Todd’s Review of Deck Z: The Titanic by Chris Pauls & Matt Solomon

Every now and again, Kim hands me her Nook and asks me to scroll through a list of books that are highlighted, usually for a sale or a particular event or 51hhDGkGAEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_season. One time I was flipping through a list of science fiction titles and one book in particular stood out. A creepy and undead hand was reaching up towards a picture of the Titanic steaming along the ocean. Intrigued, I began to read the synopsis. Two minutes later, I purchased Deck Z:The Titanic by Chris Pauls & Matt Solomon.

It is 1912, and the White Star Line is preparing to flex its muscle as one of the most powerful British shipping companies in the world with the debut of its flagship, the Titanic. Meanwhile, in a remote village in Manchuria, a mysterious sickness is spreading. Characterized by a black, oily substance that exits the mouths and noses of those infected; the patients often beg for death before descending into a subhuman state. Theodore Weiss, a German scientist, is sent by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself to investigate. What he finds is purely terrifying, and he is able to capture one of the infected and retrieve a vial of what he notes is “the Toxic” from which this infection spreads. Meanwhile, he discovers that he is not the only one who is interested in this mysterious disease, and he runs for his life as he is pursued in order to gain access to “the Toxic.” Weiss finds safety on the Titanic just as it weighs anchor and leaves port. None of the thousands of passengers aboard have the slightest idea of the grave danger they face on a ship which they believe to be unsinkable. What follows next is a tale of terror and action that doesn’t stop until the very end.

Being such a fan of science fiction and zombies, I knew that I was going to find this book entertaining. What I was curious about was the level of detail the book would provide about the zombies. If it was just going to be a gory zombie-fest with the undead chasing Titanic passengers around their cabins, I was going to be a little disappointed. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I read the opening chapters. In fact, there is a good amount of time before any action happens aboard the Titanic at all. Pauls and Solomon do a great job at setting the stage and describing “the sickness” in vivid detail. I felt as if I was with Weiss, investigating the illnesses in remote villages and his own lab, with little-to-no idea of the gravity in which he was placing himself.

After things get going on the Titanic itself, the action only picks up more, chapter by chapter. Weiss is a likable character, and I found myself rooting for him throughout the story. Pauls and Solomon also add a touch of softness with a side story line involving a young girl, which helps to round out all the horror and action that is going on otherwise. Overall, although things do get a bit predictable at points (there are only so many ways to describe a zombie, I suppose), the authors did an admirable job keeping me entertained and cheering for Weiss to the end. This is well worth a pickup for a quick read that will leave you turning the pages (or in my case, tapping the screen) until you discover what really happened on the Titanic that day.

4 out of 5 stars

Deck Z by Chris Pauls & Matt Solomon
Chronicle Books (2012)
eBook: 218 pages
ISBN: 9781452108032

Ross Poldark by Winston Graham Blog Tour + GIVEAWAY

If you’re a historical fiction buff, it’s your lucky day! We at Reflections are proud to be hosting today’s Poldark blog tour stop. Aimed to coincide with the start of the revamp of PBS’s hit series from almost 40 years ago, Poldark, a new generation of viewers will now experience the magic that is this saga. This Masterpiece Classic is based on the Poldark book series written by Winston Graham, which captivated readers around the world when it was originally released. Below is a description of the book one, Ross Poldark, as well as Demelza, the second work in the group. Also be sure to see below for details on how to enter to win your own copies of Ross Poldark and Demelza, or an Anglophile-themed grand prize pack!

Ross Poldark Novel of Cornwall Winston Graham Sourcebooks cover 2015Ross Poldark Book Blurb:

In the first novel in Winston Graham’s hit series, a weary Ross Poldark returns to England from war, looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth—believing Ross to be dead—is now engaged to his cousin. Ross has no choice but to start his life anew.

Thus begins the Poldark series, a heartwarming, gripping saga set in the windswept landscape of Cornwall. With an unforgettable cast of characters that spans loves, lives, and generations, this extraordinary masterwork from Winston Graham is a story you will never forget.

Demelza A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790 by Winston Graham 2015Demelza Book Blurb:

In the enchanting second novel in Winston Graham’s beloved Poldark series, Demelza Carne, an impoverished miner’s daughter Ross Poldark rescued from a fairground brawl, now happily finds herself his wife. But the events of these turbulent years test their marriage and their love. As Ross launches into a bitter struggle for the right of the mining communities, Demelza’s efforts to adapt to the ways of the gentry (and her husband) place her in increasingly odd and embarrassing situations. When tragedy strikes and sows the seeds of an enduring rivalry between Ross and the powerful George Warleggan, will Demelza manage to bridge their differences before they destroy her and her husband’s chance at happiness?

Against the stunning backdrop of eighteenth century Cornwall, Demelza sweeps readers into one of the greatest love stories of all time.

Author Bio:

Winston Graham (1908-2003) is the author of forty novels. His books have been widely translated and the Poldark series has been developed into two television series, shown in 22 countries. Six of Winston Graham’s books have been filmed for the big screen, the most notable being Marnie, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Winston Graham is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 1983 was awarded the O.B.E.

Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes

Ross Poldark Blog Tour Prize Package x 500

In celebration of the re-release of Ross Poldark and Demelza, Sourcebooks Landmark is offering three chances to win copies of the books or a grand prize, an Anglophile-themed gift package.

Two lucky winners will each receive one trade paperback copy of Ross Poldark and Demelza, and one grand prize winner will receive a prize package containing the following items:

(2 ) Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Mugs by Johnson Brothers

(1) Twelve-inch Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Plater by Johnson Brothersr

(1) London Telephone Box Tin of Ahmad English Breakfast Tea

(1) Jar of Mrs. Bridges Marmalade

(1) Package of Duchy Originals Organic Oaten Biscuits

(2) Packets of Blue Boy Cornflower Seeds by Renee’s Garden Heirloom

(1) Trade Paperback Copy of Ross Poldark & Demelza, by Winston Graham

To enter the giveaway contest simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on the Ross Poldark Blog Tour starting July 06, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, August 10, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the entrants and announced on the Buzz at Sourcebooks blog on August 13, 2015. Winners have until August 20, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to US residents and the prizes will be shipped to US addresses. Good luck to all!

Poldark-500x200 v2

Series Spotlight: A Gilded Newport Mystery by Alyssa Maxwell

For me, vacations as a child were spent on Cape Cod. Every year we would pile in to our old Ford Explorer and take the 5 hour-long trek from New Jersey to Cape Cod. For small children, 5 hours in the car can be an obscenely long time. Tired of listening to my sister and I moaning, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” my mother decided that stopping in Newport, RI would be a great half-way point to stretch our legs. It was during these stops in Newport that we began exploring Bellevue Avenue and discovered the Newport Mansions. They are large, enormous summer homes built during the Gilded Age by the Vanderbilts, Astors, Berwinds, Oelrichs, etc. They are BEAUTIFUL. In the 22 years since my first visit I’ve been to the mansions more times than I can count. I’ve introduced my husband, brother-in-law, and friends to these amazing feats of architecture and grandeur. Alyssa Maxwell is now introducing a whole new set of people to these museums with her A Gilded Newport Mystery series.


So why am I telling you guys about this series? First, because the murders are solved by a super awesome heroine, Emma Cross. She’s smart, fiercely independent, creative, gutsy, strongly supportive of everyone around her, and one of the most generous women ever. But above all that? She’s a woman who refuses to be what the society of the time dictates. She’s a newspaper reporter – in the 1890s!!! She’s a distant Vanderbilt relative but doesn’t let that stop her from letting her house become a haven for societal outcasts. Regardless of her lower financial status, she always puts others first. She’s truly an incredible heroine.

Second, the locations and time period! I’ve been to these mansions. They are transporters to another place and time. The Gilded Age was one riddled with extravagance and extreme poverty, while also shepherding many changes on the social front. Women’s suffrage was rapidly increasing among the classes, as well as the abolition of child labor and introduction of many new industrial technologies. The amount of social, political, and economic upheval during this time period really helps drive the subplots of the mysteries.

And about those mysteries? They unfold for the reader and Emma at the same time. Nothing is kept from you that Emma herself hasn’t discovered or thought up. Mysteries told in first-person narrative are my favorite, because I think they offer the reader the ability to solve the crimes at the same time as the heroine/hero. Maxwell does a great job at letting you think you’ve figured it all out early on, then throwing a wrench in your (and Emma’s) hypothesis by adding in a new element to the crime. She really does a spectacular job.

Can I lastly just mention how beautiful the artwork on the covers is?

I highly recommend you pick up these fast-paced mysteries to take with you to the beach this summer. You’ll have a great time helping Emma solve the mysteries that just seem to keep happening in Newport!

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. Murder at The Breakers – 4 out of 5 Stars
  2. Murder at Marble House – 4 out of 5 Stars
  3. Murder at Beechwood– 4 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Kensington Books for my copy of Murder at Beechwood via Netgalley!

Sam Asks: What Influence Does Our Reading Baggage Hold Over Us?

Everyone has baggage. It’s just a fact. Every book you’ve read, relationship you’ve had, and song you’ve heard add up to your life experience. It’s what makes you who you are.

Everyone’s baggage looks different. Everyone’s baggage affects them differently. There’s no telling what’s in somebody else’s suitcase, even people you know well, or think you know well.

A colleague and I had an experience with this recently. We were co-teaching a lesson in close reading to about twenty 6th grade students. The idea was that the students would investigate the theme of an article about the tragic AirAsia crash. They would jot their thinking on Post-It-Notes, and then sort them into theme based categories before finally crafting a central idea statement, which reflected their new understanding about the article.

It sounded great on paper. EXCEPT: we didn’t account for the baggage. OUR baggage. My colleague and I are readers. Readers of news, radio, Twitter, you name it, we read it. Thus we had heard A LOT about the AirAsia crash. We had seen the pictures of grieving families. We had listened to hour upon hour of coverage that tried to explain what had happened, what the black boxes revealed, how the people must have suffered in their final minutes.

So, our post it notes reflected the plane crash. The tragedy. The lives lost. What more could have been done to save them?

But, as we walked around the room watching the students work candidly with the text we came to a nauseating conclusion: their post its don’t look like ours. The students were not focused on the crash at all. They were focused on AirAsia’s boss: Tony Fernandes. The students had collected a number of character traits that all related back to Mr. Fernandes. They even pulled direct quotes from the text…all about Mr. Fernandes. 22 students, and each and every one of them had seemingly abandoned ship and started rowing out to sea towards an island my colleague and I were trying to locate on the map.

Where had we gone wrong? Why were they missing it? The question troubled us through the entire day. At lunch we regrouped, we tried to name the problem. We couldn’t.

After school we met in her room for an hour and tried to talk it through. Why were they focusing on the character and not the crash? What did these traits have to do with the message and theme? Had we over-conditioned them to look at character? And then it was clear. It wasn’t them at all. It was us.

We had brought our”reading baggage” to the article: the narrative that we had readily consumed prior to presenting this lesson to our students. When my colleague and I read the article, our baggage made us miss the point. This wasn’t an article about a plane crash. This was an article about a leader. It was about the qualities that made Tony Fernandes the best person possible to lead his company through this tragedy. The students had seen what we had not. The students came to the carpet that day and saw the article through unbiased eyes. Their focus was only on the author that day, and they were right.

I think as readers that it is important to recognize when our own reading history impacts the reading we are doing in the now. We need to step back and focus on this author, this time. It’s the only way we can uncover the message the author intended us to receive.

Perhaps the best way to allow our reading minds to soar is simply a matter of reminding ourselves to take the time to empty our suitcases between departures.

Kim’s Review of Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

bigcoA few years ago I read a novel entitled The Replacement Wife. It had a similar premise to this one: a woman with cancer searches for a replacement spouse for her husband. This entire idea intrigues me because I feel like if I were to become terminally ill, my first thought would be for my spouse and his future well-being and happiness. The Replacement Wife turned out to be one of the worst books I’ve ever read, and generally made me nervous to read any novel with a similar plot line in the future. For some reason when I heard about Before I Go by Colleen Oakley something niggled in my brain to give it a chance and I’m so glad that I did. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year to date.

Plot from Goodreads:

A heart-wrenching debut novel in the bestselling tradition of P.S. I Love You about a young woman with breast cancer who undertakes a mission to find a new wife for her husband before she passes away.

Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer three years ago. How can this be happening to her again?

On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant “Cancerversary” with her husband Jsack to celebrate three years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis. She may have as few as four months left to live. Death is a frightening prospect—but not because she’s afraid for herself. She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him. It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife.

With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match. But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan. As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness—or her own?

When starting out reading a book like thisyou have to prepare yourself for the tumultuous ride of emotions you’ll be taken on. Before I Go was one of the most heart-achingly beautiful journeys I’ve ever had the pleasure (and privilege) of reading. In a way the book isn’t about a specific plot, but more about the emotional journeys that the characters take with themselves as well as each other.

Front and center is Daisy. Cancer survivor patient. Wife. Best friend. Worrier. Keeper of socks. She puts forth great effort in making sure her charming husband eats, has clean clothes, and exists socially outside of work. She worries that when her cancer wins he’ll be devastated and defeated. Her single most important job and function becomes finding him a new partner. Little does she realize that undertaking this quest will shake and test the very foundations of her marriage (and also her friendship with BFF Kayleigh). Daisy’s attempts to be stoic, strong, and self-sufficient backfire. Her inability to let Jack see how weak the cancer is making her and how much his comfort would give her strength pushes him away from her. He ultimately stops pushing her, which in turn begins to make her anxious and doubtful that finding him a new wife would solve everything. This back-and-forth emotional tug of war will have you crying, laughing, and learning from beginning to end. And while Daisy eventually figures out that it’s ok to grieve for yourself, it’s not ok to let that grief make the grief of your loved ones any less important.

Through Daisy, Oakley teaches us extremely valuable lessons. Live your life to the fullest. Spend time with the people you love. Do things that make you happy. Life offers us no guarantees. We never know which day will be our last, so live up to the potential every day offers. Oakley’s masterful and emotional storytelling will have you recommending this book to everyone and adding her to your favorite author lists in quick succession.

5 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy via Netgalley!

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley
Gallery Books (2015)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781476761664

Winners Announced in the Valentine’s Day Giveaway!

aafThree people have been chosen winners in the Valentine’s Day Giveaway!

Congratulations to:

  1. HOLLY who left a comment on February 15th
  2. Erin @ ITIO Book Reviews who left a comment on February 15th
  3. Christina B who left a comment on February 22nd

Please contact me with your mailing address by Tuesday March 2, 2015 to claim your prize.

Thank you to all who participated and left comments!

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen Blog Tour + GIVEAWAY

tsoppjkAs you may have noticed by now, I’m a huge Julie Klassen fan. I’ve reviewed five of her works thus far, and her wit and immersive writing have kept me coming back for more each time. It was a no-brainer then that I decided to be part of the blog tour for The Secret of Pembrooke Park. Matching Klassen’s lively writing style with a dash of mystery was bound to create an adventure that I couldn’t pass up.

From Goodreads:

Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her–a longtime friend–has fallen for her younger, prettier sister.
When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll’s house left mid-play . . .

The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem to know something about the manor’s past, the only information they offer Abigail is a warning: Beware trespassers who may be drawn by rumors that Pembrooke contains a secret room filled with treasure.

Hoping to improve her family’s financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks…or very real danger?

One of my favorite things about Klassen as an author is seeing the influence that both Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters have in her works. The themes and spirit of her writing borrow from their famous works, and it always makes me happy to see, being such a fan of these authors myself. For example, reading Abigail’s search for the secret treasure room had many parallels to when Catherine Morland was attempting to find out if Henry Tilney’s mother was murdered in Northanger Abbey. Just like in Jane Eyre, there is a serious undertone of Gothic mystery to the plot as a whole, and you get a sense that there is a bigger picture hiding behind all the clues that one comes across during the course of events. I felt this way as clues began piling up while Abigail searches for the secret room and tries to uncover the mysteries of Pembrooke Park. I knew that the anonymous letters, warnings, and other seemingly independent events would weave together in a larger picture, much like Jane’s dealings with Mr. Rochester belie his true intentions until much later.

In addition to these overall themes, I felt that the plot moved well, with the revelations coming quickly enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. Of special note are the twists at the end, which had me actually gasping out loud (much to my husband’s amusement from the other room.) Not only did the plot and themes hook me, but the characters did as well. Abigail, Leah, William, and even Miles were the cause of my ability to read the entire book in one sitting. Overall, Klassen has produced yet another gem in her lineup. The Secret of Pembrooke Park was everything I thought it would be, and if you’ve never had the pleasure of reading any of Klassen’s works, this is a great one to start with.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishing (2014)
Paperback: 464 pages
ISBN: 9780764210716

Special thanks to Bethany House for my review copy!

Author Julie Klassen 2015 x 200AUTHOR BIO:

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follower her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.


Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Four Fabulous Prizes

Secret Pembrook Park Blog Tour Prizes x 350

In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered.

Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor, The Apothecary’s Daughter, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Dancing Master, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park, one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!

Secret of Pembrooke blog tour horizontal bannerClick here for more details of the blog tour!


Happy Valentine’s Day Giveaway!!

heart-bookHappy Valentine’s Day readers! As promised, I’m hosting a Valentine’s Day giveaway! Instead of books for reading, I’m offering up three books for art! Three winners will be chosen to each receive one ArtFolds folded book. What is an ArtFolds folded book you ask? They are real books, folded into words (see the pictures below for examples.) Giveaway instructions are below the photo.

The three options you have to win are:

  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery folded into the word “Joy”
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen folded into the word “Love”
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte folded into the word “Read”



Three lucky winners will have the opportunity to each win ONE ArtFolds book!  For your chance to win simply leave a comment below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight on Sunday, February 22, 2015.  Winners will be picked at random and announced on Monday, February 23, 2015.  Open to US residents only.  Good luck!

Adam’s Film Friday: A Review of Gone Girl


What makes a story newsworthy? Is it that the people involved have an intriguing background, or is it that we can relate to their story? Is there more to the story than we as the public aren’t privy to? Would we view the story differently if we knew the whole truth? All of these questions are explored in the film Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name. The film takes its viewers on a roller coaster of emotions complete with an all-star cast and a top-grade director. What you’re left with is a stunned reaction and an overall feeling of WTF?

Closely following the book, Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years. Amy suddenly goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary. Her husband Nick comes under suspicion and begins to act aloof and questionable when under the press’ microscope. During the investigation Nick begins to look guiltier than ever and everyone, including even those closest to him, begin thinking he is guilty despite his proclamation of innocence. Did Nick, the all-American perfect husband, kill his wife or are things not what they seem to be on the surface?

Gone Girl was one of the best page-to-screen adaptations I’ve ever seen. One factor that supported this was that the author of the book, Gillian Flynn, was responsible for writing the screenplay. The same emotions I felt while reading the book were felt throughout the film: the bone chilling scenes, the shock of the twists, and the utter disgust I felt towards certain characters were all still very much present throughout the film.  Much of the film’s dialogue was taken directly from the novel, which gave it such a genuine feeling of truth in the adaptation.

gg1From the first scene to the last shot, I was completely immersed in this world of mystery and double meanings, and could not physically wait for the next scene. I say physically because the emotions took me on an emotional roller coaster, and sometimes I needed a minute to think about what had happened and grasp it. It sometimes toys with your emotions more to see the actions of a film play out in front of your eyes rather than what you feel while reading the pages of a book. That is definitely true here. The film was under the proper care of director David Fincher, a director who meticulously crafts every scene no matter how important/anti-climactic. He is also known for having very dark lighting and dark cinematography and this works perfectly for the tone of this story. While at its core it’s a very dark story, there are small bits of humor sprinkled throughout. Every scene was exquisitely put together, from the shot choices to the lighting, sound, and score. The score is flawlessly crafted by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (the third collaboration between them and Fincher).

In my opinion, the film’s success depended entirely on the perfect casting of Amy. You needed an actress who you can relate to at face value, but know nothing about her beyond that. As a viewer, you know all about Amy’s superficial information: hair color, eye color, what clothes she wears, etc. Her personality, however, is a complete mystery. Rosamund Pike was the PERFECT choice for Amy. While she’s not a household name, she’s someone who dove head first into the complexity of the character and was ultimately successful in her portrayal. From the first time you hear her character speak, she was Amy.

gg2Ben Affleck’s acting has never been better. I never thought I would say this but Tyler Perry was really good in his role as Nick Dunne’s attorney Tanner Bolt. I was most hesitant about his casting because the character of Tanner is crucial to Nick’s story. Perry is known to play very over-the-top characters, so while I had some faith that Fincher wouldn’t ruin the film by miscasting the role, I still felt a level of skepticism. Perry’s delivery of one of his last lines had me laughing out loud and I realized how true the sentiment was behind the line. Kim Dickens as Detective Booney and Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne were excellent supporting players. They both have long careers ahead of them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their names are mentioned during Oscar buzz.

All in all, I think this was a perfect adaptation of the book. I loved every aspect of the film, and would have gladly watched a five-hour version, as I was so engrossed. For all the controversy surrounding the end of the film, I felt that it was a cherry on top of this sundae of a film. It will stick with the viewer for days, weeks, and even months. I would suggest it to anyone who loved the book, or anyone who was intrigued by the trailer or promotional material. I will say, that after viewing this, you will never look at tabloid headlines the same way again.

7 out of 5 Stars

Gone Girl (2014)
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
R, 149 Minutes

Sam Asks: What Does It Mean to “become” a Reader?

rnfk“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have read that opening a thousand times and thought long about that second part, the no judgement part. Less frequently I think about the first part, the idea of someone older and wiser giving you a tidbit of information that is lasting and meaningful. I have had this experience a few times, mostly from my parents and other mentors.

A few weeks ago someone said something to me that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. He certainly didn’t mean to give me so much to consider; he was merely stating a fact. Yet what he said to me has left me to think even more deeply about a topic that I already think deeply about: reading.

The statement was made by a student of mine. I was getting ready for the day and so were my students. From above the usual morning chaos of unpacking backpacks and hurried conversations between friends I heard him say, “Oh good you’re here.” I didn’t know whether he was talking to me or not, but I took a shot and looked up. Sure enough I was being addressed, “I just wanted to tell you that I’m tied up in a book series now,” he said excitedly, “I’m a reader now.”

Call me over-emotional, but I almost dissolved into tears right there in homeroom. Because that’s the goal right? Get kids to identify as a reader? To give them a lifelong love of books?

I mean, yea, it is…and two years ago I would have thought he was “done.” He loves books. He’s a reader. Mission accomplished.

But just being a reader…that’s only the beginning. I was so overcome with emotion not because this student had come to the end of his journey to become a reader, but because for him this was the beginning. Saying out loud, “I’m a reader now,” is in many ways the first step to someone’s entire educational and intellectual life. To be a reader is to question, explore, challenge, seek, wonder, and change. To be a reader is to say yes to the world, to accept the failures and successes of others as your own, to take others, both real and imagined, in and make them part of your life.

From that first admission of “I’m a reader now,” comes a lifetime of putting yourself in another’s shoes and thinking more deeply about lives unlike your own. “I’m a reader now,” means that soon your bookshelves will fill up and overflow. “I’m a reader now,” means spending hours in the bookstore narrowing down your pile from 100 books to the one you can’t leave the store without.

When does it happen? How does it happen? Is there a certain type of experience you need to have, like crying when you try on the perfect wedding dress? How do you know that you are now a reader?

I have personally gone through phases in my life where my reading volume is heavier than other times. For example, during college my reading volume was low, except for the required text. I was definitely not a reader. I actually thought that my reading days might actually be over.

That is, until I met Maximum Ride. And Katniss Everdeen. And Thomas…just Thomas. These are the main characters of Maximum Ride by James Patterson, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and The Maze Runner by James Dashner. In my post grad year I read every single science fiction/dystopic thriller I could get my hands on. I couldn’t keep myself in books, which was bad because I was living with my parents and pursuing a degree in education full-time! But…I was definitely a reader. I read over 100 books that year, a feat I have not been able to match since starting my teaching career.

While I was in this high reading volume phase of my life I started thinking even more deeply about the themes and messages within the text. I began to see patterns across authors, series, and genres. I began to make theories about an author’s purpose and revise those theories as I collected evidence from the text to make my thinking more exact. It wasn’t until later that I realized these were all of the same skills I was training my students to utilize. This is what it means to be a reader, a thinker.

The best part? I was not the only person to make this discovery. All of the research on childhood literacy suggests that the more students read, the more they think about reading, and the more their little brains grow to understand, question, and comment on the world around them. We want students to identify themselves as readers so that they can read huge amounts of text and do huge amounts of thinking.

What he told me was “I’m a reader now.” What it really meant was, “I’m a reader now. I’m a thinker now. I’m going places.” I for one am happy to be along for that ride.