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! :)


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Murder and Mayhem on World Book Day

While I enjoy watching criminal shows and mysteries on television, I don't usually read those types of novels. The few times I have in the past, they were a bit...cheesy for my taste. Well, obviously, I wasn't tasting the right kind.

First, my regular book club chose Defending Jacob, by William Landay, for our book this month. We met on Saturday to discuss it. It is a great novel, but not a happy one. The premise is a teenage boy is murdered in the park on his way to school and another boy is accused of the murder. The boy accused of the murder just happens to be the Assistant District Attorney's son. There are many sides to this story, and it definitely keeps you interested. No boring pages in this novel. The book is heart-wrenchingly good...and more than a bit creepy.

Second, I just finished (and by 'just', I mean less than 10  minutes ago) Mary Kubica's debut novel from 2014, The Good Girl. Wow, what a ride! This book was recommended to me by one of my advanced reading students. Actually, it was more than that. She didn't simply recommend it, she brought her copy to school, put it in my hand, and told me to read it. My student has excellent taste. 

The Good Girl is not a young adult novel, it's an adult fiction book. It's a bit complex in the way it is set up, but I liked it that way. I will tell you that the novel jumps around between characters and points-of-view. It also goes back and forth between the present and the past. It is done very well, but I know some of my friends who don't like when a novel does that, so...don't say I didn't tell you up front.

The novel is a story of a young woman who gets abducted. In the story, we hear from the kidnapper, the mother of the victim, and the detective in charge of the case. We hear about the victim from the others, but don't hear from the victim herself. It's an interesting thriller, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. I really enjoyed the ride and look forward to discussing it with my student tomorrow.

That's all I have for tonight, folks. I'm sorry to cut it short, but it's been a glorious day filled with family and friends celebrating my granddaughter's second birthday. I'm barely able to keep my eyes open as I write this, but I was determined to put out the good word for these two novels before I went to bed.

I hope you all had an enjoyable weekend, and a beautiful World Book Day!!

Happy reading! :)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Trying Something New

As much as I love to read, I've only ever belonged to one book club. And I have been a member of the same ladies' book club for about eight or nine years. It's comfortable. I know everyone. I know exactly what everyone likes to read. It's comfortable and...predictable. And, while there's nothing wrong with that,...I decided to try something new.

The Sign-up Sheet

One day, not too long ago, I found myself in front of a sign-up sheet while I was out wandering around town. The sheet had a photo of a book cover and said, "If you'd like to read this book and meet up with a group of people who have also read it, we'd love for you to join us for a discussion." The list already had about ten names on it. I thought about it, looked up the book on my Goodreads account (to get a feel for the book), and tried to decide if I wanted to take a chance on meeting up with a group of complete strangers. Of course, it's not really "complete strangers" if they are readers, in my opinion. When you share a love of books, well,...wow,...that's about the best character reference I know of.

I put my name on the list. 

I also marked the date, time, and place of the meeting on my phone calendar and set myself an alarm. I pulled up Amazon on my phone, bought the book (along with a few others), and had the books sent to my house (love my Amazon Prime). I was set...to try something new!

The Book

I enjoyed Carolyn Brown's The Ladies Room. It was, as we say where I come from, a hoot! While the base of the story line isn't an original, the cast of characters and the circumstances made it an enjoyable read. In fact, my oldest daughter and I were trying to figure out who should play the parts to make it a lighthearted movie.

The book opens at a great aunt's funeral where one cousin, Trudy, overhears her two cousins in the ladies room talking about Trudy "bless her heart" and her cheating husband. Trudy had no idea. The action starts when Trudy has to decide what to do with what she's just found out about her twenty year marriage to her very successful attorney husband. 

This book is Southern sass and "put you in your place" kind of funny. It also has its sweet and tender moments and insights. It speaks the truths we all know, once we've lived long enough. The style kind of reminds me of Joshilyn Jackson's novels, but The Ladies Room is less complex than Jackson's stories.

The Meeting

I admit I was a bit nervous when it came time to go to the book group meeting. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew from the names on the list and from the type of book it was, it would probably be all women. And have I mentioned I'm quite a social creature most of the time? Still, I was nervous. I had read the book, of course, but I wasn't sure of how I would be received. Was it always an impromptu book club? Did other people know each other? Would I be the only newbie?

I felt a bit awkward, at first. But, when one of the other ladies walked up and welcomed me with a big hug, I knew I would fit right in. They had tables arranged in a square, so we could all face each other. Everyone had their book, everyone had read it (and, trust me, this is not a given in my own book club), and we all came to the same concensus about the book: it was a fun read, but a bit predictable and a bit too convenient. Still, it was enjoyable. We discussed the book the whole time, which I loved, and when we'd finished, a few of the ladies asked me questions about myself. By that time, after discussing the book, I was quite comfortable to share more about myself. My something new...was something I was really glad I did.

Now?

I'm keeping my eye out for other sign-up sheets. I think it'd be fun to visit various book groups, hear other "complete strangers" opinions, and step outside my comfort zone more often. In fact, I've just found out about a cool, indie bookstore I didn't know about. It looks like they have all kinds of interesting things going on there. 

Hmmm,...time to try something new again...

And I can't wait! 

Happy Easter!

I hope you and yours 
enjoy a wonderful 
Easter Sunday!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Wonderful Weekend

I'm happy to say that it's been a beautiful weekend filled with family and fun...and perfect weather for reading on my patio. And because it's been such a lovely weekend, I've spent very little time indoors and no time on my laptop.

I did, however, want to pop on here and tell you that I'm currently reading Bryan Cranston's memoir, A Life in Parts. The book is exactly what the title describes. Cranston takes us through his life with small stories that say much more than just the words on the page. It's interesting to read stories about another person's life and understand what shaped them and made them the way they are. I appreciate his candor and his sense of humor. I also appreciate his talent as a good storyteller.

I hope you enjoyed a fabulous weekend, wherever you are, and  you're ready and refreshed for the new week. I also hope you found time to enjoy a good book or two.

Happy reading! :)





Sunday, April 2, 2017

Midwinterblood

With a title like Midwinterblood, I just had to use it for the title of this post. In fact, it was the title that intrigued me and made me want to read the book. The cover on the front almost dissuaded me, as it looked a bit like a teenage romance novel. But that was because I didn't really understand the cover until I read the book. (And, you should know, I really love when that happens!)

I've never read anything by Marcus Sedgwick, the author of Midwinterblood, but I can assure he is on my "author radar" now. It only took reading through the first two chapters to know something was different about this storyteller. Sedgwick is a YA author, apparently, but I would not call Midwinterblood YA, unless you mean his books are for older high school students. 

Midwinterblood is dark, a bit historic, and is nothing like what you imagine from the first chapter. In fact, I almost didn't read past the first couple of pages of the second chapter, thinking it was another teenage romance novel. But that was when everything changed, and I definitely got the sense something was...off (in a very good way). 

By the way, while I'm a sixth grade teacher and always on the look-out for great age-appropriate books for my students, I also have a warped and wicked sense of humor sometimes, enjoy just the right amount of dark, and have a very open mind when it comes to what I read. 

I'm actually glad I didn't know anything about the book before I read it (there was only reviews on the back of the book, not a synopsis). I think I enjoyed it more because of that. So, how do I give you a bit of a book review without spoiling anything? I know the book isn't for middle school students, but I also know some adults that may not appreciate the author's type of storytelling. 

So, let me put it this way...

If you'd like to read something dark and haunting, but...soulful and thoughtful. If you have a mind that is open enough to enjoy the possibility that the world may not actually work the way most people think it does and enjoy a good twist and turn (or a few) that you don't see coming, this book is for you. It isn't a long book, it was a fairly quick read for me, but it definitely has depth...and superstition...and mystery. I really liked it. And I liked it even more after I finished it and absorbed the novel and appreciated the craft of the author.

I will tell you where the story begins...

It is the year 2073. Eric, a journalist, is on a plane heading to Blessed Island to find out why people are so happy there. Other journalists have been sent to this 'utopian society' before to research it and tell the secret of what makes the island so wonderful, but they never return because they love it so much they stay there. Eric is determined to get the truth of what is going on at the island and tell it to the world. He arrives safely,...but is he safe?

And that is all I'm going to tell you. (But, remember, strap yourself in for quite a wild ride. Nothing is as it seems.)

I look forward to reading more of Mr. Sedgwick's books. I won't be passing them out to my sixth graders, though, until they're in high school...or college. :) 

Happy reading!


Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Great and The Not-So-Good

The Great

Let's start with a great book, shall we? Wintersong, by S. Jae-Jones, had me at "Goblin King," and I knew I was going to read it. It even says, on the back cover, that fans of Jim Henson's "The Labyrinth," with David Bowie, will love the book. Now, that is about where the comparison ends, to be honest. Yes, I can definitely see Bowie as this Goblin King. Yes, there are labyrinth-like tunnels in the novel, but everything else is completely different,...and have bits of other things in them.

Wintersong is a beautifully written old tale about Liesl, the eldest daughter in a family, who has a love for music and magic in her heart, but there's no place for all that among all her family duties. When she is little, she runs to the forest to play with a strange boy who understands her, who often asks if she'll marry him someday when they grow up. She never really gives him an answer, she thinks it's just a game they play. Then one day, Liesl does grow up...and forgets all about the strange boy she used to play with.

When Liesl is grown, she no longer pays attention to the dark tales of her youth, even when her grandmother warns her not to forget the old ways. She is lost in the responsibilities of being the oldest daughter and watching over her younger sister and brother. Until, one day, just as her grandmother warned her in old stories, the Goblin King rides through the forest looking for a bride, a sacrifice, to ensure winter doesn't last forever. When the Goblin King takes Liesl's sister, she must get her back.

This story is dark and haunting. It is filled with superstitions and magic and music. It is everything you could want in the truest sense of old faerie tales, the Brothers Grimm versions - not Disney's. While I realize this book is labeled as a YA, I don't feel that it is. The Goblin King is seductive. He teases and lures and tempts every chance he gets, which causes delicious tension in the book, but I think it's more for older high school students. It's definitely not for middle school students.

As I read this story, I was reminded of pieces of other stories. After I read it, I saw someone else's review that felt the same way and listed all the ones that came to their mind as they read (including a couple of Greek myths). I agreed with every one, so it wasn't just me who picked up on it. It isn't that Jae-Jones' tale is an imitation of others. I just think she took the best parts of what makes an excellent faerie tale and wove them together with her own beautiful prose. And it is beautiful prose. And beautiful music. And a beautiful Goblin King.

(Sigh.)

Okay, moving on...

The Not-So-Good

In case you haven't guessed from previous posts, I have little respect for Stephenie Meyers as a writer. Yes, I read the Twilight Saga because my daughters (when they were teenagers) asked me to read them. This was before the movies ever came out. I thought Meyers writing was pretty bad, and I felt the only messages young girls would ever get from those books were the wrong ones: A man defines you, you're nothing without a man, your only goals should be to get a man, and girls are supposed to whine A LOT.

So, you can imagine my reluctance to read The Host for a book club book. My friend, who chose the book, knows how I feel about Meyers, but asked me to read it anyway and give her an honest opinion. I read the entire book, all 620 pages, and here is my honest opinion:

The story, at its core, is a good science fiction tale. It even makes you ponder life questions. The problem is Meyers can't get out of her own way. If a good editor took out about 300 pages, like less whining and misplaced sarcasm and banter between characters where it doesn't belong, it would be a decent story. Heck, maybe even a good one. And I say that as someone who was raised on "Star Trek" and "The Twilight Zone" (and I love both), but sci-fi is far from being my favorite reading genre. However, I appreciate a good story of any kind. Meyers had a good base, she just lost it in too many meaningless words.

So, as my husband always asks me, when I'm trying to decide if something was worth my time,...

"Was the juice worth the squeeze?"

"Ummm...no."

It was not worth 620 pages to try to find a decent, base storyline. However, was it worth it to read 620 pages because a friend ask me to and wanted me to give an honest opinion and trusted me to do that? Yes. Yes, it was. And I do believe, whole-heartedly, that if you choose to belong to a book club YOU SHOULD READ THE BOOK.

And now? On to another book...

Happy reading!!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Cedar, Summer, and Shakespeare

It is difficult, in my opinion, to find good books for middle school students, especially middle school students who struggle to read well and feel they hate reading altogether. If I didn't believe, in my heart of hearts, that it is impossible for someone to hate reading, I wouldn't teach. What I do believe is that someone who thinks they hate to read just hasn't been guided down the right path for him or her. I believe there is a book out there, somewhere, that will unlock the door to that student's curiosity. If you can pull them in that way, a student is more likely to make the effort it takes to overcome his/her struggle with reading to satisfy their curiosity. 

There are far too many boring or inappropriate books in middle school for children who are truly eleven and twelve years of age, in my opinion. And by 'truly', I mean students who are the typical reading level and maturity of that age. Don't get me wrong, for voracious, high level readers that will absorb almost anything in their path (like me), finding a book in a middle school library is not a daunting task at all. Those types of students walk into the library and hear book angels singing! (I should know, I hear them, too.) 
The thing is, those aren't the students I need to reach the most. Those children are already on their own path of self-discovery. They love to talk about books with me that we've read and share an interest in together. 

What I need, for my struggling students, are good books that are interesting, but not too difficult. I need books that aren't set in a faraway country with strange names and descriptions, or in a fantasy kingdom with a made-up language, that are too long and complicated for a struggling reader. I also need novels that a student, who is not a native English speaker, can understand without having to study the history of something to grasp the meaning.

What I need are more books like Summerlost by Ally Condie!






I don't hesitate to tell you that this book is perfectly wonderful. The great thing about Summerlost (aside from an awesome title and beautiful cover) is it would interest readers of all ages from fifth grade on up. It's...just a really good book. I completely enjoyed it! As a teacher of reading, though, I couldn't help but notice all the great things about it that make it a good book for middle school strugglers. The chapters are short, the flow of the book never drags, there are equal amounts of action, dialogue, and lovely shades of deep meaning. By "shades of deep meaning," I mean there are poignant moments that are perfectly time and don't go on and on, but the meaning goes straight to the heart. You feel it.

As for the story itself, it's a tale of a girl named Cedar Lee who is trying to put her life back together. As the novel begins, the reader finds that Cedar's father and little brother were killed in a tragic car accident over a year ago. Cedar and her mother and other little brother have bought a summer home in the small town where her mother grew up. It isn't that the family is rich, far from it. It's that her mother bought the property with insurance money (from the accident) to be near her extended family, to help heal and repair her own. The intent is to rent the property out during the school year to college kids and use it for her family in the summer (Cedar's mom is a teacher).

The story revolves around Cedar's summer activities, her thoughts, her new found friendships, and trying to sort out all the things that twelve-year-olds try to sort out in their heads. A big part of the story revolves around Cedar working at the local Summerlost Shakespeare Festival, where she dresses up in Old English clothes and sells theatre programs. There is also a local mystery she tries to solve with her new friend, Leo, which is an interesting side-story that helps drive the plot.

There are equal amounts of humor, sarcasm, action, and heart felt moments in this novel. It's been a long time since I've found one I like this much that I feel is appropriate for my sixth graders. In fact, I love it so much I've ordered ten more hardcover copies to start a book club with it. Yes, it's that good, and it deserves a small following of faithful students that will spread the word like wildfire. This spark deserves to be fanned into a bonfire!

So, if you're looking for a great book for middle school students, no matter the reading level, this book is what you need. Or, if you're just looking for a really good book for yourself as a "tweener" (that's what I call smaller books I read between bigger novels), this one definitely fits the bill. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to any adult who loves a good story and would like to be reminded what twelve felt like once-upon-a-time. It is a lovely book.

And...

In case you're wondering why I added an extra post this past week, I've had a bit more time for reading and blogging. I've been on Spring Break this past week, and it has been wonderful! I decided to enjoy a "staycation" this year, as I'm saving up for some big trips this summer. I couldn't have asked for a better week. The weather has been a little bit of everything I like, and a whole lot of what I love. My husband and I have done some fun things in our own local area, and we've visited with friends and family we love. It's been an all around great week!

I hope everything is wonderful wherever you are, and I hope you're finding great things to read and feed your brain!

Happy Spring!