Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Juliet's Nurse Would Make Shakespeare Proud

Juliet's Nurse, by Lois Leveen
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: September 23, 2014
Category: Literature/Fiction
Source: I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Shakespeare. The name thrills some, makes others cower. English teachers get excited, students groan. Shakespeare has many claims to fame, from the English words he created that we still speak today, to a huge portfolio of works that have survived almost 400 years after his death. Shakespeare is also shrouded in mystery. While there is proof that the man existed, certain camps of thought question his authorship. Some believe it was a group of men working together. The movie Anonymous puts forth the idea that one nobleman, whose high societal rank kept him from full involvement with the theater, wrote everything and used lower standing Shakespeare as his cover for publication. Whatever your belief - or even the truth - there's no doubt that these works have stood the test of time, the proof not only in the fact that we still read them, but that they are copied and added onto repeatedly.

The Shakespeare play that comes to mind first is Romeo and Juliet, mostly because I taught this play for years and will be back to it this year. It is also the play whose themes and plot I see repeated most often in movies and books. In recent years I've noticed authors writing books that are "take-offs" of bigger works, such as Rhett Butler's People, an authorized sequel to Gone With the Wind, and The Wind Done Gone, which is an alternative version of the same, told by Mammy's daughter. Sometimes these add-ons fall flat, but they're worth a try, because the successful ones make the original that much richer.

All of that to say, this is why I requested Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen. It is the story of Romeo and Juliet told from the perspective of Juliet's nurse, but more, as the story starts with Juliet's birth, leading up to the events we all know will end the story. In Shakespeare's play, the nurse is an eccentric "old" woman who loves Juliet very much, having mothered her more than anyone else. Her conversation isn't always appropriate and she's a little more supportive of crazy teenage antics than most adults would be. I couldn't wait to read it and see the nurse come to life beyond what her Shakespeare role hinted about her.

And Leveen did not disappoint. As Leveen's story progressed, I started looking for events that would align with what I knew of the Nurse's life from Shakespeare's play. Tidbits only, brought fully to life here in Leveen's work, and turning what we thought we knew about Juliet and her Nurse on its head.   I was just as delighted as pieces of Shakespeare's beautiful dialogue began to appear in all the right places, but heard from a different perspective this time. I imagine much of my enjoyment of Juliet's Nurse comes from my intricate knowledge of Shakespeare's original play, so maybe it wouldn't be as exciting for others. Yet, just about everyone is familiar with Romeo and Juliet and could appreciate the fuller background Leveen weaves. For Shakespeare or Romeo and Juliet fans, Juliet's Nurse is a must.

Tell me readers, are you a Shakespeare fan? Have you read any "take-offs" to a bigger work?

Monday, September 29, 2014

30 Authors in 30 Days: Jamie Ford on China Dolls by Lisa See

30 Authors in 30 Days is a first of its kind event aimed at connecting readers, bloggers, and authors. Hosted by The Book Wheel, this month-long event takes place during September and features 30 authors discussing their favorite recent reads on 30 different blogs. There are also some great prizes provided by and BookJigs

For the full schedule of participating authors and bloggers, visit The Book Wheel or join the Facebook group. You can also follow along on Twitter with the #30Authors hashtag!

I am so excited to participate in 30 Authors in 30 Days and host Jamie Ford on My Life in Books today! I have read and loved both Jamie Ford and Lisa See's books...coincidentally, I reviewed two of their previous books in a joint post, about this time last year! Check it out here.

Author Jamie Ford on China Dolls by Lisa See

Before reality TV, there was this thing called reality. And I miss it.

As I look around, press the remote, and surf the Web, I’m not sure what passes for everyday life in the year 2014 is all that interesting, honestly. I guess that’s because my Chinese grandparents met at the Wah Mee Club, a back-room gambling parlor in Seattle, in 1928. My grandfather was a croupier and my grandmother was a coat-check girl, and that kind of “meet cute” just doesn’t happen on


My perpetual longing for the past is why I’m drawn to historical fiction. And why I absolutely adore books like Lisa See’s China Dolls, which explores the glittering golden age of Chinese nightclubs in the 1930s and 40s.

In China Dolls we get to see the world through the eyes of three young women, three dancers, three hearts beating to the rhythm of San Francisco’s famous Forbidden City nightclub. And sure, this is complex exploration of social and racial conventions based on real-life performers and crooners who worked the clubs, but China Dolls is also, at its core, a story of love, friendship, and forgiveness—and just an all-around page-turning, captivating, oh-no-you-di’int, kind of book that is impossible to put down.

Oh, and before I forget, on a personal note, the Forbidden City nightclub was run by the charismatic Charlie Low, a maverick showman whom I’m actually related to (on my grandmother’s side of the family).  

So this is a juicy slice of history that I’m very familiar with, and one of those stories that I’ve always wanted to tell. But Lisa beat me to it.

And bravo, she did it better than I ever could!

For more information about Lisa See and her amazing books visit: 

If you are interested in purchasing China Dolls, check out Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

For more information about Jamie Ford and his amazing books visit:

If you are interested in purchasing Jamie Ford's newest book, Songs of Willow Frost, check out Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

Finishing up Juliet's Nurse and finding that I love the way Leveen has brought the Nurse to life. She is an amazing woman living in a harsh time period. Her wisdom is life giving. Look for the full review later this week.

"There's only so much insult given as what we choose to take." Juliet's Nurse, by Lois Leveen

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Lit Report

Finally, finally, I was able to tackle one more book on my TBR Pile Challenge. The Lit Report by Sarah N. Harvey has been sitting on my self since 2009. At 197 pages, it fit perfectly into my small breaks from the massive grading I've been doing the past two weeks.

The Lit Report is the story of Julia and her best friend Ruth. Ruth finds herself pregnant a few weeks after a party and she and Julia decide they are better off hiding it from Ruth's overly involved, Christian fanatic parents. Lucky for Julia, her own stepmother is also pregnant and Julia is able to collect all kinds of supplies and information about caring for a pregnancy and birth.

The girls' plan for birth? A log cabin "home delivery," where their parents will think they are on a church retreat. And the baby safely laid on the steps of Ruth's father's church for someone to take to the hospital. There is one thing they didn't count on: falling in love with the baby.

A simple story, written to a younger audience, The Lit Report was okay. My age and experience definitely affects my view of it, but I can see a preteen or early teen audience enjoying this book. Julia, the narrator, makes books references throughout her entire reporting of the experience, which I enjoyed.

Woo hoo! for having one more challenge book done! How are your reading challenges for 2014 proceeding?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

From a book whose narrator likes to read and write, comes this little gem of an Watch for the review on The Lit Report later this week.

"Usually I don't mind lying - I think of it as a legitimate creative exercise for a budding writer." The Lit Report, by Sarah N. Harvey

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Can Dream, Can't I?

It's been one month of school this week. My students and I have settled in nicely. They seem like a great bunch of far. The Freshmen are in the midst of writing their first essay and the Juniors have finished theirs, which will hopefully show up on the blog here next week.

But ohhhhhh, hooowww looonnnggg it takes to grade writing assignments.

And that's where the year has already caught up with me. I have approximately 110 students this year, a couple dozen more than I've had for the past couple years. Between the two grade levels, someone's always writing something, which means, I'm always grading something. I'm halfway through a set now and have a test coming up Friday with some essays that are, thankfully, pretty straightforward. Those shouldn't be too bad. Hoping to be in the clear by this time next week!

And then what will I do (in the week before the Freshmen's character analysis essays come in)? READ! I'm going crazy with the fact that I haven't been able to read. I actually want to pull my hair and yell about it! I seriously think I'm going to make a deal with myself about grading and reading: Divide number of essays by the number of nights to grade. And once I've graded that many in a night, I can let myself quit...and read!

So, what will I read? Glad you asked. Here are the top ten books I'm itching to get my eyeballs on:

1. Gutenberg's Apprentice, by Alix Christie. This is my next review book, from Harper. It's about the history of books, wrapped in a fiction story...what's not to love?

2. Landline, by Rainbow Rowell. I won a free copy! That's a good enough reason, but there have been good reviews of it. What tipped my decision to read it sooner than later was a post on my FB wall by a fellow English teacher/book nerd that said, "You say you won Landline? Read it. NOW!" You don't have to tell me twice!

3. Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh. This is the special copy I received from the parents of my student, Erin, who passed away this summer. It belonged to Erin and she had brought it to me to read in part and laugh with her last May, the week she graduated high school. And how fitting that Brosh's writing voice, which emanates from the pages of this particular book, fits Erin's personality so well, it is like having a piece of Erin with me. I was very honored that they would think to give it to me and it will always be a most treasured book in my collection.

4. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. Rave reviews from students more than anyone else have convinced me to put this on the "read now" list.

5. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski. This is on my TBR Pile Challenge and would count toward my Chunkster reading challenge as well. And I've had it forever, so I need to get reading!

6. Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. We ordered this book for Freshman English and I've never read it. So, best get on the ball. I think we are going to pick it up soon, so you may be seeing a Student Spotlight on it in October.

7. The Best Yes, by Lysa Terkeurst. A book on when and how to say no instead of being a people pleaser. I've never thought of myself as a people pleaser and I don't think that's the case for me. But I do have a heart for helping people and I will help whenever I possibly can, even when it's obvious (to myself) that I really can't or shouldn't. Reading this one along with a group of friends.

8. Conform: Exposing the Truth About Common Core and Public Education, by Glenn Beck. Now, if you know me, you know I have very little interest in politics. So while I know Glenn Beck is a big name in that game, and I have faint recollection that there was something even his own people have against him, I don't know much about any of it and don't care either. I picked this one up purely because of the title. Anything common core related, I will read. The topic is kind of consuming my career/public education right now, so I'd like to hear all sides of it and sort my thoughts.

9. Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline. I remember this being reviewed in a positive light. Also that it's historical fiction, with a piece of history not well known, which is always interesting to me.

10. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. This is number ten because if it is as good as everyone claims, I will follow it with a reading of the entire series. Tell me current Outlander fans, how many are there anyway? And are the half mark books between two main books (labeled like 7.5 or 8.5) worth the read?

So, those are the dear friends waiting patiently at my bedside. Hopefully you'll be hearing from me on one of them soon...I can dream, can't I? What are your eyeballs itching to read?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

My Honors English 9 classes are reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Easy reading for them, yes...thought processes, no. The story is so full of elements beyond the surface happenings, that it makes for a good teaching tool. Since the story is easy to comprehend, we can spend all of our time on analysis. As we read, the students are tracking: Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey," allegory, specific character analysis, and questioning and observing, which is basically reading between the lines. That's quite a few things to do as you read. So in rereading this childhood classic, I stumbled upon a sentence that caught my eye. Enjoy.

"But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that's going to be human and isn't yet, or used to be human once and isn't now, or ought to be human and isn't, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.” The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis