Readathon!

Wouldn’t you like to curl up with a good book for four hours on a gray Saturday in January?
Join us for the first National Readathon Day Jan. 24, 2015! hashtag: #timetoread.

Penguin Random House is launching America’s first National Readathon Day, Jan. 24, 2015, from noon to 4 p.m. The campaign encourages bibliophiles to get together and make time to read. The readathon supports the National Book Foundation using an online fundraising service, firstgiving.com. The National Book Foundation presents the annual National Book Awards, as well as its educational programmes including BookUp, after-school reading program which has given out over 25,000 books.

Partners in the readathon include Mashable, which will dedicate one session of its book club to the project, and Goodreads. Bookstores, libraries and schools are encouraged to join in. People can sign up to participate in the readathon on their own or form teams that pool their fundraising resources.

The idea of reading as a fundraiser has been a great success (26 years!!) in Los Angeles. The Library Foundation of Los Angeles, which supports the city’s public libraries, will hold its Stay Home and Read a Book Ball on Feb. 28, 2015. For the ball, instead of dressing up and going out, people make a donation and pledge to stay home and read.

You might take for granted how easy it is for you to read this sentence, but millions of Americans still struggle with basic literacy. 40% of American adults are either at or below basic reading proficiency, and 14% are fully illiterate. But the trouble doesn’t stop there. Each year, millions of Americans — especially our youth — are losing touch with the power and importance of reading books. As Malcolm X said, “People don’t realize how a whole life can be changed by one book.””

Help change lives this winter by celebrating National Readathon Day with Penguin Random House, GoodReads, Mashable, and the National Book Foundation. Together with your support, we hope to help fund their efforts to educate, tutor, create and sustain a lifelong love of reading.

Need a book??? The Friends of the Rochester Public Library Bookstore have great books for a lovely winter read! There is a huge selection of excellent fiction, nonfiction, YA, and children’s books at fabulous prices. Join Paige Turner between 10am and 4 pm.

As for me? I will be reading poetry- Sunday is the Burns supper in celebration of the national poet of Scotland (Robert Burns, born 25 January). It is perhaps our biggest holiday celebration and involves both reading and writing poetry (and prose). In his spirit I have given a dozen children’s books, several adult books, donated time and money, and will be reading to my heart’s content. Join me.

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Book Review – “Slammed”

13372690Slammed
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Several months ago I read another book by Colleen Hoover called Hopeless.  It was a book I deeply enjoyed and wasn’t at all what I was expecting.  Since then, I’ve noticed several other titles by this same author and have been trying to decide whether to try another by her…not because I didn’t completely enjoy the first, but because the first was so “perfect” that I wasn’t sure I was ready for the letdown that often happens when an author doesn’t meet your expectations.  After noticing the nearly perfect 4.5 ratings by almost 2,000 Amazon readers, I had to give this one a try.  I’m glad I did.

First let me start with the genre.  Though I’m not 100% certain, I think this book would be classified as a YA novel since the main characters are 18 (a high schooler) and 21 (an almost college grad).  As a reader, I “like” YA novels, but I don’t usually love them.  My biggest pet peeve is that (though I’m 43), I hate when an author talks down to young readers and assumes all of their life problems are frivolous.  This is where Colleen Hoover greatly succeeds where other authors often leave me irritated.

The young adult characters in this book are truly inspiring.  They’re young, but their problems are “real.”  Neither is whiny or wishy-washy, but tackle their problems with the maturity of full adults.  And to be honest, I think that any “kid” in these types of situations would grow up quickly in the same way that Hoover has portrayed them.

So…what’s this book about?  I can’t give you a lot of detail without ruining it for you, but I’ll try to break it down.  Layken has recently turned 18.  Her father has suddenly passed away and her mother moves her and her 9-year old brother, Kel, to Michigan from their home in Texas.  They move next door to a young man, Will, who is 21 and raising his 9-year old brother after the sudden death two years previous of both of their parents.  He’s grown up quickly to be both mother and father to his younger brother, and he’s taken on more responsibilities than a “kid” his age should ever have to take on.  But he’s done it admirably well.

Within only a couple of days of becoming neighbors, the two younger brothers quickly become best friends and Layken and Will acknowledge their chemistry and begin a relationship.  The chemistry takes them both off guard, but the reader immediately realizes that this is going to be a very special couple.  After only one date, Layken and Will are suddenly hit with a brick wall that will keep them apart in spite of how much they want to be together.  I can’t tell you what that brick wall is, but I can tell you that it seems completely insurmountable even for the reader.  There is simply no good solution that will allow the two to continue a relationship.

Slammed is a beautiful story of two young people – far older and wiser than their years – who understand the importance of commitment and responsibility.  It’s sweet and heartbreaking (for a variety of reasons), and there are moments when you are so proud of one or both of the characters for taking a stand in moments where they should be intimidated.  The bottom line is that this is an excellent read.

I’d recommend this book for YA readers (15+, probably) as well as for adults.  There is no gratuitous sex, so the subject matter – while sometimes difficult – is completely appropriate for younger readers as well as interesting enough to keep the interest of older readers.

Very nicely done!

This books is available in traditional format at the Rochester Public Library.

Book Review – I Hate Picture Books

cover24888-mediumI Hate Picture Books
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

My favorite thing in the entire world is a great book.  Don’t get me wrong; I love all books.  I love the smell of books, the weight of a book in my hands, and even the crisp sound of the pages as I turn them.  But what I love most of all is a really great book; a book that makes me laugh out loud, or one with a main character that speaks to me and evokes strong emotions.  And when I find a great book, I can’t wait to tell the world about it.  I want the whole world to know what I’ve discovered.  Last night, I found a great book, and – much to my complete surprise – it’s a children’s picture book!

I Hate Picture Books by Timothy Young is simply the best picture book I’ve read in years!  It tells the story of a young boy who decides one day that he’s too old for picture books.  After all, every picture book he’s ever read has led him astray!  He read Harold and the Purple Crayon and then got into trouble for drawing on the walls!  He had a bad day and went to bed believing that the monsters from Where the Wild Things Are would come and spirit him away in the night.  He awakened the next morning to find  himself snuggled into his same old bed in his same old room.  One day, he even found some green ham in the refrigerator and decided to give it a try.  After all, Sam I Am found out that it was really good, right?  Only, unlike Green Eggs and Ham, the green ham made him throw up!

This book had me laughing out loud, and even giggling later that evening when I was reflecting back on pieces of the story.  Unable to help myself, I called my 8 year old down to read it with me.  He not only recognized every book referenced in this story, but he got more than a few surges of the giggles.  But I knew had a hit when I decided to read it at dinner to my husband and 17 year old daughter.  When you can make “the teenager” laugh, then you know you’ve done something pretty special…and that’s exactly what Timothy Young has done! He had all four of us – including “the teenager” – grinning from ear to ear!

I Hate Picture Books is a fantastic story that uses some of the best loved story books of all time to remind us all that we’re never too old for a great picture book.  In all honesty – though it’s a children’s picture book – I’m going to add I Hate Picture Books to my list of “Top 10 Books” I’ve read in 2013.  It really is that good!

This book is not yet available at the Rochester Public Library, but I’ve already put in a request.  Let’s see if we can’t get it added to our shelves!

One Step Too Far – Free Kindle Download!

Readers:  It isn’t very often that we repost a blog that we’ve already run; however, today I felt compelled to do so.  Last week we Featured Tina Seskis as an Author  Spotlight and ran a review of her book, One Step Too Far.  Today only, this book is a FREE KINDLE DOWNLOAD.  To download this book to your Kindle or Kindle App, follow this link. In the meantime, I’m reposting our review of Tina Seskis’ debut novel, One Step Too Far.  Enjoy!  CHA

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17404760One Step Too Far
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Sometimes a person’s life falls so completely apart that the only solution, it seems, is to simply walk away and start over. Leaving behind her husband and family, that’s exactly what Emily Coleman does…walk away. As she leaves the home she’s shared with her husband for many years, Emily carries with her almost nothing with her, except for the painful memories that she can’t seem to escape.

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis is a story of one woman’s attempt to heal from her past in the only way she knows how: by leaving behind everything that provokes daily memories of all that she’s lost.

As a reader, you’re not really sure what Emily has lost or what provokes her painful memories, but you know it’s huge. There are hints along the way, but the author does a wonderful job of keeping the reader guessing and clueless until she’s ready to let you in on the secret. And when she finally does, the reader should be prepared for a jaw-dropper.

Seskis’ book was a wonderful read that I fully expect to quickly rise on the list of bestsellers.

This book is currently on order at the Rochester Public Library and should be shelved soon.

In celebration of the release of this book, Tina Seskis will be our Author in Spotlight on tomorrow’s blog! Come back tomorrow to read our exclusive interview with Tina Seskis. Learn about the background of this book and you’ll be surprised at the evolution of this book!

Author Spotlight – Tina Seskis

by Catherine H. Armstrong

17404760Yesterday our blog featured a book review of the debut novel by Tina Seskis, One Step Too Far – a gripping story about one woman’s loss and her journey toward redemption.  As a reader (and maybe even more as a mother), I loved the story so much that I contacted the author and asked for a Q&A interview for this blog.  She graciously accepted and I’ve had more fun these last few days with the back and forth e-mails with this amazing author. 

Tina’s book officially hit the bookshelves this past Monday and is currently on-order at the Rochester Public Library.  It is also available at amazon.com in traditional and e-book formats. While you wait for your opportunity to get your hands on a copy of this wonderful story, I hope you enjoy this Q&A with the author, Tina Seskis.

Tina close-up B copyTina Seskis – Author of One Step Too Far

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Q:  I read somewhere that you never intended to be a writer and have your work published. What changed for you and why did you take that first big leap?

A:  During one of my many career breaks(!) I decided to take a couple of months out and have a go at everything I ever wanted to do (my husband is very long-suffering), so for fun I joined a writing group, acting classes (my drama teacher said I had no potential by the way), took up yoga and tennis again, joined a choir, you get the picture.  But the two hours’ writing class was the absolute highlight of my week, although funnily enough I didn’t write at all outside of that.  And then 3 years ago we were on holiday in Venice and out of nowhere I got the idea for One Step Too Far’s big “twist” and I thought, that would make a great novel, so when I got home I started writing it down on my laptop, in between working and being a mother.

Q:  I understand that there is a backstory behind the writing of “One Step Too Far.” Can you tell us a little about it?

A:  Around the same time I’d been getting worried about my mum, who had started having pains in her legs and inexplicably losing mobility (the doctors thought she had Vitamin D deficiency), and she was getting a bit depressed about it, so to give her something else to think about I’d send her chapters to read.  So often I’d be writing in front of the telly and then propped up in bed at two in the morning so I’d have something to send her the next day.  Sadly my mum died a few days after I finished the first draft, just two months later, of cancer as it turned out.

Q:  How difficult was it for you to find someone willing to take a chance on you and see this book published? Did you find the process easy? Grueling? Exactly as you expected?

A:  I didn’t get someone to take a chance.  I sent the book out to agents in the days after my mum died (I had all this nervous energy before the funeral that I didn’t know what to do with) and the only response I got was a couple of standard rejection letters.  Then I forgot about the book for a year, until a friend of mine recommended me to The Literary Consultancy, and I paid them to read my manuscript to tell me whether it was any good or not – because if it was rubbish I didn’t want to waste time trying to get it published, it would just have remained something private that I’d written for my mum.  And TLC liked it so much they became the match-maker between myself and agents, and six or seven agents were personally offered it, one after the other, and in the meantime I wrote my second book – and then two and a half years later I still hadn’t got an agent for either book, let alone a publisher, and I looked at the publishing model and how much it had changed and decided I could do it myself.  So in January of this year I set up my own publishing company and had just two goals – make the book as good as it could be, and get it out to as many people as possible online to try to drive word of mouth.  And here it is now.

Q:  Are any of the characters in One Step Too Far based upon people in your real life? If so, can you talk about that a little bit? Maybe give examples?

A:  It sounds corny but Ben is based on my husband, he’s infuriatingly too good to be true too, and without giving too much away the very final ending is the one my mum wanted.  Many of the characters are mixes of people I’ve come across, especially the housemates, the people from advertising and the father, and some of the scenarios really happened to me (think the parachuting scene and I’m ashamed to say the lemon tart, but in my defense I was very young).  But no, no-one else is real.  I’ve always been fascinated by people, and I ALWAYS read the newspaper articles entitled things like “My husband left me for a man who used to be a woman,” so I tried to make all the characters believable because they were based on truth (and without doubt truth is stranger than fiction).

Q:  If you could go back and change any one thing about your novel, what would it be and why?

A:  Well obviously my own personal circumstances, but regarding the novel I got so much brilliantly candid feedback over the years and I was still changing it right at final typesetting proof stage.  A friend’s husband told me about a month ago he didn’t like the way Angel’s story ended, and I realized I didn’t either – so I changed it!  A lot of reviewers online said one aspect of the ending was a bit callous and I agreed with them so I changed that a little too.  And then lots of people said the end was rushed but I didn’t agree so I ignored that comment!  I was also told that I HAD to have the novel copy-edited and I did try to get a couple of people to do it, but I didn’t like having my words messed with, so against all advice (and to save money!) I did all the copy-editing and proof-reading myself (I’d never thought of myself as a control freak before…).  The only thing I’d forgotten about until too late is that I wrote a couple of chapters from Emily’s perspective once the mystery was revealed that I took out and I can’t even remember why now, so if there’s the chance to do a reprint I might look at putting those back in.

Q:  As a reader, there were so many twists and turns to the book that literally made my jaw drop open while reading. I’m wondering whether – as the writer – did you “know” those twists and turns were going to happen (i.e. did you have an outline that you were following) or did they just sort of develop and take you, as the writer, by surprise as well?

A:  I knew the big twist, but how I was going to get there I didn’t really know, I just got the ideas as I wrote them, which made some of the chapter endings a bit of a surprise to me too.  And what with the pace I was writing at I didn’t have too much time for plot development.  A few months ago I read Stephen King’s quite brilliant book On Writing and it seems like that’s how he does it too, so that made me feel a bit better.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about “how” you write. That is to say, do you have specific habits that you follow when you’re writing?

A:  One Step Too Far I literally wrote anywhere and everywhere.  If I didn’t have my laptop with me and found myself waiting for a bus or in the hospital I’d just start writing long-hand to carry on the story.  If I was writing watching the telly I’d often find something someone said would go into the book.  I’d write whilst hanging out with my friends in the garden with our children.  I don’t have a desk – just a shelf with our Mac on where I do all my “work,” but I never use that to write.  These days I write on an ipad with a wireless keyboard, as it turns on instantly and the story is always where I just left it, and I can follow the sunshine (when we get it!) around the house and sit where I fancy, often with my dog curled up next to me.

Q:  Are there any books or authors in your own life who have influenced your writing? If so, in what way(s)?

A:  I was obsessed with Agatha Christie as a child and she’s probably my biggest influence in terms of how I write, as I love twists – I read that she never knew who the murderer was until the end and I thought no wonder I could never guess.  When I was younger I also devoured the likes of Jilly Cooper and Harold Robbins for the brilliance of their page-turning ability.  But throughout my life I have always loved books that are really well-written – Salman Rushdie is probably my favourite modern author for his genius with words.  And I’m embarrassed to say that lately I’ve hardly read at all.

Q:  Besides the love of a story well-told, is there anything you’d like your readers to take away from this book? Any deep message or theme that you hope will resonate with them?

A:  I think the novel is ultimately a story about love and redemption.  I’d just like people to be a bit kinder to each other, and understand that everyone has their problems and insecurities, and be more forgiving of them.  As I’m finding out, people can be very quick to judge!

Q:  Do you have any future projects in the works and, if so, can you tell us a little about them?

A:  I’ve already written my second novel, A Serpentine Affair, which I’m enormously fond of, and which I will be dedicating to my six best friends from University in the hope that they won’t hate me forever!!  I got stuck on my third novel (working title Collision, as it’s the coming together of the story of a character from each of the first two novels) in November, and after a bit of a miserable Christmas on 2nd January I decided to give writing a break and have a go at getting One Step Too Far out there, as otherwise our finances dictated I’d have had to go and get another job in marketing…

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with reader? Anything specific you’d like them to know about you, your writing, this book, etc?

A:  I can’t think of anything else for now!  Thank you for being the hosts of my first ever Q and A, and to Cathie for her feedback and support in the process.

From the Friends of the Rochester Public Library – and myself, personally – we send our deepest appreciation to Tina Seskis for her time. We wish her great success on this new novel and I am personally looking forward to reading much more from her in the future! ~  CHA

Book Review – Sh*t My Dad Says

7821447-1Sh*t My Dad Says
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Last night I was looking around for something to read and was searching the library’s digital collection when I came across a book entitled, Sh*t My Dad Says.  The title alone was intriguing and – knowing very little about the book – I downloaded it and began reading.   To say that it’s exactly what I needed right now is putting it mildly.  With the winter weather droning on and on, I was in need of something light and humorous to lift my spirits.  This was definitely the book for that!!

Sh*t My Dad Says is a work of non-fiction anecdotal humor about a  young man growing up with a father that has no “filter” on what not to say.  At one point, the author refers to his father as being the least passive aggressive person he’s ever known.  If his father is thinking it, it will come tumbling out of his mouth.

Justin Halpern’s book isn’t quite a memoir so much as it is a series of anecdotes on life through his father’s eyes….and it is absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious!  More than once I caught myself reading a passage that was so funny that I was caught in a fit of giggles with tears streaming down my face.  It’s that funny!

A word of caution to the reader, however:  when I say that Halpern’s father has no “filter,” I mean that he not only has no filter on his thoughts, but none on his language either.  The language can be a bit raw, and that can be a bit of a turnoff.  If the reader can get past the language, though, the book is absolutely hilarious and is a wonderful tribute to all of our parents who embarrass us in their own unique ways.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format, and through downloadable e-book format.

Rochester, where writers write

by Andy Seifert

Mike Kalmbach, leader of the Rochester MN Writing Group.

Mike Kalmbach, leader of the Rochester MN Writing Group.

Are you a writer? Do you dream of the day when you finally complete your book? Do grammatical errors on restaurant menus make you want to scream? If your answer is yes, the Rochester MN Writing Group may be a good fit for you.

Writing workshops and revisions occur every second Tuesday of the month at Rochester Public Library. The group also meets on the fourth Tuesday of the month for an informal, coffee shop meeting.

Led by published author, Mike Kalmbach, the group welcomes all writers. Most genres are accepted for critique (excluding erotica and extreme violence). For details and to join the group, contact Mike at mikekalmbach@gmail.com.