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!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Jolly Holiday!




I always loved Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins! It was one of my favorite musicals when I was growing up. This random fact popped into my mind today as I was trying to think of a simple way to say the kind of holiday I've decided to take for the next two weeks:

"Ohhhh, it's a jolly holiday with...no technology!"

Okay, so it doesn't go quite as well as "a jolly holiday with Mary," but you get the idea. I usually post every weekend, usually on Sundays, but I've decided to step away from phones and computers and internet technology, as much as possible, for my holiday over the next two weeks. While I enjoy the positive things these types of technologies add to our lives, I also don't mind living without them from time to time. 

I hope you're all enjoying your summer and finding great books to read! I am currently enjoying Daphne du Maurier's novel, My Cousin Rachel. I'm halfway through it and really enjoying it. It reminds me of her novel Rebecca in the way it feels. I'm taking my time reading it and enjoying the author's writing style, which I admire. I usually only take my Kindle with me on holiday, but I've already made numerous notes and tabs in the book version of My Cousin Rachel, so I'm taking it (and a couple of other "real' books) with me.

I look forward to sharing some of my good book finds this summer when I'm back from holiday!

Happy reading! :)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"More Of This, Too, Please!"

Have you ever read a book and wondered why you waste so much time on reading "lesser" books? I mean, it's not that you do it on purpose, it's that you don't always realize what you've been searching for until you find it. 

Well, I found it.





When my book club chose News of the World by Paulette Jiles, I was less than thrilled. When I previewed it, I didn't like the title, and I didn't like the premise: Texas in 1870? "Ummm, I like historical fiction, buuuut - no thanks." I'm just being honest about my first reaction. I'm happy to report, though, that I believe in always reading the book my club chooses and expanding my tastes in literature. 

What I discovered was...something I didn't know I longed for. News of the World is a great story! The tale is about an older gentleman who travels around North Texas reading the news of the world, from various cities' newspapers, from a podium. People pay a dime for admission to hear it. I never thought about this, you see. How DID people Iearn what was going on in other places back in the 1800s? The thought of what he does is interesting in itself, but that isn't the heart of the story.

The conflict that drives the story is that the reader gentleman, Captain Kidd, is asked to return a young, ten-year-old German girl, named Johanna, to her extended family in South Texas. She was captured by the Kiowa Indians four years earlier and does not remember her past. She thinks she is Kiowa, and she does not want to be anywhere except with the Kiowa family she knows. Johanna resents being rescued and doesn't understand what's going on.

Kidd and Johanna are in for a long, arduous journey from Wichita Falls to the San Antonio area of Texas, especially during this turbulent time in Texas history. There are many different dangers this unlikely pair have to endure together, if they hope to reach the girl's relatives and return her safely to her family. Of course,...Johanna also needs to quit running away and trying to return to the Kiowa Indians. And did I mention she doesn't speak English, and Kidd doesn't speak Kiowa? Needless to say, Captain Kidd has his hands full. 

There is a nice combination of serious, humorous, and heartwarming moments in this novel. I've marked several passages where I treasure the spirit and the wisdom in which Captain Kidd analyzes people and situations along the trail. He is definitely the kind of character we all wish we could meet in real life.

I don't usually assign an actor to a part in a book, but I couldn't help it with this one. I kept seeing Sam Elliott as Captain Kidd. He would be so perfectly suited to the part. He is equal parts "grandfatherly" and "tough as nails" and just about as Texas as a man comes. And, it's rare for me to say this, but...I would love to see this made into a movie. More people need to be exposed to this story.

I find myself extremely glad I took a chance on this one with my book club. I wasn't the only one who was pleased. Everyone else was less than thrilled at the choice at first, just as I was, but we all came back hugging our books to our chests and giving glowing reviews! 

Go ahead, give it try! :)

Happy reading!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"More Dumplins, Please!"

Surely, there are enough deep, dark, sad, disheartening books already written in the world that it wouldn't hurt to add a few more positive ones, right? I mean, "lighthearted" doesn't have to mean it's shallow or a "fluff" read. Right? 

I needed something lighthearted with substance. And I found it. Or, rather, it found me...by way of a good friend. I was visiting my friend, Allie, who has a home library much bigger than mine (which I love her for), and she handed me a book off her shelf one day and said, "When you need something light and enjoyable, you should read this." I took the book and put it in my TBR stack at home.

After reading a few well-written, but depressing, books, I turned my reading eyes (and my hope) on the book my friend had let me borrow: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. I already had a hint of what the book was about from previewing it, and I was happy to relax into something that would make me smile. What I found in Dumplin' was a whole lot more. Of course, it's set in Texas,...which means you should always expect more. ;)

I can sum up the flavor of this book with just a few key words without giving anything away. Are you ready?

Willowdean (a.k.a. Dumplin'), overweight, high school, Texas, Dolly Parton songs, best friends, dating, beauty pageants

Now, while the words I chose may seem like your run-of-the-mill teen drama, it really isn't. This book is filled with Southern humor, hard truths delivered with a soft touch and a smirk, and gives you a heroine you can't help but understand and cheer for. It's well-written in a simplistic manner that I truly enjoyed. 

Willowdean is the narrator in the novel, and she makes me smile and touches my heart. She gives insights about humans while telling us about her own struggles. And she's one of those characters I know I'll carry in my heart for a long time.

I'd like to send out a special thank you to Julie Murphy for proving a book can be lighthearted and deep, and for proving that humor and substance can go together quite well in the hands of a good writer. 


Quote at the beginning of Dumplin':

"Find out who you are and do it on purpose." ~ Dolly Parton

Amen.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Medicine

Today has not been a good day, which is why my post is later than usual. And I don't really feel like reviewing any particular book that I've read lately. In fact, I haven't felt like doing much all day.

I'm grieving the loss of someone I cared about. And I don't know how to handle that grief. So, I turned to the same medicine that has worked for me for most of my life: I opened a book and read. I wasn't looking for answers, I wasn't looking for a cure. I was looking for an old friend to sit with me, hold my hand, and not require me to talk. 

I needed a balm to soothe my aching soul and quiet my mind from the sadness and rage I feel from this loss to the world. And I found the familiar solace I needed within the pages of a book.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day!

This will be a brief post, as it's Mother's Day here in the United States, and it's a beautiful day outside! I am anxious to start my day by enjoying my lovely patio and getting a little reading done.

I have two books for you this week. One is a debut novel by a new author and the other is another book by an author who feels like...family.

Debut

Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly, is a great book to read if you're a fan of historical fiction set in World War II. Kelly stayed as close to the real, actual events as possible, using her research to guide her story. The novel is special because it is told from three people's very different perspectives. Caroline is a New York socialite who works at the French consulate, Kasia is a Polish teenager taken captive by the Nazis, and Herta is a German doctor determined to make her mark in the male-dominated Nazi regime. 

This book was chosen by the new book club I joined. When we met to discuss it this past week, the consensus was the same: we all enjoyed the book and none of us had ever read a novel that gave a voice to a German doctor from World War II. We agreed that all three narrators were good ones and gave us a lot to consider we had not thought of before. One of the ladies in my book club is Polish, and she said she learned things she did not know before about the Polish people in World War II. It was an interesting and absorbing novel. I read it in three days.

Family

My love for Joshilyn Jackson continues, as I just finished The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. She is, as I have described before, amazingly talented at pinpointing how some older Southern women act, talk, think, and...have a tendency to not want the world to see their reality (and, too often, they don't even see it themselves). For them, it's all about what it looks like on the outside and not what it truly is on the inside. 

This novel surrounds a tragedy, how people react to it, and the truths hidden behind the facade of a nice neighborhood. Because of the tragedy, the main character, Laurel, is forced to analyze her own life a little closer. She struggles with something terrible in her own past, as she tries to deal with something terrible in her present. The action builds as Laurel tries to find answers to both before she loses her mind. She is haunted in many ways and must find her own way through a reality that others deny.

I have to say, I was surprised to find some people didn't like it on Goodreads. I looked at reviews  after I posted mine. I found myself wondering if they read the same book I did. I guess we all connect to books in different ways, and I definitely connected with this one. Maybe you have to acknowledge the superficial level many people live on to appreciate a story that reveals the possibilities of what may be underneath it all and seeks to answer why they choose to live that way. I think Jackson did an excellent job at that. She always does. Like I've said before, I'm pretty sure we must be related somehow.



That's all for this week! I hope you all enjoy your Sunday!

Happy reading!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Love Song

I am happy to say that Queenie was a perfect choice to help me out of my literary limbo! I just finished the book yesterday, and I'm still marinating in it...with a smile on my face. I usually begin my Sunday mornings by reading in bed with my first cup of coffee, but I didn't this morning. This morning, I begin with introducing Queenie to you. 

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, by Rachel Joyce, is interesting and tender and filled with the intimate thoughts of a person who wants to say all that is in her heart, and on her mind, before she dies. I'm not giving anything away by say she's dying, as that is how we meet her at the beginning of Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which you really must read before reading this one). In the first book, Queenie sends Harold a letter telling him she was dying, and she has sent the letter to say goodbye. Harold, unexpectedly, decides to walk to see her. His book is about his own journey, but it is not told in first person. In this second book, Queenie is our narrator, and she definitely has a story to tell. 

The story begins with Queenie at the end of her life in a hospice-type care facility. She looks over her life in flashbacks and shares with the reader her joys and her sorrows, her regrets and her triumphs. However, it isn't the reader she's sharing it with, really. It's Harold, Harold Fry. As the reader, we witness the letter - or the love song - she writes to share her last thoughts with Harold.

Queenie's story runs parallel to Harold's. She passes the time, waiting him to show up, by writing him a letter describing not only her present, but her past. She tells him what her life was like as a child, how she felt going off to Oxford, about previous relationships, and about how she came to work at the same place as Harold. She reminds him of the first time they met, and she tells him secrets about her past he never knew. The letter builds up to the moment she left town without telling him, twenty years ago, and her confession of why she left.

I'm not giving anything away by saying she also confesses her love for him. After all, it is the title of the book and says as much on the back synopsis. It is how she loves him, though, that is so beautiful and remarkable and tender. Queenie's words reminded me of one of my favorite Patrick Rothfuss quotes: 

"It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That's as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect."

And, just in case you're wondering, I do believe you can love someone who doesn't love you back in the same way. I believe you can carry someone in your heart all your life who is no longer a part of your life. I believe true love is when you love someone without expecting anything in return. You love them because of who they are, not what they do for you. If you don't believe me, ask people who truly love their spouses and lost them to death. They do not stop loving their spouse because they are no longer with them, sharing a life with them. A person's body expires, but real love does not.

For me, Queenie's letter is a love letter to us all. It serves to remind us that life can be difficult and awkward and harsh, but there is beauty in the struggle. She also reminds us to enjoy all the beauty around us, from the sparkling sounds of laughter from our friends to the miracle of watching the trees sprout buds in spring. 

One more thing, the author said when she wrote Harold's story, she did not intend to write another with these characters. However, she said many people wanted to know Queenie's story. Joyce said she was halfway through writing another novel when Queenie decided to be heard. 

My heart is glad that Queenie convinced Joyce to tell her side of things. It is as it should be. There are, after all, two sides to every story. But, in this case, there could actually be three. I wonder what Maureen, Harold's wife, would have to say if we asked her?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Literary Limbo

It happens from time to time. You know, that place you find yourself where the books you've read are somewhere between heaven and hell. Nothing is quite satisfactory. You haven't found a book you want to rave about, but you can't really complain about what you've read because you're aware the books are 'different' and, perhaps, not liked by the general masses (which isn't usually a bad thing), but they were decent books. 

I've said before, and I will say again, I seldom read a book that I don't like in some way. I'm not a book snob, and I am a pretty open-minded person. Still, I haven't found anything I'm quite happy with lately. I was looking for something a bit 'happier' after reading about murder and abduction previously (see my last post). I just haven't found anything to fit the bill yet. 

I am currently reading (as in, I just started it last night) The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, by Rachel Joyce. It claims to be about joy and many reviews say it's even better than Joyce's first one, which introduces us to Miss Hennessy, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I liked Mr. Fry very much,...and I still think of him quite fondly. 

I'm hoping this book will be the one to push me out of my current state of literary limbo. I hope I will discover an equal fondness in my heart for Queenie that I feel for Harold. I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy reading! :)