Thursday, January 31, 2013


The simulation has ended, Tris and Tobias are safe in the Aminity compound with Marcus and her brother, Caleb and a few others.  Now that the Erudite have shown their hand, Tris and Tobias must figure out how to fight back.  Together, they find the factionless and the mother that Tobias thought was dead.  It turns out that the factionless have been building and waiting to take over the city, and take down the Erudite and maybe the entire system.  Tris and Tobias then move to the Candor trying to gain support to invade the Erudite compound and find the information that so many Abegnation were willing to die for.  Through all of this, Tris is trying to remain true to herself and her Divergent way of thinking and she is trying to live up to the memory of her parents and Will.  

There is barely room to breathe in this novel.  There are so few moments of lightness and that makes the book fly by.  Tris grows even more as a character in this book, and readers get to see how she fits into different factions.  Her Abegnation upbringing makes her selfless and that puts her in danger many times, but her Dauntless attitude and Erudite reasoning keep pushing her to survive.  Tobias also becomes a different character.  He is struggling with both parents in this book, and might be too quick to trust his mother who is now the leader of the factionless.  

I did not feel like Insurgent succumbed to the sequel slump.  In fact, I did have to remind myself several times that this was only the second book and that Tris surely couldn't die in the novel, although there were several heartbreaking deaths.  The action (or maybe lack of action) between Tris and Tobias was difficult to deal with, but you do get the feeling that these two crazy kids will work through their differences, if they manage to live through the last book.  I'm hoping they do, but I wouldn't put it past Veronica Roth to do something really drastic in the 3rd book that will really change their relationship.  I don't think that Tobias will die, but I'm not so sure that they will ride off into the sunset either.  

Fans of Divergent will definitely enjoy Insurgent, although I have to say that you must read these in order.  I personally could have used some Divergent Cliff Notes to remind myself of some of the plot points.  I also think that anyone who loved the Hunger Games will enjoy the Divergent Trilogy.  I keep trying to convince my husband to read them, and his exact words were "do more kids die?"  Well, yeah, it's a teen dystopia.  If you want a happy, shiny book you should read a teen utopia, but those books just don't sell as well.  

I'm still keeping my eye on the IMDb for more news about the Divergent movie.  So far Four/Tobias has not been cast.  Barely anyone has been cast quite frankly, but I'm not holding out hope that Four will be of a crush worthy age.  That's why the book is always better--you don't feel like a huge fool for having a literary crush, but when it's a screen crush on a 20 year old, that's just weird.  

Oh, and how's this for a parting line:

"That's when the shooting started'

Way to leave use hanging!  The release of the 3rd book is slated for Fall 2013, so the wait isn't that long, but what an ending.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Beautiful Creatures

Lena Duchannes is the new girl in town, but Ethan has known her for months-in his nightmares.  Not only is she new, but she is the niece of the town recluse, Macon Ravenwood, making her the object of ridicule to everyone except Ethan and his best friend, Link.  As the relationship between Ethan and Lena intensifies, he learns that she is a Caster, and that his sleepy, Southern town is a lot more complicated than he ever knew.  Lena will be claimed on her 16th birthday, either Light or Dark, and she simultaneously pushes Ethan away and pulls him in as he is connected to her through a generations long curse.  Ultimately, it is up to Lena to battle her powers and her family, but Ethan will do what he can to save the girl he loves.

At it's core, this is a love story, but the paranormal and magical elements make it something more.  This book has a lot going for it.  The setting is perfect.  The deep South with all of it's superstition and ritual, not to mention all of the Confederate longing make for an excellent place for Casters to reside.  Also, some of the characters are quite entertaining as well, like Amma and Marian Ashcroft.  Marian was a saving grace for this book.  Anytime a marginal book speaks highly of libraries and librarians, it instantly gets another star.

Then there are other parts of this book that do feel marginal.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but there was something about this book that was slow and dragging.  Maybe it was the Southern pace or maybe that this is a 600 page book about choosing an identity.  As the first in the series, there were many plot points mixed in that seemed unnecessary, but I'm sure will be relevant in later books.  Somehow I'm sure that the death of Ethan's mother and his father's reaction to it will become more important and maybe the relationship between Genevieve and the first Ethan Wate will take on a new meaning.  Also, Lena is an uneven character, but maybe that's what makes her believable.  At one minute she seemed content, then she would cause a thunderstorm, then she would write on her walls all night.  I felt that even for a moody Caster, she was inconsistent.  

There is a big time expiration date on this book.  I would honestly say 25 tops, unless you too are subject to mercurial moody swings, in which case, I'm not here to judge-enjoy!  The angst level in this book is quite high.  Lena might as well have been yelling "you don't understand me, no one has ever felt this way" throughout the entire book for how she behaved.  Also, there is a lot of poetry.  It's all over her walls and in her notebook and sometimes on her hands.  I am ashamed to say that I to wrote poetry as a teen but thank goodness that ended!  Now I just write long blog posts mocking literary characters that do the same.

Let's talk major motion pictures!  The screen adaptation of Beautiful Creatures will be out on Valentine's Day.  Aw, that's sweet.  Can you imagine all of the adolescent boys trying to win points by taking their girlfriend to Beautiful Creatures on Valentine's Day?  Nope, I can't either.  I'm super disappointed already.  My favorite character was librarian Marian Ashcroft and according to IMDb, she's not even in the movie!  I think that I will pass on the movie, and the rest of the series quite frankly, but I can see how this book appeals to high school readers.  And since that's the point, good job.  I have to say that this book beats The Magnolia League for setting and paranormal magic, it just has a little too much drama for my taste.  

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Youth Media Awards!

If you're not a librarian or otherwise involved in the children's book world, then yesterday was just another Monday for you.  (How sad!)  But if you are a librarian, then yesterday was the Oscar's and Grammy's all rolled into one.  Yesterday was the announcement of the American Library Association Youth Media Awards!!

I had the awards up on my computer just to hear what was going on.  I did other things until it came to the big awards.  There are approximately 5,000 youth media awards now.  That's not true, it's really about 20, but that's up quite a bit in the past 12 years or so.  Pretty soon there will be an award for the best piece of interpretive literature representing underserved gopher populations, but whatever.

The biggies for me include the Geisel, the Caldecott, and the Newbery.  I have have a passing interest in the Sibert and the Printz, but let's focus on the first three awards.

Fun fact:  The Sibert Award is in honor of Robert Sibert, the founder of Bound to Stay Bound books in Jacksonville, Illinois.  I went to undergrad at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois and Mr. Sibert was a patron of that school.  Our theatre is actually named after him.  It wasn't until I went to library school that I realized what a big, huge deal he was.  That's why I always feel a little connection to the Sibert Award.

Let's talk winners!!

The Theordore Geisel Award is a book award for young, beginning readers, and it is appropriately named after Dr. Seuss.  Mo Willems has won this award several times himself, which is another reason why I like it.  But this year had some great titles including honors Let's Go for a Drive by Mo Willems, Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin and Rabbit & Robot:  The Sleepover by Cece Bell.

And the Geisel Winner is:

Up, Tall, and High by Ethan Long.  I personally haven't read any of these books, even the Elephant and Piggy book, but I'll catch up soon.  I do love Ethan Long and feel like this is a great selection based on author alone.  Ethan Long tends to be really funny and entertaining for young readers.  

This is the 75th Anniversary of the Caldecott Medal, which is the award for excellence in illustrations.  The Caldecott is a great way to read a ton of amazing books in a short amount of time.  It's such a confidence builder and not only are the books beautiful, but they are excellent in a literary sense as well.  This year included honors Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue with illustrations by Pamela Zagarenski, One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by David Small, Green written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Jon Klassen, and Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynold with illustrations by Peter Brown.  

And the Caldecott Winner is:

This is Not My Hat written and illustrated by Jon Klassen.  In case you didn't notice, Jon Klassen had quite the day!  He won the Caldecott and received an honor for Extra Yarn.  Nice job!  Again, I am woefully behind on my picture book reading, but that is typical of me.  I usually put all of the Caldecotts on hold and read them sometime in March when they all come available again.  I am very excited for this group of books!

And the biggest of them all, the Newbery.  The Newbery award honors the finest work of literature for children ages birth through 14.  It's a very broad category and it is not without controversy.  But this year, I think they got it right.  Honor books include Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, Bomb:  The Race to Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, and Three Times Lucky by Shelia Turnage.  

Let's take a second to appreciate the fact that I read 1/3 of the honor books!  And that I already had Three Times Lucky on my to-read list.  I'm a little ahead of the Newbery game.

But the big award is still to come.

Can you feel the excitement?  I honestly had chills at this point.  Seriously, I was that excited.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  Not only is this a great book, but I actually read it!  This is a wonderful choice.  Not only is this book very readable, but it is also very well-written.  The story is heart-breaking but triumphant and the characters will all stick with you.  I really think that this is one of the easier Newbery books to give to readers.  It raises a lot of questions about animal cruelty and will get readers thinking.  I'm very proud of this little book.

And now it's another year until the big reveal.  It's a good thing because I have some serious reading to do.  While I'm not a Newbery watcher in the sense that I try to read all of the qualifiers and pick the winner, I do like to read good books throughout the year and see them be rewarded.  I think that the committees did an excellent job this year, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

I hope that your Monday was as exciting and eventful as mine.

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 28, 2013

One Resolution Holding Strong

Like everyone, I made a ton of resolutions this year.  I actually wrote some of them down, which brings us to the one resolution that has stuck and that I really enjoy.  My daybook.

Okay, that's a terrible picture.  But, I asked for a day book this year in the hopes that I would start keeping a journal of sorts.  Not like an Oprah-style gratitude journal, or inspirational tome for my future grandchildren to read, just a record of accounts.  I remember my dad doing this when I was home.  He had these little pocket planners and he would write down notable events of the day.  Most of it was farm related stuff, like when he planted or sprayed, or what corn sold for, but some of it was family stuff, like moving us into college, or when we came home for break.  Or, when we brought a boy home.  He didn't write everyday, sometimes he just checked in once a week, and he'd yell "What did I do on Tuesday?" and the whole family would stare off into space until someone remembered, "You fixed the sprayer and Tiffany had a volleyball game."  Both events would go in the book.

By the way, I played volleyball for all of two years in junior high.  I was terrible.  It's not quitting when you stop doing something you're awful at to pursue doing something you are marginally okay at-like theatre!  You heard me, I was a great actress once!

So this Christmas I asked for a day planner, and my sis-in-law got me this beautiful, leather bound day book with book cover illustrations.  I love this book.  It's so classy, and over-the-top.  I just wanted a simple day book, but I feel so sophisticated writing in this book every night that I know this resolution will stick.

Everyday, I note what I did.  I write down things like what exercises I did, if we did something with friends, books I read, etc.  That's what I used to love about going through my old day book at the end of the year-seeing all the stuff I accomplished-so this isn't a book of To-Do's, it's a whole book of It's Done!  (Well, I do note a couple of hard to remember things, like giving Lucy her tick meds, but that doesn't count.)  It's so nice to sit down at the end of the day and say, this is everything I did today, even if I just write, slow day, kinda lazy.  Every one needs those days.

That's my big resolution that is still going strong.  I hope that your resolutions are sticking too!

Happy Reading!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Scarlet Preview

The second book in the Lunar Chronicles introduces a new character, Scarlet, but that doesn't mean that we've left Cinder behind.  In these preview chapters, readers learn that Scarlet's grandmother is missing, there is a unusually sensitive and intriguing street-fighter named Wolf on the loose and that Cinder is making plans to escape prison.  After this little preview, I'm very excited for the release of Scarlet on February 5.

I have a feeling that Scarlet will make a great heroine.  She seems tough and smart, but she also seems a bit reckless.  I think that Wolf will prove to be very interesting.  I can't tell yet if he's the good guy or the bad guy or the bad-good guy or the good-bad guy.  It's all too confusing.  I can't imagine that Marissa Meyer would allow him to be one dimensional, so we'll have to see how this shakes out.

Cinder is also sporting some new robotics according to this preview.  Very interesting.

I caved and pre-ordered Scarlet.  Mostly because there was a giveaway associated with the pre-orders.  And, hey, where is my limited edition Scarlet lip gloss, by the way?  Admitting that I pre-ordered a book for lip gloss is very sad.  Very sad indeed.

Back a couple of months ago, when I didn't have a good topic, like today, I would post an old story time.  You  might be wondering where those days went.  Well, I'm all Mac now and I can no longer access my story time outlines since they are all in Publisher.  Hopefully I will be able to access and covert them to a more friendly file format soon.  Until then, I will still be cobbling together blog posts out of nothing.  But you better believe when I finally do get my outlines back, I'll post nothing but story times for 2 weeks straight!

It's Friday!  I hope your weekend is fully of long baths and lots of books!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Free Four

Well, that was a bad idea.  While looking for free previews on Amazon this morning (which is also a bad idea because I get sucked in and end up buying the book), I found this short Divergent story.   Since I have a major Four crush, I clicked Buy Now and read this crazy quick short story.

Just one scene is told by Four-the knife throwing scene where Tris takes Al's place at the target and stands up to Eric's bullying.  It was a great scene the first time around, and knowing that Four already has feelings for he at this point and that he is secretly trying to help her makes it even more intense.

I really appreciated this little glimpse into Four's psyche.  But, it made me want to read Insurgent even more, so a $0.99 purchase lead to the $7.99 purchase of Insurgent for my Kindle.  But I can justify this.  I'll be taking some time off next week and I have a feeling that I will need some highly engaging, escapist reading to keep me company.  I should probably read something really light and sugary next week instead of dystopian YA, but at least this will keep me from reading The Fault in Our Stars.

I'll explain later.  Once everything shakes out and life is bright and sunny again.

But don't worry.  I fully plan on reading Bossypants next week too.  So if Insurgent gets too dark, I can lighten the mood.  And if all else fails, there's always Angry Birds.  Or I can pull up Let's Pretend this Never Happened on my phone.  That's a great book to get you out of a funk!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Big Dog in a Little Bed

That's my Lucy in her too small dog bed.  There is a reasonable explanation for this.  Lucy is a chewer. A crazy-style chewer.  We baby gate her on the ugly tile (see above pic) while we are at work.  She chews on baseboard, the molding surrounding the front door and coat closet, and her bed.  We leave her chew toys, but those hold no appeal.  She only wants to chew what she can't chew.  She's like a rebellious teenager.

So, every night, Lucy gets her big bed in her play pen, and every day, she gets her day bed.  She still chews her big bed, but I can usually stitch it up, so we've had the same one for several months now.  But Lucy can go through a day bed like no one's business.

Here was my previous formula for day beds.  One pillow inside a plastic pillow case inside a cloth pillow case all stuffed into a fleece pillow case that I sewed shut.  Now, Lucy could usually get through the fleece in a week or two, or she's have an accident and I'd have to wash everything.

But one day I came home to carnage.  Bits of plastic pillow case and fleece all over her playpen.  The humanity!  Surprisingly the pillow was still intact, but that was the only thing.  As punishment, I gave her this too small bed that I bought by accident.  I'm terrible with scale.  I think this is actually a cat bed and as you can see, it does not work for a 35 lb beagle, but Lucy honestly loves it.  Monday I put her in her playpen so I could get some work done on the basement and she just curled up and slept.  Then I opened up her baby gates, but she stayed in her tiny bed instead of joining me on the couch.  She curls up like this every day.

Since beagles are pack animals normally, I think she likes to be cuddled.  She loves stuffing herself between Doug and I on the couch or curling up in the chair with one of us, so I honestly think this too small bed is comforting to her.  She can pretend that she's surrounded by her brothers and sisters.  I'm getting a little too into my dog's psyche right now.

At any rate, it always puts a smile on my face to walk through the door and see Lucy glance up sleepily from her tiny bed.  Hopefully this makes you laugh too.  (And buys me another couple days before I get you my review of Beautiful Creatures!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Mark of Athena

Annabeth and her gang are off to Camp Jupiter to rescue Percy Jackson, but when they arrive not only has Percy acclimated, but they are not at all welcome.  Both the Greek and Roman demigods have heard the same prophecy that links both camps, but as Jason, Piper, Hazel, Frank, Annabeth, Percy and Leo decide what to do, they are taken over by evil spirits controlled by Gaea and nearly destroy Camp Jupiter.  Now they are fleeing from the Romans as they try to travel to Rome, save Nico di Angelo, find the Athena Partheneos, and save the world from an ancient earth goddess.  Along the way they meet Hercules, fight giants, and save each other numerous times.  

And then things take a dark turn.

This is for fans of the Percy Jackson books and other Heroes of Olympus books.  I can say for certain that if you have not read the previous books, you will be lost.  I have read the previous books, but I just forgot a lot of the details and I found myself scratching my head many times.  Like all other Riordan books, the dialogue is witty, the dangers are ridiculous, the gods are silly, and the kids are the heroes.  But this book is a bit more mature than the first books.  Like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and his gang of misfits are growing up.  There's just some kissing-no big deal, and not enough to detract from the action and adventure, but some readers are going to just gloss over those parts big time.  

Here's the good and the bad.  The good was that this book wasn't as much about Percy, rather it was about all of the demigods and how each of their abilities was helpful in this quest.  This made Percy uncomfortable since he was always the leader before, and now everyone was a leader for different parts of the journey.  This is a great lesson for readers, although they might not pick up on it.

The bad was the narration.  With seven main characters, and at least five different narrators, the plot got jumbled.  At least when a different narrator was introduced, you stuck with him or her for three or so chapters, but when you switched back and forth so many times it made your head spin.  I don't know a better way to do it, but it was tough to keep everything straight, even though each narrator had a distinct voice.  

There are two more planned books in this series, obviously.  You can't just end where this ended.  And to anyone out there that has read this book-isn't the ending a bit like the ending of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie?  I won't give anything more away than that, but that's going to be a tough ending for some readers.

I'll stick around for the rest of the Heroes of Olympus because I've come this far already.  However, there another mash-up was alluded to at the end of the Kane Chronicles and if that happens, I might have to bow out.  Greek-Roman-Egyptian mythology all glued into one is just getting too confusing.  I've also heard that Riordan is working on a Norse mythology series that I might be up for, but we'll see.  I honestly love what his books do to encourage readers to look up the original myths, so I'll keep working this trend.  But I'll steer clear of more mash-ups-they just make my head spin.

Happy Reading!

Friday, January 18, 2013

I Hate Picture Books

I don't really hate picture books, and maybe the boy in this book doesn't either.  This young reader loudly declares that he hates picture books because they are completely implausible (a pigeon driving a bus, cows that type-not likely), and they have actually gotten him in trouble.  He drew on the walls after seeing it in a book and he ate green ham, and threw up everywhere.  Caution:  there is a drawing of vomit, but considering the target age, it's a good thing.  And the worst offender was a book about a lost little bird that couldn't find his mama, which made him cry.  So he's throwing all of his picture books away, except this one, and this one, and that one.  Just leave him alone so he can read his picture books already!

I was all prepared to write this one off as marginal, but it's actually pretty great.  At first I thought the illustrations were a little crude, but they are appealing to children, and the way that the boy fits in the illustrations of each book that he enters is impressive.  Also, the variety of books that are referenced is very nice too since it includes classics and more modern classics.  Plus, this is the way that many readers feel.  At some point, picture books become something for babies and they want to move on to chapter books.  This is something that librarians are noticing more and more, but this book will address that issue and remind readers that even though they can read chapter books, it's a pleasure to read picture books.

This was a NetGalley find, and a great one at that.  I think this book would work very well in story time with its vivid pictures and short text, plus most readers are going to see what's really going on here and love it.  I recommend this to every library-school, public and what not-to remind readers that picture books are always a pleasure.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Picture Perfect Moments

If there's one thing that will help you understand this blog more, it's this:  I'm terrible at taking photos.  I'm absolutely awful at that.  And I've come to live with it.  I'm not going to beat myself up for not having gorgeous pictures of every day events, or vacations, or holidays.  I can't tell you how many times Doug and I have left the house and made sure to take the camera, only to leave it tucked in my purse the entire trip.

But you don't need a camera anymore when there are cell phones, right?  True, our cells take pretty good pictures, but still, we just don't think about it.  Our phones stay in our pockets and we forget to capture whatever moment we are living.

And that's the point!  I'm living those moments, not trying to freeze them.  I say all of this because in the past couple of days, I've seen some great shots and I took an extra second to capture for myself-Lucy all squeezed into her too small dog bed, sunlight through the clouds, the last day I got my prime parking spot.  I could have taken out my phone, told Lucy to stay smooshed in her bed, forced the moment and taken the picture, but instead I settled for the live version, which is good enough for me.

I've heard it said that with all of the social networking done today that people are so busy trying to document every part of their lives that they forget to live it.  Well, at least I don't have that problem.  I might worry my life away, spend my time dreaming about the future, or planning for the future, or hurrying along today, but I am letting those picture perfect moments stay perfect.

Just a short opinion piece for a lovely, but cold Thursday.  Find some time to appreciate something that is beautiful today, and leave the camera in your pocket.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

So many ideas!

So, yesterday's post was a little popular.  It's funny, just when I think that no one is reading this blog and it's safe to share family secrets, I write a post and it gets nearly 100 hits.  I guess that brings me back to one of the main Torbeck family rules, you don't have to tell everything you know.  (The other rule is also good, if you have to say you're helping, then your not helping.)  But a lot of people got a glimpse at my dad and were able to wish him a happy birthday so all is well.

Moving on.  I started my Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Program Monday and I started brainstorming about my first assignment which is to create a story time for 2-5 year olds and incorporate one science and one math activity.  Easy-peasy.

Here's exactly how my thought process went:

Bats!  I could do a sonar demonstration and have the kids close their eyes and try to find me in the classroom, but that would lead to some crying children I'm sure, so table that.

Bugs!  I could have the kids build a bug on a flannel board one piece at a time and identify all of the parts!

Construction!  I could read Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and have them build a structurally sound tower out of styrofoam cups.  Or toilet paper rolls.  Or kleenex boxes!

Three Little Pigs!  I could build three walls and have them blow them over and see which is the strongest.  We could wear plastic hardhats that said Three Little Pigs Construction.  We'll read great books and build with egg cartons!

Then my head exploded.  I haven't planned a story time in over two years and there is just so much that I want to do and it's only a four week class.  That means that I only get to plan four story times.

But the really crummy part of all of this is that even though I get to plan the story times, I don't actually get to use them.  Bummer.  I'm not working as a librarian.  Double bummer.  It's like being all dressed up with no where to go.  At least I have one outlet for all of this work--right here on Miss Tiff Reads.  You can benefit from my work.  I just ask that if you use something you found on this site, come back and tell me how it went so I can live vicariously through you.

Plus, only six months to Vacation Bible School.  You better believe that this year's VBS will include some STEM programming after all that I've learned.  Get ready for a bigger, better, more common core based VBS!  It will be great I promise, once I pick out a theme.  Details, details.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Birthday Wishes

I am maddeningly inconsistent about wishing people happy birthday.  I actually have a terrible time remembering birthdays, much to my former co-workers dismay.  She thought just because I could remember the titles and authors of all the Caudill books for the past three years, I should be able to recognize someone's birthday, but that's not how my mind works.  And here is a perfect example of why.

Meet my dad, Keith.  He's the big 60 today!  Now in the pic below he's only like 33-34, and I'm the little cutie in the middle and Kim is the one cuddling the goat.  Notice how Kim is all about this little guy and I'm barely touching the goat.  Not much has changed there, Kim is still the farm girl and I'm just a poser.

Now, dad can tell you what corn sold for in 1992, but he might stumble on my birthday.  He is a fount of random information and that's just one of the funny things about him.  I had to finish a crossword puzzle for school once, way before the internet, and one of the clues was something about a French pirate and dad woke up in the middle of the night and shouted Jean Lafitte!  That's still a joke in our family, like when you have that eureka moment, it's really a Jean Lafitte moment.  

Another great thing about my dad is that he loves his girls like crazy.  I'd honestly never seen my dad cry until we watched Father of the Bride.  And that was years before he had to give us away.  And he's terrifying to boyfriends.  To get into our house, you have to walk right past dad's bow and arrow set mounted on the wall.  So several boyfriends had images in their heads of dad hunting them down in the woods.  Fear is an effective tool for handsy boyfriends.  

All this is to say, I'm a daddy's girl.  What dad says regarding cars, appliances, fixing stuff, and life in general is pretty much gospel in my book.  Doug has heard on numerous occasions while fixing something, do you want me to call my dad?  I'm starting to trust Doug's skills over my dad's opinions, but when he's not looking, I still call dad about the stove.  Shh, don't tell him I said that!

Happy birthday, dad!  I'll give you the day off.  If I get a flat tire today, or if my microwave explodes or some other similar emergency, I'll call someone else.  

PS.  Here's a more recent pic of my cutie parents at my wedding.  Doug was super impressed by dad because he was drinking straight gin on the rocks.  Just one glass though-wouldn't want him to be passed out on the dance floor.

PPS.  And a happy birthday to the little mister, Anthony, who turned the big 0-5 on Saturday.  Sorry I missed your birthday, but I still love you bunches!!

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Resolution Update and Some Books for Good Measure

I finished a book this weekend, but I realize that it does not really warrant its own post, mostly since it's an adult book, but also because I can't really get all classy about it.

If I'm not reading children's lit, I'm reading chick lit, and no one does chick lit better than Meg Cabot.  In Size 12 and Ready to Rock, Heather Wells-former pop-star, present dorm mom, future investigator, works to find out what's behind the threats being thrown at Tania Trace, the woman that stole her boyfriend and career.  But Heather is in a better place now with her new fiancĂ©, Cooper, and she loves her job even though it makes her crazy.  This is just a continuation of the previous 3 books in the series.  It's light, quick, fun and recommended for any chick lit lover.  

I honestly have nothing more to say on that book, so let's move on to my next book.

I was having a smelly day at work and bought The Mark of Athena as a treat.  Is it just me or is this volume longer than the previous books.  It weighs in at nearly 600 pages, and it's taking forever to get that little progress bar on my Kindle to move, but it's a good story, very typical of Rick Riordan and I'm loving it.  Although I seem to have forgotten nearly everything that happened in the last book, so I'm lost.

In other book related news, I'm continuing through my Happiness Project, and cranking this thing out double time.  I started the February chapter the other day, and I'll start trying to put those resolutions into practice.  As far as the January resolutions go, I've been hanging in there.  One resolution is to get more sleep-well I love sleep, so check!  Exercise more-Doug and I are both all over that one, and my skinny jeans are a little more forgiving now because of it.  Tackle one nagging task-yep-my book reviews went out and my basement is much more presentable.  Now just to keep it up while juggling more resolutions.

And speaking of resolutions, I've made quite a few on this blog.  My Amazon addiction-mastered!  I've been so good the past two months!  And my credit card balance thanks me!  Also, I am no longer hopelessly addicted to Pinterest.  I've only been on a handful of times since Christmas, and for no longer than 5 minutes.  I've resisted getting sucked in, but I do still pin cool stuff for later.  If you follow me on Pinterest, expect some great VBS boards soon.  And I pledged to read 100 books on GoodReads this year.  I am only 2 books in, but since I'm a children's book reader, I can bang out 20 books in an afternoon, and I will if it gets me to my goal!  I am thinking about blasting through the Monarchs, just so I have read one Illinois award list.  

Here's hoping 2013 is the best year yet!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Titus and his friends take a little trip to the moon where he meets Violet, a girl that seems so different from the shallow, trend-obsessed girls he knows.  Then, when they are all together at a club, a man infects them with a computer virus which shuts down their feed and disconnects them from the whole world.  While this is an inconvenience for the others, it's life threatening for Violet.  Her relationship with Titus gets more and more strained as her feed malfunctions, and worst of all, while she's been trying to be her own person, the companies that run the feed have decided that she is not a good enough consumer, and thus not worth saving.  This is a hard look at connectivity, consumerism, and relationships that will leave readers reeling.

If adults think that teens are too connected to their devices now, just think about this book for a second. Even in our overly connected world, devices haven't quite invaded our brains specifically, but it's an interesting idea to throw around, especially how getting the feed at an older age turned out to affect Violet.  Plus, Violet states in the book that something like 30% of people don't have the feed, which really makes you think about internet connectivity in our society-it's not as present as we are led to believe, even in this country.  The digital divide is a real issue currently, and seems even bigger in this book.

While Feed is a thought-provoking book, it is draining.  The conversations are so jumbled, due to the feed and what it has done to people, and the governmental messages are just horrible.  Violet's spiral into sickness is hard to read and the ending is like a mile long drop.  

I had a hard time dealing with Titus.  While it was more believable that he didn't get overly involved in Violet's quest for life, it was hard to see him miss that the world was crumbling around him.  He was too self involved to take notice, but then again, everyone was too self involved.  I wish he would have been more courageous.

I need some time away from dystopian fiction.  I'm very glad that I read Feed, but I need a break.  I tried to start reading, The Fault in Our Stars, but Doug made me stop.  For good reason.  Reading a book about teens with terminal cancer is probably not a good pick me up.  Right now I'm reading Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot.  Trust me, there is nothing dark about that book.  All pop songs and sugar, with the occasional homicide.  Well, the homicide is dark, I suppose, but not the way the Cabot writes it.  

Anyone else out there need a little sweetness and light?

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Let me see you get excited!!

I realized while looking over my recent posts that I haven't done a non-review post in some time, and since my reading has slowed a bit with the end of winter break, now's the perfect time to tell you all of the things that have me excited this morning.

1.  My upcoming ALSC class:  Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Programs Made Easy.  This online class will start next week and hopefully I'll learn how to integrate a little fun into science, or a little science into fun.  Plus, this one comes with continuing ed credits, which as a secretary I don't need, but will look great on my resume.

2.  Youth Media Awards on January 28.  While I haven't been following the awards race close enough, I'm still very excited to hear the winners, and honorees.

3.  Pre-Registration for the ALA Annual Conference starts Monday!  I'm going to start pinching my pennies, but luckily my sis-in-law is going to hook me up with free lodging.  I am super excited about this one since it will be my first, full ALA conference.  And even though it's not until the summer, there is still a lot to do to prepare.  I have to get business cards and learn the el lines and find a suitable bag.  That last one alone could take months.

Plus, the days are getting longer, can you tell?  I know that you can tell, mom, you start saying that at Christmas.  And my I've stuck to my resolution to eat better, and eat less candy, pretty well so far.  I ordered Twizzlers for the office because I don't like them so I won't eat them.  Swimsuit season here I come!  And I could say some amazing things about a local sports team, but I don't want to jinx them.  So, there is a lot to be excited about, library related and not, around here.  Sometimes you just have to look for it!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Stupid Perfect World

In this dystopia, diseases have all been cured, war has been eradicated, hormones no longer run wild, and the world is generally a better place.  But just so students don't forget how easy they have it, there is a class called Scarcity.  In this class, students must choose an old affliction to deal with for two weeks.  Some selections include the common cold, hunger, using traditional transportation instead of teleportation and blindness.  Maria chooses to forgo her hormone balancers while Kieran decides to sleep 6 hours per night.  Together, they discover that the old ways might have been better as both unlock feelings that they didn't know existed.

I bought this on a whim for $2 on my Kindle.  I love Scott Westerfeld and I honestly think that his Uglies series was dystopian before dystopian was cool.  (Just to note, he also did vampires before vampires were cool.  He's way ahead of the trend, and speaking of trendspotting, he wrote a book on that too.)  It was well worth the $2 price tag to read this story.  It's quick, it says much more about our society and future societies in under 100 pages than most dystopian trilogies, and it was funny.

The thing about Maria and Kieran is that they are not really more than friends before this experiment, although you can tell that Maria would like for Kieran to see her that way.  Then once both of them are addled due to their assignment, their feelings come out.  When Kieran teases Maria about writing poetry because of her hormonal state, then she not only writes poetry, but starts thinking in poetry is just too much.  And that she learned that you can in fact die from walking around around in the freezing cold with wet hair was also funny.  There were just so many light-hearted parts of this story that make me smile when I think back, plus if I want to read it all again, it will only take about a half hour-totally worth it!

This story originally appeared in the anthology Love is Hell, so if you would like to seek out this title in print form, there you go.  I would recommend that if you are a fan of dystopias, and need a palate cleanser, or if you are a Scott Westerfeld fan, then you should read this novella.  Even if it's not your favorite, it's only 30 minutes of your time.

Happy Reading!

Wait-there's more!  I forgot to tell you that I received my latest batch of review books!  I receive four middle-grade sports biographies-all from the same series-and a book/CD kit by a very minor celebrity.  My hopes are not high, but I do hope to get them out in a reasonable amount of time.  Here's hoping I check back in a few weeks with a big, I'm done!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Also Known As

Maggie is used to cracking safes, not people, so when she is assigned to get close to Jesse Oliver to prevent his father from publishing an article about The Collective, she is out of her element.  All her life, Maggie has been a spy, moving from country to country (let's not talk about Luxembourg) and working with her parents to take down bad guys.  But now, she gets to be normal (sort of) and go to high school.  But how do you infiltrate the social pyramid that is high school without getting involved? Between Maggie's adorable social awkwardness, her crazy new BFF, Roux, and her guardian angel, Angelo, you've got a plot driven novel with some very compelling characters.  

Maggie makes a great spy.  She's exceptional at her trade, but she has a very hard time being a normal person, which makes for some great situations, like forging a signature for Roux, and breaking into Jesse's locker.  Also, the relationship that she has with her parents is great too.  They've never had to raise a normal teen before and they are rather daunted by the task.  The scene where they find out about her date with Jesse is probably one of the most entertaining in the whole book.  Despite being a spy family, they are very normal.

Then there's Roux, all alone in her penthouse apartment without a friend in the world.  But she's feisty and impulsive and it turns out, quite helpful.  Plus her relationship with her ever patient doorman, Harold, was so funny.  I bet that deep, deep down that old curmudgeon does care about her.  

I had to admit that Angelo had me guessing.  His three piece suits and suave manner bring to mind James Bond, without all the special effects.  He is the typical cunning spy.  But I was afraid that maybe he was a double crosser, because who knows Maggie and her family better than Angelo.  I'm very glad that my fears were wrong and that Angelo is the good guy he was always portrayed to be.

This book will have instant success with fans of Ally Carter's books, Gallagher Girls and Heist Society. It's quick, fun, and entertaining, but also shows a loving family relationship and good friends.  There are definitely sequel possibilities, and I wouldn't mind getting a little more of Maggie, although what I'm really looking forward to is Roux as a future spy.  

I'd say that this book is best left in the YA section, but teen readers should really enjoy it.

Happy Reading!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Murder at the Foster Manor (or Why I'm Not Writing a Young Adult Book-It's Hard People!)

I wasn't expecting much from this book, but I read it because I am a fan of Big Rich Texas.  I'm a fan of most ridiculous reality TV, sadly, and this show has me hooked.  It's funny, I never seek the series out, but once I see that a new season is on, I'm there!  I will sit glued to by TV for hours watching these women fight it out.  So when there was a book release party for the second Fiona Frost novel this season, I realized that I was behind on my reading.

Fiona Frost is an overachieving student that set up a forensic crime lab in her high school using a $250,000 federal grant (this cannot be said often enough).  Together with her team of high school investigators, they shadow the police, usually on petty crimes, until there is a death at Foster Manor!  Old Mr. Foster died while a team of paranormal investigators from the local university were attempting to verify an otherworldly presence in the house.  But Fiona is much too logical to believe in such nonsense and she starts digging for the real killer, which puts her in real danger as she starts to receive threatening letters and her cousin is kidnapped!

It's all very dramatic.  There are many, many exclamation points and much of the book is beyond belief, but not in a fun, campy kind of way.  Maybe in a it's-so-bad-it's-good way.

There are several problems with this novel, so let's start small and work our way up.

1.  Editing.  Oh, small press books, you make it easy for even a terrible speller and grammar butcher like me to see the mistakes.  There are probably half a dozen grammar and punctuation errors in the book, but that wasn't the worst of it.  One character, a homeless guy that was taken in to Foster Manor on the night of the murder, it named Kosmo Wilder, but twice he is referred to as Kosmo Kramer.  Too much Seinfeld there?  These are relatively small mistakes that a quality editor would catch and correct.

2.  Preachiness.  I know that some teens can be over zealous in their commit to not drink, or smoke, or text and drive-I know because I was one of them.  But the level that Fiona is against smoking, phone use while driving, and slacking on school work was absurd.  Take this for example:  "I felt awful for not paying attention to my teachers for I loved to learn and felt compelled to respect those in authority". This was obviously a book written by an adult that had some advice to dispense.

3.  Voice.  And while we are talking about the writer, let's mention voice.  The characters do not sound authentic at all.  They swing between sounding too adult to sounding too forced and fake.  The dialog is not authentic and it is distracting.

4.  Overloaded plot.  The plot is far too complicated to come up with the gardener-did-it ending.  Oops, spoiler.  There's Fiona and her crime lab, Fiona's locker bombing, paranormal investigators, poisonous snakes, a kidnapped cousin, high school student arrest, overprotecting mother relationship, slight love interest, car accident, etc. etc. etc.  I know that high school is a complicated time, but this is not Degrassi (love that show too!  Drake played a kid that was paralyzed from a shooting by a disturbed kid-not quite the street cred he was hoping for I'm sure.).  There is way too much going on for such a simple conclusion.

5.  Unbelievable.  The whole plot was utterly unbelievable, and let's remember that I read this book after Going Bovine, which is essentially one long morphine trip.  A high school getting a FEDERAL grant for a quarter-million dollars?  My university can't buy ink pens and you want me to believe that a high school got a quarter-million dollars-in Texas.  I'd believe it if it were for a football stadium, but not a crime lab.  Fiona's life was too perfect.  Her mother and father were both wildly successful, she has a loving nanny, big mansion, all new town cars, and a master key to the school.  Don't believe that last one for a second.  I don't care if you brought five million dollars into the school, there is no way that you are getting a master key.  It's the little things that kill, and it was finally the little things that drove this book to complete fantasy land.

All that being said, the basic premise of this book isn't terrible.  If you boil it down far enough, it's a forensic Nancy Drew-CSI High School, if you will, and there is a market for that.  I think to make this book more believable, the main character needs to be in college, not high school-it's much more likely that a college has a crime lab.  Plus, many colleges do look at old criminal cases, so the idea of working with the police is again more believable.  Leave the poisonous snakes at home, and you might have something.  And take out the paranormal references-only one pop culture phenom at a time, and you've already chosen CSI, so leave Twilight out of it.

I honestly don't recommend this book.  And unless you also watch Big Rich Texas, you've probably never even heard of it.  But this is another example of someone that is intelligent and thinks, hey how hard can it be to write a young adult book?  It's hard people.  And that's why I stick to blogging.  For now.  I'm working on it, dad!!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Skippyjon Jones in a Nutshell

Five Skippyjon Jones books in one sitting is a lot to take in.  Personally, I had never read Skippyjon Jones before as my picture book reading was mostly contained to what I could use in storytime and what was winning awards and buzz.  Skippyjon didn't fit into either of these categories, so I mostly just let him alone.  But my little nephew loves him, so this is for you Anthony.

Basically, Skippyjon Jones is a silly little siamese cat, and as he says in every book, his ears are too big for his head and his head it too big for his body.  So, he pretends to be a chihuahua and scampers off into his closet for make believe adventures with a band of imagined chihuahuas.  The adventures he has are very strange, but it's a kids book, so that is fine.  I still hold my belief that these are not my type of story time book.  There is no consistency in rhyming parts, it's all very helter-skelter and the pictures are a little too much to take in with a group.  (My opinion obviously, because SJJ is huge at my nephew's preschool.)

Now for the controversy.  While SJJ has received some acclaim, it has also received criticism for poorly portraying Hispanic culture.  Skippyjon Jones becomes Skippito in the books, a Zoro-like bandit that uses mixed-up Spanglish and silly songs with claps.  While SJJ isn't the best role model, he is certainly not harmful, but keep in mind this is coming from a girl whose favorite children's book is Little Black Sambo (I'm in it for the pancakes people!).  

One reader on Goodreads also commented that she thought it was disturbing that SJJ pretended to be something he's not in every book.  That's what kids do!  And really SJJ is the only boy in his family and he doesn't look anything like his siblings, so of course he's going to pretend to be someone else for a change.  I'm not going to get into the psyche of a fictional kittenboy, but he probably feels some measure of ugly duckling syndrome here, like he was dropped off with this cat family by dog parents or something.  

My nephew loves these books because they are absurd, because SJJ sneaks into his closet and ends up in the desert or on Mars.  Because this silly little kittenboy is called all sort of adorable names by his mother (a few of which my sis uses to refer to Anthony).  And mostly because kids just have a really messed up sense of humor and this plays right to that audience.

So adults, stop ruining children's books with your own political correctness.  While I do not intend to become a Skippyjon Jones pusher, I see the merit of it.  If that's what Anthony wants to read, that's cool.  I'm sure that he will end up a well-adjusted member of society even though he read Skippyjon Jones as a child.  His adult neurosis will come from having a weird family, not from the books that he reads.  

And isn't that what we're all trying to avoid, permanently screwing up our children?  It's not going to happen.  Every child will have that one weird memory that scars them for life (mine has to do with the hiding of Christmas presents, but that's a story for another day), so you might as well go with it and let them read whatever they like.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Going Bovine

Having a couple of days to digest this book is a good thing, because it is definitely the type of book that leaves an impression.

Cameron is an average kid, just this side of slacker, and he's just trying to make it through high school and find some good in life.  Then he is diagnosed with what is basically Mad Cow Disease.  Now his limbs don't function the way he wants and he's prone to seeing things.  This lands him in the hospital with a death sentence.  Until Gonzo, a hypochondriac dwarf, ends up in his room too.  Cameron had met Gonzo at school, and knew that he was an eccentric guy, but it's more than that.  And one night, a beautiful punk angel, Dulcie, appears in his room and tells Cameron that there is a cure for his disease and that all he has to do is travel across the country, find Dr. X, resolve the parallel universes, overcome the fire demons and save the world.  Easy peasy.  Cameron takes off with Gonzo in tow, picks up a Norse god disguised as a garden gnome, plays jazz with a legend, bowls for happiness, gets laid at Spring Break, and lands himself in Disney World trying to find the cure.  And other assorted adventures occur too, but this is just a summary.

Basically, Cameron fights so hard and lives so much in the little time that he has left.  He is full of hope and longing to keep living this life that he previously thought was torture.  He becomes close to unlikely people, receives help in the strangest places, and learns that nothing is random.

And the ending is both heartbreaking and uplifting, because in between all the driving, swearing, and partying, there are these dreams where Cameron is still in the hospital, and he sees his family gathered around him.  What is real and what is a dream?

What is amazing about this book is that nothing is ever random.  The smallest thing, like a broken snow globe, leads to a major plot point down the road.  And Cameron's desire to live despite his diagnosis is incredible.  He does not have a stiff upper lip bravery, or an overly optimistic positive attitude, just a desire to live for once before he dies, and honestly, most people, sick or not, could use that perspective.

Plus, there's some pretty crazy physics going on this book, which interests me as a languish in the physics office.  I'm seeing a display in my future explaining the physics of parallel universes as it relates to this book, although someone will have to explain parallel universes to me first.

This book is not for the faint of heart.  There is a lot of swearing, sex, drug use, etc.  It's a teen boy quest!  He wants to live with no consequences, because he's dying anyway, and get with any girl that will have him.  But, the foul language and incessant partying are not forced, it's all very natural and fits the character.  Just don't give this to a prim and proper reader and you'll be fine.  I honestly see this as a great book for the grown-up Percy Jackson fan.  It's a quest novel.  There is danger and fantasy, and a Norse god for crying out loud!

I finished this book a week ago, and what I remember most now is that the plot was exhilarating, the friendships were true, the losses hurt, and the ending brought me to tears.  Not too bad for some light, holiday reading.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!