Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Reviewing for (Less) Fun and (More) Profit

I was very excited to sign on as a contracted reviewer for Shelf AwarenessReaders’ Edition e-newsletter when it launched earlier this year, but I must admit that I didn’t really foresee how a paid reviewing gig would affect my overall reading and blogging habits. This “do what you love, the money will follow” exercise has turned out to be a “be careful what you wish for” thing sometimes. Perhaps if I’d understood about the “Overjustification Effect” before I started this, I’d have been more reticent about jumping into it:
The Misconception: There is nothing better in the world than getting paid to do what you love.
The Truth: Getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings.”
My commitment to Shelf Awareness is for two reviews a month, which isn't onerous. I’ve given them a list of my preferred categories, and they usually send me four or five galleys a month to consider, so I do have some choice about what I’ll be reading for them. They’ve given me books I might not have encountered otherwise, and while I’m not sure any of them will make my Books of the Year list, they’ve generally been good reading.

Having said that, ”I might not have encountered these books otherwise” also means that, in some cases, these aren’t the books I’d have read if I’d had entirely free choice about it. But getting paid to do something sometimes means that you don't necessarily have free choice about how you do what you do. And if I want to get paid to do this, I have commitments and deadlines to meet, and in all honesty, those things certainly affect my motivation to choose certain books at certain times.

It’s further complicated by the fact that my reading time is limited as it is, and that this work is a discretionary sideline to an unrelated full-time career that claims most of my weekday hours. I have a family, and I have other ways I like to spend my non-working time besides reading--the blogging I’ve been doing for nearly five years being pretty high on that list. Having said that, when I’ve had to make decisions about how to allocate the time budget, you may have noticed that blogging is one of the places I’ve made cuts (although they’re partly offset by the fact that I can re-post my SA reviews here once they’ve run in the newsletter, with proper disclosure), and those cuts may turn out to be long-term.

I realize I could always choose not to do the paid reviewing, as it’s certainly not what pays the bills (although it does provide some “mad money”), but it is something that moves me in the direction I’d like to take work-wise, and that’s one reason I don’t want to stop doing it. Even before I took it on, I’d been cutting way back on accepting books for non-paid reviewing; I’m still limiting those, and at this point I think that will also be a long-term cut (aside from those I collect at BEA, which I’ll most likely do again in 2012 despite having far too much of the 2011 haul still in TBR Purgatory). Eventually, I’d really like more time for discretionary reading to come from that change, as I do not enjoy experiencing bookstore paralysis...and I see paying for books I want to read (and then write about, which is why I came here in the first place) as quite different from accepting "free" book offers as effective payment for reviews.

I realize this post may sound like one big list of complaints, but I really don’t mean it to be; I’m thinking out loud about my choices. I realize I’m very fortunate to have the chance to read books, write about them, and get paid for doing it, and I really don’t want to give up that opportunity. But I also don’t want that opportunity to be something that takes the fun out of reading, or takes as much time away from "reading for fun" as it has for the first six months I’ve been doing it.

Going into a new year of reading, I think I need to understand that this new line of work is still a work in progress for me, give myself more time (and patience) to work out how to make it all work, accept that some things just may not be able to work the same way they did before I got into this...and maybe use some of my vacation time from work as periodic “reading days” for my other work!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

At MomsLA: Can we afford Santa Claus?

It’s not even a secret to those who keep the secret, really: parents are Santa’s most helpful elves, interceding with children’s Christmas requests and quietly seeing to whether they’re granted. But when we know that those packages under the tree are coming out of our own budgets and not a workshop at the North Pole–and we know that those budgets are stretched daily, even without the expenses of making the holidays happy–should we be feeding the fantasy and encouraging our kids to “ask Santa” for anything at all?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Light the way to Christmas Day

You may have noticed I'm filling the spaces between "real" (that is, written) posts with photos throughout the holiday season. It's the most picturesque time of the year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

At the movies: *Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows*

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Mystery/Suspense (2011), rated PG-12
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney
Synopsis, via RottenTomatoes.com: Sherlock Holmes has always been the smartest man in the room...until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large-Professor James Moriarty-and not only is he Holmes' intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may actually give him an advantage over the renowned detective. When the Crown Prince of Austria is found dead, the evidence, as construed by Inspector Lestrade, points to suicide. But Sherlock Holmes deduces that the prince has been the victim of murder-a murder that is only one piece of a larger and much more portentous puzzle, designed by Professor Moriarty. The cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead of Holmes as he spins a web of death and destruction-all part of a greater plan that, if he succeeds, will change the course of history. -- (C) Warner Bros
This was my impression of the first Sherlock Holmes movie, two years ago: 
“It was entertaining - Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law played off one another well - but I felt that it was a bit of a mess in spots, with a plot involving a highly-placed conspiracy and occult elements that seemed just a bit Dan Brown-influenced to me. I've never read any of the original Holmes novels, but I'll just assume many liberties were taken. Still, it was fun, and RDJ is always very watchable.”
The follow-up, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, is less of a mess, and even more fun. I still haven’t read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes novels, but have picked up enough about them through general cultural literacy to be able to place the characters in context. This movie adds two significant ones to the mix, Sherlock’s brother Mycroft and his arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty.

The plot synopsis quoted above is pretty vague, but regardless of this series’ roots in the traditions of mystery/detective fiction, plot doesn’t matter much in these film interpretations--although I do think the plot in this movie made more sense than the first one did. Giving a major role to the Holmes/Moriarty relationship helped with that, although the larger focus remains on the relationship between Holmes and his partner Dr. John Watson. Downey and Law seem to have real fun with these characters, and that’s where most of the fun of the movie comes from--RDJ remains very watchable, even as Holmes assumes a variety of disguises.

For me, some of the fun also derives from these films’ great sense of style, and I appreciated that even more this time, particularly the steampunk elements. Overall, A Game of Shadows isn’t as smart as its main characters are, but it’s got clever dialogue, some excellent set pieces, and moves along well--it’s a very enjoyable ride.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Moment: At Santa's Village

South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, CA, 12/11/2011

This may be one of the finest examples of the North Pole in Southern California this year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Salon: Bookstore Paralysis, and overdue Bookkeeping

The Sunday Salon.com

The strangest thing happened to me last weekend. I went into a bookstore and not only was I NOT overcome with book lust, I wanted to flee the scene. I was overwhelmed and fatigued by all the choices. I had to take a few minutes for a mental adjustment, and was only able to resume browsing when I reminded myself Christmas was coming, and I could look for books as gifts for other people instead of for myself. That helped, and saved me from the shame of leaving the store empty-handed.

I mostly blame book blogging for this experience. Thoughts of the stacks of TBR books all around my house have rarely held me back from adding to them during a bookstore visit, but this time they did. Despite being miles away, the yet-unread ARCs that I brought back from BEA last spring nudged and nagged at me. The review deadlines that I always seem to be running behind lately loomed on a giant calendar in my mind’s eye. I just couldn’t bring myself to add to it all.

But to be honest, some of the blame probably could be shared with the bookstore itself, which was of the unremarkable chain variety and shall remain nameless for our mutual protection. I suspect any reservations my TBR shelves and review responsibilities were causing could have been easily overcome if I’d been in search of--or attracted to--a PARTICULAR book, but I had no agenda when I went in, and without one, the browsing just didn’t work for me.

It was a strange and awkward experience I would prefer not to repeat, but I’d love to know if it’s happened to anyone else. Have you ever left a bookstore without buying anything because it was all just too much?

This is my first Sunday Salon in a few weeks, and it’s good to be back! And it’s been even longer since my last Bookkeeping report, so let’s catch up...

Reviews posted since the last report:

New to TBR Purgatory (“R”=review copy)
(won in a giveaway from Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit--an overdue thank you!)
(won in a giveaway from Megan at Leafing Through Life--thank you, very belatedly!)

I’m hoping to get a little just-for-fun reading in during the holidays, but we’ll have to see how the review-required reading moves along (and that’s another post, if I can make some time for writing as well as reading!). I’m also thinking about what might make my 2011 Books of the Year list (which may not end up posted till the beginning of 2012). What are your plans for these last few weeks of this reading year?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Foto: Having a Ball!

We call this fellow "Jacuzzi Bear." One day he'll come and live with us, but he's at home at my mother-in-law's house now, wearing his holiday finery.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Talk: *The Personal History of Rachel DuPree*, by Ann Weisgarber (updated post)

(This is a revised/updated post reflecting my thoughts upon finishing this novel. It was originally published on December 8, 2011 to meet a commitment for a TLC Book Tour date.)

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree: A Novel
Ann Weisgarber
Penguin (Non-Classics) (2011), Paperback (ISBN 0143119486 / 9780143119487)
Fiction (historical), 336 pages
Source: Publisher
Reason for reading: TLC Book Tour

Opening lines: “I still see her, our Liz, sitting on a plank, dangling over that well. She held on to the rope that hung from the pulley, her bare feet pressed together so tight that the points on her ankle bones were nearly white. She was six. She had on her brother's castoff pants and earlier, when I'd given them to her, she'd asked if wearing pants made her a boy. I'd told her we'd wait and see, and that had made her giggle.

“The plank Liz sat on swayed and twisted in a wind that blew stinging grit. Her bandana covered her nose and mouth. The rope around her waist was knotted to the one that held the plank. Isaac, my husband, called it a harness. He said it'd keep her from falling off.

“'We're right here,' I said to her. 'Daddy's got you.'”
Book description, via the publisher’s website: Praised by Alice Walker and many other bestselling writers, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is an award-winning debut novel with incredible heart about life on the prairie as it's rarely been seen. Reminiscent of The Color Purple, as well as the frontier novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather, it opens a window on the little-known history of African American homesteaders and gives voice to an extraordinary heroine who embodies the spirit that built America.
Publisher's Reading Group Guide summary
Comments: Ann Weisgarber spent seven years on the research and writing of The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, her first novel, and has been rewarded for her efforts with several literary honors, including an Orange Prize nomination (the book was first published in England). The research enables Weisgarber to bring her story to life with careful details, but the most effective detail she uses is her title character's narrative voice.

The fact that some of the homesteading pioneers of the Great Plains were African-Americans seems to be a bit of an historical footnote, but in some ways it makes sense that they'd seek opportunity in a place where they wouldn't be held back by entrenched traditions and prejudices. Isaac DuPree saw that opportunity in the landowning promise of the Homestead Act; and in Isaac, Rachel Reeves saw her own opportunity to escape potential marriage to a slaughterhouse worker and a life of domestic labor. They made a deal: Isaac could claim Rachel's 160 Homestead-Act acres as well as his own if they got married and remained husband and wife for a year. Twelve years later, they live with their five children on the 2500 acres they now own, seizing more opportunities as neighboring ranchers give up on the tough, unwelcoming Dakota Badlands, sell out, and move back east. And now, a summer of terrible drought and another baby on the way have caused Rachel to wonder whether those neighbors might have had the right idea, and she begins to question what opportunities her children will find in this isolated, difficult place.

It's hard not to be impressed by how effectively Ann Weisgarber gives voice to an African-American pioneer woman of nearly a century ago. I was immediately and deeply drawn into Rachel's story and the challenges of her life--not just the hard labor of it, but the deep insecurity of it. Making a living off the land is inherently insecure and easily destabilized by the whims of nature, and for the DuPrees, it's compounded by the harshness of the place where they're trying to make that living. Rachel's increasing sense of loneliness is clear, and I responded strongly to both her strength and the tangled emotions that cause her to doubt it.

One thing that struck me early in my reading of this work of historical fiction is that it’s an interesting companion/counterpoint to one my favorite nonfiction reads of 2011, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. Wilkerson’s book explores the “Great Migration” of thousands of African-Americans from the segregated small towns of the South to the big cities of the North and the West Coast. Through Rachel Dupree, Ann Weisgarber traces the migration of one African-American family from a big Northern city to the harsh, barely-populated prairies of the Dakotas, where they are more challenged by the isolation and the elements than by Jim Crow in their efforts to cultivate the land and make a life.

I wouldn't have minded if The Personal History of Rachel DuPree had been a longer novel; there were some plot threads that didn't seem to be fully explored. At the same time, I'm not sure a longer novel would have had the same intensity or, in the end, have been as satisfying.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Trees: The Drunk-Monkey Decorating Secret

My mother-in-law hosts a Christmas-tree party every year. In return for food, drinks, and congeniality, she gets friends, neighbors and family to do her decorating.

An open bar + more than 40 party guests=major drunk-monkey-decorating potential, you'd think. 

And yet...

The end result comes from the involvement of many hands, but seems to reflect the thoughtful actions of actual humans. Where were the drunk monkeys?

They stayed at my house, tossing garland. I've concluded that the line between a lovely tree and a monkey tree is made from LOTS of garland.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shelf Awareness Book Talk: *One Hundred And One Nights*, by Benjamin Buchholz

One Hundred and One Nights: A Novel
Benjamin Buchholz
Back Bay Books (2011), Paperback original (ISBN 0316133779 / 9780316133777)
Fiction, 368 pages

Portions of this review were originally published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (12/9/11), which supplied an Advance Reader Copy (furnished by the publisher) and payment. All opinions expressed are my own.

Abu Saheed--”Father Truth”--is the ironically-chosen pseudonym of the narrator of Benjamin Buchholz’ debut novel, One Hundred and One Nights. The site of his new shop selling mobile phones and satellite dishes in the southern Iraqi town of Safwan allows a prime view of the highway overpass used by the passing American military convoys, which he tracks daily. Although he hasn’t been in town or in business long, his life seems to have taken on a routine in just weeks: days in the marketplace, dinners at an old friend’s restaurant, and nights alone in his unfinished house. That new routine is unsettled when a local girl begins visiting him in the evenings as he’s closing the shop.

Of course, things aren’t what they seem. Through use of flashback, foreshadowing, and stream of consciousness, Buchholz unwinds the story of an Iraqi physician who returns home to Baghdad after years of study and medical practice in Chicago, believing he could help his country rebuild after the fall of Saddam Hussein...and is now in this isolated southern town selling mobile phones as a cover for a mission bent on destruction. That mission isn’t what it seems, either. As the story builds, the reader begins to question the reliability of the narrator and the reality of his situation, and this adds to the dramatic tension as the flashbacks and the present converge.

Buchholz’s unit of the Wisconsin National Guard was deployed to Iraq in 2005, and he and his family have remained in the Middle East; his assumption of an Iraqi voice and viewpoint, and his depiction of native characters, settings, and customs are informed and convincing. One Hundred and One Nights is an absorbing, affecting, and beautifully-written first novel.
From the publisher: After 13 years in America, Abu Saheeh has returned to his native Iraq, a nation transformed by the American military presence. Alone in a new city, he has exactly what he wants: freedom from his past. Then he meets Layla, a whimsical fourteen-year-old girl who enchants him with her love of American pop culture. Enchanted by Layla's stories and her company, Abu Saheeh settles into the city's rhythm and begins rebuilding his life. But two sudden developments--his alliance with a powerful merchant and his employment of a hot-headed young assistant--reawaken painful memories, and not even Layla may be able to save Abu Saheeh from careening out of control and endangering all around them.
A breathtaking tale of friendship, love, and betrayal, One Hundred and One Nights is an unforgettable novel about the struggle for salvation and the power of family.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Before and After: The Return of the Drunk Monkeys

We put up the Christmas decorations this past weekend. It's usually a bit chaotic and cluttered. We've probably got more ornaments than what would fit the tree comfortably, but it's so hard to leave any of them out. Every year, I hope it won't end up looking like it was attacked by some drunk monkeys.

Oh, well. Maybe next year.

BEFORE: With lights aglow, the tree awaits its finery.

AFTER: The Drunk Monkeys have done their thing, and the tree has to wear this outfit for another three weeks.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Recommendations, Given On the Fly

My apologies to those who were lured to this post by its title, because it’s somewhat misleading. This is the post where I talk about why I don't give book recommendations on the fly.

I went to a blogger party last weekend where most of the attendees aren’t book bloggers--our blogs cover a range of topics, but we all have being LA-area moms as a point in common. I met a few new people and caught up with some old friends, and several of the women I talked with had questions for me:
“What one book should I read right now?”
“What are you reading and loving?”
“What’s the best book you’ve read lately?”
“Have you read The Marriage Plot yet?”
Sadly, the response to that last question is “no,” although I look forward to changing that to a “yes” before too long. However, that was undoubtedly the easiest question to answer.

I think I’m a decent book reviewer. However, I don’t think I’m a good book recommender...and I think that’s related to the fact I tend to choose my own reading based on reviews rather than recommendations, if that makes sense. I’ll try to explain.

Unless I know you pretty well--and sometimes not even then--I’m not terribly comfortable giving advice on anything, and that includes what you “should” read. It’s related to the fact that I’m not terribly comfortable receiving advice, either (even if I ask for it). My preference is to seek out the information on my own, evaluate it, and make my own decisions, based on self-knowledge. I know my own likes and interests and what speaks to me. If I don’t know you and your tastes well, I don’t want to assume that you’ll respond to a book (or a movie, or what-have-you) the way I do, so I’m hesitant to come out and tell you that you need to read it, just because I did. I take personal recommendations quite personally (no pun intended); the list of people I give them to is pretty short, and I try to make those recommendations based at least as much on what I know they like as what I like. It’s usually an “I read this and thought of you” thing, and that really can’t happen unless I know you.

There are a couple of other reasons I hold back on making reading recommendations outright, and one is very specific to book blogging. Book bloggers have access to a lot of books before the general reading public does, and “what I’m reading and loving right now” could be a book you won’t be able to get for another couple of months, and I think it’s just frustrating to get a book recommendation that you can’t act on right away!

Another reason isn’t so much a book-blogging thing as a reading-interests thing. There’s so much I don't read, particularly in genre fiction, that I wouldn’t know where to begin recommending books to people whose preferences don’t jibe with mine. And due to various factors, I’m often one of the last to read the big “everyone’s-talking-about-it” books--but if everyone's talking about that book, you really don’t need my recommendation on it anyway, do you?

I feel as if I disappoint people when they ask me for on-the-fly book recommendations and I can’t give them decent answers, and I want to apologize if I’ve done that to you! Maybe I can make up for it by recommending a few of my favorite sources for the reviews and information I use to make my own reading choices? They can come to you in your inbox or feed reader:
As we rush toward the end of 2011, I’m working on my “Books of the Year” selections. It’s going to be tough to make the cuts this year, but I think that’s not a bad problem to have, as it speaks to the generally high quality of what I’ve read. Once I’ve made and posted those choices, I’d be happy to have you take any of those selections as recommended reading.
  • Here’s a question for book bloggers: How do you like being asked for on-the-fly book recommendations? How do you usually respond?
  • And here’s an invitation for those who’d like recommendations: Comment or e-mail me about your interests, your reading preferences, and a few books you’ve liked lately, and I’ll see what recommendations I can come up with for you--just help me get to know you a little better first!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shelf Awareness (Audio)Book Talk: *Just Kids*, by Patti Smith

This is a compensated review originally written for Shelf Awareness for Readers, which did not publish it. It is posted here with permission. I have a personal copy of this book, but hadn’t yet read it when I was offered the audiobook for review.

Just Kids
Patti Smith
HarperAudio (July 2011), unabridged audio CD (ISBN 9780062109385)
Memoir, 9 CDs

Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir of her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, which began with a random meeting in Brooklyn in 1967 and lasted until Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS in 1989, won the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction. Drawn together by their shared drive to create art and united by a vow to take care of one another, they spent several remarkable years together in New York City’s artistic subculture, centered around the legendary Hotel Chelsea.

Smith and Mapplethorpe were far more than best friends. As struggling young artists, they were roommates and, for a time, lovers (until they both accepted Robert’s homosexuality). And as their artistic paths diverged - Robert’s toward photography, Patti’s to poetry and music - they were one another’s muses. In Just Kids, Smith doesn’t over-analyze their complex relationship; she simply shares it intimately and openly, and makes it absorbing and engaging.

Mapplethorpe’s art was edgy and controversial; Smith’s music and poetry may be more respected than popular. It’s not necessary to be a fan of either’s work to be drawn into their personal story. A sharp observer and accomplished writer, Smith makes their world vivid and engaging, recounting scenes, episodes and conversations in striking detail.

Smith acknowledges that it took her a long time to be ready to tell this story, and she doesn’t shy away from its less-than-flattering elements. With variations in tone that match the material - erudite discussion of French poetry soon followed by a drawling recount of a conversation with one of her Chelsea neighbors - she makes an appealing narrator of her own story in this audio production, which is enhanced by the inclusion of some of her lyrics and poetry.
Book description, from the publisher’s website: It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation. 
Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography. Bound in innocence and enthusiasm, they traversed the city from Coney Island to Forty-second Street, and eventually to the celebrated round table of Max's Kansas City, where the Andy Warhol contingent held court. In 1969, the pair set up camp at the Hotel Chelsea and soon entered a community of the famous and infamous—the influential artists of the day and the colorful fringe. It was a time of heightened awareness, when the worlds of poetry, rock and roll, art, and sexual politics were colliding and exploding. In this milieu, two kids made a pact to take care of each other. Scrappy, romantic, committed to create, and fueled by their mutual dreams and drives, they would prod and provide for one another during the hungry years. 
Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to New York City during the late sixties and seventies and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. A true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists' ascent, a prelude to fame.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book Talk: *The Betsy-Tacy Treasury*, by Maud Hart Lovelace (TLC Book Tour)

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury: The First Four Betsy-Tacy Books
Maud Hart Lovelace
Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2011), Trade Paperback (ISBN 0062095870 / 9780062095879)
Fiction (children’s), 736 pages
Source: Publisher
Reason for reading: TLC Book Tour
Book description, from the publisher’s website: There are lots of children on Hill Street, but no little girls Betsy’s age. So when a new family moves into the house across the street, Betsy hopes they will have a little girl she can play with. Sure enough, the moment Betsy meets Tacy, one of the most heartfelt friendships in all of children’s literature begins.
The Betsy-Tacy Treasury brings together the first four books in Maud Hart Lovelace’s classic series: Betsy-Tacy; Betsy-Tacy and Tib; Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill; and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. Tracing the girls’ lives from early childhood to the brink of adolescence, Lovelace illuminates their innocent, mischievous fun and their eye-opening adventures exploring the world around them—from the stories Betsy spins from their neighborhood bench and the sand stores they run in their backyards, to their first experiences at the library, the thrill of the theater, and the sight of their first automobile.
Comments: Harper Perennial has made a project of reissuing the works of Maud Hart Lovelace during the last three years, and they’ve now worked their way back to the beginning. Unlike some of her later books featuring an older Betsy Ray, the earliest of Lovelace’s autobiographical children’s novels about Betsy and her friends have rarely been out of print, but now the first four books in the series have been collected in a one-volume “Modern Classics” edition, featuring the original illustrations. Like the other reissues, this one includes supplemental material: biographies of the author and illustrator, background about the real-life models for characters and events in the stories, and forewords by contemporary authors who are fans of the books.

The stories in this volume are ones that I read and re-read and loved dearly when I was in the age range that Lovelace’s characters are here. Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly are across-the-street neighbors who meet when they’re five years old and soon become the inseparable Betsy-Tacy. Within a year or so, they are introduced to Tib Muller, who lives a few blocks away in an enchanting chocolate-colored house with a round tower room, and the twosome becomes a trio; Lovelace revisits them a couple of years later in Betsy-Tacy and Tib. At this stage, the novels take place at two-year intervals. When they all turn ten, the girls are grown-up enough to explore the immigrant settlement on the other side of the Big Hill; at twelve, they get to discover the attractions of downtown Deep Valley, Minnesota. The first two novels are largely episodic and not about much more than the girls’ games and small adventures; there’s more overall plot to Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.

These books grew out of stories that Lovelace told her daughter about her own childhood, and there are places where the writing has the feel of oral storytelling. It’s also very strong on physical descriptions that effectively bring things to life in the reader’s mind. Like the best children’s writing, it doesn’t talk down to the child reader; however, there are some noticeable--and appropriate--differences in tone and style between these novels and the ones that follow Betsy and her friends through high school and into adulthood.

I haven’t revisited the first Betsy-Tacy books for decades; I used to think I’d read them again with my daughters if I had them, but since I ended up with a son, that didn’t happen. And I never owned these books--they’re closely associated with my own childhood love affair with the library, which was something I shared with Betsy. Reading them now is like a double dose of nostalgia for me; I’m not only immersed in Betsy and Tacy’s turn-of-the-(20th)century childhood, but I revisit my own childhood in the 1970s, when I read about them for the first (and second, and third) time. By then, we took things like cars and telephones for granted, but we were still able to roam our neighborhoods with a fair amount of freedom and play games that sprang mostly from our imaginations. I think the experience of childhood has changed more between my time and now than it did between Betsy’s time and mine. But the experience of reading about Betsy, Tacy, and Tib’s childhoods was as enjoyable as it ever was--it hasn’t gotten old--and I’m glad I can finally put these books with their older sisters on my “keeper” shelf.

Rating: 3.75/5

Other stops on this TLC Book Tour:
Tuesday, November 8th: Amusing Reviews
Thursday, November 10th: A Cozy Reader’s Corner
Tuesday, November 15th: Cafe of Dreams
Wednesday, November 16th: Teresa’s Reading Corner
Thursday, November 17th: Laura’s Reviews
Tuesday, November 22nd: Sidewalk Shoes
Wednesday, November 23rd: Books Like Breathing
Monday, November 28th: Reading Lark
Tuesday, November 29th: Reviews from the Heart
Wednesday, November 30th: Raging Bibliomania
Friday, December 2nd: Book Hooked Blog