Thursday, December 30, 2010

review: Tomorrow when the war began

In just one week I've read two books about military invasions.

Not exactly a restful topic.

The other (How I live Now) took place in Britain, this one is based in Australia (raved about by Nomes of Inkcrush, who is the Queen of Aussie YA Lit).

It is interesting that two similar premises could be realized so differently. The basic idea of both books is kids fending for themselves amidst a military invasion. (Side note: in both cases the author never clarifies who the invading army is, which I found cool, because it leaves off a TON of political baggage). But as I wrote above, the books are completely different.

Tiny synopsis: Ellie and her friends plan a bush trip (we'd call it camping) that falls over the national commemoration day. When they emerge from their trip a few days later they find that their rural town has been overtaken by an invading army. The friends get smart quickly and start doing what they need to survive. As time progresses they also begin to fight against the invaders, performing small (and large) acts of sabotage. Oh, and just because the world is turned upside down, it doesn't mean a group of teenagers aren't also going to experience their fair share of crushes, misinterpreted communications, love, and drama.

I loved it. I immediately listed ALL the books in the series on my reading list. The characters were complex, real, clever, and truly multi-dimensional. They also grew tangibly (in interesting ways) as the events unfolded, which makes a lot of sense logically. Also, compared to How I Live Now you get so much more information about the external events (but not in an overwhelming or boring way). It's almost more that the kids in this story are actively seeking to solve the mystery of what has happened to them, and you get to come along for the ride. I love mystery solving, so I was keen. It was a fast read and thrilling.

Oh, and if you haven't read two books about military invasions recently, please allow me to impart some wisdom to you. If an invading army lands in your backyard, here are a few things you NEED.

1. access to a verdant, diverse, and burgeoning vegetable garden
2. knowledge of plants, hunting, and trapping
3. a massive wild area in which you can hide away
4. dogs can be useful, or a liability, depending on breed (in general yappy dogs: bad, herders: good)
5. canned goods, camping supplies, chicken wire
6. also, a landcruiser is helpful

It makes me feel a little squirmy  about my "urban" house, minivan, lack of canned goods, and garden covered by snow. We wouldn't get far on our juice boxes and soy chicken nuggets, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tenth book for December accomplished!

This brings my total Read-a-thon donation to $50.

I stayed up last night to finish Tomorrow, When the War Began, and I'm feeling a little groggy as a result.

I am going to try to tack on three more books for the month. I'll have some car time over the next 24 hours, and I have a few small books in my reading pile. I am packing 5 books for the car, just in case. That would bring me to 75$... but I don't want to jinx it.

My son is asking me right now about "his book"-- I told him one of the characters shares his name, so he thinks it's about him. I tried to explain it's not really about him, but he doesn't care.

On a side note, he "makes books" ALL the time now. He tapes or staples them together and then draws squiggly lines on the pages. Sometimes I feel like that's what my book is, too: just a bunch of squiggly lines. It is surely a sign that he hangs out with mom and her "book" way too much.

Posting will only happen as time allows over the next 24 hours! happy days to you all!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book reviews: Anna and the French Kiss and How I Live Now

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

It's hard to imagine two more different books back-to-back.

It's such a fantasy, right? For any teenager in the midst of their humdrum life, to think "if only I were in a boarding school in Paris, things would be totally different." Here's where the rubber of that fantasy meets the road.

Anna is shipped off to spend her senior year in a Parisian boarding school, but she is not happy. She's mad that her father didn't ask her, and she's worried about fitting in and being lonely, etc. Enter handsome Etienne, who is charming and fun and takes a special interest in Anna. She falls in with his friends and find herself branching out a little. Everything is rosy, except for the fact that Etienne has a serious girlfriend.

As you can probably imagine, things get complicated from here.

I won't spoil it.

Anna and the French Kiss is light and fun, a sweet romance. Yes, some serious things happen, but it's not dark or depressing. It's like the book equivalent of the love child of Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen. Also, you should know now that Etienne will charm your pants off. He's sweet and complicated, sometimes smart and serious, but also fun and funny. Not to mention, he speaks with a British accent.

This book is distinct in that the stereotypical high schoolers (dumb jock, bitchy mean girl, loyal ethnic friend) are turned on their head a little because it's, well, PARIS for goodness sakes!

Perkins relishes in the city, and takes us to some of the big touristy sites, but we also have a peek into delicate small moments in a theater or a bake shop. The kind of wonderment that pops up everywhere when you're in a completely different culture.

The city makes a nice contrast to the high school drama. I mean, here is a girl worrying about whether that guy she likes really likes her, but in one of the worlds most incredible cities!

It's interesting because, while the situations are dripping with gorgeous settings, it's still a bunch of teenagers trying to figure out themselves, their lives, and their loves. It took me back to that time, when all you cared about was whether HE would call, because please GOD if he DOESN'T call then you will JUST ABOUT die. But for Anna this is all going down in Paris. So maybe it speaks to the universality of those problems, and the universality of that time in life.

How I Live Now.
Whoa and My Goodness all rolled into one!

Daisy's dad is newly remarried. Her stepmother is not crazy about her, and the feeling is mutual. So Daisy is shipped off to live with her cousins in England (Osbert, Edmond, Isaac, and Piper). Let's just acknowledge these are the best cousin names ever. Her Aunt needs to leave for a few days for a conference; the kids are left alone. No big deal, right? Unless, of course, Britain is overtaken by an Army in a matter of weeks and the kids are left to fend for themselves.

This is not what I thought I was getting into when I picked up this book.

But it was oh, so, good. The story is fantastic-- it's riveting. You see everything from Daisy's perspective, so you really have the level of information about a major war that you might expect from a 15 year old with no parents around.  Which is to say, not a lot. It's such a clever way to tell the story-- you want to know more, and then you don't. You waver -- is it serious?, is it a war?, or is it just a terrorist attack? And then you find out more. And it's not good.

Daisy's voice is stellar. Dripping from the pages. She and her cousins have their own kooky issues... which as a good reviewer I can't delve into. All I can say is: read it. You won't regret it.

If you're counting that makes my read-a-thon number jump to 9!!

Up next, my tenth book for December: Tomorrow When the War Began

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter is here

It's a nice day to not have to go anywhere.

Here are some shots from sledding last night.

My readathon total is up to 8 now. I just whizzed through Anna and the French Kiss. Review to come. I am trying to squeeze in a few more before the end of the year. My goal is at LEAST ten, which would mean a $50 donation to the charity of my choice. But I'd love to do more!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Game of Thrones: review

I always feel a little silly writing reviews. I mean, I'd much rather talk about books than give an opinion on them. I don't think I'm qualified to judge, for one thing, and also it's excruciating to try to describe a book without giving anything away. But here goes.

Tiny synopsis: would be impossible. This book is nearly 800 pages. It's told from so many points of view that I lost track (eleven, maybe? fourteen?). It is a sweeping, epic tale that has more intrigue, backfighting, betrayal, double-crossing, and feuding than you can shake a stick at. People are murdered, poisoned, attacked by ghosts, beheaded, savaged by hounds, stabbed, axed, maced, pushed off buildings, and much much more. Couples are in it for love, they're in it for money, they're in it for power, they're in it for glory, they're in it for honor, or they hate each other with a passion. Siblings are devoted, hateful, cunning, needy, and protective. Families are savage, loyal, honorable, disgraceful...

Can you tell I liked this book yet?

I won this book in a contest run by Susan, and I can honestly say I never would have found it on my own. I like a big sweeping tale as much as the next person, but this probably wouldn't have landed on my radar, as it's technically SF&F. Let's face it, my radar right now is almost exclusively YA, with an occasional MG and the odd policy book for work.

I am so glad it came my way. I don't know how to talk about it, without giving away secrets or revealing too much. Here is what I can say: it's a story of a kingdom, and the families and people who are ruling it, have ruled it in the past, and would like to rule it in the future. It's like a story from the middle-ages, with a sprinkling of fantasy. It's dense. 
It's complex, compelling, with characters that don't just leap off the page, they rocket from it, grab you, and take you back into their world with them. And did I mention one character has a dog named Ghost!! Just like me! Though my overweight Aussie is nothing like Jon's wolf.

Gratuitous shot of my awesome dog. 

The multiple POV aspect is so well done. When you experience the world from each character's perspective you see life as they see it. That means that their choices are more nuanced, and it's not easy to write one person off as "good" or "evil". Of course there are some major baddies, who can't be anything but, but there are also people who maybe are in a situation because of their family, or have to make choices in a world that is not black and white. It is a vivid world, full of color, and more shades of gray than you can imagine. 

And... they are making it into a MOVIE on HBO. OMG. I looked it up, to find one of my all-time faves, Sean Bean is one of the main characters (Eddard Stark). Jennifer Ehle was cast as Catelyn Stark but was later dropped! Oh no!
I also found this hottie (trivia: Lisa Bonet's baby daddy) is playing Khal Drago.

Sign me up.

I will definitely be reading the rest of the books, and I will have to rent the series when it gets to Netflix.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: a character gift

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors  post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and participants answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get  everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic:  What gift would you give your favorite character?

This is tricky. Like Holly, I would say it's hard to come up with a favorite character. In addition, I like to give really thoughtful and heartfelt gifts, which means this may be too difficult. I mean, I know some characters pretty well, but you have to really know someone to give the perfect gift.

Here I go, anyway, with a few gifts for some old school, classic ladies.

For the second Mrs. deWinter in Rebecca.

As we say in the south: Bless her heart!

She's been picked as the second wife of the dashing Maxim deWinter. He's wealthy, charming, and brooding. She's literally plucked from a life of spinsterhood and servitude, then placed into a pampered life at the glorious estate Manderlay. Yet her happiness is trumped by her self-doubt: her obsession with the first Mrs. deWinter, Rebecca. Rebecca is such the focus of the story that it's titled after her, and we never even learn the first name of the second Mrs. deWinter.  Her lack of confidence gives you a sinking feeling. You're forced to ride along and watch as she makes mistakes and drives a wedge between herself and Maxim. You sit by, useless, as she learns the true secrets of Rebecca, but loses almost everything.

It's such a FAB book (I need to read more Daphne de Maurier*), and a stellar movie (an early one of Hitchcock's, and follows the book to a "t"). Joan Fontain* is the 2nd Mrs. de Winter, with Lawrence Olivier as Maxim-- they are at the height of their youth and beauty, but she portrays the scared, nervous, and fragile Mrs. de Winter flawlessly. I am always shocked that someone that gorgeous can play someone that weak.

Well, I'd give her some freaking confidence! She needs it. She needs to value herself. She needs to know that Maxim is with her for a reason. A good reason. Because she is exactly who she is. Granted, this would remove almost all the drama from the story, but this holiday, let's give her a break.

And for Jane from Jane Eyre

Poor, poor Jane.

I'd give Mr. Rochester a divorce! Damn the way it would look!

It couldn't possibly look worse than keeping your crazy first wife in the tower so she can scare everyone. It couldn't possibly be worse than living a life without the one person who "gets" you. He's such a devil-may-care kind of guy.Would it really bother him that much?
     Of course they end up together eventually, but a lot of heartbreak and destruction takes place along the way. He should shelve his honor this holiday season, and just get the right girl. Before it involves the first wife's suicide, the destruction of his house, and his disfigurement in a fire. Again, it would rip a little of the drama from the story-- but still. Doesn't Jane deserve a nice Christmas?

Check out the ladies at YA Highway to see what they would give this season.  Or check my links on the right to see who has already posted their response.

I love Trivia, so bear with me:
*Daphne de Maurier also wrote The Birds, another Hitchcock classic.
*Joan Fontaine is the sister of Olivia de Haviland-- Melanie from Gone with the Wind. Fontaine was nominated for the Academy Award for this, but did not win. She won later for Suspicion (another Hitchcock movie), which was a much less interesting movie (they changed the ending! Lots of plot holes!)

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Well... sorry friends if you've been looking for a new post only to be disappointed.

I imagine that this is the one time of year when one can get away with spotty posting.

I also don't exactly kid myself that people wake up all over the world, rush to their computers, and come here.

So I figured it would be okay.

I have just finished my grading for the semester.

Woot! and Yay! all rolled into one.

Now I'll have a short respite from teaching and grading until mid January, though the research and prep work is the same.

I haven't updated my read-a-thon because I have been reading a big, thick book that I won at Susan's blog, George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. I am loving it, but it's not as quick a read as some of the other books I've read lately. It's also got about 50 main characters, and it's told from multiple points of view, so it's taking me a while. I may try to read other books at the same time, so that my read-a-thon doesn't peter out at 6 books...

I will keep you posted. In the mean time, here is a little bit of holiday cheer: my son's interpretation of Santa and the dinosaurs that pull his sleigh.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Read-a-thon update, cold-a-thon update

I've added 2 more book to my read-a-thon total, making it six! I'm fighting a cold and hoping to get all my exams graded this week!!! So I may not be around much.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, and And Then Everything Unraveled by Jennifer Sturman.

Ooooh, such good books. Totally different, but each delightful in its own way.

Before I fall
Tiny synopsis: mean girls meets groundhog day.

Wow! This book was a stunner. Talk about your redemptive storytelling! I have heard scuttlebutt on the web that people hate this MC, and it's no wonder: she and her friends are beyond mean. They are horrid, horrid people. The cruelest of any mean girl that I've seen in movies or books.

Sam and her friends are in a car wreck on a cold Friday night, but Sam keeps waking up to relive her final day. This experience breaks her from her comfortable position at the top of the school's social ladder. She starts to take notice of what's really happening around her, what the consequences of her cruel actions might be. The themes in this book could easily be treated in a "back to school special" kind of way. Mean girl + drinking and driving = a lesson for everyone about making better decisions.

What I love about it, is that Oliver never goes for the easy answers or the pat conclusions. What happens to Sam is incredibly complex. Every day she takes a different tack and sometimes learns from her mistakes, but she also gets stuck on paths and follows them through, even though it's clear to everyone, including Sam, that she's making terrible mistakes. She is reckless and human in a way that seems very honest.

This book will break your heart, and if you aren't swooning over Kent by the end of it, you have no soul.

And Then Everything Unraveled could not be more different.

Tiny synopsis: Delia's mom is missing and believed dead when her ship disappears while on an Antarctic expedition. Delia is forced to leave Silicon Valley to be raised by her aunts in New York. Her finances are ruled by her mom's Uptown sister, and she lives with her mom's funky Downtown sister. The thing is, Delia doesn't believe her mom is dead. She's certain she's alive, all she has to do is prove it.

I adored this book. It was a light and fun read, the character was spot-on, with a smart and funny voice. Delia is such a delight-- her aunts are perfect counterpoints and keep the plot entertaining. I am a sucker for a mystery, and this has mystery in droves. There is even a little romance, with the dashing Quinn.

The one down side is that they leave off with only about half your questions answered. The rest you have to get from the sequel. As I read I could tell I was reaching the end. You know that feeling: you can tell there are not enough pages left, and you're wondering how the author will wrap up the story! In that way it wasn't a total surprise to find it cut off without answering everything... but still a little disappointing. I will definitely read the sequel!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Publishing: things to freak out about!

I started thinking the other day about "The End Of Publishing" talk that swirls around the web-osphere like phosphorescence on a moonlit sea. 

I will read a blog or article that recounts how it's all just the-sky-is-falling talk, and then the NYTimes will publish an article saying nobody will ever publish a picture book again. Ever. I feel like I can get away from it, only to turn around and find it's just behind me, waiting to pounce.

So, not that this is methodical research or anything, but I wanted to remind us all of a few things people have gotten really worked up over, but have come to nothing!  Here are my top FOUR.

1. Salem Witch Trials.  Okay, maybe the victims wouldn't call it nothing, but ultimately, it wasn't really a case of witches corrupting Salem's women.

2. The Cold War. Again, I know it was a big deal at the time. I remember watching the movie Red Dawn and freaking out that Soviet paratroopers might want to land at my high school. It's included on this list because it's a little mind boggling (for me) to think about all the energy, and time, and nuclear proliferation devoted to something that just doesn't exist anymore.

3. Evil messages backmasked into heavy metal music. This always makes me snicker when I think about it now. Ummm, I guess we were a naive and technologically kinda dumb world at the time. I remember lots of urban legends about all the secret messages slipped into heavy metal music.

Now I realize most of those bands were probably too drugged up to be mixing anything secret into anything. Having watched the Osbournes I wonder if Ozzy had any agenda, ever.
Not to mention this was a golden marketing move for these bands.

4. Y2K. Again, it makes me cringe a little to remember how worked up everyone was about this. In retrospect it really was a "the sky is falling" moment. The good news is: once you have a panic room/ safe room/ bomb shelter, you always have a panic room/ safe room/ bomb shelter.

They never go out of style, and it won't be long before you'll "need" one for a new crisis!

So, what crises are you planning a safe room for?

What else have people freaked over in the past,  that can make us feel better about all this publishing talk?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

RTW: six word memoir

It's Road Trip Wednesday

This week's topic:  Your six word memoir.  How would you tell your life story in six words?
I posted one of these a while back, and I think it still fits.
Here's the original post:
I saw this on Rachelle Gardner's blog and fell in love with the idea.

Can you encapsulate your life story in 6 words? Mine is:
Long trip, right back to beginning.

A project by SMITH magazine.

Try it-- leave yours in the comments.

Sign on at SMITH and submit your 6-word memoir or your take on a number of subjects including food, the digital life, america, love and heartbreak...

Or leave a story in their projects section: memoirs, exes, brushes with fame, or what's on your fridge. 

Then head over to the YA Highway to see the six words encapsulating their contributors' lives.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Book four read-a-thon review: You Wish

Confession: I am thinking about querying Mandy Hubbard, the author of this book who is also an agent. I saw that she was interested in MG with magical realism, and my current WIP has a dash of it. With this in mind I've thought it would be beyond rude to query her without reading her work. Rude and maybe dumb.

Because she is high on my query list I was also nervous about reading her-- What if I didn't like it? What if I didn't get her humor? (and then, by extension she wouldn't get mine?)

Big sigh of relief.

I really liked the book and it was very funny! In fact, some elements were so funny that when I described them to my husband even he cracked up. If you've ever tried to explain a funny YA moment to a guy, you may know they don't always translate. This did.

Tiny synopsis: Kayla is so over it. So over everything. Her mom forces her to have a big, blow-out, pink extravaganza of a sweet sixteen party, though she's told her she doesn't want it. Kayla knows it's not even about her, it's about her mom's event planning business. Why should she be forced to attend a party filled only with her mom's clients? When she blows out the candles on the giant cake she wishes that, just for once, her birthday wishes would come true. The problem is, the next morning they do. It's enough to have to figure out how to keep a life-sized My Little Pony from ruining her mom's garden, or trying to entertain living Raggedy Ann and Ken dolls. It's last year's wish that's really worrying Kayla. Last year she wished Ben would kiss her, and now Ben is her best friend's boyfriend. She has to find a way to stop the wishes before last year's comes true.

I'm smiling just writing the synopsis. There were some deliciously funny moments in this book- I think Raggedy Ann was my favorite wish-- she was hilarious (and also made me feel a little bad about the dolls I have tucked into the attic! Are they lonely up there?)

Okay, I will try to talk about this book in a way that doesn't spoil it.

This book has the funny undercurrent of all of these wacky wishes coming true, and I was so nervous, waiting each day to see what crazy thing would happen next. It was creative and fun and also terribly funny.

But there is also this other story, about Kayla and her best friend and how they are growing apart-- and the take she has on it was incredibly real and so good. The push and pull you feel when a friend sort of blossoms in her own identity even if it is different from you, even if it may change or end your relationship.

Really loved it.

Especially because it was different. Friends splitting apart is a common YA theme, and recently I've read a couple of books where characters go from "best friends" to "ultra mean-girl enemies" in the course of a summer or a weekend. I think that's because it happens in real life, emotions run strong in high school. But it also feels like "the template".

As in, need drama, must "insert frenemies here" without thinking about how the characters would truly experience something like that. Maybe it's a reflection of reality. Or maybe teen girls are just operating from the template books, movies, and tv places in front of them, without really thinking about how they feel.

Confession (*gasp*): Even I have written something like that!

This was such a different take. It felt very real and honest. Loved it.

I highly recommend this book- check it out for an entertaining read with an sweet undercurrent of true friendship.

Please note: I am not just kissing *ss because I want to query her. I like her book, she still may not like mine. I'm okay with that.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Read-a-thon Extend-a-thon

Another day, another book!

I just made my way through You Wish by Mandy Hubbard. I will add a review in the next few days (in a nutshell: thumbs up).

That brings my read-a-thon total to 4 books!

The event, as described by WhoRuBlog was meant to be for the weekend... but I want to extend it.

Given the full-time job and the two kids, I have to admit that I can't just sign off from life for a whole weekend to devote to reading.

I was feeling like I hadn't done enough-- and then I realized that it's not like the Read-a-thon police are going to come after me.

I am extending my read-a-thon until the end of December!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Review Trio and Update on Read-a-Thon

What a great morning already. Mike let me sleep in, and brought me breakfast in bed! The boys were SO excited about it.

I don't often "sleep" when I sleep in. I am a morning person, so when my eyes pop open some time between 5 and 6 o'clock, they don't close again. Mike and I switch off on who gets up with the boys, and when I stay in bed I write, work, or read. What a treat.

This morning I read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. That brings my Read-A-Thon total to three books! But I hope to whip out another one at least today!

I have a couple of reviews to catch up on, so I'll start with this one.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda Tom Angleberger

Tiny synopsis: 6th grader Tommy and his friends are getting advice from an origami finger puppet of Yoda. Dwight, class weirdo, created the figure and now when the kids ask for information Yoda provides it. But is Yoda magic or is it just weird Dwight-- but how could it be? The advice is so wise, so Yoda. Tommy has to find out before he makes a fool of himself by following Yoda's advice on love.

What a clever and charming book. A quick read, great voice, adorable presentation (including fab line drawings and origami yoda fold-it-yourself directions). More than just a funny book, it also explores some key MG themes-- who's weird, who's not, who cares? I could really see middle school boys (and girls) doing all the things in the book. Loved it.

Can you Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella

Tiny synopsis: Emma is a lovable train-wreck of a girl: she's cute, plenty smart, and well-dressed (even if it's second-hand), but her flighty behavior means she's not doing all that well professionally, having bumped from one career to the next over the years. On a business trip her plane hits turbulence, and she freaks out, telling the stranger next to her EVERYTHING about herself, all her dirty little secrets. Like that while her boyfriend is perfect on the outside she thinks he's boring and annoying under the surface.Or that she fudged her resume. ..
Big deal, she'll never see him again.
When he turns up at work the next day she realizes he is the multi-millionaire owner of the company, and he knows everything about her. Every embarrassing thing.

I have not read the Shopaholic series. I read Twenties Girl months ago and liked it. This book was similar in many ways. Hapless but charming heroine, rugged American businessman love interest, overbearing and demeaning friend (cousin here). The pace was also similar, things are a disaster, they start to change, improve, and just when you think everything is on track BAM it seems like everything is ruined. A final turn-around, then happiness ensues.

Even though these books were similar I still found myself riveted by the story. I'm not sure how or why, but it didn't bother me at all. Probably because though there were some similarities, there were also a slew of differences that made it fresh and fun. I found Emma to be adorable, and it was fun to be inside her head for a few days. The romance was sweet, the characters were endearing. I recommend it. Though I probably won't buy into the Shopaholic series, I will definitely keep reading Kinsella's stand-alone books.

Speak by Laurie Halse-Anderson.
Tiny synopsis: Melinda starts her freshman year with no friends and everyone angry at her. Angry because she busted up the big back-to-school party by calling the cops. Lots of kids were arrested and got in trouble. What nobody understands, not the friends who abandoned her, or the strangers who didn't know her, is that she called the cops for a good reason. Now she won't speak. She won't explain. She has no friends and she's driving a wedge between herself and her family. She can't speak, because she doesn't think it will change anything. She can't speak, because she's afraid that once she starts she won't be able to stop.

I wasn't oblivious to the Speak controversy a while back. Though a few of Halse-Anderson's books are on my To Be Read list, the banning of this book moved it to the top.

On principle I believe people who ban books, or seek to, are ignorant and/or diabolical. I find that people want to control things they are afraid of, and banning books is one way to do this. I treasure the freedom to read what I please.

I picked up this book expecting it to be controversial and was a little surprised at how uncontroversial it was. This confirmed another presupposition of mine: that people who ban books, or try to tell people not to read them, haven't read the books themselves. Someone tells somebody who tells somebody who commands someone else not to read something. Maybe none of them have read it.

Clearly, Wesley Scroggins didn't read Speak (interestingly, the link to his diatribe is no longer active. I read his piece in September, but it's been removed from the internet since). To imagine that someone would find the story, about a young girl's rape, titillating or sexual in nature is beyond disturbing.

It is a harsh story, and certainly not for everyone-- but it does nothing to glamorize or recommend sex. It's quite the opposite, it is a severe and stunning warning to any young woman. Yes, most girls have heard the spiel and know that some situations are considered dangerous. Don't get in a car with a stranger, don't walk home alone, call and let people know where you are, etc.

What makes this story so powerful is it's depiction of a girl who thinks she's in a safe situation, and then makes one tiny stupid decision, but pays heavily for it. It's heartbreaking to watch Melinda struggle to deal with what's happened to her. Halse-Anderson builds a compelling portrait of a girl who doesn't recognize her strengths, but who slowly grows to trust herself.

An excellent book!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Read-a-thon update

My Read-a-thon got off to a BANG!

I finished Sophie Kinsella's Can you Keep a Secret

and I'm also going to count the book I finished the day before I signed on: Speak by Laurie Halse-Anderson

two fantastic books!

Reviews coming soon...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday # Readathon

From the WhoRU blog, a readathon over the weekend. Pledge to read a few books and (if you like) donate to a local charity based on the amount you read.

I don't know if I'll get much reading in this weekend, but last weekend was a pretty good one for me, so I will try. I've pledged $5 per book I read. Our school is collecting money right now for an organization that works with homeless people, and that would be a perfect place to donate the money. You can buy toiletries and clothes or just given money so they can buy the items, so I know a cash donation is good with them.

Also I went to James' school book fair today (YAY!) and found a couple of MG books... so I have at least two relatively short and easy books at the top of my list.

I'm currently working on Sophie Kinsella's Can you Keep a Secret,
and up next are:
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. She's a bug girl, so I'm all over it.

Road Trip Wednesday

Road Trip Wednesday is a “Blog Carnival,” where YA Highway’s contributors post a question and answer it on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

This week’s topic: What Movie Do You Wish Had Been a Book First? (and, at Katy Upperman's suggestion, if it WERE a book, who should have written it?)

So many movies I love started out as books I love. This is tough.

Honestly- I had to go to my favorite movies list in my Blogger ID for some inspiration, but now I have it.

I SO have it.

Do you know now?

 How about now?

Ahhh, The Goonies. One of my favorite movies OF ALL TIME. I remember going to the theater to see it in the summer, when my mom's friend was visiting with her kids.

It blew my mind.

I still adore it, and I can't wait to share it with my boys (when they are much older)!!

How great would this be as a YA book? Friendship, laughs, and a real, bona fide adventure including pirates, crooks, a treasure map, and cool caves. Not to mention that they're destroying their house to build a golf course! Even the environmental and social issues that I love to include in my books!!!

Who should write it?-- me, of course! Must add that to the list.

When Mike and I were in Egypt we fell in with these nice American kids who were Peace Corps workers in Moldova. We'd been living in another culture, the Netherlands, for about two years at that point. Living in another place can be so fantastic, but one of the things we missed were the cultural touchpoints-- the movies you quote, the books and TV shows you all watched, the music you all can sing... it's much more difficult to have that with people who had different movies/shows/books/songs.

We went with these new friends to see the compound surrounding the burning bush. Like a lot things in Egypt this involved a crazy scene where you haggle to buy tickets, using almost any currency. As we approached the ticket area we could all clearly see men waving Euros, dollars, and Egyptian pounds and telling you what you could buy.

One of the American girls without hesitation started calling out,

"Fifty dollar bill, Fifty dollar bill!" in Data's voice.

I recognized it immediately, and I nearly started crying. I realized what had been missing-- that feeling you get when you share a million tiny little cultural blips with the people around you.

That, my friend, is the power of the Goonies!

 What movie would you love to see as a book? Go to the YAHighway to see what the whole gang thinks!


At the request of Jess I'll let you know how to do tabs in blogger.
You don't need an html code and all of that (though I did go through that whole process before realizing I was barking up the wrong tree).

On blogger dashboard select "New Post"

This will direct you to the "Posting" tab, with subtabs: new post, edit posts, and edit pages.

Select edit pages.

Create a new page, and voila: that's a new tab.

It's just that simple.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Weekend in Reading

I had a great weekend. We stayed home with the boys, opting out of long drives in molasses-like traffic. Instead we laid low, made some turkey and fixins, and tried to get out as much as possible. On Thanksgiving day we went hiking in Hurd Park with friends John, Jackson, and Mia.

Usually a walk in the woods is such a contemplative event, hearing the rustle of the fallen leaves as you push them from your path, the distant chugging of a brook, the occasional twitter of wildlife. Add in two three-year-olds, one four-year-old, and a five-year-old.

The silence is broken. Shattered, really.

Willy has one mode of communication: shouting. He's enthusiastic, I'll give him that.

At least we tired them out, and we were able to get the dogs out for some running and carousing.

Over the holiday I refrained from the work cycle, and got busy reading, relaxing, and hanging with the fam.

I've finished three books since last Wednesday, and I'm halfway through a fourth.

Here are the reviews:

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides.

Tiny synopsis: it's the 70s and the boys in this suburban Detroit neighborhood are captivated by the beautiful Lisbon sisters. Their strict parents and insularity make them the perfect subject for endless daydreaming. The boys spend their adolescence trying to understand the Lisbon sisters and the choices they make.

     I don't have to say out loud that book is depressing, do I? It's all right there in the title. There's no way it wouldn't be. I saw the movie when it came out. I wouldn't say it was my favorite film at the time, but I liked it. Much later I read Eugenides' Middlesex. What a fantastic book: an epic, sweeping tale. I love a book that follows a family through several generations (and bonus if it's an immigrant family).

Anyway, I wanted to give TVS a chance because I enjoyed Middlesex so much. It's been on my list for years, but I just haven't gotten around to it.
     It was certainly well-written, and I was surprised to see how closely the movie covered elements of the book (though sometimes with not enough context to truly understand them).

     But it was just so depressing. And a little creepy that the neighborhood boys were so obsessed with the Lisbon sisters. It's not that it wasn't good, it just wasn't my thing. I think also because I've seen the movie, there was no element of surprise.

Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Tiny synopsis: Straight-A student Kristina goes to visit her dad and goes from normal, smart, together student to total and complete meth addict.     

This book (told in verse) relates the horrors of a young girl who gets hooked on meth. At first I was turned off by the verse-- it seemed a little gimmicky and hard to follow.

I should note I am NO poet, and so maybe I'm a little biased.

I have to say, the verse grew on me over time, and though this was a 300+ page book, it was a quick read. It was almost like a modern version of Go Ask Alice.

     Recently, I was browsing Wiki and found the entry on Go Ask Alice. It was an eye-opener, because I took the book at face value and thought it was actually the diary of a girl who tried drugs and suffered the horrible consequences. It was disappointing to see that most people don't consider that to be the case now, but instead a fictionalized account written by a therapist.

     The irony is that Crank is absolutely a work of fiction, but feels like a more honest depiction of what can happen to a person who experiments with meth. Granted, my expertise in meth is limited to the information presented in one Oprah show. Still, that show followed a teenager, and her story was very similar to the protagonist in Crank. Crank seemed realistic and was a compelling read. It is so hard to read a book like this, though, and watch as Kristina makes one terrible decision after another.

The No 1 ladies detective agency, Alexander McCall Smith

Tiny synopsis: Mma Precious Ramotswe takes the inheritance her father leaves her and starts a detective agency in Botswana. She navigates life in her community all the while promoting her business and solving people's problems, or perhaps causing new ones.

Loved it. It's much more my genre than the other two books. A strong clever woman unraveling small mysteries-- it's my thing. I'd heard some buzz about these books, but in searching at the library found the first book in the series was always out. I'm in the habit of walking by this shelf and always looking, so when I went to meet my mentee at the library a few weeks ago I was happily surprised to find the book in.

The book is told as a series of vignettes, it was an interesting presentation-- a nice break from the usual: "wake up and go to sleep with the main character" routine. You get the sense of a much bigger world, with characters connected in multiple ways, but feel as if the author is only giving you a tiny glimpse into the scenes he wants you to see. I liked it. The plot was intricate without being overwhelming, the characters (even secondary ones) were drawn precisely.

I am not sure if I will immediately commit to the whole series at this point (eleven books), but I may slowly work my way through them

What about you? Have you read any of these? What were your thoughts on them?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

New like?

I've been getting a little obsessed with re-tooling my blog. I have liked the last couple of template versions, but I felt it was getting jumbled and too busy. 

It's also difficult to find something unique that is not overwhelming.

So I figured out how to add tabs (go ahead, laugh if this is not a big deal to you. I am not ashamed to admit it took me at least an hour to figure out!)

I wanted to add images of insects, too because the only blogger template with bugs is this really busy and nausea-inducing dead fly background. 

It's just not me. 

I can add a giant image to the background here, but it seemed too distracting with the overlay.

So I opted for tabs, clean background, and some insect art images on the side panels. I tried to add an image to the title section, but it came out kooky.  Either below or behind my words, but not beside. If anyone knows what I'm talking about and how to fix it, do tell. 

Otherwise, let me know what you think of this... before I change it all again. :0)

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Haul is WAAAAAY over budget

I signed on to this interesting contest a few weeks ago, which I heard about from the clever Mrs. DeRaps. The idea is that you blog a list of $500 worth of books you'd love from Chronicle books. They will choose one fortunate winner to take home their list, and one commenter on the blog post will ALSO get the list. 

They're giving away $1000 worth of books. 

Not only is it a generous concept, but it is the cleverest marketing I have heard of in a while. 

At first I thought,
     Oh, cool, $500 worth of books, sign me up.

Then I thought,
     Hey, I shouldn't just pick books randomly, I should find books I'll really like. Which is not difficult.

And almost immediately I realized,
     I want to give books to everyone for Christmas, and I've just browsed so hard I've found the PERFECT thing for EVERYONE in my family.

They so have me in their back pocket now. 

Not only have I selected a list of books for myself, I've also compiled a Santa-worthy list for all the people I love the most. Not to mention that now it's black Friday, and I don't feel compelled to go anywhere for any shopping at all (full disclosure, I am not a usual Black Friday shopper anyway).

In fact, my list has grown SO GARGANTUAN that I felt it was responsible to do the math and tally the price tag. It came to a whopping $1600.

So, ummm.... I guess I got a little over-excited. 

I felt compelled to trim my list a little (those architecture books are not cheap). I also had to take a long, cold, look in the mirror and admit I would be unlikely to teach myself how to make country french, korean, chinese, and indian food all this year. I have to leave something for when I'm fifty and need a hobby, right?

I also found several of the books are currently out of stock, which was a relief, frankly, as that allowed me to cull the herd without any regrets. 

Then I got a nice little email from Chronicle saying that as a "friend" they wanted to offer me a 30% discount on anything I buy before December 5th. Ingeniously the contest ends after that date. So now I think, 
     What are the chances I actually win?


     If I want to get those gifts for my family I should go ahead and buy them now.

So I removed some of those gifts from my list, and organized everything on this handy excel sheet

I had a fun time with this contest-- and somehow, though I know I am shilling for Chronicle books now, I can't explain why I'm so happy about it!

If you want to be a part of the chronicle contest, you have to comment on the original post, that's the one the folks at Chronicle have in their system.  

Though this list is shorter it still includes:
  • a book of stereoscopic Lincoln images (resist, I dare you), 
  • the MoMa play house and family (not ashamed to say that's for me, not my kids. Check it out. It RULZ), 
  • fiction, 
  • plenty of gardening, science, and history, and 
  • a book about the night sky (with cut-outs you shine a flashlight through to see them projected on the ceiling). 

So drink the Kool-Aid: make your own list and let me know about it!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Best book of November

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a question and answer it on their own blogs. 

You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

This week's question: What's the best book you read in November?

November has been a whirlwind.

A hurricane, really, of school, family, and life in general. 

I always imagine that this part of the semester will be different the next time in happens. 
Hope springs eternal. 
Then I'm literally engulfed in work. Things pick up right after midterms, grading becomes overwhelming, and just as you complete one class's 20 midterm journals, you have to jump to another class's 20 papers, and then there's another assignment to grade, back to back to back. 

Add in advising: scheduling dozens of meetings with students who may have absolutely no idea what classes they want next semester, hunting down the students who won't sign up for a meeting, making sure the seniors are on track to graduate...

Then there are the classes you keep teaching every week, despite all the added work. Trying to make your courses exciting and interesting, but also cover all the hard stuff like quantitative methods and theory that everyone complains about. While also trying to produce better thinkers, and better writers, and creative problem solvers.

Tack on the research. It has to be innovative, and it has to be publishable. Or you will lose your job. It's that simple. You send off a 40-page article you've worked on for a year only to get a 12 page revise and resubmit report (which is far better than an outright rejection, but, you know-- more work).

All of this makes my head spin, makes me wake up at 4:30,
worried about whether I'm spending enough time with my kids, 
worried that I can never read with them enough, 
or hold them enough while they are little,
worried that their milk has hormones in it, 
worried about bisphenol A and atrazine, 
worried that I haven't gotten a raise in two years.

And then I look over at the shelf. 

I see a stack of books.

Maybe they are books that I've heard about on RTW's, or through reviews on blogs. Recommendations from neighbors, friends, family, or librarians.

And I take a slice off of the day, pick up a book. I'm transported. 

I tell myself that 30 minutes less sleep is worth it. 

Just a little time, without any of the burdens of life as we know it. 

I am SO THANKFUL for books!

This month I read four good ones: 
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, 
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock,
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins, and 
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray.

I recommend them all, and especially what they represented: a moment of much-needed enjoyment for a tired working mom.

Monday, November 22, 2010


This was a fun contest for me, mainly because I had the chance to ooh and aah over the Little Lark website much more than usual. Our dear friend Heidi gave James their "Ride" bicycle tee as a baby, and he wore it so many times. Now his little brother is in it, and it's holding up beautifully.

I sometimes wonder, if I had thirty of their shirts would I get tired of them? Or would I just rock out every day of the month?  This is the kind of thing I daydream about.

Selection Deets:
I created a spreadsheet using Excel, and then shuffled the entries so that they were not listed in the order they were received. I used the random number generator at to select prize winners.

Winner of the button of your choice from Little Lark (+ a super secret special surprise):

The Art Girl
Susan, and

And the BIG BIG winner of a box of Little Lark cards (design of your choice) is...

Katy Upperman!

All you need to do is let me know your preference for a design
there are horses, gnomes, robots (2), strawberries, chipmunks, fiddlehead ferns, birds, etc-- check out the little lark site for all the options. Don't forget to pick your envelope color!

Please email this info and your shipping address, to


Sunday, November 21, 2010


to win Goodies from Little Lark, like a box of your choice of letterpress cards, or their adorable buttons.

Go to the Original Post to enter!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Grinch who stole everything

We pulled out the holiday book pile a little early this year.

What can I say, now that Mike is back in school, and I'm busy as usual, we needed the passive parenting that only the Elf on a Shelf can provide. 

Is the EoaS a southern thing or a world-wide phenomenon?

The book asks you to think about how Santa manages the logistics of watching all the boys and girls in the world. Why, with an elf on a shelf in every home! A little guy/gal who you get to name, and who sits in your house, and reports to Santa on your behavior each evening. I love the practicality, and also the parenting crutch it provides. Ah, nothing like the holidays, when we can say things like: "I think Barley (our elf's name) saw you push your brother. Uh-oh, you should apologize." So nice to have a middle man to blame all the rule-keeping on.

So, along with the Elf, we started reading the Grinch last week. Willy wants to hear it every day. I love the book so, and it's a treat and a delight to read, but every day for the last week and not even Thanksgiving... I worry about our sanity.

We love to pick out fun things on the different pages:
--the tiniest Who on the page where they're all singing.
--the Whos who should be sitting down at the Who feast. One is standing on the back of a highchair!

We read "the Grinch hated Christmas" and Willy and James call out:
"No, you can't hate Christmas"

We read "the Grinch hated the Whos" and the boys shout:
"You can't hate the Whos!"

I hope reading it for the next 30-plus days doesn't make me like it any less.

It makes me think about books and the holiday season, and how much I love them (no surprise there). I am toying with the idea of only giving books for Christmas. It just seems like the right thing to do. 

It all began with the clever, no ingenious, marketing promotion from Chronicle Books. They ask you to make a list of $500 worth of books, and they'll pick one blogger, and one blog reader to receive the books. It's so clever, because it makes you peruse their site and find books you like. And then, well, they've got you.

I would like to give only books, but I have a strict rule that a gift should always and forever be about the receiver and not the giver. 

Who among us hasn't received a gift that only proves the giver doesn't know us at all. I ended a 2 1/2 year dating relationship over the gift of a pair of old speakers (and I love recycling, so it wasn't the old part). It was one of those moments in life where the veil is lifted, and you realize the person you thought you loved just doesn't know you at all. 
It's a lot of work to find the right books for everyone on the list-- a book might miss the mark where a gift basket of bath goodies would fit the bill. 

So, what do you think-- could you only give books this year? Do you only give books already?

Friday, November 19, 2010

HP:Spolier Free

We came.

We saw.

We dug it.

Loved the newest installment of the HP series.

I won't spoil anything for anyone else by going into detail here. I'll only say the true and loyal friendship, especially between Ron, Hermione, and Harry really shone through in this one. What a great group of kids.

Their friendship is something else. And that's even before you consider all that honest and caring support from family... I want to hug Mrs. Weasley every time I see her on the screen, and don't even start me on Dobby. You'll break my heart if you bring up Dobby.

Can I go out on a limb right now and mention my love for Neville? His story lines are always so endearing and sweet-- he's the nerdy, quiet, fair-minded and dilligent friend that's rarely the "star" of the show. He's barely in this one, but all it takes is a millisecond of Neville and I start to tear up. I tried to read PofA in Dutch (failed miserably), and one of the key differences I noticed was that Neville was called Marcel! Why in the world did they change his name to Marcel? I will never understand it. All the other names were the same.

Also just fell in love with Hermione all over again. From the rad purple-striped suit (WHERE can I get one?) to her unwavering support of Harry no matter what. She's such a fantastic role model. In a world where many teen stars seem (to my old eyes) really vamped up in a way that's disappointing, I love that she's s down-to-earth, smart girl who has never been all about the boys.

How can we possibly wait until next summer for the final installment?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CONTEST: One week left

Just one week left to sign on to my contest, to win letterpress cards from Little Lark, you choose the pattern.
Visit the original post to sign on.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock and CONTEST

Ohh, Dairy Queen is a delightful read. It's right up there with Notes from the Teenage Underground on my go-to list for VOICE.

Tiny synopsis: DJ Schwenk does what has to be done: her older brothers have left for college, her younger brother is busy with little league, her mom is juggling two jobs, and her dad is recovering from a hip replacement. 
Someone has to milk the cows twice a day, bring in the hay and clover, and try to keep the farm running. Even if nobody ever talks about, even if nobody ever asked her to. She has to do it, or they'll all be in a worse place than they're already in. 
A family friend asks her to train Brian, the snobby quarterback for the rival team to get him in shape for football season. So she adds one more job to her long to do list. Over the summer DJ decides, just for once, to do what she wants to do. The choices she makes impact not only DJ and her family, but her whole Wisconsin town.

The synopsis is difficult-- I have such a hard time explaining it without telling the whole plot. I'm probably ruining it already. This book really transports you into DJ's head-- the voice simply shimmers on the page. DJ is charming and loveable as she tries to make sense of the world around her and how she fits into it. It's also heartbreaking, as she negotiates romance, and her family's inability to talk about ANYTHING. Yes, it's a book about a Wisconsin tomboy farmgirl who loves football, but it's also so much more.

A quote I loved from the book:
"Then I started thinking that maybe everyone in the whole world was just like a cow, and we all go along doing what we're supposed to without complaining or even really noticing, until we die. Stocking groceries and selling cars and teaching school and cashing checks and raising kids, all these jobs that people just one day start doing without even really thinking about it, walking right into their milking stall the way that heifers do after they've had their first calf and start getting milked for the first time. Until we die. And maybe that's all there is to life."

What a lovely and beautiful book-- I highly recommend it.

Also-- just about 8 days left of my contest. Visit this page to enter for little lark stationary and buttons. Please enter and spread the word!!