Best Book of November: Spider’s Voice by Gloria Skurzynski

Spider's Voice by Gloria Skurzynski: Best Book of November review on Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesThis November I have enjoyed a lot of great reading, from the fantasy of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, to the mystery of Stephanie Barron’s Jane and the Canterbury Tale, to history in a delightful discovery, Spider’s Voice by Gloria Skurzynski.

The Delightful Discovery

I first encountered Spider’s Voice in our city’s one, independent bookstore, the beloved, and now no longer in business, Jackson’s Books.

As a parent and as a children’s writer (I was writing and publishing folktales with Cricket Magazine at the time), I loved their vast children’s selection and shopped faithfully when I had money to spend on gifts, or I just wanted to see what was new. (They also had a fabulous fantasy section. That is my other favorite genre.)

I saw Spider’s Voice when it first came out–a very lean time in my life; noted that it included the  historical Abelard and Heloise in its cast and therefore was medieval historical fiction, a favorite; and denied myself the purchase because, as I said, financially things were pretty rough for me and my family at the time.

But the book haunted me. So often after it had disappeared from the shelves, I wished that I had bought it, or at least jotted down its title and author, like I usually do, so I could buy it later. And I guess, somehow, in the more than a decade that passed I did find it and buy it, because when it came time to read a novel from my children’s hardback shelves, moving forward from the letter Z, there it was.

Awake with insomnia, I pulled it from the shelf and sat down to read, not even glancing at the blurb. Then, as I got a few pages in, I began to realize, This is it! This is the book I wished I’d bought!

I have no memory of finding it, buying it, or shelving it, but I read it through, beginning to end, in one sitting, and did not go back to bed until after 3:00 A.M.

Spider’s Voice: Worth the Wait

Spider’s Voice is the story of a young shepherd boy, named Aran, born mute to a brutal father, who is sent with his older brother to Paris to sell the year’s thread. When his brother drinks up their earnings and is robbed of the rest, he sells to a peddler in grotesques so he need not return homw empty-handed. Aran is rescued by the famous scholar Abelard, because the great teacher in Paris’ famed University is in need of a servant who cannot be interrogated.

Through his adventures and travails in service to the famous lovers, Abelard and Eloise, Aran comes of age, and develops a wisdom of his own.

I was not disappointed!

Your Turn

Is there a book you waited a long time to read? Was it worth the wait?

Use the comment box below to explain. Please be sure to include the title of the book and the author’s name, in case one of our fellow readers wants to give it a try.

Thanks, I love hearing from you!


Best Book of July 2017

Whoa! I visited my reading log and discovered I have only completed one book this month. Yikes! (This is by no means an excuse, just an explanation–this was my “travel” month. First I visited my mom, then I attended a writing conference–more on that another time, and then my husband and I went on a road trip. Too often, I have fallen into bed exhausted at the end of the day instead of ready to enjoy a good book.

So, the only book I read is also my favorite book I read (however, please note, I recall thinking, multiple times as I read it, that any other book would have a hard time beating it out). Soooo…

The Best Book of July 2017 is:

A Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks.

This is an exceptional novel. The reader knows, from the beginning, that plague is going to strike the 17th century English village that is the setting, and as you read the tale of one woman who survived, the expected heartbreak and tragedy relentlessly unfolds. You witness heroism and horror, and you hope and despair right along with the narrator. The only thing that kept me from giving this a five-star review on Goodreads was the ending. I had hoped for so much more for our heroine…but I won’t give anything away. And even with what felt to me like an unsatisfactory ending, I kept hoping for something better (and enjoying the novel) all the way up until the final pages. Read this fascinating book! You will not be sorry.

Literate Lives Reading Log: November 2016

I knew last month I had read more than one book! I had just misplaced said book when it came time to blog my monthly reading. So, here are the books I read this November along with the one neglected title from October.

6505894Word Pictures, by Brian Godowa, was an interesting read (I promise!) from October. As a fiction writer, I really enjoyed the premise of this book: that art/stories/images readers perceive through imagination and sensory description have enormous power to both move readers and assist them in gaining deeper understanding. Godawa’s text was approachable and thought-provoking. I particularly enjoyed the history he provided on the conflicts related to texts and images over the last 2,ooo years.

Forging the Sword: The Farsala Trilogy Book 3, by Hilari Bell, was every bit as good as the previous two novels248375 in the series and provided an intense and satisfying resolution to the conflict between the kingdom of Farsala and the empire of the Hrum. I highly recommend this series. Start with Fall of a Kingdom, book 1, by Hilari Bell. If you enjoy fantasy that contains faint echoes of real history, you will love this series.

1943742Silent in the Sanctuary is the second entry in Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mystery series. I loved the richly realized later 19th century setting of this novel and the complex trio of mysteries that weave their way through the story. The only critique I really had is that the eccentricities of Lady Julia’s family are so over the top, it is a little difficult to suspend my disbelief as a reader ought. However, I was sick when I read it. It may be that I was just feeling like a curmodgeon.

Curly Girl: The Handbook by Lorraine Massey was loaned to me by a curly-haired friend. This book has 8510227revolutionized my hair care. It is a light, breezy read with loads of practical advice for not just managing naturally curly or wavy hair, but actually enjoying it. It even includes recipes for hair care products. I highly recommend it.

37361Innocence & Experience: Essays and Conversations on Children’s Literature edited by Barbara Harrison, is the book I started reading in September during our school’s Reboot time (the first fifteen minutes of class reserved for free reading or journaling). This book, published in 1987, provides a fascinating (and now historical) survey of the field of children’s literature, from picture books through young adult novels. It includes essays and speeches from authors I love, including Eleanor Cameron, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Ursula LeGuin, and many more and discusses books that are still beloved today. As a children’s author and school librarian, I highly recommend it as an overview of 20th century children’s book world.

What did you read in the last month? I would love it if you could recommend some of your favorites in the comments!

October Book Log + One, Teensie, Tiny Cheat

Confession time: I only read one whole book in October. Yes. I admit it.

(“Some literate lifestyle model she is,” one might mutter.)

However, I must plead extenuating circumstances. The book I am reading during Reboot at school is one I started in September. It is larger than standard size and over 300 pages in length. Today I finally began the last section.

I also started three other books in October, and one of them I finished reading November 1. That’s my cheat. I don’t want to wait a whole month to talk about it.

The Only Book I Finished in October

248377The only book I finished in October is actually the second book in a series, The Farsala Trilogy, by Hilari Bell. The first book, Fall of a Kingdom, I picked up in the school library back in 2014. It took me a year to find book three of the trilogy, and finally last summer, I found book two: Rise of a Hero. In this novel Bell follows the lives of the three protagonists from book one–the daughter of the general of the Farsalan army, the illegitimate son of this same general, and the itinerate peddlar (and traitor who betrayed the Farsalan army to the conquering Hrum.) The kingdom has just one more chance to throw off the yoke of their enemy, and each of the three works in his or her own way to thwart their conqueror.

It was so easy to slip back into the world of Farsala, even though two years had passed since my first read. Each of the main characters, while distinctly flawed is also quite sympathetic. Your heart aches with theirs over all that has passed, and yearns with them for their world to be set right. I highly recommend both books one and two of this series and can hardly wait to read book three, Forging the Sword. (And I won’t be waiting another two years!)

My Teensie, Tiny Cheat

18580As I said earlier, I did start three other books in October, and I finished one on November first–Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene.

I had many preconceived notions about this book and, wow, was I wrong. I knew before I read it that it was about a girl who shelters an escaped German prisoner during World War II, and for some reason I thought it was a romance (hence the amount of time it took for me to get around to reading it.) However, this is not a sappy love story about a young woman sheltering a handsome enemy. Instead, it is the gripping story of a Jewish girl, growing up in an abusive household in 1940’s Arkansas, who struggles to find a way to a sense of self-worth and hope for the future, and how her life is changed forever by her friendship with a German P.O.W.

The book deals with child abuse, racial issues, and xenophobia. It is dark and painful, yet through her focus on relationships and Patty’s love of learning, Greene is able to hold out hope–for both Patty Bergen and our world.

What Books Made Your October Reading List?

Please share in the comments any books you’d recommend.

The Books of September 2016: A FLAW IN THE BLOOD and BALLAD

This September I read two books. Yeah. Just two.

I have to say returning to a school year schedule took some adjusting and so, many nights instead of going to bed and reading a chapter or two before lights out, I went to bed and went to sleep.

That said, the fact that I did not race breathlessly through the two novels I read is no indication of my enjoyment of them.

So, here goes–the books of September!

A Flaw in the BloodA Flaw in the Blood
by Stephanie Barron

Stephanie Barron has long been a favorite author of mine. I love, love, love her Jane Austen mystery novels. While A Flaw in the Blood involves a slightly different time period and a new array of characters (Queen Victoria, for one), it does not disappoint.

Set in the days and weeks shortly after Prince Albert, Victoria’s consort, dies, it kicks off a race to uncover a perilous secret sending the protagonists, Patrick Fitzgerald and his ward, Georgianna Armistead, a female physician, across the whole of Europe, with men who will stop at nothing to kill them hot on their trail. It is an excellent thrill ride.

by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the second book of Stiefvater’s duology A GATHERING OF FAERIE, the first, Lament, I read last spring. While both are excellent YA fantasy novels, I think I enjoyed Ballad, even more than Lament.

As the story opens, James Morgan, along with his friend Dierdre, the protagonist of Lament, begin school at Thornking-Ash Academy, a boarding/high school for the musically gifted. Both are still deeply shaken from the concluding events of Lament. James, whose love for Deidre remains unreturned, finds himself pursued by a faerie muse. Together they make “beautiful music,” but all is not well.

As Halloween draws near, the faerie court dances in the hills around the academy, Cernunnos, lord of the dead, haunts the valley in which the school is set, and danger hangs in the air like wood smoke.

I did have to read the last third of the novel in a mad dash. It is gripping and haunting. A great autumn read.

How About You?

Have you read any good books lately? Please use the comment space to tell us a bit about them.

August 2016: My Reading List

When I look at this list, I am embarrassed. It is barely a list, for August, when I, a teacher, am supposed to be enjoying the last weeks of summer! What was I doing?


What was I doing?

My overall goal for the summer was to revise my flagship novel, THE SWALLOW’S SPRING from tight, past tense, third person to present tense, first person. I had finally made sense of the feedback I have been getting and realized I needed to allow readers to get not just in Iseult’s head, but actually in her skin, in her life. At the beginning of August, I was only half-way through.

Also, I went to the Willamette Writers Summer Conference–three days of talking writing, information, talking writing, learning about connecting with our audiences, talking writing, taking copious notes in writing craft workshops, and, of course, talking writing. It was vastly informative, and awesome learning experience, and fun!

Therefore, I truly only read two books in August.

What I Read

6335178Lady Vernon and Her Daughters by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

This was a very “Jane Austen” type of novel based on notes Austen actually made for a novel that never got written. It had a marvelously, Austen-like cast of quirky characters, and typical Austen-like near misses where characters you love don’t recognize their own feelings until it is almost too late. It was a delightful read.

16140922Altered by Gennifer Albin

This is book two of a trilogy. Book one, Crewel, I read in my school library. I enjoyed the first novel so much, I finally bought the sequel myself. (The library didn’t have it.) Altered follows Adelice, Jost, and Erik when she rips a hole in her own world–Arras–and descends to a very messed up earth, California in particular. Determined to rescue her sister, Adelice seeks a way to sneak back home, and we get to tag along with her  to a post apocalyptic Hearst Castle and Alcatraz Island (where she meets a very famous person familiar to most of us). Again, I really enjoyed this read. Too bad the sequel to this one, Unraveled, got checked out last school year and was never returned. Hmmm. Maybe I can get it through interlibrary loan!

Debby Zigenis-Lowery’s Literate Lives Blog: What’s My Purpose Here?

Litlives Purpose

Last spring, a dear friend and I talked about Literate Lives and just what I was trying to do with this blog. She helped me come up with a list of improvements and clarifications then asthma and allergies knocked me flat before I could implement them.

This summer, as in previous years, I have been working to rejuvenate Literate Lives, and I hope and pray I have come up with reasonable goals and a doable schedule for the blog that I can sustain for you, my readers, during the coming school year.

But back to the title question: What is my purpose here? Why am I investing time and energy in Literate Lives at all? Why do I feel compelled after each of my “fails” at consistent blogging to try to get Literate Lives up and running once more?

The Purpose of Literate Lives

The purpose of this blog is four-fold. It is about friendship, encouragement, celebration and giving.

Friendship First

I want Literate Lives to be the friend you find in your inbox, the “new post” alert that makes you smile. One of my main purposes in creating Literate Lives is to connect with others, but not just anyone! I love to read and write, and I want to connect with others who likewise value these practicesl and care about the development of these practices in the lives of young people.


One of my favorite things to do, despite my introvert tendencies, is to encourage others. As a wife and mother I love encouraging my spouse, children, extended family, and friends. As a teacher, I love helping students discover that they know more than they think they know and can do more than they think they can do. And as a fiction writing critique partner, I love directing my colleagues attention to what is going well in their work.

Here at Literate Lives, I want to encourage you, my readers, to read and write, to experiment and play with words, and help others expand their reading and writing skills. I want to give you the permission you may find hard to give yourself to invest time and attention in these pursuits and bring you information that supports the value of these practices.


Here at Literate Lives, I want to celebrate the joys and benefits of a reading/writing lifestyle. I want to celebrate authors whose books have enriched my life. I want to celebrate the actions you take to build your own Literate Life, and that of your students or family, and share with you my delights.

Last, I want to Give

So many people have given so graciously to me in my personal, teaching, and writing life, that I burn with a desire to give also.

What do I want to provide for readers of Literate Lives?

  • book recommendations
  • fun and interesting writing exercises
  • home literacy practices
  • ideas for expanding and developing not just the practices of reading and writing, but the roles of thinking and creativity in our lives and those of young people.
  • language arts lessons and tips
  • my experiences pursuing a reading writing lifestyle
  • ways to make reading and writing fun for you and your family
  • writing craft tips

I love reading, writing, and teaching, and I want this to be a place to celebrate these practices and to give something of value back to the reading, writing, teaching world.

What About You?

What do you hope to find here at Literate Lives? How can I be your friend?

*background for image courtesy of Depositphotos_91248272_original_vect

July 2016: My Reading List

This month, I read three, almost four books (but I didn’t finish the fourth until August 3rd, so, much as I loved it, it will have to wait until next month.)

My Reading List

13144870Eva of the Farm by Dia Calhoun: This book was loaned me by a friend because it is written in verse and I am working on a novel in verse. This is a sweet book about a girl, her family, and their struggling farm, and how poetry enriches their lives.

572584Stealing Fire From the Gods by James Bonnet: This is an interesting book that takes a look at story structure, archetypes, and the heroes journey and proposes a new story model based on some of the great stories of all time.

4537The Second Mrs. Giaconda by E.L. Konisburg: I love Konisburg’s historical novels. (A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver is my all time favorite.) This novel focuses on Leonardo DaVinci’s years in Milan and his relationship with his young apprentice Salai and the  Duke of Milan’s externally plain, but internally beautiful young wife. My only complaint about the book is that it ended too abruptly.

Your Reading List

What books did you or your family enjoy this month? And did you find some delightful locations in which to enjoy them?

Please, comment below. I’d love to see your suggestions.

My June 2016 Reading List

June marked the end of the school year and so I had to really push to finish two books I was reading from our school library. The rest of the month’s reading was guided by fascination and fun.

23383399The Eternal City by Paula Morris: This book was a great launch into summer. It takes an intriguing look at a high school classics student’s visit to Rome with her class and the strange events that occur starting the day of their very first day in the city. Watch out for the birds!

47304The Freedom Writer’s Diary by The Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell: This is a fascinating and inspiring story that shows the difference one teacher can make in the lives of her students. The students’ journal entries are eye-opening and heartbreaking for someone who has lived comfortably in the middle class, even if it was often in the low-end of the middle class. However, as a teacher, I also find it alarming. Gruwell pours so much of her life into her students, and while it works for the four years she has them–not, I am certain, without some stress, this cannot be the recipe for an effective teaching career. It simply demands too much of Gruwell’s life.

15723286Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger: This was another marvelous romp through Carriger’s YA steampunk series. Sophronia and her dirigible finishing school embark on a mysterious trip to London. As in her previous novel, intrigue and adventure ensues.

22824188Charlotte and Emily: A Novel of the Brontes by Jude Morgan: A challenging and fascinating look at the lives of the Bronte’s told, primarily, through Charlotte’s eyes. The point of view, while mostly Charlotte’s, but occasionally including that of her siblings and other people closely involved in her life, is such a tightly written first person that it can be confusing at times. However, having the patience to follow rewards you with a highly engrossing read. Even though you most likely already know how this story ends, you can’t help hoping somehow this reading will show you something different.

What books have you recently read that you would like to recommend?

New Day for Writing Prompts

Starting next week, writing prompts will be posted on Fridays, shifting the Literate Lives blog schedule to a Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday configuration.

Reading Response posts will continue to appear on Sundays, so that parents and teachers who wish to use them that week with their kids will have a new one available at the beginning of each week.

Monday will be a writing blog day, where I will touch on various aspects of writing ranging from writing for yourself, school, and publication.

Wednesdays will be reading days. These posts will focus on reading for both pleasure and information.

The first Monday or Wednesday of each month will still feature a Teacher’s File Drawer post—an assignment that can be adapted for school, home, or homeschool to further develop young peoples’ language arts skills.

The first Friday will be the new day for each month’s poetry prompt.

The third Friday will be the day for art-based writing prompts. (Didn’t you just love Christopher Bibby’s painting featured a week ago! He has so many cool paintings on his site. If I didn’t have so many other business cards for artists I met this summer, I could just feature him for a year!)

The last Monday or Wednesday of each month will continue to be “Favorite Book of the Month” day. I will probably continue to have trouble narrowing my reading down to one favorite book. And please, I so want you to contribute your favorites and those of your kids. My hope is to build up a resource to help people to find excellent books to read themselves or to share with children of any age. So…it’s coming up soon. I’m counting on your contributions.