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Books to Be Thankful for in 2015

The Writers & Books staff has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but literature is definitely high on our list! A few of us looked back on our reads from 2015 and compiled a line-up of books that made our year a little more interesting! Enjoy!

This summer I read Wait Till Next Year, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a memoir about growing up a baseball fan in New York City. Usually writing missives on, for instance, the Founding Fathers, this book is a much more personal story about her own love of baseball, and how the sport was (and still is) interwoven into her relationships with family members and friends. For any baseball fans out there, I highly recommend it. It doesn’t matter if you were never a NY Dodgers fan, which she staunchly was (trust me, as a Yankees fan, I know)… the book is a love story to the 50s and 60s, to a way of life, and to a national pastime. Nostalgia pulled heavily on me for this one – my dad grew up near NYC, also a big baseball fan, so many of her stories rang familiar.

25308876I also read Church of Marvels, by Leslie Parry, which I fell in love with. The book surfaced during Writers & Books’ staff meetings on picking our upcoming Debut Novel Series authors, as Parry is a debut novelist, and while we didn’t end up choosing it, it was one of my favorites. Fun and intriguing, it reminded me of another favorite of mine, The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). Set in turn-of-the-century NYC, the city is as much a character as the players themselves, and I loved the beautiful descriptions that set the scene as much as I loved the mystery and action of the plot itself!

Lastly, this year the 3rd book in the Miss Peregrine series came out, which means I first re-read books one and two, and then dove into the third. If you’re not familiar, they are YA books entitled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City, and Library of Souls. The books are haunting… and a little scary, says my best friend… but I just found them spooky, in a perfect-for-Halloween-reading kind of way!

-Tate DeCaro

Between reading books for W&B, and my book club “Lit Chicks”, it was difficult to narrow it down to a couple books for this blog.   My all time favorite American classic novel is “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.   I like her writing style about a very important issue in our culture, and through a young protagonist’s viewpoint is quite thought provoking.  Atticus Finch is the white attorney who represents an African American man accused of raping a young white woman.  It takes place in Alabama in the 1930’s, and gives the reader the opportunity to explore the civil rights and racism in the south during this period of time.  The movie starring Gregory Peck is very well done, and worth watching, and it really captures the essence of the novel.

My other favorite book was “What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty that my book club read, and we all enjoyed it!  Alice is a 39 year old woman who falls down in her exercise class, and hits her head. By doing so, she loses 10 years of her life – she thinks she’s 29, newly pregnant, and very much in love with her husband, while in reality she’s 39, has 3 children, and is in the process of a nasty divorce.  It’s a “time-travel” book, and it takes you for quite a ride.  Moriarty is an excellent writer, and it’s a very gripping novel.

-Kathy Pottetti


The Cuckoo’s Calling was one of my favorite reads of 2015. It initially attracted me because it’s written by J.K. Rowling under the pen name Robert Galbraith. I am a crazy Harry Potter fan, and I had read The Casual Vacancy in the past, so I decided it was finally time to undertake this mystery novel. The story about the death of an internationally-known supermodel did not disappoint! The characters were rich and detailed, and the world Rowling created drew me in immediately. I am especially thankful for this book because it made me think and inspired me to make progress with my own novel!

 I also re-read one of my favorite childhood books, Life Expectancy. I’m not sure why I chose this Dean Koontz novel at the age of twelve, but I loved it and read it multiple times throughout the years. I picked it up this year for the first time in a long time, and it was refreshing and interesting to read it as an adult. The dry sense of humor, complicated character relationships, and the thrilling unraveling of Jimmy Tock’s wild life will always resonate with me.

-Carly Allen

I am most often thankful for the books I read during my childhood and while growing up, and of course Harry Potter tops the list there. I have always been a fan of fantasy and other worldly books, such as the Hunger Games and the Hobbit. They have helped to grow my imagination and been so fun to read again over the years. It’s been wonderful to be able to come back to them and find them just as engaging as they always were. I am thankful for the way they have always been a part of my life, and how they have made reading such an important activity for me!

-Sarah Brown

I’m thankful for Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby. She frames the slow erasure of her mother’s mind by Alzheimers in discursive nesting-doll essays that take us through meditations on fairy tales, memory, ice, breath, Frankenstein, the shifting empathy of Che Guevara, and moths that drink the tears of sleeping birds. Solnit has such a precise but wandering mind that it’s a joy to follow her tangents that circumscribe how we use stories to locate ourselves in the world. 

-Dan Herd

While choosing books for one of W&B’s community read programs, I picked up Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. This isn’t a book I would read. I have no real interest in war time books (The Things They Carried being an exception), but it was highly recommend by two coworkers whose book opinions I hold in high regard, so I took it home.


Meet Billy Lynn, a member of the Bravo Squad unit fighting in Iraq. After a particularly dangerous and deadly battle, Billy and seven other members of the squad return home for a government organized “Victory Tour” aimed at boosting public support of the war. Billy takes us on a walk; through his memories before he was deployed, to interactions with those he left behind during brief visits on the tour, building up to the squads arrival at the Dallas Cowboys (boo) game being played in their honor.

This is a book about having your entire view of the world put on its head. Though I can not empathize with what Billy is going through, it certainly made me think and analyze how I feel about certain issues; everything from the amount of money spent on NFL football teams for our entertainment to wars fought on other soil for our sake.

Thanks for the recommendations Karen & Dan.

-Chris Fanning

What books are you thankful for in 2015? Let us know!

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On Gratitude and Re-Reading Harry Potter

The following blog post was written by Sally Bittner Bonn, Director of Youth Education at Writers & Books.


“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

—Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


I spent the summer re-reading the Harry Potter books. All 4,100 pages. I had decided that because we were offering a SummerWrite Hogwarts Academy class that would completely take over Writers & Books for an entire week, with around 60 devoted Harry Potter fans ranging in age from 8-16—and during which I would be making several appearances as Minerva McGonagall—I should probably brush up by re-reading the first book, since it had been many years. But once I finished the first book, I immediately picked up the second. And when I finished that I opened the third. I gained momentum as I went, and my re-reading of Harry Potter became an unstoppable force, of which I enjoyed every minute.

I was surprised—and quite pleased—at how much I had forgotten, because I was able to make many discoveries, as if for the first time. I had completely forgotten everything that happened once Harry entered the chamber of secrets. I had somehow even forgotten the whole mystery surrounding Mad-Eye Moody.

I am a slow reader, and therefore never re-read books. I had actually reread Harry Potter books 1-4 before the 5th came out, so the fact that this was go-round number three with the first four is not unremarkable. Couple the fact that I am a slow reader with the fact that I am a parent of a young child—a child who has more needs than most of his peers—and with the fact that I run the youth programs at Writers & Books, and with the fact that I am a writer myself, and my reading life can look pretty dull. Many nights I fall into bed, pry open a book, read a couple paragraphs, or if I am lucky, read a couple pages, and I am out.

But not so with Harry Potter. I would find every free minute I could for reading. Waiting for my son’s bus to arrive home in the next five minutes? I was reading. Eating breakfast? I was reading. Sautéing onions? I held the wooden spoon in one hand stirring distractedly and with the other hand held the book open to my page as it lay on the counter. I’d open the book at every moment I had the chance and think just one more page, which would turn into two, and then ten and then several chapters. I found myself saying to my son, more frequently than usual, “Just a second, honey.” I almost felt guilty but decided that a mother as role mode who was reading constantly is not necessarily a bad thing. I would get into bed as early as possible at night and sometimes read for hours.

I originally started reading the Harry Potter books after the first three had been published. As the last four were released (they all came out before we had our son) my husband and I would take turns reading them. We would buy one copy only—as soon as it came out—and then make the near-impossible decision of which of us would get to go first. Once we even decided to alternate chapters—I would read a chapter, he would read a chapter. Except it would always turn out with one of us saying, “Oops, sorry I read 3 chapters instead of just one. Can you hurry up and catch up?!” We only did that for one book and needless to say it wasn’t the best system. It worked out better when one of us would read the book in its entirety and then pass it to the other. We had an agreement that whomever was reading the book was exempt from all household responsibilities: cooking, cleaning, laundry, carrying on conversation during mealtimes… Whichever one of us was reading, we read and read. We plowed through chapters and would usually devour the 600-900 pages in a week’s time. It was like a holiday for us when each book came out.

I was working part-time at Borders when the 5th book came out and I worked the midnight release party. All things considered it was a relatively mellow night. The best part of it was that our manager bought the book for all the staff who worked late that night.

I’ve never seen the movies. On principle. For one, I didn’t want to see someone else’s interpretation of the characters, the places. I wanted to keep my own vivid pictures in my mind alive (of course it is pretty much impossible to completely avoid coming across images from the films at this point in time). Second of all, and almost more importantly to me, the fact that a book series could capture the attention and imagination of so many people of all ages across the globe was so inspiring to me, I didn’t want to let a movie take over that attention. Not that I could stop the millions from watching the films, but I would be one dissenter, quietly boycotting the movies for myself. My son is seven, and when he is ready (AFTER he has read the books of course), if he wants to see the films, I imagine I will watch them with him. I have been so adamant with our son that when he is ready for the books we will read them to him, versus him reading them on his own, that I am afraid that out of pure defiance he will refuse. I so want us to read the books with him, that I have vowed to myself to stop speaking about it!

One of the things I find so remarkable about these books is the fact that they place the ordinary and the extraordinary side by side. Muggles and wizards. There is magic happening all the time, and the muggles don’t even know it. What if there is some truth to that? That magic is happening all around us all the time and we have no idea. The tales are spun so expertly that it is as if we get to actually enter them. We are right there as Harry takes off on the broom the first time, and each time after. We are there having tea and politely declining cauldron cakes in Hagrid’s cabin. We are there at number 4 Privet Drive, as our relatives infuriate us, as we win silent battles with them. The books give us permission to exit our own reality and enter another’s, as if we were diving right into the Pensieve.

These books are escape, yes, but they are filled with wisdoms that connect the magical world to our own muggle existence. We find our own Dumbledores to revere. We remember Neville’s past when we are unsure about someone else’s behavior. We think of Sirius when we might at first fear someone. And we learn to be more compassionate human beings. We memorize latin spells. We eat candy with funny names. And we remember to laugh, thanks to Fred and George, because in the most grave times, laughter can be the best medicine.

I am grateful for this additional journey through the world of Harry Potter, visits to Hogwarts and the Forbidden Forest, encounters with Luna and the Weasleys of course. I am also grateful because rereading Harry Potter has made me notice little moments where I can make more room in my life for reading. I might think I have nearly no time at all, but I have learned I can sneak moments in, to delve into the fictional world of other characters, to visit new places, to gather new perspectives, to make new friends, all through the pages of a book. Now that’s what I call magic.

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Guest blog – Debut Novelist Week in Rochester

 Rochester Jewish Book Festival and Writers & Books are bringing debut novelists to town this week for a series of events.

Lauren Acampora, whose book The Wonder Garden has been called “deliciously creepy and masterfully choreographed,” will kick off the 2015-16 season of Writers & Books’ Debut Novel Series on Thursday.

Her events at Writers & Books, 740 University  Avenue, include a publishing forum at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (no charge); a public reading and book signing  at 7:30 p.m. Friday ($8 members, $10 general public) and a master class from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday ($35 members / $40 general  public).  Info at or 473-2590.

At noon on Friday, Jessamyn Hope and Sigal Samuel will be in conversation at the annual Fiction Panel Luncheon of the Lane Dworkin Rochester Jewish Book Festival, now in its 23rd year. The luncheon and the remaining festival events take place at the JCC, 1200 Edgewood Avenue. Advance tickets are $20 members, $25 general public and available at the JCC (461-2000) and




Hope’s novel Safekeepingabout a young addict who hopes to redress a past crime by finding the woman his grandfather once loved and giving her a priceless family heirloom — earned the No. 2 spot on Buzzfeed’s recent list of “53 Books You Won’t Be Able to Put Down.” The Boston Globe put Safekeeping on its list of 2015 Summer Reads.




Samuel’s The Mystics of Mile End, explores religion, science, chaos, order, love, grief — and, of course, the pathways to meaning in life, as three relatives narrate a single story about their life in the Mile End section of Montreal. Sigal’s novel is “full of charm and heart,” one reviewer said, and takes up “enormous questions … with both profound intelligence and galloping humor.”



Written by Ellen Comisar, Festival Chair of The Lane Dworkin Jewish Book Festival

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Two Brave Staff Members Tackle NaNoWriMo


Welcome to November! Snow is beginning to brew on the horizon, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are fast approaching. It’s a hectic month for all, but some fearlessly dare to make it even more chaotic. November is also National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. Many brave writers take on the challenge of writing a total of 50,000 words—that’s about 1,667 words a day, for thirty days! Here at Writers & Books, we love supporting those writers who take on this intense task, especially when two of them are our very own staff! Sarah Brown, our Literary Operations Fellow, and Emma Lynge, part of our front desk staff, have both decided to be part of NaNoWriMo.

They’ve spared a few minutes from their frantic writing to answer a few questions about their journey so far!


Have you ever done NaNoWriMo before?

Sarah: Nope! I’m a first timer. In the past I’ve always been too busy with school to sit down and write over 1600 words a day for the entire month, but now that I’ve graduated I decided that this was the year to jump on board. I started the month without a single idea or concept planned out but felt really up to the challenge to make something happen during the month.

Emma: I’ve done NaNoWriMo in some capacity every year since 2011—although I almost always come to the table with a project that I’ve previously worked on and want to finish. In some respects that makes me a big fat cheater, but I’ve always thought that NaNoWriMo is more about getting people to actually sit down and write than rules-lawyering. In fact, my novel this year is actually the same novel I worked on in November of 2013, which was also the only year that I came into the month starting a novel from scratch.


Does the fast-paced, constant daily writing style work for you?

Sarah: Yes and no. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t really struggled with it at times, taking hours and hours a day to reach my goal word count. Despite that, I’ve met or surpassed the 1600 words every day so far! It’s early in the month of course, but I’m hoping it will only get easier once writing this much becomes a real part of my daily routine. Luckily I have a great support system of people who are really encouraging me to write and keep at it! Overall, I’d say it works for me in the sense that I’m producing a lot of material, which is sometimes all you can ask for as a writer.

Emma: I think NaNoWriMo is good for writers because it gets us back into the swing of writing every day, even when we might not feel like writing. I don’t know if I could keep up writing this much every day, all the time, but I think it’s important to break the idea that real writers only write when inspiration strikes. It’s a creative endeavor, but it’s also hard work, and it’s important to develop that work ethic.


What time of day do you write best?

Sarah: Anytime when I have at least a few uninterrupted hours in a row. I tend to be a night owl, because there’s less to distract me, but that’s not really easy to do when I have to work in the morning. So it usually turns out being the late afternoon into the evening. Or really whenever I can!

Emma: Any time of the day except the morning. Other than that, I’m all over the place! Usually most of the words get written in the late afternoon.


What’s your strategy?

Sarah: I’m relying on my stubbornness to get me through the month. I don’t let myself stop writing for the day until I’ve written at least 1600 words. Some people write less during the week and more on the weekends, but I just know I’ll get stressed if I get behind. I am determined to finish, and that somehow has become my strategy. It’s working well so far!

Emma: Well, I initially set my wordcount-per-day at a slightly higher limit of 2,000 so I could give myself a couple of safety days towards the end of the month, but that’s been surprisingly difficult to keep up with! I usually try to write as much as I can past the 1,500 daily minimum. At this point I’m also involved in revising what I’ve already written from 2013—so even though I came into the month with 43,000 words down, I’ll still keep just as busy as everyone else!


Does your novel have a title yet?

Sarah: Ha! It doesn’t even really have a plot yet. Nor do I know my main character’s first name. When I said I came to the table with nothing, I really meant it.

Emma: It does indeed! It’s called “The Midnight Game.”


Can you tell us a bit of what it’s about?

Sarah: The protagonist is a photographer, a really devoted single father, and an extremely eccentric human being. He’s really quirky and fun to write because anything weird can happen and it’s extremely fine with him. It’s set in a little town, and the neighborhood and neighbors in general are going to play an important role I think. Like I said, I don’t have a ton decided for certain yet, but I definitely have some ideas I’m playing around with and a picture of where I want things to end.

Emma: “The Midnight Game” is a mystery novel set in a small, sleepy town in Upstate NY. The main protagonist, a sixteen year old girl named Ren Hatcher, is a self-proclaimed daredevil and thrill seeker who stumbles upon something bigger than she can possibly imagine, and in turn learns a few things about the uncertainty that comes with growing up. Meanwhile, the life of a cheerful real estate agent named Frederick Reed is turned upside down—ever since coming into contact with the abandoned house at the edge of town, he has been losing time, waking up in strange places, and experiencing nightmares—or are they memories? It’s ultimately a spooky story about the things that really happen in a small town when the lights go out.


What’s your biggest writing distraction?

Sarah: Probably music, honestly. Sometimes, music is awesome and helps me focus really well and get a lot done. Other times, it distracts me and I want to sing along and then I don’t get anything done. I’ve tried all types of music too, and it’s always the same story.

Emma: Definitely Facebook, tumblr, and other social media. Luckily I installed some anti-procrastination extensions on my browser, so it limits the amount of time I can spend on those websites per day. Other than that, it would have to be my dog. It’s hard to write when an 80-pound yellow lab puppy wants to climb onto your lap!


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Upcoming Events at Writers & Books

The Writers & Books staff has collaborated to create an exciting list of events to keep you up to date this November!

The Big Pencil Awards is an opportunity to honor those individuals who have made significant contributions to the Rochester literary community. Join us on Saturday, November 14 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. The evening will begin with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, proceed with the presentation of awards, and conclude with fine teas, coffees, and desserts.

For more information:

Lauren Acampora, Debut Novel Series 2015

Lauren Acampora

November 16th, 7:00 PM- Reading Seminar led by Karen vanMeenen. Free

November 19th

12:10 PM – Reading at Nazareth College in the Golisano Academic Center (GAC) room 38. Free.

5:30 PM – A Novel Evening with Lauren Acampora – Join Lauren Acampora along with Writers & Books staff and board members for a cocktail reception with hors d’oeuvres & desserts at HBT Architects. $50 per person.

7:30 PM – Publishing Forum – Lauren Acampora will hold a candid discussion about the process of publishing her first novel. Learn about the ins and outs of publishing, and the often unusual path it takes for a book to go from the desktop to a book on your shelf. Free, but space is limited so reserve your spot today.

November 20th 7:30 PM – Public Reading & Book Signing – Hear Lauren Acampora read passages from her “dark and brilliant” debut novel. Book signing and reception afterwards. $8 members / $10 general public

November 21st – Master Class -Are you an aspiring writer? This is your chance to work closely with Lauren Acampora. The Master Class is a great opportunity to work with an exciting new voice. $35 members / $40 general public

For more information:

Gell Center

Writers & Books Gell Center of the Finger Lakes is winding down its programs, events and rentals prior to closing for the winter months from December 2015 – March 2016.

Wide Open Mic on Thursday will be the last program of the season. This will take place November 12th from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Hosts Edgar Brown & DJ Kitzel, both avid fans of the Gell Center, have a terrific evening lined up! The theme is Gratitude Storytelling and Pot Luck Dinner Night, which is free and open to the public! Here’s the Gell Center address: 6581 West Hollow Rd. Naples, NY 14512



Youth Events

Breathing Fire Teen Poetry Slam is off to a great start, with four slams under our belts already! This is a unique opportunity for teens to share their poetry and compete for a spot on the teen slam team that will represent Rochester in national competition next summer! Twice a month we meet at the cozy and artsy Press Coffee at 480 E Main Street downtown near the Y and Eastman. Rochester’s own Roc Bottom slam team—our local adult slam team hosts the youth slam. They create an engaging and welcoming atmosphere for the FREE writing workshop (what teen writer can resist that?!), the open mic, and the slam. All teen writers are welcome—slam poets or not! Come write, listen, and maybe even take a spot at the mic yourself!

Upcoming dates:

November 11 & 18, December 9 & 16

6 pm Writing workshop, 7 pm open mic, 7:20 pm slam

For more information:

And please like our Facebook page and help spread the word!

Mike Jr.: The 18 & Under Open Mic is a brand-new program to Writers & Books, hosted by the enthusiastic Julie Donofrio, who is being honored with the Writers & Books Big Pencil Award for a Teacher of Youth! All students, grades 4-12 are welcome to come read poetry, perform comedy, music, improv, or any other kind of live performance! Julie makes this a truly unique open mic by incorporating improv games throughout the evening for all who want to participate. Come join a community of creatives every first Thursday of the month at Writers & Books.

Next Mike Jr.: Thursday, November 5, 7 pm
For more information:

We hope to see you this soon!