Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hi 5: Crossover-couples

A meme hosted by Cara @Chasing Words, Anne @Potter, Percy and I and Nomes of INKCRUSH

This weeks topic: Take some of your favourite characters and hook them up with characters from different books.

Dude. This is harder than I thought it would be.

Sarah from The Sky is Everywhere with Miles from Looking for Alaska. She’s just as beautiful and funky as Alaska, without the depression and suicidal tendencies. He will only move on with someone as dazzling as Alaska—and I think Sarah could be that for him. Let’s face it, he needs a break.

Peeta from Hunger Games with… Anne from Persuasion. (though I don’t really want to unimagine her with Wenthworth)—but Anne is so down to earth, so thoughtful and kind. I haven’t read past HG yet, but I felt like Katniss was almost too tough for this guy. She’s hardcore, and even though he’s a bada** in his own right, maybe he just needs someone who will adore him. Maybe he deserves that.

Post-pretty Tally from Uglies with Daniel Cleaver from Bridget Jones’ Diary. Because they both like pretty things, look pretty, and would do inconsequential but pretty-minded things together. Pretty. Pretty. Pretty. They’re the people you don’t like, but you keep their holiday card on the fridge a long time just to prove you actually know some beautiful people, too.

Jim from the Sally Lockhart books (who I just learned is played by new Dr. Who (Matt Smith) in the BBC movies) with the scrappy Beatrice from Hoot. This may seem a little pedo—but please let me explain. In the first book, the character of Jim is NOT supposed to be Matt Smith’s age. He should be around 12-14. Beatrice Leap is also in that range. He’s a cheeky and incredibly clever scamp from the slums of Victorian-era London, she’s a street-smart eco-warrior from modern-day Florida. They’ve both led hard lives and are a little edgier for it. Together they would make the ultimate tough couple with a heart of gold.

Katniss Everdeen and Huck Finn. He is the only character who can equal her. They can play a few pranks, forage for food, kill animals with a bow and arrow, fish, lead a slave revolt, shelter runaways, then build a raft and float down the Mississippi. Together they can do anything.

Three More Reviews: Philip Pullman

Shadow in the North, Tiger in the Well, The Tin Princess by Philip Pullman

Shadow in the North

Brief summary: We catch up with Sally Lockhart as she loses a client’s fortune in a bad financial deal. Sally seeks to understand the cause of the company’s demise: the mysterious sinking of a ship in the North Sea. She soon enters a complicated world of charlatans, forced marriages, businessmen, and parliamentary corruption--- with only her band of ragtag friends to help her out.

Pullman is a skillful weaver of mysteries. I’ve said it before—there is nothing worse than a mystery that feels thrown together at the end. Pullman lays the groundwork quite well, feeding out just a bit of the story to you, a few hints here, a clue there, until leading you to the inevitable final showdown between our heroine and the culprit. The characters are delightful, with many a quirky personality. The writing is good and the mystery is convoluted enough to make it a good ride, but not so overdone that it feels preposterous. I liked this, though not quite as much as the Ruby in the Smoke—though still a good read.

Tiger in the Well

Synopsis: A few years after the events of SITN, Sally Lockhart is a single mother, living in the country and continuing on in her financial consultancy business. She remains the headstrong, independent and charming lady from the earlier books. Her usual friends are still in the picture, but all happen to be on an extended trip to South America. Naturally, this is the perfect time for an unknown enemy to strike. Sally receives legal papers stating that her husband (she has never been married), is suing her for divorce and the custody of their child.

This plot is really a doozy. This tale had me so out of sorts—so WORRIED, so STRESSED about what might happen next. Remember she lives in Victorian England—where her rights are practically nil. This enemy has done the legwork, over years, to establish a paper trail showing that she was married—and absolutely nobody believes her when she says otherwise. This book filled me with dread, and the fear that this unknown but clearly powerful enemy would win out—and take Sally’s daughter. It was incredibly suspenseful and well-written, including some surprising twists and turns that took the story places I was not anticipating. I really enjoyed it.

The Tin Princess, featuring characters from the Sally Lockhart mysteries.

Sally makes a brief appearance in this book—but it is for the most part about Adelaide, the waif from book one (Ruby in the Smoke) who worked for the fantastically awful Mrs. Holland. Adelaide disappeared at the end of book one, (everybody thought she was dead) only to reappear here—which must be about a decade later. Funnily enough she fell into work as a prostitute, but that didn’t keep her from meeting and marrying the prince of a tiny country nestled between Germany and Austria. Now she’s winning over the people Lady Diana style, with an accent rivaling that of Eliza Doolittle. Add mystery, shake, and then pour over the snow-capped mountains of Razkavia.

Sounds crazy, no? But really, he pulls it off. I swear he does. Only Philip Pullman could suspend my disbelief in this way. I thought this book was every bit as good as my favorite in the series (Ruby in the Smoke). I would say it ties for first. Perhaps because it follows Jim (as well as Adelaide) and he is hands down my favorite from the series. After reading them Mike pulled up the movies in our Netflix queue, and I was happy to see that Matt Smith (new Dr Who) plays Jim in the BBC films. Fitting, especially considering Sally is played by Billie Piper.

This book is quite different from the other Sally mysteries. The mystery is still the thing, but with a heavy dose of political economy and international intrigue. I loved it. It was satisfying, well-written, and an adventurous read.

Friday, July 30, 2010

An excerpt and Reviews

Excerpt Check out Holly D.'s blog -- she is running a critique party for authors, and today a tiny sample of my work is up.

Because I recently procured a new pile of books from the library, and because I am way behind in my reviews, I am going to crank out a bevy of brief reviews for your enjoyment over the next few days. I read many of these books in July… here is what I thought of them!

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In this dystopian version of the US’s future, resources are low, life is harsh, and survival is key.

Briefest of summaries: Katniss Everdeen is selected to represent her region in the Hunger Games, a reality show where kids fight to be the last person surviving. But Katniss doesn’t think the Hunger Games are fair, she finds it hard to hate her competitors. So, she tries her best to subvert The Capitol while keeping herself alive.

What a fascinating story with a compelling plot and characters. I feel strongly that Katniss Everdeen is the coolest name ever imagined.

And it fits: she is a tough, amazing, strong, and wily girl.

I wrote in another post about my lack of satisfaction at the end of this book. With other books (like Uglies, reviewed soon), I felt a stronger sense of closure at the end of the book, even though not all the issues were solved by ANY means. I WILL read the second book, because I really enjoyed the story, but all I can think when I think about this book is: dissatisfaction.

But, you know what? I am willing to admit that this may be author intent. Katniss lives in a highly dissatisfying world. It’s not as if things are just going to become fairytale-like at the end—my frustration may be a condition of this harsh world/story.

Definitely made me wanted to re-watch The Running Man.

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

Tiny summary: Fergus lives on the border between Northern Ireland and the South during The Troubles. He and his Uncle discover a bog child, the 2000 year old body of a sacrifice victim preserved by the bog’s tannins. Fergus begins to work with the archaeologist who studies the site, kindling a romance with her troubled teenage daughter Cora. He also struggles with his brother’s commitment to the Troubles, while grappling with the role he may play in the ongoing rebellion.

Really good book. I think what I loved most was the slow but thoughtful pace. This is a book about terrorism, sacrifice, and struggle— but told in a measured and deliberate way. Like one of the slow runs Fergus takes up the mountain. It wasn’t boring in the least, but it wasn’t a rock ‘em, sock ‘em kind of thing. It was beautifully written, and I enjoyed the way Siobhan Dowd wove in the story of Mel, the sacrifice victim. Bog people were hands down my favorite section in Archaeology classes.

On the last page I read the author bio to find out what Siobhan was writing now, only to find she’d died of cancer. How awful. I heard a radio show the other day with an expert proposing that cancer will be cured in the next 15 years. It makes learning something like this even more difficult. The world has lost a really talented writer in losing Siobhan Dowd.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Friends, E books and contests

Good news last night that our dear friend Phing from the Netherlands will be visiting for lunch TODAY! I can't wait to see Phing and catch up on Enschede and our friends from "Wereldvrouwen in Twente". WiT is Phing's club for international women, and it was a life saver for me during my time over there. Phing, Jaap and Isa are at Brown for the summer and she kindly offered to drive up to visit.


Phing and the crew at Mayumi's baby shower. They always threw THE BEST baby showers! Lots of fun. See the full event on our family blog. Letteke's garden is to die for.

Upon getting on the net this AM I saw this interesting article on enhanced e-books in the NYT [E-books Fly Beyond Mere Text, Bosman, 7/29/2010].

What are your thoughts on e-books?

Some of the elements they describe are not appealing to me: Deliver us from Evil includes deleted scenes from the manuscript and an alternate ending. meh.

While some are much more tantalizing: Deliver us from Evil has research photos by the author, Nixonland features news footage and debates.

I think it also makes a difference to what level media are integrated into a text. Some features can be activated as you read the book- so one would have to pause their reading to take part in the given extra. It seems to me this could be much more effective as a complement to nonfiction than fiction. The idea of having fiction broken up doesn't appeal to me. At all. Though perhaps I simply cannot appreciate it until I see it done well.

I could imagine a cool "enhancement" for my book about the insect collector, with footage of the given insect available in a kind of appendix, including, as is the case with a field guide, their characteristics, habitat, and range.

AS for the CONTESTS, you should go over to the Blue Lipstick Samurai (Who is BTW incredibly clever, surprisingly young, and writes so much even I worry about her carpal tunnel.) to follow her-- when she gets 50 followers she will give away many a goody! And don't forget Erinn at Something Else to Distract Me (truer words were never spoken about a blog) is also having a super-duper giveaway right now.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On the Road Again

Welcome to another Road Trip Wednesday, a blog carnival where the ladies of YA Highway post a weekly question and contributors and readers answer it on their blogs.

The topic this week is:

What’s the best book you read in July?

July was a good reading month for me.


a 17-hour car trip...

a husband willing to drive most of it...

all lend themselves to Kat getting to read a TON.

It was so nice- all the reading made it a true vacation. I read twelve books in July:

Hunger Games

Bog Child

The Sky is Everywhere

Shadow of the North

Tiger in the Well

The Tin Princess

The Collector

Stolen Children


How to Ruin a Summer Vacation

The Girl with the Pearl Earring


It is tough to pick just one, but I have to go with The Sky is Everywhere, which I review here.

If able to pick a top four, it would be:

TSIE, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Tin Princess, and How to Ruin a Summer Vacation.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hanging from a cliff

I have been thinking for a few weeks about series. A post on Book Ends Blog got me so worked up I have to blog about it today.

The question of "to series or not" was brought on by readings from my vacation. I took a boatload of books on my trip to South Carolina. Between the domino set and the twelve library books (hardback, of course), my suitcase weighed about 50 pounds. I read so many fantastic books on this trip, including:

Three more from Philip Pullman (The Shadow of the North, The Tiger in the Well, and the Tin Princess)

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (reviewed below). If you don't love this book we can't be friends. It's as simple as that.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Bog Child, by Siobhan Dowd

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Of these books, all the Philip Pullman are of a series, HG is a series, Uglies is a series.

One of my favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon writes the fantastic Outlander series, and I hope to get ther latest from the library today. You may have heard of this series (about a boy with a scar) or even this one (about some sparkly dude)-- they're kind of big deals. The list goes on and on.

Can you see where I am going with this? I am starting to feel like everything is becoming a series.

Is this a problem? Well, you decide.

I have yet to review all of my new library books on the blog, but I can say without hesitation that I found Bog Child and The Sky Is Everywhere to be the best of the group. I think part of that is attributable to the stories themselves, the writing, the subject matter, and the characters. Some of it is also due to the fact that the stories ENDED.

I felt this difference most strongly at the end of Hunger Games. I was so disappointed at the end.

A better word may be dissatisfied. I felt little satisfaction about the story. Quite possibly this was author intent. Katniss Everdeen (is there a better character name out there?) lives in a harsh and, let's face it, completely dissatisfying reality. Her world is not one of happy endings, comfort, or pleasure. But as a reader, I still wanted some comfort and satisfaction at the end of the journey. I just felt like, "great- another book to add to my list!" at the end. Uglies was less so-- many of the smaller arcs were completed in a way that left me slightly satisfied.

So, this has me thinking. Why are there so many series? What influences this phenomenon? I have a few guesses:

--This the natural reaction to the 2-3 book deal.
Because I am not an insider, every thing I 'know' about publishing comes from some blog. Take with several grains of salt. But it seems that authors often sign a deal for a pair of books or a trio-- and the result is creating a series of books. Okay, I get that. I also can understand that publishers may get "more bang for the buck" with a series. In a sense, when you promote (or the author and publisher promote) a later title, they are also promoting the earlier works. I can imagine this is a positive for publishers (and authors), especially considering how long it takes for some books to gain a grassroots following.

--This an offshoot of the writer-as-personality that is a part of publishing today. Again, my info is from the blogs-- but it is crystal clear that writers are expected to market their book and themselves. The concept of some lone, troubled, fifty-year-old novelist living in seclusion as they rework the great American novel is of the past.

It is extinct.

The other side of that coin, though, seems to be this interactive relationship that authors have with their readership. I have to wonder if the call for series is an offshoot of that. If Jane Austen had internet, you better believe I would have emailed her or commented on her blog RELENTLESSLY to continue the story of Anne and Wentworth from Persuasion. I would want more. The same is true of most of the books I love. So, is this simply demand from the reader?

Full disclosure: I am writing a series. I know! The Horror! I am a total sham! My first book, The Insect Collector, is a YA mystery-- a genre that lends itself to series. I can imagine the character going forward in life to solve more mysteries, though maybe just a handful. I wouldn't like to write 60 books in that series-- but five or fewer, yes. Sign me up.

My second book, Swamped, a YA mystery with a boy protagonist, could also be a series-- but as I read, and as I think about this more-- I hesitate.

I also have rough outlines for two books set in the Netherlands, one my Windpunk extravaganza set in the 1600s and the other a modern book about a couple of Americans living at a Dutch caravan park. Neither of those feel like series to me at all. And that is satisfying in a way.

So, for you-- to series or not to series?

What influences the choice for you? Is it the WIP length, the genre, or just a feeling that more of a story must be told?

Monday, July 26, 2010


Check out Erinn's blog to score major goodies in her contest!!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The painted bunting

More writing just for writing's sake.

I volunteer to work with the painted bunting guy to impress my boss. Before working with the twitchers I’d never heard of the bird. I love a window and a bird feeder as much as the next person, but I’m no expert. My mom has a hummingbird feeder, and I’ve seen those. But I never knew there was a bird like this outside of rainforests. Its bright blue head, and small fluffy body with patches of red, orange, yellow, and green. It’s miraculous, phenomenal, extraordinary in a world of catbirds, robins, and chickadees. A supermodel surrounded by the drab and ugly. An elite stuck with the working class.

The painted bunting guy travels up and down the coast during migration, tracking the little rainbow-colored birds. I wake up at four to drive over to the plantation. He’s already set up the nets and sits in a small folding chair. He waits and watches, holding a pencil and a notebook full of script I can’t read. I introduce myself. We sit. We wait.

I’ve gotten hundreds of birds out of mist nets this summer. Usually we get to them right after they go in. It’s bad for the birds to be stuck in the nets for long. They are so small, they cannot wait in the chilly pre-dawn air for long. Most of the birds submit willingly. Somehow they know or trust I am going to remove them from the net and set them free. Or maybe they have no other choice. Only the cardinals fight. They use their strong, triangular beaks to bite your fingers while you try to free them. It pinches but doesn’t break the skin.

The painted buntings arrive. One after another. Little wisps of shadow piercing the net. The painted bunting guy tells me to go get them. We work that way for a while. A few go in, I remove them from the net and bring them to him. He records their number combinations from small metal bands on their legs. Then we sit again, waiting for more to show up. Again and again. On the final run I work to pull a bird from the net. I think I’ve got it free, but realize too late its right leg is caught. I hear a tiny snap. I take it to the painted bunting guy, shame washing over me. I won’t meet his eyes. I worry I’ll see judgment reflecting back at me. I’m supposed to impress this guy, not kill the birds. And what will the twitchers say?

I mumble something about the bird’s leg breaking, handing him the small creature. He tsks and records the bird’s band code. I start to talk, whispering so I don’t scare other birds away. Is there any way to fix it? Have I killed it? What can we do? all run together before he can fit an answer in.

Try to tape it, he says, pulling scotch tape out of his workbox. I pull out a small piece, fastening it around the limb, securing it.

Is it okay? I ask. He doesn’t respond. I’m not sure if the piece of tape is really going to fix the bird, or if he suggests it because he thinks I will cry if I know the bird is dying. I wouldn’t. Not in front of him.

I release the bird, and I leave the painted bunting guy to pack up his nets alone.

bird image from: Houston Audubon website

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sweet Potato Biscuits by demand

Okay- winding up the summer vacation with the family, and almost back home.

We're all ready to be in our own beds, to see our dogs Ghost and Keska (not to mention the fish and the silkworm caterpillars), and hang out with our friends and neighbors.

I called my mom for the biscuit recipe. She's famous for starting every recipe with,

"you take a stick of butter..."

and this recipe has both butter and shortening... so keep in mind this is not a light snack.

2 cups sweet potatoes (about 3 medium sweet potatoes)
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
4 cups self-rising flour
1 cup shortening
1-2 Tablespoons of water if needed

Boil peeled potatoes for 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees
Drain potatoes and mash, then add butter and sugar while still hot.
Sift flour into mixture.
Cut in shortening.
Add water if needed for the right consistency.

I asked my mom, "what is the 'right consistency'?"
She said, "until it feels like a biscuit."
She was a home economics major. So these are things she just knows. When I asked for clarification she said, "you should be able to roll it out and use a biscuit cutter on it."

Sprinkle flour on your rolling surface to prevent sticking. Roll out to the size and thickness you want. When we make them, we make them smaller than your basic KFC biscuit, usually just a little larger than a silver dollar in diameter, and maybe 3/4 of an inch thick. You may want to try a few sizes/thicknesses to find your own preference.

Bake approximately 10 minutes until lightly brown (obviously, this can change if you make really large and thick biscuits).

Makes 4-5 dozen biscuits, so you will have plenty to share.

Serve with a pat of butter (there's that butter again), a slice of sharp cheddar cheese, or a slice of honey baked ham.

Let me know if you try it, and if you like it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Book review: the sky is everywhere

As Lennie and her friends would say, this book is fanfreakingtastic.

Sometimes I read books and I think, well, I could have done that. Raise your hand if you thought this even once when reading the twilight books. See.

But this book, oh my goodness, this book was phenomenal, transporting, magical, really unbelievable, and never at any point did I think “I can write a book like this”.

The author is an artist. A magician. This book is luminous.

I could not love these characters more. I could not wish more strongly that Bailey hadn’t died (not a spoiler btw). I could not be more in love with the Fontaine boys and their eyelashes. I could not be more satisfied that Lennie has Big and Gran and Sarah in her life to get her through this. I cried and cried throughout the book.

I am recommending it now to everyone I know.

I am giving this to my closest friends for their next birthday.

There are many books I like, but only with a few authors do I think I would like to read something else by them. With this author, the talented Jandy Nelson, I will read any and everything she writes.No questions asked.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

RTW: biscuits, alexandra, and my room

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival hosted by the fab YA Highway. This week's question: what's your fave reading memory?

To get this memory you need to know three things.

1. I spent a lot of time in my room as a kid. I think it was the only place where I felt I could just be me. Not the me other people wanted me to be.

I spent ages reading up there.

2. My mom is a good cook, a great Southern cook. She used to make these delectable little sweet potato biscuits. They were a little savory and a little sweet, never dry. Everything a good southern biscuit should be.

3. I love to re-read books. If a book really moves me I will keep it forever, move it across state lines, around the country, over the ocean and back again. I have a few authors that I can read and read again. Alexandra Ripley was one of my first

If you don't know, Alexandra writes historical romances-- sweeping tales about life, love and family; heavy on the romance and the history. Before I had my first passport I'd traveled with her to New Orleans, New York, Paris, the cote
d'azur, Switzerland, and Florence Italy. Because of Alexandra, by the tender age of 14 I'd danced all night at a Jazz club during prohibition, lived through an influenza epidemic, gotten to know Lorenzo de Medici intimately (and I mean intimately), been betrayed, left for dead, learned the word lagniappe (one of the world's most fantastic words), survived wars, met a courtesan, been entranced by a Voodoo queen in the firelight, and fallen in love countless times.

One weekend my re-read of an Alexandra Ripley book coincided perfectly with the baking of said biscuits.

I remember lying on my bed, reading the book I already knew the ending to but loved, with two delicious biscuits by my side.

As the afternoon wore on, I savored all three. The room, the biscuits, and the story.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Reminding why you do it

Thank you Blue Lipstick Samurai.

Sometimes you forget to write for the pleasure of it. On vacation I have been dredging up so many memories. Of other times, and lives, and beaches (not to be all Bette Midler about it). I have been itching to write, but there is no time. Between kids and family and friends, there is no time. Now it is naptime. My moment of the day. My tiny window for writing. I sit down and I read through the blogs. I see the Samurai's missive. I think. I don't want to try to churn out something right now. I don't want to mark off a goal on a word count for a WIP. I don't want to produce a book review. I just feel like remembering another time at the beach, about a decade ago.

Just to remember it and write it: The leatherback turtle

I am in St Croix for the baobabs.

I know so much about them I sometimes forget that I’ve never seen one in real life. I am dying to see one, to glimpse in person something I’ve been researching for so long. I’ve spent so many hours combing through articles about the tree. Articles about the medicinal uses of its leaves, about the nutritional powder made from crushing the seeds, and of course the insects. That is why I study it, for the insects. The cotton-stainer that breeds on the tree before decimating a whole country’s crops, or the bees who build nests in its hollows. In India and Africa the baobab dominates the landscape. It serves as an oasis in the dusty, dry plains.

I once read about one in South Africa that had been hollowed out to make a bar— though it makes me sad to think of killing a tree just so that Afrikaners can get drunk in a novelty.

I am in St. Croix for the baobabs, but I spend most of my time with the leatherbacks.

We don’t have a car, and the baobabs are hard to get to. They are miles away, and Allan won’t help me. He is content to sit at the beachside hotel. Being selfish. It is what he does.

I should not have met him here. I know it was a mistake, but I listen to bad advice and I get on a plane, and here I am. I don’t listen to the good advice.

At the hotel we meet the kids from Earth Watch. One dedicated German and six spoiled Americans. The German is the paid employee, desperately trying to save the leatherbacks from extinction. The Americans are volunteers, who’ve signed up for the project because they want free room and board. They think they’ll get a lot of time on the islands to scuba dive. They seem silly and plastic and bored. I want to kill them. I’ve paid my way, fighting for grants and money to get here, and they are blowing it all off.

Sea turtles come back to their native beach to nest. Sometimes the whole of a species nests in one small area. When that same beach suffers from over-development, it can decimate a population. When the mother turtles nest, the German finds the spots, and digs out all the eggs in a nest. He keeps them in coolers in a spare hotel room. Spongy, ping pong ball looking things, in a room crowded with dozens of cheap, white Styrofoam coolers. After they hatch he releases them on the shore, on a dark spot to ensure they won’t head toward the lights of civilization. The German asks if I’d like to help him that night. The other Americans are leaving at the end of the week and he tells them not to bother to come back.

He comes around midnight. I follow him, wearing a headlamp, across a windy dune. The sea oats and grasses sway in the moonlight. We turn off our lights before hitting the shoreline. The mother turtles are enormous. Large shadows laboring down the beach toward the water. We find some nests. He points out a depressed spot, and tells me to shove my arm in.

I kneel on the ground, pushing my arm through soft sand. The sand engulfs my wrist, then my elbow, then my upper arm. I dive in to the shoulder. I feel the soft pliant eggs with my fingertips. He says to bring them up, I grab one at a time and we count.




We stop at seventy-two. We don’t want to leave any eggs behind. I push my hand around underground, searching. It seems empty. I hope it's empty. We walk down the beach and repeat the process. Again and again. Nest after nest. Egg after egg. I hold one whole night’s generation of a species.

After clearing all the nests we need to release the hatchlings. We take the eggs and the data back to the hotel room. The German puts away his notations, and searches through the coolers for newly hatched turtles. You can do it blindfolded, because it’s not a sight it’s a sound. The sound of hundreds of tiny turtle feet on Styrofoam.

We open a cooler. It’s like being in the presence of a miniature dinosaur: so solid, so functional, so evolved. A hard carapace and a streamlined body but still a newborn. An adorable newborn, with tiny features and wiggling, digging, swimming flippers in constant motion. To hold it is to grasp something both fragile and solid at the same time. I pick up one hatchling and its small arms press against my hand as it desperately seeks the sea. We carry three coolers back to the ocean.

At the shore we gently place them on the sand, one turtle at a time. Without hesitation they move along the dark beach to the water. They spread out across the beach, leaving faint lines in the sand that are then washed away by the waves.

I finish with the German. We place our headlamps on our heads and begin to walk back to the hotel. The wind builds up making it easy to stay silent. I say goodnight and ask if I can come back the next night. The German says yes. I look over at Allan’s room and see the lights are out. Maybe I won’t have to see him again. Maybe I can spend every night with the turtles, and sleep in the day. Then I won’t have to be present to watch our relationship end. I think I’d prefer it that way.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Double Dutch Book Review: The Collector and Stolen Children

The Collector John Fowles (word count 84044)

Touted as the original psychological thriller.

Tiny synopsis: Fred is a butterfly collector. He wins money in a lottery, sends his family on an extended vacation, buys a house, and decides he wants to bring Miranda, an art student he has been following, to live in his basement.

Whoa. This book was a tough read. I mentioned in an earlier post that my capacity for edginess has greatly diminished with age. I think what I found difficult in this book is that the first third is told by Fred, from his perspective, and you see the whole thing unfolding (his kidnapping Miranda). You see how stealth and methodical he is, and it is both sad and terrifying. She is so fully and wholly trapped.

The second section is told through Miranda’s perspective. It’s heartbreaking. You read about her feeble attempts to escape, and about her life on the outside—the students who were her friends, her family’s problems, the older man who loved her, but whom she always kept at arm’s length.

The final section is told by Fred again, and not to spoil anything, it’s clear he’s not going to change.

It is incredibly well-written. The shifting point of view gives the reader an uncanny perspective on what is happening, what each person is feeling, and how they mis-read each other. Fowles seems not to waste a single word. His writing is precise, almost clinical, but at the same time the story elaborates on many themes. Through the characters’ conversations and writings they cover class issues, communism, socialism, music, film, painting, nuclear annihilation, and other topics.

One thing really bothered me about this book: The fact that the guy is an insect collector. I get it, I know why it works, I see how fitting it is that a person with scary stalker issues --who wants to hold and keep beautiful things-- is an insect collector. It’s clever to give him this hobby, as he makes the transition from butterflies to this girl. I get it. I think it’s a powerful tool in terms of the novel, but at the same time, it really pisses me off.

Here’s the core problem for me. Who decided that bug collectors are mental? I love bugs. I love collecting them, but sometimes I feel like “bug collector” is shorthand in films/books for “person with deep emotional problems”. Was it Silence of the Lambs that did this to our culture? Obviously, The Collector came before SOTL in time… so maybe this book was the start of it all.

The book was good, but it took me a while to get through it. I poked along during Fred’s section, then when I finally got to Miranda’s part I raced through it. Reading the creepy stuff was really difficult for me.

When I first started studying insects I thought I was going to be a forensic entomologist. I spent a lot of time at the library, getting books on true crimes, forensics, etc. I learned a lot. For example—when someone kills a person they often forget to clean the ceiling. They will clean the whole room but forget the ceiling, which is a dead giveaway for the cops.

But after spending several months reading all I could get my hands on about forensics, I decided it wasn’t for me. I thought that looking at dead bodies for decades, trying to understand who had murdered people, would take a toll on me. I felt like it would be a hard life for my soul, if you know what I mean. So I dropped it. This books feels like that for me. It was well crafted, but I feel like reading a lot of his stuff would take a toll on me. So I may read John Fowles again, but sparingly.

Stolen Children by Peg Kehret. (word count 40202) I picked this up at the book fair a few weeks ago. It is a MG suspense/mystery.

Tiny synopsis: 14 year old babysitter Amy has to think on her feet when she and her young charge are kidnapped.

This book was an okay read. I bought it at the book fair because it covers a theme I follow in The Ordinary Life of the Insect Collector (i.e., a smart babysitter dealing with crooks).

This book was okay, and walks just on the edge of being dark. The crooks are real. They are bad guys who have a gun and talk about hurting the main character, but they never touch the kidnap victims, even when they try to run away. Perhaps the plot is a little implausible, but that’s not unheard of in fiction.

As a mom I find it hard to believe your average three year old would not FREAK OUT and have a ROLLING ON THE FLOOR TANTRUM if he/she was kidnapped by two strangers while with a new babysitter for the first time. Each night as they go to sleep the young girl says something about wanting mommy, and after being comforted ever-so-briefly by the sitter, just rolls over and goes to sleep. Again, implausible but not completely over the top.

Other than that, I loved the way Amy tried to sneak clues into the videos the kidnappers made of the children. I thought she was a great example of a clever young girl problem-solving. I love that in life and in books. Smart girls kick ass.

The book was well-written, the plot kept a fast pace, and had me rooting every step of the way for Amy and Kendra to escape. There were enough twists and turns to make me feel like I’d been on a real adventure. It was a quick and easy read.

I enjoyed this book, though I probably will not read another book by the author.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Trip to the Library or Vacation begins

We are now in transit to South Carolina for vacation.

One of the errands I ran right before the departure was to the library. I needed to return a few things and wanted to find some reads for my trip. I am heading to the beach and despite the plans with friends and family, not to mention all the activities with our own small children, I am hoping to get some reading time in.

Ahhhh… so I got a TON of books.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I have read one of her novels (Blue Shoe), and a book of essays (Traveling Mercies). Her This American Life story (Music Lessons) was one of the first I heard, and I fell in love with her then—it must have been about 1998. This is a book on writing, so it is especially fitting.

The Tin Princess, by Philip Pullman. Characters from the Sally Lockhart series. Should be delightful.

Bog Child, by Siobhan Dowd. You had me at bog. I’m serious. Peat, bog, swamp, morass, fen, bayou, marsh… I love all wetlands equally. A mystery set in Ireland during the troubles. Say no more.

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch. On a forum some fellow writers said this book sounded like my WIP SWAMPED "in a good way". Basic premise: boy loves nature, must deal with family problems. Sounds right up my alley. This book is set in the Northwest region, which is such an incredible landscape. I look forward to learning more about it.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Dystopian future world where everyone turns pretty at 16, but the main character isn't sure she wants to be.

Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman. Book 2 in the Sally Lockhart trilogy.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. I have no idea what this is about, but it got about 15 recommendations on last week’s YA highway Best Book you read in June, so I am diving in.

and, I bought Hunger Games on Wednesday. Something about a dystopian future, again, and it comes highly recommended.

Vacation BEGINS!!!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Double Book Review: Simone Elkeles and Tracy Chevalier

How to ruin a summer vacation. Simone Elkeles (word count 52,941). It took me about 30 pages to get into this book. At first I found the narrator’s voice too annoying. As I read more she drew me in, and within another 20 pages I was totally hooked. Of course, as you see the character’s transformation it’s clear that she was meant to be annoying in the beginning. So, this was not a product of careless work, but instead a really true and precisely drawn character. That’s awesome.

Tiny synopsis: Amy Nelson, a city girl, is asked by her mostly-absent father to live for the summer with his family in Israel. Adventure, romance, and personal growth ensue.

I really enjoyed it. You should know, I cry at the drop of a hat. It is nothing for me to get teary in the final pages of a book (or in, for example, a heartrending commercial). So crying in a book for me is not necessarily a mark of success. I cried three separate times at the end of this book. That is a mark of success. I grew to love the character of Amy, her stubbornness, her complete cluelessness, and her fierceness. I also thought Avi was the bomb (do people still say that? did they ever, really?) as a love interest. Sometimes the love interests in books are just boring or dumb for me, but Avi had it going on. He was vulnerable and sincere. Now to put on my political scientist hat (‘cause that’s what people want in a book review. The opinion of a political scientist. ha!)… I also thought the author dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an honest and thoughtful way. It’s is an enduring conflict, and the author could have easily gotten bogged down in it, or she could have ignored it. She didn’t. I felt like she addressed it in a way that worked for the book, didn’t come off as preachy, but also INFORMED the reader just a bit.

I will definitely check out more of Simone’s work. Big thumbs up.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (word count 68445)

Tiny synopsis: Griet, whose father has lost his sight in a tile-making accident, is hired to work as a maid in Vermeer’s household. She eventually becomes his assistant and muse, which endangers both her position and her reputation.

I get what the hoopla was all about now. I missed this book when it first came out. I later read another book by the author (The Lady and the Unicorn) about a tapestry. I liked the tapestry book, but I wasn’t bowled over. This book, however, was a delight. It was precise, thoughtful, and well-written. Though I lived in the NL, to say I have broad knowledge of their history would be incorrect. Even after five years in a country, you barely scratch the surface of a culture and its history. The Netherlands has such a long and distinctive history; I was not able to take it all in. So it was nice to read about daily life in the 1600s.

I like that while she created a story for the characters, she was precise in capturing the routines and daily life of the era. By this I mean she was true to history where she needed to be, and imaginative in a way that didn’t trample that.

I also thought the author captured the complex emotions of an intelligent girl, from the lower classes, with few prospects but to work as a maid. I enjoyed it, and would probably read another book by this author.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Social Action for the week

Not interested in social action, you say?

Well, hang with me here, you might be when you hear the story.

A former student from my University, Khaled al Faddala, secretary general of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Kuwait, was sentenced to three months in prison on June 30 for insulting the prime minister.

For simply practicing free speech, something most of us take for granted on a daily basis.

Here are articles with the details
from the National

article from the Kuwait Times

They say that the best way to help Khaled is to generate international press attention.

That's difficult for most of us, but if you're on facebook please join the

Friends of Khaled AlFadala


Every little bit makes a difference.


Check out Ink crush for a giveaway of a Jaclyn Moriarty book!

Road Trip Wednesday

It's time for a road trip on the YAHighway!

The topic of the day:

What would your ideal writing desk look like? Right down to the perfect pen or laptop.

Ahhhh, who doesn't enjoy fantasizing about a better workspace/living space or what have you?

My ideal writing spot would be off the grid, powered by a small solar array.

It would look out onto a glorious, contemplative, soothing garden like this one.

My desk would be a sit/stand combo workstation-- because sitting all day, even in the most comfortable chair, is not good for me.

I am fine with my computer-- the lenovo Thinkpad. I would keep it.

And I would stock my drawers with dozens of my favorite pens, which in some huge gaffe of marketing, don't have the name written on them, so I have no idea what they're called.
I know them when I see them.

and I would keep a stack of recycled paper notebooks to fill with plots, characters, and other important tidbits.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Review: Monster

Monster by Christopher Pike. *SPOILERS*

Word count: 53400

Tiny synopsis: Angela’s friend Mary walks into a party and shoots two fellow students, claiming they are monsters. On closer inspection Angela realizes Mary was right- but now the monsters are after her.

Okay. I get why Christopher Pike is a highly successful author. Even with one book I could see he is incredibly imaginative, and I know he has written dozens of books (I count 62 on his Wiki page). I know they are on a wide range of topics—so he has imagination in spades. That being said, this book was not my cup of tea. I think this is partially due to style and in some ways about genre.

In terms of style, I found the language grating in many places. I wish I could find the quote I read out loud to Mike. It was a doozy. Since I can't find the quote, I'll say the language was sometimes overwrought and clunky. The characters were flat, almost caricatures: here’s the cheerleader, here’s the detective, here’s the smart new girl, here’s the boy that has a crush on her. I also feel his work goes for the cheap and easy thrills. Gratuitous sex, gratuitous killing, lots of gore. But, umm… that’s not exactly unheard of in horror, is it?

As for genre, I am just not a horror person. Long ago I read Stephen King. I liked it (I think my all-time favorites were Misery and The Stand) but in my old age I am less able to enjoy it. I adore good suspense, but horror not so much. Maybe this is a product of having kids?

I have never been a horror film fan. I remember going with my friend Christie to see Scream at the theater. I had heard it was funny. Nobody said “funny for a horror movie” or “a clever take on the horror genre”. I just thought it was supposed to be funny. It wasn’t. It freaked me out. I walked out and said “I didn’t know people were going to die!” to my friend. She didn’t realize I was clueless about the movie. That was when I didn’t have TV, so I was clueless about a lot. I recently watched Zombieland—parts of it were filmed in my hometown, and my brother-in-law plays an extra zombie. It totally gave me nightmares. I find that "edgy" movies I once loved are just too much for me now (for example anything by Quentin Tarrantino).

For reasons of both style and genre I was not crazy about this book. At the same time, I can recognize that I am not Pike’s target audience. I bet a horror fan or a teenager would love what he does. For me, I probably will not be reading another Christopher Pike book.

Let me emphasize: his imagination is exceptional. I think the part of his book that really drew me in was as Angela starts to become one of the monsters. She dreams about the origins of the monsters on their own planet, and it was really creative and fascinating. He could have easily said “they’re from space” and left it at that, but he went the extra mile to invent a culture for the aliens. What’s more: he related their entire history in about a page and a half. He’s talented and creative, but it’s just not my thing.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gotta do something

What do you do when you are spending time with sick kids?

Our guys have both been ill this week. It started with Willy on Wednesday night. Then by Saturday morning it hit James.

Not an ideal holiday weekend, but it could be worse, I guess. We were at least not traveling, and had some time off of work. After the first 36 hours (for each of them) they stopped throwing up. I will spare you the gory details, but I am sure the moms out there can imagine the way something like a stomach bug runs through a kid's system.

Not pretty.

We watched so much television. Much more than we would normally watch. I have seen Max and Ruby and Yo Gabba Gabba so much I want to gouge out my eyes. I even searched through pay per view to see if any cartoon movies were out. Nothing was.

Now Mike is achy and I have sinus issues, and we're both really hoping we've seen the end of this bug. We are traveling to SC at the end of next week and we don't want to jeopardize our trip.

So what do I do when I'm with sick kids? While I sat on the sofa, rubbing the back of a sleeping child, trying to ignore children's programming, holding a child with fever, or merely resting between requests for juice, water, juice boxes, crackers, etc.-- I read.

Since Wednesday I read four books.

Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. I realize that is so 1999, but I never read it, and thought I'd check it out. In thinking about my WindPunk project I wanted to get a feel for the era. Though I lived in the Netherlands for five years, obviously it was not in the 1600s.

Monster by Christopher Pike. He emerged a bit after my teenage years, so I'd never read his books. What I write is more mystery while I would classify him as horror/suspense. I wanted to read at least one of his books.

Stolen Children by Peg Kehret. I picked this up at the book fair a few weeks ago. It is a MG suspense/mystery.

and How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, Simone Elkeles. I have been scouting the library for her book Perfect Chemistry, but haven't found it in the Teen section. This was the only book by her there, and I grabbed it. I have since heard from my friend Izzy that our library has a separate juvenile section, where they shelve some YA books. Because that makes perfect sense.

And you, dear reader, will get a review of each of these from me in the coming days. But for now, I am going to shut down the computer and go to bed.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: This article about drowning was a big eye-opener for me. Share it with the people you love. Courtesy of the nicest Shark in the ocean.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

WindPunk Inspiration

More inspiration for swamped

Road Trip Wednesday: better late than never

A busy week including a conference every day and then trying to catch up on work obligations at night... and now a sick kid. Poor Willy! He is not having a good day. I will spare you the details, it's not pretty.

I read a lot of books this past month, some I adored and others I enjoyed but was not ecstatic about. Each book I read gave me new insight to help my writing.

I think the top choice for the month was The Ruby in the Smoke. Close ranking with Butterfly Revolution, but I think in a head-to-head, I would pick The Ruby to read again, and again. Also, I much prefer a book that is full of suspense to one that fills me with dread. My review is just below-- I read it only last weekend.