Thursday, November 21, 2013

Novel Inspiration

Writing is writing, right?

I should be writing my novel.  NaNoWrimo is over halfway through and, though I am making fairly steady (if slow) progress, I'm not as far along as I'd like to be. Instead, I am going to procrastinate for a while by reflecting on today's pep talk, courtesy of Lev Grossman. 

Like any aspiring author, especially one who writes for a young adult audience, I am angsty and filled with self-doubt. Will I ever finish even one of the partially finished drafts that are piling up around me? 

Lev says, "It astounds me every time, but the books get done. How? It's not about having some triumphant breakthrough moment. Being a novelist is a matter of keeping at it, day after day, just putting words after other words. It's a war of inches, where the hardest part is keeping your nerve. The number one reason why people who want to write novels don't is that they lose their nerve and quit."

Wow, it's like he just popped his head into my cluttered living room and prodded me with a stick to quit procrastinating and WRITE.

And then he goes on to say, "To write a novel is to come in contact with raw, primal feelings, hopes and longings and psychic wounds, and try to make a big public word-sculpture out of them, and that is a crazy hard thing to do. When you look at other people's published novels, they seem gleaming and perfect, like the authors knew what they wanted to do from the start and just did it. But trust me: they didn't know."

They didn't know? Are you sure, Lev? because I've spent years listening to teachers analyze  texts for symbolism and theme and all that literary stuff. That authors don't have everything figured out from the start is exciting and frightening in equal measure. Do you mean that I still get to write if I have no clear idea of how it's all going to play out? Oh shit, does that mean I can't use being clueless as an excuse not to write?

Reading this pep talk reminded me of the first time I tried to highlight the important ideas in a college textbook. I highlighted entire pages, which really wasn't all that helpful, except that it made my book look pretty.  That said, here's the best part of this pep talk:

"What you're feeling is not only normal: it's a good sign. A writer--someone once said--is a person for whom writing is difficult. That resistance you're feeling is proof that you're digging deep. To write a novel is to lose your way and find it over, and over, and over again."

Talk about deep. Oh, wait a minute. Did I say that was the best part? I highlighted even more:

"A lousy draft proves nothing. Rough drafts are rough--everybody's are. Being a writer isn't like being a musician. You don't have to get it right every day. The wonderful thing about being a writer is, you only have to get it right once. That's all anyone will ever see. The  only bad draft is the one that doesn't get finished."

Oh, SNAP. You get me, Lev. Truly.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nanowrimo: The Dreaded Week Two Doldrums

I'm in the midst of NaNoWriMo again. That's National Novel Writing Month for those of you not in the know. I'm writing as a rebel this month, that is, editing and adding to a novel that I started during NaNoWriMo 2011 and never actually finished.

Since I was already well into my story, I hoped I might be able to skip the week two "I hate my novel and everything about it" phase that is so common during week two. And I have, sort of. I actually don't hate my novel, although the dystopian setting is a horribly unpleasant reminder of why the separation of church and state is such an important foundation to any civilized society. My characters certainly hate their world, which is why they are trying to escape.

I am satisfied with much of what I have written so far, especially since I am less concerned with word count padding and more with getting some solid work done that a decent editor can help me tweak into something worth reading. It's not perfect, but so far, I have an exciting story and some characters who are gradually becoming more rounded and complex as I go. But...

I have reached a point where I have no clue what comes next. And my characters aren't talking to me. I've tried to force myself to create an outline, but it's just not happening. I'm pretty sure that one of my main characters (and probably a couple of my minor characters) have to die, but the how and the why of it are eluding me.

So here's the crux of my struggle with NaNoWriMo. Do I write a bunch of crap that I'll have to spend time weeding out later, or do I stick with my habitual edit-as-I-go writing style and hope that inspiration will strike me at some point? I know that the point of NaNoWriMo is to write as much as possible, even if 90% of it is crap. And I see the benefit in writing what's in you without judging--sometimes the fear of a blank page is so paralyzing that nothing ever gets done. On the other hand, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo simply for bragging rights about an inflated word count that means nothing. I want to come out of this month (or the next, or the next) with a draft that I don't have to be embarrassed to show to a reader.

And so far, only my mom has seen this story. She likes it, but she's my mom--that's kind of in the job description!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nanowrimo November 2013

NaNoWriMo is here again and I've let almost a week of potential writing greatness pass me by. I have two half-written novels and one partially-written (and poorly- illustrated) children's book to my credit after participating in this writing adventure for six years. I kinda like much of what I've written so far, but can't seem to actually finish anything. 

Any way you slice it, whether it's the graph showing total words written:

or the graph showing words written and percentage of goal achieved:


or the calendar showing good and bad writing days:

it's simply not a pretty (or a productive) picture.

As much as I love the idea of NaNoWriMo, I haven't been brave enough to go for it the way I should.  So here I am, putting up multiple views of my paltry progress, hoping that knowing that, maybe, somebody might be watching, I'll be more motivated to do the hard work of getting 'er done. Even though I'm almost a week behind, I'm confident that I can rock the word count this weekend and make some solid progress toward my goal for the month. 

The next hurdle will be putting my words to the test of actual readers...gasp!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ode to my Mooncup

Warning:  This post may be TMI for some.  Menstrual talk ahead!

Several weeks ago, after noticing that my supply of tampons and pads (not to mention the Midol that makes my periods almost bearable) was getting low, I headed to the feminine hygiene aisle of the local supermarket to stock up.  To my chagrin, every box smelled like flowery chemicals.  In vain, I searched the entire aisle, even sniffing the boxes, in an attempt to find the unscented products hidden amongst the  throng.  These products are already full of bleach and other chemicals.  I do not need or want even more added to make me feel "fresh."  I don't know about you, but I'm making an effort to eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and minimize the toxins I come into contact with throughout the day.  

As I get closer to menopause, my periods have gotten heavier and more painful. I regularly pop Midol like it's going out of style and have to double up with a tampon and an overnight maxi-pad (with WINGS) just to make it through a couple of hours. So, though I have been thinking about more natural options, it just didn't seem practical for my situation.  However, after having so much trouble even finding unscented products, I went to my solution for every problem--the Internet.

My original intention was simply to order my usual array of unscented products, but then I ran across an article from Bitch Magazine called Oh Joy Sex Toy: Testing Out a Menstrual Cup. I was intrigued, and followed a link from the article to GladRags, a Portland-based company where you can buy a wide-range of natural, reusable menstrual supplies. After reading the testimonials, I was sold, and promptly ordered a Mooncup and a starter kit of cloth pads (for back-up against leaks or in case I didn't like the Mooncup).

I know exactly what you're thinking. It's what my mom (a nurse) said to me when I told her that I had just started using my new Mooncup - "Isn't that gross?"

Actually, it's way less gross than I expected. It's a bit awkward at first and does require a period (haha) of adjustment. But here's the thing. Even after only a couple of days, I am falling in love with my Mooncup. Why, you ask? Well, let me tell you!

First of all, inserting and removing the Mooncup gets easier every time you do it.  Just be ready for a laugh the first time you attempt it.  And don't worry, it won't get lost up there.  Despite my initial fumbling, I have yet to spill it.  I feel clean and dry, unlike my experience with tampons and pads.  My skin is not at all irritated and the rather funky smell that I have come to associate with my time of the month is completely gone.  I am having only minor cramps--no more need to buy stock in Midol.  My big worry, overnight use, has been put to rest. Normally, even when I use a tampon and a pad, I generally wake up in a crime scene on my heavy flow days.  Though I was nervous about how the Mooncup would handle overnight use, it worked like a champ.  I am feeling better than I ever have during my period and wishing that someone had told me about this years ago.

Here's a video that explains what a Mooncup is and how to use it.  I particularly recommend the second fold she demonstrates.  It works like a charm!

If you're still not convinced, check out this rap battle, Tampon vs. Mooncup:

Monday, June 24, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #19

Whew! It's finally starting to feel like summer. I was able to slow the pace of life a bit and make time for reading and lounging. I enjoyed what I read this week. Even though the challenge is over, there are several more titles that I plan to read this summer, as well as some other books that have languished in my TBR pile for the last several months. Now it's time to switch gears to get ready for the July incarnation of Camp Nanowrimo and its writing frenzy. Literary fun for everyone--I hope you'll join me!

Squire by Tamora Pierce

Book three in The Protector of the Small quartet.

Kel has passed the big examination and become a squire. Now what? She is raring to get out into the field to train as a knight, but she worries that no one will want to take on "The Girl." And when Neal gets her dream mentor, she has to remind herself to be gracious about it. 

Lucky for Kel (and the realm), Sir Raoul sees her potential and is ready to train her. he takes her out with the King's Own, warriors who travel around keeping order. As she has in the other books, Kel has to prove herself again and again to the warriors, both friend and foe. She also falls in love. Her four years as a squire pass quickly; all too soon it is Kel's time to face the Ordeal. She must spend a night inside an ancient chamber that will force her to look deeply inside herself--to confront her fears and to decide whether or not she is fit to become a knight. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book and will certainly recommend it to my students. The only part that left me a bit unsatisfied was the resolution to Kel's ongoing conflict with Joren and his cronies. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but you'll know what I mean when you get there.

Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce

Last book of The Protector of the Small quartet.

Kel has finally become a knight and longs to set out in search of Blayce and his terrifying killing machines. Instead, she is given a very different assignment--commander of a refugee camp right in the middle of the war zone. With the help of two other brand new knights, Merrick and Neal, she is to keep about 400 refugees safe from invading Scanrans.

Despite little assistance from the larger army and the initial skepticism of her charges, she eventually manages to train even the children to fight and earns the respect of everyone in the camp. But then tragedy strikes and Kel finds herself on the path to her destiny.

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Amelia has it bad for Chris, a fellow cashier at the local grocery store. Sadly, she knows he'll never go out with her, as he's a 21 year old university students, while she is only 15. They gradually become friends, though Amelia continues to idolize him.

She's smart and passionate about things besides Chris, which is refreshing. Even though Chris knows that Amelia is too young for him, at least right now, he sees that she could be his Perfect Women, given a bit more time to grow up.

Buzo perfectly captures the hopefulness and awkwardness of first love, and even though not much happens in terms of the plot, the characters are a pleasure to spend time with. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #18

Alas and alack! Summer vacation has been so darn busy so far that I am simply exhausted after only a week away from school. My husband and I have started a new diet and exercise program, visited several doctor's offices, and wandered around our local farmers' market purchasing locally grown foodstuffs for delicious home-cooked meals. What we have not done much of is, you guessed it, reading. I did finish one more book from the list, as well as another that's been on my nightstand for several months.

Pure by Julianna Baggott

Pure is the first in a trilogy. 

The world-building is phenomenal; plotwise, nothing much happens until very near the end of the book (and it is an enormous book).

In a horrifying post-apocalyptic world, enhanced nuclear weapons have destroyed nearly everything. The survivors have been fused with whatever they happened to be holding (or standing next to) during the Detonation, creating a variety of grotesque mutations. Pressia, 16, has a doll's head in place of one hand. Another character has birds fused into his back. Other characters, called Groupies, are connected to other people. The descriptions of these survivors are disturbing, and I think, what made this book very difficult for me to read.

There is another group of survivors, people who were kept safe from the Detonations, protected inside of the Dome. They are called Pures. Partridge lives in the Dome, which is controlled by his father. Despite his privileged upbringing, Partridge has never felt like he fits in. When he discovers that his mother might have survived, he escapes from the Dome and sets out to find her.

Pressia and Partridge, on the run for their own reasons, soon find out that more than 
mere chance binds them together.

Not on the YALSA list, but worth a read.

Freakonomics:  A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Leavitt (an economist) and Dubner (a journalist) collaborate to answer some rather strange questions that, on the surface, seem to have little to do with economics.

Which kills more children--guns or swimming pools? How much money do drug dealers really make? Which factors determine whether or not a child will have a successful life? Can statistics reveal cheaters on standardized tests? How does access to safe and legal abortions affect the rate of violent crime in our cities?

A fascinating read.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #17

Oh, the excuses never end. I intended to get significantly more reading done this week than I actually did, especially since Thursday was the last day with students. A new exercise program and some quality time with the hubby turned out to be more engaging than reading this week. We are starting the summer off right, even though it's looking ever more unlikely that I'll meet my goal of reading every book on the list by the end of this month. I'm now at 44 books, which is enough to have officially finished the challenge, but only slightly more than half of the 85 titles. I've also been working on one book, Pure, all week that I just can't seem to get into. It's got all of the elements I love, but it's not grabbing me. Maybe I'm finally fed up with dystopian fiction. Hmmmm, I'll keep going and review it next time. Meanwhile, I did finish one this week.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

As the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Sunday has a whole lot of magical potential, but feels inadequate and overlooked compared to her dashing and daring elder sisters (all also named for days of the week). Her brothers are pretty interesting too, but Sunday feels like her talent, writing stories that have a strange way of coming true, pales in comparison to those of her many siblings.

One day, she meets an enchanted frog in the forest who is fascinated by her stories. Gradually the two become friends, and yes, something more. However, when the frog is finally transformed into his former self, Prince Rumbold, Sunday is not there to see. He slowly regains his memories and realizes that Sunday and her family blame him for the death of her brother, Jack. 

As always, there is more to the story than first appears. Rumbold and Sunday, along with the rest of their families, are soon caught up in a struggle to renew the balance between light and dark.

Fairytale fans will enjoy picking out the references to many different tales and seeing how they come together in one new tale. I will be interested to see how the rest of the series plays out. A fun read!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #16

Three more books checked off the challenge list this week, although I am still not going fast enough to be able to read all 85 titles by the end of this month. At just under half of the list done, I do need to get my read on. It's only bragging rights, but still...

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

"Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in."

The economy sucks and Clay Jannon is laid off from his job as a web designer. When an odd little shop catches his eye, he wanders into Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, and is soon hired as the newest clerk. It doesn't take long for Clay to suspect that there is more to Mr. Penumbra and his store than meets the eye. The few customers check out books from the towering shelves in the back of the store, what Clay calls the "Wayback List," but never buy any of the newer books displayed in the front of the shop. 

Curious about what is really going on, Clay designs a program to map out the store and the movement of the customers. When this leads him to a perplexing discovery, he enlists the help of his friends to uncover a mystery that stretches far beyond the walls of the shop.

The characters are more like sketches of common fantasy archetypes than fully-realized people, but I still went along for the ride. I absolutely loved the ending, especially the final page. 

Lovers of books will appreciate the intersection between technology and good old-fashioned books.

"...the right book exactly, at exactly the right time."

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert

Helen Keller was trapped in a dark, silent world until Annie Sullivan came to be her teacher. Annie, partially blind herself, struggled to communicate with Helen and to let her know that everything has a name. Finally, they had a breakthrough and Helen began to learn at an amazing rate. 

I've always been fascinated with Helen Keller's story, but this book really didn't live up to my expectations. The jumps back and forth between Helen's present and Annie's past were distracting and made the story hard to follow.

Code Name Verity (audiobook) by Elizabeth Wein (narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell)

Maddie and Queenie, raised in very different social circles, become best friends during WWII. Maddie is a pilot and Queenie a spy.

When Queenie is captured by Nazis in France and broken by torture, she agrees to cooperate in return for a quick death. Her written confession makes up the first half of the book. Initially, the flow of her narrative is hard to follow because of the switches from present to past tense. Once you get used to it, though, it actually helps keep track of past versus present events.

The last part of the book is more reliably narrated by another character and sheds light on Queenie's story in some surprising ways.

The friendship between Maddie and Queenie is realistic and moving. They are both strong characters, each a hero in her own way.  The narrators do an amazing job of bringing Maddie and Queenie, as well as a cast of other characters, to life. While I'm glad I read the print version first, the audiobook is the version I'll revisit again and again.

Highly recommended historical fiction. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #15

I was finally able to get my hands on some of the graphic novels on the list, so I made good progress through several titles this week. Yay! Even though we're getting close to the end, I'm not giving up on reading all 85 by the end of June.

 Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright

I had mixed feelings about Carlos and about this book. I wanted to love it.

Carlos Durante is an openly gay teen who dreams of a career as a makeup artist. He's fabulous and he knows it. While I loved his self-confidence, I didn't like the way he treated his friends. A job at the FeatureFace makeup counter at Macy's sets him on the path to achieving his dreams. Distracting him from stardom is his crush on a classmate who may or may not return his feelings, his sister's abusive boyfriend, and his mom's unexpected unemployment.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Callie is a 7th grade drama geek who loves nothing more than staging a show. She's an important member of the backstage crew and she does whatever it takes to make her set an integral part of the show. She's also crushing on a close friend who treats her like one of the guys. When twin brothers, Jesse and Justin, get involved in the school play, the drama (both on and off the stage) goes through to roof. My favorite thing about this book is the portrayal of gay characters as normal teens finding their place in life, just like everybody else. Their gayness was one part of them, but not the only, or even the most important part. 

The Silence of our Friends by Mark Long

Based on real-life events, this graphic novel is set in Houston during the late 1960s. The author's father, Jack, is the white reporter who befriends a black professor.

Jack is covering civil rights protests in the city. Larry Thompson, a professor at TSU who organized the protests, first talks to Jack because he is the only reporter to show up. The two form an unexpected friendship. When a peaceful sit-in erupts in violence, a police officer is killed and hundreds of students are arrested. Five students are put on trial for murder. Jack's actions during the protest make Larry doubt his friendship, but Jack has a chance to redeem himself during the trial of the "TSU Five."

The artwork and the story flow together perfectly. Definitely recommended for a classroom library.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay, Holly Black, Louise Hawes, Todd Mitchell, Alisa Kwitney, and Bill Willingham

When an injured angel falls in the forest, a group of other mythical creatures sets out to decide whether they should kill him, help him, or leave him alone. Each creature tells his or her story about who this mysterious angel might be and a faun will listen to the stories and decide the angel's fate.

The artwork is absolutely stunning and fans of the graphic novel genre should pick it up for that alone. As often happens with short story collections, the individual stories are uneven and don't all live up to the promise of the artwork. Maybe this is nitpicky, but I did wish as I was reading that the fonts had been clearer. Stylized, backwards lettering was distracting and made it hard for me to follow in some places.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

Most of us can relate to the experience of knowing a "weird" kid in high school, that kid who looked or acted differently from other kids and just didn't fit in. That kid who we lost touch with after high school and who never really crossed our minds again. Backderf tells the story of his acquaintance (I hesitate to call it a friendship, despite the book's title) with Jeffrey Dahmer in high school. As a clueless kid, Derf didn't take the warning signs all that seriously, even when he noticed them. The adults in Jeffrey's life didn't either.

This memoir tells about Jeffrey Dahmer's life leading up to his first murder, and isn't especially gruesome, graphic, or illuminating. I was intrigued by the book's premise, but in the end, it wasn't my cup of tea. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #14

Since I've been stressed out with all of my end-of-the-school-year paperwork, I've spent most of my waking (not at work) moments visiting with Jim Dale and Harry Potter. I listened to the first six books this week and started on the last this morning. I squeezed in one Challenge book and one book club selection this week, in the spaces between Potter books.

The Watch that Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

Told in verse, the voices of the passengers and crew of the Titanic come to vivid life. Immigrants and millionaires board the Titanic with hopes and dreams and stories to tell. This is meticulously researched historical fiction is a must read for those fascinated with the story of this doomed ship. The author provides an extensive list of additional resources for those who are interested in learning more.


The Lottery by Patricia Wood

Perry L. Crandall has an IQ of 76; therefore, he's not retarded, merely slow. And the only time he ever gets angry is with people who call him retarded. Perry is a likable character and reminded me of Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon, and at times, of Forest Gump. Raised by his grandmother after being abandoned by his parents, Perry has a good heart and knows what's really important, even if he's not smart. Shortly after Gram dies, Perry wins $12 million in the lottery. Suddenly, his mom and his brothers want to be a part of his life. Luckily, Perry has some true friends who do want the best for him. 

While not entirely realistic, this was a heartwarming story that can make us all stop and think for a moment about what 
we are living for.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

If you haven't read this marvelous series, whatever are you waiting for? The storytelling is masterful and even the minor characters are so real they leap right off the pages. And if you prefer audiobooks, Jim Dale's lively reading does justice to Rowling's vivid language.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #13

It was an interesting mix of books this week. I'm choosing at random, based on what's available at the library, so this week it was guitars, serial killers, and zombies. Oh, my!

Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron

Sammy Bojar is an aspiring musician who is hanging on to his dysfunctional band, hoping to win a Battle of the Bands competition. He is also coming to terms with his grandfather's advancing dementia and his attraction to his best friend, Jen5. Sammy uses music, both listening to it and writing it, to make sense of his life. His relationships all feel authentic and Sammy is a likable character with believable struggles.

A quick, entertaining read that will appeal to readers of a musical bent.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I loved, loved, loved this book. It grabbed me by the throat right away. It was oh-so-believably creepy, with well-drawn characters whose motivations were complex and interesting. I can see mature teen readers gobbling this one up.

Jazz is a teenaged boy whose father, Billy Dent, is a famous and prolific serial killer. Even though Billy is in prison, and will be until he dies, he is a pervasive presence in Jazz's life. As hard as he tries, Jazz is unable to silence his dad's voice, constantly repeating the lessons of how to be a successful killer. 

When dead bodies start piling up in Jazz's small town, he is determined to catch the killer. Thanks to his dear old dad's lessons, Jazz can slip right into the mind of the killer, much to his dismay. The cops, especially the one who put Billy Dent behind bars, aren't too keen on Jazz's input. 

Jazz is such a realistic character, with all of the normal teenaged angst, but with the added bonus of trying to stop himself from becoming the man his father has trained him to be. Jazz exhibits many sociopathic tendencies, but he is most human when he's with his wise-cracking best friend, Howie, and his take-no-shit girlfriend, Connie. Howie's hilarious comments provide plenty of comic relief, even in the midst of some pretty gory gruesomeness. Connie keeps Jazz grounded and calls him out when he starts wallowing in self-doubt. There are some well-meaning adults who try to do what's best for Jazz and he respects them, even though he doesn't agree with them. And then there's his crazy grandmother. Whoa. She's hilarious and horrifying all in one racist, wrinkly, gun-waving package. 

I dare you to read this one after dark.

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Sloane Price and five other teens seek a safe haven in their high school after their small town is overrun by zombies. The zombies don't actually appear much in the novel, but their constant presence contributes to the tension. 

Once they've barricaded the doors, all that's left is to hang out and wait for rescue...or death. Sloane dwells on the fact that her older sister abandoned her to the not-so-tender mercies of their abusive father. She has given up on life and can't quite understand why the others are fighting so hard to survive. 

What do you live for when you have no one left?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #12

I enjoyed the audio version of The Diviners so much that I listened to it again this week. Since that took many hours, it considerably slowed down my other reading and listening. I am also having a hard time sticking to the list, as other things I want to read keep cropping up! I finished one book from the official list, bringing my total for the challenge so far to 31.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

American teenager Aurora (Rory) Deveaux arrives in London to spend her last two years in high school at an English boarding school. She has a bit of trouble adjusting to cultural differences, but soon makes a couple of good friends. But when she chokes on a piece of meat at dinner and has a near-death experience, she suddenly starts seeing people that no one else seems to notice.

Meanwhile, the city of London is overtaken by "Rippermania" when a Jack the Ripper copycat killer starts murdering young women. Rory sees a suspicious man who turns out to be the prime suspect in the murders and who has made her a target. 

The story dragged at times, especially the "ghost police" sections. However, overall, I enjoyed the story, especially the ending. I will be looking forward to the next installment of Rory's adventures.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #11

Only three books this week, but two were long ones.

One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season by Chris Ballard

Set in the late 60's and early 70's, this is the true story of a small midwestern town and it's little team that could. Like all great baseball stories, this one is about more than baseball. When a young, liberal teacher comes to Macon to teach English, he shakes up the conservative town and only ends up coaching the baseball team because no one else wants the thankless job. 

Lynn Sweet, never intending to hang around Macon for long, ends up making a profound difference in the lives of his students and players. Sweet is the kind of teacher we all wish we had, whose lessons extend far beyond the classroom walls. His students demonstrate that some of the lessons we need to learn, and those that stick with us the longest, can't be measured by a standardized test.

Like Mike Lupica, another of my favorite sporty writers, Chris Ballard tells an engaging story that is accessible even to those of us who don't care much about sports.

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey

The Monstrumologist, book three.

When Dr. Warthrop sets off on a quest with a new apprentice to find a monster that no one has ever seen (or at least lived to tell about), Will Henry is left behind. For the first time since the death of his parents, he has a chance at a normal life. But Will Henry no longer fits in with a normal family, and despite himself, he misses Warthrop and feels that his place is wherever the doctor is. When Warthrop's assistant returns to tell Will Henry of the doctor's death, Will Henry is convinced that the man is lying. 

Will Henry is soon on Warthrop's trail, and then on his way to Socotra, the Isle of Blood. On the hunt for a mythical monster that kills so violently that the sky literally rains blood and then builds nests from the scattered human remains, Will Henry will need to confront the darkness in his own soul.

Well-written, creepy gothic horror, suitable for adults and mature YA readers.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners (the first in a new series, hooray!) is my favorite type of book--a blend of genres, fun to read and difficult to classify. It's a mix of fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, and suspense, with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. Bray has painstakingly researched the Roaring Twenties and her gorgeous prose brings the period, and her characters, vividly to life.

After getting in trouble back in Ohio, Evie O'Neill's parents send her to New York to stay with her uncle. An expert in occult matters, he runs The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--known by the locals as The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. When Uncle Will is asked to help the police investigate a series of brutal, occult murders, Evie comes along for the ride. Will her ability to "read" objects help her solve the crimes or make her a victim?

Evie is not the only character with a special gift. There's also a pickpocket on a mission to find his mother, a Ziegfeld girl hiding from a dangerous past, a numbers runner with healing powers, and a museum employee who is more (and less) than he seems. Despite the supernatural elements, these characters are well-developed and realistic.

The audio version is delightful, and some of the expressions that felt a bit forced when I read them were much more natural while listening. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #10

Got a lot of reading done this week, thanks to the need to avoid writing my own novel. Well, at least I was productive on one front.

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Beautiful artwork accompanied by an engaging story.

After being homeschooled for most of her life, Maggie is ready to start her first day at the local public high school. She's kind of a tomboy, since she's used to roughhousing with her three older brothers. Maggie gradually comes to terms with her mother's abandonment and makes a couple of good friends. In the meantime, she tries to solve the mystery of the ghost who follows her around.

Ultimate Comics Spider-man, v.1 by Brian Michael Bendis

Though I enjoyed both the artwork and the storyline, some of the panels were confusing. Most of the time, the panels moved from top to bottom on one page before moving to the next page, but sometimes they stretched across two pages. 

Miles Morales gets bitten by a spider and soon finds that he is developing powers reminiscent of Spiderman. After Miles witnesses Peter Parker's death, he decides to take up where Peter left off, despite the fact that his father will most definitely not approve.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

I am old enough to remember when AIDS began to enter the public consciousness. No one really understood what it was or how it spread and that freaked everyone out. Tell the Wolves I'm Home, set in 1987, is a coming of age story of a teenager named June Elbus. She is kind of a square peg and the only person who really "gets" her is her uncle and godfather, Finn. Unfortunately, Finn dies of AIDS and June is feels alone.

After Finn's death, she meets his partner, Toby. Despite the fact that her parents blame Toby for Finn's death, June befriends him, if reluctantly at first. That friendship may be what they both need in order to make peace with Finn's death.

This was a beautiful, heart-wrenching story from the first word to the last. Highly recommended and one to savor.

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal

Having already read Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, I didn't really learn anything new about him in this one, but I did enjoy the way Blumenthal used his 2005 commencement address at Stanford to frame the story of Jobs' life.

This biography is accessible to younger readers and is, overall, inspiring. Despite his idiosyncrasies and his difficulties relating to other people, Jobs certainly provided an innovative spark that revolutionized the way we communicate today.

As a person who is old enough to remember life before computers, internet, and iAnything, it was fun for me to reminisce about where I was when each of Apple's new gadgets became a part of my world. I'll never forget the day my husband came home with a first generation iPod and explained what it was. My response..."You spent HOW MUCH on a music player when we have a perfectly good walkman?" 

These days, Apple products are an integral part of my daily life and I appreciate the genius of the man who not only pushed great ideas forward, but who also cared about making them simple and elegant.