cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

VayCay Away


Summer vacation is one of the perks of teaching. That punchline answer of what’s the favorite part about teaching–June, July, and August–has some truth to it.

I didn’t go into teaching because of summer vacation.* Summer vacation is a lovely benefit after months and months of —oops, I digress. Today’s post involves the art of the StayCay Away. Yes, it’s a sub-category of that recent trend of staying at home while vacationing.

I am not a traveler, although I have done the Lucy Room with a View Europe trip (husband hunting did not occur, although my paradigm did shift about what it means to be American), and I’ve done the exotic locale trip–both the Bahamas and Hawaii (love the ocean, hate the looonnng plane trip). I’ve done short border jaunts to another country: Canada and Mexico. I’ve even done the opposite coast conference trip–twice. Not a lot of traveling, but enough to be able to state that I like staying at home when I vacation.

What is there not to like? I have all my comforts: bed, refrigerator, backyard hammock, and closet (I tend to bring the wrong clothes when traveling). Okay, yeah, it does get a bit tedious the day after day routine of same walls, nagging urge to weed and dust (I thought I was on vacation), so this is when the StayCay Away activates. I pack up and head to Mom’s.

This is not going home. This is going to her condo that she uses only a couple of weeks out the year because she lives year round in the desert (the things we do for marriage), but can’t quite give up the place. I have a key.

A day’s drive, and I have a homish away from home. It’s in my old neighborhood, all the amenities of fridge, recliner, the library is next door, and a pool (something I definitely don’t have at home, and swimming in the lake is not an option). I still pack the wrong clothes, but that gives me an excuse to go shopping.

The hubs stays home. Two days of nothing to do but read books creates restlessness. And that’s what I do at my Away VayCay: I read. And read. The library has a Friends of the Library corner where books range from 35 cents to 50 cents for really great reads. I bring in five dollars and a book bag and load up on classics, contemporary bestsellers, and let’s-take-a-chance titles, plus a few for the classroom library.

In between reading I visit friends and family**, watch a couple of movies, take long walks, and think about not eating since I hope to lose five pounds by not having much food in the refrigerator. Reading is a form of hunger suppressant. Movies require snacks.

The StayCay Away helps me appreciate Home when I return because I really am I homebody at heart–Dorothy knew what she was talking about.

So a vacation where it’s a lot like home works well for me.

Anyone else have a StayCay Away to share?

*That’s for any parents or students reading this post.

**Just in case friends and family read this post–you really are my first priority.

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Debatables: Will the Real Willy Wonka Stand Up?


The amazingly talented, and quite hilarious, Mike Allegra and I have taken our pundits and sparring to a new level. At Mike’s suggestion we will periodically run a post called Debatables in which we spar about topics related, or mostly related to literature.

Our first round involves Willy Wonka. Yes, the lovable chocolatier of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl who became the lead character of two film adaptations of Dahl’s book.

I took the stance that Gene Wilder is the better Wonka, while Mike insisted Johnny Depp is the Wonka man.

Check out our lively discussion and even livelier responses at Mike’s website.

Make sure to check out the posts, and you can also leave your comments here.

This is THE Wonka. Right?

Reading Roundup: June


Summer began for me once I posted grades and locked my classroom door. I don’t travel much except for a weekend trip here and there to visit with family. I used to be embarrassed when I would state my main delight for summer is to read. Surprisingly, that response actually gets nods of approval, almost a smidgen of admiration or envy. Of course I could merely reading into their reactions.

To prepare for my readerly adventure, I start checking off my TBR list, and then grab my books to stretch out in my hammocks–one for the shade and one in the sun. Depends on my mood and the weather.

The Goodreads tally keeper notes I read a total of 14 books in June, if the one rollover title from May to June counts as a June read. That’s a calculation of 4,350 pages or roughly 310 pages per average. I tend to feel a wee bit of fudging occurs when reading children’s books (no shame there) because they are often under 200 pages, then again some books I grab off the shelf weigh in over 400 pages. It tends to balance out.

With such a variety of reads that visited my book bag last month, I thought I would highlight the genres covered:

Children’s

image:Goodreads

Newberry Honor books such as Blue Willow by Doris Gates espouse the ideals of the American Dream: benefit from the fruits of honest work. Janey lives the rough life of an itinerant family who is one step from financial disaster as they move from one harvest to the next. Scant of possessions, yet brimming with hope, Janey longs for a real home, one where she can display her treasure: her mother’s willow plate, a symbol of happier times past, and a promise for better days ahead.

Considering its publish date of 1940, the story still holds interest as it touches on the need to belong and to rise above circumstances. 5 stars

image: Goodreads

Rarely do books that stir up applause, glowing reviews, and generate a movie actually merit those expectations. Wonder does and it is one of the most authentic, genuine stories I’ve come across in a very long time.

Very deserving of its praise. August and his family, along with his friends, create a hope people can learn to get beyond initial first impressions. 5 stars

Inspirational

image: Goodreads

Lisa Wingate knows how to weave a layered story. In this first installment of the Carolina series the plot revolves around Tandi as she tries to rebuild her life. She runs out of gas at the place of happier times, the Hatteras islands, and lives hand to mouth with her two children.

Tandi’s life begins to change for the better when she begins cleaning out the house of her recently deceased landlady, Iola Pool. Tandi comes across Iola’s prayer boxes and gathers strength from Iola’s letters to God.

A story that speaks to the importance of family and friends, and embracing opportunities.

A bit spotty in some of the backstory, otherwise enriching in how faith can change lives. 4 stars

image: Goodreads

Although touted as a retelling of the well-known tale of Aladdin, Melanie Dickerson’s The Orphan’s Wish is more of a reinvention of the classic story. The story takes Aladdin, an orphan who is taught to steal, and transplants him in Germany. From there Aladdin is immersed in a story of trying to overcome his lower status in order to marry his lifelong friend, Lady Krysten. Rescued by a priest, Aladdin faithfully serves God, as do the majority of the characters.

While the story had the potential of being engaging, with all the elements of a intriguing romance, it falls into telling the reader instead of allowing the story to unfold. The characters are flat, as is the dialogue, making it difficult to invest completely in this happily-ever-after story.

The overall plot is fairly predictable, yet provides enough plot twist to carry out the anticipated ending. Those who appreciate fairy tales will enjoy Dickerson’s offering. 3 stars

Received from Thomas Nelson in exchange for a fair review.

Adult

image: Goodreads

Note: Sometimes I succumb to reading the “popular” book. *sigh*

Intense. It felt like I was reading a Hitchcock script with all the under plots and red herrings thrown about. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the characters and ended up skipping through the middle. Rachel was so totally pathetic it became a chore to read her portion. Megan proved to be a disappointment and I felt no sympathy for her. The men definitely had flaws. Even the baby was fussy.

So, I can say I mostly read this book, but do not fill enriched for doing so. I will not bother with the movie.

*another sigh*

image: Goodreads

I made two mistakes reading Olive Kitteridge. The first was thinking it would be like those other curmudgeon novels, ones that portrayed a cranky elderly person with a rim of diamonds that flashed in certain moments. This was my impression having read the reader’s guide first, the “interview” with Elizabeth Strout, Olive, and a nameless Random House Reader’s Circle guide. Olive came off as sassy, opinionated, and singular. Yet, this was no Ove, Major Pettigrew, or even Miss Read. As I got into the stories, as this is not a novel, I realized that Olive has some serious issues. She might be a sociopath even. And that was my second mistake. I thought since it received a Pulitzer Prize, Olive Kitteridge would be a worthy read of merit.

Ah-yuh. Apparently, I was mistaken.

Classic

image: Goodreads

Mary Stewart’s suspenseful mysteries with a dash of romance and a flair for adventure in exotic places does not fail to be a go to when looking for a casual read. A perfect hammock companion. Even though the dialogue and situations are a bit dated, the plot is still enthralling, if not surprising at times.

Nonfiction

image: Goodreads

The Princess Bride is inconceivably one of the best discoveries I made in college. William Goldman’s book was so amazing I boycotted Rob Reiner’s film when it came out. I did. Why? How could the film do the book justice? Convinced it couldn’t, I refused to watch it for years and years. Why did I wait so long?

The film is a classic now, of course. All those characters: Buttercup, Inigo, Max, Fezzik, Westley, and all those lines “As You Wish” to “Have fun storming the castle” represent a whole generation who have enjoyed this fairytale which is suffused with romance and adventure.

Cary Elwes, who played Westley, presents a loving tribute to the film in his memoir. If you enjoy featurettes, those behind the scenes peeks, then this is the book to sit down with to gain more info about the who and how of Princess Bride.

Sincere, enlightening, filled with quotes from the principal actors as well as the director and producer, As You Wish provides fans, and those who are sure to become fans, more about a film that is now part of the culture.

The book so inspired me I promptly checked out the movie to specifically watch for all those insights Elwes mentions. Fortunately, a copy was in. I decided to reread Goldman’s classic tale, but unfortunately it was not available. Oh, the waiting is inconceivably prolonged agony of anticipation.

Word Nerd Confessions: July


I do indeed love words. Discovering a new-to-me word makes my day shine a bit brighter. I store that word away, like a hamster discovering a tasty morsel, I grab it up and stuff it in my little pouch for later. And what’s so cool, is how that word pops out out of my pouch unexpectedly in the right place, in the right way. Well, mostly. I tend to suffer from cacoepy–that’s another post in of itself.

I have been storing up words ever so long I need to do something with them. They are absolutely stacking up and creating a bit of dilemma of storage. My plan is to trot out a few choice words each month. If you have a word to share, please do.

armamentarium

I long to use this word, yet fear my tongue would trip dramatically over its pronunciation.

flexitarian

This is me! I’m thoroughly perplexed by all the varieties of eating preferences these days, not relating to locavore, vegan, and such–but veggies with a tad of animal (just a tad) is fine and dandy.

transmundane

As a Who-ligan, I can relate to going where no person has gone before. Warm up the tardis, Doc.

benedict

Are you kidding me? Do people know about this one? Did they tease Cumberbatch when he got married?

 

 

 

Why We Say: #35 (finale)


Alas–we have come to the last page of Why We Say. Over the past couple of years I trotted out some of the odd little expressions we say enhanced by the odd little explanations of this odd little book published in 1953. Some of the explanations were as amusing of the featured expressions.

And so, the last four entries consist of:

Worsted

While worsted sounds like a judgmental critique, it’s actually a material, a fabric made from wool and is used in tailored garments such as suits, carpets, gloves, and other clothing. It is known for its ability to be resilient and recovery well, meaning durability and wrinkle-resistant. We may not go around speaking great volumes about worsted, it is notable that it is actually the name of the town it originated from: Worstead, England. Incidentally, the archaic reference of worsted is “stuff.” I wonder if the Right Stuff  meant NASA space suits were wool.

 

Yankee
Here are some theories about this word that is a slang reference to Americans:
1. It is derived from “yonokie” which is supposedly Indian (tribe not designated) for “silent” and this would be a bit of  joke since the English were considered quite talkative.
2. Another theory is that “yankee” comes from “yengee” a form of “English” or “Anglais.”
3. There is also the thought it is a corruption of “Jannee” which is a form of John in Dutch, since many settlers in the New York area were of Dutch origin.

Researching to verify the theories proposed by Why We Say leads to the conclusion no one really knows how and where the saying originated.  If you know, drop me a comment. In the mean time, enjoy this cartoon:

Yellow (as in coward)
To be yellow is to be associated with being a coward, or to be weak. We look to France for one source, which claims the doorways of traitors were painted yellow. (Yikes, I once painted our house yellow. Whatever did our neighbors think?). Another source says Spain because those being executed for treason were given robes of yellow. (No yellow robes in my wardrobe).

I associate the expression “yellow-bellied” with Yosemite Sam. Alas, I could not find a clip where he utters the phrase “Why, you yellow-bellied coward!” but I did find one where he dances and thought that merited a post.

 

It’s been a fun run with this feature. Not wanting to disappoint followers and fans, I have found another source. Stay tuned…

 

 

A Shout Out for Leisurely Reading


After Tuesday June 12th my door to summer vacation fully opened. “I have no definite plans,” is my reply when asked, “What are you doing over the summer?”

I don’t know what the reaction would be if I gave an honest answer. You see as a Book Booster, I love reading ❤️ with big hearts of appreciation for the absolute joy books bring.

Reading through my subscribed blogs, I hang out with a plethora of other WordPress bloggers who love reading also, such as littlemisswoodsreads. Scrolling through her reasons for reading, I added my own for why I love to read. It has to do with reconnecting.

Even though the majority of my day is interacting with my students, I do spend a considerable amount of time with the computer. Grading, emails, lesson plans, PPT lecture enhancements are all part of the day. By the time I get home I am wanting a break from screens and keyboards.

After a brief walk around the block to get my physical reboot, I head for my library book bag, grab a selection, and find a comfy chair. Reading helps my mind unwind.

After an hour or so I begin to feel back in alignment: my body is tuned from its walk, and my mind has gone through its paces with a chapter or three.

Reading, paper in hand, both stimulates and relaxes my brain after a day of working with the computer screen. Kindle doesn’t cut it since glass doesn’t stimulate connectivity to the brain. Good old paper in hand. A prescription for defragmentation of tech stress.

To celebrate my kick off to summer reading, I am rebooting my Book Boosters feature. Click on the link and connect with other readers, find that simpatico, discover new blogs, collect my TBRs. Add your name in comments if you want to join the list of fellow love-books-readers.

Oh I do love my summertime of leisurely reading.

How about you–what books do you find yourself reading during the summer? Do you have special places, special times set aside for reading?

Reading Round Up: May


May provided a mixture of titles. It was a grab and go find time to read as the month was filled with AP testing and finishing up curriculum units. Brain in a blender is how I refer to those mad days of teaching in overdrive mode. Sometimes it’s difficult finding enough energy to peruse a few pages without falling asleep. Book whap in the face is embarrassing.

Greenwillow by B.J. Chute

An enchanting tale with a warmth about it that makes it suitable for a cozy wintertime fireside session or as a drowsy summer hammock companion.

Reminiscent of Tuck Everlasting in how true love is shadowed by a family curse, with a bit of the charm found in D. E. Stevenson’s novels. Gently told and full of quaint characterization and imagery. I hope to find other novels by the author. A delightful five star read.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

A bit of Benjamin Button mashed with Dr Who timey-wimey stuff. The idea of someone who ages incredibly slow is intriguing as it has so many plot possibilities. Unfortunately, most of the story centers on how miserable Tom Hazard is concerning his condition. He is over 400 years old though he looks to be in his forties. Falling in love is problematic, as is staying in one place for more than eight years. The flip flop of Tom’s backstory mixed with present day is the stuff of novels these days, so that wasn’t the issue as much as the over-dramatic ending with serious plot holes. The overall premise is quite clever, the storyline fairly entertaining despite Tom’s grousing. The inclusion of Shakespeare garnered the four stars, otherwise a middling three.

First Impressions by Debra White Smith

While some readers may appreciate yet another spin off of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it is a universal truth that providing a refreshing retelling is difficult. This is the case for First Impressions by Debra White Smith, who begins her series of Austen retellings with the familiar love story of Darcy and Elizabeth. White attempts to freshen up the story by placing it in a contemporary Texas small-town. Some of the characters have changed, yet not so much for the better. Darcy is Dave, a millionaire hiding from his fame, Elizabeth is Eddi, a sassy lawyer, Jane is Jenny, ambivalent about the men in her life, and Bingley is Calvin, endearing, yet somewhat bumbling in his attempts at admiring Jenny. Lydia is Linda, the promiscuous sister. The Bennett parents still play their assigned roles of mother with no filter and passive father. The other two sisters didn’t make the cast. Wickham is a police officer gone wrong, and Connor becomes the awkward smitten cousin. Overall, the dialogue and attempts to match key dialogue and plot points comes off forced, such as making Connor a third cousin, with several reminders that it’s okay to marry cousins in Texas.

Retelling such a well-known story can be problematic, partly since readers have high expectations the characters and plot will provide similar vitality. Unfortunately, First Impressions did not impress, and it is with regret, as it held promise in its chosen format, but tried too hard to emulate Austen’s story and earns a two star.

The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrell

Piper loses her best friend Lydia, and is determined to find out what happened to her. This is no easy task for an eighteen year old society girl living the crime-prone era of 1920’s Chicago. As Piper begins her investigation into Lydia’s disappearance, she begins to jeopardize her own safety. Fast-paced, with notable era details, this is an engaging read. Odd, that it is labeled as a YA, since its history-mystery format is more inclined towards an adult audience interest-wise.

One off-putting aspect of the novel is the way Piper is presented: tomboyish, clever, yet emotionally immature. Her overly-dramatic behavior makes her seem much younger than eighteen, more like fifteen, which makes it surprising that a mature police detective like Mariano would be interested in her. The ending definitely hints at sequels, as there are a couple of loose ends that need attention. A four star in spite of Piper’s tendency towards being irritating in her enthusiasm in solving problems.

Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell

One of those books that turn out to be a not what I thought after reading a trade review. I liked the cover and was initially persuaded this would be quirky graphic novel. The idea intrigued me of illustrating published stories, a blending of text and visual interpretation. Somehow the stories didn’t quite work. The art kind of did. But they didn’t necessarily work together. “Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m.” is the best pick–fresh and funny. A middling three. A side note is that Niffenegger is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

After next week I am free to read anytime I care to since school obligations will be over. I already went shopping at the library and have a shelf of reads ready to go. I look forward to feasting with my reading sessions instead of the peck and nibble I contend with. As much as I enjoy teaching, it does get in the way of my reading.

Happy June–the gateway to summer. Aah, yes…

book cover images: Goodreads

hammock image: Pinterest

Movie Musings: The Crown


Oh, those royals. They are always in the news. From wedding bliss to adorable Charlotte pics they somehow beguile us. At least they beguile me.

Maybe my interest, bordering on fascination, with the royals stems from my Bardinator status, that compelling need to embrace the world of Shakespeare. Part of Shakespeare’s world is Queen Elizabeth I. Without Good Queen Bess’s nod of approval to Shakespeare’s acting troupe, the world might not have been influenced by his wordsmithing.

Becoming smitten with QEI wasn’t difficult-wow, whatta monarch. Patron of the arts, survivor of parental malpractice, as well as sibling rivalry to a dangerous maximum, she led troops against the Spanish Armada, turned down marriage for the good of her country, and ruled the most powerful country at a time when women were considered property. And yes, I have watched the adaptations of her life. My pick is Helen Mirren.

I also pick Helen for her portrayal of the current Elizabeth. It’s always been risky to present suppositions of living persons, especially ones as iconic as Britain’s current monarch: Elizabeth II. Yet, Mirren’s portrayal provided sensitivity and respect which is credit to her abilities as an actress.

This is why it was with difficulty I finally succumbed to watching The Crown. First of all, Buckingham palace isn’t known for leaking royal tidbits, so I sensed there would be much embellishment about presenting the private moments of Elizabeth as she began her long and unexpected reign.

My verdict? Stunning production. Five stars for the lavish attention to details to create impressive time period background. Four stars for acting in totality. Matt Smith stepping from Doctor Who into Prince Philip barely toned down his man-child persona and comes across as a sulking bad boy. Claire Foy, an unknown to me, interprets her role as the young queen being perpetually surprised, or that’s what her subdued reaction to the antics of husband, sister, and world events registers as: a demure deer caught in the headlights. Then again, she doesn’t have much to go on. It must be awkward to represent someone so well-known but so unknowable.

In rating the storyline, the first season drops down to a two out of five stars. So much drama. Too much in the way of soap opera hysterics. Clandestine love affairs, political intrigue, marriage trauma–it became mundane watching the script try to spice up gathered intel on the Windsors. I felt like I was watching a lavish gossip magazine story: all glitter, without substance.

As much as there is not like about season one, I am queuing for my turn for the library’s copy of season two. I am still wondering why. Then again, there is something about those royals.

Are any of you royal watchers?

A Cat Named Atticus


I will admit it: I am officially in countdown mode. 

Once Memorial Day weekend arrives it’s just a matter of reviewing for finals and finalizing grades. 

This is also the time of year that I begin to reflect upon the overall. The usual introspective “Was I effective as a teacher?” thing that often ends up with the “Maybe I should look into retirement” nudges.

Yes, there were plenty of successes: students embracing the new research paper format; scores for state testing going beyond stated requirements (at least in one class); finding lost papers.

Yet, I dwell upon those perceived failures: that one class, that one student, that one unit that didn’t quite, that didn’t quite–that, well, wasn’t quite a success.

Maybe retirement would be a good idea.

Thoughts like that prompt me towards a library run and lunch out. And that’s when I am handed a providential reprieve. 

In a small town like ours it is inevitable I run into students, both present and former. They bag my groceries, fill up my water glass, complete my Penney’s purchase, and serve my food. This one I couldn’t remember her name, or if I actually had her as a student. So I feign the friendly, “Hey, how’s it going?” 

Then the question pops up: “Do you still teach English?” 

I guess I do look like I’m retired. We talk as she wraps up my purchase. She was in my class when I taught freshmen (that was a ways back). I wonder silently if she gained anything from the class. Five years ago…That’s going back a ways. Then she says, “I remember we read To Kill a Mockingbird.” I wait for her reflection, her possible judgement. “I named my cat Atticus.”

A cat named Atticus. 

Yup, I can put off retirement for at least one more year.


image:sportsmagazine.net

A Librarian/Teacher View on #metoo


Image: Etsy.com (vintage book cover)


Although I am a bonafide English teacher, I remain a librarian at heart and keep an invested interest in matters of school and public libraries. This month’s School Library Journal ran an article on how the #metoo movement has affected the juvenile literature world with the news of authors Jay Asher, James Dashner, and Sherman Alexie’s admissions and accusations. One result of these disclosures is for many librarians to contemplate whether the books of these authors should be pulled from shelves. Bill Cosby’s Little Bill picture book series is part of this conversation.

Banning, censoring–controversial terms that create a myriad of reactions. When books or the authors of books come into question, often the reaction is to pull, box up, and cleanse in the name of protecting young minds and upholding values. This is can become problematic.

At the public library level the response I usually observed was to ride the tide–if patrons objected to the material they had the option of not checking it out. Simple and neat. As one librarian noted: considering Hitler’s atrocities against humans should Mein Kampf remain on the shelf? If you don’t want to read hi as book, then don’t.

Somehow this philosophy of ignore and move on changes when it comes to material found on school library shelves. Social commentary and opinion frequently challenge books based on content, as To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, Fahrenheit 451 and other novels fall under scrutiny depending on public mood and cultural times. Yet, this new round of challenging is based on the behavior and actions of the authors, not the content of their books. Their objectionable behavior is in question, as rightly it should be, especially in these times of sensitivity upon the rights of individuals. Young readers aren’t necessarily going to be politically minded when they go to select a book to read. But their parents often are. 

I find it interesting that distance tends to soften outrage. Charles Dickens led two lives, all the while perpetuating Victorian values of domestic happiness, yet we embrace his books and promote them in our literature courses. Oscar Wilde was jailed for his preferences, and his books are not abandoned. Ernest Hemingway, well-known for his womanizing, is still part of the recommended literary canon. 

For me, as a teacher with a librarian’s directives, who is also a writer, I am reflecting on the responsibility I have as I recommend books to my students and as I write them. The #metoo movement, as it drifts over to the literary world, is certainly setting up a new awareness of the impact of words. 

What are reader thoughts on pulling books from shelves in light of the conduct of the authors?

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