Book Review: Saturday is Swimming Day

Saturday

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

Saturday is Swimming Day is a textbook example of “Give it a try.  You might like it.” Green Eggs and Ham did it much better, though a child being afraid of swimming is more grounded in the real world than eating green eggs and ham (unless you live in the tundra and happen to be served 20-minute eggs and chimichurri pork).

Unfortunately, the story was boring and generic.  

This book is more of what I call a process book–a recipe for how to overcome a fear (in this case, swimming).  

There was nothing special or interesting about the little girl, who remained unnamed; the only person named is the adult.  

What I did like about the story is that it showed the need for teachers–moms can’t do everything, but they can help their child find the help they need when books aren’t enough.  However, the mom didn’t seem very intuitive as she didn’t make an effort to talk to her child about why she got a stomachache every Saturday before class.  

The purpose of the other children served to show that the girl, without class participation, wouldn’t likely make any friends.  Friendship, in this case, was the participation trophy; the joy of swimming was the win. 

Saturday is Swimming Day showed that if you expose your kids to something long enough, they just might try it.  

One thing I did find odd was the little girl calling an adult by their first name; as a child, I never call adults by their first name, unless it was preceded by a title, like Aunt or Uncle.  

Because my daughter loves going to the pool–she even practices “swimming” in the bathtub to get used to the water like the little girl in the book–she liked looking at the pictures (which were dull and flat), but it definitely didn’t make for interesting reading.  

Suggested activity:  If you can give your child swimming lessons, do it.  Uncontrolled water, such as bays, rivers, and oceans, are no places for learning  how to swim; pools (controlled water) are far better. In such an environment, you don’t have to worry about being eaten by varmints or contracting flesh-eating bacteria; you can also add toys without worrying about them getting carried away by the current.  What’s more, you don’t have to worry about getting heat stroke or sunburn. Swimming is great resistance training that is low-impact, and it works out the entire body.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36739469-saturday-is-swimming-day

Book Review: Thank You, Omu!

Omu

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

Thank you, Omu, is a story about a single, grandmotherly lady with a giving heart, though I’m afraid this book might teach my child that it is acceptable for random strangers (after all, Omu refers to her visitors as Ms. Police Officer, Mr. Hot Dog Vendor, etc.) to just show up at one’s door, unannounced and asking for free food.  Lucky for Omu that in a Capra-esque way, they return her generosity tenfold.  

However, the story would’ve been more believable had it centered on Omu’s apartment neighbors rather than nameless strangers.  

The illustrations aren’t that great, yet I liked them.  The inside of the book is printed with a birds-eye view of the city; the collaging medium using newspapers (in part) fit the big city vibe, though some of the cutouts (like the faceless people in the bus) seemed thrown in to fill space.  Some finer detail work would’ve added depth and interest–like a title on the book Omu was reading. The colors are muted and the paper almost has a recycled feel, the look making me think of brown paper bags–as humble and heartwarming as Omu’s stew.  

I didn’t like the font changing back and forth; font should always be kept plain when it’s part of the text.  (However, when it’s part of the art, anything goes.) Furthermore, I didn’t care for the giant “Knock” words as they came across as loud banging rather than polite knocking.

I’m glad the author included a policewoman but not a woman construction worker in the attempt to be politically correct at the expense of believability.  

What I got from this story is that food, made with love–including self-love–brings people together.  It was almost a Biblical allegory in that there was no way Omu made that much stew for herself yet had enough to feed everyone who came.

This was a nice effort, and one I will read to my daughter again.  Also check out the author’s website–very sleek and comprehensive.  

The little thank you card at the end was perfect–it brought me back to the days when my parents and I would invite the Mormon missionaries over for dinner, and they’d always leave one as a surprise.

Don’t let thank you cards become a thing of the past.

My note to the author:  “A thick red stew” was repeated so much, I wish the recipe had been included.  Little extras like that are like a lagniappe, and such would be a great addition to your site.

Suggested activity:  Go over the list of vocations mentioned in the book.  Ask what a cop does, a baker, a mayor, etc. Convey to your child that by working, we make the world work.  As a child, I loved dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up, which was everything from a “beauty shopper” (i.e. beautician) to a chocolate cake baker.  Let your child dream and imagine, showing them that working with your hands as well as your mind can help solve at least one of the world’s problems somewhere, and that a trade school certification is just as honorable as a college degree.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34642482-thank-you-omu

Book Review: A Parade of Elephants

Elephants

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

There is something sweet about the simplicity of this book.  It’s not great literature–it’s an early learning book–and would make a perfect shower gift.

In A Parade of Elephants, kids learn not so much about elephants but about counting, verbs, and opposites using elephants.  A book like this requires a bit of ad-libbing, but with a few words on the page and a little imagination, it can be done.  There is nothing more I hate than opening a book to find there are absolutely no words in it.  

The words are large and bold enough to point to as you read; the thick lines and  charming pastels are easy on the eyes. The layout was clean, the limited color palette kept it simple, and the words did not bleed onto the pictures or background.  What’s more, the story was punctuated properly (no violation of Fanboy rules). If you’re trying to teach your child to at least recognize certain punctuation symbols, this book has an ellipsis and an em dash.  For early reading purposes, words like “scattered” are a bit much, but there are plenty of sight words.  

My daughter enjoyed this one.  

Sure, some of the language could’ve been more interesting (they need to do more than march throughout the day, like playing, eating, etc.) and phrases like “Big and round and round they are.  Big and round and round they go” could’ve used some work. The second sentence makes a nice turn, but the first does not.  

However, at the end, when the elephants are shooting stars through their trumpets (i.e. trunks), “scattering stars across the sky,” it was like the grand finale of a fireworks show.  Just lovely.

A Parade of Elephants is as soporific as a lullaby, with lavender as a calming dominant color.  It’s a book I would’ve bought for my child if she was still a baby, maybe even a toddler.  

For something a little more fun and less babyish, I highly recommend Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/759611.Brown_Bear_Brown_Bear_What_Do_You_See), We Are Best Friends (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23604997-best-friends)–a perfect book to teach opposites and things that complement one another (even if the stanzas are quite silly), as well as the rest of the series, and Little Owl’s Day https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20307476-little-owl-s-day), as well as the night version.  Get them in the board book form; they will last longer, and you child will enjoy turning the page without worry that they’re going to rip it.

Suggested activity:  Before this book, I didn’t know that a group of elephants can also be called a parade.  I had only ever heard of herd. There are scores of books on animal groups, but in a pinch, you and your child can check out:  https://www.dictionary.com/e/strange-animal-groups-listicle/.  This is a great introduction–not only to other animals but to other words.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37811051-a-parade-of-elephants

My 1000th blog post! Then & Now

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Sarah Lea Stories was born in the blogosphere as sarahleastories@wordpress.com, eventually graduating to https://sarahleastories.com/

My first blog post was published on October 24, 2013:  https://sarahleastories.com/2013/10/24/the-treasury-of-the-sara-madre/.  I was a new mom, practically a newlywed, and hadn’t even started college yet. 

Since 2013, SLS has gone through many incarnations.  I was actually pretentious enough, once upon a time, to call myself The Populist Poetess; now I’m The Post-It Poet, bridging brevity with gender neutrality (I still prefer the terms actress and sculptress, but no one uses poetess).  Now, my concentration is on getting my B.A. in Creative Writing in three years (or less) and editing everything I’ve written thus far.

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It’s rather serendipitous that my 1000th blog post would fall on this day–as I finally made it to the local writer’s group I belong to–reconnecting (outside of Facebook and one-on-one chats over lunch or coffee) with friends I’ve known since before I started this blog (and making a new one).  It’s been at least two years since I’ve attended a meeting.  Throughout the months, perhaps even years, I’ve sort of kept up with the group through the monthly group emails, not realizing how much I’d missed it, missed them, till I went back today.

I’d gotten acquainted with the group through a Facebook political page in 2012 (the page’s administrator was a local woman).  No dues, only kind critiques were required.  It was perfect.

I always learn something from each of the members, who generally share their news and a piece they’ve written; sometimes we do a writing exercise.  This month’s prompt was to create a Twitter account for a deceased person (their handle, bio, and maybe even a web address), which became homework.  I’m not on Twitter anymore (it’s so impersonal, and there’s a lot of ugliness), but I love fun, short challenges like this.

We’re a diverse group–writing everything from magazine nonfiction to children’s books to blog posts to creative writing.   Today, I read a piece I’m submitting to Shutterfly for a $500 gift card contest, writing from the perspective of the giver rather than the receiver.  

It was just so good to be able to share something in my own voice.

Every book I’ve created through Shutterfly has had special significance, and I don’t just give them to anyone.  So many hours, I’d be in the Writing Lab with its giant monitors, perfecting them, reading them aloud where no one would hear me.  That Lab was where I spent most of my lunches for the several months I worked at the college after graduation. 

I am practically the unofficial brand ambassador for Shutterfly and am finalizing my ninth and tenth book through the site.  

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Writing is what I want to do more than anything else, and if it’s in technical writing, so be it.  It is still writing and every experience I have, whether it be writing press releases, biographies for an event program, articles for a newspaper, etc., it all helps me become a better writer.  Even when I worked for my alma mater’s Writing Lab, I learned so much.  It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

Practicality is what compelled me to major in Health Information Technology, but the only class I enjoyed (and I enjoyed it quite a lot) was Medical Terminology.  I still have a medical dictionary one of my professors gave me, but beyond that, it was excruciatingly painful to sit through those courses.  About halfway through the program, I realized I liked the idea of wearing scrubs and working evenings (not being an early morning person) in a big hospital more than I would like the work.  I could write about those things, but I could never be those things.  

I am finally pursuing what I’ve always wanted to do full-time.  I’ve never been much of a risk taker, and I am blessed to be able to do that now.  It just took four years of surviving, of barely making it financially, to get to that point.  

That said, no matter where life takes me careerwise, I will always blog at least twice weekly; I’ve learned a lot through blogging process:  how to schedule posts in advance, increase my SEO (by using key words), and add share buttons for Facebook, LinkedIn, et cetera–all basic but useful things.  Now if WordPress would just put more attractive ads on my page (without me having to pay to take them off), that would be the cats.

As I prepare for uni, I realize I’ve been writing so much that I haven’t been taking the time to edit anything, including my Southern Gothic horror novel, which I “advertise” on Fiction Fridays:  https://sarahleastories.com/category/fiction-fridays/.

While in school, I’m going to read a lot more nonfiction (about writing), finalize my book, and wrap up all my unfinished writing projects–not to mention all the writing I’ll be doing for class.  I have the prolific thing down; I just need the perfecting, the polish.   

My biggest advice to other bloggers is that you need readers who aren’t writers–people who won’t expect anything in return except great content.  Keep cranking it out, but always bank your marketable works to submit for paying opportunities.  That is why I only post poetry (i.e. my streams of consciousness with line breaks), book reviews, and the occasional personal essay (by the time most of my essays got published, it would be old news)–never chapters of my novel, short stories, or any portion of my children’s nursery rhyme collection, which I plan on hiring a student to illustrate (same goes for my book cover).  

 By the time I reach my 2000th post, I want to have:

  • Finished editing my novel, Because of Mindy Wiley, and have it ready to publish:  https://sarahleastories.com/because-of-mindy-wiley/
  • Finished my second collection of children’s nursery rhymes, Golden Plates and Silver Spoons
  • Been published in the print (or online) edition of The Saturday Evening Post
  • Making a good living writing (or where writing is part of the job) 
  • Graphically designing all my blog post images myself, eliminating the need for stock photos (and using my own photos whenever possible).  I became aware of just how awful stock photography was (not the quality of the image but the lack of originality on my part) when I saw an image I’d used for one of my posts elsewhere (in three different places)
  • Read at least 100 books on writing (and reviewed them)
  • And, most importantly, developed a lifelong love of books in my daughter–she already requests “Punch and Judy” every night, which is a delight

And, by my 2000th post, I will have graduated from college a second time.  For a while, I had considered being a polysomnographer (my dad has sleep apnea) or doing something with hearing aids (I have unilateral hearing loss), but being honest with myself and true to myself led me on the path that I should’ve taken all those years ago.

Writerly and Grammarly,
Sarah Richards, Class of 2022

Book Review: Sometimes I Lie

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Ever since the popularity of Gone Girl, books like this–unreliable women narrators–have been on the scene.  I’m just surprised this book didn’t have the word girl in it. I love unreliable narrators, but don’t have your character tell me that “sometimes I lie.”  

Let me figure that out.  

Sometimes I Lie promised to deliver, and it did, right up till the end.  The writing wasn’t stellar (e.g. using that ridiculous quote about being a human being, not a human doing), but the story compensated for the most part.  

Part of the problem with many of these books is that all or most of the women are either evil or dumb.  One is an emotionally-abusive alcoholic, another is a total psycho, and yet another is a fake (but real) bitch; to be fair, the men aren’t much better.  Everyone is shitty in this.

It takes a talented author to strategically place clues in such a way that we don’t notice them until the end–when everything crystallizes.  The clue that solves the case should be like a microscopic piece of DNA that blows it all wide open, giving us that “aha” moment. However, the author having a character go by more than one name (unless both names are connected in some way) is lazy and downright misleading.  

The Wife Between Us (which I didn’t bother reviewing as it was written by two authors) did the same thing.  

This book was separated into three separate time frames:  The diary of a 10-year-old, “walking Amber,” and “comatose Amber.”  There were plenty of dream sequences (i.e. filler) that we’re led to believe are real, only to be told, “Just kidding, never mind.”  It pisses you off.  

I was also led to believe that Amber and her husband, Paul, didn’t even like each other anymore, but then all of a sudden, they’re in love again–from cold to hot in 180 seconds.  

Furthermore, Madeline’s reveal didn’t pack a punch (who cares about this lady anyway?), and the old boyfriend didn’t add anything to the story.  I found it hard to believe that the ex would stay out of Amber’s life for twenty years only to start stalking her again. Reminded me of an episode of “Law & Order:  SVU,” so it must happen, right? Jo’s origin, however, surprised me, though she wasn’t a strong enough character for it to be intriguing.

A lot of women don’t like rape as a plot device; I just don’t like graphic scenes (leave it to the imagination, please) because then they comes acoss as trying to be titillating which is reprehensible.   

I did not care for the little lists (I found them quite silly); I love nursery rhymes as much as anyone else, but just state that a character is singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”–don’t spell it out, for I just end up skipping over those stanzas.  At least put a new spin on an old rhyme or better yet, create a new one (but keep them divided into couplets–most people don’t want to read poetry in a novel; it can stagnate a story, though it was done beautifully in The Wife Between Us).

Sometimes I Lie would’ve been better had been written in the third-person; with first-person, the character has to be incredibly compelling–either relatable or interesting.  Amber is neither until the end, when she seemingly snaps out of whatever funk she’s been in for years to suddenly become this commanding presence–almost as if killing something (or someone–don’t want to spoil it) brings something inside her back to life.  

There were a few loose threads:  I never figured out why she didn’t like her mother–the woman Amber was describing as an adult did not sound at all like the woman described in the diaries.  Did Taylor really tell her to do it?  And who sent the bracelet at the end?  This is where you absolutely do not leave the rest of the reader’s imagination.  You’re the writer–wrap it up!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32326398-sometimes-i-lie

Book Review: Dreamers

Dreamers

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

This is a case where the author’s personal story was more compelling than the one she wrote.  As for the illustrations, there is something very spiritual and surreal about them–the kinaesthetics reminded me of the frescoes of Michelangelo, the angles and bold color scheme, of Picasso.  However, I didn’t understand the significance of the skirt made of colorful feathers that seemed to defy gravity, the meaning of the people with the protests signs, or the symbolism of the eyeball in the strawberry.  It is a rare talent to be able to tell stories with words and pictures, but Morales should just stick with drawing because this was a poem trying to be a story.

The author’s love of libraries was evident–including the names/book covers of her favorite books was a stroke was perfect.  The magic of libraries seemed to be the major theme of the story rather than the angst of resettling in a foreign country in which there is a language barrier. 

There was no juxtaposition between the author’s birth country and her adopted one; a little compare and contrast (like she did in the back of the book), as well as a more narrative storytelling style, would’ve added much more context to the pictures. 

In short, the story did not do the pictures justice. 

Morales was spot-on in making the point that when you are able to communicate in the primary language of the country you are living in, you can make your voice heard.  People just won’t listen (they won’t take the time to) if they don’t understand you. That is why literacy–not just in speaking but in reading and writing–is so important.  As for the Spanish words scattered in random places, I wish the definitions had been included. Having to look them up separately (or on my phone while reading) would’ve disrupted the flow of the story.

I’m glad the author made a distinction about what the word “dreamer” meant to her, though because of how the word is used today, I would’ve probably used another title. 

The “extras” were better than the story, such as the list of other books the author found inspiring, as well as how she did the art (sometimes, the process is more interesting than the product).  However, her immigration story was the only part of this book that I found interesting; I thought it wonderful that she included actual names. What a delight that would be to be one of the people mentioned as having made such a difference in someone’s life.  I can only imagine how hard it is coming to a country where you don’t know the language (the language you are working hard to learn) and how relieving it would be to know that you had a friend you could trust–a friend who knew that language who could not only help you learn it but a friend who would watch out for you.

Ultimately, this story did not hold my daughter’s attention; so many children’s books are written only for the adults who choose to read to their children.  This, to me, was one of them.

Btw, I think if you’re going to give a book less than three stars, it would be nice if you would at least tell the author why in a civil way.  Otherwise, it comes across as mean-spirited.

Suggested activity:  Find a wall-sized world map, and, using pins (or tiny stickers), start pinning locations where the books you’re reading are published.  (The Fox on the Swing– earlier in this summer reading challenge–was published in Lithuania.)  Let your child pick a place; just fill your map with pins.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39651067-dreamers

Book Review: Drawn Together

Drawn

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

This book’s heart was in the right place, but I don’t particularly enjoy picture books unless the illustrations are simple (usually board books).  The ad-libbing I had to do at the beginning was too much work for a bedtime story.  

However, I liked the idea of this book–of an Americanized grandson and his traditional grandfather communicating through art, though I wondered why the grandson never tries to learn his grandfather’s first (and seemingly only) language (which I’m assuming is Vietnamese as that is the author’s ethnicity), just as I wondered why the grandfather hasn’t tried to learn any English.  Wouldn’t it make sense to at least try to learn some rudimentary language that is prevalent in your country of residence? I would’ve much preferred to see grandfather and -son at least struggle to understand one another via the spoken word rather than just accept that they will never be able to communicate in any other way except through art; even then, they can’t have a conversation about what they’ve created–proof that a picture does not equal 1000 words.

The art is well-done (the picture of the grandfather and son hugging strummed my heartstrings), even if it isn’t my style (I’m not into dragons and superheroes).  I appreciate Mr. Santat’s art the way I appreciate Shakespeare, opera, and Andy Warhol; such takes an incredible amount of talent and skill to draw with such precision and infusion of color–it just wasn’t for me. 

With books like these, I wonder why the author should get top billing over the illustrator–the illustrator carried this story.  There’s only 102 words in the book.  

Suggested activity:  Art was my favorite class in elementary school; I try to pass that love down to my daughter by showing her that art is fun–by doing it with her.  For a child who prefers music to art (like mine), you have to think outside the crayon box. A blog I have found extremely useful for affordable art ideas is The Artful Parent:  https://artfulparent.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34791219-drawn-together

Book Review: King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth

Kayla

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

This was a nice book but nothing special.  I like that it’s trying to get kids into mysteries, using their problem solving, critical thinking, and powers of deduction/process of elimination skills.  I also liked that it showed that if you want to solve a mystery, you have to “write stuff down”; Kayla and her friend Mason not only write down what they know but what they don’t know (an interesting concept).  However, if the solve had been more interesting than simply a case of overlooking something, I would’ve liked it a bit better.  

The story was told from the dog’s point-of-view, which was a good call; a children’s book should rarely be told from the parent’s point-of-view.  

But the idea of a communal/classroom tooth pillow seems rather unsanitary–is this a thing now?  

I didn’t like that this was divided into chapters because this is the kind of story that needs to be read in one sitting.  Use a bookmark if you want a stopping point. Teaching a child to use a bookmark (rather than folding down the corner of a page or turning the book over so that it puts pressure on the spine) is a good habit to instill early on.  Whenever I’m reviewing an adult book, I have multiple bookmarks handy, so I can refer back to certain passages.

The Case of the Lost Tooth is a paint-by-the-numbers book where the dots all look the same.  Kayla needed a more interesting personality, though King is all dog.  Captain Cat Obvious needed a bigger role, for he could’ve added a bit of spice to this overly sweet book.  The tooth fairy could’ve also joined in the search but maybe kids–just like with Santa Claus–aren’t supposed to see the tooth fairy.  However, the note under Kayla’s pillow was a nice touch.  

Using the dog’s best sleuthing tool–his nose–King and Kayla solved this non-mystery.  The moral of the story? Dig a little deeper–literally.

The illustrations were somewhat eighties (i.e. reminiscent of my childhood).  The lack of background/negative space made it very readable, though ultimately, the visuals fell flat, and the story wasn’t compelling enough to make me want to read the other installments.  This was too long for a read-aloud, but short and simple enough for early readers–a book my child would have to choose on her own for me to pick it up again.

Suggested activity:  There are lots of children’s books that talk about the tooth fairy.  However, if your child is old enough, you can also talk about how dogs help humans solve mysteries (e.g. find missing children–I would not get into finding corpses), help the blind navigate a seeing world, etc.   Here is a good listicle outlining all the ways dogs improve the lives of humans. https://www.petfriendly.ca/articles/how-dogs-help-people.php

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36928748-king-kayla-and-the-case-of-the-lost-tooth

Book Review: Night Job

Night Job

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

Night Job is the touching story of a little boy who accompanies his dad to work the third shift, cleaning up a middle school on Friday nights.  The idea of “take your child to work day” is a cool concept–it’s good for children to see how hard their parents work to provide for them, though I was surprised that the dad was able to bring his son because of liability issues, but that’s another lesson for another age.

Books that highlight the special relationship between fathers and sons touch my heart, for it is from dads that boys learn how to be men, including how to treat women.  No mother is shown in this, so I assumed the dad was single. I also inferred that this little family is impoverished–from the dad’s vocation as a custodian, eating egg salad sandwiches, and living in what looked like an extended stay facility–but the author does a splendid job of showing that their poverty is only limited to material things, not in adventure or love.  

However, this book was much too short; we see the gymnasium, the cafeteria, and the library, but not the classrooms and not enough of the exhilarating ride on the motorcycle, capturing the city when it’s sleeping.  There weren’t enough background details in the book–I couldn’t make out the name of the middle school or the particulars of the newspaper they were reading (much more detail was given with the baseball game). Details such as these would’ve added interest to the pages; a few more sensory details (touch, taste, smell) would’ve made it shine like a full moon.

I didn’t care for the building sighing and the chair whispering, Come–it didn’t fit in with the rest of the story, which is very Point A to Point B in its storytelling style.  This was realism, not escapism. There is also some odd wording, such as “a ring of keys as big as the rising moon” (moons don’t rise) and “from stem to stern,” which is nautical terminology.  

On recursive readings, I realized there was no dialogue–just the little boy telling a story–but it worked.  There is no conversation between the dad and his son when they’re having lunch; though the fact that there was conversation is probably understood (i.e. they didn’t just sit in the courtyard eating in complete silence), it would’ve been nice to mention what they talked about (e.g. baseball, cafeteria food, etc.) 

Though the dad is often busy working, the boy is always with him, not wandering off by himself–shooting baskets in the gym, listening to the radio in the cafeteria (rather than half-watching a television), reading his dad a story before falling asleep in the library, and even pitching in by helping clean the hallway floors.  

I also liked that it showed them doing lots of reading–the boy with the books, the dad with the newspaper, and not vegging out in front of a TV after a long night’s work.  (It was also nice to see an apple core instead of a snack cake wrapper in the lunch box.) It doesn’t show the dad playing with his son but just being there for him and with him, which is what a lot of parenthood is actually like.  Kids like to entertain themselves more than adults realize.  

Other goodreads reviewers mentioned that the language was too advanced for the boy’s age, such as “dusky highway” and “rising swell of dreams”; I agree.  I love the imagery these words evoke, but it must fit the character. To make such language more believable, the author would’ve had to tell the story in the third-person, and it would’ve lost so much.

The illustrations aren’t beautiful, but they tell the story beautifully.  The fact that most of them are gray-hued to fit the nocturnal atmosphere makes them perfect.

Overall, Night Job is a sweet book about a simple life–a life a lot of kids could probably relate to.

Suggested activity:  If your job offers a “Take your Child to Work Day,” take them up on it.  If this isn’t a possibility, find books about your profession or trade.  Even if your job is considered an “unskilled job,” reiterate to your child that all jobs are important and detail their purposes.  This will teach them to respect all those who put in an honest day’s work.  In relation to this book, tell them what the school would look like without someone to clean it.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38256476-night-job

Book Review: The Girl Before

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This book was absolutely unputdownable.  It also had a strange effect on me:  It put me into decluttering mode, bigtime, and I’m already a minimalist (which is not about having nothing but about having just the right amount).  The Girl Before made me think of all the clutter in my life, including the clutter inside my head as well as virtual clutter.  

The questionnaire scattered throughout was a novel idea (no pun intended)–a nice change from opening a chapter with a quote that someone else said.

Here is just a glimpse of the great writing in The Girl Before (p. 170):  Sometimes I have a sense that this house–our relationship in it, with it, with each other–is like a palimpsest or a pentimento, that however much we try to overpaint Emma Matthews, she keeps tiptoeing back; a faint image, an enigmatic smile, stealing its way into the corner of the frame.

Any book that gets me to learn a new word must have something going for it.  

I found it interesting that there were no quotation marks in Emma’s story, and even more surprising that it look me halfway through the book to notice this.  Is this a UK thing? I remember reading Harlequin Presents (a long time ago, so don’t judge) when apostrophes were used instead of quotations.  I am curious what the symbolism was concerning this.

Edward Monkford (what a pretentious name) evokes an image of Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead; other goodreads reviewers have said Christian Grey (I’ve seen the movies but never read the books and don’t care to).  His crazy house rules were fascinating–like the technology that controlled the house was fascinating. The concept that a house can change the way you live–actually help you live a better life–was fascinating, but Monkford himself was not.  He was a pig–just a well-spoken, better-dressed, affluent pig. (I guess you really can put lipstick on a pig, if you got enough to smear it with.)  

The women, Emma (THEN) and Jane (NOW), are both incredibly stupid because they think with their sex and not their brains.  Emma seemed like a closet hoarder who called her paramour “Daddy” (ew) and liked angry sex (even when the anger was directed at her).  She was a freak (yet we are told that she has charm). 

Compared to her, Jane was milquetoast.

Even though the women were not portrayed positively, it’s fairly realistic as a lot of women choose to have babies with losers (because they don’t need a man and think their sons and daughters don’t need a father).  Sometimes, they even marry these losers and put them above their children. It’s incredible how many male inmates (who are in prison for murdering women) get fan letters from women–women they’ve never even met.  

I never knew whether Emma’s last story was for real but it doesn’t matter.  THEN & NOW were both enjoyable.

But, back to Monkford:  A lot of women like egotistical, controlling men because they see it as take-charge masculinity.  Monkford is one of those ruthless corporate types who is also a temperamental artist (an explosive combination) who would blow up a perfectly decent development that would provide affordable housing to families if it had his name on it, but there was something about the aesthetics (just like the idealistic, anti-hero Roark) that didn’t align with his vision.  Furthermore, Monkford uses women until he uses them up (after all, he finds them so easily). He is incapable of love, for he can’t even love his own, imperfect kin. He likes his women damaged (and in the beginning anew stage), so he can turn them into blank canvases he can manipulate. His structures may be beautiful, but I didn’t get the impression they were very green.  All that extra, empty space has to be heated and cooled.

Monkford was such a commanding presence in the book that the other male characters barely registered.

The ending was weak, but the journey was so intriguing, the destination didn’t matter (it just knocked off a star).  It had the mysterious feel of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which I appreciated, but the nightshades of Gone Girl came out of the blue, for there was a turn in one of the character’s motives that wasn’t led up to or hinted at in any way.  I understand the author doesn’t want the reader to figure out everything too soon–in case the reader loses interest, but if the writing’s good, your reader won’t; a well-written story always trumps a twist ending.  What’s more, when the true villain is revealed, it’s anticlimactic, for it seemed I found out at the same time the author did.  

Jane could’ve used a little more to wrap up her story but then we’re introduced to Astrid, and the story stops (and, I’m sure, begins again there).  I did, however, like the tie-in to the title in the last part of her story. Nicely done!  

Besides being unputdownable, The Girl Before has immense readability.  

One gripe that has nothing to do with the book:  I don’t like authors going by different names.  What is the point of this? Are they not allowed to cross genres with the same name?  There is another author who does this, and I find it irritating.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28016509-the-girl-before