cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Reflections”

Review Round Up: October


With November nearly done I best get my October book reports turned in. I’m two weeks late in doing so. Do I get half credit? Do good intentions count? Am I sounding like my students?

Uniquely entertaining and informative is how I am defining Robin Sloan’s style and approach to writing. If you read his first novel, Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, you will not be disappointed. He has once again taken his readers into parts of San Francisco most living outside the city are completely unaware exists. Blending technology with food this time, Sloan explores the world of sourdough, robotics, and farmer markets. Along with a side of cultural history. He makes it work. I smiled and outright laughed most of the time. Alas, some of the techno-terms became babbling at certain points and my reading interest waned, so no five, but a firm 4.75 is in order.

There are so many positive aspects to this book: the seemingly impossible chance of a little dog finding a new friend in such an unexpected place as the Gobi desert, the dedication of Dion towards Gobi, Gobi’s absolute adoration of Dion, the support of friends, family, and strangers to reuniting Dion and Gobi. Plus, Gobi is absolutely packed with personality. A person doesn’t have to love dogs to enjoy this story.

This is a retold version of Dion’s longer autobiographical story, adapted for younger readers. The interjection of Gobi’s perspective now and then into the story is especially appealing for young readers. This is a great book for emphasizing how faith and love can often make the impossible happen.

The review copy was provided by the publisher and I am under no obligation.

An engaging story that provides a cast of memorable characters along with settings and situations rich with imagery and hints of realism. I say hints because there are times when characters aren’t realistic. Could a woman become so jaded she would not invite her beloved brother’s daughter into her house upon first meeting her? Would a young woman truly remain so unscathed, retain so much innocence after knocking around by herself during the vulnerable years between 16-20?

While the story is engaging, it’s also fragmentary in its leaps in time sequencing. All of a sudden it’s three weeks later or they are suddenly back home from a monumental road trip. Transitions are not gentle–they are jarring. Yet, I liked my first visit with the author and will look up her other books as I favor character-driven plots that provide a balance of faith with everyday living.

Rarely do I suggest watching the film before reading the book. The Queen of Katwe is an exception. To fully grasp the level of poverty Phiona contends with, it must visually be explored. And being a Disney film it will be a modified version. It’s still shocking.

Tim Carothers expands upon the magazine article about Phiona and provides a fairly full account of how a girl from the slums of an Ugandan slum could learn chess well enough to compete, and win, on a national level and compete internationally.

At times the book seems to stray from its focus on Phiona, but in retrospect the backstories provide a complete portrait of who Phiona is and how the people surrounding her have contributed to her success.

It will be interesting to follow up on Phiona as she continues her dream of becoming a Grand Master. As an update, she is now attending a university in Washington State.

Katherine Reay has found her niche in writing intersections of Austen and contemporary times and the proof of this is her latest novel, The Austen Escape.

There are layers of plot lines roaming through this story: besties becoming stale, a start up creative factory in transition, complicated family histories needing mending, PTSD manifested, a misunderstood hero trying to woo the heroine. And an Austen escape vacation to satisfy most Janeites.

There are a couple of considerations. One is the focus of the Austen escape. It seemed a contrived way for Isabel to get lost in Austen, and all the Austen name-dropping got a bit confusing, even for this reader who is familiar with the stories.

Speaking of confusing—the label of Christian fiction needs to be addressed. While most of the characters espouse admirable moral standards, there are only a few off hand mentions of guiding spiritual beliefs, which is difficult to process when the crew spends their Friday nights are at the local watering hole ending their weekend with a beer or cocktail and consider possible date picks from the bar.

No swearing, light kissing, so a bit of drinking and innuendo is okay for a Christian romance? There is a mixed message. However, I appreciate Reay’s books for their intriguing, well-written plots and look forward to the next one.

I received this book from the publisher, via BookLook Bloggers. All opinions and thoughts are my own.

October was packed with enjoyable reads which helped me navigate the stress load of grading assignments in time for the first quarter report card. Nothing like escaping into the pages of a good read. Almost beats out dark chocolate.

All images from Amazon or Goodreads.

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A Ponderance of Quarterly End


This post is devoted to teachers who are nearing first quarter completion:

As we madly try to stuff in more knowledge into the unwilling minds of students, it’s important to pause and reflect on what education is all about. If only I could get my students to realize these astute observations:

  • Poetry is not useless–do they not realize all that music cascading into their brain is poetry?
  • Spulling mahters–just ask the person hiring from what job applications reveal
  • The classroom is not an extension of the cafeteria–socializing and eating in class may seem like a good idea–but really? Nope.
  • Bringing a charged laptop, the right folder, pen, paper, textbook actually does help in the learning process.
  • I do see everything. Texting, writing notes, whispering, sleeping.
  • Turning in something is better than nothing. Half points on a late assignment beats out a zero.
  • I believe they can do better. And I will keep after them until they believe the same.

UPDATE: I did survive quarter one grading rush and I’m gearing up for the second night of parent teacher conferences. Onward to second quarter, which means first semester closing to open up second semester which means countdown to summer.

Have I mentioned how difficult it’s been teaching while recovering  from a broken wrist?

PADding About with Poetry


Teaching poetry to a class of teens is almost intimidating as being the student learning the language of metaphors and similes and alliteration and such.

For one thing there is the DWA

factor–Dead White Authors.

Occasionally I detect a certain resentment of having to study the antiquated language and suspect ideas of people who lived in times current adolescents have a difficult time relating to, especially when many of these authors were among the 1% of their day. Understanding that religion revolved around one belief and not a myriad seems wrong to some of many students.

Getting students to remove their 21st century hats in order to not be hindered by Frost using “queer” when describing how the speaker’s horse thinks it’s strange to stop in the middle of the woods is a little challenging but not insurmountable.

Another challenge is getting students to embrace poetry as a necessity. Actually, for that concern I have a ready reply:

If you can figure the meaning of a poem and explain it in such a way it is comprehensible to others, you will no doubt succeed in other endeavors in life, such as presenting a new scientific concept to your co-workers or even putting together that bike in a box for your kid some day.

I do sympathize with my students about the saturation of 18th and 19th century poems we tend to study, especially in AP Literature. This is why I subscribe to services that provide a poem everyday. It’s like those word a day subscriptions except more words and they sometimes rhyme.

Over the past few years I have amassed quite a collection. Now what? Aha! I pulled together a monthly menu and created a PPT what I call the PAD–Poem A Day. While I take attendance, students read the poem on the projector screen and then discuss some aspect. Most of these poems are contemporary and the topics, as well as formats, tend to be more relatable for my students.

The other day we covered Robert Bly’s moon poem. I then had students find three objects in the room and describe them in a new way. The best one involved calling our box fan a meditation counselor since it had the ability to provide a cooling off whenever we were heated up. Nice.

I remember Robert Frost and his puzzled horse in fifth grade and I have taught it to my tenth graders and seniors. I’m hoping once we have chatted about meaning and metaphor they will think poetry is lovely as they move through life. My hope is they’ll carry a verse in their pocket or be able to pop out a ready line to fit any occasion.

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.

–C.Muse

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…

Drug Free Teaching


Today was the first day back to school. I went home just before lunch after confessing to the principal I couldn’t handle it any longer. The look on my  face made him step back and say: “Go home.” Good thing it was only staff day and not class day. 

It’s been a month since I ditched my  mountain bike on the bike path embankment to avoid crashing into anothet cyclist. It’s been a long month of adjusting to using my left hand instead of my right, learning to love ice packs, and enduring physical therapy. Tolerating pain meds is it’s own post.

Being a lightweight (wave a cork at me and I’m tipsy), I take half doses of my pills in order to maintain some state of functionality. This means I’m always at about a three on the pain scale–I think ten is an elephant standing on your head (like when I first figured my wrist must be broken after I crashed).

Apparently, I cannot teach or drive, if I take my pain meds. Driving a car or teaching teens under the influence is frowned  upon .  Something about impaired judgement. So, to prepare going back to driving and teaching I have been cutting back on my dosage. Way back. How about no meds for a day? Yeah–that didn’t work so well. 

Thankfully, my understanding principal let me go home and nap so I could return for open house. Yes, it was a long day first day back.

At this moment I have ice on my wrist and I’m hoping to go back to sleep and go for another day of  staff meetings and prepping my classroom. During staff introductions I held up my black air-cast wrist and joked I had on my Wonder Woman titanium bracelet. The joke was on me when I said, “And it’s my first day without drugs.” And the quip? “In your teaching career?”

Yeah. 

I went home and napped for three hours. Ice is nice. 

  

E-clipsed


I did not experience the solar eclipse, but I am content with the strange sorta kinda dimness that I thought I was the eclipse. We do not live in the pathway and we hadn’t considered making the seven hour drive to witness the two minutes. 

I did experience some type of eclipse in college during the eighties, can’t remember what type. I do remember a group of us signed up for an adventure excursion trip. We jumped into a van and drovehalf a day with no real plan. At the eclipse approached someone in the van  yelled, “Pull over here!” We stopped at the top of a hill overlooking a vineyard. Slowly it grew dusk, cars on the ribbon of highway below began turning on headlights, but none stopped driving. A dim shadow quavered through the vineyard momentarily transforming it into an Ansel Adams time lapse print of grey landscape tones. Quite surreal. 

Didn’t make it here this time. Or last time, for that matter. Our vinny was more modest. I bet happy hour was something though.

This time around, I missed out due to being preoccupied with my mending broken wrist. I did virtually share the wonder of the event through NASA.gov with millions of other non-pathers and was genuinely happy for the crowds. Maybe next time I’ll plan it better. For now I’ll be humming Donovan:

The Perfect Eclipse Tune
How was solar eclipse experience?

Why We Say: #31 Tumblers, Turkeys, and Turns


Tumblers

There are many ways to categorize people. Dogs or cats? Soccer or football? Gelato or frozen yogurt? And the big one: glass up or glass down in the cabinet?

Housecleaning isn't what it used to be. Four hundred years ago it was even more of a problem. In fact, it was such a problem, especially dust issues, that glasses were designed with a pointed bottom so that when stored they would "tumble" over unless stored rim side down. Having a German mother, however, I do know about house cleaning, so this entry about tumblers took me to wondering just why we store our glassware in the manner of upside down. And yet, I'm wondering about how people actually used the glasses since they couldn't be set on the table. Were there catchers for these tumblers?

Turkey

The Ben Franklin story about wanting the turkey as our national bird is not this story. This story sounds like a bit of a fairytale though. Apparently tradesmen having discovered some birds, guinea hens, and sent them back to England by way of Turkey. Do you see what's going to happen here? When the birds arrived they were naturally named Turkey after the country they were thought to have originated from, which is why when settlers from England arrived to America and saw the natives with birds that looked like turkeys they were called turkeys.

I'm having a difficult time with this one too. Sometimes my little Why We Say… book has some really interesting explanations. Checking it out I found this information: maybe my little book isn't so wrong after all.

 

Taking a few turns…

Turning thumbs up or down

This one is so well known that you probably already know that a gladiator's fate was not always determined by whether he won the fight, but rather how well he fought. Thumbs up–he lived. A turn of the thumb, well, job security as a gladiator was a bit tenuous back then.

Turnpike

Originally, to prevent people from traveling down the road without paying for that privilege, a pike or bar was swung into place. And you thought those little gates were annoying.

Turn the Tables

Just like it sounds, during a certain card game a player could turn the table to replace his perceived poor hand with perhaps a better hand held by his opponent. Wait! That reminds me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon gag (around 3:35–the old carrot juice switcharoo).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOUhGcsHqDM

Writing Quotes


Usually I dedicate a chunk of time during the summer to writing projects: finishing, editing, revising, submitting. This summer writing has taken a back seat to my dealing with healing. Typing with my left hand, mainly my left thumb while my right hand passively observes, is not conducive to getting a lot of writing done. There is a deadline of 10 pages by August 21 I’m gamely trying to meet.

So–I get sidetracked. One of my more diverting diversions is looking up words on dictionary.com and I came across these quotes of encouragement. Hope one of them rings true for you:

   
               

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