When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds

Schoolteacher Laura Freeman has a nervous breakdown and ends up in a psychiatric hospital. When Mystical Creatures Attack! is the story of her recovery, told through letters, emails, student assignments, stories, an advice column, a journal, and even a cookbook. Side stories focus on the aspirations of two of her students, Janice Gibbs and Cody Splunk. It's a quirky, clever format; maybe a bit distracting. It reads like a series of shorts that are interconnected, but not exactly cohesive. I did feel I had to work a little too hard to keep up with what was happening. Dark humor and a healthy dose of social satire cover tough topics such as mental illness, suicide, postpartum depression, abortion, poverty, questioning faith, the…

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Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

Evergreen is an "emotionally charged novel that spans generations, telling the story of two siblings, raised apart, attempting to share a life." It starts out in 1938 with newlyweds Emil and Emeline, who are trying to carve out a life together in the Minnesota wilderness. Emeline is such a dainty, somewhat naive character when we first meet her. When Emil has to leave for Germany, I love how independent Emeline becomes. She is determined to learn and do things, whatever needed to be done. She ends up having to make an incredibly difficult, heart-wrenching decision which becomes the foundation of the rest of the novel. The plot isn't surprising (especially if you read the book jacket or summary beforehand) but this is…

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Kid Presidents by David Stabler

When Kid Presidents arrived in the mail, I didn't expect to share it with C. It's geared for ages 9-12, and she's only a kindergartner; I had planned to read through it and maybe save it for homeschooling use in a few years. But C saw the cover, got super excited, and immediately confiscated it. Seriously. I could not get it back until she was good and ready to give it up . . . and what parent is going to take a book out of a 5-year-old's hands, right? She flipped through its pages, pointing out everything she saw, cackling away the whole time (Doogie Horner's illustrations really are a lot of fun). We started reading the book that same…

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The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi

In The Republic of Imagination, Nafisi is bold about asking and tackling some tough questions. Are the humanities important to us? If so, is that being reflected in our lives? In our education system? How does freedom affect how much (or little) we value the arts? As a musician, music teacher, avid reader, and actually, as a homeschooling mom as well, I found it pretty easy to connect with Nafisi's thoughts on these questions and more. Nafisi is passionate about the importance of the humanities in our lives . . . honestly, it radiates from the pages. Her enthusiasm is contagious. I felt inspired to re-read Huck Finn and Babbit. I realized I had to put McCullers and Baldwin on my…

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Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel’s Messiah

If you read one of the forty (brief) chapters of Every Valley each day beginning in Advent, it will take you through the twelfth day of Christmas. Don't feel that you have to reserve this for Advent, though, despite the book's subtitle. Handel presented Messiah as an Easter offering in 1742. Since this devotional covers the entire libretto, which follows the entire liturgical year, it would work well during any season of the year. You could start the first day of Lent and finish up on Easter Sunday. Or, you could forget that it's a devotional and read as much or as little at a time as you wish, simply to gain deeper insight into Messiah. It's a versatile little book. The beginning…

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Capturing Music by Thomas Forrest Kelly

Capturing Music is an "entertaining history of how musicians learned to record music for all time, filled with art that sings." This is the story of music notation, complete with musical examples, vivid, full-color illustrations, and a CD of accompanying music performed by esteemed early music vocal ensemble Blue Heron. I love how Kelly connects a human reason to each development in notation. These changes were (and are) not the result of scholars with nothing better to do, thinking up ways to make things more difficult. This was brilliant problem-solving that met very real needs of a living, breathing language as it evolved and became more complex over time. Serious musicians who enjoy theory and history will especially enjoy this read.…

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