Long Way Down: A Book Review

Title: Long Way Down

Author: Jason Reynolds

Publisher: Antheneum

Copyright Date: 2017

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Will’s brother, Shawn, is dead. The rules of his neighborhood say he must avenge his brother. He grabs a gun and enters the elevator with a plan to murder Shawn’s killer.

The sixty seconds that Will rides the elevator help him to see that revenge isn’t his only option. In that time Will is confronted by other victims of gun violence and they help him to see clearly and distract him from his anger.

By the time he reaches the first floor, Will must decide if he is going to add to the count of dead bodies in his neighborhood or if he is going to challenge the rules of the streets.

This book is written in verse and is a quick read. My husband and I took turns reading aloud from this book and finished it in about two hours. Although the story is short it makes lasting impressions on its reader. It is clear to see why this book landed on the honor list for the Coretta Scott King award. I really love Jason Reynolds and the way his works are challenging gang culture and violence in the United States.

Last year year I read All American Boys which he co-authored with Brendan Kiely. That novel took the perspective of two boys who witnessed an act of police brutality. Kiely authored a white boy’s voice as a witness to the crime while Reynolds penned the voice of the African American boy victimized by an officer. I’ve book-talked All American Boys and several students have read it this year. It’s a classroom favorite amongst my ninth graders.

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I highly recommend both books.

The Ameri Brit Mom

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Fearless Writing: Write What You Love

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“Now here we are, this attractive idea and me, going somewhere together, and it doesn’t matter at all that I don’t know the destination, because I’m already someplace I want to be.” (Kenower 49)

The most successful writers are those who love the stories they write. They don’t write to someone else’s standards or for any expectations. They don’t measure their success by followers, royalties, or sales. No, they are content with the production of something they love.

When we use other people to create the standard for our writing we forfeit our happiness. Choosing to focus on craft over passion turns a hobby into a job and quickly puts out the fire that brings us back to the page.

Each story we commit to is like a marriage. There are days full of elation and all the things of fairy tales, but more often there are challenges and struggles. None of us would face life with just anyone and stick it out unless we truly loved our partner. It’s the same way with a story. If we are choosing to write something for anyone else and not because we love it then we will quickly find ourselves signing divorce papers with the story and going our separate ways.

So if you love to read stories about Kung-Fu pirates write about them.

If you love to create southern recipes write them.

If you love graphic novels about garbage men, then go for it.

Write about what your mind keeps returning to. Each time you sit down to write make it something that you are excited about. Let curiosity guide your tales. Don’t get caught up in the promise of money or fame. Get caught up in writing your passion.

(Side note- I follow a very famous children’s author on Facebook who is asking for donations this Christmas to pay her bills. So if you are waiting on a story to pay your bills–they won’t. This particular author has many, many best sellers.)

Practice: If I could tell only one story what would it be?

I love to read stories that restore my faith in humanity. I read a lot of YA fiction as an English teacher…there’s so much to love and learn from teen protagonists.

Most recently I’ve loved The Hate U Give, All American Boys, When We Collided, and Words in Deep Blue.

When I am reading a book that reminds me that this world is a good place full of amazing people I am drawn in. I hate to leave those characters on the final page. They become friends because they’ve spoken to my soul.

So if I could only tell one story it would be similar to this.

It would be one where the teen protagonist overcomes hate or prejudice. Where love wins and society is changed. It would be a tale that brings readers together with a common experience of love and where the last page isn’t the end of a story, but the beginning of a journey for the person who just finished it.

One day you may get to see some of my manuscripts turned into a novel.

But if not, if nothing ever comes of them I will have the pleasure of meeting my characters myself. Writing cannot be about agents, publishers, or readers. I will never be happy if that is the case. I cannot control those things. All I have control over is my own heart and diligence. And if I do not love my own stories then the world never will either.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Books I Read in 2018

I’ve had so many reading adventures to share with you from 2018. I traveled back to Hogwarts, solved the murder of a teen in detention, witnessed the prejudices against minorities, fought countless types of mental illness, united a broken family, visited postwar Europe to save a child, and restored my faith in the human race.

Here is the list of books I read in 2018:

Devotional/Faith Books:

 

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

The Way of Abundance by Ann Voskamp

Anxious For Nothing by Max Lucado

 

Other Books:

 

 

 

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom

Every Day by David Leviathan

One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crawley

When We Collided by Emery Lord

-One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany

I didn’t quite meet my goal of 26 books this year, but considering I had a baby in February I am pleased with the fact that I kept reading a priority.

I am excited to start a new Reading Challenge in 2019. Next week I plan to share with you my plan and I would love for you to join me.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Every Day: A Book Review

Title: Every Day

Author: David Levithan

Publisher: Ember

Copyright Date: 2012

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For as long as A can remember he’s woken up every morning in a different body. He’s almost always in Maryland, but that’s his only constant. When he opens his eyes in the morning he must examine the body that will be his host until midnight. Some days that body is male and other days it’s female. A must learn about the life he is taking on as quickly as possible. Whose body is this? What are they like? Who do they care about? He must access his host to answer these questions, but the host must never know he was there.

Over time A has learned to set his own rules. When he borrows a body he tries to return it without having left a trace. He leaves clues to the day for the person when they return, so he can float to another body as if nothing ever happened.

But he’s made two mistakes: Nathan remembers being A’s host and A has fallen in love with Rhiannon.

Nathan has gone public with descriptions of “being possessed by the devil.” While much of the world thinks he has lost his mind, A is curious why Nathan can remember when no one else can.

After meeting Rhiannon A struggles with telling her the truth. For weeks he visits her in many different bodies, but will she be able to accept him? Can she love someone who changes like he does?

Longing for attachment causes A to break some of the rules that have guided his existence. And without those rules–who is A?

This is what love does: It makes you want to rewrite the world. It makes you want to choose the characters, build the scenery, guide the plot. The person you love sits across from you, and you want to do everything in your power to make it possible, endlessly possible. And when it’s just the two of you, alone in a room, you can pretend that this is how it is, this is how it will be.” (Page 175)

This novel is a touching, thought provoking tale that paints a portrait of one of humanity’s basic desires: to belong. The protagonist abandons everything and risks the safety of his rule book to find his true identity.

As the first book in a series there are some loose ends left at the end of the book, but overall the author did a great job raising questions that hook the reader for the next two installments Another Day and Some Day. The plot is very unique and I was intrigued to find that it was developed based on a conversation that the author had with John Green.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading next!

The Ameri Brit Mom

One Was Lost: A Book Review

Title: One Was Lost

Author: Natalie D. Richards

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Copyright Date: 2016

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When Sera pictured her senior field trip she never imagined that she may never make it home. Her school required her to choose a service project and a weekend in the woods away from Lucas seemed like a perfect choice…until he showed up.

A flood divides the school group and Sera’s teacher, Mr. Walker, instructs her team to set up camp for the night in the middle of the woods.

The next morning, Sera and three other classmates awake to a ransacked campsite. Their belongings are gone, their memories wiped, and their wrists have large labels scrawled across them like tattoos. They soon learn that Mr. Walker has been drugged and as they try to reach the rest of the group they learn that someone dangerous is hunting them.

But, why?

As they all question each other’s innocence each of the classmates gets to know the other on a deeper level. Those that Sera thought she’d known for years she gets to see in a new light. In the flooded woods she learns that the labels she’d placed on each one while in high school was unfair.

Jude is deceptive. Emily is damaged. Lucas is dangerous. Sera is darling.

Will the clues left behind help the quarry find their hunter before it is too late?

Over the past year I’ve read almost every book by Natalie D. Richards. I did a review of Gone Too Far and while on maternity leave I read We All Fall Down. Next, on my Natalie D. Richards list is Six Months Later.

Not only is she a great YA author, but she is actually from Columbus too and we both belong to the same SCBWI group out of Upper Arlington, Ohio. One day I hope to meet her at a gathering and learn from her writerly wisdom.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading next!

The Ameri Brit Mom

Lesson From An Aspiring Author: Always Write

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This week at my SCBWI meeting in the Central South Ohio Regional Chapter we had an author visit from Jennifer Maschari, author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price.

Throughout her presentation, Jen focused a lot on publishing. It was really helpful to hear from someone who has gone through the process before and who is actively working through the publishing of another book. There is so much about the industry that I have yet to learn.

The photo from above is from her presentation and discusses the process of traditional publishing. As you can see, it is a daunting process, but her advice is to always be writing something new. Publishing takes a really long time and if you are only working on that piece you may go years without writing something new. Exercise your mind and creativity and always always always work on that next big story. It will also help pass the time between stages in the publishing process.

I’ve found that setting routines for writing have helped me to always write. I have several projects I’m working on. I have revisions of my first book, short stories, a book I am beta reading for a fellow SCBWI member, articles for my church magazine, and I’m plowing my way through the first draft of a new story. I have to plan out how to get all these things done. If it seems like I’m blogging a little less than usual it is because I have been progressing in some of my projects. I’ve rearranged routines to fit the needs of my project list.

I can’t say I’ve mastered the routine yet. Right now I have days set aside for new writing, days for revision, and days for blogging. I am looking for new routine ideas to use my time efficiently. The writing life is a busy life especially when you tack on the fact that I also teach full-time and I have a family and friends that need my attention as well.

The most important thing, though, is that I’m writing. To be a writer isn’t to finish draft 1 and call it “done.” In fact, all of my first drafts have been pretty terrible. The journey is in revision and rewriting. We should always be working on the next big story.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Photos from: jenmaschari.com

A Madness So Discreet: A Book Review

Title: A Madness So Discreet

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Copyright Date: 2015

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(photo credit: Good Reads)

Set in the 1800s in a famous insane asylum in Ohio, this thriller explores insanity and the patients who find themselves exiled to the depths of asylum halls. Grace Mae is the oldest daughter of a senator. When her father’s secrets become a danger to his reputation he sends her away to an asylum in Boston where she is mistreated. During her stay in Boston she meets a young doctor named Thornhollow who specializes in the practice of performing lobotomies to cure the insane.

The doctor sees that Grace is no less sane than himself, but rather she has become the victim of a dark man. He devises a plan to get her out of the Boston asylum and brings her to Ohio with him where she will be cared for and will serve alongside him in the study of criminal minds.

In her new home, Grace hides under the alias of insanity. She trades her voice for a chance to catch criminals like her father and becomes protege to the doctor.

A letter from her younger sister, Alice, changes her focus and forces Grace to take much more drastic action.

A Madness So Discreet was one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past couple of years. It was brilliantly written and had me hooked from page one. The dramatic themes of the book kept me on the edge of my seat as I hoped to find justice for all the wrongs done to Grace by people she should have been able to trust. Her desire to protect her sister from the harm she faced also pulled on heart strings. This book is a cross between historical fiction and criminal investigation with a large dose of family drama.

The author, Mindy McGinnis, is an Ohioan whom I have met on several occasions. Her first book, Not a Drop to Drink, is one that my students read and she came and spoke at my school last spring after we finished reading that book. Also, she spoke to my SCBWI group a few weeks ago about character development. Next month she is releasing a new book, Given to the Sea, that I am excited about. Mindy’s YA books are among my favorites and A Madness So Discreet is my favorite one yet. If you are looking for a book to hook you from the very onset this is a great book for you!

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Thin Space: A Book Review

Title: Thin Space

Author: Jody Casella

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Copyright Date: 2013

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A few months after the car accident that stole away his twin, Marshall is desperate to contact his brother. He remembers the old Celtic legend that his elderly neighbor told him before her passing. A thin space is a place where a soul both entered and left the world. It is believed that these are places where the wall between this life and the after life is thin enough to pass through. At the time his neighbor explained this legend it sounded insane, but now Marshall is so desperate to see his brother and set things right that he’s willing to give it a try.

Before her passing the neighbor left Marshall instructions for locating a thin space. Part of the legend states that one must enter the thin space with bare feet. Marshall goes all over town in the dead of winter without shoes in the off chance that he walks through a thin space.

When Maddie moves into the neighbor’s house, Marshall starts to open up about the accident. At first, it’s the convenience of wanting to search her house for a thin space which sparks their relationship, but soon Marshall learns that they both have something to gain from finding a thin space.

This is a boy’s journey to cope with the loss of a sibling. It shows how we go to great lengths to just have one more conversation with the ones we love who have passed.

I really enjoyed this read. I’ve been reading through YA fiction from Ohio authors this year. I have actually met Jody Casella on several occassions as she is the coordinator for my chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) If you are looking for a supernatural thriller Thin Space is an exemplary piece.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Bunkered

I belong to an online writing community by the name of Becoming Writer which is sponsored by The Write Practice. Every so often the community is thrown into a writing contest. I enjoy participating in these contests because I tend to get valuable feedback from other writers. The most recent short story contest I participated in was entitled “Spring Contest” and was given the theme of “Rock Bottom.” My story was to be under 1000 words and to incorporate the theme in some way.

I’m currently playing around with a second story idea and I thought I’d give it a shot in the contest. Earlier parts of the story can be seen here. For the contest I chose a scene from the story that goes along with the theme for the contest and I submitted it to the judges. I won’t hear back from the judges for a couple of weeks, but I thought I would let my blog readers have access to the tale and a chance to comment until the contest ends.

So here is my short story:

Bunkered

By: Lauren Sisley

There was a sound of crashing upstairs above my head. I listened as shards of glass hit the linoleum kitchen floor, and I dropped to the ground. My gun was ready. It had been weeks since I sensed the presence of another. Raccoons had broken in a few times since I bunkered down, but this didn’t sound like the doing of a verment. If indeed it was a person and they thought that they were going to take this house from me they had another thing coming. I trained myself for this moment.

I heard a pair of heavy feet move across the floorboards as I slithered across the cold basement floor to within view of the door. I steadied my breathing to keep from being heard. Light came through the gap between the door and the basement landing. Something from the upstairs impeded the light and I knew that it was no raccoon.

I watched as the knob turned and the door opened slowly. I jumped to my feet and concealed myself behind a bookshelf. I watched from the crack behind the shelf as the person in the doorway lifted their feet to descend the stairwell. I saw my life flash before my eyes.

I saw myself on the airplane to America last month. How naive I was to life outside of my English bubble.

I saw Grandma’s casket at the funeral home; the reason my family had ventured here in the first place.

I saw Mom and Dad and I hiding in Grandma’s house after the news reports about the rebel invasion from the south.

I blinked and I saw myself watching from an air duct as the men wearing the rebel flag around their arms crashed through the front door.

I saw my parents in the back of a humvee tied up and beaten.

I recalled how I had turned the basement into a bunker and survived alone for the past two weeks. I waited for days after the rebels left before moving myself to the basement. I kept hidden in the air duct for fear of being captured as well. After several days I let myself down. I grabbed a television set, a small handgun my grandma had kept, and all of the nonperishable foods from her pantry and created a home in the basement. The electricity and power stopped a few days after they left. The last day the news broadcasts informed me that the rebels broke through forces in Washington and took over the White House. That was rock bottom. Each and every person I cared about ripped out of my grasp by death or rebels. It’s funny how many things flood your mind in a moment when death is knocking.

And then I was pulled back to reality as I realized I was alone in the dark basement as a combat boot struck the top stair. The person had to maneuver around the objects I had piled in front of the door. It was to buy myself time to escape or shoot in case this scenario ever played out.  A line of light protruded from a flashlight in the person’s hand. I sunk back behind a shelf ready to shoot as soon as the light proved the person was near.

The steps stopped just short of my vantage point. With one hand I covered my mouth and nose to keep from being heard. With the other I prepared to shoot. My index finger grabbed at the trigger. My pulse raced. I hadn’t ever killed before, but I was preparing myself to do so in the name of survival. I blinked as the light turned toward me. The weeks in the basement had kept my eyes from direct light. The flashlight temporarily blinded me. Without a clear line of vision I made up my mind to shoot into the light. A shuffle of feet toward me and my sweaty finger began to slowly release the trigger.

“Ainsley!” A familiar voice called out. I aimed my gun immediately out of the light.Then I let it fall to the ground.

The flashlight fell, but I didn’t need light to know that the arms that embraced me belonged to my father. Tears built up in my eyes with the fear of his descent from upstairs and released themselves as I made contact with the first person in two weeks.

“Dad, How did you find me?” I asked through sudden sobs.

“Our camp was freed and we came straight to Grandma’s house. I wasn’t sure that you would still be here. Oh, I’m just so happy that you made it, Ainsley.” I missed his voice.  

He hugged me and kissed the top of my dirty hair.

“Lillian, she’s down here.” He called up the stairs. I heard the pitter patter of two delicate feet across the wood floor above as my mother sprinted through the ransacked house.

“Ainsley!” She called out as she ran down the basement stairs and enveloped Dad and I with her arms.

“I made it? Is it over?” I asked Dad. My voice was raspy from lack of use.

“Not quite, but England and France have landed troops in the capital and they have liberated many of the camps on the East Coast.” He squeezed harder as Mom began to sob.

“We will wait it out and then get ourselves on the first flight home.” I could hear the smile in my mother’s tone. I could care less in that moment about my house in London. I had my parents and they were okay. Rock bottom was a thing of the past. That was all the home I ever needed.

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