Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton

I love cozy mysteries, and Shelton has been my favorite cozy writer for several years now.
I first got hooked on her Farmers' Market series, then smoothed right into her Country Cooking School series.  But now Shelton has a new series out --- this one is minus the recipes of the other two because it's book-themed.
To Helvetica and Back is set in Star City, a fictional version of Park City, Utah.  There are quaint shops, a film festival, and suspicious polygamists lurking not far away.  And skiers.  Plenty of skiers.  The real Park City attracts them from all over -- and one never knows what might be hiding in their pasts.
These elements add to Shelton's excellent characterization skills.  The protagonist is dealing with people she's known forever -- but does she know everything about them?  Not as much as she thought.  And then there's that cute geologist who's new in town.  Her best friend, who just happens to be a cop, has been hinting there's a problem in his past.  Is he really a murderer?
I love how much of Utah Shelton manages to work into this book: mining, skiing, polygamy, the Sundance film festival, geology.  It's great.
And the mystery of a typewriter with coded keys.... even though it was more than obvious what all the numbers referred to, the whole point of Why?  and Why wait so long?  made this into a real mystery.
I rather miss the ghosts from Shelton's Country Cooking School series, and it is odd not to have a few of her great recipes in the back, but I enjoyed the book restoration and sales tidbits.
If you think cozies are silly, then this is not for you.  But if you like them, try out this first-in-a-new-series book by Paige Shelton.  You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

New Year, New Giveaway!

Care to win a little post-Christmas gift for yourself?  Check this out:


If you live in the USA or Canada and are at least 13 years old, you can enter to win the goodies pictured above.
You'll get a copy of my latest YA paranormal novel, The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay (Check out the details here.), a tote bag featuring the beautiful Tree of Life art work used for the cover of my YA novel Becoming Brigid (you can learn more about that book here), a bookmark and a button from the Half-Vampire series (have and look here and here for more information on those), and a cream-colored, light-weight shawl from Russia.
Why a shawl?  Well, Nerissa MacKay is an eccentric girl who dresses for a different theme every day, and she has some unusual clothing.  This shawl is exactly the sort of thing she'd happily pull out of Grandma Maggie's trunk and wear around her shoulders with and evening dress for a Glamor Evening look -- or toss over her head for a peasant look -- or wear twisted around her neck with a bomber jacket to create a WWI flying ace look (Curse you, Red Baron!).
Where did it really come from and why am I giving it away?  It was given to me by a Russian girl I met in Scotland.  (It's common for veteran travelers to take gifts to give to new friends; I've given away dozens of bandanas and imitation turquoise necklaces and US flag pins in 25 different countries.)  Since I own 6 other Russian shawls (purchased in Russia), 1 Italian silk shawl (yup, purchased in Italy), and two off-white Mexican shawls (yes, purchased in Mexico) very similar to this one, I've never worn in.  It's been carefully wrapped and sitting in a drawer for several years, and someone else may as well enjoy it.
Want it?  Want the rest of the goodies?  Enter right here:


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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Charming Small-Town Libraries

We bookish folks love libraries.  We even visit them when we travel.
Due to my own and family members' health problems, I haven't been blogging much or writing much since before Thanksgiving.  But earlier in 2015, I did have some vacation time, and I snapped some shots of some great little libraries.

This is the library in Bergen, Norway.  It's in a very prominent spot between the train station and the large city park.


And this library was darling:


Located in the near-village of Mount Pleasant, Utah, it was built art deco style with Carnegie funds in 1917.  It has comfy leather chairs, a sizable amount of books for a small town library, restrooms, and a grumpy librarian.  The art deco windows are the best. :)  I bought a book there at their used book sale.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Reviews: Two Mormon Mysteries Contrasted

A week or so ago, I happened to read two Mormon mysteries back-to-back, which provided for an interesting experience.

The first one was A Killing in Zion by Andrew Hunt.
This book was the second in a series, but, although I hadn't read the first book, I had no trouble catching onto the characters and set up.  This is always a plus in a mystery series.
Hunt has set this series in Salt Lake City in the 1930s, specifically for this book in the summer of 1934, and he clearly revels in his historical research.  He describes streets and buildings I know or have heard about (Sweet's Candy Company, anyone?) and appears to pay meticulous attention to details -- except when he doesn't.
In this particular story, Hunt uses the murder of Rulon Allred  by a polygamist rival as an inspiration for his fictional crime set decades earlier.  He changes the real polygamist towns of Hilldale and Colorado City (collectively known as Short Creek) to Dixie City, but that's OK; it's fiction after all.  However, he's got the polygamists wearing pioneer clothes decades too early; a brief glance at the round-up photos even from the 1950s show that they didn't start their back-to-Brigham look until later.
Also, Hunt has a few other anachronisms which seem to arise from using only books for research and not talking to real people: 1) Family Home Evening.  Uh, that was a David O. MacKay Mormon thing which took hold in the late 1960s and early 70s.  Hunt's a good 30 years too early. 2) His cop protagonist keeps noting how the nearby wildfires have polluted the air in the Salt Lake Valley.  However, what Hunt doesn't seem to be aware of is that this would have made the summer skies look like the winter skies.  In the 1930s, Salt Lake residents used mostly coal in their furnaces, and the result was winter air thick enough to slice -- air that made our current temperature inversions look sparkling clean in comparison.  Hunt's protagonist would surely have thought of this, but Hunt doesn't seem to know about it.  3) The protagonist's wife teaches school at East High.  She's married, has two kids at home, and is pregnant, and she's teaching school in 1934.  Probably not.  Obviously, Hunt wants to make his cop protagonist into a man with modern appeal, a man who thinks of his wife as a partner instead of as a lesser human whose job it was to keep him happy.  While I admire this sentiment, I believe Hunt has pushed it too far past believability.  He seems to have forgotten that 1934 was during the Depression.  I knew a woman (now deceased) who taught school in the Salt Lake Valley in 1934; she had to hide her marriage and lie to her employer in order to keep her job, as it was district policy to fire married women so a man could have the job.  (It was assumed that a married woman would be taken care of by her husband.)  When this woman got pregnant, she had to quit because she could no longer hide her lie.  Thus, I have a hard time believing that this pregnant school teacher whose husband has a good job would be allowed to continue her profession in 1934.
Then there's the problem of travel.  The protagonist and his buddy zip out past Utah Lake to an abandoned army fort without one thought of where they would buy gas.  They also travel south to the fictional Dixie City -- which is somewhere past St. George, Utah -- without a single tire blow-out and without even worrying about the car's overheating in scorching weather.  This is ridiculous.  People who lived in southern Utah at the time used to tie wet burlap to the grills of their cars to help keep the engines and radiators cool.  Heck, I used to drive a 1966 VW Beetle, and it would just shut down in weather over 100 degrees.  Yet Hunt's characters have no car problems at all.  They don't even worry about paying for gas in the height of the Depression.  This bothered me.
Other than that, the book is pretty good.   The protagonist is a bit of a Mary Sue, but the criminal underworld of the polygamist clans was great.
I'd definitely recommend this book to mystery lovers and those who enjoy historical fiction.

I then read His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison, the sequel to The Bishop's Wife, which I reviewed here.

As a mystery, His Right Hand isn't quite as good as The Bishop's Wife: the guilty party is too obvious way too early in the book.  And again, the big problem with setting a series of books in a tight Mormon community is that there's just so very much that must be explained to the non-Mormon, non-Utahn reader.  This does bog things down a bit.
However, I feel that this is an important book, rather than a terrific mystery.  Harrison explores gender issues within a strict religious setting, and that's a very hot topic for 2015.  (Only a few short months ago, Born Again Kim Davis became a homophobic heroine to many who claim to be Christians.) Harrison probes into some pretty deep areas about gender as a construct vs a God-given state.  (I suspect the author may have been reading some feminist literary theory, which is something not very many Mormon women do.)  She forces the reader to think through some difficult things: What does gender mean?  Is it fluid?  How can a person be devout in a religious organization which actively condemns what the said person believes is true about her/his basic identity? What are the downsides to the LDS Law Of Chastity?  How many marital problems are caused by following this doctrine?  How many suffer in silence and ignorance because all discussion is taboo?  How can the kind-hearted religious person who fits the mold possibly understand and accept the person who does not?  These are some might tough questions with which lots of LDS women wrestle.  And I think Harrison's book might make a few more women -- those who perhaps feel that the "Sunday School" answers will do (Note: LDS Sunday School answers to all life's problems are: pray, go to church, read the scriptures.) -- wrestle a bit more and think a bit more deeply.
Thus, while His Right Hand is not a superb mystery, it IS a superb bit of philosophy wrapped into a contemporary mystery novel in a way that will make difficult thinking accessible to the non-academic reader.  I'd like to see this book in the hands of all Utah Relief Society members -- but that image makes me giggle. :)
If you're not from Utah and not a Mormon, you might have some difficult with this book.  However, if gender issues and/or religions grappling with modernization interests you, it might be a good choice anyway.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Spend Christmas With A Half-Vampire! Giveaway!

Let's have another book-and-swag giveaway!  (Hey, it's Christmas.  Why not?)

Of all my books, the Half-Vampire ones have remained the most popular.  I guess there's just something alluring about a vampire....
Fortunately for all of you, I still have some Half-Vampire swag left to give away with books.  Let's start with this bundle here:


This prize pack will include a copy of Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire by Lisa Shafer (that's ME!), a "Just another average half-vampire" tee-shirt (size XL), a bookmark featuring Confessions on one side and the sequel, All in the Half-Vampire Family, on the other, a button featuring the blood splatter and the Half-Vampire logo, and the "Vampire's Lair" scent pack from Adventure Scents tucked into a "frosted blood" jar with a silver lid.
(To learn more about the books, click on the titles or visit my "books" page.)

Are you age 13 or older?  Good.  You can enter.  Here's the giveaway:




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Friday, November 27, 2015

Thoughts On Book Extras: Others' vs. MINE

     So, I just finished reading Wolf By Wolf, an alternate history, slightly sci-fi action-adventure YA novel by Ryan Gaudin.  It's a pretty decent book.  But I got it from the Uppercase Box subscription service, and their big hook is that they put post-it notes in throughout the book (five, in this case) to provide the reader with "extra" that supposedly aren't available elsewhere.  That seemed  like a great idea to me, and I was eager to try them out.
     The first one gave me a video of the author doing what good authors do at book readings, explaining the inspiration and research for the book.  It was pretty interesting, but it was hardly exclusive.  The second bit was more information on the type of motorcycle used in the book.  Again, pretty interesting, but it was nothing I couldn't have googled myself.  The third item was a video -- available on vimeo and youtube -- of Ewan MacGregor taking a 115-day motorcycle trip.  Now, I love listening to Ewan's normal accent (he's a Scot!), but the video was like watching someone's unedited road trip family vacation.  zzzzzz  The 4th "extra" was simply a question inviting people to comment about what they thought when they "learned" what the title meant -- on page 267.  Well, since my opinion was that the several meanings of the title had been obvious just from reading the book blurbs and the first few pages, I felt this was a pretty stupid "extra."  The fifth and final one was equally disappointing, as it was just another comment area with "What did you think of the end?"  Well, it's obvious that the author hopes to publish a sequel, so that was hardly a "special" extra.

     I'm going to brag here and state that the "extras" in The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay are far  more numerous and really much better than at least 3/5 of what I got with Wolf By Wolf.  And the best part is that a reader need not join any special club or use a code to access them; they're right in the book.
     The most obvious extras are at the first of each chapter.  There are themed playlists and funky wardrobe and hairstyle ideas for every single chapter.  And Nerissa's playlists are so eclectic that anyone should be able to get some new ideas for listening by checking out the songs.
     Then there are footnotes here and there to clarify and explain a few things the reader might need to know.  For example, one footnote is a link to a video of the folksong Nerissa is learning in her German III class.
     And at the end of the book are recipes and homework tips.  Plus, there is info about the author (me!) and my other books, with links/URLS to trailers, twitter, etc.
     If you want extras, people, you don't have to look very far with this book:

Want a copy?  You can buy one here.
You can also check my Current Contests page to see if there's one available to win.  (As I type this, that is indeed the case.)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Just No.

My mother just told me she wanted to go to Walmart today for a $12.00 vacuum.
No.
Not for all the rice in China would I go near a Walmart on an ordinary day.  During a Black Friday sale, you couldn't get me within a mile of a Walmart if you gave me a lifetime supply of Swiss chocolate. (Mmmmm.... Toblerone.)
It took me 15 minutes to convince her to let me try online.  It took me 2 minutes to locate the same hand-held vacuum on Amazon for $15.00 and add it to a few other items I was going to buy anyway, thus getting their free shipping deal.
Done.
And we are NOT going near a Walmart.
(Thanks, Amazon.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Treat Yourself To A Bookish Goodie Bag Giveaway!

Christmas is coming.  Wouldn't you like to win a goodie bag filled with bookish stuff?  Well, now is the time.  Check this out:

If you are 13 or older and live in the USA, you may enter to win this bookish prize.
Here's what you'll get: a copy of The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay by Lisa Shafer (that's ME!), a copy of Popular by Maya Van Wagenen (Maya dresses up in 50s garb throughout the book; Nerissa would approve of that.), a handmade bookmark with pressed/dried Colorado wildflowers (I have a friend who makes these), a Late Bloomer sticker from Wings by Aprilynne Pike,  a glass mug in which you can make Auntie Jane's ginger-milk tea (recipe included in (Dis)Appearance), a Half-Vampire button (from All in the Half-Vampire Family by Lisa Shafer -- that's ME!), a Tree of Life pin, featuring the gorgeous pen-and-ink drawing from the cover of Becoming Brigid by Lisa Shafer (that's ME!) (The artwork was done by Lynn Shafer -- that's DAD!), and your very own tote bag, suitable for library books or Christmas gifts, featuring vintage (not retro, but truly vintage) Christmas advertising artwork from the Salt Lake Hardware Company in the 1950s (artwork by Lynn Shafer -- that's DAD!).
There are various ways to enter, and, as I type, I already have 16 people who've entered without entering (:D) by reviewing my books and/or sending me photos (after 10/1/15; I won't count those who did it before then.).  I'll be hand-entering their names.
A winner will be selected on December 15, and if the winner is prompt in getting me shipping info, s/he should get this awesome goodie bag before Christmas!
What are you waiting for?  Enter!



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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Philosophy Overheard In My 9GT Class Today

Boy to several friends: If you think about it, everything either is or is not a potato.

Me: *??!*

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Can You Tell That This Doctor Used To Be A School Teacher?

I've been experiencing hair loss lately.  Only twice before in my life has it ever been this bad.  Thus, today I had a doctor's appointment after school.
Now, I like this doctor; he actually reminds me of Max.  It's almost as if the doctor could be Max's long-lost cousin or something.  Anyway, he's got a great sense of humor.
Let me share:

Doctor: *going over medical updates before talking to me about current symptoms*  Let's see; we did blood work in the summer, right?
Me: Yes.
Doctor: Still taking Vitamin D?
Me: Yes.
Doctor: Do you have the paperwork to schedule a mammogram for this year?
Me: Yes, I'll do that.
Doctor: And you remember that you'll need to have a colonoscopy before too many years, right?
Me: *cringing* Yes, I guess.  But that'll have to be during a summer; it's too involved for --
Doctor: Look, there's no law that says you have to have one by a certain birthday, you know.  It's a colonoscopy; you don't have to get all anal about it. *winks*
Me: *bursts out laughing*

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review of the November Uppercase Box


I've been trying out bookish subscription boxes this fall.  In September, I got a LitCube and was underwhelmed.  In October, I got an OwlCrate and quite liked it -- except for the long delay in actually receiving the box.
This month, I have another OwlCrate coming (still waiting, probably will be for another 10 days), but today my Uppercase Box arrived:

The package -- which was not a box, but rather a cheap cotton bag holding everything except the print and stuffed into a bubble wrap envelope -- arrived only two days after I received the e-mail saying it had been shipped.  It contained the book Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin, stuck through in 5 spots with post-it notes giving special codes to watch author videos explaining the book and giving extra content.  There was also a note (not a fancy one, just a regular paper, thus saving money) explaining what was in the bag; however, one item was different from those listed, and no explanation was given.  There was also a printed mini-poster for the book, a cute print of a quote supposedly by Oscar Wilde (although the print gives no citation whatsoever) in a cheap cardboard frame, a cheap-but-kind-of-cute plastic keychain which says "certified book addict," and a mini-notebook.  The mini-notebook was not listed on the notepaper, but it seems to replace a pin featuring the book.  (I had a look at some Instagram pics posted by folks who received the pin, and I'm glad I got the notebook instead.  However, it would've been nice to have an email stating that some people were getting different items.)

The pros:
The shipping speed was awesome.  I was very pleased to get the stuff so fast.
I rather like the little notebook, but then, I love notebooks.  No doubt, I will use it.
I like the fact that money was not wasted on fancy insert cards which are useless.
I rather like the little book bag.  Once it's washed, it will be great for socks when I'm traveling.
The book looks pretty good.  So far, I've only read one chapter and watched part of the first video.  It seems to be as if Uppercase subscribers get to go to a video version of an author reading, so that's rather nice.  (I'll review the book and the extras in a few days, after I've finished reading.)

The cons:
The packaging is NOT a box and it did not protect the framed print; it's bent and battered and looks like something one finds at a garage sale.  However, I will probably still hang it in my classroom.  I do wish it had the source of the quote on it somewhere.  I'll have to look it up to make sure it's not a misquote.
The keychain is cheap and childish.
Neither item lives up to the Uppercase claim of "1-2 high-quality items" in with the book.  Not even close.
The months aren't themed as they are with LitCube and Owlcrate, so it's hard to guess whether the box is one you'll enjoy or not.

Overall, while it looks like I'll enjoy the book and the mini-notebook which I may have received by mistake, there's no way this is worth the nearly $30.00 I paid for it.  The book itself is worth $9.90 on Amazon, where one can easily get free shipping.  The notebook is worth about a dollar, the keychain maybe 50 cents.  The bag is worth about a dollar.  The print is worth perhaps two dollars.  That means I paid roughly double what the items are worth.

I'm not too sure about Uppercase Box.  I am, as of yet, undecided if I'll try the December one or not.
In the meantime, however, I believe I'll enjoy Wolf By Wolf.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Family That Reads Together.....


These lovely ladies are reading The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.
Have you gotten a copy yet?  You can get one here.

Also, if you review the book or send me a photo of yourself reading the book (under 18s accompanied by a parent, as above), your name will be entered into my upcoming contests for books and swag. :)

Monday, November 9, 2015

So, This Is Your First Time Subbing In A Junior High, Right?

Like most teachers, I have to PLAN my escapes to the bathroom.  (A-Days: 7:30, 9:15, 10:55, and 3:00 PM.  B-Days: 7:30, 10: 50, 12:10, and 3:00 PM.  If I'm lucky, that is.  Some days, it's not even this often.)  This morning, I was making my cross-campus run for the faculty restroom when an unfamiliar substitute suddenly stepped from the doorway of a SPED classroom (where he was playing a harmonica. *!*) and directly into my path.

Me: Uh, hi.
Him: We have a problem here. *gestures to crowded hallway*  I heard some girls down there screaming, "You're ugly!" to another girl.  And there's some horseplay going on up that way.
Me: *mouth twitches*  *nostrils flare slightly in attempt to keep from laughing*  Yes. And....?
Him: Well?
Me: Sir, what you want to watch for is when a big group of kids swarms together.
Him: *eyes widening in expectation* Really?
Me: Yeah, that means there's a fight.  But don't worry; two administrators are standing at the head of the hallway, and we have security cameras all over the place.

A few minutes later, I repeated the exchange to the vice-principal, the assistant custodian, and a veteran substitute who used to teach full-time in our school.
Me: So then he told me there were kids involved in "horseplay!"
*laughter from all*
Custodian: Was there blood?  Broken glass? Otherwise, I'm not worried.
Me: And did the girl who got called "ugly" sass back or melt into a puddle of tears?  Can't he tell the difference?
Veteran Sub: Has he ever been in a junior high before?
Vice Principal: Great. *rolls eyes* I'll get stuck helping him before the day's over.

My conclusion?
Obviously, this guy's been reading way too many mommy blogs and ksl.com articles about how we shouldn't let kids play rough or "bully" one another.
I'm guessing today was a reality check for him.
:D
Welcome to the wild world of junior high, mister.  I hope you and your harmonica had a lovely time.
*Bwaaah-haaa-haa-ha!*

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Review of the Owlcrate October Box

Yes, this is a bit late. But I wanted to read the book in the box before I reviewed the box -- and I had a few library books I had to finish first, so it's made me a bit late.
(To read my review of the book, click here.)

This photo shows the contents of my October Owlcrate box (pictured on the vintage 1965 teal blue chair in my living room).   Overall, this box was VASTLY superior to the September LitCube box.  However, I am not brushing LitCube off entirely; I intend to try their December box.  (If that one is as bad as September, however, then I'm likely to write them off as a mistake.)
The October Owlcrate theme was "spooky."
I like themes in general.  I'm signed up for Uppercase Box for November, and it bothers me that they don't have a theme.  For one thing, I have no idea what type of book I'll be getting, and for another, their extras often don't match the book.
Owlcrate's box, however, all matched nicely.
Like LitCube's box, it took forever to arrive.  I got an e-mail saying it was shipped days before the tracking website said it had.  Also, instagram and twitter showed that many people received their boxes the day after the e-mail was sent out, yet mine didn't arrive for a week.  I did not like that.
In any case, let me review the contents of the box.
The main thing, of course, was the book.  This was A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis, and I have reviewed it here.
With the book was a photocopied note from the author about her inspirations for the book.  This was nice, but it wasn't anything I couldn't have found by looking at her website.  There was no autographed sticker to put into the book, as I had hoped.
There was also a mini-poster advertising the book.  This was nice, but, since I teach junior high and not high school, and since this book would raise Cain among parents if I put it in my classroom, I can't really use the mini poster.
The Owlcrate insert card was also in the box.  This time it was helpful because it explained the scent pack, which had confused me a good deal until I read the card.
The scent pack came with a bookmark advertising more scent packs.  The bookmark was helpful, and I actually checked out their website, which you can do here.
After I learned about what scent packs are, I appreciated the idea a great deal.  The packs contain scented beads whose purpose is to scent rooms and/or costumes for role playing games, parties, haunted houses, Cons, or even just for readers.  I like this idea.  The scents are much more varied than air fresheners; you can get scents such as "pirate ship," which is, apparently oak timbers soaked in sea spray mixed with gun smoke.  Some of the scents listed sound either fun or very pleasant.  But my problem was the one Owlcrate chose for us was downright nasty.  Yes, Vampire's Lair, sounds cool, but it smells awful.  The website describes it as "blood, fresh dirt, and red wine."  Ick.  Maybe I can give it away to some role players.
Next in the box were two tiny bookmarks, one a witch and one a skeleton.  They are very flimsy paper with magnets on both sides.  They work OK.  The problem with the witch is that it's the same on both sides, so I usually couldn't remember which side of the page I'd actually marked and ended up re-reading stuff.  They're also so small that they're easy to misplace, and they aren't very durable.  Still, they were cute.
Then there were three calaveras erasers for El Día de los Muertos.  These are sizable items, each nearly filling the palm of my hand.  They came in appealing shades of pink, yellow, and green.  I took the yellow one to school with me, and it's already been put to good use by both me and students.
And finally there's the Poe-ka-dot case.  It's really cute.  I have a bunch of little cases, so I don't really need another, but it is a usable item.  It would work well for make up, small travel items, pencils, small art supplies, etc.   This is a win.
Overall, the Owlcrate box for October was far superior to the LitCube box for September.  However, I am signed up for both Uppercase Box and Owlcrate for November, and I intend to try LitCube again in December, so we shall see what happens.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Review: A Madness Most Discreet by Mindy McGinnis


I received a copy of this book with my October Owlcrate subscription.  I began reading it Tuesday and finished it yesterday.

A Madness So Discreet is a YA historical thriller dealing with a victim of rape/incest who has been confined to a mental asylum by her wealthy father in order to hide the evidence of his abuse.  Later, she is rescued by a handsome young doctor who wishes to use her somewhat photographic memory to help him as he researches crime scenes in Holmes-like early detective work.

Here's the short review:
Setting: Fantastic!  McGinnis has claimed she was inspired by visiting a former lunatic asylum in Ohio. She sets the book first in an asylum in Boston and then in the one in Ohio to contrast the two.
The problem here is that the setting takes over the book and contributes to the problems she has with the plot.
Characterization: Both good and bad.  Grace (the protagonist) and most of her supporting cast are really well done and multi-layered.  McGinnis clearly had a good interest in research mental patients and nurses.
The problem is the villains.  They are spoken of, analyzed at a distance, dissected mentally and emotionally.  But McGinnis never lets them speak much.  She TELLS us they're villains, but she really doesn't show them in action.  She seems not to have any idea how to work with them, so she hides them and covers up most of their action scenes.
Pacing: Very good.  The book moves right along.
Plot: The first 3/4 of the plot works very well, but the last 1/4 is grating and contrived.  McGinnis clearly wants a circular plot, to put the main villain into the position where the protagonist began, but getting there is awful and cumbersome.
I will go into detail below.
Messages: Whether they are intentional or not, every author gives messages with a book.  McGinnis' are problematic and sometimes conflicting.  She appears to take a feminist approach, showing how men could have women thrown into asylums for practically no reason and having a strong supporting character be a women's rights activist and having Dr. Thornhollow appreciate Grace's intelligence, but then McGinnis shows her anti-abortion stance by telling the readers that even a D&C to remove a dead fetus endangering the mother's health is wrong, and she clearly puts the blame for one rapist's behavior on the fact that the man has a strong-minded mother, indicating he is acting out his rage on other women because one woman makes him feel emasculated.  Furthermore, McGinnis' anti-abortion stance is very odd when it is contrasted with her pro-vigilante justice one.  In the book, it is wrong to scrape out an already-dead fetus, but it's just fine to murder a man in cold blood because characters don't want to deal with the slow pace of the court system It's also apparently just fine to have another man tried and convicted for the crimes of the first, assuming the punishment for the dead man's crimes will suffice as the punishment for his own.
I found these very conflicting.
Literary Allusions: Misleading.
The title, A Madness So Discreet, is immediately familiar to readers as a corruption of Shakespeare's line in Romeo and Juliet, "a madness most discreet."  The problem is that Romeo is ranting about his unrequited love for Rosaline, and he is identifying and describing love here.  This allusion leads the reader to believe the book has a romantic subplot.  It doesn't.  Thus, the title is a very odd choice.
Age Group Suitability: This book deals with rape, impotence, incest, and sex.  I wouldn't risk putting it in my classroom lest some parent freak out over it.  I suggest that it's more appropriate for about age 15 and older, depending on the teen, of course.

These are the reasons why I cannot give the book five stars.


More in-depth review of the plot problems:
HUGE FREAKIN' SPOILER WARNING.  I WILL SPOIL THE PLOT FOR YOU, SO READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

McGinnis' plot problems come from the fact that she was trying too hard to contrast the two asylums and have a circular plot.
Here's a synopsis the plot: Grace has spent several years dealing with her father's sexual abuse of her, hoping to keep her pre-pubescent sister Alice safe from him.  Her mother, knowing the man is raping other women, is insanely jealous and won't help her daughter.  Grace ends up pregnant and her father puts her in a Boston asylum where she is subject to cruel treatment.  He plans to take her back home once she gives birth, and she knows he will go right back to his abuse.  Thus, when Dr. Thornhollow does frontal lobotomies on several violent patients, she begs for one so that her father will not take her back.  Instead, Thornhollow only gives her superficial scars.  She pretends to be a lobotomy patient, and the doctor convinces the official to pretend she's dead and give her father ashes while he (Thornhollow) takes her with him.
Once they are in the much nicer asylum in Ohio, Grace makes friends with a couple of patients, one of whom is called Lizzie.  Thornhollow has Grace help him solve a few murders.  Then a pattern of rape and murder victims arise, and she and Thornhollow are stumped.  In the meantime, Grace has been writing letters (under an alias) to her younger sister, and she is growing extremely worried that her father will soon start abusing her.
Thus far, the plot works, but then things get really weird.
Grace discovers the local rapist and murderer is the town pharmacist.  Thornhollow claims they don't have enough evidence to convince the police of his guilt yet, so while he's out of town, Grace lures the rapist into the woods and slits his throat in cold blood.  She is not sorry over it at all, and Thornhollow is only mildly bothered by this.  He appears not to consider her dangerous.  He tells her she's not insane.  (This might have been believable if he had a sexual interest in Grace, but he appears not to, and it's implied he's satisfying himself with various servants and such.)
If that's not strange enough, Grace then convinces him that they need to frame her father for the rapes and murders committed by the pharmacist because they cannot bring him to trial for the rapes he has actually committed.  Thornhollow is not bothered by bringing a man to trial for rapes and murders when the man is guilty of rapes and incest, but he is worried about his career.
They convince Lizzie to pretend to be a rape victim, and she suddenly becomes a marvelous actress, convincing everyone in the courtroom that Grace's father raped her and threatened to kill her like the other girls (killed by the pharmacist, but no one else knows that).  Thornhollow quails at the last minute and convinces the jury the man is criminally insane (Yes, and so's his freakin' daughter, but this never comes up.), so instead of hanging, he will be confined to the same Boston asylum where Grace began the book.  And little Alice goes to live with her aunt while the evil mother lives in shame and disgrace. (pun!)
The ending is clumsy, contrived, and awful.  The reader has learned to empathize with a protagonist who is suffering PTSD wants to see her heal.  Instead, she slits a man's throat and goes on her merry way as if nothing had happened.  The author condones this behavior in her.
Then the whole trial is TOLD rather than shown, and it's completely unbelievable.  Thornhollow has no real motivation to do what he does.  Lizzie could not possibly act so convincingly.  No one would fall for this.  It's so clunky and such a bad way to get poetic justice.
Since the reader needs to have Alice saved and the villains punished but should really see Grace stay on the path to healing and not go off to be worse than her own father, I propose an alternate ending.  Here's what SHOULD have happened:
Grace discovers the pharmacist is the rapist/murderer.  While she and Thornhollow are working to get the police to solve the crime, he attacks Grace, and she kills him in self-defence.  Meanwhile, Grace's mother, realizing her husband is going to start abusing Alice, kills him in a jealous rage.  She is declared insane and sent to suffer in the asylum, and Alice goes to live with Aunt Beth.  Grace continues to heal and work with Thornhollow, getting a job, as she is too scarred to deal with the ideas of marriage and sex.
My alternate ending brings about poetic justice but leaves out the clunkiness of the real ending.  Plus, Grace would not become a murderer.

Overall, the book is pretty good, but the end is a HUGE mess.  Just be aware of this if you read it.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ooh! I Got Another Review On Amazon!


Format: Paperback
Another fantastic book by Lisa Shafer! Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. An intriguing teen novel with dose of the supernatural in the family tree, this book will delight readers with a humorous take on life as a teen girl trying her best to be noticed. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Creepy Cemetery Writing Prompt Photo

Last year, my blog views skyrocketed when I posted a series of creepy cemetery photos.  Somehow I missed this one, so I thought I'd share it this year.
This was taken in the Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City.  It's the angel Gabriel, waiting to awaken the dead.

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Halloween Writing Prompt Photo: Thistle House

Last weekend was Fall Break and I traveled south to Cedar City to the Fall Shakespeare Festival by a different route than usual.
One of the small towns I passed through is now a ghost town, destroyed by the Thistle Dam break and mudslide of 1983.  This house sits near the highway, still half-submerged in a scummy pond.  If ever you needed an image of a "haunted house," this one is sad enough to fill that requirement.
Ignore the reality and create the backstory, my writer friends. :)

(Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

First Review For The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay!

Pre-Teen Mom reviewed the book on Amazon:



   Another completely fun read from Lisa Shafer! I loved Nerissa's themed outfits and playlists for every occasion. I felt her thought processes were in line with how a 14-year-old girl thinks. I felt her pain in trying to get the boys to notice her but not getting the attention she wanted. Since Nerissa is really smart, she is two grades ahead of where she should be so the boys just aren't looking her way...unless they need a tutor. While this naturally bothers her she doesn't get whiny, she does things in an effort to solve her problems.

This was the first book in a series and I will definitely be getting #2 when it comes out. I'm dying to know who the maxi-skirt lady is, who else was in Nerissa's room, and why are random articles of clothing being stolen from neighborhood clotheslines?

I recommend this book to all who like YA fiction. I know my daughter will love it as she is a fan of Shafer's work. I didn't tell her I'd bought the book because I wanted to read it first. Not because I was concerned about content, but because I didn't want to have to share. :)Search   

Monday, October 19, 2015

My Review of the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2015 Fall Production of Two Gentlemen Of Verona

Since the new version of bard.org hates Safari users and will not allow the use of photos, the above photo came from the Salt Lake Tribune.  For more photos, play information, and to buy tickets, go to bard.org, the Utah Shakespeare Festival website.

I loved everything about this production -- except the end.
I loved the costumes, the fact that it was set in 1920, the set, the incredible wandering musicians that tied the scenes together, Tasso Feldman as a believable and sympathetic Proteus, the costumes, the acting, -- and did I mention the costumes?  (Sylvia in a shimmering flapper dress!  To die for!)

But director Robynn Rodriguez chopped the end off an already abrupt ending.  It's awful.  She leaves half the conflicts unsettled and the audience blinking in astonishment.  It's probably the worst editing of a Shakespeare play I've ever seen.

Thus, my recommendation is that if you're a Shakespeare newbie, skip this one, as you'll be confused.
If you're a veteran Shakespeare fan or a lover of the Roaring Twenties or an Italy buff, go see it.  But take a copy of the Bard's original script with you so you can read how the play actually ends.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

My Review of Dracula at the 2015 Fall Utah Shakespeare Festival


I really don't like the new bard.org website.  It hates Safari users, for one thing.  But one of the worst things is that it will not allow the use of photos, not even when properly credited.  Thus, to find a photo to advertise one of the plays, I had to use one from the Salt Lake Tribune.
To see more photos (which you can't use) and to buy ticket, go to bard.org.

So, I love the novel Dracula, written by Bram Stoker and published in 1897.  I teach the novel every year to my GT 9th graders, and I know it well.
Naturally, I've seen quite a few vampire movies in my time, but I had never seen a live theatre version of Dracula until this week.  It may have been worth the wait.

Do you love vampires?  Halloween?  Dracula?  You need to see this play!

My one gripe was that the chosen script (Dracula is public domain, so there are plenty of adapted versions out there) changed way too many things about the book.  Yes, I understand the need to shorten the story, but so many things were changed that weren't necessary.  Why, for example, have Lucy refuse Dr. Seward's marriage proposal for no reason because Arthur (the guy she accepts in the book) is cut out of the script?  That made no sense whatsoever.  Also, in the book, Mina marries Jonathan.  But in the play she doesn't.  And there's no reason why.  In fact, the horrid, rape-like scene wherein Dracula hypnotizes Jonathan so he can force Mina to drink his blood had to be changed -- and it lacks quite a bit because of it.
Now, the end of the play changes the end of the book -- but it may be for the better.  The end of the novel Dracula is a bit too much chase and then a way-too-quick end to the vampire.  I almost liked the stage version better.
Also, the script adapter clearly didn't understand that the English were mostly Protestant at the time of this story and that Catholicism and its mysterious rites were all part of the Gothic.  His blunders with that are pretty glaring.
However, the acting is fantastic!  (or fangtastic, if you prefer). Tyler Pierce is a sexy, creepy vampire.  Lucy and Mina are very well done.  Van Helsing is good.  Renfield is convincing.  Seward is very believably in love with Lucy.
The costumes are wonderful.  I especially loved Dracula's look as the "old" count before he comes to England and grows younger with fresh blood.  I'd never pictured him the way he's costumed and wigged for this show, and I really liked it.
The set!  Oh my goodness!
Huge projections make ghostly backdrops!  The spurting blood!  The blood transfusions with blood actually appearing to travel through the tubes!  The fangs!
I would definitely pay to see this again if I had the time.
Seriously, if you're a vampire fan, get tickets and go!  It runs until the end of the month.  Don't waste time deliberating; just plan your trip!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Enter the Goodreads Giveaway For The (Dis)Appearance Of Nerissa MacKay

Are you on Goodreads?  If so, be sure to enter to win a paperback copy of my new novella, The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay by Lisa  Shafer

The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay

by Lisa Shafer

Giveaway ends November 19, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Read A Good Book In The Autumn Sunshine

Julie's picked a perfect porch spot to read The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.  Where would YOU like to read it?

Get your copy right here.
And then send me a photo of yourself reading it.  I'll enter your name into the upcoming prize drawing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Get Your Hands On A Great Book!

Traci's reading The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.  Wouldn't you like to get your hands on a copy of it?

You can get a copy here.
Don't forget to send me a photo of yourself reading my book so I can enter your name into the big drawing for prizes!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Get Your Nose Into A Good Book.

Angie's reading The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.  When are you going to read it?



You can get your copy here.
Be sure to send me a photo of yourself reading; those who do will have their names entered into an upcoming contest with lots of books and swag as prizes.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Kick Back And Read!

Kevin's reading The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.
Isn't it time YOU got a copy?


Check it out right here on Amazon.
And once you get a copy, be sure to send me a photo of you with the book!  Everyone who lets me use their photo and/or reviews the book for me, gets her/his name entered into an upcoming contest with LOTS of prizes!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Disappear Into A Good Book

Susan's reading The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay.  How about you?


You can buy your copy here.
And once you get a copy, be sure to send me a photo of you with the book!  Everyone who lets me use their photo and/or reviews the book for me, gets her/his name entered into an upcoming contest with LOTS of prizes!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Get Excited About The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay

Michele and Mary are pretty excited about the book.  Are you?



You can get your copy here.
And once you get a copy, be sure to send me a photo of you with the book!  Everyone who lets me use their photo and/or reviews the book for me, gets her/his name entered into an upcoming contest with LOTS of prizes!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Win An E-Copy Of The (Dis)Appearance Of Nerissa MacKay!

This is the first of several giveaways for this book.  However, what I really want are BOOK REVIEWS. So, for most of the upcoming giveaways, people who've reviewed the book will be more likely to get the big prizes.  This is your chance to win the book so you can read it and review it -- and win MORE STUFF!  (What kind of stuff?  A book bag filled with books and swag, for starters.)

There it is!  This is the cover of the book!
Here's the blurb:

Nerissa MacKay isn’t just anybody.  So she’s fairly positive that a major role in the school play will prove that point -- and maybe attract the hormones of some of the boys who have ignored her for far too long.
But Nerissa’s dressing with a different theme every day for one solid year hasn’t yet convinced the drama teacher of her creativity, and Nerissa gets desperate during the last week of tryouts.  Then, when the local mean girls' clique starts bragging about being visited by a ghost, Nerissa has had all she can take of their upstaging her.
Determined to pull the town's attention toward her and to Aunt Jane's Haunted Zoo, Nerissa plans to find this "ghost" --- right after she does her biology homework.
But the research for biology class leads her to her great-great-great grandmother's commonplace book, which contains several uncommon recipes using local plants.  In the name of research, Nerissa gives one of the concoctions a try.

Ghosts, witchcraft, cliques, boys, her mother, homework, and saving the Haunted Zoo -- Nerissa's in way over her head.  Even when no one can see her...


Want to win an e-copy?
You must be 13 or older.  You must have an Amazon account.  You must be willing to share your e-mail address with me (and I promise not to share it with anyone else).
Enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Go Retro, Or Go Home.

For one solid year, Nerissa MacKay has dressed in a differently-themed outfit with a matching playlist every single day.
This Friday, she will (dis)appear.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Dance Around A Bairn's Grave....

This Friday, Nerissa MacKay will dance in a graveyard near you.
Soon, she will (dis)appear.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Soon.

This Friday, Nerissa will dive into her witchy past.
This Friday, she will (dis)appear.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book Review: Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

I received a free copy of this book in a blog giveaway.  There were no strings attached; I don't have to review it, but I want to anyway.
It is impossible not to compare this book with Cinder by Marissa Meyer. They're just so much alike in basic form.  However, Cinder is sci-fi, and Mechanica is a steampunk fairytale.  And, of the two, I like Mechanica better, mostly because Cornwell does not pretend to have a strong female character but then undermine her by giving her some Twilighty obsession with abusive men, which is what Meyer does, and which is why I stopped reading her Lunar Chronicles a few chapters into the third book.
Cornwell, in contrast, creates a truly empowered protagonist named Nick, who bucks the system, doesn't give up her life to marry the handsome prince, and won't bow to stereotypical family structures. (Hailing from Utah, as I do, where families are so habitually defined narrowly as only heterosexual parents plus kids, I really liked how Cornwell was willing to admit that a girl might not want to choose just one guy and that a family can be whatever one decides it is.)
However, I did have a few problems with the book:
1) Nick is too good at too many things.  She works with metal and glass?  She's good at sales, too?  She's also a good businesswoman?
2) All her problems were resolved far too easily.  Her stepfamily never notices anything.  Very little gets in the way of her success.
3) A lot is left hanging.  We never find out much about the magic.  Characters just disappear without being picked up again.  Is there going to be a sequel?  This might help, but it still felt odd.

Overall, it's a good read, and I'm going to get some copies in my classroom.  But it feels a bit like a draft of a book rather than a finished copy.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Book Review: Dumplin' By Julie Murphy


Dumplin is realistic fiction.  It's the tale of a fat girl during the summer between her sophomore and junior years and then the first half of her junior year.
Willowdean is very realistic, as are most of the characters in this book.  I swear they're all people I've taught or their parents.  :)
Willowdean is fat and sassy, but she has all the issues associated with body weight.  Like most girls with extra pounds, she fears boys' touching her, as she doesn't want them to be as disgusted as she is by her fat.
Willowdean's Aunt Lucy, a morbidly obese woman but one whom Willowdean preferred to her mother, has died a few months before the story begins.  W. must deal with that, with having a thin BFF,  with a dead-end job in a dead-end town, and, most of all, with the fact that her mother relives her own glory days every year by hosting a beauty pageant.
This year, Willowdean enters, mostly just to prove something to herself.

I liked and didn't like the fact that W. never attempts to lose weight.  Yes, it was refreshing not to have her lose weight and get the guy, as in most fat-chick stories.  But, on the other hand, it was so obvious that this girl really could have added some physical activity to her life.  All she does is watch TV.  She has no ambition to go to college, get a decent job, do anything except prove her mother wrong.
I loved the fact that she *SPOLER WARNING* gets all her beauty tips and hints from a drag queen.  That was highly amusing.
*END SPOILER*
The only character that just didn't work for me was Bo, the hot guy who can have any girl but loves W.  That was a stretch.  I've watched so very many adolescents fall in and out of love, and I've seen so very many adults go through relationships, and I can tell you that I've never once seen a really hot high school guy take a fat girl for anything other than a fling.  (You know the old stereotype about "fat girls put out more."  Well, it's sometimes true, and some handsome boys will go for that -- for a while.)  Generally, a guy goes after the best he can get, and a boy who knows he's good looking will go after a good-looking girl.
As a teacher, I also had a problem with the fact that W. talks a lot about her friend Ellen deciding to have sex with her boyfriend.  Not one time is birth control or safe sex even brought up.  This bothers me, as it appears to condone irresponsible behavior.  I didn't like that message at all.
Other than these things, though, Dumplin is a cute, albeit totally predictable book.
Get a copy and spend a lazy Saturday afternoon reading it. :)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Writing Photo Prompt: Masked

Here's a pic I took in 2011.  I think it's a great little tale waiting to happen.
Maybe you'll write that tale. :)

Click on the pic to enlarge it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Review of September's Lit Cube

Recently I discovered subscription boxes, which are basically an updated version of a Book of the Month Club, only they're not just books.
There is just something intriguing about the idea of getting a box of surprises -- and that is how these people make their money; humans love surprises.
I looked at a lot of different book-themed subscription boxes, and I finally decided that Lit Cube would be the best for me.  I looked at videos of "unboxings" of some of their previous months' stuff; people were showing off nice tote bags, books, cards giving codes for free ebooks, jewelry, cute bookmarks, and beautiful journals.  (I'm a sucker for tote bags and notebooks or journals.)
I signed up for a one-month "gift box" for September, with the theme "We will never be royals."
The website said they shipped on the 16th of the month, but when that day drew near, I got an email saying some of the merchandise had been damaged, so, most boxes would ship on Sept. 17th and 18th, but about 100 would ship no later than Saturday morning -- with a little extra something inside them as an apology.
Thursday I received an email from Lit Cube saying my box had shipped!  There was a link to the USPS tracking website showing that a shipping label had been created at 10:03 AM that day -- but nothing else had happened.
I waited.  And waited.
I'd been so excited for this box.  I could hardly wait; it was like Christmas!
By Saturday, twitter and instagram were alive with people who'd gotten their boxes, but I hadn't.  In fact, the USPS tracking site still said it was still in pre-shipping.
Sunday I emailed Lit Cube, asking what was happening.  I was assured that mine was among the boxes  awaiting replacement items.
I asked why I'd been sent an email saying the box had shipped when it hadn't been shipped.  I received no reply.
Monday at 8:44 PM, according to the tracking website, my box was finally delivered to the post office in Florida.
Finally, Wednesday when I arrived home from school, the long-awaited box was there, waiting for me!!
I eagerly opened it.
I can sum up my review in a single word: Meh.
This is what was in the box:

First there was a tacky, badly-designed tee shirt featuring what the insert card (which probably cost a dollar or more to print and which is useless -- why have a card saying what's in the box when you're looking at what's in the box?  Duh.) claims is a mash up of Star Wars and Game of Thrones.  To me, it looks like Cinderella with a blaster and soccer socks, surrounded by a 13-year-old girl's doodles.  The tee is a Gildan, however, and the print is properly cured.  Maybe I'll sleep in it or else cut off the sleeves and sew it into a grocery bag.  It's too awful to wear outside the house.  The insert card claims this is worth $16.99, but I know tee shirts, and with a Gildan 100% cotton tee in a dark color with a 5-color print and a print run of at least 300, it'd go wholesale for no more than $8.50, tops.  Somebody's making a major profit off this item.
Next was a coupon for a discount on audio books.  The insert card claims this to be worth $7.99, but it's worth nothing  unless you pay for it.  It's not for a free audio book; it's just for a discount.  Since I don't like audio books anyway, it's useless for me.  What a waste.
Then there was a bookmark.  Not a cute bookmark, mind you, but an ad for another book shoved into a smelly plastic sleeve with a scribble on it in Sharpie which may be an autograph.  But it's so poorly written that I haven't yet decided which way is up on it, let alone what it says.  This is worthless.  It's an ad, not a card for a free ebook, and it's not even attractive.
Then there was a little collectors' card with a pic of a castle and the theme on it.  What's the point of this?  It's another waste of money.
Then there was a mug -- a 1/3 sized mug.  I guess it's for espresso. It's too little to use for a drink, too little to use as a pencil holder, too big for a doll, too fragile for a child.  I guess I can put paper clips in it.
The insert card said the mug's worth $7.99, but to me it's worthless.
Then there was a soda insulator wrap printed with "Write drunk; edit sober."  I can't recall I've ever really wanted a soda insulator, and I find the message rather offensive  (I don't drink.), but at least it's full-sized.  It's probably worth a dollar, but the card doesn't mention it.
Next was a card advertising yet another book (not a code for a free ebook, just another ad), but this one said it had nail decals.  Stapled to the back was a tiny plastic baggie containing five -- not ten, mind you, but FIVE -- little gold crowns.  So, I guess I could do the nails on one hand.  Or maybe every other finger.  How stupid is that?  I guess I can use the crowns in a craft sometime, but they're very tiny.  Still, they're more usable than the stupid mug is.  The card doesn't mention this item, but I guess it's worth maybe 25¢ at most.
Then there was a little tin, decorated with a VW Beetle and the word "Emma." Inside was something that I think is tea -- loose, with no sanitary wrapping over the contents at all, so heaven only knows whether or not it's contaminated with anything.  I don't drink tea, but even if I did, I wouldn't touch something questionable like this.  I guess I can use the little tin, but I don't understand why it's a VW named Emma or what on earth that has to do with the "royals" theme.  The insert card says it's worth $4.99, but I'm thinking more like $1.50.  The tin is cheap and it's only decorated with a sticker.
Finally, there's the book: Cage of Deceit. I have to admit that it looks pretty decent -- except that it's published by Clean Teen, which means it may very well be filled with Sunday School lesson stuff, which I loathe in a book.
The insert card says it's worth $12.99, but Amazon says it's worth $11.30.
Still, I hope it's enjoyable, as it's the most acceptable thing in the box.

My overall thoughts on Lit Cube would be, "I paid $34.95 for THIS?!!"
None of the cute stuff of previous boxes was in this one: no jewelry, no tote bag, no cute book mark, no journal, no notebook.  Most of what I did get is useless.
Also, the problem is the range of ages here is too weird.  The tee shirt and the book are clearly for young teens.  The nail stickers could be for any age.  The insulator has an "adult" message, and the tea and the espresso mug are geared toward adults.  Hello, Lit Cube, who's your intended audience?  Make up your mind!

I haven't written them off entirely, but I'm not signing up for another month right now.  Instead, I've purchased an Owl Crate for October.  I don't like the Owl Crate subscription payment bit as well, as there's no way I can buy October and then see if I like it or not before paying for November, but I will see if their box is less pathetic than this.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Teaching Like It's 1995



This school year, our principal has decided to make big changes to the advisory class system developed by our former principal.  It would be tedious to tell you all the details, but let me summarize by saying that it now takes a great many meetings and a great deal of what would be called paperwork if we were using paper instead of Excel spreadsheets.  Thus far, it's unclear that we've accomplished much other than making the principal happy and the students grumpy.
One of the big problems has been taking roll.  Since the students are sorted on the gradebook attendance program by their "homeroom" advisories which they attend only on Mondays, there has been some kerfluffle about taking attendance the other days and getting it into the program.  For a couple of weeks, we tried using Excel, but it would not sort the students alphabetically, rather sorting them alphabetically under the name of the teacher to whom they were assigned for that week only.   (The assignments change every Friday.)
Finally, last Friday after a lengthy meeting wherein we tried to solve this and various other problems with the new advisory system, the principal  energetically announced that she had the answer: teachers would take roll on a paper, and an office aide would come around to collect the papers, return them to the counseling center, and the counseling secretary would enter attendance into gradebook from there.
I blinked.
Then I locked eyes with the only other teacher in the room who knew what I was thinking: the Spanish teacher, who, during the school year of 1995-1996, had been my English student.
As other teachers began to discuss this "new" idea, she and I both laughed, remembering.
Twenty years ago, only the office staff at school had computers.  Teachers had color-coded folders with a paper roll for each period.  We'd take roll on the paper, put the folder into a clip hooked to the wall by the door, and an office aide would make the rounds to collect roll each period so the counseling center secretary could enter it into the computer.
"Progress" had brought us back full circle to 1995.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Too Tired

Yesterday, we were using our new, district-mandated Chromebooks (which are mini-laptops functioning half like a Mac and half like a PC, with a touchpad but no mouse) to take the district-mandated SAGE test, a 9th grade boy clicked the wrong tab at the end of the test and then couldn't find his test score.  He raised his hand, and I came over to help him.
I leaned over the Chromebook and said, "It's easy; just hit the 'back' button here."
I tapped the button with my finger.  Nothing happened.  Frustrated, I tapped three more times.  No results.  Both the boy and his neighbor watched me, saying nothing.
It took a good 15 seconds of tapping before I rolled my eyes in disgust.
"It's not a touchscreen.  Duh," I said -- and used the touchpad to move the cursor to tap the back arrow.
Then the boys laughed.

I suspect I may not be getting enough sleep at night.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Censorship

In the last two days I've written amusing posts and then feared someone would get angry about them.  They remain unposted.
Sorry.
I'm downright blog-boring late. :(

Sunday, September 20, 2015

An Open Letter To Kim Davis

Ms. Davis,
Like you, I am paid by taxpayers' money.  I, however, do not earn 80,000 a year of taxpayers' money, as you do for what appears to be a MUCH easier job.
Like you, I also have my prejudices.  You are prejudiced against gay people and lesbians.  I am not, as I have many friends who fall into these categories; a fair number of them are now married, and I am happy for them.
No, my prejudice is one common among school teachers; we really, really don't like lazy people.  I don't really care what color a person's skin is, or what her religion is, or to whom he is attracted.  But I loathe it when people are unmotivated and lazy.
But here's the difference between us, Ms. Davis; I still do my job.
While you threw a hissy fit and pulled your little stunt, claiming Jesus was on your side, I was teaching lazy kids amongst the worker kids.  While you go off to do more kissing up to politicians, I will still be working, even working late into the evenings of parent-teacher conferences with some lazy parents (mixed in among those who aren't lazy).
You and I, Ms. Davis, are both entitled by law to our own fervent beliefs and prejudices.  But both of us must leave aside our prejudices and follow the law when we are paid by taxpayers.  I must teach lazy people.  I must furthermore teach the children of nutjobs such as yourself when they are sent to public school.
And you, Ms. Davis, must do the paperwork for ALL legal marriages, not just the marriages of which you approve personally.
Some people are lazy, Ms. Davis, and some people are gay.  I loathe the former, you the latter.  But both of us must deal with the differences or else resign, if we are to have integrity.
I have this integrity, Ms. Davis.  Where are you keeping your integrity these days?
Sincerely,
Ms. Shafer