Books to Binge Before the Eclipse and Flashback Friday


Credit: NASA

First, let’s get the PSA out of the way. NASA’s Everything Eclipse Site.

Any event requires a few books to set the mood–right? To me that’s usually a necessity.  While these are not all on an actual eclipse, the set the mood for cool astronomy-related events and discoveries, without being overly technical.

I really wanted to show you Bing Crosby’s famous solar eclipse scene from A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, but for once, You Tube failed me!  So, instead,  you can listen to Mark Twain’s own words for the scene:



The Books


In 1973 the build up to the appearance of the Comet Kohoutek is the back-drop to a fabulous coming-of-age story about the son of high school science teacher. This is an excellent choice to read this weekend to help set the mood for the eclipse.

Here’s my review from my old blog–this week’s Flashback Friday Review:

Kirkus Reviews are usually dead-right. This IS one of the best books of the year, without doubt! Everything about this marvelous coming-of-age story rings true. From the embarrassment over a geeky Dad and disappointed Mom, to the “not worthy” feelings toward the lovely girl in the new, fancy house–it’s all there. All of it. And, I felt it all both ways–as the person coming of age in the same time period and as the parent who is the “geek.” [Originally published April 21, 2014 on my old blog].

Night of the Comet: A Novel  by George Bishop


Two by the Same Author






For readers more interested in history and actual science, while these are aimed at laymen, they will satisfy that craving for you. You can read my review of Glass Universe here.

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel

Glass Universe by Dava Sobel





Award-winning author and essayist, Annie Dillard, wrote a piece called Total Eclipse that is included in both of these collections of her work. The Atlantic just published the piece on their web page. Here is the link to Total Eclipse by Annie Dillard at the Atlantic.

To buy The Abundance by Annie Dillard

To buy Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

Remember–I do not make any money off your clicks.

Read my review of Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.(Scroll down to the review.)

Need More?


John Pipkin’s Favorite Historical Novels Featuring Stargazers and Astronomy  a super list of historical fiction to help set the mood.



Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo




In 1990, while serving in Malawi in the Peace Corps, I went with a Malawian to visit extended family in Harare, Zimbabwe. At this time, before President  Robert Mugabe went insane, Zimbabwe was right up there with South Africa as the place most Malawians wanted to move to on the African continent. I visited the relatives, both civil servants, who lived in a nice town house with washing machine, nice kitchen, t.v.–all things almost unimaginable to Malawians living in Malawi unless they were “been to-s”. That is, unless they’d been to the USA or UK or similar for an advanced degree. The relatives two girls had nice toys, went to an integrated, middle class school and spoke 3 languages. Then it all fell apart.

We Need New Names tells the story of Darling, a young girl who lives thru Zimbabwe’s coming apart. The country had survived civil war, been reborn as Zimbabwe, burying Ian Smith’s Rhodesia forever. Then Mugabe turned on his own country and made life hell for most of citizens. The remaining white population either moved to South Africa or Malawi or built barriers–compounds to protect themselves. “Their” land was again redistributed. Except for those stratospherically rich people who were pandered to by Mugabe. Like that girl friend of Prince Harry–her father, that type. For the ordinary population it came to see that

“God doesn’t live here, fool.” (p. 19)

Anyway, Darling and her family were like my friend’s relatives. Then they weren’t. They were forced to move to a “township” ( a ghetto of shacks) called Paradise. As the economy died and foreign aid became all there was, school ended, hospitals were wards for the dying, food was whatever could be found. Darling tells us about all of this in her own young voice. Tells of the violence of the destruction of her home and, later, of the retaliation by veteran’s of the war for independence who had waited too long for land they felt they were owed.



Back in college I had an instructor who took part in the struggle for independence. I’ve often wondered where he fell in regards to Mugabe’s later years.  Darling, though she remembers her previous life as a decently-off child, now takes for granted going to rich neighborhoods to steal guavas and to play “Finding Bin Laden” with her friends in the streets. She dreams of going to stay with her aunt in “Destroyedmichygan.”(Ironic–my library assistant in Malawi wanted to join her sister in the same city). Meanwhile she waits for the NGO (International Aid Agencies) truck to come and hand out things and  plays the Country Game with her rag-tag group of friends:

Nobody wants to be rags of countries like Congo, like Somalia, like Iraq, like Sudan, like Haiti, like Sri Lanka, and not even this one we live in–who wants to be a terrible place of hunger and things falling apart? (p. 51).

I was reminded too, of being back in Malawi in the early 90s, for the first “real” election. I was mistaken for an UN Election Observer!  Darling experiences waiting for a relative to vote. It takes ages.

“Maybe the line is not moving, like when you are waiting for a doctor.”

Her Father rails in familiar tones–familiar to anyone whose dream has been unfairly squashed. All of this pours out of him as the other scourge–HIV/AIDs is killing him:

“Is this what I went to university for? Is this was get independence for? Does it make sense that we are living like this?”

Darling and her friends watch as rebels from within the country seek to do Mugabe’s traitorous work. They see the intentional invasion and destruction of a rich white family’s home. She cannot get over the food. She has had a real bathroom before, but the food. That is security. And the air conditioning.  But mostly the food. She and her friends stuff themselves on good food until they are ill.

“…leaving your country is like dying, and when you come back you are like a lost ghost returning to earth.” (p.162).

Later as she comes of age in Detroit and Kalamazoo, Darling finds she isn’t an American, but her relatives “back home” won’t let her claim her old country, either.

“There are times, though, that no matter how much food I eat, I find the food does nothing for me, like I am hungry for my country and nothing is going to fix that. (p. 155).

As she grapples with the immigrant experience of near constant work to support family in America and send foreign exchange back to family in Zimbabwe, she rails at both.

“…that wound that knows the texture of the pain; it’s us who stayed here feeling the real suffering, so it’s us who have a right to even say anything about that [Zimbabwe] or anything and anybody.” (p. 287).

An illegal, having come on a student visa, she is part of a silent community that works in nursing homes and in dangerous low-paying factory jobs. Exactly the sorts of jobs all the Malawian, Zambian and other students that I knew in the mid-90s in South Bend, Indiana, did for a living. (Ironically, Darling and her family go to a wedding in South Bend).

[In America knowing] they do not belong, knowing they will have to sit on one buttock because they  must not sit comfortably lest they be asked to rise and leave, knowing they will speak in dampened whispers because they must not let their voices drown those of the owners of the land.... (p. 148).

Her aunt pushes her to study for some sort of medical career, but she pushes back–she doesn’t want that.

“I’ve been getting all As in everything, even maths and science, the subjects I hate, because school is so easy in America even a donkey would pass….”

The book ends on an odd note to Americans (no spoilers) one that shows just how little value life has in Zimbabwe.



What I Liked

My own memories, aside, I loved the language–the way she put things into terms relevant to the people in Zimbabwe in that day.

“Solid , Jericho walls of men.” (p.  78)

[The men].They have their shirts on and have combed their and just look like real people again.” (p. 60).

“What do they think they are doing yanking a lion’s tail don’t they know that there will be bones if they dare?” (p. 31)

“…a country is like a Coca-Cola bottle that can smash on the floor and disappoint you.” (p. 162).

[American corn] “I don’t even [eat it anymore] it feels like I’m insulting my teeth.” (p. 166).

“Her voice sounds far away, like maybe it was detained at the border of something.” (p. 269)

I liked her well-founded condemnation of aid workers (and whites in general who visit the country) and even local religious leaders. Their patronizing attitudes, their dehumanizing of the people–taking their photos and giving them a few coins or a trinket for “their trouble” and all the rest is just so accurate.  Taking the photo from behind of the boy whose shorts have worn totally away in the seat, or taking the photo of the child with snot and flies on his face–demeaning photos.

“They don’t care that we are embarrassed by our dirt and torn clothing, that we would prefer they didn’t do it; they just take the pictures anyway, take and take. We don’t complain because we know that after the picture-taking comes the giving of gifts.” (p. 54)

“But the NGO people are here and while are, our parents do not count.” (p. 56).

Zimbabwe country map.jpg


What I Didn’t Like

Sadly, I felt the American part of  Darling’s story was lacking something. I get it that she was on the fringes at school, that her family were excluded as immigrants.  She and her friends were always at lose ends–that’s typical when parents must work multiple jobs. Their choices of entertainment were pretty typical of American kids at lose ends, too, but it seemed disconnected from the rest. I also just didn’t think this part of the book was as polished. I felt the ending was a strange jolt–like driving at night and hitting a pothole your couldn’t see.  I understood it (I think) as I mentioned above, but it still jarred. Maybe that was the real point and not the one I thought I understood?

What Amazed Me

I was pleased that this book is on the Man Booker Prize shortlist this year. I was amazed, and pleased, to learn that the author began her college education at Kalamzoo Valley Community College, continued it at branch campuses of other universities and still got into Cornell for her MFA. That is inspiring. I work with Community College level students–some immigrants even. I’d like to think one or more of my students could reach a professional level in their chosen careers if they put in as much hard work.


Another View of Zimbabwe

If you’d like to read more on Zimbabwe, especially on the long fight for Independence, I recommend this book–which is written from a white “Rhodesian” child’s and family’s point of view.

[Note “Rhodesian” is often a synonym for the type people protesting in Charlottesville–the ones from the right. I’m not using the term to keep from being spammed to death].


“There we go then,” Mum said, “I’ll just get my Uzi and we’ll be off….”

“Bullets, lipstick, sunglasses. Off we go….”
(p. 28-29).


Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller



Top 5 Wednesday: Characters’ Fitness Routines I Want


Characters’ Fitness Routines You Want
“This [topic] can be interpreted a bunch of different ways! Fitness comes in many different packages. This can be about characters who are super fast, strong, agile, good at dancing, good at climbing, athletes, or foodies! Whatever it means to you. This is inspired by those routines you see in magazines for actors, but with more of an open mind and less body shaming.”

Okay then….



My fictional fitness idol has to be the Spandex-wearing, donut-slammin’, fried chicken-craving, Lula in the Stephanie Plum series. Lula wears neon mini skirts without a single moment of thought that Just Because They Make it in Her Size….. Nope–not a thought. She is a big-built gal and you got a problem with that? I don’t! Solidly packed Idol material–that’s Lula.

In reality, it should be Ranger‘s fitness regime I aspire to. Babe…






Mma Precious Ramotswe, a “traditionally built,” lady who never encountered a piece of cake she could refuse is another fitness idol of mine. I admire a woman who can do that. It takes a great sense of self. She’s really idol material. Believe me.







Willowdean is the ultimate Idol. The Fat Girl so does too absolutely deserve the guy! You go, girl! So what if Mama was a beauty queen! I loved this book from start to finish. Willowdean is every differently-bodied woman’s Idol. And, she’s only a teenager–she can only get stronger!

You can read more of my thoughts on this great book here.






Silvia Fine –Fran’s mother on the the 90’s hit show, The Nanny. Nosh–smosch. Of course she eats. She got to keep strong. And then there’s Morty–her husband. Like my great uncles after a big dinner, Morty undoes his belt and top slacks button–“Do up your pants,” she tells him before company joins him in the tv room. I love Sylvia–a seafood buffet cannot defeat her. She is an Idol with Flair!


http _media.tvblog.it_b_b9d_doris_roberts_132187


Marie Barone from another great 90’s show–Everybody Loves Raymond. Her bickering husband Frank, her skinny-you-know-what daughter-in-law, her two adored sons–it all adds up to power eating. And, pasta! Pasta and Braciole! Marie knows food is essential. I like that in an Idol. Plus, she’s pear shaped and has to always wear an untucked shirt to supposedly even-out her shape. Now that is Idol-worthy. “Are you hungry, dear?”


Top 5 Wednesday is a group you can join on

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books for Girls Who Just Wanna Have Fun



Welcome Back Top Ten Tuesday! We’ve Missed You!!

The guidance for this week’s topic was very open-ended:

Ten book recommendations for ______________: (Skies the limit here…)


Lots of fun here this week!

Cause Girls Just Wanna Have Fun


Or, if you prefer, check out yesterday’s

10 Books to Get Your Book Club to Love Nonfiction


Some of my favorite books to make a gal have fun






And, if none of those makes your happy, then stream or slip in the dvd and watch:


Did you know the sequel is happening?


Top Ten Tuesday is held by the Broke and the Bookish. Here are the rules. Why not check out all of this week’s great Top Ten Tuesday lists?


Ten Books To Get Your Book Club to Love Nonfiction

Are you tired of reading the be-all, end-all novel of the week? Get your book club to try some nonfiction that reads like fiction. You’ll be surprised how much more there is to talk about.


Three Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway

They didn’t wait for “perfect” to become champions.


Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Prison isn’t what you think it is. Nor is it what you watch on the t.v. show.


Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chung

Find out why America was priced out of manufacturing. Want to live in a dorm? They do.


In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson

When an American Ambassador loses control of his daughter and loses control of his mission.


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Life renewed, regained and refreshed thru nature.


A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity.

Yes, you can change the world. See how.


Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

The got tired of going to paint and wine parties of their day and did something with their lives.


Defying the Nazis: The Sharp’s War

The power of one person doing what is right.


Dream Land by Sam Quinones

How the heroin epidemic happened.


My life in France by Julia Child

What can happen when a housewife gets bored.

From My Commonplace Book: Quotes I Love



I am currently reading and/or listening to this fabulous book with my friend Silvia’s Gray House Book Club group, though I am not keeping up.

Why the Quote Appealed to Me

This quote echos the same hopeless, senseless lives that so many “have-nots” live today–those who see prison as maybe not “normal,” but no big deal. No reason to prepare for life–you just end up with nothing. Those who see cutting now as an adolescent rite of passage, drugs just cheap recreation and “getting over” the only thrill left. A weird sort of almost nihilism.



The Quote

They are always hostile, always hungry, always covered in spots from the sweets they consume to cheat hunger. They dye their hair and alter their pants with multicolored patches. Red is hopelessly older. Not in years, but in questions he asks himself. Young Rats are not concerned about tomorrow. Their life begins and ends today. It is today they need that extra piece of toast, it’s today they need that new song, it’s today they need to take the only thing that’s on their mind and scrawl it in huge letters on the bathroom wall. Rats suffer from constipation but they’d still eat anything anytime. And fight over food. And over who sleeps where. And after the fight is over they’d listen to more music and eat again, with even more delight. 

(Kindle Version, p. 424)





Flashback Friday Review: My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space


This review was published on my old blog on October 28, 2014. It is re-posted her with minor edits.

This little collection of essays came up in a search for a writing project I’m doing. I started listening and was soon hooked. Ordinary topics, presented in a fun manner, by a Mom and her grown daughter. What’s not to love? Lisa has dogs, cats, a character of a mother and a life as a published author. In short, I’ve found a new role model. (Miss you, Mother Mary).

I’m sad to say I’d never heard of their books before this little one, but I will be listening to more audio versions of their work, you can be sure. My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella.

FYI The “writing project” I mentioned ended up, eventually,  being this post: When the Empty Nest Houses a Single Bird.


More From Lisa and Francesca:




This week I reviewed Lisa and Francesca’s newest collection of essays, I Need a Lifeguard Everywhere But the Pool. You can read my review here.




Listen to an excerpt here:

Review: I Need A Lifeguard Everywhere but the Beach



The Story

Best selling thriller author, Lisa Scottoline and her daughter Francesca Serritella have teamed up again to bring us more peeks into their real lives. These little essays, aka “Chick Wit” remind us of how great–and how awful, it is to be women of a certain age. Whatever that age may be.

What I Loved

I always say that listening to these two perform their essays on the audio version is like taking a road trip with your two besties. This installment is just that–a gal-pal road trip and more.

The intro to this collection says it perfectly:

I’m [Lisa] divorced twice….Francesca isn’t dating anyone right now. …So here we are, mother and daughter, happily single yet unhappily celibate, going through life on our own.

And We Still Count

[emphasis mine]


Lisa’s Take

This is the glory of their essays. In the Grace and Frankie era women aren’t defined by whether they  have a sex life (i.e. a man). We are more than that. We who wield our own vacuum cleaners (or not), who adore our pets possibly more than our spouse (if we have one) or our lay-about-do-nothing-navel-gazing-young-adult-children (did I just say that?)–we matter! We’re standing up to cellulite and not giving a damn if it shows….unless we’re at the beach. And we are entitled to our fantasies of Jeremy Irons stopping for gas at the Fincastle, Ohio gas station (hey, don’t laugh–a Bentley stopped once and it wasn’t a drug dealer!) and spots us and says, “You’re fabulous” in that voice. Ok, or Bradley Cooper comes by, big dif…. This is Lisa’s genius–she’s not dead yet and she knows we gals aren’t either!

I love Lisa for another reason, too. She is that rare species: A Recovered Lawyer. Yep, she, too could enjoy the Biglaw-themed party (and nod knowingly) that I planned in this post for all recovering lawyers. In addition, at her party, Lisa deserves the addition of a picked-over desert tray (and the forever life support from firm profits!) for having the good sense to divorce a few lawyers as well. This gives her super-duper bike path cred (street cred sounds too violent) with yours truly.

Francesca’s Take

Francesca’s specialty is voicing the real-life concerns of young, well educated women everywhere. That is, how to survive dating in the Tinder age when no one swipes right. She’s woman enough to sincerely rejoice when true friends really, really do find true love–even while calling out Bridal Shower games as sexist (which they are).  She can also go all out for a married friend’s new baby. Meanwhile she is an over-achieving doggie-Mommy to her adorable, dear little Pip and to her hiding cat.

Francesca’s Great Achievements In This Book

In this book, Francesca manages to top the word staycation by coining, “guyatus” for a hiatus from guys. Brilliant! Oh, Webster’s? Are you listening? Forget Trump-speak, this is the word of the year for 2017. Got it?

Then there’s her unknowing addition to the socially awkward merit badges (she doesn’t get to earn one–it wasn’t her fault, ok? Plus a scratching post is a NECESSITY,  it doesn’t qualify!




The new badge, you ask? Bought Cat Furniture!! No, not a scratching post though–ok? That’s necessary to save your own furniture. But buying Puss N’ Boots this type thing, definitely merits both a merit badge and an appointment with Dave Ramsey.




This, this deserves a Socially Awkward Merit Badge all it’s own. But don’t worry–I’ll help you look at upholstery swatches. You’re right–that print does hide both cat hair and scratches.


Now, could someone explain to this confused Midwesterner how Spaghetti Sauce has come to be called Gravy??


My Verdict (Trigger Warning!)

How This Lovely Collection Made Me Feel

I admit that election and post-election fatigue were a problem in listening to a couple of the essays, but neither Lisa nor Francesca could have predicted months ago that this would be a problem. I’m giving them a pass. Plus the essays themselves WERE great.

But these two tell it like it is in such an enjoyable way  that I can’t say anything but just listen to them! Or read them! I only listen–I want THEIR voices to tell me THEIR stories.



I Need a Lifeguard Everywhere But the Pool by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella

Here is a link to ALL of Lisa and Francesca’s Humorous Chick Wit books.


Want to read more?

Here are my reviews of other books by Lisa and Francesca:




I’ve Got Sand in All the Wrong Places by Lisa and Francesca (scroll down on linked page for the review).






Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? By Lisa and Francesca (scroll down on linked page for the review).







My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space by Lisa and Francesca. This was my gateway collection. This review is on my old blog and will be featured in my new Flashback Friday book review series this week!






Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline




See Mother and Daughter in action!

What the Class of 2021 Had to Read This Summer


Each year I try to look and see what various Universities and Colleges assign as summer reading to the incoming Freshman class. In my day at least, my University did not even try to do this! Too big of a school–even with the various colleges within it, it was still too big. Today it’s a “thing” at many colleges. But the trend toward this assignment may be waning. Purdue apparently axed their summer read to save around $75,000. That’s a big chunk to give everyone one book that many will fake having read.

This year I found a few journalists had beat me to this assignment, so I’m linking here to those. There is occasional overlap, but I’ll let you read their lists to see what Stanford or other well-known colleges assigned this year. I’ve looked for some different schools, different books than the published news articles featured. National Public Radio (NPR), regarded by most as Liberal,  found still other titles. The National Review, a very Conservative publication for those who don’t know it by name, added its piece on summer reading to the mix as well. Here are the links to those articles:

Quartz: What Top College Students in the U.S. Are Reading This Summer

New York Times: Summer Reading Books; The Ties That Bind Colleges

NPR: Summer Reading For the College Bound


I’ve only read ONE book on this list–Hillbilly Elergy and I recommend it very highly. Here is my review and thoughts on the book.

My List of What the Class of 2021 Had To Read


Freshman Summer Reading  Class of 2021
Title  Author University
Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka Lev Golinkin Boston College
Between The World And Me Ta-Nehisi Coates Wagner College
Between The World And Me Ta-Nehisi Coates Tulane
Between The World And Me Ta-Nehisi Coates Muhlenberg College
Book of Unknown Americans Cristina Henríquez Smith
Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited America Randall Fuller Skidmore
Citizen: An American Lyric Claudia Rankine Bard
Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio Amara Lakhous Rutgers (Honors College)
Deadly Wandering Matt Richtel Vermont
Distress: A Doctor’s Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine Rachel Pearson College of New Jersey
Few Good Men [play] Aaron Sorkin The Citadel
Freedom Summer Bruce Watson Lehigh
Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein Gris Grimly Siena College
Hillbilly Elergy J.D. Vance Wisconsin
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits Laila Lalami Lafayette
Illegal Lawrence Hill Georgetown
Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything James Martin Fordham
Just Mercy Bryan Stevenson Bucknell
Just Mercy Bryan Stevenson Bates
Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of a Global Citizen Firoozeh Dumas Texas Christian (TCU)
Life’s Golden Ticket Brendan Burchard Western New England U
Make Your Home Among Strangers Jenine Capo Crucet Whitman College
Make Your Home Among Strangers Jenine Capo Crucet Holy Cross
Outrage Industry Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj Tufts
People of the Book Geraldine Brooks Westminster College
Prince of Los Cucyos Richard Blanco Duke
Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation Jonathan Lear Bard
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed Jon Ronson Ramapo College of NJ
Strong Inside Andrew Maraniss Vanderbilt
True American: Murder and Mystery in Texas Anand Giridharadas Lehigh
What Is Populism? Jan-Werner Mueller Princeton


Here is the link for last year’s post, What the Class of 2020 is Reading This Summer

Have you read any of these? Did you review them? Leave me a link to your review in the comments. Or, if you have a college-bound Freshman with a summer book that is not on this list, leave me the title and the name of the College or University and I’ll add it to the list.