Read-Alongs aka Parental Game Changers

As a parent I sometimes struggle with balancing screen time with book time. Kids seem to naturally gravitate to the screens in their lives. So I love it when I find something that can bridge this gap! The Read-Along Collection on the Libby App solves this on-going dilemma. 

The Derby Public Library has over 400 Read-Along picture and early reader books ready for you to borrow. Each book is read aloud to your child, pages automatically turning, and the words are highlighted as they are said. Even for pre-readers, these help develop those literacy skills that will help them thrive in school.

Plus they are fun! To further entice your kiddo, some of their favorite television and movie characters can be found: Dora the Explorer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Blaze, Paw Patrol, and more! 

To find these books:

  1.  Open the Libby App, scroll down a bit
  2.  Click on Explore
  3.  Click on Guide: Kids, scroll down some more
  4.  Click Read-Alongs

 From there employ the filters to find just the perfect title, even non-fiction is available. So for those times you can’t make it into the library to pick up new books, long road trips, or when you just need 5 whole minutes of peace, Read-Alongs are here to save the day!

What’s Ashley Reading?: When Women Ruled the World

When Women Ruled the World by Kara Cooney

The cover image is the famous bust of Nefertiti.

First line: In the fifth century B.C., thousands of years after her lifetime, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about a certain Nitocris, a queen whose husband-brother had been murdered by conspirators.

Summary: Egyptologist Kara Cooney takes us back to Ancient Egypt and the rule of six remarkable female kings. In a time where men ruled everything these women were able to rise to the highest position in the ancient world using their own cunning. Using years of research and her own deductions we look at their rise to power, their reign and their eventual fall from grace.

My Thoughts: Before starting this book I had only heard of three of these female pharaohs: Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra. I was really excited to delve deeper into each of their lives and reigns but I got the extra bonus of learning about three other incredible women from Ancient Egypt. Each of them came to power in different ways. Some through marriage, others religion, and by default as well. Cooney does a fantastic job giving the background of each pharaoh’s dynasty and the events leading up to their reign.

The fact that we know so much about events from 5,000 years ago is astounding to me. The Egyptians left lots of details about the reigns of their monarchs either on monuments, temples or tombs. We are very lucky to have these records. And hopefully over time we will discover more as the search continues for more tombs. I really hope that one day we will find the tomb of Nefertiti!

It has been a dream of mine to visit Egypt and see the pyramids. The thought of walking where these god-kings once did would be awe-inspiring. I have long followed the work of Zahi Hawass, a world renowned Egyptologist, but I think I will keep an eye on Kara Cooney as well. She has another book all about Hatshesput which I hope to read soon.

My one critique is the fact that the author tried to compare current events to Egyptian culture. It did not flow well and it takes you out of the mindset of the facts. I skipped those paragraphs. Luckily they were few and far between.

FYI: If you want a historical fiction book similar to this then try Nefertiti by Michelle Moran.

*This is my pick for #8 (A book by an author who is new to you) in the ReadICT reading challenge.*

Lit Pairings – City of Thieves

City of Thieves by David Benioff

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.

By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

Usually WWII books just aren’t my jam. I feel like unless you’re a history buff, once you’ve read a few books on the topic you’re good. But I found City of Thieves to be the exception. I’ve never read anything that explained how desperate things got in Leningrad during that time. It was a moving story that will forever be ingrained in my mind.

So how should I write a food related blog centered on a book about war and starvation? Probably a little like my post about The Hunger by Alma Katsu that focused on The Donner Party. Like the Donner Party, the people of Leningrad were rumored to have resorted to cannibalism, but instead of showing you another rib recipe I think we’ll go another route. In City of Thieves you were considered lucky if you could even get your hands on a onion! So, how about you hope your neighbor has a tomato stashed away, you offer up your precious onion, like it’s your first born, and together you could make Tomato Onion Stew. If things started looking up you may find some wild creature roaming the bombed streets. Do your best to catch it, and make Old Fashioned Wild Game Stew. You probably won’t have any veggies to put in it but maybe, just maybe you saved a little of your daily onion and you could drop that in? Sounds like a plan to me!

All kidding aside City of Thieves by David Benioff is a wonderful read. Give it a go and let me know what you think.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Gwendy’s Button Box

Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

First line: There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs.

Summary: Gwendy is a twelve year old girl from the town of Castle Rock. One day while running up the stairs to Castle View she is stopped by a gentleman in a black hat. During their conversation he gives her a box. The box has buttons. Some are harmless but others are not. He tells her that the box is her responsibility and to keep it secret. As the years go by Gwendy notices changes in herself and the world she lives in. Is it the box? And what price does she have to pay for its gifts?

My Thoughts: I had no idea what I was getting in to when I started this book. It seemed to walk the line between a sweet little story and a nightmare. I listened to the audiobook while cross stitching on a Sunday morning. I was completely engrossed in the story. I even gasped and set my stitching down at several points so that I could focus on the story.

When Gwendy first gets the box it appears to be a dream come true. The box spits out silver dollars and chocolates that suppress cravings. Everything in her life starts going better. What’s not to like? But when she starts getting curious about the other buttons I knew something bad was coming. Books like this show how great of a writer Stephen King truly is. He can mix the genres and write an excellent story in less than 200 pages.

FYI: There is a sequel written by the co-author called Gwendy’s Magic Feather.

Random Reading Thoughts: A new year for reading

It’s the first full week of a new year and a new decade (OK, maybe not a new decade depending on who you ask, but that’s beside the point). This fresh start means so many opportunities to revamp, or refresh, or rethink — or not — my reading. It’s a chance to look back at my reading of the past year and see if I’d like to shake things up a bit.

I use Goodreads to track my reading and to keep a loose want-to-read list. I sometimes write reviews, but often I forget those things that pop into my brain while I’m reading that I might like to remember. I don’t stop reading to open the app or get on my computer to jot down notes, but I want to be better so I decided that I am going analog this year and keeping a paper reading journal as well as recording my books on Goodreads.

Do you use Goodreads to track your reading? Do you use it to set reading goals or to keep a to-read list? Tell us in the comments how you use Goodreads and if it helps you read better.

Admittedly, I’ve never been very good at journaling, but maybe if I’m just keeping notes about the books I read it will go better. I’d like to remember better why I love the books I do. I’d also like to be able to look back at books that didn’t work for me and have an idea of why not. I’m also dedicating a small notebook to keeping a list of books I want to read. And taking a page from Modern Mrs. Darcy, I have a goal of doing more than just jotting down the title and author.

I’ve set my Goodreads goal for this year (52), I’ve got my reader’s journal ready to go, and I’ve got a plan for my to-be-read list. I have two reading challenges to participate in — the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 challenge and the Wichita Eagle #ReadICT challenge. I think I’m ready to tackle my reading in 2020. Here’s looking at a great year to come in reading!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Five

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

First line: There are two versions of the events of 1887. One is very well known, but the other is not.

Summary: Everyone has heard the story of Jack the Ripper. He haunted the streets of Whitechapel preying on women. His victims known as the canonical five are Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane. His story has been researched and turned over hundreds of times but very little is actually known about the women whose lives he took. Here are their stories.

My Thoughts: I have recommended this book to anyone and everyone! I was completely engrossed in it. It is thoroughly researched and well written. It reads like fiction and is easy to get caught up in these women’s lives. I found myself hoping for better outcomes as I read even though I knew how each of their stories was a going to end.

Rubenhold brings these women and the times that they lived to the forefront. Everyone thinks that they know the victims. They were prostitutes right? Wrong. Some were but not all five. Each has a story to tell. I could not believe the detail put into their narratives. Using housing records, census, interviews and newspaper reports we get fuller picture of their lives.

Sometimes we romanticize the Victorian time period but it was anything but ideal. People were barely able to care for their families. Housing was not always safe or healthy. Disease, alcoholism and poverty were prevalent. How people survived is astounding.

If you love history, true crime or biographies than this is perfect for you. It is full of information that will keep you reading until the very end.

FYI: There is very little mentioned about Jack the Ripper. This book focuses on the women only and the time that they lived.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Elevation

Elevation by Stephen King

First line: Scott Carey knocked on the door of the Ellis condo unit, and Bob Ellis (everyone in Highland Acres still called him Doctor Bob, although he was five years retired) let him in.

Summary: One day Scott Carey noticed that he was losing weight but that his body was not changing. Each day brought on another weight loss. Even when he was holding something the weight was the same or less each day. There is no explanation for this strange occurrence. He has no interest in being a science experiment.

And this is not the only troubling part of Scott’s life. He has a small feud with his neighbors. They keep letting their dogs use his yard as a bathroom. While Scott tries to mend fences he learns that sometimes it takes more than just a kind word or an apology.

My Thoughts: This is such a sweet little book. The story is creative and uplifting. It is unlike most of King’s other works. It shows that he has a range of talents in writing. I sped through it in just a few hours. At the end I had to sit and reflect on the story for a bit to completely appreciate the story. I was not sure how it was going to end. I was a little shocked, saddened and happy with the ending. It was not what I was expecting at all.

I loved how the relationships changed in the story. How the characters evolved as the tale progressed even changing their prejudices. This is a wonderful read for anyone who likes a good story. If you need a quick book to finish off your reading goal for 2019 this should be it!

FYI: No ghosts, horror or mad dogs.

Random Reading Thoughts: I didn’t meet my 2019 reading goal

How many of you track your annual reading? Do you keep a reading journal or do you track on a digital site like Goodreads? I use Goodreads to track my reading, and I love to set a yearly goal to see if I can reach it. This year my goal was to read 60 books. That’s a little more than a book a week, and a goal I have hit before.

Cover of Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which is a beautiful picture book.

But this year, it just didn’t happen. When I first realized I wasn’t going to hit my goal I was pretty dejected. But the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s OK. I still read 50 books this year — and there are still two weeks for me to finish another book or two. And then I started thinking about why I didn’t hit my goal and realized that it was (mostly) other good things that kept me busy.

I started quilting a few years ago, and I did more sewing this year than I have done in a while. I relish the time I get to spend at my sewing machine creating things. I often listen to an audiobook while I sew, but sometimes I just enjoy the whirring sound of the needle moving along through the fabric. This took away from my regular reading time this year. As did some other things.

Cover of Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
The first book I read in 2019 was “Bel Canto,” by Ann Patchett. It’s one of my favorite books and was a reread for me.

And I’m happy with the books I read. I read some I loved and some that were just pretty good. I added some new titles to my list of favorites and I revisited some old friends. According to Goodreads’ “My Year in Books,” I have read 17,752 pages in those 50 books as of Dec. 18. The shortest was 32 pages, a picture book of Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The longest? “11/22/63” by Stephen King, which was incredible on audio.

So what’s your goal for 2020? A number of books read? Reading one more book than you read last year? Focusing on a certain genre? Reading for a challenge? Tell us in the comments if you set a reading goal and what it is. I’m still trying to decide what my reading in 2020 is going to look like.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Holidays on Ice

Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris

First line: I was in a coffee shop looking through the want ads when I read, “Macy’s Herald Square, the largest store in the world, has big opportunities for out-going, fun-loving people of all shapes and sizes who want more than just a holiday job!  Working as an elf in Macy’s Santaland means being at the center of the excitement…”

Summary: In his holiday collection of essays, David Sedaris covers topics from his time as an elf in Santaland at Macy’s, holiday traditions in other countries and his family’s traditions.

My Thoughts: I am not one who looks for holiday books to read at Christmas time.  But this book is the exception.  Ever since I was introduced to this collection I was hooked.  I listen to it every year.  I love to hear about his time in Santaland. It is my favorite part. But I do enjoy when he questions people on his travels about their local traditions. I wish I would have thought about this while traveling abroad.

It is best enjoyed as an audiobook.  David reads it himself which adds an extra bit of wonderfulness to the stories.  No one can deliver the lines like he can.  I laugh every time I hear it.  I was so happy to find that it is available on Hoopla, so I can listen to it whenever I want!  If you are looking for something funny for your annual holiday read than this is my recommendation.

FYI: If you are easily offended then this may not be the book for you but we do have lots of other Christmas titles available on our displays!

What’s Ashley Reading?: I Found You

I Found You by Lisa Jewell

First line: Alice Lake lives in a house by the sea.

Summary: When Alice notices a man sitting on the beach behind her house in the rain she wonders what he could be doing there but decides not to get involved. Several hours later he is still sitting there. When she takes out a coat to the man she starts to talk to him and learns that he has lost his memory. With no idea who he is or how he ended up on the beach, Alice invites him to stay in her guest house for the night.

Lily Monrose has been married for three weeks. Her husband loves her very much but one night he does not come home. The police look into who he is and where he might have gone. As they search they discover that her husband, Carl Monrose does not exist. Lily is determined to find her husband and get some answers.

My Thoughts: I enjoy everything I have read by Lisa Jewell. Her books have a fun mystery with twists and turns. The story always moves along quickly with intriguing characters and situations. However, I was a little disappointed in this one. I enjoyed the story but it was really predictable. I kept hoping that the ending would have an OMG moment like her newest books have had but it did not. It wrapped up nicely and everyone ended up “happy”.

I did enjoy the characters and the events of the book. I really liked the flashbacks to 1993. It was dark and disturbing. It was the typical Lisa Jewell. Maybe I need to stick to her newer books rather than trying some of her older ones. But if you like a good story than this is one.

FYI: We have an audio version available on Hoopla.