a writer's journey as a reader

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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?


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:


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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.

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.

Reader Roundup: February

Achieving last year’s goal of 101 books I’m game enough to try again this year, which means I need to keep to my quota of reading around 8 books a month. I definitely read more in January while still on Christmas Break. Grading essays, unfortunately takes precedence over my own reading choices. Good news being I’m not behind schedule. I’m just managing so far two months into my new reading year. Maybe I can get to those books languishing on my TBR list when Spring Break pops up next month and even get ahead.  Here’s February’s top picks:

 Will’s Words by Jane Sutcliffe/illustrated by John Shelley
Absolutely delightful. A fine feast for Shakespeare aficionados, blending facts about the Bard with Where’s Waldo-like illustrations reflecting life in Renaissance London. Readers learn about the theatre, actors, acting, and a bit about the playwright. A great read for all ages.

Sense and Sensibility
by Joanna Trollope

image:Good Reads

So far, I haven’t been enthralled with any of the Shakespeare or Austen projects. The authors usually try too hard to parallel the plot with awkward adjustments or they try too hard to shake things up that it becomes teeth gritting to turn the pages there is such a disregard for the original story.

Not so with Trollope’s rendition of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The first few pages were a bit teeth gritting as I found Marianne, Margaret, and Elinor transported into the 21st century complete with smartphones and potty mouths. So unlike Austen. But then Trollope puts her own spin on it all and it begins to stand on its own having echoes of Austen instead of mimicking her commentary on money/marriage society. Trollope even sticks in a meta-comment about women who hanker after meddling into people’s lives, suggesting things haven’t changed much. I suppose not. Except gossip in the culture circles is made faster with texting and Facebook updates.

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty 

image: Good Reads

Maybe I started out with greater expectations in reading my first Eudora Welty novel. I chose the slim Delta Wedding as a tryout and found it difficult to connect with in terms of following a plotline. The story blurb explains that a young girl travels to her relatives house during the week before her older cousin’s wedding. Set in the 1930’s in Mississippi ‘s delta country, I looked forward to the relationship tangles and intricacies of a Southern family. Instead, the story has no firm point of view and is a kaleidoscope of images, thoughts, flashbacks all jumbled together in fits and starts. No smooth reading, and it became a chore to get through it. Hearing much about Welty, I’m looking for another of her novels in hopes of a better experience.

The snows February are still lingering which means little chance of going outside. Spring is supposed to be just ahead. And I will be glad to leave winter behind and get outside once again.

September Reading Round Up

Now that school is up and running my life, I’ve noticed a downturn in my reading. It’s difficult to cozy up with a book when a set of papers is calling from down in the depths of my carry all: “Grade me.” Guilt has a persistent voice.

Here are the slim highlights of last month:

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend 

I had hopes of really liking it and saved it for my last hurrah Labor Day weekend read. It began with great promise with its unusual beginning of naïve Swedish tourist, a funeral, and a quirky smalltown. The premise that a good book solves a multitude of problems sweetened the deal. All went well until mushy middle syndrome overtook the plot. I finished it, but my amore had definitely lessened by the last chapter.

Running out of means to find DE Stevenson novels, which are not as readily available as hoped, I’ve turned to another former favorite: Mary Stewart. Our library has several of her titles. They are quite the study in character, red herrings, and setting. Here’s one title I especially enjoyed:

My Brother Michael


Reminiscent of her Moon Spinners, which also is a Disney movie with Haley Mills–highly recommend.

Greek scenery, really bad guys, wonderful good guys, lots of action, hints of romance. Perfect weekend read.

I Capture the Castle


 Smith of 101 Dalmations fame has quite a following for this little gem. It quietly sneaks up and embraces the reader with his odd litttle charm.  A family  comprised of distinctly creative individuals have fallen from a once prosperous lifestyle into despairing poverty. This seems like an juxtaposed statement since they do live in a castle, after all. Their surroundings reflect their wealth of spirit, not their income.

Odd, lovable family, hilarious hijinks, misunderstandings, memorable characters, the perfect ending. A book which sets my faith into the fact that some of the really good reads come from another era.

Not Quite Titles

Though my current vocation is English teacher, I am really a librarian at heart. My principal knows this and understands I am awaiting the day the district figures out the funding to put a certified librarian back into the school library (“pick me, pick me”). I also have visions of retiring from teaching and hiding out in the local community college library working on mends and discards, like I did in my yesteryear life. Until those designated times happen, I live vicariously through other librarians’ lives. Knowing that background–how could I resist this title when I saw it propped up on the “last chance” rack at my local library?

I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Racks

Gina Sheridan, does indeed work at a public library, and her library must be crazier than the ones I have worked in. She even has a blog dedicated to daily oddities that happen there. If you think libraries are calm, quiet, and bland places to work in, you really need to check out her postings.

I had fun reading her book, and could definitely relate to some of the odd conversations she had either overheard and participated in. One of my favorite sections was her Chapter 3: 028.9 Reading Interests and Habits where she shared some of the “not quite titles” her patrons asked for. Ever hear of these?

  • Catcher in the Wind
  • Gullible’s Travels
  • Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anatomy
  • How to Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Diary of Aunt Frank
  • The Hungry Games

Do you have any interesting tales from the library? Can you top my story of the fifty dollar bill left in a book as a bookmark? Or the guy who checked out an armload of expensive art books who tried to sell them at one of the bookstores down the street ten minutes later?

The Giver et al

I have rediscovered The Giver. 


sometimes the movie reminds the reader the greatness of the book image:

When it arrived on the scene in 1993 I was not an impressionable YA reader. No, I was a thirtysomething wife/mom/librarian and read books no matter what age they were intended for. Hmm. the only thing that’s changed is my age and the fact that I’m a librarian at heart while teaching English.

Like most readers, I felt a bit cheated at the ending. It was not neatly wrapped up and presented as a conclusion of satisfaction. Ambiguity can be quite frustrating, yet that’s one reason why The Giver is so memorable. We all want to know what happened to Jonas. Having rediscovered The Giver through watching the 2014 film led me to discover the other books in the series: Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. And here I thought all these years that the story ended with that famous sled ride.

Apparently it took twenty years for the book to become adapted to the screen. Jeff Bridges bought the rights and had originally wanted his father Lloyd to play the part of Giver. It didn’t happen, but viewers can watch a family reading of The Giver as one of the special features selections on the released DVD. Having finished reading the entire quartet I am smitten with the entire story. I hope there is a continuation of the series since each adds to the overall understanding of Jonas’s world.

An added bonus to rediscovering The Giver was reading the latest edition which contains author Lois Lowry’s twenty year reflection of The Giver’s impact.

A goal for this year: revisiting novels, particularly juvenile and YA novels, to gain a different perspective and insight.

Anyone interested in doing the same?


Last Chance Rack Finds

When the progeny were young enough to tote to the grocery store I used to dread the inevitable trial of the checkstand gauntlet: the Last Chance Rack. You know, the racks of candy, toys, geegaws, magazines that all whimper at worn out consumers to be taken home. Their whimpering frequency is especially tuned to children’s ears. “Pluheeze, Mom?” I did have a stock phrase for surviving the ordeal which consisted of “Sorry, I don’t have money for (fill in the blank) today.” No arguing with that. And very true–I tended to stick to the budget because I had to back then.  Actually, I still should as an empty nester. Never mind that.

The Last Chance Rack I refer to today does not promote cavities or wasteful spending. This is a positively good rack in that it promotes reading. This is the LCR of the library. Our library has prominently planted two double-sided racks near the checkout area. They probably meant it as a way to display new titles as a greeting for patrons. On the flip side, the racks serve another purpose, one I think of more significance. While patrons await their turn to check out their basket of literary goodies they  find themselves next to the LCR and can’t help but browse titles.  I usually end up taking home an extra yummy or two.  Who can resist? The books are especially trained to Book Booster frequency.

This last week I went in for my one hold–akin to going in for that one quart of milk. I came out with two extra books.  No complaints about the extra calories needed to read my found treasures.  Thought I would share my finds:



As a Book Booster it’s difficult to pass up a book about making books. Like any conniseur, I appreciate the art and skill that goes into making something I so regularly consume. The books contained within this palm-sized tome focus on the artisans and their craft. Flipping through the pages and savoring the renderings of featured artists inspire me to try my hand at making my own book or two. There are handy directions included. Sounds like Christmas presents to me…

Another LCR item practically jumped into my arms as I passed the rack. This little goodie knew a Bardinator was in hailing distance. I need to subscribe to the NYT bestseller list. I always hear of these amazing books waaay after they’ve been out and then feel so silly when I find them and gush about them. No wonder I get those looks of–“That was so yesterday’s book.” or “You are just now hearing about that one?” I’m so glad the Book Booster Brigrade is disbanded. I might be in violation of section 31-A (best seller awareness).

Ready for this companion to the NYT bestseller? (just roll your eyes if you are already oh-so-aware of it):

How can you resist a book from a publisher called Quirk Books?(from which this image cometh)

Without slavering too much about how it’s so absolutely genius to mash-up Shakespeare with Star Wars, I will say Ian Doescher manages to pull off the feat of presenting *the best episode* of the Star Wars trilogy in iambic pentameter with dextrous aplomb. Not that I’m an expert at iambic pentameter, but I do appreciate how tough it is to write it. I teach it as the “heartbeat” meter and the students understand that. Shakespeare understood that writing his works in a meter close to the essence of being alive meant his words would be as easy to remember as breathing. Doescher gets that concept too, and understands the devotion of Stars Wars fans. Bringing Shakespeare into our century in a new and absolutely true and original way always gets a round of applause from me. What I really appreciated about Doescher’s mirthful approach is how he skillfully inserted references to the Bard’s other works. Here is my unabashed shopping list of “Where’s Willy?” finds:

  • Leia’s rant about Han’s ego is reminiscent of Beatrice
  • Hamlet’s “A hit! A very palpable hit!” uttered by Luke as they attack AT-ATs
  • C-3PO’s parts with sorrow from his loyal R2-D2 is so R&J
  • As Luke wings his way to learn the ways of the Jedi from Yoda he speaks of the affairs of mean
  • And Leia swoons upon discovering her nice scoundrel kisses by the book–that Han, he’s such a bad boy Romeo

The book trailer is as delightful as the book:



Anyone else have a library with a tempting Last Chance Rack?  Don’t resist the Force of a good book that needs to go home with you…

Blog spotlight:Letizia

Letizia’s banner image invites readers to open a book and fall in love with reading


Book Boosters are those who place reading right up there with breathing. Yup, for some, reading and breathing is pretty essential  Letizia is definitely  a Book Booster because she reads , reads, reads. Pop onto her “About Me” page and this is what you’ll find:

I read in cafes, in my garden, in buses, in airplanes, at the kitchen table, at work, in parks, in bed, in the tub, in the doctor’s waiting room, in hotel lobbies, in trains, in restaurants, waiting for the electrician, during a snowstorm, and when I can’t sleep. I still haven’t mastered the art of walking and reading without looking up from my book, but I hope to one day.

university professor, translator, editor, workshop coordinator (and lover of all dogs!)

languages: French, English, Italian, some Portuguese


Her posts are thoughtful and thought-provoking. Take for instance her post on last sentences. In a playful interactive manner she encourages her readers to grab their fave novel and look up the last sentence and reflect upon it. I pulled out my beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, the 1960 issue with the nondescript green tree branch on brown background cover (talk about don’t judge a book by its cover). Letizia’s little exercise reminded me why I adore Harper Lee’s novel and why it is so enduring. This is why I follow her. And I hope you will too.

As a blogger, I always appreciate responses to my own posts, and Letizia faithfully adds her comments.  We all appreciate comments, don’t we?

Thanks, Letizia for your Book Boostering, comments, and worthwhile posting.



Summer Wonders

Returning school goes beyond getting back into a routine because it means I also have to make adjustments to my practicing for retirement. No more rolling over and going back to sleep, no more schlepping around in jammies, no more naps, no more odd eating hours, or meals for that matter. And worst of all, no more diving into books for an entire day and barely coming up for air. Responsible English teachers don’t partake in any of the above behaviors. At least not during the school year. Yet, summer vacation does allow me to practice the art of retirement and one of those skills is thoroughly enjoying a really good read. I was fortunate this year and enjoyed more than my usual share of good reads:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Breathtaking in its flow and style, I absolutely devoured Doerr’s novel about two lost children. Set in WWII, Doerr portrays the war in a way I’ve not encountered before. One perspective is through the blind eyes of Marie, a young French girl whose indomitable spirit carries her beyond the war’s cruelties. The other perspective is that of Werner, a German youth whose talents land him in the Hitler Youth. The parallel stories eventually telescope down to a satisfying denouement. Doerr, already an award-winning author, will do doubt increase his presence with this amazing tale of how the spirit can overcome its surroundings.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan

Sometimes I simply have to take a break from the pedantic pace of classics, or step away from serious literary excursions. Mr. Penumbra helped me to once again find the wit in wordsmithing. This foray into classic literature name dropping reminds me of Jasper Fford’s Thursday Next series, which is a delight in how it metafictionally pokes fun at how serious we tend to take our literature. Robin Sloan not only lovingly jabs at academia, he embraces our wanderings over to the dark side of technology via Google (those villains). Yet, bad guys (technology) aren’t so bad, once you understand them, and often they prove helpful overall because they are just misunderstood.

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

My first introduction to Ishiguro and of the three novels I read of his over the summer, this one is certainly the best in my opinion. The voice of nationalistic pride and misguided directive is so artfully penned in this memoir of a proper English butler. The bonus being how well the film adaptation captured the slow realization of how corrupted Steven’s outlook was after all.

The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills

As a TKAM devotee I jumped on ordering Mills’s account of her time with Harper Lee faster than freckles popping out during a July heat wave. Lee has become such a recluse over the years it has been feared this national treasure will leave little behind in way of knowing who she really was. Fortunately Marja Mills went beyond her journalistic assignment and got to know Harper Lee as friend and neighbor allowing fans and readers a delightful glimpse into what Scout might have been like in the real.

The Push Cart War by Jean Merrill

This cannot possibly be a kids’ book! The wit is droll in delivery and its lampooning so adroit I don’t see how children could appreciate it fully. Maybe I’m only bereft in my opinion since I missed this one growing up. I think I got sidelined by Encyclopedia Brown. Just like The Phantom Tollbooth or Alice in Wonderland is not strictly for children, neither is Merrill’s classic. I’m ever so glad I found it and I made up for lost time.


image: Wikipedia

One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke. A Printz Honor Award
YA reads are hit and miss for me. There tend to be riveting and noteworthy like Hunger Games and Divergent or fall into high school drama–been there done that and see it everyday. Now and then I do get to pick up a YA which should be in what I call the YA+ category, meaning it’s more towards literary then temporal contemporary (I think it has lasting merit, not trendy, and an adult shouldn’t be embarrassed reading it). Clarke’s novel concerning a girl’s desire to have one day where her family is not dysfunctional fills that YA+ bill. Set in Australia, Lily does indeed have an odd family and what is even more odd is Clarke’s approach to the Point of View–it’s omnipotent, which has fallen out of favor. With almost Dickensian flair for characters and situations, Clarke provides a plot that slowly builds to the becoming a whole and perfect story–pretty nearly.

What’s really the wonder of these summer reads is that they were all recommends found on blogs I perused. Following other Book Boosters definitely has its benefits and I no longer have to forlornly drift the stacks hoping to uncover the newest hot read or find a lost treasure.

How about you?  Any really good reads found and savored over the summer?  Any great recommends discovered while catching up on your blogs?

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