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.
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


In the last two days I've written amusing posts and then feared someone would get angry about them.  They remain unposted.
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?
Ms. Shafer

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Jubilation T. Cornpone

Is it just me, or does this:

remind anyone else of this:


Would You Like To Host A Cover Reveal And Giveaway For My New YA Novella?

The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay is 132 pages long and is YA paranormal mystery/adventure. I'm thinking of releasing it right around the first week in October, and I'd love to have a few bloggers host a cover reveal and e-book giveaway.  (I'll send you a free e-book for your trouble.)
For the giveaway, you'd be able to have two ebook prizes, offer it internationally, and add several of your own requirements (in Rafflecopter or if you have a different preferred method, we can work things out).
If you're interested, please contact me through e-mail, by commenting on the blog, through goodreads messaging, through Twitter (@lisamshafer), or through Pinterest messaging.

Here's the book blurb and the OLD COVER (you don't get to see the new cover until the reveal!):

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...

Monday, September 7, 2015

This And That.....

The weather is FINALLY not roasting hot!  I'm so excited.  I hate extreme heat (yeah, I know; I live in a desert.  I have to deal with it.).  Temperatures over 95 or so -- especially when they don't dip into the 60s at night -- give me headaches and body aches, make my hands and feet swell, and keep me from sleeping.
This is why autumn is my favorite season: warm days, cool nights, no snow to shovel, harvest holidays and foods, family, beautiful scenery.  It's just plain good.
School, on the other hand, is a bit tough this year.  Oh, I like my classes well enough (three classes of mixed-grade Spanish 1, two classes of 9th grade regular English, and one class of 9GT English), but we have 14 new teachers, a school that will cease to exist (as it is absorbed into the high school and the younger kids sent elsewhere) at the end of the school year, and a principal who wants to push through all kinds of new programs all at once.  Plus, the departure of our English department head left me with that position -- as well as my responsibilities as GT head, novels committee, leadership team, and the newly-created 9th grade team leader (although I'm hoping to share that one with the science department head to ease my load a bit).  With all the new changes being unpopular with 98% of the faculty, most of the teachers are having to be cajoled into doing the new stuff (which is a LOT more work), and it's exhausting.  There is, of course, the added uncertainty that none of us knows where we'll be teaching next year, and it's making the faculty much less at-ease than in the past.  It's just not going to be an easy year.
All this means I've had less time to read and to write.  I'd been packing in 12 or more books a month for reading, but now I'm only getting in about 5.  And I've often been too tired to edit or write.
The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay is just about ready to roll.  I'm also working on the first major revision of its sequel, Nerissa MacKay and the Secrets of the Seventeen Scrolls.  Plus, I have the barest of outlines ready for book 3 and book 4 in the series.
The Chocolate Smuggler's Notebook is on indefinite hold, although I did have a bizarre dream while I was in Norway last June, and that dream gave me an idea as to how I can fix the plot quicksand in which I'd gotten myself stuck.  I wrote out the dream and a new plot outline while on the train from Bergen to Oslo, but I've gotten no further.
My next steps are to finish up the 1st Nerissa book, get some folks to do a cover reveal and giveaways, create some ads to put on Pinterest, finish putting together prizes for contests, get some folks to do reviews, and finish the first overhaul of book 2 so that I can get it out (I hope) within the coming year and thus keep readers interested.