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Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 496 pgs.
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Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which was out June book club selection, demonstrates the best of Chekhov’s short story writing. He uses an economy of words to depict the every day lives of clerks, former actresses, professors, young boy orphans, and so much more. His stories carefully illustrate the mundane lives of these Russian people and the struggles they faced. There are tales of lost love, actresses who want more than to be a pretty face, and men who strive to be more than they are and fail.

For the book club, we chose to read and discuss 10 of the stories in this collection: The Death of a Clerk, Small Fry, The Huntsman, The Malefactor, Panikhida, Anyuta, Easter Night, Vanka, The House with the Mezzanine, and The Lady with the Little Dog. I have read the others since the meeting, except “The Boring Story” that I had previously and had turned me off Chekhov until college when we read his plays.

What I love about Chekhov is his sparse language and his ability to paint a full picture of someone’s life in so few words. Each word matters, and he often will choose words for a dual purpose, like the use of the word “stranger” in “The Huntsman.” It can literally be someone who is unknown to you or someone you haven’t seen in a long time and you feel that they have become a stranger. I found this translation very readable and the stories relatable even today — these stories were written in the late 1800s.

Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky will keep readers on their toes, as some situations can be a bit odd. However, the concepts of lost love, jobs that are unsatisfying, and husbands who become strangers to their wives are issues that persist even today.

RATING: Quatrain

What the book club thought:

We found a great deal to discuss in these stories, even though some were just 2-5 pages. It is fascinating how so few words can generate so much discussion, even for stories that we barely understood.We had a great deal of discussion about “Chekhov’s Gun” about the functionality of every element in a story and the idea that promises are made and should be kept.

Everyone seemed to find reading these short stories worthwhile, even if not all of them were enjoyable. There are some fascinating pieces in this collection.

About the Author:

Anton Chekhov was a Russian playwright and short-story writer, who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 44 pgs.
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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, sending the message to parents and kids that everyone is welcome in their school, in their class, and even outside the confines of school. The colorful illustrations remind kids that the world is a rainbow and that as individuals come together we are a beautiful kaleidoscope.

The simple rhymes will be easy for younger children to follow as their parents read to them, and reading for beginning learners will be smooth. Although the kids will not see the names of the children depicted, there are kids like themselves drawn in these pages — those with dark skin, light skin, full head coverings, curly hair, straight hair, wheelchairs, and so much more. This is a book that reflects the reality of not only the United States but the world.

It’s not a book that points out differences for inspection, but demonstrates the fun that can be had together in a group even if we are different. The focus is on the things we can do together — games on the playground, art and music created, the class participation when the teacher asks questions, the discoveries that can be made.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman, which emerged from a poster that went viral, is delightful, colorful, and just what kids need to remind them that divisiveness is unnecessary and not the way to live.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Authors:

Alexandra Penfold is the author of Eat, Sleep, Poop (Knopf, 2016) and the forthcoming picture books The Littlest Viking (Knopf) and Everybody’s Going to the Food Truck Fest (FSG). She is also a literary agent at Upstart Crow, where one of her clients is Suzanne Kaufman! Learn more about Alex on Twitter at @agentpenfold.

Suzanne Kaufman is an author, illustrator, and animator. Over the years she’s done everything from animating special effects for Universal Television and the Discovery Channel to animating award-winning video games for children. She’s the illustrator of a number of books for children including Samanthasaurus Rex by B. B. Mandell, the forthcoming Naughty Claudine by Patrick Jennings, 100 Bugs by Kate Narita and her own book, Confiscated! among others. Learn more about Suzanne online at suzannekaufman.com or on Twitter at @suzannekaufman.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 376 pgs.
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A shadowy mist of sin plagues this wagon train led by the Donner family as a group of families make their way west to California. The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a story that creates an unsettling atmosphere as the pages turn, and as the party nears the mountain range where most of us know they became trapped by an early and heavy snowfall, readers will feel the darkness closing in on them even as the bonfires are lit to keep the darkness at bay.

“Everyone agreed it had been a bad winter, one of the worst in recollection.” (pg. 1)

“It was untrustworthy, that snow: It hid crevices, steep drop-offs. Snow kept secrets.” (pg. 2)

Throughout the novel, Katsu draws in her readers with the tales of woe that follow many of the wagon train’s members, including Charles Stanton, James Reed, and Tamsen Donner. These characters are integral to the success and failure of the wagon train, but they also enable Katsu to weave in her supernatural element with roots in Native American myth. Even the trail becomes a character, offering false paths, danger, and hope.

Katsu has a deep understanding of how humans act and react in scary situations, particularly those in which a wrong move could lead to death. From a man so eager to lead even when he doesn’t have the necessary experience to the man on the outskirts of the group because he is a single man in a wagon train of families, Katsu’s characters are nuanced, dynamic, and struggling internally as much as they are with the harsh environment they agreed to take on. Her writing just gets better and better with each book; this is one of her best written to date.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu creeps into your soul, searching for the wisps of guilt that hide in our own shadows and whispering dark thoughts that will leave you awake at night. This is suspenseful and horrifying, and it’s not just the expected cannibalism that will eat away at you.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent. She has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a contributor to The Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University. Prior to the publication of her first novel, Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies and is currently a senior analyst for a think tank. She lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 10+ hours
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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, narrated by the author, was our April book club selection. This memoir will have you wondering where child services was for most of Jeannette’s life. Her parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, had three other children and were often negligent in their parenting, and even dangerous — placing their kids directly in dangerous situations or failing to prevent them from being in such places. The family moved a lot in the early days until her mother inherited some money that would have allowed them to live comfortably if budgeted well, but as her parents were very bohemian, practicality was outside their comfort zone.

Each child in this family was forced to find their own way to cope and survive, and some did so better than others. In many cases, the children went their separate ways, but there were times when they defended on another from their parents and from those willing to abuse them. Clinging to one another was an option, but eventually, West Virginia’s harsh landscape and judgment on outsiders forced the older children to seek their fortunes in New York City.

Walls has some tales to tell and many of them sound like they couldn’t possibly be true — did she really cook hotdogs by herself at age 3? While I wonder about the recollection of some events, I see that her point is not the chronology but the need for her to survive on her own most of the time, even though she had both parents at home. The kids acted more like adults on some occasions and when the kids called them out for it, they were punished because they were expected to respect their elders no matter what.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls at is core is a story of hope and survival. Walls should be commended for her bravery in speaking about her childhood, especially after hiding it for so long as she climbed the ladder in the world of journalism. Well written and engaging, this is a memoir that will have you regretting anytime you fought with your less bohemian parents.

RATING: Quatrain

What the Book Club Thought:

Everyone finished the book and thought the writing was very fluid. They were appalled by how the Walls’ children were treated by their parents and how the mother and father neglected their responsibilities on so many levels. There were moments in the book where some members wanted more information, particularly about the youngest child, but agreed that maybe Jeannette did not have memories of her youngest sister’s plight beyond what she wrote. This book was well discussed and raised a lot of issue as to whether the parents had an over-arching philosophy for how they lived their lives or whether it was merely selfishness. Very good discussion book.

About the Author:

Jeannette Walls is a writer and journalist. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, she graduated with honors from Barnard College, the women’s college affiliated with Columbia University. She published a bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle, in 2005.

Owl Diaries: Eva and the Lost Pony (Book 8) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback,
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Owl Diaries: Eva and the Lost Pony (Book #8) by Rebecca Elliott offers lessons in what bravery is and how to be a good community member, but it also offers lessons in how we have a responsibility to listen to our elders and inform them when we’re not coming straight home. Kids need these lessons, especially as they age because they want more independence, but they often don’t realize that independence also comes with responsibility.

In this book, Eva and her friends are preparing to take the Owl Oath to be the keepers of the forest. The kids make projects to demonstrate what the oath means to them, and Eva wants to become a Storm Soldier and help the animals in the forest prepare for an oncoming storm. She creates a series of posters for the animals and tacks them up all around, but the storm comes faster than she expects.

What happens to Eva and the forest animals, and how does she meet the lost pony? Readers will love this adventure that’s full of adventure and some scary moments.

Owl Diaries: Eva and the Lost Pony (Book #8) by Rebecca Elliott is a fantastic edition to the series, and Elliott’s characters are evolving. Kids will love Eva and her friends, as well as their forest adventures. Parents will love the lessons these little owls learn about growing up and being part of a larger community.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 10+ hours
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And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander, which was our book club selection for March, is narrated by Kate Reading and is the first in a series of Lady Emily mystery novels set in Victorian England. Lady Emily is a woman ahead of her time, interested in being free to do as she pleases without the constraints placed on her by society. Her marriage to Philip, the Viscount Ashton, comes quickly as she locks horns with her mother, who like Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice is eager to marry of her daughter to a man of great fortune.

Following her husbands fatal trip to Africa on safari, Lady Emily finds herself engrossed in his journals, learning more about her husband than she did during their short courtship and marriage. She’s fallen in love with him, as she never expected she would, but what she discovers could render his reputation and hers asunder. She embarks on an unconventional journey to uncover the truth, even if it means her husband is less honorable than she believed.

Alexander’s historical fiction is delightful with its colorful characters, red herrings, and societal constraints. Lady Emily has more wealth than other women would at this time, and her antics are a little less shocking in Victorian society than they otherwise would be, though her mother would disagree with me. The allusions to Mrs. Bennet are strong, but not quite as funny as the Mrs. Bennet in Austen’s novel. Lady Emily’s mother is a bit more grating on the nerves, but probably because she is only seen from Lady Emily’s point of view.

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander is engaging, and I’d be interested to see what happens to Lady Emily in the second book and whether she warms up to marriage again later in her life. Living a life of independence, however, is something she’s not likely to let go of without some serious incentive.

Book Club:

Unfortunately, I missed the meeting for this book, as I had not finished it in time and have found myself extraordinarily busy with work, moving, and adjusting to home life changes.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

The daughter of two philosophy professors, Tasha Alexander grew up surrounded by books. She was convinced from an early age that she was born in the wrong century and spent much of her childhood under the dining room table pretending it was a covered wagon. Even there, she was never without a book in hand and loved reading and history more than anything. Alexander studied English Literature and Medieval History at the University of Notre Dame. Writing is a natural offshoot of reading, and my first novel, And Only to Deceive, was published in 2005. She’s the author of the long-running Lady Emily Series as well as the novel Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Blossom the Flower Girl Fairy by Daisy Meadows

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 176 pgs.
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Blossom the Flower Girl Fairy by Daisy Meadows is a chapter book for readers who are in grades two through five. My daughter is a pretty advanced reader but she still loves pictures, so this is a little tough for her to stay focused through, which is why we chose it as our nightly bedtime read-together book. Blossom has a very important job in fairy land. She has to keep the royal wedding on track and when things go awry in fairyland, they go wrong in the real world too. Kirsty and Rachel find this out first hand when Rachel’s Aunt Angela asks them for help with the flower girls and the wedding flowers.

We had a fun time reading this book together, and she was so caught up in tricking Jack Frost’s goblins into returning stolen wedding items. We ended up reading more than one chapter per night of this one.  She couldn’t wait to see what happened and if the fairytale endings for both weddings happened.

Blossom the Flower Girl Fairy by Daisy Meadows enables kids to see how to solve problems in real life, though the girls do ask for some fairy dust to help on occasion. These girls are crafty and get the job done, even when it looks like all is lost.

About the Book:

Here comes the bride!

Rachel’s Aunt Angela is a talented wedding planner. She’s organizing the biggest wedding Tippington has ever seen — and she needs Rachel and Kirsty’s help!

Rachel and Kirsty are put in charge of the bride’s flower girls. But when Jack Frost’s goblins show up uninvited, the wedding is in trouble. Luckily for everyone, Blossom the Flower Girl Fairy has a very special kind of magic — and she’s determined to make sure this wedding goes off without a hitch!

Find the magic objects in all three stories inside this Rainbow Magic Special Edition and help save the wedding magic!

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Daisy Meadows is the pseudonym used for the four writers of the Rainbow Magic children’s series: Narinder Dhami, Sue Bentley, Linda Chapman, and Sue Mongredien. Rainbow Magic features differing groups of fairies as main characters, including the Jewel fairies, Weather fairies, Pet fairies, Petal fairies, and Sporty fairies.

Dead Men Can’t Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 4+ hours
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Dead Men Can’t Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines, narrated by Ralph Lister and Ray Porter, thrusts listeners into a surreal world in which lizard men are interrogated by police and travel through time and in which zombies seek full human rights even though they are dead and could possibly begin eating living human beings.

Clines’ stories are highly imaginative and often rely on tropes from science fiction, but he twists them into his own inventions that leave readers considering ethical issues and more. Science fiction fans will enjoy this set of stories, but so too will those who can suspend their disbelief and have never read a “space” novel. He twists the tales of Jacob Marley and Superman to make them his own, and these stories are highly entertaining and clever.

Generally, short story collections are books that readers dip in and out of, but in the case of Clines’ book, readers will be hooked and keep reading until they’ve finished. Each story is unique and the characters are dynamic and fleshed out, but the stories are complete and do not leave readers hanging or wanting a resolution that doesn’t come. These stories encapsulate these worlds neatly and completely.

Dead Men Can’t Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines, narrated by Ralph Lister and Ray Porter, is delightful, disturbing, and fun. Readers will be hooked and may even explore other “sci-fi” or apocalyptic books about zombies or aliens or superheroes.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Peter Clines grew up in the Stephen King fallout zone of Maine and–inspired by comic books, Star Wars, and Saturday morning cartoons–started writing at the age of eight with his first epic novel, LIZARD MEN FROM THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy

Source: School library
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, is currently the oldest U.S. Supreme Court justice, but she’s also a woman who understands what it is like to be told she cannot do something because she is female or because she is Jewish. Even as these moments must have been disheartening and made her sad, she persisted and resisted. These are phrases that are common in today’s world as many women are finding their voice and standing up for greater equality for all — men and women alike.

Imagine a time in history when women were told to find a husband instead of go to college or even law school. Imagine being one of 10 female students in law school where there were 500 men in one class. Imagine doing your best and there were still impediments to getting the job you wanted. These are the obstacles Ginsburg dealt with as a young woman and mother, but these are also the same obstacles that many minorities still face even in the 21st Century.

When reading this book with my daughter, she thought it was weird that Ginsburg was told she couldn’t be a lawyer because she was a mother and that she wouldn’t pay attention at work. She also thought it was mean that Jews were not allowed in certain places.  My daughter’s world is different in many ways, but in many ways still the same. I loved how Levy portrays Ginsburg’s tenacity without preaching and how she makes her relateable to elementary school kids, but does not talk down to them.

Ginsburg’s career and its law speak may be hard for some kids to understand, even the word “dissent” may need explanation. But this book will open a dialogue with children. I love that Levy has created a downloadable curriculum guide for classrooms, as well as the Glorious RBG Blog.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, is a wonderful addition to my daughter’s library at school, and funny enough, I purchased her a copy for her upcoming birthday this week.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Debbie Levy writes books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for people of all ages, particularly young people. Before becoming an author, she was a newspaper editor with American Lawyer Media and Legal Times; and before that, Levy was a lawyer with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (now called WilmerHale). She lives in Maryland with her husband, Rick Hoffman.

Owl Diaries: The Wildwood Bakery (Book 7) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: The Wildwood Bakery by Rebecca Elliott is the seventh book in this series with Eva Wingdale and her elementary school friends. In this book, Eva and her pals are going to help raise money for their friend Mia’s sister, who needs a special chair to help her fly. Not only does this book help children realize that people who are disabled are just like us with the same interests, but it also inspires them to creatively find ways to help their friend.

However, as kids are eagerly crafting ideas to help Mia’s sister, they soon make their plans competitive, eager to see which team will raise the most money and win. Losing sight of the purpose, Eva and her friends must find a way to work together to achieve their goals. Elliott’s characters mirror their human child counterparts — male and female — and they act as elementary kids would.  They are full of ideas and creativity, but they are also eager to show their teacher and others who is the best.

Owl Diaries: The Wildwood Bakery by Rebecca Elliott is another wonderful book in the series that makes learning fun. The questions in the back are an added touch that teachers and parents can use to discuss the reading and get kids to think more broadly about their own school experiences.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Owl Diaries: Baxter Is Missing (Book 6) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Baxter is Missing (Book 6) by Rebecca Elliott has Eva looking for her missing pet bat, Baxter. Eva is a very busy and social owl, but Baxter is her best friend and when he goes missing, Eva can’t help but blame herself, blame squirrels, and more. Her anxiety about not finding Baxter is fresh and keeps young kids concerned throughout the whole book.

Kids will learn how to deal with anxiety constructively in this book, as Eva gathers her friends and classmates around to search for Baxter. Even though no one has seen Baxter, they’re eager to help.

Owl Diaries: Baxter is Missing (Book 6) by Rebecca Elliott is another delightful installment that helps kids navigate overwhelming feelings and loss without too much drama. Eva is an owl who looks to solve her own problems the best she can, but can accept help when she needs it. This is an important lesson for growing kids.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Said Not Said by Fred Marchant

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 78 pgs.
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Said Not Said by Fred Marchant differs from his previous collections that focused heavily on the Vietnam War and the effects of war on soldiers and those nations caught in war. His poems here tow the line between direct speech to the reader and remaining deafeningly silent, requiring the reader to parse out the meaning of his lines and over-arching themes. In this collection there are poems about the Vietnam War, the Benghazi issues, and the deterioration of his sister.

The poet is both witness and subject, and Marchant has an uncanny ability to not only empathize with “the other” but to inhabit their suffering in a way that makes it his own and requires the reader to take their own ownership of that suffering.

“Twin Tulips” is particularly powerful as the narrator is running his finger down the stem of tulips painted in watercolor that falls down the page like tears she shed as she struggled to hold onto her memories and herself even as her mental faculties stripped them away. There is significant beauty in the sorrow, but there is a longing that remains with the last words — “as long as” — because we often feel the same. We want to hold on as long as we can, even though we know that time in finite for each of us.

This theme is carried through the collection and appears in “Forty Years”:

How the sound of the rust-bucket trawler named Memory followed her
wherever she went, its torn nets dragged across the floor of her being, the
silt clouds and debris fields, a stern winch sounding a lot like pain.

Said Not Said by Fred Marchant is wonderfully rendered and deeply emotional. It tracks the sorrow tied to mortality, but it also demonstrates the connection we share as a humanity. This connection needs to be cherished and never forgotten no matter how we age. It is this connection that imbues us with empathy and understanding — something we need more of in modern society.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Couldn’t resist sharing this old gem.

About the poet:

Fred Marchant is the author of four books of poetry, including Full Moon Boat, The Looking House, and his most recent collection, Said Not Said, all from Graywolf Press. His first book, Tipping Point, won the 1993 Washington Prize from The Word Works, and was recently re-issued in a 20th Anniversary Second Edition. House on Water, House in Air, a new and selected poems was published in Ireland by Dedalus Press. He is the editor of Another World Instead, a selection of William Stafford’s early poetry, also published by Graywolf Press. With Nguy?n Bá Chung, he co-translated From a Corner of My Yard, poems by Tr?n Dang Khoa, and published in Hà N?i. Emeritus Professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, Marchant is the founding director of that school’s creative writing program and Poetry Center. He lives in Arlington, MA.