cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

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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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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.

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

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?

Reading Round Up: April 2018


Looking over last year’s April Round Up, my stats were a measly 29% for my reading goal of 101 books for the year. I was also yipping about being so exhausted from taking on an extra AP class to teach.

Maybe I’m toughening up because this year I’m up to 35%, then again I am still exhausted from preparing students for double exams: AP Language and AP Literature. I yipped last post, so I shall refrain.

Reading in April happened primarily during Spring Break. The rest of the month consisted of concentrated teaching efforts. Too tired to read is not my happy place. Binge watching Dr Who kept me from eating chocolate during my stress crisis since I didn’t renew my gym membership this year. At least my stress relieving habits are improving. Wait–do I detect censure for watching four Who episodes at a sitting? Really–I was attempting to grade. Some points for trying to multi-tasking?

April reading highlights:

joyce

image: Barnes and Nobles

I made the mistake of taking this along as my Spring Break travel book. Not actually a cozy or enthralling read.

One of those books that is avoided for ever so long, ever knowing that it is a MUST read, especially for English Lit teachers. It’s almost embarrassing how long it took for me to finally read Joyce’s novel of groundbreaking importance. Admittedly, it was as tough as I thought it would be, but for different reasons than I originally anticipated.

I applaud the ingenuity and daring–the dialogue sequences, the emulation of thought constructs, the stream of consciousness; yet, Stephen is not a character of admiration making it difficult to invest of even care about his story.

gilead

image: Barnes and Noble

Pulitzer Prizers are either outstanding or ponderous in my reading experience. Robinson’s Gilead falls somewhere in the mid zone. The writing is outstanding,the plot ponderously slow, if a book comprised of a continuous future epistolary journal is considered a plot.

There is much to appreciate in the depth of the theology Robinson presents, and there is a beauty in the understanding that the speaker reaches into his feelings for his main antagonist.

Deservedly a Pulitzer—just slow in the pace. Then again, not all books should be hurried through. This one in particular. However, it is doubtful I will continue with the other Gilead books.

Dr Who: Who-olgy by Cavan Scott, Mark Wright

Published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr Who, this reference guide is designed for both beginners or experts; the book covers it all for Wholigans. Lots of trivia and background. Informative and entertaining–most def. Some info could be expanded, such as how psychic paper actually works, and why it doesn’t work on everyone, such as Shakespeare. I learned that while I enjoy the reboot series to a point–liking only two of the four, going on five doctors–I doubt I will be attending Comic Con to celebrate my fan status. I do ponder cosplay and vacillate between a Cyberman and Madame Pompadour.

Looking forward to May as I have arranged an extended weekend and plan to read, read, read, along with nap, nap, nap. I shall also partake in swallow watching since our condo balcony is in their nesting flight path. I just hope I don’t get conked by a stray golf ball. Two years in a row it’s been near misses. Absolutely a startling way to awaken from a dozy deck chair dream–a swish, tonk, crash. Not good. Not good. Some people should correct their slice before venturing out on the greens.

Happy Maying–

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?

Reader Round Up: December


December is reading crunch time. School is winding down, Christmas stress is building, weather is all about keeping the driveway clear of snow, and that Good Reads Reading Challenge number smirks quietly–“gonna miss it this year-heh heh.”

YET–this year December proved quite complacent. Two snow days prior to the Christmas Break (which didn’t happen until 12/22!?!) helped calm the last minute crazies and allow for last minute holiday need-to-get-done. As for the usual Good Reads smirk? Didn’t happen. Remember? I had tremendous down time in August nursing my broken wrist and managed a huge padding of 20 books read that month. I finished the year well, being over my 101 goal plus 12. I don’t plan on breaking anything in 2018 or anticipate unexpected down time, but I will pluckily sign up for another 101 reading goal.

One really lovely aspect of late  Christmas Break is two weeks of reading guilt free. I really appreciate that break from grading, and cozying up with books is truly a balm to my frazzledness. Here are a few top picks from December:

After the Rain  by Karen White


Although somewhat predicable in plot [troubled woman on the run stops in a small town and gets accepted by all the usual stereotypes and then falls for the town good guy, and there are major problems getting together but of course you know they will], this nevertheless has solid writing and provides that comfy, light read needed after a long week.
Mockingbird Songs by Wayne Flynt


I surprisingly did not hear about this book until I found it whilst shelf browsing. Dr Wayne Flynt and his wife Dartie have the distinction of being within Nelle Harper Lee’s inner circle. The friendship began with professional correspondence, since Flynt is a noted historian, and warmed up to a true relationship lasting a couple of decades. In fact, Flynt provided Lee’s eulogy. While more of a epistolary than a true biography, the correspondence between Flynt and Lee reveals aspects of Lee’s personality that solidly establishes her as a national treasure.

Green Tiger’s Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare


A definite charmer. Ten of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays are paired with captivating artwork, and are retold by E. Nesbit. Aimed towards children, this is an adaption that is appealing for anyone interested in Shakespeare, or even those desiring a winsome read.

 Steal Away Home by Billy Coffey


Billy Coffey is establishing himself as a storyteller who combines faith with a tale that’s in no hurry to get there. The plot will travel forward some and then twist and turn and settle in for a culimating ending that is so surprising it makes a reader shout out loud. At least I did. This is a story of living with choices made, of loving with a divided heart. And baseball. Coffey flips his story around a live game and the past that brought a Cinderella minor player up to the majors for one night. A five star.

Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings


Looking for books to plump up my classroom SSR shelf, I picked up this surprising gem at the local library book sale. Not being a huge fan of younger YA, I didn’t have high expectations for an engaging read. Wrong call. Cummings presents a compelling story of how one decision can affect many people, and she does it without a sermon. Her realistic situations and characters resonate well. I promptly set off to find the other two books in the series. Another five star.

Looking forward to another year of Good Reads. Any favorites from 2017?

Yearly Stats: a Good Reads bit of this and a bit of that


I really like this time of year. It’s not because of all the tinsel, lights, and cute kid Christmas programs (you should have seen the cow costumes–I even threatened to be annoying and hold up my iPhone and film the little critters singing away around the manger). I do appreciate and cherish the Reason for the Season. That’s an absolute. But I’m not “gotta go see the newest batch of Hollywood mega-movies” or a “hit the slopes!” warrior. Nope, I like all the pretties the various web sites I subscribe to send me, my stats for this year. At the top is Good Reads.

The tidbit I’m setting down here does not do their full display justice. They make it look like I’ve really contributed something spectacular by reading. Like reading is as special as I think it is.

TOTALS as 12/12/17–I do wish they would do a grand sum picture, but then I guess those little Good Reads elves need time off to go help out the jolly guy up North.

I read 32,438 pages across 112 books

Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk

Good Reads images (for all)

SHORTEST BOOK

40 pages
Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk
by Jane Sutcliffe
One of those wonderful picture books that are just so amazing in illustrations and textual info that I can’t help but boldly go where adults usually don’t–the kiddos need to learn to share, right?
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
LONGEST BOOK
566 pages
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski
Another Shakespeare book. This is a contemporary retelling of Hamlet. Quite astute in following the plot, yet it is definitely it’s own story. It deserves the praise it has received.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
MOST POPULAR
3,781,416

people also read

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
LEAST POPULAR
2

people also read

Edward Lear: Selected Letters
by Edward Lear
Poor Edward, he didn’t even rate a cover image. The man who brought us all those pithy limericks and nonsense poems like “The Owl and the Pussycat” actually lived a fascinately dull life. Explore that paradox by reading this collection.
The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan
HIGHEST RATED ON GOODREADS and First Review of the Year
The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ
by Andrew Klavan
4.48 average
An autobiography of sorts of how a secular Jew came to his belief in Jesus. This is not an easy journey for someone to leave their cultural traditions because it causes such strong rifts in the family as well. Told well, as Klavan is an engaging writer.
Overall? It was a fabulous year of reading. I tried out new-to-me books, recommends, reread old favorites, and surpassed my goal of 101 books two years in a row. This shocks most of my students since many struggle to get one book read in a quarter for their book report. And yet, when they see me reading right along with them during our 10 minute SSR, I am hoping they see that I am reading different types of books, a variety of books of length and subject, and that I like reading books. Maybe they can find their way out of social media for a while and get lost in a book.
One someday goal is to be posterized along with all those notable folk, like Sean Connery, who smile down from the library walls holding up theirs book of choice. There I will be, holding up that someday bestseller cow joke book, the caption will read. “Cricket Muse is out standing in the field of reading.”

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