Saturday, July 30, 2016

This blog is moving!

Hi friends!  All of these posts will remain available here, but all new posts will be on a new blog Bookish Adventures, so I hope you will all continue to follow me there.  Thanks!

Friday, May 6, 2016


Jim Murphy's fascinating new book tells the story the life saving technique that has saved thousands of lives.  Prior to 1944 people with heart defects were basically given a death sentence.  There was no such thing as open heart surgery, and most doctors believed it was deadly to even touch a beating heart.  Consequently, thousands of "blue babies" died every year. These children were born with heart defects that prevented their blood from getting enough oxygen.

Three people were instrumental in this medical breakthrough.  Dr. Alfred Blalock was already a famous surgeon because of his pioneering efforts in treating shock patients.  He would be the one to perform the first operation on a blue baby.

His lab assistant, an African American man named Vivien Thomas was instrumental in developing the procedure that would become so revolutionary, but he would have to overcome many personal and professional struggles to do so.

Dr. Helen Taussig spent her career studying heart defects in babies and children and had a sense of urgency to find a solution.  She didn't want to watch any more children die.  She, like Vivien Thomas, had to deal with prejudice in a white male dominated profession.

This book gives background on each of the major players, sets the scene, and describes the drama of that first procedure and its aftermath.

Engaging and readable, this book is highly recommended!

Warning, this book does describe the animal testing that was necessary in developing the cure, but Murphy does a great job of contrasting the doctors' side with that of animal rights activists.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


In the Old Kingdom, there is still magic.  There are charter mages who can use that power to build or to destroy.  There are necromancers who can travel in death; sometimes they don't come back alone.

Sabriel's father is the Abhorsen.  He is a type of necromancer but not one who works with the charter.  Long ago the charter made order out of chaos and bound many of the free magic creatures who would consume and destroy.  While other necromancers work against the charter to bring the dead back into life for their own power and purposes, the Abhorsen makes sure the dead stay dead.

Sabriel is away at school beyond the wall that separates the Old Kingdom from the modern world.  When she gets the message that her father is missing, she must travel back to the Old Kingdom to Abhorsen's house to discover what has happened to her father and to try and save him.

But there is more to this story than simply a missing father or even a missing Abhorsen.  An evil more than 200 years old is awakening, and his goal is to destroy.  With the help of Moggett, a creature who takes the shape of cat, but is certainly no ordinary feline and Touchstone, a swordsman and charter mage with his own secret past, Sabriel will not only have to complete her quest, but she will have to accept her destiny for good or ill.

I first read this series over 10 years ago, and I recently decided to reread the whole trilogy as Garth Nix is adding more titles to the Old Kingdom world.  I cannot recommend them highly enough for fans of dark complex fantasy.  I still enjoyed the entire series as much today as I did the first time.


When Daniel's dad loses his job, the family decides to downsize.  They leave their comfortable home and private school behind for an old farmhouse in West Virginia and a poorly funded public school.  If that weren't bad enough, the place give him the creeps.  He always feels like someone is watching from the woods surrounding the house.

The kids quickly set Daniel and his little sister, Erica, apart as outsiders and tease them mercilessly.  Even though Daniel and Erica have never been close, they form an alliance to survive.  As time passes, Erica spends more and more time talking to the doll their parents gave her in exchange for giving up their old life.

His parents struggle to find work, and they spend more time arguing with each other than anything else.  This new start is turning out to be a disaster.

Then there are the rumors about about an impossibly old woman who lives in the forest and steals little girls.  Daniel knows it's just a story, but he can't seem to shake the uneasy feeling he gets from the woods.  What if Old Auntie is real?  What if she wants Erica for her next victim?

This is another fast-paced ghost story full of chills and atmosphere from Mary Downing Hahn!  I read Wait Til Helen Comes when I was nine years old and fell in love with ghost stories.  I love passing her books on to my students today!

Rebel Mechanics

It's 1888, and America is still a British colony.  The ruling class of magisters have used their magical abilities to control everyone else and slow the progress of technology.  Verity is newly arrived in New York City in search of a position as a governess.  When she is hired by a powerful and wealthy magister family, her life takes a surprising turn.  The job is easy and the children's guardian, their young uncle, barely pays attention to what is happening at home.

This is a stroke of luck for Verity since the first new friends she made in the city are actually members of the Rebel Mechanics, a group that wants to use steam power and technology to overthrow British rule.  The Rebels ask her to use her position to spy for them, and Verity agrees.  It doesn't hurt that one of the leaders is very handsome and very interested in Verity.

But she has suspicions about her new employer, too.  Is he really the bumbling amateur scientist he presents himself to be, or is there something more going on?

The stakes keep getting higher as the story progresses and Verity finds herself caught not just in a political tangle but possibly a romantic one as well.

Fans of steampunk, strong female characters, and light romance will enjoy Shanna Swedson's new series!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

How Lunchbox Jones Saved Me from Robots, Traitors, and Missy the Cruel

Luke's middle school has a reputation for being the biggest losers in the state--probably anywhere.  The trophy case is practically empty.  That's all just fine with Luke since he'd rather race home everyday and play Alien Onslaught with his online friend.

But somehow he gets suckered into joining the school robotics team.  He doesn't care about robots.  He doesn't even know anything about robots.  And this is the worst team ever!  The two Jacobs break everything, Mikayla is obsessed with using her feet for everything, Stuart leaves a trail of sunflower seeds behind him everywhere he goes, and, oh yeah, don't forget about Lunchbox, the biggest, meanest kid at Forest Grove Middle School.  How did this become Luke's life?

He's also pretty angry at his older brother, Rob, who is supposed to be his best friend.  But best friends don't just join the Marines and abandon you, so Luke is trying to pretend Rob doesn't exist.

That won't work forever, but right now he's got to figure out how to deal with robotics.  Give the rest of the team smallpox?  Maybe.  Or maybe this misfit team has a chance to bring Forest Shade Middle its first trophy.  Ha!  Who am I kidding?

Read Jennifer Brown's new book about robots and friendship!

Enchanted Air

This memoir in verse tells of the author's childhood spent traveling back and forth from California to Cuba to visit her mother's family.  To Margarita Cuba is a magical place filled with family, friends, animals, and delicious food.  It is like a fairy tale paradise especially compared to her noisy life in Los Angeles.

Like her mother, she longs for the yearly trips to Cuba where she can breathe the fragrant air and ride horses through the countryside.  But she will soon be cut off from her paradise.

When a conflict between leaders escalates to the brink of war in the Cuban Missile Crisis, all travel to and from Cuba is suspended, and Margarita's American and Cuban families are separated.

Margarita Engle's new memoir in verse is a beautiful love letter to Cuba and an authentic coming of age story.  Highly recommended!