an open book

An Open Book (February 2017)

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

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 Sabbath Rest Book Talk will return in March!

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: a monthly live interactive event where we talk about the value of fiction in developing compassion, empathy, and healthy relationships

There will be a few changes–good ones! First of all, I’ll be adding a few co-hosts.  Both Carolyn Astfalk and Rebecca Willen will be joining me for March 5th’s SRBT.  Also, we’ll be hosting the event over on my YouTube Channel as a YouTube Live Event.  You can still comment and play along, of course.  Lastly, I’ll be announcing the book selections and focus ahead of time, so you can read along and join the discussion a little more easily and thoughtfully.  To keep on top of each month’s SRBT selections, do sign up for my monthly newsletter.

While we’re here, here are the selections for SRBT for March, focusing on JUSTICE:

An Open Book Linkup: Dying for Revenge (murder mystery)

mikemulligancover Sabbath Rest Book Talk: Where Fiction Is Good For You! March 2017 will focus on JUSTICE

 

Meanwhile, I’m still reading.

HER ROYAL SPYNESS SOLVES HER FIRST CASE, Review by Erin McCole Cupp for #OpenBook Wednesday

Her Royal Spyness Solves Her First Case by Rhys Bowen.  

Oh, this was a rip-roaring fun thing to read. I initially picked it up because it’s been on my mind for a while to start this series, and Bowen’s latest (I think the latest?) was mentioned the 2016 list of Agatha Award nominees. The Agatha Awards are, “Loosely defined as ‘mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence,’ the Agatha Award salutes the books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie.” There’s a little too much racy talk in there for me to feel comfortable sharing this with my tween-readers. There are not, however, any actual sex scenes or horrifically detailed murders, etc. It was adult-funny, cleverly plotted, and peopled with fully-fleshed characters in spite of the fact that there were so many. I’ll be looking for more Royal Spyness.

Review of IN THE PLEASURE GROOVE by John Taylor (yes, that John Taylor) by Erin McCole Cupp for #OpenBook WednesdayIn the Pleasure Groove by (Nigel, ahem) John Taylor

In the Pleasure Groove was everything you’d expect from JT. It was compelling, entertaining, slick, sexy, jet-setty… and flavored with a sad undercurrent of, well, narcissism. Still. Even in his chapters on facing down his drug and alcohol addictions. Don’t get me wrong: I am super glad the guy is working so hard health in all its dimensions, so invested in being a good father and husband. I’m concerned, though, that as long as he stays his own Higher Power, it might not last. In the end, that made the book unsatisfying. Still, if you’re recovering from or still a hardcore Duran Duran addict, I can’t not recommend In the Pleasure Groove. There’s a bit of depth for the reader in it, even if the author himself may have missed it.

An Open Book book review linkup hosted by Carolyn Astfalk: get your recs here!Nutureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

One of the most influential books about children ever published, Nurture Shock offers a revolutionary new perspective on children that upends a library’s worth of conventional wisdom. With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, the authors demonstrate that many of modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring–because key twists in the science have been overlooked. Nothing like a parenting manual, NurtureShock gets to the core of how we grow, learn and live.

It’s amazing how actual science works and how easy it is for us to turn our backs on factual reality when it doesn’t fit what makes us feel good about ourselves, isn’t it?  Long story short: NurtureShock confirms the value of common sense parenting in the face of everything from participation awards to gifted class placement tests to fat shaming and schedule-cramming.  I got a lot of validation out of this book and some ideas for modifying my own parenting choices as well.

Get your recs here: An Open Book monthly book review linkup hosted by Carolyn Astfalk Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Yeah, totally embarrassing that this is the first Agatha Christie novel I’ve ever read in my whole life.  To my credit, I was in And Then There Were None in freshman year of high school (Ethel the maid–first one offed, but I got to scream really loud, so that was cool).

Anyway, quick read, clean enough, tight plotting, and even I forgot about one of the big clues at the beginning so that the end was a well-timed surprise.  That said, the end was a bit… unsatisfying in a moral sense, if you get what I mean.  As an investigator, Poirot was warmer than Sherlock Holmes and in that sense more enjoyable from a human perspective; Holmes quirks my eyebrows at both his brilliance and his awkwardness, but Poirot brings me along for the ride.

You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir by Melissa Ohden

You Carried Me : A Daughter's Memoir is an experience of tragedy, pain, hope, healing and triumph, told by an abortion survivor. Don't miss this book!What do you do when you find out you were not supposed to live?  Would you want the find the birthmother who, according to all medical records, wanted you dead? And how do you hold onto a voice in a culture that calls you a liar and silences you at any available opportunity… because your very existence challenges the culture’s most cherished ideas?  This is the story of a woman who survived an abortion in 1977 then went on to search for her birthparents.  The pain, healing and triumph of her experience is one that every human should read.  I give You Carried Me both five stars (would give a sixth if Amazon would let me) and a Four Kleenex Warning. I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.   I am honestly confident in giving this book the highest recommendation.  Look for an upcoming in-depth review and giveaway in the next few days.

That’s it for February!  While we’re here, gentle reminder: To keep on top of each month’s SRBT selections, do sign up for my monthly newsletter.

What’s your #OpenBook?

Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

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Open Book: June reads for July Reviews!

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

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One thing can be said for having a couple of complications dragging out weeks after super minor abdominal surgery: there’s lots of time to do nothing but sit in bed and READ!   Perhaps that’s the only thing to be said for it, though; being unable to work on one’s own writing and publishing is pretty frustrating.  That said, today is the rescheduled release date for UNCLAIMED, Book 1 in The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan.

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Unclaimed cover art Copyright 2016 Fiona Jayde Media

I was chomping so badly at the bit to get that up and running by June 24, but instead I was propped up in bed with my iPad and this guy for my reading buddy.

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Funny story: five days after I came home from  the hospital, Siggie (above) suddenly started sniffing around my belly and instead of making me take his tennis ball out of his mouth to play fetch, he just gave it to me.  The two days later I was back at the doctor, and lo and behold! I had an infection developing.  Of course, if he were really intuitive, he wouldn’t have kept trying to jump directly onto my belly… but he’s still a good recovery companion.

Okay, let’s look at what I got to read in June…

Testing Liberty & Fight for Liberty by Theresa Linden

I really cannot rave well enough about the Chasing Liberty trilogy.  If you took The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, and 1984, wove them together with a fresh, deeply human sensibility and gave it just the lightest sprinkle of holy water… you might come close to getting a series as fast-paced, powerful and satisfying as Liberty’s three-part tale.

I loved Chasing Liberty, butTesting Liberty Brown Red in Testing Liberty, Linden really ups the ante.  It was like in Chasing we got to see the veneer of Aldonia’s oppressive deep green culture scraped painfully off, and then in Testing, we dive down deep, deeper into the hearts and lives threatened, destroyed, and changed for good or ill by the conflict between the Regimen’s culture and the inner drive for freedom and independence that some of the colonists live out for themselves… and are getting ready to share with Aldonia on a wider and far more risky basis.   Usually the middle installment in a trilogy is the most difficult to keep spinning on a lively axis, but Linden turns that idea on its head and somehow makes Testing even more heart-rending and engaging than its predecessor.

FightForLibertyAnd then in Fight for Liberty, it all comes so satisfyingly full-circle.  Something Linden does so powerfully in this conclusion(ish) to the series is that the encourages us to look at the future of freedom (and, frankly, the present) through the lens of our history.  The way she approached a renewal of personal freedom as a rebirth of the ideals and courage of the American Revolution is a tack we don’t see often taken in speculative fiction.  It works.  Fresh, engaging, honest and uplifting, we can see our future as fraught with danger… but also promising courage and hope and the best humanity has to offer.

Fight for Liberty dropped on July 4! Keep an eye out here for an in-depth interview with Theresa Linden later this week.  

The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem

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It’s the story of Mary and Martha illuminated in a way you’ve never imagined.  In this conclusion (I think?) to the Living Water series, Stephanie Landsem gives us a rich backstory on why Martha is the way she is–a controlling, put-upon, neat freak who’s never satisfied.  I’d never before considered the kind of heartbreak that might have gone into making a Martha.  Landsem took my preconceived notions of a picky, spoiled, overly pious Jewish daughter and made her into someone who’s been through just as much as any of us has in on our way to becoming the fragile, cautious creatures we can be… until we let Christ come in to our lives and change us.  This third book has just as much delicious angst as The Well but just as much sweet satisfaction as The Thief.  For readers who like a good ends-tied-up series, this last book makes that happen but infuses the ending of the trilogy with great energy; it left me happy for the characters (each in his/her way) but still sad to see it end.  Highly recommended.

At the Crossroad by Amy M. Bennett

At the Cross Road: Book 4 in the Black Horse Campground Mystery Series by Amy M. Bennett (Oak Tree Press)

People, I just adore this series.  It’s really so much fun to read.  Okay, I realize I just said that about a series with a body count, but hey, take me as I am.  In At the Crossroad, Corrie, Rick, and JD all have to face the past–their own and the ghosts of others.  The mystery is fast-paced, crisp, and richly human.  The storytelling is clean, and the violence and relationships are never gratutitous.  All these characters have come to feel like family to me over the years, to the point that, yes, I’ve declared myself #TeamRick (and Crossroad makes that seem even more possible than No Vacancy did… but I’m sure Amy will keep us guessing).  In fact, I kind of know who I want to set JD up with, but Amy would pee her pants if I told her, because it’s so outlandish… Anyway, I hope that the fact that these characters have taken on their own lives in my imagination (am I writing Black Horse fanfic in my head?!?!) is endorsement enough.

After the Thaw by Therese Heckenkamp

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A sequel to Heckenkamp’s Frozen Footprints that yet stands strong on its own, After the Thaw is a story of courage, healing, redemption, self-sacrifice, and the value of honesty.  The plot was fast-paced and kept me well invested in the future of heroine Charlene, the people she loves, and the people who sought to use her for their own ends.  Serious and tragic but with a great touch of humanity, Thaw kept me turning the pages and caring about the characters.  Should Charlene really marry Ben?  I mean, he’s a good guy, but is he the guy?  And what is going on with Clay and that pregnant girl?  For all the angst of the beginning and middle, the end is super satisfying with a touch of just-right sweetness.  Tough but still clean, this would make a great beach read.

Sunflowers in a Hurricane by Anne Faye

Sunflower Front CoverA sweet, touching story of healing, forgiveness and closure, Sunflowers in a Hurricane weaves together the lives touched, smote and healed by an unlikely friendship. When single-mom Cheryl must clear out her estranged mother’s house, daughter Ruth becomes the garden help and Mass companion of elderly widower George next door.  The move brings Cheryl face-to-face with her difficult past, a past she’s been evading ever since Ruth was conceived, as well as with her fears for her own and Ruth’s future.  Meanwhile, George stands courageously and compassionately in the face of his own past losses resurfacing in ways he hadn’t expected. The two households mirror each other in ways that make us think more deeply about the nature of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and redemption.  Faye turns a tale with an honest kindness often missing from family drama fiction these days, while keeping readers hooked on the story.  This was an uplifting and enjoyable read you’ll want for your beach bag!

Don’t forget to link up YOUR reviews over at Carolyn’s!

An Open Book: Beach Reads, Teach Reads

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

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Dying for Revenge by Dr. Barbara Golder

An Open Book Linkup: Dying for Revenge (murder mystery)

This book rubbed the salt in the wound of what’s wrong with our culture today, publishing and otherwise.  Here we have a slick but gritty, sharp-edged murder mystery better than most secular crime novels I’ve read, but just because the main character side-eyes liberal culture and is struggling with/considering/reconsidering Catholicism, it’s going to be looked over.  It really shouldn’t be.  Don’t YOU people pass it by, anyway.

Okay, now that I have that off my chest, Dying for Revenge is the first book in a (hopefully well-populated!) series focusing on the work and struggles of Dr. Jane Wallace, a medical examiner and lawyer who has faced crime in her own past and come to hide from it in the mountains and canyons of Colorado.  I finished it in the space of three days and would have taken less time if I could read in the car without getting car sick.  Part cozy, part police procedural, part woman-in-peril (though Jane is so no-nonsense, that when the actual peril comes, I was almost blindsided), and with an enticing, mature, exile-from-The-Troubles, will-they-won’t-they-can-they? love interest in Eoin Connor, Dying for Revenge kept me on the edge of my seat in every possible way.  The climax was perhaps the most surprising–and surprisingly satisfying–part of the plot.  In the end, it’s just as much a mystery to solve as a progression of soul for the main character.  Look for more about this here on June 5, if you’re not already convinced to buy Dying for Revenge.

From Grief to Grace by Jeannie Ewing

An Open Book Linkup: From Grief to Grace by Jeannie Ewing (non-fiction, self-help)We all grieve in some way, because it’s a fallen world: we all need to cope with things not going according to plan, in ways both big and small.  From Grief to Grace is a manual on how to navigate that pain, from simple disappointment to world-changing heartbreak.  Ewing does not focus merely on death-related grief but on any kind of soul-pain that knocks us down to depths we’d much rather not visit.  Instead of looking at grief as something to just “get through,” she gives us tools and the gift of her own personal experiences with grief, so that we can see our own suffering not as something to fear but as rungs on a ladder to God.  How a book like this manages to be both practical and spiritually weighty is a testament to the author’s skill.

At the Crossroad by Amy M. Bennett

An Open Book Linkup: At the Crossroad by Amy M. Bennett (Black Horse Campground Mystery #4, cozy mystery, suspense)I am so excited to read this next book in The Black Horse Campground Mysteries.  I can’t rightly say that I’ve read this and can give a review yet, but it is loaded onto my Kindle and it’s what I plan to have in my waiting and recovery rooms while I’m in the hospital for tomorrow’s gallbladder eviction (in fact, if I can steal a moment today to start reading, I most surely will).  Amy Bennett has the dual gift of writing with a tender touch and a light heart.  Each book is filled with characters facing believable struggles and everyday events but turned in an extraordinary way.  The plot of each book keeps you guessing until the absolute very very very last minute.  In this latest installment, we’ll get to see which direction the love UST triangle takes.  I love JD, but I think I might be Team Rick?  Maybe.  Maybe?  Maybe.  I mean, a man who bakes is pretty difficult to resist…

This month’s audiobooks:

Anne of Avonlea (narr. Mary Sarah) by L. M. Montgomery

An Open Book Linkup: Anne of Avonlea (classics, audiobook)I’d read Anne of Green Gables in college for kicks and giggles but never read any of the other books, so this was a first for me as well as for my children… and husband.  We listened to part of it on the way home from a Memorial Day road trip, and he said it made the trip go a lot faster than it would have otherwise.  We even giggled together over Davy Keith’s mischief, the tragedy of the blue hall, and I think hubby laughed louder than I did over a certain package being obediently yet quite reluctantly tossed into the school woodstove.  So far I still like the first installment of this series best, but Avonlea is still well worth visiting, even in this perhaps more episodic tale.  The narration on this one is nice but seems to have less wonder and perhaps too much whimsy, and the different voices of the characters were barely distinct from one another.  All in all, though, it was a well-done production, and I’m glad we got to enjoy it.

Anne of the Island (narr. Barbara Caruso) by L. M. Montgomery

An Open Book Linkup: Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery, narrated by Nancy Caruso (classics, YA, audiobook)This version has my favorite narrator of the three Anne books we’ve listened to so far as a family.  Caruso’s voice has a timeless quality, and she gives each character a different voice but manages to avoid making any one of them a caricature.  The story itself was typical, delightful Anne, again more episodic than narrative as Green Gables is.  The narration in this production, however, really made it work for me best of the three Anne books we’ve heard.

Have you read/heard any of these yourself?  

What did you read this month?  

Don’t forget to linkup your reviews with Carolyn Astfalk!

An Open Book: May the Fourth Be Bookish

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

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Ugh.  I know, I know.  That post title is pathetic, but I’m running on fumes here.  What kind of fumes? The kind that broke me enough to give in to… audiobooks.  Audiobooks have been around longer than books, actually, because hello? Storytelling around the fire while digesting the freshly roasted mammoth meat?

I, however, just never got into audiobooks, because:

  1. I can get to the end of the story so much faster in my head.  Why would I wait around for someone else to read it for me?
  2. All my time available for audiobook listening, if I could get past that first issue, is spent in the car with kids, and you can’t listen to grown-up audiobooks if you have little pitchers and their big, giant ears in the backseat.

Why did it never occur to me that it’s not just contemporary pulp on audiobook but literary classics as well?

So that library trip when I stumbled upon this on our weekly trip to the library:

The Adventures of Odysseus by Hugh Lupton & Daniel Morden, Illustrated by Cristina Balit

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This was my very first audiobook, and since it wasn’t packaged as an audiobook, I was cleverly tricked into picking it up.  I didn’t even see the CDs in the front and back of the gorgeously illustrated covers until we were in the car and headed for our next task.  The Odyssey was one of my favorite reading assignments from college, and I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything completely untoward for both shifts of kid to hear (I’m more comfortable with kids learning of the horrors of war than the seduction of the flesh, frankly).  I was not disappointed in this version: there’s nothing immodest, and the retelling of the tale does not skip over the violent parts (Polyphemus and Scylla aren’t tidied up, for instance).  The narrators never use syrupy voices-for-the-kiddies.  I loved hearing Second Shift cheer when Odysseus sent the arrow through the axe handles.  All in all, I highly recommend this version.  Everyone can listen to the story while those who aren’t driving and can’t even read yet can appreciate the gorgeous, stylized illustrations.

Once we’d enjoyed that, I tried thinking back to literary classics I’d tried to get First Shift to read but which they’d eschewed because they prefer non-fiction so blastedly strongly.  The first one that came to mind was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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I’ve struggled to get my older kids to read fiction, because their interests are limited, and they don’t see the point in fiction.  Even if they never, ever enjoy fiction (sniffle!), fiction-reading is still a part of learning how to be human–seeing how characters face conflict and deal with it, for good or ill.  Then there’s the ability to follow along with literary allusions without getting lost.  Both of those tasks can be conquered adequately (perhaps not well, but adequately) through audiobooks–force-fed to unwilling brains while on long car rides.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of those books that my kids just did not want to read but that we enjoyed listening to (maybe not as much as the next one, but more on that in a bit).  Narrator Jim Dale handled the ridiculousness with the exact right amount of wryness but still kept it whimsical.  I enjoyed this version immensely, moreso than I ever enjoyed the text version or any movie version (Sorry, Mr. Carroll).

Lastly, a book I read only once in my college years: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.

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The story, as always, is wonderful: the tale of an unwanted orphan who finds family in the most unlikely pair of brother and sister Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.  The example of a flighty but well-meaning girl who gets into particularly feminine adventures, who in turn learns from each hilarious mistake she makes, is a precious example I really wanted to share with my three young ladies.  Hearing the story now as a parent myself was that much more poignant than it had been when I was a childless college student, struggling to pass her own exams and such.  I love how much of a family story this is, with appeal across the ages.

As for this production in particular, the editing in this one could use some smoothing out, and I think the narrator went a little too far on the wry side and not far enough on the wonderment side.  That said, we had a great time listening to this one.  Second Shift loved it as much as I did; as Cordelia Chase would say, “Overidentify much?”

Adding audiobooks to our homeschooling has already been such a boon.  First Shift has phenomenal reading skills, but they shy away from personal stories; Second Shift loves fiction but struggles mightily with reading.  Audiobooks have given us the opportunity to share literature with each other, discuss it, talk about conflict and description and language.  I can’t believe I’ve let us miss out on this rich resource for so long.

In the time I’ve had to read books rather than listen to them, I’ve started in on From Grief to GraceFrom Grief to Grace coming out next month by Jeannie Ewing.

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I’ve also read another Chime Travelers book by Lisa Hendey, but that one won’t be out until Christmas, so look for a review in, say, November.

Do you have reluctant readers?  How do you tackle their challenges?  Do you use audiobooks?  What are some of your favorites?  And don’t forget to link up with Carolyn!

March on and Grab AN OPEN BOOK

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

We read. We talk.  We talk about what we read.

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Soulless Creatures by Katharine Grubb

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With every sentence, Soulless Creatures kept me guessing. And while the story itself was surprising, the biggest surprise of all was the vital role the setting played. Who knew Oklahoma had so much to teach us? Not this East Coast girl. I love how the author took each character to the brink (or what “the brink” would be for a college freshman) and let him/her grow. The ending was unexpected and yet deeply satisfying. Highly recommended!

 

Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary, edited by Sarah Reinhard

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Slowing down is not my favorite thing to do, which makes a book like this so vital. Filled with valuable reflections and fresh but faithful takes on some of the most repeated words in all of Catholicism, Word by Word filled me with hope, made me smile, and, yes, slowed me down so that I could learn something. It’s a versatile book that’s worth reading straight through and worth keeping handy for quick prayer times. Break out the highlighter!

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

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What’s it about?  In case you didn’t know, “From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.”

If you’re wondering if this book is as good as it looks, wonder no more.  It is.  It’s even better.  It has hitherto for unknown bits about the making of the movie, yes.  The bigger surprise for me though was seeing the creative process through the eyes of immediacy as well as the eyes of memory and experience.  The Princess Bride was, initially, a flop.  Now it’s a classic.  Creatives? We’re in it for the long haul.  We have to be.  If we’re not, we’re going to remain mostly dead.

And some readalouds for Second Shift:

Fiona’s Lace by Patricia Polacco

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I got this from the library as a St. Patrick’s Day readaloud.  It would’ve been a lot easier to read if I hadn’t been crying my eyes out from the second or third page.  This is the story of a family that had to leave hardships in Ireland only to show up in Chicago just in time for the Great Chicago Fire.  Young Fiona is a gifted lacemaker, and her skills just might be what her family needs to rise out of immigrant poverty, but when a terrible fire separates the family and destroys not just their home but their entire neighborhood, how will Fiona and her family ever find each other again?  You have to read to find out.  But do keep your tissues nearby–better yet, a lace hankie.

Raisel’s Riddle by Erica Silverman (Illustrations by Susan Gaber)

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It’s a Purim Cinderella story! Orphan Raisel is raised by her Zaydeh (grandfather), who gives her a rich, scholarly education, even teaching her the Talmud.  When Zaydeh dies, Raisel must strike out on her own.  After much wandering, the rabbi in the big city makes his cook take Raisel on as her assistant, but Cook is not happy about this.  The story that follows echoes the Cinderella story, but instead of great shoes making the match, Raisel’s prince finds her because of her great mind.  I’m sure some feminist somewhere has something to say about how a smart girl shouldn’t get her happy ending by working in a kitchen and marrying a prince… but I’m not some feminist anywhere.  Raisel’s Riddle shows that a girl’s greatest gifts are kindness and wisdom, and by being clever and kind and generous, her true beauty stands out from even the loveliest Purim costumes.