Author Suzanne Lilly’s blog

Suzanne Lilly2013_THThanks for stopping by my blog, Suzanne Lilly blogging as the TeacherWriter.  I’m a teacher, an author, and an avid reader. I mostly blog about books I’ve read or teaching and writing, but occasionally something else sneaks onto the screen.

On social media, you’ll find me as Suzanne Lilly. So if you’re looking for the TeacherWriter, on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, here are the places I spend the most time:

Oh, and the person blogging as Suzanne Lilly on a blogspot? Yeah, that’s not me. I’m just letting you know.

Sign up for my occasional newsletter to win prizes and find out about my new releases before anyone else. One subscriber is chosen to win a $25 gift card each time the newsletter comes out.

You can also drop me a line through my contact page. I’d love to hear from you!


The Girl on a Train is a fast thrill ride

Girl on a Train coverWhat a ride! I couldn’t get off this train until I finished the entire story in one sitting. Paula Hawkins is a master at telling a story and diverting attention from the real crime and criminal.

My book club decided to read this book, and the hype about it is true. Paula Hawkins conjures the spirit of Hitchcock in this tale.

This psychological thriller is told from the viewpoints of three women, none of whom are reliable. The reader is left to piece together clues. Clues which are as unreliable as the narrators.

Rachel is an alcoholic, unemployed, divorced, young woman who rides a train to and from London each day, in an attempt to fool her flatmate into thinking she still has a job.

Anna is the woman who married Rachel’s ex-husband Tom and had his child. Anna and Tom live in a house Rachel passes by each day as she rides the train. Anna comes across as a stable, loving wife and mother, but as her story progresses, things get a little bit…weird.

Megan is a woman who has faced major tragedies in her life. She’s a bit nomadic, and has been a runaway, a waitress, owned an art gallery, and is now unemployed. Rachel also watches Megan each day as she passes by on the train.

As these women’s stories unfold, they are so entangled that it’s hard to tell what’s true and what’s imagined. It’s up to the reader to try and work through all the knots, and discern what’s to be believed and what’s to be tossed.

The story is fast paced, and I absolutely could not put it down until I read the entire thing in one sitting. In the end, I was taken by surprise, but it all made sense. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a psychological thriller.

If you’re a writer, this is a perfect book to study how to develop authentic characters, and how to develop a good mystery.

The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli is a written work of art

The Gondola Maker

Don’t you just love it when you come across a book that you want to read again and again? This happened to me with Laura Morelli’s The Gondola Maker. As soon as I read the ending, I went back and reread the beginning and started over.

I came across this book through one of those ubiquitous recommendations on Amazon. It seemed a good recommendation, so I added it to my TBR wish list. A couple of weeks later, I went to Laura Morelli’s website. I like to find out a bit about the authors whose books I choose to read. She’s an art historian and an expert on Italy. I love all things Italian, so I subscribed to her newsletter.

Shortly before Christmas, she sent an offer of receiving  a signed paperback copy of The Gondola Maker for only the cost of postage. “Absolutely!” I said. “Sign me up!”

When I read a novel, if I really, really, love it, I slow down in my reading, turning each word over in my mind’s eye, delighting in turns of phrase and prose, sometimes rereading sections before moving forward. I read The Gondola Maker slowly, stretching out every stroke of the oar, floating through the Venetian waters in my mind.

The sights, the smells, the senses that Laura Morelli evokes in her book bring the world of Venice in the 1500s to life. The art and craft of the gondola is turned into a living thing in the author’s hands, taught and passed down from one generation after another. Watch the TedEd video Laura made about gondolas and their history.


Yet, what if someone decided to take a different path than the one ordained through his family history?

This is the story of Luca Vianello, a young man witnessing the burning of a beautifully handmade gondola in the opening scenes of the book. When tragedy strikes Luca’s family, he runs. He runs as far away from his family as he can get, changing his name and identity. He meets a woman so far out of his reach, he’s a fool to even imagine he might ever be able to have a future with her. He has a stroke of luck that brings him into touch with his past and allows him to engage in his passion and talent in boat making. He finds out that we all make mistakes, but we don’t have to let our mistakes ruin us.

The story travels a circular route through the canals of Venice, somehow ending where it began. It has just the right amount of tension to pull you through the waters and the art of the era without making you feel rushed.

I encourage you to add this book to your collection. Then pull up a comfortable chair with soft cushions, and lean back in your own personal felze to enjoy the ride with The Gondola Maker.

About Laura Morelli

Laura Morelli, author photoLaura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media. Recently her art history lesson, “What’s the difference between art and craft?” was produced and distributed by TED-Ed.

Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at Northeastern University, Merrimack College, St. Joseph College, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Laura has lived in five countries, including four years in Italy and four years in France.

Laura Morelli is the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, andMade in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker, a historical coming-of-age story about the heir to a gondola boatyard in 16th-century Venice, is her first work of fiction.


Want to Be a “Success”? Learn to Be an Outlaster


Kristen Lamb always has meaningful posts, and this is no exception. This New Year’s post will help you set priorities. Been there, experienced that, kept on writing! You can do it too!

Originally posted on Kristen Lamb's Blog:

Happy New Year! 2015 is now here and it is up to us what we will do with the time each of us is allotted. We all have heard the saying, “DaVinci had the same 7 days and 24 hours.” I would actually make a different point. Folks like DaVinci, Mozart, Shakespeare actually had LESS time.

There was no electric lighting and pulling all-nighters was a good way to go blind by candlelight. Thus, I’d say the difference is that these artists lived intentionally.

We all want to know the secret to “success.” First of all, I am going to add a caveat. “Success” is a very personal thing. What is “success” for you isn’t “success” for me. Yet, study after study shows that people who write down their goals are far more likely to reach them.


We have forced our minds to have a Mission Statement and our…

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The Ambivalent Memoirist by Sandra Hurtes

Today I’m featuring Sandra Hurtes, author of The Ambivalent Memoirist. She’s a talented wordsmith with an interesting life story to tell. She’s mesmerized me with her words, and I’m happy to share a bit of her story with you. She’s both a knitter and an author, so I asked her to compare the two processes. Read on, and you’ll fall in love with her writing, too.

Ambivalent Memoirist Cover

TeacherWriter: It is said that knitting is a healing art. It’s also said that writing can be part of a healing process. Can you compare and contrast the effects of knitting and writing in your own personal life journey?

Sandra Hurtes:      In the mid 1980s, I worked at three yarn stores around Manhattan simultaneously.  On the Upper East Side I wrote patterns; on the Upper West Side I sold the yarns that would reproduce the newest Calvin Klein; in Midtown I catered to the customers who ran in for a few minutes during lunch or between business meetings, briefcase in one hand, knitting bag in the other.  Late at night, finally having a chance to pick up my own needles, I sat on the edge of my bed unable to stop the mantra of “just one more row” from going round in my brain. I fell asleep to patterns imprinted into my eyelids.

In the hours between my jobs and bedtime—6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.—I went to college. At 30, I was an older student, desperate to be a college grad. I wanted to be like my friends; they were educated and professional, worked as teachers, speech therapists, social workers. A few were out in the business world as film producers, editors, writers. But I’d been raised to work as a secretary after high school, and that was the path I took. That is, until I passed a trendy, in a 1980s-fringed-poncho sort of way, yarn store with a “Help Wanted” sign in the window.

I was looking for a job; but using the skill my mother had passed on to me when I was a child wasn’t what I had in mind. If I took such a job, would that mean I was moving backward not forward? Would I be able to pay my bills? I went in the store, gazed at the cubbies filled with yarns in every shade of red, blue, green, brown I could imagine. I walked through a film of angora and cashmere hairs floating through the air. My concerns faded. I found the store owner and talked up my knitting prowess. I got the job. That night I wrote in my journal. “I’m no longer a secretary.”

For the three-and-a-half hours I attended classes, I studied psychology, philosophy, and social science. I read Freud, Nietzsche, Marx.  They were creative thinkers with complex theories about the mind and social ideals.  All the while, I observed my knitting process. I liked turning out sweaters on thick needles with bulky yarns. I didn’t undo mistakes telling myself dropped stitches gave my work personality. But I knew that I was lying to myself. I needed the immediate gratification of products, as if each filled a hole inside of me.

One day, while working on a difficult pattern, my mistakes took me too far astray; I had to start over. The first row I ripped out was painful, as I thought of the lost hours of work. I began anew, carefully paying attention to yarn-overs and cables. My sweater took several weeks to finish. I was proud of the hard work I’d put in to making that sweater; I can still see the delicate silver-grey lattice pattern.

Through that sweater, I learned the value of quality versus quantity. I learned that no work is wasted and mistakes are needed in order to move to the next level. I wrote in my journal, “Knitting helps me to grow.” I was intellectually gratified by my school texts; but they didn’t teach me as much as knitting did about how to live.

I graduated from college. I found an entry level editorial job in publishing and quit my knitting gigs. I accomplished what I had set out to do. I had my college degree. I had a “real” job. I still knit (of course) and that gratified my creative yearnings. Working with words as an editor gratified me as school had; I was intellectually fulfilled.

I discovered at my publishing job that I had a way with words. I wrote an article for an in-house magazine and took a writing class. Eventually I became as passionate about writing as I had been about knitting. My essays were getting published in national newspapers. When I wrote, I shook as if something foreign had entered me. I was scared of the power words had over me. I was joyously happy. Even when I cried in front of the keyboard. Especially when I cried.

Knitting took on a very different place in my life. When I had a long subway ride or an appointment where I’d be kept waiting, I took my tools. But when I had serious business to do, meaning dig into my feelings or confusions about the world, I needed a pen, a keyboard, something that would give me access to thoughts I didn’t yet understand. Knitting gave me a way to make beautiful things. Writing gave me a way to look beneath the beauty and see what I was covering up.

There are many people who find hope and healing in knitting. It’s easy to see why. There’s the repetitive motion, the nostalgia for a simpler time, the sensory overload of sumptuous yarns. For me knitting was less about healing then about growing. By using my childhood skill, I became more of an adult.

But writing. Well, that’s been a lot about healing. Not just myself but my relationships. Words are my energy source, my bounty, and my way to affect change. All I have to do is begin.

Ambivalent Memoirist Cover

“. . .[an] honest memoir full of compassion and wit that infuses ordinary events with intimacy and intensity. . .Teaching college English courses and preparing her first essay collection, she must address her own pain. . .as well as her parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. . . Writing as art and psychological salvation is at the heart of this book, taking “readers deep below the surface” of words toward personal vindication.”

~~Publishers Weekly

The Ambivalent Memoirist has received fourteen reviews on Amazon with a 4.9 star rating. Here is a beautiful excerpt of descriptive narrative from the book.

Brooklyn soil. Rife with thick, gnarly accents and high-pitched emotions that peaked into the air then fell heavy upon the earth. Those sounds and feelings had reverberated within me from the moment I was born in 1950, three years after my brother, Lenny. The woman who shared my mother’s room at Brooklyn Women’s Hospital and gave birth on the same day was an Auschwitz survivor, like my mother. Their delirium over their second babies fell upon my tender ears, slid into my pores. Brooklyn was an emotional patchwork, and I was sewn into its seams.

You can enter to win this book in a Rafflecopter giveaway! Follow the tour and you’ll have more opportunities to enter and win!

AUTHOR Bio and Links

Ambivalent Memoirist Author PicSandra Hurtes is the author of The Ambivalent Memoirist and the essay collection On My Way to Someplace Else. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and this legacy is examined in her work. She is an adjunct assistant professor in the English Department at John Jay College and teaches creative nonfiction in private workshops.

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Ambivalent Memoirist Tour Book Cover Banner copy

A Quilt for Christmas Book Review and Giveaway

This book was not what I expected. At all.

Quilt for ChristmasI entered a Goodreads giveaway, and surprise of all surprises, I won! The following week, I had an advance readers’ edition of this lovely little book in my hands. I thought it would be a typical, light historical romance with a quilt as the central piece of the story. Let me tell you all that it was not.

  • It wasn’t a romance, although it did have a small bit of romance. However, that wasn’t the main story line. I would classify it more as women’s fiction, as the personal growth of the female characters was the main force in the novel.
  • It wasn’t about women making quilts. However, since quilting was a normal, everyday activity in the mid 1800s, the art of the quilt does play a part in the story.
  • It wasn’t a Christmas holiday story.

The book was a relaxing read that held my interest, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and read a few chapters each day. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything without spoiling the story for you.

The plot was full of unexpected events, all true to the time period. It dealt with the themes of slavery, justice, friendship, death, and moving on without forgetting  the past. The writing style reminded me of one of my favorite authors, Grace Greene. A Quilt for Christmas is a gem of a Civil War novel, and I wholeheartedly recommend it if you enjoy sweet historical fiction.

I’m giving away my paperback copy of A Quilt for Christmas. If you’d like a copy, just leave a comment with a way for me to contact you. Or, you can send me a note via my contact page.

Building A+ Better Teacher

Building a Better Teacher

I began this book with high hopes. After reading the reviews on Amazon, I thought I was going to be treated to new, cutting edge information related to Common Core teaching. Since we’ve had a tectonic shift in the way we teach, I expected as much from this book.

It didn’t meet my expectations, but that’s my own fault. I didn’t realize how much research and investigation into teaching I have read over the past few years. Building A+ Better Teacher is a summary of metadata from many different sources about what works and what doesn’t.

If you’re new to education, or you’ve just begun reading the research, this book is a concise way to catch up on what has been happening in the education field. If you are up-to-date on your professional reading, this book will be an extra reinforcement of what you already know.

The author, Elizabeth Green covers a good deal of educational history, and focuses a few specific teachers who have made groundbreaking changes, such as Doug Lemov. It’s a valuable book, but again, it’s a review of the metadata from educational practices and research.


Writer’s Village 2014 Writing Contest $1600 Top Prize

Heads up everyone! Writer’s Village is having another writing contest, and the deadline is December 31, 2014. Write a story, find a story you’ve already written, polish, polish, polish, and enter this contest!

$1600 top prize for short fiction in Writers’ Village Contest winter 2014

$1600 is the top prize on offer for short fiction in the Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2014. The second prize is $800, third prize $400 and there are five runner up prizes of $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round.

Everyone wins because every contestant, win or lose, gains feedback on how their stories were graded – plus tips for improvement.

Winners will be awarded the title ‘Winner, the Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2014’ and see their work showcased online.

Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except playscripts and poetry. Entries are welcomed world-wide. The fee is $24 and multiple entries are permitted. Deadline is midnight 31st December 2014. Entry rules plus all winning stories since 2009 can be found at: