Review of Anna and Solomon, by Elaine Snyder and Harry Bliss

anna_and_solomon_largeAnna & Solomon

by Elaine Snyder
pictures by Harry Bliss

Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Our library system has this shelved among the biographies, but to me it’s simply a warm and wonderful picture book that happens to be true. No one would do a report on these people, they aren’t famous, but their story has the flavor of a folktale.

It turns out, as I learned from the back cover, the distinguished illustrator Harry Bliss asked his mother-in-law to put the story of her grandparents into writing. He knew a good picture book story when he heard one!

The story begins in 1897 in Russia, when Solomon and Anna got married in the Jewish quarter of the town of Vitebsk. They are happy together and very much in love, but when the Czar’s soldiers come through, they think it’s time to make the journey to America.

However, they only have enough money to pay for one passage across the ocean. Anna tells Solomon to go ahead of her, and send her money when he’s made enough to pay for her passage.

Solomon goes to America and works hard, always thinking of Anna. He sends her money and goes to meet her ship with flowers. Instead of Anna, her brother Label comes off the ship.

Label was Anna’s youngest brother. He was small and skinny, and Solomon remembered how protective Anna had always been of him. Why was he here? Where was Anna?

Label carefully explained to him that Anna had used the money Solomon sent not for herself but for her brother’s passage instead.

Oy, oy, it was a great blow to Solomon, but he saw that Anna was right. Label could not be left behind; Anna had to be certain that he would be safe.

Solomon took Label home.

And it goes on. The next time Solomon sends money for passage, Anna’s older brother comes off the ship, and then Anna’s mother. She still has a sister left. Will Anna ever come?

Since the book is written by Anna and Solomon’s granddaughter, I’m not giving away too much by saying that Anna eventually does arrive. Their story is told with heart and compassion and a true Happy Ever After.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of A Fighting Chance, by Elizabeth Warren

fighting_chance_largeA Fighting Chance

by Elizabeth Warren

Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt), 2014. 365 pages.
Starred Review

I checked out this book on a whim, knowing almost nothing about Elizabeth Warren; now having read her book, I am her total fan. She’s someone who’s gotten into politics not because she has a desire for personal power, but because she wants to help people. And I so respect that.

My background is that my ex-husband and I started out our life together plummeting into debt. We dared to try to live in California and have one and a half jobs between us so that we didn’t have to put our son in day care. (He came along only a year after we got married.) When my husband enlisted in the military, it only made things worse. They told us what he’d be making after he joined the Air Force. They didn’t tell us it would be significantly less while he was in Basic Training, and we were still paying California rent, for another few thousand dollars of debt. And I still needed to find a job when we moved to New Jersey.

All that is to say that I gained appreciation, years ago, for the fact that all people embroiled in credit card debt are not lazy freeloaders who want a hand-out. We were eventually able to pay off our debts – but then I got into a whole new pile of debt when my husband left me, and of course I lost my job since we had to leave Germany and then the divorce cost me thousands of dollars. This is not to grumble – I will eventually pay it off. But I can’t help but wonder how people in my situation cope if they don’t have my education level, and like me never thought they’d have to work full-time, and maybe have trouble finding a full-time job, and maybe have younger kids who need daycare. I just don’t have it in my heart to look down on people who find themselves in the position of filing for bankruptcy.

So when I found out how Elizabeth Warren got started in what led to her political career, it was with a big cheer. Finally someone is saying what I have believed for years and years!

She was teaching a class on bankruptcy law. She discovered that “experts” believed “that the people who filed were mostly day laborers and housemaids who lived at the economic margins and always would.”

Ms Warren kept thinking about this:

As I dug deeper into my study of bankruptcy and the new law, I kept bumping into the same question over and over: Why were people going bankrupt? I couldn’t find solid answers anywhere. In those days, almost all young law professors specialized in theory. They wrote articles and books about the theory of this and the philosophy of that. But theory wouldn’t provide answers that anyone could count on, answers that would explain what had gone wrong. I clung to the idea that the people in bankruptcy were different and everyone else would be safe. I might not have said so at the time, but I think I was on the lookout for cheaters and deadbeats as a way to explain who was filing for bankruptcy.

She did a study on bankruptcy and why it happens. She visited bankruptcy court in San Antonio and saw, not down and out deadbeats, but people who looked just like her and her students.

Later, our data would confirm what I had seen in San Antonio that day. The people seeking the judge’s decree were once solidly middle-class. They had gone to college, found good jobs, gotten married, and bought homes. Now they were flat busted, standing in front of that judge and all the world, ready to give up nearly everything they owned just to get some relief from the bill collectors.

As the data continued to come in, the story got scarier. San Antonio was no exception: all around the country, the overwhelming majority of people filing for bankruptcy were regular families who had hit hard times. Over time, we learned that nearly 90 percent were declaring bankruptcy for one of three reasons: a job loss, a medical problem, or a family breakup (typically divorce, sometimes the death of a husband or wife). By the time these families arrived in the bankruptcy court, they had pretty much run out of options. Dad had lost his job or Mom had gotten cancer, and they had been battling for financial survival for a year or longer. They had no savings, no pension plan, and no homes or cars that weren’t already smothered by mortgages. Many owed at least a full year’s income in credit card debt alone. They owed so much that even if they never bought another thing – even if Dad got his job back tomorrow and Mom had a miraculous recovery – the mountain of debt would keep growing on its own, fueled by penalties and compounding interest rates that doubled their debts every few years. By the time they came before a bankruptcy judge, they were so deep in debt that being flat broke – owning nothing, but free from debt – looked like a huge step up and worth deep personal embarrassment.

Worse yet, the number of bankrupt families was climbing. In the early 1980s, when my partners and I first started collecting data, the number of families annually filing for bankruptcy topped a quarter of a million. True, a recession had hobbled the nation’s economy and squeezed a lot of families, but as the 1980s wore on and the economy recovered, the number of bankruptcies unexpectedly doubled. Suddenly, there was a lot of talk about how Americans had lost their sense of right and wrong, how people were buying piles of stuff they didn’t actually need and then running away when the bills came due. Banks complained loudly about unpaid credit card bills. The word deadbeat got tossed around a lot. It seemed that people filing for bankruptcy weren’t just financial failures – they had also committed an unforgivable sin.

Part of me still wanted to buy the deadbeat story because it was so comforting. But somewhere along the way, while collecting all those bits of data, I came to know who these people were.

I have never filed for bankruptcy. But it’s so easy to see how I could have ended up in that situation. I like that Elizabeth Warren sees that, too.

I ran my fingers over one of the papers, thinking about a woman who had tried to explain how her life had become such a disaster. A turn here, a turn there, and her life might have been very different.

Divorce, an unhappy second marriage, a serious illness, no job. A turn here, a turn there, and my life might have been very different, too.

She still wasn’t in politics, but she continued to teach bankruptcy law.

I kept teaching bankruptcy, but the world outside my classroom was changing, too. The numbers of people going bankrupt kept climbing, in good times and bad. By 1990, more than seven hundred thousand families filed for bankruptcy in a single year – the number had more than doubled in the decade since I had started teaching. That shocked me….

At school, I heard from secretaries and cafeteria workers. I heard from other professors whose children or old friends were in trouble. Sometimes someone would stop me in the mailroom or while I was waiting in line for a sandwich. Most people didn’t ask for help. They just seemed to want me to know. I think they hoped to hear me say, “There are a lot of good people who end up bankrupt.” At least, that’s what I believed, so that’s what I always said.

And then, in the early 1990s, the big banks began pushing for tougher bankruptcy laws.

At this point, the book briefly explains the history behind the explosion of both bankruptcies and bank profits.

With usury laws and the 1930s banking regulations as a backdrop, banks played a really important role in helping America’s economy grow. They lent the money for families to buy homes, and those monthly payments became a sort of giant savings plan, so that by the time people retired, they owned a valuable asset – and a place where they could live without paying rent. Over time, banks financed cars and college educations. They helped small businesses get a start. A handful of larger banks served the biggest corporate clients, giving them access to the money they needed to expand and create jobs. Banking was all about evaluating customers, making sure that they would be able to repay loans, and keeping interest rates competitive with the bank across the street.

It all worked pretty well. Until the 1980s, that is.

At that point, with scant notice and very little public discussion, a momentous event occurred: thanks to a Supreme Court ruling about a century-old banking law and an amendment quietly passed by Congress, the cap on interest rates was effectively eliminated. Suddenly, banking was changed forever. The usury ban for large American banks disappeared, and deregulation became the new watchword. The bigger banks were now unleashed, and they started loading up credit cards with fees and escalating interest rates – tactics that would have been illegal just a few years earlier. Once the banks began to figure out just how lucrative these cards could be, they started juicing their profits by lending money at super-high interest rates to people who were a lot less likely to repay all those loans. By the 1990s, they were targeting people who were barely hanging on – those with modest or erratic income, those who had lost their jobs and were scrambling. In other words, the banks were targeting people just like the folks who ended up in the bankruptcy courts….

Why would the big banks do this? Here was the trick: Even with the bankruptcy losses, the banks could make more money if they kept giving credit to people who were in trouble. Yes, the banks had to absorb bigger losses when people went bankrupt. But in the meantime, they could make a lot more money from all those people on the edge who didn’t file for bankruptcy protection, or at least didn’t file for another year or so. Interest rates and fees were so high that, in the end, the banks came out ahead – way ahead.

Even with profits breaking records every year, the banks weren’t satisfied. They thought of more fees to tack on, more ways to escalate interest rates, and more aggressive ways to market their cards. Credit card vendors started showing up on college campuses, targeting kids with promises that there would be no credit checks and no need for their parents to sign. Children were preapproved. And occasionally even a dog would get his fifteen minutes of fame, when a local newspaper heard about some cute little pooch who had just been offered a credit card.

To pump up their returns even more, the banks tried a new tactic: What if they could persuade the government to limit bankruptcy protections? Sure, a lot of families were broke, but maybe some of them could be pressed to pay just a little more. If they couldn’t file for bankruptcy, maybe more families would decide to move in with their in-laws, or borrow from their neighbors, or hock their wedding rings, or cancel their health insurance – who knows? If several hundred thousand families a year could be squeezed just a little harder, maybe the banks could add yet more profit to their bottom lines.

The bankers might not have said it in so many words, but gradually their strategy emerged: Target families who were already in a little trouble, lend them more money, get them entangled in high fees and astronomical interest rates, and then block the doors to the bankruptcy exit if they really got in over their heads.

If you knew anything about bankruptcy law – and by now I knew a lot – you could see exactly what the big banks were up to. I was just a law school professor, so I didn’t have the power to change anything, but the deep cynicism behind these new tactics infuriated me. For the banks, a change in the bankruptcy laws was just one more opportunity to try to boost profits. For the families – the moms, dads, kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins – who would lose their last chance to recover from the financial blow of a layoff or a frightening medical diagnosis, the pain could never be measured.

So that was what motivated Elizabeth Warren to step into politics. First, she was offered a position at Harvard, which she knew would enable her voice to be heard more clearly. Then she was asked to serve on the National Bankruptcy Review Commission.

I told him no. I was deep in my research, and I thought the way I could make a difference was by writing books and doing more research about who was filing for bankruptcy and what had gone wrong in their lives. I didn’t know anything about Washington, but the bits I picked up from the press made it sound pretty awful.

But her friend was persistent, and said if she’d join the commission, he would ask her to supply three good changes in the bankruptcy laws.

And that’s what I thought about, all the way home. My office was stacked with piles of questionnaires from people in bankruptcy, and many of them told personal stories about what had gone wrong in their lives and described the sense of defeat that they carried to the bankruptcy court. I thought about the family that finally got a shot at their lifelong dream to launch a new restaurant – and it went belly-up. The young and very tired woman who described how she finally managed to leave her abusive ex-husband, but now she was alone with a pack of small children and a pile of bills. The elderly couple who had cashed out everything they owned and then went into debt to bail out their son and put him through rehab again and again.

So she joined the commission, and joined what turned out to be a long drawn-out battle with the big banks and their lobbyists. And eventually, they lost the battle.

On good days, I reminded myself that our fight to protect America’s middle class had held off the banking industry for nearly a decade. From the day President Clinton appointed Mike Synar to launch the National Bankruptcy Review Commission to the final passage of the bill, millions of families had gotten some relief from their debts. On bad days, I admitted that right from the beginning, the game was so rigged that working families never had a fighting chance. The big banks would eventually win. They simply had too much power….

David really did get the slingshot shoved down his throat sideways. It hurt then, and it still hurts now.

The bankruptcy wars changed me forever. Even before this grinding battle, I had begun to understand the terrible squeeze on the middle class. But it was this fight that showed me how badly the playing field was tilted and taught me that the squeeze wasn’t accidental.

We had lost the bankruptcy battle, but this war wasn’t over. People were getting pounded, debts were mounting, and the squeeze was getting more intense than ever.

Then came the mortgage crisis. To give you a hint on how Elizabeth Warren feels about the bank bailout, she names that chapter “Bailing Out the Wrong People.” During that time, she served on a Congressional Oversight Panel, though it was a panel without a lot of power. She summarizes it this way:

Our oversight of the bailout wasn’t perfect, not by any stretch. But I saw what was possible. We took an obscure little panel that could have disappeared without a trace and worked hard to become the eyes and ears and voice for a lot of people who had been cut out of the system. And every now and again we landed a blow for the people who were getting pounded by the economic crash.

That felt good. It felt really good.

Next came the battle to establish a Consumer Protection Agency. She won this battle, though she made enough banking enemies that she could not be confirmed as its permanent director.

And she doesn’t boast about the win:

But in the end, I think most of the credit for this win goes to the American people. Sometimes they were organized – through nonprofit groups and unions and coalitions. Sometimes they were a little disorganized, as single voices burst forth in funny videos and online blogs and old-fashioned letters to the editor. But organized or not, the people made themselves heard.

In the chapter about getting the Consumer Protection Agency off the ground, she also speaks up for the dedicated government workers she encountered and the wonderful people who wanted to do their bit.

America has faced difficult problems before – and we’ve solved them together. We passed laws to get children out of factories. We set up a system that allowed aging workers to retire with dignity. We built schools so that every child would have a chance for a better life, and we created a network of highway and mass transit systems so people could get to work. We built an astonishingly tough military, superb police forces, and squadrons of first-class professional firefighters.

No, the market didn’t build those things: Americans built them. Working through our government, we built them together. And as a consequence, we are all better off.

We can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend that if “big government” disappears, so will society’s toughest problems. That’s just magical thinking – and it’s also dangerous thinking. Our problems are getting bigger by the day, and we need to develop some hardheaded, realistic responses. Instead of trying to starve government or drown it in the bathtub, we need to tackle our problems head-on, and that will require better government.

After the Consumer Protection Agency was established, she was going to simply go back to teaching at Harvard. But people – ordinary people – asked her to run for the U.S. Senate, asked her to fight for them.

And, against all odds, she won. She has this to say about her victory:

This victory wasn’t mine. That’s not some kind of fake modesty talk – no, that statement is deep-down truth. This victory belonged to all the families who have been chipped away at, squeezed, and hammered. This time, they fought together and won. And now they were sending me to Washington to fight for them and for every hardworking family who just wants a fighting chance to live the American dream.

I’ve quoted extensively from the book, but there’s a lot more if you actually read the book. Elizabeth Warren’s personality comes through, and I find myself just liking this woman. She’s smart, she’s done her research, and, bottom line, she cares about people and got into politics to serve.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

queen_of_the_tearling_largeThe Queen of the Tearling

by Erika Johansen
performed by Katherine Kellgren

HarperCollins Publishers, 2014. 14 ½ hours on 12 CDs.
Starred Review

Once I saw that Katherine Kellgren, the narrator of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place reads this book, I knew I would enjoy listening to it. She is an outstanding vocal performer. (It’s happening – I’m getting to be a fan of certain audiobook performers.) She seamlessly uses different voices for the different characters, male and female, so you can tell who is speaking just by the sound of her voice.

The story she reads is also excellent. Kelsea Raleigh is 19 years old. She’s been raised in hiding, in the forest, but she is Queen of the Tearling. The Tear is a kingdom in the New World, made from emigrants from England and America who in some distant future time made The Crossing, leaving the old world behind.

At the beginning of the book, the Queen’s Guard has arrived. They are going to take her to the capital city to rule as Queen of the Tearling.

There are many who want Kelsea dead, including the Regent, her uncle, and The Red Queen, ruler of Mortmain, the neighboring kingdom, to whom the Tear send a horrible tribute. Kelsea has been told nothing about her kingdom and nothing about what it will take to rule. She has been given a sapphire necklace, with a jewel that seems to have a magic all its own.

This story has some horrible moments – Some graphic violence, as well as awful things going on in that world. This is fantasy for adults, and it doesn’t pull away from sex or violence. But mostly, it’s a story of a young woman coming into her power, trying to make things right.

Kelsea inherits a throne that’s corrupt. On her journey to the capital city, two different groups come after her, both very dangerous. When she arrives, a horrible spectacle meets her eyes. Even when she’s “safely” in the Queen’s Wing of the Keep, more threats to her life arise.

This book doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, so I very much hope it is only the first book of a series. I liked Kelsea – tough and determined, but very young and alone. I want to find out how she will deal with the challenges that are sure to continue.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Jinx’s Magic, by Sage Blackwood

jinxs_magic_largeJinx’s Magic

by Sage Blackwood

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2014. 389 pages.
Starred Review

In Jinx’s Magic we learn more about the boy who lives in a viciously magic forest and can see people’s feelings.

You’re going to want to read Jinx before you read this one, and you’re definitely going to want to read what comes after. My biggest complaint against this book is that not many plot threads get tied up, and danger is looming from many different directions. I prefer trilogies where each book feels like part of the story has finished. However, I enjoyed this one so much, I almost didn’t notice that it doesn’t fit my preferred style.

I love Jinx’s world. Jinx is a Listener; he can hear what the trees have to say. And he can see people’s thoughts and feelings – in the form of colors and shapes. I like the way it’s hard to tell if certain individuals are good or bad – there are levels of gray here, exactly like real life. And sometimes characters I thought were good turn out to be doing some not-so-good things.

Danger is lurking from many different directions. Why does the forest call Reven “The Terror”? Why will no one help Simon make sure the Bonemaster is secure? And who killed an entire clearing full of people? And when Jinx goes to Samara to find an important book for Simon, why will no one even acknowledge Sophie’s existence? What happened to her? And people are cutting down the Urwald! Can Jinx find anyone to help stop them?

Here’s how the book begins:

It wasn’t that Jinx didn’t like people. It was just that sometimes he had to get away from them.

He was no sooner out of earshot of the campfire, breathing in the deep, green strength of the forest, than he heard a single tree’s voice.

Stuck. Trapped. All is lost.

Jinx hurried through the underbrush, weaving around great moss-covered trees and stumbling over roots.

The cries came from a beech sapling. A mighty pine had fallen, crushing the beech to the ground.

Jinx grabbed the sapling and yanked, but couldn’t free it. He could hear it murmuring its despair. You waited and waited for a chance like this, for a big tree to fall so that you could grow toward the sunlight, and then this happened. It was hard to be young in the Urwald.

Jinx wrapped his arms around the rough, pitch-splattered pine trunk and tried to move it. He couldn’t shift it an inch.

Oh. Right. He was a magician.

Jinx drew the Urwald’s lifeforce power up through his feet. He levitated the fallen pine a few inches.

Free! Free! said the sapling. Sunlight!

It swept upward, its leaves brushing Jinx’s face.

Jinx was feeling a sense of accomplishment — the tree might someday grow as tall and stout as the giants around it, thanks to him — when he suddenly sensed a deep golden hunger nearby. He turned his head slightly to the left . . . and was eye to eye with a werewolf.

It is true that in this book there are a confusing number of different kinds of magic. However, the book is all about Jinx learning about his and other’s magic, and it works. The rules of each different kind of magic seem to be self-consistent.

Still, my only serious complaint against this book is that the next book can’t come quickly enough for me. I enjoyed every minute I spent in Jinx’s world.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Quiet, by Susan Cain


The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

by Susan Cain

Crown Publishers, New York, 2012. 333 pages.
Starred Review

Back in 2012, when this book came out, I got to hear Susan Cain speak at ALA Midwinter Meeting. I also received a copy of the book, and the author signed it to me.

Her talk was fascinating, and I was excited to read someone speaking up for introverts. However, it did take me a frightfully long time to read the book. Essentially, that’s because I had my own copy, so it didn’t have a due date. And I’m always reading many nonfiction books at a time, and this one came to the top of the pile more slowly, because I didn’t have to turn it back in. However, this book is a keeper – I’m glad to have my own copy. In a world where extroversion is valued, it’s always good to be reminded that we introverts have our own strengths. The world needs both kinds of people.

In the Introduction, Susan Cain explains why this topic is important:

Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most important aspect of personality – the “north and south of temperament,” as one scientist puts it – is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Our place on this continuum influences our choice of friends and mates, and how we make conversation, resolve differences, and show love. It affects the careers we choose and whether or not we succeed at them. It governs how likely we are to exercise, commit adultery, function well without sleep, learn from our mistakes, place big bets in the stock market, delay gratification, be a good leader, and ask “what if.” It’s reflected in our brain pathways, neurotransmitters, and remote corners of our nervous systems. Today introversion and extroversion are two of the most exhaustively researched subjects in personality psychology, arousing the curiosity of hundreds of scientists.

These researchers have made exciting discoveries aided by the latest technology, but they’re part of a long and storied tradition. Poets and philosophers have been thinking about introverts and extroverts since the dawn of recorded time. Both personality types appear in the Bible and in the writings of Greek and Roman physicians, and some evolutionary psychologists say that the history of these types reaches back even farther than that: the animal kingdom also boasts “introverts” and “extroverts,” as we’ll see, from fruit flies to pumpkinseed fish to rhesus monkeys. As with other complementary pairings – masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative – humanity would be unrecognizable, and vastly diminished, without both personality styles.

This book explores many aspects of introversion. She looks at the Extrovert Ideal in American society today, and provides scientific evidence that this ideal may be misguided. Often an introvert makes the better leader, for example, and learning isn’t necessarily better done in groups.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter “When Should You Act More Extroverted?” about finding that happy balance of acting extroverted, perhaps on a job, and having restorative times when you can return to your true self. I honestly think that my current state of living alone makes me all the more able, on my job, to happily help out strangers. She calls it a “restorative niche” when you carve out a time or place to have to yourself.

We would all be better off if, before accepting a new job, we evaluated the presence or absence of restorative niches as carefully as we consider the family leave policy or health insurance plans. Introverts should ask themselves: Will this job allow me to spend time on in-character activities like, for example, reading, strategizing, writing, and researching? Will I have a private workspace or be subject to the constant demands of an open office plan? If the job doesn’t give me enough restorative niches, will I have enough free time on evenings and weekends to grant them to myself?

Extroverts will want to look for restorative niches, too. Does the job involve talking, traveling, and meeting new people? Is the office space stimulating enough? If the job isn’t a perfect fit, are the hours flexible enough that I can blow off steam after work? Think through the job description carefully. One highly extroverted woman I interviewed was excited about a position as the “community organizer” for a parenting website, until she realized that she’d be sitting by herself behind a computer every day from nine to five.

Another valuable chapter is the one about parenting introverts. I had two introverted sons, and being an introvert myself, don’t think I gave them a hard time about it. (My younger son knew he could get me to take him to anything because I was so excited if he actually wanted to go to something outside of school!) But I have seen extroverted parents give their introverted children a hard time – for example, a family invited hordes of people to their introverted daughter’s fourth birthday party, and then talked to her sternly about how she needed to come out of her room. Susan Cain’s examples are much worse than that – a family that kept trying to get “help” for their apparently well-adjusted child because they thought he wasn’t outgoing enough.

Introverts will find valuable and interesting information in each chapter. Of course, it’s the extroverts who really need to read this book! Perhaps we can present them with facts from it to help relax the pressure for us to be like them.

Her concluding chapter has a good summary of tips:

Love is essential; gregariousness is optional. Cherish your nearest and dearest. Work with colleagues you like and respect. Scan new acquaintances for those who might fall into the former categories or whose company you enjoy for its own sake. And don’t worry about socializing with everyone else. Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity.

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers – of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity – to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.

Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it. If this requires public speaking or networking or other activities that make you uncomfortable, do them anyway. But accept that they’re difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you’re done.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, signed by the author.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Emily’s Blue Period, by Cathleen Daly and Lisa Brown

emilys_blue_period_largeEmily’s Blue Period

by Cathleen Daly
illustrations by Lisa Brown

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2014. 56 pages.
Starred Review

At first, I didn’t think I’d review this book. As a book about art, it could be seen as simplistic, and same as a book about kids whose parents are divorced. But as a story – a story about one particular girl, who happens to love art and happens to have recently divorced parents – it worms its way into my heart every time I read it.

The format is a cross between picture book and chapter book. The pages are a bit larger than most chapter books, and the pictures take up more room on each page than the words, but there are indeed five short chapters, and no effort is given to making the text particularly easy to read.

Emily wants to be an artist, and in school she’s learning about Pablo Picasso. First, she learns about how Picasso liked to mix things up. Emily likes to mix things up, too. However:

Lately, Emily’s family is mixed up.
She doesn’t like this.
Emily’s dad is no longer where he belongs.
Suddenly, he lives in his own little cube.

The story shows Emily and her little brother Jack going shopping with Dad to pick out furniture for his new home. Emily doesn’t like any of it, and Jack ends up throwing a fit. This leads Emily into her Blue Period.

I like the way Emily’s Blue Period is understated. The author doesn’t even mention why Emily’s sad, just that she’s sad. She doesn’t show any of her art from that period, though in that chapter the illustrations themselves are mainly blue. And as far as comfort, we just have:

Emily nuzzles her head into the spot under her mother’s arm where it fits just like a puzzle piece.
Emily’s Blue Period lasts quite some time.

In the next chapter, the final one, it’s making a collage of “Home” that pulls Emily out of her Blue Period.

This is a book that takes itself seriously about a girl who takes herself seriously. And it’s all simply right.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Chasing Power, by Sarah Beth Durst

chasing_power_largeChasing Power

by Sarah Beth Durst

Bloomsbury, New York, 2014. 368 pages.
Starred Review

Sarah Beth Durst does it again! She manages to make her paranormal novels distinctive and loaded with magic, and unlike anything that’s gone before.

What would you do if you had the power of telekinesis – able to make things move using only the power of your mind? Kayla has that power, at least for very small things. And what she chooses to do with it is steal.

She uses little things like a razor blade, thread, gum, a ball of tinfoil, and a dull fishing hook, and she uses them cleverly to take jewels and money from the upscale shops on State Street in Santa Barbara, California, in such a way that no one notices.

Kayla lives with her mother, Moonbeam, in Santa Barbara. For years, they’ve been in hiding from her father, who killed her older sister Amanda. Although Moonbeam has protective spells all around the house, she insists that Kayla not use her magic, or do anything at all that might gain her father’s attention.

Kayla doesn’t want to have to run again. They’ve been in Santa Barbara for eight years, and Kayla even has a best friend, Selena. But her mother doesn’t know about Kayla’s little adventures in State Street, or that this is how Kayla gets money to take care of them.

However, after she pulls off a jewelry store heist seamlessly, without arousing anyone’s attention, she notices a boy across the street, watching her.

He was tall with black hair that dusted over his eyes. Unlike the others, he wasn’t pierced or tattooed. He wore a clean black T-shirt and black jeans with boots. Kayla felt his eyes on her as she walked by and for an instant, she thought, He saw me; he knows. But no, that was impossible. It was far more likely he’d noticed her pink-streaked hair or her bikini top, which was the point of both. Also, she liked both. She flashed him a smile as she passed.

He didn’t smile back.

It turns out, the boy does know. And he’s got magical powers of his own, like nothing Kayla has ever seen before. But his mother has been kidnapped, and he wants Kayla’s help. Her magical help.

What follows is a wild adventure, traveling all over the world in quest of three ancient magical stones. They go to an ancient Mayan temple, to the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, and many more places. It’s no surprise that someone else is after the stones, too, and whoever it is doesn’t seem concerned about keeping Kayla alive.

I like Kayla’s friend, Selena, and her computer help, getting background information. I like the realistic problems they deal with, while trying to access ancient magic – not staying out too late, for example, or getting Selena’s parents to approve of the boy she likes.

And then there’s this boy, Daniel. He wants Kayla’s help, but he doesn’t think to ask nicely for it. But here’s someone with magic, like her – and how did he know her name, anyway? And why does he have pictures of Kayla’s parents, together?

I’m not sure if I completely believed the way everything tied up at the end, but I was definitely happy with the Epilogue. I do like the way Sarah Beth Durst writes romance. The teens feel real – not perfect, but real. And this book – with the adults even more imperfect than the kids – wraps up in a nice way for the teens involved. An excellent read – a paranormal romance with some heft.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems

waiting_is_not_easy_largeWaiting Is Not Easy!

by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2014. 57 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Mo Willems is a genius. His books deal in universal emotions; they teach lessons; they are funny; they are simple; they span a huge age range. Every time I read a Mo Willems book to any age of kids, I get huge laughs on every page. I’ve watched other parents read them to their children, and it’s clear that the parents are enjoying them as much as the children are.

Even though these books are perfect for children just learning to read, they are short enough to be thoroughly enjoyed as read-alouds as well. And school age children who can read perfectly still enjoy them for the humor.

I also like them for the lessons. I’ve mentioned before that Are You Ready to Play Outside? is better than any sermon on contentment. And I wish Pigs Make Me Sneeze! had been published when I was teaching Statistics, because you couldn’t ask for a more entertaining presentation of the truth that Correlation does not imply Causation.

And I admit — it’s for the lesson that I love this book.

You see, back in July, I applied for my dream job. I was very excited and eager. In August, I had a phone interview. In September, I had a panel interview. That was seven weeks ago. There is going to be a third round of interviews, but they have apparently not happened yet. Truly, Waiting Is Not Easy!

The story is simple. Piggie tells Gerald she has a surprise for him, but he will have to wait, because it isn’t here yet. And the rest of the book is waiting for the surprise. Gerald is not patient. Three times, he lets out a GROAN! in a speech bubble so big, it knocks over Piggie (a little more each time). Gerald tries different things, but they mostly amount to telling Piggie he’s tired of waiting, while Piggie waits in a peaceful yoga pose.

And yes, the surprise is worth it, even to Gerald. And no, Piggie could not possibly have speeded it up. (She actually shouldn’t have told him about the surprise ahead of time, but then we wouldn’t have such a great book.)

So besides a book that will set kids giggling at Gerald’s over-the-top antics, what parent doesn’t want their child to learn a little something about patience? I can’t think of a better vehicle for talking about how hard it is to wait.

And, yes, even for me, laughing at Gerald’s impatience takes the sting out of my own wait. Thank you, Mo Willems!

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Crazy 8s Math Club


On Thursday, my Prime Factorization Cardigan was featured on Bedtime Math!

This thrilled me, since I’ve been excited about Bedtime Math ever since I first heard about it. I love their mission — showing kids how much fun Math is and making it a regular part of their bedtime routine.

And, I recently started coaching a Crazy 8s Math Club.

Bedtime Math sent us most of the materials (except easily obtainable things) and instructions for eight different club activity sessions. This week, I *finally* remembered to take some pictures. The kids were flinging marshmallows with catapults and measuring how far they flew. I added in some activities with aim at the end, assigning points to different achievements. It tends to get a little chaotic, but the kids seem to have a great time.





Funny how exhausted I was at the end!

Bedtime Math has two books out with life-related math explorations, Bedtime Math and Bedtime Math 2.

A huge thank you to them for the work they do and for providing so much fun to the kids at our library!

Review of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, by Bradley Jersak

her_gates_will_never_be_shut_largeHer Gates Will Never Be Shut

Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem

by Bradley Jersak

Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 2009. 220 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve written about other books that have convinced me of the viewpoint of Evangelical Universalism, that hell, though real, does not last forever and ever. This book had some ideas in it that are new to me and answered some of my last points of doubt. It is the book I will now recommend to evangelicals who have studied theology and are concerned about believing what the Bible teaches.

It’s interesting to me that Bradley Jersak was especially strong in explaining a Universalist view of Revelation – yet he is not dogmatic about his views at all. He sounds more like I did when my eyes were first opened to the possibility that this might be true, that this might really be what the Bible is teaching.

Here’s his explanation in the introductory chapter, “Presumptions and Possibilities.” First he explains three theological views about hell: Infernalism, that unbelievers will be tormented forever and ever; annihilationism, that those who go to hell will be completely consumed and no longer exist; and universalism, that hell won’t last more than an age and will eventually be emptied out, and God will be all in all. He goes on to give his own perspective:

We all have a bias. The important thing is to recognize your bias and be able to defend or explain it. As a “critical realist,” I spend a good deal of time and energy studying my biases – how they emerged, and how they influence my thinking. Rather than pretending to be perfectly objective, I confess that since my early days as a terrified infernalist, I have developed a strong preference for hope. I hope in the Good News that God’s love rectifies every injustice through forgiveness and reconciliation. The Gospel of hope that I can preach boldly is this:

God is not angry with you and never has been. He loves you with an everlasting love. Salvation is not a question of “turn or burn.” We’re burning already, but we don’t have to be! Redemption! The life and death of Christ showed us how far God would go to extend forgiveness and invitation. His resurrection marked the death of death and the evacuation of Hades. My hope is in Christ, who rightfully earned his judgment seat and whose verdict is restorative justice, that is to say, mercy.

Hope. That is my bias, and I believe that Scripture, tradition, and experience confirm it. I want to explain and validate my hope in those contexts. This book will address the central problem of this “heated” debate: not infernalism versus annihilationism versus universalism, but rather, authentic, biblical Christian hope vis-à-vis the error of dogmatic presumption (of any view). Hope presumes nothing but is rooted in a deeper confidence: the love and mercy of an openhearted and relentlessly kind God.

In short, I do not intend to convince readers of a particular theology of divine judgment. I hope, rather, to recall those relevant bits of Scripture, history, and tradition that ought to inform whatever view we take on this important topic.

Brad Jersak looks at some of the same passages I’d read about in other universalist books. But he adds some perspectives I hadn’t heard before. He does look at the Greek and Hebrew words used regarding hell, and then we come to a chapter called “The Gehenna Tradition(s).” The author states:

I have devoted an entire chapter to the Gehenna tradition, because it is not just another term for hell: it represents a pivotal point in our understanding of divine judgment. Our understanding – or misunderstanding – of the Gehenna tradition(s) shapes our view of hell and judgment. More than that, it profoundly influences our understanding of Jesus’ ministry and message. I don’t presume to have it all figured out, but so much essential data has been overlooked (esp. Jesus’ use of the Jeremiah tradition) that it behooves me to share some of the results of my spadework.

His study of Gehenna throughout the Old and New Testaments, as well as in the Apocrypha and the Talmud (and he lays out all this in detail) brings him to this conclusion:

Unfortunately, Christian tradition, theology, and translation followed the apocryphal reading of Gehenna rather than the biblical tradition of Jeremiah and Jesus. The Church zigged with Enoch, Esdras et al when Jesus zagged with Jeremiah, so to speak….

While the legacy of Gehenna stands as a genuine warning of destruction to those who persist in rebellion and idolatry, Jeremiah and Jesus forewarn us to avoid the consequential wrath. For those who experience the calamities of the “way of death,” the invitation is extended to a New Covenant of restoration. Sin and its consequences are overcome by redemption and restoration. Rather than terrorizing the world with eternal, conscious torment in a literal lake of fire, the Church can hold out the New Covenant of Jesus in which even the Valley of Slaughter is sanctified, every curse of destruction is broken, and God’s exiles find their way home.

And here’s almost a side note against the infernalists:

We ought to also note the irony and incongruence of the Church utilizing the very place where God became violently offended by the literal burning of children as our primary metaphor for a final and eternal burning of God’s wayward people in literal flames. Thus, God becomes the very Molech who decrees that the angels must deliver his children to the flames, even though this was the very reason he ordered Hinnom to be desecrated in the first place!

He goes on to look at judgment as seen throughout the Bible, the lake of fire, and the rich man and Lazarus, as well as the views of theologians since the beginning of the church.

After looking at texts about hell, he goes on to look at texts about redemption. I particularly like this paragraph:

God deals with sin through correction, not punishment. That’s Clement, that’s Hebrews, that’s Hosea. The chastisements of God are disciplinary: not because divine justice demands satisfaction (Anselm, Cur Deus Homo), payback, or wrath (Calvin, penal satisfaction!), but because God is raising beloved children who tend to learn the hard way. The hardest lesson we learn is the lesson of the Cross: the horrible revelation that it was each of us who crucified perfect Love (Zech 12:10), yet in love God forgave us (1 John 4:9-10). This is more than learning by moral influence. The Cross is a revelation of God’s love, our violence, and Jesus’ power to forgive and redeem – all at once. Don’t miss this point, because it marks a major fork in the theological trail. For centuries, I fear that we veered when Clement actually had it right.

This section also looks at various traditions in the church, how the infernalist view came to be widespread, and various different views today.

The last section, “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut,” has a subtitle of “Hints of Ultimate Redemption in Revelation 21-22.” I had always thought those chapters were some of the hardest to reconcile with universalism, but Brad Jersak sees them as a crucial part in his hope of redemption for all.

Especially interesting is how he ties the words of Revelation about the water of life flowing from the throne with the Gehenna tradition he’d already explored.

Here’s an interesting passage. Before reading this book, I hadn’t even realized there’s a more natural way to read Revelation 22. Speaking of verse 14, he says:

It would be tempting to excerpt this verse from its context to make it read that we are blessed if we have washed our robes in the Gospel blood of Christ in this life so that we can be welcomed into the gates of the New Jerusalem in the next. In fact, to avoid any posthumous possibility of salvation, one must read it that way. But if we remain ardently biblical (now is not the time to waffle), the text says far more than that.

First, those who say yes to the Gospel in this life are already part of the Bride, adorned in righteous robes, coming down as the New Jerusalem and issuing the invitation to others to enter. I.e., those who are washed are already “in.” The universal invitation is for those outside the city and needing to enter after the establishment of the new creation.

Lest the invitation be misunderstood as an anything goes pluralistic universalism, there is a hard pause. Anyone can come, but only if they have their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. Only upon a specifically Christian redemption can one enter the gates and eat from the tree of life that grows in the city (another picture of Jesus). This vision declares the possibility and the hope that even in the next age, there are those whose thirst will finally bring them to say yes to the Lamb, even those who were unable to do so on this side of the grave.

Brad Jersak has an Addendum at the end, “A Word to Fellow Evangelicals.” So much of it mirrors what I’d like to say to my fellow evangelicals as well, so I’m going to include some bits from that in conclusion.

We need to become even more biblical than that, allowing Scripture to trump our inherited ideologies even when we’ve invested so much of our hearts in those systems. Dare we let Scripture say what it says without reinterpreting what it “really means” into the margins of our Study Bibles?

Second, if we listen honestly, we will discern between pluralists who see every path leading to heavenly bliss without judgment and without Jesus vis-à-vis the ultimate redemptionists, who continue to say “no one comes to the Father except through Jesus” and “no one enters the kingdom without having his or her robe washed in the Lamb’s blood.” Yet the latter group proclaims with Revelation 21-22 that heaven’s door never shuts, and the Spirit and Bride continue to say, “come.” They hope that all may still ultimately respond to the Gospel with a “Yes!” They do not believe in a second-chance theology; it is a seventy-times-seven-and-beyond hope. The question is, is there a place among evangelicals for them?

And I related tremendously to this:

I find myself more freely evangelistic now than at any other time in my life, and yet without any pressure or fear. It is wonderful….

I conclude with this exhortation to examine our hearts on this question: What in us needs the traditional infernalist version of hell? What purpose does it fulfill? Is it our carnal sense of justice as payback or an even darker Schadenfreude? If anything needs purging, it is that. In exchange, I believe God has called us to surrender our self-assurance for a much broader and deeper hope.

Brad Jersak is not presumptuous. He is not dogmatic. But he brings up some valid questions for Christians, and I think points out some wonderful, blessed reasons to increase our hope.

Please don’t rely on my summary and excerpts. He has much more to say. If you’re coming from an Evangelical perspective, I highly recommend this book. If you’re starting from outside the church, there are better places to start, but please take away this message: God is not angry with you and never has been. His punishments are disciplinary because He sees you as a beloved child who tends to learn the hard way. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.