The story behind the seven

Recently a friend on social media tagged me in a post about books. It asked to post the covers of seven books I loved over the course of seven days. No review of any sort or an explanation as to why I loved them. Just the covers.

BOOKS? I’m in.

NO EXPLANATION? You’re killing me, social media.

I played by the rules. Posted the covers of seven of my favorite books with no reason as to why I love them. But I couldn’t let it rest. I needed to tell people why I love those books and why it was difficult to narrow it down to only seven.

So here are my choices, in the order they appeared (which was originally supposed to be in the order I read them, but I messed up at the end).


JImage may contain: one or more people and textames and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

I love nearly everything by Roald Dahl and have read his books to myself, to my students, and to my kids. They are fun to read and full of quirky examinations of humanity. James has always held a special place in my heart. In first grade we had a student teacher named Miss Church. She read the book to us and I fell in love. It is a story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds with a bit of magic and a fantastic swirl of adventure.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Most people recognize author Shirley Jackson from her short story, The Lottery. I can’t remember if it was the story that led me to her, or the collection of books in my grandmother’s basement. I read the book in ninth grade, loved the dark, twisty tale, and went on to seek out every Shirley Jackson book I could find. She died young, so unfortunately there aren’t many. And back in the early 90’s when there was no world wide web to browse, I would spend hours in second hand bookstores searching for her work. I love everything about Shirley Jackson; her wry wit, the way she satirizes suburbia, and the darkness that creeps its way into her stories. My personal copy of the book is worn and well-loved, and I will never part with it.

Image may contain: textCat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Atwood is another author on my top faves list. I dare you to read one of her books and not be completely taken in by the voice. I was first introduced to her in AP English with The Handmaid’s Tale. Hubs was actually surprised I didn’t pick that one as one of my favorites. Maybe because when I read Cat’s Eye the words spoke to me so clearly, as if Margaret Atwood had taken up residence in my brain. I read it in college during a time when I was discovering who I was as a woman and as a feminist. It is currently on my TBRA (To Be Read Again) list–I’m curious how life will have changed my perspective.

Image may contain: outdoor and natureWalk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

I talked about my love for this book in my post, November book report. It is heartwarming, and sweet, and sad, and it reminds me of my former middle school students who are all in their twenties now and I wonder how they’re doing and look I feel like crying again.

Image may contain: textHunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Text message from sister back in 2009: Have you heard of Hunger Games? So good.
Me: Can’t talk, reading.

I remember calling it The Lottery meets Survivor. I remember devouring it. I remember hiding my copy of Catching Fire so I could read it before my husband. There’s not much else to say. If you haven’t read the series, what exactly are you waiting for?

Image may contain: 3 people, textMacbeth by William Shakespeare

There are fights in my house over the merit of Shakespeare. (Hubs doesn’t read my blog. He admitted that in front of a bunch of our friends last night. So he won’t read that he is wrong when he says Shakespeare is not worth reading. Dead wrong. There is a reason Willy S is still taught in high school and performed all over the world.)

The Scottish play is my favorite. I loved it when I first read it in high school and even more when I got to perform as one of the witches in college, and even more when I taught it to a bunch of high schoolers and we turned individual scenes into mini stage plays and performed them for other classes. (If you look closely you can see the pink post-it notes indicating each class’s section.) I can recite full passages from memory. And in an alternate universe where I decided to become a stage actress, I would perform as Lady Macbeth and the audience would be moved by my portrayed insanity.

Image may contain: one or more people and textHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

The seventh cover was SUCH A DIFFICULT DECISION. I walked over to our bookshelf and pulled down book after book that I loved. Held them against my chest and thought fondly of our time together. I’m weird, okay?

I chose HP4 because even though I’m not exactly crazy about this cover, I remember staying up all night at my friend’s cabin reading it. The series was amazing, but book four is the one that sticks with me the most. I love how Hermoine works to figure out who she is and what she wants, and the tournament makes it a complete page turner.

There were a lot of runners-up, and I’m always on the lookout for the next book that will shift my perspective and make me think about it long after I close the cover.

Jan/Feb book report

I’ve decided to change things up a bit this year with my book reports — instead of writing about all the books I’ve read in a given month, I’ll highlight my main recommendations. You can still follow my reading pile on Goodreads, and I do try to write reviews now and then over there if something really moves me, but I’ll post my faves here every month or so and try to focus on one audio book, one read aloud, and one recent release.

In January I listened to In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park. A friend of mine had recommended it, and I am drawn to memoirs of survival, particularly when they involve breaking free from an oppressive culture. I love books that are difficult to read and stay with you long after they end. This was no exception. Parts of the book made me cringe as I listened to Park detail the hardships she faced while living in North Korea and then being forced into human trafficking in her attempt to escape. It is impossible not to be moved by her perseverance and resiliency, and of the sacrifices made by her mother. I appreciated the fact that she explained the history of her home country, the honesty with which she told her story, and the bravery required to openly speak out against a place that is known for its treatment of traitors. Park’s story is only one. There are no doubt other stories, some more extreme and painful. And as global citizens, it is our duty to listen.

My younger son and I read the second book in Todd McClimans’ American Epochs series, a book called Time Underground. I met Todd on Twitter when I won a copy of his first book in the series, Time Traitor, which I read aloud with my older son. The series follows two boarding school friends who discover a time machine and travel back in American history. McClimans, history teacher turned principal, knows his stuff, and I love the fact that I can use literature to bring history alive to my sons. I even recommended the series to our school librarian, who loved it. Time Underground is about the Underground Railroad, and when one of the main characters discovers a distant relative did not survive his attempt to escape slavery, she goes back in time to try and save him. The present day chapters in the beginning were a little slow, but once she travels in time it was definitely a page turner, and the boy let out a loud, “NOOOO” each night I closed the book and said it was time to go to sleep. A sure sign of a good read.

Lastly, a new release I stumbled upon and enjoyed was Brave Deeds by David Abrams. I’ve started a new writing project and the main character works as a funeral guard for the Navy Reserves. I discovered the novel while searching the library catalog for research materials. I’m a sucker for a good, gritty military story, especially ones that showcase war’s effect on humanity. Brave Deeds follows a group of men on a day long journey to the memorial of their leader, and what I liked most about the book was its unique use of first person plural narrative. I’ve only seen that done once before (in The Weird Sisters) and it was the perfect way to show how the men were separate individuals functioning as one unit. I noticed some reviewers complaining that the narrative was disjointed, jumping around from present to past, but I think that was a deliberate and effective story telling device for this piece. The language is raw and realistic, and Abrams does a wonderful job weaving in each character’s back story wound. I will definitely be checking out his other work.

As always, happy reading everyone!

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.

November book report

I know, I know, it’s eighteen days into December. But good news: I finished my yearly reading goal!

And I couldn’t let a month slip past without giving a shout-out to all the wonderful words that entered my brain in story form. November was a very YA/Middle grade focused month. In fact, I didn’t read a single “adult” book.

Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams
Another verse book recommended by my editor friend. This one did not make me cry, but it certainly tugged at the heart. It is a story of two sisters, one of whom struggles with mental illness, and it reminded me of Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones. Be warned, there are suicide attempts and abuse, some of which was quite difficult to read. I had a hard time with the mother character, but overall enjoyed the quality of verse and story telling.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Oldest read this book with his class, and I had promised him back in the day that anything he was assigned I would also read so that we could discuss it together. We’ve read a few Avi books together – he is an excellent story teller. The book is fast paced and full of girl power adventure. Critics argued that the character shift was not believable, and while my son and I concurred, we both enjoyed watching her go from prim stuck-up to edgy risk-taker. Fans of Treasure Island would enjoy this read.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Here is my review from Goodreads: I recently read Walk Two Moons with my oldest son. It was not my first time reading it. Not my second. Not my third. It was probably the 20th time I’ve read this book, and I cry EVERY TIME. It is a beautiful, moving story about family, friendship, loss, and love. And so much more. If you’ve never read it, you should. Read it alone. Read it to your child. Read it to your pet. Just read it. And have tissues handy.

My youngest reported that his teacher was reading WTM during silent reading time, so I mentioned it during conferences. She had never read it before and asked if it would be okay to share with third graders. It’s not (IMO). There are some seriously heavy parts to this book. I used to read it with 7th graders and feel it would be appropriate for 10+.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
I loved When You Reach Me. The “mystery” in this one was a bit more obvious (I had it figured out right away), but it was still a great read aloud with my younger son. We both enjoyed the MC’s voice and the various characters, especially the neighbors with their unique names and personalities.

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne
Another book chosen because I loved the first one I read by the author. In this case, it was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – a total tear-jerker that left me sobbing in my work parking lot last year. (Note: Read the book over watching the movie. Far superior.) Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is another excellent, beautifully woven war story. It deals with PTSD before it was recognized as a mental illness and taps into the heartache of missing a family member. The audio book version is worth a listen, and again I would recommend it for 10+ due to the issues addressed.

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
I listened to this verse book on my phone and worry that not seeing the poems may have altered my appreciation a bit. The story is about a young girl trying to make money for college who takes on a job babysitting for a single mom struggling with poverty. It was good, but after trying a few other verse books in audio format and giving up, I’ve decided it may be better to stick with print.

All The Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
A verse book about finding out who you are and dealing with demons from your past. Deals with post-Vietnam War adoption in a way that didn’t make me want to throw the book across the room (I can be a bit touchy about adoption in literature). Many of the poems were raw and beautiful. It hasn’t been my favorite verse book, but I’d definitely recommend it.

So far, my December reading has been a bit sparse. But I plan to spend some quality time during the holidays wrapped up with a good book. Happy reading, everyone!