App Review: AL – Early Literacy

Screen time can be learning time when education and technology complement each other in just the right way. The Active Learning (AL) Early Literacy App from Finish Line Studios does this and more by combining important literacy concepts in a fun learning environment.

AL Early Literacy AppThe app’s six learning activities support the Common Core State Standards and focus on building letter knowledge, writing and spelling skills for kids from pre-K through first grade. The benefit of focusing on such a specific age range makes it possible to dig deep into the broad early literacy needs of this audience.

AL – Early Literacy encourages practice and opportunities to try again when an “incorrect” answer is chosen. Most questions are answered by dragging the selected answer which enhances learning as well as fine motor development. Fun illustrations feature “AL” doing  relatable activities such as going to the park, playing at the beach and flying into space. The comprehension questions encourage drawing context clues from the pictures while keeping it fun by offering humorous “wrong” answers.

It’s clear the educational foundations beneath the app have been thoughtfully considered. The app is perfectly situated for use in the classroom, especially those in school districts transitioning to one-to-one computing programs. Teachers can mAL - Early Literacy Apponitor their students’ success through the assessment tool and also select specific letters and words to be reinforced in individual student profiles. The design and layout of the app screens would make it simple to guide a classroom of learners through the app in group study.

I could also see it used by homeschoolers and any family wanting to work on early literacy skills at home. As a librarian, I love the emphasis on letter knowledge and print awareness. I would add it to iPads for kids to use in the library and I would also look forward to having my own very early reader use it in the future.

I am curious about the other forthcoming Active Learning apps, if there would be a way for teachers to customize all their student profiles from one device, and whether we will see one starring ALice!

*A promotional copy of this app was provided to me with an invitation (not obligation) to review from an acquaintance at Finish Line Studios.


The Question

“So how is the adoption stuff going?”

I smile. I hold in the sigh. The frown. The widening of my eyes that might give away a possible situation that is too early to talk about…and too painful to share if it falls through.


Then I remind myself that I’m lucky. Lucky to have people that care enough to ask. Lucky to have people hoping and praying for us. Lucky to have possibilities. There are no guarantees in life, no matter what path we choose or what plans we make. But, we have hope.

And we have perspective. Waiting families at our agency are on the list an average of two years before adopting a child. We’ve only been waiting about 18 months.

And we have trust. Trust in our agency, which has impressed us every step of the way with their commitment to children, families and upholding the highest ethical standards. Learn how the Cradle has been building families for 90 years in this article.

We have faith that there is a plan for us. A destiny we’ve yet to encounter. A family yet to be formed.

So, ask us how things are going. It lets us know you care. There may not be news, but the process is working. Having supportive family and friends makes the wait more bearable, and for that we are thankful.

Know someone considering making an adoption plan? Here’s our story.



Guilty Movie Pleasures

Time is such a valuable commodity. There is always a project to finish, a room to clean, a book to write, CSA vegetables to decipher and prepare. But every now and then, I have an hour or two at home with just an adorable yellow Labrador for company, and I get to go a little crazy!

And watch romantic comedies. Maybe they have a holiday theme. Maybe they are feature a girl dressing as a boy and playing a sport. OR MAYBE THEY ARE BOTH.

Okay, so I’ve never found both, but I have to believe it exists. Much like unicorns. And Bigfoot.

My guilty pleasure movies aren’t critically acclaimed, but they must have at least two of these criteria:

1) A happy ever after.
2) Chemistry! (Romantic kind)
3) Chemistry! (Science kind. What? I like a good geek-flick.)
4) Former child star.
5) Cringe worthy hijinks or misunderstandings.
6) Musical montage.

Also helpful: Hugh Grant. Not required, but he doesn’t hurt.

A few of my favorite guilty movie pleasures:

Lucky 7

Pre-McDreamy Patrick Dempsey stands in as a wedding date for Father of the Bride’s Kimberly William Paisley.

Leap Year

Amy Adams cross the pond to propose to Adam Scott…but instead falls for scruffy Matthew Goode. (Really, she can’t lose either way in this one. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure.)


When Andi’s twin brother can’t compete in the big, important, only-for-boys motocross race, she cuts her hair into an adorable cut and takes his place!

12 Dates of Christmas

Amy Smart stars in a Christmas Groundhog’s Day meets Saved By the Bell with a nicely grown up  Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

Chalet Girl

Kim Matthews gives up professional skateboarding when her mother is killed in an accident. When she takes a jobs at an elite ski resort, she finds snowboarding…and a whole lot more. (Great chemistry in this one (romantic kind) and Kim succeeds regardless of the relationship. Yay! And some nice surprising characters. A hidden gem in the Instant Queue!)


One of the Guys

“Terry Griffith is about to go where no woman has gone before!”

What are your guilty movie pleasures? I’d like to add some to my list!


Today I Told the Truth

What do you get when a girl named Ryann meets a boy named Stacy in a college marching band? A band-geek marriage full of music, laughter, stories, and, on occasion, confused telemarketers.

Our Adoption Profile

My husband and I are on an adoption waiting list. Life in the pre-adoption limbo land isn’t terrible. It’s an exciting time, full of hope and joyful anticipation. Sure, it’s not easy to make plans. And there are disappointments. But this has been our choice and it will be worth it.

There are times when the wait is difficult. Similar, but different, than life before we were on a waiting list. We’ve been trying to start a family for several years. So, a few years ago, I decided to be selfish.

I stopped going to baby showers.

As happy as I am for family and friends that are growing their families (and I am, in fact, happy for them), I knew it was something I needed to do for myself.

And the other day, I told someone the truth.

“Why can’t you come to the baby shower?” They asked. Not because they don’t understand what we are going through. Just because they wanted us there to share in their excitement.

This time, instead of making up some kind of excuse, the truth slipped out. I surprised even myself.  “Baby showers are hard for us.”

Giving myself the permission to not go to baby showers, to send a gift and our love instead, has improved my mental health. There are times when we should do things that are hard. Things that makes us uncomfortable.

And there times when it is okay to take care of yourself. To be selfish. To be sane. To not feel guilty about knowing your limits and what you need to do for you.

Sometimes, it’s even okay to tell the truth. People won’t always understand, but as long as you are true to yourself, it will be okay.


Stretching My Boundaries

cryI don’t like sad books. No. Strike that. It’s not that I don’t like them. I detest them. I avoid them. I read to escape and to experience something outside my everyday experience. Not that I have a lot of sad days, just enough of them that I’d like to keep some distance, if you know what I mean.

But I know that’s not healthy.

I know that some of the best books I’ve read, some of the books that have touched me the deepest, are those that made me cry. Made me feel. Made me live.

So, I need to stretch my boundaries. Not avoid books that look like they might take me through an emotional wringer.

I read Eleanor and Park.

And I survived.

Then I picked up Gayle Forman’s If I Stay. Even when a car accident happened in the first chapter, I kept going. TO THE END.

It’s like I’m a grownup or something.

Though I’m still avoiding books about adorable dogs getting up in years.

Baby steps.



So I read a book that left me feeling conflicted. I’m keeping the title and author quiet, because I prefer not to post negative reviews (and, before you ask, it is not a book with 50 or Grey in the title). The book I read recently was self published, and, full disclosure, I haven’t read a lot of self published books. I know people who have self published (not this author, however) and I understand the decision. I respect it. It isn’t easy to finish a book, let alone travel down the road of publishing it yourself.

The book I read captivated me. The story would NOT let me go (hence very little sleep this week). It was a romance and aspects of the hero’s personality disturbed me…even if his actions were eventually explained and redeemed. The voice was strong, the plot intense and the humor would catch me by surprise.

But the writing? Another matter. The book was longer than it needed to be and the dialogue distracting (full a’ contractions an’ stuff). The super steamy love scenes read more like a Twister game than anything else. Hand on blue dot, hand off blue dot, etc.

So why am I posting about it? Because as pulled in to the plot as I was, I finished the book feeling sad. The author has published several books and I wish them the best! However, I don’t know that I could recommend it to anyone else. A part of me wants to read the other books in the series, but I won’t because I don’t want to absorb that writing style in my head.

An even bigger part of me was left feeling sad because I could see the bones of the book and how great it could have been with the right editor. Story is important, and that’s what kept me reading. But writing will give the book staying power and, for me, this one did not have it.

See? Conflicted.


Liquid Lies & Literary Lasagna

Recipe from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, p. 210.

So, I made lasagna last weekend. Thank you, thank you. Yes, it was a major achievement in my life. And it was the best lasagna ever made. In this house. By me. Okay, so it was the only lasagna I’ve ever made. But there was something magical about building up the dish layer-by-layer and watching it evolve into carbohydrate heaven while it baked. That, for me, is the beauty of cooking–transforming individual ingredients into something bigger, better, more meaningful. It’s magic.

The ugly side of cooking? Shopping. I mean, really, could they make raisins harder to find? But, that’s another post for another day.

I’ve been meaning to write about Hanna Martine’s excellent debut, Liquid Lies, for awhile now. As a librarian, I booktalk a lot of books–and I love it. For this book, I might say something like, “Oh, you might like Liquid Lies. It’s about a woman from a race of people who can control water and she wants to get promoted in the family business–but then she is kidnapped. Soon her only ally is the man who was paid to capture her–and the one man she can’t resist. Dum dum daah.”

Now, I think I’ll go with “Read this. It’s like literary lasagna.” Sure, you might not that see that in a New York Times review, but maybe you should.

Lasagna is as rich and textured, each bite a perfect combination of its ingredients. The same could be said for this urban fantasy. Martine deftly intertwines complicated characters like Gwen, the woman destined to be a leader for the Elementals (with an arranged marriage and everything) and Reed, a mercenary who keeps a solid wall between his heart and the job. Usually. 

And then there is the world–it’s our world, but not. Gwen’s people, the Ofarians, live amongst the Primaries (that’d be us ordinary-boring-humans) and they are good at keeping secrets, even from their own people. We soon discover another race, the Tedrans, and they also have a story to tell–but which is the truth?

Mix in a little bit of Gwen’s mission in life–which takes on a new and different meaning as her world unravels–and then top it off with a smokin’ hot attraction between Gwen and Reed. Boom. Now you have a book worth savoring. When you’re done, you’ll feel satisfied and a bit wrung out from the journey, in very good way.And, you’ll probably be a little thirsty, too…

Available December 31!

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dara

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

A few days ago I reached into the TBR bag, closed my eyes and pulled about A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare. Don’t get me wrong, the books in the TBR bag–yes, I had to upgrade the pile to a bag–are all ones I want to read. It’s a fine balancing act between TBR books, writing craft books and books that leap of the library shelves and into my arms at the library. (Psst–did you know Tessa Dare is a part-part-part-time librarian? She is!)

I was lucky enough to meet Tessa at the recent Romance Writers of America National Conference and see her win the RITA award in the Regency Historical category. I had read another of her titles from the Stud Club Trilogy and had been impressed by the quirky humor, appealing characters and surprising story lines.

A Night to Surrender is the first in the Spindle Cove series. Susanna Fitch is a take-charge woman who transformed Spindle Cove into a welcome retreat for woman who don’t fit in any where else in society. Whether for their appearance, health or unusual interests. Susanna has created an environment for these woman to grow and explore without the usual limitations of the day–and without the presence of several bachelors.

Until Victor Bramwell comes to town, that is. A recently injured soldier, he is trying to get back to the front lines where he belongs. He’s been charged with raising a volunteer militia to prove he still has what it takes to lead soldiers in war. Unfortunately, men are hard to find in the Spindle Cove area. The few he does find start spoiling Susanna’s idyllic society–and sparks start to fly between her and “Bram”. Soon these sparks turn into more than just attraction and both will need to reevaluate their self images as well as goals in life when faced with their true feelings for each others.

A Night to Surrender was a terrific read, full of humor, sensuality, and unexpected twists along the way. But, don’t take my word for it–read the first chapter here.

The Spindle Cove series continues with the titles below, including A Lady by Midnight that was just released this week. They are already downloaded to my e-reader–just don’t tell my TBR bag. It killed a spider for me last night, and I’d hate to make it an enemy now…

 A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa DareA Lady by Midnight


Bound to Love the Torn Trilogy

My reading tastes fall all over the literary map, but the stories that I love most are the ones that I find myself thinking about after I’ve put the book down. The ones that have scenes that keep coming back to mind at random points throughout the day and scenes that you find yourself reenacting for friends.

Egads, I do reenact scenes from books to friends. Sorry, friends!

One series that I have talked up a lot over the last few months is the Torn Trilogy by Erica O’Rourke, and this isn’t just because I know how awesome Erica is (and she is!) but because the series truly deserves talking about. Maura Fitzgerald wakes up in the hospital at the beginning of the first book, Torn. The incident that puts her in the hospital killed her best friend and Maura “Mo” vows to do whatever she needs to do to avenge her friends death. Mo also discovers that her best friend has been hiding a secret, magical life. So, unmagical Mo decides to pick up where her friend left off and soon finds herself trapped between two worlds and two boys.

Throughout the series Mo learns more secrets about those around her–and more about herself. Where do fate and choice intersect? All of the books in the series captivated me until the wee hours of the morning and I didn’t want to see the series end. In Bound, the final book in the trilogy, Mo struggles to separate her own dreams from others’ expectations. She’s bound to the magic and still feels a responsibility to the memory of her friend, but she has also bound herself to dangerous alliances in order to protect those she loves.

Along with the textured magical world created in the series, I loved watching Mo change and grow. I struggled right along with her in deciding who I liked more, Colin from her life in Chicago or magical Luc from New Orleans. By the time we reached the end, the resolution worked perfectly for me–and also surprised me at a few turns.

An all around wonderful and satisfying read and I can’t wait for Erica’s release next year!

This just in: Erica will be with appearing several amazing YA authors at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL, on Thursday, August 30. Act now and get exclusive content from authors such as Veronica Roth, Erica O’Rourke, Dan Krokos, Susan Dennard and Leigh Bardugo. More info on the event can be found here.


Storm by Brigid Kemmerer

My To Be Read pile is like another person living in our house. Each day, I look over to find it staring at me—taunting me with the rich stories just waiting to be discovered. So, this weekend, I said, “Okay, fine. I won’t clean the house. I won’t write. I won’t cook. I will only read, IF IT WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY.”

The pile took me up on the offer. First up was Brigid Kemmerer’s Storm, from the Elemental Series. I have been following Brigid on twitter for several months, and I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Romance Writers of America Literacy Signing this past July. Now that I read it—in a matter of hours—I can only say this: Go forth and read!

Becca Chandler is a teenager dealing with the typical high school dramas—and some not so typical. Before the story starts, she’s involved in a bad situation with an ex-boyfriend. This escalates into lies that spread like wildfire, leaving her reputation in tatters. She’s leaving the school after a self-defense class one night and spots two guys beating up on a third. Becca’s phone is dead and the parking lot is deserted, so she uses her car to save classmate Chris Merrick.

Chris’ family is no stranger to secrets. Becca soon discovers that the Chris and his brothers are anything but average. Chris can control water—while his brothers control wind, fire, and earth. They struggle to keep their powers under wraps, knowing that if the extent their abilities is discovered, it could spell disaster for them all.

The more time Becca spends with Chris, the more she starts to learn their secrets—and then she is targeted by the same people out for the brothers. Soon, a hunky new boy shows up and seems like everything Becca has ever wanted…but is he?

I couldn’t read this book fast enough. Realistic teen issues blend seamlessly with the troubles that magic can bring into our lives. The relationships between the four brothers was complicated and endearing—and I very much look forward to reading about the other brothers in the family.

Spark, Gabriel’s story, will be released Tuesday, August 28. Thank goodness for holiday weekends!