Girl Waits With Gun book review

It has been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book.  That’s not to say that I haven’t been reading in that time.  I’ve read plenty, but I’ve also had many other obligations to tend to.  Finishing up my online class in the fall took precedence and was soon followed by the hustle and bustle of the holidays.  I’ve just started my second online class to renew my teaching license and I’m crossing my fingers that it continues to be less rigorous than the literacy class I took in the fall.

The latest book that I’ve read is Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart.  This spunky and delightful read is based on the true story of Constance Kopp and her two sisters who were the focus of an intimidating gangster in the year 1915.   Historical fiction is not a genre that I’m usually drawn to, although I almost always enjoy reading it once I get started.  When I read the review for this book in our Sunday newspaper, I immediately added it to my Goodreads list.

 

Stewart, who is best known for writing non-fiction books about botany, creates a fantastic tale in turn of the century New Jersey.  City girls turned country spinsters, the Kopp sisters lived their daily lives trying to avoid the limelight until one fateful summer day when their horse and buggy collides with an automobile driven by the notorious Henry Kauffman.  In attempting to seek payment for their demolished buggy, Constance seeks out Mr. Kauffman.  What she gets in return is much more than she bargained for.  The sisters begin receiving threats that would make the average woman shake in her bloomers.  But these tenacious sisters won’t go down without a fight.  They take on arsonists, kidnappers, and gangsters all while trying to protect a secret of their own.

This was such a fun and delightful read!  If Mrs. Stewart were to write another historical fiction book in this same style, I would be one of the first in line to read it.

If you enjoy historical fiction featuring brave and daring feminists like the Kopp sisters, I encourage you to add the following books to your to-read pile:

The Thief Lord Book Review

A few weeks ago, I took a load of books in to sell at Half-Price Books.  Surprisingly, I bought nothing for myself, but ended up with a great stack of books for Grace for only $12 and change.

Half-price book haul

I have my eye on a few of these books, but decided to start with Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord.  The city of Venice creates an enchanting backdrop for this delightful middle grade reader, which features a gang of orphaned misfit children.

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Prosper and Bo are orphans on the run.  Their mother recently passed away and their aunt is only interested in adopting the adorable and angelic Bo, who is just five years old.  Fearing that he will never see his brother again, twelve year old Prosper takes Bo and they flee to the enchanting city of Venice.  The two boys are rescued from the streets by another group of children who live in an abandoned movie theater.  The group of misfit children is taken care of by their leader 13 year old Scippio.  Scippio calls himself the Thief Lord and claims to steal from the city’s richest residents.

Prosper and Bo’s aunt hires private investigator Victor Getz to find the runaways.  Unaware of the lengths the children would go to to protect each other, Victor reluctantly agrees to take on the case.

Once Victor is on the case, the children’s already unstable lives are turned upside down.  The children feel a strong sense of betrayal when the Thief Lord’s true identity is discovered.  With a payout too good to be true, the children agree to take on one last heist.  

The Thief Lord is a book that is filled with mystery and adventure!  It is reminiscent of a Peter Pan tale, except in this story the hero wants nothing more than to grow up.  In the end, it is two adults who find themselves the unlikely heroes to the Thief Lord and his band of misfit orphans.

More great middle reader books from Cornelia Funke:

The Dinner Book Review

This is a book that I never thought I would read, let alone review.  When I first learned about The Dinner by Herman Koch, I was intrigued.  It sounded like a great plot, until I heard reviews.  It was being compared to Gone Girl.  I knew that was where they lost me.  I had no interest in reading another book like Gone Girl (my apologies to those who liked it) and have avoided reading any of Gillian Flynn’s other novels because of it.  But yesterday, when I was scouring our library’s digital catalog for something to listen to while cooking and doing laundry, this book came across my radar.  For some reason, I wondered if listening to the book might be better than actually reading it.  In my head, I justified it as multi-tasking.  I had nothing to lose.  If I didn’t enjoy it, at least I hadn’t wasted time sitting and doing nothing other than reading.  In fact, I got quite a lot done around the house while listening to it over the last two days.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

As readers, we are invited to join a family dinner among two brothers and their spouses in a swanky upscale restaurant in Amsterdam.  The majority of the book takes place around the table, with plenty of flashbacks to bolster the plot.  Narrator Paul tells the story of his son Michel and his brother’s son, who together have committed a horrific crime.  The two families meet to discuss how the incident should be handled.  

The audio version of The Dinner is narrated by Clive Mantle.  Mantle delivers this reading so brilliantly that, at first, I thought the book to be satire.  As I was listening, I actually thought to myself, “No wonder people don’t like it!  They aren’t getting the satire.  They aren’t reading into the sarcasm that seems to drip from the narrator’s voice when you hear it as an audiobook.”   But as the story wore on, I realized that it was not satire at all.  What I was hearing was complete contempt.  

I had a wide range of emotions while listening to this book.  At first, thinking it was satire, I found it to be a bit humorous.  Paul is poking fun at the expensive restaurant chosen by his brother Serge, who is a shoo-in to be the next prime minister of the Netherlands.  I quickly realize that he dislikes his brother and my attitude towards his brother is begrudging.  As we learn of the sons’ crime, I come to empathize with the parents, wondering what I would do if I were to find myself in a similar situation.  However, as Paul continues to create a backstory, my distaste for him as a person grows.  I find myself completely unsurprised that his son could commit such a horrific act.  And now, thinking back on the story, I find myself wondering if Serge wasn’t quite as terrible as I had made him out to be.  I’ve not read many books that have played with my emotions quite like this one.

The Dinner was a great book to listen to on audio.  I’m glad I chose this format because I would have crawled through it at a much slower pace had I been reading it.  This book has been classified as a psychological thriller.  I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I would say that it was dark.  It was dark in a way that you knew there would be no happy ending, similar to an Edgar Allan Poe story.  Yet, I was eager to know how it would end.  With all of its delicious twists and horrifying turns, the ending is one that may not surprise you.  But I can assure you, it will be a dinner unlike any you would ever want to attend.

Did Tidying Up Change My Life?

In last week’s Friday Favorites, I shared that I was reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  I will admit, I did not enjoy this book one bit.  However, I was determined to rid my house of clutter and soldiered on to finish this book.

The life changing magic of tidying up

After a summer of what felt like neglecting my house, I set my mind to putting my living space in order.  You see, as I get older, I find more value in simple things.  I had heard a lot of chatter about this book, so I was intrigued to what all the excitement was about.

I strive for simplicity in my life–to be a no fuss, no muss kinda gal.  About a year ago, I watched a documentary on “tiny houses.”  There are a few television series about tiny houses now, and I always stop to watch when they are on.  I am fascinated by the idea of living with so little.  When you live with so little, you must truly value everything you have.

At this point, you may be wondering why I didn’t enjoy this book.  Honestly, it was nothing against Marie Kondo, her writing style, or the content of the book.  It was the process of decluttering and organizing that made reading this book feel so overwhelming.  I was absolutely dreading it.  Though I often classify myself as a procrastinator, this was a job that I just wanted to get over with as quickly as possible.

I set aside this week to focus on tidying my home, loosely following the principles laid out in Kondo’s book.  Kondo calls her system of decluttering and organizing the KonMarie Method.  To briefly summarize this method, Kondo insists that you surround yourself only with objects that bring you joy.  Clutter and excess can weigh a person down, preventing a them from filling their true purpose in life.  In simple terms, while cleaning, carefully consider each object.  If does not spark immediate joy, then throw it out.  She goes on in detail about the process of discarding items, how to tidy your spaces, and how to store items that you treasure.

Find Joy in the Journey

Kondo is from Japan and mostly describes her interactions with Japanese clients.  There are some cultural differences that can be noted while reading this book.  However, the most interesting difference I found was in Kondo’s own personality.  She encourages readers to speak to their objects, to thank them for their service, and to wish them well in their new life.  She states that each day, when she arrives home after work, she greets her home aloud and then proceeds to talk to each of the objects she puts away for the evening.  While this custom of personifying her objects may seem a bit eccentric, the overall idea is to treat your possessions with a sense of gratitude.  In other words, look upon your items with a grateful heart and acknowledge the purpose they have served in your life.

This was a valuable lesson for me when I was tidying.  I no longer felt the need to keep something that I didn’t use or wear because, according to the KonMarie Method, its purpose has already been served.  The article of clothing that I bought and didn’t wear?  It brought me joy when I purchased it, so it has served its purpose.  That gift from Christmas that I never got around to using?  It brought joy to the giver, so its purpose has been served.  This philosophy freed me of the doubt and guilt that usually nag at me when I contemplate throwing something out.  I’m sending most of my unwanted items to the thrift store, so they will live on to bring someone else joy.

How I tidied my space

Kondo has a very specific set of steps for discarding and tidying, which she recommends following to ensure success and to prevent rebound.  Being stubborn as I am, of course I didn’t follow her step by step approach exactly.  After all, we are all different.  Just as we all have different learning styles, we also have different ways in which we implement what we learn.  Kondo recommends sorting by categories, rather than room.  For example, if you are sorting clothes, you are to gather all of your clothes and put them into one large pile.  That includes coats, hats, and gloves from your entryway closet and off-season clothes stored in a spare room, rather than cleaning each space separately.  I didn’t follow this recommendation.  While I did focus just on clothing, the idea of throwing all of my clothes into one large pile would have been completely overwhelming to me.  Instead, I went drawer by drawer in my dresser, emptying each and sorting them into keep and donate piles.  When all of my drawers were organized, I moved on to my closet.  Again, I focused just on one area of my closet at a time: first jeans, then activewear, blouses, dresses, shoes, sweaters, and finally accessories.  I then moved on to our hall closet and sorted through all of my outwear.  This is the method that I felt would best work for me.

Again, she recommends sorting by category rather than by room.  However, I found that by tackling one room daily, I was able to efficiently plan and carry out my week of tidying.  On Monday, I cleaned my master bedroom and closet.  On Tuesday, I tidied my bathroom and nightstand and sorted through my jewelry.  Wednesday, I cleaned my spare room, which mainly consisted of sorting through a cedar chest full of craft materials and mementos.  Today was dedicated to my kitchen space.  I considered cleaning my kitchen earlier in the week, since that is one my main living spaces.  Realizing that I would probably have food to discard, I thought that waiting until trash day would be a better choice.  I cleaned out my pantry, spice cabinet, fridge and freezer, a buffet, and 2 junk drawers.  As I type, I’m realizing there are a few other areas that I could work on  in my kitchen, but they will still be there tomorrow.  I spent around 2 to 3 hours in each of these spaces.  This gave me time to enjoy my sense of accomplishment, but also allowed me time to run errands and do other chores around the house.

I am thrilled with my progress so far!  I feel like I have accomplished the majority of what I set out to do.  I may talk Doug and Grace into spending a few hours tidying up the basement this weekend.  The garage is another area that I would like to tackle.

What I learned from tidying

  • Find what method works best for you.  Tidying one room at a time worked for me.  You are more likely to stick to a plan if you believe in it.
  • Work at your own pace.  Determine how much you want to accomplish and create a plan to make it happen.  I found tidying to be quite addicting.  You will feel lighter and freer of your possessions.  You will want to continue.
  • Do not buy clothes from an online store or boutique that you cannot return.  Chances are there is a reason that item is still on the clearance rack.  If no one else liked it, you probably won’t either.
  • When considering new purchases, ask yourself if you truly love it.  Will it bring you joy?
  • When purging, take all items to your car immediately.  I did a pretty large purge of clothes earlier in the spring.  I had 5 kitchen sized trashbags full of clothes, shoes, and accessories to get rid of.  They sat on the floor of my closet for probably 6 weeks before Doug finally got tired of climbing over them everyday and took them to Goodwill for me.  If it is in your car, you will be much more likely to make that trip to donate them.
  • Tidying isn’t cleaning.  Tidying is decluttering and organizing.  If you come to my house, I can guarantee you that I have swept and mopped the floors for you.  I will probably have remembered to scrubbed the toilets and clean the counters.  But you will likely still find dust bunnies under my couch and crumbs in my kitchen and I’m okay with that.  I don’t strive for perfection, I strive for sanity.

Did tidying up change my life as Marie Kondo claims?

Well, in the longterm, that has yet to be determined.  But for the time being, I do feel as though my life has been changed.  I was feeling the weight of my unwanted possessions pulling me down.  It has changed the way I view my possessions.  If it isn’t bringing me joy, it is time to part ways.  Poor Doug has been on his best behavior, fearing that if he doesn’t bring me joy that I will kick him to the curb, as well.  There is no chance of that happening.  He and Grace bring me all the joy I could ever need.  I feel as though tidying has freed up that nagging sense of obligation to all of my possessions.  I own them, they no longer own me.

Tidying promotes a sense of contentment with your surroundings and with your life.  I can feel it in my life already.  So, tell me, have you read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing?  Did it change your life?

Call Me Lizzy book review

It’s been far too long since I have written a book review!  I read Call Me Lizzy by Mary T. Wilkinson a few weeks ago while we were in Pittsburgh.  This is a quick middle reader book.  While this book may seem like a short, easy read, it delves deep into matters of bullying, faith, and family.

Call Me Lizzy book review

 

Before I begin, I should note that the author asked me to review this book.  However, all opinions expressed in this review are my own.  Lizzy is a ten year old girl living in Indianapolis in 1966.  At the beginning of the story, Lizzy lives with her mom and her dad.  Her young parents have a tumultuous relationship, fueled by immaturity and alcohol.  Lizzy spends a great deal of time with her paternal grandparents who love her fiercely, despite some of their own eccentricities.  Lizzy tags along with her grandparents to the American Legion, where they spend a great deal of their time playing bingo and socializing.  When her parents decide to divorce, a judge determines that Lizz would be best off living with her grandparents in Tennessee, whom she has never met.

When Lizzy arrives in Tennessee, her world is turned upside down.  She meets her grandparents and very large extended family, all of who are extremely religious.  Lizzy had never been to church in Indiana, and her grandparent’s church is unlike anything she has ever heard of.  The women and girls grow their hair long, wear dresses to their ankles, and heavy black stockings.  Her grandfather is the preacher of their little country church, where weeklong revivals are a yearly tradition.

As different as her new life is on her grandparent’s farm, Lizzy manages to fit in and adapt to her surroundings.  Lizzy enrolls in school and dons her new church’s uniform of long dresses and stockings.  She becomes fast friends with one of her cousins, who is in the same grade as Lizzy at school.  Together they endure the harassment doled out by a local bully.

As the story progresses, Lizzy’s faith is challenged time and again.  Through all of her heartaches, Lizzy comes to realize that with faith and family there is no obstacle too great to overcome.

While the story takes place over the course of just one year, I feel that it qualifies as a coming of age story.  Lizzy experiences so many changes in a short period time that force her to grow and adapt.  When we leave Lizzy at the end of the novel, there is a real sense that she is older and wiser.  Though this book can be enjoyed at any age, I would recommend it for middle readers in grades 5-8.

You may also enjoy:

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Moon Over Manifest