Category Archives: My Reads

Blue Thread – Day One #Readukkah Challenge

This year I’m participating in the 2015 #Readukkah Challenge hosted by the Association of Jewish Libraries. The goal is to spread the word about wonderful Jewish books during the eight days of Hanukkah. So here they are: eight days of good reads on Jewish themes. Enjoy!
by Ruth Tenzer Feldman

Blue thread

About this book:

The women’s suffrage movement is in full swing in 1912 Portland, Oregon—the last holdout state on the West Coast. Miriam desperately wants to work at her father’s printing shop, but when he refuses she decides to dedicate herself to the suffrage movement, demanding rights for women and a different life for herself. Amidst the uncertainty of her future, Miriam’s attention is diverted by the mysterious Serakh, whose sudden, unexplained appearances and insistent questions lead Miriam to her grandmother’s Jewish prayer shawl—and to her destiny. With this shawl, Miriam is taken back in time to inspire the Daughters of Zelophehad, the first women in Biblical history to own land. Miriam brings the strength and courage of these women with her forward in time, emboldening her own struggles and illuminating what it means to be an independent woman.

Why I think you should read it:

It is not about the Holocaust. Books about WWII are important, and I never want to forget that period in Jewish history, but too often it feels like the ONLY Jewish stories are horror stories. BLUE THREAD connects the experiences of Jews in two other important historical periods – the early 1900s during the suffrage movement and Biblical times. Miriam is a wonderful heroine with a distinctly modern voice. Also there is time-travel!!!

*The companion novel to BLUE THREAD is called THE NINTH DAY and it is also an excellent read.


Happy Hanukkah


The Great Purge

1980 Amber readingI wish that I had a list of every book I’ve ever read. Better still, I wish I actually owned every book I’ve ever read.

I could run my fingers over THE SNOW QUEEN and THE SUMMER QUEEN and think about the world they opened to me.

I could reread SACAJAWA and know exactly how I learned about the cruelty of some men.

I could look at that @#%# copy of THE FOUNTAINHEAD and remember the dumb-ass boy I chose because of it.

I could share THE CHALICE AND THE BLADE and the story of female power through history.

It would be amazing… Imagine the bookshelves I would need to store them. Imagine the way it would illuminate a lifetime of voracious, greedy reading.

Instead I am going through my bookshelves and picking books to sell back at Powell’s City of Books. In preparation for my move to a new place in a new town, I am purging, and while it’s easy to shed old sweaters and torn jeans, the books have to be wrenched from my hands.

It helps that I will sell them all for bookstore credit, which can be spent with abandon, but I can’t shake the feeling that I will be less than myself without my books. Without them, will I know where I’ve come from? Will I know who I am? How will I find my way?

BEYOND MAGENTA and the power of story-telling

This book…

Oh. Sigh. Wow!  I loved it so much.

It reminded me yet again of the power of telling our true stories.  The young people who tell their stories in BEYOND MAGENTA by Susan Kuklin captured me, not with their fancy prose, but with the deep truth of their own personal experiences.  I want to hug every single one of them for being brave enough to be themselves in the world.  That’s hard for all of us sometimes and double hard for those who don’t fit easily into any of society’s little boxes.  And I want to thank them for letting me in. Bravo to photographer and author Susan Kuklin for making this book happen.

I am lucky to live a life full of stories.  I’m grateful to those who surround me with powerful true narratives especially Antonio Sacre and Lawrence Huff and The Moth and Story Corp and all the memorists whose books I’ve devoured and the documentarians who film our obsessions and to Laurie Halse Anderson for making YA a force for healing through SPEAK and her work with RAINN.

Take a moment today to honor stories—tell one on Facebook, buy Susan’s book, donate to RAINN in honor of sexual assault awareness month, or listen to someone’s truth.

This is how we rewrite the world.

My former book-sluttery, a casualty of writing

I grew up in and around Portland, Oregon, and had the good fortune to go to high school at St. Mary’s Academy, a mere hop-skip-and-jump from Powell’s City of Books (aka best bookstore in the world and I’ll fight for that title).  As a teen, I haunted the Blue Room, trailing my finger along spines, seizing titles, and sitting cross-legged in the aisle to read first chapters.  I read ravenously and widely, rarely giving up on a book.

I was a book slut.

That was then.  Now…

I’m afraid writing has ruined me.  (Not really, but that sounds kinda awesome, doesn’t it?)  I’m in the middle of reading six different books right now.  A couple are research for my new book THE V-WORD.  Another is excellent nonfiction but with very tiny print.  One is an incredibly well-written memoir about a topic that breaks my heart every few pages.  Two more are short story collections.  I want to read all of them, but none has forcibly sat me down in the aisle at Powell’s and refused to let go.  The last two novels I read were by acquaintances so I finished them even though neither blew my socks off.

And this is where we get to the ruined part.

It takes something extraordinary to really blow my mind in fiction.  I want powerful writing and characters I could swallow whole.  I want a book that makes me think either I wish I had written that or I never in a million years could have written that.

So imagine my happy when I picked up PICTURE ME GONE by Meg Rosoff.  On second thought, don’t bother with that, go read it yourself and see why I started yesterday and finished today.

Binge reading that my book slut self can appreciate!

It has been a long voyage

photoI have, after 16 months, finished Moby Dick.

I could not have done it without the Moby Dick Big Read (especially the chapter read by David Attenborough) and Moby Dick In Pictures by Matt Kish.  This image is one of my favorites from the book.

To the crazy man who told NPR that Moby Dick was the most influential book he ever read, I say, “You are nuts.”

To Major League, which I watched last weekend, I say, “Damn your spoilers!”

To those of you who claim to have read every page of this behemoth but haven’t really, I say, “You shouldn’t have skipped chapter 94 – The Cassock.”

As for me, I’m moving on to another version:  Moby Dick, a Cozy Classic, illustrated in wool felting with a twelve-word text.

See you in 16 months!

Fist Pump! I’ve been lucky in love and reading

I went through a long stretch of books that were… meh… okay.  I was desperate for a book that would woo me and win me, a book I could love.  Since I’m a smarty, I checked in with my librarian buddies.  (They know all!)  Erin F-B shoved (metaphorically speaking) the first winner on my list.

Now I’m six for six with brilliant books, many of which I’ve gushed about here, but I thought it might amuse you to see the list and know where the recommendations came from.  (As you may know, a recent study showed that the primary way people find new books to read is through the recommendations of others.)

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS was in my TBR pile but was bumped to the top by Erin F-B.

CODE NAME VERITY also got pimped by Erin F-B, and at the launch of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, Laini Taylor said it was one of the best books she’d read all year.

AMERICAN GODS is not new but I’ve got this secret desire to be Neil Gaiman when I grow up and I was going on vacation and thought maybe I should branch out of kid lit a bit and then I saw a string of random tweets about the book…

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS is the newly released psychological thriller by my friend, Cat Winters.  I’ve been waiting eagerly for it and snatched up my copy at her Powell’s book launch.  It’s creeptastically wonderful and haunting.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN was book talked by Milly S., the librarian at my kids’ school.  Both of them came home demanding that I buy it immediately.  My son read it first and then promptly removed the book in my hands and replaced it with this gem.

WONDER was a read-aloud in my son’s class so he and his amazing teaching Ms. T get credit for this one.

And in case any of you were curious… yes, I am still trying to finish MOBY DICK.

You Do NOT Have To Save the World

On, a blog about critique and the writing process, I recently blogged about using Publisher’s Marketplace to get a handle on what kinds of manuscripts are and are not selling in today’s YA market.  (Get the nitty gritty details here.)  These patterns are still dominating my thoughts.

Even as the number of titles featuring zombies, dystopias, ghosts, murders, etc have surged, peaked, and ebbed, I’ve notice one thing that doesn’t seem to be changing.  There are a whole lot of main characters who have to, at least according to the log line, SAVE THE FREAKING WORLD.  Think Bruce Willis plus asteroids for the YA set.   Confession: I’ve written log lines like this for my own book.  (Hangs head in shame.  Plans to revise.)

As a fan, I love epic fantasy, but as a reader and writer, I’m captivated by fully-fleshed, step-off-the-page-real characters.  Hence my love for THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green and CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein.  The characters in these books are heroic.  They are heroic because they live richly and die bravely.  They don’t have to save the world.

Real teens live many lives–protected and dangerous, religious and not, lonely and social, quiet and loud, painful and triumphant–but very few of them have to single-handedly deflect an astroid from hitting Earth and thus save all humankind.  They just don’t.

They often have to survive terrible things and books can buoy them up.  (If you weren’t immersed in the loud and raucous #YAsaves conversation last year, this link will get you up to speed.)  They also like to have fun (one of the reasons I often prefer spending time with teens rather than adults).  Fun in real life and fun in reading.

Last night I attended to book launch for POISON, the debut YA novel by the late Bridget Zinn.  The tag line reads “Can she save the kingdom with a piglet?”  That’s right!  WITH A PIGLET!  What follows is about as far from the doom-and-gloom of the recent rush of teens-killing-teens as you can get.  Think THE PRINCESS BRIDE–good, silly fun.

It’s a good reminder in these dark days of YA that we can write stories about characters who don’t have to save the world.  All they–and we–have to do is create authentic lives, whatever that may look like.  And like Bridget, we should try to leave something good behind.

My heros (and genuinely FUN adults): the YA literati of Portland launching Bridget’s book with cupcakes and good cheer



I’ve had Dr. Seuss on the brain of late (like the rest of the kidlit and elementary school world, I suppose).  When most people think of the good doctor-ish doctor, they think about his mastery of rhyme and meter and his scrumptastic made-up words.

And yes, yes, yes, I love all that (especially the spooky pale green pants with nobody inside ’em), but it is, perhaps, easy to forget that Master Seuss was also a master storyteller.

So today I offer you THE 500 HATS OF BARTHOLOMEW CUBBINS.  It’s got a perfect story arc, great characters that evoke strong emotions, and lots of beautiful, symbolic pairings (the view up and the view down the valley, for example).

This is one of my favorites by Dr. Seuss and this is the actual tattered cover of the copy I’ve had for nearly forty years.  Pages are starting to fall out and I guess I’ll have to replace it but as the kids and I were reading it last night, I thought:

You can look high and low,
You can look far and near,
But the book that you want,
Is this one right here!

This weekend, my husband and I attended our kids’ school auction, which was a Dr. Seuss themed extravaganza.  Here’s a peek at my whimsical, Seussical attire.  Too bad it’s hard to make out that I chalked my hair pink.  I’m sure Dr. S would’ve approved.

When writers read: inspiration, encouragement, or despair?

In recent weeks, my pile of books-I-want-to-read-because-I-want-to has been greatly neglected.  As some of you know, I continue to be dogged (or whaled) by 493 pages of Herman Melville’s weird-not-really-a-novel treatise on whaling, Moby Dick, which I have been trying to finish for five months.  (Thank god for the Moby Dick Big Read.)  In addition, I’ve had a number of work-related manuscripts to read for colleagues as well as reading for research on a new nonfiction project.

I think my eclectic reading of late has been good for my writing because it is so different in content, style and approach.  It helps avoid issues of syntactic persistence, about which I’ve blogged elsewhere.  However, I have missed disappearing into a truly extraordinary piece of fiction.  So it was with relish that I opened John Green‘s The Fault in Our Stars.

It lives up to every starred review and glowing commendation, but I can’t blog here about how I responded to this book as a human, especially in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Too much is raw and painful for me.

Rather than dissect the inner workings of my broken heart, I want to comment on how what I read influences my writing life.

Sometimes I read a book and I am inspired to try and write something that good.

Or I am encouraged that I have the ability to write something at least as good as that.

Or I wish I’d written that book (and believe that I probably could have).

Or–as in the case of The Fault in Our Stars–I despair at ever writing anything even a fraction as true and perfect.


Maybe I should stick to being a reader.