cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Book Boosters”

Reading Round Up: December


Reading is my go-to for stress relief. And December is stressful. Some of you know what I’m talking about. Especially if you either teach or are a student or are a parent with children in school. Or are a person just dealing with the holiday rush. That about cover everyone? I suggest reading to calm that December tension. Here are my highlights. BtW: I read everything. I volunteer at our library when I have time and shelve books. Somehow I always end up with the children’s cart. I usually take home a couple. Channeling that inner child? Umm, how about it’s work-related research? I like to think I’m staying informed of what my students read.

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Excellent. Uniquely presented and memorable. The old story of two misfits by society’s standards gets a new fit as the Kevin the Freak(y) little brain teams up with Max the Mighty (big kid). Middle schoolers will gain from this book that there is so much more to first appearances. Those who appreciated Wonder will add Freak the Mighty to their list.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It’s understandable why this is a Newberry Honor book. A WWII story with a different lens, one dialed in on looking at how some people are survivors in a different type of war. Ada is a survivor, and this is her story.

Set in Kent, England just as the war is starting, Ada and her brother Jamie are evacuees and slowly learn what love is once they are taken in by Susan, a survivor in her own manner.

The rushed ending prevents this being a solid 5 star review; however, it is a story of recommendation.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Another heartbreaking story from Gary Schmidt.

In this one, Jack tells Joseph’s story because Jack has Joseph’s back in more ways than one. Jack is able to convey well Joseph’s pain at being separated from what he cares for in life, and Schmidt relates Joseph’s emotional and physical travail through Jack’s honest observations. While there are moments of happiness, much of the story dwells on the sad, thought-provoking life of Joseph who is among the growing number of characters Schmidt portrays as having abusive fathers, and trying to make the best out of hard situations.

Schmidt’s storylines are reminiscent of Chris Crutcher’s penchant for telling hard stories about kids who need a break in life. But without the swearing.

The Happy Bookers by Richard Armour

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Armour, a prolific punster of over 50 books, creates a light-hearted history of the librarian. Written in 1976, it’s a tribute to celebrating the double anniversary of the American Library Association and the Dewey Decimal system.

Interwoven in all the puns are history nuggets about the library and their keepers. It is difficult not to laugh out loud at some of the humor. People overhearing your snickers will want to know what’s so funny. Save time and hand them the book to enjoy.

Julie by Helen Markley Miller

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Julie fits in well with other titles focused on young women who have to make adjustments to a new environment, such as Kirby Larson’s Hattie Big Sky. Centered on the growing town of Twin Falls, Idaho, Miller tells the story of how sixteen year old Julie traveled with her father from the comforts of family life in Iowa to start a new life out west.

Full of lively dialogue and characterization, readers come to appreciate this story of how a town grow up out of the desert, and a young girl grew up to become a young woman of dreams, yet have her feet planted firmly in Idaho soil.

Twisted Tales From Shakespeare by Richard Armour

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Irresistible. Seriously, Shakespeare shouldn’t be taken as seriously as he tends be. After all, he knew how to have pun with words. Richard Armour also knows his way around puns and takes on Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and Othello and paraphrases these well-known plays with wit and plenty of wordplay.

A gem of amusement of both students and scholars. A four only because some of the punnery became a wee bit extreme. I can mock fun of Shakespeare just so much. I am a Bardinator after all.

I hope one of the listed titles intrigues you, and I am open to suggestions. I am always scouting out other reader blogs.

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Reading Roundup: November


The flurry of December’s Debatable Reindeer vs Penguin sidelined my usual attention to reviewing previous monthly reads. Here’s the scoop for November:

Pilgrim’s Progress by Gary Schmidt

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic appreciated for its allegory of the walk one makes in faith and belief. It would be difficult to improve upon it, yet Gary Schmidt creates a version for contemporary audiences that deserves noted acclaim for keeping the original message intact while providing a more approachable format.

Barry Moser’s agreeable, stunning watercolor illustrations aptly and deftly accompany Schmidt’s retelling.

Appropriate for middle readers, yet probably more appreciated by adults who remember the original Bunyan version.

Nowhere to be Found by Emily Thomas

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Irresistibly drawn to series that combines creating a library in a renovated house plus a cozy mystery. An enjoyable, undemanding read that combines Christian values with a well-paced plot.

Whisper by Lynette Noni

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is one of those books that is so captivating that finding a place to bookmark for the night is difficult. Best to start earlier than later in the day.

The first 100 pages are spellbinding. Jane, as in Jane Doe, a young woman is being held prisoner in a secret facility. She suffers silently because she refuses to speak to anyone. This is not only because of sheer determination, but because JD is afraid to do so. In her case, words do have power.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It’s a quick, quiet, uneventful cadence of vignettes with the theme of a grandmother and her young granddaughter circumnavigating each other’s quirks while living on an island for the summer. Being Finnish in original intent changes some of the dynamics of the characters, yet the bond between the adult and child holds well.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written by a son and mother team, this is #8 in an ongoing series about Bess Crawford, a nurse who likes to solve mysteries.

An intriguing idea to have a WWI nurse solve a tangled mystery involving a wounded soldier of dubious identity. Unfortunately, the plot becomes muddled with confusing details such as too many suspects with similar names, and the device of Bess, the protagonist, running around annoying people with her questions while healing from her wounds received at the front. The mystery itself proved intriguing, yet the solving was drawn out

much too long. The characters are agreeable and the writing is accomplished enough to look into other books in the series at some point.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

One problem with experiencing the movie before the book is that so many book scenes become overlaid with cinematic scenes. Clare is Rachel McAdams and Henry is Eric Bana while I read and I’m annoyed when the author changes things up character and plot wise. Then again, she had it all mapped out first. Lesson: read the book first.

Review wise: interesting beginning, muddled middle, and melodramatic ending. Not a romance book fan, and without the time traveler gimmick this would not have kept my attention, as the plot device of a woman constantly waiting for her ideal man to return to her is a metaphorical irritation after awhile.The swearing and sex scenes detracted instead of added to the plot. At one point the characters ask if their sex life is normal. Well, if you have to ask…

Alba, their daughter, makes it worthwhile to finish out the ending. I’m rooting for a sequel with Alba working out her own time traveling agenda.

Author Spotlight: Ezra Jack Keats


Back when I began college, I enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program because I could earn an AA after studying little kids for two years. One of my better education decisions.

One of the highlights of the program was Children’s Literature. No kidding. The class was all about reading books for children. Every children’s writer should take such a class. We learned all about what makes for a successful children’s book, read all kinds of books, even learned how to run a proper story time. There is an art to reading a book out loud. I am so ready for the day when my book gets published and the local librarian invites me in to read it to wiggling masses of kiddos. That day isn’t quite here, but my AA in ECE has me primed and ready.

One author I briefly remember studying was Ezra Jack Keats. Mike Allegra’s recent Debatable (and *sigh* win) about Peter in The Snowy Day got me reminiscing about my Keats encounters. He wrote several books about Peter, and I remember we studied what a trailblazer he was for his colorful collage style combined with simple, yet meaningful text. There was also the fact that back when Peter first appeared he was among the first picture book characters of cultural diversity. We noted it, but I don’t remember dwelling on it. We instead focused on the appeal of Peter as enjoyed a snowy day, discovering how to whistle, finding goggles–just enjoying being a nice kid growing up with friends and family in the city.

One thing we didn’t touch on was Ezra Jack Keats. Looking him up, yah, Mike got me curious. I was surprised. I had made assumptions, and Chef Boyardee did I learn a lot. This article presents Keats so much better than I can. He is definitely an author deserving a spotlight.

So–go enjoy your inner child and read all about Peter. He is Macy’s Parade balloon worthy–almost as much as Tigger.

Reading Round Up: October


There is an unmitigated pleasure about fall sneak reading whilst propped in a backyard hammock. Bundling up against the wisp of autumnal breeze as it tries to nip at exposed flanks, the remaining warmth of the retiring sun definitely adds to the pleasure of a good read.

October marks the acknowledgment that summer reading as ended. By the time I get home from work the backyard is surrendering to shadows and I drag my hammock around on its reluctant stand trying to find patches of sun, reminiscent of a desperate sunflower. The lure of reading outdoors is different to suppress.

Here are October’s picks:

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It comes as a surprise I had not heard of Wallace Stegner until recently. I’m a bit embarrassed by that actually, especially when he is both a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner.

So glad I made the effort. But my first book encounter ended up with three pages in and a return to the book bag.

Spectator Bird remained on my list and while waiting for it to arrive I read All the Live Little Things, the companion novel, which turned well since it helped to understand the back story referenced. Quite the drama, and The Spectator Bird makes all the more sense having read about Joe’s dilemmas with becoming older and living with regrets he can’t or won’t bury.

A definitive story on living the present based on the past.

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Wonderful. Delightful. A novel that I found myself sneaking moments to read while trying to work. Dear Mrs. Bird is wartime drama that has provides lighter moments, providing a terrific balance of humor and stunning realism. WWII novels are thick upon the shelves, yet this debut novel is a stunner in how the details create a sense of being in the moment. Emmy and Bunty need a series, and it’s hoped this is a start.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Recommendations from librarians rarely fail. Knowing I appreciated dystopian genres one of local librarians suggested I find Earth Abides. No easy task. Even with its solid reviews and reputation, I could not land an ILL and ended up reading a free e-book that sorely tried my appreciation of Stewart’s novel due to the numerous transference typos.

Similar to the Omega Man, a pandemic dramatically eradicates the world’s population and one man emerges who will make a difference. This man is Ish. He becomes what he refers to as the last American.

An excellent story, made all the more interesting since the technology is centered on what is available in 1949, the publish date.

All the Live Little Things by Wallace Stegner

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written during the pulsing sixties, Stegner writes of the various ideals that existed together with deft, insightful prose: older establishment meets with hippie youth who mingles with alternative, creative lifestyle who befriends optimistic outlook. It all makes for a memorable, even compelling dramatic story. Joe, a gruff, outspoken literary agent and his forebearing wife, Ruth, escape the hectic city and retire in the placid hills of California. Their peace is shattered by a interloper Peck who becomes the serpent in their garden, as he interacts with each of Joe’s neighbors and touches each of their lives in irrevocable ways.

Stegner’s prose is impressive. Not only does he relate a complicated story, he evokes such smooth passages of imagery that one cannot rush through the story without pausing to savor his craft.

“For a long time that evening we sat on the terrace, while the swallows and later the bats sewed the darkening air together over the oaks…” p. 226

Lovely.

The story tended to switch forward and back in time sequence as Joe related events, which created a somewhat uneven flow of continuity, yet it might have emulated how Joe’s mind switched from present to past as he attempted to reconcile events.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Stewart

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society answers much about the mysterious Mr. Benedict met in the first book of the popular series. While less engaging than the first book, due to a rather boggy middle, the ending once again shows the cleverness of Trenton Lee Stewart.

The Rule of Three by Eric Walters

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The world ends with a whimper, isn’t that what T. S. Eliot suggested? In Eric Walters novel, the first of a series, he explores how this present world might end once computers and other technology shuts off. Adam and his family, along with his neighborhood cope with the aftermath of what appears to be a global EMP strike. A bit bogged down in details, yet this supposition of how people would reaction in such a crisis situation creates an engaging read.

Smile by Raina Telegemeier

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This book was recommended to me by a young patron while I was shelving books at the local library. His enthusiasm and assurance that it was a “very good book” intrigued me enough to check it out.

A memoir of the author who suffered a traumatic ordeal with her teeth as a teen, in the format of a graphic novel, turned out surprisingly better that I anticipated.

My short tour with braces was nothing compared with her procedure! I think tweens going through all the drama of middle school will appreciate Smile as it explores so many other issues besides getting braces.

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

“To much is given, much is required” is aptly applied to this fantasy story where the gifts bestowed upon individuals can provide both life and death to others. Two recipients of these gifts, Selene, who can enter people’s dreams, and Damien, who is able to manipulate water, must determine how their gifts will best benefit the people of their land while they struggle to combat the threat of dark alliances that threaten the overall peace.

Engaging and fast-paced, with an intriguing allegorical theme of choosing darkness or the light, Morgan Busse’s The Ravenwood Saga promises readers a series to anticipate following.

This book was provided by the publisher, and all commentary is mine.

Reading Round Up:September


September began with a long weekend, the last hammock read-in before returning to school.

Book reading is a difficult habit to break, not that I’m looking to do so. Yet, I get paid to teach books, not read books–then again I get to read books in order to teach them. I got this covered.

Reading a book is my go-to as a means of getting my brain to stop jittering after a day of teaching students about how to read, and why they read, and what they read. There are also those essays I need to read about what they have read. After a walk around the block, a snackish dinner, I find myself easing into my nightly routine of my backside cushied into the easy chair, and finding the calm that is derived from turning paper pages of plot. No screen time.

Even with all that goes with my day job, including catching a virus, because I essentially work in a Petri dish, I still managed to read around ten books in September, and what a book bag of goodies! Lots of new-to-me authors as I tackled my TBR.

Recommended:

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Epic hero journeys. Once a checklist theme of classic novels, they are rarely found in today’s novels. Journeys yes. Perhaps a hero is involved. But an impromptu journey of a recently retiree walking over 600 miles to say good bye to a friend in boat shoes? That’s epic and Harold Fry is a new kind of hero.

Such a wonderful story of raw, revealing emotions that it’s hoped a film is not made. Some stories are best read and not viewed.

Recommended for those who enjoy A Man Called Ove and other stories of older citizens who must face their past to order to cope with their present.

I so enjoyed Harold Fry I had to see if Rachel Joyce had more to offer. I then read the companion of Harold’s journey, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, which had its moments, rating of ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️, and that got me wondering about Joyce’s other books, leading me to The Music Shop, a four star only because I am not fond of the f-bomb being tossed around indiscriminately around in a story, which after three novels I found Ms. Joyce seems to prone to do. However, The Music Shop as a story did rate ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Rachel Joyce combines the eighties, vinyl records, and a most amazing love story all intertwined with the joy of music. The assortment of astonishing characters is part of the story’s charm. I discovered many, many songs including the haunting “Beata Viscera.”

Another new author is Trenton Lee Stewart, author of the Mysterious Benedict Society. A delightful find and a solid ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

An orchestral genius of a story. Four children, a mysterious benefactor, a secret plot to overrule the world, nefarious henchmen—wonderful! A debut of creative charm sure to please fans of Narnia, The Phantom Tollbooth, and other books where clever children overcome perplexities and villainous plans.

Julia Stuarts’ quirky The Tower, the Tortoise, and the Zoo rated a ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️–a fun weekend read.

After the tourists leave their gawking of the 900 year old history of the Tower of London, the Beefeaters, those impressive hirsute men of red, and their families, carry on. They cope with round tower living, smoldering rivalries, and the usual oddities that come with a place that has the distinction for being a keeper of the royal jewels, a prison, as well as a zoo from time to time.

Several unusual characters, along with subplots involving relationships and miscommunications, makes for an enjoyable read. Stuart has a way with descriptive phrases that are memorable, such as describing an older gentlemen as having middle age having run through his hair. And the ancient tortoise—a quiet, yet essential character of note.

Other books started out strong, only to fizzle, including the fourth installment of Madeline L’Engles’ A Wrinkle in Time. Many Waters did not live up to the quality of plot and characters of Wrinkle.

Saying farewell to my summer hammock creates a sniffle of sadness, then again reading next to the crackle of a fire with a mug of cocoa laced with shots of peppermint brings out of spark of anticipated happy time.

Author Spotlight: Brian Selznick


I confess: I’m a binger (interestingly spellcheck kept turning that into “bungee”–flexible strength in reading? hmm, maybe…).

Once interested in something I latch on and absorb as much as possible. Sample binges include: Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, the educational geography game, the reboot of Dr Who, and of latest interest, Brian Selznick’s works.

I can’t remember which I read or watched first concerning The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Both the film and the book and the audio book are stand alones, yet complement each other emphatically.

The bonus DVD disc in the audio book is an engaging interview of Selznick explaining his creative process. He is quite personable and his enthusiasm for his craft is inspiring.

The next book I read is his first published title: Houdini’s Box. His understated humor in both his drawings and story are evident and it’s hoped he writes more of these shorter humorous stories.

Selznick’s trademark seems to be a unique approach to storytelling in which it’s a bit of graphic novel, somewhat of a fable in text, that leans toward a wordless flip book. His talent for story and illustration is equally balanced–quite the gift.

Speaking of illustration, Selznick has illustrated for numerous authors besides his own writing, including Ann Martin Pam Muniz Ryan.

Having recently finished Wonderstruck, I, of course, needed to watch the film adaptation. Turns out he wrote the screenplay. This man’s talent and energy is astounding.

I rounded out my reading-fest with The Marvels, which I had mixed feelings about due to the graphic story being far more interesting than the accompanying text. I look forward to his next title.

I came across an enlightening New York Times interview with Selznick that revealed some interesting facts:

  • Yes, that Selznick. He is related to the legendary David O. Selznick of Hollywood fame.
  • Ray Bradbury sent him a fan letter.
  • He researches extensively.
  • Splitting his time between three homes in three different parts of the country is a norm.

If you are not familiar with his works, I suggest starting out with Houdini’s Box, moving onto Hugo (do listen to it while you read it–such a double treat), then watch the Scorsese film of Hugo (the book is the book, the movie is the movie). From there? Explore, enjoy, maybe even binge a little.

Reading Round Up: August


Well, I am going to breeze by my Goodreads goal of 101 books this year. As of August 31 I have read 98 books. I read 21 books in August. I’m almost embarrassed by that statistic. It sounds as if I am holing up surrounded by books and don’t have much of a life.

In my defense, it’s summer and I am on break from school and this is what I do on vacation: read, read, read. It’s difficult to find time once back into the routine of teaching. August also proved difficult for outdoor activities. I did manage to work in the yard on mediocre air quality days and accomplished some projects. I also did some puzzling, and organized my files. What I didn’t do much of was finish up a couple of manuscripts. A big disappointment in that area. The fuzzy grey skies of summer this year definitely affected my creativity’s forward motion.

On the other hand, reading so many books did inspire at least three new story ideas which I framed. Plus, I did manage to send out three projects to assorted editors and agents–planting seeds with a hope of securing interest and contracts.

As for titles read in August…

A mixed shelf of classic and contemporary and genres jumping all over the place.

I began with H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man and ended with Posted by John David Anderson. From “meh” to “wow”–a nice way to end up my summer reading.

I will detail the highs and lows of my summer reading in an upcoming post. If interested in detailed book reviews you can pop over to Goodreads (search: Cricket Muse)or check them out on my full blog site side boxes.

I will miss the lengthy leisure days of reading, yet I am looking forward to passing on my love of books to my students. Hi Ho Hi Ho it’s back to work I go…

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho it's off to work we go

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: February


February briefly held the promise of winter ending and spring arriving. I even had grass in the backyard. Lilac buds. I felt victorious.

Twelve inches of snow later, winter is rebooted. Pardon me while I emit a primal yawp. *YErrrgggh*

My go to option for dealing with this surfeit of snow is to make frequent dashes to the library. Much more fulfilling than dark chocolate. Well, a book lasts longer.

Once again, a fair mix of TBR, recommends, reviews, and discoveries.

First love sometimes feels like it will be the only love. Ever. Rainbow Rowell describes the intensity of that special love through the wondrous tale of Eleanor and Park, two misfits who are perfect fits for each other.

The teaser beginning serves to entice readers to continue reading because there are hints of a tragedy brewing, and as the plot heats up, along with Park and Eleanor’s relationship, a person just has to know how it will all turn out. That makes this a gotta-read -it-in-one-sitting book.

And that’s good writing.

Would have been a fiver, yet the cruelty seemed too much at times for believability.

Reminiscent of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, without the profanity and drama.

I remember the drop under the desk drills in elementary schools. We shivered, crouched like little frogs, not understanding the why of it. As we grew older we felt that nudging threat of the Cold War. Pat Frank’s post apocalyptic novel tentatively answers that concern.

Published in 1959, Frank’s novel prepared readers what happens to civilization after the bomb, in this case, the bombs have dropped. The author’s varied background as government consultant and journalist provides a verisimilitude that is more than believable, it is at times dismaying, yet mostly inspiring. He provides a clear-sighted hopefulness that the human race will continue even when faced with having to start over.

Even though the story takes place in the fifties, it rings too close to the present to be dismissed as being anachronistic. Alas, Babylon is a guidebook to keep on the shelf.

Major Pettigrew, full of old English practicalities at the spry age of 68, contends with several inconveniences as he contemplates his remaining days. One irritant is dealing with the village’s gossipy ladies as his friendship with the attractive widow Mrs Ali changes course. For all their supposed openness the people in his life, including his son Roger, can’t fathom how the major could possibly be interested in this foreign shop keeper.

An endearing character, Major Pettigrew is full of wry quips and commentary as he deals with breaking from expectations and unexpectedly finds love. For those who loved A Man Called Ove, make room for another lovable git.

Hollywood portrays CIA agents as full of action, intense swagger, and having a dedicated skill set. CIA agent Michele Rigby Assad provides a truer portrait in her memoir, Breaking Cover. Her frank, engaging story emphasizes how much time is spent gathering reliable intel and creating a trustworthy network. Car chases and fiery shootouts aren’t mentioned, although trying to survive searing desert heat and daily bombings lend a gritty authenticity. Assad outlines the process of becoming an agent as well as highlights some of her tours in the Middle East. While her tours might not be the stuff of Hollywood, she relates plenty of intense episodes of needing to be the best of her abilities. The fact that she and her husband both worked as agents and are dedicated Christians heightened the overall interest of her time spent in counterterrorism.

The second half of her book brings in the subtitle: My Life in the CIA and What It Taught Me about What’s Worth Fighting For. Having left the CIA, Michele and her Egyptian immigrant husband Joseph became international security consultants. The larger part of this section involves their work with relocating displaced Iraqi Christians (featured as an ABC 20/20 special). Assad’s passion and faith especially comes through as she fought to find a safe refuge for a people under persecution.

Overall, the memoir comes across as genuine and inspiring, and while it’s understandable there might have been restrictions on how much detail she could divulge of her CIA experience, it would have added more to her memoir to have further experiences about being married agents, definitely a unique perspective.

Disclaimer: Tyndale House Publishers provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What titles are keeping you warm this winter?

Reader Round Up: January


January ranks 12th out of the 12 calendar months in my personal poll. Snow has turned grey and crunchy. The sky is unfriendly and uncompromising. Walking is tricky without snowshoes or cleats. And June seems so far away. Moping and complaining is an option worth pursuing, yet it is annoying to others. I turn to books as my medicinal reprieve. By the end of January the Good Read gnomes noted I was four books ahead of schedule, meaning I read around 12 novels during that bleak month when my usual goal is about 8. Books are my happy light in winter. Here are the top picks:

all images from Good Reads

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow

Fresh and original come to mind, even though they are trite descriptors for this mesmerizing story of Rachel, who tries to find her identity in world that wants her to choose between being black or being white. She just wants to be herself.

Durrow writes from her own biracial personal experience, which is why Rachel’s voice has so much authenticity. The interweaving of the other characters to fill out Rachel’s story, of how she alone survives a family tragedy, provides greater depth and understanding of who Rachel was and is trying to become.

The story ends somewhat unfinished; there is a lack of resolve of whether Rachel stays or runs. And yet, there are no guarantees of true happy endings in life, as Rachel discovers.

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman

A genuine surprise. A story within a story that interweaves upon itself, building momentum until it intersects with a delicious denouement.

Two sisters, one artist, at least three mysteries to solve—missing persons, missing paintings, and relationship conundrums create a book that grabs ahold of the reader. It’s array of flawed, yet compelling characters is sometimes confusing, yet overall the plot is so intriguing it is difficult to resist. I delayed my travel departure in order to finish the book. Yes, it’s that amazing.

This would have been a definite five except for a couple of niggling little plot points that I needed tying up that didn’t happen. I give it a sound 4.5.

Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings

Amazingly I found this book right when I needed to do research about what is was like to go blind, especially as a teenager.

An engaging story of a girl who has slowly been going blind and how she learns to cope with her eventual blindness. Natalie resents having to prepare for her eventual blindness by going to a special school. It’s there that she learns a few tough lessons about how other teens cope with their abilities and disabilities. The story is a page-turner and only slightly pep-talky about handling expected and even unexpected situations in life.

As with the other Cummings books I’ve read, this one has realistic dialogue, believable characters, and amazing researched details.

I purchased this title for myself, yet decided it would be appreciated by my students for SSR. One student, usually shy, and not too positive about school, grabbed the book after my suggested picks talk and at the beginning of every class she wants to talk about it. She told me the other day she is reading it so much that her parents told her to put it down and do something else. Oh how my librarian’s heart went pitty-pat upon hearing that wonderful unexpectedness. How often does a kid get in trouble for reading a well-written, engaging book in these thumbswipe days?

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Like a bowl of Mycroft’s bookworms feasting on a thesaurus, I find myself exhaling superlatives: “genius,” “delightful,” “clever,” “witty.”

It’s stupendously incredible that 76 publishers turned down the opportunity to publish this wonderful homage to literature and the literary world.

Combine the whirlwind zany adventures of Dr Who and the secret agent literary skills of The Librarian, and Thursday Next comes into being.

The first of several books involving the intrepid literature agent, I consider it the best of the lot for the main reason it features Rochester of Jane Eyre fame.

Found this copy at the local Goodwill and had to add it to my SSR bookshelf, mainly for my AP Lit students. Years ago I was introduced to Fforde and when I came across this title I knew I had to take it home, to rescue from its bland bookshelf neighbors.

With January past I am looking forward to February, of hearts, Presidents, a long weekend, a short month, and a batch of hold books to arrive at the local library.

How are you holding up in this month between winter and spring?

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