cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “reading”

Reading Round Up: February


For a short month February provided ample time to plow through a bevy of satisfying and diverse books. Two snow days from school helped in getting some serious cozy cocoa and recliner reading done. So many great titles and discoveries to share with you!

 

The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson
4 stars

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A reimagining, rather than a retelling of the Chinese folktale of Mulan, Dickerson’s version is set in 15th century Lithuania. In this version, Mulan is the illegitimate daughter of Mikolai, a warrior father who has died. Mulan serves as a warrior to save her mother from becoming homeless, and to escape from an unwelcome arranged marriage.
The first half of the plot relates Mulan’s adventures as a soldier. With realistic detail, Mulan struggles to meet the demands of fighting amongst men, while trying to hide her identity. During battle she meets and becomes friends with Wolfgang, a duke’s son. Inevitably their friendship develops into something deeper once Wolfgang discovers why he is attracted to and is protective of the young soldier known as Mikolai.
Unfortunately, the second half of the story becomes enmeshed in being more of a romance novel than the adventuresome first part. Attention to historical detail and the smooth rendering of the multiple points of view, lean this more towards a four star than a three star review.
This title refers to characters from the previous book in the Hagerheim series, yet it can be read as a standalone.

NOTE: received as review copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review

The Long Game (The Fixer #2) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
4 stars

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Sequels are tough. For the most part The Long Game continues the energy from The Fixer, and weaves in enough referrals to keep new readers abreast of previous action. The Long Game focuses on action instead of characters and character dynamics is what made The Fixer such a riveting story. There is not a mention of Gramps in The Long Game and considering how important he is to Tess and Ivy, it seems an injustice to drop him from the plot. Tess is one amazing young woman, yet she is a high school teen not Jason Bourne. Still, the writing is superb, the plot twists darn right surprising. Just wee bit too intense with a few plot holes holding it back.

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson
4 stars

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I am not sure how this book escaped my attention as a kid. Best to make up for lost time. It is a classic and has all kinds of charm—YET—I’m not sold out on Amos. I can’t get past how only Ben could hear Amos talk, and all those other plot holes, like how does a mouse buy a hat?  The illustrations are the best part of the story, and they were actually better than the story. Just saying.

NOTE: I had to scurry and read this for our February Debatable–which was a doozy of a debate. What? You missed it? Best check it out [my choice of best mouse won with Reepicheep of Narnia series fame]

At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald
4 stars

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This one of those literary novels that are Joycian in how there is no plot, rather it’s one long character study with a tableau of characters. Nothing really happens, yet there is an urgency that something might. And it takes ever so long to realize it doesn’t. Brilliantly written, of course.

NOTE: since the library doesn’t own The Bookshop, which I hope to read before watching the movie, I grabbed this instead. If this were made into a movie I would envision Bette Davies as Freddie.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
4 stars

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Avoidance of Holocaust books is my usual modus operandi, yet a based-on-a-true story about a library in Auschwitz? I pulled it down from the shelf with anticipation.
The beginning is absolutely riveting as the young Dita attempts to hide a couple of books during a spot inspection. Will she be caught?  From that auspicious start the plot veers into a medley of different characters with historical facts woven in for good measure. The omniscient present tense creates a distance, making it difficult to fully embrace the story. Dita is amazing, but she is not truly the focus.  The atrocities began to burden the story until it began to be a reading of endurance instead of interest. Of course a book set in a concentration camp is going to have tragedy; however, I was drawn in by the title—a librarian at Auschwitz? That sounded like a story based in hope.
The research and details are well-done and this, perhaps, is what creates a barrier from establishing a solid connection with the characters—a bit of a textbook mingled with a dynamic storyline is the result. It almost works and maybe it worked better in the author’s original language. Translations sometimes do lose some of the story’s essence.

The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
5 star

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YA usually comes in the flavors of dystopian, supernatural, romance, strong female protagonist, sci fi, high school drama, adventure; however, the newest menu choice is political thriller. The Fixer is surprisingly addicting and amazing in how it takes the high school drama trope, mixes in some adventure, with a strong female protagonist, and tops it off with political intrigue. Unexpectedly refreshing.
Tess, who hails from Montana, suddenly finds herself planted in Washington DC in a life far different than her previous. Although shoveling muck out of horse stalls and brooking a strong intolerance for bullies are skills that serve her well in DC.
The writing is superb, as is the pacing, and the plot twists are to be applauded. This is a reluctant 5 star due to the difficulty of totally accepting the maturity and capabilities of this group of teens. Then again, living in DC is not for sissies.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
5 star

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Santos had me at Cary Grant. All the mentions of classic black and white films was a bonus to the imaginative plot, dynamic characters, and lyrical prose. To be perfectly honest though, this is more of a 4.85 rating as the ending half began to unravel a bit with tying off of loose ends. The author’s background in poetry serves her well, since the descriptive imagery practically sings, yet doesn’t overshadow the plot. A couple of unexpected plot twists, a winsome little girl, and a mystery mom, along with unconventional storytelling techniques makes this a memorable read. And it’s her first one–looking forward to more.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
5 star

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Harbor Me is in the vein of Wonder in how it brings people together with its message of acceptance. Although it is a middle read, its prose is rich and well-crafted and is, quite frankly, thoroughly amazing. A niggling concern is how in the world could a school legally get away with having an unsupervised “chat” room for students? Definite artistic license superseding legal responsibilities. Setting that aside, the conceit of ARRTful sharing works in how it opens up the world of a diverse group of children on the verge of becoming teens in a world becoming more and more complicated.

The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
5 star

634747A solid classic. Strong, memorable characters, engaging storyline, and enriching details come together to purport the tale of a young, penniless doctor who rises out of the obscurity of backwoods coal mining towns to becoming a rich, well-respected London physician. His trading out of idealism for a comfortable life comes with great costs, yet the story just falls short of moralism. Due to the style found in the time period of publication,some of the story techniques are a bit antiquated, as in the tried and true, “tell rather than show” instead of having the story evolve from the characters themselves. There is also some melodramatic moments. Nevertheless, it is still well-written and a meritable read.  It’s not surprising that the book was made into a film and a BBC series.

Don’t Close Your Eyes: A Silly Bedtime Story by Bob Hostetler illustrations by Mark Chambers
5 star

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Playfully engaging, the rhyming text teams up to the whimsical illustrations to coerce its audience to NOT fall asleep. That’s right. Instead of the usual drone of encouraging young listeners to gently enter slumber, this book keeps cheerfully reminding its readers to stay awake. The reverse psychology is fun and children will no doubt enjoy the gentle nudge to keep their eyes open wide open instead of closing them for the night.
One of those books that invite multiple reads.

NOTE: received as review copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review

The last entry is not so much a dissapointment, but it just didn’t fulfill the hope of being better:

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman
3 stars
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Historical novels set around WWII easily catch the interest, especially when it’s a unique view of the war effort through work done at the Springfield Armory. The jacket blurb indicates family drama: two sisters who cannot reconcile petty jealousies and misunderstandings that fill their relationship from childhood to being adults.
What could have been a deep study of family relationship interaction became a bouncing point of view telling with several women each telling their perspective. The intermittent timeline weaving and flashbacks made it difficult to truly connect with the characters. Multiple viewpoint stories run towards the problem of thinly spreading the plot too wide. Well-placed setting, though, as it is obvious the author did her research
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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.

Debatables: Ominous Winter Scene


The usual monthly Debatable format shall be slightly different this month. Mike Allegra, that talented, and becoming increasingly prolific writer, is off on a month-long fellowship diligently working on his book. This means he does not have the time, nor can he spare the creative pundit, to dabble in quibbling and debating. In his stead, he has asked Jilanne Hoffman, a capable author in her own right, to quibble and debate upon a chosen topic. He likened it to her being a tribute. I promise no life-threatening survivalist tactics will be forthcoming. Instead, I offer a warm welcome for Jilanne. Please feel free to trot over and check out her blog. I suggest signing up her updates and such while you are there. She has a fascinating bio:
Jilanne Hoffmann has been a zoo train engineer and a “real” engineer, but switched to freelance writing 20+ years ago and now enjoys writing stories for kids and adults. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, has read at Listen to Your Mother – San Francisco, and is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. One of her stories is included in a forthcoming anthology (Feb 2019), “She’s Got This: Essays on Standing Strong and Moving On.” She is currently at work on a new adult novel and many, many picture books.


Today’s Topic: What is the most ominous winter scene from a juvie book?

I have selected the passage from the C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Edmund meets the White Witch upon his entry into Narnia.

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That’s right, Edmund–think twice about talking to that lady in the sledge.

Jilanne has decided upon the scene where Scrooge meets up with Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

The same guidelines apply: we each have 300ish words to state our case, and then another 150 to counter argue.

Let the quibbling begin!

First off, a definition of ominous is needed:

om·i·nous/ˈämənəs/adjective:giving the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen; threatening; inauspicious.

Cricket:

For those not familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, the first book introduces readers to the Pevensie children: Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan. Lucy finds her way into the enchanted land of Narnia, yet her siblings disbelieve her.

In chapters three and four Edmund follows Lucy into a wardrobe during a game of hide and seek, and unexpectedly enters Narnia, where it is winter. His paradigm has definitely shifted. A stranger in a strange land, he decides “he did not much like this place.” Tension builds. He can’t find Lucy, he is freezing cold, and wonders how to get home. Desolation increases–that feeling of”something bad or unpleasant is going to happen” is about to happen.

In the distance a sound of bells. They come nearer. What can be approaching? A threat forms. Suddenly a sledge drawn by reindeer driven by a bearded dwarf appears. This is not promising. What’s really startling is the formidable woman seated in the sledge, who holds a wand and wears a crown. Her severe manner startles Edmund into stuttering out his name. She demands information from him. The interview’s only bright spot is the Turkish Delight she provides. But wait! Readers are informed that the candy is tainted with her evilness, creating a craving for more, to the point of Edmund promises to turn over his brother and sisters to this imposing woman to satisfy his craving.

Minutes later, Lucy and Edmund reunite and Edmund discovers he’s been fraternizing with a witch, the dreaded White Witch. Edmund is sick with his realization (not to mention the overindulgence of Turkish Delight).

This scene is truly frightening: a lost child, cold, made more miserable upon understanding how badly he’s messed up. Lewis knows how to capture the fears of childhood, and creates an absolute memorable ominous scene.

Jilanne:

I nominate Jacob Marley’s chilling scene from A Christmas Carol. It has always terrified me. Scrooge feels a “strange, inexplicable dread” as bells clamor in his gloomy house and then stop, followed by “a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant’s cellar….the cellar door flew open with a booming sound…the noise much louder on the floors below, then coming up the stairs, then coming straight towards his door.” I cowered behind my mother as she read, my head under the covers, hoping this ghost would take only her and let me live.

Jacob Marley, a “bristling” specter drapedwith the miserly chains of cash boxes, ledgers, and purses he forged in life,has “death-cold eyes” and a handkerchief wound round his head like a bandage.Although he sits still, his “hair and skirts and tassels were still agitated asby the hot vapor from an oven.” When Scrooge doubts his vision, Marley removesthe bandage, releasing his lower jaw onto his breast. Aghhhh! Dives below theblankets yet again, and stays there.

Marley hears “sounds of lamentations and regret, wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory” outside the window. He joins in “the mournful dirge” before floating “out upon the bleak, dark night.” Scrooge peers out the window and sees “phantoms wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went.” Each wore chains like Marley’s ghost. This scene could turn anyone but Voldemort into a philanthropist.

Ah, even in Mike’s absence, quibbling is still a part of the format. So—

Cricket’s Rebuttal:
Quibble point #1: Yes, ghosts are scary. Yet, does winter really play into this scene? Ghosts can appear any time of the year. Marley’s ghost is not even associated with Christmas specifically; he’s just the forerunner of other visitors. And is Scrooge actually intimidated? He is doubtful and doesn’t become a philanthropist at that point. A scary scene, but not really ominous.

Quibble point #2: Did Dickens write this for children? Wasn’t he actually trying to soften the hard hearts of adults?

Main point: The cold, foreboding setting of the perennial winter forest creates an unpropitious mood. Add in that austere White Witch and her toxic Turkish Delight, and a menacing winter scene designed just for children is created. Lewis imbues an impactful lesson: taking treats from wicked witches can lead to all sorts a serious trouble beyond tummy aches–becoming a traitor is indeed ominous.

Jilanne’s Rebuttal:

Winter plays a HUGE role. Scrooge’s rooms are bitterly cold and dark, like his heart, a stark contrast to generosity and warmth. PLUS Scrooge does fall to his knees, asking for mercy when Marley raises “a frightful cry.”

 

Ditch authorial intent. It’s like asking Maurice Sendak if he really wrote for children. By the time kids reach the age of reason (seven), they know this story and its meaning: be generous and compassionate toward those less fortunate.

 

My quibble for you:

Edmund’s not scared. He’s cold and in a strange place, but he spies a bearded dwarf (Santa!), a sleigh, and reindeer. Fun! The queen’s just a brittle genealogist seeking to identify Edmund’s siblings. Plus the promise of a title! Who doesn’t want to be a prince and eat sweets, bellyache notwithstanding? Marley’s ominous promise, OTOH, led me to save my quarters for charity before I was five years old!    

 

And there we have it–two scenes that should elicit feelings of something threatening or bad about to happen.

Readers: as a child reader, which is more ominous to you?

Let the voting begin–and, of course, comments are always encouraged.

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.

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: March


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Image: Barnes and Noble

War books are difficult to read. There is rarely a good side to war, no matter how well the story is written. With this knowledge then, with some reluctance, I began reading Salt to the Sea as I knew a WWII story would have tragedy and travail. Yet, the story starts with a strong hook and its hypnotic four person viewpoint narrative continues throughout, making it a compelling read about the worst maritime disaster in history. Surprisingly, good manages to surface in the horror that pervades in this aspect of war.

The story centers on the evacuation efforts of those fleeing Russian soldiers. Thousands escape with barely any belongings in hope of finding refuge on ships. The main focus is on the Wilhelm Gustloff, which carried 10,000 refugees on board. It’s amazing that a loss of over 9,000 lives has not had more attention. Almost half of those lost were children. This is a story of four lives and their perspective. Riveting to the end. The historical detail is commendable. A solid five star read.

Historical Background
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Image: Amazon

At times the book had the feel of a PBS series, the detail and characterization being so colorful and descriptive, ready for adaptation. This is not a complaint; however, a book of nearly 500 pages does contain a bit of hefty plot making and detail. It’s as if it wants to become a series. The book is not so much a war story as it is a study of England and its people before war irrevocably altered a way of life.

Told from various character experiences, a reader senses the summer before the Great War to be one never seen again in England.  The warmth of friendships, the comfort of routine, and the pace of English country life is laid before the reader in welcome detail, so when war does arrive the shock is truly felt.

Beatrice, Hugh, Aunt Agatha, Mr Tillingham and the other characters of Helen Simonson’s second novel are admirably portrayed, as is the setting and the various subplots. Sometimes it felt a bit much, as in a bit too much detail. The over-length of the story contributed to the four and a half star rating–a hundred pages of exposition trimming would have helped to keep attention on the story instead of on the extra particulars. Colorful details, while appreciated, can become distracting if overdone.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Image: Amazon

Told from two perspectives, All American Boys, tells the story of police brutality, from that of the victim and of a witness. And it gets complicated. White cop, black teenage kid. White witness, friends with the cop and his younger brother. Loyalties are tested. Lines drawn at school. Choices are made.

The authors provide a realistic account of a situation happening too often across the country. What could have added to the story, ends up watering down the impact, as there is also a weak account of the police officer’s viewpoint, although it seems added in to only offset the difficulty of the situation. Being a police officer is difficult. Another character emphasizes the tough split-second decisions officers must make that can result in permanent consequences. The interjection of the police officer in question inadvertently comes off as him being menacing. It might have been better to hear his full his viewpoint to add the perspective of the police officer along with the victim and the witness.

Overall, an important, timely story told with realism and an ear for true dialogue. A four star read.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Image: Good Reads

Having avoided this book because how can any book about the Holocaust be different from the other ones I’ve read? There is an inevitable sadness and horror to the truth of the events.

John Boyne does manage to bring a different perspective to his Holocaust tale, in that his story is told as a fable. Bruno, a nine year old German son of a high ranking Nazi official, must move with his family to Out-With because the Fury deems Bruno’s father capable enough to run the death camp. Bruno, however,  does not know it is a death camp. He also does not know why there are so many people wearing grey-striped pajamas. He hates this place. He hates it until while exploringone day he discovers a boy on the other side of the fence. A nine year old boy named Shmuel who is wearing striped pajamas. The story is about their friendship.

On a literal level, the story is annoying with its purposeful euphemisms and the veiled naïveté of Bruno. Yet, reading the story as a fable, as a story that could never happen in a world so advanced as ours, it deserves the acclaim it has received. A four star as sometimes the fable aspect is somewhat overdone.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


Warning: Only those with a serious crush on the 80’s are advised to saunter forth to experience Ernest Cline’s whopping tome of this romanticized era. And it helps to be a gamer. Not being a fan of either, I really didn’t appreciate the story. Plus, I couldn’t figure out if the audience was meant to be YA or adult. All this contributed to the three star rating. I did like the Willy Wonka mash up with Tron aspect.
The Man He Never Was: A Midern Reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde by James Rubart

Image: Amazon

The story provides much promise as it starts out: a man waking alone in a strange room with no memory. Amnesia stories can be intriguing mysteries as pieces are put back together. Unfortunately, there are too many plot holes to sustain the premise that a person can easily disappear for almost a year without more repercussions than indicated.

At times the message of how a person can overcome weaknesses through the strength of relying on the Lord is inspiring. It is confusing, even dismaying, that this truth gets garbled with New Age aspects of meditation centers, Eastern teas, and cosmic rooms. At times there is a Ted Dekker feel of spiritual mysticism to the plot. Robert Whitlow provides the same blending of spiritual and inspirational, but with more of a faith-based storyline. Rubart’s mixture is confusing, if not disturbing, in its approach to the idea of the dark side, the Hyde, within a person. A three star read. 

The publisher provided a copy in exchange for a fair review.

Movie Musings: Hamlet’s Ghost


I would be remiss to not admit that I do watch an occasional movie. I do prefer books and my ratio is about three to five movies a month I watch to the eight to ten books I read.

I usually get my movies from the library or the grocery store or occasionally from Hoopla. I rarely go to the movie theatre. Our local one has sticky floors and trounced seating. The big city multiplex is an hour away, and even with discounts it’s pricey evening out.

Books are preferred for the reasons of less cost, less effort, and the ability to lie down and read. Although we did go to a theatre a couple of months ago that had recliners. That was different.

If I watch a movie with the hubs it will undoubtedly involve action and adventure. Popcorn feast stuff. When I am by myself I pop in films that are odd or artsy: documentaries about Calvin and Hobbes, the science of bubbles, biographies of favorites like Audrey Hepburn or I watch indie films, ones with high expectations on a low, low budget.

I share my Reader Round Ups about my books, I thought “why not about movies?” The first installment is Hamlet’s Ghost

A download off my Hoopla favorites. The Hamlet part caught my attention right off. The plot involves a modern actor who gets caught up in time traveling back to the 1920’s and is the key figure in an unsolved murder.

Considering its obvious low budget limitations, the acting and plot kept me interested and entertained and of course, it had some great lines from Hamlet. I don’t know why it worked, but it did. IMdB trvia (hence the image) states it made it to the Academy Awards (?). I wonder in what category. Hmmm, another mystery to solve.

Any indie films watched lately you willing to share or admit watching?

Certain as a Jertain


By way of a Quora question request I found perhaps the most beautiful article in the NYTimes mobile about reading.

As a parent, who is a writer/librarian/teacher, I value reading and getting books into the hands of kids, especially mine when they were little.

I remember being the only librarian on staff who had pre-schoolers which meant I had the privilege of taking home a stack of picture books before they hit the shelves.


I would gather my brood around me on our eastern king bed with the dark blue velour blanket and read and read and read. 

“You are the first children to ever read this book,” I would intone before commencing. The books would crisply creak when I opened them, they were so fresh off the press. I’m a closet dramatic and reading books in character voices is how they heard George and Martha and their pb compatriots.

My daughter (now in her thirties) tells me: “It felt like we were floating on a soft, blue ocean while you read to us.”

Reading out loud to children is important. I read out loud to my granddaughter when we are together. I introduced her to Narnia. I read to my high school students, or have a book tape read to them. They are not grown up enough to stop reveling in the joy of being read to out loud.

And so, this is my Mother’s Day post celebrating the joy of having read to my own children. We didn’t have a Streak, but we did create some memories together.

Reading Round Up: April


I am woefully behind schedule in my Good Read’s challenge, being at a paltry 29%. I am five books behind!

 Who knew taking on teaching another Advanced Placement class would zap my energy for even my go-to-unwind activity of reading? Preparing students for their AP exams has left me so tired I have to take a nap so I can get enough energy to go to the gym. And I can’t skip the gym because I tend to binge on chocolate when stressed. 

Wednesday was the last exam. Life is looking a little less frazzling going into the weekend, especially since I’m taking a couple of personal days and extending my weekend into Tuesday. Reading books and relaxing are premier on my agenda list after Friday.

Not having read much last month, here are my two spotlights:

The Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne


In the tradition of old tales of yesteryear such Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is found The Coral Island. Shipwrecked, three young men make their island their home. They have their share of adventures providing readers an enriching story that heartily entertains. 

An interesting aside is that The Coral Island was once read by a lad named William Golding. He would later write his own shipwreck tale called Lord of the Flies. His main characters are also called Jack and Ralph. Hmmmm

Me and Shakespeare by Herman Gollob


The Crayola bright color combined with the enticement of Me and Shakespeare prompted me to stack Herman Gollob’s memoir on top of my other reads. Gollob’s title attracted me for the reason of how personal it sounded, as if he and the Bard had gone on a road trip together.

In actuality, this is a Journey tale. Gollob’s skillful weaving of his extensive experience as a book editor and his discovery of Shakespeare creates a fine and enjoyable read. Sometimes Gollob became a bit pedantic and negative, yet overall he added insights to my own Shakespeare interests.

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