penny in a castle

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Page Turners

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Since the beginning of the new year, I’ve had an opportunity to read a few books.  Almost all of them have been exclusively from the library. In honour of summer reading, I’m sharing what my eyeballs have scanned so far this year:

The Horn Book of Children’s Literature.  I took this book out of the library. I wish I had known of its existence when my children were born.  It is a series of essays by children’s authors and researchers discussing what makes great literature – and then provides examples.  Prior to reading this book, I’ve never really thought about what makes a great board book, or alphabet book or even a good dinosaur book.  I find the advice and examples for younger children are better than for older children, but that could just be the nature of the business and the fact that ever second tweenager book involves vampires these days. Also, the book is clearly focused on an American audience.  As a parent though, trying to figure out where to spend my hard earned dollars on books – especially when children are less able to provide an opinion beyond a loving and seeing a character they recognize from TV –  having a book like this as reference is handy.  Final verdict – I took it out of the library, but if I found a copy earlier in parenthood, I would have bought it.  Next best option – check out the Horn Book Website at

Under Pressure by Carl Honare. One day, I happened to drift maybe a little too close to the Parenting Section of the library.  This is where I found this book and the next.  This book by a Canadian self-confessed ex-hyper-parent-er, discusses how children, families and ultimately society is going to heck in a hand basket because we put too much pressure on our children to do too much (and at the same time too little).  In general, I would say amen and tend to agree that as a society we tend to be a bit too tough on our little darlings.  However, I found this book a little to preachy and provided a few too many anecdotes for and against each of his arguments. By the end I was confused – are we forcing our kids to perform in sports and school to the point they are having nervous breakdowns? Or are we letting them get off too easily, spending all their time playing video games? In the end I came away thinking that our parenting, while not perfect or completely balanced pretty much hits the right note of moderation.  I have a sneaking suspicion though that Carl maybe hasn’t actually slowed down quite enough to appreciate his own advice.  Final verdict – Do you race around all week long to activities for your children and constantly eat out of a take-out box?  Do you expect them to both be a virtuoso musician AND a star athlete? Do you expect them to get all As all the time?  Are you exhausted just trying to turn them into a mini version of the you that you wish you could be?  This book is for you.  If, on the other hand, you have a good balance of school, family, activities, trips to the park and veg out time – you can probably skip it.

Masterminds and Wingmen by Rosalind Wiseman.  I have two boys, one of whom seems to be approaching tweenagerhood at the speed of light.  Being an old lady, I often worry that I’m not in touch with what is going on in his wee brain or ensuring his emotional/mental health is okay.  I have to admit, I’m probably a bit of an overprotective momma bear, and at the same time, I don’t want to stifle him. I’m looking for clues that will give him the right training wheels to get him to adulthood. In other words, I want something impossible and that does not exist.  I picked up this book hoping it might help guide me as a parent without an instruction booklet.

In the book, Ms. Wiseman lays out the different kinds of roles boys play in their social circles (Masterminds, Wingmen, Clowns, Outcasts etc) and then the kinds of behaviours and relationships that come as a result of playing these different roles.  Then she indicates that boys won’t probably talk to you as the parent and when they do, it will probably be mostly half truths at best, but more likely lies.  I have to admit, while it’s great to have a healthy dose of reality when it comes to parenting, I found the tone and advice more than a little depressing.  I preferred Barry Macdonald’s take on bringing up boys better – Boys on Target and Boy Smarts (a kind friend loaned these to me).  His approach is much more positive and provides specific advice on why your boy-child is behaving the way he is and how to build a relationship with them. Final Verdict: A worthwhile read, but there are better options out there.

Something Rotten, Jasper Fford. Finally – broke the parenting book pattern with this gleeful fantasy set (as Max Headroom would say) twenty minutes into the future.  I bought this one at a second hand sale for fifty cents.  In this installment of the alternate reality of Thursday Next, she returns home to see if she can save her non-existent husband and save the world from certain destruction.  As always there are puns and word play galore, and hair pin plot twists that take you to the edge of death – and back again.  To discuss any further would be to give it away (plus you need to read all the books that come before it first).  Final verdict: I’ve always enjoyed reading Fforde’s books.  They make me giggle and occasionally laugh out loud.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain.  I have heard a lot about this book from various friends who have read it.  Have done a Meyer’s Brigg test, I know I score well into the introvert side of the scale, and I was very curious to read more about myself. I admittedly have been a bit short on cash and did not want to pay full price for this book.  And the waiting list at the library was long.  So, I fired up the e-book (I’m not a fan of e-books, but I have one. This is a story for another time) and put a hold on the much shorter line for it. I did not have to wait long for my number to come up.   Up front, I have to admit, I was not initially happy with the book. It spent a long time dissing extroverts – or at least setting up a relationship similar to that between Americans and Canadians (that is, how do we as Canadians define ourselves?  As “not American.”). I didn’t see much use in that – after all don’t extroverts have as much to bring to the table as introverts? However, as the book rolled along, I started to see myself in it. Quite a few light bulb moments went off.  Why is it that I find church challenging (it may sound odd, but there is a section on this) and not in a faith based kind of way. Why do I have so much trouble talking on the phone?  Why do I not feel motivated by awards at work?  Why can’t I hear the person standing in front of me when I’m in a crowd? Why do have certain kinds of relationships and worry more about the people around me? I found some of the advice valuable as well (recognizing networking/conference events to be challenging, go with the goal to meet ONE person)  Final verdict: I would buy this book so I can read it again. As a matter of fact, I tried to for my e-book and then had technical challenges. I would definitely recommend to anyone that thinks that they might be introverted. Just gloss over the extrovert bashing a bit.

What Makes Olga Run, Bruce Grierson.  I read about this book in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (which I skim for work purposes). It had a great review and so I looked for it in the library.  The author follows a 90 plus track star and tries to figure out why and how she is still doing track and field and even improving in her ten events.  He links her anecdotes and experiences with those of other aging masters athletes and the latest research (of which there is not much because people aren’t generally doing track at that age).   The result is a fascinating, easy to read book about how to keep your quality of life in your later years.  As someone who is well into their middle-age, with aging parents, it’s worth considering.  Final verdict: Factual and fun, with some life lessons on the run.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams.  I was wandering the stacks of the library (I think I was looking for a shark book for my son) and found this book. I had not realized the creator of Dilbert was also a writer of self-help books.  It was an interesting follow-up to Olga because they are wildly different books but both in the end have similar advice – think positively, exercise regularly and moderately, don’t eat like an idiot, get enough sleep and you will be a happier person.  We are being told this constantly in different ways, and I think intuitively we know this. This is advice I can get behind. (Not sure I get behind ALL the advice provided in this book.  Affirmations are not going to solve my problems. But I do think thinking more positively is a good step).  I also found his theory of “Goals are for losers, systems work,” interesting.  That is, working towards a goal will only get you to that goal but it won’t help you stay there – but creating systems and habits that create live long change are more useful.  I’ve started to think about this and how to put it to work. I’ve started asking myself “How is that system working out for you?” and if the answer is “it’s not” trying to figure out how to change it.  Final verdict: Mr. Adams has certainly had an interesting and varied life. I would not use it as a model, but some of his advice rings true.  Take with a heavy dose of salt.

Shadow of the Night, Deborah Harkness. Another departure into fantasy.  Utter, trashy, romance-y, fantasy.  This is the second in the All Souls Trilogy and reads a bit like the Twilight series meets a Phillipa Gregory novel. No redeeming qualities whatsoever. Perfect for summer on the beach. Verdict:  Park your brain at the first page.  Library loan only.  Admittedly, I’ll see if I can take a loan out on the third installment Book of Life at some point.

Currently reading: Cheap, the High Cost of Discount Culture, Ellen Ruppel Shell. I don’t buy a lot, but when I do, I will admit to looking for the best bargain (just as anyone else would).  I found this book while I had a two hour vacation at the library recently (my daughter was at a birthday party and I had time to kill). Just into the first chapter which covers the origin and rise of department stores.  It’s a bit factoid heavy so far but I will let you know how it goes.


Written by pennyinacastle

July 1, 2015 at 10:22 pm

Posted in books

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