The Best Book Club Item EVER

No exaggeration, I have been wanting this item for FIVE YEARS, ever since seeing a friend with it at book club. But sadly for all book fans, it was no longer manufactured.

TableTopics Book Club edition

So I was THRILLED to discover that it is now back. And after pausing for all of 30 seconds, I ordered my own set, then wrote this post. In that order, because I wasn’t taking any chances that it would go out of stock.

What is this magical item? Why did I immediately hit the “buy now” button on Amazon?

TableTopics Book Club Edition

TableTopics Book Club editionIt’s only the best set of questions for book discussion ever. One nice box (so the cards inside don’t get bent or scuffed), stuffed full with questions.

Run out of time to track down book-specific questions before your meeting? No worries – you’ll find some applicable questions in here.

I know, I’m gushing, but I am seriously that excited to find that this is being made again, and I have my own copy now, and I can recommend it to all book club fans.

Sure, they have lots of other versions. I’m even thinking about getting the family version. But it’s the book club one that I adore and now I have one of my very own. It’s the best.

TableTopics Book Club questions


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Introducing September’s Book Club Selection: Plainsong

Plainsong cover

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

What’s It About?

(Description from Goodreads)

A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation, and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver.

In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they’ve ever known.

From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition.

Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a novel to care about, believe in, and learn from.

Why Was This Title Selected

It’s contemporary fiction that turned up on a lot of recommended reading lists, as well as some lists specifically geared towards book clubs.

Anything Else to Know About It?

The discussion will begin next Monday in the Facebook group, and you’re welcome to come and join us.

It’s available in Print, for Kindle or Nook, or via Audible.

And a heads-up: you can get the Audible version for a reduced price if you buy the Kindle version first.

What’s Coming Up Next?

funny-in-farsiFunny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

What’s it about? Describes struggles with culture shock after Firoozeh’s family moved from Iran to America when she was 7 years old

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Nook | Audible | Goodreads

And a heads-up: you can get the Audible version for a reduced price if you buy the Kindle version first.

See all the books we’ll be reading in 2017 here.


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Homeschooling Update: Plans for First Grade

H is now in first grade, and many of the plans I have for the year are repeats of her brother’s year.

1st grade / first grade curriculum choices

First Grade Curriculum Choices

Math

She’s working on Math Mammoth 1A as that worked so well for her brother. I am also eyeing Math Lessons for a Living Education, because I think she’d like the storyline, and the repetition would probably be helpful. Although I did a mix of Math Mammoth and Mathematical Reasoning for her brother, so I may just do that mix again for her as well.

History

G LOVED the Children’s Encyclopedia used as the spine for history used in Sonlight’s Level A, and it’s proving to be just as big a hit with H. I’ve also noticed that her brother likes hanging around when we read the encyclopedia, and he likes telling her things he remembers.

Sonlight updated this level since her brother went through it, so they’ve already made some changes. I will probably still add in The Story of Exploration like I did with her brother, as it was a fun book that he really enjoyed. They’ve made some other changes to the read alouds, and I’m planning on reading all the books in the updated Instructor’s Guide, plus the books they removed.

Reading

We’re still working through All About Reading 1, as she’s having a bit more trouble than her brother did at getting past the hurdle of blending.

I expect that at some point things are going to click for her and she’ll take off. Until then, we practice a lot of basic stuff with her. At some point, I have LA 1 to use with her, but we’re paused on it right now.

Handwriting

She’s begun Italic Handwriting Book A. It’s fine – no strong feelings either way towards it. She likes handwriting more than her brother does, and is better at it than he was at that age.

Bible

I don’t use the Bible reading assigned in the IG – I prefer the assigned Bible at an older age, so right now she’s working through The Family Time Bible in Pictures, and then we’ll move on to The Story in Pictures. We have several children’s Bibles so when we finish one we just move onto another one. She’s also starting back at Awana next month, for her second year in Sparks.

Science

Sonlight’s Science A also uses the Children’s Encyclopedia, as well as several of the Usborne Beginners books. She loves those, so I’ll be rounding up all the extra ones we have that aren’t already assigned, and reading them throughout the year. Then I’ll likely add some library books on topics that catch her interest, as that worked well for her brother.

She doesn’t seem to like the graphic novel science texts he so loves, so her year won’t be an exact repeat of what he did. One fun thing is that Sonlight updated the Science IG, and it’s now in COLOR. That’s fun for her (and me too, to be honest).

Art

We’re trying Artistic Pursuits Introduction to Visual Arts , and I may also finish up the Art with a Purpose program we started last year. Her brother didn’t like it, but she did, so I may just do it as extra art with her. She likes art a lot more than he does.

I also plan on doing some art appreciation/art history with him, and letting her listen in as she wants.

Music

She’ll also have the option of tagging along with her brother’s music appreciation/composer studies, or it may be something else that I’ll save for when she’s older.

Cooking

As I mentioned in the post about her brother’s third grade plans, I’ve fizzled out on using the video version of the Kids Cook Real Food course – I think if I had a tablet to use in the kitchen it would have helped. Instead, I’ve gotten the print version and will be trying to use that with them. They both are enthusiastic about any cooking lessons I offer, so I want to prioritize that this year.

Extras

She’s planning on joining Girl Scouts and is really looking forward to that! The introductory meeting is next week and she’s only asked me EVERY DAY this month when it’s happening.

She’s also playing soccer again and is disappointed that 1st grade still doesn’t include a goalie (gotta wait until 3rd grade for that). This will be her first year to play basketball, and she wants to play softball again in the Spring.

Taekwondo continues: she’s just earned her senior brown belt, and if she continues to pass each level, she’ll test for black belt in February. She’s also been invited to help teach the beginning and intermediate students and enjoys doing that one class each week.

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New on Your Stack (Volume 28)

Some highlights from the books from last month’s linkup:


What She Ate coverStacie (Sincerly Stacie) is killing my TBR stack this month – SO MANY BOOKS that I want to add to my list. Two were already there: Reading People (which I’ve already pre-ordered), and What She Ate, (which I’d recently put on my library wishlist, a kind of a holding spot for books I may borrow soon). Then there was The Silent Sister, which sounds great, and Where the Light Falls – I do love historical fiction in unfamiliar time periods. Plus her kids’ books – especially Our Story Begins and that Weird but True Daily Planner looks so much fun. And my kids don’t even need it!


Reading People CoverSpeaking of adding to my TBR, Kate (Opinionated Book Lover), isn’t far behind Stacie. Kate is also on the book launch team for Reading People, and I’m trying to convince myself that I am not jealous of that. That I have my own copy of the book arriving soon as I’ve preordered it. It’s only somewhat working.

Then there’s Something Like Happy, which I’m eyeing as a possible light-yet-discussable book club option. And of course, I’m curious about The Book of Air, considering my obsession this summer with reading all things connected with Jane Eyre. Finally, Seven Stones sounds like a book I would love – Scotland, magic, historical fiction. It’s not available at my library, so I’m not sure I’ll get to it, but it’s tempting.


Talon coverAnnette (AKBookworm) is new to the linkup, and she has some great new books on her stack for July – like Quiet and Wired for Story. She also introduced me to Talon, the first book in a series about dragons. I love the dragon idea, but I’m not certain if I like the teenage-romance angle it possibly appears to take. I’ll have to dig into the reviews, before I fall for the premise and great covers.


The Bones Will Speak coverAs always, Jill (Days at Home) has some of the prettiest book covers featured. What catches my eye the most though is The Bones Will Speak. I’m intrigued by the forensic artist perspective, so I’m considering picking up the first in the series, A Cry from the Dust.


Arwen (The Tech Chef) has a *very* intriguing food book on her list: The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. I like my vegetarian meals at times, but I’ve never wanted to go 100% vegetarian or vegan. I’m curious what this has to say.


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Series Love: Maisie Dobbs

covers for Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear

The Basics

The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear is one I frequently recommend to historical mystery fans, or to those who might become historical mystery fans with the slightest nudge. Maisie is a private investigator who has started her own agency in 1929 London.

As the series continues, she sometimes finds herself assisting the police, and developing a working relationship with other governmental agencies.

Why I Love Maisie

Maisie’s background is unusual – she was a nurse in the war, then studied psychology before being mentored by a well-regarded investigator. While she began life in service, she has connections in high places, and it all combines to allow for varying plot lines that provide a more interesting reading experience.

As you get to know Maisie, you also know the people in her life – family, friends, colleagues. Many of these secondary characters end up becoming significant figures in the books, and because of how the books continue through time you can really follow along with their lives.

The post-World War I setting is appealing, and I appreciate how Winspear allows time to pass throughout the series – from the first book to the most recent has spanned a decade. I found it fascinating to get a taste for how the mood of the country changed, and how life changed for so many of the characters.

Why They Might Not Be For You

The mysteries are the weakest element, and they’re almost all entirely forgettable. If you want mysteries where the focus is on clever plotting and matching wits with a detective (or criminal), these aren’t the ones for you.

There’s a slight mystical storyline running through several of the books (especially the earlier ones) that led to coincidences playing too large a role in solving the mystery. Maisie seems to rely on intuition an awful lot, and her descriptions of it were a bit eye-rolling.

Maisie is almost too perfect of a character. She’s smart and kind and sensitive and has men seemingly falling for her all the time. Her biggest flaw is even that she cares too much for others and tries to arrange their lives.

Reading Them All

Because of the emphasis on characterization, these are books you’ll want to read in order. So much time passes, and so many significant events happen to various characters that you’ll really miss out if you read later books first. Don’t do it!

If you like listening to your books, they’re all available via Audible, but there is a different narrator for each of the first two books. Beginning with book three, it’s the same narrator, so you can get used to a familiar voice telling the story. I enjoyed her narration and especially appreciated being able to hear the variation in accents that Winspear sometimes describes, but I could never really understand until hearing the books.

Find the Books:
  1. Maisie Dobbs Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  2. Birds of a Feather Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  3. Pardonable Lies Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  4. Messenger of Truth Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  5. An Incomplete Revenge Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  6. Among the Mad Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  7. The Mapping of Love and Death Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  8. A Lesson in Secrets Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  9. Elegy for Eddie Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  10. Leaving Everything Most Loved Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  11. A Dangerous Place Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  12. Journey to Munich Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads
  13. In This Grave Hour Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Read all the posts in the “Series Love” series. Because sometimes it makes more sense to talk about the entirety of a book series, instead of doing a post about each individual title.


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Homeschooling Update: Plans for Third Grade

Last week kicked off G’s 3rd grade year. It’s always an exciting time, and I’ve got some fun things planned for his year.

3rd Grade Curriculum Choices

3rd Grade Curriculum Choices

Math

Math Mammoth has worked really well for us so far, so he’ll be starting off the year with 4A, and when he finishes that, he’ll move on to 4B. I would like to supplement with Beast Academy and am planning on getting their new 2A level when it releases. I want it to be fun-challenging, not super hard-challenging, which is why I’m going lower in level than the 3A I have and briefly tried last year.

History

Sonlight C LA 3
In addition to the second half of world history covered in Sonlight C, I’ll be adding in some extra fun titles such as See Inside the World of Shakespeare and a sticker book about Knights as I try to slow us down and not finish before May.

I’m trying to avoid moving into level D before 4th grade, but we’ll see how that goes. We’d begun level C last year, so we’re already on week 9 of the curriculum. I just ordered the Kingfisher Atlas of World History (it hasn’t arrived yet) but that should also give us plenty to look at and help slow things down.

Spelling, Phonics, and Handwriting

He’s halfway through All About Spelling level 4 already, so I expect him to finish it and most (if not all) of level 5 this year. He loves spelling!

Although it’s completely unnecessary for him, as it duplicates so much of what he did in All About Reading, I’m having him work through MCP Phonics Level C . It’s often convenient to have some workbook tasks to give him to do on his own. Some days this ends up counting as his handwriting.

For days he’s not getting a lot of handwriting in via other items, he’s using Italic Handwriting Book D. He hates it, but his handwriting is not good, so he’s working on it. And it’s not the book’s fault he hates it; he’d dislike anything requiring handwriting practice.

Reading and Vocabulary

Sonlight LA 3Somewhat connected with his History curriculum, he’s also doing Sonlight Readers and LA 3. I’ll add in additional readers for him, mostly from the library. Those I generally pick as we go along through the year, and I’ll try and keep you posted on the ones I assign as the year progresses.

For another workbook to do on his own when I need him to be busy while I work with his sister(s) he’s got Wordly Wise B. The vocabulary practice so far has been unnecessary, but I’ll keep using it for the workbook benefits.

Bible

Besides the assigned Bible reading and Window on the World book included in Sonlight, I’ve added the Awesome Book of Bible Facts (that they used to include, but took out). He’ll also start up with Awana again next month, where he’ll be in the T&T level.

Science

Sonlight Science CHe’s a big fan of Sonlight science, and has just started Science C. Since it’s never enough for him, I’ll be supplementing with additional science books. First up is 100 Things to Know about Science, followed by a book about Volcanos. Once he learns that there are additional Wile E Coyote science titles, he’ll be clamoring for them, so I’m thinking I’ll get him Whoosh, Kaboom, Clang, and Zoom for Christmas gifts.

Art

I’ll be trying out a new-to-us art curriculum with both older kids – Artistic Pursuits Introduction to Visual Arts .

I also have several Usborne art books to read with the kids – Introduction to Art, Lift-the-Flap Art, Art Treasury, even an Art Activity Book, and a Step-by-Step Drawing Book.

In addition, I have a list of art appreciation books to grab from the library, such as 13 Paintings Children Should Know and others in that series.

I know we won’t get through all of that this year, but I’m trying to have it on hand to make it more likely it’ll be a regular part of our routine.

Music

Someday I hope to get all the kids into piano lessons, but that won’t be this year. While we wait, I want to do some composer studies, music history, and other music apreciation-type material.

Towards that end, I’m slowly working on building a reference collection. So far I have the Usborne Famous Composers Reference Book, and I’m also planning on adding their Classical Music Reference Book.

In addition, I’m then debating between three options: First Book about the Orchestra, Welcome to the Symphony, or The Story of the Orchestra. I’d like to get one of them for the year, and am hoping to try all three out from the library before deciding which one (if any) to purchase for our shelves.

Cooking

I’ve not been that successful at using the video version of the Kids Cook Real Food course (but when I did, I loved it), so I’m trying the book instead.

Extras

He’s now a Bear in Cub Scouts, and is looking forward to all of the activities that offers throughout the year. He’s also begun the Fall soccer season, playing on team Germany. It’s still up in the air if he’ll play basketball this winter, but he’s certain to play baseball in the Spring.

Taekwondo is ongoing: he’s just earned his 1st degree recommended black belt, so next up is 1st degree decided, and to work towards his instructor’s collar.

It should be another busy year!

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10 Nonfiction Books I Can’t Stop Recommending

10 Nonfiction Books I Can't Stop Recommending

  1. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

    It works for so many reading situations and interests. Enjoy reading about history? Interested in sports history? Narrative nonfiction? Nonfiction that reads like fiction? Just looking for a great book? Boys in the Boat!

  2. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

    At the slightest opportunity to promote this look at Introverts, I take it. Introverts needing to understand themselves, extroverts needing to understand the “other side” – it works for all. I’m eager to read Quiet Power, her version for children, as well.

  3. The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway

    A thought-provoking memoir, which touches on so many topics. It’s marvelous for book clubs, and it’s not nearly as well-known as it should be. Anyone looking to expand their usual reading choices should take a close look at this as a possibility.

  4. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

    Recommended when someone isn’t afraid of a book with some heft. It may be over 800 pages, but it’s a marvelous account of Lincoln’s presidency. She has a gift for bringing the past to life and making me care about things I never expected to (like Lincoln’s cabinet).

  5. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
    It’s an easy introduction to the epistolary style and is a great follow-up read to so many books (but especially The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society). It’s also short enough that it works well as a recommendation for anyone looking for a quick read.
  6. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
    Yes, it’s the third of her memoirs, so you should probably read the other ones first, but this one was the most interesting, as it looks at her life as restaurant critic for The New York Times. I’ve never wanted to be a restaurant critic, but this book made me wish I was friends with one and could go out to eat with them occasionally.
  7. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
    It’s actually a toss-up between this and another Bryson title, A Walk in the Woods. Both combine memoir with history and geography in a humorous travelogue that always makes me feel like I’m traveling with him. In addition, these are both excellent as audio books.
  8. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
    Speaking of audio books, at the slightest query for a great audio book I mention Elwes’ memoir. I don’t even like celebrity memoirs, but this isn’t so much an account of Elwes’ life, as it is a look back at the making of the movie The Princess Bride. And as much as I enjoyed reading it, listening to it is even better. The familiar voice of Wesley, along with brief appearances by Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, Rob Reiner, and more. Spectacular!
  9. Give Your Child The World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time by Jamie C. Martin
    Not only for homeschoolers, although I do bring it up regularly in that context. For anyone wanting to introduce children to the world, it’s an amazing annotated listing of books by geographic region, organized by age range (4-6, 6-8, 8-10, 10-12). There’s also a helpful index by time period in the back.
  10. 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy
    I suggest this title ALL THE TIME for anyone thinking of homeschooling, wondering where to start if they want to homeschool, and of course for those looking to consider particular curriculum options. What isn’t so obvious from the title is that the book includes a fabulous introductory section, describing types of homeschoolers, and helping parents figure out their child(ren)’s learning style(s). If you are homeschooling or thinking of homeschooling, you should read this book.

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July 2017 Recap

July 2017 in Stats

Books Read This Month: 28
Books Read This Year: 128

Things That Happened
  • Book club – A Midsummer Night’s Dream for my in-person book club and True Grit in the Facebook group.
  • G turned eight, and had a week at Cub Scout camp.
  • Another week of VBS & week of taekwondo camp.
  • We had some friends stop by for an afternoon/evening as they drove across the country. It’d been a couple of years since we’d seen them so it’s always nice to have a chance to catch up with them. Their oldest son is 15, so this time we were more or less able to ignore the kids for longer stretches as their older ones kept an eye on all the littler ones. That was nice for us to be able to talk and visit.
  • Those visitors also motivated R to finish painting that corner for me, so my bookcase is in place and I’ve been getting organized and ready for us to start homeschooling again.
  • We (and by we, I mean R) refilled the sand box for the kids, and they’ve been out there playing in it every day since.
  • R also worked on the washing machine, which has been having some issues. Upon opening it up, he discovered a sock clogging it, and since removing it it’s been working much better.
    Whew. I was hoping we wouldn’t need to buy a new machine!
What’s Cooking
  • I kind of made up a bar recipe when I didn’t have the exact ingredients the recipe called for. I ended up tossing in caramel bits, white chocolate chips, and even the dregs of a bag of toffee chips. They were amazing!
  • Burgers on the grill. Lots of burgers, which leads to easy leftover meals.
What I’m Anticipating in August
  • M’s birthday! She’ll be THREE 🙂
  • School starts up again!
  • Soccer starts for G and H. I don’t know who puts the kids on teams or schedules things, but I love them. This year, just like last year, the kids have their practice on the same day and time, in the same place. I love having it be set each week, so it’s easy to get into a routine, and I love love love having them both at the same time – makes life so much easier for me.
  • Book club – Lost in Shangri-La for my in-person book club and The Diamond Age in the Facebook group.
Books I Read in July

I shared the list of books I read in a recent post, and I haven’t even read any new picture or chapter books to the kids this month – it’s still been all old favorites all month, with nothing new to share. August should be different!


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Book Pairings: Dictionary Fascination

Because good books can be even better when they’re well-paired.

Fascinated by words? Find history compelling? Enjoy a good memoir? How about a little of all three?

Start with The Professor and the Madman, about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Blending lexicography, history, and biography it’s an amazing look at the incredible feat that the OED really was and is.

Next, move on to a modern look at a dictionary with Word by Word. Part memoir, part behind-the-scenes peek at how it’s done at Merriam-Webster. I don’t often have job envy, but when I do it’s for a job like that.

Don’t think that you have to be a complete word nerd to like either book – sure, it helps, but it’s not a requirement. Both books are compelling enough to satisfy any nonfiction fans, and both provide a lot of discussion fodder. They’d work well as a book pairing for a discussion group!

The Right Word(Have a young reader you’d like to get in on some word fun? Read The Right Word to them. It’s a picture book biography of Peter Mark Roget, and it’s lovely.)

Want still more word goodness? Make sure you follow Merriam-Webster on Twitter. Their social medial game is excellent, and that way you’ll get links to the word of the day, and not miss out on their entertaining tweets.

Find the books:
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper
Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Print | Goodreads

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Cover Love: The Diamond Age

The “Cover Love” series is inspired by the “Judging Books by Their Covers” series previously run at Quirky Bookworm.

Six cover options for The Diamond Age, and I don’t like any of them. Seems appropriate, since I don’t like the book. Not one would inspire me to pick it up and give it try (it was the high Goodreads rating that did that).

What do you think of the covers? Do you have a preference for one of them in particular Or do you have any ideas for how they could have designed the cover to make it fit the book, and be appealing? ‘Cause I’ve got nothing.

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