Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer Wrap-Up: July

July started on the highest of high notes.  My sister and her husband welcomed a darling little boy into their family officially, minus confetti and moving music.

I already did a whole big post on Adoption Day, but it's still such a huge occasion, and July 3rd will always be the day that Anthony became an official part of our family.

My folks and I did a marathon driving session from Georgia back up to Illinois and I came back home on July 4th in time for the fireworks!

We gathered with half the town by the football field and watched the fireworks take place.  It was a beautiful night and we contemplated bringing Lucy but were pretty glad we didn't because we had a bunch of yahoos shooting off illegal fireworks right next to us.  I kinda thought we were going to die for a while.  Luckily, we survived, and hopefully the yahoos were ticketed for their misbehavior.

But all in all, we had a great 4th of July.

The next big event in July, which Doug calls his favorite event of the summer, was Pub n' Putt.  Again, this event was crazy enough to warrant it's very own post, but here's the before and after:

We all made it through and without a nap.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, Pub n' Putt is a marathon!

Finally, I've come to what was a surprise hit this summer:  The Ladies Leatherneck Football Academy!  This was a fundraiser held by Western Illinois University Athletics for women to come out and learn more about football from the coaches and players.  We started with a "chalk talk" in the locker room and then moved outside for some hand's on practice.

I went with my friend Sarah.  When the coaches started describing the drills we would be running, she ended our friendship.  But after an hour of tackling, passing, and catching drills, all was forgiven.  I had a blast!  After a long week at work it was music to my ears to hear, "go ahead and tackle that dummy to the ground!"  I think the offensive line drill was the best because we were encouraged to look mean and then run into the players as hard as we could.

 Below you see Sarah and I dressed in full Leatherneck gear.  The second picture most accurately describes how Sarah felt toward me in the beginning of the night.

All in all, I want to do a football workout every week!  Plus I came home saying things like "I've got great offensive line stance" and "I learned how to run some running played called God's Play" and then my hubby looked at me with a mix of awe and deep attraction.  I definitely have more respect for football as a sport, and I totally want to get a powerpuff league going in my town.  Or just play in the backyard. 

The only improvement that could be made on this event for next year would be to inform women about the dress code.  I wore workout clothes and sneakers, but most women had on sandals and one lady even had on a skirt!  It's not easy to run drills in sandals, so do us a favor and tell us what to wear!

So, that was July.  It felt busier, but August has definitely been full of activities.  More on that later!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


 Beta (Annex, #1)

Full Disclosure:  I was given a free e-galley on NetGalleys for Beta by Rachel Cohn.  All opinions are my own, and the free-ness of this book will not effect the review.  Although I do have to say that since I read this before the book was even published, that means I have even longer to wait for the second book, which is not cool.

Elysia is a clone in a dystopian future after the Water Wars.   She has been created to serve and was created from a deceased human, but she has no soul, so no feelings, few senses and no human emotions.  At least that's how it's supposed to go.

Elysia was created to live on the island Demesne, a perfect island where it's inhabitants have no worries and even breathe perfectly oxygenated air.  Demesne is meant to be heaven on earth, but there is trouble brewing.  

Since Elysia is a new teen clone, she is purchased to live at the Governor's mansion and be a companion to his wife and his children.  She befriends her "brother" Ivan, but wonders about the girl she is replacing, who is now at college and was a friend of the insurrection, a word Elysia does not know.  Everything Elysia thought she needed to know was programmed in her chip, but now she is finding that is not true.  

Beta (Annex, #1)With Ivan and his friends, Elysia tries to be a normal teen, but she finds out that she can swim and dive like a fish, causing her to question her origins and her First, the girl that died so that she could have a body.  Also, Elysia has visions and memories from her first, most often of a beautiful man that she starts to love, until Tahir and his dark secret come along, then Elysia begins imagining a new life, where she is free.

All the while, the clones are rising up, the balance of power is shifting and Elysia finds herself in a very dangerous position.  And the ending, wow.  That came out of nowhere and I cannot wait to see how it gets resolved.

Specials (Uglies, #3)At first, Beta felt a little like Scott Westerfields Uglies series, and the cover even looks a little bit like Specials.  But while this book does share some basic plot points with other dystopian novels, it is presented in an original way.  Instead of one group of people oppressing another group of people, it is literally a created race that is being oppressed and rising up (a cautionary tale if there ever was one).  I think that fans of dystopias will enjoy Beta.  Give this to fans of the Hunger Games, or readers just wanting more futuristic reads.  Maybe clones will become the next fad, like the vampire-werewolf-fallen angel fads.

This is definitely one of the releases that I am most excited for this fall.

Happy Reading

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer Wrap-Up: Vacation Bible School

I was going to wrap up month by month, but June was really all about VBS and nothing else for me, so here's VBS, and by extension June, in a nutshell.

I taught Sunday School last year, which was really fun, and at a SS meeting, I mentioned that sure, I could help with VBS.  Some how "help with" became "run" and now the ongoing joke is if I don't show up to a church meeting, they just put me in charge.  At this rate, I'll be running the whole show in 6-8 months.

So, the theme was Amazing Desert Journey.  We covered the Garden of Eden, Manna from Heaven, the Temptation of Christ and the Resurrection.  We did a four day, evening VBS instead of the traditional five day.  Four days was perfect, not too long or short, and we were blessed with pretty good weather-only one really hot day.  We did lots of passive activities like a giant coloring poster, a sandbox and sidewalk chalk.  As always, there was lots of music and games, and silliness.

Here I am, awkwardly digging in my bag-o-fun for the day's object lesson.  Since each VBS session was only 2 hours long, I just treated it like a big storytime.  Everyday we opened with music, did the object lesson, the main lesson, craft, then snack, a game or some type of odd silliness then close with music.

Our crafts were simple.  Every night we had four stations:  Poster coloring, greeting cards for the nursing home, a recycle-old-craft-materials station, and a special station where we made a theme-following craft.  

The snacks were amazing!  I owe my left arm to Diny for doing such a great job.  I really should have taken pictures.  She had the kids make an edible mini-Garden of Eden with apples, pretzel sticks and grapes and cherries.  It was crazy.  We also made sand pudding complete with little camel animal crackers to roam the desert.  We also did a simple trail mix and travel blankets, which were tortillas and cinnamon.  

Part of the fun of VBS is making up stuff on the fly.  The first night we had a little extra time, so I had to improvise a game.  Luckily, our church sits on a huge lot, so we have a crazy amount of room to run around.  I grabbed a couple paper plates and some apples and had an instant relay game.  Above, I have a child demonstrating.  Now, it wasn't the most organized or conventional game, but the real point was just to run the kids a little and burn some energy.  

This game was fun!  This is called the Walls of Jericho.  Have all your kids line up, pick one to jump as far as they can, then ask everyone else to jump and try to keep a straight line (hint: you can't-the structural integrity of your wall will be compromised).  

We didn't have a huge VBS group-only about 18 kids ages three to twelve, but we did have fun.  And I have some advertising ideas for next year, so hopefully we'll consistently hit 25 per night.  I'm all about small, attainable goals.  Also, since I kinda know what I'm doing now, I hope to be more prepared and organized.  

Included in this be-more-organized-for-next-year goal is actually saying thank you!  Right after VBS I took off on an impromptu trip to Georgia to be there for Anthony's adoption, then summer just got crazy busy, so I've never said a proper thank you to all of the people that helped with VBS.  I need to send a big THANK YOU to my teachers, Melinda, Amy, and Kathy.  Another thank you to Pastor Burdick, not only for the music leadership, but also the pictures, which I took from his facebook page.  As I said before, Diny and Mariam did an amazing job on the snacks, and I had several other volunteers that kept the chaos to a minimum, so thank you.  And to everyone at Immanuel Lutheran Church for supporting VBS with prayer and donations. 

So, that was my long overdue VBS wrap-up and thank you all in one package.  I'm all about efficiency.  Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow to recap all things July and later to recap August, although I still have one more fun event planned for this week.

Happy Reading (or VBSing).

Monday, August 27, 2012

Little Lucy

I was downloading photos earlier in preparation for some summer wrap-up posts.  It's been a busier summer than I imagined!  But until I really get going on those big posts, here's a simple puppy post.

A family portrait shortly after we adopted Lucy.

 That's our girl, Lucy.  We adopted Lucy when she was just 8 weeks old from a farm in Calhoun County (remember, they are the home of Pub n' Putt).  Right away, she was wonderful!  Look at that little puppy face.  How could you not love her!

Hanging out on the deck last summer.

Doug only had one dog growing up when he was little, and I only had outside dogs, so this was an all new experience for us.  Plus, I didn't really like dogs.  I was always afraid of them as a kid.  But, we ended up with Lucy because Doug wanted to buy this crazy fixer-upper house, and I told him if he'd stop dreaming about that house, we could get a dog.  I think I may have played that card too soon.

Cuddled up with Doug last summer.

So, why a beagle?  Well, we wanted a relatively small dog, but not a toy breed.  We wanted a real dog, and trust me, beagles are real dogs.  Lucy loves to sniff around and howl at random objects.  She's actually not a very loud dog, but every now and then, she wants you to know what's up.  

Hiding under the dining table this summer.

When we picked up Lucy, we literally had the pick of the litter.  There were 6 puppies in her litter and the others were adorable, but Lucy was the only puppy that really wanted to be petted.  She is perfectly happy to be petted all day.  And she's a pretty mild-mannered little puppy.  She loves napping, and playing with her toys and taking walks, so all in all, life's been pretty great with this little girl.

Sleeping on the Mac this winter.

Naturally, there were some growing pains.  Lucy did whine and cry at night, and we worried how to keep her entertained while we were at work.  She's chewed up some stuff that has gotten her in trouble, like phone cords, birds (she's a predator!), pillows, and even an air conditioner cable that made our AC go out, so she can be a bit of a rascal.  And even though I wasn't a dog person when we got her, I'm definitely a Lucy person now!

Just being adorable this summer.

So, that's it.  That's the most important member of our little family.  Having a puppy is definitely a different experience, but we love having a dog now, and really can't imagine our lives without one.  Plus now that she's over a year, she's really mellow for the most part and has become a great little house dog.

I'll have remember to share more Lucy experiences, because she's actually pretty hilarious.  So, be ready for more puppy posts!

Friday, August 24, 2012

My Weird School

Mr. Klutz Is Nuts! (My Weird School, #2)The new school year has started in my area, so what better time to celebrate the My Weird School books by Dan Gutman!  I love the My Weird School books.  They are great for new chapter book readers in second or third grade and the programming possibilities as endless.  I did a Library Capers program for first through fifth graders using this theme to celebrate the end of the school year, but why not celebrate the beginning too.

First, I'd recommend reading several My Weird School books.  I'll highlight which ones I used.  Open with a read aloud and let the books tell you what to do from there.

Mrs. Roopy Is Loopy! (My Weird School, #3)Here are a couple more ideas to make this program really great.  Take a class picture with strange props and funny hats to distribute to kids at the end of the program.  Have the kids make up their own funny teacher names and bios.  Example:  Miss Torbeck is a Total Wreck (my maiden name was Torbeck).  I'd be the wacky library and let's kids talk in the library and build forts with cushions and act out books.  The flip side of that could be Mrs Erickson is Just No Fun-the total stereotype librarian that's mean and won't let anyone touch the books.  Ohh, there's a cool Jekyll and Hyde element here!

Mrs. Kormel Is Not Normal! (My Weird School, #11)Most importantly, let the children enjoy the books and the zaniness, and teachers, try to embrace some of the weirdness.  It will definitely help your students with the first day jitters!

Happy Reading!

My Weird School!

Welcome and Secret Word!
If I say the secret word, then I’ll kiss a pig!
Coach Hyatt Is a Riot! (My Weird School Daze #4)(It was a pig puppet.  Taken from Mr. Klutz is Nuts)

Teacher Introductions
(Simply show several of the books and let kids marvel at the strange titles.)

Read from Mrs. Roopy is Loopy
Game:  Mrs. Kormel Says
Ms. Hannah Is Bananas! (My Weird School, #4) (From Mrs. Kormel is Not Normal)

Game:  Feather Balancing
Game:  Scarf Juggling
(Both from Coach Hyatt is a Riot)

Craft:  Ms. Hannah's Art Class
(Found object art idea from Ms. Hannah is Bananas

Remember to set out plenty of My Weird School books for check out!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What's the goal?

While writing my review of The Magnolia League yesterday, I came across an interesting article that was linked on Good Reads.  It was an article written by Katie Crouch about writing young adult books.  Click here for the full text.

Basically, Katie says how hard it is to write YA books because the schedule is so shortened and readers just want the next book RIGHT NOW!  So, writers basically fly through drafts to get the new book out there.

Many people on Good Reads thought this was a demeaning article, and I do agree to an extent, but I think what Crouch was trying to say (although she could have found a better way to say it if she would have spent more time on the article) is that YA lit works on a tight schedule, and the really good YA series authors thrive under that kind of pressure.  Katie Crouch is not one of those authors.  My review of the Magnolia League wasn't glowing (it's not a terrible book, but I don't recommend reading it), but it's not the worst YA book that I've read by far.

Now, some YA series authors still manage to put out very good books under pressure.  Anna Godbersen works on a tight schedule, yet her period series, The Luxe and Bright Young Things, are very good, not just for plot but also for setting.  Meg Cabot publishes like a crazy person, and her novels often have very engaging characters.  Laura Dessen can be relied upon to publish a book a year, and while she's not my cup of tea, readers love her.  I can go on and on about authors that make that tight schedule work, but it's not for everyone.

In the Slate article, Crouch mentions that she used to write literary fiction.  The type of book that gets critical buzz but that only award committees (and my book club apparently) read.  You're not going to become the next big thing by writing the next great American novel.  I think that Crouch needs to go back to that territory.  Obviously she needed more time on The Magnolia League because the city of Savannah should never come off as just another city, or just another boring city at that.

But this isn't another review of The Magnolia League.  Let's circle back to the title of this post.  What's the goal?  When an author sets out to write a book, they have a goal in mind.  Some want to write the next great American novel, some want  a Pulitzer, some want a Newbery, some just want to pay this month's rent.

Here's my point (I think, this thing has been a bit of a ramble), writers like J. K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer didn't set out to win you with their lyric prose.  So all of you snobs that say they are poor writers just need to stop.  They wanted people to read and relax and enjoy themselves.  Jeff Kinney of Wimpy Kid fame probably never said to himself, wow that joke about farts was Newbery material.  No, he wanted kids to read and laugh.  Mission accomplished!  I think that instead of comparing one book to an entire library of fiction, compare it to its goal.  Does it live up to its goal?  If yes, then great, if no, then you have a problem.

I think the reason why this is an issue for me is because, I'm not writer.  I have never published a novel, maybe someday but not today.  I'm annoyed at all those that judge someone for something that they themselves have never done.  And yes, fine, you can probably write a better literary book than Stephanie Meyer, but can you sell more books?  Probably not.  Give the woman some props for getting lucky and jumping on the vampire train at just the right time.

So, the next time you are evaluating a book, all I ask it that you think about this:  Does the book accomplish it's goal?  How does it compare to other books with similar elements?  Was the book engaging?  Those are the more important questions for the causal reader, or the causal reviewer like myself.

That's it.  That's all.  In the words of Thumper, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.  Or, if you really don't like the book, all you need to say about the author is bless her heart (you can thank Miranda Lambert for that piece of Southern charm).

Bless your little heart, Katie Crouch.  You tried.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Magnolia League

The Magnolia League (Magnolia League, #1) 

After the death of her mother, Alex is forced to move back to Savannah with her grandmother, the only living relative she has left.  The only thing worse than Savannah's heat is the Magnolia League, which seems to rule over the city with a mysterious power.  Alex's grandmother is determined to include her in the clubs activities, but Alex wants no part in this little Stepford Wive's-esque club.  

Until she meets Thaddeus.  Then it doesn't seem too out of line to put up with the makeovers and rituals and meetings to be young, beautiful and wealthy.  But there is a dark secret behind the Magnolia's and now Alex is in over her head.

This book turned out to be pretty much what I was expecting.  All the major plot points were there, but it still fell flat.  Alex is a very feisty character at first.  She is a big believer in organic living, medicinal herbs, kindness and graciousness to everyone, but I didn't feel like she put up enough of a fight.  Her mother was an herbalist, so I was surprised that she didn't bond with the Buzzards more, since she can likely do everything that they can do.  Although, I guess if she sided with them in book one, there would be nothing left for the rest of the series.  I was glad to see that she stayed friends with Dexter, despite being perfect and beautiful, but somehow Dexter weasels his way into the Magnolia society anyway, so it wasn't hard for Alex to stay friends with him.  

And Thaddeus.  He just didn't have any personality to me.  I really could not understand why she was so attracted to him.  I don't know if the goal was for Thaddeus to be awkward, but it made it seem like he was the big man on campus, and he just didn't seem  to fit that part.  

All in all, I think that I'll pass on the rest of the series.  It feels very disingenuous to me.  The charm of Savannah was not immediately apparent, which really bothers me, the hoodoo culture is not well fleshed out, and the characterizations feel stock.  Even for quick, light reading, I would recommend something more engaging.  

For light, sugary reading, I would recommend Beautiful Days, LA Candy, or  Heist Society.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir 

It all started for me with Beyonce the chicken.  I'm an avid reader of Young House Love, and they mentioned it one day, and it was the funniest thing I had ever read.  I had the church giggles at work, which is really quite dangerous, especially when you are laughing at a giant metal chicken that will cut you.  For those of you that know Beyonce's story, that's not even the funniest thing is this book, not even close!

Jenny Lawson writes about her childhood in rural Texas, her anxiety disorder, her difficult pregnancy, and her battle with rheumatoid arthritis in such an unfiltered and hysterical way that you will be crying with laughter through most of the book.  I do appreciate that she opens the book by saying most people would be too offended to read this book, so readers should feel proud to be so open-minded, but that one thing that you're really defensive about will be mocked too, so she apologizes for offending you, because it's true, you'll be offended when you read this book, but she's equal opportunity like that.  

Sidenote, I read this book on my Kindle, which is a good and bad thing.  Good because it's not just lying around for impressionable little eyes to run across.  Someday I'll have to find out if I can password protect certain books on my Kindle because it is a great way to get away with guilty pleasure reading.  I've always thought it would be the perfect way to enjoy 50 Shades of Grey, because you could be reading it on the train and in two clicks be reading War and Peace if your seat mate got nosy.  (Sidenote within a sidenote-do not read Let's Pretend This Never Happened on a train because you'll look like a crazy person laughing out loud to War and Peace.)  Reading on the Kindle is bad in this case because there are several pictures included to confirm some of the stranger stories.  Like when Jenny was mauled by a pack of wild dogs.  (The dogs weren't wild so much as tame pets, and it wasn't a pack, it was one and an on-looker, but she did get bitten).  So, in that regard, it would have been nice to have some clearer images.  But my Kindle is old, so if you were reading on a Fire, then you wouldn't have this problem.  I say, read on the Kindle!  Just not on the train-seriously, people will think you are nuts!

I admit that aside from the tales of Beyonce, I haven't read The Bloggess.  I can tell you that the Beyonce story is exactly like it is from the blog, which is a very informal rant filled with inappropriate language and crude comments.  So, this book is not for the politically correct.  This book is rife with foul language, inappropriate topics, ridiculously embarrassing scenarios that make you cringe and way too much taxidermy for a book classified as a memoir, unless it's a memoir entitled "Stuffed:  My Life as a Taxidermist".  But that's why this is a great book!  For those of you with a totally inappropriate sense of humor (and there are a lot of those people judging by the ratings of Tosh.0), it's hilarious.  There were seriously times when I had to put the book down because I was laughing so hard.  And my husband would hear me laughing and he would ask why, and I'd try to explain that I was reading about the time that Jenny tried to do a DIY colon cleanse  so her anti-depressants would be more effective and took like 3x the recommended about of extra strength laxative and she exploded basically, so then she tried taking Pepto to cancel out the laxative and her cats are pushing things under the bathroom door and she thinks it's a serial killer.  Oh, you just have to read it, you'll cry, I promise.  

Since my blog is mostly devoted to children's and young adult books, I can't even get into some of the more interesting and socially awkward moments.  So, let's just say, if you like Dave Sedaris, imagine him on Xanax with no filter what so ever, an editor that just walked out on this crazy assignment and a stuffed boar's head in the living room, and you're getting close to what this book is about.  

Ridiculously funny for those of you that are not too easily offended.  If you are easily offended, try The Night Circus instead and feel very intelligent for reading real literature, not some blog-based smut. 

Me, I'll be catching up on The Bloggess!

Happy Reading!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A quick little update

Remember how I told you that I had a raging Pinterest addiction that was hurting the ones I love?  Yeah, that hasn't changed so much.  I did go on vacation to Cincinnati (had an awesome time-pics next week, I promise!), and didn't have a lot of computer time, so I actually went five whole days without pinning, but once I got back from vacation, I was like "five minutes won't hurt".

But last night I was talking to my friend Sarah (she's the new media specialist I mentioned here) and she told me that she had to stop the pinning because she kept thinking "if only I had this mustard colored cardigan, my whole wardrobe would be complete", but then she'd see a cool outfit with leopard loafers and it would all be over.  So she stopped pinning to stop buying unnecessary clothes.  I know what she means.  I have enough clothes (you read that right, Doug, I have enough clothes), but you see all this cool stuff and you just want it!

So, Pinterest Challenge Update.  I'm challenging myself not to go on Pinterest!  Instead if I get free time or need a break, I'll check out a book blog.  Despite having my own book blog, I've strayed from my favorite blogs like Shelftalker, A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, and my favorite, Awful Library Books.  I'll still check out my favorite home blog, (Young House Love) and slice of life blogs (Bower Power and Nice Girl Notes) but no more fashion blogs.  Because you can have enough clothes, but you can't have enough books!

Speaking of not having enough books, I was reminded again last night of how badly I need to read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  My non-YA reading friend Katie loved it, and our lovely book club host, Erin, loved it too, and these are ladies that read real, grown-up books, so it's that good!  I bought it this morning and went for the hardcover because if it's that amazing, I'm going to need to loan it out and a Kindle edition just will not do.  Too bad I won't get it until Tuesday.  I could really use the instant gratification of having it right now.  My Kindle is loaded with Code Name Verity, Beta, Feed, and The Scorpio Races, so I have plenty to read, I just have to decide how I'm feeling.

Have a great weekend everyone!  I'll be hanging out at the Illinois College Alumni tent and singing along at the Miranda Lambert concert.  Hope your weekend is just as fun.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Beautiful Days

It is a beautiful day here!  The weather has been cool like fall and it actually rained a little.  So this is the perfect time to review Anna Godbersen's Beautiful Days.

Beautiful Days (Bright Young Things, #2)

As the cover says, this is the second in the Bright Young Things series, which is very similar to Luxe, which is kinda similiar to Gossip Girl, in that you are reading about several beautiful, charming, lucky young women, in lovely clothes and with exciting lives, but these girls are living in the roaring twenties.  Now, Bright Young Things is set in New York, but everyone knows the place to be in the twenties was Chicago (I say as a proud Illinoisian, Illinoian, Illini fan?  whatever), but the Flappers series by Jillian Larkin lacks some of the drama and intrigue that Godbersen is so skilled at writing.  Maybe I'll pick up the others in the Flappers series later, because I love some good book candy.

On to the book!  To summarize, Cornelia has already traveled from Ohio to find her long lost father, only to have him killed supposedly by her love-interest's bootlegging family.  Letty has found herself swindled by a fast talking Casanova and has found that getting to the top might take more of her dignity than she's willing to give.  And Astrid is striking a balance between her old money family and her fiance, the bootlegger's son.

Now, the girls must move forward.  Cornelia becomes obsessed with Max Darby, the flyboy she saved in book one, but he's a clean-cut guy and wants nothing to do with her and her bootlegging family.  She is simultaneously trying to recover from her father's death, open a speakeasy, have fun with the girls, and win Max's affections.  Letty is having a terrible time with Grady, her old-money flame, and she's trying to make it on Broadway, despite being unceremoniously cut from Cordelia's night club's opening night.  Although Astrid is now engaged to Charlie, she is still trying to be her independent self, which gets her in a world of trouble when the Hale's come for revenge.

All in all, this is one great candy coated historical fiction novel.  Godbersen has a real talent for making an intriguing time period absolutely irresistible.   Her characters are charming but flawed and provide just the right amount of drama and excitement.  I was thoroughly sucked into this volume, and this is one of those books that is YA but more than YA.  It's a quick, flighty romance without all the bodice ripping (Astrid is actually quite concerned about her wedding night).  It's not prudish, it's just not total smut.  A little smut, but come now, it's the roaring twenties.

The next installment of Bright Young Things is due this fall, and you can bet that I'll stayed tuned.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Required Reading for Grade 4 to 6

A good friend of mine is starting as a media specialist in upper elementary school (jealous!), and she wanted to know what to start forcing her students to read.  So, here is my totally biased and not at all exhaustive list of what every fourth through sixth grader should be reading.

But first, if your third grader hasn't read Bunnicula by James Howe, make them read it today!  I don't particularly know why I am so obsessed with this little vampire bunny, but he was vampire before vampire was cool.   

Bunnicula (Bunnicula, #1)
Recently published must reads:

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of LifeSchooledThe Invention of Hugo Cabret

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass.  After his father passes away, Jeremy is left with a box containing the meaning of life, but no keys, so now he must go on a search to find them.  More engrossing than this blurb.  Wendy Mass writes great books, so anything by her is recommended.

Schooled by Gordon Korman.  Cap has been homeschooled all his life, but now has to navigate public school.  Instead of school changing him, he changes the whole school.  I have a huge literary crush on Gordon Korman.  Everything he writes is amazing.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  Always read the book before you see the movie, or just skip the movie entirely.  This book takes 30 minutes to read but the pictures are incredible.  See also, Wonderstruck by Selznick.

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. FiggMasterpiecePowerless

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick.  Not only is Homer hysterical, his story shows that war is not a game, but rather very serious.  I really appreciated that this message was cleverly hidden in a truly funny book.

Masterpiece by Elise Broach.  An art heist plus a painting cockroach, how can you go wrong?

Powerless by Matthew Cody.  I actually like this book more because of the sequel, Super, but this is a series to watch.  Every kid wants super powers, so this is an automatic win for boys and girls.

The Graveyard BookWhere the Mountain Meets the MoonLiesl and PoThe Candymakers

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  How do you come of age when everyone around you is dead?  Don't worry, Bod figures it out and banishes the Jacks that are hell bent on his downfall.  Spooky with a message woven in there somewhere.  It's like hiding cauliflower in spaghetti.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  I just couldn't pass this one by.  This isn't the right book for every reader, but it is the kind of folktale that rarely comes along and it is beautiful.  For any princess lovers, or fans of the Brave movie, it's a sure thing.

Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver.  The sun is gone and all is grey, but together Liesl and her ghost friend Po discover the rare magic that just might make everything okay.  This is a beautiful story of coming through tragedy and discovering the light.

 The Candymakers by Wendy Mass.  I told you Wendy Mass was great!  Think Willy Wonka meets Cupcake Wars with a great cast of characters.  This book will make you crave chocolate, but it is anything but pure sugar.

Now, let's check out the back list.

The Giver (The Giver, #1)Holes (Holes, #1)The Westing Game

The Giver by Lois Lowry.  A must.  It's sci-fi, it's haunting, it asks extremely important questions.  It's like a primer for A Brave New World.

Holes by Louis Sachar.  If I could force everyone in my life to read one children's book, it would be Holes.  Poor Stanley is always in the wrong place, but by the end of this story, he's the hands down hero.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.  Perfection in a book.  How do all of these seemingly unconnected people end up living in the same apartment building and competing for the same prize?  And how is it that at the end of it all, I always cry?

The Ear, The Eye, And The ArmThe Whipping BoyThe Tale of Despereaux
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.  Jump into the future for a glimpse at a very strange detective agency that is trying to solve a kidnapping.  Amazing setting, writing, characters.  Just wonderful.

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishman.  This book has three things going for it.  It won a Newbery, it's short and it's funny.  I love a well-written book that makes you laugh.  This is a great case of mistaken identity.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo.  Again, skip the movie, read the book.  You'll root for this little mouse and the unusual cast of characters.  Like other authors on this list, anything Kate DiCamillo writes is gold, so try them all.

So, there you go.  A completely biased and not at all exhaustive list of what every fourth through sixth grader should be reading this year.  It's kinda like a quickie fashion review.

What would you recommend for the well-dressed and well-read elementary student this year?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Robe of Skulls

The Robe Of Skulls 

The evil sorceress, Lady Larmona, wants a new dress with skulls and spider webs and all fashion of creepy additions, but her gold supply is gone.  With the help of her troll servant, Gubble, she hatches a plan to turn the kingdom's princes and princesses to frogs and then ask for a large reward to change them back.  

Meanwhile, Gracie is being neglected by her stepfather Mange, and his daughter, Foyce.  She escapes to the Ancient Crones with the help of a messenger bat and is told that she will have to foil the plan of Lady Larmona.

Meanwhile again, Marcus is the mischievous twin brother to perfect Prince Arry, and he is left behind when the whole family goes off to celebrate a royal engagement.  Luckily, Marcus learns of Lady Larmona's plan and tried to warn his family, and with Gracie's help, maybe they can save his brother.

Meanwhile again and again, Foyce chases Gracie while she runs off, but happens upon Lady Larmona and convinces her that she can help with the plan.  However, Foyce double-crosses the sorceress, thus complicating an already complicated plot.

There is a lot going on here as you can see.  But, things never feel too jumbled, rather you know from the beginning that the middle of the book will be a tangle, but everyone will end up straightened out by the end.  The fun is seeing how the tangles are worked out.  Fans of other tangled stories, like Once Upon a Marigold will enjoy this strange romp through the Five Kingdoms.  Plus, there are more adventures from the Five Kingdoms for readers that really enjoy this story style.  

This would be a great class writing exercise.  Start with five completely unrelated characters, then weave them all together through a strange series of events, then weave them all out again.  It would be a great story starter for third and fourth graders to try.  Add some pictures of the characters and scenes, and this would be a great addition to a fairy tale unit.

Do you enjoy a jumbled fairy tale?  Let me know at misstiffreads at gmail dot com.

Happy Reading

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Night Fairy

The Night Fairy 

Little Flory is a young night fairy, but she is injured by a bat, and now her wings are gone.  She hides in the bird house of a giant and learns to be a day fairy, because she is now afraid of bats.  But being a day fairy is difficult and she must learn to deal with the other animals, like birds, squirrels, and insects.  She makes a cozy little house and actually becomes quite happy, then she meets the hummingbirds, and her desire to ride a hummingbird takes her on a late night adventure that teaches her that maybe she can overcome her fears and still be a night fairy.

This is a simple, sweet story.  Flory is a darling character that is a perfect fairy, a little mischievous and daring, and quite feitsy as well.  She does interact well with the other animals, like Skuggle the squirrel and her relationship to the hummingbird is quite touching near the end.  Her home is wonderful, with the little hammock and grass baskets and will lead to many reader's drawings of a perfect fairy house.  

This book reminds me a little bit of Miss Hickory, the 1947 Newbery Award Winner.  They both have rather odd characters that have to adapt to a new surrounding and make friends with some unlikely companions.  Thankfully, this book doesn't end with Flory being reabsorbed into a hickory tree, so it has a much more satisfying ending.

Fairies are all the rage with some young readers, what with those sugary Daisy Meadows fairy books out there.  (Sidenote:  Did you know that Daisy Meadows is not a real person?  Nope, just a cutesy name thought up by a clever book packager.  It's like finding out about the Easter Bunny, right?)  Give this book to a Rainbow Fairies reader so they get a little substance with their sugar.

Happy Reading

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Engagement Day!

Happy Engagement Day!  Four year's ago today, on 08-08-08, Doug asked me to be his wife!  I don't know if this is something that other couple celebrate, and we don't really celebrate it, but we do look back on that day and reminisce.  So here's the story.

Doug and I met way, way back in 2000 as freshmen at Illinois College.  Since our college was tiny (only 1000 people) we hung out with a lot of the same people (that's my code for saying I dated this roommate for three years-oops!).

So, we were friends in college.  Then Doug went off to study engineering at the University of Illinois, and I stayed back at IC to finish up my BA, but he visited often and we were still friends.  Then, I graduated and moved to El Paso, IL (not TX), and he was still at Champaign, and we were still in touch-ish.  Then I went to U of I for library science just as he left for Boston.

Then things get serious!

I love basketball, so after the Illinois games, I would call Doug and we'd go over the game and other events of the day.  And after basketball season, we just kept talking every couple weeks.  Then, our good friends Nick and Tara got married, and that's kinda when things started to change.

So, this is 2006 at Nick and Tara Adam's Wedding.  It was a great wedding, by the way.  Be sorry you missed it!  Anyway, that's Sam in the pic with Doug and I.  You remember Sam from Pub and Putt.  Anyway, look how young we all were!  And I looked prettier earlier in the night.  There was some serious dancing at this wedding, so I got quite the workout.  

So, in 2006, we were still friends, but maybe a little more than friends.  Then, I get a job in the Chicago suburbs and Doug is still living in Boston but we still talk every couple weeks.  Then we have New Year's Eve.

I'm a little embarrassed to put this out there, but this is how it went down folks!  NYE 2007 was the real turning point, but I still lived around Chicago and he still lived in Boston and I was in denial that I was in love with my college friend.  

Then, Doug got a job transfer back to Chicago in January or February of 2007.  He would be moving back that summer.  And when he did, that was it.  We were dating.  It really was that simple.  Once we landed in the same time zone, we knew.

From there, we just dated, spent a ton of time together, had a lot of fun hanging out in the city and being all adorable around each other.  I was totally smitten.  And in May 2008, I went to his apartment and found a big packet of information from Jared Jewelers.  We talked about getting married, but always in abstract terms and suddenly it wasn't abstract anymore.

So, here's the kinda weird part.  In late July 2008, Doug came down to my parent's house to ask my dad for permission to marry me.  I knew all this was happening, but my dad goes to bed pretty early some nights and when he was going to bed Doug asked it he would sit back down for a second and talk to him.  Basically, he asked my parents permission to marry me right in front of me, but it was kinda great.  It's like he proposed to me twice!  After some tearful hugs and such, they agreed and we were good to go.

Then came 08-08-08.  Did you know that's a lucky day in Chinese culture?  It was the opening of the Beijing Olympics, but I didn't care at all about that.  I had helped Doug pick out a gorgeous ring a couple weeks earlier, and we had tickets to a Vanessa Carlton Concert and a really great evening planned.  I go to Doug's apartment to meet him for the train ride into Chicago.  I am giddy!  I know what's going to happen and I couldn't be more excited.  But while we're on the train, he says "Oh yeah, you need to give me your ring size so I can have your engagement ring sized when I buy it."  No-he hadn't bought the ring yet.  We weren't getting engaged, and I was ticked.  I pouted.  Full-on grump mood and nothing was changing my mind.

We get to the train station in Chicago and hail a cab because Doug wanted to go to Buckingham Fountain before dinner.  Let me just say that I have had many wonderful cab rides in Chicago, but this was the worst ever.  I actually started saying the Lord's Prayer when I thought we were going to hit a garage truck at 40 miles per hour.  And about two or three blocks away from Grant Park, Doug stopped the cabbie and got us out of the death trap. 

We walk up to Buckingham Fountain, which is really beautiful, so I might have smiled, when Doug says, "let's make a wish" and hands me a penny.  Now, I kinda thought that was weird.  Who carries pennies?  But I chucked my penny and made a wish (that Doug would propose, of course) and I was so excited that it actually went in the fountain that I could barely process what came next.  Doug on one knee, with my ring asking me to marry him.  It was adorable and perfect and of course I yelled "You tricked me!" and started crying.  But that didn't really answer his question.  I probably mumbled a yes while putting on the ring and crying and hugging and kissing him.  I might have also hit him for tricking me, I don't really remember.  But here's the result!

And four years later we are married and happy and super blessed!  This nerdy little engineer found his equally nerdy librarian and we've lived happily ever after with only a few snafus along the way.  But snafus make for good stories, so whatever.

That's it-that's our engagement story, and our whole meeting-dating story.  Now you know!

Do you celebrate engagement day, or were you tricked by a sneaky boyfriend?  Everyone loves a good engagement story, right?

Happy Reading!