Saturday, March 4, 2017

Perspective

Yesterday I woke up with nasty back pain.  I contemplated taking a sick day (I have over 200 coming to me; I can definitely afford one.), but I decided -- as usual -- that it was more trouble to prepare for a substitute than it was just to force my aching body to get to school.
I pulled into the parking lot at 6:50, slowly dragged myself out of the car, and began to waddle toward the building, when I saw our lone wheelchair-using teacher struggling to get her wheelchair out of the trunk of her car, her legs (thinned by the ravages of a 16-year war with MS) wobbling beneath her.
The ROTC is supposed to make sure there's always a kid to help her before and after school, but there wasn't even a non-ROTC kid in sight, nor was there any other adult to help her. 
Of course I went to her.  I gritted my teeth in pain and lifted her chair out for her, snapped the wheels on as she explained how, and held it for her as she got in.
Yeah, I hurt even more afterwards, but I shut up about it.  After all, I can WALK; she can't.  I'm sure she'd be happy to swap me for the back pain any day.
It's all about perspective.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Book Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones






This is the best book I've read in months!
It was released at the same time as Caraval, which got all the hype and was .... postmodern.  But this!  Wow!
The author has taken Christina Rossetti's poem "Goblin Market" (She even names the protagonist Elizabeth, like Rossetti) and mixed it with Goethe's and Schubert's "Der Erlk├Ânig," throwing in the myth of Persephone and just a titch of Labyrinth with her unnamed Goblin King of "austere" (most over-used word in the book) beauty and "thistledown" hair looking all-too-much like David Bowie as Jareth.  But all of this is woven so skillfully together!
 I devoured this book.
The characterization is strong: Liesl/Elizabeth is a feminist character who does not need saving by a man; her goal is to save her siblings.  She isn't pretty, which is a nice change.  She does not spend the whole book looking for a man, and, even though her unsurprising romance is a major part of the book, it is not what "makes" her as a person.
The setting is good, with enough historical touches thrown in to make it feel real.  (There is that anachronistic weirdness of what appears to be a Medieval monk teaching the Goblin King to play the violin, however. )  And the plot is multi-layered with several surprises.
I thought at first it was a stand-alone, as the ending is fabulous and should really be the final end.  But then I noticed that the tiny subplot of the grandmother and the Goblin King is never worked out thoroughly, that Liesl never resolves things with her emotionally manipulative father, and that her brother's conflicts are left hanging.  Therefore, in spite of the fact that Liesl's main conflicts have been resolved and she's in a good place (as is her sister), I'm guessing there will be a sequel to bring a cheesier ending; I just hope it doesn't spoil the goodness of this one.
If you feel like reading a modern fairy tale that feels as old as the Grimm Brothers' tales, try this.  It is magic sliced into a novel.
I borrowed this book from the public library, but it's so good that I'm going to buy a copy to keep!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book Review: Caraval

Stunning cover, isn't it? 
Well, you know the old saying: Don't judge a book by its cover.
Don't.

I was really excited to read Caraval by Stephanie Garber, and then I discovered it would be the Owlcrate book for February and come with a whole bunch of circus-y stuff!  Wow!
And the Owlcrate (for once) did not disappoint: the lipbalm is nice, the totebag is cute, the notebook and bookflags are attractive and usable.
But the book.... Well, it's not worth the hype.

Look, I'm just not a big fan of postmodernism anyway, but postmodernism in YA is just.... wrong.
YA is supposed to make sense; this book doesn't.
It's supposed to be sort of Alice In Wonderland -- on steroids, but it has more weirdness in it than Lanark and more "What the hell?!" moments than Beloved.  (Your sister's been kidnapped -- kidding!  No wait; she's dead -- kidding!  Not really!  You've set this whole vicious game in motion -- kidding!  It was your father and your fiancee!  Kidding -- it was your sister!  Except it wasn't, not really, because your sister's boyfriend -- who likes you -- kidding!-- is in on it.  Maybe!)  And it has more endings than French Lieutenant's Woman.  (But, after you've been through several of them you learn: it's not over!!!  There will be a sequel! )
The writing is fairly descriptive: the reader gets a good look at the mystical island where Caraval takes place (think: Venice mixed with Candy Land, only evil), and Garber has given the protagonist that Buzzfeed characteristic of "seeing" her emotions in color.  But the characters aren't terribly likeable (Scarlett is weak, and Tella's a brat), and the mess-with-your-brain postmodern factor is nightmarish.  In fact, I was rather surprised that Scarlett didn't "wake up" at the end, as Alice does, to discover it's all been a bad LSD trip.  (If Lucy had appeared in the Sky With Diamonds or ducked into Willy Wonka's factory, it would have fit in and not really confused the plot much more.)
If you love postmodernism, this is your book.  If not, well, be forewarned.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Book Review: Bookman Dead Style by Paige Shelton



This is the sequel to Shelton's To Helvetica And Back.  It's set in a fictional town which strongly resembles Park City, Utah, during the time of a film festival which parallels the Sundance Festival (with even a sneaky little nod to Sundance in the form of a secret password).  It involves movies stars, wannabe stars, polygamists, and, of course, a spot of murder.  (For what is a cozy without a murder to solve?)
I've read every single one of Shelton's books, and this new series is my favorite.  The setting is charming, for one thing.  And, unlike many other cozy authors, Shelton's protagonists are never stupid or helpless women who must constantly be rescued.  That's a big plus.
If you're a cozy fan, a Sundance fan, a skiing town fan, or just someone looking for a fun winter read, give this a try.  It's a delightful little escape from reality.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What Do We Do Now?

The least-popular president of the US has now been sworn in.  Already he has shown signs of behaving like a dictator.  I know several people who (half)joke that he'll be struck down by an assassin, an illness, or the Hand of God.  But that would leave us with 1) Mike Pence, 2) Paul Ryan, and 3) (heaven help us all) Orrin Hatch.  It would also still leave us with a Cabinet full of KKK supporters and extremely unfit people. (DeVos is anti-public education and seems to think it's common for grizzly bears to attack schools.)
In the vernacular of my students, we're screwed.

Or maybe not.
Yesterday, several million people -- mostly women -- protested against this dangerous man and his hateful officials.  This made it clear that those who fear this evil ARE NOT ALONE.
This is good.
But what do we DO now?  Clearly, one vast protest is not enough to get things to change.
I am suggesting this website.  It gives clear ideas and a great deal of help as to what we can do to help bring about change.


 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

My Playlist For The Night Before The Inauguration

Tomorrow the world will change -- and likely not for good. 
This is my playlist for tonight.

"Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire
"Russians" by Sting
"Revolution" by the Beatles
"Midnight in Moscow" ... folksong
"Volcano" by Jimmy Buffet
"So Long, Mom. I'm Off To Drop A Bomb (A Song For WWIII)" by Tom Lehrer
"Yesterday" by the Beatles
"99 Red Balloons" by Nena
"End of the World" by Herman's Hermits
"Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" by the Kingston Trio
"Back in the USSR" by the Beatles
"Evil Man" by Abney Park
"We Will All Go Together When We Go" by Tom Lehrer
"Help!" by the Beatles
"Imagine" by John Lennon




Note: I'm purposely excluding "End of the World As We Know It" by REM because it includes the line "I feel fine."  And I don't feel fine.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

What I Read And What I Rejected In 2016

I've done this every year since 2007.  It seems that "normal" for me is 10 books a month or 120 per year.  I know lots of people do more than that, but I have lots and lots of papers to grade, which definitely cuts into my reading time.
I still read mostly mysteries for fun and plenty of YA -- but then again, my job sort of pushes me that way.

Here's the list of what I read: (It looks like the numbers didn't copy over. Bummer.  There are 137 in total here.)
2016

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom *** YA realistic/romance (blind protag) 1/1/16
Rebel Mechanics: All Is Fair In Love And Revolution  by Shanna Swendson  YA steampunk adventure ***** 1/4/16
Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith ***** romance 1/6/16
Murder In Grosse Pointe Park by Steve Miller ** true crime  1/9/16
Death By Darjeeling by Laura Childs **** cozy 1/11/16
Gunpowder Green by Laura Childs **** cozy 1/13/16
Shades of Earl Grey by Laura Childs **** cozy 1/15/16
English Breakfast Murder by Laura Childs **** cozy 1/20/16
The Jasmine Moon Murder by Laura Childs **** cozy 1/25/16
 Chamomile Mourning by Laura Childs **** cozy 1/29/16
 Blood Orange Brewing by Laura Childs **** cozy 1/30/16
 Dragonwell Dead by Laura Childs **** cozy 2/2/16
 Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley YA historical fantasy 2/4/16
 Pirate Hunters by Robert Kudson ***non-fiction 2/5/16
 Strings of Murder by Oscar De Muriel ***** crime/mystery 2/6/16
 Paper Play Crafts by Shannon E. Miller **** non-fiction, crafts 2/7/16
 Worldwide Ward Cookbook by Barton *** non-fiction, cooking 2/8/16
 Washi Tape by Courtney Cerruti ** non-fiction, crafts 2/11/16
 The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester *** historical crime/mystery 2/12/16
 The Mangle Street Murders by MRC Kasasian **** historical crime/mystery 2/13/16
 Silver Needle Murder by Laura Childs **** cozy 2/14/16
 Oolong Dead by Laura Childs **** cozy 2/15/16
  The Lanvin Murders by Angela M. Sanders cozy **** 2/17/16
 The Obituary Society by Jessica l. Randall cozy **** 2/20/16
 The Teaberry Strangler by Laura Childs cozy **** 2/21/16
 These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas ***** YA paranormal 2/23/16
 Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman ***** YA paranormal historical fiction 2/26/16
 Even Dogs In The Wild by Ian Rankin ***** tartan noir crime 2/28/16
 The Curse of the House of Foskett by MRC Kasasian **** historical crime/mystery 3/2/16
 Scones and Bones by Laura Child * cozy 3/4/16
 Fat Girl Walking by Brittany Gibbons *** non-fiction 3/5/16
 Front Lines by Michael Grant **** alternate history (WWII) 3/7/16
 Zero Day by Jan Gangset **** a/a YA 3/10/16
 Revenge and the Wild by Michelle Modesto *** Old West/Paranormal steampunk, 3/12/16
 The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig **** time travel/fantasy/action- adventure 3/13/16
 Flunked by Jen Calonita MG reworked fairy tale. *** 3/15/16
 The Mormon Cookbook by Julie Jensen **** non-fiction, cookbook 3/17/16
 The Agony of the Leaves by Laura Childs **** cozy 3/18/16
 Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary. non-fiction about fiction **** 3/24/16
  The Sherlock Holmes Book by DK publishing non-fiction about fiction ***** 3/28/16
 How Did It Really Happen? by Readers’ Digest non-fiction **** 4/1/16
 Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan **** YA high fantasy 4/8/16
 Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan ***** realistic (YA-like, quest) 4/9/16
 Steep And Thorny Way by Cat Winters *** YA historical/racial Hamlet re-telling 4/15/16
 Top Secret Cover-Ups by Jon E. Lewis ** non-fiction 4/15/16
 Sweet Tea Revenge by Laura Childs **** cozy 4/19/16
 Ceremonies of the Seasons by Jennifer Cole **** beautifully illustrated non-fiction 4/22/16
 Steeped in Evil by Laura Childs **** cozy 4/23/16
At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie ***** (really good!) cozy 4/26/16
 The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories by Agatha Christie *** cozy, short stories 4/28/16
 A Tyranny of Petticoats ed. by Jessica Spotswood **** short story collection/historical/paranormal 5/1/16
 Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare (period 3B) ***** tragedy 5/2/16
 The Hollow by Agatha Christie ***** cozy, mystery 5/4/16
 Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare (Period 4B) ***** 5/4/16
 Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare (Period 4A) ***** 5/5/16
 The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie ***** cozy mystery 5/8/16
 After The Funeral by Agatha Christie ***** cozy mystery 5/10/16
  Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie **** thriller 5/12/16
 Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North *** choose your own adv. YA 5/14/16
 Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke **** cozy 5/18/16
 Candy Christmas by Joanne Fluke ** Christmas novella 5/19/16
 Everland by Wendy Spinale **** Peter Pan retelling/steampunk 5/24/16
 Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher **** non-fiction/psychology 5/27/16
 Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor **** YA sci-fi time travel romance 5/30/16
 The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman **** mystery/thriller 6/1/16
 I’m Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork **** crime 6/2/16
 The Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman **** crime 6/3/16
 The Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman **** crime 6/4/16
 The People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman **** crime 6/8/16
 The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman **** crime 6/9/16
 The Ghost Way by Tony Hillerman **** crime 6/10/16
 The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead **** alternate history YA romance 6/13/16
 Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman **** crime 6/15/16
 A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman ***** crime 6/17/16
 Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld ***** romance/P&P re-write 6/18/16
 Talking Gods by Tony Hillerman **** crime 6/21/16
 Coyote Waits by Tony Hillerman **** crime 6/23/16
 Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman **** crime 6/24/16
 Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman ***** crime 6/27/16
 The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman ***** crime 6/29/16
 Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys **** YA historical WWII 7/1/16
 Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone (14th time) YA fantasy 7/6/16
 Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman (semi-historical 20s mystery) **** 7/7/16
 Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets (13th time) YA fantasy ***** 7/8/16
 The Watchmaker’s Daughter by CJ Archer **** YA historical urban fantasy 7/9/16
 The Transatlantic Conspiracy by GD Falksen ***young YA, older MG 7/12/16
 Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (15th time) YA fantasy ***** 7/13/16
 Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (15th time) YA fantasy ***** 7/17/16
 A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn YA historical mystery***** 7/18/16
 And I Darken by Kiersten White ***** YA alt hist (Vlad Tepes is female) 7/22/16
 Love, Lies, and Spies by Cindy Antsey **** YA pseudo-Austen silly romance 7/26/16
 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ***** YA fantasy (11th time reading) 7/29/16
 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ***** YA fantasy (11th time) 8/5/16
 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ***** YA fantasy (7th time reading) 8/7/16
 Superfoods for Children by M. van Straten & B. Griggs ** non-fiction cookbook 8/10/16
 Extraordinary Tales of Victorian Futurism: Steampunk ed. Mike Ashley **** 8/11/16
 A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro YA mystery **** (too many drugs) 8/14/16
 Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling et al *** YA fantasy, drama 8/14/16
 Whose Body by Dorothy Sayers **** mystery 8/25/16
 Clouded Witness by Dorothy Sayers **** myster 8/30/16
 Fifty Plants That Changed The Course Of History by Bill Laws **** non-fiction: history, botany 8/31/16
 The Perilous Journey of a Not-So-Innocuous Girl by Leigh Statham **** YA steampunk 9/3/16
The Perilous Journey of a Much-Too-Spontaneous Girl by Leigh Statham **** YA steampunk 9/5/16
 A Shakespearean Botanical by Margaret Willes **** non-fiction, historical botany 9/9/16
World of Shakespeare:Plants by Alan Dent *** non-fiction, historical botany 9/10/16
 Short Stories From Hogwarts: Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists by JK Rowling et al *** YA fantasy 9/11/16
 Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide by JK Rowling et al. *** YA fantasy 9/13/16
 Hogwarts: Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies by JK Rowling et al *** YA fantasy 9/15/16
 The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins ***** Gothic mystery 9/22/16
 Imprudence by Gail Carriger ***** Steampunk/paranormal 9/28/16
 Thrice The Brinded Cat Hath Mewed by Alan Bradley ***** 9/30/16
 A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Ziegleman and Coe **** Historical non-fiction 10/9/16
 Becoming Brigid by Lisa Shafer YA paranormal ***** 10/12/16
 Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova YA paranormal *** 10/14/16
A Season of the Witch: Magic & Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachussets by JW Ocker **** non-fiction, travel 10/20/15
 Emily’s Runaway Imagination by Beverly Clearly ***** (read many times as a child) MG historical 10/29/16
 Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake YA fantasy *** (non-ending) 11/3/16
 Cross Talk by Connie Willis ****** (fabulous!) sci-fi romance 11/6/16
 Inking by Carol Hepner *** non-fiction, crafting 11/7/16
 Scrapbooking Techniques for Beginners by Rebekkah Meier **** non-fiction, crafting 11/7/16
 Handmade Scrapbooks by Country Living **** non-fiction, crafting 11/12/18
 A History of Ambition in 50 Hoaxes by Gale Eaton **** non-fiction 11/25/16
 A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley **** cozy mystery 11/26/16
 Us Collector’s Edition: Fantastic Beasts **** non-fiction, film 11/26/16
 Cheddar Off Dead by Julia Buckley **** cozy mystery 11/27/16
 The Diva Paints the Town by Krista Davis **** cozy mystery 11/30/16
 Murder on the House by Juliet Blackwell **** cozy mystery 12/2/16
 Herald of Death by Kate Kingsbury **** cozy 12/15/16
 Newt Scamander: A Movie Scrapbook by Rick Barba **** MG non-fiction, film 12/6/16
 Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them by Newt Scamander (JK Rowling) **** MG/YA fantasy. 12/17/16
 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Original Screenplay by JK Rowling ***** YA fantasy, drama 12/8/16
 Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin (2nd time) **** YA alt history WWII 12/19/16
 Iron To Iron by Ryan Graudin **** YA alt history WWII 12/21/16
 Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco *** YA historical slightly steampunk 12/2716
 Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide by Pablo Hidalgo ***** non-fiction, film 12/28/16
 Readers’ Digest Extraordinary Uses For Everyday Things (92nd time) ***** non-fiction 12/30/16
 Desolation Flats by Andrew Hunt ***** historical mystery 12/31/16



Here's the list of manuscripts: (not a big list this year. Too many job changes affected my writing.)
2016
Nerissa MacKay and the Secrets of the Seventeen Scrolls 7/3/16
Nerissa MacKay and the Secrets of the Seventeen Scrolls 10/2/16

Here's a partial list of books I tossed aside.  Often I didn't bother to write them down.  I'll try to do better at that in 2017.  (There are 9 books listed.)

2016

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness.  All the action happens in the chapter headings.  Seriously.  Chapter one is in present tense, a few teenagers lying on grass discussing the homework they’re not doing, and way too few dialogue tags -- so it’s confusing who’s saying what.  They disinterestedly watch some super-hero type kids run past, but they’re too bored to care much.  And I’m too bored with this book to continue reading it.  1/4/16
Serafina’s Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. It’s condescending and childish, more MG than YA.  The book trailer was way better than the book. 29 pgs. Jan, 2016
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken. Confusing. Unlikeable characters.  I can’t bring myself to care what happens to them.105 pages and the main conflict has as yet to be presented. Jan., 2016 YA fantasy.
The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher. non-fiction about Houdini’s exposing spiritualism.  ZZZZZZZ. 50 pages. 2/14/16
 The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle. Pyle glorifies a life of crime, not adventure. Robin is a total rich, entitled, immature douchebag and the merry men are basically frat boys drunk in the forest, fighting each other and every other man who comes near in one huge testosteronefest. 38 pages. 2/16/16
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I’d read multiple reviews raving about this book. But the first 30 pages are about an alcoholic girl who calls her ex-boyfriend and can’t remember it.  She’s stupid, the book is dismal.  Nothing happens in 30 pages.  Why should I keep reading?
3/25/16
Exit, Pursued By A Bear by EK Johnson.  A Winter’s Tale is a depressing enough story, but this one adds rape, so it’s really depressing.  I read a few chapters, then skimmed a few.  Ugh. 6/8/16
Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. I’ve loved her non-fiction, but I found I couldn’t get into her characters at all.  Too annoying. 6/16/16
Before the Awakening  (Star Wars) by Greg Rucka. Sometimes a movie should not be made into a book.  about half the book. 7/10/16