Book Chat

Book Chat book reviews contain affiliate links, and all my own opinions.

book chat

Here is WhereI enjoyed Here Is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History, and I think author Andrew Carroll and I are soulmates of a sort. He talks about enjoying learning about history, and then visiting the spot where various events happened — me too. Sometimes, I’ll read a non-fiction book and then want to visit the site where it happened SO badly, I can hardly stand it. Thus, my trips to Neuschwanstein, etc. I would love to see the sites of the Little House books, and I kind of did things backwards with Los Alamos — visited the site first, became interested, and then read a bunch about it. Carroll is also amazed in his research about just how many sites there are that played important roles in our history, yet are totally unmarked. Some of this may be because the buildings are privately owned now and the new owners don’t want the attention. But it also made me think of how much the news we hear about is shaped by the media. Who’s to say that the main story on the radio news each day is really the most important thing going on in the world? It’s kind of scary to think that there is so much that we don’t know.

Anyway, this book explores several bits of American history, and Carroll travels to the sites where they occurred to give us more interesting background tidbits. You’ll learn about Prometheus, the US’s oldest tree — well, it was, until a guy unknowingly cut it down in ’60s. Its components are still scattered around the site. You’ll also learn about the oddities of news reporting and why some things are reported as huge, while bigger events miss the spotlight altogether (the Sultana steamboat exploded on the Mississippi, killing about 1,800 — more than died on the Titanic. However, the Sultana incident happened just days after Lincoln’s assassination, eclipsing the event).

The chapters in this book reminded me a lot of vignettes heard on NPR. Although it dragged in spots, I enjoyed it overall.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a review copy.


Saikei and ArtMy youngest daughter has always enjoyed plants, so about 18 months ago she and I joined a local bonsai club. We’ve learned so much about plants, and about bonsai, and about lots of things, really. Most of the club members have lots of life experience. It’s been a neat experience for my daughter and for me.

So, my daughter is co-librarian of the club now, and as such, the president wants a book review of one of the club’s books each month. Well, kids get busy, and so I have a feeling I’ll be doing most of these reviews. Here’s the first one: Saikei and Art : Miniature Landscapes.

Saikei, in case you didn’t know, is the practice of creating miniature living landscapes. Here’s an example:

Saikei and Art : Miniature LandscapesI learned a lot in this book. Author Lew Buller goes though his process for creating several saikei, talking about the types of trees he uses, the accessory plants he chooses, the trays/bases he uses, and so much more. I learned that saikei need to include 4 things:

  1. tree roots raised by stones above the edge of the pot
  2. a water feature (although often stones are used to represent water, because using real water can become a problem)
  3. accessory plants
  4. a full landscape, involving several tress (not just one)

So many aspects of saikei reminded me of photography — planning the landscape with varying principles of design in mind for maximum visual appeal (focal points, planes, shapes, etc.). I guess that makes sense, though, because — as the title states — saikei is an art.

I found the book interesting, and it includes many large colorful photos to help make it easy to visualize the saikei he talks about.


Out of My MindMy 13-year-old recommended I read Out of My Mind, and I’d seen it recommended elsewhere too, so when it was ready to head back to the library, I snatched it up to read. I’m glad I did.

It’s told by Melody, a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy. She’s never spoken a single word, but don’t let that fool you. She thinks just like you and I do, has a large vocabulary, and even makes the school quiz team (much to the surprise of almost everyone). This is a real victory for Melody, because she’s spent years in the special ed room being parked in front of the VCR, and being underestimated by seemingly every doctor, teacher, and peer in her life. It’s like somebody gave me a puzzle, but I don’t have the box with the picture on it, she says, and that seems an apt description.

Melody’s world opens up when she gets a “Medi-Talker” machine that lets her point to words and spell out phrases so that she can communicate better. This book is great for helping get kids (its target audience) or adults to think about what it might be like to deal with a host of difficulties most of us thankfully don’t have to. I have minor quibbles with it: some of the dialogue seems dated (do kids really say things are “tight,” for instance? I’ve never heard that). Many of the villains are totally over-the-top, and then there are two semi-tragedies at the end of the book — the first is a bit contrived, but the second seems totally unnecessary and unbelievable. Still, read this book. You’ll never look at the kids in the special ed room the same way again …


The StrangerI remember reading The Stranger for a literature class in high school, and being really moved by it, although at this point I can’t even remember why anymore. So when my high school senior daughter read it this summer and I saw it on the back-to-the-library stack, I plucked it up. It’s short, at just over 100 pages, and I was curious if it would still seem so affecting to me 30 years later.

“The Stranger” is one of the most famous books of the existentialist genre of the early 20th century. It’s the tale of Meursault, a solitary Frenchman who begins the novel at his mother’s funeral. Not long after, he seems to offhandedly commit murder, and then we witness his trial.

What struck me as I read this time was that Meursault seems clearly to have high functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. He seems like a textbook case, with his apparent dissociation from any emotions and his matter-of-fact comments on everything, from his mother’s death to his shooting of the “Arab” to … everything: “I had never been able to feel remorse for anything.” Meursault, typical of those with AS, feels like a stranger in this world. Interestingly, Asperger’s was “discovered” in 1940 (although it’s only become more widely recognized in the past 20 years), while “The Stranger” was published at the same time, so the condition would not have been known at the time.

This a book that was more of a “wow” for me as a teen. Still, it’s an interesting look at human nature, social norms, and the oftentimes absurdity of the legal system. It made me think about life in a different way for a little while, and I always find that worthwhile and interesting.


Destined for DoonReview by Sophie, age 13:

Destined for Doon is the sequel to Doon, a book I reviewed back in early 2014.  A continuation of the first book, Destined for Doon is the story of Mackenna and Veronica, separated at the end of the last book.  Once again, the town of Doon is endangered by the Witch of Doon – this time in the form of a strange fungus that eats anything it touches.  It’s spreading quickly, and there isn’t much time left before the town and all of Scotland is overrun with these plants.  Can Veronica and Mackenna stop the fungus and save the kingdom before it’s too late?

Doon being one of my top five books of all time, I would rate this series/book 5 stars.  A great read and very relateable for middle to high school girls.

Thanks to Booklook for the free review copy!

See what others are reading at 5 Minutes for Books.

4 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. Oh, so many on your list that intrigue me! I’m most impressed by the fact that you were captivated by Camus as a teen! I couldn’t grasp–or enjoy–existentialism even as a college student! Interesting to note that the main character in The Stranger fits the Aspergers diagnosis.

    A bonsai club sounds neat!

  2. I don’t do enough visiting or reading of history, but I have enjoyed it when I have.

    I’ve never read The Stranger and am not even sure I’d heard of it before. Your description does sound an awful lot like Asberger’s.

    Out of My Mind does sound really interesting. I think there is a tendency with special ed kids as well as the elderly to park them in front of the TV/VCR instead of looking for ways to interact.

    I just saw your comment on my blog about never having read Jan Karon – I definitely, highly recommend her books! The first one is At Home in Mitford.

  3. I have several comments to make today. First of all, I can’t believe that last review was written by an eighth grader. Wow! I’m impressed. She did a very good job.

    Next, I think I would really enjoy Out of My Mind if I could get beyond the frustration expressed by the author at people not realizing she is 100% mentally capable. I would find even reading about that immensely frustrating.

    Next, I would like to echo Barbara H’s comment about the Jan Karon books. They’re not profound, but they sure are sweet. I’ve really enjoyed them. The story from one of those books was put on in a theater near me. I attended it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Father Tim is a very enjoyable character.

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