December book report and my faves of 2017

Reading dropped a bit as we prepared for the holidays last month. And okay, part of that was also me scrambling to finish watching LOST before Netflix took it away. I had started the series when it was on TV 10+ years ago, and even used a few episodes in my classroom alongside our reading of Lord of the Flies, but lost interest (haha, pun intended) until the final episode. Which I watched, slightly confused, but more or less able to piece together what was going on after grilling my husband who had binged on library DVDs. Anyway, I decided to give the whole thing a go, and while I appreciated the layers of storytelling and character development, the ending was more disappointing than when I had skipped over seasons 2-6.

Back to books. I read two last month, so I decided in order to make this post longer (besides the above rambling), I’d highlight my faves from the year. I narrowed down the top four and then got stuck trying to pick a fifth from so many good reads. So top four it is. But first, my December reads:

Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell
This is not a book I would have normally picked up to read, but someone I recently met suggested it as a way of tapping into the male voice. (My current MC is a teenage boy and I worried he didn’t sound authentic.) There is definitely a strong male voice here, although too strong for what I was aiming toward. The story was good, but a bit of a rough read content wise – especially in the end. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with a delicate sensibility.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
I’m making my way through the books on my TBR list that dates back to 2015, and I believe I put this one on there for its bisexual main character (although upon reading would conclude he is gay and not bi) as comp research for my previous book. It’s about a  Also, I loved the book jacket comp: Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind – a fantastic movie about wiping out painful memories. The voice in More Happy Than Not is great, and I felt like I was right alongside his group of friends. But I wanted more speculative fiction, and less homophobia. (SPOILER: The MC wants to undergo a memory erasing procedure so he can “forget” being in a m/m relationship. I struggled with the ethics of that.) I will say, I’ve been really into watching Black Mirror, and the book had a very dangers-of-technology feel to it, which I enjoyed.

Because I think you should GO OUT AND READ THESE BOOKS! LIKE, NOW! I’m going to link to their amazon page. Feel free to also support local booksellers, and/or request that your local library carry a copy. Spread the love, people.

The Long Walk by Brian Castner
First, some background on how I came to read this book (in less than 48 hours). Brian Castner spoke at our local author book club in early 2017, and I was asked to facilitate the discussion. I gave myself plenty of time to read All the Ways We Kill and Die (also a great read and definitely in my top ten for the year), his novel that explores the nuances of modern warfare. I researched Brian, took notes while I read, and prepared questions for the discussion.

Two days before the meeting, my friend texted to ask how I enjoyed the books. Books. Plural. In a panic, I checked the club’s website, and sure enough, we were slated to also discuss Brian’s memoir, The Long Walk. Thankfully, our local library had an e-book available, and I stayed up late devouring the book. Honestly though? I would have devoured it even without the fear of being unprepared for book club. It is not the sort of book you put down, and not the sort of book you ever forget. You can read my full review here. Meeting Brian the next day, talking to him and hearing his story first-hand, was also something I’ll never forget. If you have the opportunity to meet an author you admire, do it. And please, read one (or all) of Brian’s books. website

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
I added this book based on a magazine recommendation, and normally things that everyone else likes I read and think, meh. I took The Death of Bees on vacation and basically stuck my head into the book and barely came up for air. It reminded me of one of my all time faves, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Loved, loved, loved the dark humor and satire.

Salt to the Sea by Rita Sepetys
A friend recommended this book to me, and I listened to it on my phone. It is an award winner, and for good reason. It’s a WWII young adult historical fiction novel, and you’ve probably never heard of the tragedy that takes place at the end – I certainly hadn’t. But that’s not why you should read it. The characters are richly developed, and the story woven beautifully. I look forward to reading more by this author.

No Place Like Home  by Dee Romito
I am lucky because Dee is one of my dear friends. And she is a wonderful writer. Her middle grade books are full of heart and a must read for children and adults alike. Trust me. I read No Place Like Home aloud to my oldest son (he’s 11), and we both loved it. Read my full review here. Especially the end, which I read during a soccer tournament and had to choke back tears.

Not only is Dee a great writer, she is also a fantastic resource for other writers. Her blog provides helpful links and advice, she teaches Scrivener workshops at writing conferences (and spreads the love of sponge candy), and she co-founded our local writer and illustrator group, BNCWI.

So check out her books. You won’t regret it.

What do you plan to read in 2018? I’m excited about my friend Alyssa Palombo’s new book coming out in the fall, and hoping to chip away at my now three year old TBR list. And like every year, I look forward to learning new things, interacting with authors, and losing myself in a good story.

July book report

I love reading and discussing books, and I’ve decided to dedicate a blog post here and there to what’s been on my nightstand, in the van’s CD player, or loaded on my phone/Kindle. A monthly (or every other month, depending on how crazy life gets) book report of sorts – what I read, why I chose to read it, and what I thought about it. Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments and I’ll add the book to my always growing to-read list. My go-to genres are coming of age, memoirs, women’s fiction, YA contemporary, and historical fiction.

Books read in July:

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by MJ Rose
I don’t remember how this particular book landed on my to-read list. I’m currently about two years behind right now, and the date listed leads me to believe I added it during the PennWriters conference. Someone mentioned the title, I was on the lookout for good historical fiction, and there you have it. I don’t usually go for books that are heavy on romance, and it’s been a while since I’ve read anything supernatural, but I was hooked into this book early on, curious about what dark forces were at work in the main character. The author is prolific and I can see why. Her writing is crisp, her sex scenes steamy. A good book to escape into.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Again, I’m so far behind on my to-read list, that I have no idea who recommended this book to me or why, but the timing was almost comical. Hubs and I finished the latest season of Orange is the New Black the same week I started to read this gritty, girls in juvie, Black Swan-esque book. And no surprise, I had a few jail related nightmares in the days that followed. It’s an intense read. The book is told in alternating POV’s, which I have been devouring lately in an effort to help with my revisions. It is dark, beautifully written, and reminded me of my good friend Kate Karyus Quinn’s book, (Don’t You) Forget About Me  A touch of paranormal subtly woven into a chilly narrative.

Books listened to in July:

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Between the road trip to North Carolina and camp drop-off/pick up, I’ve spent a lot of time in the car. Four books worth of time, to be exact. This book was recommended during book club, and it kept my attention all the way down south. I am a sucker for a good coming of age story, especially when the time period is the same as my own coming of age. The story deals with the AIDS epidemic of the 80’s and examines the fear of what we did not understand through the eyes of a young girl navigating her first love (a love that is not the traditional girl crushes on a boy in her class variety).

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Saw the preview for this movie and was intrigued, but not enough to add the book to my to-read list. But when I was looking for a hubs friendly, 10hr+ audio book that we could listen to on the way home, I saw it on the shelf and decided to give it a try. Eh. I enjoy a good, humanity driven dystopian, and was a big X-Files fan back in the day, but this book didn’t really do much for me. I found the main character a bit too vapid, and the plot not very believable.

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang
 There are a lot of books about bullying and teen suicide, and there should be because it is an important topic to read about and discuss. This book approached it a bit differently, with the student doing the bullying feeling like she couldn’t go on. Lately I’ve been having a harder time with some YA novels, maybe because my son is rapidly approaching the age where he will make bad choices and take dangerous risks, and I want to reach into the pages of the book and knock some sense into these characters. Honestly, I had a tough time with this one – I didn’t connect with the main character and had very little sympathy for her and her friends, and the misogynistic, homophobic boys that permeated the school.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
I listened to Grasshopper Jungle a few months ago; the main character mentions The Chocolate War and its controversial content. I’d read one other Cormier book before (The Rag and Bone Shop) and know this is a classic, so I decided to give it a listen. Strangely, I found it in the children’s section, not the YA section – it clearly deals with topics not appropriate for the under 12 set. The book was an interesting look at mob mentality, and Cormier portrayed the teenage boy with precision. I didn’t mind the self-pleasuring references, but there is a scene with terrible homophobic slang that made my skin crawl. It’s worth a read and would pair well with Lord of the Flies and my favorite Twilight Zone episode: The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.

Recent ARCS:

No Place Like Home by Dee Romito
Being in the writing community has its perks, and one of them is reading books before they’re released to the general public (known as ARCs or Advanced Reviewer Copies). My wonderful friend, Dee Romito, has two books coming out soon, and my 6th grade son and I read her middle grade novel, No Place Like Home. We loved it, especially when he found out she named a character after him! It is a sweet book about friendship, family, and fitting in and will be out on September 19. Read my full review here.

Happy Reading!

Life’s little detours

writingHello old friends and new followers. Welcome to Caravan of Composition!

For nine years I chronicled stories about my boys, their birthday cakes, and the transition from teacher to counselor/writer. My oldest son is on the verge of puberty, and despite the fact that he told me last night he was perfectly okay with me telling the Internet all about his life, I decided it would be best to switch gears. Focus on the writing journey. Where I’ve been, where I’d like to go, and how I plan to get there. Help others on the path. Writing is a solitary activity, which is part of why I love it. I’m an introvert with social anxiety who occasionally makes a fool of herself in public. But there is an amazing community of writers out there, and I’ve learned a thing or two about networking in the past few years. It is possible.

The new blog, for example? It exists because of people I’ve met along the way.

Life never seems to go exactly as planned. It shuts down roads and forces you to find a new route. The children I love more than cilantro-jalapeno hummus came into my life in a completely different manner than I had expected. (Check out my old blog, The Family Van, if you want to know more.) My teaching career suffered multiple derailments which, while devastating at the time, ultimately allowed me to write more and worry less. And now I’m here. With grand plans of overcoming chronic procrastination and sharing my wit and wisdom with anyone who cares to join me on the next leg of the journey.