Monday, January 31, 2011

I Dig Reading Challenge: January Update + 2 quick reviews

I dig reading.
I am happy to report my results for January's I Dig Reading Challenge. I completed nine books over the course of the month. That means I will donate $45.00 to my cause of choice, the Aussie flood relief.

The books I read this month included:

Prada and Prejudice
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Masterpiece
Linger
The Help
Matched
Mockingjay
If I stay, and
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I haven't yet had a chance to review If I Stay or The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Don't let that reflect on my enjoyment of the books: both were fantastic. I am crunched for time these days. So let me catch up with two brief reviews.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Tiny synopsis: Mia and her family are in a horrendous car accident. Mia's spirit waits outside her body in ICU, trying to decide if she should stay or go. 

A really fantastic book: I now understand why it's gotten the buzz. This book is about a potentially sensational topic, but I didn't feel the author sensationalized it. I am not sure if this is clear. What I mean is, she could have used this as an opportunity to wallow in the destruction and tragedy that is the auto accident. Instead, it's really a means to an end: an opportunity for Mia to explore her own life, her incredible family, their friends, and her first love. It is a sweet, sad, and magical book.


 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie could not be more different.

Tiny synopsis: precocious Flavia de Luce witnesses the last breath of a dying man. His final words set her on a path working to unravel the mystery of this stranger, and his connection to her father.

This is one of those books that, although the MC is an eleven year old, is not considered YA or MG. Don't let that stop you. It's a stupendous adventure, including a mystery with so many twists and turns my own book feels slight in comparison. I also ADORE that Alan Bradley is a 70-year-old debut author.


My sister is on Cake Wrecks

Check out this awesomeness-- my sister makes cakes and has one on Cakewrecks today. I know usually that is not a good thing, but in this case it is.
I'm totally going to have to get her to do this one when my husband turns 40 this year...

Here's the page.

And here's an image of the cake


Also- check out the Pay it Forward project from Shelli at Market My Words. She's offering an introduction to her agent for the winner of this contest.

Very cool. I love the idea of paying it forward, and this is a great way to do it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More blogfests in the works, y'all

I thought the 99 page blogfest was a lot of fun. It's always exciting to see what others write and what kinds of themes/genres/characters excite them.

I want to send a big THANK YOU to Alicia, Erinn, Holly, Pam, and Quita.

Very cool idea, ladies, thanks for making it happen!!!

I had to leave town on Friday, so I haven't had the chance to comment on all of the participants yet. I will do it tonight once the kids go down! What I read was so very cool.

Honestly, considering this is a page that often doesn't have the "wow" factor of a first page, I thought there were some fantastic pages out there.

In the interest of good times in the blogophere I signed up for the Bernad Pivot blog fest for February 16th.

Check out the deets here (hosted by Nicole Ducleroir):




it looks like a lot of fun!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

99th page blogfest

Hosted by Alicia, Erinn, Holly, Pam, and Quita.

The linkys should be available on the hosts' sites. Here are the rules: When visiting the pages, you should focus and answer the following three questions:

1. Would you turn to page 100?
2. Why or why not?
3. Based on this page, how likely is it that you would buy the book?

Here is my page 99. It's not exactly exciting... but that's the point of the exercise, right?



After sweep-netting for a while, I wander farther from the group of students. I want to collect larger insects by the pond. More than that, I don’t want to be around everyone else. I chase a dragonfly. He’s huge, but so fast in the midmorning sun that it’s impossible to catch him. I enjoy myself anyway, listening to the whirring and chirping of crickets and cicadas as I walk. The dragonfly leaves the bank and hovers over the middle of the pond. There’s no way I can get him now. I go back to staring at the ground, looking for a new bug to stalk. That’s when I see a tiger beetle running along the grass. It’s super fast, multicolored, and iridescent. This is my day for fast bugs, but something on the ground is easier than something in the air. I whip my net over the beetle and catch it right away.
After putting the tiger beetle in my jar, I sit for a while next to the bank, in the shade of a tree, listening to the birds calling in the distance. Drinking from my water bottle, I let my body cool down a little. I sit still to see if anything bigger than a bug or bird will show up, but as the day gets hotter, the big animals retreat. To see the good stuff, like deer, I’d have to be here early in the morning or as the sun’s going down. I can see fish coming to the surface of the water, looking for food, and tadpoles lurking around by the shore. A water-strider glides across the surface, skating across the pond on its long legs.
I can hear buzzing and humming from a few kinds of insects. Listening, I try to imagine what kind of animal is making the sounds. I close my eyes. I’m pretty certain at least one’s coming from a katydid. I think I also hear a cicada. Maybe the sounds of a grasshopper or a cricket? I guess it’s a combination of several of each, because I can hear three or four slightly different pitches of trilling. They work together like a symphony, layering one on top of the other. My mind wanders, threatening to land back on the Andersons. But I don’t want to waste this time, this moment, on anyone but myself.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

RTW: A whole new world...

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival hosted by YA Highway. Each Wednesday, all participants answer the same question about writing or books. Hop over to their site to join the road trip.

This week's question: If you could live in the world of one book, what would it be?


I love this topic, because that's the whole point, right? We read to take ourselves out of our humdrum lives for a little while, and jump into another more exciting/romantic/suspenseful/mysterious/adventurous experience.

Where would I like to be? Hmmm... that's hard to say. For starters let's just knock out all the dystopian worlds. Yes, they can teach us a lot about political systems and societies gone wrong. Yes they can be full of heart-pounding moments... but they're not exactly places I want to visit. I mean, by their very definition they are dystopian not utopian.

I'm also not planning to go to any worlds inhabited by zombies or other creatures. That's just not my scene, y'all.

Some of my favorite books involve a large mysterious house, perhaps in the English countryside, intertwined with a suspenseful story.

I'm thinking Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
 and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Not that these big beautiful romantic houses hold a lot of good times: both stories involve murder.

Still, I'm a sucker for the detailed architecture. Give me stained glass, elaborate woodwork, carved mantelpieces, and pocket doors any day of the week.

I can't deny a fascination with all the nooks and crannies of any big house: the servant's quarters, secret passageways, grand rooms-- and let's face it, there's always a wing that you should never, ever enter.

If I could transport myself into the world of a book, it would be the luxurious but mysterious country estate.

I can appreciate the woodwork, investigate the East Wing, and help solve the mystery, all in one long weekend.



Check out my fellow participants on the YA Highway site.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dear Mockingjay,

It's strange to have to talk to you about this. I mean, I know you know, right? I don't imagine you can't tell. It's obvious. I know it is. Maybe we've both been pretending for too long.

It's not fair to you to go on like this. I know you've probably heard this before, but it really is true. I'm not just saying it to say it. I'm actually sorry to have to say it to you, because I really think you're great.

I really mean it: it's not you, it's me.

Don't get mad. Please, don't. Just hear me out, okay?

I like you. Please don't think that I don't like you. You're great. You're clever and brave. You're smart and head-strong. You're great. It's just me. I'm not that into you. It's not your fault.  It's nobody's fault.

It's not that I can't take an intense experience, but it seems like it's always intense with you. You're always a pawn in some game. You're always feeling the same anger and betrayal. It's just too much for me.

But really, in a few days you're going to be fine. I mean, people LOVE you. Listen, no, I'm not just saying that. People really love you. For some people you're their favorite book ever.

That's amazing. You should enjoy that. I mean, they're making a movie about you, and you're going to get to know even more people. You're really going to go far.

Just not with me.

And that's okay. I don't think it has to mean that it's my fault, or it's your fault. We were never a good match. No, I'm not bringing up Matched. Listen, it's not about Matched. Sure, I think it's great, and yeah, I've compared you two--- that wasn't fair.  But seriously, you shouldn't even think about Matched, okay?

It's not about Matched. It's just me. It's really me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

No. Mo. Sno.

It's official.

I'm over the snow.

Days at home tucked in, snug with a cup of coffee I can handle.


My kids'* schools being canceled and mine in session: not so much.


I dread the drive in. I hope it will only take me an hour each way. All that to teach a 50 minute class and come home again.

I have to turn this attitude around because I am depressing myself!

Though this blog may be depressing... there are lots of fun things across the webiverse today.

Check out Erinn and Something Else to Distract Me. She's hosting a first lines contest. Mine is included-- go check them out, follow her blog, and vote for your favorite.

There are some really cool ones.


*No, these are not my kids. This is not my photo. Please, people, I'm still wearing my pajamas and I've barely dug out the driveway. The talented photographer can be found here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Blurb your enthusiasm

I'm definitely going with the hastily edited query to find my inner "blurb".


Beatrice loves insects. Spending time in their world helps her ignore her own. It helps her forget that she’s been left out, whether at school or in her own family. Her saving grace is a summer-long babysitting gig working for her idol Mrs. Anderson. After a few days Bea realizes that things are not rosy in the Anderson home. She wants to figure out why, so she starts to snoop around. Maybe it’s a divorce, or maybe it’s something far worse. She has to decide whether to keep her comfortable distance from the world or to get involved. When five-year-old James gets pulled into the mystery, she has no choice.


Hit the YA Highway to see what everyone else is blurbling about.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Double Whammy Review: Matched and Linger

Raise your hand if you're over the whole "snow day" thing yet. *Raises Hand*

These snow days are killing me. It's not the weather or the lack of mobility, it's the closing of schools that is making me tear my hair out in frustration. I LOVE my children, don't get me wrong, but we're all tired of the inside of our living room right now.

If I have to watch Dora fumble her way through another "adventure", I'm going to need serious therapy. Serious therapy.

My semester begins tomorrow, and with 5-6 snow days stolen from my calendar I am not as prepared as I would like to be. I changed books for my American Government class because I was just tired of the old one. That means tons of work. Ugg.

Before I depress us all, let's turn to a few reviews.


Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Tiny synopsis: Sam and Grace continue to fight the circumstances that threaten to tear them apart. Sam is no longer a wolf, but their love remains star-crossed. Grace is sick and nobody can figure out why. Sam has trouble adjusting to life as a human. Beck's new wolf recruits are turning out to be more than a handful.


I think the most alluring thing to me about the first book, Shiver, was Stiefvater's crisp prose. Her writing was so sharp, it felt like there was not a single extra word. I still think she's got it, but this one felt slightly less polished. I wonder how much of it has to do with expectations. You know how it is, your expectations about a book can ruin everything.
I wonder if I just put her up on such a pedestal, even she can't reach it anymore. I wouldn't be surprised if I have.
I thought Linger was charming, a good story, full of surprises, and well-written. The plotlines had a lot of twists and turns that I didn't anticipate. It ranks just below Shiver, though, for me.

Matched by Ally Condie
This is a stellar example of how expectations can alter your perceptions. I didn't know what this book was about until I started reading it. When I heard the title I assumed... tennis? When I saw the cover, I thought it was SF/F. When I dug in I was happily surprised to find it was a dystopian book.

Tiny synopsis: Cassia is thrilled to follow the rules. In her society, one is matched by the government to their perfect partner. It's just one step along the continuum of a precisely organized life. From birth to death the government manages your existence. When Cassia sees not only her match, but also a second person's face on her Matched disk, she begins to question everything.

Loved it. It reminded me in many ways of Hunger Games and the Uglies series (duh) because of the whole dystopian future thing. Having said that, I thought the writing was better in Matched than in either of the other books. Just my humble opinion.
I also thought the world was more nuanced. In Uglies, it's a lifetime of partying that awaits you once you've turned pretty. In Hunger Games, a lifetime of despair is the most you can hope for. In Matched, the world is highly orchestrated, to allow each individual just enough happiness to keep them from rebelling, but not enough to make any life unique. It was compelling, and like all dystopian tales, there are plenty of lessons about who has power and control in a society. Not to mention, Cassia's job is all about sorting. It sounded like a giant game of tetris. Though I am sure I'd get bored if that was my job, it would probably still be pretty awesome.
I am sure this will roll into a series. I will definitely read more.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: The Help

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Tiny synopsis: It's the early 1960s in Jackson Mississippi, a time when African-American women raised, fed, and cared for the children of white families. "Skeeter" Phelan is home from college, with degrees in communication and journalism. Unfortunately (according to her mother) Skeeter did not return with the only worthwhile thing a girl procures in college: an engagement ring.     Aibileen has raised seventeen children over her years as a maid. She's seen and heard a lot while serving luncheons and watching children. Too much.     Minny, Aibileen's best friend, has a bad reputation. She knows she shouldn't talk back to the white ladies that employ her, but she truly can't help it. It keeps getting her fired. The three women form an unlikely friendship when Skeeter asks for their stories as she writes about "the Help's" perspective on things.

This was a good book, and I think a fitting review for MLK day.

As Aibileen points out early in the book: (this is paraphrased) people all know Mammy from Gone with the Wind, but nobody ever asked Mammy what she really thought about her job.

In this book, Skeeter explores that question, trying desperately to get the maids of her friends' families to talk to her about their experiences. The book has as a backdrop the Civil Rights movement, and Stockett doesn't sugarcoat it. She gives national and local examples of exactly what could happen to Minny and Aibileen if they dare to help Skeeter.

Stockett's not the first person to explore this question. I remember as a student in Charleston learning about a Spoleto Arts Festival exhibit where an artist explored this same dynamic.
She grappled with this idea: that white children continue to be raised by African American women after slavery and through the civil rights era. The irony that a community can wholeheartedly implement an incredibly degrading policy like segregation, but at the same time expect these women to care for and love their children. That these children are allowed, in turn, to love these women, until of course the day they "grow up" and take on the conventions of their society, and begin to employ their own maids.  I remember watching a film in art class about the Spoleto exhibit. The artist (I can't remember her name, or even the year-- it must have been early 1990s) had found dozens of formal portraits of children in Charleston with their dahs (the local word for a nanny of this sort). She used these portraits as the basis for her installation.

I feel that Stockett approaches this in an honest and forthright way. She gives us the Mississippi of the 1960s without dumbing it down, and without pretending that people making less than minimum wage and being treated as subhuman would be happy with their lot in life. At the same time, when she hears various maids' stories, they are not all horrific. Don't misunderstand me: many are. But some relate experiences of families that helped their "help", who treated them with some degree of dignity and love. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the experiences cover the spectrum of how humans interact, and feels real because of it.

This was a good book: I recommend it if you're not up on your history of the Civil Rights movement, life in the South during Jim Crow (which was shockingly not that long ago), or simply want to read a story told from the perspective of three incredible women.


For an I Dig Reading Update: I have read six books so far this month:
Prada and Prejudice
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Masterpiece
Linger
The Help
Matched

January's donation (currently $30) will be going to Aussie flood relief... so I want to crank out a few more if I can. Classes start on Wednesday, which means I will be reading textbooks and papers for, um, about four months. Maybe I will squeeze in some smaller MG books while there is still time!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The I Dig Reading All Stars

Join the I Dig Reading Challenge.

Pledge to donate a set amount of money for every book you read in 2011. The amount is totally up to you (a penny a page, a dollar a book, the options are endless).

Keep track of the other participants, see what they're reading, and who they are giving their money to. I will be posting at least on a monthly basis to update what I'm doing with the challenge!


All participants will be listed under the I Dig Reading Challenge tab.
Please note:
**This is not about pressure. It is not a contractual obligation- participate as time and life allows!**


The I Dig Reading Challenge All Stars

     Susan Dennard's post on the challenge, and her website

     Amie Kaufman's post on the challenge, and her website 

     Jess Byam, representing on the sidebar.

If you're participating and not listed, please email me at insectwriter(at)gmail(dot)com

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: favorite lines

I'm knee-deep in rewrites right now, and so I can't think of anything but my WIP.


I do have favorite quotes from lots of authors, but with the snow day, and the boys at home, and the WIP taking up all the real estate in my brain, I can't manage to find them.


Here are four scenes from The Insect Collector. Feel free to leave comments/criticisms.


I LOVE feedback. 


 ************************************************************

I follow them. We walk and walk. The moon is full and round above us. We reach the end of the road, and cross over some dunes to the beach. The sand is thick and soft, and my feet sink into it. I hear the relaxing sound of the ocean breaking on the shore. The wind picks up as we leave the barrier of the scrub brush behind and the sand gets firm under my feet. We round a corner and there are no longer trees and bushes between us and the Ocean.  

I see it and I know why we’re here. 


*********************************************************


Though on some level I know it has to be tough for her that both her parents are dead, she’s the type that never shows it. The worst part is, she’s my best friend, and to be honest, I forgot about it. I forgot that her parents are dead. I never knew her parents, after all. It’s such a given: she, Weeza, and Teensy, that I forget what’s missing.  Though I know Weeza and Teensy are good to her, I never ask if it’s enough, or if it will ever be enough. I swallow hard, and try to find the right words.

“I just realized, I’m a crappy friend,” I say.


 ************************************************************



          I can’t speak for a moment, and I take in a sharp breath. The interior is whitewashed curving brickwork, almost glowing in the moonlight. In some places the plaster chips away revealing bricks below. A rusty banister bolted into the wall curves up to the top of the lighthouse. I crane my neck up, trying to follow the path of the stairs to the top without feeling dizzy. Long dark cracks snake their way up the wall. Feathers are strewn across the floor; a small nest is tucked under the stairwell, along the edge of the wall. There’s a dank and musty smell, mixed with the scent of salty air and water, and something I don’t recognize, earthy and pungent, which must be from the birds. 


**************************************************



 Maggie sighs for the second time and fusses around next to our bikes. “Can you please hurry up? Some guys are coming down the street — you’re gonna make me look like a total freak.”

It’s hard not to laugh. “Nice Maggie, if you don’t stop, I’ll wait until they’re right next to us and make myself look even weirder.” 

“Is that possible?” She pushes her bangs off her forehead. “Seriously, come on, they’re cute,” she whines, dragging out the “u” in cute.

“How can you tell they’re cute from so far away?”

She leans over her handlebars, staring down the street, her eyes squinting a little. “It’s instinctual. I can feel their cuteness.”


 ****************************************************

Visit YA Highway to see lines from the rest of the crew.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy Christmas

I know it's late, but our family Christmas gift was not ready "on the day". My husband works in the building/furniture arts but has put that on hold lately to go back to school for architecture.

School is fun and exciting for him, and thrilling to watch for me. He put all of his stuff on hold to go with me to the Netherlands for 5 years to study, and I'm glad that he is getting a chance to do his thing now.

So, he has all these skillz, if you will, but no time. We bought a house in the summer of 2009, and he went from working FT to going to school FT. Our house is about 100 years old. It's got "good bones" but could also serve as a work-in-progress for the rest of our lives.

As Christmas rolled around we talked about what we would give to each other. I could spend my life savings (sadly small) on books, but between the library and the occasional small splurge I manage fine. He loves a good tool, but buys them as he needs them. We really didn't "want" anything this year, except improvements around the house. He wanted the time to work on them, and I wanted the house to look less thrown together.

So that's what we "did" for Christmas gifts to each other-- but of course he didn't have the time until after Dec 25th.

May I present our new bookshelves! I am super excited. They're made from salvaged cherry and walnut. There will eventaully be cabinets below-- but that's part of the long term plan. For now, we are just SO EXCITED to have used the space in our place a little more efficiently.

 Here's the before shot: Please note, the kitchen trash can is not normally kept in the dining room.

Here is the mid-way shot.

 And here is the shot of how the two sides frame the doorway between the living and dining rooms. These photos may give the impression that we keep our trunk/coffee table in the middle of our doorway. We don't. I don't know how that ended up in the shot? We must have been vacuuming the rug. The long-term plan is to make the bottom part a cabinet, but I don't even care. I love it.

Printz Titles

Though I came NOWHERE close to guessing ANY of the awards over at the My Brain on Books Blog, I had a good time thinking about who might win the Caldecott, the Printz, and Newberry Awards.

If you haven't heard... but we're all book nerds here, so you probably have... the Printz winner is:
Ship Breaker by  Paolo Bacigalupi

Description from the ALA website: "In Ship Breaker, near a drowned New Orleans ravaged by hurricanes and global warming, Nailer and his young crew eke out a meager existence by scavenging materials on the ship-littered coast."

The Honor books include Stolen, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Revolver and Nothing.
(Descriptions and Covers below)

Of these I have only read Stolen, which was fantastic.  
Have you read any of these titles? 
If yes, what did you think? 
Who would you give the Printz award to?





Stolen by Lucy Christopher "The rugged Australian outback becomes Gemma’s prison after she is drugged and abducted by a handsome, obsessed stranger in a first novel filled with searing imagery and archetypal characters."

Please Ignore Vera Dietz  by A.S. King. "Vera Dietz wants to be ignored, but the ghost of her ex-best friend won’t leave her alone in this dark comedy that examines relationships, identity, grief and flowcharts."

Revolver written by Marcus Sedgwick "In Sedgwick’s grim, chilling story set in the Arctic Circle, Sig finds his father’s frozen corpse as human predator Wolff arrives seeking retribution and a hidden Gold Rush treasure." 

Nothing written by Janne Teller "Pierre Anthon’s nihilism causes his classmates to begin a search for life’s meaning in this bold, unsettling parable translated from Danish."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bedtime stories

Check out FanFreakingtastic's buggy bedtime story.

In recent posts she's been revealing the bedtime stories her father used to tell her as a child.

This one's a doozie!

It's not a surprise she writes suspense novels/ghost stories.

She also mentions I'm not a sociopath, always a plus!

Just for fun: more from Beatrice's Journal/Sketchbook









Sunday, January 9, 2011

Steal this badge

...and join the I Dig Reading Challenge

Throughout the year, donate money to a charity of your choice for each book you read.

How much you give is up to you-- it could be a penny a page, a dollar a book... the choices are truly endless. It doesn't need to be exorbitant, the important part is the idea of consistently giving.

I will be giving $5.00 a book and talking about the challenge throughout the year!

Happy Reading

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Would you include images with pages?

So, my main character keeps this journal where she sketches the insects she collects. It's also a necessary part of the story, in that she starts keeping notes about the mystery she's solving.

My question to you, blog world, would you mention this in a query letter? If yes, how?

Would you wait to find out if an agent was interested, and then mention it?

I think including the images in any requested pages would produce an overly large file... not good. And I'm wary of anything that might send agents running for cover.

Including my images in the book is not a dealbreaker for me at all. I could honestly go either way. I see myself as a writer, not necessarily an illustrator.

I guess my question is, does it add to the total package, or distract from it?

Again, you can't hurt my feelings. Well, you probably could if you tried real hard. What I mean is, don't hesitate to be honest, I can take it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

would this opening grab you?



The Insect Collector. Chapter One

     In terms of karma, I have a permanent deficit with the insect world. Somewhere, I think they keep my name and picture on a hit list. Bea Thompson: Most Wanted Bug Killer. I have at least a hundred insects in my collection by now. They must want revenge. When you consider all the time I spend chasing them, it's no surprise that I get stung occasionally. It's totally logical, but still, it feels totally personal.



I am painstakingly working on getting my WIP into fighting shape for the query process.

I am going to continue to post elements of my book in the next weeks. So, tell me, would this intro grab you?

Don't worry about hurting my feelings. I can take it. I would rather hear it here, than from an agent...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A trio of reviews and an announcement

Well, I feel like my reading has gotten off to a good start. I've read three very different books already : Prada and Prejudice, Masterpiece, and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

One (P&P) is firmly YA, the other two are MG.

Before I leap into the reviews, I want to make an annoucement. No, I am not querying, and I don't have an agent... not that announcement. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Here we go.

Over the month of December I participated in a Read-a-thon where participants were meant to challenge themselves to read as much as possible over a weekend, and then attach some donation (to the charity of their choice) based on the books read.

Some people opted to do a per-page kind of thing (a penny for every page read). Some, like me, made a per-book arrangement ($1.00 a book, etc). I decided to donate $5.00 for every book I read. I managed to read 10 books over the month, and am excited to be donating that $50.00 to my local neighborhood non-profit, the North End Action Team.

I really had fun with this challenge, and to be honest, I don't want to stop.

Drum roll please...

So I am initiating my own challenge, I want to keep giving throughout the year. I love the idea of associating something as fun as reading, with "The Greater Good".

Of course, anyone who would like to join in can, but no pressure. It's more that I want to keep reminding myself to read (not hard), and to give (sometimes hard), throughout the year. So, to begin I created this handy-dandy badge. I had to use my own art work, because I was paranoid about using someone else's from the web.That meant a bug, which meant, a theme that was insect-inspired.

I present the I Dig Reading Challenge.

I'll share with you as I try to read and give more! If anyone does want to join in (one of us, one of us), feel free to lift the badge from this post. Or just watch as I try to keep reading and giving all year.

On to the reviews

Prada and Prejudice, Mandy Hubbard.
Tiny synopsis: Callie is on a school trip to England, feeling left out as usual. In a fit of mania, she decides to impress the popular crowd by splurging on a pair of honest-to-God Prada shoes. Trying to walk around London in these massive high heels, she falls, hits her head, and is sent back in time to 1815.

This was a cute and fun story. Fantastic themes about struggling with fitting in, having confidence in yourself, and deciding what's really important in life. In addition, the journey to 1815 emphasizes the way women lived in that era. A lot of this is realized through funny interactions and hilarious errors. At times, though, Hubbard more pointedly highlights the options (or lack of) available to women, and shows how different characters try to handle it.  I thought the romance was sweet and heartfelt.


The evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Another Callie, but a quite different story about a young girl trying to understand her role in society.

Tiny synopsis: It's 1899 and Calpurnia is eleven. She is the only daughter in a family with (I think seven) brothers. There were a lot of brothers, and some of them ran together. Callie does not excel at the skills that young ladies of this era are expected to have. She can't sew, play piano, or cook well, which means she and her mother constantly butt heads. She falls into an unlikely relationship with her cranky elderly grandfather, a civil war veteran who runs experiments in a shed behind the house. Together, they explore the natural world.

I loved this story. Just adored it. The relationship between Callie and her grandfather is fantastic-- it reminds me a lot of the grandchild/grandparent relationship in A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote. I still remember the first class where I read A Christmas Memory. It knocked my socks off. An oddball child and an oddball grandparent joining up to have some adventures together. Callie's grandfather is a naturalist, so they collect bugs and plants, and observe nature together. There were many funny moments, and also this really poignant realization that girls, even girls like Callie, most often do not get a chance to go to College in this era. The author plays with this theme a lot, but never fully answers what Callie can expect for her future. I am not surprised this was a Newberry Honor Book. Isn't that cover fab?

Finally, Masterpiece by Elise Broach
Tiny synopsis: James is eleven and lives in an apartment in Manhattan. Marvin is the beetle that lives with his family in the cupboard under their sink. James is a bit of a misfit (is this a theme today, or what?). For his birthday he gets a pen and ink set. In an effort to cheer him up, Marvin creates a pen and ink drawing as a gift. Everyone thinks it's James'. The drawing leads them all on an adventure that includes a mystery and an international art heist.

 This book had much more depth than I expected. I thought it would be a slight, quick, middle grade read. I was surprised to find the mystery truly compelling. It was well-crafted and suspenseful, as well as a sweet story.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

YA Highway: RTW

Ahhh, another road trip Wednesday. The first of the year, hooray!

This week the YA Highway Roadtrippers want to know: what are the 5 best books in 2010 and/or how would you sum up your 2010 in a book title?

I've been trying to avoid a top books list, because it's SO hard, and so personal. Just because a book doesn't make my list doesn't mean I didn't like it or learn from it. I mean, seriously, who am I to judge?

So, in no particular order I will list five books I read this year that wowed me in some way. Please note, these are not necessarily books published this year, instead here are five books I read this year that I enjoyed. I hate it when my students change the assignment, but there it is.

Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver. My review is here. Just a stellar concept, beautifully realized.

The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson. My review here. It's no surprise she studied poetry. What a beautiful, heart wrenching, glorious book.




Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, discussed here. This will always be an all-time favorite book for me. A sweeping story with authentic characters, twists and turns, mega romance, and a love of books. What else do you need?

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch, (review) reminds me a bit of my own characters, and I loved to see what he did with the themes of science, nature, growing up, etc.

Stolen, Lucy Christoper. A true mind bender, reviewed here. The way the author takes you, and changes your conceptualization about what has happened is breathtaking.


And how could my year be summarized in a book title? Ummm... I can think of at least 3 of those:

1. The Idiot's Guide to Being a YA Author
2. Blogging for Dummies
3. Getting in over my head: my journey from unpublished author to unpublished author

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fun with Wordle

Okay, chuckle quietly to yourself as you realize this is my first time wordle-ing.

I have this suspicion that wordle is so 2008... but it wouldn't be the first time I've looked stupid in public, so here goes.

Here is my current draft of THE INSECT COLLECTOR
note to self: search and destroy the words like and back when possible


and here's the theory I use for research, which I think makes a nice one

 

And here is a wordle of the document for a big review (of myself) I'm doing for work... I like the way it looks. It makes me feel good that student/students, learning, research and community are so big. But maybe I just drone on about those things?


Thanks for indulging me in my first wordle.

To verify or not to verify, that is the question

Do you word verify for comments?

I notice a lot of people do it. I'm not totally clueless, I do get the general idea behind the concept: reduce spambots and/or weird and offensive posts.

I can also see why someone like Janet Reid has to do it-- I hope it's not the case, for her sake, but I can imagine she takes a lot a flack for being the QueryShark. I also think she has to monitor all comments because people get angry at her, and (try to) write nasty things on her blog. But for how many of us does that apply?

I think I had them originally, but one of the umpteenth times I switched my template it was turned off. I wanted to see if it really mattered.

And I found I liked it, because I realized for me spam comments aren't a problem. Blogger already captures spam. If you go to the Comments tab, there are two sub-tabs, Published and Spam, and blogger filters it for you.

I check every once in a while to see if anything is in there, and a few creep up... but blogger keeps them off my blog. I can delete them at my leisure.

Maybe it's just because of my RSI I am hoping that more people will decide they don't need it. Don't we all type enough? My wrists scream from over-use as is.

So tell me, have you experimented with word verification on your blog?

What have you found? What works for you and why?

Do you have horror stories from using the blogger spam catcher? Is "blogger spam catcher" a real phrase?





Monday, January 3, 2011

New year, New office

For Christmas, my husband has been working on a couple of home projects. One was to set up an office for me upstairs. We first used this small room as James' bedroom, but then eventually he and Willy joined forces and set up camp in the former guestroom. We realized that if you only have guests once or twice a year, it doesn't make sense to have a guest bedroom.


So, first he painted it this beautiful golden yellow. I feel like I'm in the center of a honeycomb, which, for me, is a good thing! It is hard to capture the warmth of the color, it's a much deeper and more golden than these photos show.


Then my friend Izzi gave me these great butterfly appliques for Christmas, which the boys and I placed around the room.


 This is a photo of my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all dressed up in (I'm guessing based on the number of grandchildren present) 1972 on Christmas Eve. 
 

Mike hung these photos for me [clockwise from bottom right]: a moth life cycle from an old book (also from Izzi- she is the MASTER of tag sales, and she not only grabs things we would like, we also get some of her awesome cast-offs), a photo by my friend Dorthe (pronounced Dor-ta, please don't say dorthee, she hates that)*, one of my beetle woodcuts, a photo of my grandad, and a framed lantern fly.  That's about as much inspiration as I can pack into one small wall.


Naturally, James was very excited with the idea of "an office". For those of you who don't know him, my oldest son is a connoisseur of the stationary arts. He literally got tape for Christmas. From several different people. If you really want to blow his mind, you don't go to the toy store, you take him to Staples. He loves nothing more than to draw, staple, tape, and cut things out.

He immediately begged us to make a desk for him, too. (At first we set up an area in my office, but his access meant the cat had access, which was not good). Instead we set up a section of his room for him to work on whatever it is he does.

Over the weekend he'd stop playing downstairs and say "I'm going to my office for a while." Then head up and work on a project.



*Dorthe makes incredible images. Check out the suspended balloons and swamp images here

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A year in reading



This post was inspired by My Brain on Books, with her impressive list of 105 books read this year. (PS: That's not even her record! Amazing, huh?)

My record is much less impressive. I read 66 books this year, or at least that is what I can remember. I started keeping track when I started blogging in May, so before that is a little hazy-- but I was reading less in the beginning of the year, so I stand by this number.

66 books makes an average of 5.5 books per month. I read seven of these books before I started blogging (Twilight series, Mountains beyond Mountains, Strength in What Remains, and Eat Pray Love). That means that I  averaged 7.3 books per month from May-December (66-7)/8= 7.3


I am not one for New Year's Resolutions. I'm more the type to make resolutions on a monthly basis. Some that move forward, some that fall flat on their face.

That being said, I will read more than 66 books next year. I'm too competitive with myself not to try. :0) At seven a month I should read 84 next year.

That seems reasonable enough.


All in all, it was a great year of reading. Making the list was like a quick visit with old friends. I couldn't begin to come up with a top ten list, or any sort of ranking based on preference.

There were many I loved, and some I hold dear for reasons other than their text alone: because they made me realize something about human nature, or writing, or myself. Some inspired me to take on writing as a professional pursuit, some made me laugh and some made me cry. Some made me roll my eyes.

Like all reading, they were worthwhile each in their own way: whether they were my favorite or not.

1-4. Twilight Series
5. Ruby in the Smoke
6. Cicada Summer
7. Project Mulberry
8. Hoot
9. Butterfly Revolution
10. Twenties Girl
11. I Capture the Castle
12. Girl with the Pearl Earring
13. Monster
14. Stolen Children
15.  How to Ruin a Summer Vacation
16.
The Tin Princess
17. Bog Child
18. The Highest Tide
19. Uglies
20. Shadow in the North 
 
21. The Sky is Everywhere
22.  Hunger Games
23. The Collector
24. The Shadow of the Wind
25. Looking for Alaska
26. How to Ruin your Boyfriend’s Reputation
27. Dirty little secrets
28. Forest of Hands and Teeth
29. Catching Fire
30. Shiver
31. Feeling sorry for Celia
32. Bridget Jones’s Diary
33. The DUFF
34. Emerald’s Keeper (BETA)
35. Water Wars (nonfiction)
36. Public Policy Praxis: A case approach for understanding policy and analysis (nonfiction)
37. Paper Towns
38. Perfect Chemistry
39. Lock and Key
40. Stolen
41. How to be Popular
42. Feed
43. Just Listen

 
44. Notes from a Teenage Underground
45. The Virgin Suicides
46. Crank
47. The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency
48. The Mysterious Benedict Society
49. Dairy Queen
50. Bamboo People
51. A Great and Terrible Beauty
52. Eat, Pray, Love
53. Tomorrow, When the War Began
54. Anna and the French Kiss
55. How I live Now
56. A Game of Thrones
57. Before I Fall
58. And Then Everything Unraveled
59. You Wish
60. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
61. Can You Keep a Secret
62. Speak
63. Strength in What Remains (nonfiction)
64. Mountains Beyond Mountains (nonfiction)
65. How to Pwn Noobs and Be a Rock Star (BETA)
66. The Tiger in the Well