Friday, December 18, 2015

French Friday: Bouche de Noel (1)

 Apparently there are many variations of the Yule Log tradition.

Its history seems rooted in the Nordic culture. The ashes of the previous yule log were kept through the year to ward off house fires. Then, on Christmas Eve night, a new yule log would be placed in the fireplace and lit by those same ashes.

The log burned for twelve solid hours while watchers sipped cider, mulled wine or other beverages and told ghost stories and reminisced about old memories.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Salon: December 13, 2015

Twelve Days Until Christmas: I don't know why... but it still doesn't feel like Christmas to me. Perhaps it is the weather - in the sixties all week long! It is now raining which is supposed to usher in a cold front. Somehow balmy does not equal Christmas to me (unless, of course, I'm surrounded by decorated Palm Trees).

Or perhaps it's because the children are so far away this year. In the past, the girls would come over to help decorate sugar cookies and dip chocolate-covered pretzels. This year, it's just me.

That should change starting this week though.

My son and his wife come into town Thursday and will stay through January 10th. They have lots of plans including helping us renovate the kitchen, living room and dining room. Perhaps it will begin to look like Christmas at that point...

My youngest and her boyfriend will arrive next Sunday and leave the 28th. She is my baking buddy, and I think the house will begin to smell like Christmas soon.

My granddaughter and her family will travel home on the 26th and stay through January 2nd. We will wait to celebrate gift giving until they arrive - and we will have the traditional Prime Rib Christmas dinner a day late.

Friday, December 11, 2015

French Friday: Place du Tertre

I suppose the greatest inspiration for First Impressionism came from my visit to the Place du Tertre in 2006.

We first toured Sacre-Coeur on the top of the hill. Then we made our way through the small winding streets of Montmartre to the square in the center of the village. Artists with their easels lined its perimeter, some offering to paint portraits or caricatures, others showcasing their original art of iconic Parisian sights.

While many consider this spot the heart of tourism, I see a Paris of yesteryear.  Struggling artists often made Montmartre their home. Painters like Degas and Cassatt in the late nineteenth century, and artists like Picasso and Dali during the early twentieth century.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sunday Salon: December 6, 2015

I'm not sure how this week passed so quickly. One minute it is a cold, rainy Monday morning, and the next minute it is a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon. I became well acquainted with the chiropractor this week, but other than that, I'm not sure where the time went.

Today's Sunday Salon will be short and sweet...

Friday, December 4, 2015

French Friday: Montmartre

My first visit to Montmartre was in 2006 during a brief stay in Paris. Prior to this trip, I knew nothing about Montmartre except for the iconic white basilica at the top of the hill. After spending a couple of hours in this quaint neighborhood, I fell in love. Five years later I returned to live here for two short, glorious weeks.

The first point of interest as you venture into the area is the elevation. While the narrow roads slightly incline as they wind their way through the 18th arrondissement, visitors must be in good shape to hike to the top. A funicular provides effortless travel up and down (for the cost of a metro ticket), but there is a certain pride and satisfaction in conquering all those steps.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Salon: November 29, 2015

I hope all my American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday filled with good food, family and friends. We had a quiet celebration here - just the two of us - but it was nice and relaxing. The weather has not cooperated though... I'm tired of dreary days and ice covered trees. Hopefully we will see the sun again by Tuesday.

Friday, November 27, 2015

French Friday: Musee d'Orsay

While the Louvre is THE museum to see in Paris, for centuries housing some of the world's most valuable artwork, I prefer the Musee d'Orsay.

Originally built as a train station, the building was almost demolished in 1970 in favor of yet another Parisian hotel. Fortunately the station was saved and converted into a premier museum that now houses a vast collection of French Impressionist art.

The museum runs parallel to the Seine, and its twin clock towers, coupled with the high arch windows, makes the exterior as much a work of art as the masterpieces contained within.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Salon: November 22, 2015

While we did not experience the first snow of the season as some of our Midwest neighbors (I'm just a tad jealous...), winter is definitely peaking around the corner. I did light a fire this morning and snuggled with my blankie and cup of coffee.

Friday, November 20, 2015

French Friday: Beaujolais Nouveau

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!

The third Thursday of November is the official release of this fruity red wine.

Beaujolais Nouveau is made from Gamay grapes grown around Lyon, France. The grapes are harvested, fermented a short time (typically six weeks or so), and then shipped around the world.

Technically, the wine is not sold until 12:01am on the official date, creating quite a buzz of excitement for those who consider this a traditional start to the holiday season. I managed to score two bottles on Tuesday and quickly smuggled the contraband into the house before the wine police arrived.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Salon: November 15, 2015

Today is my sister-in-law and brother's birthdays. This is always the beginning of the holiday season for me. Thanksgiving is just a few days away, quickly followed by December, which means two birthdays, Christmas, and New Year's Eve. Before we know it, 2015 will be a memory.

This time of year is always a blur, yet I'm trying to enjoy each moment and live in the present as much as possible. How about you?

Friday, November 13, 2015

French Friday: First Impressionism

In 2010 I had an idea for a book.

A young American girl (Phoebe Cox) and her family are vacationing in France. While viewing artwork at the Musee d'Orsay, she finds herself transported to Paris, circa 1880.  Can the Impressionists help her find her way back to the 21st Century?

That was the gist of my idea. I had nothing else.

So for three years I researched. I explored the Impressionists, their paintings, and the time period. Slowly a story began to emerge.

Rehearsal on Stage would transport Phoebe to the past, and she is convinced another Degas painting is the secret to finding her way back home.

This would form the structure of my novel. Each chapter title would be the name of a famous Impressionist painting, and would some way feature in the storyline. While many of the paintings are by Degas, several are by other master artists of the time: Cassatt, Renoir, Monet, and Caillebotte.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

TSS: November 8, 2015

In case you haven't heard... our beloved Royals won the World Series!

I considered going to the ticker tape parade - for about two seconds. But  this reserved introvert would never survive the crowd of 800,000 people (area schools closed for the occasion, calling it a Royal Blue Snow Day). I did, however, enjoy watching the festivities from the comfort of my couch.

Now we find ourselves wondering what to do in the evenings since baseball season is over...


I completed my goal and finished the Prisoner of Azkaban - yay! I am now about three chapters into the Goblet of Fire and truly feel as though Harry, Ron, and Hermione are my close friends.

While I had read the first three books before (some of them several times), this is my first attempt to read book four. I am anxious to meet the new Teacher of the Dark Arts, and to discover the role Cedric plays in the story.

I keep the Harry Potter books on my nightstand and try to read at least a chapter a night. While the series is considered Middle Grade fiction, I still want to increase my reading in this genre, so I strive to read another MG  novel thirty minutes a day.

Currently I'm reading Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance. I won this book at a local library event, and it is absolutely perfect for me. The story line is similar to my own novel, so I can use it to help hone my writing craft, and yet it is different enough that I still think my story is viable.

Essentially Claudia, a young misfit, discovers life within famous works of art. She enters the canvas in the hope of rescuing Pim, a boy who was trapped in this alternate world several centuries ago.

I have only read the first three chapters, but so far there is enough adventure to hold the attention of a young reader, and enough art history to satisfy my desire to educate.


I spent yesterday at a local SCBWI writing convention (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). I joined the society in August, so this was my first official event. And I had a blast!

Old feelings surfaced as I walked into the building. What am I doing here? I am not a "real" author. But they didn't last long. About half the attendees were first-timers, and many of them were my demographic.

One of the benefits of attending the conference is the opportunity to submit to faculty - including agents and editors. I have six months to revise First Impressionism and then... if I dare... I can submit to Scholastic Books for consideration.

So, I have a lot of work to do!

Hopefully I will have an update next week (and each week after that). I need lots of accountability!


My objective for NaNoWriMo this year is to write 500 words/day - 5 days/week. So far I have stayed true to the goal.

This week my 500 words found their way into blog posts, which is good because I hope to develop a blogging routine as well.

On Wednesday, I wrote Introduction to Journaling, which is the first in what will be a twenty post series. I presented the basic outline from the Journaling towards Wellness class I taught this fall.

I also wrote a French Friday post, focusing on a few Paris picture books I have read to help me recognize tension and conflict in children's literature.

This week I hope to do more of the same: more reading, more writing, and even a day of photography with a good friend. I hope you have enjoyed this first week of November!

Friday, November 6, 2015

French Friday: Paris Picture Books

As many of you know, I am currently writing a Middle Grade novel. I completed the draft during NaNoWriMo 2013, but have done little work since.

Part of my struggle is the story's conflict - or lack of conflict, as the case may be. Since I spend most of my life trying to avoid difficulty, it is not easy for me to manufacture intentional struggles for my protagonist. However, a plot devoid of tension is not a story worth reading.

I definitely have work to do and decided to do a bit of research to help with the process.

I went the library and checked-out several picture books about Paris. I wanted to learn how children's writers develop conflict for their characters, in the hopes of inspiring me to create conflict for mine. While I found a dozen or more books to read, these few captured my attention both as a textbook and a storybook.

Emma in Paris by Claire Frossard. Emma is a sparrow from New York City who travels across the pond to visit family in Paris. The first task is to find her cousin's apartment, but that proves difficult when she doesn't know the language. After purchasing a French-English dictionary, she still has trouble finding anyone who knows the way. She finally meets a cat who can help, but Emma isn't sure whether to trust her or not. This is a sweet story that is suitable for young children, and it proved beneficial as a textbook as well.

A Walk in Paris by Salvatore Rubbino. A sweet story about a young girl and her grandfather as they wander the streets of Paris. More of a travel guide than a narrative, the main text is accompanied by additional historical footnotes. There is a wealth of information in this short book, making it great for older children who wish to learn more about Paris, as well as younger children who enjoy vivid pictures and simple story lines.

Minette's Feast by Susanna Reich. This is really the story of Julia during her early years in Paris, as told through the eyes of her adopted cat, Minette. Readers get a glimpse of Julia Child as she learns to perfect French cooking, even though her cat would much prefer catching a mouse for dinner. A great story for any Francophile or budding gourmet.

Chasing Degas by Eva Montanari. A young ballerina discovers M. Degas mistook her ballet bag for his paint case. She must find him before the evening performance, or she will not be allowed on stage. This is my favorite book of the group, probably because it closely relates to the subject matter of my own novel. I love how the ballerina runs into several Impressionist painters while chasing Degas through the streets of Paris.

Madame Martine by Sarah S. Brannen. Madame Martine loves routine... and is not a fan of the Eiffel Tower. It is nothing but a tourist trap, according to her. But one day her pet dog runs away and leads her up to the top of the tower where she discovers the beautiful view. Now she adjusts her weekly routine to include a visit to this iconic sight. I adored this book and Madame Martine. I am anxious to read the second book in the series, Madame Martine Breaks the Rules.

Charlotte in Paris by Joan MacPhail Knight. Charlotte is a young girl living in Giverny at the time Monet painted his famous water lilies. It is told in diary form over a nine month period. The text is accompanied by whimsical illustrations, renditions of famous paintings, and old photographs of the time period, which gives it the look of an art journal. Because there is so much text as compared to the pictures, I would recommend this sweet educational story for children older than pre-schoolers.

I enjoyed my wanderings through the picture book section of the library - and look forward to sharing a few of these stories with my four-year-old granddaughter.

My next lesson will be to read a few early-chapter books set in Paris to help me further hone my writing skills.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

TSS: November 1, 2015

Can you believe it is November 1st?!

My October was crazy busy with all sorts of fun, interesting, educational activities, but I am ready for a return to my comfort zone. My blogging routine suffered, as did my reading and writing, but I am now back on track with a plan to stay on track for the long term.


I continue to read Harry Potter, although I have fallen behind my original goal of finishing the series by the end of the year.

I should complete the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, tonight and then promptly start the next book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I plan to write a short review of these first three books sometime soon, however my review will probably be slightly different than most.

I am reading Middle Grade books for entertainment, of course, but my primary reason for focusing on this genre is to help me write Middle Grade fiction. I am not reading these books as a young student might enjoy them, but rather as an adult author who wishes to hone her craft.

To that end, I not only plan to continue reading this classic series, but I will also read new MG releases, especially those classified as historical fiction. It is also my goal to start reading past-as-well-as-present literary award recipients (Newberry, Cybils, and William Allen White). A writer must read... and I need to do more of both.

Hopefully I can develop a reading and reviewing rhythm by the first of the year. It is my sincere desire to post regular book reviews throughout 2016.


Ah November. That time of year when the solitude of writing becomes a popular cultural event. I am referring to NaNoWriMo, of course.

I have enjoyed this writing frenzy in the past, having written 50,000 words of an adult contemporary novel in November 2010 (which will never see the light of day)... and another 50,000 words of a middle grade historical fiction novel in November, 2013. I am currently struggling to revise that mess of words into a cohesive storyline.

I am not participating in NaNoWriMo this year - or at least in the traditional sense. However, I do plan to focus on writing this month.

I have decided to take this hobby to the next level. It is time to be serious or stop talking about it.
Serious writers write. Serious writers read. Serious writers submit their writing - and learn to accept rejection. Serious writers do all these activities whether they feel like or not.

So my goal for November is to write 500 words a day - five days a week. This can either be a blog post, an article, a scene for First Impressionism... anything. But it has to be a focused piece of writing that can be later revised and polished for the public's eye.

I'll let you know how it goes...


I continue to teach the Storytelling Workshop for high school students, and the class of six continues to inspire me. They are working hard to develop believable protagonists and tight storylines. I soon plan to write a review of the curriculum I am using, The One Year Adventure Novel. It is fabulous!

I just finished teaching a new adult course called Journaling towards Wholeness. Three dedicated women came to the class every Wednesday night during the month of October. Each week we focused on a different type of journaling: spiritual, expressive, and reminiscent. I plan to offer the class again next semester, but in the meantime thought I would share the information online, for anyone who might be interested.

I started a new blog for this purpose: Revising Life after 50. While many of the posts will focus on journaling and how it can help us discover our purpose post-empty nest and retirement, I will also share thoughts and ideas on other areas of personal interest, such as Traveling, Photography, Scrapbooking, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

I'd love to have you stop by for a visit sometime, if you are so inclined.


Well, I don't know if you are into baseball, but we are pretty excited here in Kansas City.
Our beloved Royals are now ahead in the World Series, 3 games to 1. They could clinch it tonight. Each game has left me a nervous wreck... but I love cheering for our boys in blue. #GoRoyals.

Monday, October 19, 2015

An Update...

I've been silent these past few weeks.

In part it is due to an incredibly busy schedule. For some reason every October catches me off-guard: too many activities in too few days. Do you experience the same? 

I wonder if it is because I anticipate the busyness of the holidays in November and December, but I don't expect it to start as early as October...

Anyway, that is only half the excuse.

The other half is because I am waffling (again) on the focus of this blog. I just can't seem to get away from the idea that it is a book blog, even though my life is more varied now than it was in 2009 when I first started The Nook.

I have done a lot of pondering lately - and journaling - and questioning. And ultimately I have decided to branch out.

My Cozy Book Nook will remain a book blog. I still love to read (and write) and I love this community. I hope to post more book reviews in the future - focusing on children's and middle grade literature. I also plan to post some articles on writing - both my own personal endeavors as well as my teaching adventures. This will be my literary hangout.

I have also started a new blog, Revising Life after 50, which will focus on my other interests, namely journaling, leaving a legacy, and navigating this second half of life. I'd love to have you join me there, if you feel so inclined.

So I'm back... again.

I hope to be more consistent in my postings and more visible around the book blogosphere. I have roots here. This is home.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

TSS: September 6, 2015

While Labor Day weekend typically signals the end of summer, my family thinks of it as the beginning of fall. My annual proclamation is always, Christmas will be here before you know it.

When the kids were younger they would just roll their eyes and humor me. But as they have grown and started families of their own, they now realize how quickly these next four months pass.

On that happy note... here is my weekly summary.

I am still keeping to my original schedule for the Harry Potter read-along.

I finished The Sorcerer's Stone last weekend and immediately started The Chamber of Secrets. I am now about 30% through the second book and enjoying them immensely!

Yesterday Belle posted on Facebook that she plans to participate in the RIP X reading challenge. I have such fond memories of this event when I was a more avid book blogger, and I thought it might be nice to participate again... someday.

Then I realized Harry Potter would qualify as mystery or dark fantasy, right? With that rationalization I am thrilled to participate after a several year hiatus. I registered for Peril the Second level, which means I plan to complete two books between now and October 31st.

Ideally, I would love to add a few more mysteries to the list... but I don't want to set myself up for failure. So for now I will plan to read the Chamber of Secrets and the Prisoner of Azkaban. If I manage to sneak a cozy mystery, I'll let you know.

It appears my lack of confidence is worse than I realized.

Last week I posted my doubts as to which direction I should take my writing. Unbeknownst to me, I apparently suffer from "but" disease... constantly discounting my efforts by using this self-deprecating term. And my writing coach called me out.

So this week I am trying to focus on "and" ... recognizing weaknesses AND strengths in my writing interests.

I love to journal and continue to do that on a daily basis. I am excited to start teaching my Journaling towards Wholeness course in October.

And I love teaching the Storytelling Workshop. I look forward to inspiring these young writers and encouraging them to follow their dreams.

I feel comfortable writing non-fiction and plan to use my research of Impressionist Art to create interactive iBooks. This will be a fun project that might lead to future multi-media ideas.

And while I lack the confidence to write middle grade fiction, I do enjoy the academic pursuit. I will continue to flesh out the characters and the conflict.

I am still on the writing journey and still learning how to focus on the process rather than the finished product.

Finding Delight:
While I deemed DELIGHT as my word of the year, I often go for weeks without giving it a second thought. I've already decided it will by my 2016 word of the year as well.

But this week I made a conscientious effort to add more delight to my life.

I discovered that delight and fear are closely connected. If I give in to fear, I lack delight. And if I desire delight, I must overcome fear.

I wanted to visit a sunflower field and play with my camera. A simple concept for most, but for me... fraught with fear.

First I must drive to the field. Drive on a toll road (hate the toll booths) to an unfamiliar location (along a gravel road in the middle of nowhere) that is not easily accessed by Google Maps. But I filled the tank with gas, made sure my cell phone was charged, and headed out.

Next, I had to overcome "impostor syndrome" I know I am not a professional photographer, but I fear others looking at me with camera in hand and thinking who does she think she is? I imagine their critical comments as I try to find the right angle and the appropriate f-stop.

But on Friday afternoon, I threw caution to the wind and ventured out.

Yes, it was in the middle of the day when the light is most harsh (not ideal photo conditions), but I reasoned the crowds would be few (I was correct) and sunflowers thrive on bright sunshine.

I got lost only once, and discovered it was not the end of the world. I actually used my Google maps app and got back on track in no time.

As I rounded the bend toward the field, the view was absolutely spectacular: deep golden yellows and vibrant greens as far as the eye could see.

The sky was a bit hazy, but the blue was evident. There was even an occasional wisp of white clouds that added dimension to the landscape.

 I probably spent about 45 minutes wandering the field, marveling at God's artistry while at the same time trying to capture the emotion and beauty in still photographs. It was a success in every conceivable way.

I hope that you too are enjoying these final days of summer because... Christmas will be here before you know it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

TSS: August 30, 2015

While the weather forecasters are predicting a summer heat wave this week, I won't complain. Today I realized it is the end of August and we have yet to experience triple-digit temperatures. What a blessing!

True to my word, I focused on the Harry Potter series this week and finished The Sorcerer's Stone - a week early!

I will write brief reviews at the end of each reading period, but I realize this world does not need one more positive recommendation of this modern-day classic.

Suffice it to say, I marvel at JK Rowling's sense of humor (I adore Fred and George Weasley) and her ability to weave significant themes into a children's fantasy novel.

I plan to take a day or two to digest this first book and write some notes before I begin The Chamber of Secrets.

If you would like to join me in this fall read-along, please feel free to register here.

It's been a thoughtful week in this regard.

I love to write.

I believe it was Flannery O'Connor who first stated, I write in order to discover what I think. And that is exactly how I feel about putting pen to paper. It helps me work through personal issues, relate to the world around me, and find acceptance for myself and others.

But I struggle with what to write. Journaling is a life-time pursuit, but it doesn't necessarily help improve the craft of writing.

I like the academic aspect of the Middle Grade novel (I have SO much to learn about character development, scene construction, pacing, dialogue, etc)....but I'm not convinced that is my calling.

I have considered using the research for First Impressionism and write some non-fiction books for the same middle grade audience, but I'm not sure I have the qualifications to write about fine art.

I still enjoy traveling and putting those experiences into short essays paired with photographs, but the audience is mostly family and friends.

And of course there is the idea of writing my family history and memoir, but not sure there is an audience other than myself.

Obviously I still have lots to ponder on this subject.

The first day of class was wonderful!

I have seven enthusiastic writers registered for the course. I know we are in for a great time because when told they would write a 12-chapter novel second semester the collective response was only twelve chapters?! That led to a lively discussion about writing a trilogy!

I managed to return to a familiar routine this week.

I will try to add Wordless Wednesday posts again soon... continuing the chronicles of my trip to Italy.

I can't believe we will be celebrating Labor Day next weekend... which of course means Christmas will be here before you know it!


Friday, August 28, 2015

French Friday: The Tower Redeemed

From the age of eight, I have dreamed of living in Paris.

I started learning French in second grade, the same year a family friend returned from his junior year abroad in France. I adored looking at his post cards and photographs and vowed that one day I would see these glorious sights, especially the Eiffel Tower, for myself.

In 1977 my dream came true.

Our high school offered an exchange program with a high school in Arcachon, France. We would travel to their home town for three weeks (with a brief side trip to Paris) and the next month they would visit us in Connecticut.

On a cold February afternoon the charter bus pulled up beside the Trocadero platform. We quickly disembarked. It was drizzling rain, but we didn't care. This was the Eiffel Tower!

My friend handed me her camera - a Kodak instamatic - and asked if I would take her picture. She would then reciprocate. Of course I agreed.

Jen ran ahead to pose as I made sure the camera was ready to go. Behind me I thought I heard someone ask, You like? You like? but I ignored the voice. Who would be talking to me?

Jen was ready. I lifted the camera to my face.

You like? You like? This time the voice was louder - and closer.

I snapped the picture and then heard again. You like? You like?

A bit agitated, I turned around to see who was talking so loudly. And there, dressed in only an overcoat, open wide ... was an old man wearing a black beret, a sleazy smile,  and asking me once again if I liked.

I didn't know what to do. I was a naive seventeen-year-old girl. I ran straight to the bus and sat down. Fortunately no one asked why I was the first one to return. I was too embarrassed to share the experience with anyone.

I never got my picture in front of the tower. And quite frankly, I never cared if I saw the Tower again.

Fast forward to July, 2006 --- nearly thirty years later!

I had scheduled my first group tour to Europe and qualified for a leader training session in Paris. We were there only two days, but I was determined to see as much of the city as I could - including the Tower.

I must admit I was a bit nervous walking from the Metro station to Trocadero Square. Although the weather was warm and no one wore an overcoat, I still maintained a keen awareness of all those around me.

A fellow teacher asked if I would take her picture. She would then reciprocate. Talk about deja vu!

I lifted the camera to my face, half expecting to hear You like? You like? behind me. But the only voices I heard were fellow tourists, as excited to see The Eiffel Tower as I was.

I finally had my picture taken with the Iron Lady - and we made amends.

Now look at her fondly instead of disdain. She has become a close intimate friend whom I must visit anytime I'm in town. No matter where I am in the city, I look for her silhouette, and she always brings a smile to my face.

I enjoy her company in the daytime, sitting on a park bench sharing my lunch with her -- and I enjoy her in the evening as she illuminates the City of Lights. At the top of each hour her lights twinkle, and for those few brief  moments, she is magical.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Impression: The Sixty-Eight Rooms

The Sixty-eight Rooms
by: Marianne Malone
published by: Random House
copyright: 2010

Premise (from GoodReads):
Almost everybody who has grown up in Chicago knows about the Thorne Rooms. Housed in the Children's Galleries of the Chicago Art Institute, they are a collection of 68 exquisitely crafted miniature rooms made in the 1930s by Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Each of the 68 rooms is designed in the style of a different historic period, and every detail is perfect, from the knobs on the doors to the candles in the candlesticks. Some might even say, the rooms are magic.

Imagine - what if you discovered a key that allowed you to shrink so that so that you were small enough to sneak inside and explore the rooms' secrets? What if you discovered that others had done so before you? And that someone had left something important behind?

My Reaction:
I did not grow up in the Midwest, so I had no previous knowledge of the Thorne Rooms. After reading this book, however, I plan to take a trip to Chicago for the expressed purpose of visiting this amazing display.

When I first read the premise, I squealed with delight. I imagined a series of 68 books (similar to The Magic Tree House), each room providing an opportunity for time travel and a different historical adventure for young students. As a reader, I wanted to learn more about the time periods and envision the miniatures come to life. As a writer, I wanted to learn how to weave history with fiction to create an engaging middle grade series. Unfortunately, I was disappointed on both accounts.

I don't blame the author - I blame myself. I allowed my imagination to run away before I started reading. I set myself up for a story that was not the intent of the author. 

I wanted the story to focus on one room. I wanted an in-depth history lesson and fully developed characters of the past. Instead, the students visit several rooms of different countries and time periods. While this maintains a fast pace, essential for a middle grade audience, there seems to be a disconnect as to why they enter various rooms. I felt rushed, as though it was a race to see as many rooms as possible, rather than a thoughtful purpose for the visit.

In the end, I found the story adequate, although I do not have a desire to read the remaining three books in the series. However... the fact that this is a series indicates there is an audience for The Sixty-Eight Rooms... I am just not that audience.

This post is a part of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. If you are interested in reading other MG books, please visit Shannon Messenger's blog for a complete list of this week's reviews.  I am always on the lookout for other MG historical fiction novels. If you have a favorite you think I would enjoy, please feel free to leave the title in the comment section.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

TSS: August 23, 2015

Tomorrow is the first day of school!
I have ALWAYS loved this time of year: a fresh start - a clean slate - a time to learn and reconnect with old friends. Can you tell I'm excited?!

Last night I made a decision.
I am (finally) going to read the Harry Potter series.

There. I said it. I made my intentions public (here and on FaceBook), hoping the threat of embarrassment will hold me accountable.

And to up the ante even further, I've created a Harry Potter read-along. If you are interested in joining me on this adventure... please consider signing-up here. I would love to create an online book club, where we can discuss the story, the themes, the author's writing style, etc. The more the merrier!

I've re-evaluated my writing goals - again. But that's ok. I'm growing - I'm improving - and that's the point.

At the onset of summer, I wrote a blog post entitled, Fake It til You Make It where I discussed "going back to school" to take a creative writing class developed by yours truly. I liked the academic approach to storytelling, and the daily routine of going to the library suited my learning style.

Now at the end of the semester, I am evaluating the class and tweaking it for the fall.

Rather than using texts about writing, I plan to use novels as my textbooks.

Christine of the Better Novel Project inspired me to deconstruct the middle grade novels that most resemble my own work-in-progress. By analyzing character development, scene construction, backstory, theme, and especially conflict... I will learn to infuse my own writing with these key components.

My textbooks include:

I am armed with colored pens, index cards, and a mission. I'm excited!

Yes... I am returning to the classroom!

This time last week only one student registered for the Storytelling Workshop - and I resigned myself to putting the class on hold until next year.

Today, at least eight students are interested.

We will meet for the first time tomorrow afternoon, and I'm not sure who is more excited... the students or the instructor!

I will post an update next week.

For those returning to school - I wish you the best.
And for those who are still celebrating summer - enjoy!

Harry Potter Read-along

I must confess... I have never read the Harry Potter series. I started multiple times, but somehow life always side-tracked me in the middle of book three.

But the time has come to practice what I preach. I believe writers are readers. I believe writers should be well-acquainted with their genre. I believe the classics are invaluable texts. And I know Harry Potter is a modern-day classic.

So, to help keep myself accountable, I made a public declaration - here on the blog as well as on FaceBook. And I thought it might be fun to invite others to join in the fun.

I plan to read all seven books by New Year's, 2016. Here is a preliminary reading schedule:

  • HP and the Sorcerer's Stone - Sept 4
  • HP and the Chamber's Secret - Sept 18
  • HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Oct 2
  • HP and the Goblet of Fire - Oct 23
  • HP and the Order of Phoenix - Nov 13
  • HP and the Half-Blood Prince - Dec 4
  • HP and the Deathly Hollows - Jan 2

If you would like to read-along as well, please consider completing the Mr. Linky form below, with a link to your blog post expressing your interest. (If you don't have a blog, no worries! You can still register for the event and be a part of the group).

If there is adequate enrollment, I would love to create a virtual book - a space where we can chat about the plot, the characters, the themes, the writing style... well, you get the idea.

I'm excited... I hope you are as well!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

TSS: August 16, 2015

I didn't mean to take a blogging break.

Last Friday I took my computer to the store for a minor repair. I was told it would be ready the following Monday. While I didn't plan to unplug for the weekend, I must admit it was a nice change of pace.

The three day break, however, turned into five. And the novelty of going off the grid had worn off. Needless to say, it has taken me a while to return to a blogging routine.

I started several MG novels, but didn't finish any of them. I can't decide if my mood affected my reading, or if the story just wasn't for me. I may give them another chance in a few weeks.

In the meantime, I picked up this delightful tongue-in-cheek book and devoured it in under an hour.

How to Avoid Making Art is a collaboration between Julia Cameron (author of the marvelous book, The Artist's Way) and her sister, Elizabeth Cameron.  Each page offers a different excuse artists typically use to ignore or postpone)their craft. The simple illustrations perfectly capture the humorous truth of the text.

While the book is light-hearted and certainly made me smile, it was quite sobering to read all the excuses, one after the other.

By the end, I realized how ridiculous our excuses can be - and how often we sabotage our efforts in the name of doing better, more productive work.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who desires more time for creativity in their life. In other words, EVERYONE.

Oh my ... what a roller coaster week!

UP:  I joined the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and hope to register for the fall regional conference tomorrow.
DOWN: My critique group expanded to a point where I no longer feel comfortable. I highly respect the core leaders, but fear too many voices will dilute their wisdom.

UP:  I discovered one student registered for my Storytelling Workshop, which will begin next Monday.
DOWN:  I still only have one student registered. In order for the course to hold, a minimum of four need to enroll. The class will most likely be postponed until the 2016/2017 school year.

UP:  I experimented with the iBooks Author app - and fell in love! The idea of creating multi-media books feeds not only my passion for writing, but also my passion for teaching. I have SO many ideas for using this medium to introduce children to reading classics, viewing art, and traveling the world.
UP:  I got caught up in the #PitchWars fever on Twitter. Such a wonderful opportunity for writers!

In essence, over 100 agents/published authors have volunteered their time to read queries and first chapters. In the end, each author will select one person to mentor for the next two months.

I spent the better part of the past two days revising, revising, and revising some more.

CRASH:  I realized my manuscript is total crap.

True... it is a first draft and as Anne LaMott says, all first drafts are sh*tty, but it is still a painful  realization.

I'm not ready to give up on First Impressionism. I still like the idea of time travel to 19th century Paris. I still like focusing on the artists and introducing readers to their masterpieces. I still like my characters and want to know how their story ends (in my mind this is a series of educational stories...) But perhaps the audience is not quite right - or the genre needs tweaking - or it lends itself better to an enhanced  ebook.

It is now back to the drawing board...

I decided to use my unplugged status to learn more about Twitter.

While I've had a Twitter account for years, I must confess I never "got" it.
I like organization. I like compartments. I like structure. Twitter didn't seem to have any of that.

But then I took Catherine Ensley's advice and read Twitter for Writers by Rayne Hall. This Kindle ebook is packed with useful information presented in easy-to-understand language.

Don't be fooled by the title. While Twitter is touted as being the best social media site for writers, but the tips in this book will help anyone learn their way around the Twitter-verse.

The biggest aha-moment for me was learning how to use LISTS. What a game changer!! I can now view tweets by theme - which is exactly what I need. I can also discover other like-minded twitter-ers by reading the lists of other users.

While I currently tend to follow mostly writers, I would like to connect with avid readers as well. If you have a Twitter account, please leave her user name in the comments below and I will gladly add you to my contacts. Feel free to follow me as well: @mycozybooknook

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: An Unfortunate Gondola Ride

As you can tell from my recent photos of Venice, the weather was not cooperative. While it never poured down rain, it was always drizzling, and the skies were a constant gray. This, of course, meant choppy waters.

We decided to take a gondola ride a day earlier than planned. No problem.... unless you are prone to motion-sickness and leave your sea bands in the hotel room.

The ride through the small inner canals was smooth and enjoyable. The view of Venice from the water is just as spectacular as walking on land. While our gondolier did not sing, he did whistle a fancy a tune, which made the journey even more perfect. I was feeling great.

But then we had to dock the boat at the pier off San Marcos square. The large open water was definitely more unstable, and the wakes of the large motor boats transformed our gondola into a rocking chair. This made it difficult for the gondolier to position the boat, which meant a longer time in the rough waters.

By the time we disembarked, I was feeling a bit queasy. We decided to return to the hotel for an hour before going to dinner. I thought the fresh air and slow walk would do me good.

I was wrong.

I became violently ill for the next four hours - and I spent the following day in bed recuperating.

Despite this rather unpleasant end to my Venetian holiday, I can still say it is my favorite city in the world, and I can hardly wait to return someday soon. Thee sea-bands, however, will be on my person at all times.

*View other Wordless Wednesday photos here and Wordless (on Tuesday) photos here.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Book Impression: The Family Under the Bridge

Book Impression is an opportunity to share my reading experience. 

For a more detailed explanation, please visit this post.

The Family Under the Bridge
by Natalie Savage Carlson
published by HarperCollins
copyright 1958
Newberry Honor 1959

This story is as old as I am - literally. Yet somehow I never heard of it growing up. I'm finding that to be a popular theme with these middle grade fiction posts: I missed most books of this genre at the time when when I was the intended audience. Perhaps that is why I am enjoying this reading focus at this point in my life.

Even though the book is over a half-century old, I do believe the story is still relevant today.
Some rather difficult subjects are discussed, such as homelessness, and prejudice towards those who are different (whether less fortunate, of another culture, or adhere to another moral code). It is for this reason that I recommend the book, but with the caveat an adult read the story as well. I believe this would help open the lines of communication for children to ask questions and voice concerns.

A Brief Overview:
The main character, Armand, is a hobo living under one of the famous Parisian bridges that cross the Seine. He is actually quite fond of his hobo status, taking pride in his perceived laziness and unemployment. He is an affable character, although not a fan of "starlings" (children). As we learn throughout the story, however, it is not that he dislikes children but rather he is afraid they might steal his heart.

And of course, they do.

When Armand returns to his home under the bridge, he discovers three children hiding there. He pretends to be gruff with them, but knows he cannot turn them away. The children ignore this grumpy exterior and notice only his kind generosity. They immediately begin to refer to him as Grandpa.

The story takes place in December and there are subtle references comparing Armand to Father Christmas. The only item on the children's wish list is a home, and Armand promises to deliver.

My thoughts:
I am a devout lover of Paris - which is what initially attracted me to this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the references to various arrondissements, particularly the Les Halles food market.

When traveling in Europe, particularly Paris, tourists are told to be wary of the gypsies. And I understand this warning. However, it was interesting to see this culture from a different perspective. While private and secretive, their hearts are wide open. They were more than willing to accept these homeless children into their community.

Initially I took exception to Armand's pride in laziness. He almost boasted of his choice to live off the street and not answering to authority. It wasn't that he couldn't work - or had no opportunity; in fact,  he rejected job offers throughout the story. This is not necessarily a character trait I would want to instill in my middle grade child.

But in the end, Armand sacrifices his hobo ways in order to secure a job that provides a decent wage and large enough home for himself, the children, and their mother. And he learns a valuable lesson: sharing with others enriches life; putting their needs before personal desires isn't a burden, it is an honor.

This post is a part of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. If you are interested in reading other MG books, please visit Shannon Messenger's blog for a complete list of this week's reviews. 
I am always on the lookout for other MG historical fiction novels. If you have a favorite you think I would enjoy, please feel free to leave the title in the comment section.

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