Dad is Fat: A Book That Will Make You Laugh

Dad is Fat

by Jim Gaffigan

Y’all. This book is HILARIOUS. Like I¬†read passages out loud to my husband with tears rolling down my face hilarious. If you are a parent, or even if you’re not, it is a great, fun read. Here are some of my favorite quotes. (Note: I read an ebook version, so the page numbers might be off.)

  • “[Having children] is an incurable condition, and I have it. Symptoms include constant fatigue, inability to sleep, and of course, extreme sleep disruption.” -p. 22-23
  • “Failing and laughing at your own shortcomings are the hallmarks of a sane parent.” -p. 29
  • “For me, parenting was literally a wake-up call from my own simple selfishness. In other words, I not quite as horrible as I used to be.” -p. 44-45
  • (discussing newborns) “No matter what the weight, they say the same thing: ‘Oooh, big baby.'” p. 57
  • “‘The Jets have asked for a time-out.’ Katie saw the quarterback talking to the coach and asked, ‘Why did he get a time-out?’ I thought for a second and then just said, ‘Because he didn’t listen to his daddy.'” p. 79
  • “I don’t want to give the terrorists any ideas, but if I really wanted to cripple a city with biological warfare, my WMD of choice would have to be the toddler.” p. 82
  • “If children equal noise, then having five kids is like living on a construction site. Noise from our children is a constant in our house. Silence is startling…There are different volumes of loud, and kids know their cues. If you can get a phone call, children intuitively know to speak louder, based on the importance of the call. If you are removing a toddler from a wedding or a funeral, they will understand they are supposed to scream…Screaming. Did I mention the screaming? Screaming is usually associated with horror films and roller coasters. That is why I usually look like I’ve just watched a horror film on a roller coaster.” p. 92-93
  • “I explained what it was like having a fourth kid very simply: imagine you are drowning…and then someone hands you a baby.” p. 183
  • “[Having children] is a sensitive subject and not really anyone else’s business…I don’t mean to get up on a diaper box, but individual liberties are all-important in this country…except when it comes to the number of kids you have or don’t have…So, no kids, one kid, five kids, or sixteen kids, I say we just live and let live. This is the land of the free and the home enough of the brave enough to have five kids. Judging other people says more about you than about the person you’re judging.” p. 186-187
  • “I guess the reasons against having more children always seem uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money? A few more hours of sleep? A more peaceful meal? More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life. I believe each of my five children has made me a better man. So I figure I only need another thirty-four kids to be a pretty decent guy. Each one of them has been a pump of light into my shriveled black heart. I would trade money, sleep, or hair for a smile from one of my children in a heartbeat. Well, it depends on how much hair.” p. 189

I also recommend Jim Gaffigan’s stand-up routines. He’s so funny and completely PG rated. ūüôā




Watership Down: A Book You’ve Been Meaning to Read

Watership Down

by Richard Adams


A group of rabbits from a large warren decide to strike out on their own after Fiver, a rabbit with visions of the future, sees a terrible event at their home. Hazel, the de facto leader (the Chief Rabbit of the renegade group), guides the other rabbits miles and miles, dodging all kinds of danger, including badgers, rivers, and a strange warren they consider joining. Eventually they find an ideal location for a new warren at Watership Down, but soon realize that since they brought no does along from their old warren, that they cannot flourish without finding some female rabbits. Hazel and his rabbits embark on an expedition to find some does from a nearby warren, but end up causing all-out war with the Efafran warren’s crazed Chief, General Woundwort.

Lessons from Watership Down:

  • Be nice to everyone. Hazel makes a point to befriend other animals, such as a mouse and the big white seabird, even when rabbits usually stay to themselves. In both cases, Hazel’s being friendly and helpful (actually saving the lives of both a mouse and a bird) ends up saving all the rabbits in Watership Down on various occasions. Hazel understood the value of working together, even with those different than himself.
  • A true leader leads with humility and respect for others. As evidenced by the parallel between General Woundwort and Hazel, a true leader puts the needs of his people (or in this case, rabbits) above his own and does not make decisions out of vanity or selfish ambition. Hazel literally puts his own life on the line on multiple occasions for the benefit of his warren; General Woundwort truly thinks only of himself and his reputation. Furthermore, Hazel is the chief rabbit of the Watership Down warren because the other rabbits made him so, not because he forced his way to the top.

Final Thoughts:

I’m kind of sad that I waited this long to read this book! While it did take a while to get into, I could barely put it down after I reached the middle. The relationships are real, the struggles are scary, and oddly enough, it’s fairly believable. I would love to teach this novel in a junior high or early high school setting; it would make for great summer reading (if you could make sure the kids would actually read it!).

My Rating: A+

  • universal truths and themes
  • sympathetic characters
  • excellent writing

Clean Factor: A+

Application: A

  • great for a classroom setting, possibly even a family read-aloud
  • fairly long, but it does provide many talking points, so it would work for a book club as well

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Take 2

I have read books by these authors previously. These are my thoughts on some of their other works.

A Book Based on a Vacation or a Road Trip: At the Water’s Edge

by Sara Gruen


Maddie, her husband Ellis, and his best friend Hank head to Scotland in the midst of World War II to attempt to find the famous monster of Loch Ness. Many years before, Ellis’s father had faked pictures of the beast and therefore had been disgraced and Ellis planned to redeem his family’s name (although selfishly to get back into his father’s good graces/money/inheritance). However, Maddie discovers more about her husband than about the mythical monster while in Scotland.


Several years ago, I read Water for Elephants, which I really enjoyed, but I had to get rid of because of the pervasive sexual content. (I thought about blacking out or tearing out pages, but there was too much!) This novel did not have quite as much racy material, but some still appeared. And¬† evidently, Sara Gruen has a thing for extramarital affairs in her novels! Even though Maddie can be “justified,” it’s still painful to read about an unhappy marriage. The novel, although set during World War II, does not focus on the war at all, and honestly when Gruen interjects facts about concentration camps, or the advancement of the Russian army, it seems a little forced. The focus of the story isn’t on the war, or even the famous monster, but on the much more human monster that Maddie struggles against.

Is this a good story? Sure. Is it literary writing? Not really. Would I recommend? Meh.

Rating: B-


A Book Based on a Historical Event: Year of Wonders

by Geraldine Brooks


When the plague invades her town (via the tailor living in her house), Anna loses her boarder and both of her young sons just months after her husband died in a mining accident. The young parish rector encourages the village to close its borders and quarantine themselves to prevent further spreading of the disease, and the town’s people band together to survive through its rampage.


A book about the plague sounds reeeeeally depressing, and it pretty much is. However, the main focus of the novel isn’t how many people have died and who might be next, but on the relationships between the townspeople and how disaster brings out the best (and sometimes the worst) in them. My main critique of this one is that the ending is just plain weird. I’ll leave it at that as not to spoil anything!

Brooks has a knack for choosing interesting historical events and creating an entire world around pieced together facts (other books of Brooks’ I have read: March, Caleb’s Crossing, and People of the Book). While this isn’t my favorite of Brooks’ works, it does have an interesting, personal perspective.

Rating: B+


A Book from the Library: Left Neglected

by Lisa Genova


Sarah is VP of a major consulting firm, has a great husband, 3 kids, a nice house, and a vacation home in the mountains. Everything comes crashing down when she rolls her SUV while trying to make phone calls on the way to work one morning. Sarah wakes up several days later in the hospital, having absolutely no awareness of the left side of her body or the left side of anything else; “Left Neglect,” the neurologists call it. Once she comes to grips with her new situation, Sarah has to decide what’s really important in her life.


While this novel did not hit me as hard as Still Alice (probably because I don’t have a personal connection to Left Neglect like I do Alzheimer’s), Genova again displays a remarkable insight into the life and brain of a person who suffers from neurological issues. The characters are well-drawn and multi-faceted–Genova did a better job with Sarah’s husband Bob than she did with Alice’s husband. I love the parallels between Sarah’s “new” brain and her son’s ADHD one. The redemptive story between mother and daughter is lovely as well.

This one will go on my “recommend to anyone” list. It brings a little-known medical condition to light and also makes the reader think and step into Sarah’s shoes.

Rating: A


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The Boys in the Boat: A New York Times Bestseller

The Boys in the Boat

by Daniel James Brown


In 1933, a group of eager University of Washington freshmen sit in a rowing shell for the first time. Over the next three years, these boys row thousands of miles in their quest to defeat their rivals at the University of California. Their success in American regattas catapult them to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where their defeat of Germany foreshadows the great war to come.

Reasons to Read this Book:

  • Great American heroes: Everyone likes a good, old-fashioned, red-white-and-blue tale. This is definitely one of those. What makes it better? These boys are the pulled up by their own bootstraps, American dream type. Brown focuses on Joe Rantz, the number 2 man, and the hardships he experiences as a child and young man, including the early death of his mother, abandonment by his father and stepmother, and living hand to mouth throughout his college years. The story is much more inspiring than it would have been if the Olympic crew consisted of Harvard or Yale old-money boys. It’s a good versus evil story too: the Allies and the Axis powers, but six years premature. I got a lot of the same vibes from this story as from the¬†Kurt Russell¬†movie Miracle about the 1982 hockey team defeating the Russians (I highly recommend this movie! Read more here).
  • History: The Greatest Generation includes these boys who defied Hitler and his new Germany several years before the United States entered into World War II. Brown demonstrates the events in Germany in parallel with the training of the Husky crew. It’s eerie to read about the lengths the Germans went to in order to sterilize the front they showed to the world and how greatly they tried to prove that the post-World War I Germany was peaceful and welcoming and clean. Hitler, with the help of his propagandist Goebbels, fooled a lot of people for a long time! Brown also inserts short anecdotes about people who enter the crew’s story:¬†a German family in the town where they stayed during the Olympics, only one of whom survived the war, and a soon-to-be-famous racehorse named Seabiscuit.
  • The power of a team: Throughout the book, Brown looks into the minds of each of the men on the Washington crew that becomes the American crew. When they row poorly, it’s because they aren’t paying attention to each other. When they row well (and multiple people, coaches, etc. say that this team is the best crew they have ever seen, so we’re talking really well!), they are in tune with each other and literally cannot be beaten. At the end of their careers, Joe Rantz, Shorty Hunt, and Roger Morris, had never lost a race (the Olympic crew didn’t form until 1935, so the other boys rowed in different boats at Washington). After the Olympics, the boys remained like family, spending reunions together multiple times per year, calling each other on the phone, and rowing together each decade following the Olympic victory. The boys together added up to much more than each individual’s contribution.

Final Thoughts:

You know I’m a sucker for any good nonfiction. (More¬†here.) While there were some slow parts, and one would think that reading about a race wouldn’t be exciting, you’d be wrong! This would be a book that I would reread, so you know it’s worth it!

Mrs. Ethridge’s Report Card:

My Rating: A-

  • “minus” because it took me a while to really get into it–like 50 pages.
  • appeals to a wide variety of readers

Clean Factor: A

  • nothing beyond a few disturbing mentions of atrocities committed by Hitler and his men.

Application: A

  • Book clubs: lots of discussion points; clean
  • School/Classroom setting: excellent to pair with American history class, alongside fiction in an English class; good example of nonfiction and research methods


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All the Light We Cannot See: A book with water on the cover

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr


Marie-Laure grows up blind in Paris, learning the city by studying a tiny model made by her doting father. Werner spends his childhood in a German orphanage, teaching himself radio engineering as he roams his mining village with his sister. World War II turns their lives upside-down and leads to their collision in the walled seaside city of Saint-Malo.

What Works:

  • Sympathetic view of Germans: watching Werner grow up shows the humanity of the German people. It’s easy to look back on history and demonize the “evil Germans” without seeing the individuals, the men who left wives, families, and normal jobs to fight for their country (just like the American boys did). I’m not saying that the German people as a whole should get a pass on all of the atrocities that happened under their noses, but I do think it’s important to see the viewpoints of others. Werner, especially, aids in doing so, because when he enters the war, he is barely more than a child himself. Even though he’s a “bad guy,” I couldn’t help but root for him and hope that he would make it out of the war unscathed.
  • Parallel stories: While the flashback may be (over-)utilized by writers, it is obvious why it is a common storytelling mode: no one can argue with its effectiveness. Doerr begins the story at the end, and then moves back and forth between “real time” (the bombing of Saint-Malo) and the past (the growing-up years of Marie-Laure and Werner). This story takes moving around in time a little farther in that the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner do not intersect until near the end of the novel. The reader has to keep up with four different storylines. This could be a “what doesn’t work” point, but in this case, it does work!
  • Use of art, literature, and technology: Doerr references Clair de Lune, a piece of a piano¬†suite by Debussy¬†(listen here) as well as Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea throughout the entire novel.¬†Marie-Laure’s father adds his own craft in the replicas and puzzle boxes he makes for his daughter. I could nearly hear the Debussy music as I read, especially near the end, and the tension building in 20,000 Leagues as Marie-Laure reads parallels the tension building in her own story. The new technology of the radio plays a huge role in Werner’s life particularly, and is the cause of salvation for both Werner and Marie-Laure.

What Doesn’t Work (in this case, really, the “slightly-less-beloved-parts-of-this-book”):

  • My main problem is that the chapters are so short, which sometimes makes the stories a little¬†difficult to figure out, but that also helps the story to move along faster.
  • I don’t love the thread of the story revolving around the Sea of Flames, because it adds a bit of mythology and “this can’t really happen”-ness to the novel. However, it causes the eventual intersection of Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s stories, so I’ll let it pass. ūüėČ
  • The denouement: I’m not going to say much, because I don’t want to ruin the book for you, but the ending leaves a lot to the imagination; Doerr ties up some loose ends, but leaves many others for his readers to chew on a while!

Final Thoughts:

This book is going on my “recommend to pretty much anyone” list. Doerr manages a truly unique story set during World War II, which I find remarkable. So many times we see World War II and the people involved in it as just part of one big, simple conflict; Doerr focuses on two seemingly insignificant people caught in the fray and demonstrates how important those individual lives are. Even in the darkness of such a terrible thing as war, the light comes from the good in people; we just have to look a little harder to see it.

Mrs. Ethridge’s Report Card:

My Rating: A

  • A lovely story focusing on the individuals that get caught up in larger movements, and how individuals can fight against their circumstances.
  • An ending that isn’t necessarily tied up in a pretty bow makes a better book in my opinion.

Clean Factor: B-

  • language: a few words, but fairly clean considering this is a war story
  • sexual content: a short, as not-graphic-as-you-can-get¬†rape scene
  • violence: it’s a war novel, of course.

Book Clubbishness: A

  • This month’s pick! I’m interested to see what the others have to say.
  • My G’ma sent me this book, and her picks always seem to be a hit in book club. ūüôā


Looking for other World War II stories? WWII historical fiction–and nonfiction too really–is just about my favorite! Other reviews on the subject: The Nightingale, God’s Smuggler.

2016 Reading Challenge

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2016 Reading Challenge (& 2015 Challenge Revisited)

So this post is a little late (almost a month into 2016 already??), but here is what I accomplished in the 2015 Reading Challenge:

  1. A Book You Own But Haven‚Äôt Read (There are literally piles of these at my house…evidently I couldn’t pick one!)
  2. A Book that was Made into a Movie Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  3. A Book You Pick Solely because of the Cover Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  4. A Book Your Friend Loves East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  5. A Book Published This Year Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
  6. A Book by an Author You’ve Never Read Before In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
  7. A Book by an Author You Love Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  8. A Book at the Bottom of Your ‚ÄúTo Be Read‚ÄĚ Pile Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
  9. A Book with a Color in the Title Gray Mountain by John Grisham
  10. A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit The Second Empress by Michelle Moran
  11. A Book You Started but Never Finished (Again, literally piles of these. Sigh.)
  12. A Book with a Lion, a Witch, or a Wardrobe (I’m currently reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which most definitely has a wardrobe in it!)
  13. A Book with a Female Protagonist The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
  14. A Book Set in the Summer Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
  15. A Book of Poems Julie Andrew’s Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton
  16. A Book You Learned About Because of this Challenge The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  17. A Book That Will Make You Smarter Killing Reagan by Bill O’Reilly
  18. A Book with a Blue Cover The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  19. A Book You Were Supposed to Read in School but You Didn‚Äôt (I’d like to say that I read everything I was assigned in school, but I’ll just say I read most!)
  20. A Book ‚ÄúEveryone‚ÄĚ But You Has Read Wonder by R.J. Palacio (didn’t get a review written, but this would be a great read-aloud for older-elementary and maybe even junior high kids)
  21. A Book with a Great First Line (planned on reading some Thomas Hardy, but didn’t get to it)
  22. A Book with Pictures Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  23. A Book from the Library Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
  24. A Book You Loved‚ĶRead it Again! Harry Potter (all of them) by J.K. Rowling (I reread all 7 books, and then watched all 8 movies, but didn’t review them! In a nutshell: excellent!)
  25. A Book that is More than 10 Years Old March by Geraldine Brooks
  26. A Book Based on a True Story The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

I managed to read a book in 21 of the 26 categories, plus I blogged about several nonfiction picks here. I can definitely say that I read more than 26 books this year, which was my overall goal. I did enjoy having a framework to look at and I do think it helped me to make more varied choices.

My plan is to continue, and I will also try to make blog posts more frequent. I would love to have more posts like the nonfiction one where I can review multiple books at once. I’m working on a kid fiction/family read-aloud post currently. ūüôā

Now, on to 2016!

I liked the list put together by Bringing Up Burns, so I’m going to use her list again this year. Some of the categories are the same, but there are lots of different ones too.

What are your favorite books you read this last year? I’d love some recommendations for my 2016 list!

Happy reading!


#10: A Book Set Somewhere You Always Wanted to Visit

The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court

by Michelle Moran


Napoleon Bonaparte bulldozes his way across Europe, seizing cities, countries, and power. He is the most powerful man in the world, but two things are not his: royal blood and an heir. His wife of 14 years, the Empress Josephine, has not given him the child he desires, so Napoleon divorces her and marries Maria Lucia, daughter of the King of Austria and a Hapsburg princess. Within a year, a son is born, but unfortunately for Napoleon, an heir does not guarantee that power will remain in the Bonaparte family.

*This review is based on the talking points at this month’s book club meeting.

What Works:

  • 3 narrators. Since the point of view changes from Pauline, to Marie Louise, to Paul, the reader gets a fair, realistic view of Napoleon and all of the events that happen in his court.
  • Depiction of Napoleon. By employing 3 narrators–none of whom are Napoleon himself–Moran gives the reader differing views of Napoleon that work together to help the reader come to her own conclusions about the emperor. I think it was wise to stay away from Napoleon as a narrator; leaving his thoughts out of the novel make it much more realistic. I think it would have been very risky and probably would have not been nearly as good of a story had Napoleon had his own voice.
  • Use of actual quotes and letters. All of the quotes at the beginnings of the chapters are true, as are the letters included in the novel, minus a few identified by the author.

What Doesn’t Work:

  • The cover art. We generally agreed that the picture looks like it’s from a bad romance novel. I know about the judging a book by its cover thing, but with as much research as this book obviously required, a better cover would make a huge difference.

Other Points of Discussion:

  • Napoleonic Code. Napoleon’s real influence in history is in his legacy of Napoleonic Code. In Louisiana, this is especially interesting since we still function under these laws. While most people consider Napoleon to be a military genius,
  • Marie Louise’s decision to marry Napoleon. Generally, the consensus was that Marie Louise’s decision was selfless, even though it would have been very difficult to make. It’s interesting to see how those in the royal class had such different lives than what we have today. Every decision really was political, even though it seems like they all lived in the lap of luxury without any thought to anyone but themselves.


As far as historical fiction goes, this is a decent example. Moran does not gloss over the less-than-savory bits and utilizes verified historical facts (including letters and such) in a¬†satisfactory way. While this isn’t going on my list of favorites, it was worth a read and gave me¬†an interesting view into a time period I haven’t studied much, especially¬†not¬†since college.¬†Moran writes strong characters, especially the female ones, which is a nice contrast to Napoleon himself.¬†As a result of reading this¬†novel, I am interested in Moran’s other works, which¬†I guess¬†speaks for itself as a recommendation!

Mrs. Ethridge’s (condensed) Report Card:¬†B-


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#17: A Book That Will Make You Smarter

Killing Reagan

by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard


Bill O’Reilly’s biography of Ronald Reagan spans his entire adult life, from his move to California to become a movie star, his rise to political power, and his death at age 93. Like the other books in this series (Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, and Killing Patton–all of which I have read except the last), O’Reilly parallels the life of the protagonist–Reagan in this case–with his assassin. This particular one is different in that Reagan’s is only an attempted assassination. However, O’Reilly delves into the possibility that the assassination attempt and subsequent surgery and recovery greatly impacted the rest of Reagan’s life (and presidency) and very well could have contributed to the eventual onset of Alzheimer’s disease in the former president. Killing Reagan also looks at the relationships Reagan had with two women: his wife Nancy and his “political soul-mate” Margaret Thatcher.

What Works:

  • Present-tense, narrative style. Using present tense gives the reader a sense of involvement and immediacy. It reads less like a text-book and more like a crime documentary.
  • Chapters that move between Ronald¬†Reagan and John Hinkley, Jr. Like in his other books, O’Reilly devotes time to the assassin as well as the victim. It’s interesting to see these men and see their points of view instead of seeing them only as a man behind a gun. John Hinkley, Jr.’s mental state paralleled with Reagan’s policies on mental health are especially interesting.
  • Well-researched facts. In the afterword, O’Reilly states that any facts in the book have at least two confirming sources. Also, many (many, many) quotes from Reagan, his staff members, Margaret Thatcher, and other people demonstrate the authenticity of the story. Also, I feel that O’Reilly is generally unbiased in his treatment of Reagan, telling the reader the good, bad, and ugly about the former president.

What Doesn’t Work:

  • Lack of variation in sentence structure and syntax. I noticed this more while reading this book than others of O’Reilly’s. The writing style consists of mainly short, declarative statements, which definitely drive the action of the story. But it gets a little bland after a while. Also, the adjectives that are used tend to be repeated in sections, which makes me think the editors missed opportunities for more descriptive text.
  • Less tension than in others in series. Since Reagan doesn’t actually die from the assassin’s bullet, there is less apprehension about an inevitable death.¬†The tension in this book comes from global events like the Cold War and the Falklands War, among other issues that Reagan dealt with during his administration, along with his decline due to Alzheimer’s disease.


I read this book in the span of 24 hours. I think my fascination with this subject is because although I have a background in history, I don’t know a whole lot about very recent history. Many of the most important events in Reagan’s presidency happened in my very early childhood, so while I¬†don’t necessarily remember them, I can wrap my head around how recently they took place as well as how Reagan’s policies and actions have influenced other events that I can remember–and things that are happening today. Many of the people in Reagan’s White House are still politically active now (or recently have retired from public service).

I recommend this book to anyone interested in politics of any kind (or side!) as well as to people who think they don’t like nonfiction. I’ve about decided that well-written nonfiction is my favorite genre!

Mrs. Ethridge’s Report Card:

My Rating: B

  • quick, interesting read full of proven facts
  • not as good as previous books in the series

Clean Factor: C

  • a few language issues, typically in a quote from an actual person
  • Reagan was known as a playboy in his younger years, so…

Book Clubbishness: B

  • good length, easy to read
  • several points for discussion: Nancy Reagan, Alzheimer’s disease, Reagan’s children, etc.


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#8: A Book at the Bottom of Your “To Be Read” Pile

Fever, 1793

by Laurie Halse Anderson


Fourteen-year-old Matilda Cook helps her mother and grandfather run a Philadelphia coffeehouse. (Who knew those were all the rage centuries before Starbucks?) One day, a yellow fever epidemic begins in the sweltering, mosquito-infested city, and life completely changes within the course of hours. Matilda and her grandfather flee the city and the disease, leaving Mrs. Cook fighting for her life. But both Matilda and Captain Cook fall sick as well. After her convalescence, Matilda returns to her family’s coffeehouse, where she has to decide between the easy road (taking herself to the orphan house), or fighting to preserve her family’s livelihood.

What Works:

  • Strong female protagonist: What girl doesn’t like reading a story about a girl power? It’s especially compelling for a character like Matilda who lives in a time when women (and even more so girls) had little standing in society. Matilda definitely strains against the limits put on her, but also learns how to live within those boundaries while remaining true to herself. Her coming-of-age set against the backdrop of such a difficult circumstance demonstrates Matilda’s strength and character.
  • Historical facts: The yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793 is historical fact, as are many pieces of Ms. Anderson’s novel. While Matilda’s story is a fictional one, all of the events surrounding it are true. Ms. Anderson includes a history section at the end of the novel, which really helps the reader understand the reality of what Matilda experienced.
  • Grandfather: I think Grandfather/Captain Cook is my favorite character, just because he is so stereotypically grandfather-ish. He is gentlemanly, chivalrous, and generally adored by everyone who meets him. I admire that he stayed with Mrs. Cook and Matilda after his son died and helped them make their own way in a man-centered world. His final acts display the great love he has for his granddaughter.

What Doesn’t Work:

  • The romance: Not that Matilda’s relationship with Nathaniel Benson doesn’t work, but it didn’t really do anything for me or for the action of the novel. I totally understand why Ms. Anderson included it though, because what 14-year-old girl doesn’t want to hear about the cute guy another girl has a crush on? ūüėČ


I have read several of Ms. Anderson’s other young adult novels, and the quality of this one is no less excellent than her others. (If you haven’t read Speak, you really should! Or you can watch the movie, where Kristen Stewart actually does a pretty good job portraying Melinda.) This novel would be very useful as a companion novel to American history study in a junior high setting. I could also see a book club having a good discussion around this novel. It provides several talking points about historical events as well as the characters themselves.

I think I will add Ms. Anderson’s historical fiction trilogy to my reading list. Chains, Forge, and Ashes (not yet released).


P.S.-The title of this post could be misleading, I suppose! I decided to classify this book as “at the bottom of my pile” because I didn’t have it on my reading list–I just picked it up one day at the library. Besides, I needed a book for that category so I could check it off my list!

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