Tag Archives: reading

“The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah

Robert Service
Sometimes a novel ends up giving me the worst case of wanderlust. That is precisely what happened with The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. The Alaskan wilderness itself comes across loud and clear as a distinctive character. I particularly enjoyed descriptions of how Alaska changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. These descriptions were normally accomplished through Leni’s observations. It is this Alaska in all of its forms that I plan to visit one day.
It just so happens that I read the novel in the midst of a severe winter weather crisis that affected most of Michigan. Something about being housebound for a few days added to my enjoyment of The Great Alone. I kept telling myself “at least it isn’t as bad as winter in Alaska. At least I have power and indoor plumbing.” It made me feel better about my circumstances and helped me to empathize with the characters to some extent.
The characters throughout are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Leni’s view of the world, her love of Matthew, and the protectiveness she exhibits towards her mother Cora. Ernst, Leni’s father, is, of course, a complex character designed to make us uncomfortable and question what we know about family dynamics. He largely drives the plot, and he is the reason why the Allbright moved to the Alaskan wilderness from Seattle in the first place.

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Secondary characters that I particularly enjoyed were Large Marge, Mr. Walker, Geneva Walker, and Matthew. Even though Geneva Walker does not play a large role in the novel, her presence is felt until the end. Matthew’s tenacity, dedication, and love for the women in his life is exemplary. Mr. Walker seems to try to hold it all together under the worst circumstances. He even expands his business in the process. I admire his entrepreneurial spirit.
Then there is Large Marge. She makes it her business to know all that goes on in Kaneq. What may seem to be simple nosiness elsewhere may just save a life in wild Alaska. Her steady presence tends to help make everything right, even in the face of the worst situations. She knows how to handle just about anything. In many ways, I want to be like Large Marge when I grow up.
I largely focused on the characterization in this novel simply because I don’t want to give away much. The novel is definitely action driven. I will leave it at that. If you are looking for a solid adventure novel, this is it. In my opinion, it has the right balance of description and action. In the end, I truly cared about the characters – or at least most of them. I would recommend The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

Warning: The discussion questions include spoilers!
As a side note, I read this for the Standish-Sterling Book Club. This is very much the type of book I would hope I’d discover on my own eventually. You can find discussion questions for The Great Alone here.

Great Alone

Thank You!

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I simply want to thank all my readers who have stuck by me all these years.  I’ve blogged off and on since 2005.  Blogging saw me through so much, including the last half of my 20s and, so far, most of my 30s.  The best is still to come.  I blog simply because I love to write.  That’s it.  Actually, there is more to it.  I would love to host or participate in a thriving writing community of bloggers.

Over the years, I have come across some wonderful blogs.  As I found them, I shared them here.  I recently went through my links, and frankly, it is frustrating.  Several blogs haven’t been updated over the last few years – and yet, the wonderful content is still there.  As long as it is accessible, I left the link.  Most of the blogs and websites listed here are continually offering fresh content.

Yet, I still can’t get some of my favorites out of my head, even if they are long gone.  Christina’s Shoebox, which dates from 2006, and the Nerdy Apple, which dates from 2015-2017, come to mind.  Both offered a unique take on the world.  Since both blogs no longer exist, I feel cheated out of wonderful content and a fresh take on life.  I may not write as often as I would like – which I am trying to change – but I am still here.  Ramblings of a Misguided Blonde is going nowhere.

Now for what’s ahead.  I have long wanted to do two things:

  1. Create a realistic writing routine.

I am in the midst of working this out behind the scenes.  Hopefully, this will result in most consistent posting here at Ramblings of a Misguided Blonde.  Once I am consistent, I will share my ideas and resources with everyone here.  There are so many wonderful resources for writers!

  1. I miss writing about the role music plays in my life.

Long ago – way back in 2006 – I wrote a series of articles for the now defunct online magazine JamsBioJamsBio paid writers like me to discuss music and the role music continues to play in our lives.  As writers for JamsBio, we were encouraged to write about our memories and how we associate those memories with certain music.  As a woman who grew up watching and adoring Ally McBeal, it appealed to the idea that there is a soundtrack to my life.  There most definitely is.  Ever since I glimpsed what was possible through JamsBio, I struggled to find a way to include music in my writing – without infringing on the rights of songwriters.  It is time for me to start writing about music again.

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Here is to many more years!  If you are a blogger and you would like me to profile your blog, please contact me.  I am always looking to make new connections with fellow bloggers.  As a side note, I just freshly updated my reading list, which you can find here.  I am always open to book recommendations.  Finally, if you enjoy Ramblings of a Misguided Blonde, please feel free to like our Facebook page.  You can do that here.Music 2

Book Review: “The Stage is on Fire” by Katie Steedly

The Stage is on Fire Book Cover

It isn’t often that a book comes along and grabs you by the jugular.  Katie Steedly’s The Stage is on Fire did just that.  At the same time, I’ve struggled to write this review in the weeks since I finished the book.  I related to and adored the first two-thirds of the book.  The last third left me angry and upset, which I will get to later.  While I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend the book, there are certain people I feel need to read the book, namely girls and women with Turner Syndrome.  Actually, I would recommend it to anyone struggling to find their place in the world.  That said, it is not for everyone.

Let me start with what’s working.  Almost immediately, Katie’s voice struck me as authentic and powerful.  She writes spirituality well, and never gives up on her quest to find her place in the world and create her own definition of home.  In the book, Katie details several moves across the country, her experiences in academia – good and bad, and her experience participating in the study of women and girls with Turner Syndrome at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.  Turner Syndrome aside, I couldn’t help but relate to Katie throughout the book.

I am still in awe when I think of just how much Katie and I have in common.  We both taught at some point.  We are both writers.  Both of us have moved across country to pursue new opportunities and a new life.  In addition, both of us struggled with the idea of home and family at various times.  I could go on and on.  In the end, this is why I felt so disappointed in the ending.  It seemed to unnecessarily divide people.

There are several things that stood out and continue to stand out in the book.

  1. Her first teaching experience did not end well – hence the title of the book. Oh, I can relate.  In Katie’s case, she took the opportunity to further her education, eventually landing at the University of Texas in Austin.  She did what everyone needs to do when facing failure:  Get back up and try again.  She does this many, many times throughout the book, always seeking something more.
  2. She captures the journey to find our place in the world, peace, and meaning in life beautifully. I may not agree with her completely when it comes to religion, but I can fully relate to her need to explore what religion and spirituality mean to her.
  3. It took incredible courage for her to participate in the National Institute of Health study. It is much more intense and in depth than I ever dreamed.  Her description of what she felt emotionally while having an ultrasound knowing she will likely never experience pregnancy will stay with me.  I only wish I had written it.  Even though I experienced many of those same emotions as a child when I had an ultrasound, I wasn’t mature enough to fully express them at the time.  Now, as an adult, the fact that those feelings have been so beautifully put into words is a true gift.
  4. Did I mention courage? During her time in Austin, Katie decided to walk/jog a marathon.  A marathon.  Prior to this, there is not much mention of any athletics in the book on her part.  She is much more interested in drama, writing, and education.  Yet, she did it.  She accomplished the goal she set for herself, even if it was out of her element.

Oh, and dating.  It is worth mentioning.  Katie is far more adventurous in the dating  world than I will ever be.  At the time, she had yet to meet the right man.  I get the impression that that may have changed.  Her determination to not give up on love is inspirational – and something I desperately needed to read.

There is so much more in the book, but I will leave it for readers to discover.  It is important to note that the book is written as a series of essays.  I believe they are largely in chronological order.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much.  Katie clearly grows throughout the entire book, as does her definition of home.  It may seem to be a small point, but I wish the formatting of the Kindle edition included a full title page between essays.  Instead, they include small titles similar to chapter titles at the very top of the page.  In fact, in writing this review, I had to check my Kindle version to see if each essay included a title at all. Each essay stands alone so beautifully, it is a shame that this feature of the book isn’t more prominently displayed.

Now to discuss what isn’t working.  Frankly, I didn’t enjoy the last third of the book at all.  I almost put it down.  It became far too political for my tastes.  It is one thing to pick up a book on politics, knowing what you are about to read, it is quite another to dive in head first after reading a seemingly different book in the beginning.  I get why she wrote about politics.  It became an important part of her life at that point in time.  I don’t believe it was handled very well.  I left feeling as though she couldn’t even begin to understand anyone who didn’t agree with her politically, which is truly unfortunate.  No one has a monopoly on political truth.  No one.  I wish it had been handled with more care and less judgement.  I get the feeling that Katie would be the last person to think of herself as judgmental, but that is how the political aspect of the book comes across, whether that was her intention or not.

Politics aside, I am happy I read the book.  I am grateful that Katie can connect emotionally with people through her writing.  Her writing is just beginning to teach me how to express what I thought impossible.  For that, I am truly grateful.  I love the fact that I can annotate and highlight my Kindle version of The Stage is on Fire.  I will be coming back to it as I continue to write.  You can find her website and blog here.

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The Writing Life

Me and My Dad – Camp Russell 1981

Sometimes the perfect word of encouragement comes out of nowhere.  For years now, I have equated my dad’s love of hunting, fishing, and all things outdoors with my love of reading, writing, and all things academic.  My dad built his life and lifestyle around his hobbies, and I hope one day to do the same.  Even though I long ago made this connection, I never explained it to my dad.  I never fully shared it with him.  He has no idea that I am as passionate about reading and writing as he is about hunting and fishing – at least I didn’t think so.  Well, I found out from my mom that my dad thinks I am meant to be a writer.  My jaw dropped.  I must let him know how much this means to me.  It is exactly what I needed to hear.

The thing is that I wouldn’t consider my dad and I particularly close.  Sure, we love each other.  We even go out of our way to tell each other that we love each other often.  It is just that we don’t have much in common.  In fact, I spend a lot more time with my mom simply because of how much we do have in common.

It is funny how time changes things.  As a child, Dad took me everywhere.  I was his sidekick.  Some of my best and earliest memories involve my dad – everything from watching him play basketball and softball to working at the canoe livery to hanging out at deer camp.

As an adult, we bonded over taking care of his mom and running the canoe livery.  My brother Garrett and I will be picking up where our parents left off:  We will be the new owners of Russell Canoe Livery once Dad decides to retire.  Yet, Dad and I don’t spend much time together.  Hopefully that will change.

One writing project I plan to attack sooner rather than later is my dad’s hunting stories.  I need to pick up where his cousin Lugene left off.  For many years I knew that she planned to write that book.  In fact, she even recorded several of his stories.  Sadly, she passed away before she could finish the project.  In the years since she passed away, it slowly dawned on me that it is now up to me to write the book.  My dad is a wonderful storyteller, but he is not a writer.  Hopefully this project will bring us closer together.  I am one lucky woman to have such support from my parents.

The three of us – Michigan State University 2000

Thanksgiving Weekend – 2002

Underground Readers

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In Donalynn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, she describes various types of readers in her own terms.  Instead of struggling or reluctant readers, she uses the terms “developing readers” and “dormant readers.”  She also describes a third type of reader:  the “underground reader.”  While I still plan to dissect The Book Whisperer here, that is not what I am doing today.  No:  I want to talk about my experience growing up as an “underground” reader.

As defined in The Book Whisperer, “underground” readers are students who love to read, but due to circumstances beyond their control, they keep their reading lives separate from school.  They may love to read, but they usually do not have the time or opportunity to read what they would like in school.  Underground readers may even go out of their way to get in as much free reading time as possible during school.  They are the students who do not want free reading time during class to end.

While I do remember having some free time read all throughout my k-12 years, it would have never been enough.  As a child, I remember sneaking time to read and hurried through my work to have more free reading time.  I even remember taking a book out to recess once or twice.  I loved to read as a child.  I still love to read.

Unfortunately, my love of reading didn’t have all that much to do with school.  To be fair, there were times when my reading life was influenced by school.  For example, some of my favorite elementary school and childhood memories involve a teacher or librarian reading to my class.  For this reason, I included Roald Dahl and Laura Ingalls Wilder on a list of childhood favorites.  You can read the original list and explanation here.  I probably would have read Laura Ingalls Wilder on my own as a child – eventually – but nothing compared to Mrs. Butz reading Little House in the Big Woods to my second grade class.  As for Roald Dahl, he happened to be a favorite of several of my teachers, and I can’t imagine elementary school without his books.

As influential as those authors were to my early reading life, I read so much more on my own.  I had the freedom to read widely.  I took full advantage of having a mother and an aunt who were elementary school teachers – and a grandmother who also loved to read and discuss books.  I recognize that I am in the minority, and I probably would have developed a love for reading no matter what.

That just isn’t good enough.  I have to agree with Donalynn Miller.  The conventional way reading is taught today underserves “underground” readers.  Teachers don’t let them explore their love of reading and give them the skills and permission they need to make their own reading choices.  This was true twenty to thirty years ago during my childhood, but it is even more true today.  For example, I can’t imagine being told by a teacher or librarian that I couldn’t check out or read a book because it wasn’t at my “level.”  I also can’t imagine taking AR after AR test just to fulfill a silly requirement – and NOT because I truly wanted to read the book.  Instead, Donalynn Miller provides a great format for serving ALL readers, including those who already love to read.

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Traditional Books Vs. Kindle Books

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I admit I should read more traditional books.  I have several that are begging to be read.  The problem is Kindle books are all too convenient.  As a substitute teacher, I always have my cell phone on me, equipped with my Kindle books app.  Why throw a book in my bag as well when I have perfectly good books to read on my phone?  It is almost a no-brainer.  The ease of use of Kindle books on my Android phone is responsible for an increase in my reading.  I always have a book with me.  I love reading during conference hours and lunch.  As I also use my cell as an alarm clock, I also tend to read Kindle books before falling asleep.  It is all right there.

Despite all that, I understand why some people loathe the rise of e-books.  I get it.  As convenient as e-books are, nothing compares to the smell of traditional books.  Nothing.  Personally, I have a fondness for hardcovers.  There is nothing comparable to searching a bookstore or library for the perfect book to take home.  In my opinion, a home would not be a home without shelves of books of all types.  I particularly value books by local authors, most of which can only be purchased in paperback.  I would severely limit myself and diminish my love of reading if I only read and/or purchased e-books.  In short, I can’t imagine a life without traditional books of all stripes:  hardcovers, paperbacks, and board books.

The issue becomes what do I do if I want to annotate a book.  There are certain books that I plan to read more than once (although rare), or I want to discuss certain topics brought up in the book.  As I adore quotes, there are times I may want to quote from a book, especially if I am writing a book review.  Personally, I dislike writing or highlighting books, even textbooks I own (although I did when necessary).  In Kindle books, it is extremely easy to note and annotate to my heart’s content without defacing a book.  The only drawback is this:  I tend to forget if I happen to have a library Kindle book.  When my library loan is up, I no longer have access to my notes and/or annotations.

By the way, borrowing Kindle books from your local library is usually easy and a lot of fun.  No trip to the library necessary, although I recommend one anyway.  Borrowing e-books via your local library is a great way to stock up on reading material prior to a trip or for any occasion.  Most library systems allow patrons to check out five e-books at one time.  I love spending time browsing my local library’s website to see what e-books are available.  I now have an extensive to-be-read pile on my account.  The best part of borrowing e-books from your local library:  no need to remember due dates.  The titles are simply no longer accessible after two weeks.  They may or may not be able to be able to be renewed, depending on popularity.  It is, once again, all too easy.

Ultimately, I love where readers are right now.  We have the best of both worlds:  e-books and traditional books.  Neither one is going anywhere anytime soon.  I love being able to choose.  If I truly love – and I do mean love – a title, I am free to purchase both.  Choice is a wonderful thing.

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Of Reading and Writing: An Overview

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My ability to lose sight of my love of reading and writing never ceases to amaze me.  At times, the strength of the connection between the two comes back at me two-fold, and I fall in love all over again.  For example, years ago I read Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.  It forever changed the way I read and how I view the time I spend reading.  If I were to make a list of books that profoundly shaped who I am today, it would certainly be at the top of the list.  Currently, I am in the middle of rereading it.  When I read it years ago, I borrowed it from the library and carefully noted its recommended reading list.  Today I purchased the Kindle version for easy annotation (Kindle books versus traditional books is another blog post altogether – one I plan to write soon).  I am picking it apart in hopes of learning why it resonated with me so deeply.  That, in fact, is the entire point of the book.  We learn to write by dissecting what we read.

Recently – as always – I came across the perfect books at the perfect time.  I just finished The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley.  Of course, there is a story behind my love of these books.  Incidentally, I had the opportunity to hear Donalyn Miller speak at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) a few years ago while completing my teaching certificate.  Knowing that she was to speak on encouraging students to read, I eagerly headed to SVSU on a cold, snowy Saturday morning hoping to learn more.  I hoped to learn how to reach students who do not like to read.  The entire concept of not loving – nevermind liking – to read is completely foreign to me.  That day I left inspired to create an extensive classroom library in spite of the fact that I will not be teaching English Language Arts (ELA) classes, along with her latest book, and little else.  She encouraged us all to reach those students who do not see the connection between reading and pleasure.  Her ideas were (and are still) practical; however, I still was not convinced that I could make a difference as a non-ELA secondary teacher.

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Fast-forward several years and my sister happens to mention the book The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  It immediately rings a bell, we discuss it, and I have to read it as soon as possible, along with the sequel.  There is so much to discuss in both of Donalyn Miller’s books.  The ideas she presents should be the focus of reading education, but that would require a fundamental shift in how reading is taught at all levels which is a shame.  Both books deserve their own blog posts, as well as a post tying the two together.  Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley inspired me to reread Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.  It is an example of what Donalyn Miller coins “wild reading” in action and demonstrates how “wild readers” stay inspired, continue reading, and challenge themselves.  I am now convinced that I do indeed have a role to play.

Stay tuned for a series of posts discussing the many angles of all three books, as well as my own take on the importance of reading and writing in my life.  It is taking center stage now for a variety of reasons.  I am still patiently trying to create a writing and reading routine that works for me.  I will not let this go.  It is too important, and I have too much to say.

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