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.

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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.

Sam Asks: Where Has Reading Taken You?

10006937_10100599367070623_6774052526976724838_nA few weekends ago my family and I took a little trip to Boston to visit some friends. It was a perfect fall weekend in one of my favorite cities. Just like every other twenty-something parent with a smart phone I took countless pictures of my baby girl so that all the folks back home could feel like there were with us. Plus…that face…I can’t even talk about it, she’s just…ahh!

Ok, back on track. When I was pregnant we started reading to Scarlett Liv every night, a tradition that we continue to this day. Every night my husband and I pick a book and take turns reading to our little bundle. I am proud to say that the kid has so many books that they can’t all fit in her room! We have a ton lining the walls in our basement and next to the bathtub and near the high chair. Scarlett is drawn to books. She loves to point to different pictures and words and we love to show her what they mean. It is a great joy to watch her fall in love with text and to engage with reading so early.

The best thing about being a reader is that you get to travel to so many places and experience so many wonderful or terrible things that you would not otherwise understand. Most of the time these travels are from the comfort of your own home, but on special occasions you find yourself in the setting of one your favorite stories. I got to experience a bit of that this weekend with my family.

Boston happens to be the setting of two books that have become a staple in our nighttime ritual. The first is Goodnight Boston by Adam Gamble. This formulaic bedtime story guides readers through a full tour of Boston’s best sights from morning to night, spring to winter. We love this book and all of the others in the Goodnight series. The second Boston book we love is the classic Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, a charming story of a mama and papa duck looking to start a family in the great city of Boston.

On our tour of Boston we were able to see two places from Scarlett’s reading life, and though she won’t be able to remember being at the Aquarium or Boston Public Gardens, I will. I was there the first time that a book came to life for my baby, and I have the picture to prove it!  I know this will happen to her again and again, and I can only hope she’s as nerdy as I am so that the experience will mean something to her!

The more that you read the more that you’ll know, the more that you learn the more places you’ll go! – Dr. Seuss

I’m sure Dr. Seuss meant this more so in the metaphoric sense, but I’m loving it today because of its literal meaning. Reading takes you places.

Read. Go.

Go. Read.

Where has reading taken you? Literal AND Metaphoric places welcome 🙂

Happy Reading!

Kim and Sam’s Review of Landline by Rainbow Rowell

lrrSo if you haven’t heard of Rainbow Rowell yet, let staffer Sam and I gush over her for you. She’s an author who writes both Adult and Teen contemporary fiction. She champions the people whose voices aren’t always heard. The voices of the different. The small. The people who sometimes need a push in the right direction. Her stories take you on emotional journeys that irrevocably change you (you can read my gushing reviews of her teen novels Eleanor and Park here and Fangirl here.) Today, Sam and I are discussing her latest adult venture, Landline.

From Goodreads:

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Sam: I must start by saying that I have yet to meet a Rainbow Rowell book that I didn’t like (thanks to Kim). That said, there was something about Landline that was EXTRA awesome. What I liked most is that Rowell used her YA formula with a married couple on the brink of big changes and decisions. I found Neal and Georgie more than relatable, they were parts of myself in a way I haven’t seen in a book. Not for a long time at least.

Kim: I think what made this book SO special for us, Sam, is that we’re married, and have been with our partners for several years. So we immediately could relate to the ups and downs of Neal and Georgie’s marriage.

Anyone that’s been in a long-term (read: very long) relationship will tell you that at some point you feel comfortable with your partner. That honeymoon period doesn’t necessarily end, but it evens out. There isn’t a crazy mad dash to spend every second of your day with your other half. You feel comfortable in silences. You can wear your sweats and yoga pants with them. Your love becomes more than that immediate infatuation present with new love. However what keeps a marriage together is making sure that comfort doesn’t become laziness.

For Neal and Georgie their marriage has become a bit TOO comfortable. They don’t talk about their hopes and dreams and wishes anymore. It’s become a focus almost solely on Georgie’s hopes and dreams and wishes. When Neal takes the kids to Nebraska for the holidays and leaves her behind, she is finally faced with what her life would be/could be without them. And when her old landline gives her the opportunity to talk to a young version of Neal, she finds that the person she swore the rest of her life to might be the one with all the answers.

Sam: I think that Young Neal in particular is such an interesting character because to me he represents  a typical 18-year-old faced with the dilemma: “what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” So, here is this kid from Nebraska who sets off for the West Coast to study marine life because he has never seen the ocean. (There is something poetic about going too far away to study something so “romantic.”) Then he hates it. Because at 18 who knows what they want to do? BUT he meets this girl. And maybe he doesn’t know who he wants to be, but he knows who he wants to be with. THEN their relationship gets so comfortable that they marry , have children, and still he’s never figured himself out, so he stays home. He falls into the homemaker role, becomes the center of his kids’ universe, a universe that Georgie admits is hard to be part of. I do appreciate that by the simple fact that Present Neal LOVES his kids, he ends up doing exactly what he wants.

Kim: I totally agree with you! Young Neal puts all his faith for his future into his love for Georgie. It doesn’t matter to him early on that he’s unsure of his future. His future IS Georgie, and that’s enough for him. I can seriously relate to Young Neal because when I met my husband I was just like Young Neal. Sure I had dreams for my future, but everything got completely reworked once he entered the picture.

This is another thing married people would probably agree with us on. As important as your dreams and future hopes are – finding a way for your partner to be part of them will always matter more. In this we see how selfish Georgie is/has become. Present Neal is a homemaker so that Georgie can see her dreams come true. But what dreams does Georgie ever help Present Neal accomplish?

Sam: Yes. I agree, though I think the subtlety is that she never helps him uncover a dream. In many ways he’s still lost because his world is so wrapped up in hers. What’s worse: a dream never accomplished or one never found?

Kim: Damn. Good question.

Sam: Then there’s Georgie. She’s been able to pursue every dream she’s ever had and she’s found success in it. With her best (awful) friend, Seth, they have found success in the TV comedy writing world. What I like about Georgie’s relationship with Seth is that you can tell it’s hard. I liked seeing Georgie struggle with him because it amplified the feeling that her moments on the phone with Young Neal were easy.

Kim: UGH Seth. I have SO many thoughts on him.

Sam: I try not to.

Kim: HAHA! My first thought is, “how blind is Georgie that she can’t see that Seth doesn’t have her best interests at heart?” Like HOW can you consistently call someone your best friend who doesn’t care that your marriage is ending? Like Georgie tells Seth that Neal has gone to Nebraska with their kids and he sees her falling apart a little more each day without them. All Seth cares about is writing their show.

At what point do you ask yourself is my dream worth my best friend’s downfall?

Sam: My blood is boiling just reading that. He’s not a good person and his influence on her is sad. He knows how to manipulate her. The way he speaks to and about her is alarming and the fact that she can’t see it despite the lovely things that Neal says and does and draws is baffling.

Kim: Completely agree. Present (and Young) Neal is a complete foil to Seth. Seth provides Georgie with NOTHING that she needs. Neal, on the other hand, is unconditional in everything he offers her. It’s heartbreaking to see how blind Georgie has become to that.

Sam: My heart hurt when Neal’s late dad picked up the phone that first time. How wonderful to get a moment with someone after you thought there wouldn’t be another. I think it’s amazing that Georgie was the one to hear his voice an extra time because it’s that reminder that sometimes the last time you see someone, or talk to them, or tell them you love them is the last time.

Kim: SUCH A GOOD POINT. Georgie takes her comfortable marriage and her comfortable husband for granted. Something I’m sure we’ve all done to a loved one at some point. Talking to her deceased father-in-law is one of those “come to Jesus” moments that really makes Georgie evaluate her present path.

I also think that seeing her younger sister falling in love for the first time with the pizza delivery person is another “come to Jesus” moment. To realize that love can be fleeting and to grasp it when you’re luckily given the chance to….well it all helps Georgie realize how important and necessary Neal is in her life.

Sam: So the pizza delivery person might be the most badass and swoonworthy character in the book (not counting Neal…of course.) Side note: I LOVE the expression “come to Jesus” and will now use it at least twice this month. Double side note: I would really LOVE to read a whole book about sister and said delivery person…

Kim: LOL to your first side note. And YES YES YES YES to your second.

Dear Rainbow,

Sam and I would REALLY love for you write that story. Like omg please do it.

Love,

Kim & Sam

Sam: *whispers* This is where you have your “come to Jesus” moment.

Kim: In the end what makes this story so amazing is its bottom line: True love always offers you a chance at redemption.

Sam: That and the fact that it is so damn magical. To truly rediscover all of the best parts, maybe long forgotten parts, of your person is such a beautiful idea. After reading Landline my eyes were open once again to the amazing, loving, sweet person that I get to spend every day with. That’s a gift. Thanks for the magic, Rainbow Rowell.

Kim’s Rating: All the stars in the universe for this book.

Sam’s Rating: What Kim said.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press (2014)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781250049377

Winner Announced in the Bloodwitch Giveaway!

baarSO SO SO sorry for the delay in announcing the winner! One person has been chosen the winner in the Bloodwitch giveaway!

Congratulations to:

  1. KyungMi who left a comment on May 26th

Please contact me with your mailing address by Friday, June 13, 2014 to claim your prize.

Thank you to all who participated and left comments!

Spotlight + GIVEAWAY: Bloodwitch (The Maeve’ra Trilogy #1) by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

baarLooking for a new paranormal series to introduce to your young reader? How about Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ new series, Maeve’ra? Thanks to Random House we have an ARC of the first book in the series, Bloodwitch to give away! The first installment is about loyalty, power, and the rules of survival. For instructions on how you can win a copy, follow the book and author blurbs below. Good luck!

From Goodreads:

A gripping tale about loyalty, power, and the quest for freedom
Vance Ehecatl was raised with every luxury he could imagine in a beautiful greenhouse within the powerful empire of Midnight. Vampires are the only guardians Vance has ever known since he was abandoned by his shapeshifter family as a baby quetzal, and he is grateful to them for generously providing for all of his needs. When an act of violence forces Vance from his sheltered home, he is startled to meet Malachi Obsidian, a fellow shapeshifter with conflicting ideas about Midnight and its leader, Mistress Jeshickah.

Malachi claims Vance is a bloodwitch, who Jeshickah and her trainers, Jaguar and Taro, are trying to control. Vance doesn’t know anything about the rare and destructive magic Malachi says he possesses, and he can’t believe Jeshickah would use it to hurt others. But when his friends begin falling ill, Vance starts to realize his perfect world may not be as flawless as it seems. Now Vance must decide who to trust-the vampires he’s always relied upon, or the shapeshifters who despise them.

About the Author

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes wrote her first novel, In the Forests of the Night, when she was thirteen. Other books in the Den of Shadows series are Demon in My View, Shattered Mirror, Midnight Predator, Persistence of Memory, Token of Darkness, and All Just Glass. She has also published the five-volume series The Kiesha’ra: Hawksong, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and a VOYA Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Selection; Snakecharm; Falcondance; Wolfcry, an IRA-CBC Young Adults’ Choice; and Wyvernhail. Her most recent novels are Poison Tree and Promises to Keep. Visit her at AmeliaAtwaterRhodes.com

Giveaway – Special thanks to Random House!

One lucky winner will have the opportunity to win an ARC of Bloodwitch by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes!  For your chance to win simply leave a comment below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight on Thursday, May 29, 2014.  A winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday, May 30, 2014.  Open to residents of the US and Canada only.  Good luck!

Sam Asks: When Do You Breakup With A Bad Book?

I recently read a book that I wasn’t thrilled about. Ok, honestly I HATED IT! I knew I wasn’t going to like it on the first page, pretty much from the first word. Ten pages later I despised its vague story line. Ten pages after that I loathed the ridiculous language. Ten pages after THAT I was vocalizing hatred for the underdeveloped characters. By 50 pages in a thought occurred to me: when do you breakup with a bad book?

Let’s say you’re on a first date with someone. There definitely aren’t sparks, but it isn’t a disaster so you think, “maybe I’ll give him another chance.” On the second date he says this one thing that’s really weird. Really, really weird. However, you say, “maybe he’s just nervous around you.” That thought is actually kind of flattering so he probably deserves one more try. On the third date his breath smells like onions, combined with the fact that he “really prefers the movies over the books, especially in the case of The Great Gatsby…” and that’s when you know for sure that this isn’t going anywhere.

But in books where do you draw the line? I think for me it comes down to the characters. I like it when I can see the character walk off of the page and into my life. I like it when I start talking about them as if they are old friends of mine (this confuses the heck out of my husband!) In this book I couldn’t have cared any less about the characters. They were flat, dull, and infuriating. It simply didn’t matter to me what happened to these people so I stopped reading right then and there.

I know I figured out my loathing on that first page, but something in me had to keep going. I wanted to like this book so I gave it more than a fair chance.

What about you? When do you throw in the towel? What’s that one element of a book that HAS to be there for you to keep reading?

Sam’s Review of Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin

alpomhI wonder what it’s like to be Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend. I’m not talking about the likes of Joe Jonas or John Mayer. What about that high school kid with the pick up truck? The one whose pictures T-Swift so publicly burned on her first album. Do the people back home know him? Make sideways glances when they see him at the local diner? What’s his life like now? Does he keep it a secret or does he let the world know that he really does think of the curly-haired blonde whenever he hears a Tim McGraw song? Well, it seems that I’m not the only pop culture obsessed fangirl, because in Another Little Piece of My Heart (based on Jane Austen’s Persuasion), author Tracey Martin explores this very idea.

From Goodreads:

What if your devastating break-up became this summer’s hit single? In this rock-and-roll retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, music can either bring you together or tear you apart.

At her dying mother’s request, Claire dumps Jared, the only boy she’s ever loved. Left with a broken family and a broken heart, Claire is furious when she discovers that her biggest regret became Jared’s big break. While Jared is catapulted into rock-star status, another piece of Claire’s heart crumbles every time his song plays on the radio.

The summer after her senior year, it’s been months since the big break-up, and Claire is just trying to keep her head down and make it through a tense trip to the beach with her family. But when Jared shows up, and old feelings reignite, can Claire and Jared let go of the past? Or will they be stuck singing the same old refrain?

What I loved about this book: it’s unapologetically YA. What I had trouble with about this book: it’s unapologetically YA.

Claire is a delight as a narrator. She is down to earth, unsure of herself, and still dealing with the aftermath of a bad break up. In a nutshell, she’s a girlfriend, someone you’ve known your whole life. Claire tries desperately to hide her past with Jared. She doesn’t want to be the girl who broke his heart. Imagine what Justin Bieber’s fans would do to a girl who hurt him? Yea. I wouldn’t want to be that girl. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with someone famous the world seems a little smaller. His face is everywhere. The song is on the radio. How can you escape? It’s bad enough that Claire has to worry about running into this boy back home, but she should be safe while on vacation several states away, right?

This is where YA takes a few liberties. Of all the beaches in world, Jared, the superstar, just so happens to coincidentally be spending the summer at the exact same one as Claire? Also, he just so happens to be living in a college dorm with a buddy from home? With no security? With NO ONE TWEETING ABOUT IT? Yea. Right. That’s how I knew this was most certainly a fiction. It’s 2014. The hot guy with several Grammys to his name would never be able to camp out and write songs for an entire summer without people bombarding him. All Jared had to contend with was a few respectful and well-meaning fans who quietly asked for autographs and respected his privacy. Ok.

At its heart I have to say that this was a very well executed piece. I found myself very wrapped up in the story. My teenage self was all about it. I liked the idea of Claire’s story, the girl who made her ex-boyfriend’s fame possible.

We all know that the best writers of songs and books draw on their real life experiences. It’s what makes the stories so compelling; they are grounded in truth. What sometimes gets lost in translation is that there are actual, non-famous counterparts on the other sides of those stories. People with hopes, dreams, and feelings. Is it fair to vent on paper and become famous off of a shared life experience? Who is the owner of something that happened behind closed doors? If these are questions you want to grapple with on a Sunday afternoon I highly recommend this ah-dorable, fast paced tale.

4 out of 5 Stars

Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin
Harlequin (2013)
eBook: 304 pages
ISBN: 9781459254749

Special thanks to Ms. Martin for my review copy!

Sam’s Review of The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses

tibbacmsI have to admit that going into The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe by Mary Simses I was a bit skeptical. I first heard of the book when I had the pleasure of going to an event with Kim and Jess at the adorable RJ Julia bookstore in Madison, CT. Here, we heard quite a bit from author Mary Simses who, while charming and delightful, had no reservations in reminding her audience that a certain famous author became her mentor, titled her book, and made a few calls.

This immediately put a bad taste in my mouth to say the least. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try. The cover is beautiful, a work of art. The title is, of course, flawless. The same could also be said about the incredibly inviting passage that Simses selected to read as part of her presentation.

In the story we meet Ellen Branford, a career driven New Yorker who has recently gotten engaged to Mr. Career Driven New Yorker. On paper he is perfect: good looking, excellent job, and a go get ‘em attitude.  Following the death of her grandmother, Ellen heads to Maine from Manhattan in order to deliver a letter to her grandmother’s first and true love.

The exciting opening scene describes Ellen standing on an old seaside dock trying to snap a picture. She falls into the ocean and is swept out to sea by the strong current. Luckily, Ellen is saved by a strong and handsome local man, Roy, who swims her to safety.

Over the course of the book Ellen begins to discover things about her grandmother’s past that lead her to extend her trip and neglect her fiance in New York. Ellen delves deeper and deeper into the relationship her grandmother had with the man she loved and in the process, Ellen finds herself.

As you may have already guessed, she also finds herself increasingly drawn to Roy. As the novel progresses we discover that Roy is in fact a small part of the past that Ellen is trying to piece together.

Though I was skeptical of the book at first, I did enjoy it. It was predictable and at times slow but well written and thoughtful enough to keep my interest. I have always enjoyed stories about finding yourself in unexpected places, though this story doesn’t really change the script on the basic plot: girl has great guy who should be perfect for her, girl finds attractive working class boy, they fall in love and girl decides…well I won’t give it away!

As a main character Ellen suits the reader just fine. She is a nice mix of strong and vulnerable, and as a reader I cared about her journey of self discovery and found myself identifying with her a great deal, which is what I always look for in a well-rounded character.

One MAJOR problem that I had with this book is that no where, not even once, did the author suggest a fantastic blueberry muffin recipe. I expected to turn the last page and find the irresistible blueberry muffin. Unfortunately, I had to settle for the one on the back of the Betty Crocker package.

I read this book over the summer at the beach, which is where this book belongs. As we enter a new season I suggest picking up this title to enjoy on a cool autumn day with a cup of tea and a blueberry muffin.

3 out of 5 Stars

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses
Little, Brown, & Company (2013)
Hardcover: 344 pages
ISBN: 9780316225854

Sam Asks: What Do You Read To Your Children?

bwb

source: fierceover50.wordpress.com

We had been dating for about a year when Steve asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I was an English and Drama double major after all, so I supposed it was a serious question to ask someone who you’d been seeing for such a long time. My parents have always encouraged me to “reach a little higher” to “collect as many stars as I could,” and I had made this clear to Steve in previous conversations. Therefore I think he was as surprised as anyone when I answered simply, “I want to be someone’s mom.”

It’s not that I don’t have ambitions for my life outside of raising children and running a home. I value my students and my job in the classroom. I love each story they polish and hand in. My heart swells when they write me little notes or letters that say I made a difference to them. I like doing things that will help improve my teaching and cast the widest most meaningful net in my instruction. However, I feel that this job spoke to me because above all I was meant to be a mom.

The past few months have been very emotional for me because early next year I will finally get my dream job, being a mom. Honestly, I already have it. The decisions I make now about diet and exercise don’t just impact me anymore, I have a whole other set of lungs to worry about. And worry I do. I’ve read TONS of books already from what to name the baby to what and when to feed the baby, it’s all out there! I’ll tell you all about my thoughts on “those books” some other time.

My husband and I have been doing a lot of thinking and talking about what’s in store for us in the next year. A lot of it we can’t even imagine, I think it’s one of those “you have to go through it” type of things. But some things we can prepare for, and one of those things we’ve already started to work on: this kid is going to be a reader.

Every night before bed we’ve been taking turns reading through some of our favorite childhood picture books. It has been quite a good way to learn even more about each other, and after 6 years together that’s something we never take for granted. I have loved hearing about Steve’s favorite stories growing up and have enjoyed sharing with him some of my memories of my father reading. I noticed tonight that I have even taken on some of my father’s Norwegian intonation in stories he read to me countless times.

We have both come to look forward to this nightly ritual and have been doing our best to keep it interesting. We do silly voices, act it out, dress up, the works! There has been much laughter in the Tisi house, which I think has brought us even closer.

Tonight was my turn to read to Steve, Pepper (our two-year old Yorkie), and the baby. I chose a classic story from my childhood: The Story of May by Mordicai Gerstein. This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a young spring month, May, who goes on a journey through the calendar year to visit her father December. He and her mother April simply couldn’t get along and so the family decided the months should be organized in their own places to keep the peace. What I love about this story is that it is so elegantly crafted. Gerstein personifies the months into larger than life characters that feel like old friends, or close family. His use of language is gorgeous and it’s the type of story that begs to be read aloud. I can remember falling asleep to the sound of my dad’s deep, slow as molasses rumble for August. I can remember feeling an inexplicable chill as he whispered a frail old voice for grandmother November. This book meant so much to me growing up and the fact that I get to share it now with my own family brings tears to my eyes (maybe it’s just the hormones…)

I think that reading is such a social event, we can see that each time we stop by this or any other blog. I notice that in the halls outside my classroom. I hope this baby is a social reader, as readers see the world in such a special way.

I smile thinking about how, even now, months before this baby is here it has already become a staple of my family’s evening routine. I am so excited for everything that is ahead for us. I can’t wait to grow a little library that will help inspire an active imagination and inspire this little peanut to do whatever it is they want to do! For now we will have to do the dreaming on the baby’s behalf; we will have to choose the stories.

Happiness is a house where the best question of the day is, “So what should we read tonight?”

With all that said, I ask, what books do you do read to your children? What stories impacted you as a youth?