Monday, December 31, 2018

UPCOMING RELEASE - Library Volunteers: A Practical Guide for Librarians

I'm so excited to announce that I have a book coming out in May 2019 from Rowman & Littlefield!

by Allison Renner (WHAT?!?!)

Though it's not released until mid-May, I spent so much of 2018 researching and writing that I knew I needed to include it for a year-end wrap-up post. I can't tell you how many of my hours (waking AND trying-to-sleep) have been spent thinking about this book. I can't wait to have it in my hands and look through it!

I have always been passionate about volunteering, so the pitch was a no-brainer! I volunteered for a few non-profits as a child (with my mother and grandmother), and continued that as an adult. Volunteering really changed my life - a simple weekly volunteer commitment turned into a career that altered my path. I helped with a weekly art class at SRVS, then was hired to be their volunteer coordinator! With help from PR and the Learning Center, I created a program from the ground up, based on my experiences volunteering. I went on to volunteer in libraries, then become a volunteer coordinator at a library branch. I took my knowledge of library volunteering to the public schools, and created volunteer opportunities for elementary students in the school library. In my current position as a Montessori elementary MakerSpace Librarian, I'm still using volunteers within the school, and hoping to broaden our scope to include outside opportunities as well.

Phew! All of that to say - wow! I am so proud that the first book I'm publishing is going to be a Practical Guide for Librarians. They have Practical Guides for any library-related topic you can think of! I can't tell you how many times I consulted these books during my MLS and work in public and school libraries! I used them expensively over the summer to help build our school's MakerSpace. These books have helped me in so many ways, because they are so easy to consult and put into action! They look like textbooks and are very informative, but the information you get from the books can be used immediately. Real life applications and examples are given, and they are a great resource for the library community.

I'm hoping that my book will be used in other fields, as well! A lot of the information I pulled from were my own experiences volunteering with nonprofits, period - not just libraries! And honestly, the groundwork of creating a volunteer program can apply to so many different fields. Examples of job duties are fairly library-specific, but the sample paperwork and overall guidelines included can help any organization who can use volunteers, so I hope it's used in that way!

It's even on Amazon for pre-order! AH!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge

I didn't do a full-on Reading Challenge this year with certain genres to check off, but I did challenge myself to read 115 books via Goodreads. I read 134 books and completed the challenge! Check out what I read in 2018.

I also challenged my son to read 200 books via Goodreads, and we did it! See what we read together in 2018.

For 2019, I'm challenging myself to read 120 books and write two sentences about each. I want to read more of the books I'm hoarding on To Be Read shelves, as well. I've been really good about not BUYING new books, but my library card is constantly maxed out. I see books on bookstagram or am recommended by friends and family and put them on hold, and never get around to reading what's already in my house! I'm also determined to get this blog started back up again - maybe more as an informal book-related journal than a book review blog, though.

I'm challenging my son to read 222 books, just because I think that's a nice random goal to have that we can easily meet! I have to admit that we didn't read every night this past year, and I'd like to make sure we prioritize bedtime stories this year, so having a higher goal will help us with that.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

12 Days of Christmas Storytime

This year I had it together enough to do the 12 Days of Christmas Storytime with my son. Our bedtime routine lately has been a little rushed, as we get home late from after-school activities or have errands to run, so it's been a race to get dinner, bathe and brush teeth, and get to bed at a reasonable time before we have to start all over again. Sometimes I'd be too tired to wait for my son to pick a book and read it to him, and often it was the same one we'd just read a million times. I know that everyone has favorites, and re-reading books with kids is only good for them, but... I mean, I was really tired, ok? Mom-shame all you want, but some days, there was no way a bedtime story was happening, no matter how much he wanted it. And I'm sure you can imagine how much it hurt my librarian-mom heart to say no, but for sanity's sake, I'd have to.

12 Days of Christmas Storytime helped us make sure we prioritized reading together. My son loved opening a new book every day. The best part is - they weren't all new! Many were bought heavily discounted when our local bookstore closed last year, and I had tucked them away so I wouldn't give my son a ton of new books at once. Others were bought at our school's book fair. Others were bought from a used bookstore or from the library's discard cart. There's no need to break the bank if you want to do this with your kids! It's definitely possible to keep it affordable. I used a patchwork of leftover wrapping paper scraps, so I didn't have to buy or use new resources for that, either. Some were even wrapped in brown kraft paper, or a layer of tissue paper! My son is young enough to not care about presentation (if he ever will?) as much as the opening part!

All of these books were new to us, so they were fun to read. We went to bed knowing what book we were going to read, and my son did his necessary tasks a little bit faster knowing he had a new story to read. (He is usually the king of dawdling, so this kick in the pants was nice.)

I'm definitely going to start stockpiling books to do this again next year! I might even keep an extra stash of new-to-us books to use as incentives when it seems like we're not going to get a bedtime story that night. I think it will inspire both of us to get our chores out of the way and get ready for bed!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fun Home on Stage

I was excited to see the Fun Home play because I wanted to see how a graphic memoir would translate to stage. I've see picture books as plays, and other "classics" like Peter Pan and Lord of the Flies. But for some reason it wrinkled my brain to imagine the little boxes of a graphic memoir on stage.

It wasn't until after I saw the play that I broke it down further in my mind and thought about how it was a graphic memoir - based on real life, so of course it would easily transfer to a play, because the action was done by real people in the first place.

I did love how it was done, though. The artist Alison Bechdel stood at her art table and watched the action of younger Alisons interacting with her family. After something happened, she would say "Caption..." and brainstorm possible explanations to put with her drawings.

I wasn't a huge fan of the songs. They were gorgeous but I think there was so much action and emotion to explore in the story itself without it being turned into a musical. That being said, the kids' song about the funeral home was definitely my favorite part of the night!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Children's Books on Stage

It's always interesting to see how a book translates to other forms, most commonly movies, but also plays, musicals, and graphic novels.

My son and I went to see Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day on stage at the Circuit Playhouse. It was a show that the actors took to school visits, but they also do a couple showings on a Saturday for the public.

I remember loving this book as a kid, but hadn't read it since. We got it from the library and read it the night before. It was still a good book, but I was really interested in seeing how it could translate to a play. It seemed fairly short and there's not too much story since it just covers one day.

I was so impressed with the play! It was developed nicely and the songs were super catchy. I guess songs are not only a great way to grab kids' attention, but also a great way to flesh out the play. It was about 45 minutes long - another good thing for a kid's play! We both enjoyed it a lot, and are looking forward to seeing other picture books in play form!

We had also previously seen Miss Nelson is Missing. this was another childhood favorite of mine - so much so that we read my original copy before we saw the play! This play was also a school visit show that we saw at Circuit Playhouse on a Saturday morning, about 45 minutes long. The songs in this one were so fantastic, I have been searching for the soundtrack, emailing people, everything! I absolutely loved it. The story was great too. Of course that picture book is a bit longer than Alexander, and has more of a story that can be expanded into something more substantial on stage.

Seeing picture books come to life on stage is such a great way to enjoy a story beyond the pages of a book, and it's something we look forward to doing more of thanks to our local playhouse.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

What Was the Great Depression?

It's taken me a long time to write about this because I waffle about social media and this blog so much. I can never decide if this space is personal or professional, but there is a point when those two intersect, and I think it is important for me to share my experience.

Social media is too often focused on looking your best, sounding your best, always coming across as the happiest, most satisfied person ever. That's fine - who wants to read negative stuff on blogs and social media when the news spreads that information for us? I also admit there is a difference between trying to make the best of a situation and trying to act like it is perfect - and I struggle with that regarding what and how to share on social media.

This blog was my happy place when I was a library science student, reading and reviewing books for a class, envisioning how I would put my degree to work once I graduated. A job opportunity came up before I was finished with my last semester, and I took it, even though it started immediately and meant I had to find last minute child care for my two year old son, and juggle two classes (one of which was CATALOGING, wow!), an internship, and a sign language class (for my personal interest) while learning a new position. I should have said no, but I was so worried that it would be my only opportunity. I should have said no because I was not offered the job I applied for, but one the system thought I would be better suited for. My coursework still applied, so I thought it would be ok. I made the best of it in real life (and genuinely enjoyed it for a long time) and acted like it was the perfect fit on social media.

Personally, having my young son in someone else's care full time really ate at me. I know you do what you have to do, and I was lucky to have had so much time with him in the first two years. But I had always planned to stay home with him, at least part time, until he started school. But I felt so strongly that I had to take the job that was offered to me. Eventually it wore me down, especially when the system expanded their hours, meaning I was working a handful of nights and weekends every month. Other aspects had changed enough to make me not enjoy the job as much as I wanted, and it all led to me taking a different job that helped the family most.

Another position came up, and due to some family changes over the summer, I thought taking that job would be best. This job sounded good on paper, but in reality different things were expected of me, with limited time to complete them, and no support from administration - even after repeatedly asking for it. I was still working nights and weekends, except now I was at home churning out lesson plans. Lesson plans that met the standards the system required, but students didn't appreciate or care about. That's not how I wanted to be a librarian. I won't even dip into my thoughts on public schools and instead direct your attention to the image at the top of this post. The Jeopardy clue that is the answer for would be "Allison's time working in the public school system." But online, when I posted (SO RARE, if you look back over this blog and its instagram) I pretended all was fine.

Until I couldn't pretend anymore. I'm not trying to drag those jobs over the coals and rip them to shreds for being unfair or awful. They were just awful for me. I think it is so important to have a job that you love, that you are passionate about, that makes you feel fulfilled. You don't have to work all the time, or talk about your job all the time, or think you are changing the world. It just has to make you feel good, in whatever way you want. If that means working retail 20 hours a week so you have time for something else, fine! If you want to work 60 hours as a lawyer, that's fine too! It's all individualized, and that is important to remember.

I'm saying that for myself as much as anyone. I kept feeling pushed to take a job just because it was offered to me. I wish there was a trial period to transition to a new job, because it definitely would have influenced me with at least one of those jobs. I feel like it would have helped my happiness so much - to know exactly what I was getting into before committing. Before feeling like a failure for leaving. Before feeling dumb and aimless for taking and leaving X jobs in X years. And maybe it is irresponsible, or not how someone else would do it. But I value my happiness over almost everything else (wow does that sound selfish!). I know that if I am not happy, everything else in my life will suffer. I am lucky - no, I need to stop phrasing it that way, as if it just so happened to work out that way. I have worked hard since my early teenage years as a babysitter, and I have saved money so I have a buffer. Gone are the days of someone retiring from the same company that hired them straight out of school. Gone are the days of companies keeping someone for that long and rewarding them for their loyalty - so many companies here have been "downsizing" once the bulk of their employees are a certain age, just casting them out and making it so hard to find a new position at their older ages.

But I digress. It has always been important for me to feel happy at my job. Not consumed by it, not overwhelmed by it, not stretched thin by its demands. But balanced. And I know this means your personal life has to be satisfying too, and that was definitely a problem I was struggling with as a new mom and newlywed, so this period in my life wasn't all job-centered.

I want to feel like I am making a difference on a more individual level. I don't care if the public school system gets more money from the state because I am helping them hit their numbers. I care that the students who came to me learned something from me - however minor that may be. I hated that students would see me in public and greet me, and I thought of them as strangers. I didn't know their names or what grade they were in because I was seeing 860+ kids every two weeks, and connecting with none of them. I don't care if I get do implement all of my creative ideas in my job. I care that those in management want to hear those ideas and value me for coming up with them. And I think I've found that job. But more on that later.

I just wanted to share all of this in the name of transparency, to not get too personal and not call out any systems in particular, but to say that it's not always real online, and it's ok to get real and not be happy pretty posed instagram shots all the time. And to thank everyone who has been there for me - some online since the start of this blog, some on instagram even though I haven't posted regularly in too long, some in person from one job or another, some who have always been there. And now I click "Publish" before I overthink it because... why not?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Phew, that was fun!

The A to Z Blogging Challenge is OVER!

I actually loved posting every day. It was a challenge because I haven't blogged in so long. I this lapse with a post a month, on average. I've missed sharing reviews, but I've also spent a lot of time trying to decide what I want this space to be. I'm not good enough a reviewer to have it exclusively be reviews. Plus it's how I FEEL about books, so my reviews will be more casual and personable. And it won't be just books, it will be everything relating to books and literacy and media.

Really developing It's Not Easy Going Green has been a lot of fun. Some of my posts were just thought vomit, and some were more developed. I want that to be a mix of a lifestyle blog and minimalism/environmentalism/financial blog, but all very personal. I'm not trying to be an expert on anything, here or on my green blog, I just like sharing my experiences.

Since launching my photography business, I've posted on Allison and Her Camera, but not regularly. This challenge has pushed me to get back to my blogging roots (because of course those need to be rediscovered?) and I want to stay in the practice of writing often. I've been publicly blogging since 2008, and writing online (diary-x and LiveJournal, anyone?) since 2000. As lame as it might be, I like sharing some things online, so... here I am. And here I am trying to stay while being interested and relevant.

I've loved connecting with so many different bloggers, and hope to keep up with you all, and hope you stick around for my journey and share your experience.

Monday, April 30, 2018


I Am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak

I’ve had The Book Thief on my shelf forever but wasn’t in the mood to read it the two times I tried, and I was worried this book would be just as dark. I listened to this as an audiobook and absolutely loved it! Marc Aden Gray, with his Australian accent, was the perfect narrator since the characters are Australian. He seemed to have fun with the narration, changing his tone according to the story, and even changing his voice for different characters. This really helped pull me into the story. Most audiobooks I’d tried to listen to previously were read more straight-forward, so my mind wandered instead of paying attention to the story. I Am the Messenger made me think of radio shows from the time before TV, when families would gather ‘round to listen to a story, instead of turn on the TV and expect to be entertained.

The audiobook was well-done, but I would have loved this story regardless of how I read it. There was a bit of suspense and mystery throughout the whole story, and I really identified with Ed. His story of accidentally foiling a bank robbery and then becoming an unwilling messenger of goodwill was intriguing. The ending, however, has to be one of my favorite book endings ever. I kept thinking about it - and that’s all I’ll say! Read it for yourself and you’ll understand why it might have ruined me for all other books! 
See my detailed review here.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

You're Welcome, Universe

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner is so unique - the main character is an Indian Deaf teen, and she has two moms. There are so many elements of diversity, but all are handled beautifully, and never seem over the top or constructed just to be contemporary or dramatic. The story itself is really compelling. Julia is a graffiti artist and gets kicked out of her exclusively Deaf school for covering graffiti that ruined her friend’s reputation, but that doesn’t stop her tagging places around town. It actually pushes her to be more and more creative with her art – especially when a rival artist starts adding to her work, and those are additions what make people talk. Julia wants her art to stand as it is, but this artist keeps one-upping her. Adding to her stress is having a new interpreter at a mainstream school and trying to fit in, keep up with the work, and make friends.

The book includes examples of “her” work, and it really rounds out the story. It’s not exactly an illustrated novel, but the graffiti is peppered into the book and fleshes out the story.

You're Welcome, Universe won the Schneider Family Book Award at the 2018 Youth Media Awards. I watched them as a webcast and had a browser window open to my library's site, putting award winners on hold as they were announced! So many great YA books out there today, and so many are winning these great awards!

Friday, April 27, 2018

X Marks the Spot

Scavenger hunt books are a trend in children's/middle grade lit lately, and I am loving it! I love suspenseful books, mysterious books, and books with cases you can try to solve along with the characters, à la Encyclopedia Brown. I've included short reviews of some of my favorites below. I have NOT read the latest Mr. Lemoncello, though, so no spoilers!

It kind of looks like an X!
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
If you never read any other book I recommend, please read this one. I love this book SO much, I already want to re-read it. Codes, hidden books, visiting landmarks in an historical city - what’s not to love? Emily has been an active Book Scavenger for years, so she’s excited when her family moves to San Francisco, even though she’s tired of moving once a year. Now she’s in the hometown of the man who created Book Scavenger, and he’s about to release a new game! But when he’s mugged in a subway station, no one knows if the game creator will make it, and Emily is worried her family will move again before she can participate in the game.

RE-READ: I read this book in May 2016 but wanted to re-read it so I could read the second one and be in the Book Scavenger mindset. I LOVED re-reading it! I had also just met the author at ALA Annual, so it was really cool to kind of immerse myself into this world. This book is so good and solid, and I can’t stop recommending it to people of all ages.

The Unbreakable Code by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

The second Book Scavenger book - so good! I had just met the author at ALA Annual and re-read the first book, so I was totally immersed in this world. I loved the twists in this book, and can’t wait for more!

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
I was sucked in to this book from the beginning - books and riddles and codes and a super-cool library?! I’m in. It was a really good story, and I appreciate how it will get younger kids, especially those who aren’t readers and are more into games, into reading. There were book titles and references galore in this book, so it was fun to place those. It reminded me of Book Scavenger.

Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

I liked this second book a lot… maybe even more than the first? I felt like the puzzles and games were more involved, or perhaps just better written than the first book, because I felt very into the story. There was some suspense, and it will definitely engage middle grade readers.

Happy hunting!

Thursday, April 26, 2018


My bookshelves post made me think about how and why I get rid of books. Weeding in the library is totally different than weeding at home, but I have a lot of experience weeding. I volunteered in a small branch to weed Nonfiction, and I weeded the Young Adult section when I was a Teen Services Librarian. It feels great to get rid of old or ruined materials, and to see how attractive the shelves look once you’re done.

At home, things are a bit different. I can get rid of my own books pretty easily. If I really love a book, I am keeping it because I know I will re-read it. I used to re-read some of my favorites every year, but never more often than that. However, last year I didn’t re-read a single book! There is just so much out there, and I’ve really been pushing myself to read as much new stuff as I can. And that’s good too, especially since my favorite indie bookstore went out of business last year. They have since reopened as a different store, thank goodness, but everything was half off as they got rid of inventory. That means I bought a LOT of books. Even with everything being half off, I’m still ashamed to admit how much I spent. Except NOT ashamed. Because it’s books! I will always, always spend money on books. (I mean, I love libraries too, but sometimes you just need a new book.)

When I get rid of my own fiction or nonfiction books, I prefer to list them on PaperbackSwap, which I wrote about before. I used to sell textbooks on, and was so sad when that site closed. It allowed you to keep books as inventory, so they could sell whenever someone wanted it, instead of setting a time limit on an eBay auction. I recently listed some books on eBay and Amazon but I was so used to (due to using it for over a decade!) that it’s tough to remember to list things. If I get a stack of books and don’t have the desire to post them online, I donate them to the library or leave them in Little Free Libraries.

Getting rid of picture books is really hard. I have so many, and I’m grateful for that. Some I bought, some were gifts, some were just huge boxes of books sent by friends and family. I go through them periodically and weed, but the shelves are still full. If we read a book and loved it, and it gets asked for often, of course we keep it. What’s the harm in that? If we read it and didn’t like it, I might give it another try and then get rid of it. If the title or topic seem questionable, I’ll look it over and maybe donate it before we even read it, just because it doesn’t jive with our family or personalities.

When I get rid of picture books, I like to donate them to my son’s preschool. I will also keep some aside to put in Little Free Libraries we have all around our city’s parks and community centers. Some I will put on PaperbackSwap, but I really try to get them out in the community because I know there are so many people who don’t own a book, and I want to change that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


I've been a volunteer since childhood, delivering meals on wheels for MIFA with my mom and grandmother. I volunteered at my church a lot in middle school, and volunteered at my local library branch in high school. I've volunteered with people with disabilities, and continued to volunteer at the library in different ways.

I was a volunteer coordinator at a learning center for people with disabilities and the library. I know how important volunteering is to so many organizations, especially nonprofits who need more staff than they can reasonably afford.

I also know that volunteering is important for the volunteers themselves. Volunteering might seem like a selfless act, and it's wonderful to give up your time for a cause. But you're volunteering to get something back, and that's fine! It's important to feel proud of what you're doing to help out. And for many teens when I worked at the library, it's important to get service hours for school, or experience in a career field you might want to explore, or to earn a letter of recommendation for college.

Volunteering helps everyone, and I love still being an active volunteer with many organizations. I write book reviews for Teen Bookletters for my library system. I conduct storytimes at preschools, and want to expand that to parks and community centers in spring and summer months. I have experience doing storytime programs for adults with disabilities, and I want to start that again. I also love the idea of one-off volunteer experiences, in case you can't commit to a set schedule.

I am currently writing a volunteer manual for libraries, and I'm so excited to put all of my knowledge on paper. It's a subject I'm passionate about, and I love that I can put it all out there and help other libraries, and honestly - any other organization, form their own quality volunteer program. I'm just getting to the meat of the book so I have a lot of work to do, but Memphis has a wonderful volunteer scene, so I have a list of people to interview to really flesh out this manual.

Have you volunteered before? What did you do? What would you like to do as a volunteer if you could do anything, anywhere?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Unreliable Narrators

Unreliable narrators are a huge trend right now, and have been since Gone Girl swept the literary stage.

I love suspenseful novels. Some are really well done, and I love feeling my heart pound just from reading words on a page. It's powerful! But unreliable narrators are pretty much the worst character you can read or write about.

I remember being warned against unreliable narrators in my writing workshops. It can be done, and it can be done well, but in current mainstream fiction, I don't think it's being done well. I don't think *I* can do it well, either, to be fair. I'm not trying to be holier-than-thou. I know a lot of people enjoyed Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train and all of those other books almost exactly like those. They're bestsellers and movies so clearly something works!

But for me, I can't stand unreliable narrators. I think mental illness is something that should be explored in fiction, but using it as a deus ex machina is a cop out. Same with alcoholic characters, like The Girl on the Train. Suspense is one thing, but leaving out sections of story because the character blacked out, only to miraculously remember them at the end of the book to solve the mystery is a big hoax. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels like the author conned me when that's the sad resolution to a story.

The worst part is, there are so many of these! All of these new books are being compared to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl and, like I said, I understand they are bestsellers - but that doesn't mean they're good. It frustrates me that these books are touted as good literature when other books are tossed off as "chick lit" or "romance" or "fluffy" because they're not as "heavy hitting".

How do you feel about unreliable narrators? Have you read the books I mentioned? What did you think? Have you read books that seem to have the same "formulas" as each other?

Monday, April 23, 2018


Literary tattoos are a growing trend, and there are some gorgeous ones out there. I've seen some quotes in beautiful script, images from childhood favorites, or a book commemorated with a picture that means something to the individual.

I have three literary tattoos - two quotes and one image that was the author's "trademark". Well, I kind of have four - I have a typewriter with a blank page in it so I can write what I want, forever.

I want many, many more tattoos - many literary. There are just so many books I love, books that have spoken to me and make me want to have their words on me forever. There are so many illustrations I love that would make an amazing children's lit sleeve. The thing is, I'm running out of room, and have other things I want done, also!

What I love about tattoos is they tell stories, whether they're literary or not. Someone can ask about any of my tattoos, and I'll tell a story. I'll either talk about what it means to me and why. I can tell a story about how I chose it. I can tell about the day I got it. I can tell something funny that happened when someone else commented on it. They are definitely conversation starters and stories all in one!

Do you have any tattoos? Are any of them literary tattoos? If you hate tattoos, why? I've met so many people that absolutely hate tattoos - not just for themselves, but on me, too!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Ready Player One

I read Ready Player One in October 2016 because two librarian friends/coworkers recommended it to me. Honestly, based on the description, it's something I probably never would have picked up on my own. So I owe a huge thanks to those librarians because I LOVED the book.

My review:
I loved this book! It was recommended to me by a friend who said I’d like it even though I don’t like sci-fi. To clarify, I don’t like hard sci-fi. I like things that seem like they could happen, like dystopia and robots and establishing a life on other planets. This book was amazing because it could be read as a statement on what direction the world is going in - so much is done online, not face-to-face. Life seems so great on Facebook but it’s not in reality, etc. 
Wade basically lives in the OASIS, an online world that’s better than the real world, especially considering that people live in trailers stacked on each other. He squats in an abandoned van to log in to the OASIS and become Parzival, an avatar who is still in high school, but is searching for the egg the OASIS creator left encoded in the game before he died. I don’t want to give too much away, but this book totally sucked me in, and I already want to re-read it!

I saw the movie on opening weekend, in an IMAX theater - the first IMAX movie I've seen that wasn't an educational documentary at the Pink Palace! It was pretty cool to see on the big screen; I think that kind of fit with the movie overall, being such a blowout action-y movie based so much on technology.

The movie itself was pretty good... It could stand alone. If I hadn't read the book, I could still follow the movie. That's important to me - I remember seeing The Giver and feeling like I would be so lost if I hadn't read the book. But that movie was horrible, so let's move on before I go on an angry tangent.

Ready Player One told a story in the movie - to my memory, it was pretty different than the book, but I read it long enough ago where I can only remember snippets and the general feeling I felt about it. The CGI in the movie was pretty bad in my mind; it looked kind of 80ish, which might have been the point! I haven't read any reviews or book comparisons about it yet. But I thought it was kind of a ripoff that so much of the movie was just CGI characters doing stuff. Some of the scenes were pretty hokey, too, and the references were too much - not thrown in to be clever, but so in your face you know they wanted the audience to react. And the audience DID react, to let everyone know they got the joke, and that's one petty reason I hate going to the movie theater - people clapping for the movie, talking back to it, etc.

Bottom line: the book is always better than the movie, but I always love seeing the movie just so I can compare them!

Thursday, April 19, 2018


I read Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen in 2011. It's a book that followed a woman as she left her abusive husband, bringing her son along as they started a secret new life. There were vivid flashbacks, but also a lot of current action. It had a good narrative structure, but overall felt very stream-of-consciousness, which worked perfectly.

As the woman adjusted to her new life, you were living day-to-day right along with her. When she was struck by fear of her husband finding her, you were jolted into that emotion as well. It was very powerful, very realistic, and very suspenseful. The prose was beautiful in many parts, but never too flowery. The characters were realistic and likable, and I found myself thinking about them even after finishing the book.

I read this book at the perfect time because I was struggling with a story I was writing. It was a story told in three or four parts (I was undecided at that time), and the main character was a wife leaving her husband. This really helped me get into the minds of my characters and get immersed in that world. I finished the set of stories and it's still one of my favorites, and I credit this book for helping me through it. (Along with Foo Fighters' "The Pretender"... long story!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


When I get rid of my own fiction or nonfiction books, I prefer to list them on PaperbackSwap. I’ve gotten a lot of books from that site, and passed on a lot, too. 

You can create a wishlist of books you want, and when they are available, you’ll get an email and a chance to claim the book. If you want a specific title your library doesn’t have, this is a great way to get a chance to read it. If you REALLY want a book on a time crunch, it might not be the best solution. But if you search a book and a member has it, you CAN get it immediately. The wishlist is just a nice way to keep track of what you want.

If a book won't sell for much on other sites, I'll list it on PaperbackSwap for awhile so someone who really wants it has a chance at getting it.

I like the idea of passing along books when you're done with them, but I admit that I've kept several for my collection, too! I don't mind used books - I actually prefer them because once they get a little worn or bent, you won't feel horrible for ruining a brand new book. I especially like them if they're discarded library books because I love seeing the circulation systems other libraries use.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Odd Sea

I've read this book countless times since high school; it's one of my top three favorite books. Ethan Shumway is sixteen when he disappears - literally disappears: his younger brother, Philip, sees Ethan at the end of the driveway one minute, then he's gone. The book is Philip's searching for (or "not-finding", as he calls it) Ethan.

There is something about Reiken's writing that makes the whole story vague and mysterious, yet complete enough to be satisfying, regardless of what the resolution may be. It's on my shelf of Favorite Books and has been there since I got my own copy. It's a beautiful, little-known book that you should read.

Monday, April 16, 2018

N is for Noose

My mom has always loved to go see authors, and started taking me with her when I was really young. Sometimes the line was too long (like for Mary Higgins Clark), and my dad would have to come pick me up.

When I was 12 or 13, she took me on a road trip to That Little Bookstore in Blytheville. Sue Grafton was going to be signing her newest book, N is for Noose. My mom had read Grafton’s books since the very beginning, but I had never read an adult mystery before. I loved kids’ mysteries, like Encyclopedia Brown, the Boxcar Children, and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I also read adult books – mostly just novels that caught my eye at the library. But adult mysteries just didn’t seem to interest me.

After meeting Grafton, Mom encouraged me to start at the beginning of the alphabet. I did, and loved the series. Kinsey Millhone was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I loved the simple, straight-forward style of the writing. I loved that you could actually start anywhere in the alphabet and know what was going on; each book could stand alone.

I kept reading each book as it came out, including Kinsey and Me, which is actually one of my favorites. When news broke of Grafton’s death, I texted Mom immediately. We were both sad to hear it. Mom is especially sad that the series will never be finished; she’s invested a lot of years into it! I’ve read them all also, but don’t feel as personally invested. I kind of like that the alphabet ends at Y, that the series will never really end. Because even if Z was written and published, I would hate to read it and have to say goodbye to Kinsey Millhone.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Back in January 2016, I re-read Matilda because I had tickets to see Matilda the Musical at the beautiful Orpheum Theater. I wanted the story to be fresh in my mind because I love comparing the books to the movies, or in this case, the play.

I really enjoyed the play. It's hard to review because... it's amazing. I would have gone to see it again the next night if I could have! The stage looks fantastic with all the letters and colors and blocks, and it pulls you right into Matilda's world. The actors are perfect in their roles. We saw a native Memphian play Matilda on opening night, so that was a nice perk!

The next day, I watched the movie. I remember seeing the movie as a child, but it's just as good as an adult! The movie differs a little in that there are some added scenes involving Matilda, Miss Honey, and Trunchbull, but this storyline fits in with the overall story, and isn't a major discrepancy like some plot changes are in movies.

The musical differs quite a bit in that Matilda's mother has a different hobby, which doesn't add much to the story, in my opinion. Matilda also tells an ongoing story she's made up, which is overly sentimental and also doesn't add much to the story, especially since Miss Honey's backstory is explained so concisely in the book. But I am a huge Tim Minchin fan, so I appreciate how these divergent storylines help develop the musical side of the story. Tim Minchin's songs are very clever and add jokes and wit to the story.

I think the movie and musical are both so good because they stay pretty close to the original story. I'm usually not a big fan of books that are made into movies; I'm in the camp that the book is always better than the movie. One exception is To Kill a Mockingbird, which is an amazing film that really does the book justice. Now that my memory has been refreshed, I'm adding Matilda to that list. And though the musical strays from the original story, I highly recommend seeing it if you get the chance!

Matilda is coming to Playhouse on the Square for the 2019 season, and I'm so excited to see it in a smaller playhouse! It was fantastic at the Orpheum, but I was ready to see it again the next night, so I know it will be a blast to see it at my favorite venue.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

After a year at a boarding school across the country, Suzette is ready to reconnect with her family. Her stepbrother, Lionel, picks her up from the airport, and Suzette warily accepts that things are back to normal. But as the summer progresses, she sees Lionel is still battling his mental illness. Suzette wants to help him as much as she can, but she's caught in a love triangle with a boy she's known forever and a new coworker, so she is understandably distracted... Should she tell her parents she's worried about Lionel, or trust him to know what's best for him and his mental well-being?

This book won the 2018 Stonewall Award at the Youth Media Awards. I was watching the awards online and putting books on hold at my library as they won awards! I've read several award winners and am so excited at the wide range of young adult fiction these days.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Kevin Wilson

Kevin Wilson is the author of The Family Fang, Perfect Little World, and Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. He's quickly become one of my favorite authors, but I especially love his short stories. I had a chance to see him speak at a local university, and he was down to earth and very level-headed about being a writer. After being in an MFA program, I've started to hate stories with that typical MFA-touch of having no real resolution, and no real point. Kevin Wilson's short stories are the opposite of that. They bring up interesting, bizarre ideas and make you think, and leave you with your imagination in overdrive.

My two faves!

The Family Fang: The Fangs are a family of artists, creating pandemonium in public and filming the confusion. Kind of like a four person flash mob, before there were flash mobs. Annie and Buster participate with their parents as children, but as they grow up, they grow tired of a life of hoaxes. Both children move on, but when they’re down on their luck, they come home. Their parents ask them to participate in one final artwork, but can the kids give up all they’ve worked for towards getting away from this life? Very amusing, deep, and interesting. Wilson is a must-read.

Perfect Little World: Izzy gets pregnant by her high school art teacher, and isn’t sure what her small town can offer her after graduation. When a unique opportunity presents itself, Izzy has to take part. Even if it means promising ten years to a sociological experiment in which her child wouldn’t necessarily be hers, but raised equally by 18 other people. The story is just as multi-faceted as it sounds, and Wilson’s character development is amazing. I would love to get inside of Wilson’s mind. His stories are so vibrant and creative; beautifully written prose that borders on genre - usually sci-fi - but staying mainstream. I recommend this book to everyone, regardless of reading tastes or general interest.

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: I'll be honest - the title and cover art grabbed my attention for this book, but I'm so glad it happened that way. These are some of the best, most innovative and interesting short stories I've ever read. The first story pulled me in and each of the following were just as fascinating. Wilson writes in a world where there is a company of stand-in grandmothers for families who aren't ready to tell their children that granny has passed on, where letters must be manually sorted in a Scrabble factory, where a museum of whatnot is a setting for love. Another book I'll be recommending to everyone.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Joshilyn Jackson

I read gods in Alabama in 2005 and it changed my life. Seriously. I have loved books and authors before, but the style of this writing and the story itself was so perfect… yet seemed like something I could write. Not in a way where I would scoff and say “Even I could write that!” But in a way that pushed me to write so I could love a book of my own as much as I loved that one.

I got to see Joshilyn Jackson speak at Square Books not long after her first book was published, and saw her a time or two after that as well. Her voice is amazing and her personality is so fun and charming. I used to read her blog obsessively, and her personality came out there too. This led me to feeling like I knew her, and that we were best friends… Which got super awkward when I saw her in 2017 at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference in Atlanta. I greeted her like an old friend, but she is amazing and gracious and gave me the LAST ARC of her upcoming (at the time) book, which I dove into as soon as I got back to the hotel.

I have all of her books and love them and can’t wait to read more by her. As soon as I read her first book, she catapulted into my Top 5 Authors of all time, but as she writes more and more, she’s made it to that number one spot of Favorite Author by being consistently fantastic and innovative with her stories, while staying true to her writing self.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

I read Tucker Max's I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell when it was first in paperback, and the later ones (Assholes Finish First and Hilarity Ensues) as they came out. I admit that I thought they were funny at the time, and my Goodreads reviews reflect this - although I wasn't too impressed with his second, I thought he showed a lot of growth and self-reflection with his third.

I never read his other books about how to score women and then how to score a bestselling book... go figure? I mean, yes, I guess he did it all, but it's an interesting career trajectory. He credits himself with creating the genre "fratire", and the word alone disgusts me, so I guess that could explain where I stand now.

I think his stuff made me laugh at the time because I was in college and partying and could relate. I also have always had a, um, questionable sense of humor. I have grown since then, though, and can't imagine what I would think of his books if I read them now. Especially with all of the #MeToo and feminist movements, how would I feel reading about this guy picking up women in bars and using them so carelessly?

Comments on Goodreads and in person have accused me of being pathetic or not a feminist to have enjoyed his books, and as I said, I probably would hate them now. And looking back at myself when I liked these books, well... I was living a different life. I think it is normal, and good, to change as you grow and look back and be able to see what wasn't right with your past self.

Have you ever enjoyed a book/joke/idea that wasn't quite society's norms? Do you still enjoy it, or have your tastes changed as you've grown? Have people accused you of being a certain "type" just because of the books/movies/music you like?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Horne Section

When I visited my friend in England in 2011, she made sure to make me even more obsessed with British comedy (and comedy in general) by introducing me to Tim Minchin's work. She searched to see if he had a show in the area while I was there, and - HE DID! Kind of... he was going to be one of three guests at the Horne Section's show. Neither of us knew who they were, but wanted to see Tim, so we got tickets.

The Horne Section cracked us up. They are a band focused on musical comedy, but their banter was so deadpan that I couldn't stop laughing. Alex Horne is very matter-of-fact and everything he says cracks me up. Later that night I tweeted to them about coming to America and even laughed at his reply.

I found Alex Horne's books online not long after I got back to the states, and ordered them right away. And... haven't read them. Isn't that awful?! I don't know why I haven't read them yet, but I think I'm now giving myself the challenge of reading them before May - if I can handle it on top of these daily posts!

To inspire me to read these, I've been listening to the Horne Section podcast. It's just as hilarious as I remember the live show being. Check it out if you love comedy, musical comedy, British accents... well, just check it out!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee

I read this book a few weeks ago and it blew me away. I always read a lot of Young Adult books because, hello – YA! It’s young, it’s fun, it’s emotional, it’s just great. I find myself preferring to read adult suspense, memoirs, or YA. That’s pretty much it. But that means I sometimes get in a rut… Some YA books have very similar plots, or characters, or you just don’t connect with it in some way, and you burn out.


But not this time.

This book was so unique and so beautiful and so breathtaking. It was excruciating to put it down to tend to my child. I wanted to burrow down into this book’s world and stay there, and I still feel that way.

Hailey and Clara are conjoined twins. They are seventeen, about to graduate high school, and dreaming about the future. Their mother wants them to live at home and go to the nearby college, but Hailey wants to go to art school. Clara doesn’t mind staying close to home, because her head is always in the stars. If she could go anywhere, it would be into space to look down at the Earth and really put everything in perspective.

When a new guy moves to the twins’ small town, everyone at the high school is intrigued. They are a close-knit community, and everyone knows everyone. Everyone is used to Hailey and Clara, so someone new to adjust to makes Clara nervous. Hailey is excited, because she loves to stand out with her pink hair and in-your-face attitude. Max, the new guy, loves astronomy, and Clara starts to crush on him. She and Hailey have never dated, never thought boys would be interested in them. But the Sadie Hawkins dance is on the horizon, and Hailey wants to go.

I loved that this book deals with “typical” teenager topics like crushes and dating, but it had a fascinating skew with the conjoined twins angle. I read an adult novel about conjoined twins years ago, and it was awful, so I love that this book is interesting and exciting and will grab readers and make them think about people who are different.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Fun Home

Fun Home: a Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

This is a graphic novel about a girl who finds out her father is gay only after she comes out as a lesbian. He dies shortly after, and she remembers her strange relationship with him, as well as her childhood growing up in and around funeral homes. There could have been a lot more emotion to the story, but I think telling it as a graphic novel kind of diminished that possibility. The drawings didn’t add much depth or insight, but it would have been a sparse story without them.

I've also read Are You My Mother? by Bechdel and had a similar reaction regarding the emotion in the book. I can see how both books were therapeutic for Bechdel to write and illustrate, but I didn't get much of that from the drawings or even the story. They were both interesting, but dragged a bit with the navel-gazing, heavy literary references, and other stuff that could have been cut out to make a snappy, impactful graphic novel.

Fun Home is going to be performed as a play at Playhouse on the Square in May, so I'm excited to see how it translates to the stage. If you've read much of this blog at all, you know I love comparing books to movies and play versions of themselves, so we'll see how Fun Home turns out!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Ellen Meister

I love Ellen Meister's books because they brought my attention to Dorothy Parker and magical realism. I used to only like reading straight forward literary or realistic fiction. When I first read The Other Life, I realized that magical or even science fiction elements could be used in fiction without making it a hardcore sci-fi or fantasy book. And I've loved all of Ellen Meister's books I've read since. The Other Life sticks with me most, maybe because it was the first I read and because I love the idea of parallel lives and wondering what I'd be doing if...

The Other Life
This book grabbed me from the opening scene, where a pregnant woman is struggling between killing herself or giving birth to her baby. The writing is so clear and straight-forward that you are drawn in. I found myself thinking about the characters whenever I wasn't reading; I was certain they were real and wanted to know what they were up to. There is a supernatural element of the portals that take Quinn from her "real" life to her other life, but they are explained very well, and it was easy to picture the fissures and Quinn's travel without feeling like you'd been displaced into a sci-fi novel. The portals are logically discussed before the end of the book, and with the focus being more on people and relationships than the paranormal, I would say this book is literary fiction more so than being classified in any sub-genre.

Farewell, Dorothy Parker
Violet Epps is a movie critic who is sharp-tongued in writing, but timid in real life. She's struggling to break up with her boyfriend who keeps steamrolling her, talking over her, and trying to convince her that she's really in love with him. On top of that toxic relationship, Violet is battling for custody of her recently-orphaned niece, Delaney. The girl's grandparents also want to raise her, and they hired a ferocious lawyer to fight dirty. Enter Dorothy Parker, Violet's idol, the one who inspires her to be so snarky in her movie reviews. While having lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, Violet sees the famous guestbook that the authors of the Algonquin Round Table all signed. The hotel's original owner collected signatures because he wanted to capture the spirits of the authors when they passed on, but Mrs. Parker was the only one who was caught. When Violet realizes the book has come home with her, she learns more about the magic it possesses. Mrs. Parker comes to life around Violet, helping her stand her ground, and occasionally taking control over Violet's body.
          I read this whole book in one day and am ready to read it again. I have totally loved both of Ellen Meister's books, and look forward to reading much more from her.

Dorothy Parker Drank Here
This book focuses on the infamous guestbook at the Algonquin Hotel again. Norah, a TV producer, is desperate to save the show she works for, or else she'll lose her job. She knows she can snag an interview with famous reclusive writer Ted Shriver, and that will grab the ratings she needs. Plus, she loves the author and has always wanted to meet him. But Norah doesn't charm him like she thought she would, but thankfully Dorothy Parker is right there to help.
          I love Ellen Meister’s books for the way she integrates magical realism in such a believable way. Before I read Harry Potter, I was never really one for magic or spells or anything, but Meister handles it beautifully. Her books are literary fiction, but the hint of magic is wonderful. And I say hint even though the whole book is based on the ghost of Dorothy Parker living in an autograph book. It is just presented in a very plausible way, so the story flows without the premise being “hokey”. The story is fascinating and her writing style is beautiful, so I highly recommend all of her books! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


Roald Dahl was one of my favorite authors as a kid. I love how silly his books are, but they're presented so matter-of-fact. A lot of funny kids books I've read lately kind of acknowledge the humor and ridiculousness, so the reader is in on the joke. I like that, too, but I love how Dahl says "This is how it is" and... that's how it is. Some things don't make sense, some things don't match up with logic, but the stories are consistent (as far as I've re-read) so you aren't snapped out of the story by a new line of magic halfway through that didn't exist at the beginning of the book.

I don't have all of his books, and I haven't read them all. Years ago, just after I had a go at an MFA program, I wanted to do an informal author study of Dahl, since I wasn't going to have to do one to earn a degree. So... that never happened. But slowly I have been re-reading some of Dahl's books for my own enjoyment, and I've found that I usually enjoy them just as much as an adult as I did as a kid. I especially like now seeing the movies and plays based on some of his books and comparing them all in different formats.

Who was your favorite author when you were a kid? Who is your favorite now?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


I started my bookstagram account to share what I was reading in the moment, like Instagram is supposed to be. Now it’s more curated and posed, but I’m ok with that overall. I love a pretty picture as much as the next person, and if it includes a brief book review, I’m all in! I try to set up my own nice photo shoots occasionally, to promote book review posts on my blog or grab your attention as you scroll by for a title I really want to share.

It’s no surprise that my favorite hashtag on Instagram is #currentlyreading. I haven’t been as active on bookstagram lately as I would like to be and have been in the past, so I admit that my #currentlyreading tags are sometimes a day or two past due. I guess it should be #justfinishedreading in my case. I love snooping on what people are #currentlyreading to get ideas for my next read. It’s like peeking at everyone’s nightstand, except  Scrolling through Instagram usually leads to me opening my library’s site to put titles on hold. 

I always make time for reading fiction - usually right before bed, thinking it will help me fall asleep, when it actually pushes me to stay up later and later, thinking "Just one more chapter!" Or story - right now I have 2 short story collections going:

  • Living in the Weather of the World by Richard Bausch, my former writing professor writing short stories about Memphis in general and my neighborhood in some instances!
  • Machine of Death by Ryan North and tons of other people - basically like a crowdsourced book of short stories about a Zoltar-like machine that tells you how you're going to die

A glimpse of other stuff I'm reading... Can you guess what I'm up to?

Monday, April 2, 2018


My history with bookshelves is expansive. I have always loved books and always been a reader. I’ve always had bookshelves in my room, and I’ve always owned books. I feel so lucky to say this, especially since my parents also took me to the library every few weeks. There was never a shortage of books, I was always encouraged to read, and I was always given time to read.

As a result, I still carve out time to read. It is my favorite thing to do when I have a few minutes, and I try to give myself at least 30 minutes at night to unwind and read. This means my “bookshelves” are scattered all over the house, and they’re not always shelves…

In my mid-twenties, I lived in a duplex with six bookshelves chock full o’ books. Then I put everything in storage and traveled for six months – still reading! I took books I got as ARCs, or from used bookstores, and left them as I traveled. It was a great way to travel light while spreading booklove! When I came home from traveling, I lived in a tiny apartment and downsized to two bookshelves. From SIX to TWO! Is anyone else in awe at that? I still am, even though a lot of those books were old textbooks I sold back to students. (I definitely used to horde my English and Literature books – anyone else with me?)

Now I have a house I’m in love with, and want to stay here forever (knock on wood), and my bookshelf situation is still shifting. I have a bookcase in my office, with library science, literacy, and reference books. Oh, and the bottom shelf is picture books. Of course. My son’s room has 2 bookcases bursting with picture books. The back room has 3 bookcases, two of adult novels and one of children’s reference and kids’ picture and activity books.

Not the full scope, but you get the idea
I would love to have gorgeous built-in shelves in my back room, which is a playroom/hobby room for me and my son. But who wouldn’t love built-ins?! I am still trying to get rid of books I don’t love. I want to look at my shelves and see titles that inspired me, opened me up to different worlds, showed me how others live.

What do your bookshelves look like?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Alice Series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Though I read it when it first came out, I recently wrote a review for the last book in the Alice series for the library’s Teen Bookletters ‘zine. Now I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Alice. The last book spans over forty years; it’s called Now I’ll Tell You Everything. Even the title gives me chills. It makes everything seem so epic…

And it is! There are 25 books in the Alice series, and three prequels. I started reading this series in elementary school. I remember my elementary librarian presenting me with Alice in Lace, allowing me to be the first student to check it out! I loved Alice because she asked questions I wanted to know the answers to. I felt like I could be her… except I always thought she was thinner and prettier than me. But that didn’t make her popular, so she still felt relatable.

I basically grew up with Alice, and I’ve re-read the series a few times over the years. I have cobbled together a collection of used library books and can’t see myself ever getting rid of it. I honestly love the idea of my son reading this series, too – to learn from all of Alice’s questions, to see how girls think and act (spoiler: they’re not always delicate and dumb!), and just because I honestly think they are good books.

I love to recommend series because once you meet the characters, you get to know them and grow with them. If kids get hooked on the characters, they’re going to want to read the next book, and the next, and the next. Any series is great for this, but I can’t get enough of Alice.