Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Books”

Reader Round Up: June


Sometimes a novel stands out from the others. It shines out its brilliance so noticeably that it deserves an entire post. Leif Enger’s Virgil Wander is such a read.

Five Star–most def

Halfway through the book Virgil , out titular hero, and Rune, think Gandalf with kites, are drinking a Nordic spirit, apparently possessing the kick similar to sake, and Rune makes the philosophic observance “…that just because a thing was poetry didn’t mean it never happened in the actual world, or that it couldn’t happen still.”

This is what is so noteworthy about Virgil Wander as a novel. It is not exactly real-world in scope, neither is it magical realism, but neither is it so unbelievable as to be dismissable. The naysayer critics argued that Enger’s engaging tale is stretching unbelief a bit too much. Like Rune noted, just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

It seems storytellers, the ones like Garrison Keillor who come from Minnesota are the ones who take the ordinary and lean it somewhat so that you have to tip your head to get it all in focus. Or at least I do. I took it with a grain of salt when Keillor spun his hometown stories of seemingly average citizens and transformed their lives and situations into above average. Enger does the same with his own Minnesota tale. He takes a small town on the banks of the Lake Superior and tips its inhabitants a bit sideways and creates intriguing situations out of the mundane. For instance, a sturdy sturgeon that is repudiated to be the cause of death for one fisherman takes on menacing qualities akin to Moby Dick. That homey festival that every small town hosts, the one with corn dogs, a parade, face painting, and a band? Enger turns into an event celebrating the hard luck days of the town, complete with children dressing up as frogs to replicate the day it indeed rained frogs upon the fair town. There may or may not be a bomb threat involved. There is even a raven who becomes mildly domesticated of his own volition.

If the novel sounds odd in highlighting aspects that caught my eye. Well, it is odd. Odd wonderful. Oddly captivating. Odd how I couldn’t stop reading it, being irritated when I had to stop periodically to eat or sleep.

I vastly relished Enger’s debut novel Peace Like a River, and so did the nation. It only took eighteen or so years for his third novel to appear (haven’t caught up to his second one yet), but it sure was worth the wait.

Looking for amusing, Keillor-style storytelling, winsome characters, unforgettable setting, and a couple of mysteries to sweeten the plot? Then I hope you locate a copy of Virgil Wander.

Let me know if you found a copy or if you have read it. Let’s dialog this five star find.

Debut Redeux


With libraries and bookstores barely on the open side, you may not have had the opportunity to properly meet my debut picture book, Someday We Will.

written by Pam Webb
illustrated by Wendy Leach

The book’s focus is building the anticipation of grandparents and grandchildren sharing activities when they visit together.

Swimming is a favorite activity

The idea for the book developed from my own anticipation list, for all the “someday” activities I would one day share with my own granddaughter.

There are so many fun activities to share together!
Reading books together builds lovely memories

Reading books together is a favorite activity. Going to the library and selecting titles, suggesting favorite authors, or discovering new reads creates shared moments of lasting value.

Waiting, waiting for that special day to be together again

Being separated from loved ones is difficult, yet keeping that hope of being together again someday is important. That hope and anticipation of one day sharing good times together again is like keeping a bit of sunshine in our hearts on cloudy days.

Memories are sunshine for cloudy days

Although the book’s target audience is for grandparents and grandchildren, holding on to that “Someday” applies to anyone who anticipates being together with a loved one.

Thanks for stopping by!

If you are looking for a book that expresses how you look forward to being with someone, especially if you are a grandparent, I hope you will look up Someday We Will.

BOOK DETAILS
TITLE: Someday We Will
AUTHOR:
Pam Webb
ILLUSTRATOR:
Wendy Leach
PUBLISHER:
Beaming Books, 2020
TOPICS: family, visits, multi-generational, anticipation
AGES:
K-3
FICTION: Hardcover

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Beaming Books
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Reader Roundup: May


Books kept me sane during May.

Between creating and maintaining distance learning lessons that “needed to have value, but not overwhelm students,” while preparing juniors and seniors for their AP exams, I escaped into reading as means of escaping being chained to my laptop screen.

Fortunately, my local library opened up curbside service, allowing patrons to order up books from the website catalog and we would then schedule a pick up appointment. A definite sanity saver. I was beginning to wonder if I would have to raid my hubs’ technical reference books and hunting guides for reading material.

Title Highlights for May:

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

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I will grant that Cormier is a brilliant writer, and his novels are unique in how they challenge readers to lift up the rocks of humanity to study the ugly that lives underneath. I personally cannot tolerate the bullying and senseless cruelty that is the center of the plot, and had to really force myself to finish the book.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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Second read, six years later:
Having devoured the 530 page book in a day the first go round, I have always felt I did it an injustice. I am glad I returned to this sumptuous novel and took the time to savor its brilliance this time. I initially avoided it as I didn’t want to read about WWII during Covoid quarantine, yet I then realized it wasn’t so much a war story as it was a story how the human spirit can endure through tragedy, often continuing with the means to thrive. It is an inspirational story deserving of all its accolades.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

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Creative plot, and more mystery/thriller than detective novel, The Tiger in the Smoke is a quick and mostly satisfying read if one can keep the characters straightened out—a problem when starting out with #14 in a character driven series.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

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The story vacillates between Mayberry and Parks and Rec with its wholesomeness, off-color humor, quirky characters, and small town politics. Apparently, this is the first in the series. Frankly, I was hoping the novel would live up to its title. The seventh daughter talking with books was the best part of the plot.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr

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Despite its unique and lyrical style, it’s difficult to connect with characters who continually make incredibly unwise choices. No doubt a five star book in its own right, yet this reader still needs to enjoy the story, not just admire the writing.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ I Can’t Remember What I Forgot by Sue Halpern

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For those who like their science delivered in friendly, anecdotal ala Malcolm Gladwell style, then Halpern’s book about the timely topic of memory loss, as in preventing dementia or finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, is a read to consider.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

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Take the trope of outlier girl meeting up with too-good-to-be-true boy (Meg/Calvin from Wrinkle in a Time) and stir in a time traveling plot complete with distracted mother and missing father, and you find yourself on familiar ground in Brashares’ story about the future.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

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Ah, there is nothing like a full-blown, well-written Victorian drama set in a quaint English town. There’s gossipy neighbors, entangled romances, unexpected weddings and funerals, secret undercurrents, plot twists—just the right elements for a BBC historical series. Bronte and Austen seem to be the more remembered lady novelists of that era; however, Gaskell holds her own and should not be overlooked.

May consisted of a grand mix of genres and the variety proved a tonic for my frazzled state of mind. You can find more reviews at my Goodreads website.

UPDATE: The library opened its doors today! Double Woo-Hoo!!

Bard Bits: May


I managed to go to school without any experience with Shakespeare (yeah, how did that happen?) I can easily relate to my student’s bewilderment when we begin our drama unit. Freshmen study Romeo and Juliet, sophomores experience Julius Caesar, juniors skip Shakespeare to study American Literature (The Crucible), and depending on the teacher, students have a range of selection from an overview of the comedies to a dive into tragedy with Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, or Macbeth.

I am usually prepared for groans from my sophomores when I announce we are studying Shakespeare. “Not again!” “We did him last year.” “Shakespeare is so boring.” Instead of coming up with excuses and defending our Wily Bard of Stratford, I agree with them. This gets me some interesting looks–most def.

I do agree with my students. Shakespeare can be boring, or at least his plays were until I got the hang of them. Watching, let alone reading the plays, was painful to endure, and I felt I could never get anywhere, no matter how hard I tried. Then again, learning how to ski was painful, and I wondered if I would ever get down the mountain without a initiating a yard sale. Hmm, I should use this analogy with my students since they have grown up with a mountain in their backyard.

Here are two thoughts on Shakespeare:

“I am more easily bored with Shakespeare, and have suffered more ghastly evenings with him, than with any dramatist I know.” Peter Brook, English theatre director

“We find Shakespeare boring because we’re lazy. We’re not willing to get through the language. That’s the only barrier. If a play is performed right by those who are properly trained, after about twenty minutes you won’t be aware of the language because the human story is so strong.” –David Suchet, actor

What are your experiences with Shakespeare? Bored, frustrated, from having to endure year after year of his plays in school? Perhaps initially bored, but then the story unfolds and the words are no longer a barrier and serve as a contribution to the experience? Or maybe you grew to appreciate him with time and experience?

One of my standout memories of teaching my favorite play, Hamlet–sorry, I do mention that often, don’t I?–is after we wrapped up the unit, one student, from my regular, not AP class, stayed behind. “You know I’m going to miss discussing Hamlet, I really got to like this play.” He grew thoughtful. “I can’t discuss Shakespeare with my father.”

I never discussed Shakespeare with my father either. But I sure discuss him with my own children when I get the chance. Shakespeare boring? Not for long. Hang in there, dig in your poles, don’t cross your ski tips, and you will enjoy the thrill of going from snowplow to slalom. That applies to skiing as well.

Mail can be a happy place…


Amidst the current state of concerns arrived a day brightener:

Yes, a bit of celebration receiving a box of my debut picture book!

A happy moment holding my first published book

The premise of Someday We Will seems even more appropriate now. The anticipation of being together once again due to distance takes on different meaning.

In these times of uncertainty my prayer is that you and your family stay well and stay strong. Take care and celebrate being together in ways that bring you happiness.

Igniting a Discussion on Happiness


In my day job as an AP teacher I have the privilege of introducing students to literary works of merit. I look forward to their insights and perspectives.

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We have just begun Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian tale of government control: Fahrenheit 451. This deceptively easy read contains complicated topics. One discussion topic is happiness. Guy Montag is not a happy fireman, or at least he was one until Clarisse asked him, “Are you happy?”

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So I put it to my students a discussion statement prompted by Clarisse: “Happiness is a choice, not a given.”

A lively discussion developed with a split between total agreement and a few who decided happiness was a complicated issue and they couldn’t come to complete agreement about it.

I then prompted them with this question: “What is the difference between happiness and joy?”

Their conclusions were opposite of my mine.

They said: “Happiness is long lasting, while joy is a temporary emotion.”

Hmm, I’ve always reckoned it to be the opposite. Happiness is a temporary state, dependent on outside circumstances, yet joy lives deep in our being, dwelling in our soul.

Nope. They didn’t buy that. Maybe I did have it wrong. I proceeded in the course of action that all teachers must do when wondering if what they are teaching to their students is baloney. I Googled it.

This is what I found: Joy or Happiness?

What are your thoughts? Is happiness dependent on outside circumstances? Does joy stem from emotional contentment from within?

Interestingly enough Guy Montag, F451’s protagonist, upon realizing he is not happy begins making decisions involving enormous collateral damage. Joy is never mentioned as Guy Montag seeks happiness. Does he find happiness or joy? I will have to reread it and decide if he actually did. And that’s why F451 remains a classic—it keeps asking the reader questions after the last page is turned.

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What are your thoughts about joy vs happiness?

Reader Round Up: February


Oh, Yay—made it to March. January and February are the funky winter months around these parts. Too much snow mixed with occasional icy windy Arctic blasts with a rounding off of a surprising amount of rain. Indoors weather for sure, as I no longer ski having learned to appreciate my extremities staying in one piece, thank you muchly.

February might be the shortest month, but this year is leap year which calls for an extra day of reading. Nice.

To celebrate leap year, February’s Reader Round Up consists of the usual star reviews and links to Goodreads reviews with the added bonus of one sentence teasers.

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On the Beach by Nevil Shute ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ The rabbits win.

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Tomorrow Is Forever by Gwen Bristol ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Fortunately the book was shorter than the war.

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Howard’s End by E.M. Forster ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Sometimes the movie is actually better than the book.

The Breaking Wave by Nevil Shute ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ In this case, it wasn’t the butler who did it.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️ Some people have a burning desire to read a good book

Reading Round Up: January


January is a complex month: it’s a fave in how it ushers in a new year full of promise, yet it drags in with it the continuance of winter. There is also a remainder of the semester, about two weeks before a week of finals with a scant couple of days into the second semester.

Not that anyone is asking me, but I would like January to be a reset month. Turn the corner, flip the calendar over, and it’s a new year, new month, new semester, new weather. None of this leftover stuff. Until that grand plan gets off the drawing board I will continue to forge on and meet my goal of reading 101 books this year (I’ve met my goal for the last three years with a bonus reading *woo hoo*).

Setting up the Goodreads Reading Challenge is a marvelous way to keep track of my books. Some I remember clearly, some are hazy. Some are “I read that?” I should read as Francis Bacon suggests, which is to savor and digest slowly; however, even he acknowledges some books end up being consumed quickly since they are so tasty, like in that chocolate truffle was so yummy that I consume it in one bite and can’t really remember how it tasted, except it was really, really good. Some books are like that.

Here are the highlights from January. I have added the links should you be prompted to read the review. Reading gets me through the gloom of January’s continuous wintry days.

Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Conan Doyle ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Diary of River Song: Series One by Jenny T. Colman, et al ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The West End Horror: A Posthumous Memoir by John H. Watson, MD by Nicholas Meyer ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Breaking Wave by Nevil Shute ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Goodreads Challenge minder gently admonishes me to stay on track by letting me know how many books I am behind. This sets up a bit of panic as I imagine this growing pile of unread books trailing after me from month to month. I basically have to average eight books a month to hit my goal. Not always easy when there is a riveting PBS Masterpiece series on. We’ve been immersed in Howard’s End with Haley Atwell and Matthew MacFadyen. Of course the series prompts me to go and grab Forster’s book from the library. Maybe there will be a comparison between the book and the film (Emma Thompson) and the PBS series…hmm, is the library got late hours today?

Reader Round Up: December 


December, amidst traditional and expected festivities, is Christmas break. A lovely respite from the storms of education. Trust me, both teachers and students appreciate the time off from school. Parents might also appreciate the time with their kinder–that is a case by case decision (especially depending on the weather and inside time).

As an empty nester educator I look forward to getting some deep, uninterrupted reading accomplished. It’s my last push to hit my Goodreads goal, which is 101 this year. Oh, wait–I’m posting this in January so yes, I did make my goal and then some. Here are the highlights:

Surfacing by Mark Magro  ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

When Silence Sings by Sarah Loudin Thomas ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas (Elizabth Rokkan, translator)⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Stephen Snyder, translator) ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Revisit to a Perfect Club


Back in August 2018 I discovered the Perfect Club. This was my partial introduction:

I am always interested in reading what others are reading. Somehow I discovered The Classics Club, and the main requirement is to create a list of at least 50 classics and set a read-by date. This club and I shall become besties, I know it. They are friendly and flexible and have all kinds of reading activities going on all the time. This is a better discovery than a new gelato flavor.

I proposed I would complete my reading by December 31st, 2019. Well—that isn’t going to happen. I have strayed from my list a multitude of times to pick up a new shiny. No regrets. I do relish reading, new or classic. A good read is a good read. Below is my revised and tweaked classics list. UPDATE: The list is now completed as of 6/24/20!

* indicates read and reviewed already in Goodreads.

Any of these titles look familiar to you? What would you add to the list? Are you going to join me over at The Classics Club?

  1. Green Willow by B.J. Chute*
  2. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli*
  3. Blue Willow by Doris Gates*
  4. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart*
  5. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl*
  6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl*
  7. Charlie and the Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl*
  8. Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson*
  9. Gilead by Marilyn Robinson*
  10. Princess Bride by William Goldman* (reread)
  11. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf*
  12. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin*
  13. The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier*
  14. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan*
  15. The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty*
  16. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (reread)*
  17. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn*
  18. Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse*
  19. Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce*
  20. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells*
  21. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisnero*
  22. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken*
  23. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving*
  24. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier*
  25. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome*
  26. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines*
  27. Swallows and Amazon by Arthur Ransome*
  28. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury* (reread)
  29. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver*
  30. Persuasion by Jane Austen* (reread)
  31. Howard’s End by E.M. Forster*
  32. Woman in White by Wilkie Collin*
  33. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle*
  34. King Solomon’s Mine by H. Rider Haggard*
  35. The Breaking Wave by Nevil Shute*
  36. The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher*
  37. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev*
  38. The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner*
  39. The Least of My Brothers by Harold Bell Wright*
  40. The Stranger by Albert Camus*
  41. Lust for Life by Irving Stone*
  42. Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney*
  43. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke*
  44. Work by Louisa May Alcott*
  45. Lady Susan by Jane Austen (reread)*
  46. Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner*
  47. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin*
  48. On the Beach by Nevil Shute*
  49. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley*
  50. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell*
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