Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When a Book Doesn't Speak to You

I sometimes have trouble getting into a book.  I'll pick it up, give it a try, put it down, and start all over.  Sometimes it's just the wrong time to be reading that particular book.  Maybe it's about a topic that you can't handle right now (cough-The Fault in Our Stars-cough), or maybe you're burned out on the genre and can't appreciate it.  Or maybe, you can't understand all the hype.

This has happened to me several times.  Most of the time, if a book doesn't hold my interest, then I just put it down, walk away, and never think of it again.  But sometimes I keep hearing positive things, or keep getting recommendations, or get pestered by one particular library patron to READ THIS BOOK!  So I try, again.

The first time that I kept picking up a book that I had mostly signed off was Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow.  One particular patron kept begging, no demanding, no threatening, that I read this book.  I tried and tried and finally on the 3rd try with no job and nothing better to do, I finished it.  Jake's parents are archeologists that have gone missing, and due to an ancient artifact, a thunderstorm, and mysterious powers of some type, Jake and his sister are transported to a lost civilization made up of dozens of other types of lost civilizations.  It's all very weird.  And if children's books are to be believed, then 6 out of every 10 kids have a lost archeologist parent.  The whole book was very marginal, but I finally made it through and felt some sense of accomplishment, even though I think the only person that absolutely loved this book was my library patron.

The book that I can't get through but everyone else seems to love is The Scorpio Races.  I bought this book for my Kindle and I've tried twice, but I can't get past three chapters, which is frustrating because I loved The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and she's such a popular author.  Not to mention my friend and amazing librarian, Cinjoella, loved it.  I can't do it.  Every time I try to pick it up, I read about these water horses that I can't picture or understand and I stop.  I'm a quitter.  

But I am about to change my ways.  The Spindlers has been another tough one.  I read a couple of chapters through a free preview, but couldn't finish the whole book before the preview expired.  It was interesting, but not great.   Then I checked it out from my library.  Same thing, picked it up, put it down, now with just one day left on my check out (it's an interlibrary loan, so I can't renew) and half the book to go, I'm determined to finish, even though it's lackluster.  I just keep thinking that I have read this story before, but better and more appealing to a broad audience.  But I will not quit!

What about you, what book do you keep trying to read?  And I'm not talking about some classic tome, or some required reading that you couldn't get into-it's a given that virtually anything assigned in a lit class will be something that someone has trouble sticking with.  No, I mean that one book that every one loved and you tried to love, you did, but you couldn't make it past three chapters.  That's the book I want to talk about!

Happy Reading (or quitting, there's no shame in that!)

Monday, April 29, 2013


Seraphina has a dangerous secret, and her father has been begging her to keep a low profile, but acting as the music teacher for the princess is not exactly the best occupation for laying low.  The kingdom of Goredd has made a treaty with the southland dragons, and this uneasy peace has lasted for 40 years, but now that Prince Rufus has been killed in distinctly dragon fashion, the treaty is weaker than ever.  With one foot in each world, Seraphina is in a very unique position, being half dragon, half human, but she might be the only one that can see what is going on, and catch the traitor in the castle.

This is a very full story.  Not only is there mystery surrounding the attack on Prince Rufus, there is also Seraphina's secret, Orma's fate, dragon-human relations, the love triangle between Seraphina, Prince Lucian, and Princess Griselda, Seraphina's garden of grotesques coming to life all around her and more.  There is a considerable amount of world-building going on too.  While this fictional kingdom mostly mimics a Renaissance Era kingdom, the dragons make it something different entirely, and the saints mentioned are also fictional.

This book also exploited one of my biggest faults, Reader's Vocabulary.  Basically, reader's vocabulary is the ability to define and even spell words, but have no idea how they are pronounced, since you've only read them, never heard them spoken.  This is a problem with many fantasy books because I am terrible at sounding words out.  My third grade teacher is hanging her head in shame somewhere.  So, I honestly cannot pronounce Dracomachia, which happens to be the title of the second book.  I can take a stab at it, but I guarantee, it won't be right.

Once I really sat down with this book, I became involved, but it took me a while to get going.  That could honestly have more to do with me than with the book.  This book is a good answer to Eragon, which just wasn't my speed.  I feel like Seraphina is a more beautiful book, more technically perfect and more engaging.

I enjoyed Seraphina and will definitely read the sequel when it comes out next February, but I don't think that I share the same passion for it as Cinjoella.  I have a tendency to get slowed down when combing historical settings with a fantastical plot line, so that might be what prevented me from all out loving this book.  Or Joella might be much more skilled at writing a passionate review.  It's probably the second one.

But for fans of fantasy, you really can't go wrong with Seraphina.

Happy Reading!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Losing Steam

When I first started this blog about 11 months ago, I was full of great ideas and theories about reading.  I knew I could bang out several book reviews per week and I could post old storytimes.  I thought that this will be a super easy, fun way to stay connected to children's literature.  And it was, for a while.

Lately I haven't had much time to read, and my reading theories are about exhausted.  I feel like I have hit a wall.  Everyone goes through those times when you just feel like you can't catch up to yourself, and I am definitely feeling that right now.  

I am determined not to become some abandoned blog though.  I do still enjoy posting a really fun craft idea, or finding a book that makes me believe in humanity.  I like sharing those things.  I like watching my stats go up, even slowly.  I like feeling like I am bringing new books and ideas to people, even if those people are only my family and friends.  

So, I apologize for the slow pace lately, I really don't have an excuse other than I haven't been reading much.  Sometimes even a really enjoyable book like Seraphina can take a while.  And there are other books that I absolutely cannot get myself to read, like The Scorpio Races.  Maybe that's my next blog post--Good books that you just can't get through.

My main point here is, I'm sorry if I've been to silent lately, but stay tuned, here's more to come!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book a Vacation

Reality has been a heartless strumpet lately.  (Strumpet is my latest vocabulary word from Seraphina.  It's just a great word that I am trying to work it into daily conversation more.)  The weather here is rainy and cold, then add to that flooding and numerous boil orders and you have a reality that I would rather escape.

This has me dreaming about vacation.  But right now is not a great time to take a vacation, and I just don't have the financial resources to run off to Italy or Hawaii or Toronto, so I have to make due with books.

I know that I likely won't go to the places in my favorite books, but realistically, if I could, if I had a time machine and all that too, where would you really want to go?  Most historical fiction settings are out for me because I truly love indoor plumbing and electricity.  I might make it in the 1920's New York of The Diviners, but that's as far back as I would go.

This also means that most dystopian books are also out of the question.  I do not want to visit the Chicago of Divergent or try my hand at The Hunger Games.  Similarly, most fantasy destinations are out too.  It's constantly snowing in Narnia, no thank you, and there are a lot of monsters involved at Hogwarts and Camp Half-Blood, so I think I'll pass.  I'm not brave, I love showers, and I would prefer someplace with amazing food.  Let's see what I'm left with.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt set in Savannah, Georgia.  I have been to Savannah for a quick day trip about seven years ago.  But one day in Savannah is not good enough.  The setting of this book is so rich, and still very much alive in the South.  There are whole tours and shops dedicated to this book, which they refer to simply as "The Book".  I should reread this one just to soak in the setting.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor mostly set in Prague.  I'm a fan girl, so you really should have seen this one coming, but Prague just seems so ridiculous.  I saw an Anthony Bourdain show on it and it sounded incredible, although I'm convinced that Anthony Bourdain could make my small town seem interesting.  Still, Taylor paints Prague so beautifully that I would entirely go there.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor mostly set in Morocco.  This is the only vacation I would take that I might have to give up some of my comforts, like showers and such.  Morocco seems amazing with the kasbahs, and marketplaces.  I might not want to visit the particular kasbah that Karou inhabits, because again, I'm afraid of monsters (I'm nothing like Zuzanna who thinks they are entertaining and wonderful), but I still think Morocco would be doable.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  If there was a way to spend an entire New York vacation in the Met, I would sign up tomorrow.  Not only is it a kid's dream to spend a night in a museum exploring every little exhibit, but I would love it too.  I think I would start by sleeping in the little prayer room that they shipped in from Europe, or maybe the temple in the Egyptian wing.  See, I'm already planning it!!  And did you know that E. L. Konigsburg passed away Friday?  It's so sad to lose such an amazing, touching author.

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass set in a giant chocolate factory.  I know that this factory doesn't exist, but imagine if it did!  Imagine that you could make a chocolate harmonica, or any of the other creations they try.  This whole book was so descriptive and delicious that I found myself wanting M & M's by the bagful.  Maybe a compromise would be Hershey, Pennsylvania.  I'd take that vacation.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgensten set in a magical circus.  Again, this isn't real, but I would love to visit the Night Circus.  I can just imagine the lovely clothes I would wear, and the food, and the cloud room.  Maybe I should reread this one because there's nothing like magic to take your mind off flooding.

Those are my top book-inspired vacation picks.  Seraphina is proving to be a very nice escape but between boiling water, cleaning my dog's muddy paws, and cleaning up our leaky basement, I haven't had a ton of reading time.  What vacations are you planning-real or imaginary?  Are you looking to escape from the heartless strumpet as known as reality?  Are you loving the word strumpet?  Let me know!

Happy Reading!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cozy Classics Part Two: Les Miserables and War and Peace

More Cozy Classics!  I reviewed the first two Cozy Classics a couple of months back, but I was anxiously awaiting these stories as well.  These board books retell a classic story using only 12 words and 12 pictures.  Talk about condensing!  And considering that I have not read either of these books, I really am like the target audience, except I won't be teething on these books.

I can only imagine that Les Miserables in 12 words is missing something, or maybe a lot of somethings.  You get a basic idea of good guy and bad guy, you definitely get the sadness, and some light points, but it is not as cohesive as Pride and Prejudice in 12 words.  I'm over thinking this.  The characters are darling felt dolls so kids will love it or chew it, one or the other.

On the other hand, I am a big fan of Tolstoy in 12 words.  I might have read War and Peace in high school-either that or Crime and Punishment, I honestly can't remember.  What I do remember is that Via in Wonder was reading War and Peace and she loved it.  (Yes I will be referring back to Wonder every day for the next month, read it already.)  You see this blooming love triangle, the war, and the conclusion.  I think  you could almost write your term paper on it.

According to Goodreads, there are two more Cozy Classics in the works:  Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist. Again two classics I have never read, but I can definitely find the time to read the Cozy Classic.  These books are a must for any literary snob parents.  Maybe I'll start giving these for baby shower gifts, with a Pigeon book hidden inside!  Just imagine a little baby reading their War and Peace with a Pigeon book hidden between the pages!  That image just might be cute enough to get me through the day!

Happy Reading

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hooray for Publisher!

Call me weird, but I love Microsoft Publisher.  I'm addicted to it.  I know that practically anything you can do in Publisher you can do in Powerpoint or Word, but trust me, Publisher is easier.  You can manipulate everything so easily and overlay text and graphics in a snap and make teeny tiny adjustments.  It's just wonderful!

I use Publisher for everything!  Storytime outlines, newsletters, posters, calendars, banners, craft templates, postcards--basically if I have to design something from scratch, I do it on Publisher.

Then I went all Mac and lost my precious Publisher forever!  (Cue screaming and gnashing of teeth.)

Seriously, I hate using Powerpoint and Word to create fancy stuff.  Word is great for term papers and Powerpoint is great for presentations, but if I want to design and print my own wedding invitations, I need Publisher!  That really happened.  To save money, I bought a print-your-own wedding invitation kit, but my hubby-to-be's computer was a Mac, so no Publisher.  I worked and worked and worked on Powerpoint to get those invitations printed and used every curse word I could think of and quite a few creative additions of my own.  I almost didn't get married because of it.  A difference in desktop publishing software is a big issue in a marriage.  Almost as important as your favorite baseball team.

Moving on.  We recently purchased a new computer, a PC laptop with Windows 8 that I'm still learning, but the best news is that I bought Publisher this week!  And not a moment too soon honestly!  Not only can I now start sharing my old storytime outlines again (because let's face it, I'm running out of things to say here) but I can also start designing fun crafts and posters for VBS.  Plus I can start converting all of those little awards and posters that I created on Publisher at work to Powerpoint (stupid, high tech work iMac).  Just doing one of those conversions already has been screaming work appropriate obscenities at my computer.

By the way, work appropriate obscenities include "blast it all", "son of a mother", "good night", "for the love", and my favorite "Einstein's whiskers!"  Okay, I've never said that last one, but I'm going to.

Basically this means that you can look forward to some more storytime posts, which are always fun and usually popular.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Wonder Reading List

As you well know I am completely taken with Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  Not only is the story fantastic and hopeful, but it weaves in all of these little song lyrics and book references that add another layer to the plot.  For fun, I pulled all the mentioned books and list them here, just in case you find yourself in need of more reading!

Auggie Reads:

 Mr. Tushmen, principal of Beecher Prep is impressed that Auggie has already read Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke.

Auggie thinks the Plague game that the other kids are playing is like the Cheese Touch from Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.

Via mentions that Miranda would talk to Auggie about the different books he was reading, like Bone by Jeff Smith.

Auggie and his mom are reading The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien before bed at the beginning of the book, when Auggie admits that he likes his parents to tuck him in, even though it's a little childish.

Auggie tells him mom that he would like to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by himself before he goes to sleep one night, just before his nature adventure, then he also reads the book while on the trip.

Via reads:

Via is a grown-up and able to take the subway by herself because she reads War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  She really is an adult because she actually likes it!

Summer reads:

While talking about Halloween costumes, Summer mentions that in grade school everyone had to dress as a book character and she dressed as a character from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  She then had to remind Auggie that it was a book first!  Always read the book before you see the movie!

Mentioned in Mr. Browne's English class:

When not writing precepts, it looks like Mr. Browne's students will be reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeliene L'Engle and Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman.

The high school play fiasco:

After Miranda convinces the play director Mr. Davenport to toss The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance, so he chooses the classic Our Town by Thornton Wilder and Via steals the show.

Quoted by Mr. Tushman in his graduation address:

 Mr. Tushman forsakes Peter Pan in favor of a lesser known J. M. Barrie book, The Little White Bird, and he also quotes Under the Eye of the Clock by Christopher Nolan to express his feelings about this eventful school year.

Mentioned at random:

Finally, the author chooses a passage from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery to open the section told by Jack and then uses a passage from Hamlet by William Shakespeare to open a section by Auggie.  These little notes give hints about the character and what lies ahead.

Now that you have this list, use it with a reader.  Why do you think the author chose these books?  What do the selected passages add to the story?  What books would you recommend to Auggie and his friends?

I always love when I read a book about a character that loves to read.  It makes me feel like I can get to know them even more.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Favorite Things

No, not like Oprah's favorite things.  I'm sorry, you will not receive a new car after reading this post.  Stop waiting by the mailbox, a gallon of Grater's Ice Cream is not coming your way.

(Oh, but imagine if it were!  That is one of my favorite things.  Grater's Raspberry and Dark Chocolate.  I have to go back to Cincinnati!)

It's been a long winter/year/semester/week and I need to think happy.  My moods were already lifted by Wonder, but I need a little more, so in true Sound of Music fashion, I am going to meditate on my favorite things.

Favorite Thing to Wear:

This black jersey dress.  I'm dreaming of the day that I can pull this favorite out of the closet.  It's super comfy and perfect for summer.  And while we are talking favorite, check out that beautiful day in Cincinnati!  That's one of my favorite memories from last summer-our trip to visit my Aunt Roxie.

Favorite Pandora Station:

FUN.  Seems kinda self explanatory there, doesn't it?  A FUN Pandora station that is fun.  I feel like I end up with a lot of songs that are on car commercials on this station and recently the ladies have really started to take over, like Ingrid Michelson and Kate Nash, but it's always light, happy music so perfect for slow days at work.

Favorite Pastime:

Deer hunting with the little man.  Seriously, what do you think I like to do, it's in the title of this blog.  

Favorite Person:

This dancing fool.  I have to add this picture whenever I possibly can, it just completely summarizes Doug in one image.

Favorite Person Runner-Up:

She's people!  Plus Lucy is very cuddly and soft.  All good qualities in a favorite person.

Favorite Book:  

When Michelle Duggar declares a favorite child, I'll declare a favorite book!  There are just too many to choose from!

 Favorite City:  

Boston.  Sure I should probably say Chicago, and that might even be true, but I would move to Boston in a minute.  What happened there has made me very sad, but Doug and I had a great honeymoon there and he has many great memories from his time in Boston.  When I start dreaming of a quick vacation, I often look up flights to Boston, so my thoughts and prayers are with all of the families effected by this tragedy.

I think that we all need to take a minute and be thankful for the things that we have, our family, friends, memories, and even silly things like pretty dresses and good books.

Happy Reading

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Auggie is 10 years old, but he has never gone to school.  He doesn't look like other kids, and while in his words, he doesn't look normal, he is normal, but how do you get other people to realize that when they can't get past how you look.  Finally, his parents think that he should start attending school, so they sign him up for Beecher Prep where he learns that life will not always be easy for him, but that being a good friend will win out in the end.

This book is told from several points of view including Auggie and his friends Jack and Summer as well as his sister Via and her friends Jason and Miranda.  All of these narrators not only contribute their own stories, but help shape Auggie's character as well.  This is a truly beautiful book about accepting people as they are and showing compassion and friendship wherever you go.

I loved this book.  Even though it follows a pretty common theme-the odd outsider works his way into the hearts of the school-it was incredible!  Auggie wasn't just going to school for the first time, he was also growing up.  From giving up his Star Wars obsession to leaving his stuffed bear at home, you realize just how much Auggie is maturing during the book, and that would not have happened if he had not started attending school.

It is also interesting how others react to Auggie's appearance, but how everyone says you get used to it once you get to know Auggie and how he is funny and kind.  I thought that the idea of setting him up with friends rang very true, that is something that I can understand principles and teachers doing, but that those "friends" were not his first true friend, like Summer.

Oliva, or Via, was also an interesting character because she grew up knowing that since Auggie needed special treatment, she would have to make do on her own.  Her growth in this book was also very true and touching.  I especially like that her grandmother treated her so kindly, because Via did need to hear that she was someone's favorite.

Then, woven into this wonderful plot, were song and book quotes, and precepts from Mr. Browne.  These little touches were not necessary, but added another layer to an already beautiful book.  I hope to post the Wonder reading list tomorrow by listing all of the books that are mentioned.  I also think that having children write their own life precepts would be a good class activity after reading this book.

Wonder should be required reading for everyone, in my opinion at least, but I don't write the school curriculum.  It is a book that makes you feel better and more hopeful for the world.  It's a book that makes to run around the house singing Wonder by Natalie Merchant (which is quoted in the text) all day long.  You will hold Auggie and all his friends in your heart, and I'm sure I will come back to them from time to time when I need a lift.

Wonder is a 2014 Caudill book, and I think that it really has a shot.  There are some very funny parts of this book, and even though it could be preachy, I didn't feel like it crossed that line.  I used to hate reading some of the "meaningful" books on the Caudill list, and some of them do beat you with the message, but Wonder is thoughtful, heartfelt, funny, and accessible.  I can't stop saying enough nice things about it.  Let's just say that I read it at the right time.

I highly recommend Wonder if you are looking for a book that will make you laugh, cry, and feel hopeful.

Happy Reading

Monday, April 15, 2013

Burn Down the Ground

Not since The Night Circus have I actually read and finished an entire book club book in time for book club.  I think I deserve a parade, or maybe just some ice cream.

As the hearing child of two deaf parents, Kambri had an unusual upbringing, but the fact that her parents were deaf was the least of her problems.  Her father was paranoid and jealous and beat her mother.  He has a very difficult time keeping a job or staying faithful, so they moved to the middle of nowhere to be free from distraction, which did not work.  Kambri and her brother had a pretty free childhood, which lead to problems as teens and lead David, her brother, to spiral out of control and end up rehab.  Kambri on the other hand had her share of close calls, but with a determined spirit, she overcame her childhood only to have it haunt her again as an adult.

I enjoy memoirs.  Biographies, and autobiographies, tend to be stuffy and formal, while memoirs are just a listing of memories, subject to the author's point of view and  perspective.  Kambri's relationship with her father is the driving force behind this book since this is a man that is violent yet he was her loving father at some points.

For me the book lost some steam toward the end, or maybe I was getting bored.  Since this is a book about her childhood and family, once she became an independent adult, the details became a little fuzzy and I wish that she would have explored that a little more.  For instance, she was a Jose Cuervo girl, paid to party and mingle.  I would like to know how she entered such a lifestyle after seeing how alcohol effected her parent's relationship.  I'm not saying that you can't have a healthy respect for alcohol after having two addicted parents, but I would have liked to hear more about her motivations to enter this particular industry.

Parts of this book are very difficult to read, and the author does set the reader up for them.  As the book progresses and readers learn more about her father, you feel prepared for the violent side of him, since it comes out slowly and deliberately.

As a book club book, I really enjoyed it and thought it was very interesting.  I would not have picked it up on my own, but it was worth my time.  It is a memoir full of heart and forgiveness and will hopefully generate some discussion.

Speaking of discussion--I will be hosting book club this week.  We'll see how this goes.  I'm not much of a hostess, but hopefully with a few snacks and some lovely drinks, it will be a good night.

Happy Reading!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Hungry for a Book

I feel like I have hit a reading wall recently.  My to-read Kindle books don't interest me, my stack of physical books also lack appeal right now, and I just don't want to put a ton of books on hold at the library.  Plus, I don't know what I want to read even if I did put books on hold.  Even my Goodreads to-read list looks a little lackluster.

This happens to everyone I'm sure.  It's kinda like looking in your closet and finding nothing to wear.   Actually it's more like when you're hungry (or more likely, bored) and don't know what your hungry for.  You search the kitchen for something to eat, but since you don't even know what your looking for, you end up eating a granola bar or something and are completely unsatisfied.  It's not that the granola bar wasn't good, it's just not what you wanted.  (Actually in those cases you'd probably be better off taking a walk or doing some cleaning, because your bored, not hungry, but that's a problem for another day.)

I'm hungry for a book, but I don't know what type of book I want.  I feel like I have been reading a lot of realistic YA fiction lately.  I also think that I need a middle grade book to cleanse my palate and get me back to reading several books a week.  I need a confidence booster.  I need a book that is going to make me believe in humanity again.  I need a book like Liesl and Po, something that makes me feel bigger and brighter and happier just by reading it.

A quick browse of my Goodreads list and the 2014 Caudill List brought me to Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  I've been thinking about this book for a while.  I almost bought it back in September on a shopping trip, so I thought now was the perfect time to read it.  I planned to put it on hold at my library, but wonder of wonders (pun intended!) I could borrow it as a Kindle book!  The last Kindle book I borrowed from my library was Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, which I wasn't crazy about, but this way I get the instant gratification of a book that downloads in seconds without the cost of buying it.  Win!

Not only that, I found out that there are two other books that I have been longing to read that I can borrow straight to my Kindle:  Seraphina and Blood, Bones, and Butter.  That will cover the whole spectrum of middle grade to YA to adult book all without lifting a finger or paying a penny!

Check out this blurb from Wendy Darling on Goodreads:
"Wonder is one of those rare books that makes you want to hug everyone in it so tightly that they’ll have no doubt about how much you love them…and beyond that, it also makes you want to reach out and hug the whole world. It’s an upbeat, humorous, life-affirming story that deserves to be read—and it’s one that may just change its readers, too."

If that's true, then this is definitely the book for me.  I do want a book that will make me want to hug people.  Watch out-I'm a hugger!

Hopefully this will satisfy my book hunger.  Do you get that don't-know-what-to-read feeling?  How do you satisfy it?  Tell me your strategies for your next book selection.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Escape Theory: A Keaton School Novel

During the first week of school, tragedy struck Keaton School as golden boy Jason Hutchins committed suicide.  Now peer counselor in training, Devon, not only has to resolve her feelings about the death, but also counsel other grieving students like his best friend, Matt, and former girlfriend, Isla.  But something doesn't ring true about this suicide.  Jason, or Hutch as his friends call him, was not known for drug use, yet he overdosed on Oxy.  He was seen stealing a pregnancy test earlier that day, but why?  And what if Devon had stopped to talk to him earlier that week when he called out to her, instead of waving and walking away?  Soon, Devon is flexing her detective muscles and trying to find out who could possibly want Hutch dead.

I talked about the pre-pub buzz on this book last week and seeing as how it took me nearly a week to finish this one, you might guess that I do not feel the same way as Octavia Spencer.  As a former peer counselor myself, let me tell you, it's nothing like Devon's experience.  She was acting like an actual counselor to her classmates and peers.  Normally, peer counselors are more like big sisters to younger students-high schoolers working with junior high students, or in rare cases, seniors working with freshmen.  Also, Devon was given way too much freedom, although it seems like too much freedom was a common theme in this book.  I didn't go to boarding school so I don't know what it's like but it seems to me like these high schoolers snuck around more than I did in college.

And what is going on with the barbed pet names between Devon and her best friend Presley?  Lindsey Whore-han, Drew Barry-whore, Barrack Ho-bama.  Really?  Maybe it is supposed to add some credibility to the book, maybe that's how teen girls talk when no one's looking but that honestly just made me want to slap Devon.

Speaking of slapping Devon, if she shared one perfect, beautiful night with Hutch freshmen year, why didn't it lead to anything?  What they just escaped from the kitchen and never saw each other again?  I understand that Devon is an outsider, an observer, at this school, but you make out with a guy and just don't acknowledge him anymore?  Weird, just weird.

I feel so mean about this book, but it didn't ring true, it didn't engage, and the killer was pretty obvious to me anyway.  I officially disagree with the book blurbs and the starred review in Publisher's Weekly, they are always too nice.  If you want an engaging tale about a girl detective, check out Also Known As and leave Escape Theory (what does that even mean?) behind.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gadget's Garage: The Planning Phase

This year, in an attempt to simplify VBS, I'm digging up an old VBS kit:  Gadget's Garage from 2009.  I like this theme for a number of reasons.  

1.  Robots-who doesn't love robots?  
2.  The stories are great-no trying to explain the rapture to 3 year olds.  
3.  The snacks do not include trail mix!  
4.  The connections seem way less forced than in recent years.
5.  It's not overly elaborate.

After being involved at VBS at several different churches in recent years, I've noticed that VBS can get out of hand quickly.  Are we really teaching children about the love of God when they walk into a scale replica of the NASA space station?  Do children really understand Jesus' resurrection better when chowing down on Salvation Snack Mix?  Are all of the games, songs, decorations and crafts getting in the way of our message?  Maybe.  And it's sucking up my VBS budget like no one's business.

This year, I'm using an old kit.  I like still having some type of guidance and outline, even though none of the materials are available anymore.  Honestly, my church just buys the kits and gets creative from there.  The licensed VBS stuff gets really expensive and Oriental Trading is super smart to sell like items at half the price.  But next year, I'm going rogue!  No kits, no theme, no giant cut-outs for pictures, all simple!

Before I can dream about next year, I have to pull off this year and tonight is the first planning meeting. Some things that you need to know about our VBS first.  

1.  It's small.  My goal is 25 kids this year.  Last year we hovered right around 20.  
2.  Since it's so small, it's an all ages kind of thing-around 3 years old to 10 years old.
3.  We have unlimited outdoor space, but limited air-conditioned space.  
4.  My church is small but mighty.  I have dedicated volunteers that I need to use more!

Now that you understand what I'm working with, let's talk about this year, with another list.  (If you can't tell, I love lists.  I'm kinda a recovering list addict, so this post is probably not a good thing.)

1.  VBS will be four nights long Monday - Thursday with the church Ice Cream Social on Friday.  It's a great way for us to schedule because we can combine resources a little.
2.  We will again have evening VBS since I work, and we can maybe catch some cooler weather.  If we do it during the day, it's tough to get in any time before the day really heats up, unless we start at 6:00 am, and I'm not doing that!
3.  I'm still going to use passive activities.  This year I'm thinking sidewalk chalk and a coloring wall again, but also a Lego box for building before the lesson starts.  It was nice to have something for the kids to do while we were getting everyone signed in.  
4.  Craft stations are still a must!  We so few kids across a wide range of abilities, it worked really well to have different stations to keep them all busy.  We had a poster coloring station, card making station, random leftover craft station, and special craft station.  I think that the kids enjoyed having some options, and the only station that really required any prep was the special craft.
5.  Give each child a dedicated folder or bag for crafts so they aren't carrying them the rest of the night. This was a sanity saver last year.  Write their name on a bag or folder, toss the craft in there, or whatever is left of their snack sometimes, and give it to them at the end.
6.  More games!  We had more free time than I anticipated last year, which left me scrambling to come up with games off the top of my head.  This year, I'll be ready!

When you break it down, this is all totally doable!  I'll see what else the team comes up with this evening and report back later.  Until then, if you want more Gadget's Garage, check out my Pinterest board for VBS 2013

Happy Reading!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Blurbs

I usually receive a couple advance reader copies of upcoming books per month.  These books range from pretty good to alright to downright unreadable.  When I read the advance praise for this new book just hit my mailbox, I was intrigued.

"Escape Theory kept me up way past curfew, with no regrets" --Cecily von Ziegesar of Gossip Girl fame.

"Escape Theory is a riveting psychological journey"-Sara Shepard of Pretty Little Liars

"Margaux Froley's debut...is a sexy, smart page turner, a must read!" Octavia Spencer, Academy Award winning star of The Help

Let's play my favorite Sesame Street game One of These Things is Not Like the Other.  We have three book blurbs.  Two from formula fiction franchises (say that three times fast) and one from an actress.  Now, not that Octavia Spencer can't have a hobby, and I would personally welcome her into my book club, but what makes her a good person to blurb this book?  And, what did she say in the span of those periods.  Hmm.

This brings me to my main question:  Do you trust book blurbs?  If a book is recommended by your favorite author, is that an automatic read?  If your favorite actress endorses a book, or maybe the wacky weather man on a morning television show, does it go on your list?  Have you ever been let down by a blurb?  Do you have trust issues because your favorite fantasy author endorsed Fablehaven and you just hated it?  Maybe I was the only one that hated that book.

And reviews!  What about book reviews?  This is getting into dangerous territory for me because I do review books, both for fun here and for benefit for a company (not exactly monetary benefit, I'm kinda literally paid in books).  Escape Theory has earned a starred review from Publisher's Weekly, but I always found that Pub Weekly gave out stars like I give out treats to my dog, sometimes because she does the trick, and other times just to shut her up.  I personally trusted School Library Journal, The Bulletin, and Kirkus much more.  In fact, Kirkus was usually so mean, that if they liked it, I would buy two.  Also, the librarian at my best friend's school was an SLJ reviewer and I loved her!  If Elaine said buy, I'd buy, if she said it's an additional purchase, I'd pass.  That is some level of trust there.

Let's get back to the book in question-Escape Theory.

Here are the covers that I found on Goodreads.  I received the green cover which looks pretty marginal, especially since this is supposed to be about an upscale boarding school mystery.  Honestly, doesn't it kinda look like that Fiona Frost novel from months ago?

Maybe not, but the gate is what made me think of Fiona Frost. 

The other cover looks awfully grungy.  I feel like I should be listening to Nirvana with that cover.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not finished Escape Theory yet, although the more I type that title the more ridiculous it seems.  At first, I was really excited to read this book.  I have a strange affection for Gossip Girl and others like it.  But right away, Escape Theory is not hooking me.  It's brand dropping, but it's dropping middle class brand, like Ikea and Target.  Okay, that's already my life, so that's not fun.  The plot seems implausible at this point too, so I'll have to see where that goes.  I'll let you know what I think on Monday, but it's going to be an uphill battle.

Let's circle back to the original question:  Book Blurbs-yay or nay?  Do you trust them or do they make you extra wary?

Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Golden Anniversary!

Today is my Golden Anniversary!  Sort of.

Four years ago today, I married my husband Doug.  So that means we're married 4 years on 4-4.  If this were a birthday, you'd call it a Golden Birthday, so I'm applying the same logic to our anniversary.  Works right?  Doug doesn't think so and he kinda wishes that I'd stop saying this, but we'll have to live to be OLD to reach the real Golden Anniversary (50 years, right?), so I'm keeping my Golden Anniversary.

I already told you how we met on my Engagement Day post, so let's pick up where that left off.


Doug and I started planning our big day and our big life together, and while some girls would be overly concerned about the dress, and the flowers, and the venue, I just kept saying over and over, "I just want to get married."  That was the most important part of my day-that Doug was mine when this whole thing was through.

So April 4, 2009 dawned bright and beautiful and we all scurried around getting ready and everything. Well scurried might not be a fair description.  I had a cold, and since we were getting married, I shared with Doug.  Love means sharing, people.  So both of us were as excited as you can be with a runny nose.  My mom actually stuffed Doug's jacket with kleenexes and cough drops, but we didn't need them.

Doug and I did the old-fashioned thing and didn't see each other before the ceremony, so I was hid away in the church basement and Doug was hid away in the pastor's office.  It's worth mentioning here that the church we were married in has been my family's church for generations.  My grandparents and parents were both married here.  And I was baptized and confirmed here.  It's kinda a special place.

Honestly my favorite moment was when I walked down the aisle.  I walked down the aisle to Home by Vanessa Carlton.  Google it or something it's beautiful.  Honestly the first time Doug played me that song, I knew I'd marry him.  Seriously, I was pretty smitten pretty fast.  Anyway, the pianist started playing Home, which was the processional music for the whole wedding party and dad says "It's too nice outside to be in church today.  Who wants to go fishing?" and my best friend Sara yells "I'll go fishing Mr. Torbeck!".  What support.  Then when it was just dad and I behind the heavy wooden doors waiting for the crescendo he says to me "You don't have to do this, Patrick can grab the car and we can go fishing", to which I replied "I'm going down that aisle with you or without you".  He knew I meant business.  And I'm happy to say that he walked me down the aisle like I'd always hoped.  I'm a daddy's girl-get over it!

When I got to the alter, Doug said to me-you look perfect.  How's a girl going to respond to that!  I couldn't kiss him yet, that would be batting out of order!  As you can tell, I was really jazzed to say my vows:  For better or worse, in sickness and in health (that got some laughs), for rain or shine, Dave or Busters.  (Not that part, but that's how we tell it).

OH-I put the ring on the wrong finger!  Oops.  And I had to force it, so I was kinda afraid it wasn't going to come off when we learned my mistake.  Every wedding as a screwup and that one wasn't so bad.  

Apparently, Doug and I kinda ran and skipped out of the church.  I don't remember that but we're strange so that entirely could have happened.  Then we were married!  Whoo!  Then we had a party! Double whoo!

Our wedding was at a golf course, and we couldn't have had a more beautiful day.  Okay, it was a little windy, which made it a little chilly, but look at that sunshine!

And since Doug is a dancing fool (and I encourage him) we danced the Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire.  That elicited a lot of laughter.  

Then, off to Lake of the Ozarks for four days to recover from our colds and the wedding, and then off to be happily married.  I have to say that it's been four pretty great years.  More ups than down, more laughter than tears, only a few major snafu's.  All in all, pretty great.  Totally worthy of a Golden Anniversary!  

Doug's a pretty good husband.  He puts up with a lot from me I know.  I ignore him for hours at a time to finish a book.  I make him crazy Pinterest recipes that nearly kill us both.  I have a tendency to fill our home with weird tchotchktes and candles and stuff.  But in return he gets a funny girl that loves him no matter what (I love him even when our yard has a huge pile of dirt in it.  It's cool-I'm embracing the chaos of it).

One Golden Anniversary down, one to go!