Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Ricki’s Review)

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Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Published: September 10th, 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin

GoodReads Summary: A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Review: I can’t remember reading a book that felt so authentic to and aligned with my own experiences. I have this urge to buy hundreds of copies of this book and pass them out to college freshmen. Freshman year of college is an incredibly difficult time, and this book helped me remember it vividly. From Rowell’s descriptions of the domesticated squirrels to the awkwardness of roommate interactions to the feeling of entering the dining hall for the first time and not knowing where to go or where to sit (and feeling sure everyone is watching you), this book perfectly captures the minute details of college life–and all of the insecurities that come with it. I loved the parallels cast between Simon Snow’s story and Cather’s, and it inspired me to want to be a writer. This is a beautifully compelling story that will resonate with readers.

View Kellee’s review of Fangirl HERE.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This would be a great book to teach along with a creative writing unit. It would inspire students to want to become stronger writers. Students could write their own fanfictions or alternate storytelling (like Nick and Cather did). Cather’s struggles as a writer are inspirational, and I am betting that most people, like me, close this book and want to get out their computers and start writing.

Very few authors are able to hone in on the minute details of humanity. I noticed Rowell’s incredible ability to do this in Eleanor & Park, and she certainly did not stop there. I would love to copy passages of this book for close readings. This would really help students understand good, powerful writing.

Discussion Questions: Cather finds it difficult to write about any world other than that of Simon Snow. Why do you think that might be?; How are Cather and Wren different? Do you think there are any underlying reasons for their differences?; What is Nick’s purpose in the novel? What does he show about Cather?

We Flagged:

“I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.”
“Me, too. I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.”

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)”

Read This If You Loved: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Looking for Alaska by John Green, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

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RickiSig

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

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If You Find Me
Author: Emily Murdoch
Published: March 26th, 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin

GoodReads Summary: There are some things you can’t leave behind…

A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

Review: It has been a while since I couldn’t put a book down. This gut-wrenching tale captivated me from the very beginning. When authors try to portray emotions, they can feel superficial for readers. But Murdoch’s writing feels effortless. I connected with Carey in a way that reminded me of how I understood Melinda in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. My hands shook with anger in response to her pain, and as she felt overwhelmed and scared, I cried along with her. The backwoodsy dialect made the story feel real and authentic. It constantly reminded me of where Carey was coming from. Murdoch expertly unfolds the plot for readers, which adds a level of complexity but also makes readers feel as if they are coming to terms with Carey’s life right along with her. This is a beautiful, compelling story that I won’t forget.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: One of the strengths of this book is the special bond between the siblings. Carey’s love for her 6-year-old sister, Jenessa, fills the reader with comfort and sureness. It would be interesting for students to consider this bond and what holds these two sisters together. I could also see students researching more about child abuse and neglect. Carey and Jenessa have to make a dramatic adjustment to life on the outside, and I imagine that students will want to learn more about this struggle and its potential difficulties.

Discussion Questions: Why does Carey keep secrets? Do you agree with her decisions?; Why does Carey have difficulty forming a relationship with her father? Do you think she has been brainwashed?; What are the long-term effects of abuse? What kinds of abuse are there? Will Carey ever heal?

We Flagged:

“I answer her with my silence, understanding the full power of it for the first time. Words are weapons. Weapons are powerful. So are unsaid words. So are unused weapons” (p. 24).

“We make attachments to what’s familiar. We find the beauty, even in the lack. That’s human. We make the best of what we’re given” (p. 169).

Read This If You Loved: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Room by Emma Donoghue, A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (for the sibling bond and the woodsy setting), Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, White Oleander by Janet Fitch, Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

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RickiSig

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Author: Matthew Quick
Published: August 13th, 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

GoodReads Summary: In addition to the P-38, there are four gifts, one for each of my friends. I want to say good-bye to them properly. I want to give them each something to remember me by. To let them know I really cared about them and I’m sorry I couldn’t be more than I was—that I couldn’t stick around—and that what’s going to happen today isn’t their fault.

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.

Review: I have read every one of Matthew Quick’s books. He is a teacher, and I feel as if he understands teenagers in ways that many people don’t. Quick’s characters feel like real people, and while I read this one, I kept forgetting that I was even reading a book. To be cliché, I was lost in the story.

Leonard Peacock is a complex character. Even with his evil intention to murder a fellow classmate, the reader comes to understand that he is deeply troubled and not at all evil on the inside. His plan is to give three gifts to three individuals who have positively impacted his life, then kill his classmate, and then kill himself. I read this book with an uncomfortable stomach. I couldn’t put it down because I needed to know how the plot unraveled. Kids will be hooked. It teaches incredible messages of bullying and loneliness. Leonard’s mother is such a terrible parent that I think it will make many teens appreciate their own parents. I had the urge to scream at her at several points in the book. I have read many books that are somewhat similar to the themes of this text, yet it felt very different. I would urge teachers to read it because it sheds light on issues that are often difficult (or maybe even taboo) to discuss.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: My initial thought was that this would make an incredible read-aloud. I think all types of kids would appreciate it. My only hesitance are there are several references to awkward scenes (like masturbation), and even the most liberal teachers might feel a bit uncomfortable reading these aloud. That said, I think this would make an excellent whole-class text or literature circle book. Teachers would also find value in close readings of portions of this text to jumpstart difficult (but important) conversations with students about bullying, depression, and suicide. The book has over sixty footnotes, and it would be interesting to discuss this text feature and/or the experiments that Quick takes with the text structure. The book ends a bit abruptly, and I think students would love to write and discuss extended endings to the text. I would love to see this book bridged with classic texts like The Awakening by Kate Chopin or Hamlet by William Shakespeare. There are a plethora of Shakespeare references that will make teachers drool!

Discussion Questions: What leads a person to make rash, violent decisions? Can s/he be stopped?; How does our past influence our psyche?; Is revenge sweet? Can it ever be justified?; How do our parents shape our mental behavior?; What happens after the conclusion of this text?

We Flagged:

“I admire [Humphrey] Bogart because he does what’s right regardless of consequences—even when the consequences are stacked high against him—unlike just about everyone else in my life” (p. 23).

“How do you measure suffering?

I mean, the fact that I live in a democratic country doesn’t guarantee my life will be problem-free.

Far from it.

I understand that I am relatively privileged from a socio-economical viewpoint, but so was Hamlet—so are a lot of miserable people” (p. 94).

Read This If You Loved: Endgame by Nancy Garden, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Burn by Suzanne Phillips, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

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Reality Boy by A.S. King

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Reality Boy

Author: A. S. King
Published: October 22nd, 2013 by Little, Brown

GoodReads Summary: Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved.

Review: Gerald’s incredibly dysfunctional family allows us to truly appreciate our own families. His mother wants him to be “retarded” so she doesn’t have to recognize the errors she committed while raising him, his oldest sister is allowed to both harm him and have loud sexual intercourse in the basement (while the whole family listens), his dad ignores the issues Gerald is facing, and his one good sister moved away and doesn’t call.

Rightfully, Gerald has a lot of anger, and he has great difficulty controlling it. I loved how raw this book was—it will help teenagers understand the ways that anger manifests itself. Gerald doesn’t have any friends (until he meets Hannah), and he feels very alone, which is a feeling that many teens (and adults, for that matter) can identify with. The book shows how our pasts can haunt us, as Gerald is unable to trust anyone and can’t escape from the decisions he made when he was a young child. This book will have widespread appeal, as different kinds of people will be able to identify with Gerald, and I highly recommend it.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This would be a great book to introduce to the entire classroom. It has strong literary merit, and teachers will find a wealth of teachable information with this text. It would be interesting to have students research the levels of anger and pair passages with emotions associated with anger. Gerald tries a variety of methods to cope with his anger: fighting, yelling, ignoring people, escaping into his own world (which he calls Gerday), running away, etc. It would also be interesting to investigate the techniques associated with anger management, as Gerald’s anger management guidance doesn’t seem to work for him.

Discussion Questions: How does Gerald’s past influence his decisions?; Is reality television always negative? Do we have a right to film children?; Do you agree with the way Gerald’s father handles the difficulties in the family unit?; Do you find Gerald and Hannah’s relationship to be dysfunctional? Do they help each other more than they harm each other?

We Flagged: 

“‘I’m, well, I’m,’ I try. ‘I’m not very popular.’

She smiles. ‘Welcome to the club, Gerald. I’m also not popular. I’d go one step further and say I am rather unpopular. I’m okay with that. Aren’t you?'” (Chapter 30).

“When I look around the caf, I can’t see anyone else who is remotely as messed up as I am. Not even Hannah. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe most other people are messed up, too. It just wasn’t aired on TV or, you know, aired on Tom What’s-His Name’s face” (Chapter 31).

“It’s like we just witnessed a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. Except that the butterfly isn’t quite what we expected it to be because the whole world is full of shit” (Chapter 38).

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. The e-book (a galley) did not provide page or chapter numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Thank you to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for sending me the Advanced Reader Copy!

Into That Forest by Louis Nowra

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Title: Into That Forest
Author: Louis Nowra
Expected Publication: September 3th, 2013 by Amazon Children’s Publishing

Summary: Hannah and Becky are traveling down a river in Tasmania, Australia with Hannah’s parents when a storm erupts. Their boat overturns, and Hannah and Becky are left to survive in the wild. Two Tasmanian tigers are nearby, and because they’ve recently lost their pups, the tigers adopt Hannah and Becky as their own children. The two girls slowly adapt to the tigers’ ways, adopting their habits and forgetting words. It isn’t long before they become feral children, acting only as animals would.

Review: I have never read a book quite like this one. When I tried to compare it to other books I’ve read, I immediately thought of Endangered (Eliot Schrefer), which describes bonobos rather than tigers. With both books, I developed a fondness for the animals and their habits. Also, they both roped me into their beautiful settings and imagery. The only other books I could compare this to were those about abuse and neglect, as the children slowly developed animalistic ways, as abandoned children do.

The language is a bit peculiar at first, as Hannah is writing the story as an elderly woman, and she admits her language isn’t very good. I found myself slipping into the beautiful wording by the third or fourth page, and I didn’t find that it distracted my reading, and instead, it added to the experience. If I could change anything, I might alter the ending a bit, but perhaps, I am being too particular. I loved learning about the tigers’ lifestyle, and I was hooked to this survival story from the very first page. The sisterly bond that develops between Hannah and Becky is remarkable, and the story teaches themes of loyalty and companionship. Readers will be left pondering humanity and the differences between animals and humans.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Students may find the language to be a bit difficult to understand at first, so the teacher may need to provide some close readings at first. I suspect most students quickly adjust to the language and will no longer be distracted by the wording after the first few pages, and they will likely find that it adds a lot of color to the text. Teachers could have students select their favorite descriptions of the setting and imagery, as these elements are very well-developed and would serve as a great model for students. Upon completion of the text, students might research topics like Tasmania, feral children, and tigers. I was left wanting to learn more about the Tasmanian wilderness and lifestyle, and I imagine that students will also find this book to pique their curiosity.

Discussion Questions: What does it mean to be human? How do the girls lose their humanity?; What are some of the patterns of the tigers’ behavior that the girls adopt? Why is this necessary?; How do you imagine Hannah’s life today? How has this experience changed her?

We Flagged: “As the water boiled and foamed, we bounced along with me father, unable to steer the boat toward the shore. The river were so wild that all we could do were to cling on tight to the sides of the boat or each other as we were flung back and forward like puppets with no strings. The rain chucked down and we were soaked, so soggy it were like the rain were drilling through our skin into our marrow.”

“The more I looked at its black eyes, the more I seen kindness […] I knew it were saying to us, Come, I’ll take you home.”

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. The e-book (a galley) did not provide page or chapter numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick, Dog Boy by Eva Hornung, Second Nature by Alice Hoffman, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

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Thank you to NetGalley and Amazon Children’s Publishing for sending me the Advanced Reader Copy!

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

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Zebra Forest
Author: Adina Rishe Gewirtz
Published April 9th, 2013 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Annie and Rew have only vague memories of their father who died triumphantly and don’t remember their mother at all who decided she didn’t want to be a mom. They now live with their grandmother who suffers with an agoraphobia-type disorder. Some days she rarely leaves her room leaving Annie to be in charge of the household, her brother, and any tough decisions including lying to her social worker. This has lead to Annie having to grow up faster than other 11-year-olds. Most of her days, she spends time with her brother near the zebra forest telling stories and reminiscing about their father and the adventures that he would have taken if he was still alive. Though, like in all of our lives, one moment can change everything and with a rattling, stuck backdoor Annie and Rew’s lives will never be the same.

My Review: Sometimes you come across quiet novels that aren’t being talked about in the mainstream that  are very entertaining and well done. This is one of those books.  It starts out quietly with amazing stories being told between Annie and Rew and great character development. Then the plot twist changes everything! And the suspense, emotion, and background story really starts to build.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The most specific aspect of this book that I see to use in the classroom as a mentor text is the creative storytelling talents that she displays throughout the book. She tells amazing stories that include extensions from Treasure Island and adventures of her father (ex. p. 21-26). Also, this book is contemporary fiction and takes place during the Iranian Hostage Crisis which would be a way to teach this important part of history that many students may not be aware of. Mostly, I see this book being used as a read aloud or lit circle to lead to discussion of the plot and characters.

Discussion Questions: After reading Treasure Island, do you agree with Annie and Rew’s favorite characters (p. 70-71)?; Have you ever lied in a situation because you felt that it was necessary? Explain.; Research the Iran Hostage Situation. From Annie we learned the basics about the crisis; what did you learn from research about it?

We Flagged: “Outside, I could smell the Zebra. Even if for some reason I stopped feeling cold or hot or rain or sun, I bet I could close my eyes and still tell which season I was in just by the smell of the tees and dirt there. Spring was sweet mud and flowers. Fall had a kind of moldy edge to it, and winter was all dust and bark. As for summer, the Zebra carried a mossy, thick aroma full of baking leaves and oozing sap, which I guess was its growing smell.” (p. 87)

“Most recently he [their father] was a secret agent, working to free those hostages in Iran. Rew loved to imagine the Middle Eastern desert, sandstorms and mullahs and veiled ladies, and our father somewhere among them, bartering for hostages in a dusty marketplace or smoking a hookah with a sheik.” (p. 22)

Read This If You Loved: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson, Paperboy by Vince Vawter, My Mixed-up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari [Zebra Forest is a very unique book. I chose the books because they have similar tone or the characters and are for similar age levels.]

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What is a favorite book of yours that flies under the mainstream radar?

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**Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing a copy for review. Jen also reviewed this book at Teach Mentor Texts, so make sure to check out her review, too!**

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

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And the Mountains Echoed
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Published May 21st, 2013 by Riverhead Books

Summary: Told from various points of view, this novel is a collection of powerful stories, woven with the rich history of Afghanistan. All of the characters are linked in some way, showing the profound impact that seemingly small decisions can have on others in the world. After finishing this story, the character’s voices still speak in my head: Three-year-old Pari and ten-year-old Abdullah, villagers in rural Afghanistan…Nabi, an elderly Afghan who is devoted to the care of the wealthy Mr. Wahdati…Nila, a tortured soul, who is lost in her poetry and past…Idris, a man visiting his homeland of Afghanistan, who recognizes and is embarrassed by his privileged life in America…Markos, a plastic surgeon living in Afghanistan, who works to fix the deformities caused by the war…Adel, a young Afghan boy living in a mansion with bodyguards…these characters and a few others are richly realized and will tug the heartstrings of readers.

Review: Spanning five decades and multiple generations, the stories cross paths in unbelievable ways. Readers might, at the beginning of each section, feel a bit uncomfortable with the shifts in narration, locations, and time periods, but Hosseini makes the connections clear, and the story’s structure is essential to the central messages of loyalty, family, and the devastating effects of war.  I experienced many similar emotions as when I read Hosseini’s other books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Sons, such as grief and anger, and when this book ended, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of catharsis. Emotions aside, this book is quite different. The writing felt more lyrical and complex (if that is even possible) than Hosseini’s other works. I couldn’t help but put the book down at several times because I was in awe of the craftsmanship of the text’s structure and connectedness.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Kite Runner has always been a literature circle choice in my classroom. This novel is much more complex and would need a lot of teacher support, but it would be a fantastic literature circle choice for advanced, high school readers. If used as a whole-class text, teachers might have students diagram the relationships between characters, write journal entries from the perspectives of different characters, or write letters from one character to another. Many of the characters don’t interact at any point, but it would be enlightening to consider what messages they might have for each other. It would be helpful if teachers gave background knowledge of the political situation in Afghanistan to support the reading of this text. This is a great text to teach structure and narration, but additionally, it is a great model of voice. Ranging in age, race, and personality, these characters all have varying insights of the world, and these are reflected in their words and actions. Students would have to think critically to analyze their voices.

Discussion Questions: How might our decisions affect others indirectly connected to us?; What responsibility does a child have to his/her parent?; Am I privileged? How are my life experiences different from those around me?; What will we remember most as we age?

We Flagged: “They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind” (p. 127).

“‘J’aurais dû être plus gentille–I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old, Ah, I wish I was not good to that person. You will never think that'” (p. 382-283).

Read This If You Loved: Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

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What do you think about using contemporary adult bestsellers in the classroom? I try to mix classics, YAL, and other bestsellers, while still allowing students the choice to select the texts they read. Do you agree with this philosophy?

Oh, and have you read this one? I would love to hear your thoughts because the characters are still interrupting my daily thoughts. 🙂

RickiSig