Isaac the Alchemist

Remember that you heard it here first when they start giving out book honors and awards for nonfiction. Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton Revealed by Mary Losure begs for star reviews and stickers for its cover.  

Beautiful writing got my attention early. “It was like magic. It was also very much like alchemy. As he slept that night in the apothecary’s house, Isaac was not yet an alchemist and would not be for many years. But already the seeds of magic had been planted in his mind.”

Mary Losure paints a picture of a disturbed lonely child who becomes a prickly adult more at home with puzzles about the workings of the universe and numbers than with people.  The book intrigues the reader who may know little more about the person Isaac Newton than the old legend of his discovering gravity when an apple falls on his head. (She clarifies that, too.)

The author explains how much he contributed to math and science as a forerunner to Einstein who built on his work and how much his discoveries are used today even though his original goal had more to do with alchemy. She quotes famous economist John Maynard Keynes saying Newton, “was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians.”

Her back matter is only slightly less interesting than the book itself including some extra tidbits not found in the text, source materials, and a bibliography.

I read my copy on my Kindle, with gratitude to Net Galley and Candlewick Publishers for the ARC, and can’t wait for a preschool math-loving grandson to get old enough to read it. I do recommend buying it in hard copy, as I will before I put it aside for him to age a bit. The pictures deserve to be examined and seen on paper one can touch.


The Chester Drawers

I’ve been writing this blog for more than five years and for the first time have a topic request. Oddly, my youngest son Mark asked me to write about this chester drawers. I am aware that most people outside the South call it a chest of drawers. I did learn to spell it, if not say it, correctly at some point in my childhood. As I recall, the person who enlightened me also made a slightly ribald comment about Chester and his “drawers,” but I need to get to the point.

The history of this chest of drawers begins before my time. It came into our family about the time of my earliest memories. A church member, who was upgrading their family furniture, thought the struggling young pastor’s family could use it and passed it along. Periodically, there was a new layer of brown paint applied, but otherwise it got no care except for the dusting assigned to the four daughters. The hourglass turned through a number of years until four girls grew up and made lives of their own, until the pastor and his wife retired and settled in her family’s old home place, until his death and her eventual need to give up housekeeping.

At that point, the four sisters sorted out and took home things that had only sentimental value. The chest of drawers went to Birmingham with Beth, the most talented DIY sister. Sensing something better under the layers of paint, she stripped it to the bottom wood, refinished it, and replaced the cheap hardware. Her DIY husband shored up the underpinnings, and it made a pretty addition to a guest room in their house. That hourglass turned through another number of years before they decided to downsize and move closer to their two daughters.

After the daughters took what they needed from the downsizing, Beth sent out an email to her nieces and nephews with a list and pictures of leftover furniture items. She said they were up for grabs with the caveat of first come, first served. Timing was perfect for Mark who was moving his family back to Mississippi and finding a house. She got a quick return email with a list of selections from him, especially for the chest of drawers that he could place in his memory in the houses where he had visited his McGee grandparents.

Despite Beth’s and Don’s best efforts, the chester drawers still has only sentimental value – a value that has my son recalling good times with Pops and Grandma. As the hourglass continues to turn, it sits in the master bedroom at his new house in Hattiesburg and draws a request for a blog.     


The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Thanks to Net Galley, I have had the ARC of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir on my Kindle for some time. Jennifer Ryan’s novel sounded right down my alley when I requested it – historical fiction set in an English village in World War II. I had been anticipating its move to the top of my reading list.

The premise begins when the Vicar disbands the church choir because all the men have gone to war. The church ladies can’t be kept down long. They rally and reframe the choir for women only and so the thread of song winds through the novel. Diaries, letters, and journals tell the story of the village with intrigue, romance (not just for the young), and wartime life and death issues. There’s a conspiracy with the birth of two babies swapped by a midwife, the question of the real identity of the new guy in Chilbury where all the residents know each other, and the billeting of military. The members of the ladies’ choir have their hands full.  

I’ve tried to decide who to name as the protagonist and have come up with the community. The gossip and intrigue over large things and small will be familiar to anyone who has loved living in a village. While five ladies from the choir get the most attention, the men in the story are not to be ignored. In her first novel, Jennifer Ryan keeps her villains sympathetic and her heroes flawed.

The book is purely recreational reading and fulfills its purpose. The book release is tomorrow (February 14), and I’m hoping Jennifer Ryan has a second novel on the way.


Inventory - 2016

I am aware that this activity that I do at the end of each year may be of interest only to me, but just in case, I share it with you. Without a clock to punch or a sign-in sheet, I had to figure out a way to evaluate my own attention to task when I retired from teaching to write. I do that with a weekly calendar where I record both my writing and reading activities. (How good is it to be able to count reading as part of your work?)

At an end-of-year inventory, I like to see how much and what I have read during the year. Let me say up front, one underreported part is the number of books for younger children. I’ve not written down the story before bedtime or nap or the stack of Winnie-the-Pooh books brought in by a four-year-old with a request to read.

With that explanation behind us, I have read 77 books this year. Twenty-seven were for adults, thirty-one were for middle grade or young adult, and nineteen were for young children. The books were 68% fiction and 32% nonfiction. A protagonist that fit in the category of diversity either by culture or some kind of physical challenge made up 22% of the books. Probably for the same number, the protagonist could have been from any culture since the book was generic or some kind of fantasy. Poetry formed an unusual part of this year’s list with seven younger children’s non-fiction books and one middle grade novel written as beautiful poems. 

You would think that all this reading would have lowered my to-be-read stack and cleared my Kindle. Not so. As the wise man in Ecclesiastes 12:12 said, “Of the making of many books there is no end,” and he wrote before the day of the printing press. So if you will excuse me, I’ve started my 2017 list and need to get back to some diaries and letters in a World War II novel. The blog for that one is coming soon. 


The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

I liked Hawthorn from the beginning page when she compared her mother’s oatmeal to silly putty. My mother made oatmeal like that. This lighthearted opening for The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti doesn’t stay lighthearted long.

Questions begin for Hawthorn as soon as word gets out that Lizzie Lovett has disappeared. Is she dead? Did her boyfriend kill her? Has she become a werewolf? And the big one, can Hawthorn find out what happened to her?

Relationships with her longtime best friend, her brother and his best friend Connor, the people at the diner where she works to keep her dilapidated car running, and Lizzie’s boyfriend round out the story of Hawthorn’s search. Then her mother’s long ago hippie friends show up to camp out in the back yard.

In an unapologetic spoiler, the book deals with bullying, social outcasts, and suicide. Hawthorn says it well, “The thing about high school is that you have to pretend you don’t care what people think, even though that’s all you care about.”

Hawthorn’s poor decisions sometimes had me wanting to yank a knot in her neck and questioning whether I would even use the book for a blog, but her frailties seemed so real and relevant that I began to come around. The final decision came when Hawthorn remembered and understood the significance of Connor’s words “about life looking different depending on where you were standing.”

This book is not an easy read but has relevance and would appeal to its intended audience of high schoolers.