dame Frevisse mystery. Sadly, our library system doesn’t have all of the books from this series, so this might be the last one that I read for a while.

The Anatomy of Wings by Karen Foxlee – Ten year old Jenny has lost her singing voice. How she lost it is tied up in the story of her sister’s lost innocence and eventual death (that’s not a spoiler – you find out about her sister in the first few pages) and her family’s disintegration. The novel was beautifully written but rather depressing. Not exactly a “feel good” novel.

Rebel Angels by Libby Bray – I gave an unfavorable review in my last reading post for the prequel of this novel, and I didn’t enjoy this one any more (although I still like the cover art). The author made ample room for another sequel, but I probably won’t be reading it.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Katsa is a Graceling – someone who has an exceptional talent – except that her Grace is that of killing. Her uncle, the king of one of seven kingdoms, uses her as a deadly tool to do his will, and she goes along with it until she comes across Prince Po, whose fighting Grace is nearly equal her own. Their friendship results in her discovery that her Grace is not all that she thinks it is – and soon she must turn her skills to untangle a plot that has the whole of the seven kingdoms in danger. This was a beautiful and enjoyable novel – I loved it!

A Spoonful of Poison by M.C. Beaton – Agatha Raisin, the self-centered, middle-aged, easily-obsessed sleuth in M.C. Beaton’s mysteries, is back with a vengeance, investigating a poisoning that happens during a village fete that she’s in charge of while trying to impress a good-looking widower. As with the other Agatha Raisin novels, I alternated between wanting to strangle Agatha in frustration and laughing at her escapades.

Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier – A long-awaited novel following the Sevenwaters trilogy, this one follows Clodagh, the daughter of Sean and Aisling (and thus the granddaughter of Sorcha from the first Sevenwaters book). The Fair Folk steal her baby brother and replace him with an odd child of leaves and sticks that seems alive only to her — and to the man who must share her quest to find her baby brother and bring him back. The dangerous journey that they make has the usual twists and turns in Juliet’s novels and was thoroughly enjoyable.

Foxmask by Juliet Marillier – A sequel to Wolfskin. Nessa and Eyvind’s daughter, Creidhe, is in love with Somerled’s son Thorvald. Thorvald goes on a quest to find his father and Creidhe sneaks along for the ride, only to find herself in a dangerous situation that could claim her life and those of her friends. Again, another rich novel by Juliet Marillier that I could barely put down to make dinner, take care of a baby, and work.

Trace by Patricia Cornwell – Another Kay Scarpetta novel.

Tales from the Dad Side by Steve Doocy – I’m finding that the “humor” genre just isn’t what I’m into. I enjoyed reading the jacket blurb and the first few pages but soon got tired of the wisecracks and ended up not finishing this book. I enjoy a dry wit and situational humor, but 224 pages of over-obvious comedy was more than I could handle.

Photo taken 6/10/2009

Edwin of the Iron Shoes by Marcia Muller – A new mystery series that I’m trying out and so far, have enjoyed. Sharon McHone is an investigator for a law firm, but turns to investigating a murder when one of their clients is killed.

The Midas Box by G.P. Taylor – I guess this is what you’d call a young adult thriller — sort of spooky, riveting page-turner, mixed with fantasy and myth. I had to quickly skim through it in an evening and morning because it was on hold and I couldn’t renew it – I’m glad I made the time for it.

Cruel and Unusual, From Potter’s Field, and The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell – I’m finding that this is an unusual mystery series from what I’m used to reading in that characters can dramatically change from one book to the next as several years may pass from the events of one book to another. These earlier samples of Patricia’s books have been pretty intense – and the “bad guy” is not always apprehended by the end of the book. Now that I’m reading these in order, I’m enjoying them more

Reading: The Noticer by Andy Andrews

The NoticerI’ve joined the Book Review Blogger program at Thomas Nelson, and as my first book, downloaded an ebook version of The Noticer by Andy Andrews. This short, fast read compresses common wisdom and live-your-best-life principles in a fictional tale of a man named Jones who mysteriously appears at critical moments of peoples’ lives to provide “a little perspective.” Jones’ advice enables the residents of the small town depicted in the novel — whether struggling with a broken marriage, loneliness, financial problems, or what-have-you– to understand why their lives are the way they are and what they can do to change them.

I suppose if you’ve never read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman or kept a gratitude journal, this book might be life-changing for the simplistic way it distills principles from many of the other self-help books out there. Overall, I found it a nice review of good-to-remember principles when it comes to living life and loving people, but the sermon-disguised-as-story and stereotyped, one-dimensional characters made this less than impressive fiction. All the same, the book was such a quick read — and a free review copy! — that I didn’t mind taking the extra time to compose a review.

Reading: Many mysteries and more

Photo taken 5/20/2009.

Dead of Night, Immortal in Death, and Promises in Death by J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts – I think this might be the last of my “in Death” reading binge, as I’ve checked out everything available in our library system. (“Dead of Night” was a collection of four short stories by various authors, one of which was an “in Death” story by J.D. Robb.)

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray – I liked the cover and thought the title had potential but was disappointed by this young adult book, with protagonist Gemma, sent to a London boarding school after her mother commits suicide in strange circumstances. A mix of boarding school drama, magical realms, evil people and creatures, and the mystery of how her mother was involved all of this plays out in the rest of the book. I thought the characters were shallow and not very compelling — or likable — and while I finished the book, overall found it a bit boring.

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear – Another “Maisie Dobbs” mystery novel; this time, Maisie is hired by Scotland Yard to investigate some serious terrorist-type threats. Her investigations will bring her to the plight of the ignored remnant of soldiers suffering from post-war mental trauma; meanwhile, she tries to figure out how to help her assistant’s wife who has been slipping deeper into depression after the death of one of her children. This book continues the series with grace and sensitivity.

Predator, Postmortem, and All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell – Postmortem and All That Remains are the first two books in the Kay Scarpetta series, but I had picked up Predator first and found it much harder to jump into than the “In Death” books, so checked out the earlier books to get some background. Oddly to me, the earlier books were written in first-person from the viewpoint of Kay Scarpetta, the Chief Medical Examiner in Virginia, but the much later book was written in third-person. As an avid watcher of CSI, I liked reading these novels for the heavy involvement of forensics in the plots.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee – That’s not a typo; the author’s middle name really is the number “8,” a lucky number for Chinese. A journalist for the N.Y. Times, her “adventures in Chinese food” started when she was intrigued by the multiple lottery winners who used fortune cookie numbers to win the jackpot. Jennifer uses her journalistic acumen to find out things like how authentic General Tso’s chicken really is (it’s not), who first came up with fortune cookies (the Japanese), and other things that I didn’t even know I wanted to know but felt hungrier after knowing them. Must read this book with plenty of Chinese take-out on hand.

Reading: J authors

Completely unintentionally, I read books by authors whose first names all start with the letter “J”.

Photo taken 5/1/09

Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, and Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier (The Sevenwaters Trilogy) – Juliet Marillier’s debut trilogy is fantastic. Each book is told from the point of view of a different character, starting with Sorcha in Daughter of the Forest, which is a retelling of the wild swans fairy tale. The other two books follow Sorcha’s daughter and granddaughter. Highly recommended.

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor by Jaclyn Moriarty – I’m often surprised by the dark themes in young adult books these days (I guess “young adult” books from my time are now considered “junior” books). This intriguing and slightly confusing books makes sense at the end and would be a good “discussion” book about infidelity, as that theme pops up often. Listen Taylor lives with her dad and his girlfriend, Marbie Zing. The Zings are an intriguing family with a “Family Secret” that causes them to meet every Friday night in their garden shed. Listen starts high school and inexplicably finds herself ditched by her friends. How her loneliness intersects with the life of an elementary school teacher, and what the teacher has to do with the Zing family secret, are things that will be revealed by the end of the book. I wouldn’t say that I “enjoyed” reading this book, although I finished it to find out what happened. The female characters used too many exclamation points for me to relate with them.

Salvation in Death and Origin in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) – Still going through the “in Death” series.

The Abyssinian Proof by Jenny White – A sequel to The Sultan’s Seal, which I’d come across in the new books area as well, this one has a more “resolved” ending (in that Kamil Pasha actually finds out “who done it”) and a Da Vinci Code flavor with a small minority sect and religious artifacts that could “change the world.” Beautifully written again, but I’m not enjoying this series enough to continue to seek out new ones as they come, although I’ll probably pick them out if they appear in my line of vision on the new book shelf.

A month’s worth (or more) of reading

… and thus, this post is very long!

Photo taken March 18, 2009

Divided in Death, Intermission in Death, Purity in Death, Survivor in Death, Innocent in Death, Holiday in Death, Vengeance in Death, Naked in Death, Ceremony in Death, Loyalty in Death, Reunion in Death, and Portrait in Death by J.D. Robb (AKA Nora Roberts) – I’ve been flying through the books in this series. While I’d generally stay away from Nora Roberts books, bodice-ripping romance novels not being a particular genre of choice for me, I like the gritty main character, Eve Dallas, an NYPD detective in the year 2058 (and more). These “futuristic mysteries” have just a little unrealistic romance-novel-esque scenes thrown in, enough to keep me from recommending this to any nephews and nieces, but I’m finding that I have a taste for cheap, quick-to-read mysteries… especially when the author is prolific enough to keep me occupied for a month or two.

A Prisoner of Memory edited by Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg – Collection of “best mystery short stories.” I picked it up because there was one by Michael Connelly, one of the mystery authors I follow. Nothing else in the book really caught my attention enough to cause me to want to look up the other authors.

Photo taken March 26, 2009

A Room Made of Windows and The Private Worlds of Julia Redfern by Eleanor Cameron – Julia is one of those classic “girl” characters that I grew up with, along with Anne [of Green Gables], Emily [of New Moon], Jo/Meg/Beth/Amy [of Little Women], Laura [of Little House books], and Sara [from A Little Princess]. Yet Julia has more flaws – and is more contemporary – than all of those heroines, and it’s partly those flaws that make her lovable and easy to relate with. I found that I enjoyed these books almost as much as I did when I first read them.

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear – Part of the Maisie Dobbs series, taking place in a well-researched (or so it seems to me without having done my own research) early 1900’s. Maisie is a quiet, strong character, running her own private investigation business. In this book, she investigates odd crimes in a rural area and exposes secrets that have long been hidden.

Witness in Death, Imitation in Death, Visions in Death, Creation in Death, Judgment in Death, Memory in Death, and Remember When by J.D. Robb (AKA Nora Roberts)

Photo taken April 3, 2009

Midnight in Death, Conspiracy in Death, and Seduction in Death by J.D. Robb

The Novice’s Tale by Margaret Frazer – My first experience with the “Sister Frevisse medieval mystery” series. This is the first of that series. Dame Frevisse is a nun at the St. Frideswide cloister. One of the new initiates, Thomasine, finds herself accused of murder. It’s up to Frevisse’s dogged questioning to bring forth the truth. Good enough that I checked out more by this author.

The Private Life of the Cat Who by Lilian Jackson Braun – I was a dogged fan of Lilian Jackson Braun when the cat-who books first came out, but since then I only read them when I happen to come across them in the new book section. This short book of various “articles” written by James Qwilleran, owner of very special Siamese Koko and Yum Yum, relates various anecdotes that Cat Who fans will be familiar with.

Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier – My first introduction to this fantasy author who is now one of my favorites. Juliet Marillier puts her own deeply fanciful, sometimes dark, but overall rewarding spin on the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” fairy tale in Wildwood Dancing, and tells a completely new tale with some of the same characters in Cybele’s Secret. Her style reminds me a little bit of Robin McKinley – if you liked Beauty, Spindle’s End, or The Blue Sword, you’ll probably like these.

The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller – This “skeptic’s adventures in Narnia” is mostly about Laura Miller’s experience as a lover of books. I would classify it “literary criticism wrapped in memoir,” as Laura tells about how the Chronicles of Narnia shaped her reading education, how she felt deeply betrayed when (as an agnostic) she discovered the Christian allegories in the books, and how she came to terms with them. Lots of snippets about C.S. Lewis’ life as well as Tolkein’s are included.

The Memorist by M.J. Rose – I didn’t realize that this is a sequel to another book, but I got drawn into the complicated and intriguing plot involving a woman who has weird memories from another time and place, a man planning to blow up a concert hall, and a special flute that was once in the hands of Beethoven.

Photo taken April 15, 2009

The Boy’s Tale, The Bastard’s Tale, The Sempster’s Tale, The Widow’s Tale, and The Clerk’s Tale by Margaret Frazer – As I read more of the Sister Frevisse series, I’m realizing that I should have tried to read these in order, as characters from previous books show up in later books. The books do stand alone, but I think that there is some helpful background information from the other stories that would have been nice to have.

Born in Death and Betrayal in Death by J.D. Robb

The Dark Mirror, Blade of Fortriu, and The Well of Shades by Juliet Marillier – Did I mention that Juliet Marillier has become one of my favorite authors? I’ll just throw that one out again. This trilogy is a comprehensive whole, yet each book has an individual narrative focusing on different main characters.

As a side note, Juliet Marillier has some of the most beautiful, sweet depictions of babies and infants (and their relationship with adults) that I’ve come across since being a mom. They aren’t by any means a focus of the book (I’m really just talking about a sentence here or there), but the detail in the phrases she uses (I’m paraphrasing, since I don’t have the books in front of me), like a baby making “small snuffling noises” as it searches for the breast, immediately painted pictures in my mind and made me want to steal the words for my own use.

Photo taken April 21, 2009

Rapture in Death and Glory in Death by J.D. Robb

The Squire’s Tale, The Traitor’s Tale, The Hunter’s Tale, and The Reeve’s Tale by Margaret Frazer

The Sultan’s Seal by Jenny White – I picked this one off the shelf because of the beautiful cover illustration. The narrative is split between Kamil Pasha, a magistrate in Istanbul at the end of the Ottoman Empire, and Jaanan, a young woman who seems to have nothing to do with the mystery narrative initially. The novel is beautiful, much like the cover, yet I found myself unsatisfied by the ending.

The Wee Free Men by Terry PratchettI haven’t read much… if any?… Terry Pratchett, although he’s one of those well-known sci-fi/fantasy authors that I keep seeing quoted on various book covers. This book was in the “young adult” area and looked like it had promise when I skimmed the first few pages, where gutsy 9-year-old Tiffany, armed with a frying pan, enters the world of the elves to rescue her little brother. It got rather surreal for me, and I’m not entirely sure I “enjoyed” the entire book. Maybe?

Wolfskin by Juliet Marillier – Set in the world of the Vikings, Eyvind – a good-hearted boy whose only desire is to be a “Wolfskin” – one of the special warriors of Thor – reaches out to a shy, strange boy and swears an unbreakable blood oath with him to assure him of his friendship. This oath will lead to a terrible conflict, however, when Eyvind finds himself on the verge of losing all that he loves.

More raves for Juliet Marillier – she has an absolute gift for painting characters that you love and root for, and then showing the shadowy fingers of destruction hovering over them. No one is “safe” in her books, yet all the endings are redemptive.

Reading: Photo edition

I’ve totally slacked off on keeping track of what books I’ve been reading, and a couple weeks ago (2/24/09), I decided to jump-start myself by taking a photo of a stack of finished books. The books are ordered by size, not by when I finished reading them. Below are the titles and some brief comments.

A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card – Short novel written in the Ender’s Game universe. I love all of the Ender books, and this was no exception.

Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes? by Jena Pincott – “The Science behind Sex, Love, and Attraction.” Adult topics, but rather fascinating stuff about what current research shows about what attracts people to each other. I found myself sharing bits of trivia in several different conversations after reading this book. For example: If you take a group of same-gender people and combine their faces to make a composite, people will generally think that composite is more attractive than each individual from the group. I also thought that there were some interesting things you could take away from this book if you were single and trying to pursue someone.

Families Where Grace is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen – Christian book about spousal and family dynamics. If you are trying to “improve” your spouse or children and feel responsible for their growth and behavior, you might not have the healthiest situation. This book talks about the difference between unhealthy and healthy relationships and how to improve family relationships, starting by recognizing that you can’t look to other people to fill your own emptiness.

Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli – The webmistress of the popular fansite The Leaky Cauldron describes the Harry Potter phenomenon from the inside out. Did you know that Harry Potter spawned a whole new genre of music? Me neither.

Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica, a.k.a “The Waiter” – I hadn’t heard of this apparently popular blog before, but here’s another memoir based on a blog about life as a waiter in a high-class restaurant. I’m a sucker for books like this and enjoyed it (although it didn’t make me a subscriber of the blog).

Murder By Family by Kent Whitaker – Memoir of a father who survived a murder attempt that was plotted by his own son. His wife and other son didn’t make it. I was crying as I read his story about how he came to completely forgive and accept his son. (I guess this guy has been on Oprah since then… too bad we no longer had cable. Not that I would have known to watch this, anyway.)

Farewell, My Subaru by Doug Fine – Another memoir (seems to be my genre of choice lately)… Doug makes a valiant attempt to live “green,” moving into a rural area, trying to grow his own food, take care of goats and chickens, convert to solar power, and survive the elements. Punctuated with lots of handy little “green” trivia bits.

The Woman Who Can’t Forget by Jill Price – Jill Price remembers everything about her life in emotional detail from when she was 14 years old. She has a very unique and unusual condition in that she’s not a “savant” (i.e., can’t remember huge long lists of numbers) but she can tell you what day of the week matches up with any date in the past… uh… I don’t remember how many but it was a lot… years and vice versa and then tell you what happened in her life on that day. Incredible.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs – A.J. Jacobs takes a year trying to live the rules of the Bible literally (first, Old Testament, then, New Testament). Despite his agnostic beliefs, he presents a very sincere memoir of his attempts, even as his life tends towards the ridiculous at times (reference beard comments and wife’s passive-aggressive “uncleanliness” during her time-of-the-month).

Starbucked by Taylor Clark – A full history of Starbucks’ beginnings and growth as a truly innovative company… and a look at how it’s turning into mass-market fast food.

Positive Discipline: The First Three Years by Jane Nelsen – I’m in a parenting class that is going through Rudolf Dreikurs’ Children: The Challenge book. The Positive Discipline series is based on his principles (along with others) and is right up my alley. This book was specifically about infants and toddlers, and I found the specific examples helpful for fleshing out some of Dreikur’s principles. There is also a helpful chapter about development and figuring out what’s appropriate at various ages. Thanks to my friend Lucy for recommending this book!

Even more selective reading reviews

Blogging beyond my daily life seems to be too difficult these days, so I’m stuck with massive long lists of books to “review.”

But first – two books that I didn’t finish.

Kitchen Mysteries by Herve This – Food, cooking, and science – sounds like a great combination for a book, along the lines of How to Read a French Fry, which I enjoyed greatly. I couldn’t finish this book, though, because I found the conversational writing style grating and annoying. I feel a little bit bad about not finishing it because the information itself is actually pretty interesting – what happens on a chemical and molecular level when you cook eggs, for example – so you can learn why the egg white immediately around the yolk is always a little runny.

A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology by Jim Endersby – I liked the cover. The first few chapters seemed fine, as well, but I think my continuously interrupted readings of the book resulted in me losing interest.

The Pixar Touch by David A Price – A fascinating look into the story and history of Pixar.

Hack by Melissa Plaut – Melissa Plaut was a rare female New York taxi cab driver for a couple of years. This memoir details her experiences. Not recommended for nieces and nephews because of language and “adult themes.”

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – I’m not sure why I had this on my “to-read” list, because I’ve definitely read it before. This pleasingly hefty mystery involves a mysterious best-selling author who finally chooses to reveal her true life story (after giving out 19 different versions) to a young bookseller/biographer. A troubled family, dark secrets, a haunted mansion, and a surprising ending – I enjoyed this the second time even though I remembered the twist ending before I finished the book.

The Queen of Bedlam and Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon – While Speaks the Nightbird is when you’re first introduced to Matthew, the main character, I read The Queen of Bedlam first and only read minor spoilers to the first two-volume book. Speaks the Nightbird follows Matthew, a young clerk, as he assists his mentor, a magistrate, in a witchcraft-murder case in a muggy Southern town. Matthew becomes convinced that the beautiful accused witch is innocent of the charges, and becomes wrapped up in a life-threatening and weird adventure as he performs his own investigations. The Queen of Bedlam follows Matthew, now back in New York, as he becomes involved in an odd string of murders. Both of these mystery-thrillers were can’t-put-downers, although on the dark side, as well (which I guess is typical of most mysteries that don’t have recipes after each chapter)

The Way Toys Work by Ed and Woody Sobey – What’s inside an Etch-a-Sketch or a Magic 8 Ball? The Sobeys take timeless toys apart (and include tips for taking toys apart yourself!) and reveal the mechanics of super-distance flying rings, pull-and-go spring-loaded cars, Magna Doodles, and more

Accidentally on Purpose by Mary F. Pols – Mary Pol’s memoir about the best mistake that ever happened to her. A one-night stand with a cute guy ten years her junior results in an unexpected pregnancy, and despite being single and thirty-nine, Mary, who has always wanted to be a mother, decides to go ahead and raise the baby. Her sometimes hilarious co-parenting attempts and on-again, off-again relationship with aforementioned cute, younger guy (who, she finds out, is also jobless and a bit clueless but generous and gracious) and her discovery of how much love you can have for a child, are skilfully shared in this look into a single mom’s life. She also came up with a phrase that I absolutely love, as it’s so descriptive of what Steven does: “idly pumping his arms and legs.”

Father Knows Less by Wendell Jamieson – What would happen if a plane flew over a volcano while it was erupting? Why is the sky blue? Why is there war? Wendell Jamieson started writing down the questions that his son and other children asked, and went on a mission to find them real answers. The book mixes in some of his experiences as a son and a father, but mostly follows a question-answer format: The question, including the name of the child and their age (if available), and the answer, obtained from a bona-fide expert – in the case of planes and volcano, an actual pilot who had that experience (the engines shut down, they thought they would die, then the engines started back up); in the case of “does your brain actually freeze when you get brain freeze,” a brain surgeon. (Perhaps the most surprising expert was a dominatrix explaining how a whip makes noise even if it doesn’t hit anything.) I’d say this book is more for grownups than kids as some of the explanations get very technical, and enjoyed it because it brought back, at least temporarily, a sense of childlike wonder.

Simply Green Giving by Danny Se – A short, well-formatted book, filled with ideas on ecologically-friendly gift and gift-wrapping ideas. After Danny Se spent a lot of energy and money wrapping a pile of Christmas presents only to see $$$ worth of paper and ribbon being torn into and thrown away to reside in a landfill, he asked himself if there was a better use of money and resources while still being able to honor the recipient with a beautifully wrapped gift. Some of his ideas are pretty cool and practical – pull part old VHS tapes and use the film as curling ribbon, or use actual peanuts in the shell instead of Styrofoam shipping pellets – and all are beautifully presented in the book’s photography. Others, like making organic soy candles, are probably things I won’t attempt. In general, I was inspired to try to use things I have already (or cheap things from thrift stores) to creatively wrap gifts.

With a bookmark: (Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days by Judith Viorst
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham
  • Your Child’s Strengths by Jenifer Fo
  • Sacred Attitudes by Erica Ross-Krieger
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box:

  • The Homeschooling Option by Lisa Rivero
  • Dangerous Surrender by Kay Warren
  • A Wrongful Death by Kate Wilhelm
  • All The Way Home by David  Giffels
  • The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog by Nancy Ellis-Bell

Baby book summaries

This is a reprint of a blog I posted on my personal [password protected family-friends] blog on March 28, 2008, before Steven was born. I’m planning on putting together some post-baby thoughts, so I’m putting this up in preparation.

I’ve been reading lots of baby books, particularly baby books that have to do with sleep and soothing:

  • The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp
  • The Lull-a-Baby Sleep Plan by Cathryn Tobin
  • Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg
  • Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth
  • On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo

While reading each book, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused as each author seems to have their own conflicting theory. One of my projects yesterday was to write down some notes and distill the information from each book so that I could get a birds-eye view and perhaps pull out some general principles that Steve and I would try. To my surprise, there was a lot more agreement between the books than I had originally thought there would be.

The Happiest Baby on the Block

  • General idea: How to soothe your crying baby. Some babies may be fussier than others and require more soothing, but the 5-step method should work for all babies.
  • Author’s theory: Babies need a “fourth trimester” with womb-like conditions to avoid excessive crying/colic.

The 5 step method in brief, which is great for the first 2-4 months:

  1. Swaddling tightly – won’t necessarily “soothe” the baby, but does keep their arms from flailing about and will get their attention
  2. Side/stomach – holding the baby on their side/stomach keeps them from experiencing the falling reflex (note that this position is only while soothing them; babies should sleep on their back to prevent SIDS)
  3. Shushing – providing “white noise” at the intensity of the baby’s cry by going “shhhhhh”; can extend this further by providing a recording or other form of white noise (vacuum cleaner, static, etc.)
  4. Swinging – providing a slight head “jiggle” mimics the movement that the baby may have felt in the womb
  5. Sucking – using a pacifier or allowing the baby to suck your finger is like the icing on the cake and may soothe the baby enough so that they can sleep

About scheduling/routines: The author doesn’t advocate or discourage scheduling, but does say that you can start trying a “schedule” at about 1-2 months and increasing time between feedings to 3 hours. He advocates waking the baby up to feed them if they start to sleep over 4 hours so that they don’t get over-hungry.

The Lull-a-Baby Sleep Plan

  • General idea: Your baby can learn to sleep through the night when they are 2-4 months old. You can teach your baby to sleep in a soothing way that doesn’t involve crying. Your baby should fall asleep in bed, not in your arms, a swing, etc.
  • Author’s theory: There are specific physiological signs that show when your baby is ready to learn to sleep through the night. You have a “window of opportunity” (basically between 2-4 months) to teach your baby how to sleep through the night.

The physiological signs that your baby is ready to learn how to sleep through the night:

  • From 6-8 weeks:
    • can hold up head
    • can track object with eyes
    • gazes at you and smiles
    • coos back at you
    • recognizes and calms to parents’ voices
    • can suck voluntarily
  • From 2-4 months:
    • can babble
    • imitates facial expressions
    • interested in external world
    • plays independently for 10-15 minutes
    • close to rolling over
    • uses body language to show emotions (scrunching up face)

Getting your baby to sleep:

  • The setup (getting an environment conducive to sleep):
    • White noise
    • Sucking (pacifier)
    • Swaddling
    • Consistent sleep location
    • Massage
    • Bedtime routine (dimming lights, reading, etc.)
    • Put the baby to bed while tired but still awake
  • “Lulling” your baby to sleep
    • Lay the baby in their bed and then use your voice to “talk them down” until they fall asleep
    • If they cry, use a perkier voice to get their attention, then lower your voice after they are calmer. If necessary, pick them up to soothe them, then lay them back down while still awake and try again.
    • If using a pacifier, let them fall asleep with it but don’t stick it back in after it falls out.

Note: Many babies have peak fussiness at 6 weeks.

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer

  • General idea: More of a general “how to take care of your baby” book. Setting up a routine is a good idea. You can learn your baby’s body language and cries.
  • Author’s theory: Respect your baby as an individual.

The routine (for the first three months, this will run every 2.5-3 hours):

  • Eat – feed the baby. For the first 3 months, this may be 30-40 minutes.
  • Activity – change the baby, play with the baby, keep them awake. This may be up to 45 minutes.
  • Sleep – put the baby down to sleep. It may take the baby 15 minutes to fall asleep, and they may sleep for 1/2 hour to 1 hour. The baby should be put in bed while still awake. Swaddling and white noise may help.
  • You – “you” time — take a nap, get chores done, etc.

During the day, you should wake the baby up for their next feeding so that they don’t get too hungry.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

  • General idea: It’s your role as the parent to train your child to sleep well.
  • Author’s theory: Sleep needs change as the child develops and grows. Sleep is very important — research shows that children learn better and are more adaptable when they get more sleep.

Sleep by age:

  • Week 1: Disregard the clock and follow the baby’s cues for feeding, changing, sleeping.
  • Weeks 2-4: Expect irregularity. Still follow the baby’s cues. If they sleep well anywhere and are “portable,” great — but if not, provide a nice environment for them to sleep.
  • Weeks 5-8: Night sleep becomes more organized with longer sleep periods. Baby may develop their own “schedule.” You should definitely put them to bed if they’ve been awake for 2 hours so they don’t get overtired. (The 2 hours includes 1/2 hour to 1 hour of “soothing” the baby and getting them ready to sleep.) It’s okay if the baby cries while going to sleep; they will develop self-soothing skills. Note: Many babies have peak fussiness at 6 weeks.
  • Months 3-4: Baby gets more interactive and may fight sleep. Again, no more than 2 hours of wakefulness. Two methods of getting baby to sleep: Put the baby to bed while still awake but sleepy, or, hold the baby until they fall asleep and then put the baby to bed. Motionless sleep is important for sleep quality (i.e., not in car, stroller, or swing).
  • Months 4-12: Baby should have a general sleeping schedule at this point with 3 naps during the day. Some babies may still require one or two night feedings. Once they go to bed, leave them there until they fall asleep, even if they cry.

General principles:

  • Don’t be selfish: Protect the baby’s need to sleep by not scheduling in too much activity, dragging the baby around with you when they should be napping, or keeping the baby up too late (even if one parent works late and hasn’t seen the baby).
  • Put your baby to bed before they are over-tired. This may mean an earlier bedtime. Keeping the baby up later at night does NOT result in having them “sleep in” in the morning.
  • Let the baby cry when going to bed. They will learn to self-soothe.
  • Find the baby’s own “schedule” and sleep rhythms, but if there are still sleep problems by 4 months, you may need to “help” them set a schedule.

On Becoming Baby Wise

  • General idea: You can get your baby on a routine/schedule, but you should still use common sense instead of strictly following the clock.
  • Author’s theory: Setting a routine early on for the baby encourages consistency so that you can better interpret the baby’s cries and needs.

General principles:

  • Feeding too frequently (i.e., every hour) may keep the baby from getting the rich hindmilk so they are hungrier and/or don’t grow. Feeding every 2.5-3 hours is the goal for the first 4 months.
  • Count wet and dirty diapers and pay attention to how the baby is feeding to make sure they are getting enough to eat.
  • Set a general routine for the baby of eating, awake time, and sleeping.
  • The baby may cry when going to sleep. That’s okay.

Routine by age:

  • First two weeks: No schedule, just focus on learning how to breastfeed and making sure your child gets full feedings. Newborns may have a hard time staying awake, so focus on keeping them awake through feedings.
  • Weeks 2-4: Establish a 2.5-3 hour routine (eating, awake, sleep). Wake the baby if necessary to feed them at least every 3 hours. Exception is at night — let the baby sleep and wake up on their own unless they sleep over 5 hours; also, nix the “awake” part of the routine during the night feedings.
  • Weeks 5-8: Continue the 2.5-3 hour routine, adjusting it to the needs of the baby (if they need more or less feedings). The baby may learn to sleep through the night on their own.
  • Weeks 9-15: Baby will probably start sleeping through the night on their own (if they haven’t already) for 9-10 hours. May increase time between feedings to 4 hours.
  • Weeks 16-24: Solid foods introduced, but still breastfeeding 5-7 times a day.


  • Most of the books advocate swaddling, white noise, infant massage, and a soothing pre-bedtime ritual for at least the first 3-4 months.
  • Most of the books advocate putting the child to bed while sleepy-awake and allowing the child to learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, even if this involves some crying. Exception: Lull-a-baby sleep plan has you talk the baby to sleep. Healthy Sleep Habits also has alternative “let baby fall asleep on you” method for months 3-4.
  • Some of the books suggest that the baby can sleep through the night somewhere between 6 weeks to 3 or 4 months, and you can “help” them to do it:
    • Lull-a-baby: Look for the “window of opportunity” and set up a conducive sleep environment.
    • Baby Wise: By setting a routine early on, the baby naturally starts sleeping through the night on their own.
  • Most of the books advise that you wake the baby up to feed them after __ amount of time since their last feeding so that they don’t get too hungry.
    • Happiest Baby on the Block: 4 hours
    • Baby Whisperer: 3 hours
    • Baby Wise: 3 hours during day, 5 hours at night
  • Most of the books suggest feeding every 3 hours or so for the first several months. Some of the books don’t think you should care about getting a routine/schedule for the first couple months, however (Happiest Baby on the Block, Healthy Sleep Habits).

So, I definitely feel armed with information! Based on observation of our friends with their babies and our own personalities and lifestyle, I think Steve and I will tend more towards a schedule/routine than not. And we’ll probably do the swaddling/white noise thing for the first few months. But aside from that, we’ll be learning as we go!

Some of these books were also reviewed in other posts…