a writer's journey as a reader

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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)


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
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

people also read

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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.”

Reading Round Up: November

One of the good things that came out of breaking my wrist this summer was the extra downtime for reading. I ended reading around 20 books in August as I iced and tried to occupy myself since bowling, ziplining, tennis, biking, playing the cello and other activities were momentarily ignored. Then again, learning the cello is only a wishful retirement idea. I hope I can still attempt some lessons. The Piano Guys suggested it. As a result I easily hit my goal of 101 books (again) for this year, and I am plugging along. Maybe I’ll go for 150 books before the year is out!

Here’s my congratulations:

And here are some of my November highlights:


goodreads image

Sarah Loudin Thomas has the knack for creating characters that are both memorable and inspirational, while providing a captivating storyline. In The Sound of Rain she explores loss, and the need for direction through mountain man, Judd Markley and the vivacious Larkin Heyward, who has grown up in comfort and privilege. Judd is running away from the mountains of West Virginia after surviving a mining cave in, and Larkin hopes to trade her life of comfort of living in a beach town and serve the people of Appalachia. Judd’s strength is his integrity and work ethic, while Larkin bubbles with vitality and life, bringing joy to anyone who spends time with her. Adding into the story is the contrast of Myrtle Beach and Appalachia, which echoes the differences between Judd and Larkin. Historical fiction with a romance storyline is proving to be consistent with Loudin Thomas.

I was quick to grab this title off the Bethany House review list since I’ve become acquainted with Sarah through our WordPress blogging. Check out her blog, and her books–she’s an inspirational author and an inspiration to me as a writer.

Wanda Gág by Deborah Kogan Ray

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As I research more writers who loved cats, I came across Wanda Gag. One of the most enlightening ways to quickly learn about someone is through a picture book biography. This is the case for Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw. Artist/author Deborah Kogan Ray provides a colorful presentation of the woman who wrote Millions of Cats. Gag (rhymes with “jog” not “bag”) is a Cinderella story of poverty to world famous recognition. She never lost her desire and dream to draw, even while supporting her sisters and brother.


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Another cat author is Edward Lear, Known for his comical limericks, and the classic nonsense song “The Owl and the Pussycat,” Edward Lear was actually an accomplished landscape artist whose tragic life shaped him to find solace in the company of friends and entertaining children with lively verses. Noakes provides an in-depth portrait of a man who masked his pain with mirth.

The Bliss of SSR

Teen Read Week is coming up. It got me thinking about the need for teens to read.

Back in the day before screens ruled the scene, books were on student desks and in their hands. Accelerated Reader got kids reading — even if it was just for points. That ingrained habit stuck and most high schoolers kept up the practice of reading. Okay, Harry Potter helped as well.

Since we did not prescribe to point system reading at the high school level I initiated ten minutes of sustained silent reading or SSR. Before I get too many Book Booster kudos, I freely admit I did it mainly for classroom management purposes. My ninth graders were volumes heavy in energy and it would usually take ten minutes to call them down. With the routine of SSR they sat down, silently read, and class resumed in a calm manner. Why did I stop?

I have often asked myself that.

Something about increased curriculum needs, not enough time, correcting badly written, mostly plagiarized book reports.

After a five plus years hiatus SSR is back in style in my classroom. Frustrated with students who brag about never reading, getting them away from thumb swiping into page flipping, and needing to boost their SAT scores I decided to return to SSR. That class management aspect too.

Our district has gone to the one to one system where every student receives a laptop. That’s a whole different blog post. What this does allow is changing the format of the dreaded book report. They are now PowerPoints. Google Docs even provides a template.

I’m actually looking forward to them.

As the end of first quarter approaches, I notice that students are actually engaged and interested in reading. And even if they aren’t they are at least quiet for ten minutes.

I read along with them, and share my thoughts about the book I’m currently reading. Sometimes they share too.

The funniest aspect of SSR is the one book that gets grabbed off my shelf. Because if they forget their book they need to be reading, and I’ve got quite a few to choose from on my bookshelf. So which book is the go to book? Moby Dick. I kid you not. Is it to prove they are a mighty reader to take on this whale of a story?

I watched one student grab it, smirk to his friends his choice, and surreptitiously snuck glances at what he did with it: looked at the front and back covers, flipped the pages, gazed at the maps, flip more pages, and then he began to read it. From the front.

Yeah. SSR is a three letter word for bliss.

August Reading Round Up

As you know I broke my wrist the end of July which severely cramped the rest of my summer vacation. It’s also difficult to travel when sitting for more than 15 minutes–a side factor of the accident that is not as noticeable as a cast.

So I turned to donuts and books for the month of August. This kind of donut:

No sprinkles or glaze. But soft and comfy.

And here is the list of books:

by Veronica Roth

1. Four

2. Divergent

3. Insurgent

4. Allegiant

5. I’ll Push You by Patrick Gray*

by D.E. Stevenson

6. The Four Graces

7. The Young Clementia

8. Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

by Fredrick Backman

9. A Man Called Ove*

10. Britt-Marie Was Here

11. And Every Morning the Road Home Gets Longer and Longer

12. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald*

13. Portrait of Vengeance by Carrie Park Stuart

14. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

15. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza*

by Julianna Bagott*

16. Pure

17. Fuse

18. Burn

19. Amethyst Dreams by Phyllis Whitney

20. Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Veramontes

I’ve starred the books I especially enjoyed instead of my usual reviews. As much as I missed traveling to the coast and catching up on family visits, I have to say reading in my hammock for a month was fairly nice.

I won’t have any worries meeting my Goodreads Challenge this year.

Hold it, Hold it

When I get down to one book in hand and one waiting to be read, a rising sense of dismay bordering on idgety panic ensues.

I could live without chocolate before I could live with nothing to read.


So I did what any ink-blooded Book Booster does–I began scouring my resources and filling up my books- to-read shelf. First stop: the library.

I rarely buy books. If I do, they are gifts. This means I have achieved Frequent Flyer status at my local library. Can’t beat the convenience or the price: five minutes down the street and a twenty item limit. Did I mention they have an amazing free books shelf? Plus, they have the nicest inter-library loan dept. The library often buys my requests–I am spoiled, I know.

I also review for two separate publishers, and I can review two books at a time per site.

My panic mode at having nothing to read over the long weekend before school starts (my leisure reading diminishes considerably after Labor Day) became one of stress when EVERYTHING came in at once. I went from bare shelf to overwhelmed in a matter of moments.

Three holds appeared within two days of each other, with two being ILLs needing to be read almost immediately (honestly–why loan it out if a person barely has time to read the book?) and one book bearing that annoying little bookmark “Read Me First!” I can practically feel the anticipatory drumming of fingers of the next patron. Three books I have to read now, as in right now, presents an oxymoronic perspective to the idea of leisurely reading over the holiday.

Oh, two review books arrived and they need to be read and reviews duly noted before the month is out.

I also have three books which I had picked up at the library a couple of weeks ago, which means their due date is approaching. Renew or return? Oh, how I dislike that question.

Well, I have plenty to read at the moment. I will have to hold off on my longings for the new titles promos that keep popping up in my email.

Does anyone else go through this famine/feast cycle? I’m hoping I’m not alone in this…

Reading Round Up: July

Due to my recent mishap involving having to choose between  a rock strewn embankment and the asphalt bike path, I’m spending my recovery days reading more than gardening, walking, writing, driving, visiting and anything else that involves continuous sustained movement. I am now five books ahead on my Goodreads challenge. Good thing I like to read.

Top picks for July:

 I’ll Push You by Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck

The cover states it succinctly: “Two friends. One wheelchair. A journey of 500 miles.”

Friends since birth, Patrick and Justin, share the usual boyhood mischief together, which bind and bond them together through childhood, college, and adulthood. They manage to keep their friendship going despite raising their families thousands of miles apart. Their friendship extends into one another’s families and they share adventures together such as European trips. Justin’s neuromuscular disability does not slow any of them down. In fact, it initiates the greatest adventure: the Camino de Santiago Trail.

This book is beyond inspirational. It’s an amazing story of two friends who experience the beauty of giving and receiving. There is also the unexpected blessings of the generosity of strangers. And throughout the journey Patrick and Justin reflect upon the strength of family and the joy of their friendship, as they face the rugged challenge of their pilgrimage.

A 5 star for not only the amazing adventure these two friends shared, but also for the storytelling itself.

 A Man Called Ove by Richard Backman

I heard subdued chatter about this one. When it finally came in from the holds list I wondered if I was up for yet another book about a grumpy old guy with an undiscovered heart of gold, and by page 12 I had decided I could not bear to dedicate my reading time to such an incredibly irascible man. Mr Wilson from Dennis the Menace seems a jovial saint in comparison.

But stuck with it I did because I knew old Ove would have to go through a character change. If he didn’t, he would no doubt self-implode from orneriness by page 17.

Much more said and there will be a Spoiler tab on this review.

It’s a 5 star because the epilogue made me sniffle.

Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Continuing with many of the same characters from the first book, the plot focuses on Henry, Perla and Casewell’s son. Henry struggles with several major decisions and faces them with the help of friends and family. The introduction of Margaret and Mayfair add a satisfying depth of the different aspects of love and faith.

As an aside, I suggest checking out Sarah’s website: We’ve become “blog pals” and I appreciate her down home Appalachian Thursday feature. Her character-driven plots are filled with insights on the different ways people deal with faith, grace, and forgiveness.

I decided to reread Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, and just like my reread of the Hunger Games, I found myself favoring the first book and being disenchanted with the subsequent sequels.

Four is different, in that the Divergent story is told from his perspective and fills in some needed background that adds more depth to the story. However, once Four’s story intersects with Tris’s it becomes difficult to keep track of the story since there is pondering whether this is a repeat or new material.  Personally, I’d like to see Divergent continue from Four’s perspective, the aftermath of Allegiant. Maybe call the continuation Regiment as a new regime forms.

So, lots more reading than writing in August, and typing left-handed, actually left-thumbed, is more taxing than I thought. I will have a second career in thumb wrestling perhaps after this stint.

Reader Quotes

One of my daily subscriptions is I’m a confessed word nerd. I enjoy learning a new word as much as some people get that thrill from a new tasty food item. Hmm, words are nourishing in a way, aren’t they?

Recently sent out a list of quotes all about reading books. How could I resist? Here are the favorites gleaned:


“The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.” 
        Harper Lee

“If a book is well written, I always find it too short.”
                                                                                 Jane Austen



Hope one of these inspired you to grab a book or sit down and write something simple or even profound.

And now it’s back to editing my own writing instead of veering off chasing my email distractions like a rabbit chasing a dog around the yard.


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