Posts Tagged ‘4 stars’

Book Review: Animals of the Bible illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop

January 8th, 2016

Books are about words, right?

Of course, right.

Or at least that’s what I’ve always thought.

While I read picture books, I really only care about the words.

While I’ve been reading picture books for years, I’ve typically only cared about the words.

But after reading Baby Read-Aloud Basics, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the pictures, especially when reading out loud to Tirzah Mae. Then, I read Donald Crews’ Freight Train (recommended by Baby Read-Aloud Basics) and was absolutely enthralled by the illustrations. The library copy I’d borrowed featured a Caldecott Honor Medallion – which inspired me to look at the Caldecott Award.

I discovered that the Caldecott Medal is given by the American Library Association (ALA) to the illustrator of an outstanding picture book.

Okay, okay. If the ALA considers illustrations important enough to give an award for them, maybe I should pay a little bit of attention to them.

And what better way, I figured, than to read through the Caldecott Award winners?

Dorothy P. Lathrop received the very first Caldecott award for her Animals of the Bible, published in 1937.

My library’s copy had to be retrieved from storage, and I was interested to see the penciled-in note on the front flyleaf indicating that water damage had been officially noted 9/17/70.

The text of Lathrop’s Animals of the Bible consists entirely of passages from the King James Version of the Bible, all of them pertaining to animals in some fashion. Each story (with a few exceptions) is accompanied by a full-page black-and-white illustration.

Reading this (and looking at the pictures) reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder, looking at the pictures in Pa’s big Bible and in his animal book.

I couldn’t help think of the great differences in picture book illustrations since 1937. Perhaps the easiest to note is the change from black-and-white to full-color illustrations – but even more striking is the variation in level of detail. It certainly seems that recent illustrations tend towards the cartoonish, with spare details. But the further back one looks, the more detailed the illustrations tend to be.

Lathrop’s illustrations are highly realistic montages of multiple animals in distinct environments along with carefully drawn plants. They are delightful (apart from the unfortunate addition of halos on Jesus and the angels, a convention I rather detest.)

I can see a preschool or early elementary child enjoying these illustrations, although I think said child would likely be overwhelmed by the King James English of the text. Then again, I’ve never been much of an illustration person, and I may be translating my own tastes to a child – if you can find this book at the library, I’d find it there and try it out on your child before buying.


Rating: 3-4 stars
Category: Children’s picture book
Synopsis: A collection of “animal” passages from the King James Bible along with striking full-page black and white illustrations.
Recommendation: Children might be interested in the illustrations, not sure how easily they’ll get the King James English.

Book Review: Thank You, Dr. Lamaze by Marjorie Karmel

August 18th, 2015

Marjorie Karmel had no intention of reading Grantley Dick-Reed’s Childbirth without Fear, which a friend had pressed into her hands at a dinner party. Marjorie wasn’t afraid of childbirth. She’d be out, after all.

But when she was desperately seasick on her trip back from New York to France, she picked up the book and started reading, fascinated. The book brought up all sorts of repressed memories (a terrible story of her mom’s delivery of her, a friend who’d told her about her own not-so-pleasant delivery, all previously forgotten) but also gave her hope for another way.

She asked around in Paris, searching for a doctor who’d be willing to let her try a natural childbirth – and found Dr. Lamaze.

Dr. Lamaze practiced a form of “Pavlovian childbirth”, based on Ivan Pavlov’s conditioned reflexes. Apparently, this form of childbirth was popular in the Soviet Union – but Lamaze advanced the technique, adding certain breathing methods and whatnot.

In Thank You, Dr. Lamaze, Marjorie Karmel writes of the wonderful experience she had giving birth to her first child in a Parisian hospital with a monitrice (doula) who’d taught her the Lamaze techniques and Dr. Lamaze attending – and she tells of using that same technique to give birth naturally in a New York hospital with much less natural-childbirth-friendly practices (and practitioners.)

I raced through this memoir, finding it absolutely fascinating.

Why? What was so interesting?

Well, the first is obvious. I love the process of birthing, love learning about the process of birthing. I wanted to be a midwife when I was a kid. I’d still love to be a midwife. It’s amazing.

But beyond that, it was interesting because it was a story of birthing practices at a certain point in time – and was a story that sparked significant changes in how birthing is done in America. It is through Karmel’s “ASPO” (American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics), now called “Lamaze International”, that things like having your husband present during labor and delivery became mainstream in America. Yet some of the aspects of how Karmel gave birth have been rejected by modern natural childbirth organizations, including Lamaze International.

Another interesting aspect was hearing about Karmel’s experience trying out a “natural childbirth course” at an American hospital. The class was led by a facilitator rather than a teacher – and the facilitator kept pointing out how every woman is different (and therefore there aren’t any general principles for women to learn to help them understand the process) and how medications will always be available if needed. The bulk of the class ended up being women talking about their past experiences or expected experiences – with very little learning about the actual process of birth or of ways to deal with it. I thought Karmel’s description was fascinating, because I feel like I’ve heard about that same class – except taught in these days :-)

It’s a short book, an easy read, and interesting to people like me. :-)


Rating:4 stars
Category: Birth Memoir
Synopsis: Karmel shares her story of giving birth naturally in a Paris hospital with Dr. Lamaze’s techniques – and of applying the same techniques in a New York hospital with less aware attendants.
Recommendation: Definitely worth reading for those who enjoy this sort of thing

Book Review: The Lion’s World by Rowan Williams

August 5th, 2015

Why did C.S. Lewis write The Chronicles of Narnia?

Some praise Lewis’s “Christian allegory”, while others rage against the heavy handed allegory – Polly Toynbee of the Guardian writes that “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion” and quotes Philip Pullman saying that Narnia is “one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read.” (Her critical column can be found here).

But C.S. Lewis made it clear that Narnia was not intended allegorically – although he did have a purpose in writing Narnia, a purpose Toynbee quotes as to “make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life”.

In The Lion’s World, Rowan Williams expands upon Lewis’s stated purpose, suggesting that “Lewis is trying to recreate for the reader what it is like to encounter and believe in God.” It’s a fascinating suggestion, and one that Williams backs up rather credibly with various arguments.

But The Lion’s World is not a book of arguments. Instead, it is more like sitting down for book club with one of the smartest and most widely read persons of your acquaintance and listening with fascinated interest as he gives his thoughts. And lest you think smartest and most widely read equals most pompous, let me quickly dissuade you of that idea. Williams is humble and approachable as well.

I didn’t take notes as I read, didn’t flag paragraphs, didn’t file things away for comment in my review. I just read, delighting as Williams danced from theme to theme, bringing up things I’d felt but not put together as I read the Chronicles.

Williams does not accept Lewis’s theology unquestioningly, he occasionally notes a tricky theological or cultural comment or a clunky bit of prose. But The Lion’s World doesn’t exist either as an apologetic or as a critic of the Chronicles or of Lewis – it is written as a conversation from one Chronicles enthusiast to another.

It was a pleasure to read. And, at just 144 gift-book-sized pages, it was an easy read too.


Rating: 4 stars
Category: Commentary on the Chronicles of Narnia
Synopsis: Rowan Williams discusses a number of themes he sees throughout the Chronicles of Narnia.
Recommendation: Fans of the Chronicles will likely find this book enjoyable.

Book Review: Lean Mommy by Lisa Druxman

July 24th, 2015

Most women, regardless of their history, experience some degree of dissatisfaction with their bodies after having a baby. I, despite my long history of being comfortable in my own skin, have been no exception.

It wasn’t particularly about the weight for me – although that contributes. Because of how much fluid I’d gained, I lost over 50 pounds in the first three weeks of Tirzah Mae’s life. That might have felt good, except for the overwhelming sense I had that my body had failed me – and Tirzah Mae.

Sometimes people will remark that Tirzah Mae “just wanted to come out” – and I have to bite back an angry remark. Tirzah Mae’s premature birth had nothing to do with Tirzah Mae. It wasn’t her body that stopped regulating its blood pressure. It wasn’t her body that started spilling protein in her urine. It wasn’t her liver that shut down, making the womb inhospitable to life. It was MY body. It was MY womb that was poised to become a living coffin (although not for long – it would have killed me in addition to Tirzah Mae.) My body betrayed us. That’s why Tirzah Mae was born early.

Even when thankfulness for Tirzah Mae’s safe delivery overcame the sense of my body’s betrayal, I still felt dissatisfaction towards my body. My weight came down, my blood pressure started coming down – but I spent a month seeing in shades of gray except for occasional bright floaters. My weight came down and started rising again, stabilizing about 25 pounds higher than my pre-pregnancy weight. For the first time in my life, I was overweight.

But the weight wasn’t the worst of it. The worst was how weak I was. I exercised regularly during my pregnancy – my second trimester before I started retaining water was probably the fittest I’ve ever been. But after nearly a month of some form of bedrest, 8 days of it hospitalized, I couldn’t do anything. I was weak, I got winded, I felt every muscle in my body after formerly routine movements. My body betrayed me again.

The weakness (and a desire to be ready for VBAC next time around) is what motivated me to get exercising after Tirzah Mae was born – and I’ve been taking the opportunity to also read the books my library has available to help postpartum moms get fit.

Lisa Druxman’s Lean Mommy is the best book I’ve read so far.

Reasons I love Lean Mommy:

  • It’s not all about the weight – it’s [honestly] about making healthy lifestyle changes
  • It uses the [science-based] Cognitive-Behavior Therapy to help moms change self-defeating thoughts and actions
  • It gives a straightforward program for physical fitness and healthy eating habit formation – with different regimens depending on your starting fitness level
  • Apart from an overemphasis on choosing organic and avoiding additives, the nutrition advice was actually not terrible (which is saying a LOT!)

I was already working out regularly when I started reading this book – and what I was doing was working for me – so, apart from trying the workouts once, I didn’t follow this program. But I would have no qualms about doing this program straight through.

The author is the founder of “Stroller Strides” – a playdate slash exercise group that walks with their kids in strollers – and the workouts come from this program. Which means having a stroller definitely makes it easier to do this program (I didn’t when I first borrowed the book from the library). So does having exercise bands (I didn’t and still don’t – I used free weights.) That said, even if you don’t choose to do the three different workouts detailed in this book, the book still has plenty to offer in helping you set up an individualized program for getting fit after having a baby.

I recommend it.


Rating: 4 stars
Category: Postpartum fitness
Synopsis: The author helps mothers establish healthy exercise and eating habits after having a baby – all while enjoying their babies and modeling healthy attitudes towards their bodies, exercise, and eating.
Recommendation: An excellent resource for moms – even if they don’t intend to use the “Stroller Strides” workouts found within

Book Review: Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder

May 28th, 2015

Who is not familiar with little Laura Ingalls, who lived in a series of little houses? Whose childhood memories don’t include either the series of “Little House” books or the spin-off television series “Little House on the Prairie”?

Our books were blue-clad paperbacks illustrated by Garth Williams. My sister and I adored them, moving the books back and forth through the narrow strip of light shining into our room from the hall light as we read illicitly after bedtime. We loved them so much the spines started breaking and the pages got torn. Occasionally, we’d end up having to wait for the other to finish a volume so we could read it. Eventually, we’d check them out of the library to ensure that there’d always be a copy for both of us. Years later, I’d remember the insufficiency of just one set and would stockpile volumes as I found them at used stores, garage sales, and the library book sale. I left a set at my parents and still have two in my own home.

Laura’s story is a part of my story.

As a child, I was never too much interested in how much of the story was true and how much was invented. I didn’t worry about whether Laura was its true author or whether her daughter Rose wrote her mother’s stories for her. The important thing was that the story was authentic, not that it was true.

Honestly, although I’ve read a fair number of biographies of Wilder and have heard some of the theories, I’ve still never been much concerned with where the Little House books deviate from factual occurences. The books are sold as fiction – I don’t expect them to be completely accurate.

But I was curious when Laura’s heretofore unpublished autobiography Pioneer Girl was published last year. I was eager to hear Laura’s story from an adult perspective, a nonfiction take instead of a fictionalized version, in Laura’s own words instead of mediated by Rose. Having heard that the book was a large one, I figured I’d wait until the holds died down at the library (I don’t relish being forced to finish a book in 14 days, as I would if I requested it while it was new.) But then I read Janet’s review and knew I wanted to read it ASAP. I searched on Amazon, figuring I’d just buy it for myself – but the price put me into shock and I placed a request at my library anyway.

I shouldn’t have been worried about the time. When my request came through, I devoured the 370 pages in 3 days.

If I had been worried that Rose had written the novels for her mother, I wouldn’t be anymore. Laura’s voice is the same. If I had been worried that the novels took liberties with the facts, I wouldn’t be anymore. The story is recognizable from one version to the next. Yes, Laura abbreviated episodes, combined people, and rearranged the timeline somewhat in her novels (as well as leaving out a particularly dark year of the family’s life) – but the episodes are unchanged in essence.

Just the autobiography is worthwhile for fans of the “Little House” series. Reading this adult proto-version of Laura’s story adds depth and flavor to the novels we read as children. But the autobiography isn’t all this volume contains. This was published as an “annotated” autobiography, with at least as many words worth of footnotes as words of autobiography. The editor has commented on the different versions of the stories, on corroborating genealogical and census data, on sources of referenced songs or poems or books.

This is a treasure-trove for Little House fans – a glimpse into how the adult Laura viewed and interpreted her childhood, into how Laura’s authorial voice grew throughout the writing of different editions of Pioneer Girl and into the Little House books, into the reality of pioneer life. Fans should definitely read it.


Rating: 4 stars
Category: Autobiography with extensive historical annotations
Synopsis: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiography, written for adults, that she later adapted into the famous “Little House” series for children. This autobiography comes with meticulously researched historical annotations from Pamela Smith Hill of the South Dakota Historical Society.
Recommendation: Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder should definitely read this. If “Little House” didn’t play a role in your childhood, skip this (but get familiar with the Little House books by all means!)

Book Review: I was a Really Good Mom before I had Kids by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile

April 10th, 2015

Are you tired of scrolling through the Facebook newsfeed and Pinterest front page, feeling more and more like a failure at motherhood? Have playdates become torture as you learn from other mothers yet another thing good mothers simply MUST be doing? Do you wince as you set the store-bought cupcakes you swore you’d never purchase next to another mom’s fancy homemade cookies on the Bible study snack table?

If so, you might find Ashworth and Nobile’s I was a Really Good Mom before I had Kids a helpful perspective-check.

When I first picked up this book, I figured it must be a memoir, full of stories of a mother failing to live up to her expectations. Alas, a memoir it is not – but despite not being what I expected, I enjoyed and appreciated this book.

Ashworth and Nobile found for themselves that motherhood wasn’t at all what they expected, and got tired of feeling so… defeated … as mothers. They didn’t feel at all the happy, perfect, “good” moms that every other woman seemed to be. They wondered if they were the only ones who felt this way – and they set out to find out the truth about those other mothers.

They interviewed hundreds of mothers and discovered that they weren’t the only women who felt like failures as mothers. They discovered that more mothers than not “love their children, but not being mothers” – and they set out to write a book to help women learn to love motherhood as much as they love their children.

Me with book "I was a Good Mom Before I had Kids"

The book goes through a series of steps to help moms do just that: align their expectations with reality, make peace with their choices, lose the judgment, let go of the guilt, communicate with their husbands, take time for themselves, learn to say no, and live in the moment.

Each step has its own chapter, which begins with a tongue in cheek quiz, such as the one that asks you to “rank these questions in order of bitchiness” and offers “That’s so cute – he has Spider-Man shoes and a Spider-Man lunch box. Does he watch a lot of TV?” as one of the options. After each chapter, the authors offer several action items to help mothers work on the topic broached by that chapter.

While the general concept of this book is not new (there are certainly dozens if not hundreds of books and articles and blog posts on the same subject), I feel like the authors did a good job at creating balance within their book. It seems to me that articles I’ve read in this category tend to fall into two different camps: the you’ve-got-to-take-care-of-yourself camp and the you’ve-got-to-lose-yourself-in-your-child camp.

The you’ve-got-to-take-care-of-yourself camp elaborates a series of self-care rituals that mothers ought to engage in so as not to become bitter over motherhood. Mothers should take time to go to the spa to get a massage or their nails done. They should work out daily. They should eat healthy. These articles tell moms that they need to do these things for themselves – and for their kids. Because a mom who doesn’t take care of herself isn’t good for her kids. The authors of this book discuss the need for mothers to take time for themselves (and for the same reason), but instead of giving another list of things mothers ought to do (and therefore feel like failures for not doing), they encourage mothers to think through and find out what things make them into “a person they enjoy being with”. The authors acknowledge that motherhood may change the things that women find enjoyable – and that’s OKAY. Maybe crafts used to energize you, but now facing the prospect of cleaning up after crafting makes you cringe. Maybe you used to think seeing movies in a theatre was pointless – but now the thought of being able to be in a dark room with no one talking to you is your idea of bliss. That’s OKAY. The important thing is finding out what makes you tick where you’re at now, and finding some way of incorporating that into your life.

In contrast, the you’ve-got-to-lose-yourself-in-your-child camp argues that mothers spend way too much time worrying about the laundry and the dishes and the myriads of things that need to get done – and says that what mothers really need to do is recognize that their children have only one childhood and it should be spent cuddling/playing/talking/reading/exploring with their mothers. So moms should just be okay with the dishes and laundry not being done, meals not being prepared, errands never run, etc. This perspective also tends to make moms feel like failures – because, try as they like, they still can’t feel good about mountains of laundry and unwashed dishes and unmade meals. The authors of I was a good mom address this topic as well – “live in the moment” and “align your expectations” – but they do so in a way that helps moms think through what really is important to them and in a way that acknowledges that mothers will never be able to completely “drop everything.”

In short, I highly recommend this book to mothers who feel overwhelmed by the task of mothering. While I’ve not yet dealt with many of the frustrations discussed in this title, I’ve certainly discovered the need to adjust my expectations since becoming a mother.

As a short caveat, this book is not written from a Christian perspective and there is some inappropriate language found within. Additionally, while the authors do a decent job of encouraging women to understand their husbands’ perspectives in parenting and to communicate well with their husbands, some of the quotes from the women they interviewed convey highly unhealthy attitudes towards husbands.


Rating: 4 stars
Category: Mothering
Synopsis: The authors encourage moms to learn to enjoy motherhood by letting go of unrealistic expectations and developing healthy attitudes and behaviors for mothering.
Recommendation: Recommended to mothers who are struggling with mommy guilt, fighting in the mommy wars (or wishing they could get out of the crossfire), or who are just plain overwhelmed by mothering.

Book Review: The VBAC Companion by Diana Korte

March 23rd, 2015

I’m sure it will come as a total shock to my readers – but I’m hoping for a vaginal birth the next time around.

I know, I know. You’re having a hard time wrapping your head around it.

Truth is, even if I weren’t all about natural childbirth and minimal interventions and maximizing chances at successfully establishing breastfeeding (all good cases for vaginal birth after c-section, or VBAC), I want to have lots of kids. And you can only have so many repeat cesareans.

So I’m planning on doing everything I can to work toward that end.

Diana Korte’s The VBAC Companion is the first resource I’ve picked up – and it’s a pretty good one. It outlines the case for VBAC, as well as the risks associated with it, and then goes right into how to plan for your VBAC.

The bulk of the book consists of finding a medical professional and a birthing location that are supportive of VBAC.

Turns out, the most important thing you can do to ensure success of your VBAC attempt is to have supportive attendants. Having a doctor or midwife who believes in VBAC, who has practices that support successful laboring (versus “trials of labor” that root against a woman), and who has successfully helped women have VBACs is HUGE.

The final part of the book was about laboring – mostly the general stuff you’d learn in any childbirth preparation class. How to manage pain and keep labor moving by moving around and assuming different positions. Which interventions help a woman to labor well and which slow or stop labor. Helpful things, but not ones unique to VBAC.

This was a good book on preparing for a VBAC. I would imagine that most women who want to attempt a VBAC will find it very useful.

I didn’t.

You see, I was hoping for something more. I was hoping for guidelines for physical fitness, exercises to do. I was hoping for weight gain guidelines. I was hoping for more specific laboring advice. Not that the other stuff isn’t important. I know the stuff this book discussed is the most important stuff for ensuring success. It’s just that I’m blessed to already have two extremely supportive attendants. I know that when I try again, my midwife and my OB are both rooting for me and are going to do everything in their power to help me to be successful.

So, I keep searching for that other stuff (I have a feeling I might not be able to find it in a book – so I’ve got a meeting scheduled with my midwife to talk about what she’s found to be helpful with other women).

Meanwhile, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book as a resource for other women who are hoping for a VBAC, especially for those who don’t know their OB, doctor, or midwife’s track record on VBAC and need help choosing a supportive professional.


Rating: 4 stars
Category: Pregnancy/Childbirth
Synopsis: Rationale for choosing a vaginal birth after cesarean and how to plan for a successful VBAC.
Recommendation: If you are interested in trying for a VBAC, this is a good resource.

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

January 29th, 2015

When was the last time you read a book straight through cover to cover?

The last time I did was January 28, right after Tirzah Mae got her two month shots.

The book was Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

The circus arrives unexpectedly, massive black and white tents surrounded by a black wrought iron fence in what yesterday was only a field. The placard at the gate announces that it is open at night only.

Once the circus-goer pays admission, he passes through the gates into a circus like none he’s ever seen before. Everything inside is in black and white, bright light and total darkness. The grounds dazzle every sense as the circus-goer follows interwoven circles through dozens of tents. Each tent contains its own entertainment. Some are typical fair, if more spectacular than usual – contortionists and fire dancers and cat trainers. But some of the Night Circus’s amusements are completely novel – a garden made of ice, an enchanted wishing tree, a labrynth of rooms each more mind-boggling than the last.

What the circus-goer doesn’t know is that this ephemeral entertainment, popping into and then disappearing from one site after another, is not the main attraction. The Night Circus is a venue, a stage, a stadium in which a high stakes game between two great magicians is played out.

The game started many years ago, when a student magician innovated a new philosophy of magic, a new technique for wizardry. His master challenged him that a new philosophy or a new technique is only worthwhile if it can be taught. Each magician would choose a student, would train that student in his own magic – then, when the time was right, the two students would be pit against one another to see whose magic would prevail.

It’s been years since the last match, but now at last, Prospero has found a student he feels sure will prevail against anyone Alexander could train. He invites Alexander to a show, invites him to the game, offers as his contestant his six-year-old daughter Celia. Alexander accepts, begins training his own apprentice. And when Alexander decides that the time is right, he contacts a man in London to create an acceptable venue for the competition – and he sends a two-word message to Prospero: “Your move.”

The Night Circus is undoubtedly one of the most unique and most interesting fantasies I’ve ever read. While the story is set in familiar late-nineteenth-and-early-twentieth-century England and America, the setting is at the same time completely novel, thanks to the spectacular Night Circus and the magical premise of the story. The characters are mysterious, elusive, and absolutely fascinating. The plot is engaging and the story well-told.

That said, I doubt The Night Circus would be a hit with everyone. The story includes magic, yes, but also astrology and fortune-telling – all givens in the world of The Night Circus. A sex scene about three-quarters through rather disappointed this reader (it wasn’t terribly explicit, but enough so to make me uncomfortable.) And a jarring f-word in the first couple chapters almost made me put the book down (that was thankfully uncharacteristic for the novel – and I rather wonder why it made it past the editors, it was so out of place for the novel’s Victorian, albeit steampunk, setting.)

So I recommend this novel with serious caveats.


Rating: 3 to 4 stars
Category: Steampunk (but it transcends the genre)
Synopsis: A circus provides the setting for two magicians to pit their young students against one another in a mind-boggling sensory display of wizardry.
Recommendation: Masterfully written, fascinating premise and setting – but certain “dirty” elements make me hesitant to recommend this to all readers.

Book Review: Preemies by Dana Wechsler Linden, Emma Treti Paroli, and Mia Wachsler Doron

November 18th, 2014

The books to return were already in the car and were already overdue when we had our visit to the midwife, so I had no choice but to return them to the library. I briefly contemplated just driving through the bookdrop – I had officially just been put on bedrest.

But I’d just been put on bedrest. I’d need some reading material. Specifically I wanted something on pre-eclampsia.

I returned the books, seated myself at the computer catalog, and only rose when I had Dewey Decimal numbers for all my books.

There were no books on preeclampsia, but one on preemies showed up under that search, so I figured I might as well see what that book had to say about preeclampsia.

Thus, I returned home with Linden, Paroli, and Doron’s Preemies. I didn’t start reading it right off, but when we were admitted to the hospital immediately after our OB appointment the next day, I requested that Daniel bring the book with him when he returned to the hospital.

Preemies turned out to be a really fantastic, comprehensive look at the struggles of premature babies and their parents. The chapters are arranged chronologically, from “In the Womb” to “The First Day” all the way to “From Preemie to Preschool (and Beyond)”. Each chapter begins with Parents’ Stories, then The Doctor’s Perspective, then Questions and Answers. Finally, the authors include a small section on special issues facing preemie multiples during that stage.

I read this book from cover to cover (except for the final chapter on losing a baby – I’m almost certain that chapter would have had me distraught) and found it to be a valuable resource for understanding what was happening with our Tirzah Mae (and thankfully, many complications that weren’t happening).

Of course, most mothers of preemies don’t have advance warning like I did – eight days of hospitalized bedrest during which I could read and prepare myself for the inevitable premature birth of our baby (even as we tried to keep her in the womb as long as possible.) Also, most mothers of preemies are presumably not quite as voracious readers as I am. But Preemies takes that into account, offering a comprehensive table of contents that includes each question to be addressed in the Q&A section of each chapter – thus allowing parents of preemies to easily find answers to their specific question without having to read through all 572 pages of this tome.

This book’s strong point is definitely the descriptions of the medical procedures and processes that take place in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) – It is not as good at detailing what happens or what to do after your infant comes home from the NICU. That said, I would still highly recommend this as a resource for parents of preemies in the NICU.


Rating: 4 stars
Category: Medical/Parenting
Synopsis: A comprehensive look at the various challenges faced by preemies and their parents, particularly during a stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Recommendation: Well-written, comprehensive, understandable descriptions of common medical procedures and complications. Recommended for parents of preemies currently in the NICU.

Book Review: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

September 22nd, 2014

It’s not that I don’t enjoy YA fantasy. In fact, it’s one of the nicest things to escape into – since it tends to be light without being sappy and gritty without being crass. Nevertheless, I don’t often venture into that world.

I’m not sure why exactly. Certainly, YA fiction is a world where you can end up with just about anything – and a lot of YA fiction IS sappy and crass. Also, fantasy and sci-fi often overlap; and while I enjoy fantasy, I am not at all fond of sci fi (notable exceptions: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Ender’s War). So I don’t spend a lot of time browsing the YA section of my local library.

But when my sister-in-law was visiting over Memorial Day, she mentioned that she’d been reading and enjoying these YA fantasies – John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice. Like I do with so many things, I made a mental note of the series and promptly forgot about it entirely. Thankfully, my husband has a better memory than I and he asked me about a month later if I’d picked up that book Joanna was telling me about. Of course, by then I’d forgotten the name of the series, so I had to text Joanna for the title. I put in the request at the library and dutifully picked it up and put it in my bookpile – where it languished for months as I devoured everything pregnancy-related I could get my hands on.

But one day, I guess I’d had enough of pregnancy (actually, it probably was right around the time where I was feeling terribly one-dimensional, like all I did was talk about pregnancy and babies) and I picked up The Ruins of Gorlan.

I read it straight through and it was tremendous fun.

Five orphaned children, 15 years old and wards of the castle, prepare for choosing day – when they will offer themselves as apprentices to craftsmen and will be accepted or rejected into apprenticeships that will set them into their lives courses. Alyss, Jenny, George, and Horace know exactly to whom they wish to be apprenticed. They have already shown interest and aptitude in their desired life’s calling and some even have agreements with their chosen masters that need only to be approved by the baron.

Will, on the other hand, knows what he wants to do – but fears being able to do it. Will dreams of being a hero. He never knew his parents, doesn’t even know their names – but the note left on his basket when he was delivered to the castle in hopes that the baron would take care of him declared his father to be a hero in the last great battle against Morgarath. Will had been cherishing fantasies of his father for years – and dreamt of following in his noble father’s footsteps.

Which meant battle school, of course, and knighthood afterward. But Will is small and not particularly strong, frequently bullied by the clearly battle-school-ready Horace. Will intends to request an apprenticeship to the battle school, but fears that he will instead be rejected by all the castle masters – and end up being sent off to the fields like a common peasant.

Choosing day arrives and goes off exactly as expected. Alyss is accepted as apprentice to the diplomatic corps, Jenny to the castle’s chef. George will learn law and Horace will go to battle-school.

Will requests battle-school and is rejected. He is allowed a second choice and offers horseschool – and is rejected there as well. The mysterious ranger, who many suspect performs magic, slips a piece of paper to the Baron, informing him that there is something he should know about this Will. And the class of castle wards is dismissed. Tomorrow, the apprenticed students will report to their craftsmasters – and Will will go off to the fields.

Except for one thing – Will simply *must* see what is on that piece of paper.

In my opinion, The Ruins of Gorlan is the perfect sort of YA fantasy. It’s set in a medieval-type world with strange creatures, but seems to distance itself from actual magic – thus avoiding the deus ex machina I detest so in a fantasy tale. The protagonists experience a physical and mental coming-of-age, in which they are forced to reexamine old beliefs and establish character through fire. Both the plot and the characters are engaging. It’s just right.

Now that’s not to say that I felt the writing was particularly amazing – the occasional awkward construction and odd simile reminded me that the author is not a genius at his craft – but one can be very good without being a genius, and what Flanagan lacks in genius in writing, he makes up in skill as a storyteller. I can definitely recommend this book.


Rating: 4 stars
Category: YA fantasy
Synopsis: The orphaned Will dreams of becoming a hero like his noble father, but finds himself on a very different path than expected after he is rejected as an apprentice by his preferred craftsmaster.
Recommendation: Recommended for anyone looking for a good coming of age story or light fantasy. An engaging story well-told.

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