Sunday, November 19, 2017

Oldies, Buuuut...Goodies?!

Oldies,...

Last week, I became fascinated with a "drama in poetry" book by Mel Glenn. The title of the book is The Taking of Room 114. A friend of mine, and fellow teacher, came across it in a used bookshop and thought she might find something in it to share for our poetry study at school. After she read it, she knew the content was definitely not for sixth graders. It was geared more towards high school students. Still, she was kind enough to share it with me and thought I'd find it interesting. And I did.

The Taking of Room 114 is a about a history teacher who takes his class hostage one day. Each poem is a different perspective from different people, primarily from students. Every student has their own tale to tell about their own lives before the actual incident takes place. Glenn does an incredible job of saying so much in just a few lines of poetry. The reader completely understands the situation. I found it fascinating that it was a satisfying tale. I liked it enough to seek out a copy of my own and look into what else Glenn has written.

Mel Glenn has written several "poetry dramas," and I've read two, so far, and have another on my TBR shelf. These books are not recent releases (published in the late 1990s). In fact, when I decided I wanted my own copy of The Taking of Room 114, I had to search online for it and purchase a good, used copy from a third party seller through Amazon.

My search also brought me to his award-winning poetic drama, Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems, which I really enjoyed. A high school teacher is shot on the high school track, early one morning before school, and no one knows who killed him or why. Again, you hear from different characters through poetry. The cast of characters include students, faculty, the police, and a guidance counselor. It really is quite good, and my favorite of the two! (And much easier to get your hands on.)

This type of poetry is a shorthand of prose. I think it's much more difficult to convey a message with a few lines than to write pages of descriptions. I didn't expect to like Glenn's style as much as I do. So, if you're looking for something a little different, but well-written, I definitely recommend Glenn's Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems for a tasty literary snack.

Buuuut...Goodies?!

Speaking of 'oldies', I just finished reading Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews, published in 1979. I found a copy of it at a library sale, and I had heard several of my book club friends express how they loved it as teenagers. Now, mind you, they didn't say it like it was a great book. These grown, college-educated women would giggle when they mentioned it and talk of how they used to hide it from their parents and read it. I knew the premise was about children being locked in an attic, but I had no idea what was in store for me when I read this novel. Or why a teenager would feel the need to hide it from their parents. But I found out.

Flowers in the Attic is a horrible and completely fascinating story about four children who are locked in their grandmother's upstairs room and attic, while their mother tries to find her way back into her very rich father's good graces. He doesn't know she has four children, and he wouldn't approve, so the children are hidden away in an unused bedroom on an isolated wing of the father's mansion. Only the mother and grandmother know the children exist in the house.

Seldom have I read a book where I was so mortified and intrigued at the same time. The grandmother is pure evil, hiding behind the guise of a devout, pious, religious woman. (Religious zealot would be an understatement.) She controls the children by telling them God sees everything they do, and He punishes those who disobey. There are even paintings depicting hell and demons in the room, to remind the children to be good. And all this? Is the very least of it.

While I could not put the book down, and devoured it in a couple of days, I don't think I'll read the rest in the series. I considered it, but find that the ending of the first book satisfies me enough to let it go. It was a bit heart wrenching to get through the first one, and I'd rather leave it at that. I'm glad I read it,...I think. I mean, it's written well,...but the content isn't something I'll be able to forget anytime soon.

After I read the novel, I read online that Andrews once said she wanted her books to be fast reads, something you couldn't put down. Well, it certainly was that.

Now, I want to bathe my reading brain in something light and airy and happy. Let's see what I can find on my TBR shelf that suits me...

Happy reading!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

About A Gentleman

I finished Amor Towles' novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, today. I would not consider it an easy read due to the amount of Russian history mentioned throughout the book, but, for me, it was twice the pleasure to research and learn about Russia, as I enjoyed the novel. I don't think, however, you have to understand Russian history to enjoy the humanity of the book,...but I'm more than a bit of a nerd, so....yeah. I also listened to the same classical music Count Rostov enjoys in the book. Like I said, nerd alert. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, Count Rostov is put under house-arrest in 1922 due to a poem he published which was considered rebellious against the government. Rostov is an intellect and a gentleman, and he must learn to make a new life for himself within the walls of a hotel. He is witty and charming and sincere. Rostov becomes friends with the employees of the hotel and with a young girl, Nina, whose father frequents the hotel. Rostov's life is not without challenges in his confinement, especially as the Russian government seems to constantly change its course, and its rules, as years pass. It is, in fact, the way he faces his challenges that makes him so endearing.

One of my favorite scenes in the book (one of many, I might add) is when a lovely lady friend mentions to Rostov that "everyone dreams of living in America" because of its 'conveniences' - such as dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, toasters, and the like. Count Rostov responds:

"I'll tell you what is convenient," he said, after a moment. "To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment's notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children all together. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka - and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most."

I know I will carry Count Rostov in my heart for a very long time. He is, most definitely, my kind of gentleman. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

In A Heartbeat

How many times have you wondered how easily your life could have taken a different course? Can you look into your past and remember one moment that changed everything? If you're like me, you can think of several small moments you didn't realize were big moments - life changing moments - at the time. The two books I've read this past week touch on life changing moments and characters who look back in their pasts to wonder, "What if...?"

The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens, is a fiction novel about a young man, Joe Talbert, who decides to interview a convicted murderer that is dying of cancer. Joe's assignment, for his freshman English college class, is to interview someone and write a biographical paper on the person. It is through interviewing the convicted killer, and researching the murder case, that Joe begins questioning many things. When he finds that the convict was once a decorated war hero, he wonders what moment in the man's life turned him into the kind of man that would kill a fourteen-year-old girl.

There is more than one layer to this story and more than one character who questions what moments in their pasts changed the course of their lives forever. It is a good debut novel, and I found it to be a good weekend read. I felt parts of it were a bit predictable, but I enjoyed it.

The other book, which I am still reading, is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I will go ahead and tell you, this book is not for your light reader. While it is an excellent novel, it is heavy with Russian history - something I'm not very familiar with - and its beauty lies in being able to describe how certain moments in life feel. Not the big moments, the small ones.

The premise of the novel is that a gentleman, convicted of being a rebel against the government of Russia in 1922 for writing a poem, is sentenced to live out his life in a hotel in Moscow. If he leaves the hotel, he will be shot on sight. While the gentleman lives out his sentence in the hotel, he also finds himself looking back at his life. He feels there are critical moments where he wishes he'd made a different choice. By witnessing the life he makes for himself at the hotel, the reader learns a great deal about Russia...and about humanity.

I'm intentionally taking my time with this one. I've grown very fond of the main character, Count Alexander Rostov, and the cast of characters he interacts with in his daily life at the hotel. I'm also fascinated with all the references made to historical events. I've been researching quite a bit. In other words, I'm not trying to rush through such a beautifully written historical fiction book. This one takes a little more effort, but I feel it's worth it.

Good for the brain. Good for the soul.

For me, it doesn't get any better than that.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Catching Up with Books

Books, Books, Books...

I've been reading a variety of books lately, so I thought I'd break them down into age groups. If you're not interested in middle school novels, skip to high school (because that is also an excellent adult read) and adult fiction areas below.

Middle School

First, I'd like to recommend Peg Kehret as a writer. I'm known to preach the merits of her books because they do well with the middle school crowd. Kehret is good at pulling readers into the action and shocking them pretty early on. I haven't read some of hers in awhile, so I decided to read Stolen Children. I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I was able to convince some other students to read it by simply reading the first two lines:

"Amy's babysitting course taught her basic first aid, bedtime tips, and how to change a diaper, but it did not cover what to do if two thugs with a gun showed up. She had to figure that out herself."

And if you think that's the only shocking thing in the book, it's obvious you've never read Peg Kehret. This writer knows how to hook a reader! This isn't a long novel, 165 pages with fairly large print, but it IS a good book. I'd recommend it for sixth graders and for reluctant seventh and eighth grade readers.


High School

Jennifer Donnelly is another great author I love. I admit, though, she broke my heart when she agreed to write a series of books for Disney,...just so they could sell more products. Perhaps, that's why I decided to go back in time to one of her older novels I'd never read.

I chose to read A Gathering Light (titled A Northern Light in the U.S.) because it was from a time and place I knew nothing about. The setting is the early 1900's in the Adirondack Mountains. The story is a historical fiction at its finest and revolves around the real murder of a young lady staying at a hotel on holiday. Donnelly writes the story from the perspective of a mountain girl, Mattie, who works as a servant in the hotel. Mattie had served the young woman the night before her murder, when the woman gave Mattie some letters to burn. Once the hotel guest is found dead the next morning, Mattie doesn't know what she should do with the letters: Keep her promise and burn them? Read them and look for clues? Turn them over to the constable?

This book is definitely a page turner that begins with the gruesome scene of the dead girl and goes back in time as Mattie tells the reader what took place before. The book does an excellent job of portraying life for the people of that area during that time. Mattie is a likable character, wise beyond her years, and with more responsibilities than a young girl should have to be burdened with. There are many layers to this story, and all of them are intriguing.

Adult Fiction

I found a fascinating book titled Serena, by Ron Rash, at our library's book sale. I was attracted to the novel because the setting was the 1930s in North Carolina. I was born and raised in North Carolina, but I know nothing of what life was like there in the 1930s. I found out, after I read the book, Serena is also a movie (which I haven't seen yet).

There are many things I like about this novel, but I'd have to say I most enjoyed hating the villain. There's nothing quite like the pleasure of finding a character you can completely loathe. Too often, villains are given an excuse for being evil. Not this time.

The novel centers around a Boston business man, George Pemberton, who owns a logging company in the NC Mountains. Labor is cheap, conditions are harsh, and he's a jerk. George meets his match in his new bride, Serena, and he brings her back to the NC Mountains to help him run his business. The two share quite a passion, both physically and in a type of bloodlust for violence and hunting. It's almost like she's the female version of her husband, a perfect reflection of his own ego. And isn't that every man's dream? Perhaps.

I didn't like that Rash's book was compared, in reviews, to Steinbeck. I almost didn't read it because of that. I'm not a big fan of Steinbeck, though some of his novels are okay. If I had to compare this type of novel to anyone, it would be Daphne du Maurier. It is definitely, what I would consider, a gothic tale of intrigue and suspense.

My advice on this one? Don't read any spoilers, don't watch the movie,...just...read it. If you like good twists and evil villains and violence of varying degrees, this book fits the bill. I soaked it up in a day. It's very rare I get an entire day to read a book, but this one insisted on it.

Next, in my TBR stack was a debut novel...

The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton was an easy, uncomplicated novel with a host of loveable characters. Sara lives in New Orleans, away from her eccentric grandmother, Mags. When Mags dies unexpectedly one day, Sara finds that she's inherited her grandmother's old, rundown bed-and-breakfast. Sara has been left specific instructions on what to do with the property before she decides to sell it or not. Sara finds many things at the old bed-and-breakfast, but she never expected to find...that she never actually knew her own grandmother.

This is a delightful read, but...it pretty much reads like a Lifetime Movie Network movie. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I'm just letting you know it fits in that category for me. I'm glad I read it, I always like to give debut novels a shot, but it's not my type of genre. It fits in more with readers who enjoy Nora Roberts.


Currently reading...

I'm enjoying a lovely autumn day today, as I read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I started the novel a couple of days ago. I'll let you know my review on it next week.

Happy Autumn!


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Chasing Autumn

I didn't blog on Sunday, and I won't be blogging this Sunday. I have perfectly wonderful reasons why. You see, I allowed my job (which I love) to take over my life. It's been a very busy season since the first of August. Time has gone by in a blur. And, as much as I enjoy teaching children, I deserve my own personal time to pursue my own pleasures.

I decided to take back my personal time in two ways:

First, I committed myself to reading more books for pleasure during the school year,...and to read something more than middle school books. So, a couple of weekends ago, I spent an entire weekend reading. (That's a big deal for me during the school year.) And, yes, I'll eventually blog about those books. But not now.

The second way I decided to take back my personal time was to travel more. My husband has said, on more than one occasion, I have to be about 100 miles away from my school to begin turning my brain off from my job. I wish I could say that isn't true. It may be a slight exaggeration, but...there is a lot of truth to what he says. I live close to my school, and there is always something that needs to be done. It's just too tempting to work on work all the time and chase the dream that someday my "to do" list might actually get done.

In light of my new commitment to myself, I've been traveling more. This past weekend, I spent a glorious weekend in San Francisco with my husband. We had a wonderful time, and the weather was perfect! We went to the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I didn't talk about my job, and I didn't think about my job...all weekend.

Now, thanks to a couple of restful weekends, I'm having a great week at work this week! Am I still busy? Yes. Am I stressed about it? No. In fact, I'm already packing my bag to take another trip this weekend, and I'm taking Friday off from work to go. I've also planned a few other small weekend excursions throughout the rest of the school year to treat myself for working as hard as I work all week.

I've finally decided that in this season of my life, I'm no longer chasing a dream of completing an endless 'to do' list at work.

And in this moment in time, the only thing I'm chasing is autumn.



Sunday, October 8, 2017

Monsters

I read a beautiful book about monsters.

Before I read it, I knew nothing about it except that I had seen a couple of middle school students reading it, and I knew my youngest daughter (she's 23 years old) didn't like it. She was visiting and saw I'd purchased it. She disliked it so much that she said I could also have her copy if I wanted it. (And I do want it, Cynthia!)

Hmmm, now,...I was intrigued.

I read the book A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, in one day and absorbed every part of it. I marked beautiful, meaningful passages that spoke to my heart. I also read it through two lenses. One lens was my own, having a deeper understanding and connection to the things in the story, and the other lens was that of a sixth grade student. Because of my daughter's comment, I wanted to make sure this was something I thought a sixth grader could handle. (And it is. It most definitely is.)

While the story is steeped in fantasy, it is a very true story about human emotions, difficult struggles, and how humans handle how we feel. In the case of this story, it's a boy named Conor dealing with the fact his mother is fighting cancer and his father deserted them long before that. I'm not giving anything away by saying that, the reader knows it within the first few pages, but the book isn't about cancer. It's about how a boy handles the emotions that go along with the changes in his life.

When a child knows at a young age he has no right to be a normal kid because he already realizes there are much bigger issues than his own, it changes his childhood. He grows up very quickly, whether he wants to or not. It is not easy waters to navigate. Some children handle it well, others do not. Like so many children, Conor finds himself forced to be a little adult. He's doing the things his dad would do and trying to help take care of his mom. Everyone is concerned how Conor is handling everything, but no one knows the right things to say. And, then?

A monster calls.

Through a series of dreams/nightmares the monster tries to help Conor face his greatest fear. When the monster is unsuccessful, at first, he decides to approach Conor by telling the boy three stories over several nights. And the monster tells Conor that when the third story is told, Conor must tell the monster his own story. Conor must be the author of the fourth story and tell his truth.

"Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt."

This is as close to a perfect story as I've ever experienced. And, yes, it is perfect for young people...and for grown-ups.


In a young adult fiction world, where there are few contemporary books with any substance to them, this book is a rare treat. The story is woven in just the right way. It's the kind of book C.S. Lewis described as a book that is worthy of childhood and adulthood - which is the only kind of book that is truly a good children's book. Period.

Read it. You won't regret it.

As for my daughter's review? I guess I could sum it up as a review I saw on Goodreads when I was finished: "I hated this book. It's an important book." And the reviewer gave it five stars.

You see, even grown-ups struggle with expressing emotions or reading stories that cause them to feel things they'd rather avoid.

Just like Conor.

Monday, October 2, 2017

One Book Leads to Another

I've been in a bit of a reading funk lately. I'm reading, but I haven't found anything amazing in a good while. However, I am in the habit of allowing one book to lead me to another,...especially when I'm at a loss about which book on my TBR I want to read next.

I decided to read The Little French Bistro, by Nina George, last weekend. I really loved her novel The Little Paris Bookshop, and I hoped to find some of that same magic in her most recent novel. The Little French Bistro isn't as good as it predecessor, but I did enjoy it. It was a good, easy weekend read that started off my week pleasantly enough.

I can sum up the book, without giving anything away: an older woman, Marianne, realizes her entire marriage has been a sham and just walks away from her life while on a vacation trip with her husband. She would rather kill herself, jumping off the wall into the Seine, than stay in her life for one more breath.

Marianne fails in her attempt to commit suicide, but embarks on a journey that will help her find herself. Yes, I know, it's a bit cliché. And, yes, it's a bit predictable. But, I will admit, I enjoyed the characters. It was fun to visit with them for awhile. The book also made me curious about Brittany and people who are Bretons. And, of course, I always enjoy the European take on things.

I also found myself interested in a book Marianne refers to in the novel. She mentioned a book about a Parisian intellect and a Breton fisherman that had a long-term love affair. She mentions it because she's on the same beach mentioned in that novel. From the sound of it, the book was fairly well-known. I decided to look it up and found it is a book and a movie. Who knew? So, I ordered a copy of the book Salt On Our Skin by Benoite Groult.

First, let me say, I'm glad I read Groult's novel. I certainly learned a few things, insights into my own way of thinking, but I can't say I especially liked it at first. Perhaps, it's because I didn't like the main character and narrator of the story, George (a woman). I suspect she didn't like herself too much either. I respected her for the truths she tells, and how boldly - at times - she tells it,...but you'd expect a woman to gain wisdom as she ages. Or, at least, you'd hope she would. I found George to be very self-centered and shallow...and too intellectual for her own good.

Gavin (her lover), on the other hand, I found very likeable...in a bumbling, honest-guy kind of way. Any sympathy I had, I gave to him. Poor bloke. The Parisian intellect wants to play head games, while the Breton fisherman just wants to earn an honest day's pay and have someone to love him for who he is. It sounds like it's doomed from the start, doesn't it? I must say, it is refreshing to have the woman be the 'bad' one in a relationship instead of the man. 

Then, I began to think about why the book was written in the way it was written. The narrator had an honest voice. Too honest, I think, sometimes...

I decided to look up the author later...and found her life was very similar to the narrator's. Very similar. I believe that was intentional. In fact, after researching about Groult's life, I understood why the picture she painted in the novel shows the woman as almost self-loathing. To understand the author is to understand George, who is very critical of the choices she's made, but lays no blame at the feet of the Breton lover she clings to passionately. She even tries to forgive herself for the bad decisions she made based on what she understood of life at that time. Looking back, it's easy to see what you should've done, or could've done. After all, hindsight is 20/20, right?

I can already tell this is one of those novels that will stay with me for awhile. And I have a feeling the more time that passes, the more fondly I will think of it. Much like an old lover.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

"When a fairy falls in love..."

     "When a fairy falls in love with a mortal man, she often worries that he will forget her the moment he leaves the magic realm," his mother had said when she told him fairy legends as a boy. "Fairies die if their beloved no longer remembers them. That's why a fairy always attempts to bind a man to herself. However, it is only if the fairy gives the man a dark, lethal kiss that she can keep him forever. In this world he dies, and he can therefore remain by his fairy's side in the other."

~ The Little French Bistro, Nina George

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Semblances

Thanks to Brandon Mull, I have a new code word for certain people I encounter in my life. I knew the actual word, of course, and its meaning...but never thought to use it to describe a certain type of person.

In Mull's novel, Sky Raiders, semblances are people that look real, but aren't. Most of them don't know they aren't real.

Here's an excerpt where the protagonist, Cole, questions a gladiator-type warrior, Lyrus, after he puts a cloak around him that helps Lyrus see himself for what he really is:

Cole blinked. "You know you're a semblance?"

"Not until you gave me the cloak. It freed me to know what I had to know in order to serve you. Whoever made me caused me to ignore my true nature. You were helping me catch glimpses, but now I see plainly. I didn't realize I had been fabricated. This is common with semblances. We play a role without much self-reflection. It helps us seem more authentic."

When I read that the first time, I was stunned. Such truth! Such wisdom! And to find it in a middle school book? I love it.

So, from now on, when I meet someone who lives their life by playing 'a role without much self-reflection,'...I'll know to do what Cole does: use my magical Jumping Sword to get as far away from them as possible.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Andres, Will, and Me

Once upon a time, I had a student named Andres. Andres didn't like to read very much when he was in the sixth grade, but there was one series he loved: The Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan. Because I was curious about a boy who loved a series of books, when he claimed he didn't like to read, I decided to read the first one when he asked me to. And, boy, was I glad I did.

That was over six years ago. Andres has already graduated from high school (which is why I can actually write his real name), the book series has grown since then...and, yes, I've read them all. While Andres is the reason I read the first book in the series, The Ruins of Gorlan, I read all the rest because they are excellent books. I hesitate to say "excellent middle school books" because I believe they are more than that. I assure you I enjoy the series just as much, if not more, than any middle school student. I highly recommend it every year to my students and keep several copies of the first three books in my classroom. 

Now, to present day...

I have a new student this year, let's call him Will (also the name of the beloved main character in The Ranger's Apprentice series). Will entered my classroom on the first day of school with a smile on his face and kindness in his eyes. He is a thoughtful and caring young man, and he impressed me within the first few days when he took my recommendation about The Ranger's Apprentice to heart. He asked if he could borrow the first one off of my book cart. I said yes, without hesitation, and hoped he would enjoy it as much as I did.

We just finished our third week in school, and Will has already finished the third book in the series and has moved on to the fourth, as of Friday afternoon. He loves the series, which pleases me greatly, and it's such fun to talk with him about it. He approached me on Friday, at the end of school, and said he had a recommendation for me. Will said he just knew I'd like The Five Kingdoms series by Brandon Mull. He asked me to please try it.

As you know, if you've read my last two posts, I've been having a bit of a dry spell when it comes to my reading choices. I felt like I should take Will's recommendation to heart since he had taken mine. I told him I would try it when I got the chance.

Needless to say, I began reading The Five Kingdoms Book One, Sky Raiders, this weekend. I really like it! I would've finished it, too, but it's been a busy weekend for me. I'm mentioning it now, before I've finished it, because it would be a great book to begin reading at this time of year.

The book begins on Halloween, when Cole (the main character) is at school and everyone wants to go check out this scary, haunted house attraction in the neighborhood for Halloween night. It's a really great beginning, even a bit dark, but so good - such a good, creepy set up to take the reader into another world. I love it! I'm not giving anything away by saying that Cole's friends are in trouble, and he's going to have to figure out a way to save them. There's action, adventure, and daring rescue attempts! Good stuff!

I'll let you know next week if I'm satisfied with the ending, or if each book is a cliffhanger to the next book. At this point, I have no idea,...and I like it that way.

Happy reading!


"Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage."
~ C.S. Lewis


Monday, September 4, 2017

Changing Channels

Okay, so,...I've just not chosen the right kind of book for me...again. I'm sorry I don't have some fabulous book to tell you about. I will tell you, instead, about what I learned from a book I didn't particularly like.

The Water is Wide was written in 1972 by Pat Conroy. While it is sometimes classified as fiction, it is actually a memoir. Conroy was a young teacher, back in 1969, who decided to teach on an isolated island off the coast of South Carolina. The book tells about his experiences in teaching the children on the island for a year. The children he taught were all African-American children ranging in age from 10 - 13 years old with different learning styles and difficulties to overcome. Not an easy task, I assure you, but he was fortunate there were only 18 of them in his school room. 

(I'm pausing,...wondering exactly how to approach what I have to say next...)

While I cannot imagine what his experience was like, I can say that he could've done a much better job. I guess standing in a classroom in 2017 with more than 30 students at a time, which sometimes includes students with learning disabilities and reading levels that range from second grade to twelfth grade, I look at Conroy's story with a raised eyebrow. 

While his stories are interesting and well-written, I found him greatly lacking as a teacher,...and I just couldn't get past it. In fact, there are times he seems to be trying to justify his lack of structure and academics in the classroom. What he describes is more like a daycare than a school room. I didn't really have a problem with some of the adventures he exposed the students to or the guests he invited to the island to bring the outside world in, but I didn't feel he was giving the children the structure and feeling of safety they needed to learn. 

I do not recommend this book, unless you want to read it as a "how a teacher shouldn't do things" kind of book. While it was depressing to think of how backwards some white people thought and talked back in "those days" (and the racial slurs were far too abundant and unnecessary in the book), it was absolutely heartbreaking for me to think of those children looking to Conroy for guidance and structure and an education that would help them move beyond their own borders, while he's busy putting on the next film or using the same inappropriate language with the children that he allows them to use. In my opinion, his own words make it seem more like he was a playmate than a teacher.

This is the second "bad call" I've made on a book and both lured me in with the hope that I would gain some knowledge and insight about how to grow and improve as a teacher. I have learned something, though. In fact, I've learned two things: 1) No more "teacher books" for awhile and, when I am finally ready for one, I'll wait for a recommendation from a trusted friend in education. 2) Having a degree in education and working in a school does not make you a teacher. Not by a long shot.  

And last, but not least, someone should have told Pat Conroy that no matter how wide the water is, true educators find a way to build a bridge.

(Now, please excuse me while I go find something pleasant to read so I can change the channel in my brain.)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Seeing Things in a Different Light

I promised you a book review today. I like to keep my promises, when possible. The thing is, I really don't want to write about this book. But a promise is a promise.

I was introduced to "Teacher Misery" on Instagram. I randomly came across it one day, and it gave me a chuckle. Inappropriate? Sometimes. But it gave me a chuckle. You see, there's some humor that only a teacher in this day and age would get. "Teacher Misery" has a tendency to post things that I'm sure some teachers would like to say, but never would...for fear of losing their jobs. I'm not quite sure how she gets away with it, but...more power to her. Everyone these days seems to have the right to free speech...except teachers.

(Yes, this IS a book review. I'm getting there.)

After finding "Teacher Misery" on Instagram, I then discovered she wrote a book. I was intrigued. I figured it would be a collection of teacher stories to give me a bit of a dark laugh at the end of my long school days. I was wrong. Boy,...was I wrong.

Teacher Misery: Helicopter Parents, Special Snowflakes & Other Bullshit by Jane Morris (not her real name, of course) is a collection of teacher stories that would scare anyone off from teaching. The stories did not make me happy, they made me sad. They shocked me and made me shake my head. Do I believe them? Yes, I have no doubt every word is true, other than names that have been changed to protect the guilty...and the innocent. 

I bought the book expecting to laugh at the ridiculousness of our public education system in these United States of America. What I found myself doing instead? I found myself thanking my lucky stars that I've never had those types of experiences in my ten years of teaching. And I can honestly say that as lousy as some of my own public education was growing up, it was never that bad. Ever.

On a good note, the first week of school just ended on Friday, and it was a really great week for me. I can't help but thank Jane Morris for making it even more special to me than usual. In light of the things she has come up against, it made me look at my own school in a different light -  the kind of light that illuminates everything wonderful about where I work. I've always loved my job, always loved my students, but there are days that the red tape and bureaucracy of it all almost smothers me...

After reading this book? I will still stand up for what I think is right for my students, hold those difficult parent meetings, and I will still roll my eyes at how the public school system expects us to do all that they expect us to do in the limited time we have to do it,...but I will also give thanks, every day, that I work in a school where respect is required from everyone and students are loved and cared for, as they should be, and where most people try to give their best to make the world a better place.

God bless all teachers, wherever you are!


Monday, August 21, 2017

It Begins

WOOHOO! Today was the first day of school for my students and me! It's been a whirlwind of a day, and I have so much to do - but I'm so excited! It's going to be a GREAT year! 

And that is all I have the time I have to blog for now. I'll be back on Sunday with a book review. I promise.

(And have I mentioned that I absolutely have the very best job in the world? I do. I really do!)

Happy reading!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

(Sigh...)



I barely began reading The Summer Before the War, and I put it down. This is no reflection on the book or the author. It's a reflection on me and my life. Teacher in-service week starts tomorrow, and my plate has been loaded with school stuff for over two weeks now,...and I'm just getting started.

This bibliophile has had to put regular pleasure reading on hold. And I hate that. Reading gives me peace, but...I have big plans for this school year and, when I'm in a time crunch at this time of year, working on what is best for my students takes precedence over just about everything else. 

While I wish I was enjoying a good book right now, I consider it way more important to plan things for young people who haven't learned that joy yet. They are tough customers. They think reading is boring, and they haven't learned to value their education and their intellect...yet. But they will.

I won't take anymore of your time, as I have nothing to review. I hope you're reading something that you enjoy or taking a journey in a book you've always wanted to take. Books are filled with endless possibilities!

(Sigh...)

Hopefully, I'll fit in time for a book sometime this week and be able to tell you about it next week.

Happy reading! 




Sunday, August 6, 2017

Upping My Game

Ah, yes,...it's time for 'back-to-school' stuff to begin. For some, school has already started - but not for us. Not yet. I have one more week "off" (I say it that way because I'm actually working two days this week) before teacher in-service week begins, and...after that? We will welcome the students back with open arms and celebrate a new beginning! I always love new beginnings!


This year marks my eleventh year as a middle school teacher. To say I have seen my ups and downs...would be an understatement. My "downs" have never been my students. My struggles have been more about the grown-ups and the politics and the lack of funding where we need it most. But I am happy to say that, unlike the familiar public education statistic in this country, I did not burn out after my first five years. In fact, I burned brighter when I hit my fifth year,...and I burn brighter still.

Teaching is a calling. If it isn't a person's calling, they should not teach. Period. It isn't an easy job, but it is a necessary one...for so many reasons other than academics. Academics are, of course, what we teach, but good teachers do so much more than that. I cringe when I hear a teacher say, "I'm just supposed to teach, I'm not supposed to raise the child! I'm not their parent!" I think back to how many teachers I had who loved me, gave me advice, and felt very much like a parent to me. I thank God for those teachers every day. I wouldn't be who I am today without them.

Every child doesn't go home to warm cookies and milk. And, even if their home life isn't tragic, it can sometimes be lonely and children can feel emotionally neglected. Many parents work a lot of hours to make ends meet and their family time is very limited. Some parents may pay more attention to their dating life, their phones, and their "likes" on social media than they do their children. And, often times, phones have become babysitters to keep children quiet. If you think I exaggerate, go out to dinner at a restaurant and look around you. As our society continues to grow more and more narcissistic, at an alarming rate, what will happen to our children? What is happening to our children?

I say all of this to let you know some reasons why I haven't quit my job as an educator or tried to become something in education other than a teacher. I know how important my job is because I know how important my teachers were to me when I was growing up. Teachers have not become less important in today's society, they have become much more important. Does that make the adventure more difficult? Absolutely. That's why I said it has to be a calling, not a job.

I have maintained the same level of commitment and energy to my job for ten years. And now? Now, it's time to up my game, take it to the next level. And I've been working hard this summer to prepare to do just that. You see, I'm old enough to know that things don't get better unless you step up to help make them better. And nothing gets better from sitting around complaining how difficult things are or "how kids are today." My future students need me to do more and to do better - so I shall. :) 

As for books, I've not read as much as I usually do in the summer. I've been having fun outdoors, and I have been working on good things to help my students learn. Reading helps me with that, no doubt, but I've had much less 'quiet time' this summer for leisure reading. I have enjoyed every single minute of everything I've done, though - even the work part. 

I finished Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and I absolutely recommend it! It is such a good story because, while it is fantasy, it is also reality. His stories are about how people relate to each other. He simply chooses a fantastical, magical setting and odd situations to put his characters in and see what happens. The audio version by him is a true delight! Neil has definitely stolen this reader's heart.

I am currently reading The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. I just started it, but I'm excited about it. I've read plenty of books around the time of World War II, but this one is in reference to World War I. I've read very little historical fiction for that time period. Since I'm so busy these days, I decided to download the audio for it as a back up, even though I'm reading the book. I thought I could listen as I take my morning walks, sometimes. Neil was excellent company on my walks, so I thought I'd give Fiona Hardingham (the Audible narrator for Simonson's book) a try. 

I hope you try something new! Whoever you are, whatever you do - I wish you a new journey, a new joy, and a new goal to reach for!

Happy reading!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Whisper In My Ear, Love...

I'm in love.

I'm in love with a voice.

The voice is, of course, attached to a man.

And, yes, I acknowledge the man is married to someone else (as am I), but...

I am in love.

I had never heard Neil Gaiman tell a story until I saw him in person a couple of weeks ago. I had heard him speak before, yes, and I had seen him interviewed. And as much as I enjoyed the evening I spent with him, hearing him weave his tales to a sold-out audience, I admired him, but I did not love him...

yet.

I will admit I became completely infatuated with him, some time ago, over The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It ranks as one of my all time favorite stories. The story left me in awe and wonder at how he could create such a fabulous story in such a small book  It was, undoubtedly, his beautiful brain that first attracted me, but - even then - I knew it was not love...

until now.

I know what you're thinking: Perhaps, it's his English dialect? No, I've been to England and, while I adore English accents, I do not fall at the feet of Englishmen by the mere sound of their voices. It's more than that. Much more.

So,...when did it become love?

I took the advice of a friend, after seeing Neil in person, and decided to listen to the author read his own books on Audible. If you've never heard Neil Gaiman whisper sweet stories of dark madness in your ears, you have no idea what you're missing. I knew the man was a genius writer and a fabulous storyteller, but to enjoy the cadence of his voice in the privacy of your own mind is much more...intimate. He tells stories the way stories are meant to be told.

He is, simply,...amazing.

I am currently listening to Neverwhere. Yesterday, I became so enveloped in the story, I felt I was walking down a rainy sidewalk in London with Richard, the main character, instead of a sunny Texas park near my home. Neil's voice had me completely wrapped up in the tale, and I almost fell off the park's sidewalk with fright when another walker passed me. She was very apologetic and couldn't believe I didn't see her there. Of course I didn't see her there - I was in London! 

In fact, I'm headed back to London now. Neil's waiting for me, you know. And there's no stopping a girl in love. 




Friday, July 14, 2017

Retraction?

I've made the print a little bigger on this post because I don't normally write retractions. In fact, I've never written one. And even as I do this, I question whether I should or should not (thus, the question mark in the post title). However, when I question my own judgment, I'm not one to slither away and not own up to it. Literary analysis is subjective, which is why I love it. When I wrote my opinion about My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, I had not met with my book club to discuss the novel. We met last night.

As we began the meeting, I quickly announced that I didn't like Lucy, as a character, and I didn't like the book. I also stated that usually makes for the best books to talk about. And I was right. We had a great time discussing the confusing layers of the book, wondering if we trusted the narrator, and trying to answer questions we had about the novel.

One of the ladies informed us there is a follow-up novel, of sorts, that comes after this one: Anything is Possible. She is currently reading it and said it answers many of the questions she had about the novel we read. Some of the characters are carried over, including the Barton family, and she's finding it odd and interesting. She likes it better than My Name is Lucy Barton, but she didn't dislike Lucy as much as I did. Most of the book club said the novel was, and I quote, "Okay."

Is it genius to write a novel that doesn't make good, clear sense so you can write a follow-up novel that fills in the gaps, hoping to sell another book? Or was it just poor planning to begin with and the next book is the edited 'I did it so much better this time, sorry for the gaps' version? Based on interviews I've read with the author, I vote that it was poor planning. She said she doesn't follow an outline or path of any kind when she writes. She writes in chunks, or spells, on different pieces of paper and puts it all together later.  

Hmmm,...even one of my favorite writing geniuses, Patrick Rothfuss, will tell you, while authors don't always call it an outline (including him), everyone has to plan a path to make sure loose ends are tied up and all questions are answered in some way. Maybe she should watch some Rothfuss videos online where he tells writers the importance of these things? I show them to my students. Should I suggest this to her? ;) 

I will say this: While I hate I wasted time on a subpar novel, I greatly enjoyed picking it apart and talking about it with my friends. Was the novel "okay"? I guess. But, as I put it to one of my fellow bibliophiles, "Did it change or add something to your life?" Her answer was no. For me, that's an important question to ask after I read a book. Life is too short for mediocrity. 

By the end of the meeting, though, most of us wanted to read the second one out of varying degrees of pure curiosity. (Sigh.) Yes, even me.

Retraction? 




Sunday, July 9, 2017

Neil, Midnight, and Lucy

Neil

I must begin with this: I saw Neil Gaiman on Friday night!!! It was a delightful evening spent in Dallas with book-loving friends (the best kind) where we enjoyed a lovely dinner, a stop at a fabulous pie shop, and spent a glorious couple of hours with Neil Gaiman at the Winspear Opera House. Gaiman is an excellent storyteller, and I could have stayed there all night and listened to him talk.

The event was a combination of Gaiman answering questions (people wrote them on slips of paper in the lobby before the show), telling a few personal stories, and reading from several different pieces of his writings. Everything blended together very well, and I really enjoyed everything he had to say. He even gave good advice on how to write good dialogue in a story. 

If you ever get a chance to hear him, I'd like to encourage you to go and enjoy the treat. Gaiman is the very best kind of storyteller...and an excellent human being, as well. 

Midnight

I recently finished a debut novel that I really enjoyed (and I am all about promoting good, new authors). Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan is a mystery within a mystery. The premise of the story is a bookseller finds a young man has hung himself in the bookstore one night at midnight, which is closing time. She is devastated, as she felt a special connection with this 'lost soul' that used to haunt the bookstore on a regular basis. The tragedy triggers other memories for the bookseller that she'd rather not revisit, but things begin to unravel and there's no stopping the journey she is on to understand what really happened to the young man...and herself.

I really enjoyed this book because I couldn't figure all of it out. There were some things I thought I knew and, then, there would be a twist. (Love that!) I will tell you that while this book is a bit dark, it isn't depressing. It is mysterious, and it does time jump, but I always knew where I was in the timeline. In other words, It moves forward in time with the story of the young man, but goes back in time to the bookseller's past. I mention this because I have friends who do not like those types of books. I love them, but I know not everyone does.

I hope you'll check it out! I think it's important to encourage new writers who write well. Not all writers write well, you know. Speaking of that...

Lucy

I'm going to try to be nice, but I'm definitely going to be honest. I wish I had not wasted my valuable reading time on My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. It was a book club book, so for that reason I am glad I read it. I like to try different things, and I even like to discuss books I don't like. I appreciate and respect what other people think, as well. But I'll never get that time back again (sigh). Thankfully, it's a small book.

That being said, let me say this...

I had just finished My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier when I read "Lucy," so maybe my bar was set too high? All I know is that I didn't care about the main character, Lucy Barton, and thought her to be a bit of a dimwit. I understood what the book was about, but couldn't believe all the rave reviews and people who thought it was a great book. And, yes, I am aware the author won a Pulitzer for another book, but that doesn't change my opinion. I also read an interview with her, after I read the book (trying to give it another chance), and I wasn't impressed with that either.

I didn't like it. Plain and simple. And that is what the book is: plain and simple. If I see one more review that calls it "beautiful and magnificent in its simplicity," I will scream. I have some sixth graders that can write better than that. In fact, the way it's written reminded me of how a child speaks - not a grown, adult woman. And please don't tell me that was the point because she was dealing with her mother and felt like a child. Ridiculous. Did I mention Lucy is supposed to be a writer? Ha. 

This book, and the reviews I read after I read it, reminds me of when you walk in an art gallery, and there is a painting with a white background and a big red dot in the center. Everyone stands around and raves how wonderful it is. Some say it's a statement on mankind's condition. Others say it represents oppression in the modern world. Me? I look at them like they came from another planet and say, "It's a red dot on a white background. Get over yourself."

My Name is Lucy Barton is the red dot painting. Rave all you want, you'll never convince me it's anything other than a red dot. Period.

One more thing...



I don't like to end on a sour note, so here's what I'm currently reading and enjoying: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. The story is about a man and his past, but the premise surrounding the story is about the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. This is a topic I've done a great deal of research on, and I also teach my students about Japanese internment camps. I appreciate the perspective the novel brings to a topic I've been interested in for quite a few years. I'll let you know what I think once I've finished.

In the meantime,...happy reading!!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Too Busy

Ah, yes,...we all know what it's like to be too busy to enjoy the things we like, don't we? Life seems to come at us going 100 miles an hour and, sometimes, all we can do is go with the flow and know it will let up...eventually. This is what my life feels like for about nine months out of the year, even though I love what I do. But summer? Ah, summer is another story...

Since school let out (in case you don't know, I'm a teacher), I've been very busy in the most fun sort of ways, but it's actually prevented me from reading as much as I would like. I've been traveling and visiting with friends and, when I'm home, we've been working on renovating two rooms at our house. While I enjoy doing all these things, it's left me less summertime reading than usual. (Yes, even the traveling...because I'm busy enjoying the sights and sounds and the people that surround me.)  

I say all this to say, I have just finished Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel. I can't tell you the last time it took me over two weeks to read a novel - especially one I really enjoy! Normally, I would be upset about not finding enough time to read, but the fact that I've been having too much fun to read,...well, I can't complain about that, now, can I? I've also been spending time writing, which is something I need to do. Too busy to read? Well, yes, but...wait until I tell you what I discovered about My Cousin Rachel by having to read it in bits and pieces. (See? I'm always learning something...)

What I discovered, from taking so long to read this Daphne du Maurier novel, is the same thing I already knew from her other stories I read quickly: She is an excellent writer. I know, you're thinking, "Duh. It's Daphne du Maurier. This is your discovery?" But, you see, there's a difference in enjoying a book in a few sittings, when you're absorbed in the story and briefly hold the thread of it in your mind, and holding on to a story for long periods of time while living the rest of your life, especially when you read as many books as I do. 

When I was able to pick up My Cousin Rachel here and there, I never had to reread and remind myself where I was in the story. The story and the characters stuck with me. There is a great deal of depth to this author's writing, and there are many layers to what she says in one passage. It is why the story stayed with me, no matter how long I needed to put it down between readings.

Forgive me for how I am about to say this as bluntly as I think it in my mind: It is wonderfully refreshing to read a realistic fiction story with substance. It's a mystery without a damn detective. It hints at things that are deeply sinister without ever saying exactly what they are, leaving it to your own imagination. It's romance and passion without detailed sex scenes. It's witty banter between intelligent characters without some whiny female who needs to be rescued. 

In other words, when Daphne du Maurier wrote, she trusted that her readers would not be idiots. She doesn't spell out everything, but she writes it in a way to make you think and know. I have many passages marked just for how well she turns a phrase, and she has a way of describing a scene succinctly without going on and on for pages and you know that the descriptions have meaning, as well. The reader is given just enough, but never too much. 

I love this book. And I don't say that as often as you'd think. There are too many books I read that are just too superficial and shallow to even comment on. And, sadly, many of them are YA, which is probably why more and more middle school children don't like to read very much. Children may not always know what they like, until you help them find it, but they certainly know what bores them. (Okay, I'll drop that train of thought for now...because I could go on and on and...)

I'll sum it up this way, if you're a thinking reader (and, yes, there are readers out there who don't think about what they read), you can't go wrong with Daphne du Maurier. I can't imagine the woman wrote anything I wouldn't love. I intend on finding out, as I will continue to sprinkle in her novels throughout my reading journey. By doing so, I know I'll always have substance in my reading diet. And we all need that.

Happy reading!