Why I love banned books

If I had an actual classroom, Banned Books Week would be every week.

And that’s one of the many reasons I am sure I would be fired and I do not teach in public schools! I cannot follow rules, I don’t like paperwork, and I’m all about no testing and letting kids follow their own passion. If a kid asked me if she could read Stephen King instead of Shakespeare, I’d say, “Go for it!” You’ll find the same passion, the same violence, and the same humor, after all. One will just be harder to read.

I read my first banned book when I was about ten. I found a copy of Stephen King’s Cujo on my grandmother’s huge, imposing bookshelf (which is now mine) in her hallway one day and just sat down with it in the dark corner, secretly afraid that the cover would bite my fingers off. Yeah, I like to joke about that being child endangerment—especially since my grandma, my mother, and my fifth grade teacher all knew that I was reading it!—but it was the beginning of a life-long love of not just King, but reading.

I couldn’t get into any of the boring textbooks they’d had us read in school, and though I loved to read at home—my mother taught me before I started school and we read daily together—I didn’t love it this much. I didn’t crave my next book like a drug, I didn’t salivate anticipating an author’s new release like I do now. I have Mr. King and his rabid dog and his tragic, tragic book—I still get so sad when I think about it—and the deaths of all his other darlings to thank for it.

Banned Books Week isn’t just a time to celebrate being nonconformists or sex-crazed, profanity loving fiends; it’s a time to remember how important it is to celebrate and learn from the human experience.  Our literature isn’t meant to be clean, profanity-free, and happy ending-ridden; it’s meant to be dark and horrifying, to reflect ourselves. If we want our literature to be squeaky clean, perhaps we should start with, hmm, outlawing rape and war. Yeah, that should do it.

In the meantime, I will continue treasuring my banned books and seeking further ones to read—as well as defending them because even though this banned status is way cool street cred, it’s also incredibly silly. I’ll ban the news in my home before I’ll ban books.

The Sea of Trolls

Nancy Farmer’s tall tale is one wild ride.

Fantasy lovers will lose themselves for hours in Nancy Farmer’s amazing novel about trolls, Viking sailors, and magic. The Sea of Trolls looks intimidating in its size, but don’t let that fool you; it can easily be finished in one sitting—one very enthralled, involved sitting!

It’s the story about a young man named Jack who lives with his peasant farming family in the British Isles. His life is rather unremarkable—in fact, painful at times, due to a father who doesn’t seem to like him much—until the local bard decides to make him his apprentice. Life soon becomes vivid and wonderful for Jack—until Viking sailors and berserkers from across the sea come to enslave and pillage his village. Soon Jack and his five year old sister are taken captive by these berserkers, leading them on a perilous adventure ripe with magic, suspense, mystery, and creatures.

Things are not always what they seem to be in Farmer’s novels, and if you are new to her you will be utterly delighted in the surprises that await you. Yes, some of them are a bit predictable—it is YA lit after all—but they remain so much fun and so realistic—indeed, even bits of nursery rhymes and nods to other pop culture items can be found throughout the book—that it doesn’t even matter.

My favorite part of the book is when Jack and some of the warriors must venture out to the land of trolls to find a magical well (you see where this is going!) and the adventure that occurs there. Yes, the story is mainly made up of male protagonists (as well as antagonists) but there are some powerful women as well—wise women, wives, and even a young shield maiden whose dream is to die a hero and serve Odin in Valhalla.

There were several other peoples introduced in the book that were barely touched upon, however, and I am sincerely hoping that we will get to visit these tribes once more in detail in Farmer’s follow up novels, of which there are currently two—though the author has expressed interest in a fourth novel. So many bits of real lore and history are included—as well as a few very violent scenes—that you will likely even forget that it’s a YA novel in the first place and set it prominently among the rest of your favorites.

The Sea of Trolls is a perfectly thrilling fantasy that any creature lover will enjoy. If you’re setting up your summer reading list already, be sure to include it.

Best Cincinnati Bookstores


Infamous home to the Reds and the Bengals, Cincinnati is also full of amazing bookstores (outside of your standard-issue chains). The following three bookstores cater to lovers of the written word as a whole as well as certain niches.

Ohio Book Store


Named after its home state, the Ohio Bookstore takes up a whopping five floors, catering to the best-seller junkie and classic book lover alike. Since 1940, this famous Cincinnati book store has been operating a retail section along with a book repair operation for older finds as well as a custom binding service for self-publishers and collectors. Open 6 days a week, you never know what you’ll find in this Cincinnati landmark, and half the fun is the exploration of it.

Joseph-Beth Book Store


Part bookstore, part cafe, Joseph-Beth makes buying books an experience rather than an errand. Just about every week, the store features some kind of event, from readings to sales. In fact, this Saturday (March 24), Joseph-Beth is hosting a Community Appreciation Day with everything from face painting to giveaways. With its knowledgeable staff and wide selection, Joseph-Beth is an outstanding bookstore in Cincinnati.

Blue Manatee


If you’re a parent, you know that for most kids, reading books is just as much about the interaction with their teachers and caregivers as it is the story itself. At the Blue Manatee in Cincinnati, this philosophy is at the core of this children’s bookstore. With a wide selection of classics and current favorites, you and your young one can spend hours perusing the shelves. If you’re looking for kid-friendly activities, the Blue Manatee has everything from story time to children’s yoga!

No matter what your passion, Cincinnati has a bookstore for you!

Getting a Certificate in Writing from the University of Cincinnati

No matter what your job is, knowing how to write (and how to write well) is becoming increasingly important in today’s society. From emails to presentations, a basic understanding of writing makes the difference between professional and, well, not-so-much. Thankfully, the University of Cincinnati offers a writing certificate program to community members and students alike, increasing your employability and overall knowledge.

The only prerequisite for the writing certificate program is completing an English composition series, which is part of most associates and bachelor degrees at any University. The program itself consists of 12 credit hours, including the Professional Writing and Publication course (3 credit hours), and then 9 hours of electives. You can choose three of the following for the latter:

  • Student Newspaper Workshop
  • Creative Writing
  • Copyediting
  • Writing for Children and Teens
  • Journalism
  • Reading and Writing Autobiography
  • Technical Writing
  • Business Communications

Once you complete the program, you will not only increase your writing skills, but also have a great addition to your resume or portfolio. With a variety of course schedules and relatively descent pricing for such a well-known school, the University of Cincinnati writing certificate is a fantastic option for moving forward in your education and career.

The University of Cincinnati is an open admission campus accredited by the NCACS. With a main campus in Batavia, OH as well as Cincinnati, if you live in the area you are likely within a short commute to the classes you want to take.

For further information go to http://www.uc.edu/degreeprograms/Program.aspx?program=34CERT1-WRIT

Book Club Reading List for March

March has arrived, and for many people in the US the mass amounts of rain make it the perfect time of year to curl up with a good book. This month, there are three out there that should be at the top of your to-read list.

Defending Jacob: A Novel by William Landay

When assistant district attorney Andy Barber’s teenage son is charged with murdering a peer, Barber is faced with the dreaded task of protecting his child while being bombarded with incriminating evidence. Set in a small New England town, this drama surrounding a family crisis takes a cold, hard look at the nature of parents, children, and humanity as a whole. Award-winning author William Landay does not disappoint.

Kill Shot by Vince Flynn

For those who love government conspiracies, action and anything involving the CIA, bestselling author Vince Flynn has a gem for you. This story follows CIA agent Mitch Rapp as he works to avenge the slaughter of hundreds, only to put himself in a life-threatening situation of his own. When the CIA and US government abandon him, Rapp is left to fight for his life.

The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

The award-winning, bestselling author who redefined vampires and witches is back to her old self with The Wolf Gift. After a foray into Christian literature, Anne Rice is now doing what she does best, creating an artistic, realistic and all-encompassing story surrounding werewolves. Set in present-day California, this adventure / love story / horror novel hits all the right places, and will having you reading well into the night. Probably with a light on.

Top Guides to Cincinnati

Cincinnati, the third largest city in the state of Ohio, is home to unique flavors and amazing attractions. A quality guide to this beautiful waterfront city can be helpful for visitors and residents alike. The following are the most useful, and interesting, guides to the Queen city!

Adventures Around Cincinnati

Penned by Laura Hoevener and Terri Weeks, this guide provides detailed information on nearly 90 different kid-friendly destinations, all within a two hour drive of Cincinnati. Keeping parents in mind, this guide provides essential information such as stroller-friendliness, age recommendations and practical advice. With this guide to Cincinnati, most of the planning is done for you: you simply need to pack up the car and go!

Day Trips from Cincinnati: Getaway Ideas for the Local Traveler

Sacha DeVroomen and Felix Winternitz have really outdone themselves with the eighth edition of this popular guide to Cincinnati. Geared towards those that wake up one morning aching for a spontaneous adventure, Day Trips lists hundreds of exciting things to do, see and discover, often without purchasing anything other than gas. For visitors, this guide can be a great way to explore the true spirit of Cincinnati outside of tourist destinations. For Cincinnatians, Day Trips can help you discover what’s hiding in your own backyard. From the best road stands to medieval dungeons and renaissance fairs, there is something for everyone!

Cincinnati Haunted Handbook

Ever wonder where all the ghosts hang out in Cincinnati? Jeff Morris has complied all of the top haunted spots in the Queen City. From haunted bridges to full-blown, ghost infested buildings, this detailed guide provides directions, historical information and timelines of paranormal activity. And for many spots, Halloween isn’t the best time to go: Morris gives details on the best way to see paranormal activity in person depending on the location. Visit if you dare!

Developing Questions to Start a Discussion

Outside of reading (which is almost always fun) and having a chance to get together with like-minded individuals, a book club is all about discussing what you are reading. For many groups, coming up with discussion prompts or questions can make the discussion go more smoothly. Unlike school, you most certainly do not have to stick to these points; however, they can make starting a lively conversation about your latest read easier.

Ideas for General Questions

The following questions can typically be used for just about any book, or modified to suit the title:

  1. What do you feel the main purpose of the story was?
  2. Did you enjoy the book? Where you impressed or disappointed? Why?
  3. How realistic where the characters, and did any of them appeal to you on a personal level?
  4. Would you have made the same decision(s) as the protagonist?
  5. Can you understand where the antagonist(s) was/were coming from?
  6. How do you feel about the ending?
  7. Would you recommend the book to other readers, friends or family members?

Specific Questions for Each Book

Hopefully, the book your group reads is so insightful / interesting / provocative that it warrants its own questions, rather than sticking to generic ones. Coming up with these questions, however, can be tricky. Checking out the author or publisher’s site for book club questions specific to the title you’re reading can be helpful: most include at least two or three, while others actually break questions down by chapter. Looking into the author may also lead somewhere, especially if the story was based off of his or her life.

Book Club Reading List for February

Thousands of books come out every month making it difficult to choose the next item on your reading list. So here’s a starting point: the following three books have received excellent reviews from professionals and book-club readers like you. Some are new, some are old and one is by an author who grew up right in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

One of the greatest love stories of all time was between one of the greatest authors of all time and his wife: Earnest and Hadley Hemmingway. In 1920, Hadley met Ernest, who proceeded to sweep her off of her feet and into a whirlwind courtship, wedding and life. Despite their obvious love for each other, The Paris Wife details just exactly how sometimes love is not enough, something that many of us would rather not learn. Heartbreaking and poignant, this story is sure to elicit lively discussions and deep thought. 

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

From the author of the famous novel Seabiscuit comes Unbroken, the story of a young lieutenant in the Air Force during the Second World Work. Zamperini started life as a juvenile delinquent turned stellar athlete, and then put all of his effort into becoming a pilot in the United States Military. Once his plane crashes, he embarks on one of the most amazing odysseys in the 20th century. With rich and vivid details, this novel will have you and your group questioning just how far a person can go to survive.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

If you’re a stickler for history and would like to read something by an author who graduated from Seven Hills School right in Cincinnati, American Wife is sure to please. Loosely based on the life of Laura Bush and her relationship with the President, this tale follows Alice Blackwell from high school to her time as first lady of the United States.

Starting a Book Club in Cincinnati

Starting a book club is just about the same everywhere you go: with some planning and a whole lot of advertising, you can put together a group of people that can share and discuss everything from the classics to the hottest best sellers.

In most cases, it’s next to impossible to organize a book club from scratch. You’ll want to start with two to three people that you already know, as this is generally more attractive to potential members. Putting notices up on craigslist, cincinnati.com or in your local paper advertising the book club is also a great idea.

While all of the normal advertising venues are good places to start, your local library may have some resources as well. Cincinnati, and the towns surrounding it, is well-known for its large and well-stocked public library system. Most will let you put up a notice on their bulletin board and website, and some even have a running book list that they can add your club to. This allows people seeking a book club to find one in their area by simply looking through the Library’s list.

Setting up a regular meeting time and ground rules for the club once you get a group together will generally determine whether or not your book club fails or flourishes. Deciding as a group how the club will be run, where and when it will meet, and how new members are found and invited in the beginning will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page (pun intended).

When it comes to a meeting place, many book clubs move between member’s houses. However, the city of Cincinnati has a host of restaurants, bistros and book stores that can make excellent spots to get together. The Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Madison Road sells an array of books and has a bistro inside the store that is well known for its wine selection (a perfect way to loosen up a conversation).

In the warmer months, you can host meetings outdoors at one of Cincinnati’s beautiful parks. The possibilities are endless, and the inspiration immeasurable. Just remember, the location you meet at will have a large impact on the tone and feel of your book club, so plan accordingly!