If you get, GIVE.


One of my absolute favorite traditions is buying a full Thanksgiving meal (turkey included!) and donating it to the local food bank through the Thanks-4-Giving food drive hosted by Mix 103.3 radio station with my husband and stepdaughter.
Our Thanksgiving meal we purchased and donated to the Thanks-4-Giving food drive
Madeline and Bear handing over our Thanksgiving meal donation
Since I love doing this with my family, I decided to expand it and do it with my classroom this year. We organized an agency-wide food drive. The kids made and hung up signs and collected food for the food bank for the first few weeks of November. When the day rolled around, we took a field trip to drop off multiple bags and 4 huge boxes of food to the local Thanks-4-Giving food drive.

Signage made by the kids
A few of the boxes/bags we donated - never did get a picture of everything together!

I also decided to do the Operation Christmas Child with my students this year. For those of you not familiar, Operation Christmas Child is the program where you stuff a shoebox of little toys, novelty items, hygiene items, etc. and they then go to areas of the world where the children can use them. An additional component (it's through Samaritan's Purse) to bringing the shoeboxes is that Samaritan's Purse also sends members to spread the word of Christ when they drop the shoeboxes.
While I personally am not a believer, I do still believe in their mission of doing good and spreading hope. I also believe in giving my students the opportunity to learn and practice faith (or not, if they choose so), so this fits that belief of mine as well. Anyways- ramble over.

We purchased items for boxes, and each student in my class made one. I did one, as well and my aide, Danielle. My stepdaughter wanted to participate too, so she made one at home that I brought in to donate with our class boxes. In all, we were able to purchase and donate 8 stuffed to the brim boxes. Here's a peek at what a few of the boxes looked like:

This experience was incredibly enjoyable for all of us. The kids had a great time shopping and they really liked putting the boxes together. It also seemed to really hit them that there are many children who are less fortunate than they are (which is a hard concept for any kid, let alone my students- kids who have had a rough deck dealt to them). We also got the tracking labels for the boxes, so we are excited to see where are boxes will be going and we will follow them!

Giving is such a rewarding feeling. I give for the pure reason of kindness. I don't give because because I think I need too or that a God is telling me to. I give because it feels good and because I can. Passing on the love of giving is a gift I want to give to all my students- and one little action at a time is how I plan to do that.

So, here's two examples of giving that we did this month. (well technically three since I donated to the food drive two times)

Have you given lately?

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow

Checking In

Well hello, blogosphere. It's been awhile.
Things are busy, as always. Like I said, this time of year is notoriously busy.

I have been reading though! November was a decent month, I read a few books.

I finished Madeleine Roux's Asylum and jumped right in to Sanctum. I loved them both. I also read The Scarlets, an Asylum novella. I was wait-listed for Catacomb at the library, so I didn't get to finish the series in November. (My hold just came in last night though, so I will be finishing Catacomb soon!). I've really enjoyed this series so far. I also finished The Bone Artists last night, which is another novella in the series.

I finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - I've been reading it with my students. We started Prisoner of Azkaban and they're really enjoying it. I am doing the free range readalong with The Estella Society for the Harry Potter reread... I'll be finishing Prisoner of Azkaban and wrapping up the series on my own in December.

I also got my first Book of the Month box! Woohoo! (I won a subscription during Dewey's Readathon) I picked Barbara the Slut by Lauren Holmes - and it was GREAT. I laughed so hard while reading this one. The short little vignettes were awesome- it was like reading a collection of mini character profiles.

Aside from reading, we've just had a busy month. We had our annual cousin cookie baking day! We do this every year and always have a very fun time. We bake, make crafts, decorate cookies, play, eat, and just have a fun family day. Bear and I hosted this year, so we had a packed house!


Thanksgiving has come and gone. We had a wonderful day! This was the first year Barrett was able to get the holiday off in the past few, so it was extra nice to have him and Madeline with me once again.

My good friends, Sue and John got married the day after Thanksgiving too. Their wedding was a beautiful fall affair, filled with great food and fun! Sue looked stunning, and John was handsome! I am so glad to have shared in their day.

How did November wrap up for all of you?

November Stats:
Books finished in November: 5
Pages read in November: 1,137
Blog posts in November: 1
Bookish IG posts in November: 10

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow


October Wrap-Up and November & December Bookish Plans

Is it truly November already? Where in the world did October go?!

This month was fun and busy! I read 7 books and participated in the 24 Hr Readathon. I read The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly, The Martian by Andy Weir, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, The Pied Piper of  the Undead by Michael Whetzel, No Way Out by MJ Ware, Jem and the Holograms #1 by Kelly Thompson, and Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum by Stephen Prosapio. I enjoyed most of my October reads - I really loved both The Martian and Station Eleven and highly recommend both books.

I love this time of year, but I also tend to get overly ambitious and wind up stressed. So.. I have a few things planned, but not enough to overwhelm me. If I get to more, then yay!

I am currently reading Asylum by Madeleine Roux. I am LOVING it. I just started it yesterday and it is great. I will be finishing this up soon if I keep this pace... and I will likely jump right in to the sequel, Sanctum. The 3rd installment, Catacomb was just released in September and I am thinking I will be reading that one too. Like I said- I am really enjoying Asylum and Roux's writing style and I think I'll like this series as a whole. These 3 are what I am starting off November with.

As for the rest of November and December....

I'm (quite obviously) joining in the Estella Society Harry Potter Readalong. Was it even a question as to whether or not I would join? So, the beauty of this readalong is that it is a "Free Range Readalong" - meaning no time table... just, read Harry Potter between Nov 1st and January 31st. You can also read all or a few. I am going to skip Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets (because I just read both with my students) and will be reading years 3 through 7. I also am putting my own personal goal on this- I want to finish the series reread by Christmas.

I thought about joining NaNoWrimo, but then I realized a few things: I don't think I will have the time and I don't work well when I plan to join in something last minute. Which leads to me not meeting a goal, which leads to me being cranky. I don't want to be cranky. So instead of joining NaNoWrimo, I am instead going to set a personal writing goal. I am writing a memoir right now in lots of disjointed pieces... just getting my ideas out in little chapters- basically snippets of time. I want to write up a few specific moments (When My Head Hit The Door, The Second Concussion, Where'd My Windshield Go?, That Time Everyone Saw My Underwear, and Running In Stilettos).... intrigued yet? Hahahah

I plan to read a few books that were on my pile for October that I didn't get around to (there's quite a few)

J: A Novel by Howard Jacobson
Compared to Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, so obviously I need to read it- those are two of my all time favorite books. Literally, that is all I read about J - I picked it up solely based on those comparisons (so let's hope it lives up to those bold statements!)

A young adult novel I have had collecting dust for years. Figured it was time to bring it out -- two friends plan a fake kidnapping scenario to gain national attention, but then they get way more than they bargained for.

Handed to me by one of my students.... I have never read any of the Harry Potter parodies, so I figured it was about time I did- especially since a student gave it to me to read! I wanted to read this to break up my 24Hr Readathon but ended up not feeling the need to switch to comedy... so, I think it will be fun to read after I finish my Harry Potter reread.

I love these books. They're so cute! Gotta write up a review and post it here soon.

Another adorable little book that I need to write a review on... it is cute, wait until you see it!

 In addition to those above, my NetGalley shelf is pretty full. I am hoping to read a few off my shelf that have been gathering virtual dust. I will likely read the spookier stories that I recently grabbed.

And last but not least - I really hope to meet my GoodReads goal, but I don't think I will this year. I got pretty behind during summer with wedding planning, the wedding itself, and our honeymoon.... we'll see if I can make it up. I'm currently only at 64%, which puts me "17 books behind schedule". I wanted to read 85 books this year and so far I've only read 54. Not so sure I can read 31 books in the next 60 days, but I'll give it a real effort!

So, I hope you all have some good bookish plans for the upcoming months! Have a great rest of your day!

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow


Allow me to introduce myself....

Hello, fellow readathoners!!
Time for introductions!
I'm Jenna - wife, stepmomma, reader, teacher, and Potterhead with an annoyingly inquisitive mind.

1. I'm reading from the great state of New York... in Binghamton, to be exact. I like it here. Today is looking beautiful with the sun shining on our stunning fall foliage with a nice crisp air. There's rumors though that we may see some snow showers soon!
2. The book I'm most looking forward to is Station Eleven.
3. I'm most excited for my SmartPop. It's always my favorite snack! I'm also really looking forward to dinner... Bear went fishing yesterday and brought home a gorgeous salmon. Can't wait to see what he cold up tonight!
4. I did more prep this year. I prepped my
log in a notebook to cut wasted time. I'm also not focusing on blog posts. I'll only do a few updates this time.

Well, that's all for me! Hope you're all having a fun day so far!

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow


Readathon Stack!

Last night I decided to get my Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon stack together! It made me super excited... I cannot wait for Saturday!!

I'm currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir and hope to finish it tonight... it has been a crazy busy week so I have been falling asleep super early and not reading near as much as I'd like to... on the upside of that though is the hope that all this extra sleep this week will get me prepped to stay up for a full 24 hours on Saturday!

So, this is my stack for Saturday:

J by Howard Jacobson has been compared to Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, so obviously I need to read it- those are two of my all time favorite books. Literally, that is all I read about J - I picked it up solely based on those comparisons (so let's hope it lives up to those bold statements!)

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is on everyone's must read list right now. I have had it on the back burner for awhile now. I picked it up because I love stories that tell the tales of society's collapse. I've heard so many rave reviews, I thought it was time to bump it up on the TBR.

Asylum by Madeleine Roux is a book I originally got for my classroom and then snagged for myself. Boarding school meets psychiatric hospital full of dark, disturbing secrets? Hell yeah. Count me in.

Barry Trotter and the Unauthorized Parody was handed to me by one of my students. He found it in the library and of course thought of me! I have never read any of the Harry Potter parodies, so I figured it was about time I did- especially since a student gave it to me to read! I added it to my stack because I know I am going to need to a little humor to break things up.

Accomplice by Eireann Corrigan is a young adult novel I have had collecting dust for years. Figured it was time to bring it out. I thought this would be a nice addition because it sounds like a quick read - two friends plan a fake kidnapping scenario to gain national attention, but then they get way more than they bargained for.

Of course, I have my Kindle too. I've got it loaded up with a lot of short spooky stories to break my reading up throughout the day. I find that I always need little breaks throughout the day and short stories really help with that.

Now, for the fun part... getting my snack stack together! Haha. Variety is key and tomorrow will be shopping day to get lots of goodies to munch throughout the day. Also- GOOD coffee. I gotta grab some different flavors cappuccino for my Keurig, because again- variety is key to everything.

Hope you guys are having fun getting your reading and snacking stacks together!

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow


It's almost readathon time!!

It's almost that very special time of the year - Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon!!! Who else is excited for Saturday?!?!

I LOVE Dewey's Readathon and participate as often as I can...

If you don't know- this is a semi-annual  readathon, where our big beautiful community of readers spend the day reading, chatting, blogging, and sharing our experiences. We do this in honor of Dewey, who started the readathon in 2007. Now hosted by Andi and Heather, the readathon continues to thrive and bring fun and community to readers in a great shared experience.

This time, I will be participating all day! Bear will be fishing in Pulaski so I'll just be hanging around the house... reading and snacking. Speaking of- if you've never done the readathon before, let me tell you that diverse snacks are as important as diverse books. I'm serious, trust me on this. Coffee is also necessary. Lots and lots.

So, the October readathon is always extra fun for me because it is my favorite time of year and coordinates well with RIPX .. and this year, a new surprise - Andi coordinated a little challenge: 15 in 31 (to read 15 books in the 31 days of October) and of course I am joining in on that! I need a reading boost.

So, all this comes together nicely and my hope is to put a big dent in my RIPX stack and get a bunch of books read for #15in31.

I plan to update the blog throughout the readathon this Saturday, but sometime it takes too much of my focus away, so I decided to sign up with my focus being on Instagram. I can update quicker on my IG page and still stay connected, so you will find me hanging out there the most. You can connect with me on Instagram (papajm25), Twitter (LittleBirdReads), and here on the blog.

I hope you'll be joining us!!

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow


Jason and the Draconauts - the sequel!

Hey gang - who remembers when I encouraged you all to back the Kickstarter for my friend and his book, Jason and the Draconauts? Well, as you know- it got backed... and Paul's first book was published. It is great and Paul continued to write. Letting the series unfold, Paul has finished the sequel to Jason and the Draconauts and he needs your help to make the dream of a sequel become reality!!

Jason and the Draconauts: The Council of Ancients continues the story of Jason, the dragon Petros, and their allies. Your burning questions from the first novel are answered, but even more questions arise in this second installment. Once again, a great YA novel worthy of getting out there for young fans of fantasy, flight, and fun. I mean really- who doesn't love dragons?!! That is reason enough to back this project!!

So what are you doing? GO! Run and back the project!!

ps: If you haven't checked out Jason and the Draconauts, you can grab it here

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow


Finding the fountain of youth

Finding Forever by Ken Baker
Running Press Teens // September 8, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0762455942
paperback, 256pgs
source: ARC from publisher

About the book:
In this YA series, Brooklyn Brant is a celebrity news blogger dying to have her big break. Her blog, Deadline Diaries, features the clickbait hook-ups, break-ups, and screw-ups of the Hollywood glitterati, but she has yet to nab the one juicy scoop that will establish her as the ultimate insider.
Actress Taylor Prince is America's sweetheart—beautiful, talented, successful, and sober. With a Golden Globe win, Oscar nom, clothing and fragrance line, and too many magazine covers to count, Taylor is ready to celebrate her sixteenth birthday with a big poolside bash. However, she is not prepared for a police raid and blacking out in the arms of a dangerously handsome stranger.
Brooklyn is called by Taylor's assistant to locate the missing starlet under the radar and on a very tight deadline. And she will need both her sleuthing and journalistic skills to solve the mystery and get the story of a lifetime.
In this suspenseful, dual narrative thriller alternating between the perspectives of Brooklyn and Taylor, author Ken Baker uses his in-depth experience with celebrity journalism and behind-the-scenes truths to explore the ugly underbelly of Hollywood's obsession with finding the ever elusive fountain of youth.

My thoughts:
This is a series that is NOT to be missed!
Last summer, I reviewed How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love by Ken Baker and loved it. I was then offered the opportunity to read and review Finding Forever, the first in his new series, Deadline Diaries. I need to admit, that at first glance I wasn't sure I would love this (and I remember feeling the same about How I got Skinny) but knew that I had previously enjoyed Baker's writing so I wanted to give this a go. I am so glad that I did.
Immediately, I was hooked into the story and the characters, not to mention the format. I didn't feel an immediate tug for Taylor, but I did for Brooklyn. Her opening story just seemed to pull at me. Then, as I got further into the story and learned more about Taylor (and Brooklyn), I found myself rooting for both girls. The remaining cast of characters were also intriguing, especially Simone. I didn't find myself caring much about Brooklyn's just-friend Holden, but I did like how it added depth to her character and it gave her more footing for being relate-able to the teenage reader.
As the characters were quickly developing, so was a major mystery - what happened to Taylor? As Brooklyn, Simone, and Holden dive headfirst into uncovering the truth, the reader has the knowledge of what is the truth behind Taylor's rehab stint. It is nerve wracking (I was thinking often "c'mon guys, connect the dots"!) and terrifying (thinking "seriously, what is wrong with this rehab?!) at the same time. I felt compelled to reach out and give Brooklyn those tidbits she was missing. The book draws you in and keeps your heart racing as you guess at the next crazy turn in rehab and the next twist in the investigative reporting that Brooklyn is conducting.
As I sat on the edge of my seat and furiously turned the pages to find out what would happen next, I never realized, until reflecting on the book, how tongue in cheek this book was. It is a commentary on the reality of stardom, wrapped into a great mystery. I feel like sitting around in a book club with this book, we could discuss for hours the impact of social media on celebrity and society as a whole. As well as fear mongering and the health cult mentality- especially when it swirls out of control.
The book format lent itself to both plot and character development, as well as keeping the pace fast but not so much so that the reader gets lost in a mess of information. It is written in dual perspective- that of Taylor's and Brooklyn's. The girls both have voice and their own way of telling the story. Not only do they have distinctive voices, but the physical look helps too. The girl's voices are split with each coming in under a heading- much like you'd see in social media. It has a date, timestamp, and location. It makes it easy to follow and adds visual interest as well.
The books concludes well too- often times, a series will have poorly written endings for each book which can either intrigue the reader to read on or turn the reader off from exploring more of the series titles. Finding Forever balances a clean ending with just enough to make me want to read the next in the series. Baker gives enough of a hook in the ending to make me want to continue to follow Brooklyn to find out more about her and her backstory, as well as where she is going in the world of investigative journalism. I will absolutely be reading the next in the series, after experiencing how thrilling this title was.
Overall, a highly recommended book. I would definitely offer this up to those looking for a fast paced mystery in the teen market, and will absolutely be suggesting it to my teenage students to pick up. Not only do I think they will enjoy it, I think it could very well inspire readers to pick up journalism. It removes the stigma and adds excitement. This is a great book and I am so glad I got to read it! I'm not a big 5-star giver, but this one certainly earned it!!!

About the author:
Ken Baker is an E! News Correspondent. He is the author of How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love and Fangirl, and his memoir, Man Made: A Memoir of My Body, is the inspiration for the film The Late Bloomer. He lives (and writes) with his family in Hermosa Beach, CA.

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow

Cover image, book synopsis, and author information from Amazon
This book was sent to me as an uncorrected proof the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review


Dinner is served... fresh.

Supper by Carolyn McCray*
September 2012 // Off Our Meds Multimedia
Kindle Edition, 39 pages
*you can find this title in her Don't Read After Dark box set

About the book:
Supper by Carolyn McCray is a short story reminiscent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is filled with gore, family, twists, and turns. This short story focuses on a group of co-eds that just so happen to get lost and stumble upon a home and decide to stay for supper.

My thoughts:
I thoroughly enjoyed this short story! I am a huge horror fan, so of course I have seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre and when I saw this was basically the entire description provided for this book, I thought I'd give it a go. I had my suspicions that this would be a knock-off and not very original, and that did hold true. However it was still quite good and filled with it's own original twists. I thought the amount of gore was just right - enough to make me cringe, but not so much to make me toss the book aside. This balance is one that short stories seem to struggle with. Carolyn McCray did a fine job with that element. She also did a good job with the characters - in just a few pages I was interested in the co-eds connection to one another. She did throw in a few details that seemed silly and had no relevance to the story (ahem- calling out a character's sexual preference) but I can overlook that and assume her goal was to reach readers. The story moved fast and the plot had great little twists. A few were predictable, a few were not. Again - a good balance, in my opinion, for a short piece.
Overall, I truly enjoyed this short story. I have had it on my Kindle since it came out and am just now getting around to it... and now I am wondering why. I can no longer find it for purchase individually, so I linked the box set above that it is included in. I am probably going to purchase that box set because I am interested to see how her other short stories compare. I would recommend this to horror buffs and those looking for a quick creepy (and gory) read. Perfect fit for RIPX!

I read and reviewed this short story for RIPX

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow

Image from Goodreads


The Frangipani Hotel

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
Spiegel & Grau // April 1, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0812993318
hardcover, 256pgs
source: egalley from publisher

About the book:
A beautiful young woman appears fully dressed in an overflowing bathtub at the Frangipani Hotel in Hanoi. A jaded teenage girl in Houston befriends an older Vietnamese gentleman she discovers naked behind a dumpster. A trucker in Saigon is asked to drive a dying young man home to his village. A plump Vietnamese-American teenager is sent to her elderly grandmother in Ho Chi Minh City to lose weight, only to be lured out of the house by the wafting aroma of freshly baked bread. In these evocative and always surprising stories, the supernatural coexists with the mundane lives of characters who struggle against the burdens of the past.

Based on traditional Vietnamese folk tales told to Kupersmith by her grandmother, these fantastical, chilling, and thoroughly contemporary stories are a boldly original exploration of Vietnamese culture, addressing both the immigrant experience and the lives of those who remained behind. Lurking in the background of them all is a larger ghost—that of the Vietnam War, whose legacy continues to haunt us.

My thoughts:
Reading the description of this book of short stories, I assumed I was in for a wild ride of scary ghost stories that would keep me up at night. What I got instead was a collection of stories that were weird and left me hanging.
The Frangipani Hotel is really a collection of strange little tales that connect to Vietnam- either by setting or character. I wouldn't classify these as ghost stories, but rather as unique folklore. The stories are indeed strange. They evoke a sense of unease and bring up more questions than answers. Both of those things are essential in the telling of a good story, but what this collection is severely lacking is closure. I assume that could be purposeful - there is still a large lack of closure for many surrounding the Vietnam War- however, I thought that most of these short stories needed a lot by way of ending than what was provided. 
A few other things to note was the lack of time frame and lack of continuity. I felt adrift while reading most of the stories... was this present day Vietnam or was this the 70s's, 80's, 90's, 00's? Lack of a certain time made me feel unbalanced as I read the short stories. I had a hard time placing them in any time, but maybe that is just me. As for continuity, what I mean is this: each story was a standalone tale, but they were so disjointed that I felt like I was reading a bunch of student essays instead of a collection of stories. They didn't flow and they had no connection other than the post-war Vietnam theme (which runs deep in this book), leaving me frustrated while reading. Since they had no tie, and the ending of each story was left open to interpretation (way more than necessary, in my opinion), I felt like I was reading something unfinished. It is lacking polish.
Overall, the stories were creepy and weird. It fits the bill for a RIPX read (weird, morbid, etc), but not in the way I had imagined. Instead of scaring me while I lay in bed reading, this had me more confused and thinking "what the hell just happened?" as I read through this collection of Vietnamese folklore.

This review is part of the RIPX series for Peril of the Short Story

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow

Image, book synopsis and information from Netgalley.com



September is here, which means it is time for one of my favorite reading challenges - Readers Imbibing Peril! Can you believe that it is the 10th year for this challenge?! Carl, from Stainless Steel Droppings started this reading challenge to honor all things creepy for the beginning of Fall in 2005 - and this year has decided to turn the hosting over to Andi & Heather from The Estella Society. I am so excited to get started on this reading challenge... Fall is my favorite time of year for many reasons - I love the cool temperatures, the beautiful foliage, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, all things Halloween, creepy reads, and scary movies. That is why RIP is always a must-do for  me. RIPX features multiple levels of the challenge - Peril of the First, Peril of the Second, Peril of the Third, Peril of the Short Story, Peril of the Group Read, and Peril on the Screen.

Here's an quick run-down:
~ RIPX runs from September 1st to October 31st
~ Readalong The Quick by Lauren Owen with Amanda at Fig and Thistle for Peril of the Group Read
~ You can watch and review creepy movies and shows with Peril of the Screen
~ Everyone can find a reading level to participate - levels are as follows: 1 book (Peril of the Third), 2 books (Peril of the Second) or 4+ books (Peril of the First)

~ RIPX has it's own review site, which you can find here

I will participate at the Peril of the First level. I will also complete the Peril of the Short Story and Peril on the Screen This year's group read is The Quick by Lauren Owen - I am undecided on this one... I started this 2 times over the past year and gave up both times. In May, I read 35% of the book and then did not finish. I am not sure yet whether or not I will be giving it a try again. For me, it was just a bit too slow... however, with a group read, it makes the book seem even more fun and with people to discuss it, maybe I will find pleasure in it and power through - I've heard many a great things about this book but I just haven't been able to finish it and find those great things for myself. Time will tell.

I don't yet have a stack - I've been camping and just returned home so throughout this week I will be hunting down my book stack for RIPX. In the meantime, I will be starting out by reading The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

So, please join in and have fun reading everything creepy, gothic, macabre, horror, mystery, thriller, suspense... you get the idea. Just don't turn out the lights!!

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow