Archive for Novels

Pennsylvania Reading….

To celebrate the record low temperatures in my part of the world (can one really celebrate that?), I have been catching up on some of my reading about books from my homestate.  Take a look at my Book Picks for reviews on Cinderland by Amy Jo Burns and Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman.


Welcome, 2015!

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2015! Are you making your resolutions yet? If one of your goals for the New Year is to read more, then try some of these books. I have compiled three lists of great reads from 2014. Authors include Elizabeth Blackwell, Natalie Harnett, Emily St. John Mandel, Roxane Gay, Beth Peyton, and Nicole Walker. Poets includes collections by Rochelle Hurt, John Repp, and January Gill O’Neil. The complete lists are listed here.  Happy Reading!

Summer Reading List

Are you looking for some great summer reads? I have posted my summer reading list — take a look! There’s a wide variety, and I am sure there is something for everyone!

A Summer Reading List

I know that summer is not quite here — but it feels like it will be soon.  This week, I will be buried under final classes, final papers, and final tests.  And after all these “finals”?  I want to attack the big box of unread books in my spare bedroom.  (Plus, I want to read all the unread books that are piling up in my Kindle!)

Every spring, my school compiles a fun reading list for the summer, and below I have listed my recommendations.  Alas, I don’t usually include poetry books (maybe I should!), but even poetry lovers/readers need to devour something besides verse!

The Age of Miracles Karen Thomas Walker

Part apocalyptic tale, part coming of age story, Walker’s novel follows a young girl named Julia, who with the rest of her family, awakens to the news that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow – days and nights grow longer and the natural environment is thrown into chaos.  In the middle of this world, Julia learns to navigate the normal blunders of everyday life, including cracks in her parents’ marriage, the bizarre behavior of family members and friends and the heartbreak of first love.  The Age of Miracles is both a disturbing and beautiful read – and the best novel I read last year.

Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland by Patricia Bryan and Thomas Wolf

On a winter night in 1900, a Midwestern farmer was murdered in his bed, killed by two blows of an axe.  Four days later, his wife was arrested for the crime.  Midnight Assassin is based on the popular play by Susan Glaspell, and this book not only presented the investigation of the case, but gave a lot of information about the bleak lives of women during this time period.

The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

In this novel, the narrator, Harry Collins, takes the reader back to his childhood days during the Great Depression.  Set in rural Texas in 1933, young Harry’s world changes forever when he discovers the body of a young black woman.  A disturbing story of race and class relations, The Bottoms is a great read.  Warning: This book does contain many scenes that are very violent, so if you do not want to read about violence, you may want to skip this novel.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed believed that she had lost nearly everything in her life.  Struggling to survive her mother’s death and a broken marriage, she makes the impulsive decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to Washington state.  This book chronicles that journey in beautiful and thoughtful prose.

The Day After the Day After by Steven Church

At first, it’s hard to imagine that Steven Church and I would have anything in common, starting with the simple fact that he grew up in Lawrence, Kansas and I grew up in rural Pennsylvania – but we do.  We both grew up in the last days of the Cold War.  We also grew up with what he terms as “Atomic Anxiety.”  One of my first memories was the Three Mile Island meltdown in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Church also catalogs man memories dealing with the Nuclear Age.  His childhood was marked by the fear of Nuclear War and the Stress of Reagan’s America – these fears come to ahead when filming begins of The Day After in his hometown.  In spite of poor special effects and melodramatic plotlines, The Day After is still considered one of the most watched TV movies in history.   Church explores the meaning of Cold War fears along with their influences on his generation.

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

While not a real “autobiography,”  Melanie Benjamin’s fun novel explores the life of Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Warren Bump, (aka Mrs. Tom Thumb) through a first person point of view narrative.  Only two feet, eight inches tall, Vinnie struggled to make her way America’s Gilded Age, eventually finding fame when she took part in P.T. Barnum’s shows and married Tom Thumb.

In a few weeks, I will post my Summer Reading List for Poetry Lovers! Besides poetry, do you have any great books you have read lately?  I would love to add more titles to my own list!

Weekend with Kindle

I admit it. I’ve been a bit resistant to the whole E-Reader craze.  However, Anthony got me a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and I have to say that I’m in love with this little device.  Since the holidays, I’ve already read four books on my Kindle, including the wonderful Fire on Her Tongue: An eBook Anthology of Contemporary Women’s Poetry edited by Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy.  Right now, I’m currently reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63, a book I’m really enjoying. 

Amazon offers daily deals with some great Kindle books for only $1.99.  I’ve downloaded some wonderful novels including The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and When She Woke by Hillary Jordan.  Still, my best Kindle find so far has been a true crime book titled Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland.  The description of  this book on its website says the following:  

On a moonlit night in December 1900, a prosperous Iowa farmer was murdered in his bed–killed by two blows of an ax to his head. Four days later, the victim’s wife, Margaret Hossack, was arrested at her husband’s funeral and charged with the crime.

This beginning summary sounded vaguely familiar and interesting, so I downloaded the book and started reading.  Much to my surprise (and delight!) I discovered that this book is about the real life case behind the play Trifles by Susan Glaspell, a play I teach on a regular basis.  Now I knew that Trifles was based (loosely) on a real life murder, but this book not only presented the investigation of the case but gave a lot of information about the life of women on the Great Plains during this time period.  A young Glaspell, as a reporter, is also featured prominently in the book.  Kindle allows the reader to highlight and make notes, and I know that I have found a lot of good background material for the next time I teach Trifles.

Still, I am not giving up on the print! There’s part of me that is amazed that my Kindle can hold as many books as what I have in my whole house.  Still, bookshelves are bookshelves for a reason: to hold books, and not Kindles.


Home Stretch with Life of Pi

We are down to the last week of classes.  It doesn’t feel like December — it’s cold and gray and rainy. But little snow.  As always, it’s crunch time, with papers everywhere I look.  Obviously, I’m not going to get many new projects done this month, but I am looking forward to the time after the holidays when everything slows down just a bit. 

In the last few days, I did, however, make time to re-read Life of Pi by Yann Martel and am really curious about the movie.  I read Martel’s novel many years ago, and when I saw the previews, I thought, Uh oh…This is just not going to work.  I am very skeptical. Even  Director Ang Lee has been quoted about the movie: “When I first read Life of Pi…I remember thinking that nobody in his right mind would make this into a movie.”   Still, the reviews have been solid, so I may have to take a break from the end of the semester grading to catch this movie.  (Although, if Anthony has his way, we will be going to see The Hobbit instead.)

An Hour or Two for Saints

It’s that time of year again.  I call it the November lag.  Students are tired, professors are worn out, and people are either looking forward to the holidays or dreading the craziness that comes with all of the festivities.  I’m surrounded by piles of papers to grade, and haven’t done a whole lot of writing.  I should know by now — this time of year is not designed to start any new projects.  It’s best to just try to keep one’s head above water.

Still, last night, I took a break from the real world and read a novel.  Yep.  A whole novel.  In one night.  I haven’t done that in years.  I hadn’t planned on devouring the book in one night, but once I started, I couldn’t stop. So what enticed me away from all the grading I need to do?  Saints at the River by Ron Rash.  I don’t have time for a proper review but the book does deserve a synopsis.

Rash’s book takes the reader to rural South Carolina, where a small town is torn apart by environmental issues. At the center of this battle is a father whose daughter has drowned in the Tamassee River.  He and his wife want to retrieve their daughter’s body but environmentalists are convinced that rescue attempts will cause damage to the river.  Rash articulates the gray areas between human rights and the environment.  Furthermore, he explores the intersections between environmental and rural/working class issues.

Rash’s work is new to me, so I was excited to find out that he has published many novels and even some poetry! But right now, I can’t go out and buy any more of his work.  I’m afraid I may get sucked in and fall further behind with my grading.

Get People Reading!

As writers, (and for many of us, as educators), we want people to read more!  Here’s a program that can help.  World Book Night will take place on April 23, 2013.  What is this event, you may ask?  World Book Night is an annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading. Each year on April 23, tens of thousands of people in the U.S. go out into their communities and give a total of half a million free World Book Night paperbacks to light and non-readers to encourage more reading.  World Book Night is a non-profit organization that could use your help!  Take a look at this year’s booklist and apply to be a giver!

Novel Reading

I have put both poetry and short story collections (and the chaos of the recent election) aside while I catch up a bit on my novels.  Next semester, I am scheduled to teach The Modern Novel, a class I haven’t taught in years.  This course is a general English/Humanities elective with no real guidelines except that the time period starts with the Modernism movement and the books are supposed to be by British or American novelists.  I already know that I will be teaching Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (a student favorite), and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. 

This past weekend I re-read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, a book I have not picked up in years.  I forgot how much I enjoyed this book, and I think it’s a good pick, so it’s probably going to go on the required reading list as well.  Since the end of the world is all the rage, I would love to find a book that fits into this subgenre; however, most of the books I have read fall into the young adult category.  I read The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, and I really liked that book, but it’s not out in paperback yet.  If anyone knows a good end-of-the-world novel geared towards adults, please let me know.

In other news, I am currently reading  Son, which is the sequel to The Giver  by Lois LowryThe Giver is one of my favorite books and I’m still debating whether or not it was a good idea for a sequel, but so far I am really enjoying Son. We will see what the conclusion brings.

Monday Morning Delirium

My beach reading (and guilty pleasure reading) for this past weekend was a teen dystopian novel (first in a trilogy, of course!) titled Delirium by Lauren Oliver.  In some aspects, this book has a lot in common with Matched by Ally Condie.  (I talk a bit about Matched here). In Oliver’s world, citizens are “cured” of love (by the government) so that they will be happy and safe.  Indeed, the government controls much, if not most, of the citizens’ lives including education and occupations.  Delirium focuses on a young “ordinary” teenager who looks forward to the day she will be cured.  Why?  Because she has been led to believe that her own mother committed suicide because she could not be cured of love.

Of course, there is a teen romance thrown into the mix, and yes, political messages abound — but what I found really interesting about this book was that poetry has been banned.  All poetry. What was the reason?  Because the government believed that poetry was dangerous. 

We complain a lot that people don’t read poetry in today’s world; thus, that is why I find it incredible and intriguing that a writer would think to include a government that was afraid of all things — poetry.

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