The Heart of Christmas

‘Wherever you are, no matter how far,

Come back to the heart, the heart of Christmas…

The heart of Christmas has a Name…’

Warmest wishes for a blessed Christmas and holiday season filled with love, laughter, and grace.

See you in 2019!

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20-ish Top Reads of 2018

“Clear the decks!” crows Mom. “It’s Best Books time!”

She may be a bit confused. Ever since my puppy days it’s been “deck the halls” this time of year. Well. You know how moms are. Especially when someone asks, “Which kid is your favorite?”

Okay, okay. So no one put it quite like that. But plenty have asked which books are her favorite. “It’s almost the same thing,” sniffs Mom.

Hah, bumhug! says I.

Arf you may know, Mom met her 2018 reading challenge last week: 365 books in one year. People keep asking which “kids” are her favorite from that long, long list. (For background, see: When They Tell You It’s “Impossible.” Also see: How I Read 100+ books in 90 days.)

I’m kinda curious myself. I gave her the puppy eyes look.

Works every time.

So ‘clear the decks’ for Mom’s Top Reads of 2018.

Warning: “That ‘top 20’ thing’s just not gonna happen,” says Mom.

Indeed, competition for a spot on Mom’s ‘totally subjective, 100% unscientific’ list was fierce. So bow-wow-ish, in fact, that Mom divided the list into four basic categories:

  1. Best Fiction
  2. Best Non-Fiction
  3. Best Series
  4. Favorite Authors.

Also Honorable Mentions.

Each book earned its respective spot based on quality of writing, creativity and poignancy, superior characterizations, outstanding, unique plots and overall excellence. And Just Plain Fun. (Note: No book that brainlessly, repeatedly deploys gratuitous profanity ever makes Mom’s “best” list. She calls that “sloppy-writing-lazy.” Hah, bumhug again.)

365 books in one year. And then some! November 27, 2018.

Anyway, Mom’s Top Books Read in 2018 are,in no particular order:

Best Fiction

  1. Hattie Big Sky – Kirby Larson
  2. Time for Andrew – Mary Downing Hahn
  3. A Dog Called Homeless – Sarah Lean
  4. Run Far, Run Fast – Walt Morey
  5. The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford
  6. There Come a Soldier Peggy Mercer
  7. Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin
  8. Anchor in the Storm – Sarah Sundin
  9. The Wood – Chelsea Bobulski
  10. Man O’War – Walter Farley
  11. The Journey Back – Priscilla Cummings
  12. Sarah Bishop, Thunder Rolling in the Mountains – Scott O’Dell
  13. The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Mary Pearson
  14. Ever the Hunted– Erin Summerill
  15. Hoot – Carl Hiassen
  16. Dividing Eden – Joelle Charbonneau
  17. The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
  18. Unwind – Neal Shusterman

Re-reading a seasonal favorite, “The Christmas Box,” by Richard Paul Evans.

Best Nonfiction

  1. A Prisoner and Yet – Corrie ten Boom
  2. The Kite Runner (historical fiction) – Khaled Hosseini
  3. The Black Dogs Project – Fred Levy
  4. Before Amen – Max Lucado
  5. My Family for the War (historical novel) – Anne Voorhoeve
  6. Great Lodges of the National Parks – Christine Barnes
  7. Hidden Child – Isaac Millman

Best Series

  1. The Misty of Chincoteague series – Marguerite Henry
  2. The Silver Brumby series – Elyne Mitchell
  3. Billy and Blaze books– C.W. Anderson
  4. The Jimmy Vega mystery series – Suzanne Chazin
  5. Black Stallion series– Walter Farley
  6. The Survivors series – Erin Hunter
  7. Fire and Thorns trilogy – Rae Carson

Favorite Authors

Honorable Mentions

Well, woof the deck! Or something. All this reading and book-ing makes me hungry. About that leftover pot roast… You gonna eat that?

 

Who’s Up for a Party?

Someone say “party”? Like with cake? Lots of noise? Celebratin? Ice cream? (My favorite is French vanilla. Just sayin’.)

Mom says we just achieved a ‘milestone.’ I’m not exactly sure what that is. But she seems pretty pumped about it. So it must be party-worthy. Here it is:

Okay, okay. I’m finding this “11 thing” a bit hard to swallow, seeing as how I just turned two. I mean, creepy crawly cat whiskers! I only took over this gig about a year ago. But I love anything Mom loves. Reading. Writing. Books. My favorite is, ‘rural life with a border collie.’ For obvious reasons.

So we just wanna say a big ole THANK YOU to you, our loyal readers. You make it all worthwhile. Well, that and beef jerky.

Meanwhile, what would you like see on the blog? Topics? Ideas? Suggestions?

I got this. Soon as I score some of that frozen vanilla stuff…

The Big Summer Stretch: 150+ in 90

It was a stretch. A BIG one. But summer reading programs have been a seasonal staple since before I could walk. (Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, according to my kids.) So when it came to summer reading 2018, I decided to aim high. My goal was to exceed last summer’s achievement: 136 books in about 90 days.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure I could do it. Neither did anyone else. Except my good dog Kimber. She thinks I can do anything. Everyone else just sort of smiled and shook their heads.

But once the school year winds down, I love how one long, sun-gilded day can glide into another, peppered with good reads. Grand adventures in books. (I’ve also slogged through more than one imbecelic political shill thinly disguised as a YA “novel.” Gag me.)

Anyway, this summer’s reading program ended August 31. My final tally: 156 books in about 90 days. Whew. In the past three months-ish I’ve read:

Biogs on: Rosa Parks, Jean Laffite, and Mark Twain. John Merrick and Harriet Tubman. Queen Victoria. Nelson Mandela. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Marco Polo. Ted Geisel. Lewis and Clark. A bunch more.

I’ve traveled by book to: China, Bolivia, Ecuador, Africa, Alaska, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Great Britain. Germany. Colombia. Russia. A motorcycle race across Europe. A deep-sea oceanographic research station. Many more.

I’ve chugged through a kaleidoscopic collection of genres, all colorful, creative, and remarkable in their own right: Dystopian. Magical realism. Creative non-fiction. Humor. Drama. Historical narrative.

Pressing toward my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 365 books in one year, I read or listened to many memorable books this summer. Short. Medium. Long.

Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:

The Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy – Rae Carson

Time for Andrew – Mary Downing Hahn

The Jimmy Vega Detective series – Suzanne Chazin. Here’s my review of Chazin’s A Blossom of Bright Light.

Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin

Thunder Rolling in the Mountains – Scott O’Dell

The Journey Back – Priscilla Cummings. Read my review.

My Family for the War – Anne Voorhoeve. See my review.

Unwind – Neal Shusterman

Time for Andrew: A Ghost Story – Mary Downing Hahn. Read my review.

The Wood – Chelsea Bobluski. Here’s my review.

Streams to the River, River to the Sea – Scott O’Dell

‘NEW’ AUTHORS OF NOTE (In no particular order. List not exhaustive.)

Suzanne Chazin

Khaled Hosseini

Toni Morrison – Here’s my review of her novel, A Mercy.

Erin Hunter

Andrew Fukuda – here’s my review of his first novel, The Hunt.

Rae Carson

Chelsea Bobulski

‘OLD FAITHFUL FAVES’:

Max Lucado, Scott O’Dell, Gary Paulsen and Sarah Sund. Also Ingrid Paulson and Richard Paul Evans. Karen Kingsbury. Debbie Macomber. And I don’t think I’ve ever met a book I didn’t like by C.W. Anderson, Walt Morey, or Maurice Sendak.

As you may know, I’ve long maintained that some of the finest stories and most gifted authors in all bookdom can be found in Children’s Literature. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some favorites along these lines from this summer.

Like:

The Pilot and the Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The Boy from Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew up to Become Dr. Seuss. Also Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White.

Noteable ‘Sleepers’

These are books that took me by surprise. I usually scooped them up on a lark, looking for a quick, light read. These titles turned out to be engrossing and intriguing:

Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May. A touching story of how a young girl deals with the loss of her eldery aunt and foster mom, May. A Newbery Award Winner.

Captive of the Mountains, by Arthur D. Stapp. Hiking, mountaineering and a survival story. Young Chris must use his wits to survive following a hiking injury in the remote Olympic Mountains. Lots of recognizable sites for those familiar with Washington state and the Olympic Mountains. First published in 1952. Grabbed it off the free table at the library.

Run Far, Run Fast, by Walt Morey. A recently orphaned 16 y.o. from the wrong side of Chicago decides to ride the rails to California rather than get stuck in foster care or an orphanage. Nick Lyons meets up with “Knight of the road” “Idaho” Jamieson inside a west bound train. Trouble intervenes and Nick winds up stranded in the Pacific Northwest. Beautifully written by a master storyteller.

And…

If you keep a sharp lookout, every once in awhile you dig up an uber gem. Like a copy of a book published in 1974, signed by the author. Woo hoo!

Long story short (pun intended), I’m now at over 300 books read since January 1. (Yes, I read fast. ☺) So I’m within spitting distance of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge: 365 books in one year. Still aiming high, I’m aiming to get there by Thanksgiving. With a little room to spare. I’ll keep you posted.

How’d your summer reading go?

Screen shot – Summer Reading Log, 31 August 2018

Book Bridges: When Moms Get Dewy-Eyed & Sparkly

It looked like this here yesterday. And like:

So Mom and I decided a soggy Saturday’s a good day to clean out the attic. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Now, you may not know this about me. But I’m a Great Attic Clean-Up Supervisor. I found a comfy rug. Laid down. Watched Mom cart stuff up and down the stairs. Dust. Categorize. Box. Un-box. Re-box.

Supervisin’s a tough job. But somebody’s gotta do it.

Anyway, Mom opened this one box. And sat down. “Oh my!” says she. “Kimmi, look at this!”

What? Did you unearth new doggie treats? A secret stash of gourmet dog food? The neighbor’s cat?

Lemme tell ya. I rolled over and I listened up right quick! Especially since she had The Look. The one Moms get when they’re remembering. All dewy-eyed and nostalgic. Looking all sparkly.

What kind of buried treasure did we just unearth?

Mom starts pulling books out of the box. Title after title. From when my brothers were little. Like:

And:

Some more:

“Does this ever take me back,” murmurs Mom. Twenty years of homeschooling. Preschool storytime at the library every Friday. Summer reading programs. Weekly trips to the library. Reading forts.

Mom was doing that sparkly, shimmery thing again. Maybe because my bros are all grown up now. But Mom says they used to spend hours reading aloud together every day. When my four bros were little. I don’t know why. But if remembering makes her do that dewy-sparkly-shimmery thing, it must be good.

Later, my 19 y.o big bro was looking at some of the books. He pulled one out. “I remember this!” he crows. “I got this for my birthday!” (A milk bone? Naw. Some other treasure.) Here it is:

 

Josiah was four years old. My bro is one amazing dude, eh?

Then Mom said something about good books. How they never get old.

“You never outgrow a good story” says she. “A good book lives forever. Is always waiting for you to come back. Pick up where you left off. A good book can create a lifetime of shared memories. Build bridges linking the past, present, and future. Diving into a book that’s an old favorite? It feels like coming home.”

Who’d a hunk one soggy Saturday could turn out to be so sparkly?

Ya gonna eat that? (Askin’ for a friend.)

A ‘Champion for the Ages’

“Inevitable.” Isn’t that a great word? Learned it from Mom the other day. As in, the 144st annual Run for the Roses is coming up on May 5. So debates about who was the Greatest Thoroughbred of All Time are… inevitable.

Or so I’m told.

A few other things I learned:

The “Run for the Roses” is also known as The Kentucky Derby. The Derby is always run on the first Saturday in May. It’s the first jewel in the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred horse racing.

Why do I care about Thoroughbred racing? Well, I don’t. Not really. But Mom does!

She’s been reading a Walter Farley book about one of the greatest champions to ever set hooves on a race track: Man O’War. Along with legendary Triple Crown winner Secretariat, Man O’War is a top contender for Greatest Thoroughbred of All Time honors.

Back to the Farley book.

Man O’War’s remarkable life unfolds through the eyes of fictional stable boy Danny Ryan. Mom says the story is nearly as powerful and compelling as the great Thoroughbred himself. I’m not sure what the means. But it sounds good.

Here’s Mom’s review of Farley’s Man O’ War.

So when Kentucky Derby time rolls around each May, the comparisons between Man O’ War and another great champion, Triple Crown Winner (1973) Secretariat, are inevitable. At least according to Mom. Which horse gets the nod for Horse of the Century? Depends on who you ask. And what day it is.

Both possessed blinding speed. Both ran challengers off their feet. Both broke records. Both have great stories.

So whether your vote for The Greatest goes to Secretariat or Man O-War, a few things are for sure:

1) May is the perfect month for awesome horse stories!

2) Any story by Walter Farley is a great story. Inevitably.

3) Churchill Downs promises another great Run for the Roses this Saturday. (“Run for the noses”? I always kinda thought that was when Mom calls me in for dinner. But I may be wrong about that.)

4) One of the finest athletes to ever set hooves on a race track, Man O’War remains a Champion for the Ages. Just like Walter Farley.

Is it dinner time yet?

Update – May 5: Congratulations to the 2018 Kentucky Derby winner, Justify!

How I Survived the Big Deluge

You know I’m not one to complain. I mean, I’m the World’s Greatest Optimist! I love everybody! I dance a furry jig whenever my humans come home. Even if they’ve only been gone ten minutes. It’s just so exciting to have them back!

But seriously. Someone needs to talk to the Big Dog in the Sky about this weather. I know the Pacific Northwest is wet. Dad emptied the rain gauge yesterday. “Nearly five inches in less than 48 hours!” he said. “On top of the five-plus inches we had the last coupla days before that!”

I’m not quite sure what it means. Except fewer walks. Less time outside. More running stairs and playing tug ‘o war or ball indoors with my peeps.

But you know me. I’m not one to complain.

Besides. I guess it’s better than being cooped up inside all day with nothing to do.

But when is spring going to show up???

Okay. Had to get that out. Let’s see. Where was I?

Oh yeah.

I guess buckets of rain aren’t all bad. Mom turns on the fireplace – I still haven’t figured that one out – and lets me on to her lap while she reads. I’m good as long as don’t knock over the lamp or try to steal her “hot apple cider.”

I’ve also learned a “reading” thing or two during the daily deluges. (“Deluge.” Isn’t that a great read? I learned it from Mom. Like, “Another deluge? Ugh!”)

Have you heard about the Survivor book series by Erin Hunter? Stories about a pack of Leashed Dogs trying to survive after their Longpaws vanish in the Big Growl.

Their reluctant leader is a big golden dog, Lucky. He’s a City Dog. Lucky escaped a city Trap House. He lives by his wits in the wild. He’s a Loner. But these Leashed Dogs don’t know anything about living on their own, without their Longpaws. I mean, who’s gonna play fetch with them? Who’ll fill their food bowls?

These Leashed Dogs get into all sorts of trouble! Especially when they cross into Pack Dog territory.

I’m liking these books! Especially that black and white herder farm dog, Mickey. He’s one sharp doggie. (Probably a cousin.) I figure, if these dogs can survive the Big Growl, I can survive the Big Deluge.

Like I said. I’m still keeping an eye out for spring. Wait. I think it’s starting to let up!

Later!

Books to Grow By

NARADA FALLS RAINBOW RESIZE

Books to Grow By:

Have you seen the list of Books Everyone Should Read that floated around Facebook awhile back? I read that list. IMHO, several of the titles were questionable and many books that should’ve been included weren’t. So I came up with my own list: Books to Grow By.

Classic, contemporary, and just for fun titles are included, plus some surprises. (Note: With apologies to high school English teachers everywhere, I simply cannot abide ‘stream of consciousness’ prose a la Faulkner, which is one reason The Sound and the Fury isn’t included. Ditto Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby.) You’ll also find evidence of my conviction that some of the finest literature ever written can be found in the Children’s Section. Selections appear in alpha order by title.

How many of these have you read? What are YOUR favorites?

Click here for the list. 🙂

What’s in Your Stocking?

Mom just called me in from the yard. ‘Bout time. That big yellow ball in the sky is starting to spread across the horizon like a giant egg yolk. Temperatures are dropping. The Powder Puff just sauntered past. Why that canine lets her owner deck her out in that green and red jacket + reindeer antlers, I’ll never know.

Anyway, when Mom opened the porch door, I caught a whiff of Something Warm and Wonderful inside. She says, “Kimber, dinner! Come!”

I don’t need to be called twice. No siree, Lassie! I bounded up the stairs and into the house like Rin Tin Tin after a bad guy. Sure enough. Something Warm and Wonderful was waiting for me.

A little later The Kid walks into the living room and turns on that squawk box thingy in the corner. It lights up. Sounds come out of it. Voices from people no one can see. These invisible people must be really small to live inside that box where they make their voices go up and down. They “sing” about telling it on the mountain. Angels fom the realms of glory. Letting heaven and nature sing. A little town of Bethlehem. Stuff like that.

I snuggle into the recliner with Mom for a little snooze. She says “Kimber, you’re really pushing the envelope for ‘lap dog.'”

Is she suggesting I drop a few pounds? Maybe not. She always says that. Laughs. Then gives me the signal that it’s okay to join her. I have to wait for the signal. It may take a bit. But it always comes. Especially on these cold winter nights. So I can’t complain. Besides. My stocking smells so good!

Tonight the family is watching lights wink and twinkle, among other things. They say the lights have “colors.” But they all look the same to me. Go figure.

My peeps finished “putting up the tree” the other day. (I was only trying to help. Honest. Incidentally, “tinsel” looks way better than it tastes.)

The fam has settled in with steaming mugs of something I can’t have, apparently. That’s okay. Because Mom and Dad say the Best Gifts of Christmas – faith, hope, love, joy and peace – can’t be found in red stockings. Or under the tree. But in the human heart. Like:

May the Best Gifts of Christmas be yours!

Just Wanted to Say “Thanks”!

Mom says it’s time to “count my blessings.” Not sure what that means exactly. But if it means I can swipe that last slice of roast turkey while everyone’s “counting,” I’m game! Besides. You know how moms are, right? 

Hope you enjoy our little video greeting from the Pacific Northwest. We’re calling it our “November Closeout Special.” Threw in a few scenes from some of our favorite places. Like Mount Rainier National Park. Not quite sure what “national park” means either. But it has great smells! Besides. You know how moms are.

If the video doesn’t play right, blame Mom, okay? You know how… oh, never mind!